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Neligh’s drive-in traditionally has people talking every spring. But this year, there’s just a little more buzz than usual since both the drive-in and theater are for sale.
But don’t worry, TK-Starlite Drive-In is still opening in the coming weeks and has a summer full of movies booked. With or without new owners, the show will go on for years in Neligh.
Stacy Klabenes of Neligh purchased the Starlite Drive-In and New Moon Theater in 2011 with one reason in mind — he wanted to save both. While that desire hasn’t changed, the time he has on his hands definitely has as Klabenes Farms has grown to be one of the largest operations in the area.
“I bought the drive-in to keep it open. I didn’t want it to close because I wanted my kids to experience the drive-in,” Klabenes said. “but now I’m farming so much and have so many cattle that I don’t have time to watch over it. It’s time for someone else to step in and keep them going.”
And the new owners couldn’t be stepping in at a better time. Klabenes has spent the last seven years updating and renovating. He remodeled the concession stand, updated the ticket booth, built a new fence and replaced the projector with a state-of-the-art digital machine.
The Neligh drive-in, which first opened in 1952, became the first theater in the U.S. to use the new Barco Alchemy Cinema projector, which offers consistent image quality and brightness thanks to the proprietary sealed engine and advanced DMD cooling system.
“It’s turn key. All of the work has been done,” Klabenes said. “Someone could buy it and start running it immediately with no work to be done.”
The drive-in and theater are both listed with White Realty and Appraisal in Neligh. The properties are available separately, according to realtor Nancy White, who said she’s fielding lots of calls on both and has begun shown the properties to prospective buyers.
While the drive-in and theater originally were purchased as a unit, Klabenes said he’s selling them separately to attract different types of buyers. The downtown theater offers a historical storefront while the theater brings nostalgia and a turn-key business venture.
As for the theater, it comes with a vast history of its own, which has attracted lots of attention over the years. Even Hollywood director Alexander Payne was so taken by it during the filming of “Nebraska” that he hosted his crew for a movie night in the Neligh theater.
Now a closed building the New Moon still graces the downtown Old Mill District. Opened 110 years ago by J.C. Jenkins as the Moon Theater, New Moon adapted and weathered many changes in the movie and technological industries.
In 1944, tragedy struck downtown Neligh in the form of a fire and the theater was not spared. But it eventually reopened as New Moon Theater.
Klabenes said the history with both locations is something Neligh is rightly proud of, which is exactly why he purchased both back in 2011.
Saying “it’s been fun,” Klabenes said it’s simplty time for him to focus fully on his ag business. However, the theaters both still hold a special place in his heart, and he’s not about to let them go to just anyone.
“I’ve always loved the drive-in, and the theater, too,” Klabenes said. “I just don’t have the time for it. If I don’t find the right buyer, I’ll just keep them and keep going.”