Theater proposal revived as drive-in

A mock-up of what the proposed drive-in movie theater in Naugatuck could look like. -CONTRIBUTED

A mock-up of what the proposed drive-in movie theater in Naugatuck could look like. -CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — In 2002, Bob LaFlamme proposed a six screen movie theater on a long vacant downtown land tract known as Parcel C.

Officials turned down the proposal and instead voted for a mixed-use, commercial and residential project that never happened.

Thirteen years later, LaFlamme has returned with plans for a movie theater. Things have changed a bit — this time, his plan calls for a drive-in theater. And this time, his partner in that original deal has just been elected mayor.

LaFlamme partnered with Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess to propose the theater in 2002. They were flabbergasted at why officials turned down the proposal, and still believe it would have been an ideal draw to the community. Now, Hess is in a position to right what he believes was a mistake to turn down the original proposal.

During his inauguration speech Nov. 17, Hess surprised more than 200 people in the audience when he mentioned the drive-in idea for the first time. While he would not reveal a potential location, Hess said he has a few places in mind; he wants to discuss the possibilities with some stakeholders before revealing the location.

Hess would not be a business partner in this deal, but rather hopes to be a driving force to help see it to fruition.

“One of the big complaints about Naugatuck is that there is nothing to do,” he said. “Drive-in movie theaters give something to do. They are a family activity where it’s more than just going to a movie — a lot of people bring their chairs, sit outside and there are specialty foods.”

He said people travel far distances to see drive-in movies. Currently, there are three drive-ins in Connecticut — in Barkhamsted, Mansfield and Southington. There are 340 across the country, according to drive-ins.com, a website dedicated to the industry. It says there was a peak of 4,000 in 1958.

At that time, people would get food like cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes at many drive-ins across the country. They would take dates to the theater, or families would go out for a special night on the town.

LaFlamme hopes to recreate that experience in Naugatuck.

He wants employees to dress in 1950s and ’60s garb and to make the ambience similar to that of what LaFlamme calls a simpler time.

“Across the country, revitalization of drive-ins is really exploding,” he said. “People want to remember days when it was care free and it was fun and life was simpler.”

Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Ron Pugliese said he is firmly behind the idea.

“It will bring people from all over the area,” he said. “They will come here to shop, to buy dinner. Any incremental business we can get is great and this will provide it.”