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Major industrial project will replace drive-in theater

Montclair traded one of the last drive-in movie theaters in California for a major industrial project.

The Mission and Ramona Business Park is being developed on at the northwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue, the former location of the four-screen Mission Tiki Drive-In, which closed in January.

Grading has started on the 27.7-acre site, with only two structures left to be removed: the concession stand in the middle of the property, and a metal building at the northeast corner of the parcel that was home to the Montclair Tire Co. until 2011, said Mikey D. Fuentes, Montclair’s economic development director.

No tenants have been signed for the project.

The property is owned by a private investment group, Glendale-based Mission Boulevard Industrial Owner LP. That group bought the drive-in theater in 2019 from the DeAnza Land and Leisure Co. in Montclair.

The drive-in theater has been a community gathering place since it opened as the Mission Drive-In in 1956, and some Montclair residents are sad to see it go, said Tenice Johnson, Montclair’s Mayor pro tem and a Montclair Chamber of Commerce board member.

“It’s been there for years, and over time it became more than a drive-in theater,” Johnson said. “I don’t like that it’s going away. I would rather see retail there, but I understand that the property owner has a right to develop that land however it wants to.”

Atlanta-based Oakmont Industrial Group, which has partnered with Mission Boulevard Industrial, plans to build eight buildings on the site that combined will cover a little more than 513,300 square feet. Each will be designed for light manufacturing and warehouse distribution.

The north half will have two warehouses, of 110,000 and 187,000 square feet, while the southern portion will have six buildings that will range from 30,000 to 42,000 square feet, according to a staff report.

Those buildings will be designed for light manufacturing and will include some office space.

The project site is bordered by State Street to the north, Ramona Avenue to the east, Mission Boulevard to the south, and residential and industrial development to the west.

It will also extend Third Street, an east-west thoroughfare that will divide the industrial park in half. Oakmont Industrial has agreed to share the cost of upgrades along Third Street, which will include the installation of sidewalks, gutters, and curbs.

Montclair has no other parcels similar to the former drive-in theater site, so developing something as large as Mission and Ramona Business Park is an opportunity that may never happen again.

Unlike Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga, which attract warehouse-distribution projects of one million square feet or more, the city is usually confined to small infill projects, according to Fuentes.

“For Montclair, this is a major project,” said Fuentes, who said the industrial park will be built in one phase and take about 18 to 24 months to complete. “It will be one of the largest industrial projects in the city.  Usually, we only get smaller infill industrial projects.

“Twenty-eight acres is big for us.”

For something so large, the project generated little opposition. Public comment on the industrial park in the southeast part of the city ended in early 2022 with only two negative comments from the 71 emails that were filed, the staff report stated.

“We didn’t get many people who were against it,” Fuentes said. “There were some residents who were concerned about traffic and noise, and some union people who were worried about non-union workers being used at the park, but that was about it.”

Oakmont Development officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Several developers inquired about the property when it went on the market, but that interest slowed when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020.

At first, Montclair officials wanted to replace the theater with retail: a major home improvement center, a wholesale business, or a multi–tenant shopping center with major anchors, according to the report.

But retailers balked at that proposal, mostly because the site is not close to a freeway, and because of the changes the retail industry has undergone as a result of COVID-19. The growth of e-commerce has made brick-and-mortar retail less attractive, Fuentes said.

“We would prefer that the tenants have some kind of sales component, so that we get some sales tax revenue out of the property, and we still think we can get that,” Fuentes said, “It could be retail, or a manufacturer where they would sell a small supply whatever it is that they make there, but we l believe that site can generate some revenue.”

The closing of the Mission Tiki Drive-in leaves California with only 15 operating drive-in theaters, according to driveinmovie.com.

Four of those are in the Inland Empire: Rubidoux Drive-in and Van Buren Drive-In, both in Riverside, Skyline Drive-in in Barstow, and Smith’s Ranch Drive-in in Twentynine Palms.

Mission Tiki Drive-in is on the website’s list of permanently closed drive-in theaters. It stayed in business during the pandemic because it did not violate the state’s social distancing laws, but that was not enough to keep it afloat.

“There were some people who got nostalgic for the theater, but when they heard it had been bought by a developer that was the end of it,” Fuentes said.  “At that point, they knew they couldn’t stand in the way of progress. There was no way to keep the theater going.”

 

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