Broad Theater debuts a new outdoor venue.
Its first screening? The vice-presidential debate.
The Broad Theater, a neighborhood cinema near Broad Street and Orleans Avenue, has expanded to create an outdoor venue for concerts, movies and outdoor family entertainment.
Formerly occupied by a junk yard, the new 12,000-square-foot venue at 600 N. Broad St. is called the Broadside. It features a combination screen and live stage.
According to owner Brian Knighten, the space will provide an environment for a variety of entertainment options, from daytime puppet and clown shows for kids, to small evening music shows and after-dark film screenings.
Knighten joked that if he’d left the derelict cars from the junk yard in place, it would have been like an old-fashioned drive-in movie. But he settled on a selection of straight-back and Adirondack-style chairs instead. The 100 seats are placed in pairs on outdoor throw rugs, each pair separated from the next by 7 feet to ensure proper coronavirus social distancing.
The advent of the COVID-19 contagion last spring required the temporary closure of the Broad’s four indoor theaters. Knighten reopened the cinema at reduced capacity in June, but soon closed again, citing a drought of new movie releases and a lack of patrons.
The cinema has since returned to operation at 25 percent capacity. But, Knighten said, it’s still difficult to make ends meet. “People are not coming back,” he said.
Before the coronavirus crisis, Knighton said, he already had plans for the junk-strewn lot. He had hoped to begin construction on a two-story, 24,000-square-foot theater there as an addition to the Broad, which occupies a Spanish revival-style building at 636 N. Broad St.
That plan went on indefinite hold as movie theaters were closed to suppress the spread of the virus. But, Knighten said, as some restaurants began expanding their seating into adjoining parking lots, he was struck with the idea of creating an outdoor movie-going option.
Converting the former junkyard into a hospitable, gravel-covered lot with high-fidelity laser projector and a sound system set him back more than $100,000, the owner said. He hopes the new outdoor seating will subsidize the rest of the theater until the coronavirus crisis passes.
He said he realizes that the sounds of the surrounding traffic will occasionally penetrate the space, but he hopes the ambiance will only enhance the movie-going experience.
In 2016, Knighten invested $1.4 million to open the Broad Theater in a centrally located, long-unused, Spanish revival-style building. The cozy cinema immediately became a hit with movie lovers happy to skip the drive to the suburban multiplexes. The coronavirus pandemic was not the first of the theater’s challenges. Despite the fact that the Broad Theater stands near a pumping station, the low-lying building has repeatedly flooded.