The Ohio Division of Fire Marshal has agreed to pay $1.4-million for the 20-acre site now owned by Skip Yassenoff. The theater's last night of operation is scheduled for Aug. 14.
The Division, which has offices abutting the drive-in property, has no immediate plans for the site, said Bill Teets, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the fire marshal division. He said officials wanted to prevent residential development from creeping up to their property line and to allow space for a possible expansion of the facilities.
A closing date for the sale has been scheduled for Aug. 15. The purchase also has to be approved by the State Controlling Board, a legislative board that oversees state purchases of more than $50,000.
The 40 East Auto Theater was opened by Yassenoff's father, Frank Yassenoff, nearly four decades ago. Yassenoff also owns the South Drive-in Theater on South High Street and deals in real estate through his company, Rainbow Development Corp.
Yassenoff said he approached fire marshal officials this summer to ask that they take the drive-in into consideration when planning training exercises, which often involved real fires and explosions. Customers sometimes complained to him about light and noise from exercises disrupting movies.
"I was concerned about the fact that they were continually making fires, sometimes right on the property line," he said. "It was frequently done on evenings and weekends, when our patrons were trying to watch the movie."
When officials offered to buy the property, Yassenoff was willing to sell. He said he also had had concerns about future development there because of fire marshal activities.
"The drive-in has done well, but if not, what's the site good for?" Yassenoff said.
The property does have city water and sewer lines, but no one would want to live there, he said. Though he does not maintain that the training activities drove away customers, Yassenoff said the activities could have interfered with any future attempts to sell the property.
"In the long run, I felt it was a detriment to my property," he said.
The transaction means one less drive-in theater in central Ohio, with little prospect of gaining any. Yassenoff said he would not try to relocate the operation because it would not be profitable.
"There's no way to build a drive-in from scratch today, in my opinion," he said.
Teets said there had been no discussion of leasing the theater to another operator until the fire marshal division has a use for the property.
"A lease is not in the plans right now," he said. "It would take a lot of doing, so it wouldn't happen any time soon."