Paramount Theatre plans drive-in at Estabrook Park

The Jack McKernon Drive-In Theater should open by August


BRANDON — It’s been decades since Brandon had its own movie theater, but that’s about to change.

The Paramount Theatre has partnered with the Town of Brandon and the McKernon Group to build a drive-in movie theater screen in at Estabrook Field on the north end of town, The Jack McKernon Drive-In at Estabrook Park could be the beginning of a permanent outdoor entertainment space in Brandon.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered theaters, concert venues, amusement parks and other public entertainment spaces, the Paramount had to literally think outside the box. Interim Executive Director Eric Mallette and his team first created a drive-in theater at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland. A slate of movies has been scheduled for the summer, and kicked off on July 3 with “Grease.”

The annual carnival at Estabrook Park was another event lost to the pandemic, and Brandon Rec Director and Economic Development Officer Bill Moore said he was thrilled at the idea of partnering with the Paramount.

“We’re excited to provide something for the people up this way,” Moore said. “It’s a win-win-for us, and it’s a win-win for the Paramount.”

And with a generous donation from McKernon Group President Kevin Birchmore, Mallette said it was a given that the drive-in would be named for the company’s founder, Jack McKernon, who died in 2015. McKernon and Birchmore started the design-build company in 1987. Known for its high-end, custom crafted homes and businesses, The McKernon Group has long been headquartered just north of Estabrook Park, in the former carriage barn on the property formerly used as the Brandon Training School

McKernon was behind the renovation and beautification of some of the most iconic buildings in the area, from Café Provence to the silo house on Arnold District Road.

Mallette is a Brandon native and an Otter Valley graduate wand said he is well aware of McKernon’s legacy here and around the region.

“I’m a Brandon boy,” he said. “I know all about the impact that man made on Brandon. It made sense. When we reached out to Kevin, we were aware of Jack’s legacy in Brandon and Kevin very graciously stepped up and said he would support the project.”

Birchmore could not be reached for comment by press time, but a note on the McKernon Group’s Facebook page sharing the news said it all.

“We are so pleased to be part of this community project honoring Jack!” the post read.

McKernon isn’t the only Brandon-based construction firm involved in the project. Naylor and Breen builders built the frame for the film screen erected at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland, and have already constructed the 32 by 18-foot screen frame for the Estabrook Field site as well.

“Tanner Romano was instrumental in building the screen for the fairgrounds,” Mallette said. “Naylor and Breen has been very supportive of this initiative from the beginning.

Romano is the vice-president and chief operating officer for Naylor and Breen Builders.

The Paramount will be responsible for all ticketing, projection and funding to install the screen and advertising, Moore said, and the town will take care of mowing, parking and promotion.

A permanent drive-in movie screen will be built in the southern end of Estabrook Field in a partnership between the Paramount Theatre, the McKernon Group, and the Town of Brandon. Photo by Lee Kahrs

The screen will be built in the lower part of the south end field, where fireworks are usually held, facing Route 7. Parking spaces will be large enough to allow a 6-8 foot gap in front of the car to set out blankets and chairs to be set. The space will accommodate 55-60 cars, Mallette said.

“I joke that the parking spaces are larger than my first apartment,” Mallete said. “The goal is not only to create comfortable spaces but also to encourage social distancing.”

Brandon ‘s Trustees for Public Funds allocated $10,000 to the project, which will also fund the construction of a multi-use projection booth and storage building. There is no cost to the town. Moore said this could be the start of a more robust outdoor performance space at Seabrook. He hopes to have food truck vendors at the site and perhaps, someday, a small amphitheater to facilitate concerts and shows.

“A mini- SPAC, if you will,” Moore said, referring to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, N.Y.

“(Assistant Rec Director) Colleen Wright and I have worked really hard to find ways for people in our area to recreate safely in this unprecedented time,” Moore said. “This is all new to us, but this is community-building, which has been difficult to say the least, and that’s what we do.”

While there is no set opening date for the McKernon Drive-in, Mallette said construction will begin in the next two weeks. Because the licensing for the films requires the exact date of screening, Mallette is hesitant to set an opening date, but is hoping for August.

“Rest assured, we will work as quickly as possible to make this happen,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. As a guy who learned to ride his bike at Estabrook, it’s cool to bring this full circle and give folks in Rutland County and Addison County something to look forward to in a time when so much has been cancelled. It’s a win-win and the community will have this for years to come.”

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