The Hells Angels want to hold the memorial service in the Coliseum parking lot in August. Credit: Pete Rosos

In late June, the Oaklanside reported that City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and the Coliseum Authority were just weeks away from opening a drive-in movie theater in the Coliseum’s parking lot. The summer went by and the theater never opened. 

Instead, Kaplan announced early this week that the Coliseum will become an early voting site. There was no mention of why the drive-in idea imploded.

But according to Henry Gardner, executive director of the Coliseum Authority, the drive-in theater plan came to a halt because it was too expensive and complicated. “The preliminary estimates are in the range of $18,000 to $20,000 in expenses, and about $10,000 in revenues, minus $5,000 in movie licensing fees,” said Gardner.“We have to break even, and the authority can’t subsidize it.” 

He said the Coliseum also doesn’t have the equipment on hand needed to run a drive-in; and staff, including security, aren’t available. The coliseum authority doesn’t have any employees, ASM Global, the entertainment company that manages the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena laid off 54% of its workforce at the site when the pandemic began.

Movie screenings would also have to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines set forth by the public health department, allowing no more than 200 vehicles per show. Gardner said that the fee per vehicle for any given event would have been as high as $50. Other costs would have included screen rentals, porta-potties, janitorial services, stage crew, and food services.

“We couldn’t make it break even,” Gardner said.

The Coliseum and Arena haven’t earned revenue since March when the facilities were forced to close. The only events still happening are Oakland Athletics games, but even with the A’s playing a short season, the Coliseum still is not earning income. The A’s are playing without fans in attendance so there are no ticket sales, and no revenues from concession stands or parking. 

Gardner and Kaplan said they’re looking into promoters who might want to rent the site and take on all the costs to run a drive-in. “If we could find a private party that would be willing to do it, and it doesn’t cost us any money, we’d entertain the idea,” Gardner said. “The idea is not dead. There’s a lot of interest in making it work.”

The Coliseum will become a voting center

Although the Coliseum won’t be a drive-in for the foreseeable future, it will serve as a voting center for the fall election.

Kaplan said ensuring that Oakland voters have access to multiple safe and easily accessible places to vote or drop off mail-in ballots was a priority. “The Alameda County Registrar of Voters was collecting input about voting sites, and we reached out to them about adding more ballot drop boxes and asked them to look at the Coliseum.”

As an approved early voting site, the Coliseum gates will be open to voters from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. On Election Day, Nov. 3., the hours will be extended from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Voters who wish to vote in-person will be able to do so inside the Oakland Arena where social distancing and masks will be enforced. Those who prefer curbside voting can use drive-thru drop-offs for completed ballots, which will be set up in the parking lot. 

“You’ll be able to drive up and drop off your ballot, or vote on-site,” Kaplan said. “Either way, whether you have your vote-by-mail ballot, or don’t have it, or if it never showed up, or if you have disability access needs, you can come to the Coliseum-Arena site.”

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.