UPDATE: The owner states that the property has not sold, however ECM has confirmed that it is in escrow. Read more: https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/santee-drive-sale-sparks-outcry-property-escrow-city-confirms
By Mike Allen
May 6, 2023 (Santee) - The Santee Drive-In, which opened in 1958 and one of the last open-air drive-ins left in the county, is in escrow to a Los Angeles-based development firm, North Palisades Partners.
Michael Coyne, Santee’s principal planner, said North Palisades recently filed an application with the city, notifying it that it plans to build a 291,000-square foot industrial building at the 13.5-acre site, but could give no further details about the project, saying release of such news is premature.
“We’re still waiting for all the environmental documentation, and historical resource studies,” Coyne said. “Escrow likely won’t close until they get all their entitlements. It’ll be at least six months before it goes before the City Council.”
Calls and emails sent to NPP for comment were not returned. Attempts to reach the drive-in owners, listed as the Forte Family Limited Partnership, were unsuccessful.
The drive-in owners purposely wanted to keep a low profile on the transaction, Coyne said. “They don’t want to answer questions about the closing of the drive-in theater.”
In addition to the two-screen theater, the site is used on Saturdays and Sundays for the Santee Swap Meet, which has also been operating since 1958, according to the event’s website, www.santeeswap.com. The site will host what promoters are calling the largest auto swap meet in the county on Monday, May 29 from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. featuring used cars, cycles and trucks.
North Palisades Partners says on its website, www.northpalisade.com, that since its founding in 2018, the firm has acquired 17 industrial and self-storage properties in the state representing about $500 million in total value.
In July 2022, NPP reported it acquired a 1.4-acre parcel at 9350 Miramar Road for $5.5 million. The firm said it planned to erect a 61,000 square foot logistics facility for industrial outdoor use. The location was formerly an Amerigas propane distribution facility.
“They’re (NPP) saying there’s lots of demand for the size of the building in the San Diego area,” Coyne said.
News of the drive-in sale took most people by surprise, but a manager for next-door neighbor BNS Brewery said the sale could mean increased business at the beer maker off North Woodside Avenue next to Highway 67. “It could be a benefit to us, increase the post-work shift beer drinker, but we do get a lot of benefit from the swap meet too, …People going and coming there who stop in and have a beer or cocktail (BNS also runs a distillery),” said Blake Chaffin.
Chaffin said he’s sorry the theater is closing. One reason is that the site makes it easy for folks trying to find where the brewery is located, and can see that huge sign just off the 67. “I think it’s one of the oldest standing signs in Santee…Certainly it’s a marquee for us. People go, there’s BNS right next to the drive-in,” he said.
Santee Vice Mayor Laura Koval said the closing of the drive-in is sad news. “I remember going there in high school back in the ‘80s, and then later taking my girls there,” she said. “It’s probably a big investment to keep up with the technology that’s required of that kind of movie experience, and movie theaters in general are struggling.”
Besides the Santee drive-in, there’s one other similar facility, the South Bay Drive-In left in San Diego County, just outside Imperial Beach in South San Diego, a facility with three screens.
In other commercial development news, The Schoolyard, a 13-acre site off Mission Gorge Road just east of Cottonwood Avenue that was originally planned as commercial office and residential space is now going to become a dual car dealership lot. Telephone calls to the representative for that project and its broker were not returned.