The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 3, 2014

Deal reached on Portage drive-in sign

PORTAGE TOWNSHIP — An agreement struck between Portage Township officials and operators of the Portage Bar-Ann Drive-In means the show will go on at the beloved, decades-old venue.

Township supervisors drew public ire when a safety liability issue arose surrounding the drive-in’s sign, which has been in the center of the 50-foot wide Cyran Alley for several years.

Drive-in supporters feared business would dwindle at the longstanding locale if the sign couldn’t direct new customers where to turn.

The matter was almost taken to court, until a settlement was reached over the course of one afternoon in Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry’s courtroom.

“This resolution is as good a deal as can be reached,” said township Solicitor Calvin Webb. “The supervisors couldn’t do anymore than they’ve done.”

Under the agreement, the drive-in’s sign will be moved about 25 feet west, near the ticket booth and entrance. Drive-in operators will pay $100 a year to lease the township-owned 5-by-10-foot plot, which has been valued at $1,500. The lease will remain active for 99 years but it will be terminated if the drive-in does not open for a 12-month period.

“Then we just had to wait for Penn-DOT, basically because (the sign will now sit) on a PennDOT slope,” said Supervisor Bill Cooper. “We had to get permission for them to put it on their slope a little bit.”

The document also shows Gawel Enterprises LLC, which owns the venue, will be required to maintain public and property liability insurance policies for no less than $1 million each. The township will also be named an additional insured party, to avoid liability suits directed toward the township.

“This is probably the middle of the road for both (parties),” said Dustin Grush, drive-in manager, adding he’s just happy the sign is going to get to stay in an effective area. “Anybody driving up the road will be able to see (the sign) with no problems. That was our ultimate goal.

“It’s going to allow us to stay open. We’re going to open digital in the spring.”

Drive-in operators recently purchased a $75,000 digital projection system, including film servers and speakers, that will open up the variety of features to be shown in the coming years.

“We can actually show DVDs now – and Blu-rays,” said Grush. “There’s a lot of drive-ins that have done a ‘retro’ night. They’ll pick one night a week and, instead of showing a regular feature, they’ll show two movies from the past. They’ll have a Facebook poll of what people want to see and they’ll put together a double feature.

“If you always wanted to see ‘Dirty Dancing’ on the big screen, that’s possible.”

Justin Dennis covers Portage Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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