- By Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
A beloved Austin movie theater is packing up and heading for Hays County.
The Blue Starlite drive-in will soon leave the Austin Studios complex on East 51st Street in East Austin to make way for new development, but owner Josh Frank has been able to secure a 10-year lease on a new site in the Buda area that will allow him to dramatically expand the operation early next year.
The new facility is expected to open in February at 1510 Satterwhite Road, on Buda’s eastern outskirts. The Blue Starlite will feature year-round camping opportunities and a collaboration with Austin-based Vulcan Video that will allow for on-site video rentals, among other amenities, Frank said.
“The Mueller development is at our doorstep and about to take over most of the open space behind Austin Film Society,” Frank said. “It is sadly the last piece of big, open land of its kind in Central Austin and we have been honored to have been a part of its history, as well as to have been connected to the Austin Film Society and Austin Studios, who made it all possible for us to have a home there for so long. We will greatly miss being a part of that community, but it is also the right time for us to go out on our own.”
The drive-in got its start about seven years ago, Frank said, squeezing about a dozen cars a night into an alleyway off East First Street. Back then, the screen was painted onto the side of a brick wall. The drive-in has been at Austin Studios for the past two and a half years.
“We were the first entertainment business to open at Mueller,” Frank said. “We saw it expand and grow so fast. There was an amazing energy being on the property of the Austin Film Society. I mean, we are a drive-in that was on a movie studio lot. Being on East 51st Street is what took our small little Austin oddball business and made it legit.”
That higher profile the past couple years has helped the business establish a long list of regulars. Frank said he expects those movie-goers will make the drive south of Austin when the new, bigger facility opens. When they come, he said, visitors will find a better screen and projector, more speakers and expanded concessions options including brisket from Black’s BBQ, as well as beer and wine.
“I feel pretty confident in our passionate and loyal patrons that they will come to our new home as much as they have come to our current one,” Frank said. “It will be different, but I also know it will be so much more than we have ever had to offer. I also know we will have an entirely new audience coming from South and West Austin.”
Frank said he expects the camping, in particular, to be popular. There will be cabins, or guests can bring a tent.
“We want it to feel like you’re at summer camp,” he said. “I feel like part of what drew people to our East 51st Street space was the desire to get away from the Austin that they are around every day, the Austin that is less human scale now, and more big-city scale, and at our new location that is one thing that we are absolutely going to be able to continue offering, and on a whole other level.”