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“I think the key word is adaptive use,” Saltarelli said. “You can build on what’s already in place.”

Some drive-ins have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including the Spud Drive In in Idaho, the Moonlite Drive-In in Abingdon, Va., and the 66 Drive-In in Jasper, Mo. No Texas drive-ins are on the list, said Greg Smith, national register coordinator at the Texas Historical Commission.

“Any number of drive-ins could be eligible for a national listing. What’s really essential is for new property owners to find a use that complements the use of the historic property,” Smith said.

That said, the popularity of Texas roadside attractions from the postwar era is only growing, Smith said, as tourists drive Route 66 in the Panhandle or hunt through small towns for old motels or dilapidated buildings. Groups such as the Society for Commercial Archaeology, which focuses on 20th-century commercial architecture, have helped fuel the interest.

“People are interested in heritage tourism of all types,” said Smith, a former board member of the group. “Drive-ins are just another one of those that serves as a draw.”

But Miller still must find someone willing to keep the Brazos a drive-in.

John Vincent Jr., president of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association and owner of the Wellfleet Drive-In in Wellfleet, Mass., said there are interested buyers for old drive-ins.

“Some are still going to go for the highest and best use, and that may not be a drive-in,” Vincent said. “But there are people who want to buy them and keep them as drive-ins if they can make it work.”

At the end of last year, 357 drive-ins were still open nationally, with a total of 604 screens, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. Texas had 15 drive-ins with a total of 26 screens, including Fort Worth’s Coyote Drive-In. About half the screens had converted to digital by last fall, Vincent said.

“I don’t think anyone knows how many will convert and how many will just throw up their hands and not reopen in the spring,” Vincent said. “Whether it’s 10, 15 or 25 percent that don’t reopen, I can’t predict at this point.”

Drive-in owners do have another chance to use a virtual print fee program - a subsidy to help offset the cost of digital equipment - but Vincent said they have a tight deadline to convert.

Kipp Sherer, who runs, which includes a database of nearly 5,000 current and former drive-ins, said up to 100 drive-ins could balk at the cost of converting.

“When you boil down the conversion costs, it’s often not going to be cost-effective,” Sherer said. “Often, these are family-run and they’ve got to look at running their drive-ins for another 15 years to amortize the cost of converting.”

Brady Wood, chief executive of Coyote Drive-In, which opened in May just north of downtown Fort Worth, said he views the drive-in as an entertainment venue that shows movies. The ice rink was successful, he said, but the theater had help from the Trinity River Vision Authority, the government entity that leased the land.

The Coyote is planning new attractions for the next year, Wood said, but he isn’t ready to announce them.

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