Gilbert Regional Park

While parks in Gilbert have been closed to users, the town has been busily working on new amenities at the Gilbert Regional Park as part of the development’s Phase 1B, slated to open this summer.

As COVID-19 lingers on for the foreseeable future, Gilbert is bringing back a relic of the past – drive-in movies for people at Desert Sky Park. 

The offering is something residents said they wanted in a town survey that gauged their comfort level in returning for Parks and Recreation services. 

The department was hardest hit by the pandemic restrictions that closed down programming, community pools, recreation centers and park amenities. 

Gov. Doug Ducey last Tuesday further eased his executive orders, allowing pools and gyms to re-open – a day after restaurants were allowed to resume inside dining with social distancing guidelines.

The department is kicking off the drive-in movie series on Friday night, May 22, Recreation Supervisor Denise Merdon told the Parks and Recreation Board last week. 

The department plans to host the movies Fridays and Saturdays, May 22 to June 13 with 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. show times. Each weekend there will be two different movies offered, Merdon said. However, the department’s Facebook page says the movie time is “7 p.m.-10 p.m.”

This weekend’s showings are “Sonic the Hedgehog” at 8 p.m. and “Jumanji: The Next Level” at 10:15 p.m. 

“Both were not able to be released in theaters,” Merdon said. “We’re looking to have 130 cars per movie.”

Merdon said staff spent four weeks preparing for the entertainment opportunity that also maintains the social distancing that is still in effect.

Online tickets went on sale late last week – $25 per car for the 8 p.m. show and $20 for the 10:15 p.m. movie. Vehicles will be parked in every other spot and people will be required to stay inside their vehicles unless they are using the restrooms, Merdon said. 

Two food trucks will be on site and people will have to bring the food back to their cars to eat. Merdon said staff will be at the site to help direct cars and to help ensure social-distancing guidelines.

“We’re looking at what communities are doing and this is very well-received,” she said. “We’re excited to be able to kick this off for the community.”

During their heyday in the late 1950s, there were about 50 drive-in theaters operating in Arizona, including one in Scottsdale that closed in 2011 and was demolished around 2014, according to driveinmovie.com. Today, there’s one left in the state, West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In.

With COVID-19 shuttering theaters and other entertainment venues, drive-in movies reportedly have become popular again, popping up temporarily in the Valley and elsewhere in the country.

Talking Stick began offering them last month and in Chandler, a Realtor organized one that drew about 30 carloads of about 100 fans.

Drive-in movies, movies in the park and parades were the top three special events residents said they are interested in attending this year, according to Robert Carmona, Parks and Recreation director. 

The survey, conducted April 30 to May 4, drew 2,282 respondents, a majority indicating interest in returning to facilities and programs this year.

“It’s really great feedback for us as we look at re-opening,” Carmona said, adding other communities want to copy the department’s survey. “We are in full planning for recreational programming for the rest of the summer.”

The programs that were of the most interest among the residents were aquatics, health and fitness, and sports with 62.4 percent of residents preferring in-person programs for the remainder of the year, according to Carmona.

Residents prefer to see “as many as the event venue can accommodate while still allowing for social distancing” and some wanted medium-sized groups of five-10 people in future programming, according to the survey.  

The online survey also queried residents on their levels of concern in returning this year to Parks and Recreation services, facilities, programs and special events.

On a scale of 1-5 with 1 for “no concern” and 5 for “highly concerned,” 27.54 percent of the respondents said they had no concerns while 14.38 percent said they were highly concerned.

Residents also gave feedback on what safety measures they expected to see in place, Carmona said.

The top concern for 1,036 residents was for the department to post clear cleaning/sanitizing schedules of the facilities while 873 residents wanted limited class sizes, followed by 655 who wanted limited facility occupancy and 443 who wanted all three in place.

Only 315 residents favored everyone at a facility to be required to wear a mask, according to the survey.

Residents said they would most likely want to return to facilities, programs and special events and “whichever allows for social distancing.” 

 The survey showed 1,265 would return to the facilities and programs, 686 would participate in special events while 336 would participate in tournaments and 336 would rent fields or other amenities.

While less than 40 percent of the respondents showed an interest in remote recreation offered during the closures, there is a market for it, according to staff.

The department just finished hosting a free, four-week eSports Tournament series that allowed participants to test their gaming skills in a virtual area. That attracted over 300 participants, Merdon said.

“We got some sponsors interested in this and some (participants) are willing to pay for it,” she said “Moving forward we are adding this to our event platform.”

With the governor lifting most restrictions, Gilbert began opening park amenities last Friday – Freestone Recreation Center, playgrounds, courts and drinking fountains.

This Monday, McQueen Park Activity Center gymnasium opens, followed by fields, armadas and room rentals this coming Friday, according to town spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison.

The town’s four public pools are scheduled to open Saturday, she said, adding limited usage and hours may apply for these facilities.

Carmona also told the board work continues on Phase 1B of Gilbert Regional Park, which includes pickleball courts, tennis courts and a 7.5-acre lake