Last summer, HD on the Go began offering drive-in movies in communities across the Midwest, including Clive and Urbandale. The Des Moines-based business is proposing to create a drive-in movie at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines. Photo provided by HD on the Go


John Putbrese’s business HD on the Go was going strong in 2019, providing video walls at concerts, festivals and athletic events throughout the Midwest.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, thousands of events were canceled in Iowa and the Midwest.

“COVID-19 pretty much ruined our business,” said Putbrese of the company, located at 5016 Park Ave. in Des Moines, that he began about eight years ago. “So we pivoted to drive-in movies.”

HD on the Go showed drive-in movies last year at Clive’s aquatic center, Urbandale’s library and in other communities across the Midwest, he said.

“We went wherever they would hire us to go,” Putbrese said. “For the most part, the movies were jampacked with cars that were socially distanced. … We think people found it to be a fun social event that was also safe.”

As 2021 approached, Putbrese thought about ways to expand HD on the Go’s reach in the Des Moines area and decided to approach the operators of Valley West Mall in West Des Moines about setting up a drive-in movie venue in the mall’s parking lot.

He said he’s signed a lease with the mall contingent on gaining approval from West Des Moines city officials on making changes to zoning codes to allow the venue on the mall site. Two West Des Moines City Council members this week said that they were supportive of the proposed drive-in at Valley West Mall.

If the city gives the necessary approvals, “we are happy to host something that will add to the entertainment of our community and also give people a way to visit the movies if they don’t feel comfortable just yet going into a theater,” Trisha Barton, mall spokeswoman, told the Business Record. “I remember how much fun it was to [go to a drive-in] when I was little. … I think people would really like to attend a drive-in movie, especially if they haven’t ever experienced one.”

Putbrese’s goal is to begin showing second-run movies on May 20. The flicks would be shown twice nightly on Thursday through Sunday and once a night on Monday through Wednesday. He said he’s also working with some nonprofit groups interested in renting the space as a way to raise money for their organizations.

The venue would be located in the parking lot south of the building that once housed Younkers department store. A mobile 10-foot-tall by 36-foot-wide LED screen would be located at the south end of the parking area with the screen facing the mall. Up to 119 vehicles would be able to park in the area; 57 seats for individuals not in vehicles would also be available.

Sound from the movie would be transmitted through an FM transmitter. Concessions would include a food truck and popcorn.

Putbrese said the cost to attend the drive-in will likely be $18 for two people in a vehicle and $30 for a vehicle filled with people.

Valley West Mall is the only place Putbrese plans to have a semi-permanent drive-in movie venue.

“One is enough,” he said. “I think that is all the area can support.”

However, he said he has talked with other cities and mall owners outside the metro area about developing similar venues.

When the pandemic is over, Putbrese said he thinks there still will be a demand for drive-in movie venues.

“Everything that once was popular that went away has a way of coming back,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good four or five years ahead of us for drive-ins to stay popular.”