Dispute over sign in Portage settled

PORTAGE – A monthslong dispute between Portage Township supervisors and Portage Bar-Ann Drive-In management ended Wednesday when both parties finalized a lease and settlement agreement to move the theater’s sign off a township right of way.

A disagreement between theater operators and the supervisors began in December, when the supervisors ordered a longstanding theater sign to be moved, claiming it was a driving hazard and township liability.

Theater Manager Dustin Grush said the owners feared moving the sign would kill business and refused, supervisors filed an injunction to force their hand.

Thousands of people – township residents and theater fans included – signed petitions urging the township to withdraw the lawsuit, and roughly 50 people braved subzero temperatures to attend a Jan. 6 meeting to decry the decision.

As part of the agreement, Gawel Enterprises LLC, which operates the drive-in, has now agreed to move the sign to the northern side of Cyran Alley. It will be placed on a 5-by-10-foot tract of land leased from the township for a $100 annual fee, with the lease extending 99 years until 2113.

The township also agreed to supply labor needed to extend underground electrical wiring to the sign’s new location and will pave the alley.

The agreement also indemnifies the township against all liabilities or lawsuits that might arise regarding the sign, and will require Gawel to add the township to its liability insurance as an insured party.

Township solicitor Calvin J. Webb said regardless of the emotions involved in the case, the township was obligated to address its liability issue. He said the agreement “was as good a deal as could be reached.”

Supervisor Richard Olshavsky also said the township was only upholding its obligation to protect the public.

“The township never, from the beginning, wanted to do any harm to the drive-in,” he said.

Grush said he believed the agreement was the best the theater could get and said the drive-in is set to open about April 18, pending the arrival of a new digital projector.