Meridian, Idaho, just outside the state capital, has grown rapidly from 10,000 residents to 75,000 in the past two decades. The community grew so fast that many different subdivisions were becoming their own mini-communities. Mayor Tammy de Weerd wanted to find a way to help Meridian develop its own identity and prevent it from becoming a “pass-through” bedroom community.
Two years ago, the city started organizing summer movie nights on Fridays at 56-acre Settlers Park, the largest park in the city. Meridian purchased outdoor cinema equipment and a 14-foot-high inflatable movie screen from Lindon, Utah-based Open Air Cinema. “There are so many things that keep us inside and apart from each other,” says Colin Moss, recreation coordinator for the Meridian Parks and Recreation Department. “One of the main things we wanted to accomplish with this program is to get people out and to provide a platform for families to spend more time together.”
The first summer, movie night attendance averaged about 500 people per screening. Last summer, Meridian movie nights attracted an average of 1,000 people per show, with a record attendance of 2,000 one July evening. “We have really created a nice atmosphere to watch a movie with friends and neighbors under the stars,” Moss says.
The city sells sponsorships for the movie series and each screening, and this year it is planning to turn concessions over to professional vendors who will pay the city for the right to sell food and refreshments to attendees. “Now that we are in a down economy, people are really interested in finding something to do as a family that is inexpensive and fun,” Moss says. “People in the community are turning Settlers Park into the place to be on Friday nights.”