Watching progress of IMAX excites Warren

08/20/2010 12:00 AM

08/21/2010 5:19 AM

Work on Bill Warren's IMAX theater at 21st Street and Tyler Road has reached the midway point, with its owner confident that the six-story structure will open on time on Dec. 17.

"The more this thing goes up, the more excited I get about getting it open," Warren said Friday, as workers near completion of the outer structure.

The 600-seat IMAX theater should be done by Dec. 15, Warren said, with renovations to the other theater auditoriums at 21st and Tyler done by the end of November.

The auditorium remodels, which will begin in September, include new screens, seating and some decor, Warren said. The total project cost is about $9 million. It is being paid through a $16 million city industrial revenue bond issue, a loan from the investors who buy the bonds.

"Essentially, it's 90 days to put in the structure and 90 days to finish the interior," he said. "They'll start laying in the structural steel for the stadium seat floor next week, and it'll be enclosed in a week or two."

The IMAX is scheduled to open "Tron: Legacy," the high-tech 3D adventure starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde.

Warren said he hasn't settled on IMAX ticket prices yet, but he expects them to run around 30 percent higher — or $3 more than the $10 adult charge for standard digital movies at his theaters.

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell, who represents that area, said he's excited about the economic boost the theater will provide the city.

"It is another one of those opportunities for Wichita to really get a little bit healthy in a bad economy," Longwell said.

John Rolfe, president of Go Wichita, said the theater will be an important marketing tool for Wichita tourism.

"It's a selling point, for conventions on one side and to our leisure travelers," he said.

The IMAX screen itself, six stories of delicate silver composite, will be one of the last construction details, Warren said.

"You can't so much as touch it," he said. "It's obviously the biggest screen we've ever done, and it will be a very, very involved and delicate process.

"It's kind of a last-minute thing. You've got to have a clean room, no construction debris, when it comes in."

Warren said he's enjoying the construction process, and he refused to rule out an IMAX expansion in Moore, Okla.

"I love to build stuff like this and do special things," he said. "I'm too excited about this to be worried."

No worries at all, Longwell said.

"This is going to be absolutely good for Wichita," he said.

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