December 25, 2012

Bill Warren’s IMAX theater a world-class success

Movie-theater owner Bill Warren’s IMAX theater turns 2 years old this month, and he has more reason to celebrate than he thought he would.

Movie-theater owner Bill Warren’s IMAX theater turns 2 years old this month, and he has more reason to celebrate than he thought he would.

“As the IMAX people said, we’re crazy good,” Warren said.

He said that wasn’t the initial reaction from IMAX. Warren said his negotiations with the company to get an IMAX theater here took about eight months.

“We just had a certain type of IMAX we wanted to build,” Warren said.

He says IMAX questioned his desire for 600 seats, a huge screen, drapes in front of it and speakers on the side walls at his theater near 21st and Tyler.

“Our whole idea is that luxury theater concept,” Warren said. “We had to kind of convince them that was the right move.”

Convince them he did.

“He is one of the supreme exhibitors of the world we deal with,” said Phil Groves, senior vice president of worldwide distribution for IMAX.

“That is no hyperbole,” Groves said. “He is completely unbridled in how he applies himself to his movie theater. He is simply one of the best there are.”

The numbers seem to back that up.

In 2011, Warren says 22 IMAX movies were released.

“Wichita, Kansas, was No. 1 in the nation on 11 of those movies,” he said, referring to what each theater grossed.

“That’s kind of like mid-air levitation as far as I’m concerned, and they were in shock,” Warren said of IMAX officials.

“It travels with the IMAX locations that are in New York and San Francisco and around the world,” Groves said. “The Wichita IMAX is world class in its grossing capability.”

The success of the IMAX theater here prompted Warren to open another in Moore, Okla., in February.

The latest figures on sales aren’t available, but Warren said, “We’re still doing huge business.” What’s more, he said, the theater has “brought in tons of people from out of town into the city.”

He says ticket sales vary, but Warren estimates about 40 percent of the theater’s customers come from outside Sedgwick County.

“I knew IMAX was a tourist attraction, and I just thought over the years that the city was missing out on that,” Warren said.

On big-budget pictures such as “The Hobbit” and “The Dark Knight,” he said, “We’ve really pulled some distance.”

Warren said he finally was able to convince IMAX to let him build what he wanted.

“You either do it right or you don’t do it,” he said. “They kind of figured out that we’re the only game in town.”

Groves especially liked when Warren was building the theater and sending daily photos with updates.

“I thought ... this is like a baby photo album,” he said. “It struck me he’s like a parent.”

A surprised parent whose baby – even by Warren’s standards – overachieved.

“It worked better than I thought it would.”

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