No sour grapes from Maize over Warren's IMAX project

On Tuesday, Bill Warren caught the big economic development fish that got away from Maize.

Nonetheless, Warren's $6.5 million IMAX theater project at 21st and Tyler is being hailed as a boon for Sedgwick County and Wichita.

The Warren project is inside the Wichita city limits but also is in the Maize school district.

Maize city officials said Wednesday that they have no regrets about a two-year courtship of an IMAX for their city, one that ended when developers couldn't secure financing and efforts to establish a tax increment financing district failed.

Their next move is continued growth along the Maize Road corridor from K-96 to 21st Street.

"It's good for the region. The citizens in this area deserve an IMAX," said Richard LaMunyon, the city's administrator.

"It would have been great," said Maize Mayor Clair Donnelly. "We would have gotten some other businesses along with it — a restaurant, a bowling alley. But the guy couldn't put his numbers together, so we'll wish Mr. Warren luck and go back to work."

Doug Powers, superintendent of the Maize school district, said Warren has been a longtime supporter of the district.

"It's nice to see good things come to our district," he said. "It means that we're growing... that we're a great place to be with great opportunities to live and work."

Practically, the expanded IMAX theater is business growth that lessens the property tax burden on individual taxpayers, Powers said.

Commercial growth will remain the centerpiece of those efforts, said LaMunyon and Harland Priddle, the executive director of the K-96 Corridor Development Association.

"It would have been a nice addition to Maize as a tourist attraction, a destination for visitors," Priddle said. "But it still remains a traffic generator for them, a reason for people to stop as they go through."

LaMunyon said the city's economic development efforts along Maize Road are intensifying as the economy recovers, with hotels and restaurants among the targets.

"We were trying a couple of years ago to fund this through a TIF district, and the numbers just didn't support it," LaMunyon said. "It would have been a very risky thing for us to step out and attempt, so I'm confident the right decision was made for us at the time economically."

The proposed TIF district, a stretch of farm ground on Maize's north side, also came under fire at the Sedgwick County Commission, whose tax revenue would have been encumbered as part of the district.

TIF districts are intended by law to improve blighted areas.

"I was all for Maize landing an IMAX, but I just didn't think that raw property is a blighted area," Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton said.

"If they'd created a TIF and not encumbered other entities, it wouldn't have been an issue. If the land had some old buildings on it, it wouldn't have been an issue. But it was raw farm ground, as I remember, with no indications it was really blighted."

Priddle, who helps cities along the corridor court economic development, said Maize retains a strong case for industrial and retail projects.

"I really don't think anyone did anything wrong here," he said. "Maize pursued the IMAX as best they could. They want to increase their tax base, and they took their best shot."

Norton praised Maize's reaction to Warren's project.

"It just sounds like this project will create a buzz for our area like no other," Norton said.

"We've tried to take a regional approach that when Harvey, Sumner or Butler counties win, we win. And when we win, they win. I think that their focus on figuring out how they can benefit from the IMAX is a really healthy attitude."