Mo. tries to keep AMC from leaving for Kansas

Kansas City, Mo., civic leaders are making an 11th-hour effort to keep AMC Entertainment from leaving downtown for Kansas and have enlisted the aid of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has invited Nixon to meet with Gerry Lopez, the top executive at AMC, in early April.

"We've also been in conversation with some others in the private sector about joining with the city and state of Missouri to retain AMC," chamber president Jim Heeter said.

The Star reported four months ago that Kansas development officials had offered AMC a $47 million incentive package to jump the state line.

AMC officials are expected to make a decision soon.

The Downtown Council of business and property owners is joining the bid to keep AMC. The company has 400 employees at the 10 Main tower.

Mike Deggendorf, chairman of the Downtown Council, told the group at its board meeting this week that a delegation recently visited Lopez.

"We wanted to know if there was anything we could do to help out," he said.

AMC officials declined to comment.

Kansas officials have been busy lobbying AMC to take advantage of their incentive package. The company has received calls from former Gov. Mark Parkinson as well as Gov. Sam Brownback.

One incentive in particular may be attractive. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas, or PEAK, program, allows employers bringing new jobs to keep 95 percent of their payroll withholding tax.

Jeff Kaczmarek, president and CEO of the Kansas City Economic Development Corp., said his agency and supporters in the business community were trying to persuade AMC to hit the "hold button."

But he acknowledged there was not much Kansas City could do to match the Kansas offer.

Kaczmarek said the city had asked AMC for more time to showcase other real estate options and learn whether the Missouri General Assembly can devise something to narrow the gap with Kansas. The hope is the financial incentive package offered by the city and state can be sweetened enough to allow an emotional card to come into play.

The story of AMC begins in 1920, when Edward Dubinsky leased his first movie theater in downtown Kansas City. His son, Stan Durwood, was born the same year. Durwood later founded AMC and made it one of the country's largest movie theater chains.

Durwood also was a proponent of redeveloping downtown. Although his effort failed, AMC ultimately teamed with the Cordish Cos. to renovate the Mainstreet and Midland theaters, key anchors of the Power & Light District.

"Will we be able to exceed what Kansas is offering? No," Kaczmarek said. "But we want to close the gap so AMC's relationship to Kansas City and other components are compelling.

"At the end of the day, (Lopez) made it clear that's good and important, but the bottom line is, it's a business decision."