Northrock 14’s parent company files bankruptcy

Editor's note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect date of Northrock 14's opening.

Once the east side’s premier movie theater, Northrock 14 will close, following a decision by its owner Dickinson Theatres to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Overland Park-based Dickinson is trying to reorganize to save the company, but has petitioned the bankruptcy court to allow it to break the lease on the Northrock 14 building and close the business down.

If the court grants the request, the company could be out of there within 30 to 60 days, said attorney Sharon Stolte of Stinson Morrison Hecker. Stolte said there was no clear time frame for closing Northrock 14, and that Dickinson could shut down its theater operation in Wichita at any time.

The theater building at 3151 Penstemon in northeast Wichita is owned by Occidental Management, which bought the building in 2011 with plans to convert its 95,000 square feet into Class A office space.

Chad Stafford, president of Occidental Management, said Monday the bankruptcy filing was not a surprise, and he described the theater’s lease as a “temporary arrangement.”

“It was an interim solution, not anything long term that we were banking on,” Stafford said.

Stafford said Occidental’s plan all along was to start converting the theater building into office space in 2013.

“That’s the same track we’re working on,” he said.

Dickinson, which filed its bankruptcy papers in Kansas City, Kan., said it had $2.2 million in assets and $7.6 million in liabilities.

According to court documents, the company operates 210 screens in 18 locations in seven states.

“Some of these locations are expected to be closed prior to confirmation of the (reorganization) Plan, but the remaining business operations will be stronger,” the company said in court documents.

The company cited competition, fewer box office hits in recent years, and higher licensing fees from film distributors as reasons for the bankruptcy, according to court documents.

The closing of Northrock 14 would signal the end of Dickinson’s long-running battle with Bill Warren for local movie-goers loyalties.

Dickinson opened Northrock 6 in 1987, and instantly dominated the east-side movie scene. Warren started a few years later with the second-run Palace, then opened his own plush $10 million first-run theater at 21st and Tyler in 1996, splitting the town between east and west.

In 1998 Dickinson came back with the $10 million Northrock 14, futuristically decorated in purple, pink and black with a touch of neon and a reflective ceiling. It opened to large crowds.

Warren fired back by adding eight more screens at his west-side theater a year later.

Dickinson’s then-owner John Hartley sought unsuccessfully to build an 18-screen theater at Maple and Maize Road in 2002, and the company’s fortunes began to dim.

At the same time Warren continued to expand, opening his large east-side theater, then a downtown theater. He has continued to upgrade and expand his properties since.

Northrock, during the same time, became less competitive.

On Monday, Warren said he didn’t run Dickinson out of Wichita.

“It has not been a well-run company for 20 years,” he said. “You can see it’s pretty obvious the customers have rejected their business model.”

But Warren didn’t gloat about the departure of his once-bitter foe.

“It’s not good for the industry, it’s not going to help us,” he said. “It’s too bad.”