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Wichita City Council OKs bonds for Warren's IMAX theater, upgrades

Wichita City Council members have approved their intent to issue $16 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance Bill Warren's theater at 21st and Tyler. The bonds will go toward a 600-seat IMAX theater, a complete remodeling of the 14-year-old theater's 17 auditoriums and refinancing $8.8 million in existing loans on the facility.
Wichita City Council members have approved their intent to issue $16 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance Bill Warren's theater at 21st and Tyler. The bonds will go toward a 600-seat IMAX theater, a complete remodeling of the 14-year-old theater's 17 auditoriums and refinancing $8.8 million in existing loans on the facility. Courtesy photo

Work will begin within 60 days on Bill Warren's "big, bad" IMAX theater at 21st and Tyler after Wichita City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a $16 million industrial revenue bond issue for the project.

The vote came after a lengthy debate over the project's value as a tourist attraction, including a shot by Mayor Carl Brewer at frequent opponents of public-private partnerships, whom the mayor accused of living in the past.

The 600-seat IMAX theater, with ticket prices $3 to $5 above Warren's digital theaters, will open along with the renovated 21st and Tyler theater by Christmas, Warren said after the vote.

"I'm very pleased. We could have taken this to a larger city, but this is our hometown," he said. "This is where we're headquartered. We were born here, raised here, and we live here. It will be a tremendous deal for the city. This is a big deal."

The bonds will go toward the IMAX theater, a complete remodeling of the 14-year-old theater's 17 auditoriums and refinancing $8.8 million in existing loans on the facility.

The bond issue does not directly send taxpayer money to the project. The city will issue bonds that will be purchased by Intrust Bank, according to city documents.

Typically, developers who receive IRBs also receive an agreement that they will not have to pay property taxes on the project.

Warren has agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes based on the assessed valuation of the project: $236,389 in the first year, with annual 2.3 percent increases.

Warren's IRB request came under fire from some audience members who criticized public incentives for private businesses.

Bob Weeks said Warren's proposal equates to "not paying property taxes." He also made reference to the $6 million loan the city gave Warren in 2008 to save the struggling Old Town theater.

"He has a successful record of operating theaters, except in a tax-advantaged area," Weeks said, calling that record "an element of irony."

Shirley Koehn, who identified herself as a local business owner, said the city should not offer incentives to businesses.

"If a project is worthwhile, do it," she said. "If it isn't, you don't."

Those protests, on the heels of similar complaints during an equally lengthy council debate Tuesday morning on community improvement districts, left Brewer shaking his head in disagreement with Weeks.

"I've listened to individuals come up and say, 'You know, we'd really like to have businesses operate on their own merit,' " Brewer said. "If an individual's ready to start a business, then they just make it happen. Either they can or they can't.

"You're in for a rude awakening. That's not the rest of America. The rest of America is doing everything they can do to land any business that might be a tourist attraction to bring more people to their communities, to bring in more revenue, more dollars."

Brewer told the audience that Wichita companies have been targeted by incentive-rich cities and states for recruitment, including major corporations and their subcontractors.

"And they're doing whatever it takes to land the 1,500 jobs, the 2,000 jobs, the 3,000 jobs from your community," he said. "Now, those are the things that are flying under the radar that you're not paying attention to....

"If the right idea is to not do anything, then I hate to be the one to tell you this, but other cities and other states will take your businesses. We guarantee it."

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