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City plans to give Warren financial help for IMAX theater

People could be watching movies at an IMAX theater by Christmas now that 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 council's unanimous approval came after a lengthy debate this morning that questioned whether the theater would be a significant tourism attraction.

But with strong cost-benefit ratios and council support, the city's letter of intent to Warren passed.

Mayor Carl Brewer said that, although he doesn’t understand why IMAX theaters are so great, other cities will try to lure the theater to their areas because it’s a huge boost for other businesses and helps attract new business and conventions.

Another vote next month will be required before the city would issue bonds.

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.

The proposed bond issue does not directly send taxpayer money to the project. The city issues 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.

Mayor Carl Brewer asked how Warren's request differs from a controversial industrial revenue bond request from Genesis Health Club that led to a lawsuit against the city.

Allen Bell, director of the city's urban development department, said that Genesis was not a tourist attraction and that the theater would draw people from the entire Wichita region.

Jon Rolph said all Warren theaters are "truly a gem" that Wichita has and are a good marketing tool. And he said IMAX theaters offer major benefits to cities.

"Clearly it has a significant economic impact," he said.