Economic development in Wichita: Two tales

Tonight as Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivers his State of the City address, Wichitans will want to remember past addresses, statements, admonitions, and projections from the mayor.

Here’s one for the record book: In his 2008 address, Brewer promised specific development at the struggling Waterfront development, which is heavily subsidized. Beaming with pride, Brewer said to the audience: “And, great strides are being made at Wichita Waterwalk. The topping out ceremony for Waterwalk Place is scheduled for this Thursday and I invite everyone to this event. I am pleased to announce two more national tenants that will be a part of the WaterWalk restaurant and entertainment development. … I am pleased to announce two more national tenants that will be a part of the WaterWalk restaurant and entertainment development. Joining Saddle Ranch Chop House will be Funny Bone Comedy Club and Wet Willies restaurant and daiquiri bar. These are just a couple of the fun and exciting tenants that will help make WaterWalk — Wichita’s Next Great Gathering Place.” (The repeated sentence is still in the original text, after five years, so it must mean something.)

Five years later, none of these establishments have started construction at Waterwalk. In fact, no restaurant or entertainment venue has. We still subsidize it, though. That hasn’t changed.

Here’s another — and more substantial — example of a deal pitched to Wichitans as a unique situation. Something too good for Wichita to pass on.

In 2010 Wichita movie theater owner Bill Warren proposed building an Imax theater in west Wichita. When the Wichita City Council considered this matter …

Wait. Stop right there. Why, if someone wants to build a movie theater, does the city council have to be involved? We’ll see.

The city staff’s agenda report for the item stated “The proposed new IMAX Theater will provide a regional tourism/entertainment attraction that is expected to draw visitors from throughout Kansas and parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska.” This so impressed Wichita politicians and bureaucrats that they approved Warren’s request for Industrial Revenue Bonds. The effect of these bonds is that American Luxury Cinemas, Inc. escapes paying property taxes on the new theater, estimated by the city to be $136,099 each year. The company also avoided paying an estimated $630,000 in sales taxes, according to the city document.

So with Wichita having this unique attraction that will spur people to drive all the way to Wichita from Texas to watch movies, I was surprised, just one year later, to see the Wichita Business Journal report that Warren might open a similar Imax theater in Moore, Oklahoma. That’s between Wichita and Texas.

Recall that just one year earlier Warren received economic development incentives from the city based partly on the singular nature of the proposed theater in the region. At that time Wichita city officials said the Wichita theater would be a “major tourism attraction,” drawing from as far away as Texas. But with another Warren IMAX built in suburban Oklahoma City, I think we can now acknowledge that we were mislead by someone. As political head of Wichita, that would be Mayor Carl Brewer.

When Warren applied to the Wichita City Council for favored tax treatment for the Wichita theater, Mayor Brewer bought into the myth that there can be only one Warren IMAX theater in the region when he said: “A lot of other cities want this IMAX … they’re on the internet watching this city council meeting to see what we’re going to do because they’re going to make a bid for this IMAX.”

Evidently the mayor couldn’t imagine that there could be more than one IMAX theater in the region.

By the way, Warren received incentives from the Moore City Council, too. Minutes from a council meeting report on “the proposed agreement between the City of Moore/Moore Economic Development Authority and Oklahoma Warren Theatres is a sales tax rebate agreement for the construction and operation of an IMAX Theatre to be located directly north of the existing Warren Theatre. … The ending date is set for December 2019 or when the agreed upon rebate amount of $2 million is reached, whichever comes first. The rebate will be made up of 100% of the City’s 3% sales tax, excluding the ½ cent sales tax added on for the purpose of residential roads and public safety.”

warren-theater-brewers-best-bbq-sauce-small

Well, at least that city isn’t shortchanging residential roads and public safety to pay for movie theaters.

I wonder: Do the Warren theaters in Oklahoma sell Mayor Brewer’s barbeque sauce, as is the case in Wichita?

Inquiring minds want to know.


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