State rethinks road plan that threatens theater

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By Shane Farley
December 4, 2013 - 1:41:26 pm
A worker adds to the sign at Cowley Cinema 8 in this photo taken in 2011, when Mitchell Theatres acquired the facility.
NewsCow file photo

Owners of the Cowley Cinema 8 near Strother Field said they are hopeful that the state has permanently scrapped one proposal for improvements on U.S. 77 that would include tearing down the 10-year-old movie theater.

Mitchell Theatres officials said they first learned of the plan - which is part of the Kansas Dept. of Transportation’s Pavement Preservation Project - early last month. Mitchell owns and operates Cowley Cinema 8.

Brian Mitchell, a representative of the company, said KDOT officials told him studies showed that the best option was to condemn theater property to construct an overpass and exit aimed at enhancing safety and traffic flow.

The state is currently in the planning stage of a project to improve nearly eight miles of 77 between Winfield and Ark City.

Included in that is a concept for a new interchange at 77 and 222nd Rd., which serves as the entryway to the theater. That intersection has been the site of multiple motor vehicle accidents in recent years.

Mitchell said he was later part of a conference call with several KDOT engineers and Cowley County officials in which the project was discussed. He said he has since been reassured the state will pursue a project that will leave Cowley Cinema 8 intact.

Martin Miller, KDOT’s public affairs manager for South Central Kansas, confirmed that the state was reconsidering initial plans for the interchange.

“KDOT is looking at other options at this time for the proposed improvements to the US-77 and 222nd Road intersection/interchange area that will not affect the Cowley 8 Cinema,” he said in an email response to questions from NewsCow. “We are working closely with local officials on the most desirable option for these improvements and we consider the input from local officials and residents as very valuable.”

Mitchell said any plan that included the state acquiring the theater property through eminent domain, would like leave Cowley County without a movie theater. That’s because property owners normally are compensated for the appraised value of their property and not replacement cost, which is much higher.

“Cowley 8 is a good theater for us, but its 10-year track record does not even come close to being able to support a new facility,” Mitchell wrote in an email to NewsCow. “So we explained to them, if KDOT tore down the Cowley 8, and Ark City and Winfield are not able to kick in significant dollars, we would not rebuild and Cowley customers would have to drive to Ponca City or Wichita for their movies.”

Mitchell Theatres acquired the local theater from B & B Theatres in 2011.

KDOT has an open house planned to discuss the project. It is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Dec. 12, at the Cowley County Mental Health and Counseling Center, 22214 D St., at Strother Field Industrial Park.

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