Plans by R.L. Fridley Theatres Inc. for a movie theater development called The Palms in Waukee could branch out into something much larger, including the country's largest Imax Corp. laser projector movie screen.

The Waukee City Council heard plans for the project, which could exceed $20 million with inclusion of the Imax theater, during its meeting Tuesday. Fridley representatives were on hand to provide a look at what could be, if the council would agree to provide economic development incentives.

Russell Vannorsdel, director of operations for Fridley, said today that the company has an exclusive agreement with Imax to be the sole provider of such a theater in Greater Des Moines.

Fridley Theatres paid a little more than $2 million last year for 15 acres of land at at the northwest corner of Northeast Westgate Drive and Hickman Road. Vannorsdel said the purchase was a pure real estate investment, one with the thought that Waukee, with its growing population and eased commute to Hickman Road from Interstate 80 along Grand Prairie Parkway, would make a theater complex a good development.

Whatever land was not used for the theaters could be sold for additional development. With its proximity to the site of a new Waukee high school, separate pieces of development property that are owned by Knapp Properties Inc. and Hurd Real Estate Services Inc., as well as a Hy-Vee Inc. store, the property is not going to depreciate, Vannorsdel said.

However, an Imax theater, with its super-high, laser-delivered picture quality, could draw moviegoers from all of Central Iowa, if not the Midwest.

"It could be the best in the Midwest and certainly in Iowa," Vannorsdel said.

Fridley Theatres is calling the Imax project its premier plan for the site. Other options would be for a neighborhood theater or no theater at all, with the land sold for other development.

The premier project would include a restaurant and bar and an auditorium with at-your-seat food and beverage service. And those seats -- well, they could be plush leather recliners or rockers.
This is a proposal very much in its preliminary phases, Vannorsdel said.

One thing is for certain, Fridley Theatres is bringing an Imax theater to Greater Des Moines. The company also is considering land in Ankeny.

Vannorsdel said Ankeny and Waukee, with their burgeoning populations and proximity to interstates, are the logical choices for such a theater.

Ben Garrett of Knapp Properties is representing Fridley Theatres on the Waukee project. His company owns about 38 acres near the proposed theater site..

"Their intent is to make a statement," he said. "As a neighbor, Knapp Properties is excited about the project."