The proposal passed despite Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble's vocal opposition.
"Unfortunately, I think the way we have just spent this money, we have probably excluded giving any money to the Wake County public school system," Coble says.
Downtown Raleigh businesses say most city council members gave the green light because they see the big picture.
"If theIMAX theaterhas the same effect in downtown Raleigh as Exploris has, it will be great for downtown," says business owner Michael Doherty.
When Betsy Hunt opened Sweet Tea and Grits at Raleigh's City Market three years ago, she knew she was taking a risk, a risk that people would not shop downtown. It was a risk she was willing to take.
"We are trying to make a difference," Hunt says. "We want to stay here. I want to stay here."
Downtown merchants say IMAX, a large-screen theater featuring educational films, may be the answer they have been looking for.
IMAX technology first premiered at the Fuji Pavilion at EXPO '70 in Osaka, Japan. Today, there are more than 200 IMAX theaters operating in 25 countries. The films are projected onto giant rectangular screens, up to eight stories high.
IMAX theaters have a six-channel, high-fidelity sound system which eliminates variations in volume and sound quality in the theater.
The Exploris museum has been negotiating with IMAX for months to put the theater on a piece of land adjacent to the facility.
"It will be a reason to come back to Raleigh and a reason to come back downtown," says Exploris president Anne Bryan. "We believe it will draw people from a larger area than we have been able to draw before."
The City Council voted to use money from the hotel and restaurant tax to pay for the theater. Some people say public money should not be used to fund the project.
"I'm sure the people downtown would want more people downtown, but that is really not a concern of all the taxpayers of Wake County or Raleigh," says Don Carrington of the John Locke Foundation. "Everybody wants business, and it is not clear that the city should get involved in directing money from one place to another."
Wake County commissioners have already approved the plan, but they needed the approval of the Raleigh City Council to move forward. Timing is important because the contract between Exploris and IMAX runs out June 30. If everything goes as planned, officials hope to break ground in September and plan to open November 2001.
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