The location of a proposed Art and Light Museum in Downtown Manhattan, KS (Courtesy of the City of Manhattan). The blue line indicates the old border of the STAR bond district and the red-dotted line is the approved expansion which includes the new museum location.

Manhattan City Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved the expansion of the Downtown STAR bond district, with a public hearing scheduled to update the redevelopment plan on April 5.

The expansion is related to a $43.6 million Art and Light Museum being planned by the DeBruyn’s, owners of The Master Teacher in Manhattan. By expanding the lot to include the proposed development site in the lot north of Pierre and west of 3rd Street, the project is opened up to potentially $23 million in sales tax revenue projected to be generated in the district through 2026.

STAR bonds are a mechanism through which cities can divert largely State shares of sales tax collections from a specified district for a period of time into redevelopment and tourism-generating projects. In addition to that, the DeBruyn’s will commit an estimated $21 million in private funds to the 50,000 square foot installation if plans are finalized.

Read more on prior discussions here.

Tuesday’s vote brings the project one step closer to reality, though numerous things must occur before construction can begin. In order for the city to transfer a publicly-owned parking lot under lease to Manhattan Town Center in the proposed site to the developers, the DeBruyn’s have to complete a negotiated-in-principle deal of $1.8 million with MTC to buy out the remainder of their lease on the lot.

As the leaser, the city will also agree to extend the MTC lease 37 years to a 99 year term while MTC will see its rent rise $15,000 per year three times over that span (2058, 2083, 2103). The city will then transfer the property once a design and building permit are finalized and approved and STAR bonds are issued in the summer.

Also necessary is a public hearing on the redevelopment plan for the district, currently set for the commission’s next meeting on April 5. Commissioners will also vote on first reading of an ordinance amending the plan in light of the proposed museum.

City Manager Ron Fehr was on KMAN’s In Focus Tuesday, saying the commission had already gone through this process with the DeBruyn’s at their previously planned location adjacent to the Flint Hills Discovery Center before they shifted their focus to the current proposed lot.

“The only thing that’s really changing is that they’re going to utilize some of an existing building for some of the museum as well, and it’s obviously in a new location,” says Fehr.

The old Sears Building on 4th Street and the Manhattan Motors property are planned to be incorporated into the final design of the project by the developers. An out-building also owned by ICON adjacent to Pierre, though, is planned for demolition.

Fehr says the project will also go through a review process due to being in the registered Downtown Historic District. Assuming all elements receive approval on the anticipated timeline presented by city administration, construction could begin as early as Fall 2022.

Fehr also addressed concern about public costs associated with the museum on Tuesday’s In Focus, saying some misunderstanding has arisen around the project.

“This is a private, not-for-profit museum,” says Fehr. “It’s not a city museum, the city will have no responsibility in the operation or maintenance of the facility. The city has no responsibility for repayment of the bonds.

“The city will issue the bonds, but the bond buyer will ultimately be responsible for the debt service on those particular bonds.”

Commissioner Usha Reddi says the DeBruyn’s have a lot left to do before ground can break, but she believes they are doing everything they can to work with the community in their planning.

“It’s always give them a chance to be successful,” says Reddi. “I think Manhattan is a great place to have a different type of museum.

“And [for visitors]if you’re a museum-goer, you’re probably going to go to the Beach Museum, the Manhattan Arts Center, you’re  probably even going to go to the Midwest Car Collection — this is one of those areas that can be a tourist destination for such things.”

The Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau projects that the attraction could generate a nearly $47 million annual economic impact. The standard estimate is $313 per day per visitor, in this case calculated by what Chamber officials have said could be 150,000 visitors per year to the museum and to other businesses and attractions in the city.

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