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Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

Marshal Mann hits a jump at the skate park on Wreath Avenue on Wednesday.

For $1, city wants to sell Community House to developer for new offices, lofts

Manhattan’s Community House — built in 1917 and in need of restoration work — could be on its way to a new heyday as city officials work to finalize a deal with a local developer to sell and renovate the property.

The city commission reviewed a preliminary deal Tuesday that would sell the property on the corner of 4th and Humboldt streets for $1 to Ben Burton and his company, Switchgrass Development. In exchange, Burton would agree to keep the property on the national and state registers of historic places, in addition to abiding by all the regulations on properties on those registers. The commission would also have to approve the initial building design and any future modifications or renovations.

The city would also give Burton a $500,000 grant for building renovations, once the city verifies the company has done at least $2 million in work. That money would come from the city’s economic development fund, but city administrators said the grant would essentially function as an internal loan for the city. If the property is sold and developed, the city could see between $40,000 and $50,000 in new annual property taxes, which could be directed back to the economic development fund.

Under the deal’s restricted covenant, the city could take legal action against the developer or any entity that might purchase the property down the road if the deal’s terms aren’t met.

The deal represents the culmination of efforts to restore the building, which has served as an American Legion post, a Chamber of Commerce headquarters, a refuge for soldiers in both world wars, and currently a recreation center for the city.

Last year, a study said the city would have to spend at least $2 million to renovate the building and bring it into compliance with accessibility regulations. By selling the property, the city releases its financial liability and allows someone else to do what’s best for the property, Eddie Eastes, parks and recreation director, said.

Burton presented the commission with a plan that calls for $2.75 million in renovations that would turn the building into commercial and residential space. That would include 10 office suites with a shared conference room and reception area, six single-bedroom loft apartments, and a multifunctional area in the current gym space.

In keeping with regulations on buildings on the historical registers, Burton said he would keep the building’s exterior design, front stairway, fireplace and columns in their original forms as much as possible.

Burton said he and his team, which includes Tyler Holloman of Frontier Property Management and Gavin Schmidt, are committed to returning the property to a point of pride for Manhattan. The company would use local building materials, architects and contractors, he said.

“It’s the Community House,” Burton said. “It demands community assets be utilized.”

Linda Glasgow, curator of the Riley County Historical Society and Museum, said before proceeding with the deal, the city should be sure to get feedback from all stakeholders in the building, including organizations like the Rotary Club. She also wants any future building development to include historical markers pointing to the building’s legacy in Manhattan.

No formal action was taken on the discussion item, but the commission was impressed with Burton’s proposal and gave city administrators approval to finalize the deal. They said Burton’s presentation put them more at ease with trusting a developer to maintain the property.

Burton’s proposed timeline shows his company completing a final design and budget for the building later this year, and closing on the deal with the city in February. Under the deal’s terms, Burton would also have to start construction within 30 days of the deal’s closing, and complete construction within 180 days of starting. That would put the building’s completion around September or October 2020, he said.

City to develop commercial flood buyout program

With several commercial properties affected by the flooding last September and more under constant threat of rising waters, Manhattan city administrators want to develop a plan to buy out commercial properties in the community flood plain.

Since 2011, the city has paid $1.1 million in flood buyouts for six residential properties. Roughly 75%, or $829,000, has come from federal and state funds, with city stormwater funds making up the remaining $276,000. Every dollar spent on flood buyouts ultimately saves the city $6, assistant city manager Dennis Marstall told the city commission Tuesday.

But while federal funds are available for commercial property buyouts, those require state support, and Kansas does not allow state flood mitigation funds to be used on commercial properties. For that reason, city administrators want to develop a city plan for buying out commercial properties using just city funds, and a buyout of the Schwab-Eaton property at 1125 Garden Way could be a model for that plan.

Under the proposed buyout, the city would buy the property from the engineering and design firm for $290,000, then spend $17,000 to demolish the building. The city hired a private appraiser to evaluate the property, and that appraiser valued the property at $200,000. After Schwab-Eaton counter-proposed a $330,000 buyout, the city and company found middle ground at $290,000. That funding would come from the city’s wastewater fund and reserve fund.

The building currently sits empty after the company temporarily relocated to 4361 Dam Road. Flooding in 2011 damaged the building, and the company repaired the facility then. However, the company only did minimal repairs after the Labor Day flooding and does not intend to return to that location.

Instead, the company envisions finding a new site locally and building a new $1.25 million building at that site, which Marstall said could generate nearly $45,000 in new property taxes. The firm would also hope to hire 10 new employees at a new location.

With that buyout, Marstall said the city would establish a framework for commercial flood property buyouts based on ensuring businesses stay in the city limits, encouraging new investment in relocation properties and bringing new jobs to the city.

Specifically on the west end of the city, Marstall said that framework would also help secure right-of-way for any potential redevelopment of the intersection of Seth Child Road and Anderson Avenue.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he would want to use economic development funding, instead of wastewater funding, for any commercial buyouts. Commissioner Jerred McKee said the city would first have to determine whether the city’s intent is to mitigate flood damage or to promote economic development with any commercial buyouts.

Commissioner Linda Morse said she wanted residential properties to take a higher priority for buyouts.

Mayor Mike Dodson said new property tax revenues from relocated businesses could cover the expenses of initial buyouts, but with any buyout program, he and commissioner Usha Reddi want to avoid incentivizing property owners not to buy flood insurance.

Before making a decision on a buyout, the commission instructed city administrators to bring back more data on commercial flood buyouts in other states.

Benefit districts

In other business, the commission took action on two benefit districts. The first action was to amend a 2016 resolution establishing a sanitary sewer benefit district between Houston and Pierre streets near 17th Street. The amendment was necessary because project costs, originally estimated at $170,000 split between the city and the seven property owners, are now estimated to be $278,000. Brian Johnson, city engineer, said the project cost was higher because the city had to spend three years obtaining easements on the properties, and demand for construction crews is high in the area right now.

The commission voted 3 to 2 to accept the new project cost, but the city will cover the difference between the original and new estimates. Butler and Morse voted against the resolution, saying they wanted to keep the 50-50 split between the city and property owners in order to be consistent.

The second action was to establish a new drainage benefit district at Smith and Brockman streets. A drainage channel in the area has caused significant erosion in the area, and city administrators proposed another 50-50 split on $130,000 in costs to repair the channel with eight property owners in the area.

City administrators asked the commission to unilaterally create the district after a property owner petition fell just short of the majority required by state law to be valid. The commission unanimously approved the resolution.

Minton named dean of KSU ag college

K-State announced Wednesday the new dean for the College of Agriculture.

Ernie Minton, associate dean of research and graduate programs and associate director of research for K-State Research and Extension, began serving as dean and KSRE director on Friday. He has served as interim dean and KSRE director since July 1.

As dean and director, Minton will be in charge of program, student and faculty development; research and extension; program accreditation and meeting K-State’s 2025 plans.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve as the interim dean and director and I am thrilled to be selected as permanent dean and director,” he said. “I’m proud to be a career K-Stater and to work with such a talented and loyal group of students, faculty and staff of the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension. I look forward to moving the college and KSRE forward to embrace our traditions and build on our strengths to better serve our state, national and global stakeholders.”

As interim dean over the past year, he has led college-level planning for infrastructure improvements at Shellenberger Hall, Feed and Technology, Waters Hall and Waters Hall annex.

Minton served as the college’s associate dean of research and graduate programs and associate director of research for K-State Research and Extension from 2016 to 2018.

Minton has been at the university since 1983, and has served as a professor of animal sciences since 1995.

He has also served both as interim and as the associate director of research and technology transfer for the Kansas Agriculture Experiment Station.

Minton has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Western Kentucky University.

He also has a master’s degree in animal science and a doctorate in animal reproduction, both from Oklahoma State University.

Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

Emmett Broxterman, 2, watches another child get his hand stamped before the Pre-K Storytime at the Manhattan Public Library on Wednesday.

Report: Stampede to move to Topeka permanently

Country Stampede is making Topeka its permanent home, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Wednesday.

The annual country music festival, which for 23 years has been held at Tuttle Creek State Park near Manhattan, was moved to Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka this year because of flooding and safety concerns at Tuttle Creek Lake.

Country Stampede president and founder Wayne Rouse told The Mercury he couldn’t comment on the move, and he declined to confirm or deny it. He said May 31 that it would be a temporary move.

Loud Mouth Entertainment announced in a press release Wednesday morning that Topeka mayor Michelle De La Isla, Heartland Motorsports Park owner Chris Payne and Visit Topeka president Brett Oetting “will make a major announcement concerning the City of Topeka, Heartland Motorsports Park and Country Stampede Music Festival" during a news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Sources have confirmed to The Capital-Journal the announcement is that the Stampede will be making a permanent move to Heartland, a racing facility that opened in 1989 at 7530 S.W. Topeka Blvd.

Organizers estimated the Stampede has had an $8 million annual impact on the Manhattan economy.

Mike Bell, vice president of sales for Visit Topeka, said the Country Stampede being in Topeka presents a unique opportunity for Topeka businesses and restaurants.

“I think several sectors of our businesses are going to be excited — hotels, restaurants, camping supply areas, pharmacies for sunscreen,” Bell said May 12. “I think everybody would be happy.”

This week’s Kicker Country Stampede will feature some of country music’s biggest names, including Jason Aldean, Old Dominion, Jake Owen and Clint Black. The Stampede has 50 country acts scheduled on multiple stages.

Manhattan officials, meanwhile, including mayor Mike Dodson and Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau director Karen Hibbard, told The Mercury they didn’t know anything about the announcement.

Country Stampede is in a multi-year contract with Tuttle Creek State Park, Kansas parks officials confirmed Wednesday morning. They declined to give any other details of the contract and told The Mercury they didn’t know anything about the move.

City will split $500K in new rec center costs with school district

The city will split $500,000 in new recreation center design costs with USD 383 after the district’s design process found better configuration patterns at the middle school sites.

The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday approved the budget increase with a 4-to-1 vote, which brings the combined budgets for new recreation centers at Anthony and Eisenhower middle schools to $17.5 million.

City and school officials made the request after actions related to the voter-approved $129.5 million school bond issue. Once the bond passed in November, school officials started design work on building additions to the middle schools, and in the process, found new site configurations for the recreation centers and school additions. Those configurations include expanded storm shelter space, which the school district could share with patrons and staff at the recreation centers.

Presented with options to increase the budget by $500,000 or eliminate some of the recreation center’s concepts, the commission chose to increase the budget.

“They’re not substantial changes,” Eddie Eastes, parks and recreation director, said. “We’re still in concept mode, but it does create quite a bit of expense to realign those facilities.”

Eric Reid, assistant superintendent, said both projects have only been possible through the city and school district’s partnership. He said both parties’ design processes have needed flexibility, and splitting the cost evenly was the most responsible solution.

“While (the recreation center) has been going, USD 383 has been trying to catch up because we knew when we passed that bond issue, we needed to find a location for our buildings, and not just any location, but the right one,” Reid said. “We knew there were going to be adjustments and give-and-take between partners all along the way.”

Commissioner Usha Reddi was the sole vote against the proposal. Reddi, who is on a leave-of-absence from her teaching position in the district, said she felt it should be the responsibility of the school district to pick up the entire cost of the realignment. Voters approved two separate items — the special sales tax for the recreation centers, and the bond issue, which is driven by property taxes — and she wanted to keep the costs separate, especially since the school district had a “bigger cushion to handle the shift” with its $129.5 million bond budget.

“It looks like the school district is doing us a favor by splitting the cost, but I’m of the opinion that our money was already dedicated towards the project that we had proposed to the community,” Reddi said. “We are doing the realignment because of the bond issue that was passed, and now having to make those changes because of it.”

Reid said he “absolutely disagreed” with Reddi.

“I have a lot of responsibility in what we’ve told the public we’d do with that $129 million that I need to accomplish,” Reid said.

Funding for the new recreation centers comes from the city’s quarter-cent special parks and recreation sales tax, which voters passed in 2017. The tax, which started in June 2018 and is expected to collect $27.5 million in revenue over its 10-year life, will also fund improvements at CiCo Park and on the city’s trails.

City administrators said the tax has outperformed revenue expectations, generating $3.1 million in revenue, around $350,000 above the original estimates of $2.75 million. Reddi said despite the higher-than-expected revenue, she did not think the city was obligated to spend that on this specific project.

Commissioner Jerred McKee said he was leery of relying on just one year of info to make a judgment about the rest of tax’s life. He said it was hard to trust that the special sales tax revenue will consistently outperform expectations.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he thinks the sales tax will keep up, and that it’s only fair to split the cost with the district. If revenues fall, though, then the city could look at cutting parts of the project to stay under budget.

Although the commission approved the $17.5 million budget as part of the project’s first phase, the project committee will return to the commission next month with a guaranteed maximum price proposal, which will have final details on the building’s design and budget, potentially lower than the first estimate.

Currently, the designs for each center include space for four gyms, artificial turf for two of the gyms, netting systems to separate the gyms, an elevated walking track, a multipurpose room, kitchen space and staff offices.