Museum of Art and Light

This artist’s rendering shows the proposed Museum of Art and Light, which a developer wants to build directly south and east of the Flint Hills Discovery Center using STAR bonds.

The Museum of Art and Light took a step forward Tuesday, but the ultimate fate of the project could be determined in the next few weeks.

Manhattan city commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved amending the use of sales tax and revenue (STAR) bonds for the creation of the museum next to the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

Officials expect the Kansas secretary of commerce to decide in the next few weeks whether the project is an appropriate use of STAR bonds.

Officials estimate the total project cost at $43.6 million plus the cost of the land.

Half of that would be generated by sales tax revenue and the other half would come from private donations.

Deputy city manager Jason Hilgers said organizers do not expect to have the city government operating or funding the museum.

Mayor Wynn Butler pointed out the city would forgo between $1.1 million and $1.2 million in transient guest tax and sales tax money generated by the redevelopment district. That’s because the city is set to pay off the bonds that underwrote downtown redevelopment by the end of the month.

“I got those questions from folks over the week, and I just wanted to be sure it was clear that when you sift through the 200 pages of documents, it boils down to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.1 million to $1.2 million at worst,” Butler said.

The state government administers STAR bonds to create commercial, entertainment and tourism developments. Kansas issued the bonds to the city government for the creation of the Discovery Center.

Organizers want to acquire about $21 million in private donations and use $23 million in STAR Bond funds to create the three-story, 50,000 square-foot museum with enveloping exhibits and displays.

Manhattan residents and museum organizers Robert and Tracey DeBruyn were present at the meeting, but legal counsel Marc Abbott spoke on their behalf about the museum.

It will feature digital exhibits with programs showing art that people can learn and even set foot in, like ones at Paris’ Atelier des Lumieres museum. Officials said the exhibits at the museum will include “world-renowned” artists and their original pieces from the Renaissance period to modern times.

“The museum will essentially have two different sides,” Abbott said. “... One side being the multimedia interactive displays, the other side being more traditional works of art, of paintings and statues and what you’re accustomed to seeing in art museums.”

The proposed site is southeast of the Discovery Center, where its parking lot is now. Some members of the public Tuesday expressed concerns about the site proposal and parking.

“This spot affects the existing businesses that have already invested in the area,” said Wade Radina, owner of Radina’s locations in Manhattan. Radina’s Bakehouse is in the same area as the proposed site. “I didn’t get state money for my business. I put a half million dollars of my own. And to screw up the parking, which is not optimal now, is short-sighted. It is a great building. Why not make sure everyone who drives into town sees it? It’s hidden where they’re proposing it right now.”

Commissioner Mark Hatesohl said people will be able to see it because of how tall it will be.

“When people come across the bridge, they’re going to see it,” he said.

Hatesohl said he thinks this project will be a great use of STAR funds.

“We just have to work out some of the details,” Hatesohl said.

Commissioner Usha Reddi agreed. She added parking problems are not the worst troubles to have.

“The concept is very intriguing, I would like to pursue it,” she said.

Commissioner Linda Morse said she supported the project and didn’t think it’s the end of the world if people have to walk a few blocks to get to the museum.

Manhattan resident and city commission candidate Monica MacFarlane encouraged the commission to approve the site because of the popularity of a similar visiting exhibit in Kansas City coming December 2021.

“I think this is something that a lot of people are very interested in,” she said. “I think it would be something that could draw a lot of people to the community to look at and be a part of. It looks like an amazing thing to walk through and see.”

Museum documents note an anticipated opening date in 2023.