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.