The state government has pulled its support for a $25 million plan to renovate an area at the north end of the Kansas State University campus. That reversal also has slammed the brakes on a plan to build a Bill Snyder museum in that area.
Deputy city manager Jason Hilgers confirmed to The Mercury Tuesday that the state Department of Commerce had decided not to support the idea. Hilgers said that was because the proposal involved diverting state sales tax money for a redevelopment proposal that was not in the area of town originally designated to benefit from the money.
The original area in downtown Manhattan along Third and Fourth streets has been redeveloped, and the city anticipates paying off debt earlier than projected. That means the redevelopment district will generate an extra $25 million; the city had asked the state government to allow that money to be used to improve roads and other infrastructure in what’s called the “North Campus Corridor,” along Kimball, North Manhattan, Denison and College avenues.
The previous Secretary of Commerce during the waning days of the Brownback administration had approved the project, city officials announced in early January. The key was the inclusion of a museum to honor Snyder, the Hall of Fame K-State football coach, and his legacy. State officials acknowledged that as enough of a tourist draw to justify the extension of the redevelopment plan using what are called “STAR bonds,” which are basically debt paid off through diverted state sales tax money.
But the current Secretary of Commerce, David Toland, told city manager Ron Fehr recently that “he wouldn’t support the noncontiguous nature of the project,” Hilgers said. “The current secretary isn’t willing to jeopardize the future of STAR by allowing our project to move forward.”
Toland’s spokesman did not return a phone call from The Mercury for comment.
This reversal comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the effectiveness and oversight — or lack thereof — on STAR bond projects across the state. The Manhattan project is actually performing better than projected, in debt repayment terms, which is why there is an expected $25 million left over to put to some other use. But other projects around the state are floundering, and other proposals are drawing skepticism.
In Manhattan, the project that was used as the tourism-generating entity was the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The quicker-than-anticipated repayment of the bonds is the result of retail sales in the district that includes stores and hotels along Third and Fourth.
The reversal by the state does not mean that the north campus infrastructure projects are dead. City officials are proposing a sales tax increase that could help support them, as well as applying for other grants.
It also does not mean that the Snyder museum concept is entirely dead, although Hilgers characterized it as in “a deep sleep.” Toland was not supportive of the museum concept as a sufficient tourist attraction in discussions earlier this year, Hilgers said, and then reiterated that he didn’t even support the idea of extending the redevelopment district at all in more recent discussions.
City officials, who were expecting to review more specific plans for it this summer, instead aren’t spending any time on the idea.
But Jeff Grantham, a Manhattan native who now lives in the Kansas City metro area, told The Mercury that his own discussions with Toland indicated that the state thought the museum project was valuable but there needed to be hotel and retail components involved as well.
Grantham said he’s in contact with the Snyder family about it.
He said his current preferred location would be to build the museum near the northwest corner of the university’s Rec Complex fields, working with the city and the university to add turf to those fields to provide a benefit for university students and the community, in conjunction with the museum.