The Manhattan City Commission has moved a step further down the path toward creating a new museum here. That’s good. The harder questions are still unanswered, but those are for the state government to examine, and for the museum’s advocates to answer.
First, though, let’s go through the city’s decision-making here, since those are the elected and appointed officials more directly responsive to local citizens like you. The city’s part was relatively easy, with one hitch that I’ll get back to, because it’s a million-dollar hitch. The city government had to agree to modify a redevelopment plan that would help finance the creation of the museum.
The museum in question would be built southeast of the Flint Hills Discovery Center. It would be an innovative museum, modeled on one in Paris, involving interactive exhibits and more traditional displays of visual art.
It would be privately owned and operated, so it wouldn’t require taxpayer support. The reason the city government is involved at the front end of this process is because the city had to agree to extend the life of a redevelopment project that funnels state sales tax money into the area along Third and Fourth streets. That would amount to about half of the $46-million cost of the museum; the rest would come from private sources.
Bear with me for a minute about the money, because this is important. Tip of the cap to Mayor Wynn Butler, who pointed this out at the meeting where the City Commission approved the deal: The city would, in fact, have to agree to forego up to $1.2 million in hotel bed tax and local retail sales tax revenue. The city had basically agreed to give that up already when it created the redevelopment district in the first place, 15 years ago.
What’s going on here is that the redevelopment project is working out better than initially projected. That redevelopment plan involved the city and state government pledging to give up their portion of sales taxes in the redevelopment area — Third and Fourth streets, both north and south of Poyntz — for 20 years. That stream of tax revenue was pledged to repay the cost of doing the redevelopment itself.
Why would the government do that? Because the projects created with that money would, over the longer haul, generate a lot more tax revenue than what had been given up. The areas redeveloped weren’t producing much tax revenue to begin with, so there wasn’t much downside risk.
Anyway, that area is now generating sales tax and hotel tax, because of the retail stores in that redevelopment area. We’re talking about HyVee, Dick’s, Best Buy and others.
If the city were to say no to the museum proposal and just pull the plug on the redevelopment program once the debt is retired, it would in fact capture up to $1.2 million in tax revenue over those remaining years. But by continuing to forego what it had already decided to forego, it will help build a $46 million museum financed to an overwhelming degree by state sales tax money and private money. Even if the visitor numbers to the museum are half of what’s projected, the city will end up dollars ahead, because of the sales and hotel bed tax that would be generated.
As I said initially, it will be easy for skeptics to nitpick the proposal. It’s heartening to see city commissioners unanimously voting to move forward, despite the easy skepticism.
Now to the bigger question: Will the state government determine that it’s a worthwhile investment? That gets to a judgment of whether the museum’s content and programming will attract visitors, and to know that we need to know a lot more about that content. I’m counting on The Mercury’s newsroom to dig that up from the people who are promoting the museum concept.