So, while we’re in limbo….

I’d like to say something about the state of the Manhattan region. It’s not flattering.

Basically, it feels like we’re drifting, aimlessly, trying to figure out who we are and where we’re going.

The political campaigns that just concluded were pretty telling. Does anybody remember any of the issues that the local candidates raised? I mean, really? We were talking about the county government’s YouTube account, and whether Craig Bowser really lived here, and, well, hmm. What else was there?

I don’t mean to diminish the candidates. We are fortunate that we had a good crop of qualified people who ran for office, both the winners and the losers. Tip of the cap to all of them.

My point is that we’re not really going anywhere, so there’s not much to debate. What’s happening is that the quiet is not terribly productive. The university’s enrollment continues to dwindle, and Fort Riley is relatively quiet, and the long-anticipated NBAF boom certainly is slow to materialize. I remember when that project was announced, and Jon Wefald said it would double the size of the town. Not gonna happen.

Job growth here is flat. Part of that at the moment is the pandemic, of course, but it goes back much further than that.

The last big thing we tackled as a community was the Third-Fourth street redevelopment project. It replaced a run-down area with what’s now Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hy-Vee, Best Buy, the Discovery Center, the Hyatt and the conference center. That sparked major private investment nearby, predominantly CivicPlus and the related investments by owner Ward Morgan.

That project was 15 years ago.

So what’s next?

It doesn’t have to be a redevelopment project. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big new employer, although that would of course be lovely.

Voters just approved a citywide sales tax that will provide money for economic development projects, and that was a big key. Some of that money will also go to debt reduction and the provision of lower-cost housing for workers. But those are not exactly rallying cries.

The Manhattan region can take big swings at big things, and we can get them done. We rallied behind Fort Riley, and that not only saved the post but helped it expand. We decided (generally) to do the redevelopment, and that worked. Same with the mall in the 1980s. We decided to go after NBAF, and we got it.

I’m not here with a proposal. I’m just saying...what’s next? Let’s quit drifting.

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