This is the introductory story for a four part series examining several aspects of the downtown Manhattan redevelopment, including financing, preservation issues and the project’s place in the changing appearance of Manhattan.
Most of the area from Leavenworth Street to Moro Street, a few blocks west of Tuttle Creek Boulevard, is full of dirt mounds and construction equipment – a sign of the vast change that will soon come to the area.
The northern part of the downtown redevelopment plan has been put in full motion after a local judge ruled in favor of the City of Manhattan in a lawsuit against the zoning of the plan in early summer, said Assistant City Manager Jason Hilgers.
Several retailers, including Hy-Vee, Petco, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, have signed leases to build stores north of Leavenworth along Third and Fourth streets.
The footings have been set for the Petco and Bed, Bath & Beyond and the Hy-Vee had a groundbreaking two or three weeks ago, Hilgers said.
“They still don’t have a building permit for Hy-Vee, but we’re being told that those plans should come in any day,” he said.
Hilgers added that Hy-Vee claimed they would be open by summer 2009 and he hopes the other large retailers are opened during the same period. After those businesses are established, the city hopes smaller retailers will fill in between them.
Manhattan Citizens for Sustainable Downtown Redevelopment, which filed the lawsuit, appealed the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court. The court could take as much as two years to look through the case and make a decision, said Debbie Nuss, member of the MCSDR steering committee. Nuss said the group filed the lawsuit after the city expanded its original zoning agreement. The Hy-Vee was originally supposed to be only 68,000 square feet but the city revised the plan to expand the store to at least 78,000 square feet earlier this year.
Hilgers said Hy-Vee requested the expansion because the layout originally slated a Kohl’s, which takes up less space than Hy-Vee, for that location.
Nuss said the Hy-Vee expansion is not the only concern for local groups. MCSDR circulated two petitions — both against the city’s bond procurement practices. Nuss also said the groups are concerned about the appearance of the redevelopment compared to the current downtown district.
“We believe the buildings are of the design and size that are not compatible with that of historic downtown Manhattan, said Nuss.”
Along with the lawsuit, the slumping economy has had an impact on some areas of the redevelopment. One of the potential retailer buildings has had two different businesses lease it and pull out within the last 12 months. But Hilgers said Manhattan is more financially secure than most other places in the country.
“It’s a national situation where credit and lending is really affecting growth across the country,” he said. “I think it’s somewhat unique in Manhattan, we’re somewhat insulated from that national economy just based on students and soldiers and everything going on in Manhattan.”
Another issue is the downtown redevelopment project south of the Manhattan Town Center. The project, which includes a large luxury theater, hotel and convention center, and plains museum, has been slow to develop because of the pending lawsuit.
The city still must sell the bonds that will pay for much of the south redevelopment, and Hilgers said the bonds are hard to sell while the lawsuit is still pending.
Though the development is stalled, Hilgers said the city hopes to have most of the businesses and residents in that area relocated throughout the city by the end of the year.