If approved, Discovery Center could be cornerstone of downtown redevelopment

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Construction of the proposed Flint Hills Discovery Center, on the intersection of 3rd and Pierre streets, will allow the city of Manhattan to receive the Sales Tax and Revenue Bond from the State of Kansas to help with the overall construction of the downtown redevelopment project.

Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager, said the city commission is planning to vote on the formal adoption of the master plan for the project on May 5th. She also said assuming the plan is approved, construction on the discovery center will be at least a year out.

The STAR Bond that the city stands to receive is a tax break from the state where 5.3% of the sales tax generated in the city of Manhattan that would normally go to the state will help pay for the redevelopment to promote tourism in the State of Kansas. A good example of STAR Bonds at work is the Kansas Speedway near Kansas City, Kan., said Mayor Mark Hatesohl.

Hatesohl said the city commission will be holding a work session on April 28 to prepare for the voting date and receive information about the progress of the redevelopment.

“We need the Discovery Center in order to finish the south-end redevelopment,” Hatesohl said. “The state wants a discovery center and is willing to help pay for it; there are no other projects that the state is willing to pay for.”

Hatesohl said the center would include exhibits on the Kansas prairie, the Flint Hills, bison and Native Americans of the area. Along with the discovery center, he said a conference center and a parking garage would be built to enhance the south end of the redevelopment project. Hatesohl also said the center would be able to host rotating exhibits and hold events such as wedding receptions.

“There are a lot of people that want to see the south end developed and so they are willing to give the discovery center a chance in order to get the conference center and the rest of the entertainment district,” Hatesohl said.

Hatesohl said the south end area of the redevelopment would be an entertainment district and there is a possibility of getting a Warren Theatres and a hotel with an attached restaurant, along with other storefronts. Stores currently under construction in the north end are PetCo., Bed Bath and Beyond, and Hy-Vee food store.

Hatesohl said the city is currently in negotiations with Olive Garden to build a restaurant in the north end of the redevelopment. Hatesohl said he hopes the development will thrive after the discovery center is built.

City Commissioner Jim Sherow said he believes building the center has the potential to help the community, but is considering all the issues before he votes on May 5.

Sherow said before he considers other options for the redevelopment, he has two factors that must be met.

“We need to have two things in place — first, a design that is more attractive and benefits the community more than the design we have before us,” Sherow said. “The second thing is that it has to cost less than the current options we have before us. If I see those two things in place, then I will certainly consider that option to the discovery center, but those two considerations have to be met.”

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