Aggieville developer speaks on demolition rumors, announces plans for new development

Rumors circulate about what the future holds for the strip mall on Laramie street. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media)

Grace Crnkovich, freshman in psychology, said after hearing rumors that Green Tea, a sushi restaurant in the Handi Corner Shopping Center, would be demolished, she felt sad and disappointed.

“Green Tea is very good,” Crnkovich said. “It’s so cheap, and it’s delicious.”

Dennis Cook, director of the Aggieville Business Association, said he is familiar with the unconfirmed plans to tear down the shopping center.

“A private developer has bought the Handi Corner Shopping Center … he’s bought everything from 11th Street to 12th Street,” Cook said. “He hasn’t publicly come out and said what he’s going to do, but what we’re hearing is he intends to, at some point, take that strip center down … and redevelop that lot.” 

Cook said the rumors surfaced after road construction in Aggieville began in 2020 near the Handi Corner Shopping Center. 

“The big thing is we’re going to redo all the streets and all the sidewalks,” Cook said. “Part of that was because of the infrastructure underneath the streets, which is water, sewer, etc. Most of those lines are somewhere between fifty and eighty years old, so they need to be done.”

TJ Vilkanskas, President of Back 9 Development, said he owns the Handi Corner Shopping Center, and the demolition rumors are false. 

“I want to be really clear, we’re not doing anything with the Handi Corner right now,” Vilkanskas said. “The construction that Dennis was speaking of is across 12th Street on the empty parking lot that’s there right now.”

Instead of tearing down the shopping center, Vilkanskas said he is working on another huge development.

 “It’s going to be a five-story building with retail, office and lab space in it,” Vilkanskas said. “Right now, we’re currently planning on starting construction in December.”

Vilkanskas said the new building will greatly benefit the residents of Manhattan.

“It brings a million plus dollars of annual property tax revenue, which goes to help enhance the Aggieville area,” Vilkanskas said. “It brings jobs to the community. When we were working with the city, that was the biggest thing.” 

Vilkanskas said jobs were not the only priority.

“They wanted a common area element to it that was open to the general public,” Vilkanskas said. “We’ve created that with what will be a second-story courtyard area that will be open to the general public.”

According to the City of Manhattan website, in 2017, the City of Manhattan released a development plan called the Aggieville Community vision. 

The Aggieville Vision is an “initiative capturing a community-wide vision for future development and improvements in the Aggieville area,” according to the Aggieville Community Vision Plan.

Vilkanskas said his new project aligns with this plan.

“Everybody’s been really supportive,” Vilkanskas said. “We received unanimous approval from the city commission to enter into a development agreement with us.”

Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) dollars, is the system paying for the building, Cook said. 

“TIF is specific to Aggieville, so every additional dollar of property tax revenue that’s brought in gets re-invested into Aggieville,” Vilkanskas said. 

Vilkanskas said his goal is to create a more functional Aggieville while preserving its original history.

“The old bar district that [Aggieville] used to kind of exist on is not as functional as it used to be,” Vilkanskas said. “Having said that, there are a lot of fantastic businesses that are here, so we’re trying to find ways to enhance their existing business and not hurt them. Obviously, with improvement comes construction, and that makes it difficult.”

Cook said while construction can be inconvenient, he thinks change and development are extremely important.

“Some people just don’t want things to change, but if they’re in business down here they know that things have to change,” Cook said. “Mostly what we get are people who are not affiliated with Aggieville who’ve got great memories of Aggieville, and they don’t want it to change, but that’s not reality. It’s going to change.”