Residents speak up about Aggieville parking charge, concerns for small businesses

During a City Commission meeting on Feb. 7 , citizens, students and employees advocated for free parking in Aggieville. Commissioners listened as speakers voiced their opinions and shared personal stories. (Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

When Caroline Diederich decided to attend K-State four years ago, she said it was not because of the school itself, but the authenticity of the city. 

“What sold me instantly was my first walk through Aggieville,” Diederich said. “I come from Overland Park where all we have is food chains and big businesses, so the authenticity and the community aspect of this town is ultimately why I decided to spend these important years of my life here.”

On  Jan. 17 the city of Manhattan started charging for parking in Aggieville. Employees must purchase a monthly pass if they want to park, which is $25 a month for part-time employees and $40 a month for full-time. 

Diederich, senior in mass communications, said the feeling of authenticity, along with her experiences as a Bluestem employee, inspired her to create a petition against charging Aggieville employees for parking. 

“I did not start this petition because I am against seeing big changes in this place. I think there are great things coming,” Diederich said. “I started it because small business is a huge reason why I came here and I think that is true for a lot of people, or at least why people have fallen in love with this place and created so many memories.” 

The petition received over 6,000 signatures urging the city commissioners to reconsider these charges. At a city commission meeting on Feb. 7, Nancy Evangelidis, part-owner of Bluestem Bistro, asked the commissioners how many of them go into Aggieville — only one-and-a-half hands went up. 

“I love that one-and-a-half of you come into Aggieville, but yet you have made decisions that impact me, impact every other business owner in here,” Evangelidis said. “And you are going to dictate and tell me how you think it is going to be. All we want is a compromise — give us reprieve.”

Jordan Davis, Bluestem employee, said the parking charge is not sustainable for small business employees. 

“Twenty-five dollars or 40 dollars a month added to my bills is a lot,” Davis said. “I am already broke and I am already paying to live day by day.”

Davis said he loves this city and wants to continue working in Aggieville. 

“I want to stay here for 20-plus years,” Davis said. “But in order to do that I have to go to work and make money, and right now having to pay for parking and adding that extra bill to my daily life is already hard.” 

Evangelidis said with these new rules in place, Aggieville could be taken over by big corporations. 

“If you want people like Starbucks and all those big franchises to come in, then you go for it, because that is where you guys are heading,” Evangelidis said. “Thank you for letting them have drive-thrus, thank you for having an entire strip on the other side of town that is nothing but franchises, it is great. I am glad they are making you feel like you are doing something great. But, you are not. At the end of the day, we suffer. All we want to do is provide something. … Please reconsider what we have in place. Please take a step back. Give us a chance to survive.” 

Commercial chains such as Chipotle and Starbucks have parking lots in Aggieville —  Nico’s Little Italy is the only small business with a designated parking area. Nicolette Unruh, manager at Nico’s, said she is lucky to have a space to park, but she still advocates for her employees and other small businesses. 

“What is the City of Manhattan going to do to try and support us as small businesses and not continue to just bring in and support big business?” Unruh said. “So I think we are doing a great job of trying to improve some business districts, but we have got to support small business because this is what makes this small town what it is. I think that is what we all love about it, and that is, in 1863, what land-grant universities were founded on.”

 Unruh said Manhattan was founded primarily on K-State being a land-grant university. 

“Land-grant universities were to improve the quality of life of all Kansans,” Unruh said. “I think that one of the things we need to consider is, is what we are doing with the parking garage … are we actually making our quality of life better in Aggieville or are we making it harder?” 

The public comment for non-agenda items ended with Mark Hatesohl, mayor of Manhattan, addressing the crowd. 

“I think we are going to have to do something and chat about this some more. I’d be willing to consider, I don’t know, something — six months of free parking for Aggieville employees,” Hatesohl said. “We have already got all the equipment and people hired to enforce parking so we can’t probably stop everything. But there ought to be some way to provide some relief for some period of time.” 

Evangelidis said the meeting resulted in a positive impact.

“I will follow up and just make sure that we can get this back on the agenda,” Evangelidis said.  “To come up with accommodations or a compromise, so we can get through this time.”