Manhattan city leader to discuss how the community is revitalizing its downtown
September 24, 2007
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Things are happening in Manhattan. Consider:
*Construction is under way in Manhattan on a $190 million public-private partnership to build retail, residences and a destination-driver Flinthills Discovery Center on the southern and northern edges of downtown.
*Manhattan, voters will go to the polls in November to determine whether to pass a new quarter-percent sales tax to fund an indoor swimming pool, improvements to the city's zoo and other recreation-oriented projects.
* City voters in 2002 approved a half-percent sales tax devoted to road repair and economic development funding. In Lawrence, city commissioners have discussed for more than a year - but taken no action yet - on a sales tax proposal that would be geared toward streets and economic development.
Discuss with Jason Hilgers, Manhattan assistant city manager, what ideas Lawrence leaders might want to consider.
Good afternoon. This is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Lawrence Journal-World. Our guest today is Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager of Manhattan. Welcome Mr. Hilgers.
Thanks for inviting me. I'm ready for your questions.
We have a number of questions today, many of them from people in Manhattan. Let's get started.
Mr. Hilgers, why can you not discuss this in the Manhattan Paper? Why is the City NOT listening to the Citizens of Manhattan? How come Dial is being given a pass on the original plan to make this development a "Regional Draw", but instead cannot get any retailers or resturants (that would be 50 rejection to Dial) and is now cahanging the plan to have a Hy-Vee Anchor the developement? How is a "grocery store" a "regional draw"? How come the City Commissioners and Dial cannot admit they have made a massive mistake? Obfiously all the "market research" was wrong. The PUD also has gross revenue projections for retailers and businesses that already said "NO". According to the Kansas Statutes, this Plan must be revisited as the original metrics produced for public record are wrong and inflated, which is aviolation of the Kansas Statutes that allowed the TIF and the Star Bonds. So the City of Manhattan has fradulently and knowingly taxed the people of Manhattan and sold bonds. Is the City of Manhattan going to readdress the plan? Is the City of Manhattan going to find the responsible party and press charges?
I'd be happy to discuss this project with anyone, anytime. I take calls and e-mails daily about this topic. I attend service clubs, and other organizational meetings across the community talking about this subject, answering questions.
There are a number of timing issues surrounding the redevelopment. The project really hit a critical point about 18 months ago with STAR Bonds and the limitation to acquire property with the eminent domain legislation. Dial was asked to focus on the retail side of the north end in order to secure the option to move forward with the North and South end concurrently. Keep in mind the South end is only attainable from the revenues (sales tax) generated from the North end.
The North Redevelopment Plan itself has not changed enough or substantially from what was originally approved to require a re-look at the North Redevelopment Plan. We have consulted with our legal staff and bond counsel to verify our actions.
do you have planners and staff that make you feel welcome and help you to get things done
I assume you mean the developer when you say "you". City staff works very well with developers. In this instance we are talking about a 20 acre site on the north, and a 9 acre site on the south. The City has a lot of existing infrastructure - streets, water, sewer, storm water - that require the coordination of several departments in order to facilitate these types of projects. The City coordinates internal and external meetings concerning the projects and works very close with the developers.
Mr. Hilgers, how long does it take in Manhattan to get a demolition permit and likewise to start building. In Lawrence it can take over 2 years to get something going. Briefly, what is a realistic time frame in Manhattan to tear down, issue a building permit?
I'll approach this from a tear down, building permit perspective. Obviously the critical component to a building permit is zoning. And with this project, we approved a preliminary planned unit development (PUD) in June of 2006. Dial has just submitted the final PUD zoning for October 2007. If you own the land and it is zoned appropriately, demolition and a building permit can be accomplished quickly - within a couple months. The frustration with time is typically associated with zoning, which can be a couple months, or centered around the nature of the project changing. It is difficult to put an exact time frame on it because every project has different details.
Why do you think the ljworld paints a rosy picture of the downtown redevelopment process, while in reality, it has been anything but smooth?
No redevelopment project is smooth. They all take twists and turns. A colleague of mine has a poster on her wall that has a person running through a maze. The title of the poster is "Redevelopment". The person is running through about 12 to 15 obstacles, just to reach the "start" line. I believe redevelopment is tough and very engaging. Everyone has an opinion on it. I've been working on this project for 5+ years now. I know our Manhattan Town Center mall (redevelopment project) took almost 10 years to complete (1987). Nothing smooth about it either. A lot of us don't recognize the rough times it took to place our mall near the downtown, but we all enjoy it today. I do believe the redevelopment we have planned to take place will have a similar reaction in time. Looking at redevelopment projects from an outsiders perspective are typically rosy. Look at Legends near the race track. That project was not smooth either - but for the most part, especially from perspectives outside of Wyandotte County, it is a very welcome addition.
Please talk about why the city of Manhattan chose to go the route of Star Bonds for its revitalization projects.
What we were trying to accomplish with an "entertainment district" really fit what the State was trying to accomplish with the STAR Bonds. We view TIF, TDD and STAR Bonds as tools that allow these types of redevelopment projects to come about. STAR was looked at closely because of the potential to leverage private dollars in Manhattan, increase the visibility and regional attractiveness of Manhattan, and assist in redeveloping a portion of the community currently being used as a service commercial and/or industrial use. STAR allows you to bring in another investor in the State to assist with the creation of a unique, one of a kind type of facility that will add to the attractiveness and tourism base in Kansas. Manhattan and the Flint Hills have a story that quite a few visitors have an interest in knowing. Our STAR bond project will promote this story and intends to attract those types of visitors to Kansas.
What advice would you give Lawrence is city leaders were to consider using Star Bonds for a project?
I'll approach this from two perspectives. First, understand the STAR bond legislation and all the things you can and can't do with the funds. There are a lot of ideas out there that do not fit. Second, develop local committees that can study the options and alternatives, and come to a recommendation in a desired time. I understand these types of topics can be studied for a long period of time. Reaching a consensus and moving the project forward is difficult, yet critical to the process. One thing I believe most STAR bond applications face is local opposition. For the most part, under the current STAR bond legislation, STAR bond projects are for the visitor, primarily the out-of-state visitor. What someone visits Lawrence or Manhattan for is what we typically take for granted everyday.
Back to our readers.
Both the article and the chat introduction do not even touch on the controversy surrounding the current state of the Downtown Redevelopment and the problems Dial has had securring tenants to lease the North End. Could you expand on these problems.
Manhattan is facing a zoning that includes a Hyvee. The Hyvee is an 80,000 sq. ft. grocery store. It replaces a 70,000 retailer on the concept plan, and eliminates 26 residential units along 4th Street. In total Dial will develop 250,000 sq. ft. of retail space - consistent with what the Final Development indicates, and will develop over 200,000 sq. ft. of residential space (175 units). This is shy of the total units indicated in the June 2006 PUD by around 30 units.
If you want to speak specifically about grocery vs. retail, the City placed this risk and responsibility on Dial in the beginning. The City placed the risk of the redevelopment on the developer. Basically assigning that risk by requiring the developer to go out and purchase the land, hold that land and the costs associated with it, develop the North end, and then the City would issue special obligation revenue bonds once the revenue has been generated by the North end. It is important to understand this component because regardless of the retail Dial brings forth, we assigned that risk to Dial in the beginning. If the City wanted to control the tenants, Dial would have required the City to hold the cost of the land. If you want to know why Dial hasn't been able to produce the retailers of your choice, there are several discussions surrounding this topic. Wall Street, per capita income, population, net profits, and a few others are pieces to the puzzle with respect to who comes to Manhattan or not. The City participated in this redevelopment to strengthen the downtown area to prevent this type of development from taking place on the outskirts of the community in a green field. The Manhattan Town Center is a great anchor to the downtown, and every consultant hired to look at Manhattan has suggested we strengthen the downtown or we will lose commercial to the outskirts. Retailers are not choosing Manhattan because of anything our developer did or didn't do. City Hall has had numerous conversations with retailers as well. Trends in the market, per capita income, population, Wall Street, and net profits all play a role. It is not to say they will never come, they have chosen not to come at this point in time. Dial and the City both did market analysis at the beginning of this process. Dial, as a developer was willing to take the risk, invest $20 million in the community, on their research that the market was supportive. The retail line up they have proposed is solid and have been in business a long time. They are solid tenants who will finance the North bonds, and make the South and STAR bonds attainable. Office Max, Bed Bath & Beyond, Petco, Hyvee, and Best Buy are solid tenants and have performed throughout the country. Keep in mind the community placed the burden of "hurry up" on Dial to perform at this point in time for the South end and the STAR bonds. They had their own schedule in place to secure revenues for the North bonds, so they could be taken out once the revenues reached a comfort level to issue bonds. Best Buy and McAlister's Deli are already outperforming their initial estimates within the district. I know this a long answer to your question, but the tenants and the leasing of the north end, really tie into the entire project and the direction it has been heading for the past 18 months. We are at a point where we either accept the development as proposed, forego the South end, or take more risk as a community to keep that vision alive.
We are out of time. I would like to thank the readers for their questions, and Jason Hilgers for answering those questions today. Have a good day.
Thank you again for inviting me to participate. If you have any follow up questions, you may contact me at City Hall, 1101 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, KS..... 785.587.2404.