July 24, 2019 Supporting Manhattan-area entrepreneurs, businesses, events

More Than Moro: The Aggieville of Tomorrow

What will Aggieville look like in 2040? Although it may seem far-fetched, in 20 years, the overall value of Aggieville could more than double. Projections of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) provided by Darsey Advisory Services to the City of Manhattan by Darsey Advisory Services as research on Tax Increment Financing show the appraised value of Aggieville climbing from $61 million in 2018 to over $138 million in 2038.

Photo by Josh Hicks

But what would a $138 million Aggieville district even look like?

Imagine it’s 2040, and you’re strolling down Moro Street in the heart of Aggieville on a picturesque fall day. The sun shines through a thick canopy of auburn leaves overhead, and a hint of a breeze snakes through your hair. As you pass couples enjoying coffee at bistro tables in front of a new café, you check out the latest styles through a never-ending cascade of shop windows. Your wearable buzzes on your wrist. It’s a holo-message—texting is so 2010s—from a coworker who, conveniently, lives on the next block in a loft apartment above the small market that just opened. The prevalence of five-story, mixed-use developments has really transformed the area. He asks if you’re free to grab a bite to eat before you head to the concert at Triangle Park. You are, but you realize you left your hat in your car that’s charging in the parking deck. You holo-message back, “See you in five minutes,” marveling at the speed of your phone’s public Wi-Fi connection.

That hypothetical may sound like a dream, but it’s part of a plan that stakeholders from across Manhattan have set for the district called the Aggieville Community Vision. The plan, formed in the spring of 2017, lays the groundwork for establishing Aggieville as “a vibrant, historic, pedestrian-oriented urban district that offers diverse shopping, dining, entertainment and residential opportunities to students, visitors and the broader community.”

Where’s the Money?

The Aggieville Community Vision plan is seen as the future, and the City is looking at ways to finance it. A Tax increment financing (TIF) designation for Aggieville is the first step. TIF is a relatively common real estate redevelopment tool that uses increases in real estate tax revenues and local sales tax revenues to fund eligible redevelopment project costs. In Aggieville, the TIF would capture any increase in real estate taxes over an established baseline for a 20-year period. TIFs have been implemented for several Manhattan projects, including downtown redevelopment, streetscape improvements, sidewalks, lighting and more.

The current plan is for TIF proceeds to help fund enhancements in Aggieville in three main areas: parking; streetscape, roads, utilities, and amenities; and electrical and public Wi-Fi. “We have been talking about a parking garage for a long time, it has been in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) from the planning board for over 15 years, and the mid-1980s was the last time there was a streetscape project done in Aggieville,” said Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager. “And so, both of those points led us to considering a TIF district to make public improvements within the Aggieville area.”

Photo by Josh Hicks

According to Darsey’s projections, with TIF support, Aggieville will see significant growth across its residential, retail/restaurant, office and hotel land usage over the next 20 years. They project Aggieville multi-family apartment units to climb from 173 to 411, restaurant square footage to increase from 286,670 to 402,250, office square footage to more than double, and hotel rooms to more than triple from a new hotel, in addition to the already-planned Courtyard by Marriot.

While the TIF would help support the vision for Aggieville, TIF funds are not expected to fund the project in its entirety. Current estimates show that the TIF would generate $15.2 million to $20.5 million over 20 years. Meanwhile, the proposed improvements to the district are estimated to range from $23.3 million to $30 million. Although this poses a challenge, it’s not an unexpected one. “TIF only goes so far,” Hilgers said. “We leveraged just around $21 million in TIF for our downtown. That was only 10 percent of the total public and private investment that was made in the district.”

“Long-range plans usually have a variety of funding strategies that involve both public and private investment,” said Trent Armbrust, director of economic development for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “The TIF is just one funding tool option to help move the needle. As with most long-range plans, the Aggieville Community Vision improvements will not all happen at one time, but instead be implemented in a methodical, phased approach based on funding availability.”

While several additional funding options exist, Hilgers said it’s likely that the City will propose a sales tax initiative to fund a variety of projects in the community, including major infrastructure projects for the levee along the Kansas River, airport runway reconstruction, and a “much needed” joint maintenance facility, in addition to the Aggieville developments. “If we’re going to move forward with these projects,” Hilgers said, “a majority will more than likely fall either on the side of a sales tax initiative or a mill levy increase for property tax.”

While the mere thought of a tax increase is enough to have some shaking their heads in disapproval, Aggieville business leaders are quick to point out the value of the investment. “The important thing to remember is that Aggieville is a special and coveted element of our community,” said JJ Kuntz, general manager of the Bluemont Hotel, on the corner of Bluemont and Manhattan Avenue. “This unique asset is in need of attention, and we should consider a number of funding options. Local business and property owners must take care of their assets, and the City should ensure we have the proper infrastructure to encourage growth and stability. Aggieville is not only for our student population, it is a place where people in all stages of life can relax and celebrate.”

Photo by Josh Hicks

The Parking/Streetscape Problem

Much of the discussion around improvements to Aggieville focus on one topic—a topic discussed, and vented over, for years: parking. Many who have attempted to find a parking spot in the district on a football Saturday can relate. An online community survey conducted by the City in the summer of 2018 showed that 70 percent of respondents felt that Aggieville has a parking problem. State of the Ville, a background report prepared for the Aggieville Community Vision in 2015, noted, “… if the businesses in the Aggieville area were required to provide the amount of on-site private parking required in a suburban commercial district, roughly 1,603 spaces would be required, compared to the 530 private spaces and the 596 public spaces that exist in the area today. Not counting public spaces on streets or lots, the district would be two-thirds short (1,073 spaces) of standard suburban commercial requirements.”

“[The parking discussion] is everything. Parking is our livelihood,” said Dennis Cook, director of the Aggieville Business Association and sales manager at Flint Hills Beverage. “We have to figure out how to get more parking.”

Photo by Josh Hicks

An Aggieville Infrastructure Analysis produced by Olsson Associates in January 2018 measured the district’s parking demands at two peak periods: a weekday at noon and a weekend night. The weekday at noon measured at 82 percent utilization of public parking capacity, while the weekend night measured at 77 percent utilization. While those figures are not maxed out, the report concluded that, in any scenario, the existing public parking will not be able to accommodate the growth expected in Aggieville.

“Aggieville has been parking constrained for decades during peak hours,” Armbrust said. “As we grow vertically and density increases, the parking problem is only exacerbated and becomes an issue during all business hours. We have had multiple developers of non-residential commercial properties look at Aggieville with each commenting they would like to invest in the district, but without additional parking, they do not want to move forward with their project.”

Public opinion clearly shows that parking is a felt need in Aggieville, but does that mean a parking garage is a “build it and they will come” solution for district? Many community business leaders argue that it is. “Parking is key to moving the district forward,” said Kuntz. “Community members often comment about avoiding Aggieville because the district is busy and parking is limited. In reality, a lot of parking is being utilized for long periods of time by people visiting the university.”

The current plan would place a parking garage in the public lot south of Rally House, at the corner of Laramie Street and North Manhattan Avenue. It would serve as a catalyst-type project at the onset of the TIF, which Hilgers said, is highly encouraged to get the most out of the potential of the district. If the garage can spur Aggieville’s growth, causing property values to rise faster, Aggieville will then benefit further, as more funds are generated through the TIF.

Photo by Josh Hicks

Cameron Ward, broker/partner for The Alms Group, agrees that the garage is the most crucial element of the Aggieville plan. “It’s incredibly hard to keep business going and attract new businesses when your customers don’t have access to your business,” Ward said. “Retail and restaurant businesses suffer the most when potential customers keep driving by and end up at a chain or big box store because they couldn’t find anywhere to park. We need to support quick, efficient and cost-effective construction of this parking garage.”

The concern about parking in Aggieville isn’t limited to Manhattan residents and visitors. Hilgers said that often the first question he receives from developers interested in bringing a business to Aggieville is about parking. “It’s a reality,” Hilgers said. “A lot of people want to say it’s a chicken or an egg, but if you don’t supply the parking, and you put it back on the private developer to have to do that in such a tight-quarter district, more than likely they’re going to find there are cheaper options in the community.”

Despite those views, not all stakeholders are convinced that focusing on parking should be the top priority for Aggieville. Jared Tremblay, project manager at Flint Hills Metropolitan Planning Organization, thinks that the updates to Aggieville’s streetscapes should top the list. Small sidewalks with missing, broken and uneven pavers serve as reminders to residents that Aggieville’s streetscape has not seen an improvement effort in over 30 years. “By improving the streetscape,” Tremblay said, “Aggieville would become more inviting and enjoyable for all. It’s hard to quantify a sense of place, but study after study shows that when cities build human-scaled environments, with people-first design and materials, those locations attract more people, which leads to better business and more tax revenues.”

What does Tremblay’s streetscape vision include? Wider sidewalks to allow restaurants to extend seating, more benches and small seating plazas, large shade-providing trees, and efforts to emphasize walking and biking over motorized vehicles. He’s not alone. Surveys conducted as background for the Aggieville Community Vision indicated that over 80 percent of community members and Aggieville business owners are in favor of more pedestrian amenities “even if it reduced the number of on-street parking spaces.”

Noting that Aggieville’s importance to Manhattan cannot be overstated, Tremblay does not ignore the parking concerns, but questions whether they merit immediate focus of TIF and other funds. “I will say that every great place has a parking problem,” Tremblay said. “There is a sliding scale in terms of people’s perception of parking availability. At what point would someone rather walk two or three blocks to an on-street parking spot versus walking one block to a garage, climb stairs, and have to wait to exit single file? I can see the value of a parking garage for long-term parking—not running to a coffee shop or to dinner, but multi-hour parking.”

As preferences for transportation evolve, the need for additional parking could as well. The Aggieville Infrastructure Analysis considers the potential impact of autonomous vehicles (AVs), car-sharing programs, and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, noting that parking demand could be reduced by as much as 40 percent over the next 30 years. That section of the analysis concludes, “However, since parking structures have an expected life of 50 years or longer, developers and parking owners should be thinking about tomorrow’s possibilities, today. Ultimately, parking should be planned with flexibility and the capability to accommodate the potential increase in the number of AVs, as well as infrastructure to support TNCs.”

Cook said the evolution of transportation needs has been studied and discussed in the course of planning Aggieville’s future, and while the trend is clear, Aggieville may not see as great of an impact. “Nobody is Ubering into Manhattan. They’ve still got to get here,” Cook said. “We are a hub or an attraction for a lot of western Kansas and all over. Those people are going to drive in, and this parking is for businesses and retail.”

Growth and the Future

Regardless of direction, changes are coming to Aggieville. The Aggieville Community Vision focuses on steering improvements in parking, walkability, and aesthetics to promote additional development, but questions remain. While these improvements have been proposed, the final plan has not yet been approved by the City Commission, and some potential elements of the plan have drawn ire from business owners.

“During recent Aggieville Business Association meetings, as well as public informational and design meetings, it was clear that officials at the City of Manhattan plan to implement significant changes in Aggieville, whether business owners want these changes or not,” Ward said. “This was especially clear when the city design team presented a plan to the City Commission that suggested a full or partial closure of 12th Street, which many business owners strongly opposed.” Ward expressed concern about support for Aggieville businesses waning in the midst of significant construction, offering one suggestion for the community in the midst of the changes. “Even when the streets and sidewalks are torn up during construction, please remember to support these local businesses.”

Another hanging question surrounds future development: will it center on retail, dining, bar-hopping, or living? Opportunities are wide-open, and as Hilgers noted, those decisions will be developer-driven. “There are a lot of surveys and public data and just reaction to what people would like to see,” Hilgers said. “On certain City tracts of land, we will have the opportunity to negotiate for certain development, otherwise it will be driven by the private sector. This has also encouraged the City to talk about constructing the parking garage early in the process, to allow the potential development companies and property owners to consider other opportunities that may otherwise could not be afforded.”

“I think, in the future, we’ll see a better mix of retail and residential,” Cook said. “It’s going to be a real target for people who want to come into town and go places and do things, or for people thinking about bringing people in, I would think Aggieville’s a place you’re going to look for.”

Business diversity will be key as development occurs, Kuntz noted, as the district became bar-heavy when liquor laws changed to allow more bars without food service. She sees potential for co-living structures, grocery and pharmacy services, spaces for start-up businesses, as well as music and theatre entertainment venues to expand the nightlife offerings. “It is imperative we encourage different varieties of live, work, and play in the district,” Kuntz said.

The vision for Aggieville is in place, the quest for funding is underway, and the potential for growth is considerable. What many have long considered “a bar district” is, and will continue to be, so much more. As Ward noted, “Businesses like mine are starting to discover that there’s no better place in Manhattan to operate. Aggieville is just as vibrant when the sun is up as it is late at night.”   

What’s next?

  • On May 7, the second reading of the TIF ordinance, including boundary establishment, will occur. If approved, TIF revenues will begin to be collected.
  • If the TIF is approved, consideration of the TIF Redevelopment Plan will occur this summer. Once approved, TIF revenues will be able to be used to fund improvements.
  • For more information about the Aggieville Community Vision plan, visit https://cityofmhk.com/2714/Aggieville-Community-Vision.

Born and raised in Riley County, Derek Larson has written about everything from an athlete’s PB&J diet to nuclear power. Larson graduated from Kansas State University, and when he is not working, he can often be found having in-depth discussions about baby sharks with a toddler. Derek and his wife are raising a family in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he wears purple as often as possible.

Photography by: Josh Hicks

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