Please note: Scorpion Biological Services changed its name to Scorpius Biomanufacturing in January 2023.
What has long been a City of Manhattan public parking lot south of Kite’s in Aggieville will soon be transformed into an ambitious five-story mixed-use property in the heart of the Aggieville Business District near the Kansas State University campus.
The icing on the cake is that this project is the brainchild of local developers, architects, financiers and, eventually, will be built by a local construction company.
Back 9 Development President TJ Vilkanskas and architect Tracy Anderson have been working with an unofficial group of community members for several years to explore the next logical steps for Aggieville. The business district is in the middle of a multi-phased, city-driven redevelopment process that has included infrastructure upgrades, enhanced streetscapes and the construction of a public parking garage.
“I can’t think of a better place in the country right now to invest your money than Manhattan, Kansas,” Vilkanskas said. “There’s just so much opportunity here.”
In April 2022, the Manhattan City Commission voted 5-0 to transfer ownership of the parking lot to Back 9 for $1. With a string of caveats to protect the city if the deal were to fall through – including paying the city $2.3 million for the land – Back 9 is moving forward with a plan to construct a five-story commercial and residential building, which is anticipated to break ground at the end of 2022.
The working name for the anticipated $50+ million project is Midtown Aggieville. The building will bring in $1 million a year to the city in new property taxes, plus whatever sales tax is generated will be reinvested in the tax increment financing (TIF) district to fund the city’s investments to enhance Aggieville, the oldest shopping district in Kansas.
“Aggieville today doesn’t have the energy it did when I went to school,” Vilkanskas said. “Right now, Aggieville has a lot of bars, restaurants and apartments which are fantastic, but not many professional jobs. The phrase ‘live, work, play’ gets thrown around a lot, but that’s what we’re going for. We hope this project will create new jobs to strengthen that part of the equation.”
Anderson, principal of Anderson Knight Architects, said while researching other developments across the country, the group realized Aggieville could check off many of the boxes for what the Brookings Institute identifies as an innovation district — an area with a leading-edge anchor institution (such as Kansas State) where companies can connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Such areas are typically physically compact, transit-accessible, technically wired and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.
IDEA1 in San Diego is one of the many innovation districts Anderson’s group studied that inspired this project.
“IDEA1 really resonated with us simply due to the energy and collaboration that it seems to promote,” Anderson said. “It’s obviously a much larger district in a much bigger metropolitan area, but the thought was we could bring similar elements to a building in Aggieville.”
As the city’s redevelopment plans for Aggieville focused on transforming 12th Street into a pedestrian mall, Anderson proposed bringing the energy of that social space into the footprint of the building.
“That led to the idea of the grand stairs,” Anderson said. “The stairs will allow one to ascend from 12th Street to an elevated courtyard as well as allowing someone to be in between the two. It will be a place where one can feel engaged in whatever activities are happening, but not feel like they have to be an active participant.”
The public courtyard will feature a 50 x 30-foot outdoor projected screen that will show K-State games and other forms of entertainment. The vision is for the courtyard to be adjacent to a fine-dining restaurant and bar, and for the steps to become an iconic place for people to visit, hang out, or snap selfies while in town.
Anderson said the courtyard is the centerpiece of the project, and its use will change throughout each day.
“It is a space that could start the day at 6 a.m. with a yoga class, then transition throughout the day to see diverse groups of people of all ages meeting to discuss current events, collaborate on a work project, work away from their desks for an hour or simply to socialize,” Anderson said. “It is a space where one weekend a K-State sporting event watch party could take place and the next weekend a wedding. It is a space that will live and breathe with the rising and setting of the sun and with the seasons.”
Back 9 hopes to bring to the building other amenities like a private gym, spa, restaurants and valet parking that will make young professionals want to work there — and will attract employers wanting to capitalize on their talent.
The building, anticipated to open in 2025, is expected to have dining and retail space on the ground floor, office space on the second through fourth floors and high-end residential on the top story. Currently Back 9 and Anderson Knight are preparing virtual tours and other marketing materials, in hopes of starting to lease space in 2023.
Vilkanskas said the project has flexibility at this point to transition the top floor from luxury apartments to additional office space. He’s hopeful that with NBAF preparing to become fully operational by year’s end that the region will continue to see more big announcements, putting office space in high demand.
“I’m super bullish on Manhattan right now. Now that NBAF is almost done, we’re seeing the fruit of that investment. The Scorpion Biological Services announcement was just the first,” Vilkanskas said. “The region needs more private sector jobs to complement our university and Fort Riley assets. I think we’ll see the investments of time and resources over the past 10 years really start to pay off in the next five.”
Anderson said that it’s been important to the group that as much of the funding as possible be reinvested locally. Most of the investors have K-State ties, and local professionals have completed all of the design, development, engineering, financing and construction work to date.
“It sounds cliché, but it is the old saying that a rising tide raises all ships, and we feel like Manhattan has a lot of potential,” Anderson said. “All of us are invested in Manhattan and its future growth and prosperity.”
Contact Vilkansas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-236-0161 for more about Midtown leasing opportunities.
Contact Daryn Soldan at the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership to learn more about opportunities to locate in the region: email@example.com or 785-776-8829.