Kansas State University tried to use their ownership of the land Riley County is moving its EMS facility to as leverage in a sweetheart deal for county buildings that have been proposed for sale, according to comments made by the chairman of the Riley County Commission Thursday morning.
In May, commissioners discussed plans to move its EMS facilities on 2011 Claflin Rd. to the Manhattan Fire Department headquarters on Kimball and Denison, where space would be renovated to accommodate the three-way transition involving Riley County, the City of Manhattan and KSU.
“When K-State heard that we were moving out of the EMS building, that piqued their interest in possibly buying the current EMS building and the surrounding properties,” Riley County Commission Chairman Ben Wilson said Thursday. “And they have asked — well, mentioned that as a part of the lease negotiations that they’d give us more favorable lease terms if we promised to sell the properties to them.”
The proposed 50-year lease agreement for new EMS space between Riley County and the City of Manhattan would require the county to make rent payments to the city for 15 years. The county would then be rent-free for the rest of the lease.
The City of Manhattan owns the Manhattan Fire Department headquarters building, but K-State owns the land it sits on and has final say in its use.
Wilson’s comments arose after members of the Riley County Genealogical Society made a presentation to commissioners about their organization. Their building is included in the proposed sale.
Wilson added that KSU was told the county would open the sale to all bidders.
“We’ve basically told them that it has to be an open bidding process where they have to bid against other potential buyers,” he said. “But that came up kind of quickly, and in our haste to go ahead and put the buildings up for sale and continue with the move without adding too much extra time, I think there may have been some details we’ve overlooked.
“So I apologize for that.”
Riley County commissioners surprised many when they agreed on Aug. 1 to publish intent to sell property notices for four county buildings.
Those buildings include the Courthouse Plaza East building at 115 N. Fourth St. in Manhattan — where the commission meets — and another for a packaged sale of the Emergency Medical Services building, the Pawnee Mental Health building and the Genealogical Society building. Those properties all reside on the 2000 block of Claflin Road in Manhattan.
“The hypothetical here is that on Dec. 31, 2020 our lease expires,” said Riley County Genealogical Society President Barry Michie. “We don’t have any other place to go, and the other thing is we can’t buy the property. We don’t have the resources to do so.”
The house RCGS is in was the 1871 home of J.E. Platt, a K-State faculty member and abolitionist. In 1980 it was added to the Kansas Historic Register and added to the National Historic Register in 1981.
County counselor Clancy Holeman said there is language in the intent to sell notice for the RCGS building requiring a “preservation plan.”
Commissioner Ron Wells, who successfully led a charge Monday to pause the publishing of the intent to sell notices, told Michie he has his support.
“I’m opposing the sale,” he said. “If the sale occurs, I’m in favor of continuing everything that’s in the lease currently, and I’d like to see the lease extended.”
Wells said he wants to revisit the buildings sale issue Monday with commissioner Robert Boyd.
Boyd, who lost his primary bid on Aug. 2 and has been the major proponent of a possible sale of the buildings, was still on vacation Thursday but is expected to return next week.
“The EMS facility and where it would move to, is a benefit to Kansas State University, to the City of Manhattan and to Riley County,” Wells said, expressing his frustration with Wilson’s comments about K-State’s suggestions with the deal. “It’s the proper thing to do and I don’t want to be held hostage with, ‘If you don’t do this, we won’t do this.'”