$43.6 million art museum could be coming to downtown Manhattan

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(Photo courtesy of the City of Manhattan)

Downtown Manhattan could soon be the home of a new art museum.

The proposed 50,000-square-foot, $43.6 million building, known as the Museum of Art and Light, would feature an array of exhibits and art from local and international artists.

The idea was pioneered by local residents Robert and Tracey DeBruyn, owners of The Master Teacher in Manhattan, about three years ago.

“They had been to a museum in France – in Paris – that highlighted art through projection in like a warehouse environment,” deputy city manager Jason Hilgers said. “Really tall walls – open floor plan.”

Projections show the museum bringing about 75,000 visitors to Manhattan annually, 27 percent of whom would come from out of state.

According to a report from the Manhattan Mercury, the museum could also create retail sales of about $1.3 million on an annual basis.

The current proposal has the museum going into the parking lot southeast of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, which holds about 80 to 90 stalls.

According to Hilgers, the downtown parking garage, which is a block away from the Discovery Center and holds about 430 stalls, should still be able to meet the area’s parking needs even if the project comes to fruition.

“It’s primarily used for conferences,” Hilgers said. “So when the Hilton and conference center have events, that garage gets fairly good utilization. Otherwise, I would suggest it doesn’t.”

The project will be funded by a combination of private donations and state sales tax and revenue bonds, also known as STAR bonds.

According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, STAR bonds are “a financing tool that allows Kansas municipalities to issue bonds to finance the development of major commercial, entertainment and tourism projects.”

The state originally award STAR bonds to the Downtown Manhattan Redevelopment District in 2006 for the construction of the Discovery Center. Those bonds are scheduled to be paid off in full in the near future.

“The district itself has a life through the end of 2026,” Hilgers said. “So their ask of the state is to capture the remaining five to six years here of revenue to pledge towards the construction of this museum.”

Robert and Tracey DeBruyn will present the proposal at the city commission meeting on June 1.

According to Hilgers, if the proposal is approved by local and state officials and makes it through the zoning process, construction could begin as soon as next spring or summer.

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