By Adolfo Blanco and Sophie Lenkiewicz
Aggieville, known for the catchphrase come early, stay late is the home for local businesses, restaurants and bars. For the Manhattan community members it is a place to spend their evenings and weekends with family and friends, a space where the community supports one another. The plans however to expand and grow Aggieville brings a threat to this once local hub.
The project for midtown Aggieville has been an on-going issue since 2022 and continues to be debated and discussed in city offices now. Tuesday, September 26 the continuation of the construction was discussed by the Back Nine Development, a privately held residential construction and land development company.
Inside the meeting
During the meeting the firm was seeking the city’s approval to resume work on its paused million “Midtown” building project in Aggieville as well as a new hotel/parking garage across the street. President TJ Vilkanskas of Back Nine tried sympathizing with locals by ensuring they are also a local business and could relate to the concerns many locals and business owners expressed.
"We started Back Nine Development out of my house, we operated from there for about six years. So we are the definition of a very small, locally owned business. And we are familiar with many of the challenges that face other businesses,” Vilkanskas said.
The firm specializes in custom residential construction as well as commercial and residential land development. In the meeting they asked city commissioners for tax increment financing and an exemption on sales taxes on construction materials for the Midtown development plan. Originally they had an agreement for a $40 million Aggieville commercial and residential project, but after 11 weeks of construction the development halted in Aggieville after an investor pulled out. Since then many small business owners have raised complaints contributing to the construction and effects it has on business.
Tuesday, Back Nine mentioned their goal of wanting to start the project again in June 2024, Vilkanskas said they are very excited to bring around 400 plus jobs to the district. Utilizing around 60,000 square feet for office space and retail.
”The project as a whole, we're going to see an investment of, $100 million, it's going to generate 400 plus jobs, 108 hotel rooms and 500 parking spots— it’s really going to help that district [Aggieville] and bring some growth for that district in all of the small businesses.”
After an hour of questions directed to Back Nine Development from the residents of the town. Hatesohl had a direct response to the people of Aggieville’s concerns.
“You've got to seriously consider that there's no reason that, while you can be sentimental, as much as you want about business, the bottom line is, if you own a piece of property, you'd like to maximize how much you can get for that,” Hatesohl said, “that's, market economics, that the city can't do anything about there.”
Hearing from the townies
The meeting left many people with a bittersweet taste in their mouths. For some, such as Joyce Bright, a long time resident of Manhattan was concerned for what the development prioritized.
“I don't see any planned disabled parking around the outside, maybe it's there somewhere, but I don't see it — I had major surgery, and I had a temporary handicap parking permit. So I know what it's like,” Bright said, “ to have to walk slowly and walk carefully and in much pain to get to a place. I know the developer didn't talk about it, but it needs to be addressed.”
For business owner Ken Ward, his thoughts about the development project differed in ways for other business owners, Ward said at first he had concerns but has recently seen it as a positive and is going to wait to see the economic impact it brings.
“Sometimes I think about what they see and think about. Aggieville is, you know, just the bars. That's all they see is the bars…what happens when it's all of a sudden, you're not catering to the football crowd anymore,” Sarah Cunnick, co-owner of Sister of Sound Record Store said.
Cunnick said she wished to express to the people of Aggieville her discontent on the entire plan from Back Nine Development. She explained how Aggiville could benefit with small stores and business, local to the public district. However, with the development taking place and taking a considerable amount of businesses with its construction. Cunnick expresses doubt for the plans and if they can really benefit Manhattan as much as the Mayor hopes.
“Don't be ‘sentimental’ about a business that has been here for 30 years and that I consider an anchor business for all the other businesses in Aggieville — I mean, once a lot of this stuff goes away, it will never be replaced.” Cunnick said.