Manhattan surprises with college-town diversity and prairie sensibility
Thinking of moving to Manhattan, Kan.? This dynamic Midwestern college town sets some high standards that make it a great location to consider if you’re looking to relocate. A thriving college environment with all the advantages of a large academic population and terrific town-and-gown interaction, Manhattan also has a thriving food scene, a growing reputation as a scientific research hub and is set amidst a distinctive American ecosystem, the Kansas Flint Hills.
My husband and I moved here from Los Angeles,” says Mayor Karen McCulloh. “We love Manhattan; life is so easy here, things move at a slower tempo, but it still offers so many of the amenities of a big city. And without the long commutes and other stresses, we have so much more free time to enjoy living here.”
Here are eight great reasons to consider making a move to Manhattan.
Superior College Town
In 2011, according to John Pagen of the Manhattan CVB, Forbes magazine named the city the No. 1 college town in the country; it continues to place on each successive year’s list, and it’s received many more superlatives in connection with the relationship between the city and the university. “We still get lots of calls about that from folks looking to visit or move here,” Pagen says. “In terms of business development, this is huge because it ensures companies looking for startup locations or to relocate have a ready supply of educated employees. Plus, we have so many young, creative talents who choose to stay after college.”
The Forthcoming National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF)
According to Pagen, the facility, which will provide some 300 research jobs, will replace the existing New York-based Plum Island Animal Disease Center that is now too small to meet its research requirements. It will be a collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service, with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and Veterinary Services as research partners. This is a five-year building project, Pagen says, and should also provide an uptick in educated residents, mid- and upper-level housing starts and more community benefits. The city has already invested more than $5 million upgrading infrastructure to meet the needs of the new facility, according to Mayor McCulloh – which may in turn have benefits for other residents as well.
Walkability and Public Transportation
Manhattan’s very walkable historic downtown – with its renovated clerestory mall for easy shopping – and nearby Aggieville campus appeal to visitors and residents alike. For those wanting to get out, there’s a linear trail around the city that provides walking, hiking and biking opportunities for residents with shady trails and an opportunity to observe nature, including seasonal monarch butterfly migrations. In addition, the city has just started a new green bike sharing program. Mayor McCulloh adds that they’ve also begun upgrading public transportation, with a fixed route bus system that is only a few years old, but which they hope to grow substantially with the population to accommodate residents’ needs.
Food and Beverage Scene
In recent years, Mayor McCulloh says, the city has seen expansive growth in locally owned restaurants, coffee shops and microbreweries. She says new bakeries producing fresh-made bread and pastries, new ethnic locations and some higher-end locales have truly appealed to local foodies. “I’m especially pleased to see the growth of coffee shops roasting their own beans and thinking originally, and also the microbreweries like Tallgrass Tap House that encourage a tasting menu. As you know, binge drinking is always an issue in a college community, so businesses that teach younger adults the real value of tasting, sipping and enjoying their beverages as an alternative to just drinking to be drunk are a wonderful thing.” She adds that the presence of nearby Fort Riley Army Base means that current and former military spouses from other countries are in a distinctive position to share the culinary traditions of their own cultures with the community – sometimes by opening local restaurants.
Museums and Arts
Kansas State University’s McCain Performing Arts Center hosts touring shows from symphony performances to Broadway acts, while the university’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance also adds to the city’s cultural options. The Beach Museum of Fine Arts offers up both long-term collections and temporary shows of regional artists. The city also has a terrific zoo, and the new Flint Hills Discovery Center showcases the history, geology and biology of the region for adults and children alike.
Manhattan is part of the Kansas Flint Hills, which preserve – due to their rocky, hilly and non-plant agriculture-friendly characteristics – the tall grass prairie that once stretched from Canada down the length of the U.S., but which was mostly converted to corn and wheat fields. Mayor McCulloh says the presence of cattle ranches instead of those farms actually helped to preserve the prairie and its native tall grasses. The 1,200-acre Tuttle Creek State Park makes some of these lands accessible to the public, while the National Parks Service’s 8,400-acre Tall Grass Prairie National Wildlife Preserve protects the last of this remaining prairie.
Manhattan’s neighborhoods cross every spectrum, according to Pagen. “We’ve got everything, from multi-million-dollar-home golf course communities to renovated older homes, to starter homes for young families. If you want acreage and animals, there’s plenty available just outside city limits. We’ve got a sense that’s almost like the California beach communities in the ‘50s and ‘60s with their quaint homes. And the emphasis is on convenience, not congestion,” Pagen says. Mayor McCulloh adds that neighborhoods tend to be close-knit, with an annual Manhattan Days in June when grocery stores supply free hot dogs and buns for big neighborhood picnics in local parks.
Of course, the big news there is Kansas State University – which also means great sports and cultural activities as well as education and support for the K-12 community. However, Manhattan’s kindergarten through secondary schools receive continued high ratings, according to Mayor McCulloh, no small feat in an era of historic budget cuts in the state.