When will rents fall?

The Paul Sawtell Quartet plays during Saturday's open house at Eagle Crest Apartments event, which covered Saturday and Sunday.

WILLISTON — Eagle Crest Apartment Homes, sitting on eight acres on 26th Street West adjacent to the Harvest Hills, is a new 168-unit multifamily housing development, and like many luxury developments with amenities in Williston, it’s expensive.

The campus-style layout with garages on the perimeter and landscaped green space in the central courtyard provides privacy between the clubhouse and four buildings that offer one-bedroom, one-bath apartments at $1,995; two-bedroom, one-bath are listed at $2,395 and three-bedroom, two-bath at $3,200.

“We’re seeing interest in our products and we will continue to be aggressive with our rates for those who expect quality and are willing to invest,” said John Sessions, CEO of Bakken Housing Company, during the grand opening that welcomed hundreds of apartment hunters Saturday and Sunday. “Some will pay more, while others influenced by the economy will take lesser quality.”

Apartment prices as expensive as Eagle Crest’s has become the norm in Williston during the recent years of the oil boom that hasn’t changed apartment rents much even as oil prices have plummeted. The price of WTI crude on Monday was $60.20 a barrel. The number of statewide production rigs dropped to 80, a new low.

“The $110 a barrel mark wasn’t typical, nor was $46 per barrel,” said Sessions, who added that oil prices have slightly increased since the beginning of the year and that oilfields workers, construction companies and local families seeking a quieter part of the city have rented 60 percent of the apartment units.

Still, the Bakken Housing Company plans to provide $250 monthly rental cuts for tenants who sign a 12-month lease, while setting aside 20 percent of the units as affordable housing for families with an income of $35,000.

Rod Brown, of Idaho, took his dog on a walk around the pet-friendly, scenic apartment complex overlooking the Coulee on Saturday afternoon. He and his wife, and their adult son and his girlfriend, relocated from an apartment near Walmart three months ago and into a two-bedroom, one-bath unit, with a private garage.

“The rents around here are outrageous, but this is the same price and it’s twice as better,” said Brown, whose grandchildren often make use of the campus playground. “It’s a nice facility. It’s very well built. It’s like a house inside.”

Eagle Crest, with direct access to Highways 2 and 85, is close to shopping, dining and entertainment, schools — including the site for Williston’s likely new high school — public facilities and the local airport.

Sessions and his business partner, George Kropinski, both of Seattle, said they had scouted out the land overlooking Sands Creek Coulee five years ago. Financing the $30 million project was difficult, but the real-estate executives acquired a special use municipal bond and quickly found themselves garnering partial financial support from North Dakota residents.

“Clearly the people of North Dakota are not afraid to invest back their proceeds of oil royalties,” Sessions said. The total financial backing was secured and the planning and entitlement process went smoothly, but construction took longer than expected due to issues with sub-resources. The first apartment building was completed in the fourth quarter of 2014, with the next three buildings arriving every other month.

“It shows that there is still people willing to invest in our community,” said Scott Meske, president of the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce, who attended the grand opening celebration that boasted a parking lot filled with vintage automobiles and tractors along with an on-campus jazz ensemble to accommodate barbecue near the central courtyard. “The city has an emerging, diverse economy and has the emerging of neighborhoods. Williston is not done growing.”

Despite the hyperbole of an oil bust, officials in Williston are expecting more than 2,126 units to come online by the end of the year, Meske said. Many projects include “spill-over units” from 2014, said Sessions, who added that the pace of multifamily developments have slowed and that rental rates are “as low as they can go,” but still thinks that market stratification is on the horizon.

“Consumers have a choice and that’s a good thing. They can shop now, just like they do with restaurants,” Meske said. “Apartments are still expensive for a lot of families. The market will correct itself, but maybe not as fast as we want it to.”

Sessions, a licensed pilot, ended Saturday’s touring by taking six prize-winners on a airborne tour of western North Dakota. He thanked them, while flying over his new nearly completed development, eager to welcome full capacity yet thinking ahead of Bakken Housing Company starting Hawkeye Village: a 160-acre development that includes 168-single-family units and 57 duplexes connecting downtown Williston to 11th Street West and 32nd Avenue West.

“I think the growth will remain steady,” Sessions said. “People are interested here. All we ask is that they come give us a look.”

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