WILLISTON — Stropiq brought a full-court press to the Williams County Planning and Zoning meeting Thursday night to talk about its proposal to build a $500 million mixed-use development north of Williston, about 4 to 5 miles from where the airport is to be sited.
Larry Jensen, with JLL, which handles large retail developments across the nation, was among that full-court press.
Jensen said when they have shown their concept to big box retailers, those retailers have been excited. He could not point to a particular contract at this point because they don't yet have approval for the project from the county, but he believes based on discussions they've had that Williston Crossing, as proposed, will attract interest from all the "right" retailers.
He acknowledged some retailers are already finding their way to the market. Menards for example.
"They are a great retailer, but in that category they are third. I know you have a sporting goods looking. It's not Cabela’s, it's not Dick’s. Are you going to get retail? Yes, but the question is, what retail do you want?” he asked.
He acknowledged that many of the top retailers have been cautious in the Williams County/Williston market because the city doesn't yet have a quarter million people.
Williston Crossing circumvents that problem by making itself a regional destination. It will include a water park, hotels, restaurants and shopping so that it becomes a destination itself and draws from southern Canada, eastern Montana and surrounding areas in North Dakota. A representative from Gensler, the architecture firm, had pointed out earlier that there is no significant retail shopping within 125 miles of Williston that satisfies that need, and there would be significant demand for it.
Stropiq has done an internal study estimating regional demand for retail is between 5 and 7 million square feet. Its development would take 1 million of that, leaving room for many others to develop projects.
Jensen said JLL is well-connected with retail in North Dakota and has been for quite some time. He has helped to manage the sale and placement of large commercial developments in Minot, Bismarck and Fargo.
"I don't know, you have a wonderful opportunity here. We are willing to take the risk, we're willing to try and make Dakota Modern what you guys would love to see and hopefully what would drive people to move their families here. You need amenities. I don't know of any other place in the country going through what you are right now, it's hard, but we'd like to give you an amenity you will love."
There were, however, questions from the city and the township where it would be located.
Williston Mayor Howard Klug was concerned that the truck bypass is getting "plugged" with projects.
"We spent two years designing a truck reliever route for the city of Williston," Klug said. Part of the agreement between the city and state was that there would only be access along certain points. "I'm not against retail or development at all, but the main thing about this whole thing is, it's a truck reliever route to get those trucks out of the city of Williston, and right away, it looks like we're going to plug that route up with projects."
Mark Barstad asked the mayor whether the truck bypass is going to be used to access the new airport.
Klug acknowledged that it would, but added it was one of the agreed upon access points with the state.
"So it will be a pretty heavily traveled road?" Barstad asked.
"Well you're right, because our airport does 10,000 to 12,000 enplanements a month."
Williston Planning Director Kent Jarcik read a letter detailing concerns put together by a committee of various city entities.
He pointed out the city's resources for extending infrastructure such as roads, fire service and water to growth and development is already stretched thin, with so many other projects on the table ahead of Williston Crossing.
There's a fire loop being built for the west side, for example, and they're working on extending sewer and water to areas already annexed in the north that come before any additional new developments going in beyond that.
The city is concerned there will be holes in water service to the area they've already promised to extend services to, and, though the developer has offered to give land and build a fire station, there are questions about where money would come from to equip and staff the facility long-term.
Developer Terry Metzler questioned the project from the standpoint of the comprehensive plan. "We come in as developers and we are trying to go by your comprehensive plan," he said. "We are trying to follow your rules, and then we see something like this that totally obliviates your rules.”
He also questioned whether Stropiq would be able to get any retailers for the facility.
"How many communities of this size have anything this size projected?" he asked. "It's one thing to stir dirt and build buildings. It's another to fill them with retailers."
A woman with the Missouri Ridge township named Misty Flory told the Planning and Zoning board they are on the fence about the project.
"We are kind of teetering," she said. "We feel there are a lot of good things Stropiq can offer with the development, but yet there are some other things to be considered. We need to look at this with a realistic view. The main one is location.
She also ticked off some of the good things she liked hearing about — a reservoir, a possible fire station with EMS, a sprinkler system in all the buildings, great access to the airport, and some big box shopping options not located in Minot.
"So we're kind of on the fence," she said. "We're not at complete approval, we're not at complete disapproval. We think there are some things that need to be looked at."
Stropiq principle Terry Olin was invited by Tate Cymbaluk to come back and address the many concerns that had been raised.
Olin said they were aware of the issues that have been raised and have provided detailed letters as to the engineering on them. They've looked at realistic options for themselves to provide water and sewer and they've offered land for the construction of a fire station, which would bring fire service to the 700-plus homes already in the area north of his development, and all of North Star as well.
Olin added Stropiq would be glad to provide an economic impact study to detail the future revenues that could be anticipated from the development in sales and property tax money.
After the public comments concluded, planning and zoning members took their turns raising points and asking questions.
Barstad said to him the truck bypass is not a reliever route any more now that the airport has been put in place.
”Jensen said things I've said for years," he said. "There's a 125-mile radius of no shopping at all. There are so many little towns here. Why haven't people come in and done something here already? If oil is here or not, it's still going to bring things in."
He also pointed out that if another major development is going in just across the street from it, that means services ultimately must be provided to that area anyway.
County Commissioner Dan Kalil referenced the 1980s and questioned if the market will sustain such a development as Stropiq proposes if oil prices remain low for a substantial period of time.
Cymbaluk said he knew where Kalil was going with the question about 1981.
"We're not going there," he said. "Future land use studies, transportation studies, water studies — you name it, we have spent the money to grow this. We have capital improvements of $250 million. Five years down the road, it's even bigger. So we do have a large concern for large projects such as this close to the community. We don't want to dilute the other projects that are already being built."
Jensen had a response for Cymbaluk on that point and was allowed to share it. He said there is a person at the big national retailers whose job is solely to choose the right locations to open in. "If he's shown something that won't work, he waits until something else comes along," he said. "You've designated spaces they could build in, but we don't think they're going to. They need the right mix."
Commissioner Chris Brostuen said it was clear a lot more study was needed on the Stropiq proposal before he could decide if he was for or against it. He moved that the commission form an ad hoc committee to study the proposal further before deciding whether to approve or reject it.
The measure was approved unanimously.