On Tuesday at Williston WEST, the organizers saved the best for last — the reclaiming and redevelopment of Sloulin Field once the new airport is finished. That will put 800 acres of prime commercial property in the city’s heart, with proximity to an all-important freeway.
The project poses the same sort of issue that confronted Red River Oil when it realized it had to do more than just hunker down and ride out the downturn. To survive, to make the most of its opportunities and its future, it had to reach out despite the downturn and do more than fear would tend to dictate.
Economic Developer Shawn Wenko said efforts have been ongoing behind the scenes all year to think about and reimagine what factors play into making Sloulin’s future open space all that it can be.
“You haven’t heard much about that,” he acknowledged. “A lot of that was behind the scenes until we were sure where we were going with the new airport.”
Now that all systems are a go for the Williston Basin International Airport — a private groundbreaking is now scheduled Oct. 10 — it is time to unveil in more detail the thinking that is going into the space, and to talk about the process that will be used to involve the public in its transformation.
Don Cardon is CEO with Cardon Global, which Williston hired from among a number of contenders eager to develop the city’s future field of dreams.
“What do you do with something that has so much volume of land, and so many options of what you could do?” Cardon asked in a panel discussion with himself and Kurt Culbertson at the end of Tuesday’s sessions.
Selling the property outright in a downturn could help build the airport in the short term, but isn’t likely to bring the most benefit long-term, Cardon said. Right now, in a downturn, a buyer would want to discount the property’s future worth in exchange for taking on all the risk of developing it.
City commissioners also would not have that much say in what located there if they took that approach. Zoning can restrict the type of business in an area, but not all retail has equal weight. This is a rare opportunity, Cardon said, to determine the use of a large amount of land in a way that not only will define the look of Williston’s front door, but its future.
“When you overlay a new design and construction there, it will be a signature icon,” he said.
The transformation isn’t something that will happen without the vision of the community itself behind it, Cardon added.
There will be a series of at least three meetings to give members of the public tools to consider all the issues at hand. Participants will work in small groups and have a chance to develop their own idea boards to help inform Cardon’s understanding of Williston and what it wants to become.
The sessions will be very interactive, and they will include the broader community. There will be keypad surveys, posted online, and the results will be posted in real time. It will be an exciting process, Cardon added, and those participating will have many tools to help them understand the main issues and trade-offs, so that their ideas will be well-grounded in pragmatic issues.
“Planning is the rigorous application of common sense,” he said. “And most people have common sense.”
Cardon said Williston is not just any urban center, and that is perhaps the most important factor to remember. It is a unique community with its own sensibilities and value. That must be part of the transformation, as well as all the ideas of what could be — things like technology, strengthening the healthcare industry, a petroleum museum, a conference center — just a few of the ideas that have been batted around dinner tables as the citizens of Williston have already begun thinking and peering into their city’s crystal ball.