- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Here’s a phrase developer Terry Olin would like to erase from the Williston vernacular: “I’m going to Minot, do you want anything?”

If Olin has his way, that phrase won’t mean a thing in a few years.

Olin is one of two principals with Stropiq Inc., which has filed a site plan with Williams County. It would be a $500 million bet that the future of the Bakken doesn’t end in another bust, but will boom and bloom for decades to come.

Williston Crossing is a 219-acre mixed-use real estate project planned on the north edge of town, just four miles from Sloulin airport’s preferred site for a new and larger facility. Running just south of the development is a proposed future truck bypass, and to its east is U.S. Highway 2/85.

That places it at a future crossroad that will boast easy in, easy out access for 50,000 cars a day, and places it in such a way to avoid adding to the congestion of existing roadways in other primary retail areas.

“That intersection is, for northwestern North Dakota, the intersection of ‘Main and Main,’” Olin told the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/16By79x ). “That’s where you want to be.”

Ellen Simone Weyrauch, the other principal of Stropiq, said they decided Williston was where they wanted to be after making the rounds of other potential communities whose demographics fit what they were looking for. Every place was great, she said, and the two are not ruling out developments in other locations, but there was something vibrant and dynamic about Williston.

“Williston has sort of embraced all the growth,” Weyrauch said. “They’re really trying to make the best out of it, in the way that they are planning things, and that’s an attitude. We liked it.”

“To us, Williston is in an absolutely unique situation in the United States,” Olin said. “You have a population of, let’s call it 40,000 people, give or take, who are 125 miles from the nearest proper shopping center. Where else can that be?”

The idea here, however, is not just to develop land, Olin stressed, but to design it, and to create from that design a place that will become a destination in and of itself.

There would be a water park and hotel, big-box stores, housing, office space_all in a park-like setting that has been sited and designed based on an evaluation of the prevailing winds, sunlight, and the natural color palette, which architectural firm Gensler has described as “Dakota modern.”

“There will be a heavy focus on fitting in,” Olin said.

Marketing studies show the Williston area can support up to 7 million square feet of new retail space. Williston Crossing would create about 1 million of that space.

Potential big-box tenants have been giving the Stropiq project more than a passing glance, Olin said.

“We were pleasantly surprised we did not need to justify Williston,” he said. “They already knew the market. They simply had not seen the right entry. We believe we are in the process of providing exactly that.”

What’s making the difference for their project, Olin and Weyrauch believe, is a regional approach.

“This doesn’t work if it’s all about Williston alone,” Olin said. “We need to be able to draw from at least halfway out to the current offerings, and those are in Dickinson and Minot and then Billings. Maybe one day we draw from Minot itself, who knows, it’s not impossible.”

Mike Sizemore, director of Development Services for Williams County, said a hearing on the plan has not yet been scheduled, but he thinks one will be set toward the end of February. That would put it on the board of county commissioners’ agenda the first week of April, assuming no major problems with the site plan are raised. The developer is hoping to begin work in the spring.

Sizemore was familiar with Gensler as an architectural firm.

“These are folks who work all over the country,” he said, “and they’ve really done their homework here. They’ve left the terrain of the area in their design natural, and they’ve actually gone to great lengths to determine the color palettes in North Dakota. They’re planning to use North Dakota native plants and rustic wood - regional character and local style - that says a lot about what they are going to do.”

Among world-class projects Gensler has managed are the Shanghai Tower and a new addition to the Denver International Airport.

“We are really pleased that oil, being what it is, that folks are comfortable enough to invest this kind of time and money in Williams County with the understanding - I don’t think anyone believes this will stay down for a long time,” Sizemore said. “Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but for the most part everyone believes this is just exactly that, a lull.”

Olin said commodity prices have been and always will be cyclical.

“Whatever price oil is, it’s temporary,” he said. “There’s been a perfect concurrence of events in the Bakken, and it sets the foundation for what it will be in the future. We aren’t going to predict how long this pricing cycle is going to last or how far it goes, but we are confident in time the extraction costs and oil prices will come together again. The efficiencies here increase every day. There is more infrastructure every day, and the industry is more and more effective at accessing that oil.”

The idea is that Williston isn’t going to fizzle out and bust.

“There is just so much invested here in infrastructure,” Weyrauch said. “You won’t stop it.”


Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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