WILLISTON, N.D.—When the last airplane takes off from Sloulin Field and the airport site is decommissioned, the city will have an immense opportunity that is 640 acres wide. Deciding what to put in that field of dreams wasn’t just a matter of deciding what to build, Cardon Global CEO Don Cardon told a packed house of Williston residents who gathered in the Grand Williston Hotel to learn more about the city’s plan for the land. “It’s absorption,” Cardon said. “It’s how long will it take to build out the 640 acres. You cannot do it all at once. And you have to activate the whole space. You have to do it in a way that triggers ongoing inspiration.”
Cardon talked about a small town of 5,000 or so that created a big hotel with a water feature inside it that is full 365 days a year, despite being in such a small community. “It’s full year-round because you have created an experience,” he said.
That’s what Cardon Global hopes to do with Sloulin Field over the next 10 years, in three phases of development.
“We are trying to activate opportunities,” Cardon said. “We are trying to create a quality of life. Things that make people say, ‘I want to go to Williston.'”
Cardon spoke about the “art” behind the development, but it was Kurt Culbertson, chairman of Design Workshop, who shared the details everyone was waiting to hear.
“There is enough land here to hold all your dreams,” Culbertson said. “And all the kinds of uses you can imagine.”
Among the first things that will be need to be done, however, are some nuts and bolts. Namely, extending roads like 42nd and 32nd Streets, which presently are blocked by the airport, to complete the network of streets in town.
“As you all know, the airport has been a barrier north and south, east and west,” Culbertson said. “Completing the network of streets will allow greater mobility in this part of town.”
The first phase will be 150 acres on the front and eastern side of the property that will include some early retail in the high visibility area of Sloulin Field. A civic park complex is part of the concept as well, and the existing hangar will be repurposed into an innovation center for business startups. The phase will also include about 200 units of housing.
The second phase will skip to the portion that is toward the rear and western portion of the site, and fairly far removed from visibility. It’s not good for office or retail, but, being adjacent to the existing golf course, it will be a good site for housing.
Phase three is the bulk of the development. When that occurs and how big it is depends on how successful phase one has been, Culbertson said.
That area will have access to the innovation center, and might be a good area for new businesses to come into the area. It will include another area for extended housing, as well as a reserve site for an elementary school.
Some of the possibilities mentioned for the area included things like a skating pathway, with an area that would be a spot for pickup hockey games in winter, and turn into a splash pad in summer.
The existing terminal will become an interpretive center for new visitors to the community to learn more about Williston and its energy industry.
The design process will follow several key concepts, among them the idea of mixed-use developments, such as those Gov. Doug Burgum has been touting as part of the Main Street initiative.
The development will have a central gathering place with restaurants, shopping, a civic center complex, and a large new hotel to serve the conference center.
People might ask why a new hotel when there are so many already in that area.
“The conference center might accommodate 2,000 people,” Culbertson said. “So any new hotel would only serve a fraction of the demand.”
The center would have the potential to raise the base occupancy for all hotels, he added. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said.
Burgum, speaking after the plan was revealed, said it was exciting to see what is happening in Williston, and that he has been impressed with all that the city has already accomplished.
“This is a real opportunity for Williston to have this size of an infill project for Williston, and to have the economics and resources behind it to do something that’s special,” he said.
Burgum added that he sees a lot of things in the Sloulin master plan that play into what he’s been promoting with the Main Street initiative.
Mixed-use developments that allow people to walk to work, walk to entertainment venues, walk to the grocery store are the kinds of places the Millennial workforce of today are seeking, he said, and communities in a state with more than 14,500 job openings — many of them in Williston — have to think about that.
“We go on vacation and have those places,” he said. “Then we go home and have this idea that we cannot have those spaces back home. But we can build those kind of spaces here.”
In addition to being what the young workforce of today wants, these types of developments are more tax effective, Burgum added, pointing out that the larger footprint means building out more miles of infrastructure.
Every mile of water and sewer line costs taxpayers more. Additional space usually also means increased numbers of police officers to patrol the area, as well as more firefighters and fire houses.
“We can’t keep designing the way we are,” Burgum said, pointing out that the big box retailers that thrived off traffic counts are being “killed” by online shopping.
Fargo, he added, has a million square feet of open retail space from big boxes that have shut down.
“Who is going to fill a million square feet if not big box retailers?” he asked. “And guess where that is? It’s in an empty parking lot by an arterial route. On main streets, things can come and go, and it’s not catastrophic to the tax base. So it has to be things like Sloulin, because in five years, it won’t be big box retailers.”