One of North Dakota's largest oil-producing counties has approved a $500 million development with new stores, apartments and an indoor water park.
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The project shows that even with a 50 percent drop in crude oil prices since last summer, developers see long-term potential in building amenities to serve the state's oil counties, which the U.S. Census Bureau has ranked as one of the country's fastest-growing regions for the past four years.
The Williams County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to approve a zoning variance for Switzerland-based developer Stropiq LLC to build the roughly 200-acre Williston Crossing development.
Stropiq plans to build, in four phases, 1 million square feet of retail space; 900 apartments, townhouses and condominiums; 600,000 square feet of office space; four hotels; and an indoor water park.
"There are plenty of smaller communities with many more retail options," said Stropiq's Terry Olin. "There's no reason there shouldn't be a shopping center here."
Williston, the Williams County seat, is the capital of North Dakota's oil boom and the project will be located just north of the city line.
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Stropiq's main pitch for the commissioners' blessing was the lack of current retail options in the Williston region, with Walmart and a 1950s-era JCPenney offering the best non-oilfield clothes shopping.
The nearest mall is 125 miles away, and Amazon.com Inc's Prime free-shipping service is wildly popular in the area which has few stores.
Opponents, including Williston's mayor and competing developers, argued the county does not have adequate infrastructure and services in place, though supporters noted a new Williston airport will soon be built just north of the Williston Crossing site, fueling a likely construction boom along a nearby highway.
Since its inception two years ago, Stropiq's project has served as a lightning rod for those opposed to oil development. Many county commissioners have said publicly that deliberating on Stropiq's project has irrevocably strained friendships.
"There is nothing aesthetically appealing about taking hills and coulees and twisting them into glass and steel," said Martin Hanson, a county commissioner who voted against the zoning variance.
Stropiq sought to ease that tension, hiring Gensler, the prestigious architect behind Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, for the project.
The blessing from county commissioners means Stropiq can now market the project to retailers. Without their buy-in, the company will not break ground, Olin said.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Ted Botha and Richard Chang)