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Published May 30, 2013, 08:44 AM

Proposed downtown Williston project creates divide

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A Chicago developer wants to revitalize downtown Williston with a $16 million investment, but opponents say the loss of an existing parking lot would be detrimental to businesses in the city in the heart of North Dakota's booming oil patch.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A Chicago developer wants to revitalize downtown Williston with a $16 million investment, but opponents say the loss of an existing parking lot would be detrimental to businesses in the city in the heart of North Dakota's booming oil patch.

The Renaissance Companies is proposing a six-story complex on Williston's Main Street that would house retail and office space, 45 apartments and underground parking. The project would replace a city-owned parking lot, and it has created a divide among residents and also city commissioners, The Forum newspaper reported.

"In the '80s, the downtown struggled with change and opted not to do much. There have been those who have regretted that ever since then," said Mayor Ward Koeser, referring to the previous oil boom in the 1980s. "If we don't do something to try to energize the downtown, it will be on the wrong path."

Some downtown business owners have publicly stated their support for the project, but Rex Byerly, owner of a computer retail and repair shop adjacent to the parking lot, said the lot is heavily used and the proposed project likely would put him out of business.

"In the long run, it would literally be the death of downtown," he said.

Nancy Kapp, president and CEO of The Renaissance Companies, has worked in residential development for more than 25 years and came to Williston for the first time about a year ago to explore opportunities in the oil patch. Her company also bought the former Williston post office and is refurbishing it for office space.

Kapp met with local pastors to gauge the needs of the growing community and said she heard that improving downtown and providing affordable housing were priorities. Nearly half of the apartment units will be affordable housing aimed at people who work in the service or retail sectors, she said.

The project will have some parking available to the public, and Kapp plans to do soil testing to see if the project could add a second level of underground parking.

"If the city isn't revitalized, it won't matter how many parking lots there are," she said.

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