Building tomorrow: Progress is the key word to describe what’s happening today in Dickinson, southwest ND

Everywhere one looks, Dickinson and southwest North Dakota is changing and growing.
There are new people living in new homes and apartments, new stores alongside new places to eat and recreate, a new school and another likely in the works.

No matter which way you look at it, the city is in the midst of massive changes. Most of all, we’re making progress.

Each year, The Dickinson Press publishes what is now the quite aptly-named Progress edition.

Unlike the past, we have decided to change things up a bit. In the past. Progress was printed as a bulk edition published one Sunday a year in March.

This year, we decided to try something new. The Press will print one section of Progress each Sunday in February and March. If you miss one or want to purchase the entire Progress edition, it will be made available for purchase at the end of its run.

This is being done in an effort to bring our readers the news in an easier-to-read fashion.
In many ways, it speaks to how fast southwest North Dakota is moving. No longer can you wait as many as two months to read a story we have written. In that time, the story may have completely changed.

Things are moving a lot faster in our little corner of the world these days and progress seems to be the defining word of the era in which southwest North Dakotans live.

For so long, the area seemed to mire in, at best, stagnation.

Then, the third and most lucrative oil boom in the state’s history happened.
It has changed Dickinson and southwest North Dakota forever.

Our little town that was once 16,000 citizens — where it seemed that if someone didn’t know their neighbor, they at least knew of them or who they were — has rocketed to an unknown population. Is it 25,000? Is it 30,000 or more? No one really knows, and it might depend on the season.

Now, neighbors can be strangers and there are so many new faces, it’s difficult to know just who is a lifelong resident and who moved here yesterday.

Dickinson city administrator Shawn Kessel said the city is doing everything it can to go with the flow, so to speak, and plan for continued growth while keeping southwest North Dakota’s way of life as close to the same as it always has been.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to answer everything right, but it does mean we’re making data-driven decisions,” Kessel said. “We’re looking at trend lines, existing residential occupancies, and we’re trying to preserve — as best we can — the culture and way of life that Dickinson had prior to the boom, knowing it’ll never be the same. But we want to make it similar, as much as we can.”

Growth is on everyone’s mind as the city of Dickinson is expanding at such a rate that it is building an entirely new part of town on its west side.

On Tuesday, Menards opened its Dickinson store, ushering in the new retail center on the city’s west edge. On Monday, Wells Fargo bank plans to open its new stand-alone structure in the same development.

That’s only the start.

Kessel said 2014 will be remembered as, “the year of retail.”

“I think 2012 was the height of our residential developments in town,” he said. “What that did is laid the groundwork for a population gain that now supports the interest of retail and commercial dealers in our community. … We currently have — in plats, plans in the office that are going to be executed this summer — the potential for between 1 (million) and 1.7 million square feet of retail commercial space to be constructed in Dickinson.”

Odyssey Theaters is planning a multiplex in the Roers West Ridge addition near Menards. Across Interstate 94, another project — the Dickinson Hills Shopping Center — plans to break ground this year with a grocery store and several retail stores committed to the space.

Not only that, but the city of Dickinson is investing $435 million into 40 different projects this year. It is receiving help from the state and going $100 million into debt in an effort to make sure the city keeps up with its growth and maintains a strong infrastructure that continues to attract new businesses and residents.

“There’s so much going on and so much depends on the outcomes being positive,” said Cooper Whitman, executive director of the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce.
In the health care realm, Dickinson is only months away from having two state-of-the-art medical facilities.
The Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic plans to open Monday, Feb. 17 on the city’s western edge. Just across the street, the new all-encompassing St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Office Building is eyeing a fall opening. Last year at this time, the two buildings were nothing more than holes in the ground.

Sanford’s new facility is 85,000 square feet, an increase from its cramped 14,000 square-foot clinic. The new St. Joseph’s building will actually be 42,000 square feet smaller, at 180,000 square feet, compared to the current five-story hospital. But instead of prioritizing inpatient hospital stays — cause for much wasted space today — St. Joseph’s plans to make outpatient care more of a priority.

A wastewater treatment facility and a public works building are nearing completion and a new 42,000-square-foot Public Safety Center for Dickinson’s fire and police departments is scheduled to break ground this spring.

Police Chief Dustin Dassinger said the department received about 6,500 more calls in 2013 than it did in 2010 — the year of the oil boom’s infancy in the Dickinson area.
“That’s a substantial increase,” he said.

The new safety center will be located on north State Avenue, an area quickly becoming the city’s new center. The current police building off Museum Drive was at a central location when it was built in 1982. Now it’s too small and, as the city grows north and west, is quickly become a less-than-advantageous location.

Dickinson has made recreational opportunities as great of a priority as any other service. In a little more than a decade, the city has gone from bickering over taxes and how purposeful the West River Community Center would be to nearly doubling the size of the recreational facility, building a long-awaited outdoor water park and adding a second ice skating rink to the Dickinson Recreation Center, which will be renamed the West River Ice Arena later this year.

Whitman, who moved to Dickinson in May 2012 after accepting his position with the Chamber, said the area’s quality of life is why he chose to be here, and he has met many new residents who share his view.

“The quality of life is what’s making us so happy,” Whitman said. “There’s no better town in the country than Dickinson. That is what this continued progress means. It’s making sure our community leaders, with these extra opportunities, are enhancing our quality of life and I think everyone is doing a great job so far.”

Dickinson was named the No. 1 small town in America by in 2013.

As much as Dickinson is changing, the rest of the area is experiencing great progression of its own.

New businesses are popping up in towns like Richardton, New England and Belfield, long thought to be fading away as its population aged. Bowman and Hettinger are positioning themselves as service towns for the growing rural areas, and Killdeer will celebrate its centennial this summer with undoubtedly its biggest population and in perhaps its best economic position in the city’s history.

In coming Progress sections, you will be able to read stories about people experiencing hope and prosperity throughout Dickinson and southwest North Dakota.

“We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire because of this progress,” Whitman said. “This transition is what we talk about and exactly trying to figure out what that means is a tough task. But that’s what we’re doing.”

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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