For about three years, Brian Hymel has split his time between Dickinson and Salt Lake City. His wife doesn’t really like it, and neither do his children. It’s tough to say goodbye to them every couple weeks when he returns to North Dakota for work, he said.
But unlike many of the people drawn to western North Dakota over the past five years, Hymel isn’t directly connected to oil. Instead, he and his partners are in the process of building areas to serve the people coming to Dickinson because of work related to the Oil Patch.
Their latest project, the 98-acre Dickinson Hills Shopping Center mixed-use development along Interstate 94, is aimed at attracting both new and longtime residents.
“We really like the community and felt that even without oil and gas, there’d still be growth and some demand,” said Hymel, a partner with development group Five Diamond Fund Managers. “We, as a group, have spent a lot of time doing research and we feel very, very comfortable, and that’s why we’re doing the size of projects we’re doing here.”
Dirt work for Dickinson Hills is nearly complete with underground and street work set to begin soon, said Hymel, whose group also owns the Five Diamond Industrial Park north of Dickinson on the south Dunn County line.
Unlike the industrial park, however, Dickinson Hills is about to become one of the most visible areas of the growing city.
The planned development is situated directly south of Exit 59, across 30th Avenue West from the new CHI St. Joseph’s hospital and the Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. One of the shopping center’s entry points will be Fairway Street.
Hymel calls the complex “undoubtedly the best piece of property in southwest North Dakota.”
It’s also just across the freeway from Roers’ similar West Ridge development, which Hymel said got a “head start.”
Despite being in competition, both Hymel and Larry Nygard, Roers’ vice president of development, acknowledge that the two areas will eventually benefit from each other.
They also know that getting businesses to commit to the area hasn’t been easy.
“Everyone has heard of the Bakken. Everyone knows North Dakota,” Hymel said. “They don’t understand some of the trade area issues.”
Both Hymel and Nygard said perceived market size is one of the biggest hurdles in bringing retailers, hotels and popular restaurant chains to Dickinson.
The U.S. Census Bureau put Dickinson’s population at about 19,700 in 2010, which city officials believe is now inaccurate. Today, estimates place the town’s population — including both full-time and part-time residents — anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000. That doesn’t include the Dickinson’s gradually growing trade area of southwest North Dakota, eastern Montana or northwest South Dakota.
Many major chains, the developers said, are often hesitant to build in Dickinson, despite the city’s growth.
“Unless they’re somewhere else in the Bakken and they’ve felt the impact of it, it’s really hard to bring in a new national chain from outside,” Hymel said on Tuesday. “No, this isn’t a boom and bust. This is an industry and it’s here to stay. We need more retail. We need more food.”
Along with that, Hymel said, Dickinson needs more rooftops if it wants to attract businesses.
Dickinson Hills has 160 apartment units in its plans while West Ridge has three apartment complexes with more under construction and has purchased an additional 40 acres near the development with plans to build townhomes, condos and single-family units.
“We’ll probably see a few starts this year,” Nygard said. “I expect the bulk of that activity to start next year. We do hope to get some things going this year.
“I think there’s a real market for reasonably priced home lots, and so we’re excited about that.”
Challenges in development
While Dickinson Hills is still about a year away from seeing its first business open — Hymel hopes two hotels committed to the development break ground this fall — West Ridge has slowly been gathering steam since Menards opened in January.
Buffalo Wild Wings, Family Fare supermarket and liquor store — part of the SpartanNash distribution chain that also owns EconoFoods — Tractor Supply Co. and a large retail center are all under construction. Nygard said a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and Convention Center will likely break ground east of Menards later this year.
He said many of those brands should help bring other businesses into a community.
“Those are kind of market leaders in their respective categories,” he said. “Them starting to plop down in your community, in your development, that does give a lot of others confidence because there are those who follow their models to the letter.”
Some businesses that were initially committed to West Ridge when it was announced in 2012 have most recently been linked with Dickinson Hills.
Hymel said Dollar Tree, Petco and JoAnn Fabrics are committed to his project. Five Diamonds is in talks with movie theater chains, as well as restaurants and big-box stores.
Cash Wise Foods also had been linked to both developments over the past two years. However, Coborn’s Inc. is still brokering a deal through Twin Cities-based Oppidan Investment Co. to find a Dickinson home for the supermarket, Hymel said. Though Dickinson Hills plans call for the supermarket to be its centerpiece, Coborn’s has not officially signed on.
“Dickinson looks like a great market for us to come to, so we’ll get there,” said Rebecca Kurowski, communications manager for Coborn, Cash Wise’s parent company. “We just don’t know exactly when or exactly where.”
Hymel said he’s shocked that Cash Wise hasn’t started building yet because it has “put up some significant resources.” Aside from that, he hopes the company will come because “Dickinson needs another grocery store.”
Similarly, Nygard said Roers’ deal to bring Odyssey Theaters to West Ridge is on hold. Odyssey now has the three-screen movie theater in the Prairie Hills Mall. The theater company planned to build a larger complex in West Ridge.
“I wish I could tell you that theater is going to come for sure,” Nygard said Tuesday. “We really wanted them in there and we worked hard to get them in there.”
Meeting consumer needs
Though both developments have had their issues getting businesses to commit, Nygard said he hopes things start coming together soon, if only to address consumer needs.
“Part of the problem with the Bakken is up to this point, we’ve seen a lot of the bad out of it,” Nygard said. “I just put myself in the place of an everyday Dickinson resident who was there before the latest boom. You could walk into a restaurant and sit down. Life was pretty good. Now, you’ve got none of that. How has your life gotten any better? It doesn’t get better until the commercial enterprises that address your consumer needs start to change.”
In the past 12 months, restaurants such as Famous Dave’s and Fuddruckers have announced they planned to build in Dickinson. So far, neither have broken ground, but the day that more restaurants begin opening could be fast approaching, Hymel said.
“The restaurant piece of the puzzle will change pretty dramatically — especially when the hospital opens,” he said. “For our location, at least, we’ve had a lot of interest. I can’t really discuss some of the companies we’re working with yet, but we’ve had a lot of interest, a lot of dialogue. We’ve had a lot of exploratory trips helping them to better understand the Bakken.”
Hymel and Nygard said they’re constantly in contact with retailers and restaurants, trying to fill the lots for lease in their developments. But getting those businesses to commit millions of dollars can be challenging — especially when North Dakota’s weather element factors into exterior construction.
Dickinson Hills wants to be at a point where it can get footings and foundations into the ground before “before the snow flies” this fall, Hymel said.
“Realistically, it’s North Dakota,” he added. “It all depends on the weather.”
However, he pointed to Menards as an example of how quickly mixed-use developments can spring up if foundations are in place before winter.
“What I envision for the next 24 months is I’d really like to see (Dickinson Hills) completely fi nished,” Hymel said before cracking a smile. “It may take a bit longer than that, but that’s what I keep telling my wife.”