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Booming in Belfield: Oil has made a lasting impact on the western Stark County city

Press Photo by April Baumgarten Patti Hutzenbiler, left, and Janet Lindbo get ready to help patrons Friday at the Great Plains National Bank in Belfield.1 / 3
Press Photos by Katherine Lymn Eddie Marmolejo, who came to North Dakota from Texas for work, makes a pizza at the Trapper's Kettle pizzeria in Belfield on Jan. 30.2 / 3
Belfield Police Sgt. Travis Carlson talks to a driver he stopped for speeding on busy Highway 85 in Belfield on Feb. 4. 3 / 3

BELFIELD — When you start with just 800 people, an oil boom can really rock your town.

Some western North Dakota towns, like Belfield, were small enough pre-boom that every aspect of life — money, public safety, education — is affected by such great growth.

The past year has seen the proposal of a huge new multi-use development northwest of the Highway 85 and Interstate 94 intersection, the acquisition of the bank chain based in town and more housing popping up, though usually not the permanent kind.

Great Plains National Bank, which is headquartered in Belfield and has four other locations — Dickinson, LaMoure, South Heart and Ellendale — will change to Choice Financial in April.

Choice Financial was looking to grow its North Dakota operations, said spokeswoman Lisa Artz, and Great Plains representatives said its bank’s shareholders wanted to partner with a larger network. Like many small banks are now, Great Plains locations are struggling with increasing federal regulations, and need the expertise and manpower of larger banks to survive.

Even with the proposed American Landmark Group development, for which major construction hasn’t started, the city is still lacking some essentials.

“I think any growth for the city is good, especially if it’ll bring things to the city that are needed,” said Sgt. Travis Carlson of the city’s police force.

Police Chief Nicky Barnhard said he and his co-workers often hear the question, “Where do you buy groceries?”

Many of the thriving businesses have been around since long before this boom, and are doing their best to weather the extra business while maintaining the town’s small-town feel.

“People assume it’s awesome,” said Ryan Hugelen, general manager of Trapper’s Kettle, including its pizzeria, bar and restaurant. “Last year was amazing. … It’s gone back to normal.”

His Rendezvous Lounge, barely visible from the outside, is a hidden gem of Belfield, a small cozy bar with a couple waitresses and a constantly changing clientele.

“You don’t get that everywhere,” he said of the darkly lit bar with historic decorations.

Hugelen is torn over the growth, and says he has a love-hate relationship with the boom.

He’s got five kids ages three to 21.

“As a business, the more the merrier,” he said, “but on a personal level, I can’t say I’m too excited.”

The school district is also talking about expanding the school — within the existing facility or even with a new facility, Superintendent Wade Northrop said late last year.

Banking tells the real story

With its acquisition by Choice, Great Plains customers will see a new sign on the five locations, as well as more mobile banking options.

Beyond that, “they will see the same people and the same smiling faces,” Artz said.

Senior Vice President Bruce Baer said it was Choice Financial’s small-town feel that led Great Plains to pursue the partnership with that bank in particular.

The need for newer, more advanced mobile banking options at the Belfield bank represents the younger people moving to the area, bank Vice President Chuck Bokinskie said.

“With the new influx of people moving to the area, they’re predominantly younger and much more mobile than what our previous client base was, so that kind of drives the need for technology,” he said.

“You just have to change with what the client base is,” he said.

For a while, Bokinskie and Baer said, the bank saw an influx of those younger people opening new accounts.

“For a while, it was just a steady stream of younger clientele opening up new accounts here at the bank,” Bokinskie said. “They’re probably more demanding than our older clients are.”

A lot of them didn’t even want check blanks, Baer said.

“All they want is a debit card.”

The bankers are also seeing a lot of men coming that don’t bring their families — “they came up here just to work until the job market came back in their hometown,” Baer said.

Keeping people in town for a long time is a problem for Belfield, where manufactured homes are the most common new housing and there’s a full liquor store, but no grocery store.

Many say housing is Belfield’s most visible change.

“Mainly what we notice is additional housing,” Mayor Leo Schneider said. “Usually manufactured homes is what most of them are.”

Being in a flood plain, downtown Belfield is a hard place to add new development, leaving the land to the north of Interstate 94 as the most likely location for new businesses.

The first of what may be a trend there is developer American Landmark Group’s 42-acre proposal, which is in its final planning and design stages.

“Belfield Crossing,” just northwest of the intersection of the town’s lone exit onto Interstate 94, will likely house a hotel, four restaurants, office warehouse space and retail locations, said Mitch Beckstead, managing partner of ALG.

Baer said even just across the street from his home, he has seen Belfield’s housing boom.

“The lot across the street from my house used to have just one trailer house on it,” he said. Now, two years later, “there’s three duplexes, a five-bedroom house and two additional trailer houses.”

“It’s not my little street anymore.”