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Revitalization plan creates divide in Williston

Nancy Kapp

WILLISTON -- 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.

Nancy Kapp, president and CEO of The Renaissance Companies, proposes a six-story complex on Williston's Main Street that would house retail, office space, 45 apartments and underground parking.

The Renaissance on Main project, which would replace a city-owned parking lot, has created a divide among Williston city commissioners and residents. Commissioners recently supported the project in a 3-2 vote and will make a final decision on selling the lot in a special meeting tonight.

Mayor Ward Koeser, among the supporters of the project, said no one has ever proposed such a large private investment for the city's downtown.

"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 Koeser, referring to the 1980s oil boom. "If we don't do something to try to energize the downtown, it will be on the wrong path."

Rex Byerly, owner of a computer retail and repair shop adjacent to the parking lot, said many businesses use that lot during weekdays, and on weekends the lot is full from people going to a nearby movie theater.

"It would probably put us out of business," Byerly said. "In the long run, it would literally be the death of downtown."

Other downtown business owners have publicly stated their support for the project. But Byerly says those business owners have access to other parking lots.

Kapp, who's worked in residential development for more than 25 years, came to Williston for the first time last June to explore opportunities in the Bakken. Her company, which she operates with her daughter, also purchased 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 heard that improving downtown and providing affordable housing were priorities. Nearly 50 percent of the apartment units will be affordable housing aimed at people who work in the service or retail sectors, Kapp 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," Kapp said.

Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk, who has voted against the project, said he doesn't support it at this time. Cymbaluk has stated during city meetings that the parking lot is full every day and there would be opportunities in the future.

The Williston Herald contributed to this report.