Dickinson preparing for growth; Officials: City has learned from its mistakes

After experiencing minimal growth and even decline following the last oil boom, Dickinson is once again preparing to expand and has learned from the mistakes of its past, city officials said Thursday.

Charles Nelson, left, and Doug Conrad of Newmatic Construction of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, install soffits on a house Thursday in northeast Dickinson. The house is part a development east of First Avenue East between 17th Street East and 21st Street East. After experiencing an oil and population boom and bust in the 1970s and 1980s, Dickinson is trying to build more responsibly, officials said Thursday.

After experiencing minimal growth and even decline following the last oil boom, Dickinson is once again preparing to expand and has learned from the mistakes of its past, city officials said Thursday.

In the 2010 census, Dickinson's ­population ­­­increased to 17,787, up 11 percent from 16,010 in 2000.

The populations of the city and nation grew at a similar pace between 2000 and 2010. North Dakota grew 5 percent between the censuses.

The city is in the middle of a comprehensive planning process to make educated estimates about population and housing needs, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said. It is working with North Dakota State University and Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson Inc., an engineering firm in Dickinson, to assess those needs.

Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson representatives said to expect the population to double to about 40,000 people, depending on the energy industry.


"Now that we know where we're at and what has been requested, we can make much better decisions," Kessel said.

The city is predominately single-family homes, Kessel said. Dickinson has seen platting requests for 750 single-family homes, 200 duplex units and 3,200 apartment units from October to February.

"That would change that mix completely and give a completely different feel to our community," Kessel said.

The largest growth, 33 percent, took place from 1950 to 1960, after oil was discovered in North Dakota. There were 312 single-family homes built in that time.

The growth could also have been attributed to the nationwide post-World War II baby boom and not just to oil, City Commissioner Gene Jackson said.

"Those days the oil was much more of a wildcat development and I don't think we probably saw the influx that we are today," he said.

North Dakota grew 2 percent at that time, and many rural counties lost population, said Jim Davis, head of references for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Large cities and counties with oil experienced the most growth.

From the time oil was first discovered in North Dakota to the 1980-90 period, Dickinson's population growth exceeded that of the state and nation.


From 1971 to 1980, Dickinson saw its largest increase of single-family residential buildings at 1,615, according to data provided by the city. It does not include buildings that were raised, City Assessor Joe Hirschfeld said.

The city saw a 28 percent population increase to 15,924 from 1970 to 1980, according to U.S. Census data.

Despite the thus-far larger population growth during the '70s, Jackson said, "I do think that, in the end, we will see significantly more building than we did 30 years ago."

The following decades were not as prosperous, and between 1980 and 1990, the city saw an increase of 1 percent, or 769 residents.

The population decreased 1 percent between 1990 and 2000, losing 87 people.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the city laid infrastructure for many subdivisions that weren't filled until 20 to 30 years later, Jackson said.

The lots were eventually used, many in the recent boom, but not after causing fiscal devastation for the city, he said.

"The financial hardship on the city was tremendous," Jackson said. "We spent a lot of years trying to recover financially as a city."


Even though the city is experiencing growing pains, he sees potential.

"I believe very strongly that as this boom subsides, it will be just as good a city when this all started," Jackson said. "I'm very optimistic about that."

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