‘Pretty exciting times’

WATFORD CITY Count Watford City among several communities considering themselves to be located in the epicenter of the Bakken oil boom. One visit to the booming town leaves little doubt about the accelerated and astonishing rate of growth.

Other cities in or near the Bakken have experienced growth, too, but the transformation of Watford City is a remarkable example of the impact of nation’s hottest oil play. RV parks and man camps have sprung up in the shadow of new hotels and apartment and housing complexes.

Planners a few years ago hoping to lure a small business or two to Watford City are now deluged on a daily basis with requests for information about the business climate and facilities. Some of the best-known real estate developers in the nation have come to the community with plans for sprawling retail and residential complexes. The city’s population has jumped from 1,600 a mere four years ago to 8,000 today. The latest projections are for as many as 20,000 people in the near future.

“Construction is hot and heavy. Over 1,000 units are getting built right now and twice that many are on the books,” said Gene Veeder, executive director of McKenzie County Job Development. “It’s such a pure market that exists. The units are going up and they are filling, that’s for sure.”

Funding for a new school at Watford City has already been secured. A new hospital is planned and will be fast-tracked if voters approve an additional half-cent sales tax. Construction is under way at two major housing developments east of the city, The Crossing and Hunter’s Run.

On the north side of Watford City, where sewer and water service has already been extended, there’s more building projects. While a 240-unit and a 180-unit apartment complex are the most visible changes today, other impressive new development is either under way or planned. Some of the nation’s top real estate firms are heavily involved.

A source told The Minot Daily News that The Related Companies, owned by real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, has announced a major building project north of the city. Reportedly, the “Bison Run” project is to include 150 twin homes in the first phase of construction.

Watford City Square is among the changes planned in the same area and is destined to become one of the featured projects in the city’s booming transformation. Watford City Square is a three-phase project with initial construction opening this year. According to the developer’s website, the endeavor will “meet the increasing demand for housing, business services and amenities.” Much of the project will be of modern two-story design with residential units located above commercial property. Single family homes and rows of duplexes compliment the concept.

“There’s three major developers up there,” said Veeder. “One particular project is 150 twin homes. They are building daily. It’s pretty fascinating and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. There will be pretty robust building for the next five years, I’d say.”

Watford City’s demographics have changed dramatically with the massive influx of people brought to the area by the Bakken boom. What was a quiet western town with an aging population a few years ago is now markedly different.

“Our community is so much younger,” remarked Veeder. “We went from white hair to diapers in five years. The numbers are just staggering in terms of growth. Every day a new slate of people are looking at coming here.”

Future possibilities for Watford City include building of large travel centers, more hotels, businesses and a revitalized Main Street. A son of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is among those who recently made a trip to Watford City to explore the possibilities of building in the Bakken, another indicator of the national financial spotlight focused on the Watford City area.

“There is a huge demand. Some worry about over-building but we’re not seeing that at all,” said Veeder. “The longer new people are here the more likely they are here to stay. They are healing up financially. It’s a friendly bunch that’s up here now. It’s pretty fascinating people trying to make their way in this world. It’s pretty exciting times.”