The City of Minot was afforded an opportunity to travel to West Fargo in August 2019 to see first-hand a project that blends commercial development with low-to-moderate income housing. It was a trip well-worth taking.
City Manager Tom Barry, National Disaster Resilience Program Manager John Zakian, and Community Development Director Brian Billingsley made the trip; I was invited, but existing commitments prevented me from joining the group. However, I did approve the trip for the other three officials.
EPIC Companies, a statewide developer that already successfully partnered with the City on the Park South housing project and had successfully built a similar commercial/housing project in Minot with the Beaver Ridge development, used its own funds to sponsor a trip for the three officials to West Fargo on a chartered plane.
The purpose of the trip was simple: The developer was seeking to invest in Minot, and wanted to educate City leaders about similar successful projects of theirs in West Fargo. The City took this opportunity to do its due diligence on vetting a public-private development partnership by seeing how the developer has been successful with a neighboring city. Months prior to the trip, EPIC Companies had already competed and won an open Request for Proposals process to build a mixed use, low-to-moderate income housing development in Minot that is now known as Blu on Broadway. That project will construct a building on South Broadway that includes commercial space and 42 units of low-to-moderate income housing by utilizing private funding and funding from Minot’s NDR program.
The tour in West Fargo allowed Minot officials to see first-hand a similar, existing project, and how the Minot project might compare in scope and appearance. They visited other mixed-use buildings, as well as rehabilitated and new buildings. In addition, the Minot group met with West Fargo economic development leaders to discuss their city’s collaboration on similar mixed-use projects. They also discussed West Fargo’s programming approach and management of a public gathering space with West Fargo Events, a non-profit organization that provides events for youth and the community to enhance quality of life.
Additionally, as part of the discussions, Minot leaders inquired about creating Tax Increment Financing districts, something the City is considering for the first time, but have been done successfully in West Fargo.
There were several benefits to traveling to West Fargo with the developer. First, no taxpayer funds were used for this trip, no expenses were incurred by the City, and the trip was completed in one day. Second, the trip allowed our staff and consultants to construct one of the most protective and City beneficial agreements we’ve ever had on a project using federal Community Development Block Grant funding. I felt it was important for this agreement to protect the City, and it does that by requiring the developer to spend their dollars first, before the grant funds can be used. The agreement also gives the City personal guarantees that the project will remain on scope, on time, and on budget, all issues we’ve had with previous projects. Since the RFP had already been awarded to EPIC Companies long before this trip, I believe any conflict of interest had been eliminated.
Lastly, the information gathered in West Fargo will be invaluable as we continue to move forward with creating more low-to-moderate income housing in Minot, which was an important piece of the action plan we submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the $74.3 million we were awarded through the NDR program.
We fully expect Blu on Broadway to be a successful endeavor that can serve as an example to other potential developers that such public/private partnerships can work for the betterment of Minot just as they have done in other North Dakota cities, like Fargo and West Fargo.