Stakeholders see economic potential in Minot
Vacant buildings can be an opportunity, according to a Minot technical team engaged in economic development planning.
A stakeholders committee charged with following up on recommendations of the International Economic Development Council began on Wednesday to hear ideas generated at meetings of its seven technical teams. The City of Minot had contracted IEDC through its resilience program to review local economic development efforts.
“Vacant buildings can be an opportunity for repurpose and new business start-ups,” said John Coughlin of Coughlin Construction, representing the downtown opportunity technical team, which looked at the future of Trinity buildings and other downtown redevelopment.
He said the school and city already are investigating possible opportunities for using vacant downtown buildings. Some ideas have included a culinary arts school, community food pantry and office space for key community initiatives or projects.
“Private enterprise and entrepreneurship are part of the solutions for revitalizing downtown. While government is a crucial partner in the process, it will take the attraction of private capital to make the difference,” Coughlin said.
“This is going to have to happen through private capital,” said Kevin Black of Creedence Energy Services on behalf of the downtown private investment technical team. “It can’t just be government dollars that are going to make this happen. It has to be the attraction of private capital. The attraction of private capital is what is going to breathe life into downtown.”
Black noted there are things the city can invest in, such as co-working spaces, a gathering space and certain programs, but often the solution for government lies in removing barriers. He said certain bureaucratic barriers can be eliminated by creating an umbrella economic development group.
“Some of the small business owners who attended the meetings talked about some of the discord that is in downtown amongst the different organizations. And that needs to be addressed. And that needs to be fixed and we need to be unified in our approach,” he said. “I really do think the umbrella organization, if that were to be created, could could assist and facilitate on some of those issues.”
There also was a call by the technical teams for revolving loan funds for businesses, which could be capitalized by the MAGIC Fund.
“Having a loan interest buydown program in Minot would be massive,” Black said. “I believe that it would really unleash a lot of investment dollars here, whether it’s in downtown or whether it’s somewhere else in the city.”
Coughlin said his team supports a revolving loan fund to help investors interested in redeveloping aging structures. Loans could be used to assist with underground storage tank removal, remediation of lead-based paint, installation of fire suppression and improving accessibility.
Another option for downtown is a Business Improvement District, in which entities within the boundaries are taxed to finance other projects in the district. The district could attract other funds as well, and Coughlin noted some proceeds could go toward a development director position.
The downtown opportunity team also looked at ways Minot State University might be involved in downtown revitalization.
“There remain possibilities for MSU to explore in a downtown setting for academics or housing, but it is presently a much harder justification for additional square footage when the main campus is not bursting at the seams,” Coughlin said.
He said the nursing training partnership between Trinity and MSU and Dakota College at Bottineau has potential, although there are challenges when it comes to growing that downtown presence.
“None of these issues are insurmountable but it’s a much more complex subject to grow a program than simply having the teaching classroom space available that an empty building might provide,” Coughlin said.
Other downtown opportunities in which MSU could have a hand include art ventures, a technical training center and a business incubator, he said.
Coughlin’s team also supported refreshing the community brand and conducting internal and external marketing, particularly to capture more of the energy industry activity. Black agreed Minot can benefit from oil activity.
“There’s a whole slew of technologies that are required to support the energy industry that are looking for a home, looking for a high quality of life,” Black said. “The sooner we realize that we are in a fierce competition for that, the better, because then we start coming alongside these businesses and making sure they have the resources and tools to build their businesses in Minot.”
Other recommendations of the teams included reforming liquor licensing, improvements to First Avenue North along the railroad downtown, a feasibility study on the risks of redeveloping iconic structures, adopting an international building code written for older structures, workforce development, creating resources for new entrepreneurs and investing in the downtown quality of life.
Elly DesLauriers with Minot Park District spoke about the desire of the technical team for downtown foot traffic to see way-finding signage for stores or attractions.
“You don’t want their first experience when they get downtown to be frustration because they can’t find where they are going,” she said. “And another important element is keeping everybody in mind, as we do with foot traffic for accessibility. This includes safe crosswalks, wheelchair accessibility, bike paths and connection to the greenway and bus routes and more.”
The stakeholders committee will meet again Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Minot Municipal Auditorium to hear reports from more technical teams. Meetings are open to the public. The committee will consider the reports in drafting a final document to present to the city council.