Resistance, not track record, will be challenge for Billingsley

By all appearances, Brian Billingsley, Minot’s new community and economic development director, is well prepared for his new role.

Billingsley, former city planning director in Caldwell, Idaho (part of the Boise metropolitan area) has faced and seems to have helped lead the charge in addressing issues that should sound familiar to the people of Minot.

The Illinois native has experience in downtown revitalization, riverfront development and even gathering space creation. In Caldwell, he faced challenges with a polluted creek running through the town, a diminished, under-utilized downtown and a city with a reputation that kept people away moreso than it attracted people.

Using such tools as tax increment financing, a business improvement district and public-private partnerships, the City of Caldwell – with Billingsley obviously as a key player – successfully promoted urban renewal. He was also involved in re-branding the city, which influenced its marketing and made it more attractive.

Minot City Manager Tom Barry is familiar with Billingsley and asked him to apply for the position in Minot.

While Billingsley would appear to have the experience and expertise needed for the position here, the challenge will be less his acumen than it will be resistance from some in the public.

Some Minot residents believe that revitalizing downtown is unlikely, a potential money pit and not much desired. They point to things like the city’s two downtown parking garages and the potential of more empty buildings when Trinity Health moves many of its assets to its new location in the southwest part of town.

Plenty of the resistance comes off as pure cynicism. Downtown will never be what it used to be, some have said.

To be fair, no, downtown Minot will probably never be what it used to be. Nor are most other downtowns across the country. Many downtowns are never going to be primary shopping destinations as they were in the mid-20th century. Suburban sprawl, malls and the toll online commerce has taken on brick and mortar shops have changed that dynamic. Instead, downtowns today have moved, and continue to move, to more residential, entertainment, live-work-play environments. It has worked for many, turning once blighted areas into something new and desirable.

Billingsley’s resume indicates he is well aware of this phenomenon and has been a key player in helping Caldwell turn a new page.

The questions are can he do that, along with other leaders and private interests, here, and will the people of Minot support the effort.

That remains to be seen.

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