City Of Williston Giving Menards A $5.7 Million Bribe

Menards is coming to Williston, which isn’t surprising. Williston, in the heart of the Bakken oil play, is booming so there are a lot of new businesses moving in. But apparently despite the city’s roaring economy Menards still had coaxed into town with a big ladle full of taxpayer gravy.

Big-box retailer Menards is coming to Williston, following action at a special meeting of the Williston City Commission Tuesday evening.

A standing-room only crowd of nearly 50 people learned of the announcement at City Hall.

Menards will be the first to locate on the new 200-acre Sand Creek Town Center, a development started by Casper, Wyo.-based Granite Peak Development.

“Williston is turning the corner on long-awaited retail development,” Mayor Ward Koeser said. …

Koeser told the audience that the city has committed a $5.7 million incentive package to help facilitate Tuesday’s activity.

“This is through three primary funding sources,” Koeser said.

A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District will be established, committing up to 15 years of increased property tax revenue to pay off the bonds.

The city of Williston is also committing up to $2,487,000 of sales tax revenue created from new retail stores. This will be over a period of nine years.

STAR Fund revenues of up to $1,771,954 will be committed.

Koeser said the STAR Fund would be up to $250,000 per year for nine years.

“It is anticipated that as other new businesses come into the 100-acre retail project the tax increment dollars would relieve the obligation of the STAR Fund to make these payments,” Koeser said.

Obviously, there’s some risk for a business moving into a community like Williston. If the oil boom turns into an oil bust, the Williston market without the oil play isn’t likely to support this kind of a store. But why should the taxpayers have to take the risk?

If the oil boom plays out – be it due to shifting markets or some new government regulation – and Menards leaves, it will be the taxpayers left holding the bag. Just as the taxpayers were left holding the bag in Fargo when Alien Technology folded up despite millions in economic development dollars lavished on the company. Just like taxpayers in Minot were left holding the bag when Websmart closed down.

I could cite other examples of these economic development boondoggles around the state, but you get my point. Everyone gets excited when a new business moves to town, but why don’t more people question the cozy relationship these companies develop with the local politicians who spoon out the pork?

And here’s another point: What about the existing businesses that Menards is going to be competing with? I love competition. I’m all for free markets. When businesses compete, citizens win. But is it really fair to expect the businesses already in Williston which have been paying taxes for decades to see those taxes go to bring in a business that’s going to compete with them?

Again, competition is fine. But existing businesses shouldn’t have to subsidize the entry of their rivals into their market.

Everything about this move stinks. But it’s become a common story. The politicians and their corporate cronies will smile for the cameras, the journalists won’t ask any questions, and the taxpayers will foot the bill whether Menards stays for the long haul or pulls a cut and run.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Good Ol Boy

    Whores, all of them.

    • Rob

      Williston ought to be spending money on its infrastructure, not ladling out gravy to big corporations.

      Not that I have a problem with big corporations in general. But I think all businesses ought to stand on their own two feet and take their own risks.

      Williston is a booming market. If Menards wants in, let them make all the investment.

  • Jimmypop

    what does the local hardware store owner think of all this? i bet nobody cared to interview them…..

    • Rob

      They’re just supposed to shut up and pay their taxes, I guess.

      • Jimmypop

        our park board here in fargo owns gyms. yes, government owned fitness centers.

        we have all the ymcas (they are HUGE and NICE) and a 24 fitness club in EVERY strip mall in town now, but we STILL feel the need to put HUGE quantities of tax dollars so we can have government owned gyms….its MADDENING that NOBODY cares.

  • Jamermorrow

    Mercantilism is the way of the United States. Capitalism has been dead for a long time.

  • Nick Smith

    Where to begin with the ignorance of this entire blog item.
    First off, it’s not a bribe as you put it. It’s an economic incentive package. Like it or not, these types of incentives are almost necessary in this day and age to stimulate growth.
    The problem with Williston, other than being a boom/bust town, is that until recently, since the last oil boom leadership and the public have been absolutely frightened of taking any kind of risk to take any kind of progressive move forward as a community. A stubborn clinging to an extremely fiscally conservative approach to all things economic development have kept this community down for years. To entice growth and development in a boom/bust town such as Williston it takes more incentive than the average town. The public is absolutely scared out of its mind and is only just now even beginning to warm to the prospect that the future has arrived and growth is possible.
    I should know. I’ve been covering government, oil and housing at the Williston Herald for 2 years now.
    On that note, I, and my colleagues at the Williston Herald, also don’t appreciate your using 11 paragraphs of my story on the Menards announcement. Both in the fact that you in no way give proper citation of my work, or the fact that you misinterpret my work for trying to score petty political points for your incorrect assumptions with the content of the story. I suggest on that matter that you at least properly cite your source or I might move forward with a complaint or cease and desist against the use of our content.
    Furthermore, you state that the taxpayers are holding the bag on this deal, citing that communities have been burned in the past on such deals.
    I could give that argument some merit. However, you neglect to bear in mind that a large number of projects large and small in communities, on some level, receive incentives and a large majority of them don’t fail but thrive. Tax breaks and incentives have been given to things as small as 8-plexes and STAR Fund grants for sprucing up businesses in Williston. All, of course, are taxpayer-subsidized, as you put it. I’m sure the same is true in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, etc.
    Also, this isn’t some case of corporate cronyism or whatnot. Granite Peak, the Casper, Wyoming developer that created the retail spot, came here in the last year and has been nothing short of a shot in the arm in stimulating long-needed growth. Menards has no previous relationship with this community before working out this deal.
    Finally, we are planning on having a story for early next week on local reaction to the news.
    I suggest you actually dig into a topic and get your facts straight before spouting off with petty political remarks and talking points.

    Nick Smith
    The Williston Herald

    • Rob

      First off, it’s not a bribe as you put it. It’s an economic incentive package. Like it or not, these types of incentives are almost necessary in this day and age to stimulate growth.

      You think the only way Menards would move into the hottest economic market in the state is if they got a big heaping helping of taxpayer gravy?

      What version of reality are you living in?

      On that note, I, and my colleagues at the Williston Herald, also don’t appreciate your using 11 paragraphs of my story on the Menards announcement. Both in the fact that you in no way give proper citation of my work, or the fact that you misinterpret my work for trying to score petty political points for your incorrect assumptions with the content of the story.

      I linked to your article, quoted it within fair use allowances, and expressed my opinion. Done all over the internet every single day. Learn how the intertubes work.

      As for my “petty political points,” am I entitled to my opinion, or should I run it by you reporters first to find out whether or not it’s appropriate? Here I thought this was a free country.

      And thanks for proving to us that you’re not at all objective in this matter, and totally uninterested in exploring other perspectives on this sort of government/corporate cronyism.

      Who said journalism is dead!

      Anyway, I’d sure love for you to point out where anything I wrote is incorrect. You’ve made it clear that you disagree with me, and that’s fine as far as it goes (outside of obvious concerns we should all have about your objectivity), but the underlying facts are accurate.

    • Rob

      By the way, Nick, you may want to read up a bit on the Home Depot in Bismarck that went out of business.

      Their building cost $5.8 million to build. So apparently Williston is pretty much giving Menards a free building at the expense of existing taxpayers.

      Ooops, sorry, there I go questioning the narrative again.

    • dakotabound

      That’s… really unprofessional, Mr. Smith.

      I don’t read the Williston Herald because I don’t live there. Thanks to people like Rob who link within fair use parameters, I get to be exposed to what’s going on in other corners of the state, including following bold blue links to your paper. You know what they say about any kind of publicity, good or bad: just make sure you spell the name right.

      This comment would have been far more enlightening if you had approached it from an objective viewpoint. Discuss, make inquiries, debate. But the whole tone of “J’ACCUSE!” comes across extremely defensive and makes me think there’s more to the story than you are letting on, not Rob. I know Rob has opinions, and expresses them every day here on But news in a community paper — or discussion thereof — shouldn’t have a discernible slant from the reporter.

      You do yourself and your employer a disservice by being, as you say, petty and political about someone else’s opinion. You obviously care about your community, so represent it a little better in cyberspace.

  • Common Sense

    Maybe they could have used that money to repair thew roads instead of always complaining the state is not doing it. Or maybe build more housing instead of complaining it is the states responsibility. Just a thought.

  • opinionated

    Nick, you can cover that bread in butter if you like. If you have to leave a breadcrumb trail to lead Menards to Williston then there is probably something stinky in this loaf you are half baking. I do not live in Williston now but you used to pass through there often and your right, it needs something, like professionals who know how to handle something bigger than their egos. Why do you not put it to a vote of the taxpayers since they will be the ones financing Menards (they are still laughing at you guys) and see if they want the new roads they have been crying about or the new store you are making them buy!

  • Zrinkill

    You love saying, “Not that I have a problem with that…” Grow a set of balls and take a stance.