2000-Present: Reinventing Bismarck
By the new millennium, Bismarck had grown to more than 55,000 citizens. The tough retail trend that began in the 1980s was slowly coming to an end. Just like the two decades before, a major retail development would occur at the start of the decade, but this time, development would continue throughout the decade.
Menards began construction on a new store in 1999, becoming the first major retailer to position itself north of Century Avenue along the State Street Corridor. Menards’ relocation marked the fourth anchor store to depart Gateway Mall in its short twenty-year lifespan, who still had yet to permanently fill its anchor space vacated by Herbergers five years earlier.
November Tornado Outbreak
North Dakota is infamous for its weather, and two major storms that passed through at the start of the new millennium, each only seven months apart, would prove to everyone that that reputation is well deserved.
On the afternoon of November 2, 2000, the area was the site of several tornado touchdowns. They were the latest tornadoes ever recorded in the entire state of North Dakota. The tornadoes caused wide-spread panic, resulting in the city issuing an order that restricted citizens from traveling during the storm. It was reported that the police department even issued citations to anyone who was out driving around during the restriction. The schools were put on a complete lock down, allowing no one in or out, with most lock-downs lasting even beyond 4:00pm.
Thankfully, the tornado spree brought only limited damage to the region, including minor damage to Century High School. No one in Bismarck could escape the next major storm, however, when a destructive hail storm struck the area on June 9, 2001.
2001 Hail Storm
The June 2001 Hail Storm caused millions of dollars in damage, and resulted in the single largest filing of insurance claims in North Dakota history, even more than the famed Grand Forks Flood of 1997. Nearly every structure in the region was affected, at least in part, by the storm.
The storm arrived in three separate waves, beginning on the tail end of the evening rush hour. Each wave delivered a wallop of hail, strong wind, and heavy rain. When all was said and done, the hail stones littering the ground resembled a fresh snow fall. The only sign of green was from the immense number of leaves knocked off the trees during the bombardment.
Hail stones clogged the drainage systems, leaving the torrential rains nowhere to go, causing flooding throughout the region. The 7th and 9th street underpasses were completely flooded with sitting water.
New Middle School
Horizon Middle School opened for classes in January 2001, replacing Hughes Middle School. The new middle school was constructed in booming northwest Bismarck, in antipation for continued growth and expansion in that section of the city. It was the first middle school constructed since 1967, when Wachter Junior High was completed, and the first specifically designed to accommodate the middle school format, although all Wachter was first school in the state to switch to the middle school format when it did so in 1991.
More Changes In Retail
In 2002, the space at Kirkwood Mall that was formerly occupied by Montgomery Ward, who vacated in 1998, was finally permanently filled by Minot-based I. Keating Furniture World. Montgomery Wards had been the first anchor to depart Kirkwood Mall in its near-thirty year lifespan, and as of today only one of two to have departed the center.
Dan’s Supermarket, now the dominant local grocer, relocated its north location from adjacent to Gateway Mall to its present location in March 2003. It was the second time the retailer relocated one of its stores, having relocated its south location eight years earlier.
Although not much larger overall than its former location, the new north Dan’s store was built to better accommodate a modern-day supermarket, including housing third-party tenants such as Gateway Pharmacy and Capital Credit Union. To the dismay of many, one amenity not found at the new store was curbside parcel pickup – a service previously featured at its former location.
New College Opens
Bismarck received another player in the postsecondary education field in 2003, when Aaker’s Business College of Fargo opened a satellite campus in Bismarck. Aakers, which was owned by Rasmussen College, officially changed its name in 2007. 2003 also saw the largest high school graduating class to date with a total of 826 students amognst the city’s high schools.
Recent Business Boom
Bismarck had seen little retail growth since the opening of Gateway Mall in 1979, and completion of the Kirkwood Mall expansion the following year. In fact, the city had seen several major retailers depart over the past twenty years. All of that was about to change, beginning with the announcement of Home Depot’s arrival in 2004. Over the next couple years, Bismarck would see the most retail development since the opening of Kirkwood Mall thirty-five years earlier.
The long-awaited Home Depot opened its doors June 2005, offering the first true competition to regional chain Menards, who had been the city’s only big box home improvement chain since its arrival in 1986. Bismarck residents had been hoping to see additional competition in the home improvement industry for years, and therefore the opening of Home Depot was met with high anticipation. At the time, Bismarck was experiencing its largest growth in over thirty years, so it seemed logical that a second major home improvement chain could survive.
Not long after the announcement of Home Depot’s arrival, it was announced that Wal-Mart was planning to relocate its single Bismarck location upon opening two new super centers at both ends of the city, in addition to a Sam’s Club. Wal-Mart had been the fourth modern-day discount department store to open in Bismarck, when it did so in 1990. Its original building soon became home to Runnings Farm & Fleet, who relocated from their former location in east Bismarck.
A new shopping center, Pinehurst Square, also began construction in 2005. Its construction was the largest single development since Kirkwood Mall was completed in 1971. Completed in two phases, Pinehurst Square established several long-awaited national retail chains for the first time in the region, in addition to several locally owned tenants.
The area containing Pinehurst Square was prime real estate near Bismarck State College and located directly adjacent to Interstate 94. Some businesses had already opened nearby, including Cracker Barrel and McDonald’s, but the area soon became one of the city’s largest shopping destinations, competing on the same par with Kirkwood Mall and the State Street Corridor.
The first major retailers confirmed to be housed inside or near the shopping center was Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Lowe’s. Another new retailer, Old Navy, would also later sign a lease, and TJMaxx would relocate its Bismarck store into the new center. TJMaxx was the only big box department store to anchor Pinehurst Square that wasn’t a newcomer to the region, having maintained a store in Bismarck since 1995.
Several strip malls and restaurants also opened near Pinehurst. Local retailers Pacific Sound and Front Street Lighting relocated their stores into one of these new strip malls. Fast food chains Wendy’s, Good Times Burgers, and Taco Johns would join McDonald’s in the area. Carino’s Italian Grill and Texas Roadhouse also opened restaurants within the new shopping district.
Just as the north side of the city was seeing large-scale changes, so was the case at Kirkwood Mall. Marshall Field’s, which had acquired long-time anchor store Dayton’s a few years before, closed its store at Kirkwood Mall in 2005. It was only the third anchor store to depart the shopping center in its existence, after Woolworths in 1985 and Montgomery Ward in 1998. Unlike the former Wards space, however, Kirkwood Mall had little difficulty finding a new tenant for the newly vacated space.
The northeast anchor, which was vacated by Marshall Field’s, was immediately torn down to begin construction of a brand-new Target store, which was relocating from within the shopping center. Target had first come to Bismarck during the shopping center’s 1980 expansion. Scheels Sporting Goods, who first came to Kirkwood Mall in 1984, relocated into Target’s former anchor space, graduating from a junior anchor to a full-fledged anchor store.
Bank of North Dakota’s New Headquarters
The deteriorating Palace Arms Hotel building, which was originally a nationally renowned Holiday Inn, was demolished in 2006 in preparation to begin construction on new headquarters for the Bank of North Dakota.
Recent Business Closures
Throughout 2007 and 2008, Bismarck continued to see significant changes and widespread development. In 2007, Green Mill became the second restaurant to close at the building located at the corner of Washington Street and Arbor Avenue, with the first being Houlihans a few years earlier. Los Amigos Restaurant & Kirkwood Tesoro also closed, and were immediately torn down to make room for a brand-new CVS/pharmacy store.
After just three years, Home Depot closed its Bismarck store in 2008, even in the midst of major growth for the city. The market had become flooded when Home Depot and Lowe’s both opened locations within a year of each other. Quite possibly Home Depot’s biggest mistake was opening their store directly across from their biggest local competitor, Menards, whereas Lowe’s chose to open their store a few miles away in the hustling Pinehurst Square Shopping Center, at the first interchange between Bismarck and Mandan.
It had been less than four years since Bismarck’s largest retail expansion began, and businesses were already closing. It was not all bad news, however, as new businesses still continued to open. The most highly controversial of these was a new restaurant, Hooter’s. Ruby Tuesday has also opened a few months earlier. Perhaps the mot anticipated restaurant of all time, Olive Garden, opened its doors to hordes of awaiting fans in November 2008.
Liberty Memorial Bridge Replaced
2008 saw the ending of an era that had spanned eighty-six years, with the demolition of one of the city’s most recognized landmarks, the Liberty Memorial Bridge, shortly after its replacement opened to traffic in August of that year.
The Liberty Memorial Bridge was the first vehicular bridge to span the Missouri River in the region when opened for traffic in September 1922, and remained the only vehicular bridge within five hundred miles for decades. The opening of the Liberty Memorial Bridge marked the completion U.S. Highway 10 and greatly aided in the success of downtown Bismarck.
Record Breaking Winter Season
The 2008-2009 Winter Season proved to be one of the worst winter seasons in recorded history, breaking numerous records throughout its term. The season began with a major blizzard in early November, which had started with a record-breaking rain storm on the evening of the fifth. As temperatures gradually dropped the next day, the rain that had fallen quickly turned into ice. Snow arrived by mid-afternoon, covering the icy roads, and continued to fall throughout the night.
In the end, a total of 9.4 inches fell on Bismarck during its first storm of the season. Conditions were so bad that Bismarck Public Schools called off classes for the first time since the April 1997 Blizzard. Although it was nowhere close to reaching the 1997 Blizzard’s total of 17 inches, it is still regarded as one of the worst recent winter storms due to the overall conditions. The November 2008 Blizzard proved to only be the beginning, as more a multitude of storms would blast the region over the next few months.
At 100.2 inches, the Winter Season of 2008-2009 ended in second place for total snowfall recorded in a single season, only 1.4 inches from tying the all-time record set in the 1997-1998 Winter Season.
Several other records were broken throughout the season, including the highest level of snow ever recorded in a single month, when December 2008 recorded 33.3 inches. In January 2009, Bismarck reached -44oF, only one degree from the coldest temperature ever recorded in the city.
2009 Spring Flooding
As the record-breaking snow began to melt in March, widespread flooding was seen across the state. It was the worst flooding seen in Bismarck since April 1952. The Garrison Dam had been built to alleviate flooding in the region, but the record-breaking winter season and fast-paced melting proved to be too much.
Ice jams south of Bismarck were causing most of the flooding, just as in floods before. Water flow released at Garrison Dam was completely turned off for the first time ever in the dam’s history, but it still wasn’t enough and flooding continued. Specialists were ultimately brought in to detonate the large chunks of ice, some of which were larger than a car, in order to continue the river’s flow. The efforts proved successful, and the river’s levels slowly returned to normal.
Gateway Fashion Mall’s Recent Troubles
Gateway Fashion Mall completed its multi-million dollar renovation in 2009, only to once again face large-scale vacancies with the departure of three major stores, Conlin’s Furniture, original anchor store CVS/pharmacy (as Osco Drug), and long-time tenant Joy’s Hallmark.
The departure of Conlin’s Furniture, who had only occupied the mall for four years, marked the fourth time a major retailer had vacated the center anchor space.
Increasing vacancies was only the beginning of Gateway Mall’s troubles during 2009, capped off with a still-pending fraud lawsuit filed against the center’s owner, Raymond Arjmand, in July 2009.
New & Renovated Schools
Simle Middle School completed a $3 million renovation, which included a major cosmetic facelift and the installation of air conditioning. It was the first major remodel for the school since it opened in 1961, although a north wing had been added in 1991. Construction also began on a new elementary school in northeastern Bismarck, Sunrise Elementary, expected to open Fall 2010.
In business for over 100 years, Hoskins-Meyer officially announced its closure due to growing financial difficulty. Hoskins-Meyer began as a dry goods, stationery, and tobacco store before becoming a floral retailer, but was probably most notable for founding KFYR Radio in 1925.
Perhaps the biggest news in 2009 was the closing of the Bismarck Bobcat Plant, which was announced on September 2. Opened by Melroe Manufacturing in 1974, the Bobcat Plant was Bismarck’s 6th largest single employer, and its closure resulted in the loss of 475 jobs in the region.
The same day as Bobcat’s announcement, long-time local restaurant Captain Meriwether’s Landing, announced that it would close September 5.
Changes At Local Auto Dealerships
The Auto Crisis of 2009 caused some major shifting at several local automobile dealerships. Cedric Theel, which had recently relocated into a brand-new showroom, lost its Dodge lineup. Bill Barth lost its Saturn line upon the brand’s discontinuation, less than a year after building a brand-new facility exclusively for the Saturn nameplate. Bill Barth had previously been scorned when Korean-based Daewoo pulled out of the U.S. market.
Another local dealership affected by the crisis was Schwan GM Auto Center, with the discontinuation of Pontiac. This marked the second time Schwan had lost a major line due to discontinuation, after Oldsmobile was shuttered in 2004.
2010 & The Future
2010 opened with the closure of two original tenants for four year-old Pinehurst Square Shopping Center, Vlana Vlee and Tuesday Morning.
The A&W/Long John Silver’s hybrid restaurant on the corner of Third Street and Front Street closed in January 2010, to re-open the following month as Reza’s Pitch – a soccer-themed bar and restaurant. It marked the second time that A&W Restaurant had left the Bismarck region.
In February, Minot-based Ryan Auto Group announced its purchase of long-time local dealership, Corwin-Churchill Motors. Corwin-Churchill is America’s oldest Chrysler Dealer, having featured the brand since its introduction in 1924. The dealership was established in 1914 by Samuel Wickham Corwin. Neil Churchill joined the business in 1925. The Corwin Family assumed full ownership when Churchill retired in 1952, and sold the business to the Whittey Family in 1958. The Whittey Family maintained ownership until its purchase in 2010.
After months of repeated delays, the BSC Aquatic & Wellness Center finally opened its doors on March 3rd. The Center featured the only Olympic-sized swimming pool in the region, in addition to a separate 25-yard indoor pool with a designated diving and lap area, and a fitness center.
It was announced on March 5 that Gateway Mall had signed a tenant to occupy the center anchor space, vacated by Conlin’s Furniture two months earlier. Famous Labels, a deep discount department store chain, is expected to open in June 2010.
Bismarck is expected to continue its decade-long tradition of growth and development throughout 2010, with several planned projects expected to begin soon. Amongst these, a new downtown parking ramp and a new hotel.
Note: Updates have not been made since 2010, but are expected soon.
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