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David Witham, of Denizen Partners, speaks to the One Million Cups gathering recently in downtown Bismarck. Witham and partners are working on a potential development near the Radisson Hotel in downtown.

When making plans for a downtown Bismarck apartment building, David Witham asked his wife what it would take for her to be willing to leave their Custer Park-area home and move in. 

“There has to be a garden,” she told him.

This was just one of the ideas Witham, a member of Denizen Partners, batted around Thursday with about 50 attendees of a Meetup event on their proposed mixed-use Sixth Street project.

The group signed a purchase agreement last month with the city for its property at 630 E Main Ave., south of the Radisson hotel.

Denizen will pay $508,195 for the property before March 15 in order to finalize the sale. As part of the agreement, the building must be mixed-use with “active use” on the ground floor, such as retail, and include a minimum of 40 units.

In return, Denizen secured the right to reserve 40 parking stalls in city-owned lots, including a minimum of 20 in the Galleria parking ramp to the north.

As Witham laid out tentative building plans, people asked questions about apartment layouts, building materials — possibly neutral colors that will make the building look like it has always been part of the block — and parking for retail users. Plans include in-and-out destinations, such as a coffee shop, to allow for 10-minute parking in the rear. With six three-bedroom units being considered in the building, targeted to small families wanting to live downtown, Witham mentioned thoughts of a playground in the rear

“That would be great," Bismarck resident Holly Sumner excitedly responded.

The comments Denizen Partners gathered were part of a new event launched by Witham, in partnership with Start Bismarck, called Urban Xchange.

Witham devised the event as a way to gather and talk about development trends in Bismarck. The inaugural Meetup focused on balancing amenities with affordability, using Denizen’s project as a case study.

Witham explained the process Denizen is going through as it makes design decisions. The basis for those decisions is on the cost per square foot to build each unit and the rent that could help pay for that.

For example, when talking about balconies, they are asking themselves whether it will allow them to get a higher rent and will that added value pay for itself. And the building is designed at three stories for a reason — building code allows them to use more cost-savvy wood materials. With a couple of handicap-accessible units on the ground floor, the project would be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act and would not be required to include a costly elevator to access the other two floors.

With these things in mind, Denizen Partners is aiming for one-bedroom unit rents in the mid-$700 to mid-$800 per month range, which is equivalent to the newer apartment buildings in town. The company is waiting for the data interpretation from a market study to confirm those numbers. Then designs will be finalized and ground is expected to be broken in the spring.

This story has been changed to reflect the correct address for the proposed development. 

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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Business Reporter