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Good times in Grafton

GRAFTON, N.D. -- Mayor Chris West talked with developer Roger Feltman on Wednesday morning at a house under construction in south Grafton. As they spoke, a crew of cement finishers was busy across the cul-de-sac on one of two new duplexes that wi...

Chris West
Grafton Mayor Chris West says one of his goals as mayor is to fill empty storefronts on Grafton's Hill Avenue on Wednesday morning in Grafton, N.D. He's encouraged by recent developments and new residential housing construction. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

GRAFTON, N.D. -- Mayor Chris West talked with developer Roger Feltman on Wednesday morning at a house under construction in south Grafton.

As they spoke, a crew of cement finishers was busy across the cul-de-sac on one of two new duplexes that will be built this year.

Across a field, just to the south of Grafton High School, fans were arriving for the opening game of the North Dakota Class B American Legion Baseball Tournament between Munich and Velva. Grafton was to play the final opening-day game in the evening.

"We've got a real nice community," he said, "and I think we can grow and keep positive things happening."

That, in a nutshell, is why West, a 39-year-old lifelong Grafton resident, decided to run for mayor earlier this year.


"I felt compelled to make sure we continue to go in the right direction," he said.

He offered some examples:

- A proposed $42 million Park River diversion flood protection project is on target to be completed by 2015. A U.S. Senate subcommittee last week approved $3 million for project planning and design.

- Marvin Windows and Doors, Grafton's largest employer, is hiring again. The company had more than 500 employees and built an addition just before the nation's housing industry and the national economy hit the skids a couple of years ago. The company had about 400 employees at the end of 2009.

- Eight duplex housing units and two single-family houses are under construction this summer. And more are planned.

The housing spurt is getting a boost from the community's Grow Grafton campaign, which offers financial incentives of as much as $20,000 to people who build new houses. Funded by a $500,000 grant from Marvin, it provides a free building lot and a $75,000 property tax reduction for two years.

Five years ago, one or two new houses a year would have been a good year.

- Two apartment complexes -- one with 36 units, the other with 24 -- are going up on a spot where an old apartment complex has been torn down.


- Shenanigans, a longtime local restaurant that had been closed has reopened in a highly visible building along Hill Avenue, Grafton's main street. Other potential businesses have expressed interest in other vacant downtown buildings, too.

- Family Dollar, which lost its business to fire recently, has indicated plans to return.

Credits others

West doesn't pretend to take credit for the progress.

He lauds the leadership of former Mayor Todd Burianek, who served one four-year term before deciding not to seek re-election this year, and a progressive City Council and business community.

West served on City Council for six years before running for mayor this year.

He has plenty going on in his life. He owns and operates Northern States Insurance Services, an insurance and investment firm in downtown Grafton.

He and his wife, Ann, a local banker, have two daughters, seventh- and first-grade students. His parents, Richard and Avis West, still live in town.


That fact that he's a lifelong resident is a major reason he decided to run for public office in the first place.

"I felt there was a need for some younger leadership in the community," he said. "And I was feeling young at the time."

As for the near future, he doesn't see many changes.

Economic development is a major goal. That doesn't necessarily mean courting another major manufacturer such as Marvin Windows, he said. Rather, it means helping existing businesses grow, providing incentives for new small businesses or manufacturers to call Grafton home.

Population has been another challenge.

Grafton was home to more than 5,000 people from 1950 to 1990, when the U.S. Census listed the population at 4,840. In 2000, the population was 4,516.

The North Dakota Census Data Center estimates the city's population was just 3,978 in 2008.

"We think it's better than that," West said.


He and other Grafton leaders think the 2010 Census will give the city another positive sign.

"We've had our ups and downs, with businesses coming and going, like everybody else. But we're maintaining. We think Grafton has a great future."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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