The former rodeo grounds at Dickinson State University, once cleared out for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library that will now be built in Medora, have stood vacant ever since.
Two ideas have been proposed recently for use of that land. Both are in the preliminary stages, and neither have been decided on.
Prior to resigning, former DSU President Dr. Thomas Mitzel was in talks with Chris Fitterer, president of The Hub Convenience Stores, about putting a gas station/convenience store on part of the vacant land. Fitterer attended an open forum, Friday, to talk to the staff and community about the opportunity.
The Hub currently helps the university with concessions for sports games. Fitterer said the conversations about the gas station began a couple of years ago.
"We looked into a few things with Dr. Mitzel. We did two appraisals. They came back to us. (We) got a price of a lease of the land. We put the building up, and from that point on, Dr. Easton came in and pumped the breaks a little bit on the whole project," he said.
Faculty members shared their frustration that they were not informed of those plans before they saw them on an agenda for a North Dakota State Board of Higher Education meeting.
"We've never been trying to be secretive about what we've been trying to do, by any means. When it does come to a leasing point, we could have meetings and different things like that," Fitterer said.
Interim President Stephen Easton also addressed the concern.
"In order to take advantage of opportunities, there have to be some discussions before 200 people get together and have discussions," Easton said. "The model I'd like to follow is the model we're following on this (sports) project, where we had some discussions; we have an opportunity; now we get some input from the campus. ... Having said that, sometimes the opportunities come, and the door closes on them so quickly that you can't always to do that, but to me that's the preferred system."
Both Easton and the faculty senate have some reservations about the gas station project. Faculty was concerned about the possibility of selling liquor at the store, given that the university is a dry campus.
Fitterer said they were not intending to sell liquor and that although that could be an option in the future, it would require the university's consent.
"I didn't want to put it in, but it was recommended in case it does come available, that people are aware of it. We were not going to put it in. We were not going to apply for a license. We were never going to have liquor on it, as of now," Fitterer said.
Fitterer could not say how much money they would pay for the lease, but said that the gas station could bring in additional revenue.
"We've had discussions that if we do put this on campus, we would be selling DSU shirts, hats, things like that. That money would go back to DSU. ... We've also talked about doing some more stuff with work study ... but those discussions have not materialized once Dr. Mitzel left," he said.
The other idea presented to faculty during the meeting was a sports complex that would include a turfed baseball field for youth, turfed softball field, turfed soccer field and natural grass soccer field.
The fields could be used by the university, Dickinson High School and the community.
Guy Fridley, Dickinson Public Schools athletic director; Pete Stanton, Dickinson State University football head coach and athletic director; and James Kramer, executive director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation, presented preliminary plans to the faculty and answered questions.
Faculty wanted to know who would pay for the complex.
"The primary DSU contribution to this is ... use of land ... but there is some funding that is available to us for capital construction and major maintenance type projects ... It's funding that's available to match private donations, and it is use it or lose it funding, so if we do not use that funding in the current biennium, we lose that funding. We anticipate approximately $300,000 of that fund," Easton said.
He realized that talking about spending money after just having cut faculty and staff positions to balance the budget would raise some questions.
"I was here recently talking about budget cuts and the natural question would be, 'How can you be talking about building athletic fields when you just announced 14 position lay offs 10 days ago?' The $300,000 for capital construction with a match, those are not funds that we can use for things like salaries. ... The State Board of Higher Education gives us this money for major projects, and it is not transferable to things like salary," he said.
Easton said the land is actually for potential expansion of the university campus, and they've planned for that.
"The reason we have this land is for potential expansion of the campus ... We've been making it clear to all of our partners that our involvement in this project will be contingent upon the understanding that if we need some of this land back ... that we can get the land back."
Easton and Stanton argued that a sports complex would also help recruitment of faculty, staff and students.
"As far as recruiting students, we're going to make sure that all those young people that play on those athletic fields from other cities in North Dakota realize they're on the campus of Dickinson State University," Easton said.
They hope such a complex would allow Dickinson to host tournaments, which would benefit the community as well as the schools.
"The high schools are not going to be allow to host a high school state tournament until they have a turfed field ... At a university level, we can't do that as well unless we have a turfed field, so that's our number one priority," Stanton said. "All the costs that we have traveling to go to regional softball tournaments versus being able to host it. The economic impacts of parents and fans and teams coming in and staying in our community."
Dr. Debora Dragseth, professor of business administration, said she liked the idea.
"I've been to a lot of softball games, and our softball students that we have in our classes are amazing. The field that they play on is horrible. There's dirt flying everywhere. You have to really gear yourself up to even go and watch one of those games. You get a mouthful of dirt. You get your eyes full of dirt," she said.
The potential sports complex wouldn't take up all of the open land that the university has.
"They aren't necessarily mutually exclusive projects; however, I believe that with the athletics fields complex possibility, we are committing a substantial portion of our available land, and I think that makes it harder to commit the additional portion to the lease. That's my view," Easton said.