The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is coming to Dickinson. Its museum, though, is going to Medora.
The library foundation board, after a three-day meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., decided its efforts would be divided between the two cities.
“My goal going into the meeting was to lead the Board to a consensus and for us to have a clear vision of where we’re headed, and that’s exactly what happened today,” Bruce Pitts, Library Foundation Board of Trustees chair, said in a statement Friday, March 16. “Where we're now headed is pursuing a grand vision for a museum and profound visitor experience in the Badlands, as well as pursuing the construction of a component in Dickinson that will support the work of the Theodore Roosevelt Center, as well as the scholars program at Dickinson State University.”
Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker called it a “great decision.”
“It allows for the academic part of Roosevelt’s life to continue to be celebrated in the digital library, and ... for people to not only go and study there but come and view a lot of the documentation in a new, interactive way,” he said. “It also gives people the best of both worlds, because then they can travel a short distance to the Badlands and experience what Roosevelt experienced.”
Shawn Kessel, Dickinson city administrator, applauded the decision Friday in a statement to The Press.
"The original concept of the TR Library was born out of a desire to improve facilities on the DSU campus. Today's decision should fulfill that desire," Kessel said. "Hats off to the board for dreaming big and striking out on an effort to provide a world class facility in North Dakota that will bring visitors from around the globe to Dickinson and western North Dakota."
The decision ensures a permanent home at DSU for the digitization of Roosevelt's writings, where the project began.
The project is estimated to cost roughly $146 million, with a $12.5 million appropriation from the state of North Dakota, as well as additional money from the City of Dickinson.
Of the four scenarios considered by the board, dividing the effort between two cities was the only one that allowed for the state appropriation.
The original master plan had been to locate a single library and museum in Dickinson.
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum had begun its life as a digitization project at DSU, intended to convert the writings of Theodore Roosevelt to a digital archive and preserve them for posterity. That work is still ongoing, but the project has since grown to become a full-blown presidential library project.
The project was originally committed to be constructed wholly in Dickinson, and the city had offered financial support based on that commitment. Recently, it had been floated that Medora might be a better place to host the library -- and it was made clear by the city that if the project left Dickinson, its financial support would leave the project. Should the city’s $3 million contribution be withdrawn, a portion of Legislative appropriation would also have been withdrawn, and the project would lose around $15 million.
Splitting the project between two cities has advantages, according to documents provided by the Foundation.
Having the library in Dickinson allows for expansion and for the project to “host symposia, create opportunities for primary research for scholars and provide outreach programs for the community and across the globe.”
Medora will provide for greater fundraising opportunities. The Foundation stated its goal is to create an “iconic” experience there.
Construction on the Dickinson library is expected to start in November, with an opening date of November 2019.
At that time, the museum in Medora is expected to start construction, with an anticipated 2021 end date.
Decker said he is ready for construction on the project to start in Dickinson.
“The construction on the selection site will get people excited,” he said, “and they’ll finally see we’re moving forward on this project and we’re going to get it done.”