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'I wouldn't bet on it.' -- Governor's proposed investment in presidential library unpopular in Dickinson

Roughly $3 million in funds intended to bring the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library to Dickinson have been reallocated for city projects, including a feasibility study for a new events center. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Once upon a time, Dickinson was going to be the home of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, evidenced by a sign which stood tall for over a year, declaring the decision to be "bully!" for Dickinson.

Then, after some additions to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation executive committee and a few appearances and speeches by Gov. Doug Burgum, the library's location was abruptly changed, from Dickinson to the nearby historic town of Medora. Among the reasons for this was a sentiment that the new location would be easier for fundraising, as the project's size and scope grew considerably.

Now Burgum, in his recently announced budget recommendation, has proposed that $50 million of the Legacy Fund—essentially a savings account for the state—should go toward investing in the project's new home, leveraging a "2-to-1 private investment match and partnering with the National Park Service.

"As a state-of-the-art tourist and educational center that will serve as an economic driver for the state, the library will honor a man whose character, beliefs and drive were shaped by the land and people of North Dakota," Burgum said.

In Dickinson, however, the mood does not welcome the governor's suggestion.

"It's a recommendation on his part. The Legislature has to pass this and ... it doesn't sound like it's gonna be received with open arms at all," Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said. "I think it's going to be a long shot if it happens. Right now, I wouldn't bet on it."

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, expressed skepticism that the promised big donors for this project have yet to step forward.

"The governor has said there are donors who are interested in having it built in Medora and I have yet to see any donors step forward," Steiner said. "I would feel stronger about the Medora location if donors stepped forward."

Wardner said the purpose of the Legacy Fund is to have money stowed away for the future.

"It's for when oil is no longer there so we can still meet our needs and priorities in government," Wardner said. "It's for future generations, that's why it's important to maintain that fund."

It wasn't all negative in response to the governor's proposed budget, which Steiner said would be gone over by the Legislature "line by line".

"I was reviewing his speech today and looking at the budget numbers and actually there are some good things he did with his methodical study of the budget. He didn't take the short-term view, to his credit, he took a more difficult long-term view," she said. "I didn't agree with his priorities, I don't agree with his cuts to Dickinson State University when we're trying to add training opportunities. To me, workforce development is pretty important."

However, she was glad to see money allocated to continuing the digitization of Theodore Roosevelt's writings, an on-going project that was the impetus for the presidential library project and which remains as the intellectual property of DSU. She also said that, if private investment materialized and the library/museum was built, it'd be beneficial to the area.

"If they build it, it would definitely benefit our community," Steiner said.

An informal poll on the Dickinson Press Facebook showed an overwhelmingly negative opinion from the readership as to the governor's proposal. As of press time, 221 votes had been calculated, and 198 of those were "no" votes. Some comments included:

"No! It should be in Dickinson. Pay them for stealing it from them. It will not get half the use in Medora that it would have in Dickinson. Moving it to Medora is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of."

"How about give that 50 million back to the taxpayers! A North Dakota stimulus package."

And perhaps most succinctly:

"No. Infrastructure"

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