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TR. library foundation will not be reimbursing spent money

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will not be built in Dickinson, but questions remain as to what has become of taxpayer dollars allocated to the project as it is shifted to a new proposed location near Medora. Specifically, ...

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will not be built in Dickinson, but questions remain as to what has become of taxpayer dollars allocated to the project as it is shifted to a new proposed location near Medora.

Specifically, $2.2 million of a $12.5 million legislative appropriation has already been spent, and that money is not going to be returned to the state.

"We have spent much of that money on the elements of construction planning that would have to have been done no matter where this thing goes," Bruce Pitts, chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation Board of Trustees, said in a phone interview. "This includes pre-programming and programming. What that means basically is what's going on at this building, who is going in it ... those sorts of considerations are the foundation of any subsequent design that goes on. Much of that $2.2 million goes into that phase of planning, it will be carried over very easily no matter where this building goes."

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner confirmed that, while he remains disappointed the presidential library will not be built in Dickinson as had been the plan for well over a year, this expenditure is legal under the conditions set forth by the legislature when they designated the appropriation.

"It was legal, it was under the guidelines and the intentions at that time that it was going to be built on Dickinson State," Wardner said. "How you reverse that and take that back, I don't know ... I don't think you do ... (instead) you move forward."

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The remaining money of that appropriation, however, is "off the table" Wardner said, and Pitts also said that the foundation's decision was in the interests of not squandering the entirety of the appropriation.

"The foundation has acted prudently in seeking to construct a world-class facility ... to do so in a way that greatly benefits ... particularly the cities close to the Badlands," Pitts said. "Everything we've expended to this point ... would have had to be expended regardless ... we have been good stewards of taxpayer money and we are leaving a substantial portion of it on the table."

However, one portion of that money includes a $300,000 contribution from the city of Dickinson. The city had pledged upwards of $3 million to see the library built in the city itself-that money would have bolstered the $12.5 million legislative appropriation, the total of which was broadly reported as a $15 million appropriation overall. That $3 million was never actually given by the city to the project, and according to City Attorney Jan Murtha, it will not be given now that the library is being built elsewhere.

At a recent meeting of the City Commission, it was suggested that the city try to get $300,000 allotment back from the foundation. She said that presently:

"The city is exploring its options. We're looking into what the available options are."

Pitts said that the $2.2 million spent is not a "sunk cost".

"It's not a sunk cost, this project is going to go ahead in Medora in an extraordinarily magnificent way and the investment that has already been made is going to be returned to the state and the city of Dickinson many times over," He said. "There's no reason not to be optimistic about it."

Pitts defended the decision to choose Medora over Dickinson, saying that doing so was the "fiscally responsible" thing to do.

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I think what people need to recognize is, first of all, this has been a very difficult situation for the board. The board for the first 2.5 years of its existence spent a lot of hours and a lot of their own personal wealth to make the Dickinson vision happen," he said. "And we learned, belatedly, that it didn't have the national appeal required to support an institution there. But there was a great deal of national interest in putting a presidential library in the Badlands, and that became the fiscally prudent thing to do, because it was financially sustainable."

Wardner expressed some skepticism.

"Now when they start talking about it helping Dickinson, I've been listening ... but we don't have any money raised to build that library out there," he said. "We're not back at ground zero, there's no question that some of the work that was done with that $2 million will benefit that project in Medora ... that's OK, it's going to be in North Dakota, it's going to benefit North Dakota-if it's built."

Wardner added:

"I don't mean to be the old scrooge, but I've heard a lot of talk and I haven't seen much action to back it up."

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