The Journal & Tioga Tribune

Politics and penny-pinching jeopardize legacy

Passing Dreams



Earnings from North Dakota’s Legacy Fund should be used for things that, well, leave a legacy.

There’s a ton of money squirrelled away in the Legacy Fund – nearly $6 billion – generating a ton of earnings that are available for legislators to spend.

There’s also a ton of ideas for spending it, some of them good, some not so much.

One of the good ones is allocating $50 million to help build a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southwestern North Dakota.

It’s debatable whether some of the other spending ideas would leave a legacy.

For the TR library, there’s no doubt.

Theodore Roosevelt, the only U.S. president with deep ties to North Dakota, is often regarded as one of the top five presidents in American history. As most folks in these parts know, he believed emphatically that he would never have become president were it not for the time he spent in the Badlands of North Dakota.

The library is being promoted as a public-private venture between the state and the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, though the only state contribution would be the $50 million. The foundation would need to raise another $100 million, then pay for ongoing operations through an endowment, entry fees and fundraising.

One of its champions is Gov. Doug Burgum, who recently told the House Appropriations Committee that the project “will inspire North Dakotans to think differently about the world and our place in it, and it will inspire the world to think differently about North Dakota.”

Another of its champions is Theodore Roosevelt V, great-grandson of the president, who believes that “significant donors” will help build, equip and furnish the library.

Potential spoilers are legislators, who face another legislative session filled with tough budget decisions and who have many of their own plans for spending Legacy Fund earnings.

Complicating things are apparent tensions between the governor’s office and the Legislature, and potentially some hard feelings among Dickinson legislators who felt a rug pulled from under them when the foundation reversed its original decision to build the library in Dickinson.

All of that drama, though, is but a side show of the variety that North Dakotans typically stew about before rising above it all.

There’s good reason to rise above it in this case.

A TR library would house countless documents from the life and times of Roosevelt, providing an invaluable resource for historians and researchers.

But it’s much more than that. It also will be a museum that features both cutting-edge technological displays and historical artifacts from Roosevelt’s time in New York, North Dakota and Washington, and there will be meeting space for groups of many stripes.

In short, it provides North Dakota with another tourism magnet. Proponents believe it will attract as many as 100,000 visitors a year, and suggest its North Dakota payroll could reach $2 million a year.

All of that comes after $100 million is spent on a North Dakota construction project.

All told, the foundation envisions a $200 million project, $100 million for construction, $20 million for exhibits, and $80 million for an endowment to support operations.

When you think about what $100 million can build, it’s clear that this library would be a world-class project that would do all North Dakotans proud.

The new governor’s residence, for example, came in at $5 million. The 97,000-square-foot addition to the North Dakota Heritage Center was in the neighborhood of $52 million. More than 2,500 workers helped build the Ralph Engelstad Arena hockey palace in Grand Forks at a cost of – you guessed it — $104 million.

Each of those qualify as legacy projects for our state, projects that aren’t your garden variety infrastructure or public facilities but that stand out as examples of bold, forward-thinking development.

A presidential library would be a North Dakota crown jewel on par with the Heritage Center, solidifying the badlands as the state’s premier tourist destination.

While 100,000 visitors would bring significant benefit to the state as a whole, there would likely be a side benefit to the people of Medora.

These days, all the traffic in Medora comes during the tourist season. With a new wave of visitors, some of whom would likely arrive year-round, maybe some entrepreneur would provide Medora residents with a restaurant that served breakfast in winter months. Perhaps there might some day even be a market that would support a grocery store in the small, Billings County seat.

North Dakota legislators would be wise to put the politics and budget frugalities aside, to think big and outside the box, and to fund the TR library.

By doing so they would be leaving a legacy.

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