Gov. Doug Burgum envisions the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library being a tourism gem comparable to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s proposed to build the library at Medora’s entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
To accomplish this, Burgum wants to use $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings along with $100 million raised through donations. Construction would require $100 million and an endowment of $50 million would be created. An impressive list of supporters has been rounded up that includes President Roosevelt’s great-great-grandson, Ted Roosevelt; former Walmart chair Rob Walton and his wife, Melani; and Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine.
Melani Walton is a 1998 alumna of Dickinson State and Karlgaard is a Bismarck native.
The Tribune Editorial Board has mixed feelings about the presidential library. We were disappointed when the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation terminated a land lease with Dickinson State University and eventually decided to move the TR library and museum to Medora.
DSU has been heavily involved in promoting and maintaining Roosevelt’s legacy. The university has been digitizing the late president’s papers since 2011. The university also has held a Theodore Roosevelt Symposium for a decade, drawing notable speakers.
The foundation’s decision seems like a betrayal of the university to the editorial board. The foundation and DSU still haven’t resolved their differences. Foundation board attorney Murray Sagsveen in a June 2018 memo to the State Board of Higher Education board said there was "NO major donor enthusiasm" for a library project at DSU and it was clear the project would never materialize, even with state support.
In 2013 the Legislature approved $12 million for the library at DSU. When the foundation shifted its focus to Medora that funding was lost.
The Tribune believes the library would be a plum and a tourist attraction. We have doubts about how many people it would draw between Labor Day and Memorial Day when bustling Medora reverts to a sleepy town with few amenities. Dickinson might not lure a lot of tourists, but it has more hotels and restaurants open all year. Some have suggested the library would be a better fit in Fargo or Bismarck.
Dickinson is close enough to Medora that tourists could go to the library and also visit Medora when the weather was suitable.
The Tribune also questions the use of the Legacy Fund for the project. There are a number of bills before the Legislature that would tap into the fund’s earnings. They all have merit, but the Legislature has never come to a conclusion on how the Legacy Fund should be used, so the money tempts a variety of proposals.
Do we want to invest in a presidential library or would the money be better used for higher education, health-related issues or to shore up the state’s budget in tougher times? The Tribune believes the library project should be funded by donations and the state shouldn’t promise $50 million from the Legacy Fund. Especially if the foundation wants to build in Medora. We would support a more modest donation to the foundation to help lure donors and to publicize the project.
We also believe any funding should be contingent on the foundation resolving its differences with DSU.
We hope Burgum’s right when he predicts the library could become North Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. We have our doubts and that’s one reason we think the state’s financial contribution should be limited. Harold Schafer took an old town with seemingly no future and turned it into the state’s biggest summer tourism attraction. Maybe the library will make Medora into a year-round destination. We’ll see.