Tribune editorial: Supporters of TR library on the right track

Tribune editorial: Supporters of TR library on the right track

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From left, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Gov. Doug Burgum, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation President Randy Hatzenbuhler, and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., in early October visit one of the potential sites for the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. The site is near the Medora Musical complex.

The new CEO of the board of the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has been saying the right things as he makes the rounds in North Dakota. If Ed O’Keefe can follow through on his goals, the project should be successful.

Last week’s addition of Randy Hatzenbuhler, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation president, as chief fundraiser for the library, gives the library another boost. Hatzenbuhler knows the people who like and support Medora and the national park. These are potential donors to the museum project.

Library supporters need to raise $100 million for the project. Gov. Doug Burgum said earlier this year that supporters already have indicated they will donate $52 million to the library. O’Keefe, however, said the capital campaign is proceeding as if no money has been raised. He said until pledges result in money in the bank, they won’t be counted. That’s a wise approach. Once the $100 million goal is reached, an operations endowment fund of $50 million from the state becomes available.

O’Keefe appears to be a good choice to lead the project. The Grand Forks native started his career with ABC news radio, then became a CNN executive and a Harvard fellow. He has a book, “The Loves of Theodore Roosevelt,” set to be published. He comes across as a true promoter of North Dakota and Roosevelt.

At the same time, he promised the library would provide true examination of Roosevelt -- his contradictions and flaws. It’s an opportunity, said O’Keefe, to open a dialogue on issues.

O’Keefe wants transparency throughout the process of raising money, deciding on the library site, and making decisions on architecture and design along with programming. He promises to involve Medora residents along with Billings County residents and officials in public meetings.

While O’Keefe wants and will push for transparency, he notes his board makes the final decisions. The Tribune encourages the board to adopt his goals for transparency.

The Tribune has had concerns about the choice of Medora for the site of the library. It’s a busy place from late May to early September, but then many businesses close for the winter. The weather can make travel to the town and park difficult.

O’Keefe sees the potential of making Medora and the park as part of a tourism triangle that includes Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. He also argues that Medora and the park make an ideal location for the museum because the area played a key role in Roosevelt’s life.

There’s a lot that needs to be accomplished in a short time. The capital campaign goes until the end of 2020. At the same time, a site must be selected, an architect and a design must be chosen, and decisions must be made involving the county and national park.

O’Keefe would like to see the donations come from North Dakotans or those with ties to the state. He envisions kids operating lemonade stands to raise money.

The goal is for construction in 2021-2022 and an opening in 2023 or 2024.

Supporters have heaped praise on the library, with it even being called North Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. That might be an exaggeration, but the library has potential to benefit the state. It needs to be done with transparency and through donations. That would be a noteworthy achievement.

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