A Jan. 13 deadline is fast approaching for the Ward County Historical Society to either remove its buildings from the Pioneer Village Museum on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds or receive an eviction notice from the State Fair.
Bruce Brooks, treasurer of the historical society, said Tuesday that the society still has no plans to move the buildings.
"We have a lawyer to represent us," said Brooks, and the historical society will be raising money to pay for legal costs. Brooks said he does not yet have an estimate on the possible cost of fighting an eviction in court.
The Ward County Historical Society Pioneer Village Museum is pictured on Tuesday.
The historical society received a letter dated Dec. 13 from Pete Hankla, the attorney for the State Fair, which set a deadline of Jan. 13 for the group to remove its buildings or face eviction.
The historical society board contends that they are under no obligation to move, under the terms of a 1966 contract that states that "the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fairgrounds."
The State Fair Board wants the Pioneer Village off the fairgrounds so the land can be used for future growth and for its current needs. Renae Korslien, State Fair Manager, said Tuesday that the Fair needs more space because of the many different events held on the fairgrounds throughout the year, such as the Norsk Hostfest, agricultural shows, sports shows and oil conferences, as well as the North Dakota State Fair. Parking is at a premium during races held at the Nodak Speedway on the Fairgrounds, said Korslien.
Longterm, the State Fair Board's master plan includes a plan to eventually build a large events center on the fairgrounds in the location where the exposition and dairy barns, Jaycees Building and 4H building are currently situated. Such a convention center would be attached to the current State Fair Center. The Fair Board also wants to relocate the road that currently runs by the Pioneer Village Museum on the fairgrounds, which would require moving the museum off the fairgrounds. However, Korslien said there are no firm plans for such a convention center and it is so far off in the future that she also does not know how a convention center might be funded. The State Fair Board's main reason for wanting the museum off the fairgrounds now is simply the need for more space for a variety of purposes, she said.
State Fair attorney Pete Hankla said last month that the State Fair Board does not recognize that the Ward County Historical Society has the right to leave any of its buildings on the grounds, but it is only asking the Pioneer Village to move the buildings that were moved to the Pioneer Village after 1966.
In the past, State Fair Board members have said the historical society moved buildings onto the grounds without permission from the State Fair. Brooks said they have documentation that the State Fair did provide written permission for the historical society to move one building onto the fairgrounds after the contract was signed in the 1960s.
Hankla said last month that the society has refused to come up with a relocation plan and has rejected proposals to help them move to another location. A group of Minot community leaders had attempted to broker a deal last summer that would have provided the historical society with financial assistance to move the museum to city-owned land not far from the Minot Air Museum, near the Cameron Indoor Tennis Center, or to two acres of land owned by the Minot Park District north of Roosevelt Park. After touring both areas, historical society members rejected both offers as unsuitable for their group's needs.
"We feel like we need to be where the people are," said Brooks on Tuesday. "We're representing their culture and their history and if we're not where they are, they're usually not going to come and see us."
Critics have suggested that the historical society should relocate the museum to an area outside the flood zone. The museum was heavily damaged during the Souris River flood of 2011.
"We would move if the fairgrounds move because they're in the flood area too," said Brooks.
Brooks said the historical society board is "unanimous" in its decision not to relocate the buildings.