If TR library happens, success will be years in determining

This week, the North Dakota Legislature voted to move along a proposed Theodore Roosevelt presidential library, a high-profile, high priority item for Gov. Doug Burgum.

Initially proposed to be recipient of investment from earnings from the Legacy Fund, instead the House voted 76 -16 to use $50 million from the state treasury and loans from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to help fund operating and maintenance costs of the proposed library in Medora. The money must be matched by $100 million in private funds to build the facility, of which $10 million would be used to digitize presidential documents at Dickinson State University.

The Senate approved the measure Tuesday night and it now goes to Burgum for his signature.

Response has been mixed about the proposal. Certainly Roosevelt’s experiences in and appreciation of North Dakota are a proud part of our heritage, and part of Roosevelt’s life with which many outside of North Dakota are unfamiliar.

However, while celebrating a highlight of our own history is a worthwhile goal, it is no small investment at a time when there are plenty of other priorities. Yes, the private funding component makes the proposition more palatable to some.

That said, ultimately the success of the proposed museum is going to be based on its ability to draw tourists and visitors beyond those visiting Medora or the vicinity. Success will mean drawing from the larger audience of North Dakota in general, surrounding states and visitors passing through the region to elsewhere with no initial intent to visit state attractions. As has been said, will it be an attraction to get people off of main roads?

If funds are raised and all goes as envisioned, it will still be years before taxpayers in the state will know if it was a wise investment. By that time, we would have a different Legislature either to earn credit or derision based on the level of success.

The proposed library must be a draw for visitors in order to be declared a success. Infrastructure itself, even that celebrating such an interesting aspect of our history, might be a source of pride. But investment must offer returns, and in this case, that means a successful tourist attraction and thus an economic generator.

It will be quite some time, assuming Burgum signs the legislation and private funds come through, before we know if this was a good idea or a good idea that is also a success.

What do you think?