Governor pitches state money for Theodore Roosevelt library

BISMARCK (AP) — Construction of a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora would elevate North Dakota’s reputation around the globe, Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday in pitching to state lawmakers the idea of using $50 million in state money for the project.
Burgum has proposed dedicating interest money from an oil tax-funded reserve account known as the Legacy Fund for the library being developed in the western badlands by a private foundation. Under the proposal, state money would be matched by $100 million in private fundraising.
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,” Burgum told members of a House appropriations subcommittee.
Roosevelt was a native of New York, where his birthplace and primary adult residence are national historic sites. But an effort a decade ago to establish a library there failed, and enthusiasts are now trying in North Dakota. Roosevelt hunted and ranched in what is now North Dakota before moving on to the White House. He later wrote that he would not have become the nation’s 26th president if not for his experiences in the badlands.
The foundation working to develop a presidential library envisions a $200 million facility in Medora, at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Construction would cost $100 million, $20 million would be used for exhibits and $80 million would be for an endowment to support operations.
Rep. Mike Nathe said he would like to see some solid private money commitments before the state devotes money, even if the state money isn’t touched until the private money is raised. Nathe said either side that puts in money first is taking “a leap of faith” and described it as a “chicken or the egg” situation.
“It is the chicken or the egg, but we should be the chicken,” Burgum responded.
Great-great-grandson Theodore Roosevelt V, in a videotaped address played for lawmakers, said there are potential “significant donors” who have expressed support for the project, but he did not name them. Groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Association and the National Park Foundation also are supporting the idea of a library in North Dakota, he said.
“For the first time, donors, public and private partners have all rallied around (the project),” he said. “”They are all now waiting for North Dakota to stake its claim to this legacy and this project.”
Rep. David Monson questioned if the state might be liable for upkeep expenses. Foundation CEO Mike Eggl said the foundation intends for the endowment and entrance fees to handle those costs and that “the state will be at zero risk.”
Nathe questioned if infrastructure would need to be beefed up in Medora, a small tourist town of about 100 people.
“I think that would be a happy problem to have,” Burgum responded.
State lawmakers in 2013 pledged $12 million for a Roosevelt library project based at Dickinson State University in Dickinson. But the foundation last year decided to put the project in Medora and returned $9.8 million to the state.