This guest post was submitted by Patrick Finken. He helped create the Norsk Hostfest and produced the Party of the Century that drew over 100,000 fellow North Dakotans to the state capitol mall in 1989. His company, Odney, also created the very successful Legendary brand strategy and campaign for the North Dakota Tourism Division.
North Dakota has a rich and successful history of using private-public partnerships to invest in infrastructure to drive economic growth and prosperity. Nowhere is that more visible than in the tourism and hospitality industry.
There would be no Norsk Hostfest without a private-public partnership that built the All Seasons Arena. The UND hockey program has a world-class sports and training facility thanks to private investment in the public sector. The Bismarck Event Center, Medora, Ft. Lincoln and Pembina Gorge are just a few more examples where the public and private sectors have come together to enhance and grow our state’s tourism economy. The list goes on and on.
In all these cases, the naysayers used many of the same opposition arguments we hear today. In the end though, the visionaries behind these projects prevailed and I doubt you would find many people willing to turn back the clock and surrender these important tourism and quality of life destinations today.
Which brings me to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. I have been involved in the tourism industry in North Dakota since the 80’s. In all these years, I have not seen an opportunity to impact our state’s tourism industry like I see in the TR Presidential Library and Museum project.
By far, North Dakota’s top attraction is our national park, but it is also one of the least visited national parks in the country. Adding Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential library and museum to the offerings of the national park has the potential to take the park bearing his name to the next level and leverage the kind of economic impact we need and deserve from our state’s top attraction.
I am not alone in this opinion. Tourism professionals from across North Dakota have endorsed this project even when it is not in their backyard. The industry recognizes this project as a giant step forward and serves the best interest of all of us, no matter where we live.
Keep in mind, this is not just a library. It is a tribute to one of history’s most important presidents and a president closely linked to our state’s history. This library and museum will host TR’s legacy and provide us an opportunity to showcase the inescapable link between North Dakota and Roosevelt. I also believe the TR Presidential Library and Museum represents something more than an investment in the tourism industry. It is an investment in ourselves. For too long, the world has seen us as a fly-over state, a second-rate state. Unfortunately, and too often, we see ourselves that way and it’s just not true.
Building a presidential library and museum honoring one of our greatest presidents is a coming of age for North Dakota. No more can we say we are not big enough or successful enough. We are a world leader in ag and energy, and we are fast becoming the epicenter of the UAS industry. This project is a chance to show the world that North Dakota has arrived, and it is our time.
And to think, we can accomplish this great thing with a ready made two-to-one match of private to public sector money. We can build a $150 million public tourism destination with only $50 million in public investment. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let us not lose it to New York or California. Let us dare to dream big and bold and say yes to this incredible opportunity.