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Roosevelt library foundation, DSU haggle over land lease

January 21, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The foundation working to develop a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in the western North Dakota Badlands is negotiating with Dickinson State University to resolve issues arising from the termination of a campus land lease. Here’s a look at the discord over a parcel less than half a square mile in size and the months-long attempt to resolve the dispute.

HOW DID THE FOUNDATION END UP WITH UNIVERSITY LAND?

Dickinson State’s Theodore Roosevelt Center since 2011 has been digitizing Roosevelt’s papers by the tens of thousands, and it also has hosted an annual Theodore Roosevelt Symposium for a decade. North Dakota lawmakers in 2013 took those efforts a step further, approving $12 million to help build a library for the nation’s 26th president at the university, which is in western North Dakota where Roosevelt ranched and hunted before moving on to the White House. The nonprofit foundation pursuing the project negotiated a 99-year, dollar-a-year lease in 2016 for a 27-acre site that at the time housed the school’s rodeo grounds. DSU currently uses a county rodeo facility outside town.

WHY IS THE LAND NO LONGER NEEDED?

The foundation’s board voted in 2018 to split the project, with a library at the university and a museum about a half hour’s drive away at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Two months later, the board voted to put the entire project at the park, a move aimed at making the project more palatable to private donors. The foundation that month notified the state Board of Higher Education, which oversees North Dakota’s public colleges and universities, of its decision to end the DSU land lease. Board attorney Murray Sagsveen in a June 2018 memo to the Higher Education board said there was “NO major donor enthusiasm” for a library project at DSU and it was “painfully clear” that such a project would never materialize, even with state support. Officials are now hoping to package $50 million in state money proposed by Gov. Doug Burgum with private donations to fund a $200 million project.

THEN HOW DID THE LEASE DISPUTE ARISE?

The Higher Education board asked the library foundation to pay the $91,350 cost of removing cottonwood logs that had been moved to the site to build a replica of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch cabin, mowing the site and rebuilding the university rodeo facilities once located there.

Assistant Attorney General Nick Vaughn in a July 16, 2018, email to Sagsveen threatened a lawsuit “if the parties cannot reach an agreement.” The foundation still balked at paying any money, disputing that the lease terms required restoration of the land to its former condition.

Last summer, the foundation removed the logs and mowed the grass but refused to pay for rebuilding the rodeo grounds, setting off meetings involving Higher Education, university and foundation officials. They culminated with the Board of Higher Education voting in September to terminate the lease with no money changing hands.

University President Thomas Mitzel said in an interview Friday that battling the foundation in court over the money “would be long and protracted and would help nobody,” so the university decided to instead raise money privately to rebuild the rodeo grounds. It hopes to begin construction this spring.

The university and foundation are now negotiating to resolve other issues.

WHAT’S THAT ALL ABOUT?

The most recent proposal by DSU indicates a desire to continue involving the Theodore Roosevelt Center and its document digitization work in plans for the presidential library — something foundation CEO Mike Eggl also has said is a priority for the project.

The proposal calls for the foundation to directly and indirectly support the digitization work financially, along with other work at the center including scholarly research and education programs. It also calls for a joint marketing and outreach plan to develop “national and international audiences.”

Mitzel said in an interview that the Theodore Roosevelt Center will make the presidential library stronger, and vice versa.

“It’s an area where the whole is much better than the separate parts alone,” he said. “My hope is we can forge a good partnership as we go forward.”

The proposal also calls for the foundation to develop its own logo, rather than use a previously developed stylized “Roosevelt” script that is similar to the center’s. The foundation had been planning to register its logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. DSU President Thomas Mitzel said in a Jan. 10 email to Eggl that the artwork is proprietary and that the foundation’s continued use without a licensing agreement is “non-negotiable.”

Sagsveen told The Associated Press that “the foundation is not seeking to fight” over the issue and likely will develop its own logo.

Mitzel said he hopes to have an agreement wrapped up in coming months.

“The sooner we can get this accomplished, the better for everybody,” he said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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