Buffalo City Park could bring 200,000 people to Jamestown

Winter bison pasture
Somewhere beyond this fence in the winter bison pasture on the grounds of the National Buffalo Museum is where the future home of the Buffalo City Park may be. John M. Steiner / The Sun

A recent feasibility study of the Buffalo City Park project estimates first-year attendance at about 200,000 people. An estimate for the park's attendance after two or three years of operation is more than 279,000 visitors to the community each year.

Connie Ova, CEO of Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., said the results look promising.

"The question has always been 'if you build it, will they come,'" she said.

The study does not include the coronavirus pandemic as a factor.

"If we start tomorrow it is still three years until it opens," she said. "COVID shouldn't be a factor by then."


Plans call for placing the park on land adjacent to Interstate 94 which is currently used as the winter buffalo pasture. The land is located about two blocks northeast of the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and I-94. The planned theme and cultural park would offer attractions associated with the bison, Native Americans and the history of North Dakota and include a museum, children's area and an amphitheater for entertainment events.

The feasibility study was prepared by Apogee Attractions and funded by the JSDC at a cost of $25,000. The report estimates that the regional population plus the number of travelers on the major highways through Jamestown at more than 1.6 million people.

"There is only limited direct competition in the core market for a regional destination that focuses on cultural and historical attributes of North Dakotans," said the study. "The proposed concept also has a high level of theming and attraction components utilizing a historical format. Thus, there is a latent demand for such a facility."

At least initially, the park would operate on a daily schedule through the summer, on weekends and holidays from October through December, and be closed from January through March. During the peak summer months, park attendance is estimated at about 1,900 people per day. The best estimate is about 41% of the visitors would come from the region and 59% from travelers through the region.

"We tend to market to the east (part of the United States) where people are looking for a Western experience," said Sara Otte Coleman, director of North Dakota Tourism. "

The study projects initial admission pricing at $30 for adults and $24 for children but notes a variety of discounts would be offered.

Visitors to the Buffalo City Park are anticipated to spend more than 5 hours at the attraction and would also likely spend money on food and souvenirs before leaving the area.

The study estimates the park would be profitable at a $60 million investment that would include construction and startup costs before opening the gates in April of 2024. The justified level of investment is based on $2.3 million in profits in its first year of operations.


"Obviously we need to have funding," Ova said. "We also need to have a buy-in from the state."

The park is planned for land currently owned by the North Dakota State Hospital. The state may also participate by investing some of the funds of the North Dakota Legacy Fund, Ova said.

"The Legacy Fund is moving ahead cautiously," she said. "The Legislature is most likely going to deal with that."

The study estimates the Buffalo City Park would make a higher rate of return than the current Legacy Fund investment portfolio, according to Brian Lunde, local businessman. Lunde financed the initial study for the project but is not involved with the development of the project.

"The average return here is better than the Legacy Fund," he said. "It holds its own as a good investment for the state."

Ova said the potential of the Buffalo City Park is being studied by the North Dakota Department of Commerce, although the process has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Coleman said the project is exciting to consider for the state of North Dakota.

"Overall, as the state's third-largest industry (tourism) we are super excited about the project and the fact that people are thinking big," she said.


That doesn't mean it is something North Dakota Tourism can directly support.

"We don't have particular incentive programs for this type of project," Coleman said.

Buffalo City Park
This artist's rendering shows the park and some of the associated structures. The hotel, shown in the upper part of the image, is not part of the park project but could be developed by individual investors. Courtesy / Apogee Attractions

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