An idea that could be deemed a "transformational legacy project" has to be a big idea with a lot of attractions that people aren't going to find anywhere else, according to Bob McTyre, owner of Apogee Attractions and developer of The Buffalo City Park project.
"We want a destination people will want to pay for," he said. "We planned a tourism anchor in the eastern part of the state."
Brian Lunde, local businessman and developer, was approached by Pam Phillips, a Jamestown city councilwoman at the time, last fall about enhancing the Frontier Village area. At the time, the city of Jamestown and the Frontier Village Association were embroiled in a conflict over the management of the village. The Frontier Village Association has since turned all its assets and property over to the city of Jamestown.
Lunde contacted Apogee Attractions, which has a track record of designing major attractions nationally. McTyre and his team felt the terrain around the Frontier Village was too steep and difficult for a major project and based his concept on the western part of the pasture used by the buffalo herd associated with the National Buffalo Museum, calling that location one of the best undeveloped locations for tourism development.
"Location," he said. "That is one of the last pieces of dirt that close to the interstate. ... It is unusual to have a potential tourist site that can be seen from an interstate highway."
The land is owned by the state of North Dakota and is part of the original lands granted for the construction of what is now the North Dakota State Hospital in the 1880s.
The plan includes a North American Bison Discovery Center, Dakota Corral with children's attractions and the Dakota Lands Pavilion in its nine-acre footprint. These centers are supplemented by zipline, gondola rides and tethered balloon attractions allowing visitors a birds-eye view of the buffalo in the pasture.
The Buffalo City Amphitheater would provide an outdoor space for featured entertainment and ongoing performances similar to the Medora Musical. A "safari-style" experience would offer visitors rides through the herd and a shopping mall and restaurants would round out the entertainment experience for visitors.
The North American Bison Discovery Center would become the new and expanded home of the National Buffalo Museum. The new center would offer three times the space and room for additional exhibits and technology including a virtual reality attraction that would put the visitor in the middle of a stampeding buffalo herd.
Another feature is the "charging bison photo op" where people will be able to include bison crashing through the wall of the building in the background of family souvenir photos. The discovery center would provide an educational experience for visitors along with entertaining through the displays and access to the zip line that would carry the visitor above the bison herd in a harness attached to an overhead cable.
The Dakota Coral allows the younger visitors to interact with mascots Buster and Becky Bison, explore an enchanted cavern and ride a western and bison themed carousel.
The Dakota Lands Pavilion highlights North Dakota's two major industries of agriculture and energy along with a nod to the high-tech work on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, drones, being done by the University of North Dakota. Possible displays there include hands-on experience in flying drones and demonstrations of drone uses.
Other attractions include tribal displays, tethered helium balloon rides and a gondola ride that will take visitors above the buffalo herd to Dakota Thunder, the World's Largest Buffalo monument that has been in place since 1959.
All of these attractions would be visible from Interstate 94, where approximately 1.4 million automobiles and 4.3 million people pass by every year, according to statistics gathered by Apogee Attractions. Those numbers do not include commercial trucks and local traffic.
The traffic numbers do not include travelers on U.S. Highway 281, which is part of a separate feasibility study.
Apogee projected about 320,000 visitors to the park per year based on 12% of the interstate traffic visiting the Buffalo City Park between May and September and 3% stopping off during the remaining months.
The projected visitation would make the Buffalo City Park comparable to Medora and above the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck, Lunde said.
"Those numbers aren't wrong," said Searle Swedlund, director of Jamestown Tourism. "We draw 150,000 people a year now to the Frontier Village."
Preliminary cost estimates are between $47 million and $57 million. The design could be modified during future planning depending on cost estimates provided by engineers and architects if the project proceeds.
Lunde said the idea was pitched to Gov. Doug Burgum and other state officials Thursday with the idea of the project being an investment vehicle for the North Dakota Legacy Fund. Basically, the managers of the Legacy Fund would invest in a North Dakota project rather than making investments in stocks or bonds from the national markets.
Ownership of the park could provide the Legacy Fund a higher rate of return on its investment, as well as spurring the local and regional economy, Lunde said.
Lunde said the governor and his staff were "very engaged" during the presentation.
Mike Nowatzki, communications director for Burgum, said the governor and lieutenant governor had found the project thoughtful and interesting.
"They are looking forward to seeing how the project developers and community develop the idea," he said.
Preliminary estimates put the number of employees at the Buffalo City Park at between 200 and 250 people. Indirectly, the park would create additional jobs for businesses that provide services to the park as well as additional people working in the hospitality and lodging industries in Jamestown.
"Tourism is a low-cost multiplier," Swedlund said, referring to the amount of business tourism creates compared to the investment. "It brings a lot of economic impact to the community. It is one of the best ways to grow a community."
Swedlund said an attraction like this would change Jamestown from a place people pass through to a destination.
"An attraction like this changes that," he said. "We could be 'that' place."
Connie Ova, director of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., said the project has come a long way in a short time utilizing private funding to reach this point.
"We are very fortunate to have private leadership with the enthusiasm to jumpstart an opportunity like this," she said. "The opportunities are endless!"
The JSDC approved a $25,000 grant to Jamestown Tourism to expand the feasibility study to provide additional information to the Legacy Fund for review.
McTyre said it would take about three years from project approval to completion.
The Frontier Village
While discussions of the future of the Frontier Village initially spurred the project, the village is not part of this plan.
Visitors could still access the Frontier Village and would be able to connect to the Buffalo City Park via the gondola that passes over the buffalo pasture.
McTyre said the condition of the Frontier Village is an issue.
"The existing Frontier Village, if it can be brought up to code, is complementary," he said.
Swedlund said the park could be a game-changer for tourism across a wide area.
"An attraction of this size and scale raises the opportunity for all (tourism) sites not just in Jamestown but across North Dakota," he said. "This an attraction that will bring more people to North Dakota, not just Jamestown."