House Bill 1425 unanimously passed the North Dakota Senate on Monday, March 29, and is expected to be signed by the governor, opening up the North Dakota Legacy Fund to invest more money in the state, according to Jon Godfread, North Dakota insurance commissioner and one of the leaders of the effort to pass the bill.

"I was a little surprised by the vote total," he said, referring to its unanimous passage. "But I was obviously pleased with the outcome. There is a great case for investing in our state."

The bill creates a fund to finance water and other government infrastructure projects and sets a 10% target for equity fund investment in projects in North Dakota.

Godfread said the administration of the Legacy Fund has already set aside 3% for that type of investment and held interviews in March for a fund manager to handle a portfolio of local investments.

"There are already good ideas in the hopper," he said. "The Buffalo City Park is one of the projects where there has been a lot of legwork done already. It is one of the best formulated projects I've seen in a long time."

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The Buffalo City Park project was first introduced in November 2019. The planned theme and cultural park in Jamestown 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.

Local backers of the plan are already moving forward with plans to present the project to the Legacy Fund for financing.

"We are working now on putting together a 501 c3 for it," said Connie Ova CEO of Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. "We are also trying to finalize how to secure the land."

The project is planned for land adjacent to Interstate 94 and currently used as a buffalo pasture by the National Buffalo Museum which leases the land from the North Dakota State Hospital under a 99-year agreement.

Other local planning includes determining the type of street, water and wastewater infrastructure needed in the area to support what has been estimated at more than 200,000 visitors per year.

"We need to work with the community to see where they see it fit," Ova said. "There are a handful of people working on what's next for the project."

A financial feasibility study sponsored by the JSDC estimated 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.

Godfread said House Bill 1425 did not include an emergency clause and will become law on Aug. 1. The fund's administrators have already interviewed three applicants for a fund manager to handle local investments and may hire one of the applicants as soon as the April meeting.

"I don't think we will have any trouble in meeting an August timeframe," Godfread said. "The pressure will be on the Legacy Fund board and the State Investment Board to make this happen."

Some of the fund managers interviewed indicated it would take about six months to be in a position to consider investment proposals, Godfread said.

"We could be looking at an end-of-the-year timeframe," Godfread said. "If not making investments, at least reviewing investments."