Work has started on the final stages of planning for the Buffalo City Park, according to Brian Lunde, a volunteer working on furthering the project.
"We are four or five months from the finish of the financial planning process," he said. "They (Apogee Attractions) are bringing in some of the top budgeters in the world along with civil engineers and design architects."
The work is part of a $500,000 contract with Apogee Attractions to create a plan for the park that will answer all the questions that could be asked by money managers working with the North Dakota State Investment Board to determine the feasibility of the project.
Prospects for the Buffalo City Park took a big step forward with the passage of House Bill 1425 in the recent North Dakota Legislature. The bill sets a goal of a 10% investment of the $8 billion Legacy Fund in North Dakota projects.
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, an advocate for the local investment target, said he anticipates the Buffalo City Park proposal will be one of the first considered under the new procedures.
"There are already good ideas in the hopper," Godfread told The Sun in an April 3 story related to the project. "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."
But being "one of the best" projects isn't the goal, according to Lunde.
"We want to be ready to stick the shovel in the ground," Lunde said. "We don't want to hear 'come back when you've developed this' when we make the pitch for the investment."
That pitch could come as early as September. The State Investment Board has hired a money management firm from Chicago to oversee the portfolio for investments within North Dakota.
"In early September we want to be ready to go," Lunde said. "We want to sit down with the money managers at that point."
Preliminary estimates place project costs at about $60 million. The funds would be an investment by the Legacy Fund and repaid with interest from the operating profits of the Buffalo City Park.
"If we get a good recommendation from the money manager it goes to the State Investment Board for final approval," Lunde said. "We could be able to break ground in the spring of 2022 and open possibly in the middle of the year in 2024."
An amendment to the North Dakota Commerce Department budget providing a matching $5 million grant for first-year costs of the project failed, although local officials said it wasn't counted on to move the project forward.
"Although we much appreciate Senator Wanzek’s effort, we never counted on this $5 million as a part of the project," said Connie Ova, CEO of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. "The effort to move forward down the path to be ready for the State Investment Board is alive and well and thriving."
There are currently two cultural tourist projects in the planning stages along Interstate 94 in North Dakota: the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library planned for Medora in 2025 and the Buffalo City Park in Jamestown in 2024.
"We could be ahead of the library," Lunde said.
The two projects, along with existing sites such as the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck, could offer mutual promotion and make the I-94 corridor a tourist attraction, he said.