BISMARCK — The group behind the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library feels its financial position is as strong as a bull moose.
The project planned for Medora is one step closer to becoming a reality after the library foundation announced on Tuesday, Oct. 27, it has reached a goal of raising $100 million in private donations before the end of the year.
A list of heavy-hitting donors released by the foundation includes several family names recognizable to North Dakotans.
Melani and Rob Walton, the project's "founding benefactors," committed $50 million to building the library. Melani, a Dickinson State University graduate and library board member, was heavily involved in selecting an architectural design for the project this summer. Rob, her husband, is a billionaire heir to the Walmart fortune and a former chairman of the world's largest retailer.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and first lady Kathryn Burgum are listed as having pledged more than $1 million to the project. The governor, a wealthy former tech executive, made the library a major priority of his first term in office and advocated for dedicating public funds to the project during the last legislative session. The Republican's former employer, Microsoft, also committed more than $1 million to the library.
Steve and Eileen Scheel have dedicated more than $1 million to the project. Steve serves as chairman of the Fargo-based sporting goods chain Scheels All Sports, and his wife, Eileen, is a library board member.
John Ballantyne and Michael Chambers, co-founders of Fargo-based pharmaceutical company Aldevron, each gave more than $1 million to the project.
Forum Communications Company Chairman William Marcil Sr. and his wife, Jane, also contributed more than $1 million. The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Forum News Service are owned by the company.
Other large donations came from Dickinson-based manufacturing company Steffes, Fargo-based Bell Bank and Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health. Several of Roosevelt's direct descendants also made sizable contributions. In all, the foundation received 242 separate donations.
The foundation had to raise $100 million by the end of the year to unlock a public endowment that Burgum and the state Legislature approved last year.
Library CEO Ed O'Keefe explained that the commonly misunderstood endowment will not come as a $50 million lump sum to the foundation as has been often stated. Rather, the foundation will receive the interest that accumulates on a $50 million investment made through the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands.
The original $50 million invested will never leave state control, per an agreement with the foundation.
The investment is expected to generate about $2 million per year, which will continuously flow toward operation and maintenance of the library. O'Keefe said the perpetual grants are a stroke of genius by the state because they attracted private donations and didn't directly cost North Dakota taxpayers any money.
In unlocking the money from the state, the foundation must also pay $300,000 to the city of Dickinson as reimbursement for planning on the library that was previously slated for the city. The foundation will also have to set aside $10 million by the end of 2021 to be given to a North Dakota college or university to establish a digital archive of Roosevelt-related documents.
The foundation's announcement Tuesday coincided with the 162nd anniversary of Roosevelt's birth. His great-great-grandson, Ted Roosevelt V, praised the foundation's commitment to the long-planned project and said the library in North Dakota will be an excellent way to honor the 26th president's legacy.
"We all know that TR said, 'I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota,'" Roosevelt V said. "Now, because of your generosity, values and early commitment, it can forevermore be said that Theodore Roosevelt would not have a presidential library had it not been for North Dakotans."
This past summer, the foundation selected Norwegian-American architecture firm Snøhetta to design the high-profile project in western North Dakota. O'Keefe said reaching the $100 million mark means the foundation can move forward with solidifying a design concept, which is expected to be finalized by the end of next year.
The foundation still must acquire the proposed 60-acre site that sits a few hundred yards from the amphitheater used for the well-known Medora Musical and about 1.5 miles from downtown Medora. The land is currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but O'Keefe said the library board aims to acquire the site by the end of the year.
O'Keefe said the foundation hopes to have the library open to the public by 2024 or 2025. In the meantime, the foundation will continue raising private donations, O'Keefe said.
"This is the first $100 million — it is not the last," he said.
As the name suggests, the proposed library is meant to honor and recount the complex story of Theodore Roosevelt, the one-time governor of New York who became the 26th president of the United States. As a young man, Roosevelt spent parts of three years hunting and ranching in the North Dakota Badlands before his career in national politics.