JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- A third-party financial forecast shows the planned Bison World theme park should be a successful economic development and diversification project for the state of North Dakota and the Jamestown area.

The financial forecast was conducted by Eide Bailly under contract with the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp.

"Nearly all of the projected financial benefits will flow back to the state as Legacy Fund earnings or taxes into the general fund if the investment is made from the state's $8.7 billion Legacy Fund," wrote Connie Ova, CEO of the JSDC in a press release that accompanied the Eide Bailly report.

The Bison World project calls for the construction of a bison-themed cultural and entertainment park adjacent to Interstate 94 on land currently owned by the state of North Dakota through the North Dakota State Hospital at a cost of about $72.5 million. If funding and financing can be arranged this fall, construction would start in the spring of 2022 with an anticipated opening in April 2024.

The Eide Bailly LLP report used a forecasted attendance of 197,300 people in the first year of operation planned for 2024, growing to 259,500 by 2028. The first-year figure is actually less than the number of people who have visited Frontier Village and the World's Largest Buffalo attraction in recent years, said Brian Lunde, an advocate for Bison World. According to Jamestown Tourism statistics, about 70,000 cars and nearly 210,000 people pass through the gates of Frontier Village each year.

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Bob McTyre, project designer for Apogee Attractions, anticipates a much higher attendance.

"I don't have much doubt we'll do better than that," he said. "... those are conservative traffic numbers using only I-94, not Highway 281."

Apogee used an estimate of 318,000 visitors in its internal calculations regarding Bison World.

The financial report also calculated profitability for what it termed a "high market share" of 233,700 visitors in the first year and a "low market share" of 168,300 people. According to the report, all three analyses return a net income to the park even in its first year of operation ranging from $2 million under the low market share and $2.7 million under the high market share.

Ova said the Eide Bailly report showed this income, combined with increased collections in the state sales tax and North Dakota income tax paid by employees, would amount to about a $34 million to $39.3 million return over five years if the state invests the $72.5 million to move the project forward.

"The average annual return would be between $6.8 (million) and $7.3 million or 11%," she wrote. "...The projected return on investment also shows that the Bison World attraction would surpass the average annual performance of the Legacy Fund for the last five years and the last 10 years."

Brian Lunde, promoter for Bison World, points to the site where the facility would be located in Jamestown to Sara Otte Coleman, North Dakota director of the Tourism Department of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
Brian Lunde, promoter for Bison World, points to the site where the facility would be located in Jamestown to Sara Otte Coleman, North Dakota director of the Tourism Department of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

During the final year of the projections in the Eide Bailly forecast, 2028, the return would reach 12.6% or roughly double the current annual return of the Legacy Fund, Ova said.

Amphitheatre added

The Eide Bailly report indicated some changes in the Bison World plan from earlier plan releases.

The plan now includes a 1,500-seat Buffalo City Amphitheatre to host western music and western-musical themed shows. The shows would be similar to the Medora Musical only on a limited basis, McTyre said.

"Country music certainly," he said, "but big spectacle with video, special effects and other things not seen in most shows."

The financial analysis indicated about 45% of those visiting Bison World would attend the musical at an average ticket price of $43 per person.

The analysis also indicates Dakota Lands, a feature of the park dedicated to the "story of North Dakota," would not be part of the initial construction but could be part of a later phase possibly as early as the second year of the park, McTyre said.

The park will also operate seasonally, at least in the early operations, according to the report.

Plans call for the park to open in early April 2024 and operate on a daily basis through the end of September. Bison World would be open on weekends and holidays during October, November and December and then be closed until the next spring.

Lunde said that could change if a privately developed hotel at the site contained a convention center that would attract people year-round.

Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism, points to the area where the proposed Bison World would be located.  
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism, points to the area where the proposed Bison World would be located. John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

A day at Bison World

The financial study indicates an average ticket price of $22 per person. This is an average after any discounts for seniors, veterans, groups and even season tickets for local residents are calculated. Ticket sales are estimated to generate $4.3 million in the first year of operation and $6.3 million by 2028.

Tickets for the musical are estimated to cost $43 per person and are estimated to generate $3.9 million in year one and $5.3 million by the fifth year of operation.

The average visitor is estimated to spend more than five hours within the park and spend about $8 on food and beverages and $7 on merchandise and souvenirs.

Benefit to North Dakota

Lunde said the site would become a major part of an "I-94 tourism corridor" that would include attractions in Fargo, Jamestown, Bismarck and Medora.

The project would return profits to the Legacy Fund as an investor in Bison World. The state would also collect about $2.5 million from its 5% sales tax on tickets, food and merchandise and $750,000 per year in personal income tax collected from employees of the park.

Those forecasts were prepared by Eide Bailly based on the park's operation and don't include construction phase costs and taxes.

Benefit to Jamestown

During operations, Bison World could employ as many as 400 people, McTyre said.

"This is a big industry," he said. "If we build it, we can bring people into the area to work."

The park would pay about $5 million per year in salary and benefits.

The city of Jamestown would also collect an additional $1.25 million from its 2.5% local option sales tax. Taxes generated by the local sales tax support a number of city functions including economic development, city infrastructure, the Two Rivers Activity Center and the Jamestown Civic Center.

The city will also likely see sales and use tax collections increase from existing businesses in Jamestown that see increases in customer traffic from the visitors to Bison World and any new businesses that would open in the area of Bison World to capitalize on the increased traffic.

"The impact on locals will be significant in so many ways," McTyre said. "More jobs, tax collection, demand for housing. It just multiplies and multiplies."

An artist's rendition of a night view of a planned buffalo monument for Bison World If built as part of the tourism project, the monument is planned to stand about 70 feet tall and face Interstate 94 to attract  travelers. Courtesy / Apogee Attractions
An artist's rendition of a night view of a planned buffalo monument for Bison World If built as part of the tourism project, the monument is planned to stand about 70 feet tall and face Interstate 94 to attract travelers. Courtesy / Apogee Attractions

Next steps

Lunde said the Eide Bailly report is important because it gives the opinion of a third-party expert in the financial field about the project.

"It is not just spin here," he said. "If they are saying it's great, it's great. Eide Bailly does their own research."

Engineering and design work on the project is continuing with the intent of having a complete plan ready to submit to the State Investment Board, which oversees investments in the Legacy Fund, in the next months.

If they approve, organizers would seek additional investments and businesses interested in naming rights to attractions and other details of the project. The intent would be to start construction in the spring, Lunde said.

While those steps are in the future, Lunde stressed the importance of the Eide Bailly study in establishing that the project is viable and good for the region and state.

"We have an independent study that says it is time to be legendary," he said.