JAMESTOWN, N.D. — A Jamestown businessman is heralding the Bison World project as the greatest opportunity for Jamestown in nearly 150 years while Native Americans are asking for more details.
Presentations this week by the organizers of the Bison World project provided updated plans as they move toward making a pitch for financing from the State Investment Board and the Legacy Fund in the future.
The project has a preliminary cost estimate of $72 million and would be in southwest Jamestown on North Dakota State Hospital land used as pasture by the National Buffalo Museum.
"This is as big or bigger than the railroad coming to Jamestown," said Jamestown businessman Dick Geigle.
Tamara St. John, a Republican member of the South Dakota Legislature and a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, said any presentations of Native American life at Bison World would need to be authentic.
"Telling our own story," she said, referring to Native American life stories. "With that goal in mind, you can understand why we are watching this project."
Doug Yankton, chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe, called the project exploitive.
"Somebody will profit from our stories," he said.
Yankton said the possibility of sharing profits of Bison World with the North Dakota Native American tribes would need to be discussed. He also asked about the possibility of using Native American contractors for the project.
Bob McTyre, president of Apogee Attractions, conducted the presentation, including defining Bison World Apogee Attractions has developed the plans and will serve as project developer and operate the park upon completion if financing can be finalized.
"Not an amusement park or a typical theme park," McTyre said. "It is a cultural attraction although not purely educational. We need to make it entertaining. Not like going to a school."
McTyre called the project a "tourism gateway" that will help bring more visitors to all tourist sites in the state.
"Some people misunderstand that if Bison World is good, it takes away from the other attractions," he said. "If Bison World is good, it will attract people to the other attractions in the state."
Through the presentation, McTyre discussed the various elements of Bison World including "Safari Central," Aerial Skyway and a 1,500-seat amphitheater. The proposed elements offer recreational opportunities intended to entertain visitors while educating them on the American bison.
"That is a good number to start with," he said. "We can enlarge to 3,000 seats without any problem."
The amphitheater could host an ongoing nightly musical show and concerts by country music performers, McTyre said.
Another featured area is the Dakota Corral offering playground-type recreation for younger visitors.
"We want it to look natural," McTyre said. "We want to avoid a big red and green plastic playground."
The Discovery Center is the educational part of the project and will include some special effects meant to "wow" the visitor. One feature includes projectors to place images on the walls, ceiling and floor of the space. The program starts with a building thunderstorm that startles a bison herd.
This gives the visitor the impression of being "in the middle of a stampede of thousands and thousands of bison," McTyre said.
Plans also call for a Sacred Bison Theater that offers a 360-degree visualization of the Native American story.
"This is key to understanding their (Native Americans') great significance," McTyre said.
McTyre said that while the building and grounds plans were complete and ready to bid if financing is approved. Details such as who speaks during presentations and how they are dressed are the next step in the development of the project with the goal of including Native Americans in that discussion.
"I can't speak for all five tribes of North Dakota," Yankton said. "I can only speak for my tribe. If this can benefit the state, the community of Jamestown and the five tribes, it is a win-win. I could see me being in support of it."
Les Thomas, vice president of the North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance, also stressed the possibility of a situation that would be good for all parties.
"Clarifications were made today but now there are new questions to answer," he said. "We have to have common ground. If this is a win-win for the entire state, well, we are part of the state."
McTyre said project planners have always had the Native American population in mind.
"Now is the time to communicate better," he said.
Planners of the project still plan to make a presentation before the State Investment Board, which is charged by the North Dakota Constitution with investing the Legacy Fund money.
The Legacy Fund collects 30% of the oil tax revenue collected in North Dakota. It currently has a balance of more than $8 billion. A bill passed by the 2021 North Dakota Legislature requires 10% of the fund be invested in North Dakota.
"All we need is the State Investment Board to develop a process to use the Legacy Fund money in North Dakota investments," said Alex Schweitzer, president of the 501 (c) 3 Bison World Fund. "All the financial forecasts show this is a highly profitable venture that benefits the people of North Dakota."
So far, no meeting with the State Investment Board has been scheduled, according to Brian Lunde, a member of the Bison World Fund Board of Directors.
"We have a number of partnerships in the works as we move closer to the presentation to the State Investment Board," he said. "This is a perfectly positioned project for our Legacy Fund. It takes our third-largest industry (tourism) in North Dakota and takes it to another level."
McTyre said the construction phase of the project would take about three years to complete.