Members of the Ward County Historical Society and various community leaders discussed on Thursday possible options for moving the Pioneer Village museum, either on the fairgrounds or to other locations.
"I think the community can afford to help one (of you) move, but we can't afford to help the State Fair move," said John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce which, along with other community groups, has come out in support of the State Fair Board's position that the Pioneer Village should be moved off the fairgrounds to allow the fair to expand.
Some of the options discussed included relocating the buildings at the Pioneer Village a few feet away, so they would stand in a straight line along the Souris River on the west side. That was suggested by historical society president Glynn Breuer.
"Truly, I have to tell you, I haven't thought of it," said State Fair manager Renae Korslien, but she said it was an idea that should be explored further to see if it's feasible. She said she will bring the idea back to the State Fair's board of directors.
Other options presented included relocating the museum to city-owned land not far from the Minot Air Museum, near the Cameron Indoor Tennis Center. Wendy Howe, executive director of Visit Minot, said she thinks that would be a good location because it is close to the air museum, also of interest to history buffs, and she could promote both at the same time. Another option would be about two acres of land owned by the Minot Park District north of Roosevelt Park. Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman suggested this would be a good location because it's a park-like setting and might be a good draw for family reunions and other similar events if the museum were moved there. Both the park-ownwd and city-owned locations are outside the flood plain.
Historical society president Breuer and treasurer Bruce Brooks said the historical society doesn't have the funds to move the buildings; community leaders suggested that financial assistance would be offered from some sources if the buildings were moved.
The State Fair wants the museum moved because, as Korslien said, they desire the space for further expansion. The State Fair's long-term plans calls for eventually building a large convention center on the fairgrounds where the exposition and dairy barns, Jaycees Building and 4-H Building currently are. The State Fair also wants to relocate the road that currently runs by the Pioneer Village museum on the fairgrounds, which would require moving the museum off the fairgrounds.
The historical society maintains the position that it has a legal right to remain on the fairgrounds under the terms of a 1966 contract, which states "the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fairgrounds."
At one point earlier in the summer, it looked likely that the dispute might end up in court. However, Zimbelman said he would like to avoid that.
Brooks maintained the historical society's position on Friday, but said the historical society is open to discussing other options if the museum is able to to continue to operate and attract visitors. The historical society isn't interested in expanding its footprint, said Brooks, but wants to make the museum as it currently exists the best that it can possibly be. Brooks said the historical society doesn't have the financial ability or the personnel to make the museum a "bonanza operation." He said museum board members have always viewed it as a secondary attraction, something that draws visitors to events like the North Dakota State Fair or the Norsk Hostfest, both held on the fairgrounds. The museum had 3,700 visitors during the State Fair in July. Brooks said he is afraid that the museum, which operates mainly on donations and the occasional grant, would lose visitors if it were moved to a remote location. Volunteers would also find it less convenient to work there, said Brooks.
Sue Bergan, site director for the Ward County Historical Society, also worried that the buildings might not survive a move. MacMartin, and Daryl Somerville representing the Lee Group, said they thought the buildings could be moved safely.
Bergan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency must also be consulted before any move. The museum received funding from FEMA following the flood of 2011, which heavily damaged the museum.
Those at the meeting agreed to research the feasibility of the options that were presented. Another meeting in the future sounded likely.
Community groups that have supported the State Fair's position include the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Minot, Norsk Hostfest and the Lee Group. Brooks said there has been strong community support to leave the Pioneer Village on the fairgrounds. And Verendrye Electric, he said, has also expressed its support for the museum remaining on the fairgrounds.