Pioneer Village dispute appears headed for court

A dispute over the future of the Pioneer Village on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds appears headed to court.

The North Dakota State Fair Board wants the Historical Society to move the museum off the fairgrounds and to use the property for eventual expansion and other purposes; the Historical Society maintains it has a legal right to keep the museum on the fairgrounds under the terms of a 1966 contract.

A group of Minot community leaders had attempted to broker a deal that would have provided the historical society with financial assistance to move the museum to city-owned land not far from the Minot Air Museum, near the Cameron Indoor Tennis Center, or to two acres of land owned by the Minot Park District north of Roosevelt Park. After touring both areas, historical society members rejected both offers as unsuitable for the historical society’s needs, according to John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce.

At a meeting Tuesday morning, the Fair Board unanimously rejected a counter-proposal from the historical society to relocate museum buildings a short distance, so they would stand in a straight line along the Souris River on the west side of the fairgrounds. Some Fair board members felt that option would be as costly as relocating the buildings off the fairgrounds entirely and would not solve the problem. After the vote, the Fair Board went into executive session to discuss legal options with its attorney, Pete Hankla.

The Fair Board meeting Tuesday morning was not attended by any members of the Ward County Historical Society board or by their lawyer, Herb Meschke.

Bruce Brooks, treasurer of the historical society board, said in a phone interview following the meeting Tuesday morning that the historical society had not been invited to the meeting. While they could have attended the meeting, since it was open to the public, they felt the board would have invited them “if they had really wanted us there.”

Brooks also said the dispute is likely going to court.

“I don’t see any other option, unfortunately,” he said. “They don’t agree with our proposals and we don’t agree with theirs.”

Brooks said the historical society has made good faith efforts and considered the other options proposed, but the land that was proposed would not be suitable for the historical society’s mission. He said the Pioneer Village museum was never intended to be a destination or a stand-alone attraction. Three quarters of the museum’s annual visitors visit the museum during the State Fair, said Brooks, and they would not visit the museum if the site is not easily accessible. Brooks also said the historical society doesn’t have the money or the personnel to expand.

Brooks said the historical society will be waiting for the next move from the State Fair Board.