Date set for Pioneer Village hearing

A Feb. 3 hearing date has been set in North Central District Court regarding the dispute between the North Dakota State Fair Association and the Ward County Historical Society over the future of the Pioneer Village Museum at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds.

The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 3 before North Central District Judge William McLees.

The North Dakota State Fair Association served Debra Hoffarth, the lawyer for the Ward County Historical Society, with an eviction notice on Jan. 15. Peter Hankla of the McGee, Hankla, Backes and Dobrovolny Law Firm, attorney for the State Fair Association, had sent a letter to the historical society dated Dec. 11, demanding that all museum property except one building be removed from the fairgrounds by Jan. 13. The historical society board has consistently refused to remove any of the museum buildings. The historical society contends that they are under no obligation to move, under the terms of a 1966 contract, which states “that the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fair grounds.”

There is also disagreement between the State Fair Association and the historical society over the exact meaning of the contract language and whether “building” should refer to one or to all the buildings on the grounds. At a May 2013 meeting of the State Fair Board, Herb Meschke, the former lawyer for the historical society, told the State Fair Board that there is some ambiguity in whether the word “building” refers to one or several buildings, but case law generally favors the precedent that has been set up until the time of any disagreement over a contract and the historical society has operated its historical buildings on the fairgrounds for 47 years. The State Fair Board disagrees with that interpretation of the contract.

The State Fair Board, which administers the State Fair for the State Fair Association, wants the Pioneer Village off the fairgrounds so the land can be used for future growth and for its current needs. Long term, the State Fair Board’s master plan includes a plan to eventually build a large events center on the fairgrounds in the location where the exposition and dairy barns, Jaycees Building and 4-H building are currently situated. Such a convention center would be attached to the current State Fair Center. The Fair Board also wants to relocate the road that currently runs by the Pioneer Village Museum on the fairgrounds, which would require moving the museum. However, there are no immediate plans to build such a convention center.

Hankla filed a complaint in district court on Tuesday asking that the historical society be immediately directed to remove all buildings except its original building from the fairgrounds at its own expense. If the historical society fails to do so, Hankla asks the judge to authorize the State Fair to remove all buildings from the premises and dispose of the property at the expense of the historical society.

The State Fair Association’s complaint further asks the judge to order that the Ward County Historical Society pay the State Fair Association’s attorney fees.

Current historical society lawyer Hoffarth, of the Pringle and Herigstad Law Firm, has not yet filed an answer to the State Fair Association’s complaint with the North Central District Court.