(From the Jamestown Sun)

Don’t ya just love great thinkers?

Walt Disney had his skeptics when he first planned for an entertainment site in a Florida swamp.

Bison World, intended for Jamestown, ND, in many ways makes more sense for a 21st century North Dakota than Disney’s ideas did midway the 20th century.

Disney’s was based on his own cartoon characters. It’s said he told inquirers that he first had the idea for a new kind of amusement park when he took his young daughters out for the weekend and found that “…existing kids’ parks and fairs were often dirty, sleazy, money-grubbing places.”

In one year, he had a clean and enjoyable amusement park suitable for families.

Bison World will be a different sort of amusement park. It would be geared toward families and history, for sure. But it would be educational, visually spectacular and a location where, like the National Buffalo Museum, the real west can be seen, touched and experienced.

Bison World is based on Jamestown’s existing monikers of being the Buffalo City of North Dakota: the National Buffalo Museum and its 26-foot-tall “pet” bison (Elmer Petersen’s “World’s Biggest Buffalo,” circa 1959) and the herd of live bison residing along Interstate 94.

The state of North Dakota even uses bison on its license plates, so it’s a no-brainer that Jamestown is perfect for a bison-themed park.

Brian Lunde is among the creative minds who … like Petersen’s, has become one of the “visionaries” in and for Jamestown. The names of many planners have been in the paper and in this column. Jamestown is blessed to have so many generous and creative thinkers plotting the future of the city. The bison is an important creature in our history here, but also in our country’s history.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. (NewsDakota.com)—The Jamestown Stutsman Development Corporation (JSDC) has released the results of a financial forecast of the proposed Bison World theme park near Jamestown.

The compilation of the forecasted financial information was conducted by Eide Bailly, one of the nation’s leading accounting and business advisory firms.

The forecast demonstrates that the planned tourism attraction on state-owned land adjacent to I-94 will be a successful economic development and diversification project for North Dakota. 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 dollar Legacy Fund.

The forecasted financial statements reflect that the project would be a highly profitable investment for the state. The five-year projected returns show a range between $34 and $39.3 million flowing to the state from a $72.5 million dollar investment, a return of over 50%. The average annual return would be between $6.8 and $7.8 million or 11%. State sales tax revenues on over $68 million dollars in tickets and merchandise in just the first five years are also expected according to the study which compiled data from the North Dakota Department of Commerce and Apogee Attractions, a leading national theme park designer and operator.

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. In fact, in the fifth year of operations, the project’s 12.6% return would double the current ten-year average return of the Legacy Fund.

“This information confirms what we believed from the beginning as we planned this project. It will be a great investment for North Dakota,” said Connie Ova, CEO of JSDC. “In fact, all of the scenarios evaluated show a profitable project. We are confident that this project will surpass the returns the state is currently getting from its Legacy Fund investments outside our state and outside our country.”

Supporters of the project are expected to present their theme park plans and financial projections to a formal “vetting committee” of the State Investment Board in the coming days. Economic development projects in North Dakota are now urged to seek investments from the state’s sovereign wealth fund (Legacy Fund) under a new state law (HB 1425) enacted during the last legislative session.

Bison World was presented as the kind of project that would access the Legacy Fund when H.B 1425 passed the legislature overwhelmingly. Besides its many benefits for the tourism industry, the project will also help diversify North Dakota’s economy, provide a solid financial return to the taxpayers and turn non-productive state land into a revenue producing investment.

North Dakota’s tourism director, Sara Otte Coleman, said that “Bison World—A Legendary Experience” will add a destination attraction to expand our state’s tourism industry.

“The addition of a major attraction between Fargo and Bismarck on I-94 would attract additional travelers looking to spend time in North Dakota.” Otte Coleman said. “Most of our tourists come from states east of us. Our goal is to provide clusters of activities that draw new visitors and keep them in the state longer. If we can get them off the interstate and into a major attraction, we can cross-promote with other destinations across North Dakota. Bison World accomplishes that goal.”

Bison World will likely become the number one tourist attraction in the state drawing over 300,000 paid attendees annually, according to Jamestown Tourism Director Searle Swedlund. He added that the project “is located at one of the country’s last and best undeveloped interstate exits for tourism with over 8.8 million people passing by it each year.”

In releasing the study, Ova said the final architectural, civil engineering and schematic design work on the project is expected to be completed in early to mid-October and will be released at that time. The entire report is available upon request from Connie Ova CEO of JSDC.

Additional Highlights
— Significant additional revenues from naming rights, corporate sponsorships, private functions and licensing agreements could increase the revenue projections—and return on investment estimates—but are too early to predict at this time.

— The Bison World project is expected to hire some 400 employees and, during the first five years in operation, pay over $21 million in salaries and benefits.

— The “Probable Market Share Attendance” analysis projects an average of 227,500 paid attendees each year. In the “High Market Share Attendance” analysis, the average grows to 262,100. The “High Market Share Attendance” scenario projects nearly 173,00 more paid attendees to Bison World in the first five years than was projected by Apogee Attractions in their formal market study. (One Apogee Attraction analysis outside of this study, however, does show that paid attendance could surpass 300,000 paid attendees annually).

— All four scenarios reflected in the report show a profitable project for North Dakota. Even in the “stress test” or “breakeven attendance” analysis, where net income from ticket sales, merchandise sales and musical shows is “zeroed out,” the project still returns a profit every year due to sales and income taxes that continue to flow to the state from the project.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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