On behalf of the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center, I would first like to express our appreciation for your support of our Mission to honor our cowboy way of life, American Indian cultures and our collective Montana Western heritage.
I thought I would jump into the dialogue here to offer any assistance I can in answering questions that you may have or to clarify some of the misinformation circulated here in this forum.
As you all are aware, the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center drafted and has submitted a legislative revision to our current designation that serves to clean up the previous legislative designation created in 2003. Some references in the original designation referenced people that have passed away since the writing of the bill, and so forth. While undertaking the clean-up effort for the bill anyhow, our state-wide board of directors saw the wisdom in slightly modifying the bills current language in a manner that provides us some very important flexibility as it relates to the continued development and building of the MCHF & WHC. This legislative effort that we initiated provides us the needed flexibility to execute all of our fiduciary responsibilities that the current law does not allow for us to conduct. Namely, the responsibility of conducting funding research studies related to the building site. The outcome of such studies will provide the Board of Directors information to determine the final size, scale and scope of the building project based on donor interest, ability to fund the construction effort, etc. The current law (which is still the law of the land at this time) is very specific that Wolf Point and only Wolf Point will be the building site of the MCHF & WHC. Thus, one may ask why conduct studies as to the financial feasibility of building the project in Wolf Point, if that location is the only available option. However, as we all know in soliciting funding for such a project, the donor's natural question of "if I invest in this project, will my investment further the mission of the MCHF & WHC to the same extent/degree that it would if the project was built in Baker or Dillon?" We as the MCHF & WHC then have a unique responsibility to the people of Montana that as we work to do all we can to further the Mission of the MCHF & WHC through this building effort, that we provide that donor with sound data that can inform their decision making process. Data that can only be developed from studies such as those discussed above.
In the end, the legislative effort simply aligns our responsibilities as a non-profit organization serving the public in a manner that is most appropriate and in a manner that best furthers our Mission.
Thought, HB 528's language could appear as an effort to move the building site - that is not in fact the case. It would be an unfortunate misinterpretation to come to that conclusion. It would be in conflict with current Montana law for our Board or any entity to actively be working in conflict with the designation that states very clearly that Wolf Point is the officially designated site. The Board of Directors knowing in advance that this language change could result in such a misinterpretation has prepared a position statement that has been published and is available for all. This position statement has also been adopted unanimously by our paid members, and our Board of Trustees that represent communities across all of Montana and beyond.
Speaking to the feasibility work that accompanies all building projects of this nature, the Board of Directors also keenly understands that any study is only as good as the data set and the extent to which the study is genuinely informed. We also understand that the outcome of such studies may result an outcome that states that an investment of $1 by a donor in community "x" may result in a different outcome than an investment of $1 in community "y". Therefore, if this proposed legislation does in fact pass, then the Board of Directors will implement the following course of action, but only after the passing of the legislation.
The Board will develop an official Request For Proposals that will solicit information from any and all communities in Montana interested in having the MCHF & WHC built in their community. Wolf Point will be answering the same proposal as any other community. This proposal will take into account many strategic factors important to the feasibility and long term viability of building a project of this nature.
A "standard set of criteria" will be developed with input from industry experts, consultants and institutions such as the Montana Institute of Tourism Research. This set of criteria will then be utilized to fairly and objectively review all proposals in an academic manner that puts facts and hard data together so that the Board of Directors can then review that data and determine the best path forward.
The Request for Proposals process will be strategically designed and implemented in a manner that is not only equitable to all communities, but respondents to the proposal will directly address the important questions related to feasibility and donor investment that I mentioned above.
The proposal process will also outline for each community the expectations of the Board of Directors that must be met in order that the Mission we exist to serve and fulfill is always at the forefront of all we do and all actions taken by communities as they work to respond to the Request for Proposals.
As our Board of Directors is composed of individuals from communities from all corners of the State we know and believe that every community in Montana has a rich heritage and legacy deserved of being the building site of the MCHF & WHC. In the end, the business model that best furthers our Mission and the selection of a location that best enables that business model will then in turn best furthering our Mission.
So what does this mean and what steps are next? For those community leaders and organizers ambitiously seeing an opportunity in this - please know we are thankful and grateful for your ambition. Please also know that until the time that the current law changes under the HB 528 effort (if that legislation even passes) - the law in Montana is clear about where the building site of the MCHF & WHC is and will be. Further, it is the position of the Board of Directors that there is no intent or desire to move the proposed building site location under this legislative clean-up effort.
Therefore, the MCHF & WHC Board respectfully requests that ambitious organizers please maintain your enthusiasm but please abide by the current law and know that perhaps the one and only way a community or individuals could excuse themselves from consideration or participation in this process would to be actively work to organize preemptive efforts to solicit support, funding, resources, etc., through a misrepresentation to others in your community of the Board of Directors wishes as if you were authorized to act on our behalf when in fact that authorization has been given to no one in this process. Simply, such actions demonstrate a willingness to put individual and special interests in front and above the Mission we exist to serve not to mention a disregard for the collective wisdom of the Board of Directors, Trustees and Members that have worked over the past years to organize this incredible effort. Perhaps the best thing you CAN do at this time is call the MCHF & WHC and if you are so inclined to be involved in the future of the MCHF & WHC because you believe in its mission and what it exists to accomplish - become a member, join your local district Trustee committee or find a meaningful way to become involved in the project itself. It is important to remember we are an organization - not a facility, and therefore we could always use ambitious energetic volunteers. If getting involved is predicated on what community the facility is built, then it is safe to say your intentions are not aligned with the Mission, but somewhere else.
All of this to say, we again are very grateful for the enthusiasm and ambition demonstrated here in this community forum. We hope that as this process continues to develop that interested community organizers throughout Montana eagerly await the opportunity to review the Request For Proposal and to determine if submitting a proposal response is what your community is interested in doing. In the meantime we invite everyone to get involved at the local or state level and we look forward to seeing you along the trail! Thank you for helping to self-police forums such as this. They are a great way to spread the word and keep the conversation moving. We are excited to have folks talking about the MCHF & WHC! Thank you!
Please call if I can be of service!
Aaron Lyles, Director of Finance, Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center
Lastly, earlier posts in the blog have resulted in some confused and frustrated readers contacting our offices seeking clarification. Here is a brief set of factoids to help clarify.
1.) The MCHF & WHC is not a state entity. We are a private organization organized as a 501c3 non profit organization. We have been identified by our state legislature through an official State Designation to fulfill an important mission for the people of MT.
2.) The State of Montana passed legislation in 2003 that designated the building site of the MCHF & WHC. That legislation was submitted by Rep. Frank Smith a current Montana House Representative on behalf of MCHF & WHC organizers. House Bill 528 submitted during this Legislative Session was also submitted on our behalf by Frank Smith and is a clean-up bill as stated above.
3.) The Board of Directors of the MCHF & WHC manages the organization and all of its dealings. It is a Board of individuals elected by their peers (Trustee's, paid Members and fellow Board Members.)
4.) Traffic Counts - Approximately 5% of the states counted traffic passes through Wolf Point. What is important here is to understand the data at hand not simply what the basic count numbers reflect. For example, for our purposes we need to know how many of those vehicles are likely to stop in and visit a MCHF & WHC facility. If the board makes its determination on just a simple count number - Miles City for example would not be the winning local in that outcome. Also what ther ways do people move from point A to B. For example passenger railroad systems, airline passenger traffic counts, etc.
5.) As to our progress or discussion related to the perception of lack of progress. Certinaly we live in a world where everyone wants what they want as fast as they can have it. We as a Board - will always have areas to improve upon as any organization would. As to pace for the building of teh facility we have to reflect upon what our primary objectives are. Is building a building the only and best way to further our mission? Perhaps, perhaps not. As a reference, it took the National Cowboy Hall of Fame nearly 20 years to assemble their financial strength and build their facility. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame broke ground in the eight to nine year range. The MCHF & WHC has accomplished many incredible milestones and benchmarks. This process is a credit to those accomplishments not in spite of them. That said - we aslo hope to take all concerns and fully vet them. If contructive dialogue can help us forward teh advancement of this project we enthusiastically welcome it.