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July 10: Kennedy Center Tax Problems

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On this day in 1968, plans by the Democratic Nonpartisan League to build its new party headquarters in Bismarck had run into a speed bump. Its proposed Kennedy Center had been planned as both a memorial to the slain Kennedy brothers and a party headquarters. The day before, the Bismarck Tribune had published this Associated Press article explaining tax problems for such a building.

“[Attorney General] Helgi Johanneson said [yesterday] that the proposed Kennedy Memorial Center to be located in Bismarck might or might not qualify for tax exemption, depending on how it is used.

He said if a political party were to own the building and personal property it is doubtful that it would be exempt from taxation. However, he said if it were owned by an exempt organization for the exclusive use of [commemorating] the life of a former president and no charge for admission were made, it could be exempt.

Johanneson said further that the building could be partly exempt and partly non-exempt, depending upon the activities it's used for.

However, he said, 'As to making a portion of the memorial center available to a political party as a headquarters on either for a rental fee or a rent fee basis, both instances could lead to [serious] tax problems.'

The memorial center is to be used for both commemorative purposes and as a headquarters for the Democratic-NPL party.

The opinion was requested by State Tax Commissioner Edwin Sjaastad.“

For this reason, the Democratic-NPL Party paid commercial rates to rent space at the Kennedy Center for its headquarters.

The Kennedy Center, at 1902 East Divide Avenue in Bismarck, served as the headquarters of North Dakota's Democratic Nonpartisan League Party from its first meeting on September 13, 1969 to when its lease ended on March 31, 2023.

The headquarters for the Democratic-NPL is now in Fargo.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “Local Memorial Center Tax Status Questioned” (Associated Press), Bismarck Tribune, 9 July 1968, page 3.
  • “Kennedy Center Could Be Exempt” (Associated Press), Forum (Fargo-Moorhead), 9 May 1968, page 14.
  • “Media Kicked Out: Officials Tell Newsmen It's Private Meeting” (Associated Press), Bismarck Tribune, 15 September 1969, page 10.
  • Personal communication with Tracy Potter (chairman of the Kennedy Memorial Foundation), 12 April 2023.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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