If all goes according to plan, the U.S. Marshals Museum may break ground on its riverfront location in downtown Fort Smith on Sept. 24, 2014, the 225th anniversary of the Marshal Service.

Museum President and CEO Jim Dunn told the museum’s executive committee Wednesday (March 27) that the groundbreaking would be part of a larger, year-long celebration of the Marshal Service’s anniversary.

“In addition to the possible ground breaking for the museum, other activities being planned for the 2014 celebration include the U.S. Mint’s issuing of commemorative coins authorized by President Obama in April 2012; a series of nationwide educational and public programs that may include traveling exhibitions at sites around the country; production of a documentary film; and special events in Washington, Fort Smith, Dallas, new York City, et al.,” Dunn wrote in a document presented to the committee.

The year-long celebration, Dunn explained, is intended to raise the profile of the museum to an audience not only locally, but across the nation.

“It’s a very aggressive program on our part (with) the purpose of celebrating the 225th anniversary. (The purpose) is to bring greater visibility to the project, greater credibility to the efforts that we are making to celebrate the history of the Marshals and what it has meant to the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States.”

In order for the planned 50,000-square-foot museum to be built, funding for the project must be in place. Documents presented at the meeting show a funding goal of $53.2 million.

Of “funds received, pledged and projected,” the museum projects receiving $4 million in proceeds from the sale of commemorative coins. Another $10 million has been received through either pledges or contributions.

Richard Dressner, a fundraising consultant who was at the meeting, discussed challenges the museum has faced and will continue to face as fundraising efforts begin to expand across the state and nation.

The biggest challenge, he said, is that unlike a university or another established non-profit, the Marshals Museum does not yet have a core group of supporters.

“At a regional art museum or a university, you at least have an identifiable group that will likely support us. They are unlikely to get support from people who are not connected to the institution,” he said. “We’re doing something very different. On the strength on the case we can make, we’ve got to find our audience. We’ve got to find out supporters.”

The museum is working hard to spread its message, Dressner said, but he said identifying donors and getting money secured is the most important step in moving toward a groundbreaking next year.

“What we need to do now is identify our prospects and we’ve started doing it, tell our story, present our case and make the ask.”

Dunn is also banking on new market tax credits for partial funding of the museum, which he said should bring in nearly $10 million.

As explained by Dunn, new market tax credits are not simple or easy to understand. But he says they can be beneficial to the museum.

“Well, new market tax credit is a plan of the Department of Treasury of the United States to encourage investment by private entities in low-income census tracts and it would allow investors to purchase tax credits and use the proceeds from the purchase of those tax credits would ultimately flow to the U.S. Marshals Museum. it’s a very complex process,” Dunn said. “I’m a lawyer and I went to a 3-day seminar on it and I came out not fully understanding it. I have some concept of what it is. But the purpose of the program is to spur private investment in low-income census tracts the site of the museum is one.”

Dunn told the committee that to apply for and be approved for the tax credits would be time consuming, but he said it was worth trying for since he expects the museum would have a good chance of being approved for the credits.

While he is hopeful for a Sept. 24, 2014 groundbreaking, Dunn acknowledges the challenges of meeting such an ambitious goal while an additional $29.2 million is still needed to fully fund the museum.

“We would love to break ground on the 225th anniversary of the Marshal service, but that is a wish, or a hope, as opposed to a firm expectation. A lot of things have to fall into place for us to be able to do that.”

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Ryan Saylor

Ryan Saylor

Ryan Saylor is the Fort Smith metro reporter for The City Wire, a content partner with Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by email at RSaylor@TheCityWire.com or follow him on Twitter: @TheRyanSaylor.