New U.S. Marshals Museum boss eyes ‘late 2019’ opening, says time to ‘get that excitement back’

by Aric Mitchell ( 83 views 

Previous artist rendering of U.S. Marshals Museum look. It is unclear how much the look may change once architects revise plans to fit a new site plan.

The U.S. Marshals Museum kicked off a new era Wednesday night, Aug. 10, with the arrival of president and CEO Patrick Weeks from Dublin, Ohio. Weeks met with fundraisers, organizers and cheerleaders for the Museum in an informal gathering at the Courtyard Marriott in Fort Smith.

Weeks told Talk Business & Politics that the one thing that Fort Smith needs to do to make the Marshals Museum happen.

“I think that the goal here is to get that excitement back,” he said. “People need to get excited about it. The people with the resources to assist who have been thinking about it need to start getting involved. It’s a process. It’s an effort. Nothing is keeping me awake right now. I’ve got a team with internal goals set that are probably feeling the pressure, but it’s just a matter of people getting behind the project in a way that we’ve seen them excited in the past. It’s just time to get excited again.”

In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the estimated 50,000-square-foot national museum. The museum will contain three primary exhibition galleries, a temporary exhibits gallery, a Hall of Honor, and a National Learning Center to offer programs for students, adults, and families. The three galleries are: “Marshals Today,” an overview of the role of U.S. Marshals in contemporary society; “A Changing Nation,” telling key stories of U.S. Marshals history; and “Frontier Marshals,” bringing law to the ever-changing frontier.

Weeks, who was hired in mid June and has more than 20 years of museum experience, acknowledges that everyone wants the fundraising process to be further along than it is. According to the Marshals Museum website, the facility is $32.741 million short of completion. But as far as the new boss is concerned, “we are exactly where we need to be right now.”

“Jim Dunn and Alice Alt and the leadership on the Board of Directors has done an amazing work and should be very proud of themselves,” Weeks said. “There has been $30 million raised between land and commitments. That is significant. They deserve praise for the work they’ve done. The fundraising piece of it is a natural byproduct of just being a non-profit organization and a cultural institution. It’s just a matter of getting it done.”

Patrick Weeks, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum
Patrick Weeks, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum

But how does that translate into a plan of action?

More will be known following a Board of Directors meeting planned for November, Weeks said, but part of his plan is to identify the grand opening day “and begin working backwards from there and saying that we have to be at a certain level of fundraising at a certain date in order to be able to say that we’re going to hit that date.” Weeks said he has a date in mind, but is keeping it close to the vest for now.

“The only thing I can tell you is that you’ll never hear me say we can open in 2018” — unlike the date the Marshals Museum website currently states — “but you’ll hear me say I like the end of 2019 contingent on short term fundraising goals being met,” Weeks said, adding that “we have to have those commitments in place to be able to move to the next level of construction loans and all the rest.”

Weeks said he is encouraged by fundraising prospects, commenting that there are “two additional campaigns” brewing — one of them focusing on downtown Fort Smith and the other a “corporate strategy that we’re working on to get ongoing support from corporations and businesses in town that may or may not have lent financial support to the project already.”

The Marshals Museum will also launch a GoFundMe campaign to help with smaller donations, Weeks said, adding that getting the facility built is not a matter of “if or when it’s going to happen.”

“It’s happening now. The Museum exists now. It’s running programs out of an office that needs a new home with a larger staff and the ability to do all the things that we’re promising to do for showing off the history of the United States Marshals Service. I think that one of the things that we need to get to, is talk about what the Museum is going to be and what it’s going to do for the community. How many people it’s going to impact. What that’s going to mean for the downtown sector of Fort Smith. Then, just let the fundraising come out of that excitement.”

Ultimately, Weeks said, there is only one risk for the Marshals Museum: “people not getting excited and us stopping. But I didn’t come to town to stop. I didn’t move my family across the United States to come here and not get this done.”

Weeks made two 14-hour drives from Dublin to Fort Smith — the first alone, the second with his wife, two kids, cat and dog. Now they’re all living in a one bedroom hotel room until their house closes.

“It’s close quarters, but you know what — you get to appreciate the things you are blessed with when you realize you can live in such small space. You realize it’s all okay. And that’s the Marshals Museum right now. It’s living in a small space. It exists.”