U.S. Marshals Museum will open doors Sept. 24, 2019, $60 million fundraising goal announced

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 174 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 United States Marshals Museum executive board has set Sept. 24, 2019 as its official opening day to coincide with the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service.

“The Fort Smith community came together and brought this museum home,” said Patrick Weeks, who joined the Museum as president and CEO in June of this year. “The time is now to help us capitalize on our positive momentum and get this world-class project built.”

With the board’s approval, the Museum will launch a $60 million strategic fundraising campaign, according to a Thursday (Oct. 27) press release.

For those wondering how the campaign will translate to action, Weeks spoke to Talk Business & Politics in August, stating that part of the plan would be 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 then he had a date in mind, but was keeping it close to the vest.

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

“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,” he said.

In Thursday’s release, Museum officials reiterated much of this plan, saying the campaign would involve community members and local corporations, and the executive board hopes to capitalize on the results of Gateway Planning’s “Propelling Downtown Forward” plan that reiterated the Museum’s riverfront location as vital to downtown Fort Smith’s future economic viability and success.

“The U.S. Marshals Museum is already doing so much to benefit our community – both economically and culturally through our extensive educational programming and our National Learning Center,” said Robert A. Young III, chairman of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation and former chairman and CEO of Fort Smith-based ArcBest. “This fundraising campaign will allow us to do even more for Fort Smith, especially our historic downtown and riverfront.”

As part of the campaign, Museum architects will continue to develop and refine the structural and cosmetic design of the 50,000-square foot facility with plans to “emphasize the importance of the U.S. Marshals Service and its more than 225-year history,” the release stated.

According to the financial summary overview on its website, the Museum has listed $35.884 million for the facility; $12.3 million for exhibits; a $4 million Endowment; $2.977 million in contingencies;  and $3.5 million for one-year operating expenses. A little over $29 million is listed in “committed fundraising” at this point, leaving approximately $33 million needed for completion.

In a special guest commentary for Talk Business & Politics in July, Jim Dunn, president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation, said the executive board first took up the fundraising challenge in June 2009.

The estimated budget for the planned facility at that time was $22.5 million. The remainder of the estimated then-$50 million capital budget also included site work of $2.5 million, architectural and exhibit design, exhibit fabrication and installation, contingencies, the aforementioned $4 million endowment, and other costs. The budget excluded operational, fundraising, and startup/staffing up expenses. It also excluded land costs since the Robbie Westphal family had committed to donating a riverfront site.

“Fundraising for a national museum in Fort Smith has its own special challenges,” Dunn said. “The U.S. Marshals Service is known because of its Old West history but little else is widely known of the low-profile agency. Fort Smith is not a high-profile American city. While the project has received support nationally and outside Fort Smith, convincing donors to export large chunks of money to a distant and unknown community is difficult. Unlike universities, the military, and other organizations, the U.S. Marshals Service doesn’t have a large base of wealthy constituents or alumni. Arkansans outside western Arkansas generally consider the Museum to be a ‘Fort Smith project’ because of the notoriety of Judge Isaac C. Parker’s court. The Museum has raised nearly $30 million, but this includes the non-cash property site donation. The project has spent money on pre-construction costs, educational programming, operations, and fundraising. It still must raise $32 million, and that figure will surely rise when the costs are updated.”

Dunn said the project was “near critical mass, when a large gift, or a major funding source, or both, could demonstrate without question that the Museum will be built. … Those who believe in the community and the project, but are understandably reluctant to commit funds until more progress is apparent, await a strong signal that the Museum will indeed be built. Donors outside the area, including foundations, are much more likely to support the project as it nears the finish line.”

Weeks, Dunn, and many on the executive board, such as Chairman Dr. Cole Goodman, are hoping the grand opening date will move potential donors toward that confidence.

“We are excited to share the U.S. Marshals Service’s long and storied history,” Goodman said. “By successfully executing this campaign, we will ensure this nationally-recognized museum is open on time for families in our community and across the nation to enjoy.”