The U.S. Marshals Museum Board of Directors on Tuesday (Dec. 13) approved a budget and timeline that will see the organization push to raise $30 million in the next few years and begin dirt work in July 2017 on a museum set to open Sept. 24, 2019.
The opening date is significant because it will mark the 230th anniversary of the agency created under Congressional approval of the Judiciary Act and signed by President George Washington. The act appointed 13 Marshals, and one of their early duties was to conduct the U.S. Census.
Patrick Weeks, hired in June as the president and CEO of the national museum fundraising, construction and management, pushed the specific timeline under his “#thetimeisnow” marketing effort.
In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the estimated 50,000-square-foot national museum. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in September 2015 on a site near the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith, and museum officials initially hoped to have the facility open by late 2017.
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.
FUNDING GOALS AND TRUMP ISSUE
Alice Alt, vice president of development for the museum, told the Board that staff has “significant asks out right now” as part of an internal fundraising goal. When pressed by Board Member Steve Clark, Alt said the goal is $20 million and they are “cautiously optimistic” about getting $18 million by early 2017.
Part of that effort includes a crowdsource campaign – similar to GoFundMe – and creation of a steering committee of local corporation execs who will help reach out to other large companies to seek donations.
Board Member Edwin Marshall asked if the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump would change the agency and the museum effort. He said politics are “taking a lot of strange turns” following Trump’s election victory. Weeks said most of the museum funding is private and does not depend on national political changes.
“It doesn’t adjust the passion or commitment to get this thing built, because the time is now,” Weeks said. “What is happening in Washington can play itself out while we are trying to get this thing built.”
Neil DeSousa, an assistant director with the U.S. Marshals Service and member of the museum board, was part of the meeting via conference call. DeSousa said agency leadership is working with the Trump’s transition team, but “it’s really too early to say how the new administration is going to impact our agency.”
The budget and timeline plan Weeks presented Tuesday was approved by the board’s executive committee in late October. It “reaffirms” the board’s commitment to stay within the $58.6 million budget to build a $33.8 million museum using “mid-range goals that ensure we stay on track,” Weeks explained.
Weeks noted several times during his presentation that the plan will focus on ensuring the exhibits are nationally recognized and world class, saying that “storytelling is the most important piece of this project.” He said “we have to make sure we do it right on the inside” so that the “facility is worthy of the (Marshals) service” and remain a popular destination for visitors.
“The experience will be transformative. The building will be iconic,” Weeks said.
Museum staff will work with architects and designers between now and April 2017 to adjust the design to stay within budget constraints while maintaining the integrity of the storytelling, Weeks said.
The proposal also calls for construction to begin “when it makes sense” to open in September 2019 and not when the fundraising is complete. Weeks said that will require the board to approve construction loans, with an estimate pointing to the first quarter of 2019 for such loans.
The board unanimously approved the proposal.