The United States Marshals Museum (USMM) has begun to move dirt on its new site at the intersection of H Street and Riverfront Parkway. In a ceremony on Tuesday (Oct. 17), U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, noted the challenges the museum has overcome to get on track to its Sept. 24, 2019 opening date as well as some of the challenges ahead, namely fundraising.
Womack told Talk Business & Politics the museum “is something new,” adding, “You can’t see this right now. There’s not something you can reach out and touch yet, so people who give to these kinds of projects need some assurance it’s going to be done, that it’s going to follow through and have an execution date.”
Womack said “moving dirt” is a sign to all would-be donors “and maybe even some skeptics, that this project is moving forward,” acknowledging the USMM foundation has “a little more room to go, $15-$20 million more, but we don’t have to raise it all at once.”
“It hasn’t been without its struggles, but anything new like this is going to test your leadership from time to time. But when it’s done, I think people are going to look back and say, ‘Man that was a really really good project, and it has been a great addition to the city and redefined tourism in our area.’ There are a lot of people that are looking forward to coming to see this all around the country,” Womack said.
Womack also said fundraising efforts should not be entirely up to the city of Fort Smith despite the fact the project is “Fort Smith-centric.”
“It shouldn’t be just in Fort Smith. It’s Fort Smith-centric, but a lot of the fundraising that should happen for a project of this scale needs to have more of a regional flare to it, not only in the state of Arkansas but in Oklahoma and in surrounding states as well,” Womack said.
He continued: “I would be disappointed if we didn’t have our partners in Northwest Arkansas that are participating in this project in a meaningful way. I would be disappointed if we didn’t have people in Little Rock and other parts of our state participating in this project in a meaningful way. There’s an old saying: ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ Well, anything that happens good on the banks of the Arkansas River in Fort Smith to include corresponding development unrelated to the Marshals Museum is going to be good for the city, it’s going to be good for the county, it’s going to be good for the entire region, and it will be good for our state.”
Womack along with then U.S. Rep., now U.S. Sen. John Boozman have championed the museum since its inception, working on a 225th anniversary commemorative coin that netted the project around $4 million to support the museum’s collection.
In July, the USMM unveiled a new design that slightly scaled back the overall size of the facility to 50,000 square feet, but it allowed the museum to stay on track for its opening date in less than two years. The structure will sit on the middle of 16 acres, which were donated by the Robbie Westphal family. The city is in the process of purchasing the original adjoining land to use for a new $1.1 million bike/skate park slated to open on Memorial Day weekend in 2018.