Rep. Womack tours U.S. Marshals Museum, says it will have ‘amazing impact’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,283 views 

“Wow,” was the first response from U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, following his tour Wednesday (April 12) of the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith. He said what was once considered a “pipe dream” by some will soon be a “magnificent” part of the region.

Construction of the approximately 53,000-square-feet U.S. Marshals Museum was completed — except for exhibits — in early 2020. The facility is on the Arkansas River near downtown Fort Smith. In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the national museum. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in September 2015, and museum officials initially hoped to have the facility open by late 2017, but struggles to raise enough money delayed the opening.

Exhibit work is ongoing and museum officials have said the museum will open this summer. Once open, the museum will tell the story of the United States’ oldest federal law enforcement agency, which was established by President George Washington.

Womack toured ongoing exhibit construction Wednesday morning with U.S. Marshals Museum Board Chair Doug Babb and U.S. Marshals President and CEO Ben Johnson. With the sounds of construction in the background, Babb and Johnson explained to Womack the purpose of the exhibits in what they call “immersive galleries.”

“Wow comes to mind,” Womack said when asked about his tour. “Because the last time I was here it was a shell. And to see this magnificent puzzle coming together and the amazing impact it’s going to have on the people in the (Fort Smith metro) … we are going to be amazed when we get to around the first of July and this thing is open to the public,” Womack said.

Museum officials have not yet set a date for the opening, but Babb confirmed Wednesday to Talk Business & Politics they have a target of it opening before July 4.

(from left) U.S. Marshals Museum President & CEO Ben Johnson, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Doug Babb, U.S. Marshals Museum Board Chair, on Wednesday (April 12) tour ongoing exhibit construction at the U.S. Marshals Museum.

Womack and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., pushed the United States Marshals Service 225th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act through Congress and in 2016 it became one of the early sources of significant funding for the museum. Coin sales would eventually provide the museum with $3.053 million.

“And that money came during a critical time for us,” Babb said, adding that it has been a difficult climb to raise the more than $45 million of the $50 million goal. Johnson said Wednesday they have about $3 million more to raise to meet the goal.

Womack said after his tour that the delay in getting the museum built and open has given “the naysayers” fertile ground to criticize, but he believes the museum opening will negate much of the criticism.

“We have to be honest. This has been a long time coming. I get that,” Womack said. “Because it has taken such a long time, I think there are some people out there who never thought it would happen, who thought it was a pipe dream. But just wait until you see it. It’s going to be impressive.”

According to a 2018 study, the museum could see around 125,000 visitors a year. The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, using information from the study, estimated the museum and related tourist expenditures will have a total annual impact on Sebastian County of $13 million to $22 million.