US Marshals Museum crowdfunding to raise $2 million
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Along the Arkansas River on the western border of the state, construction is underway on a more than $50 million museum that has been in the works for longer than a decade.
But organizers are still more than $15 million short.
The proposed 53,000-square-foot (4,900-square-meter) museum devoted to the U.S. Marshals Service — the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency — is scheduled to be dedicated in just under five months, on Sept. 24, but officials have said they don’t have the funds to finish the exhibits.
By midday Friday, a week-old GoFundMe campaign established by the museum’s foundation had raised $3,840, under a half of a percent of the organizers’ initial goal to raise $2 million by July. The website showed 33 people had donated between $5 and $1,000.
Renderings on the museum’s website show the completed building, with glass walls and an angular roof, sitting on a manicured lawn on the banks of the Arkansas River. The website says there will be exhibits that feature stories about marshals like Bass Reeves, a former slave, and a theater where the duties of marshals will be explained.
Construction began last July, said the museum’s President and CEO Patrick Weeks, and the building in the shape of a star like the marshal’s badge is still on track for completion in September. But inside the building, exhibits won’t be finished until sometime next year.
By February, officials said the planned opening of the museum would have to be pushed back to 2020, though the museum will still be dedicated in the fall for the 230th anniversary of the establishment of the service.
Officials say the museum will be a boon for Fort Smith near the Oklahoma border, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) from Little Rock. Museum spokeswoman Meredith Baldwin said the city in northwestern Arkansas was intentionally selected because of its long and storied history with the marshals.
“This is sacred ground for the Marshal Service. This is where more marshals rode out of than anywhere in history,” Baldwin said.
Officials have estimated the museum will draw about 125,000 yearly visitors after an initial surge in its two years and will have an annual economic impact of $13 million to $22 million.
In March, voters overwhelmingly voted against a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase that officials said would have raised about $15.5 million over nine months. Not long after that, a northwestern Arkansas real estate developer and philanthropist donated $1 million to the project.
Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said most people are excited about the museum even though voters didn’t want to pay for it with a public tax. He said other options are being explored and the project will be completed.
The museum foundation has raised about $36 million since fundraising began in earnest in 2009, said Alice Alt, foundation vice president for development.
Still, the museum remains underfunded. Jim Dunn, the museum foundation’s president, said in a statement announcing the crowdfunding campaign Tuesday that the fundraising will provide a tax-free avenue for supporters to donate.
“We are launching this effort in hopes that individuals and corporations both in the Fort Smith community, as well as across the country, will join together to make sure the guest experience is developed sooner rather than later,” Dunn said.
Alt said that raising money “is never easy, for sure.” But, she said, it’s also an opportunity to gain supporters.
And the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the country deserves to have its story told, said Dave Turk, historian for the Marshals Service. Turk was on the original search committee that selected Fort Smith as the museum’s location and now works with the museum’s curator.
Turk said the history of the marshals is vast, varied and not well-understood, and encompasses enforcing slavery and later defending civil rights activists.
“People still ask what we do,” he said. “The museum, I think, is going to tell that story in full.”