The U.S. Marshals Museum plans to open on Sept. 24, 2019, and it has launched a $60 million fundraising campaign to pay for the 50,000-SF museum on the banks of the Arkansas River in Fort Smith.
Officials had previously said the museum would open in 2018. The new date, which coincides with the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service, was announced Thursday by the museum's board of directors.
President and CEO Patrick Weeks told Arkansas Business the museum has already raised $30 million for the $60 million project.
According to a news release, the fundraising campaign will capitalize on the city's urban expansion plan, called "Propelling Downtown Forward." The plan, developed by Gateway Planning of Dallas, considers the museum's 16.3-acre riverfront location as vital to downtown Fort Smith's future economic viability and success. Weeks said the museum is a major piece of the economic development effort.
Weeks said the decision to set an opening date was informed by contractors, exhibit designers, architects and his own experience working with museums, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
Funding was also a factor in setting the date, said Weeks, who's been in charge of the museum since July 1. Weeks previously ran his own consulting firm, Strategic Experience Solutions.
"This is exactly where we need to be. We are right where we need to be. We've got a plan. We've got an opening date. We've got the passion behind this thing," he said. "We're going to have a transformative experience inside the museum. We're going to have an iconic building, and we're going to open."
Weeks said that specifying an opening date has other benefits.
"With no plan, there's no movement, right? The reality is that a date needed [to be] set," he said. "We needed to create a plan that got us to opening."
Weeks said the museum's staff of eight is working out of offices in Fort Smith, caring for 500 items that will be used as exhibits. So far, the group has brought educational programming to more than 13,000 children in nearly 500 schools in 20 states. When the museum opens, the staff could be expanded to between 18 and 20 full-time equivalents, he said.
Weeks said the museum is forming partnerships across the country and has provided resource guides for teachers on constitutional rule of law as it relates to the U.S. Marshals Service and the agency's role in the Civil Rights Movement.
The U.S. Marshals Service is the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. The president still appoints marshals for its 94 districts.
"There is a rich history that needed to be told, and not just the Old West, but of being the oldest law enforcement industry in the country, being created by George Washington, and the fact that they still exist gives us a unique opportunity to have a story to tell," he said.
CDI Contractors of Little Rock was named the museum's construction consultant in May.