Recent flooding along the Arkansas River reassured the U.S. Marshals Museum board of directors the site of the future Fort Smith museum is in a safe place.
The museum board’s finances also appear to be above water following a "clean" audit and a 2016 budget approved Tuesday that calls for hiring of a financial officer and a full-time receptionist. An online store is also in the works. The 2016 budget is $3.4 million, with architectural and exhibit design fees accounting for the lion’s share at $2.4 million.
In their quarterly meeting Tuesday, museum board vice president Rick Griffin said talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over an easement issue regarding the museum’s planned "overhanging spire" resulted in a slight rotation of the museum’s position more to the north, but there were no concerns of flooding because the museum will be on a pedestal.
The Corps’ river bank easement is necessary to maintain navigation, according to Laurie T. Driver of the U.S. Corps of Engineers Little Rock District, which oversees that portion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The Corps’ concern was that an overhanging projection from the building would impede maintenance if heavy equipment was called for in repairing the bank.
In light of the switch, Griffin said plans now call for a proposed reflecting pool between the river and the museum with dirt work to create a better view of the river.
"As a result of this process with the Corps, we’ve done a lot of really nice things to the site itself, which in my opinion enhances the view of the project and what it’s going to look at when you’re inside the building," Griffin said.
The Riverfront Drive site where the museum will be was not flooded after 19.85 inches of rain fell on Fort Smith in May and more than 20 inches fell in eastern Oklahoma. The building will be raised "significantly," Griffin added, to keep it from flooding "now and forever."
"If that gets underwater, we’re all in trouble," Marshals Museum President and CEO Jim Dunn said.
Griffin also said that in reviewing the title against the survey, local attorney Mark Moll recommended to close the transfer following some "housekeeping" with the title commitment.
Dunn said he hoped that by now the site plan would be approved with all the proposed encroachments, but it should be ready "any day now" and be one step closer to building permits. Dunn said a museum vice president is also called for to build the museum.
‘Coin Push Continues’
In his financial report, board treasurer Sam T. Sicard said the museum recently received a "clean audit" and as of June 30, 2014, the museum board’s total assets were $9 million. Since some pledges had conditions on them, they were not being counted yet on the balance sheet, Sicard said.
Dunn said with pledges, the museum has raised $26.2 million following the March pledge of $1 million by First Bank Corp. and $900,000 so far in matching funds for the Hall of Honor to memorialize fallen U.S. Marshals. The matching funds have increased by $300,000 since mid-March. The museum is projected to cost $50 million.
Alice Alt, director of development for the Marshals Museum, also said the U.S. Marshals commemorative coin sales have been healthy with the silver dollar proof recently being named the U.S. Mint’s best-selling commemorative coin of the year. The silver dollar features a marshal holding a warrant that reads "Wanted in Fort Smith." The coins so far have raised $2.6 million of the $5 million in surcharges allowed by the U.S. Mint.
The museum is partnering with Walmart to sell the commemorative coins at sporting good departments at the Walmart on Zero Street in Fort Smith and the Walmart in Greenwood. Alt said she hoped that it would lead to a national distribution deal with all Walmart stores.
"The coin push continues," Alt said.
The museum has until the end of the year to meet its $5 million goal in coin sales surcharges. Dunn said he expects the first payment of surcharges to be received later this summer.
"Recipient Organizations" will receive surcharge proceeds if more than $5 million is raised. Those organizations include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Association.
Carl Caulk, U.S. Marshals Service assistant director based in Washington, D.C., attended the quarterly meeting and gave an update to the board on the organization’s activities, including work with the Boston Bombing trial, Police Week, and Operation Violence Reduction nabbing more than 7,100 felons, including 500 homicide suspects, 580 sexual assault suspects and 750 documented gang members. The operation was an exercise with local and state law enforcement organizations.
Caulk said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton plans to leave the agency in the coming months and her retirement has been planned for some time. The Marshals have been under scrutiny by the Senate Judiciary Committee for some surveillance methods used in the search for fugitives.
In other business, the board of directors welcomed new board members Pat Hightower, Mike Pearson, Edwin Marshal and Dr. Cole Goodman. Steve Williams resigned due to a relocation for his work.
Agreeing to their second three-year terms on the board were John Clark, Xernona Clayton, Rick Griffin, John Hawkins and Mary McAlester. Officers for the 2015-016 year are Jim Spears, president; Rick Griffin, vice president; Bill Hines, secretary; and Sam T. Sicard, treasurer.
Charter board member Mike Blevins, former Arkansas Western District chief deputy and governance committee member, is no longer on the museum board due to bylaws. He was a charter board member and had been involved with the project from its inception.