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FORT SMITH -- It will take months or years to raise the $15.3 million needed to complete the U.S. Marshals Museum, but the potential for donations is still out there, the museum's foundation president said Wednesday.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal Tuesday that would have levied a temporary 1 percent sales tax to pay for completion of the U.S. Marshals Service's national museum, a $19.1 million, 50,000-square-foot facility under construction on the banks of the Arkansas River.

Foundation President Jim Dunn said Wednesday that officials do not know how much Tuesday's loss will delay the opening of the museum, but he said it could take as long as 18 months to raise the money needed to complete the museum.

"We will be focused on major gift fundraising because it's the best and most efficient way to raise money for major projects," Dunn said.

Potential donors will not be prospects who have been developed since museum officials asked city directors in December to put the sales tax before voters, Dunn said. They will be prospects Dunn and foundation Vice President for Development Alice Alt have worked with over the years.

Voters rejected the temporary tax in a 6,726-3,670 vote. The proposal sought to levy a 1 percent sales tax for nine months that would have generated $15.5 million to $16 million, which the museum would have used to design and build the exhibit experience inside the museum.

Museum President and CEO Patrick Weeks said before Tuesday's special election that opening the museum to the public would be delayed until sometime next year. It had been scheduled for Sept. 24, the 230th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Marshals Service. The building will be dedicated on that day, he said.

Museum officials have raised about $35 million in donations and in-kind donations over nearly 10 years, but Dunn disputed media reports that donations had dried up.

"Fundraising will be more difficult," he said. "We are still fundraising and will continue fundraising, and we anticipate additional gifts" to the museum project.

Officials will try to engage potential donors in hopes of persuading them to give money to the project. They will show prospective donors the building under construction and designs for the museum experience, Dunn said. The designs are being prepared by Thinkwell: The Experience Company of Los Angeles, which has designed experiences for museums and theme parks all over the world.

The museum and the 1,000-item collections will feature five galleries: Defining Marshals; Campfire Stories Under the Stars; Frontier Marshals; A Changing Nation; and Modern Marshals. The museum also will include the Samuel M. Sicard Hall of Honor, honoring those who have died in the line of duty, and the National Learning Center.

Dunn said the museum also will seek donations from individuals and corporations that share the same values and interests of the museum -- promoting the constitution, law enforcement and the rule of law.

Museum officials aren't working on other means to raise money, Dunn said. They have considered recruiting celebrities to become involved, he said, but it has not been an immediate consideration.

Celebrities would raise the public profile of the museum from the usual low-profile U.S. Marshals Service, but Dunn said it would take considerable time and effort to recruit celebrities.

Officials believe their time would be better spent dealing with potential donors.

The proposed tax met resistance from the start. City Director George Catsavis voted against the museum tax ordinances, saying he did not like the idea of a special election.

He argued that typically low turnout in special elections favored those who support the issue and said the election should have been held during the Nov. 6 general election when more voters go to the polls.

Opponents said it would be unfair to use public tax money for a private museum. Others also argued that residents already bear a high sales tax rate of 9.75 percent and have endured three consecutive years of sewer rate increases to pay for system improvements mandated by a federal consent decree.

State Desk on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: Official sees path to museum funds

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