Walton Foundation gives $2 million to Marshals Museum

The Walton Family Foundation is donating $2 million to help fund construction and operation of the U.S. Marshals Museum planned for downtown Fort Smith.

Announced Monday (Aug. 19), the $2 million is the single largest gift from the public toward the 52,260-square-foot museum.

In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the national museum. The cost to build the museum — including exhibit work — is estimated at around $53 million. Although the announcement was made in 2007, formal fundraising activities did not begin until the latter part of 2009.

Museum officials have said they hope to break ground on Sept. 24, 2014, the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals founding by President George Washington.

“The Walton Family Foundation’s enthusiasm and support for the U.S. Marshals Museum is extremely exciting,” Jim Dunn, president and CEO, U.S. Marshals Museum, said in a statement “After learning about the plan, they came onboard and have been very interested in how they could boost this worthwhile national project. We are delighted to count them as part of the Museum effort and thank them for their vision.”

Updated info: Dunn said the Foundation was not asked for a specific amount. Museum staff made a presentation to Foundation officials in January requesting some level of support. Dunn also said having the Walton Family Foundation support sends a signal of legitimacy to other foundations and individuals who have been asked to support the museum.

“I think the gift from the Walton Family Foundation brings the museum much closer to reality, and the value of their gift likely goes beyond the $2 million,” Dunn said.

He said the museum effort needs between $10 million and $15 million more to reach the “threshold” of between $30 million and $35 million needed to break ground and begin construction. Dunn is confident they will meet the September 2014 date.

“I stop short of saying it’s 100% (certain). ... But I am optimistic about our pace of fundraising and the prospects we have on the horizon,” Dunn said.

As a sign of the optimism, the museum is in the process of hiring a curator, and have re-engaged architects to begin converting conceptual drawings into construction plans.

Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, said the museum will help boost tourism traffic statewide.

“The U.S. Marshals Museum will be an outstanding attraction for Fort Smith and all of Arkansas. It will complement the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to give us a threesome of great nationally recognized museums that will bring visitors from all over the country,” Davies said in the statement.

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Based in Bentonville, the Walton Family Foundation was created by the Helen and Sam Walton family and today has three primary goals: To support K-12 education reform; support freshwater and marine conservation; and fund qualify of life initiatives.

In 2012, the foundation awards $432.672 million in grants.

The City Wire will have more on this story later today.

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