The U.S. Marshals Museum Board of Directors on Tuesday (Sept. 10) approved a plan to move the museum site about 2,000 feet north on the Arkansas River bank in order to provide more space for the more than 52,000-square foot building.
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.
Pat Mickle, with the Fort Smith-based engineering firm of Mickle Wagner Coleman, and Reese Rowland with Little Rock-based architectural firm of Polk Stanley Wilcox, presented the case as to why a move slightly up the river makes sense.
The primary reason is that the new site is almost double the size of the original tract near the Harry E. Kelley Park, and allows for more parking and more area in which landscaping can be used to better present the building, Mickle said. The move is made possible because the family of Robbie Westphal agreed to increasing the size of the land donated to the museum effort. Mickle and Rowland said visitor history at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock suggested that estimated visitor counts for the Marshals Museum may have been too low, thus the need to plan for more space.
Mickle said discussions to move the site arose when the families who own land on the riverfront – the Westphal family and the Richard Griffin family – began working with the city to ensure the highest and best use of the property.
“The Westphal family has been generous enough to say, ‘This is what we want to do,’” Mickle explained.
Bennie Westphal and Robin Clegg, son and daughter of Robbie Westphal, attended the board meeting. Bennie is a member of the museum board.
Rowland said the new site could provide up to 200 parking spaces, provides more incentive for higher-use ancillary development on both sides of Riverfront Drive, creates a more “pedestrian-friendly” path up the riverfront, will allow for better views of the river from inside the completed museum and allows for future physical expansion of the museum if needed. The old site provided little to no space for expansion.
“The other site was great, but this site is much better,” Rowland said.
Bennie Westphal said the family was happy to change the location.
“It needs to be done right. ... This museum is going to be an asset to this city long after we’re gone,” Westphal told the board. “I think my father would be very proud of this day.”
Rick Griffin said the goal of the change is to ensure “the entire area develops correctly,” and he praised city officials for helping landowners and museum officials with that goal.
“I really want to give a shout out to the city. They have bent over backwards to work with us on this,” Griffin said.
The board unanimously approved the process to deed the first location back to the Westphal family in exchange for the new property.
Griffin said the move marked a “momentous day” because it allows the construction planning process to begin.
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.
Jim Dunn, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum, said in mid-August that 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.