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U.S. Marshals Museum to boost public relations budget, efforts

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

The U.S. Marshals Museum Board is boosting its 2015 public relations budget more than 500% as the museum staff prepares for several events geared toward raising money and awareness for the planned Marshals Museum in downtown Fort Smith.

Board members met Tuesday (June 10) in Fort Smith to approve an operating budget of $3.556 million, up 54.5% compared to the 2014 budget. The budget included staff expenses estimated at $467,255, up 18.89% over 2014, and a marketing budget $138,500, well ahead of the $23,000 budgeted in 2014. Denver Peacock, owner of Little Rock-based The Peacock Group, has been hired to help the museum with public relations and marketing.

Marshals Museum President and CEO Jim Dunn said the budget changes reflect an upcoming cycle of “very high profile events” as the effort to build the museum begins to ramp up to a scheduled opening of 2017. Funding issues – primarily related to the timing of $10 million in a tax credit program – the museum opening was delayed one year.

In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the estimated 20,000-square-foot 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.

One of the high profile events includes the museum groundbreaking on the riverfront in downtown Fort Smith set for Sept. 24, 2014. The date coincides with the 225th anniversary of the creation of the service in 1789. The U.S. Marshals Service is the oldest American federal law enforcement agency and was established by President George Washington.

Other events include the unveiling of the a U.S. Marshals commemorative coin that will be sold in 2015 to market the 225th anniversary year of the service. The museum could collect up to $5 million from sales of the coin. Money from the coin directed to the museum is restricted to fund “the preservation, maintenance, and display of artifacts and documents” at the Marshals Museum. Revenue from coin sales will also go to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Law Enforcement Museum, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“Denver is in touch with local people ... and others to help with unveiling of the coin,” Dunn told the Board, adding that coin designs could be unveiled soon.

Public relations is also a focus of the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture Series. The three-year series, funded by a $100,000 gift from Mrs. Listene Rockefeller, will welcome leaders from the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of the U.S. government to Fort Smith to speak about the Marshal’s history as it connects to each branch. A schedule has not yet been set for when the series will begin.

Dunn said it is “crucial” that the right speakers are chosen for the series and that “public relations is lined up for that” in order to increase awareness of the mission of the Marshals Service and the museum.

Another of the events is a fundraising gala to be held in early 2014 in Fort Smith. Dunn said philanthropists Mary Young and Kathy Babb – Young is the wife of ArcBest Board Chairman Robert A. Young III, and Babb is the wife of Doug Babb, CEO of Cooper Clinic – are organizing the gala. Dunn teased that the gala may be attended by well-known out-of-town guest.

Pat Lile, a member of the Marshals Museum Board and the board’s marketing committee, said Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Deputy Director Sandy Edwards has pledged to help the Marshals Museum staff on efforts related to museum awareness and operations.

In closing Tuesday’s business portion of the Board meeting, Marshals Museum Board Chair Judge Jim Spears said all efforts to promote and build the museum should be considered a “big deal.” He noted that the museum, when built, will be an “economic development engine that will benefit this area and this state more than people understand.”

EASEMENT LINE ISSUE
Marshals Museum Board member Rick Griffin said there is a small chance an easement held by the U.S. Corps of Engineers could change where the museum is built. If the easement, first marked in the 1960s, is not relinquished or altered, the museum may have to be built further away from the Arkansas River (McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System) instead of near the river. Griffin said the issue was recently discovered, and the Corps has been asked for information about the easement.

“(Because of dealing with the Corps) I can’t imagine that that process is going to be fast,” Griffin said when asked about a timeline on getting an answer to the easement.

Griffin also said Arkansas’ state and federal political leaders may be asked to intervene.

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“We may have to have some top down help,” Griffin said.

“I think we can probably arrange that,” Spears responded.

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