The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center is one step closer in its transformation from a concept to a concrete reality. The Town of Mount Pleasant has joined Charleston County in an effort to help fund a land-side Medal of Honor (MOH) museum that is slated to debut July 4, 2023.
On Tuesday night, Aug. 13, Mount Pleasant Town Council voted 8-0 to initially give $1.2 million to the Heritage Foundation. Councilmember Tom O’Rourke was absent from the vote. Per request, $500,000 will go to the initiation of the Heritage Center’s campaign, $700,000 toward the corpus and then $1.8 million will trickle in afterward. Altogether, the town vowed to pledge $3 million total, which will be dispersed over the next three years.
In the event that the Heritage Center fails, only $2.5 million would be returned to the town. The $500,000 is merely a donation to kick start the museum’s mission and doesn’t pertain to the “museum or your money back” motto.
In May, Charleston County Finance Committee contingently agreed to fund $5 million over the next 10 years or half a million each year in support of the Heritage Center. That promise was reliant on Mount Pleasant funding $3 million and the state of South Carolina contributing $5 million. Now, one of those conditions has been fulfilled.
Prior to council rendering its decision, Finance Committee vice-chair Kathy Landing led off the discussion by recommending that council utilize the $1.2 million the town previously set aside in escrow to fund the road relocation for last year’s museum. Then, the town would come up with the other $1.8 million in installments until 2022.
Councilmember Bob Brimmer initially rejected council’s recommendation and suggested deferment after questioning the committee’s planning and prioritization. Brimmer, who clarified he’s not opposed to the charitable cause, is skeptical of the town’s transparency by the Finance Committee failing to further discuss what future initiatives may be at stake prior to making this contribution.
Aside from whether the town has the financial capability to pledge the $3 million on top of its current bills, Brimmer and Landing were mutually bothered by the fact that Charleston County plans on using $3 million of the county’s accommodation tax (ATAX) dollars to supplement its own pledge. Mount Pleasant annually allocates this money toward projects like town-sponsored sporting events.
Charleston County notified Mount Pleasant’s Finance Committee that they intend on using the ATAX dollars via a last-minute email on Aug. 2 before council committee meetings on Aug. 5, according to Landing. She referred to the unfortunate situation caused by the county’s actions as a “wild card” that may alter the route of funding, but she doesn’t expect it will jeopardize previously-budgeted projects.
“That’s a separate issue from this anyway, but I just want to make sure we know we’re not just going to drop that,” Landing added. “We’re going to have a chat with them about that.”
The Heritage Center’s lead organizer and chairman Thomas McQueeney expressed that they’re hoping for an overall sum of $15 million from public constituencies. In which $13 million would come from Charleston County, the state of South Carolina and Mount Pleasant. The other $2 million he hopes will derive from the City of Charleston, North Charleston, the Convention of Visitors Bureau and possibly through pursuing federal-government sources.
“We look at it as a three-part fundraising piece. Public, private and corporate,” McQueeney added.
In regards to the future economic impact of the Heritage Center, McQueeney foresees the museum will generate $85 million annually. He projects an upsurge in visitation that will boost the approximate 300,000 visitors that patronize Patriots Point each year.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a net loss to this community. I think there’s going to be a multiple net gain, prestige wise and economic wise,” said co-leader MOH recipient Maj. Gen. James Livingston. “I don’t think we can talk to what exists today; we need to talk to what exists tomorrow.”
Livingston highlighted how there’s currently 71 MOH recipients alive and when the museum is projected to be open, he suspects there will be less. Time is of the essence but as far as support, he attests that everyone he’s personally encountered is in favor of the museum.
As for the museum’s popularity, Livingston views it not only as a local attraction, but a national and international destination that will help increase tourism on an even grander scale. For Livingston, it all starts with exposing youth to the Heritage Center’s exhibits that will showcase the history and service of the United States’ military.
“Our decision is to move forward because the country and the kids of this country deserve this project,” Livingston continued. “I’m putting this thing in terms of price of opportunity to help our youngsters and I don’t think that number ($3 million) is too big at all.”
Patriots Point Development Authority (PPDA) Board has contacted and instructed the Heritage Center of the next steps needed to fulfill the nonprofit rules in order to secure a future land-side site. McQueeney doubts, if they reach a formal agreement, the museum will engage in a $1-per-year lease with PPDA. He anticipates something more along the lines of a commercial rent percentage to lease the land.