In less than four years from now, Mount Pleasant is slated to become home to a larger land-based version of the Medal of Honor Museum that currently sits on the USS Yorktown. Last week, organizers of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center stated they plan to have the museum constructed and open by July 4, 2023.
In May, the Heritage Center contingently received approval of a $5 million grant from Charleston County on the basis that the Town of Mount Pleasant funds $3 million and the state of South Carolina contributes $5 million. So far, neither entity has financially pledged their allegiance to the project. However, organizers are optimistic after the outpour of support they received from town and state officials including Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie, Sen. Paul Campbell and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.
Chairman Thomas McQueeney, former Patriots Point Development Authority (PPDA) board member, and co-leader Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Gen. James Livingston said this time around the results would be different than December 2018’s Medal of Honor Museum lease termination. Of the many distinctions from the previous museum’s outline, McQueeney highlighted the two most contentious aspects − cost and architecture.
McQueeney estimated the total cost when the Heritage Center is complete to be approximately $45 million, which is less than half of the previous museum’s $100 million outlook. Construction would require about $35 million plus another $10 million for additional furnishings.
“We’re not going to spend any of your money unless we’re putting up a museum,” he said, referencing his ‘museum or your money back’ campaign. The Heritage Center vows to only spend interest earnings of the corpus, not on anything else besides the museum.
He says the goal is to have all of these expenses funded in the next two and a half years. This time frame would allow for just under two year’s of construction.
McQueeney said his team has been arbitrarily looking at building a 50,000 square foot museum with a 50 foot height limit to conform to the town’s ordinances without having to seek special exemptions for variances.
“We want to do is build a museum that’s commensurate with the laws and rules of this area,” he said. “So we’re not going to build above 50 feet, if they tell us that’s the height limit then that’s what we’ll build to.”
As for the architecture, McQueeney admitted he could care less about the aesthetics, for him it’s more about paying homage to the Medal of Honor recipients. He clarified that the design will compliment the Lowcountry’s downtown Charleston’s historic district or a neoclassical Greek Revival look. However, it will not emulate anything in particular and certainly not to an ostentatious degree.
“It’s not about what the museum looks on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside,” McQueeney said. “I’m a Charlestonian, I’ve got a little more of a feel for what works here.”
Aside from the costs and looks, the Heritage Center will also include offices for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Furthermore, it may encompass a chapel, a theater, an accessible rooftop and space for various military-related attractions. Details are still in the preliminary stages.
McQueeney is excited about the possibility to house a special series art collection “We The People: Portraits of Veterans in America” by Mary Whyte. Whyte’s watercolor paintings pay tribute to veterans across all 50 states. Another silver lining McQueeney was proud to share is that all of the contributors who donated toward the last Medal of Honor Museum will still be credited for helping fund the Heritage Center. Even if no further money is contributed, McQueeney says each donor will still be listed for making the initial effort.
As for Livingston, the voice behind the operation, he reiterated that Mount Pleasant is the only legitimate destination fit to hold the museum, citing the National Medal of Honor Memorial Act, which Congress passed 20 years ago decreeing Mount Pleasant a “National Medal of Honor site.”
Livingston and McQueeney noted they’ve challenged, through non-legal means, the previous museum organizers to strip the word ‘national’ from their title on its website.
“I don’t have any objections to museums being built in other locations, but there’s only one national museum written into the law of the land and that’s located near Charleston, South Carolina,” Livingston added.
The Heritage Center has not officially secured a site, although PPDA has expressed for it to be built at Patriots Point in a similar vicinity as the previous, no formal agreement has been made with Patriots Point. Patriots Point’s nonprofit rules apply to the Heritage Center, which requires Mount Pleasant to approve the museum’s building design and master plans before moving forward.
Mount Pleasant’s Finance Committee reccommended council financially assist the Heritage Center on Monday. The decision will go before full council to vote on Aug. 13.