Patriots Point unveils plans for $100 million Medal of Honor Museum
Frank and Roberta Hottle marveled Wednesday at the interactive and motion-detecting displays inside the Medal of Honor Museum on board the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point.
“This is fantastic,” the couple from Tennessee said, almost in unison.
They want to come back to Charleston for a second trip in a few years, and when they do they likely will see a very different museum.
Calling it a game-changer, Patriots Point unveiled an ambitious plan Wednesday to build a new $100 million Medal of Honor Museum.
The new museum will sit on 10-to-12 acres at the entrance to Patriots Point and will require shifting Patriots Point Road near the Cold War Submarine Memorial.
Patriots Point will not pay for the museum, a sweeping, multi-level architectural venue that would overlook Charleston Harbor. Instead, a new foundation will be formed to raise $3 million to $5 million in seed money to operate a national fundraising campaign to help pay for the new facility.
“Today is a great day,” Patriots Point Development Authority Chairman Ray Chandler said. “The board has approved a letter of understanding with the National Medal of Honor Society for a landside museum to honor the highest heroes in the country. It will bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the community.”
The Medal of Honor Museum currently exists inside the World-War-II-era Yorktown, the centerpiece attraction at Patriots Point. Once it’s moved to the new museum location, the site could be used for traveling exhibits, Patriots Point Director Mac Burdette said.
He said several ideas were floated to develop 36 acres surrounding the ticket office, but nobody really liked them because nothing stood out about them.
The Medal of Honor Museum was different.
“There is only one Medal of Honor,” Burdette said. “There aren’t many things that you can latch onto that will bring in an additional 200,000 visitors a year.”
The architect’s rendering shows a futuristic building with sloping roofs coming to several points over tall glass walls near the water’s edge.
“It will be more than a flat-roof, one-story brick building,” Burdette said. “It will be something that people walking on the bridge want to continue to walk to to see up close.”
Chandler also praised the plan that took months to piece together.
“Patriots Point will become an attraction, not just a place to see, but a destination as a place to visit,” he said.
The site could one day include five-star amenities, outdoor walks, a pond and fountains, Chandler added.
“It will be one of the most compelling and beautiful spots in Charleston,” he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. Jim Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient, worked to place the museum permanently in metro Charleston since his arrival here in 2005.
He previously helped land the World War II Memorial in New Orleans and he persuaded his fellow Medal of Honor recipients not to build a permanent museum in Washington because he thought it would be overshadowed and lost in the thick of all the monuments in the nation’s capital.
“I thought it needed to be in a very defined, specific location,” Livingston said.
“Charleston is where the Civil War started, and the first medals were handed out during the Civil War,” he said. “Charleston is the place that it should be. All of the Medal of Honor recipients have signed up for it. We are very excited about it.”
Livingston said it won’t be easy raising the money to pay for the museum, but he said nothing easy would not be worth doing.
The U.S. has awarded 3,476 Medals of Honor. Eighty-one recipients are living, according to Livingston.
The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau sells Charleston’s history every year to nearly 5 million visitors.
“But we are making history today,” said Helen Hill, executive director of the CVB.
The museum announcement is expected to be a catalyst to entice others to invest in the remaining 24 acres surrounding the ticket office at the naval and maritime museum.
Patriots Point hopes to develop some of its property to raise money to pay for expensive ship repairs. Two studies next year will determine the extent of work needed for the Yorktown.
Chandler, Patriots Point’s board chairman, also announced that the state agency, which funds its $10 million budget almost entirely from tourists and leased-property revenues, will present the state with a plan within three or so months to pay back the remainder of the $9.2 million Patriots Point borrowed in 2009 to refurbish the World War II destroyer Laffey to keep it from sinking in the harbor.
“We are not reaching into the taxpayers’ dollars to support the new museum,” Chandler said. “We are setting it up to pay back what we owe.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.