Charleston County plans to give $5 million to a new effort to build a museum in Mount Pleasant dedicated to the Medal of Honor — an effort that would be in partnership with the town and separate from the previous Medal of Honor Museum planned at Patriots Point.
After more than six years of planning, the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation's plans for a $100 million museum in Mount Pleasant dissolved late last year, ending in the termination of the group's lease with Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.
Now, one of the former leaders of that organization, Medal of Honor recipient and retired Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston, is seeking county support for a new museum project. Livingston and Tommy McQueeney, the chair of the new effort's foundation, presented their plans to Charleston County Council's Finance Committee Thursday evening.
"We have been through some tough times with this museum," said Livingston, who described the recent struggles to build the museum in the Lowcountry as "an embarrassment."
Their project, which they plan to call the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, would be smaller in scope than the now-defunct plans, with an estimated cost to build of about $35 million.
They're also pitching the project as "a museum or your money back," McQueeney said. After collecting initial funds for start-up needs, he said, all public, corporate and private funds raised would be escrowed for the actual construction and creation of the Heritage Center. Only the earnings from interest would be used in the day-to-day operations of their foundation, he said.
The group has asked the county for $5 million of funding over 10 years, or half a million each year over the next decade.
County Council members unanimously voted Thursday in favor of that request, but with conditions: the foundation would have to receive at least the $3 million it hopes to get from the town of Mount Pleasant and the $5 million it plans to request from the state of South Carolina.
The state had contributed $5 million to the previous Medal of Honor Museum project, which that group has since returned. The town of Mount Pleasant had also pledged funds to move a section of Patriots Point Road to accommodate the planned museum site, but that roadwork was never started.
This new group — the National Medal of Honor Heritage Foundation — is not affiliated with Patriots Point and would be completely separate from the previous Medal of Honor Museum project there, said Chris Hauff, a spokesman for the waterfront attraction. If the project moves forward, this new plan would need to go through the same approval and leasing processes as the last museum effort.
It would be a "lengthy process," Hauff said.
McQueeney, who is a member of Patriots Point's board, said he plans to resign from that position on Friday, as part of his commitment to the Heritage Center project, which they have been working on for about six months.
Efforts to build a museum to the Medal of Honor in Mount Pleasant started to progress in 2013, with the formation of the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation.
Over several years, plans developed into a $100 million-plus project that would be built on a state-owned waterfront parcel at Patriots Point. Livingston was one of the group's original board members, but he resigned, along with others from the board, in February 2017.
A Post and Courier review of thousands of emails and other correspondence between Mount Pleasant, Patriots Point and foundation officials related to that project revealed how it devolved into dysfunction, particularly in the months leading up to last October, when the museum group announced it would start searching for other locations.
That organization, led by CEO Joe Daniels who also led the creation of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, hasn't yet announced where it plans to relocate. Daniels has said that New York City, San Diego, Denver, Dallas and Washington, D.C., were among the possible locations.
One of the controversies surrounding that group's museum plans was the proposed building height, which exceeded the town's limits. Some, including residents and at least a few council and Patriots Point board members, also questioned whether its design fit the character of Mount Pleasant.
McQueeney said their plans for the Heritage Center would comply with Mount Pleasant's zoning rules and have a simpler and more "classic" design.
Building at the waterfront parcel already selected for a Medal of Honor museum project would be "ideal," McQueeney said, but their plans aren't specific to a particular part of Patriots Point's property.
He also said their group is open to building the center at another location in Mount Pleasant, though their focus is Patriots Point.
A small museum to the Medal of Honor and the offices of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society — the group made up of all medal recipients — already exists on the aircraft carrier Yorktown, Patriots Point's main attraction. One selling point for their project, Livingston and McQueeney noted, is that the designation of being affiliated with that national organization is specific to Patriots Point, as per a 1999 bill from the U.S. House of Representatives.
After the Patriots Point Development Authority voted to end its lease with the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation in December, both Mount Pleasant's mayor, Will Haynie, and the Patriots Point board's chair, Ray Chandler, had expressed interest in supporting a different museum effort dedicated to the medal, one that would still be at Patriots Point but separate from the museum group headed by Daniels.
Now, with an initial OK from the county in-hand, McQueeney says he's hopeful both the town and the state-owned museum will back their group.
"We have the right people to get this done," he said.