As the clock ticks down to Mount Pleasant Town Council’s showdown over the National Medal of Honor Museum, the design is not the only question that’s still up in the air.
Planning Committee chairman Joe Bustos says the design, which has generated widespread controversy, is not really his biggest concern. He says his biggest concern is whether the museum foundation board can meet the deadlines for raising the money to move the road and start construction of any design.
"My one great concern is that we’re going to move the road and create the site and the board isn’t going to be able to build the building and all the town will have done is created eight or nine acres of developable land," Bustos said.
For instance, there’s debate over whether the foundation can use $4 million that the state donated to start moving a section of Patriots Point Boulevard by the Nov. 30 deadline that’s in the land lease with the Patriots Point Development Authority, which owns the land near the Yorktown where the museum will be built.
That’s one of the questions that will be discussed at a committee meeting that’s scheduled to start at 12:30 on Tuesday in council chambers. Bustos said he has asked town staff and representatives of Patriots Point to come prepared to answer that question, as well as others about the project deadlines. The foundation's lease with Patriots Point says construction on the museum must start by July 2020.
"We need to make sure all this stuff is lining up, because if we create this site and we don’t have the wherewithal to build the building, it’s going to be a problem," Bustos said.
The town is not being asked to approve a particular design but a planned-unit development, which includes the museum, chapel, conference hall, parking area, landscaping and the site itself near the water.
The Planning Commission, a citizen body that advises Town Council, overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would allow a building up to 140 feet tall in January but said they would consider 80 feet. Council's planning committee delayed any action on the application until it was revised.
A revised design is 99 feet tall, according to architect Moshe Safdie. The application is expected to be on the Planning Commission's agenda in November, just weeks before the road deadline.
Retired Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient who lives in Mount Pleasant, raised some of the same concerns that Bustos and Mayor Will Haynie have been raising last week.
In a letter to The Post and Courier, Livingston urged the foundation to drop its controversial design, which is taller than anything else ever approved by town officials, and focus on the interior exhibits while a new public-private partnership he said is coming together raises money for another exterior design.
Livingston quit the board last year because he said he couldn't back them anymore. He said he doubts the current team can get the museum built on time.
"We want to see it get across the finish line (after) five years of failure with the same crowd really in charge," he said in an email last week. "Do you really think big business will write a check for 10 or 15 million after they do due diligence on this operation?"
Joe Daniels, who raised the money for the September 11 Memorial on the World Trade Center site, became the fourth CEO of the National Medal of Honor Foundation in April. He said he plans to stick with the current design, which is a smaller version of the original that town planners previously rejected.
"We’re increasingly feeling the momentum that we have a supportable design, we have what we hope is the support of the majority of town council, and we have a board we believe is in a position to executive this significant undertaking."
The board added five new members, including another Medal of Honor recipient, earlier this month. Daniels said he has been talking with potential donors who are prepared to commit significant sums once the town approves a design. The present design is projected to cost more than $100 million. The foundation reports a couple million in the bank, not including the money from the state.
"We need approval from the town to unlock the fund-raising," Daniels said. "When that happens, there are going to be some significant contributions."
The foundation retains control of the design under an agreement with the Congressional Medal Honor of Society, which has rights to the medals, and the Patriots Point Development Authority, which will lease the land for the museum. An agreement signed in September 2013 gives the foundation exclusive rights for 10 years to develop a Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Haynie urged Daniels at a recent Patriots Point board meeting to accept outside help.
"No one is trying to interfere with the legal arrangement between the museum foundation and Patriots Point," Haynie said in an email. "In fact, a collaboration would only be offered to help bring about the success of the intentions in the existing lease as stated."