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Organizers reveal new plans for smaller-scale Medal of Honor Museum in Mount Pleasant

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The team behind a new Mount Pleasant-based Medal of Honor museum project — which organizers say will be planned, built and open to the public in the next four years — announced early details of the project Monday. 

Several months after a years-long effort to build a nationally-recognized museum honoring Medal of Honor recipients unraveled late last year, a different group started seeking support for a similar, smaller-scale facility. 

"No one is going to get in our way this time," Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a medal recipient and leader of the new effort, said Monday evening to a crowd of about 100 people gathered on the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point. 

The state-owned maritime museum was the location of a planned museum project that has since said it will go elsewhere and is also the intended location of the new project, which has been dubbed the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. 

Foundation chairman Thomas McQueeney, who was a Patriots Point board member before recently stepping down to pursue the Heritage Center project, said the planned center would include a larger, land-based version of the Medal of Honor Museum currently housed aboard the Yorktown. 

The center would also house offices for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the national group that represents all medal recipients and has its headquarters on the Yorktown. It could include event space, a chapel, a theater or space for other attractions, but those details haven't been decided, McQueeney said. 

There is also "a chance," he said, that the museum could be the future permanent home of "We The People: Portraits of Veterans in America," a special series by artist Mary Whyte. The collection, which will be on display in the fall at Charleston's City Gallery, features large-scale watercolor portraits of veterans in all 50 states. 

The center's proposed open date is July 4, 2023, or just under four years from Monday's announcement. 

Local and state politicians, including Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie, state Sen. Paul Campbell and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, spoke in support of the Heritage Center project Monday, all insisting that, this time, the project wasn't going anywhere. 

"We're going to find the funds to help you do this thing," Campbell said. 

McQueeney says the center can be built for about $45 million — $35 million for construction and another $10 million for furnishings, displays and operating funds, less than half the estimated cost of the $100 million-plus museum previously planned at Patriots Point. 

He's also billed the project as "a museum or your money back." All public, corporate and private funds raised will be escrowed for the actual construction and creation of the Heritage Center, he said. Money for day-to-day operations would come from earnings from interest. 

In late May, Livingston and McQueeney petitioned Charleston County Council for $5 million toward construction. Council approved the request unanimously, on the condition that other public funds come through. 

Mount Pleasant would need to pledge at least $3 million and the state of South Carolina $5 million — the same amount that was given to and then returned by the now-departing Medal of Honor museum group headed by CEO Joe Daniels.

Haynie, who was joined by three other members of Mount Pleasant Town Council at Monday's announcement, told the organizers that the town will "have the fifth vote to do what you need to do."

McQueeney told the crowd that Mount Pleasant council member Joe Bustos, who was a vocal opponent of the previous museum project's design, wrote the very first donation check for the Heritage Center. 

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A land-based Medal of Honor museum was in the planning stages at Patriots Point for more than six years, but organizers led by Daniels announced in October that they were searching nationwide for alternative locations.

Livingston was a key champion of the group before leaving its board in early 2017. 

In December, the Patriots Point Development Authority called it quits on its $1-a-year lease with the group. 

A Post and Courier review of thousands of emails and other correspondence between museum leadership, town officials and Patriots Point board members revealed how, in the months leading up to that decision, the well-intentioned effort devolved into dysfunction

That experience largely informed a new set of rules for nonprofits leasing land from Patriots Point that its board unanimously approved on Friday. 

Those requirements, which include specific financial expectations, instructions for working with Mount Pleasant officials, and a provision that gives the state authority oversight of master plans and building designs, would apply to McQueeney and Livingston's Medal of Honor group and any other 501(c)(3) that wants to develop projects on Patriots Point property. 

Though the PPDA wants to see a land-based Medal of Honor museum built at Patriots Point, vice chair Wayne Adams said that the board felt it needed to establish guidelines for future nonprofit-driven projects. 

"We think we need to be cautious," Adams said. 

No formal agreement is in place at this time between the Heritage Center's foundation and Patriots Point. All plans will have to go through the PPDA and be approved by the state. 

The museum group headed by Daniels is still moving forward with its plans to build what it plans to call the National Medal of Honor Museum. The organization announced last month that it had narrowed its national search to two cities: Denver and Arlington, Texas. 

Livingston told the crowd assembled Monday that he "does not object" to the other group's effort. 

"Anything we can do to introduce the concept of freedom and service and sacrifice to young people, I'm all for it," Livingston said. 

Livingston and his organization are, however, opposed to the organization's use of the name National Medal of Honor Museum.

Referencing the National Medal of Honor Memorial Act, which was passed by Congress in 1999, Livingston and several others noted that lawmakers had recognized the town of Mount Pleasant as a "National Medal of Honor site." 

That law, he argued, makes Mount Pleasant the only place where a legitimate "National Medal of Honor Museum" can be built. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter and co-hosts the weekly news podcast Understand SC.

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