So much emotion is involved in the Medal of Honor Museum issue at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant that important facts have been ignored. The town of Mount Pleasant has steadfastly supported the museum foundation through its own self-induced turmoil and lack of progress. A perception exists that Mount Pleasant Town Council has denied the design, that the town doesn’t support the museum, and that the museum foundation came from elsewhere with $125 million ready to break ground.
None of that is true.
Here is what is true:
Mount Pleasant donated $1.5 million and agreed to re-align Patriots Point Boulevard to create the museum site. The museum foundation has not escrowed the millions required of them for the road realignment.
No building design has been voted on by Mount Pleasant Town Council, but in 2018, council has voted to grant two deferrals plus a waiver of the required one-year waiting period after the original design submission was withdrawn by the foundation.
The official name of the foundation is The Medal of Honor Museum Foundation. It’s a South Carolina nonprofit corporation, with articles of incorporation signed by two Mount Pleasant residents and two other South Carolinians. It hasn’t received the designation “National,” which must be approved by Congress. The foundation was launched in Mount Pleasant and has always been located here. Mount Pleasant is also the home of the Medal of Honor Society, composed of the medal recipients.
There is a contractual agreement that runs until 2023 limiting the MOH museum effort to Patriots Point.
The foundation reported to the Patriots Point Board in August that it had about $8 million in cash — $5 million being S.C. taxpayer money restricted to the museum and not for operations. This must be returned if the museum leaves the state, possibly before. That leaves it with $3 million operating cash and building funding (plus recent donations) if it leaves South Carolina.
The donation of the Patriots Point land (at $1 per year), the $5 million cash, and Mount Pleasant’s $1.5 million for the road plus millions for the intersection of Patriots Point/Coleman Boulevard means the major support for this concept has come from Mount Pleasant and South Carolina.
The public meeting/survey process the foundation conducted was controversial (see the Aug. 2 letter to the editor, “MOH Museum Survey Biased”). The foundation says now it will not submit this design to Mount Pleasant for approval.
Mount Pleasant gave about $1 million to the Medal of Honor museum currently located on the aircraft carrier Yorktown. We remain committed to getting a shore-side museum built. Through changes in town leadership, our commitment and focus stand.
The museum foundation board experienced massive board attrition in 2017. In a report to the Patriots Point Board, foundation CEO Joe Daniels cites 11 board member resignations. That included Mount Pleasant’s Maj. Gen. James Livingston, who is a critic of the foundation board’s management and of both proposed building designs.
In 2014, members of the museum foundation board of directors signed a letter seeking to remove Maj. Gen. Livingston as the MOH Society’s liaison to the foundation. This was a precursor to a prolonged process of shedding Mount Pleasant influence from the effort.
In 2017, the foundation shed its relationship with the Medal of Honor Bowl football game, founded by two Mount Pleasant residents. It contributed $50,000 and brought huge publicity to the museum effort.
The museum has had four CEOs in five years. None of the last three has moved to Mount Pleasant. They have continued to reside in Texas, California and New York.
This museum should be feasible, fitting and sustainable. The feasible and sustainable aspects have received no public attention. Across Charleston Harbor will stand the International African American Museum, which will be shorter than the buildings on both sides of it. Height does not define whether something is a fitting tribute. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington proves this.
In a letter to the editor published Aug. 1, Robert R. Macdonald, director emeritus of the Museum of the City of New York, writes, in part: “The museum’s proposed design … fails to take advantage of its site. … The design of this significant cultural and educational building should enhance its location rather than clash with it.”
A feasible project would get built sooner rather than later. There are 74 living recipients of the MOH, average age 72. Why waste time over unreasonably expensive “statement” architecture while losing those it is meant to honor.
The foundation had $19 million dollars. Now it has about $8 million, $5 million from taxpayers. The public-private partnership I offered cuts fundraising in half and enables faster completion. I received offers for architectural services, construction estimates, and a private sector partner for half the building cost. Elected officials offered help with more funding, which the foundation would have to seek even without this partnership.
A sustainable museum would be one costing less than the estimated $30 million per year to operate the current design. The professional feasibility study done early in this process shows the tourism numbers needed to sustain a structure like that are not possible.
Headwinds or loss
Political “headwinds” have been cited as part of the museum’s difficulties here. I asked its CEO if Mount Pleasant approved the design, would it affect the foundation board’s decision to look elsewhere. The answer was no, because the decision is based on tourism numbers.
Mr. Daniels claims support of the majority of town council to approve this design, yet they don’t plan to submit it for approval. Is a minority of council a headwind?
Maybe the contract tying the museum only to Patriots Point through 2023 is a headwind, or perhaps the lease requirement to escrow $125 million for construction by July 2020. That’s a huge headwind.
Mount Pleasant’s Maj. Gen. Livingston has offered to take on a high profile in any new effort to build a sustainable museum at Patriots Point, replacing this foundation’s, of which he says, “It’s been a failure pattern with them.”
Mount Pleasant wants the Medal of Honor museum and always has. It looks like this particular foundation, which was born here, no longer wants Mount Pleasant. Its 6-year lack of momentum shouldn’t be mistaken for headwinds, and years of support and patience by Mount Pleasant shouldn’t be mistaken for anything less than that.
Will Haynie is the mayor of Mount Pleasant.