The Museum of the Marine isn’t giving up the fight, organizers say, but another $20 million will be needed to make the museum a reality.
Museum staff say they are waiting on final approval from the Department of the Navy and then the museum will get its permits to begin construction in the Lejeune Memorial Gardens to the right of the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Executive Director Dave Brown said the museum had a temporary lease in 2007 and had to get an architectural drawing complete before ground could be broken. When the plans were submitted, the lease was then re-examined, stalling the process. The museum is now waiting on the lease to be re-approved, at which point permits will be acquired and ground will be broken.
Camp Lejeune officials told The Daily News that the base continues to work with museum organizers as they move forward with the project.
Phase one will consist of creating and paving parking lots; installing a foot bridge across a stream; placing an 11-foot Eagle, Globe and Anchor statue; clearing the building site and courtyard area; erecting five temporary flag poles; providing electrical power to the flag poles, parking lot and walking paths; landscaping the area from the parking lot to the EGA statue and around the cleared areas; and more, according to information from the museum.
According to Museum Director of Operations Joe Houle, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major, all the money is in the bank for phase one, and the museum has been ready to proceed for a year.
Bob Songer, chairman of the museum board, said the museum is waiting on the Department of the Navy and Headquarters Marine Corps to approve a new agreement regarding use of the land at Lejeune Memorial Gardens. He said it may be another year before ground is broken and describes the standstill as frustrating because both entities were on board with a previous agreement.
“It’s hurting the campaign because people want to see something,” he said.
Originally, the museum was slated to be located on half an acre of city land at the former site of Onslow Inn, located on Marine Boulevard in downtown Jacksonville, near a planned conference center and upscale hotel. In 2005, the conference center and hotel project was put on the back burner and the museum needed to search for a new site, according to Bruce Gombar, the immediate past president of the museum’s Board of Directors.
“My wife always tells me that things happen for a reason, and I think that (the change in location) is a prime example of that because I think … the Lejeune Memorial Gardens is a much better location than what we would have had there,” he said.
According to Gombar, the museum will fit perfectly with the current and planned military memorials in the gardens.
“That’s kind of hallowed ground,” he said. “It’s a perfect location, it’s easy to get to, you don’t have to go through a sentry post to get on the base so it’s just an ideal location we think.”
According to a map of the site, the museum would be visible from the U.S. 17 bypass.
The museum’s location isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years. The museum was originally slated to be the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas but changed its name in 2007 to Museum of the Marine.
The museum’s office has also moved. While it is now located on Gum Branch Road, it has previously been located on New Bridge Street and in Valencia Park on Huff Drive.
The museum has raised $8 million through 2012, and Houle said numbers are not yet available for 2013.
The museum has also received $2 million from the state of North Carolina, $495,000 from the Golden Leaf Foundation and pledges of $1 million from Onslow County and the City of Jacksonville, according to information from the museum.
The museum holds two primary fundraisers each year.
Last year, the annual golf tournament raised $29,190 and proceeds were split with Hope for the Warriors with each entity taking $14,595, McMahon said. The beach bash themed gala also did well, bringing in about $65,000 after costs.
Those interested in contributing while also securing a place in the museum are also able to buy a brick.
Bricks include text and range in price from $150 to $260 depending on size, according to information from the Museum. So far, more than 3,000 have been purchased, Houle said, and are being stored with the other donations.
According to information provided by Songer, the museum has spent an average of $92,223 annually on payroll, including social security, insurance and taxes. Another $17,017 has been spent annually on professional fees, including audits, while $14,678 has been spent annually on rent. According to the information, the museum has also spent an average of $48,697 annually on miscellaneous items, including office supplies, memorial bricks, phone, computers and debt.
“The longer it takes to build it, the more operating expense takes,” Songer said.
Project Manager Meghan McMahon told The Daily News that the museum’s three employees — Houle, McMahon and financial manager Richard Koeckert — receive a total of $8,145.57 per month while the museum’s monthly overhead — including renting an office on Gum Branch Road, water, electric, insurance on the artifacts, office supplies, fundraiser supplies, storage rental — costs $7,582.41.
According to information filed with the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State in November, Houle receives $43,200 annually while Koeckert receives $32,000 annually and McMahon receives $25,805.
“We only use what we need to get by and everything else we put in the construction fund,” McMahon said.
Where it’s been
The museum doesn’t just get cash donations.
Many items that will be on display in the museum, which would be built in phase two, were also donated.
Some of those donations have been learning experiences.
A landing ship medium (LSM) was donated to the museum when it was going to be built in downtown Jacksonville on the waterfront.
The LSM Association, which donated the ship, also donated $400,000 for the ship’s upkeep, Songer said. However, when the transport was complete, about $90,000 of that funding was left.
Of that, $89,000 was spent on the ship’s insurance, generators and replacing items stolen from it, including ropes and lines, he said.
“It was expensive,” Songer said.
When the museum site shifted to Lejeune Memorial Gardens, there was no longer a place for the ship, which would have cost several million dollars to prepare for display, he said.
Songer said that the museum considered options like sinking it to create a coral reef or finding another home for the ship, but the ship ended up being given to a commercial business that was to turn it into a working barge.
“The original idea was good … but it wasn’t financially practical,” he said.
Houle said the ship was given to Justice Marine Repair and Salvage in Sneads Ferry because it would have cost too much to sell.
“In order to sell it it would need to be environmentally safe. They wanted an astronomical amount of money to make it completely safe from asbestos and lead paint before it could be transferred to anyone for sale,” he said.
According to Joey Justice, owner of Justice Marine Repair and Salvage, the ship was not fit for a working barge and scrapped. Parts of it, however, were saved for the museum, including the anchor, gun turret and helm.
The $28 million project has taken 14 years to get this far.
“It just don’t happen overnight,” Houle said.
Phase one is expected to cost $1.5 million, according to the museum. The museum has also spent $2,786,080.12 on design and development, according to Songer.
Songer said the museum will have $1 million left after phase one is complete.
Phase two will focus on creating a 40,000-square-foot facility that will include an orientation theater and four exhibit galleries including one rotating gallery.
The board of directors selected Calloway, Johnson, Moore and West, a Winston Salem-based firm, to serve as the architects on the project. The firm received $1.2 million for the project, according to the museum.
McMahon said they did not have a planned start date for phase two since funds are still being raised.
The museum is now fundraising outside of Onslow County after hiring Alexander and Haas, an Atlanta-based fundraising firm. The Tourism Development Board paid the firm $30,000 and expects to pay another $15,000 for materials for the campaign, according to Assistant City Manager Glenn Hargett.
Through its “Long Live The Legends” campaign, the museum hopes to encourage those with ties to the Marine Corps to learn more about the museum and donate if they see fit.
In the meantime, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor statue is expected to be placed in front of Marine Federal Credit Union in March, Songer said.
“We don’t want to wait to show it to the public,” he said.
Brown said museum organizers have read their critics’ Letters to the Editor in The Daily News and know the negatives that are being said about the museum, but said the organizers have accomplished “an awful lot in the last year” since hiring the consulting firm.
“We’re not as organized as we should have been,” he said.