A clean slate for Medal of Honor Museum design

May 22, 2018

The Post and Courier, Opinion, 5/22/2018

The somewhat surprising decision by the Medal of Honor Foundation to go back to square one in terms of museum’s design shouldn’t be seen a win or a loss but as a necessity in terms of getting all stakeholders on board and ultimately bringing the $100 million project to fruition.

The foundation’s new CEO, Joe Daniels, knew what he was up against when he was hired in late March. Since then, he’s been willing do whatever it takes to get the mission — something he calls “sacred” and “unassailable” — back on track. That included sacrificing the museum’s initial design if necessary, and it was.

“We should not have put forth a design on public land without public input,” he said in announcing the decision. “A partnership with the town is a core requirement.”

Mount Pleasant Town Council rejected architect Moshe Safdie’s bold, modern design in part because its 125-foot height exceeded the zoned maximum of 50 feet for the Mount Pleasant waterfront site. Such a grand structure would have made a striking statement about bravery and selflessness, but the tide of public opinion was clearly against it.

That wasn’t the only problem. Fundraising has been slow. And last year, the foundation saw a change in leadership, and half the board quit when local Medal of Honor recipient retired Marine Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston stepped down. That was a body blow to the project, which has now been underway a little more than five years.

After taking stock of the situation over the past seven weeks, Mr. Daniels said he decided it would be better to start over as far as the design process goes. It is, after all, public land, he said, and Mount Pleasant residents should have a say in how it is developed. It was a reasonable decision and, really, the only way the project was likely to move forward.

He said the foundation board fully supported the decision. A series of public hearings are being set up to gather input for the museum’s design.

“This pause is progress as far as I’m concerned,” he said Monday, adding that it was better to sort out design issues sooner rather than later. “It will be best thing for the project.”

Indeed, sorting out those design issues earlier could have saved everyone some time and money.

Still, $3.5 million spent so far on the design won’t be a total loss. Much of the work was for engineering and site preparation, including the realignment of a section of Patriots Point Boulevard to provide access to the museum site.

Mr. Daniels also recently hired a new chief of staff — Alex Rhue, who worked with him during the 11 years he led the National September 11 Museum & Memorial in New York. He also hired a top-notch fundraiser, Monica Notzon.

Now that the Medal of Honor Foundation has shown its willingness to be flexible, Mount Pleasant officials should do the same and commit to finding a workable design. This hopefully is the breakthrough that leads to a beautiful, elegant symbol of American bravery and patriotism.

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