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Sultana museum entering design and fundraising phase

Sultana museum entering design and fundraising phase


Project manager: ‘ The train has left the station. It's on the tracks and it is moving forward’ The Sultana Disaster Museum plans are moving full steam ahead.

Officials behind the project to build a bigger permanent museum to commemorate America's greatest maritime disaster in downtown Marion say they have accomplished three key objectives and are now ready to move on to the design and fundraising phase.

“We've come a long way,” said project manager Louis Intres. “It has grown significantly. We're not looking at just a Sultana museum that is going to bring a few thousand people in. We are actually promoting and designing a museum that will be a national destination site with around 35,000 to $50,000 visitors a year. We are looking at an $8 to $10 million project plus another $3 to $4 million for an endowment that would cover operations for at least ten years.”

The Sultana was a Mississippi River steamboat that exploded just upriver from Memphis on April 27, 1865 and resulted in the loss of 1,200 deaths.

The boat was grossly overloaded and was carrying former Union soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war and were on their way home. The remains of the boat are buried under a soybean field in Marion.

The city opened a small museum in 2015 to commemorate the event and help spread the story of the forgotten tragedy.

Intres updated the Marion Advertising and Promotions Commission at its June meeting about the progress they have made so far.

In January, backers of the project put together a new board of trustees headed by Judge John Fogleman and includes local businessman Frank Barton, former state representative Scott Ferguson, Marion School District Superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter, and author and Sultana historian Gene Salecker, who owns the bulk of the artifacts currently on display in Marion.

Intres said the new board has been tasked with raising money and guiding the project through to completion.

“We have put together a

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very active and influential board,” Intres said. “In addition to meeting monthly, we are in communication with each other almost daily.”

The group also recently acquired the gymnasium on Military Road across the street from the elementary school from the school district, and has hired the Haizlip Studio in Memphis to design the museum and oversee the renovations on the building.

“They have toured the building multiple times and are just blown away by how impressive it is inside,” Intres said. “It's going to be about $3 million for construction and renovation and about $2.5 million for exhibits and artifacts and the conceptual planning. And we are looking at some additional land acquisition of property down the road for an outdoor plaza and events area downtown to go along with this.”

Intres said the board also has hired Catherine Johnson & Associates of Little Rock to lead the fundraising effort. Johnson has set a goal of raising $15 million for the project.

“She has been over here the last six weeks working diligently,” Intres said.

“She pushes hard. She is well known in the state and is a person who doesn't take no for an answer. She has already opened up doors for us.”

Intres said the group has also submitted or are ready to submit several grants to the Delta Regional Authority ($250,000), The Sturgis Foundation ($100,000), The Keen Foundation ($100,000) and a grant application seeking $3 million from the U.S.

Economic Development Administration.

“Right now, we have grants in process or been submitted for over $4.5 million,” Intres said. “

Intres added that he and Mayor Frank Fogleman and members of the board have already had meetings with Governor Asa Hutchinson's staff who have pledged their support and financial resources for the project, as well as Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. In addition, State Senator Keith Ingram and a delegation of lawmakers from northeast Arkansas will be filing a bill in the next legislative session seeking funding for the project.

“The train has left the station. It's on the tracks. And it is moving forward,” Intres said. “We have achieved all of our goals that we set over the last 90 days that we thought were important. We know it costs money to do this, and as always, we appreciate your support.”

Councilman David Bigger, who chairs the A& P and has been a longtime supporter of the museum, said the project has come a long way since it was first proposed.

“That's incredible,” Biggers said. “It's going to be impressive.”

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