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Cumberland County warns backers of Army museum

Cumberland County commissioners warned that a foundation raising
money for an Army museum near Carlisle must show more progress or risk losing
taxpayer assistance.

Cumberland County commissioners warned that a foundation raising
money for an Army museum near Carlisle must show more progress or risk losing
taxpayer assistance.

In a letter released yesterday, the commissioners wrote that
the Army Heritage Center Foundation must raise $1 million by Dec. 31.

“The Foundation’s success in reaching this goal will
determine the future disposition of County hotel-tax investment,” the
commissioners wrote.

The foundation covers operating expenses with county
hotel-tax money. So far, the county has given the foundation about $1.8
million, according to the commissioners. The funding stretches back to at least
2002.

The foundation is raising money to expand the Army Heritage
and Education Center
, which is partly built. The
center remains far short of the ultimate vision, which calls for a major museum
and other facilities that would cost about $100 million to construct. Backers
say the project would boost tourism in Cumberland County.
The fundraising effort has lagged, however.

“We’re looking at — how long are we going to continue
putting hotel-tax money into that?” commissioners’ Chairman Gary Eichelberger
said yesterday. The commissioners have given the foundation ample time, he
said.

“Clearly, there comes a point at which you have to determine
whether that operation is merely sustaining itself or whether it’s making
progress toward the major goal,” Eichelberger said.

The foundation already was racing to raise $4 million in
private donations by spring 2009 or
face the loss of a $10 million state grant, Executive Director Mike Perry said.
The $14 million total would pay for the first phase of a visitors’ center, he
said.

It would be difficult but not impossible for the fundraising
effort to continue without county support, Perry said. The letter turns up the
pressure on the foundation, which has scheduled a conference call of its board
for Friday, he said. But he sounded receptive to that pressure, saying the
letter was reasonable and that it could both hurt and help.

“Sometimes it can scare donors,” Perry said. “But at the
same time, it provides a degree of focus that allows us to move ahead swiftly.”

It also allows the foundation to bring a sense of urgency to
donors who previously have delayed commitments, he said. The foundation is
preparing a document that will show the commissioners how it intends to meet
its fundraising goals, Perry said. The group is now in a formal conversation
with the county that probably should have been ongoing, Perry said.

The commissioners have a seat with voting power on the foundation’s board, Perry said.

The Army center is designed to tell the stories of
individual soldiers, Perry said. The center attracted some 42,000 visitors last
year. The campus has a small exhibition space, a library, an archive and a
walking trail that is visible from Interstate 81. Congress has tentatively
appropriated funds to add a conservation center that would be worth about $18
million once fully equipped, Perry said.

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