The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, a top visitor attraction in Columbus, has some unfinished business and is turning to a local bank president to lead a $20 million fund-raising campaign.
The museum announced the effort Thursday, with Columbus Bank and Trust President and Chief Executive Officer Billy Blanchard heading the capital campaign aimed at paying for new features and improvements to the facility, which opened in June 2009.
National Infantry Museum Foundation Chairman Carmen Cavezza, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former Fort Benning commander, said Blanchard is the right person for the mission.
“He listens to people and people and people listen to him,” Cavezza said in a statement. “When he explains to potential donors how important and how worthy these projects are, I have no doubt they’ll be eager to contribute.”
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Blanchard’s campaign joins another fund-raising effort already under way in the Atlanta area by real-estate businessman Sam Friedman and Georgia State Sen. Hunter Hill, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those two have raised more than $8 million thus far.
The 190,000-square-foot museum, located at 1775 Legacy Way in south Columbus, just outside Fort Benning, was built following a $100 million capital campaign, but with some pieces not completed. The museum says it has had 1.8 million visitors since the 2009 opening, with the travel site, TripAdvisor, awarding it a “Certificate of Excellence” and ranking it No. 1 out of 40 things to do in Columbus.
The museum’s grounds include a Memorial Walk of Honor, World War II Company Street and a parade field upon which soldiers graduate from the Maneuver Center of Excellence as new Infantry and Armor troops. It is also a teaching tool for soldiers in training, giving them a large-scale history overview of the Infantry’s heritage and role in U.S. defense. An Armor/Cavalry gallery is included in the facility until that branch of the Army constructs its own museum in the future.
The current fund-raising campaign — expected to be completed by the end of this year — will pay for several new and improved elements. They include a “Global War on Terrorism” memorial and updated gallery; completion of the final artifact gallery; finishing the Vietnam War Memorial; a new veterans patio for events; revamping the theater by adding a stage and equipment for meetings; and an “Infantry Theater” with special effects.Cavezza said the success the museum has had over the last several years should prove to potential donors that they are truly investing in a facility of national and international prominence.
Blanchard, in a statement, said he is “honored” to lead the campaign to raise the new money for what he called a “local, state and national treasure.” The effort has been dubbed simply, “Advancing the Mission: the Campaign to Honor Heroes.”
“All of us have been impacted by Fort Benning and the men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to us and our great nation,” said Blanchard, the son of retired Synovus Chairman and CEO Jim Blanchard. “Giving back to support the museum, which honors those men and women in such an amazing way, is a privilege.”