The lease has been signed. The planning is complete. Design and construction will begin soon in Punta Gorda.

The Military Heritage Museum is just a few steps away from physically occupying the IMPAC Building, leaving the space it has leased in Fishermen’s Village since 2007 for new digs down the street on Marion.

It will become the first tenant of the vacant IMPAC building, a 55,0000-square-foot former business training center that Fishermen’s Village bought in 2017.

The projected date to open the museum doors at the new building is mid- to late March. If all goes according to plan, what the museum will offer visitors will be more of the beloved artifacts it’s known for, new interactive exhibits and knock-your-socks-off technology.

Over the years, a couple of closets full of stuff have evolved into more than 20,000 artifacts, 4,000 literary titles and more than 1,000 documents – all carefully preserved and doted over by volunteers and staff.

It’s about to get better.

“It’s going to be a very different museum from what it is today,” said Gary Butler, the museum’s executive director.

As an example, he said the second floor will be interactive, immersive. Officials have on hand large, military-grade simulators.

“You will be able to sit down in a chair and fly an airplane – any airplane – or pilot a ship,” he said.

His vision? “So, I want to join the Air Force and learn how to fly a P-51 by training over the Punta Gorda Army Airfield.” The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II.

That would be fun enough. But then, a visitor could “re-enact a flight from England to Normandy and do both in one day. That will be a reality.

“If somebody had that item on their bucket list, to fly a plane over Normandy, we can create that in the museum.”

There are, of course, hurdles.

This month, officials intend to accelerate the design and build-out of the museum, fabricating the exhibits, designing the wall tapestries, bringing in the technology.

They also will be launching a fundraising campaign. The museum has investments and money it has saved over the years for just this kind of move. The goal is to replace the money in the bank. Officials need to raise about $650,000. They have already raised about $150,000 of that.

“It will be a major, major project,” Butler said of the fundraising campaign.

Butler took over as the museum’s executive director in April, so this move – and the modernization of the museum – is his baby.

“The analogy is, I’m flying a plane to a new airport,” he said, smiling. “I haven’t designed the airport yet, I haven’t built the airport yet, I haven’t come up with the money to pay for it yet.

“But I got to land that plane.

“It has been a fascinating journey because we are designing, building and creating as we’re flying.”

We wish Butler and his crew a smooth landing.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.

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