Museum’s Ford Thrives on Bailouts

citydesk_icnOne of the many historical treasures of the Keets Harbor area, the Maritime Military Museum has thus far avoided the budget shortfall common to many other municipal, civic and cultural institutions around the city. No small contributor to the museum’s fiscal health has been its Development Director, Albert Ford, who took over fundraising efforts in 1997. His initial success was a deft business deal that turned a 1998 trademark infringement suit brought by Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company into a 10-year sponsorship that expired in November. His latest fundraising efforts have positioned the erstwhile “3M/3M” to maintain a budget surplus for the foreseeable future, even with significant infrastructure improvements and expansion plans in 2009.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is a portion of the WWII-era light carrier USS Cabot. The Cabot was auctioned off to Sabe Marine Salvage by the US Marshall’s Service in 1999 after a private preservation group ran out of funds. Director Ford, a former Naval Aviator who was twice shot down over Vietnam, purchased an intact section of the ship from SMS on September 4, 2001, not long after the carrier’s designation as a National Historic Landmark expired. The $61,500 purchase was not popular with the museum’s board of directors, and became even less so when the museum’s cash flow was inhibited by a drop in donations in the wake of 9/11.  As with the 3M controversy three years earlier, Ford managed to disadvantage into advantage with some very creative thinking.

The portion of the USS Cabot purchased by Ford and installed in the museum’s main exhibit hall included the area of the ship used to house sailors who had broken rules or committed minor crimes, better known as the “brig.” At the 2002 unveiling of the new exhibit, the museum hosted a benefit for disabled Navy veterans, where Ford met documentary filmmakers Brendan Conway and Jeff Krulik, who had filmed the 1997 release Ernest Borgnine on the Bus. They mentioned Borgnine’s many colorful stories about his 10-year naval career, several of which ended with temporary confinement in just such accommodations as were now being displayed. Conway and Krulik suggested Borgnine would very likely be willing to make an appearance at a future museum fundraiser. Ford had a better idea.

Director Ford contacted Mr. Borgnine through his agent, and arranged to have the Oscar-winning actor temporarily “incarcerated” in the Cabot’s brig on Memorial Day of 2003. Local politicians, athletes, television personalities, and entrepreneurs were then asked to “post bail” to allow the then 86 year-old performer his freedom. Not only was the fundraiser an unqualified success, bringing in over $180,000 (three times the original purchase price of the relic), but on every subsequent Memorial Day local celebrities have jumped at the chance to be the next prisoner in need of a “bailout.” Talks are already underway to have Mayor-elect Cosgrove incarcerated in 2009.

As 3M’s decade of sponsorship concludes, soon-to-be Managing Director Ford can look forward to new challenges associated with the company taking over principal sponsorship of the museum until 2018. On November 1st a new 10-year agreement began with Citigroup, Inc. of New York, a contract finalized less than a month before the company accepted $25 billion dollars from the U.S. Government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). As the museum makes its transition from the old “3M/3M” to the new Citi Maritime Military Museum (or perhaps “Taxpayer Maritime Military Museum”) there is no one better suited than Albert Ford to continue turning perceived disadvantages into advantages. He does know a lot about bailouts.
- David Andrews

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