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New London — A 10-mile radius around New London is an important piece of geography for the federal government, according to the state's freshman senator in Washington.
"Very few cities matter more to the federal government than New London,'' U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Friday before taking a mini-tour of the Fort Trumbull peninsula and Belden Street to get a first-hand look at how the city is spending state and federal money.
With the rapid growth of Electric Boat and the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Murphy said the feds have a vested interest in helping New London succeed.
"I'm going to be a dogged advocate for New London,'' said Murphy, who was sworn into office earlier this month.
On Friday Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio led Murphy on a tour of Fort Trumbull State Park, which was once part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He pointed out where construction of a 103-unit housing development is expected to start in the spring, as well as State Pier, the ferry terminals downtown and Waterfront Park.
From atop the fort, which dates back to the American Revolution, Finizio also pointed toward Long Island Sound and identified two small islands at the mouth of the Thames River which someday could be developed, he said, and several lighthouses — New London Harbor Light, which is owned by the U.S. Customs House Maritime Museum, and Race Rock Light, which the museum is trying to acquire.
Kristin Havrilla Clarke, the city's director of development and planning, talked about the city's desire to develop the upper floors of downtown buildings and the possibility of connecting, by water, downtown with Fort Trumbull State Park and Fort Griswold State Park in Groton.
But money is needed for all the projects, she said.
Murphy also took a quick peek inside the Fort Trumbull Visitor Center. "You've done a wonderful job here,'' he said.
Murphy walked along Belden Street, a once-rundown neighborhood in the heart of the city in which 20 houses have been renovated and sold as owner-occupied housing using millions of dollars in state and federal money.
Marilyn Graham, executive director of Housing Opportunities for People (H.O.P.E.), said roughly $3.8 million has been spent during the past 10 years on 15 houses on Belden Street through House New London, which includes H.O.P.E., Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunities, Alderhouse and the Renaissance City Development Association.
"People used to say, 'Why would I want to live on Belden Street?'" Graham said as she pointed to the now-thriving neighborhood with neat single- and two-family homes, some with white picket fences.
Murphy also walked through one house that is at the beginning of the rehabilitation process. He said it's important for him to see the results of federal investments.
"I didn't want the month to go by without coming down here and letting people know this area is a priority for me,'' Murphy said. "I'm so excited to be partnering with Mayor Finizio."