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Coast Guard Museum heading downtown

By Kathleen Edgecomb and Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published February 21. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 21. 2013 3:05PM
Officials call design plans 'exciting,' 'impressive,' predict facility will boost economic development in New London

New London - The city received design plans for a proposed National Coast Guard Museum Wednesday, and the mayor said he is impressed.

Jimmy Coleman, chairman and president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, was in town Wednesday to meet with Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. Plans for the museum have been approved by the association and Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, Finizio said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also met with Coleman while he was in the area. Courtney said he saw drawings for a roughly 50,000-square-foot museum on property adjacent to the train station in downtown. But, he said, the plans are still subject to input from the city and are not final.

"I think having this adjacent to the train station, with the parking garage and the interstate nearby, all fits together as a great way to drive visitors to New London," Courtney said. "It's really going to be a very attractive, exciting destination."

Many have speculated that the museum would be located on the land between Union Station and Cross Sound Ferry. The city owns a 1-acre parcel between the ferries and City Pier Plaza.

Coleman could not be reached Wednesday because he was flying back to New Orleans from Hartford.

Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs, has attended previous meetings about the museum but was not present Wednesday. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in Stamford.

"Right now, it really does rest with the City of New London," Ross said. "They have got to figure out how they're going support it, in terms of the way it would fit in the city."

Finizio said the designs are remarkable.

"They're profoundly impressive,'' Finizio said. "This project has the potential to transform the City of New London and be a driver of economic development.''

The next step is to continue to contact property owners, abutting property owners and other stakeholders interested in project, as well as federal, state and local officials, Finizio said.

"We're at the stage where it's just a matter of getting everyone in the room, showing everyone the designs and addressing concerns and getting commitments to move forward,'' Finizio said. "If there are persistent issues, we will address them. ... Designs can be modified, tweaked, corrected or changed.''

Capt. Richard A. Hahn, chief of the Coast Guard's public affairs office, said Wednesday night that the Coast Guard is doing everything it can to facilitate the process.

"Everyone is working toward the museum solution," Hahn said.

More than 13 years ago, the city approved development plans at Fort Trumbull that included a parcel for a Coast Guard museum. Those plans fizzled out, but more recently, museum officials shifted their focus to downtown.

"It's too bad,'' said Linda Mariani, member of the board of the Renaissance City Development Committee who saw plans for the Fort Trumbull location. "It was a spectacular building. It just would have been too expensive to build there."

Last year, Todd O'Donnell, who manages Union Station, presented a plan for a Coast Guard museum in the train station, an 1888 Henry R. Richardson-designed building that was saved from demolition in the 1970s. The site was not selected.

O'Donnell said Wednesday he heard the museum was going on the waterfront but he had not seen any plans.

"We would want to see it on the waterfront. That's why we promoted it,'' O'Donnell said. "We think a Coast Guard Museum is a great idea downtown."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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