New London — Reminiscent of New York's iconic ad slogan, "I love New York," "NL (heart) USCG" was launched Tuesday by the City Center District at Union Station. The intent of the campaign is to show the Coast Guard it is wanted and appreciated.
Business leaders, city officials and community leaders gathered at the train station literally wearing hearts on their sleeves, collars and hats.
They all touted the importance of the Coast Guard and how intricately it is linked to New London.
"I think everybody understands that the Coast Guard belongs in New London," said Bill Stanley, vice president of development and community relations at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. "It's unfathomable to imagine New London without a Coast Guard presence here."
In November, city residents narrowly defeated a proposal to sell a portion of the adjacent Riverside Park to the academy for expansion.
Todd O'Donnell, a CCD commissioner, said the Coast Guard is an invaluable partner in the community. He said the Coast Guard has helped the nation in times of crisis, and has been instrumental in building leaders.
"A leadership team that not coincidentally was built in New London," said O'Donnell. "We want to express to our leaders here and in Washington that the Coast Guard does matter to us."
O'Donnell, who owns Union Station, has in the past touted the station as a possible site for the U.S. Coast Guard Museum.
He did not elaborate on those plans Tuesday but he did say that several months ago officials at the Coast Guard saw the proposal.
Leaders from Mitchell College, New London public schools, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, The Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut and Lawrence & Memorial Hospital spoke briefly at the launch of the campaign.
Earlier this month the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., told The Day that, if necessary, the Coast Guard would consider moving some programs to its facilities in other states if expansion here becomes impossible.
That prompted city leaders and officials to rev up efforts to help the Coast Guard expand in the city.
Last week, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz met for the first time to talk about how they might work together.
Both Finizio and Stosz were present at the event Tuesday.
Finizio said the city has entered good-faith talks with the Coast Guard. He said the city will do everything within its power to help the Coast Guard fulfill its mission in the city. He said several properties in New London, not just Riverside, could be considered. He did not say which ones.
Finizio said when cadets graduate military school they proudly say, "'I went to West Point,' 'I went to Annapolis.' I want them to say, 'I went to New London.'"
Stosz said, "I was thrilled to have a mission of love and support today."
The three-week campaign will culminate in a citywide USCG Appreciation Day on Valentine's Day at Union Station.
Special "NL (heart) USCG" posters will be will be available and downtown businesses will have Valentine's Day card boxes so residents can write messages to Coast Guard Academy cadets, those on active duty and alumni.
A Facebook page has also been created for people to show their support.