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Norwich - Even if the U.S. Coast Guard Academy doesn't expand into Norwich, residents can look for increased presence by academy cadets in the Rose City in the near future.
Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz spent more than two hours Friday having lunch with Norwich officials and touring the former Shipping Street area.
"This land is available," Mayor Peter Nystrom said as he and Stosz viewed the vacant lots between the New England Central freight rail tracks and the Thames River on Shipping Street. "It needs some things done, but it's suitable for any type of development."
The area is a former industrial district that once housed oil depots and factories. Nystrom met with owners of the major parcels Monday and told Stosz they are willing to discuss any uses the Coast Guard could make of the properties.
The meeting and tour were arranged to discuss possible Coast Guard Academy expansion into Norwich after New London voters in November rejected a plan to sell a portion of Riverside Park, located adjacent to the academy, to the Coast Guard. While Nystrom is on record as supporting the academy expansion in New London, he said if that can't happen Norwich wants to be considered as an alternative.
"Certainly Norwich was kind enough to offer that they are here and there are expansion opportunities here if that can't be accomplished in New London," Stosz said after luncheon and before visiting Shipping Street.
Norwich officials presented Stosz with a bouquet of roses, and city computer technician Nick Kingsley made her a braided sailor's bracelet, a craft he learned during 10 years working on a lobster boat.
In the corner of the City Hall conference room, a large sign - "Norwich Welcomes Coast Guard Academy" - stood on an easel. Nystrom and Stosz posed for photos in front of the sign.
Friday's discussion centered on more than the academy's future expansion. The parties discussed bringing the Coast Guard Jazz Band to Norwich for a waterfront concert this summer as part of the Rock the Docks series at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor. Nystrom brought Stosz to the park after visiting Shipping Street.
The group also hopes to arrange a concert by the Coast Guard Band in the city's new Kelly Middle School Auditorium and to invite Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. - Coast Guard commandant and Kelly Middle School and Norwich Free Academy graduate - back to his hometown for the "homecoming" celebration, said City Councilor Charles Jaskiewicz.
Coast Guard cadets also will be invited to Norwich for education mentoring programs, community service projects and possibly to be paired up with local students learning to sail in a proposed sailing program at Norwich Harbor, Stosz said.
And the Coast Guard Academy baseball team could play a home game or two at Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium. The team's season runs through May, before the Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball team gets started.
"I'm overwhelmed with the hospitality that has been expressed here today for the Coast Guard Academy," Stosz said as the group prepared to visit Brown Park, where the outdoor summer concerts are held. "I've met a whole new group of people who support us."