New London's Finizio in Washington on Coast Guard mission

New London - Like Navy cadets who say they go to Annapolis, and Army officers who say they attend West Point, the mayor is hoping the city's name will someday roll off the tongues of Coast Guard Academy graduates.

"We want them to say I went to New London,'' said Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who is in Washington, D.C., today meeting with the head of the Coast Guard and the Connecticut legislative delegation to discuss expansion of the Coast Guard Academy campus and building a national Coast Guard Museum in the city.

"We will be discussing options that the city has formulated to meet their needs,'' said Finizio on Wednesday before he boarded a southbound train. "Our plan all along has been to work with the Coast Guard in a cooperative and good-faith manner.''

He would not elaborate on the plans the city intends to offer the Coast Guard, which is looking for room to expand its 103-acre campus.

The previous City Council had worked out a deal to sell to the Coast Guard about half of Riverside Park for $2.9 million. But many residents balked at the proposal, which they said gave the academy the center 9 acres of the riverfront park and left another 9 acres like a "crust'' for residents.

The proposed sale failed at a November referendum.

Finizio ran for mayor with a platform that included a commitment to the residents of east New London, where Riverside Park is located, to focus more attention and city resources on their neighborhoods. He was against the sale of the park, but said Wednesday he was against the agreement that was proposed.

'Agreement was a bad deal'

"I never was on record saying we should never do this, or do that,'' he said. "I campaigned that the agreement was a bad deal for New London."

He said the sale price was too low and there was no land identified to replace the open space that would be lost.

"My goal has always been to form a comprehensive community partnership with the Coast Guard,'' Finizio said.

To the members of the Riverside Park Conservancy, and others who worked to save the park from being sold, he said he is going into talks with the Coast Guard with an open mind.

"I believe there are other options that don't involve the park,'' he said, but declined to say what they are.

The city is also lobbying for the Coast Guard to build a national museum here. The preferred location was identified as Fort Trumbull, but plans were put on hold several years ago when the economy took a downturn and fundraising efforts ceased.

Since then, the owners of Union Station, the city's train depot - which was designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson - have offered up the station as a possible museum site. The Coast Guard has not made a decision on the museum.

Finizio, with his assistant Zak Leavy, are expected to meet with Coast Guard Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. They are paying for their own train tickets and accommodations, Finizio said.

He said he does not expect to make any announcements when he returns to the city Friday morning. He has scheduled more meetings with Coast Guard officials, he said, and his staff is continuing to meet with Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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