Excited about Coast Guard Museum

New London is still a long way from a ribbon cutting, but there is good reason to be excited about news that the National Coast Guard Museum Association has settled on a site for its museum - a 1-acre parcel of city-owned land on the waterfront between the Cross Sound Ferry complex and Union Station.

As important as the announcement of the location was the news that the Coast Guard itself is backing the plans, critical to launching a successful fundraising effort to pay for construction of the national museum that will recall the rich history of the rescue service.

New London, home to the Coast Guard Academy, is the appropriate place for the museum. And while the city's Fort Trumbull peninsula was formerly under consideration as the locale, this newspaper has more recently argued that a location adjacent to the downtown commercial district was the better choice.

In the selected spot the museum will have easy access to plentiful parking and car, ferry, bus and train transportation. The museum will help generate activity on the city's underutilized waterfront. It will create more foot traffic, vital to the success and growth of retail and restaurant businesses in the downtown. Using the new museum to host marine-related conferences will add to the buzz of activity and improve synergy between the city and the academy it hosts.

While some might argue the redevelopment efforts at Fort Trumbull will suffer without the museum, that does not have to be the case if the city connects the peninsula to the downtown district through a water taxi or pedestrian bridge, as envisioned in the concept plan developed by the Yale Urban Design Workshop.

Efforts to build a National Coast Guard Museum reached a low point in July 2009 when the museum association suspended a fundraising effort to construct the museum in the Fort Trumbull area, dismissing a nationally regarded museum director who had been hired only a few months previously to lead the development efforts. With the nation then in the grips of the Great Recession, fundraising ran aground.

Raising funds will remain a big challenge. John S. Johnson, treasurer for the museum association, tells us the price tag has likely increased from $65 million to about $80 million, as the building will have to go up several stories to accommodate construction on the single-acre parcel. But selection of a site the Coast Guard supports should energize fundraising efforts, said Mr. Johnson, with both former officers and enlisted personnel ready to contribute to telling the story of the service they devoted parts of their lives to.

Other challenges will include getting the necessary land use approvals, agreement on details by the adjacent owners of the ferry terminal and Union Station, and support from the state. The project envisions a pedestrian bridge to carry visitors over Water Street, an idea that has proved controversial in the past. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio recognizes the museum is a top priority for his administration.

This project could provide a great opportunity for the state to become a partner in driving New London development by helping pay for the infrastructure necessary to support this effort.

The museum is probably still several years away, but it suddenly seems much closer to becoming a reality.

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