Published August 30. 2013 2:00PM Updated August 31. 2013 1:20PM
New London — A Coast Guard commemorative coin could raise $2 million to $3 million for the future National Coast Guard Museum, Congressman Joe Courtney said Friday. So Courtney, D-2nd District, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on Aug. 1 to mint the coin in 2017.
Courtney, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., Jimmy Coleman, chairman and president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, John Johnson, treasurer of the association, and New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio gathered at the Fort Trumbull Pier alongside the Coast Guard barque Eagle Friday to bring public attention to the bill, which would need the support of two-thirds of Congress.
Congress approves just two commemorative coins per year. Courtney's proposal would be the first Coast Guard commemorative coin, the proceeds from which would be donated to the construction and operation of the museum downtown.
A groundbreaking date has been set for April 15, Johnson said.
"Standing up here today is, in a way, a miracle for us," Coleman said. "We have never, in the last 10 years, had the kind of support nationally and in New London, in Connecticut, and in the leadership Admiral Papp has given."
Papp, noting that the entire Coast Guard is excited about the proposed museum, spoke Friday about his recent visit to Alaska. Near Dutch Harbor, he said, he visited the graves of Revenue Cutter Service and Coast Guard sailors. The Coast Guard needs a place where the contributions of these sailors and the contributions of Coast Guardsmen who have served around the world, in every conflict this country has faced, can be recognized, Papp said.
"We don't have a place right now but we're going to, and it's New London, Connecticut," Papp said. "That's why I'm so excited that this project continues to move on and I'm delighted to be here this morning."
And if nothing else, Papp added, the Coast Guard needs a place to put the piano — now in Alaska — on which the service's marching song, "Semper Paratus," was composed. Papp paid a visit to the piano during his trip and sang the march. The piano's owner has said she would donate it to the museum.
The earliest the Coast Guard coin could be minted is 2017 because Congress has already approved coins for the years prior, and a pending bill for a coin in honor of the National Parks system in 2016 is further along than the Coast Guard proposal.
Finizio said the proceeds from the coin would be a vital revenue stream for the project as it moves forward. "Today is also a great day because it showcases one step in the journey," he said. "But this is a long journey and it requires many different people at many different levels of government working together."
Johnson said he wishes the coin could be minted earlier, but still, the initiative is "fantastic" because "you can never have enough money."
The association has collected more than $150,000 in donations for the $80 million museum since the fundraising began on June 1, Johnson said. The goal is to open the doors in December 2017, he added.
Other coins have generated between $2 million and $3 million, Courtney said, including the commemorative coin for the U.S. Army, which raised $2.8 million for the Army Historical Foundation. The Medal of Honor Commemorative Coin Program generated $2.2 million for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.
Courtney said he thinks there will be an aggressive campaign to market the coin, so the proceeds would likely be higher than $2 million to $3 million.
"We're about to embark on a long, overdue national museum for the Coast Guard, and funding for the museum is going to be very limited in terms of the federal treasury," Courtney said. "Most of the fundraising is being done privately. Just like the museum, it's long overdue for a commemorative coin for the Coast Guard."
Courtney said it was important to spotlight the initiative to garner support in Congress. The Coast Guard Commemorative Coin Act has 29 bipartisan co-sponsors so far. There is currently no Senate version of the bill.
No designs for the coin were presented, but Papp said the coin could possibly feature the barque Eagle, the motto "Semper Paratus," or Douglas Munro, the Coast Guard's Medal of Honor recipient.
Plans for the museum call for a 54,300-square-foot building with four floors of interactive exhibits, event space, lecture rooms and a reception area with a gift shop and café. The Eagle may dock at City Pier.
The museum association recently hired Odell, Simms & Lynch Inc. in Virginia to plan the nationwide fundraising campaign to raise $50 million to $60 million. The state pledged up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge and improvements to the city's regional intermodal transportation center. Johnson said the association plans to ask the federal government for funding as well.
"We know at the end of the rainbow," Coleman said, "there's going to be a pot of gold that's coming from Washington today."