Coast Guard Museum divides New London City Council candidates

New London - While all the candidates for City Council said Wednesday night they support construction of a proposed National Coast Guard Museum, some were uncertain about the prospect of increased automobile and pedestrian traffic downtown where the $80 million museum is slated to be built.

"I'm skeptical of the location," Council President Michael Passero, who is seeking re-election to a third term, said during a candidates forum hosted by New London Landmarks at the Public Library of New London.

Passero, a Democrat, said he's worried about the impact the projected hundreds of daily visitors to the museum will have on the train station, ferries, streets and the waterfront. He also wondered if the modern-looking museum would fit in with the city's historical architecture.

The preliminary plans for the museum, which will be built on Water Street between Cross Sound Ferry and Union Station, would be the city's "mini Sydney Opera House," Passero said.

Republican candidates Keith Robbins and Katelin Teel, who both wanted the museum to be built at Fort Trumbull rather than the downtown, agreed with Passero.

"We need to be sure all the stakeholders are involved ... and make sure it is done seamlessly," Robbins said.

"Construction will drastically disrupt downtown," Teel said. "And I agree, there are questions about the location."

She disliked the preliminary drawings of the five-story building which juts out over the Thames River like the bow of a boat, saying it looked like New York's Museum of Modern Art.

But Efrain Dominguez, a Democrat, said the city would be lucky to have to worry about having so many people in town.

"I understand the concerns about buses and crowds, but we want people to come to New London," he said. "What to do with 10 buses, 20 buses, 50 buses? That's a good problem to have."

"Putting it downtown ... we need foot traffic," said Republican candidate Bill Vogel. "I hope it will be as much as we fear."

Michael Tranchida, a Democrat and former city clerk, wondered about room for future expansion of the museum. City Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran said that while the museum will be an economic boost, it will bring problems, too.

"New London is more than just the downtown," said Friess-McSparran, a Democrat who is running for re-election on the Republican ticket. "It will be an asset ... but it's not authentic-looking."

But the rest of the candidates appeared to be in full support of the project.

Putting up the museum downtown "is a problem we're willing to handle," said Erica Richardson, a Democrat. And fellow Democrat Laura Natusch said the museum construction could be an opportunity to change traffic patterns and make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

City Councilor Wade Hyslop, a Democrat seeking re-election who is a former Coast Guardsman, said he had no problem with the downtown location. Michael Doyle, a Republican, said the city needs to come up with a comprehensive plan for downtown that would address possible problems during and after construction.

Each candidate had two minutes to answer the questions.

Also participating in the forum were Republicans Dennis Downing and former City Councilor Martin Olsen; incumbent Councilor Anthony Nolan, a Democrat; and Ronna Stuller, the only Green Party candidate.

Fifteen of the 16 candidates seeking seats on the City Council attended the 90-minute forum. Landmarks, the city's nonprofit preservation group, asked all the candidates three questions, which also touched on the importance of historic buildings in the city and how each candidate has contributed to preserving that history. Petitioning candidate Carl Lee did not attend the forum.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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