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Arnold Palmer has blessed New London Coast Guard Museum plan

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 17. 2013 4:00AM

Of course, not much appears to have changed on the city's downtown waterfront since plans were unveiled in the spring for a transforming National Coast Guard Museum there.

But, in fact, a lot has happened in the months since the announcement, and principals in the project report things are in full-speed-ahead mode.

The project has a new national co-chairman, golf legend Arnold Palmer, a former golf-playing Coast Guard yeoman who has fond memories of a youth spent in the service and who has agreed to lend his support to the project.

(Palmer, who continued to play golf matches while serving, won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954, just one year after leaving the Coast Guard.)

A national fundraising company has been hired to begin raising the millions of dollars in private donations that will be required to build the museum. They are in the process of identifying and contacting major donors, including shipbuilders and big corporations that do work for the service, and fundraisers have been traveling the country.

Plans are under way to hire a new museum director, who will be based in New London. Some interviews for the new director position have been conducted.

The state has commissioned the first required environmental study, which has begun.

And by next spring or early summer, the city hopes to officially hand over the waterfront site for the new museum, the city's donation to the project. Between now and then, approvals for the transfer, after public hearings, will be sought from the City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission.

"We hope to have all the major elements of the project worked out by then," Robert Ross, executive director of the state Office of Military Affairs, said about the ceremonial groundbreaking being planned for next spring or early summer.

Ross has been appointed by Gov. Dannel Malloy to coordinate and streamline state permitting for the project.

There have been meetings, Ross said, of representatives of the state agencies involved, including transportation, economic development and environmental protection as well as major stakeholders, like the owners of the neighboring ferry lines and train station.

"All the state agencies are moving together in lockstep," Ross said. "Most people see this overwhelmingly as a positive thing for New London."

The federal approval permitting process will also begin, officials said.

Ross said the permitting may not be as complicated as it would seem at first, given the waterfront location. While part of the building may hang over the water, it won't be built in the water, he said.

Ross said the planning concept for the project is for work to proceed simultaneously on two fronts, the regulatory and planning permission on the one hand and the fundraising on the other.

By the time the money is in place to proceed, the project will be able to start quickly, he said.

"That successful fundraising will be the tipping point, where we know we are over the top and on the back slope," said Ross.

Preliminary schedules suggest the final approvals and money could be in place to begin building in 2017, people involved in the project said.

James Coleman, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, told me last week he is confident about the success of the fundraising.

He and others involved in the project noted its broad reach, from coast to coast and in the many arenas where the Coast Guard has been so prominent over the years, from search and rescue to storm relief.

"This is a national effort, from California to Maine," Coleman said.

"This is a story that has to be told."

And it is a story that will be forever told in New London.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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