Transfer of New London waterfront land to Coast Guard for museum takes another step

New London - The City Council approved a series of motions Tuesday to begin the process of transferring waterfront property to the Coast Guard to build an
$80 million National Coast Guard Museum.

In addition to selling about 10,000 square feet of land near Union Station and City Pier to the Coast Guard for $1, the city also is expected to sell roughly 6,100 square feet to Cross Sound Ferry for about $123,000. Cross Sound Ferry is expected to use the land to build a new ferry terminal.

A public hearing on the land transfer will be held 6:30 p.m. March 17 at City Hall. The council also requested that the Planning & Zoning Commission review the proposed sale of the municipal property.

"For 15 years, we all have been staying the course on this museum," John Johnson, a member of the board of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, told the City Council Tuesday night. He urged council members to set the hearing date to discuss the land transfer so Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. will be able to break ground on the project before he retires in May.

"In order to make that happen, if we're going to make a May groundbreaking, we have to keep this process moving forward," Johnson said.

Papp, who grew up in Norwich and graduated from Norwich Free Academy, has been advocating for a national museum for years. He will step down as commandant of the Coast Guard in late May and then retire.

At 11 a.m. today, Coast Guard, city and state officials will sign a "memorandum of agreement" at Union Station for the proposed museum. All parties will agree to work together on the project.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, James Coleman, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, and Papp will take part in the signing ceremony at Union Station. The public is invited.

Last April, city, state and Coast Guard officials announced plans to build the four-story, 54,000-square-foot national museum on the city's waterfront.

The state has endorsed the project and has pledged up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks to connect the train station, the museum and Cross Sound Ferry, and for improvements to the city's regional intermodal transportation center. The association plans to ask the federal government for funding as well.

A May groundbreaking would be ceremonial because the association needs to raise millions before construction can begin. As of December, about $170,000 had been donated. That money was used to hire the public relations firm Odell, Simms & Lynch Inc. of Virginia to plan a nationwide fundraising campaign to raise $50 million to $60 million.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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