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Show us the Coast Guard museum money?

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published February 23. 2014 4:00AM

I thought the standout moment at the National Coast Guard Museum memorandum signing in New London last week came when Sen. Richard Blumenthal was at the podium.

Blumenthal suggested that he could go after federal money to help build the museum, a suggestion that got a hearty round of applause and which brought more than a few people to their feet.

Indeed, it would seem to make sense that the federal government contribute to the building of the museum and not just run it when it's built. It's everyone's Coast Guard, and a museum telling its story would seem to be a logical part of a national agenda.

Gov. Dannel Malloy wasted little time in taking the senior senator from Connecticut up on his offer.

After all, Malloy noted when it was his turn at the podium, the first federal earmark came from John Adams, for a lighthouse in Boston Harbor. This could be Connecticut's lighthouse, he said.

Of course it's easy for Malloy to suggest Connecticut's delegation in Washington get to work. As governor, he can more or less pull out the state checkbook and promise $20 million.

It's harder to do that in Washington.

It was a bit troubling to read last week that the Coast Guard museum has raised less than a quarter of a million dollars so far. That's oceans away from the estimated $60 million or more that will be needed.

I take museum planners at their word that they are confident that they can do it. But it sure seems like an enormous undertaking.

Fundraising is certainly the most daunting challenge to making the museum work in New London.

Once they get the money in the bank, everything else, like where to put the pedestrian bridge or tunnel past the railroad tracks, will be quickly resolved.

There was talk at the ceremony last week that all the other services have more than one museum, and it is time for the Coast Guard to finally get its first. This is kind of misleading. In fact, the Coast Guard does have a small museum, at the Coast Guard Academy. And some of the museums attributed to the other services are not on the scale of what is being proposed for the Coast Guard in downtown New London.

In fact, the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, home of the Nautilus, is considered one of 15 Navy museums. The Naval War College Museum in Newport and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis are others.

One military museum powerhouse seems to be the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, in Ohio.

The museum, the deputy director told me, runs on a principle driving the planning for the Coast Guard Museum. The government runs the museum, but a private nonprofit raises money for "bricks and mortar."

The construction of a $38 million fourth building for the museum, financed with private donations, is expected to get underway soon.

The National Museum of the U.S. Army planned for Virginia is a cautionary story for the Coast Guard museum advocates. It is also on the federal military museum program - if you build it, we will run it.

They signed the original memorandum of understanding with the Army in 2000. A more detailed agreement was signed in 2009, after a site was selected.

The Army Historical Foundation, the official fundraising entity, has raised $77 million and needs to raise another $35 million to break ground.

A foundation spokesperson told me they estimated it will take $175 million to open the museum.

Raising that kind of money for a national military museum is obviously a long hard slog.

We can all wish Sen. Blumenthal well in attempts to find federal money to get a Coast Guard museum under way in New London.

If he succeeds, it would certainly go a long way to secure the senator's legacy around here.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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