Gov. Malloy: Buy Union Station

You can find a lot of crazy things in The Day's archives.

Remember, for instance, back in 2001, when the New London Development Corp., still busy destroying a neighborhood in Fort Trumbull, asked the city to invest $10 million in the downtown, in part to repay some of the millions already spent by NLDC sponsors to buy and then empty several big State Street buildings.

I found the story about the failed $10 million NLDC rescue while reading about the city's attempt in 2001 to buy Union Station.

That plan, which called for the city to pay $2.2 million to buy the train station and another $5 million to renovate it, actually inched along toward reality.

In the end, the idea to purchase Union Station, which was going to become a visitors center for a new maritime park featuring the Thames River, fell apart when the state balked at paying rent for the park center in the station.

Today, 13 years later, some lawmakers in the General Assembly, led by Sen. Andrew Maynard of Stonington, are trying to revive the idea of the Thames River Heritage Park.

The lawmakers have proposed moving forward with the park without the visitors center component that was originally envisioned. It would be cheaper without the center, of course, but I'm not sure the whole program would work as well for tourists if there were not one central hub, linking attractions like the Coast Guard Academy, Fort Griswold and Fort Trumbull by water taxi.

Indeed, now seems like a perfect time to revive the park concept with a visitors center at Union Station, since it would accomplish a lot of goals.

First, it would make a great starting point to explore the river basin, a monumental piece of great American architecture, centrally located on the Northeast train line, the waterfront and close to parking and downtown restaurants and attractions.

Second, it should be a public building. There is nothing new or radical about the state investing in train stations and transportation infrastructure. In this case, what is strange is that the city and state have relied for so long on the goodwill of private owners to provide and maintain this public accommodation.

Perhaps most important, state ownership of the train station could be an important first step in making the proposed National Coast Guard Museum in downtown a reality.

There is a lot of enthusiasm about the museum. Volunteers are working hard, and progress is certainly being made.

But the minimum $50 million fundraising goal to make it a reality is daunting, and it could be a long time before that campaign is realized.

But if the state were to buy the big train station, the museum could use some of the space in it for exhibits, sort of a small teaser museum, part of the park visitors center that, if nothing else, might help fundraising for the new Coast Guard museum building.

Meanwhile, the state could get a park visitors center up and running quickly, in a remarkable location. It could help prove the state is indeed "Still Revolutionary," as it claims in tourism ads, actually investing in infrastructure to increase visitors to the magnificent Revolutionary War fort in Groton.

Gov. Malloy has already pledged $20 million in infrastructure improvements to help make the National Coast Guard Museum a reality, including a walkway under or over the tracks between Union Station and the water.

Why not start by buying the station?

Consider it a down payment on a new Coast Guard Museum, a logical investment in state tourism, creating one of the more unusual parks in New England and a reasonable investment in transportation infrastructure, long overdue.

It would play well in the governor's race in this part of the state.

If Gov. Malloy doesn't suggest it, maybe another candidate will.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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