Published March 18. 2014 4:00AM
New London - With representatives of the Coast Guard and its museum association in the front row of Council Chambers, the City Council on Monday night unanimously approved the sale of roughly 16,000 square feet of downtown waterfront property - including about 10,000 square feet to the Coast Guard to build its $80 million National Coast Guard Museum.
In addition to approving the sale of land near Union Station and City Pier to the Coast Guard for $1, the council also approved the sale of approximately 6,155 square feet to Cross Sound Ferry for about $123,100. Cross Sound Ferry is expected to use the land to build a new ferry terminal.
"This museum is important for a number of reasons, but primarily it's important because to understand who we are as a Coast Guard, the public needs to understand where we came from," said Rear Adm. Steven D. Poulin, the Coast Guard's director of governmental and public affairs. "Our legacy, our history and heritage defines who we are today. This museum is about expressing, and making visible and vibrant, our history to the American public."
Last April, city, state and Coast Guard officials announced plans to build the four-story, 54,300-square-foot national museum on the city's waterfront.
"For many of us here in New London we think about what this means for our city; how it will lift our economy, how it will revitalize our downtown, how it will bring between half a million and a million visitors a year to New London," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said.
The proposed museum is expected to be a boon to the city's economy, drawing tourists to downtown New London and its businesses.
"Every business person I talk to is very enthusiastic and very dedicated to making this happen," Bill Cornish, a downtown business owner, said. "This is for all of us. It's not just for downtown New London; it's for Connecticut, it's for the United States of America."
If the proposed museum project were to fall through, the land sold to the Coast Guard and Cross Sound Ferry would revert back to city ownership, the mayor said. The two developments are seen as one project.
Last month, Finizio, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, James Coleman, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, and Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. signed a memorandum of agreement at Union Station that outlined how the Coast Guard, city, state and museum association will cooperate and what their responsibilities will be.
Papp, who grew up in Norwich and graduated from Norwich Free Academy, has been advocating for a national museum for years. City officials have said they want to break ground on the museum before Papp steps down as commandant of the Coast Guard in late May and retires.
The groundbreaking and deed transfer ceremony is expected to be held May 2, to coincide with a ceremony aboard the Coast Guard's barque Eagle docked at City Pier in which Papp will transfer the ceremonial title of Gold Ancient Mariner, which he was given for holding the qualification as a cutterman longer than any other officer.
The groundbreaking would be ceremonial because the museum association still needs to raise millions of dollars before actual construction can begin. The association is in the midst of a campaign to raise $1.5 million by the end of April. The association also plans to ask the federal government for funding.
The state has pledged up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks and for improvements to the city's regional intermodal transportation center.
The museum, which is expected to include four floors of interactive exhibits, event space, lecture rooms and a reception area with a gift shop and cafe could be opened late in 2017.