Remaking a Mystic gateway

Just when we might have thought Mystic Seaport would have a hard time topping its Charles W. Morgan summer - taking a 19th-century whaling ship out sailing - the museum broke ground on a new project that will transform a major part of its campus and help remake the main tourism corridor into Mystic.

The seaport has somehow made topping the great Charles W. Morgan summer of 2014 look almost easy.

Seaport officials this month publicly shared detailed plans for the new north end of its campus, a project which will be anchored around a new $11.5 million all-weather exhibits building. Construction is underway.

The bold new building, which the architects - Connecticut's Centerbrook Architects and Planners - say is meant to reflect shapes and rhythms of the sea, will significantly expand the museum's mission.

A cavernous new climate-controlled exhibit space will allow the seaport to display more of its own collection and also to host more traveling exhibits. The building will also allow the seaport to better welcome visitors all year round.

It will make the seaport a more significant institution nationally, museum officials say.

It certainly promises to make the seaport a more robust partner in tourism here and help build more visitorship in the region, a healthy traffic generator for tourism-related businesses like restaurants and hotels.

But one of the other significant benefits for the region is the way in which the new seaport project, in combination with the new Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, will remake the major thoroughfare from Interstate 95 into Mystic.

The two projects are nearly across from one another on Route 27 and will significantly improve that gateway to town.

Coogan Farm will not only be an exciting new tourism destination on its own but also has the potential to alter the overall visitor experience for many Mystic tourists.

The farm will offer more open space and recreation opportunities. It will also provide a new way to approach Mystic, with bike and hiking trails connecting hotels and stores near the highway with the Route 27 corridor, including the north campus of the seaport.

The new seaport building also will improve the Route 27 streetscape, with more green space along the road and new views across the seaport grounds to the Mystic River. Passersby on Route 27 also will have a clear view of the new exhibit building.

The new building will have ticket windows, restoring the function of the seaport's old north entrance. Tourists will then be able to park in the seaport's large north parking lot on Route 27 and enter the museum grounds there.

But there is also the potential, as time goes on, for more foot traffic into town. You will eventually, for example, be able to walk from the Mystic Hilton through the Coogan Farm trails to the north gate of the seaport.

Once inside the seaport, visitors will be able to take the water ferry to downtown Mystic.

These two big projects, which have both already moved off the drawing board, together have the potential to have an enormous impact on Mystic and the region's tourism economy.

Most magical of all, they are both the work of two robust nonprofits which are leveraging the generosity of members and contributors for a well-timed, post-recession building boom.

The Charles W. Morgan summer of 2014 is already starting to look like a long time ago.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct

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