Blumenthal, Courtney celebrate funding opportunity for Coast Guard Museum interior

New London — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, paid a visit Friday to Union Station to applaud legislation — signed by President Barack Obama earlier this month — enabling federal funding for the interior aspects of the planned National Coast Guard Museum.

The train station, which National Coast Guard Museum Association Chairman James Coleman Jr. purchased for $3 million last year, is adjacent to the future waterfront location of the museum.

The association is hoping for $30 million in federal support as part of the expected $100 million project. The state has committed $20 million for a pedestrian bridge intended to provide access to the museum.

Blumenthal and Courtney worked jointly with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to change language that prevented the Coast Guard from providing any funds for the museum.

The change does not allow for Coast Guard money to go toward the bricks and mortar aspects of the museum.

All three lawmakers put out news releases leading up to and following final passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act, so Friday was more of a celebration.

The first time that Courtney met Coleman, the association chairman told the congressman that as he and others were talking to donors around the country that the "restriction (around the funding) kind of sent a sour note to potential donors about whether or not this really was something that Congress would truly embrace, and was really something that people felt was going to materialize," Courtney said.

"We are nowhere near done ... now we need the money," Blumenthal said in his remarks.

"When this project started in 1999, it was always envisioned that it would be a public-private partnership ...For a long time, however, we were the only ones at the table, and it was a very rickety table at that," Dick Grahn, president of the museum association, told attendees.

In 2013, the state stepped up, Grahn said, with its commitment of $20 million. And in 2014, Grahn noted, the city pitched in by donating the land for the museum site.

"There was one chair that was empty; that was the federal government," Grahn said, implying that the chair is now filled.

Federal support is a critical component to the success of the museum.

In thanking Blumenthal and Courtney for their support, Grahn said "We know how difficult it is to get anything through Congress, and that's an understatement."

The authorization bill outlines guidelines and policies for spending, actual money allotted will be worked out through the appropriations process.

Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was not present Friday but told The Day at a Coast Guard Academy event last month that he will "fight hard" to actually get funds appropriated. Though it might have to happen through a multiyear appropriation, Murphy said then. 

In a brief interview following Friday's celebration, Blumenthal agreed that it would likely happen that way rather than all one in year.

On the Senate side, Murphy and Blumenthal have reintroduced legislation that would create a commemorative coin in honor of the U.S. Coast Guard to help raise funds for the museum. Courtney has reintroduced the same measure on the House side. Courtney's bill has garnered 183 signatures. At this point, Blumenthal is the only co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

House and Senate rules dictate that a commemorative coin bill requires two-thirds of both the House, 297 members, and Senate, 67 members, to co-sponsor it. The U.S. Mint's Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee must also recommend the coin.

The legislation would require the U.S. Treasury to create new $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins and half-dollar coins, and could generate between $2 million to $3 million in revenue, based on revenue from recent coins.

The law also mandates that recipient organizations must raise an amount equal to the proceeds it would receive from the sale of the coin.

The museum association has received about $35 million in support including the $20 million from the state.

Executive Director Wes Pulver said the association has spent recent months putting on events to develop its donor base, but plans to focus on fundraising over the next six months, including following up with attendees of the various events.

Museum organizers hope the museum will be open by 2020. They expect 500,000 visitors in the museum's first year of operation, based on a study commissioned by the Coast Guard.

Museums usually see the highest number of visitors in the first year, Grahn said; then you have to attract people to come back.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman  

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