Finizio: Coast Guard Museum one step closer to city

New London — The mayor announced Thursday that he has preliminary agreements with abutting property owners and other stakeholders to bring the National Coast Guard Museum to New London.

A formal announcement will be made April 5.

The board of the National Coast Guard Museum Association has approved a site in the city, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Thursday afternoon during a press conference outside his office. Although Finizio refused to specify the exact location, last month, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he has seen drawings for a roughly 50,000-square-foot museum on property adjacent to the train station in downtown.

The city owns a less than half-acre parcel of land, with about 200 feet of waterfront, behind Union Station between City Pier Plaza and Cross Sound Ferry.

"This is not the final endorsement of any aspect of the project,'' Finizio said Thursday. "All parties agree there are many moving parts, but we have agreed in writing to work cooperatively."

He said he would release the agreements at the April 5 press conference. Those expected to attend include Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, and Jimmy Coleman, chairman and president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association.

A model of what the museum could look like and a booklet that will explain potential exhibits also will be available at the announcement.

The museum will require about a $100 million investment and is expected to draw between 250,000 to 1 million visitors a year, the mayor said. By comparison, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has about 1.1 million visitors a year and the National Portrait Gallery attracts about 950,000 annual visitors, according to the Smithsonian. Both are located in Washington, D.C.

Jane Glover, the city's chief administrative officer who also attended Thursday's press conference, gave kudos to Finizio for working during the past year to bring all the interested parties together.

"It's going to happen, folks,'' Glover said "If you live in New London, you should be ecstatic."

Officials who have seen the preliminary design plans called them "exciting" and "impressive," and predicted that the facility will boost economic development in New London.

The city has been in discussions with the Coast Guard Museum Foundation for more than a dozen years about the possibility of bringing the museum to New London. The Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan, which was approved by the city in 2000, designated a piece of property in the fort for a museum. In 2008, the foundation chose Fort Trumbull as its preferred site, but over the years, a prolonged legal battle over eminent domain that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and a downturn in the economy, which curtailed the fundraising efforts of the foundation, put the project on hold.

When Finizio became mayor last year, he immediately began communicating with the Coast Guard and the museum foundation.

"I want to see this through to completion,'' Finizio said Thursday. "The happiest day in my life will be when they cut the ribbon."

Last year, Todd O'Donnell, who manages Union Station, presented a plan for a Coast Guard museum in the train station, an 1888 Henry R. Richardson-designed building that was saved from demolition in the 1970s.

O'Donnell said Thursday he could not say anything about any proposed plans or agreements.

"We are very much in support of a museum downtown,'' he said. "The mayor has everyone lined up and we look forward to the announcement."


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