Keep moving forward on CG Museum

Not unexpectedly, the effort to establish a National Coast Guard Museum on the New London waterfront is facing challenges. What is encouraging is that project supporters and elected leaders are confronting them with a unity of purpose that generates confidence about a successful outcome.

The biggest challenge is raising the money necessary to build the museum. Located on the edge of the New London harbor, the building will have a glass fašade jutting out over the water, mindful of a ship ready to depart for sea. Designers envision a modern, interactive museum that will not only recall the rich 225-year-old history of the U.S. Coast Guard, but also do so in a way that will capture the excitement and heroism of that service.

Meant to be architecturally engaging, the museum will become a modern focal point on the historic harbor, a symbol of renewal. The location itself is challenging, squeezed between the water and the Amtrak rail lines. It is a location, however, that will take advantage of the adjacent ferry and train service to bring visitors to the museum. It is a transformational site for the prospects of the downtown business district, promising to boost foot traffic and making the city's waterfront a destination.

All of this costs money, a lot of it. The project has an estimated $100 million price tag. The National Coast Guard Museum Association is committed to raising at least half of it through private donations. The State of Connecticut is committed to contributing $20 million. The association is seeking $30 million in federal aid to complete the funding.

Unfortunately, federal law prohibits Coast Guard appropriations for "the general engineering, design, or construction of any museum." Agreeing to the prohibition seemed politically expedient back in 2004 when it was added to the Coast Guard Maritime and Transportation Act. New London was seeking designation as the home for the future Coast Guard museum, but the Coast Guard had many needs and other communities were interested in the museum. The state congressional delegation decided a no-strings designation - just name New London the future home, you don't have to worry about the money - could win the necessary votes for passage.

But guess what? The museum association needs the money, so we call on Congress to repeal the prohibition or find some other means to provide funding.

There is precedent, Congress having authorized funds for facilities dedicated to the histories of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. The Coast Guard's contributions to this country, from service overseas, to protecting its coasts, to intercepting drugs, to rescuing mariners at sea and hurricane victims from rooftops, are myriad. It seems reasonable for our government to help fund the museum that will document for posterity these contributions.

It would also be a good economic investment, in that it will help a struggling urban city.

Gaining funding for the project, however, will be quite the challenge for the state delegation, led by 2nd District Congressman Joe Courtney and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. All are Democrats in a Congress where Republicans hold majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and who have the stated intent of cutting federal spending. However, support for our men and women in service should be bipartisan. Perhaps local lawmakers can appeal to Republican patriotism.

Meanwhile, Rep. Courtney will revive legislation that would require the U.S. Treasury to create $5 gold coins and $1 silver coins to commemorate the Coast Guard's service and raise as much as
$3 million for the museum. That's called a start.

Addressing a niggling problem, the New London City Council on Monday approved a resolution verifying that an urban renewal project, dating to 1975 and involving Union Station, is completed. That closes a loose end that potentially could have interfered with the sale of the historic train station to a third-party investor, James Coleman Jr., chair of the museum association board of directors.

Located adjacent to the site of the future museum, Union Station is considered integral to the project by the association. The city's quick action in addressing the technicality is another indication of its commitment.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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