Coast Guard Museum delayed, not denied

Things have not gone as anticipated concerning the planned construction of a National Coast Guard Museum on New London’s waterfront. When the project and its location were announced with much fanfare in April 2013, museum association Chairman James J. Coleman Jr. said he anticipated it would open in about three years.

Sadly, Mr. Coleman would not live to see the opening. He died last March, having gone so far as having purchased the adjacent, historic Union Station in New London for $3 million in 2015 to facilitate the museum’s development. Coleman, a successful New Orleans businessman and developer accustomed to things getting done, perhaps did not appreciate the rough seas his association faced in pulling together funding and completing all the necessary planning and approvals.

Despite the slow pace, our editorial board remains bullish about the prospects for this project and its importance to the future of the downtown.

While a recent update provided news of another delay, with plans for preliminary construction pushed back several months, it also included hopeful signs that things are throttling up. Additional funding approved by Congress brings the federal commitment to $15 million. Private donations are steadily, if not spectacularly, growing and total $21 million. The state, dating back to that 2013 announcement, has earmarked $20 million.

Though there are not yet firm estimates for the construction of the five-story, 80,000-square-foot museum — and the sooner that happens the better — the $56 million raised so far is probably half of what will be needed, based on earlier projections.

An opening of 2024 is now being discussed.

A director for the future museum is in place, Elizabeth Varner, who previously worked as a staff curator for the Department of the Interior, where she advised on the management of cultural and scientific collections. Richard “Gordy” Bunch III, who founded TWFG Insurance in Texas 2001 and built it into an insurer with about 500 million premiums, has agreed to lead the capital campaign. He is a former Coast Guard petty officer.

Meetings last month at Coast Guard Headquarters gave form to the vision with discussion of exhibits, projections of necessary Coast Guard staffing, and goals set.

It may be taking longer than anticipated, but we remain confident that in a few years visitors will be filtering through the city’s downtown, traveling to and from a museum to learn of the proud history of the Coast Guard. 

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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