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Pedestrian bridge and Coast Guard museum must be treated as one

The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont is making the right decision in sticking with the requirement that state funding for a pedestrian bridge over Water Street and the Amtrak rail lines not be released prematurely. The state should release the funding only after the National Coast Guard Museum receives all the necessary design permits and has the financing firmly in place to begin construction.

Retired Coast Guard Capt. Wes Pulver, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, had floated the idea of beginning construction of the elevated pedestrian walkway as soon as it received all necessary approvals, even as fundraising and the regulatory approval process for the museum itself continued.

True, the walkway project would create construction jobs during difficult economic times and a visible sign of progress that could help fuel museum fundraising efforts. But that is not how this was planned. And adherence to the original plan is critical to maintain the faith of the public.

Providing $20 million in state aid for the pedestrian access bridge was the state’s commitment to making the Coast Guard Museum possible. When built, the bridge will have the added advantage of supplying safe pedestrian access to the northbound side the railroad tracks and to the Cross Sound Ferry terminal. But that is not its primary purpose. And if the state were to release the funds before the museum project was also set for construction, it would have the feeling of a bait and switch.

“No funding shall be disbursed for the construction of the (bridge) Project until such time that (the state) has received from the Applicant Sufficient Documentation that ... Applicant is prepared to proceed with construction of the Museum Project,” states the financial assistance agreement the museum association signed with the Department of Economic and Community Development during the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Plans for the museum and the pedestrian bridge have evolved as a result of discussions with state and federal officials. No longer do plans call for the museum to jut over the water. Meanwhile the pedestrian bridge, which will connect to the Water Street parking garage, has been moved north and will not require changes to any part of the historic Union Station.

The bridge itself will be one of the featured elements of the museum, promising to become a landmark that will offer spectacular views looking down the Thames River to Long Island Sound and over the downtown.

Recently the New London Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for the bridge. We were happy to learn that New London Landmarks, an historic preservation group, is supportive of the plans, satisfied it will enhance, not detract from, the downtown’s historic architecture.

The slow pace of fundraising has been discouraging. It is understandable that now, in the midst of the pandemic, that individual and corporate donors might want to target their donations to meet immediate needs. But that does not explain the sluggish rate of fundraising after the Memorandum of Agreement for the museum was signed in early 2014.

The National Coast Guard Museum Association reports that, including state and federal commitments, it has secured nearly half the estimated $150 million necessary to fund the project.

We remain bullish on the planned location on the city’s waterfront. It will demand the attention of the millions of Amtrak travelers that pass through that point annually. The pedestrian traffic the museum will create, along with the influx of new apartments in the city, can be the catalysts for true downtown revitalization. It will introduce visitors to the downtown waterfront in a way that existing amenities have not.

If New London and Connecticut were somehow to fumble this opportunity away, there are communities eager to fill the void. On Monday, for example, The Brunswick News in Georgia published the editorial, “Isles would be perfect spot for Coast Guard museum.”

“The Coast Guard has been trying — unsuccessfully so, it should be noted — to build a national museum to preserve its past in New London, Conn., for decades. To date the project remains in a stalemate,” wrote The Brunswick News. “Why isn’t anyone responsible for tapping on the shoulders of potential new development asking the United States Coast Guard to consider Brunswick and the Golden Isles for the site of its proposed national museum?”

Don’t let divisions allow someplace else to steal a project intended for New London.

Editor's note: Editorial was updated to correct location of The Brunswick News.

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, 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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