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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    Sen. Murphy praises the emperor's new clothes, a downtown CG museum

    Let's be frank, the plans for a downtown New London Coast Guard museum are an utter failure, absolutely dead in the water for the lack of significant interest by enough private donors willing to contribute anywhere near enough money to build it.

    The ceremonial "groundbreaking" was held in the spring of 2014, with construction to begin that fall and the doors to open in 2017.

    The original construction cost of $100 million is absurdly out of date, and the museum, according to its last public accounting, has raised only some $25 million from private donors. At this pace, it would take, at best, many decades to raise enough.

    Besides, they are not far from spending as much as they raise, with a big staff earning impressive salaries. Big likely donors have already been tapped. And inflation wolves are at the door for a ridiculously complicated waterfront project, proposed for a tiny flood-prone parcel bound on one side by railroad tracks and without formal access to public roads.

    Besides the museum staffers contentedly collecting six-figure salaries for years to plan the impossible, the only people who seem to have their heads more deeply in the sand over this are Connecticut's politicians.

    I like to think of this as New London's version of the Hans Christian Andersen folktale "The Emperor's New Clothes," in which swindlers convince the emperor to pay handsomely for a suit of new clothes that will be invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent.

    Just as no one in the fable wants to admit they are fools and see that the emperor is parading naked in public, Connecticut politicians for some strange reason want to pretend that enough money is going to be raised to build the Coast Guard museum in downtown New London.

    Indeed, Sen. Chris Murphy arrived in New London last week and joined Mayor Michael Passero in praising the emperor's new clothes, celebrating a museum they say is going to invigorate downtown New London.

    They must think all the rest of us are stupid, for not seeing the clothes.

    The senator even announced $6 million in new federal money for City Pier so that the Coast Guard Eagle can dock alongside the museum. I suppose that's like offering to build a new closet for the emperor's clothes.

    Murphy and the rest of Connecticut's delegation to Washington did change the law prohibiting the use of federal money for the development of a Coast Guard museum, and federal funding is now permitted for designing and building museum exhibits.

    The exhibit money is being appropriated in annual increments, with a goal of $30 million.

    The state has committed $20 million for an overhead pedestrian bridge to link the problematic museum site to the rest of the world. U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, who also praises the emperor's clothes, recently scored a $4 million earmark to add to the state's $20 million for the bridge.

    But the money to build the museum, the brick and mortar of the project, must come from private donors, and despite lots of vigorous priming, that well is certainly dry.

    In the seven years since the ceremonial "groundbreaking," the team of professional fundraisers employed expensively by the museum association has raised less than half of what state and federal politicians have committed for the pedestrian bridge and exhibits, a small part of the project.

    Murphy, while he was here, did suggest "significant funding" will be in the annual appropriations bill at year's end. But that appears to be just another of the $5 million chits for museum exhibits Congress has been authorizing in bits.

    "The annual appropriations bill is where the museum money is," the senator teased in his remarks in New London. "And I am the chairman of the committee that writes the Coast Guard's budget, so obviously this is a top priority for me to continue funding the Coast Guard museum."

    I reached out to the senator's staff this week to see whether the senator was hinting at some plan to change the law to allow federal money to be used for construction of the museum. I took their stonewalling on answering that simple question, no matter how many times I asked it, to be an unequivocal no.

    Not only is the senator living in a fable about the possibility of donors funding construction of a downtown New London museum, but he seems to be gaslighting us all about the prospects of federal money making it happen.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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