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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    OK, I say 'uncle' on objections to the Coast Guard museum location

    This rendering of the planned National Coast Guard Museum for New London shows the view from the entry side. The National Coast Guard Museum Association has tentative plans to start Phase 1 of the construction of a museum off Water Street in July. Phase 1 includes site work on City Pier Plaza, where the museum will be built.  (Courtesy of the National Coast Guard Museum Association)

    My big takeaway from last week's celebration in New London of $50 million in federal funding for building the downtown National Coast Guard Museum was that money is no longer the principal obstacle.

    Connecticut's two U.S. senators and 2nd District House member all had big Cheshire Cat grins as they rightfully boasted of breaking open the prohibition against federal funding for construction of the museum, starting with $50 million in the new budget.

    The project has languished for many years for lack of significant success in privately funding the construction, a dead-end I have long suggested meant that Plan B was needed.

    It's pretty clear now, though, with the first round of federal money in place, that this is probably going to work.

    Make no mistake, the back-of-the-envelope estimates used up until now eventually will prove to be comically low. But, really, no matter how expensive it gets, the federal government is now committed, and it's not going to leave a half-finished building to honor the Coast Guard languishing on the New London waterfront.

    Even if Republicans take back the gavels in Congress, they are not going to be able to dishonor the Coast Guard by not finishing a museum meant to celebrate the service.

    So put me down as a rechristened fan of the project, with growing enthusiasm.

    There are arguments to be made against this location, and I have written about a lot of them. I know many people have agreed. The public never had any input on the museum location, and if we did, it would not have ended up where it is.

    But it's coming, and all the positive things that were celebrated at the ceremony last week are true. It will have an enormous and long-lasting impact on the city, helping drive tourism and the downtown economy.

    Many thanks to the politicians for bringing home such a big slab of bacon.

    And here's to the many brave men and women of the Coast Guard, past and present, who may be finally appropriately honored. I look forward to its opening.

    There is still one significant hurdle: environmental permits to build it in the flood zone. But since the state allowed the filling of 7 acres of the harbor at State Pier, a little fill to build a museum on a flood plain is probably not going to raise as many significant permitting obstacles as it should.

    It turns out I was apparently not the only one thinking a Coast Guard museum on the other side of the railroad tracks in downtown New London was a long shot.

    Susan Curtin, chair of the museum association board of directors, addressing the celebration crowd last week, remarked how she has suddenly gone from a sometime volunteer to working a full-time job, as the politicians' $50 million has pushed the project from a slow drift to full-speed ahead.

    Curtin — her father was the founder of J.D. Power and Associates — said her family, which has been active in philanthropy since selling the consumer reporting business, is planning to announce soon a significant new contribution to the museum.

    I expect they are not alone.

    A lot of potential donors who have been waiting on the sidelines of the stalled project may decide to give now, with the federal government more or less guaranteeing the project.

    I'm glad for New London, which seems to be on a roll, with the job growth at Electric Boat driving so much new residential development and urban renewal downtown.

    Join me in rejoicing that the Coast Guard museum is back on course.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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