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Momentum builds for waterfront site for Coast Guard museum

By Kathleen Edgecomb and Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published September 14. 2012 4:00AM
Association members, commandant feeling optimistic as negotiations for location progress

New London - An announcement could be made soon about the site of a new Coast Guard museum that would "make a huge difference in the city and make the downtown area a destination for people from all over the world," according to the chairman of the museum planning group.

Jimmy Coleman, chairman and president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, said Thursday that the group has narrowed its focus for the museum location on the city's waterfront.

"That's what we're working on right now, how to carve it out. And I feel optimistic,'' Coleman said.

Although local officials say they expect an announcement by the end of the year, no one would reveal the exact location or other details of the latest plan.

The city owns a 1-acre waterfront parcel near the train station, which city planners identified last year as a "potential development site" for a Coast Guard museum. The land is between Cross Sound Ferry and City Pier Plaza.

Original plans for the museum in 2008 called for a 60,000-square-foot museum that would be built at Fort Trumbull. But the stagnant economy and lackluster funding put the project on hold. Over the years, the association has looked at several sites other than Fort Trumbull. Union Station was once considered but was ruled out.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Thursday he has seen recent drawings for the final museum site but all involved are being cautious about discussing the project in public.

"We want to make sure all the details are worked out and all nearby partners are on board so this will be something that will move forward and be successful," he said, adding that the museum will be an "amazing thing" and a "tremendous boom to economic development."

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the commandant of the Coast Guard, said last week that he is "even more hopeful," "even more excited" and "even more optimistic" about the progress on the museum than before. Papp said the association is "re-energized."

"We had played around with this for a number of years. There were thoughts about moving it to New York or other locations, and consequently there were people that got excited about New York and you lost people who were excited about New London," Papp said in an interview Saturday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. "So we lost time. We absolutely lost time."

Now, he said, "the momentum has come back to New London."

Papp has given the association a goal of announcing the final site decision before the end of the year and then pushing ahead. He wants to participate in the groundbreaking before he retires in 2014. He said more work needs to be done to evaluate environmental concerns and permitting.

"The decision to move ahead is an easy one. But the devil is in the details," he said.

John Johnson, treasurer of the association, said the group discussed the ongoing negotiations at its annual meeting Sept. 5. He said he could not elaborate because the negotiations are "extremely sensitive."

"We're closer than I think we've ever been to choosing a site," he said, adding that "a lot of us are so amped up."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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