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State pledges $20 million for new Coast Guard Museum in New London

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: theday.com

Published March 29. 2013 5:00PM   Updated March 30. 2013 5:32PM

New London — The city will donate a piece of waterfront property and the state will pledge $20 million toward plans for a new National Coast Guard Museum, according to a series of letters among the mayor, the Coast Guard and local businesses.

A new ferry terminal for Cross Sound Ferry and a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks connecting Union Station and the museum is also part of the project, which is expected to cost $100 million.

"I have been in close contact with all the necessary parties and stakeholders for this project here in New London, and in the state of Connecticut,'' Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio wrote in a March 19 letter to Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, and James J. Coleman Jr., president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association.

"Cross Sound Ferry acknowledges the land use parameters for the museum, The Blackwall Company (owner of Union Station) acknowledges the need for a pedestrian bridge on their property, and the State of Connecticut commits up to $20 million for the project,'' Finizio wrote.

Finizio had no further comment on the letters Friday. A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. next Friday at the Science & Technology Magnet High School.

City Council President Michael Passero praised the city and the community for coming together and said there is strong support for the project among councilors.

"I think it's great all the different parties are collaborating and trying to reach a consensus on moving forward,'' Passero said. "The plans are exciting."

The council, state legislators, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, have all pledged support for the project, Finizio said in the letter.

Ben Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, said in a March 14 letter to Finizio that the state would provide up to $20 million to fund a pedestrian bridge and improve the city's regional intermodal transportation center. Part of the funding would be used for ancillary work such as purchasing property, feasibility studies and traffic redesign.

Cross Sound Ferry and the owners of Union Station, which are located on either side of a 0.37-acre city-owned lot in downtown New London where the proposed museum is expected to be built, also sent letters to Finizio backing the efforts.

The museum project will include a "future new passenger terminal adjacent to the National Museum for the Coast Guard," according a March 7 letter to the mayor from John Wronowski, president of Cross Sound Ferry.

"This plan will be a springboard to economic development in the downtown and is consistent with the long term goals of the ferry services,'' Wronowski wrote.

The train station, owned by Barbara Timken and Todd O'Donnell, will be the initial point of arrival for museum visitors and will serve as "the primary means of access via the proposed bridge to the Museum," according to a March 15 letter signed by Timken and O'Donnell.

All the letters included the caveat that support is based on detailed reviews of plans, financing and permitting approvals.

The city has been in discussions with the Coast Guard for more than a dozen years about the possibility of bringing a Coast Guard museum to New London.

In early 2001, the Coast Guard was looking the feasibility of putting a museum in Fort Trumbull, on land that was the subject of a prolonged legal battle over eminent domain. Kelo v. City of New London went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2005 ruled in favor of the city, saying it was legal for New London to take private property for economic development. Development plans never went forward, however.

In 2006 there was renewed effort for a museum at Fort Trumbull, only this time in a location that did not include land taken by eminent domain. Those plans were put on hold with the downturn in the economy.

The Coast Guard also started looking at other possible locations, including Battery Park in New York City. But in 2010, New London again pushed for the museum.

A grassroots group emerged, promoting the city's train station as a possible location for the museum. Conceptual plans showed the museum inside the depot, which was designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

Finizio, who took office just over a year ago, made it a priority, he said, to work with the Coast Guard and local businesses to bring the museum to the city.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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