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Setting course for Coast Guard Museum

Published April 06. 2013 4:00AM

'There's no stopping us now" was the prevailing and uplifting mood at Friday's announcement about the details of the National Coast Guard Museum proposed for New London's waterfront.

After more than a decade of starts and stops, of excitement followed by disappointment and disagreements over location, it appears that all the elements to make the museum possible are fitting together. The state is committed, the adjacent property owners - Union Station and Cross Sound Ferry - have signed on, the city's administration is fully engaged, and the leadership of the U.S. Coast Guard steadfast in its support.

Fate, it seems, is finally shining on this project.

The U.S. Coast Guard is led by a former Norwich resident and graduate of Norwich Free Academy, someone well aware of this region's maritime heritage and long connection with the Coast Guard.

"I am committed to this and this commitment will go beyond my service in the United States Coast Guard. This museum will be built, it will thrive, and we are going to restore this waterfront to its grandeur," said Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., Coast Guard commandant, during the announcement ceremonies at the Science & Technology Magnet School.

Only recently New London, seeking more focused leadership, abandoned a stale city manager system in favor of the dynamics of a mayoral-led government. In evidence Friday was the ability of Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to bring disparate parties together in a way we don't feel a city manager or a volunteer council leader could have.

"He went down to Washington. He arranged for the admiral and I to meet on this issue. He pushed me to get my letter in on time, my $20 million letter. And I really think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit. To put it in other terms, there had to be a lot of cats to be herded to get to this day and he has done a magnificent job in getting us to this point," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

In Malloy, Connecticut has a governor with a willingness to invest state resources to drive development. While we have disagreed with the governor on some of those investments, we do, not surprisingly, consider this $20 million outlay to be a good one. It will pay for a pedestrian bridge access that will not only take museum visitors safely across the rails, but also to a new planned ferry terminal and access arriving and departing trains. It will help spur economic growth and create jobs.

"This is a good, strong investment in the future of a great community which is on its way back," said Gov. Malloy.

As Sen. Chris Murphy aptly said of the museum, "This is going to be transformational."

This "signature building on the Thames," as National Coast Guard Museum Association Chairman James J. Coleman Jr. described it, will demand attention, its glass façade in the shape of ship's prow thrusting out over the river. This will be a landmark for the thousands of ferry and rail travelers who pass the spot daily, and for drivers crossing the Gold Star Bridge.

If built as planned, it will be a destination and visitors will come, fueling commercial development in the adjacent downtown and re-energizing the city. Within the museum's walls they will find not only historic artifacts and changing exhibits, but interactive displays that recreate the exciting mission of the Coast Guard.

But while the project is now closer to reality than ever, from another perspective the challenge now only begins. It will take city, state and federal cooperation to get all the necessary regulatory approvals and coordinate the many entities involved. The task of raising the $80 million to $100 million to build the museum falls to Mr. Coleman and his museum association, but now they have exciting plans to present to potential donors.

This time we are confident there is, indeed, no stopping us now.

Town News

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