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Parking? A museum non-issue

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published April 14. 2013 4:00AM

The governor has pledged $20 million in state backing to provide necessary infrastructure improvements, while U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp is "committed to this" and vows, "this museum will be built." The district's congressman and the state's two U.S. senators are all onboard. And New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has received pledges of cooperation from adjacent land owners Cross Sound Ferry and Union Station.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited and every reason to believe the National Coast Guard Museum will be built on the city's waterfront. It would be a transformational addition, the hundreds of thousands of visitors it would attract driving retail development.

But during my weekly appearance last Monday on the Lee Elci 94.9 News Now radio show, and in chance meetings at a bank and in a coffee shop, acquaintances have asked or warned me about parking.

Nothing good, it seems, can happen in New London without some argument over why it can't happen. Is consternation about parking going to provide the fuel to fire cynicism about the museum?

Well, I'm not concerned about it, not in the least.

Joe Celli, business manager for the city's Water Street parking garage, managed by Propark, tells me there is plenty of parking in the city. Cars fill the 940-space garage and the adjacent 200-space spill-over lot only a couple of times a year during major festivals, he said. There is also parking in the municipal lots along Eugene O'Neill Drive, in another parking garage off State Street and there is much on-street parking.

If the museum and other increased retail activity result in so many more cars that the existing parking does not prove adequate, won't that be a great problem to have. Solutions certainly will be available, among them trolley shuttles tied to remote lots, or a third garage, or parking decks.

Bottom line, you don't block a project like this in a downtown because of parking.

Some have told me this wouldn't be an issue if the foundation built the museum in the Fort Trumbull section - plenty of room for a parking lot there. Visitors could park their cars, walk into the museum, spend a few hours, climb back in their cars and leave. How convenient.

And how, exactly, would that help the New London economy?

It is much better, I would argue, to have folks parking in the garages and in lots around the downtown, circulating through the city, passing shops and restaurants, generating pedestrian traffic, creating commerce.

The proposed museum location will allow thousands of visitors to arrive by train or ferry and leave the car at home. Walking tours could take them to the Nathan Hale schoolhouse, the U.S. Custom House and Maritime Museum, and other existing historic attractions. In warmer months, water taxis could connect to Fort Trumbull State Park, Fort Griswold in Groton, and the Submarine Force Library & Museum, with its USS Nautilus tours.

When asked about parking, New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio agreed, "That's the problem you want to have," but not one that will get in the way of the museum plans.

The greater challenge of increased development, particularly if more apartments are developed above Bank and State Street storefronts - as the city desires - will be upgrading the city's ancient water and sewer infrastructure to meet the demand, he said. The city may also have to take a look at changing traffic patterns, said the mayor.

"There will be any number of challenges, but we welcome them, because it means progress," he said.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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