Published September 16. 2012 4:00AM
The on again, off again discussions of building a Coast Guard museum in New London appear to be on again, but details remain lacking. The city is like a child excited to open a shiny new gift on her birthday, but she doesn't know when the birthday is!
Construction of a museum could be a game changer for revitalization of the downtown. Great progress is already being made as the city builds its reputation as a center for live music and visual arts. The district offers a wide variety of dining choices, too. And helping to anchor it all is the Garde Arts Center.
But development of a Coast Guard museum would make the area a destination point, generating the pedestrian traffic that is so vital to creating a vibrant urban commercial center. The history of the Coast Guard is a universally attractive one - with its stories of heroic rescues, drug interdiction and providing security for our homeland - making it a certain tourist destination. The city could also expect such a facility to host symposiums related to the Coast Guard's mission, adding to the economic activity that it would generate.
This newspaper has long contended that there can be no more appropriate place for the museum than New London, the proud home of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a community with a rich seafaring history. But the challenges of finding a location and then building a privately funded museum are significant.
Several years ago plans were moving ahead to construct a 60,000-square-foot museum in the Fort Trumbull area. But when the Great Recession damaged fundraising efforts, backers of the project put it on hold. There was even talk of building instead in New York City.
In the end, the delay could prove fortunate. That is because attention has turned to building the museum somewhere in the downtown area. While development would be welcomed in Fort Trumbull, and could generate downtown activity if a pedestrian bridge were built connecting the fort area with the waterfront district, a downtown museum is the better choice.
This week Jimmy Coleman, chairman and president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, confirmed that the group has narrowed its interest to a location on the city's waterfront. And New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, meeting with the editorial board, said he suspects that an announcement is not far off. Adding to the excitement were Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr.'s comments that the museum association is "re-energized" and his optimism about the project is growing.
Mayor Finizio seems well aware of the potential for such an announcement to boost the spirits of a city struggling with fiscal challenges and still wrestling with the transition to a new form of government. We trust his administration is doing all it can to make this a reality.
Credit goes to the efforts of Todd O'Donnell, co-owner of Union Station, to generate interest in a downtown location for the museum. Mr. O'Donnell had suggested converting the historic train station into the museum, but the association decided it was not large enough. Mr. Coleman, however, said Mr. O'Donnell did help make the case for a downtown location.
Adm. Papp says the goal is an announcement before the end of the year. We certainly wouldn't mind if the birthday gift came earlier.