NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — Organizers of the first major national museum honoring the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday they're optimistic the long-awaited attraction will finally be built in New London.
John Johnson was among the project's first proponents 15 years ago and currently serves as the museum association's treasurer. He said plans are now in the works for an April groundbreaking and a 2017 grand opening for the 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to attract 1.4 million visitors annually.
"There's a lot that has to happen to make that a reality," said Johnson, appearing at a news conference at Fort Trumbull Pier where the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle was moored. The Coast Guard Academy is in New London.
Raising money remains the biggest challenge. The museum is expected to ultimately cost about $50 million to $60 million.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney announced he has bipartisan support for federal legislation that would require the U.S. Mint to create a commemorative coin that honors the Coast Guard and its history.
Every year the U.S. Mint strikes two coins. Proceeds from such coins average about $2 million to $3 million, but Courtney expects the Coast Guard coin will be popular and aggressively marketed, generating more money.
The state of Connecticut has already pledged $20 million toward the museum and the museum association has hired a Virginia-based marketing and fundraising firm to help raise private funds. Since April, more than $150,000 in donations has been raised, Johnson said.
Courtney said his office and the state Department of Transportation are also investigating whether federal transportation funds might be available for the project.
Johnson said fundraising can now begin in earnest because a site for the museum has finally been settled. Originally, plans called for building the museum within the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, much of which was taken by eminent domain and leveled years ago for a redevelopment effort that never fully materialized. Other locations in New London were also considered and later dismissed. The city has since agreed to donate a quarter-acre parcel downtown for the project.
"At the end of the day, we took all of the controversy out of it," Johnson said of the location, which is near the city's train station and ferry terminals.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. is strongly backing the museum. A history buff, Papp has already located a key object for the museum's collection. He spoke Friday about recently meeting a Russian woman living in Alaska who is willing to donate the original piano that was used by Capt. Francis Saltus Van Boskerck to write the Coast Guard's official marching song while he was stationed in Alaska.
"We don't have a place right now, but we're going to," he said. "And it's in New London, Conn."