National Coast Guard Museum Construction Poised to Start This Summer

Article posted by The Day on March 8, 2022. By Greg Smith, The Day staff writer.

New London, CT — The first phase of construction for the National Coast Guard Museum could begin as early July, with demolition to begin on a portion of City Pier Plaza.

Retired USCG Capt. Wes Pulver, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, announced the news at Monday’s City Council meeting.

“We’ve talked about this project for many years, but the news is that there are decisions being made right now or on the immediate horizon, which will result in us starting Phase 1 construction this summer,” Pulver said.

Pulver expressed confidence in the project earning the necessary state and federal permits and said the National Coast Guard Museum Association has $81 million committed toward the $150 million fundraising goal of the project. He did not comment on the possibility of an infusion of $50 million into the project that is expected to be taken up by Congress as part of a larger spending package as early as this week.

Sen. Chris Murphy has said he is seeking the $50 million as part of the fiscal year 2022 Homeland Security bill, which provides for discretionary funding of $71.7 billion. Murphy, who is chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Homeland Security, has advocated for the inclusion of those funds and highlighted the fact the Coast Guard is the only branch of the military without a national museum.

Phase I of the museum project will lay the groundwork for construction of the waterfront museum and a pedestrian bridge that spans the railroad tracks at Union Station on Water Street. The work will include demolition of portions of City Pier on its north end and bulkheading, or installation of sheet piles, to build out some of the existing shoreline and square off the area where the museum will stand.

The future museum’s site is adjacent to operations of Cross Sound Ferry.

“We have been working collaboratively with the staff at the USCG museum association to ensure that the project will have minimal, if any, impact on (Cross Sound Ferry’s) operations,” said Stan Mickus, director of public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry.

And while the museum association is promising to mitigate disruptions to events on the city’s waterfront, at least one business owner thinks the start of construction is ill-timed for a beleaguered downtown business community fighting to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic slump.

Rod Cornish, owner of Hot Rod Cafe on Bank Street, said downtown businesses have struggled to stay afloat for the past two years of the pandemic. He is a supporter of the planned Coast Guard museum and the many benefits he thinks it will bring to the city and region. But businesses like his were counting on a big summer and events on the waterfront help to drive downtown business.

“We finally have a break in the COVID action and an opportunity to recoup the losses we’ve taken … and people excited about going places again,” Cornish said. “I feel like this is going to gut our summer. It’s going to hurt.”

Pulver said conditions expected as part of the permitting process will limit work to July 1 through the end of December for the protection of marine wildlife. To accommodate the return of Sailfest, the city’s largest summertime event, Pulver said work should start on July 11. Sailfest runs from July 8 to July 10.

North Stonington-based A/Z Corp. won the contract for construction manager and will provide oversight of the project’s first phase.

The museum association still awaits permits from both the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Pulver said he expects the first phase will take seven to nine months, while a decision on a timeline for the pedestrian bridge and museum will come later.

Barbara Neff, the city’s dockmaster and event planner, said the full extent of the impact on city events and other happenings at City Pier, such as a potential visit from a tall ship, are not yet known.

Plans call for removal of a gazebo, raised stage, a statue and some of the ramps to the floating docks at City Pier, along with removal of 6,020 square feet of existing concrete platform, according to the museum association’s application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition to Sailfest, Neff said a portion of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival annually holds events at City Pier. “We need to meet to try and figure out what is going to be impacted and makes plans around it,” she said. “I don’t have a problem working around construction. I’ve had to do it many times. But I usually get a little bit more of a heads-up.”

Cornish said he is hoping city leaders makes a push to delay the start of construction.

Mayor Michael Passero said the impact of the construction schedule will be the source of discussions in the coming weeks and months. “We’re going to be able to work our programming around the construction,” he said, “I’m confident of that.”

Passero said that after years of talk, it’s great news that a major national tourist attraction in the heart of the city is finally coming to fruition.

City Council President Efrain Dominguez echoed that sentiment at Monday’s meeting.

“This has been a long time coming,” Dominguez said. “This is going to happen in New London and we’re very excited to be part of this.”