HARTFORD, Conn. – Supporters of the first national museum honoring the U.S. Coast Guard hope newly passed federal legislation will provide a financial lift to the long-awaited project planned along Connecticut's waterfront.
The Senate this month approved the Coast Guard Authorization Act, which includes language expanding the amount of support the Coast Guard can provide to develop and install museum exhibits and displays of the service's artifacts. The bill already cleared the House of Representatives and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been working with Rep. Joe Courtney, a fellow Connecticut Democrat, to change current federal law, which greatly limits how much the Coast Guard can financially support the project planned for downtown New London. He said he's been concerned about whether enough funds will be eventually raised for the project and believes this change, if signed into law, will prompt more private donations.
"I've been working with them to lend support and simply make more people aware how important it is to recognize the Coast Guard for its achievements," Blumenthal said.
Courtney said federal legislation provides a huge boost to "national efforts to create the long overdue museum, and sends a powerful signal that this effort has strong backing of the Congress, the federal government and the Coast Guard."
The capital campaign for the planned $100 million museum, a figure that includes a $20 million pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks and other Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, has been a three-pronged approach. It includes obtaining $20 million from the state, which already has been promised; up to $30 million from the federal government; and the remaining $50 million from private donations, said Wes Pulver, executive director of the museum and a retired captain of the Coast Guard Barque Eagle.
He said donations have been coming in, but he agreed with Blumenthal and Courtney that the federal law change will likely encourage more because it shows that the federal government is supportive of the project.
The museum has received private commitments worth $1.754 million from some of the 300 companies associated with the American Waterways Operators, a national advocate for the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry. More money is expected.
Organizers have discussed possibly opening the museum as early as the summer of 2020. It would be the only national museum dedicated to the men and women of the Coast Guard. The effort to build such a museum has been a long one. The museum association was organized in 2001 to raise funds for the project and apply for federal and state grants. A 2004 act of Congress designated New London, home of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, as the location for a museum.
Exterior design work for the museum is underway, while a museum design firm is working on creating interior exhibits. Pulver said there won't be a problem in finding artifacts to fill those exhibits. Numerous pieces are in Coast Guard collections around the country, as well as in several storage areas in the Washington, D.C., area.
Over the next two years, an advisory panel will decide how best to exhibit those objects.
"We know what we have," Pulver said. "We just want to display it in a way that's best for the person who comes into the Coast Guard Museum."