2017 Is Crucial Year for Coast Guard Museum Fundraising

The National Coast Guard Museum Association unveiled proposed architectural designs that envision a four-story building perched on the New London waterfront. (National Coast Guard Museum Association photo)
The National Coast Guard Museum Association unveiled proposed architectural designs that envision a four-story building perched on the New London waterfront. (National Coast Guard Museum Association photo)

NEW LONDON -- With construction anticipated to start as early as summer 2018, this year will be crucial for those raising funds to build a National Coast Guard Museum in downtown New London.

After spending the past year cultivating donors and hashing out concerns related to the downtown site, the National Coast Guard Museum Association is hoping to raise at least $13 million in private donations in 2017, CEO Dick Grahn said during a meeting with The Day's Editorial Board.

At this point, the group has raised about $9 million in private funds toward the estimated $100 million museum project. Grahn said he was "realistically optimistic" that the group would be making an announcement in the spring of a "significant donation" from a Fortune 100 company, which he did not name.

Meanwhile, the cost of the museum could rise as the design continues to develop. The $100 million figure is a "back of the envelope" estimate based on average costs to build a museum, Grahn said. The actual cost will depend on the final design.

Later this month, museum organizers will receive a report from Carolyn Bess, a fundraising consultant they hired for $23,000 to assess their fundraising efforts.

The group also is paying $12,500 a month to the firm Odell Simms & Lynch to help with outreach for the fundraising campaign. The group originally was paying the firm $20,000 a month, but reduced it to $12,500 a month in August, Grahn said. The firm's contract expires at the end of January, and Grahn said it remained to be seen whether it will be extended.

Museum organizers, who have not made any major fundraising announcements in about a year, are hoping for $30 million in federal support. The state has committed up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge to provide safe access to the museum and railroad tracks.

Late last year, museum organizers and the lead architect for the project, Charles Klee with Boston-based firm Payette, unveiled preliminary designs of the museum that envision a partially transparent, four-story building perched high on the New London waterfront. The designs incorporate concerns raised by relevant stakeholders, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had issues associated with the museum being built in a flood zone.

Klee and museum organizers stressed then that the concept is in its infancy, and that a forthcoming environmental review, which will include soliciting public comment, ultimately will determine the final design of the museum. Grahn said museum organizers expect to select a contractor to carry out that environmental review by the end of this month. On Dec. 29, the Coast Guard gave the museum group a temporary license that allows for pre-permitting activities, Grahn said.

The concerns raised by agencies such as FEMA have hindered fundraising efforts, Grahn said, explaining that there have been instances of donors saying "fix the permitting issues, then we'll give you money."

There's also a "frame of mind" among some donors asking why the museum should be built in New London, Grahn said. He and others have responded by saying federal legislation dictates the museum be built in New London "at, or in close proximity to, the Coast Guard Academy," and that the Coast Guard picked the site. Grahn also pointed to the Coast Guard's history in the area as well as the rich maritime history in the area in general, and the Coast Guard Academy, Coast Guard Research & Development Center and the International Ice Patrol all being located here.

As for those who've expressed opposition to the site in favor of placing the museum at Fort Trumbull, Grahn said he wasn't aware of anyone on the national level refusing to consider to donate on that basis. More locally, he said, "those are concerns that we have to listen to."

"We're not private developers trying to make a buck," he added, emphasizing that museum organizers are dedicated to building a museum that can best serve the public.

The museum is scheduled to open in 2021 and will be free to visitors.

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