New London Seeks $24.8 Million to Expand Garage in Anticipation of National Coast Guard Museum

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Architectural rendering of the first-ever National Coast Guard Museum, planned to begin construction in New London, Connecticut, in 2020. Courtesy of Payette
Architectural rendering of the first-ever National Coast Guard Museum, planned to begin construction in New London, Connecticut, in 2020. Courtesy of Payette

NEW LONDON -- The city is applying for $24.8 million in federal funds to expand its Water Street parking garage, a third try at obtaining funding for a project that would complement a $100 million National Coast Guard Museum proposed to be built across the street.

The city will seek funding from the $1 billion available through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program, which is aimed at infrastructure improvements related to transportation. Half of the available money is going to "rural" areas of fewer than 200,000 people.

Parking Director Carey Redd said the project to expand the garage by 400 spaces could be done without impacting the local budget. Federal guidelines show that grant recipients do not receive a lump-sum cash disbursement at the time of an award but must instead apply for reimbursements.

The proposed project is closely tied to the future construction of a pedestrian bridge over Water Street to connect an area at or near the garage with Union Station. The state approved nearly $20 million toward the bridge and other work associated with the museum several years ago.

The garage and pedestrian bridge projects, while independent of each other, are closely intertwined since thousands more visitors to the city each year are expected to be parking in the city's garage and crossing Water Street to access the museum, which will be built on the waterfront behind Union Station.

The Water Street garage has 995 spaces with about 30 more in the surface lot outside. Redd has said expansion is needed not only because of the museum but also because of an increasing number of Cross Sound Ferry customers, Electric Boat employees and visitors to the train and bus stations and downtown businesses.

When asked by the City Council this week about the progress of the museum, Mayor Michael Passero said the Coast Guard Museum Association is "actually accelerating their building schedule." Administrative meetings are scheduled this month with architects and the city's planning department for talks related to preliminary plans for the pedestrian bridge.

Passero said discussion of work on new bulkheads at Waterfront Park, one element of the project, will go before the city's Harbor Management Commission in the near future, a "prelude to a formal application with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"There is a great deal of momentum currently behind the project," Passero said.

The National Coast Guard Museum Association announced in January that it had raised more than $56 million for the museum. While preliminary construction was expected to start this year, the timeline remains unclear. The museum association earlier this year said it was pushing back the start of construction because of other major projects in the area, including Electric Boat's expansion project in Groton.

A spokesman for the museum association, Drew Forster, did not answer questions related to the project timeline or fundraising efforts for this article but instead issued a statement.

"Our team at the National Coast Guard Museum Association continues to make progress on all aspects of the project, even in these challenging times," Forster said in an email. "As an organization, we support the development and growth of downtown New London. Improvements to the parking garage are an important aspect of that growth."

The grant the city is seeking is a competitive one, evidenced by the fact that no entities in Connecticut were awarded funds in 2019. In 2018, $9.16 million was awarded to the state Department of Transportation toward a $22.9 million project to upgrade five elevators and 17 escalators at the Stamford Transportation Center. Projects are rated on a host of criteria that include local or regional impact. Applications are due this month with award notifications expected in September.

This article is written by Greg Smith from The Day, New London, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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