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New London to begin transfer of land to Coast Guard for museum

New London - The City Council is expected to set in motion today the process of transferring a sliver of land along its waterfront to the Coast Guard to build an $80 million National Coast Guard Museum.

In addition to selling about 10,000 square feet of land near Union Station and City Pier to the Coast Guard for $1, the city will sell roughly 6,100 square feet to Cross Sound Ferry for about $123,000. Cross Sound Ferry is expected to use the land to build a new ferry terminal.

On Wednesday, Coast Guard, city and state officials will sign a "memorandum of agreement" during an 11 a.m. ceremony at Union Station in an effort to keep the Coast Guard museum project moving forward.

The council is expected to set a public hearing date for 6:30 p.m. March 17 at City Hall. The council will also request that the Planning & Zoning Commission review the proposed sale of municipal property.

Last April, city, state and Coast Guard officials announced plans to build the four-story, 54,000-square-foot national museum on the city's waterfront.

Coast Guard Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., who grew up in Norwich and graduated from Norwich Free Academy, has been advocating for a national museum for years. He will step down as commandant of the Coast Guard in late May and then retire.

A Feb. 9 memo to the council lays out a timeline for the land transfer to ensure the project goes forward before Papp's retirement, according to Tammy Daugherty, director of the Office of Development and Planning.

A ceremonial groundbreaking would take place May 6 when Papp is expected to be in town, according to the memo.

The groundbreaking would be ceremonial because the association needs to raise millions before construction can begin. As of December, about $170,000 had been donated. That money was used to hire the public relations firm Odell, Simms & Lynch Inc. of Virginia to plan a nationwide fundraising campaign to raise $50 million to $60 million.

The state has pledged up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks and for improvements to the city's regional intermodal transportation center. The association plans to ask the federal government for funding as well.

On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, James Coleman, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, and Papp will take part in the signing ceremony at Union Station.

A draft copy of the memorandum puts in writing the plan for the museum that was announced last April.

The parties are committed to developing the museum to educate the public about the Coast Guard's maritime heritage, according to the draft.

The current site is the preferred location for the museum. However, the Coast Guard will do its own analysis of the site before deciding whether or not to accept the land from the city. All parties will work together to ensure the barque Eagle will be able to dock near the museum.

The agreement also reiterates the state's commitment of up to $20 million for a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks, which the draft says is an integral element of the project to link the museum, Cross Sound Ferry terminal and Union station.

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