New London — The first phase of construction of the National Coast Guard Museum could begin in early July, with the demolition of part of City Pier Plaza.
Retired USCG Captain Wes Pulver, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, announced the news at Monday’s city council meeting.
“We’ve been talking about this project for many years, but the news is that decisions are being made right now or on the immediate horizon that will see us begin construction on Phase 1 this summer,” Pulver said.
Pulver expressed confidence that the project will obtain the necessary state and federal permits and said the National Coast Guard Museum Association has $81 million committed towards the project’s $150 million fundraising goal. He did not comment on the possibility of a $50 million injection into the project, which is expected to be taken up by Congress as part of a larger spending package as early as this week.
Sen. Chris Murphy said he was seeking the $50 million under the fiscal year 2022 Homeland Security Bill, which provides $71.7 billion in discretionary funding. Murphy, who is chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security, argued for the inclusion of these funds and pointed to the fact that 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 the construction of the waterfront museum and a pedestrian bridge that spans the train tracks at Union Station on Water Street. Work will include demolishing parts of City Pier at its northern end and its bulkheads, or installing sheet piling, to build up part of the existing shoreline and square off the area where the museum will stand.
The site of the future museum is adjacent to the operations of Cross Sound Ferry.
“We have worked with the staff of the USCG Museum Association to ensure that the project will have minimal, if any, impact on (Cross Sound Ferry) operations,” said Stan Mickus, director of public affairs. from Cross Sound Ferry.
And while the museum association promises to ease disruption from events on the city’s waterfront, at least one business owner thinks the start of construction is inappropriate for a beleaguered downtown business community. -city struggling to emerge from the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rod Cornish, owner of the Hot Rod Cafe on Bank Street, said downtown businesses have struggled to stay afloat in the past two years of the pandemic. He is a supporter of the Coast Guard Museum project and the many benefits it will bring to the city and region. But businesses like his were counting on a big summer, and waterfront events are helping to boost downtown business.
“We finally have a break from the COVID action and an opportunity to recoup the losses we’ve suffered…and people are excited to go again,” Cornish said. “I feel like it’s going to ruin our summer. It’s going to hurt.
Pulver said conditions expected in the permitting process will limit work from July 1 to the end of December for the protection of marine wildlife. To welcome the return of Sailfest, the city’s biggest summer event, Pulver said work is expected to begin on July 11. The Sailfest takes place from July 8 to 10.
A/Z Corp., based in North Stonington, has won the construction manager contract and will oversee the first phase of the project.
The museum association is still awaiting clearances from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Pulver said he expects the first phase to take seven to nine months, while a decision on a timeline for the pedestrian bridge and museum will come later.
Barbara Neff, wharfmaster and city event planner, said the extent of the impact on city events and other happenings at City Pier, such as a potential visit from a tall ship, is not yet known.
Plans include the removal of a gazebo, elevated stage, statue and some of City Pier’s floating dock access ramps, as well as the removal of 6,020 square feet of concrete pad existing, according to the application of the museum’s association with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
In addition to Sailfest, Neff said part of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival holds events at City Pier each year. “We need to meet to try to understand what is going to be impacted and make plans accordingly,” she said. “I have no problem working in construction. I had to do it several times. But I usually get a bit more warning.
Cornish said he hopes city leaders will make an effort to delay the start of construction.
Mayor Michael Passero said the impact of the construction schedule will be the source of discussion in the weeks and months to come. “We’re going to be able to work our programming around construction,” he said, “I’m sure of that.”
Passero said after years of discussion, 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 during Monday’s meeting.
“It took a long time to come,” Dominguez said. “It’s going to happen in New London and we’re very happy to be a part of it.”