Let's be honest, the downtown Coast Guard museum is dead
I hate to be the one with the bucket of cold water, but at this point you might be more likely to believe in flying unicorns than to have any confidence that the much-stalled National Coast Guard Museum will ever be built on the New London waterfront.
After all, it was supposed to be open to visitors by now.
Not only has nothing been built, but after all these years of planning and fundraising there isn't even a new schedule in place for when construction might begin. When they stop even offering timetables, you know they are in deep trouble.
I should say up front here that I reached out to ask the museum about its future prospects and no one got back to me.
I also didn't hear back from Robert Ross, executive officer of the Connecticut Office of Veteran Affairs, the state official who is coordinating the state's plans to build a $20 million pedestrian bridge connecting the Water Street Parking Garage, often already filled to capacity, to the site of the mythical museum.
The state, which has bonded money for the crazy $20 million bridge to nowhere, is charging full speed ahead, seeking city permits to build it.
Why on earth should the state be spending all that borrowed money on such a precarious project?
I don't think I'm alone in my bleak assessment of the prospects that the museum will ever be built on the challenging waterfront site for which it has been proposed.
Even with lots of enthusiasm and money in hand, which there isn't, the site selected would be enormously challenging.
It's in a flood plain and on the water side of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, with the only access by land over that busy railroad.
Everything about the site makes it enormously more complicated and expensive to build on.
That brings us to another interesting observation: There is no firm cost estimate. Even as late as 2017, museum officials admitted that the $100 million figure they had been using was a "back-of-the-envelope" guess.
Almost four years later, the estimate would need to be much, much higher. And it is still only a guess.
The principal problem is that the museum was supposed to be privately funded, with the government running it once it's built.
Early on, then-Gov. Dannel Malloy pledged $20 million in state money for the pedestrian bridge, and Connecticut's congressional delegation later managed to pry some $15 million out of federal budgets.
But the museum association acknowledged in January that it has raised only $21 million in private money after all these years, barely a down payment on what is needed.
The association said in January 2017 that it had raised $9 million and expected to secure another $13 million in contributions that year. Three years later, it still had not met that goal.
Alas, the group has raised enough money to create a bureaucracy. There's quite a large staff and regular newsletter and all the trappings of a healthy organization.
But there is no realistic scenario in which, given the failure so far in raising money, that the project will ever work. If some rich angel was going to step from out of the wings, it would have happened by now.
Given the amount of money they have raised, the appearance of a viable project could go on for years, with staff costs continuing to burn through a lot of available capital. With that much cash on hand, it will be a long time before rigor mortis sets in.
I'm looking for some leadership here.
It's certainly not going to come from Gov. Ned Lamont, whose administration is proceeding full speed ahead on the $20 million bridge to nowhere. The paid staff of the museum is committed to the myth that they will someday raise enough money, because, well, it keeps the paychecks coming.
I would hope that maybe the congressional delegation, which already has committed millions in federal money to this lost cause, could knock some heads together and convince people that unicorns don't fly.
There's already enough money on the table to create some kind of more modest tribute, at a realistic site, to remember the contributions of the work of the brave men and women of the Coast Guard.
Who will steer the ship toward that safe harbor?
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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