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Coast Guard Museum fundraising kicks up; 2017 opening planned

Dec. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Spirit of Hope Award Ceremony
James Coleman Jr., chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, receives the 2012 Coast Guard Spirit of Hope Award during a Nov. 19 ceremony at the Pentagon. (MC1 Daniel Hinton/Defense Department)
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Donations have doubled in the past three months for construction of the National Coast Guard Museum, but there are still significant hurdles to meet the estimated 2017 opening, officials said.

The four-floor museum will sit pierside in New London, Conn., and officials hope the development will be a boon for the New England city and home of the Coast Guard Academy.

While tourism is a plus for the town, the true goal is to finally give Coasties a museum dedicated to their hard work and sacrifice.

“The Coast Guard has 223 years of history in saving lives and protecting harbors. They’re the last line of defense for this country,” said James Coleman Jr., chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association. “Every other service has two, three, four, five, 10 museums. And we have zero.”

The city is ponying up $20 million to cover construction costs expected to total nearly $100 million. The association has raised more than $300,000 in public donations, Coleman told Navy Times earlier this month.

It’s been a passion project for Coleman for more than 12 years, and the association has worked for more than 14 to bring the museum to life. The biggest problem has been agreeing on a location, Coleman said, and they’ve found a “fantastic” one on the city-owned piece of land.

While the group plans to ramp up fundraising, Coleman said a lot of focus has been on a planned pedestrian foot bridge, estimated to cost $20 million. The enclosed bridge is essential, Coleman said, as it will cross impeding railroad tracks and link the museum to a parking garage. Discussions are ongoing with Amtrak.

The first three floors in the museum will include exhibit space, a gift shop and cafe, and boast waterfront views. The fourth is meant to evoke the “the deck of a ship,” according to the museum’s website, It includes an event space for up to 300 people and a catering kitchen.

The museum is intended to be a key element in a larger waterfront complex, one that will include a ferry terminal for passengers using high-speed catamarans.

Growing support

The museum project has received enthusiastic endorsements in recent weeks, which will likely bolster donations.

In November, Coleman received a Spirit of Hope Award, an annual honor given to Americans whose service to troops reflects that of Bob Hope, the late comedian whose USO performances are legend. Coleman, who is also chairman of International Matex Tank Terminals in New Orleans, received the award for the years he’s dedicated to bringing the museum to life.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp is a huge proponent.

“A National Coast Guard Museum to publicly highlight our 223 years of rich history and many achievements is absolutely essential and long overdue,” Papp said in a statement to Navy Times. “I’m grateful for the efforts of everyone involved to make this national museum a reality.”

Papp, who is set to step down this spring, added that he “would be honored to be more directly involved in this truly worthwhile effort once I retire.”

The museum also has two big-time backers serving as co-chairmen: golf legend Arnold Palmer and J.D. Power, the founder of consumer-survey giant J.D. Power and Associates. Both are former Coasties.

The hope is to break ground in May. Coleman said making the 2017 completion is still possible, though he acknowledged the possibility of delays and increased construction costs.

To raise funds, the association is hoping to add members to its “Barque Eagle Society.” Those who donate $1,000 or $5,000, or make a three-year commitment to donate $15,000, will receive a limited edition painting of the service’s training barque Eagle on canvas by Coast Guard artist Tony Falcone.

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