I’m a little sad about the news that The Day is planning to sell its building at 47 Eugene O’Neill Drive in downtown New London, a place where I’ve spent a lot of my adult life.
But, having lived through expansion of the property made over the years to accommodate new, bigger printing presses, I understand as well as anyone The Day’s changing property needs in a digital world.
But this moment could easily be one for celebration for the community newspaper — its profits go to local charities — which has been at the heart of New London’s civic life for so long.
I’ve suggested this before, but it seems to me the idea of building a new National Coast Guard Museum on the footprint of The Day’s old printing plants makes more sense than ever, with climate change making the current proposed site on the waterfront flood plain more preposterous than ever and alternate sites at Fort Trumbull filling up with other projects.
A quick disclaimer: I’ve never discussed this idea with The Day’s publisher, though, clearly with the property now up for sale, I’m sure he’d be good with it.
The iconic former Savings Bank of New London, just north of The Day property, is empty and likely available for sale, too.
I don’t need to spend a lot of space here talking about all the things, beyond climate change, that make the current proposed museum site, on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, a bad choice. But the principal argument against it is the price, which the museum association has been unable to cover after years of raising money.
Besides, I don’t know a single person, outside of Connecticut politicians and the well-paid staff of the museum association, who think the flood plain site makes sense. It was the choice of a prominent rich donor who didn’t give enough money to build the museum there and who has since died.
Moving the museum to the other side of the tracks would also promptly free up another $20 million for the project, since the state wouldn’t have to build its promised pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.
A Coast Guard museum in the heart of downtown would make an excellent museum-going experience.
The main existing bank building, magnificently built with the wealth of New London’s whaling years, would make a great portal to a museum that would tell the story of the Coast Guard, with its strong historic ties to New London’s maritime history.
A new museum building could be as tall as it needs to be there, and could have dramatic views over the harbor and out the Thames River.
The federal enabling legislation for the museum says it has immediately to be in New London, and it’s hard to imagine a better location than the heart of downtown, not far off the highway, walkable from the train station and ferries and adjacent to a parking garage . Utilities are all in place.
Best of all, a downtown museum, one literally opening onto a downtown sidewalk, would be a game-changer for the city. It would be way better than one where people drive in, cross from the parking garage to an overhead walkway and never interact with the downtown and its businesses.
I can’t think of anything, other than the growing number of jobs at Electric Boat, that would do more for the city.
Best of all, the site is ready for transformation, and work could start pretty quickly.
The museum association, with the state’s contribution for the bridge freed up, probably has enough to start building. I am sure that fundraising would immediately pick up, if the association were to choose a workable site.
Sen. Chris Murphy is trying to put another $50 million into the federal budget to jump-start the stalled museum project.
I am quite sure his constituents, indeed the most state voters of all parties, would welcome the senator’s support of an amazing, transformative investment in the heart of New London’s downtown, one of the state’s poorest and most challenged cities.
This is the opinion of David Collins.