Friends of Old Seven Gala on March 22, 2014
Friday, March 28, 2014
Thursday, March 20, 2014
BY CAMMY CLARK
MARATHON – Sarah Heller, a fifth-grader from Montana, hung over the rusted railing of the iconic Old Seven Mile Bridge on Wednesday morning, holding a glass container with a note and waterproof pen sealed inside by a cork and wax.
Right after a flock of pelicans, the bridge’s “Air Force,” flew by in formation, the bespectacled 11-year-old counted “3-2-1” before dropping her message in a bottle into the water for a trip to who knows where.
Sarah and her family didn’t know it, but two hours after they made that vacation memory, the Monroe County Commission approved agreements with the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Marathon for a $77.5 million, 30-year project to preserve a 2.2-mile stretch of the crumbling, 102-year-old bridge for future generations to enjoy.
After the vote, Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay led several other supporters in chanting: “We Saved Old Seven.”
“It has been on my bucket list,” said Gus Pego, FDOT’s District 6 secretary, who has been involved for years in the negotiations.
After decades of trying to come up with a long-term preservation plan for Old Seven, which became a bridge to nowhere in 1982 when the new Seven Mile Bridge was completed, this grand plan was reached relatively quickly.
It began to come together late last summer, at one of the bleakest points for bridge supporters, when an $18 million plan that split the cost 50-50 between the state and county was going nowhere, said Bernard Spinard, president of the grass-roots Friends of Old Seven nonprofit group.
That’s when a group of local politicians and administrators went to Tallahassee to make their case that Old Seven is not only a historic treasure but also an international tourist attraction that is important to the economy.
“The governor, cabinet and secretary of transportation were shown it’s an irreplaceable asset,” Spinard said. “We told them they should meet the challenge.”
In December, FDOT presented Monroe County and the city of Marathon with a plan that called for the state to pay 75 percent of the cost and maintain ownership. “If they didn’t accept ownership, it would have been a deal-breaker,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastessi said.
Based on an analysis of detailed inspections, the $77.5 million project includes repairs, restoration, long-term maintenance and the return of limited vehicular traffic that includes a passenger trolley. It also includes repair of the bridge’s ramp to Pigeon Key, a five-acre island that served as a camp for railroad workers building the bridge.
The bridge was completed in 1912, becoming one of the last sections of the Key West extension of the Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. Both Pigeon Key and Old Seven are on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I know it’s a big, scary number, but it’s worth it,” said longtime Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent, an ardent supporter of the bridge, of the project’s cost.
The steel and concrete bridge, which connects Marathon to Little Duck Key as part of the Overseas Highway, has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. At the time it was built it was considered an engineering marvel on par with the Panama Canal. Three years after the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed parts of the railway, but not the bridge, Old Seven was converted for vehicle traffic.
Jack Kornetti, who wore a King of the Couch T-shirt while taking a walk on the bridge Wednesday morning, said he drove on it many times. The two lanes were less than 10 feet wide with no shoulders, making for some tight navigating — especially for trucks. He said he remembered two trucks carrying sod trying to pass each other, and both ended up in the water.
Brad White, who has spent more than 4,000 hours manning the Friends of Old Seven table at the north end of the bridge, said more than 25,000 people signed the petition to save it.
“This is a two-mile linear park over water,” he said.
Some ride their bikes on the bridge. Others stroll, jog, take photos and gaze at the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. They come to see the sun rise and set, the marine life, the birds and the vastness of it all.
But while the bridge amazingly has withstood the test of time — the harsh conditions of salt water and humidity, and quite a few hurricanes — it has been rapidly deteriorating over the past couple of decades, with only patchwork maintenance.
In 2007, the bridge was deemed unsafe for vehicle traffic, which meant Henry the Trolley was out of the business of transporting people to Pigeon Key. Next, FDOT deemed that same portion of the bridge too unsafe for fishermen, who constantly lean against the rails.
Many in the Keys have fought against spending so much money on the aging structure, but with the economy picking up — especially in Monroe County, where tourism has been incredibly strong for the past couple of years — the state deal was too good to pass up.
The state is contributing $57.2 million. Monroe County is paying 18 percent of the cost ($14.24 million), and the city of Marathon is contributing 7 percent ($5.34 million). The Monroe County Commission voted 4-1 to approve the agreement with the state.
Pego said he would immediately order his staff to start design work on the repairs and restoration. If all goes well, construction can begin in about two years. It probably will take another year or two to complete the work.
“Almost every major component of the bridge needs to be repaired,” Pego said. “The substructure, the superstructure, the railings, in order to make it safe for pedestrians.”
The new design will allow the bridge to handle vehicle loads of 17 tons, enabling emergency vehicles, tourist trolleys and light supply trucks to use it.
The plan also includes two major paintings for the bridge, after 15 years and 30 years, to the tune of $21 million.
The Marathon Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of Old Seven also have been working on plans to upgrade Pigeon Key and to vastly improve Sunset Park, at the north end of the bridge. “We want to turn the whole thing into a world-class facility,” said Spinrad, who once served as Aruba’s director of tourism.
Back at the bridge, Sarah and her little brother Zack ran to the other side to look for the bottle that was being swept into the Gulf of Mexico by the incoming tide.
Conjecture began as to where it might end up. Pensacola? Texas? Said Zack: “I hope its somewhere we can understand their language.”
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Sunday, March 16, 2014
BY TIMOTHY O’HARA Citizen Staff
Florida Keys local governments have begun to give their formal blessings to a funding plan to renovate the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
On Tuesday night, the Marathon City Council approved the roughly $77 million plan between itself, the Monroe County Commission and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The agreement calls for 30 years worth of repairs and upgrades to the 100 year-old bridge that once carried Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, with FDOT paying for the lion’s share of it.
Under the terms of the agreement, FDOT would maintain ownership of the bridge. FDOT would pay $57 million of the projected $77 million in repair and maintenance costs over the next 30 years. Monroe County would pay $14.2 million, and Marathon would pay $5.3 million to help cover the cost of repairs. The county would have to pay an additional $720,000 up front to repair the Pigeon Key ramp, according to the agreement.
The Marathon City Council voted unanimously in favor of the agreement.
“The enthusiasm was unbelievable,” Mayor Dick Ramsay said.
The Monroe County Commission tentatively approved the funding plan in December. Commissioner Danny Kolhage was the only one on the dais to vote against funding the project. He said he would like to see the county’s share of the funding go to bridges and roads that residents drive on daily.
Kolhage again plans to vote against the project, he said.
FDOT District 6 Superintendent Gus Pego is in full support of the funding plan. If the plan is approved by the County Commission, FDOT would start the design work this year and hopefully construction next year, Pego said.
“We have made this a priority for Monroe County,” Pego said. “I am confident we will be able to find the money for it.”
The commission meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center
Monday, March 10, 2014
Friends of Old Seven at the Marathon Seafood Festival.
Monday, February 10, 2014
A preservation success
OUR OPINION: Wise thinking finds new use for old Seven Mile Bridge
Preservation often involves recycling the purpose of a structure: Change its use but keep the original design — or adaptive reuse, to get clinical about it.
One of the most successful repurposing projects is New York City’s High Line Park, a greenway built on top of a mile of abandoned railroad tracks. It’s a metro attraction year-round that turned a not-so-pretty stretch of elevated tracks into a lush, open place to walk, attend a concert or just chill.
A similar plan for the old Seven Mile Bridge just south of Marathon in the Middle Keys is now in the works, and it’s a great idea.
Originally built as part of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad between Key Largo and Key West in the early 1900s, the bridge was considered a major engineering feat at the time. It was replaced with a new span in the early 1980s.
But it never lost its appeal to locals and visitors alike. The remaining 2.2-mile span is a great place to take a stroll, exercise, watch a spectacular Keys sunset or drop a fishing line.
But as it has deteriorated, the Florida Department of Transportation has been considering closing the 100-year-old span to public access for safety and budget reasons.
No more. Thanks to dedicated officials from FDOT, Monroe County and the city of Marathon working together throughout the fall, a plan is being hammered out to turn the bridge into a park, similar in concept to the High Line.
A little over $77 million has been designated by FDOT, the county and the city for repairs and to cover 30 years of maintenance. FDOT will foot $57 million of the bill over the next three decades and retain ownership of the bridge. Monroe County will contribute $14.2 million and Marathon $5.3 million.
A preservation group called Friends of Old Seven plans a fund-raising campaign for private donors to help pay for beautification on the bridge and nearby areas.
One of those neighbors is Pigeon Key, an island where Flagler’s railroad workers stayed. There are several typical Keys cottages on the tiny, picturesque island, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The island, located under the old bridge is open to visitors and can be reached by foot or bicycle from a bridge ramp and also by ferry.
It’s a charming Keys historical attraction that happens to be powered by very 21st-century technology: solar panels. Converting the bridge into a park will be a boost for the island’s staunch supporters and fans.
And Marathon hopes to gain from the linear, elevated park as well. City boosters believe that it will draw overnight visitors who, these days, just stop for gas or drive straight through to Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key and Key West in the Lower Keys.
A lot of credit should be doled out to the folks from FDOT, Monroe County and Marathon.
Early last fall it looked like the bridge would eventually be closed to the public as salt water and other elements continued to eat at it and the price tag for repairs kept rising.
But wiser thinking prevailed, and the Middle Keys and its future visitors will be the beneficiaries of that thinking. Mr. Flagler would be pleased, for sure.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Bernard Spinrad: the man who saved history – Marathon resident helped rally citizens to ‘Save Old Seven’
Neighbor of the Week
Bernard Spinrad: the man who saved history
Marathon resident helped rally citizens to ‘Save Old Seven’
By Jason Koler
Bernard Spinrad is not unlike other retirees living in the Keys. He belongs to the Yacht Club and enjoys sipping wine with his wife of nearly 50 years, Marien.
However, there are not too many who can say they orchestrated a $75 million deal to rehabilitate and restore the historic 7 Mile Bridge.
When given credit for the monumental feat, Spinrad quickly defers to his organization and County Commissioner George Neugent.
“I would like to say we were influential in reaching this goal,” Sprinad admits through a melting pot of foreign accents. “That honor belongs to George.”
Bernard Spinrad is a man with a lively email account and if you work for the Department of Transportation, were elected to office, or have walked on the Earth since Christmas, chances you have been the recipient of one of his lengthy, yet pointed messages.
One trait Bernard Spinrad is known to posses is persistence.
“He and FO7 (Friends of Old 7) kept the troops rallied,” explained Neugent. “From the very beginning he showed a great focus and drive to do the right thing – which was to save the bridge.”
This past November, the Board of County Commissioners approved the framework of a deal between the DOT, Monroe County, and city of Marathon; a journey Spinrad started nearly two years ago when he attended his first “Save Old Seven” meeting.
Upon his arrival to the group he immediately brought focus and organization to the effort. Under his direction F07 secured corporate status as a 501-c3, developed a website, and became the county’s lead partner to build a coalition between public and private entities.
He cites the recent county approval to repair the bridge as one of his personal highlights – which includes earning degrees in physics and business from UCLA, teaching economics in Costa Rica, and helping to draft the framework for modern tourism in Aruba.
“They had a mono-economy which was solely reliant on oil,” said Spinrad of 1980s Aruba. The incremental plan succeeded in increasing hotel rooms from 1,800 to 12,000 and annual visitors from 180,000 to over a million within three decades. “My focus was to make sustainable tourism projects that were also economically feasible using local materials and food – rational tourism development.”
Sprinrad is both a student and teacher of tourism. He sits on the DAC III for Middle Keys and sees Marathon at a precarious crossroad.
“We can be a very successful tourist destination, but we need to be careful,” he said. “There is a temptation that once development cranks up – there is no stopping it. Tourism has the propensity to ruin the product that it originally used to attract tourism in the first place.”
He cites the cycle of Miami Beach as shining example of what (and what not) to do.
“It became popular in the ’40s and reached its height in the ’50s, and then died in the ’60s,” he said. “Miami Beachthen reshaped itself in the ’80s by historical preservation, focusing on other markets by making it desirable by the groups that influence tourism – fashion, celebrities, etc. “
Now that Friends of Old 7 succeeded in securing a funding agreement to restore the old 7 Mile Bridge, Spinrad plans to parlay his group’s efforts into turning the entire area into a “world class facility.”
He envisions Sunset Park as Marathon’s Mallory Square and sees the bridge as a permanent historical link to one of the Key’s greatest environmental education sites – Pigeon Key.
“I fully subscribe to the idea that Marathon’s future lies in expanding its appeal as an eco-friendly family destination,” he said. “But let’s make sure it’s of high quality – driven not by numbers, but by quality. We have enough assets here in Marathon that people will come as a tribute to its own merits.”
Friday, February 7, 2014
The Friends of Miami Marine Stadium included the following comments about Friends of Old Seven in their February, 2014 email newsletter. For information about their organization, go to http://www.marinestadium.org/
“The Friends of Miami Marine Stadium have been inspired by groups like Friends of the High Line in New York City. This grass roots organization succeeded in re-inventing New York’s elevated freight railway into a magnificent urban park which is now one of the top attractions in Manhattan.
Our initiative now inspires others. Two years ago, we were contacted by Friends of Old Seven, an organization formed to restore a portion of the original seven mile bridge, built by Henry Flagler, into a pedestrian walkway in Marathon, part of the Florida Keys. In December 2013, Monroe County and the City of Marathon approved the project-which has total funding of $77 million and places the initiative on the road to success! We congratulate President Bernard Spinrad and the rest of the organization on this magnificent accomplishment!”
Saturday, January 25, 2014
You are invited to the Friends of Old Seven Gala on March 22, 2014 at the Marathon Yacht Club, in Marathon, Florida. Celebrating the 102nd anniversary of the Flagler Railway, the Old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key, the evening will be filled with dancing, cocktails, music provided by the Blues Brothers Soul Band, gourmet food and a silent auction. Join Friends of Old Seven as they celebrate the preservation of the Old Seven Mile Bridge and look forward to working on the next phase of planning their work program – insuring that the entire area between Knights Key and Pigeon Key, including the Old Seven Mile Bridge, becomes a world-class linear park and open air museum.
Click on the link below to view a printable invitation. Seating is limited. RSVP must be received by 3/9/14.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Dear Friends of Old Seven;
We are so very excited to announce that on December 11, 2013, the Monroe County Commission voted 4-1 to work with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the city of Marathon on a plan to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge! On December 12, 2013, the City of Marathon voted 5-0 in favor of adopting this plan. We are on the road to restoration!
Under the terms of the agreement, FDOT would maintain ownership of Henry Flagler’s 100-year-old railroad bridge. Also, FDOT would pay $57 million of the projected $77 million in repair and maintenance costs over the next 30 years. Monroe County would pay $14.2 million, and Marathon would pay $5.3 million to help cover the cost of repairs. The county would have to pay an additional $720,000 up front to repair the Pigeon Key ramp, according to the agreement.
We are deeply appreciative of the amazing support that you have given to this effort! In addition, we wish to thank the Monroe County Commissioners, the City of Marathon and the Florida Department of Transportation for this important agreement. Friends of Old Seven will continue to work with the responsible entities to ensure that the entire area between Knights Key and Pigeon Key, including the Old Seven Mile Bridge, becomes a world-class facility capable of serving the recreational needs of Monroe County residents and of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to enjoy it each year. Henry Flagler’s historical masterpiece will be preserved for this and future generations, while creating a new economic engine for the entire Florida Keys.
We expect 2014 to be full of positive news, which we intend to share with you as we progress along this exciting new road.
We wish you all the best for the coming Holidays and New Year.
Bernard Spinrad, President