Thursday, January 14, 2016

State: $184 million needed to fix crumbling bridges in Keys

Saturday, January 9, 2016

News and Updates

Dear Friends:

We look forward to the beginning of 2016 with wonderful news we wish to share with all of our members and supporters.

As you know, the Old Seven Mile Bridge – 104 years old, 2 miles long, and traversing what is considered to be the most beautiful section of the Florida Overseas Highway (a 120 mile stretch between Miami and Key West – America’s newest National Scenic Corridor route) – needs to be significantly restored, then properly maintained and preserved over time. 

In our last newsletter, we were excited to announce that on March 19, 2014, Monroe County, the City of Marathon and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) agreed on a plan to restore our beloved bridge.  The full agreement covers the capital costs to restore the bridge and maintain it for the next 30 years, at an estimated total cost of approximately $77 million, of which the State of Florida will contribute $57.2 million, Monroe County’s share will be $14.24 million, while Marathon’s share will be $5.34 million over the next 30 years.  The State of Florida, through FDOT, will maintain ownership of the bridge.

I am very happy to report that FDOT has completed its engineering and financial plans, which include the necessary repairs to the bridge, restoration, long-term maintenance and the return of limited vehicular traffic which includes a passenger trolley between Knights Key and historic Pigeon Key.  The ramp to Pigeon Key will also be re-constructed. Construction is scheduled to begin in April 2017, will take another two to three years to complete, and is expected to be staggered so that walkers and bikers can continue using the facility during this time, at least for part of its entire length. Click here to view a summary presentation of these plans and a short-to-medium-term timeline, as proposed by FDOT.

Our organization’s long-standing Mission is precisely what has been accomplished: Save, Restore, Maintain and Enhance the Old Seven Mile Bridge. We are extremely proud to have been instrumental in achieving this through our volunteers’, members’ and overall community support and hard work for the past five years.

Now that we have accomplished what once seemed almost impossible, Friends of Old Seven will work, over the next five years, with responsible public and private sector entities (in a true public/private partnership) to ensure 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 capable of serving the recreational needs of Monroe County residents while attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to enjoy it each year.

Restoring and enhancing the Old Seven Mile Bridge and surrounding areas will not only preserve a highly valued historical resource, we also firmly believe that such restoration, enhancement and proper maintenance will have significant economic benefits to our tourism-driven economy. Over 100,000 people currently use the bridge annually by walking and/or biking it for exercise, for the views of priceless sunrises and sunsets, incredibly abundant water life just below, and for dreaming of another century when life was not so fast. A restored and properly maintained bridge, accompanied by a resurgent Old Town, will bring significantly larger numbers of new users, some local, but mostly new visitors, who will also patronize our hotels, restaurants and shops. Several new hotels, restaurants and  shops in Marathon’s Old Town area are already taking advantage of this trend. And they will benefit even more when Friends of Old Seven, in conjunction with them and with the Pigeon Key Foundation, will be able to stage festivals, special events and other exciting activities throughout the year.

To that effect, Friends of Old Seven intends to launch a capital campaign to raise significant private sector contributions over the next 3-5 years. Funds raised through a campaign will be complemented by Federal and State grants, as well as counterpart contributions from Monroe County’s Tourism Development Council (TDC) “Brick and Mortar” program.

In related news and planned events:

·  Unsung Heroes of the Florida Keys: The Community Foundation of the Florida Keys (CFFK) celebrates an annual event honoring volunteers from numerous non-profit organizations throughout Monroe County. This year’s event, will be celebrated with a luncheon to be held on Friday, January 29th, 2016 at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel (11 am-1 pm). Our own Sherry and Perry Hoodies have been nominated among those to be honored at this event. As you may know, both Sherry and Perry worked tirelessly to ensure that our March 2014 Gala Dinner celebrating the 102nd Anniversary of the Flagler Railroad turned into a resounding success. Any one of you wishing to participate ($60 pp) should e-mail me to make the appropriate reservations. CFFK’s web site address is:

·  Salute to Mike Puto: Our long-tenured Vice President, Mike recently left the City of Marathon after a long and successful run as City Manager. During his term in office, Mike completed plans for the construction of the new City Hall building, reorganized the city’s staffing structure and oversaw contracts for the construction of new hotels and various significant development projects which, together with the City Commission, for which he worked, have oriented Marathon towards a new, progressive future. During his last months with the City, Mike assisted his designated successor, Mr. Charles Lindsey, in becoming familiar with key issues likely to confront his initial months as the new City Manager. Throughout his appointment as City Manager, Mike continued his steadfast support of our organization, as well as the Pigeon Key Foundation, on which he served both as an Corporate Officer and member of its Boards. We look forward to having “Mr. Marathon” continue his valued involvement with both organizations.

·  Welcoming the new Marathon City Council and Manager: Since its foundation, our organization has always worked closely with Monroe County and City of Marathon elected officials and staff. The City of Marathon recently elected new members of its Council. It also selected a new Manager, Mr. Charles Lindsey, a 21-year veteran of the Coast Guard, including a 2010-2013 sting as senior operations manager for Coast Guard Station Marathon from 2010 to 2013. We look forward to continuing our close relationship with the City of Marathon Council, City Manager and staff as we face this new, exciting phase of our organization’s work.

·  Physical Improvements to areas next to the Bridge: We have been advised by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that, sometime in early 2016, FDEP will start significant physical changes to the parking area adjoining the bridge, to the area connecting the bridge to property owned by FDOT next to Sunset Grill, and to Sunset Park. The primary purpose of this project, primarily funded by FDOT to the tune of close to $2 million, is expected to make this entire area more accessible to handicapped persons as required by compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). We expect this project to dovetail and complement the large bridge restoration project described above.

·  Closing of our Kiosk at the Bridge:  In anticipation of the upcoming restoration work on the bridge, we have decided to stop operating the kiosk at the Bridge. All items available there until recently can now be obtained  through our website, see below.

·  Authoring and Publishing a book memorializing the work by Friends of Old Seven: We have commissioned a professional writer, Mr. Elliott Stark, to put together the pertinent documentation, including an extensive photo collection. An Editorial Board drawn from our Board of Directors and Advisory Board, is vetting the contents before final publication.  The purpose of this effort is to memorialize the significance of the Old Seven Mile Bridge within the larger scope of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, as well as the efforts undertaken by Friends of Old Seven and the Pigeon Key Foundation to save, restore, enhance and maintain the bridge. We are quite advanced in this project, and we expect to publish the book, either through a well-known publishing house or by ourselves, sometime in 2016. We intend to use this coffee-table style book as a component of our capital fund-raising campaign described above. It will be also available for purchase through our web site.

·  Pigeon Key Arts Festival: The Pigeon Key Foundation is sponsoring the 22nd Anniversary of its world-famous Art Festival. The dates are February 6-7, 2016 (10:00 am-5 pm). Artists flock to this festival from around to world to capture the beauty and tranquility of the Florida Keys in general, and of Pigeon Key in particular, through brush strokes, lenses and sculptures. This event continues to evolve, offering artists the opportunity to showcase their original works for purchase. For more information, visit

·  Seven Mile Bridge Run: The 35th Annual 7-Mile Bridge Run will be held on April 9, 2016. Open registration for the run will be online only on February 9, 2016 beginning at 6:00 am EST. Registration is for all wishing to participate regardless of where you reside.  Only 1,500 entries will be accepted. For more information, visit

·  Save The Date: Gala Dinner, January 28, 2017: We will be celebrating 2017 as the 105th Anniversary Centennial Year of the Flagler Overseas Railroad by throwing a magnificent Gala Dinner coinciding with the beginning of the actual bridge restoration process. We had a wonderful Gala Dinner in 2014 (celebrating the Railroad’s 102nd Anniversary), a fantastic celebration by 150 participants who had tons of fun and enjoyed themselves thoroughly; we raised significant funds for our continuing community outreach program. We will do it even better and grander this year, expecting  to share excellent food,  awards, world-class entertainment and a stunning, larger Silent Auction with up to 250 participants.

·  New Hotels in Marathon’s Old Town: If you did not know it already, the long-neglected Old Town area of Marathon, the section of the city closest to the Old Seven Mile Bridge, is undergoing a veritable renaissance, with several new hotels, excellent restaurants and  new  stores opening almost on a monthly basis: We expect that these new outstanding tourist facilities will complement and, in turn, benefit from the restoration and enhancement of the Old Seven Mile Bridge while enhancing Marathon’s profile and presence in the world’s tourism market arena.

As a recipient of our email updates, you can help us achieve our objectives. You can visit our website,, where you can find out what we are currently doing and future planned activities.  We welcome your support by:

  • Become a member of our organization at no cost, if you have not done so yet, by visiting our web site, and clicking on our Get Involved -> Member button. You will be receiving our periodic newsletter and information updates.
  • Provide us with a donation, either through a check mailed to our P.O. Box, or through your credit card. Your contribution to our 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, will likely result in a tax benefit You can do so by visiting our web site, and clicking on the GET INVOLVED->Donate button.
  • Sign up as a volunteer to one of our many events we participate on throughout the Keys community by visiting our web site, and clicking on the GET INVOLVED->Volunteer button.
  • Shop for our signature t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers and other Old Seven-related items by visiting our web site, and clicking on the SHOP button.

On behalf of our Board of Directors and Advisory Board, I wish you and yours, for 2016 and beyond, Happiness, Health and Prosperity!!!


Bernard Spinrad

Monday, December 21, 2015

Letter from the President

Dear Friends of Old Seven;

In our last email newsletter, we were excited to announce that the Monroe County Commission voted 4-1 to work with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the city of Marathon, Florida on a plan to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge, followed by the city of Marathon voting 5-0 in favor of this plan.  I am very pleased to report that on March 19, 2014, agreements were signed between the Florida Department of Transportation, the Monroe County Commission and the City of Marathon, Florida for a $77.5 million, 30-year project to preserve the Old Seven Mile Bridge.  The State of Florida’s contribution will be $57.2 million, Monroe County will pay $14.24 million and the city of Marathon will contribute $5.34 million over the next 30 years.  The State of Florida will maintain ownership.

The project includes repairs, restoration, long-term maintenance and the return of limited vehicular traffic which includes a passenger trolley between Knights Key and historic Pigeon Key.  The ramp to Pigeon Key will also be repaired.  Construction is scheduled to begin in approximately two years, and will take another two years to complete.

Now that we have accomplished what once seemed almost impossible, Friends of Old Seven will shift toward working 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 linear park and open-air museum capable of serving the recreational needs of Monroe County residents while attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to enjoy it each year.

To that effect, Friends of Old Seven will soon launch a capital campaign to raise up to $10 million over the next 3-5 years. It is contemplated that funds raised through a campaign aimed at the private sector will be complemented by Federal and State grants, as well as counterpart contributions from Monroe County’s Tourism Development Council (TDC) “Brick and Mortar” program.

As we move forward with new goals and expectations, we will keep you informed of our progress, and hope to continue to involve you with our efforts.  As always, we are so grateful for your support and help.

Bernard Spinrad, President

Thursday, April 3, 2014

New Plans for an Old Bridge – NY Times

In the Florida Keys, the Old Seven Mile Bridge has been given new life in the form of a $77 million restoration program, approved in late March.

The old bridge, now closed to motorized traffic, dates back to 1912 when railroad magnate Henry Flagler built it as part of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, which ran from the southern tip of mainland Florida down to Key West.

It was converted as a roadway for auto traffic in 1938 and subsequently replaced by a new, parallel span in 1982, leaving the old bridge to fishermen, bird watchers, strollers and bike riders.

But the South Florida climate, including hurricanes, has hastened the decay of “Old 7,” as it is called by at least one preservation group that took inspiration from the success of New York’s High Line park.

“I saw our guiding light in the High Line and the walkways over the Hudson,” said Bernard Spinrad, board president of the nonprofit foundation Friends of Old Seven. “I thought basically our role should be not only to restore Old Seven Mile Bridge, but make it a world-class attraction.”

The project, expected to start in about two years, will largely be funded by the Florida Department of Transportation with contributions from Monroe County and the City of Marathon.

Despite its name, Old Seven Mile Bridge runs 2.2 miles from Marathon to five-acre Pigeon Key, an original work camp for railroad construction crews.

The discontinuous remainder, long closed, has been left to decay.

by Elaine Glusac, New York Times
April 3, 2014


Friday, January 31, 2014

Bernard Spinrad: the man who saved history

by Jason Koler
Keys Weekly, January 31, 2014

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 Beach then 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. “

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Letter from the President

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Gloria Estefan joins campaign to save Miami Marine Stadium


The long campaign to resurrect one of South Florida’s least-seen architectural gems, the shuttered Miami Marine Stadium, is getting a turbo boost from one of the town’s most recognizable figures: Songstress, entrepreneur and — did you know this? — preservationist Gloria Estefan.

Read more here:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Economic and Fiscal Impact Study for Friends of Old Seven

Camoin Associates was commissioned by Friends of Old Seven Inc. (FO7) to conduct an economic impact analysis on the restoration and enhancement of the 2.2 mile stretch between Knights Key (Marathon) and Pigeon Key.  Click the following link to read the report.  FinalReport-EconomicImpact-OldSeven

Monday, May 6, 2013


03, 2013

by Michael Welber

There’s an old joke that goes, “If you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.” In other words, you’re gullible. While the bridge in the oft repeated saying originally refers to the Brooklyn Bridge, Monroe County might be wondering if the joke’s on them when it comes to acquiring the Old Seven Mile Bridge at the west end of Marathon.

So is Monroe County buying? Maybe not.

Favored by locals and tourists alike who love to walk or bike the 2.2 miles to Pigeon Key, the bridge has been closed to automobiles since December 2007. And yet, even though it’s no longer a bridge used by traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation, surprisingly, has blocked attempts to release engineering studies of the bridge to the general public.

Why? Because a Florida state law passed right after 9/11 mandated that plans and reports for all state bridges be classified. This came as a result of a request from Homeland Security.

The county commission, which has been considering taking over the bridge, was blindsided by the turn of events.

“I was surprised that it applied to the unused remnants of the Seven Mile Bridge because it’s not being used for transportation purposes,” said county commissioner Danny Kolhage.

Kolhage and Commissioner Heather Carruthers put the brakes on any further consideration of a transfer of ownership until the county can get a report that they can show to a qualified structural engineer and not just county staff. Right now DOT only wants to provide what’s known as a redacted version, one with portions covered by the state law blacked out. Kolhage doesn’t think that’s enough.

“I don’t really think that’s going to be successful because what should be made public is what DOT rates the bridge that has to do with its conditions. There are photos of what’s beneath the water line. If Monroe County is contemplating a multi-million dollar expenditure of tax funds on this bridge then the public has the right to have all the information. I don’t think a redacted version will be helpful.”

Bernard Spinrad, who is board president of Friends of Old Seven, a volunteer grass roots organization that has been working hard to save the bridge for continued use as a recreational facility, was also surprised by the turn of events.

“It’s a bit of a blow. It’s a situation we’ve been trying to break for a while and we’ve not been successful. We have a really good relationship with DOT but they are bound by state law and Homeland Security rules that can’t really be flexible,” he said.

So is the bridge really threatened by terrorists? Gus Pego, District Six Secretary for Miami and the Keys, thinks it is.

“Pedestrians are on there and anyone could do terrible things. I am not going to make light of Boston, believe me. I would say you just don’t know what people are going to do. I have no problem with the law,” he commented.

Kolhage is not sure. “I just don’t understand why the law still applies for this structure. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

There’s no doubt that terrorist attacks, though nowhere near as frequent as in places such as Tel Aviv, Beirut, Islamabad, or Damascus, have ratcheted up the fear factor in the U.S. The bombing at the Boston marathon increased that fear with calls for many more security cameras, much greater inspection everywhere, and a greater push for a general tightening of regulations. A friend who is participating in a bicycle ride through the boroughs of New York City has been told that she can’t bring a backpack or use panniers on a forty mile bike ride.

The other issue, as always, is money. According to State Representative Holly Raschein’s office, “The estimated cost for the rehabilitation of the Old Seven Mile Bridge including steel paint system replacement is approximately $18 Million but the estimate will take into consideration what type of design vehicle will service Pigeon Key, which will be determined in consultation with the Pigeon Key Foundation, the City of Marathon and Monroe County during the design process. The future long term routine maintenance based on average statewide cost excluding the required biannual routine inspection is estimated to be around $70,000 per year. This cost includes minor concrete repairs, sealing cracks, welding, sign replacement, spot steel painting, trash pickup, etc. Additionally, due to the aggressive corrosion environment that the bridge is subject to, it is estimated that the bridge painting system will need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years at an estimated average cost of $3.5 Million.”

That’s a lot of money with no public disclosure.

Sprinrad, even though his organization is enthusiastic about saving the bridge and has done a terrific job of spreading the word via its website ( and a newsletter, is somewhat pessimistic about where this will go.

 “I think they need a structural engineer specializing in bridge stability. Danny Kolhage has said that he believes that the underwater structures might be like sponges. Now that’s a very serious possibility because everybody assumes that the work has to be on the surface, particularly on the deck. But if there’s a lot of work to be done under the water the whole thing not be really doable. We’re talking about a lot of money.”

He wants the bridge decommissioned and handed over to the County for use as a recreational facility. Pego says that might not change anything. The county is a government agency and would be subject to the same rules as DOT. He did add, however, that the county is free – right now – to show the reports to an independent structural engineer as long as that person signs an affidavit vowing to never release the information to the public. Such a study could go a long way to resolving the issue. Or not.

However, whatever develops, the public, the taxpayers, will not be allowed to view any of the relevant information. Ever.

To read the article in The Blue Paper, go to

Saturday, April 6, 2013

City extends bridge kiosk permit

BY PATTI LAVELL Free Press Contributor
MARATHON — The Marathon City Council voted unanimously last week to extend Friends of Old Seven’s kiosk permit for another year.

The non-profit group obtained a permit from the city last year to place the information booth at the entrance to the historic bridge. Members of the group staff the kiosk, handing out leaflets and answering questions.

The group collects approximately $10,000 per month in donations and, after paying overhead costs, is left with about $2,000 for community outreach.

A representative from the group told the City Council that an economic impact study, funded in part by the city, should be ready for review in a couple of weeks. The study analyzed the financial benefits the community could reap if the old Seven Mile Bridge is repaired and restored.

Two weeks ago, the Monroe County Commission gave staff approval to investigate the possibility of restoring the old bridge. The Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for half the cost — estimated at $18 million — if the county takes over maintenance of the structure. According to County Administrator Roman Gastesi, annual maintenance would run about $70,000 and painting the bridge every 10 years would cost $3.5 million.