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: www.cffk.org.

·  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 http://pigeonkeyartfestival.com.

·  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 www.7MBRun.com.

·  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, www.friendsofoldseven.org, 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!!!

Sincerely, 

Bernard Spinrad