Both are roaring successes, and there are many other examples like that, Spinrad said. We are not the lone wolf out there.
Longtime Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said the county has always wanted to rescue the bridge, but other big-ticket items including waste water management and the central sewer system have taken priority.
But those major county projects are winding down, and money from a multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement may be available for the bridge project.
Under the Gulf Coast Restoration Act of 2012, 23 counties in Florida will be eligible for funding for tourism, economy revival and sustaining natural resources and ecosystems.
Clearly, the bridge could fall under one of more umbrellas of shovel-ready projects that we could move forward on, Neugent said. The act is out of Congress now and passed down to a consortium to divvy up. Maybe for the old Seven Mile Bridge, the timing is right.
Pego said no FDOT funding is currently in place for the bridges renovation, but the state agency would be willing to commit 50 percent of the costs with one big condition: The county, city or another entity would take over ownership of the bridge upon completion of the work. The new owners would become responsible for maintenance and liability, which could cost around $300,000 annually.
Renovating the bridge also would eliminate the need for ferry service to Pigeon Key, which now costs about $250,000 annually and is split among the county, city and FDOT.
Friends of Old Seven just held a bridge design contest for architecture graduate students at Florida International University. The county kicked in $5,000 of the $12,500 cost.
For the contest, called Imagine 07, the students were told to let their imaginations run wild. And they did. They came up with an underwater restaurant, water slide, a ski-lift type people mover that would run under the bridge and human fish tanks, where people could view marine life. Good luck getting permits for those endeavors in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
But they also came up with some more practical ideas, including a terraced park at the entrance to the north end and shade areas on top of the bridge.
Anna Drescher, 21, won the student contest with an idea for five areas on top of the bridge called mile markers. Each would have different concepts and sponsors, including one about hydroelectricity at a point where two major currents meet.
I learned the significance of lighthouses in the Keys and all my panels would light up and create luminance at night, she said.
Anna Dreschers concept of lighting and the plazas also was very exciting, Spinrad said.
While some county commissioners criticized most of the designs for the impracticality, county senior director of engineering Kevin White said the project was worth the investment.
This will generate way more than $5,000 worth of interest, publicity and start-up juice, he said. If people see creative ways to use the bridge, it might attract private money or tourism money.
Spinrad would have loved to have held a major design contest for big time architectural firms. But we would have needed a $100,000 pot for prize money, he said. But we couldnt afford it. So we did the graduate students. First prize is $300, second is a little basket and third is a smaller basket.