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Would a filmmaker want to help shoulder the costs of blowing up the Friendship Trail Bridge?

CLEARWATER — The only question left for the decaying Friendship Trail Bridge is how to demolish it.

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni has a suggestion: How about Hollywood?

"See if there is anyone, any kind of filmers, that would like to come down and blow that bridge up for a movie," Morroni said Tuesday. "And they would do it under their budget, and it wouldn't cost us a thing, or very little."

The idea seems far-fetched, but it's increasingly more realistic than the notion that people will ever get to walk or bike across the old span again.

The bridge was closed in 2008 over fears of collapse. While there was originally talk of rebuilding it, those suggestions were scuttled after repair costs soared to more than triple the $13 million it will cost to tear it down.

State film officials say landing a filmmaker would take a marketing effort and a bit of luck.

While a production company might be willing to help pay for some of the cost, it's highly unlikely anyone would be willing to foot the entire bill, said Todd Roobin, commissioner of Jacksonville's film office and a Florida Film Board member.

The days of big-budget operations paying the whole bill are gone, he said. Plus, Pinellas officials broached the idea a few years ago and learned $13 million can instead buy a lot of special effects.

"No one's going to pay for the whole thing," said Suzy Spang, vice president of the film commission in Orlando.

There, Lethal Weapon 3 filmmakers paid the city $50,000 for the right to film the old City Hall being demolished in 1991.

Even without a film mogul's help, other Pinellas officials were poised Tuesday to allow the popular span across Tampa Bay to become rubble. Commissioner Karen Seel wanted to know whether bathrooms and monuments would be salvaged, for example.

No one spoke of saving the old Gandy Bridge, which opened in 1924.

A new engineering report found repairs will cost $48 million, more than triple original estimates. The report told Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, which oversee the park, to save money until they have enough to tear it down.

Pinellas could vote to set aside money for demolition next month. The Hillsborough County Commission will talk about the bridge during a meeting today. Its staff also recommends demolition.

With $4 million already budgeted between them, the counties would split the remaining $9 million cost.

An oversight panel also unanimously recommended in March that the bridge be demolished. The panel includes officials from the two counties, plus supporters from Friendship Trail Corp., which once tried to save the span.

Even if repairs were made, the life of the bridge would only be extended 10 years. The 2.6-mile bridge had already escaped death a decade ago, when residents rallied to save it.

Not this time. Miller took heart that the oversight committee also recommended pressing state transportation officials to add pedestrian paths, perhaps over the Courtney Campbell Causeway or the Gandy Bridge.

Maybe one that will last longer next time.

"Anything you build, there's an end to it," Miller said. "Nothing's forever."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Would a filmmaker want to help shoulder the costs of blowing up the Friendship Trail Bridge? 04/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 10:40pm]
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