BAYSHORE — At high noon on Tuesday, every table was full at Zudar's Cafe, Deli, and Dessert Company.
The Platt Street Bridge had opened just hours earlier, at 5:30 a.m. to be precise.
"We saw people we hadn't seen in months," said Eric Weinstein, director of operations for the cafe, just south of the bridge at 201 W Platt St.
The 86-year-old bridge closed for renovation Oct. 3, detouring thousands of drivers to nearby streets.
One of those routes took riders up Plant Avenue, by Sandra Lenik's house. From her windows, she watched police direct the backed-up drivers.
In her six years living there, she never used the bridge, she said. Still, she was among those ecstatic to see it open, easing the cut-through traffic in her neighborhood.
The bridge is a major artery for homeowners on Davis Islands and along Bayshore Boulevard, not to mention employees at Tampa General Hospital.
So far, the $13.8 million reconstruction project has come in on budget and in time for Gasparilla festivities later month. It is being financed with $11.4 million from the Community Investment Tax and the remainder from a federal grant.
The structural work is complete, said Matt Boos, project engineer for general contractor American Bridge Co. However, miscellaneous repairs, painting and architectural details are still needed. Some lane closures are expected in coming months, before final completion by April, Boos said.
For the past 37 years, Robert Hooks, of Jackson Heights, has traveled over the bridge as often as three or four times a day from his job on Harbour Island for errands. Wednesday, he took the more direct route to Publix, next door to Zudar's.
"I tell you, I'm glad it's open," he said. "It saves me time and gas."
The work included structural repairs and replacements to the inner mechanics of the drawbridge's machinery.
"Like any 86-year-old bridge you've got your complications," Boos said. "We worked through them and came in one day ahead of time."
Weinstein, at nearby Zudar's, could hear workers banging and hammering seven days a week, he said. Business at his cafe took a dip, although things improved somewhat after city and county workers put up signs directing traffic to open businesses. He added a delivery service to combat the losses and ended up gaining new customers, mostly people who can't leave their work site, he said.
But he was happy to see his tables full this week.
"Everybody is pretty well overjoyed that it's open," he said. "It was a pretty significant disruption."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3431.