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A grand plan for the Gandy Bridge's comeback

Published May 26, 2012

It could be one of the biggest comebacks in Tampa Bay history.

As big as our once sad-sack creamsicle football team winning us a Super Bowl. As big as people actually living in downtown Tampa -— a place once reserved after hours for river rats and alley cats -— and enjoying a major downtown park formerly comprised primarily of dead grass.

So: Imagine new life breathed into a doomed old bridge.


You know the first chapter of this story: That old soon-to-be-rubble span of the Gandy Bridge stretching between Hillsborough and Pinellas, rescued by people with vision, transformed and reopened in 1999 as a spectacular walking, biking, skating and strolling park across the water. For the next nine years, hundreds of thousands of us hit that concrete ribbon over the waves with much enthusiasm.

But the old Gandy was judged a hazard, with a potential for falling concrete, and way too expensive to fix. We near the end, again.

But wait.

Here comes this improbably fresh-faced group of enthusiasts, young professionals banded together by their belief in a sleek, functional linear park. They see it as a less passive park, more active, and a seriously attractive asset for Tampa Bay.

Already, they have their own engineering, design and revenue plan in hand. These include removing the low span approaches most damaged by saltwater and keeping the rest, essentially the hump of the bridge, intact. Lighter, modern material would be used for decking on supports that are still in good shape. They hope this would last another 30 years, if the pilings are indeed in good shape.

Think food kiosks. Think bike and kayak rentals. A not-for-profit group would work with local governments.

And if you ever stepped out on that bridge in your sneakers and felt the bay breeze and heard the waves and set off across the great wide open between two city skylines, it's hard not to start imagining all over again.

Now, a reality sandwich: The initial cost is $19.5 million, $13 million of which this very, very optimistic group says it can raise in private money. The rest comes from government money allocated for the bridge's demolition.

They hope the Hillsborough County Commission will agree on June 6 to grant a reprieve from impending demolition, giving them time for a feasibility study and also to prove they can raise initial funds.

A demolition delay may hinge on whether the company slated to take it down agrees to hold to the current cost of doing it. But if there's no cost and no risk, why wouldn't commissioners join in on a how-cool-would-this-be vote?

Probably it's improbably rosy. A long shot by a long shot. And yet here's Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe saying: "I'm 100 percent behind it." Imagine, if all that creativity and enthusiasm gives us a thriving linear park across the water again.

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Maybe you don't see it. ( might help.) I'm sure a lot of people in New York did not look at a historic old freight rail line on the West Side and see the cool elevated High Line public park it has become, saved from demolition by visionaries. Sounds familiar.

And so, maybe.

And, what if.

And, imagine.