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Vehicle crashes into St. Petersburg welcome tower on I-275

One of two vehicles involved in a crash left the highway and slammed into the 75-foot tall sign, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
A vehicle crashed into the 75-foot-tall sign known as the Gateway Welcome Tower on Friday, damaging the structure's base. The 75-foot tower is located along Interstate 275 just south of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
A vehicle crashed into the 75-foot-tall sign known as the Gateway Welcome Tower on Friday, damaging the structure's base. The 75-foot tower is located along Interstate 275 just south of the Howard Frankland Bridge. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2019
Updated Dec. 6, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — At more than seven stories tall, the towering sign that welcomes visitors to St. Petersburg on Interstate 275 was designed to withstand hurricane force winds. But what about traffic crashes?

On Friday, the Gateway Welcome Tower took a direct hit.

A two-vehicle crash on in the southbound lanes of the interstate about 3:30 a.m. resulted in one of the them crashing into the 75-foot tall sign, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. No one was injured in the crash.

Adam D. Bonavia, 37, of Edgewater was driving south on the interstate in a BMW sedan when he failed to slow down as he approached a slower-moving car and crashed into the back of a Nissan Altima, according to a Highway Patrol report. After the collision, the BMW veered into the grass and struck the sign with its front bumper.

Neither Bonavia nor the Nissan’s driver, 23-year-old Alex Giannakaris of Clearwater, was seriously injured. Bonavia was cited for careless driving.

City staff were working Friday to assess the damage and estimate the cost of repairs, said Ben Kirby, a spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Photos from the scene taken by a Tampa Bay Times photographer showed damage to two panels on the base of the structure. The front bumper of the vehicle that crashed into the sign lay in the grass.

Damage can be seen Friday near the bottom of the Gateway Welcome Tower located along the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg.
Damage can be seen Friday near the bottom of the Gateway Welcome Tower located along the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Tracks from a vehicle involved in crash in the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 lead to the Gateway Welcome Tower, the 75-foot tall sign  located just south of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Tracks from a vehicle involved in crash in the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 lead to the Gateway Welcome Tower, the 75-foot tall sign located just south of the Howard Frankland Bridge. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards funded construction of the $600,000, 75-foot tower in 2012, in time for the thousands of visitors who descended on the Tampa Bay area for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The Gateway tower was included in the 2004 budget, but the city could never find the money. Materials and workers for the tower came from the bay area. Crews drove 16 pilings 35 feet into the ground so the tower could withstand 110 mph winds.

The tower resembles two other Mediterranean Revival towers that were installed in the late 1980s at the downtown entrances from Interstates 175 and 375.

At the time of construction, Edwards said he had always been bothered by the lack of signs indicating that you’ve arrived in the city, adding: “This will be there forever.”

Damage from a vehicle can be seen near the bottom of the Gateway Welcome Tower.
Damage from a vehicle can be seen near the bottom of the Gateway Welcome Tower. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]