ST. PETERSBURG — The Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.
Those iconic structures have all been cast in pink light to commemorate breast cancer awareness month. Now Tampa Bay’s own icon, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, is slated to go pink on Saturday night.
It started in April, when St. Petersburg resident Janet Cook wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis pitching the idea to light up Tampa Bay’s landmark bridge for breast cancer awareness month, which is every October. She is the former president of Estee Lauder North America and currently serves as the executive coach for the five Be Aveda Institutes located around the state. The company’s main campus is located in downtown St. Petersburg.
The cosmetics conglomerate and its subsidiaries have a long history of supporting breast cancer awareness efforts and research. In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, an Estee Lauder executive, formed the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It has raised more than half-a-billion dollars to fund clinical research, according to the organization’s website.
Giving the Sunshine Skyway a pink glow is possible because of an effort to install permanent colored lights on the bridge, which has been more than a year in the making. The $15 million project was already in the works when Lance Grace, a maintenance engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation, got a message from the governor’s office to follow-up on Cook’s idea.
While transportation officials told Cook they’d do their best to accommodate her request, they couldn’t give her an exact date. Then Cook said her phone started ringing late Thursday night as friends called to tell her that the bridge had gone pink.
Cook said she rushed out of her home at about midnight to catch a glimpse herself.
“It’s felt kind of surreal,” Cook said. “I was thrilled. I had tears.
“It was very emotional for me — you work on something for so long. It’s really happening.”
She said transportation officials told her that the bridge would be illuminated in pink light from Saturday night through Sunday morning.
“With a diagnosis every 15 seconds, awareness is just so important," Cook said. “I hope there’s a cure in my lifetime.”
Cook plans to view the bridge with friends Saturday night by boat. But she’ll be keeping an eye on the weather as Tropical Storm Nestor is expected to bring heavy winds and rain to the bay area.
The lighting project was originally scheduled for completion earlier this year but was delayed after lightning struck a transformer on the northern approach to the bridge. Cook’s request is being fulfilled as the new lights undergo tests.
While drivers may see the bridge illuminated sporadically, the lights won’t become a full-time feature for at least another month. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson estimates the project will be completed sometime in November.