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St. Petersburg welcome sign on Howard Frankland is coming down

Bill Edwards, who paid for the 75-foot monument, said the news is “bittersweet.”

ST. PETERSBURG — Local businessman Bill Edwards thought the 75-foot-tall Welcome to St. Petersburg sign he commissioned at the south end of the Howard Frankland Bridge would outlive him.

Instead, the $600,000 tower won’t make it a decade. Construction crews will dismantle the LED-lit monument sometime this fall as they make room for a new span of the bridge that is supposed to open in 2024.

For now, the construction of the bridge — which will have eight lanes, including four with tolls — is happening to the side of the existing structure and not interfering with traffic. But the new span will need to connect with each end, and on the southern side, the St. Petersburg welcome sign is in the way, local transportation secretary David Gwynn said.

“The new bridge is coming in on that side of the road,” Gwynn asaid. “By the time we get everything tied in, it would just have been in the way.”

Related: Gov. DeSantis tells officials to speed up new Howard Frankland Bridge construction

The Florida Department of Transportation is coordinating with the City of St. Petersburg to decide what to do with the tower once it’s taken down. Documents show the construction firm will salvage some parts of the structure and deliver them to the city. From there, it’s up to local officials to decide its future.

The city is mulling over its options. Ben Kirby, spokesman for the mayor, said nothing has been decided yet, but Mayor Rick Kriseman is considering a new type of sign that would be placed at the bridge and other city boundaries.

“As this is the only monument of its kind welcoming people into St. Pete, and such monuments don’t exist at other entry points, Mayor Kriseman is giving thought to new welcome signs into the Sunshine City,” Kirby said in a statement.

The dome for the top of the gateway monument is lifted into place. The exterior of the sign welcoming motorists driving over the Howard Frankland Bridge to St Petersburg is mostly complete and now the electrical and lighting is to be added. [Times (2012)] [ JAY CONNER | Tampa Bay Times ]

The Mediterranean Revival-style marker is not as old as some may think. Edwards commissioned it in 2012 to welcome guests of the Republican National Convention. Though most of the event was taking place in Tampa, Edwards wanted the thousands of guests who were visiting from across the country and world to know when they were entering St. Petersburg.

“It always bothered me that I never could tell when I was in St. Petersburg,” Edwards said. “We wanted people to know they’ve arrived.”

Related: How the plan to fix Tampa Bay's most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos

It’s unclear at this point whether the tower will be reconstructed or how much that would cost. Not all of it will be saved. The construction firm will deliver a few parts to the city, which will have to decide if the cost to store or rebuild it is worth the money.

The salvageable parts include the “Welcome” letters, the decorative dome and spire, four “St. Petersburg” panels and four City of St. Petersburg pelican logos that sit near the top of the structure.

Edwards learned the fate of his sign Wednesday during a meeting with Kriseman.

“It’s bittersweet, but you can’t stop progress,” Edwards said. “I guess they’ll put some other way of marking where St. Petersburg is when they’re done, and we’ll have room to get cars where they need to go.”

In addition to any replacement the city is considering, transportation department spokeswoman Kris Carson said the new bridge will include small aesthetic features leading up to the bridge from both sides and “primary features” at the corners of the bridge and four pedestrian overlook features.

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