The Friendship TrailBridge that runs alongside the Gandy Bridge was used by a half-million people as a recreation trail before it was closed in 2008. Its future is still up in the air. A group of bridge supporters say they have a plan in the works. JIM REED/STAFF
TAMPA - Hillsborough County officials seemed to throw cold water Wednesday on a proposal to reconstruct the Friendship TrailBridge through a public-private partnership. County Administrator Mike Merrill and several county commissioners expressed skepticism a group of investors Could rebuild and operate the closed pedestrian walkway as a linear park, all without any county funding. "It's too big," Merrill said. "You can't get a decent return on investment and you can't get a company to come in and take that kind of risk."
A consultant hired by the county came to the same conclusion in a February report, Public Works Director Mike Williams told commissioners Wednesday. But two leaders of the movement to save the bridge insist they have a group of investors who are interested in restoring and operating the bridge for a profit. The only money the county would have to contribute is the $5.2 million that Hillsborough and Pinellas County pooled to demolish the 57-year-old structure. "The taxpayers don't spend another dime on this project," said Kevin Thurman, who along with architect Ken Cowart is trying to put the development group together. Cowart told commissioners Wednesday he and Thurman are working with a team of developers, engineers and land planners who are interested in the project and want to bid on a request for proposals when the county issues one. Williams, the public works director, said Monday the county hasn't issued the request for proposals because he was worried that would jeopardize the low bid to demolish the bridge. Commissioners did not act on the bid a year ago, but the winning company has not rescinded it. After checking with the county's procurement department, Williams said he now feels confident the county can take bids on a public-private bridge restoration project. The county would have 60 days warning if the company that submitted the low bid to demolish the bridge decides to pull out. Cowart and Thurman have asked the county for 90 more days to solidify the group that will bid on the project. Commissioners did not say no Wednesday, but they made it clear they don't want the $5.2 million sitting around until next year. "I'm not saying we can't make this work if they give us a good plan," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who asked for the Wednesday update on the bridge. The commission took these other actions during the all-day meeting: .Asked the county attorney's office to prepare an ordinance by Aug. 21 that would regulate locksmiths. Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said the law would require that locksmiths operating in the county have a physical location here, that operators undergo a criminal background check and that they register with the county's Consumer Protection Agency. The ordinance is aimed at out-of-county "boiler room" operations that advertise using false local addresses. .Asked the county staff for a report on sinkholes in the Seffner and Brandon areas, including any changes in building codes that could mitigate damage to homes and businesses. The Seffner area in northeast Hillsborough has been hit by a series of sinkholes, including one that killed a man in February. .Heard a report from utilities chief John Lyons that total yearly garbage rates for residential customers will decrease from the current $231.17 to $222.75 after the county's new automated garbage collection system kicks in Oct. 1. The decrease is due to the county's decision last year to bid out garbage collection rather than renegotiating with the same three companies that had been hauling garbage since 1996. Those three companies won the bids, but at lower prices than they were charging. [email protected] (813) 259-8303