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Old Seven Mile Bridge Repairs Would Be Financial Boon, Report Says

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Refurbishing the old Seven Mile Bridge would increase tourism, create jobs, boost the Middle Keys economy and increase tax revenue for state and local governments, according to a fiscal impact study funded by the city of Marathon and the nonprofit Friends of Old Seven.

The $13,500 study was done by Saratoga Springs, N.Y., company Camoin Associates and released April 15. It says upgrades to the state Department of Transportation-owned bridge and adjacent Sunset Park are expected to be complete in 2015-16. They could include:

--A "park-like" concept involving the bridge, Sunset Park and Pigeon Key. The 2.2-mile span connects Pigeon Key to land, but was closed to vehicular traffic by the state Department of Transportation in 2007. It's also closed to fishing.

--Increased visibility of the structure through creative lighting, historical displays/platforms, shaded areas, benches and structural aesthetics.

The addition of events held continuously throughout the year by Friends of Old Seven Inc. and affiliated organizations.

--Increased visibility through an intensive marketing campaign featuring the bridge and adjoining areas as a tourism attraction.

A summary of the overall impact states a bridge upgrade would create $13.2 million in annual new sales for the Middle Keys, 161 jobs, $17.5 million in tax revenue for Monroe County over 30 years and $32.9 million in sales tax for the state over 30 years.

Camoin based its findings of the bridge's economic impact on, among other things:

--Visitor counts provided by Friends of Old Seven to determine the number of total trail users. The trail counts for the past three years (2010-12) were then used to generate a weighted average.

According to the study, 192,945 people visited the old Seven Mile Bridge in 2012, a significant increase from 2011 (109,580) and 2010 (101,480).

--Information provided by Friends of Old Seven, the New York-area project Walkway Over the Hudson and visitor trend data to estimate visitation increases.

Camoin arrived at its total economic impacts as the sum of all direct and indirect impacts in the first full year of venue operation.

Using those numbers, Camoin calculated "baseline," "middle case" and "best case" scenarios for visitor increases if the bridge is refurbished. Baseline would be 162,975, while middle case is 210,305, and best case 257,634.

Monroe County Mayor George Neugent sent the study to several public officials on May 7, including Adam Hollingsworth, chief of staff for Gov. Rick Scott.

Neugent said he, County Administrator Roman Gastesi and state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) are scheduled to meet with Hollingsworth on May 28 in Tallahassee.

"I pointed out we were working with [DOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego] and DOT had agreed to put up 50 percent of the money to restore the bridge," he said. "We were looking for some additional funding from FDOT because of the historic nature of the project."

DOT has agreed to fund half of what could be a $20 million restoration, but only if the state can relinquish ownership of the bridge to local government. ___

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