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Fox Point holds off on footbridge decision

Fundraisers at approximately one-third of goal

Feb. 13, 2013

Fox Point - Since the inception of their fundraising campaign five months ago, local non-profit Footbridge Friends has brought in about a third of its $655,000 goal, President Barbara Schwartz reported to the Village Board Tuesday night. Trustees discussed the report before a full house of residents, many of whom addressed the board in support of or in opposition to the footbridge project - though supporters outnumbered opponents.

In total, Schwartz reported, Footbridge Friends have taken in $212,000 from 150 supporters, ranging from a pledge of $25,000 to donations and pledges of $1,000 or less.

"We are well-launched," Schwartz said. "This is a well-organized campaign."

The group needs more time to hit its goal.

"We think we're off to a good start and look forward to continuing as the year progresses," Schwartz said in an interview last week. "I see this going on for a few months."

Though the Village Board had the authority to rethink its plan to reconstruct the bridge, trustees deferred the decision to a later meeting.

Village President Michael West said the village is continuing design work for the project and that the board should make a definitive decision at its next meeting whether to choose reconstruction or replacement, should the fundraisers eventually hit their goal.

"The board needs to make a decision so that it's made clear (which option would go forward)," West said.

A village asset

Though they each lauded it in their own way, the 23 residents who addressed the board in favor of the bridge made it clear they couldn't see the village without it.

John Grant approached the microphone and simply said "I support the bridge" before sitting back down to the applause of the crowd.

Others, many of whom have lived in the village for decades, recalled times spent on the bridge and the memories it made for them.

"I really do miss it," said Maureen Daly, who has enjoyed the bridge since her childhood. "It's a fabulous asset. I don't know how Fox Point could live without it."

"It is a North Shore gem," Rosemary Cavaluzzi said to the applause of bridge supporters in the audience. "It's (the village board's) duty to preserve it."

Many of the supporters similarly commented that the bridge is a draw for village and area-wide residents, offering anecdotes of friends in other communities who have visited the bridge.

Jack and Olive Bryson urged trustees to consider rehabbing the bridge at a lesser cost than outright replacement.

And David Goelzer, a member of the Footbridge Friends board, told the board to give the group more time.

"Artificial deadlines are really destructive," he said. "It's a big effort."

Issues with cost

The six residents who spoke out against the plan said the bridge just isn't worth the cost.

"We're spending a heck of a lot of time spending," outspoken bridge opponent Bob Cory said. "It's a lot of money for an obscure, low-profile capital expenditure."

Including engineering studies, legal and administrative costs, a loan given to Footbridge Friends to kick-start their campaign, a tear down and rebuild of the bridge, as well as inspection and interest costs, long-time opponent of the bridge project Larry Booth calculates the total cost of the project at nearly $2.88 million.

"We're looking at spending almost $3 million for a footbridge that serves no essential purpose," he said, quoting trustee Douglas H. Frazer as saying "the fundraising effort will be the referendum… if Footbridge Friends is unable to raise the money by Jan. 31 then we'll know the community does not support the footbridge."

"The failure of the fundraiser is the final proof that this community does not support the footbridge," Booth said.

He argued with the board over whether he could directly question Schwartz - they decided he could not - and challenged trustees to wear shirts with "Fox Point Trustee" printed on the front and "I spent $3 million of your money on a footbridge" on the back to the village Fourth of July parade.

"I dare you to wear this to the parade," Booth said, waving the shirt in front of the trustees, "and see what response you get."

He unsuccessfully implored the board to immediately choose the option of removing the bridge only at a cost of about $340,000.

Trustees weigh in

Trustee Frazer referred to a 2012 inquiry into the costs of the footbridge, which concluded that the average Fox Point homeowner with property valued at $300,000 would pay approximately $23.50 per year for the 14 years it would take to pay back the $1.1 million borrowed in 2011 to finance the project, for a total of $329 - a far cry from the approximately $1,100 Booth suggested residents would pay, though the estimate only includes construction costs.

Assuming the village was paying back $625,000 over that 14-year span due to the fundraising, Frazer calculated that same resident would pay $15.70 per year for a total of $219.80.

"That doesn't strike me as asking too much of our residents," he said.

Given similar projects in the North Shore and surrounding suburban communities, trustee Eric Fonstad said he is confident in the Footbridge Friends.

"I don't see it as unlikely to see Fox Point raise $655,000 for the bridge," he said.

Trustees will take up the issue at a later date.

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