Fans of Fox Point's roughly 90-year-old footbridge begin the public phase this week of an effort that will help determine whether the now-closed 300-foot span will be replaced or perhaps simply allowed to decay and die.
A meeting by several longtime village residents that is expected to draw a crowd of 75 to 100 people who live closest to the bridge will be the first step in what will become a wider outreach to the village and the North Shore to save what supporters say is more a local treasure and public meeting place than an expanse over a ravine.
"What's so wonderful to me about this bridge is it is a public place, but you can't really see it from anywhere," said Barbara Schwartz, president of Footbridge Friends. "What's really important is what you can experience from the bridge."
That would include vistas such as the ravine and Lake Michigan, as well as creatures such as birds and turkeys. Many people walked or biked across the bridge, or just spent time on it like they would in a park.
But the cost of replacing the bridge, which connects Bridge and Barnett lanes east of Lake Drive and north of Green Tree Road, is enough to make some residents oppose the venture.
"It's not the Grand Canyon, it's a ravine," said retiree Bob Cory, a 32-year village resident who would prefer that the money be spent on sewers or streets or something else.
"We could put it into trees and we'd all be better off," he said.
The Village Board has been wrestling for years with what to do with the footbridge.
The span is believed to date back at least to the 1920s and is believed to have originally been used for vehicular traffic.
Naturally, it is showing its age.
An inspection in 2008 found portions of the steel supports were badly deteriorated.
By October 2010, the village closed the footbridge for safety reasons.
Various consultants offered recommendations on replacing or repairing the bridge. Finally, in April, the Village Board decided to pursue replacement but only with the help of private fundraising.
In August, the board gave a $30,000 loan to Footbridge Friends to help it launch its fundraising. But even now, the total cost of replacing the bridge is not clear.
Whitney Gould, former architecture critic of the Journal Sentinel and a supporter of the drive to raise money for the bridge, said she applauds the work of Footbridge Friends.
"I do think amenities like this are important to a community's sense of place," she said. "Footbridges have a long, storied history in our culture going back to the 19th century and before the age of the automobile."
Cory said opponents of replacing the bridge can point to estimates showing the total cost will reach $2.7 million. He said he wonders how much of that would have to be paid by taxpayers, particularly if the friends group falls short of its $625,000 fundraising goal.
"There are some pretty modest homes in Fox Point, believe it or not, and mine is one of them. A lot of people have gray hair and they're on a fixed income," Cory said.
The village has budgeted $1.5 million for work on the bridge - $1.25 million toward construction and $250,000 to remove the existing bridge - but it doesn't have a firm estimate on what the total cost will be.
Schwartz said the $625,000 her group hopes to raise represents half of the $1.25 million. But she said that unless bids for the work are sought, "I can't tell you what it's going to cost."
Schwartz said the Village Board wants to see, based on her group's fundraising, that there is support in the community for a new footbridge. Her group is required to give the board an update on its fundraising in February.
"I feel very positive that if we can support this bridge that they will decide to replace it," Schwartz said.
For details on making a donation toward the cost of replacing the footbridge, go to www.footbridgefriends.com/giving.
TIMELINE FOR NEW BRIDGE
A recent history of Fox Point's Bridge Lane Ravine Footbridge, which dates back to at least the 1920s:
October 2008: Village hires a consultant to do an additional inspection of the footbridge. A regular inspection earlier in the year found that portions of the steel supports on the footbridge were badly deteriorated.
December 2009: After receiving a consultant's report, the Village Board says rehabilitating the bridge would cost roughly $425,000 and extend the life of the bridge 10 years. Removing and replacing the bridge would cost roughly $950,000.
September 2010: A consultant recommends to the Village Board that the footbridge be taken down and replaced, at an estimated cost of just more than $1 million. The bridge is showing signs of stress and corrosion, the consultant says.
October 2010: For safety reasons, the village closes the footbridge.
December 2010: The Village Board allocates in the 2011 village budget $1.1 million for rehabilitation of the footbridge, even though the extent of the work is under study.
April: The board says it wants drawings made of what a new footbridge would look like based on specific points made in a resolution about its width, load-bearing capacity and use of recycled materials. It charged the citizen group to see what it could do to collect pledges by February.
August: The Village Board lends $30,000 to the nonprofit Footbridge Friends group, which is to use the money to raise $625,000 toward the cost of replacing the bridge.
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