Bridges to Nowhere

This is what Mayor Laura sees when she closes her eyes, squeezes real tight and pretends it's all going to be OK.

How, exactly, did the escalating price of the Calatrava bridges sneak up on Mayor Laura and the council? From the originally announced $57 million to $113 mil, the lowest bid unsealed on Thursday--wow, that's a helluva leap off an unbuilt bridge into a ditch filled with effluent, ain't it? It's not like there haven't been issues with Santiago Calatrava's projects before: On July 26, 2003, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal began a two-part series about how the the architect's acclaimed Milwaukee Art Museum was in massive debt. Does the mayor--a former journalist who, as I recall from having worked with her for a decade, used to rail against wasteful projects like this--not read other newspapers? If so, she'd have spotted this:

"Annual expenses at the Milwaukee Art Museum have ballooned by $9 million since it opened the addition designed by Santiago Calatrava, while annual revenue has grown by only $4.6 million.

To stem the financial hemorrhaging, the museum cashed in some $7.1 million of its unrestricted reserves in the past two years--although that still wasn't enough to balance either budget. The museum ran a deficit of $1.7 million in 2001 and $100,000 in 2002, and has projected a third straight deficit for fiscal year 2003, which ends Aug. 31.

The annual shortfalls are compounded by an outstanding debt of $32.6 million caused by cost overruns on the Calatrava."

To put it as simply as possible: The project was supposed to cost $38 million when it was proposed in 1997. Four years later, when the museum opened, it had turned into a $122-million boondoggle that brought pride and regret to the people who approved the exorbitant payment. "I'd rather it cost half of what it did," said museum board member Sheldon Lubar in the Journal Sentinal. That's pretty much the same thing Mayor Laura and City Manager Mary Suhm say in today's Dallas Morning News. Now Calatrava's gonna have to ditch the bridge over the ditch and start over. Heh. --Robert Wilonsky


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