Calatrava is Spanish for "Over Budget"
Two hours north of Sacramento, California, is a town called Redding, which bills itself as "California's Natural Getaway." Among its points of interest are the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Lake Shasta Caverns, Lassen Volcanic National Park and other man-made attractions. Chief among the latter is Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay, which is described as "a beautiful, unique pedestrian bridge that crosses the Sacramento River and connects the nationally-designated trail system in Redding, California, with the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and McConnell Arboretum." Fact is, the thing actually looks like a sundial; odd how that works out, innit? And, of course, you can guess by now who designed the thing: Santiago Calatrava, the man whose $57 million bridge to nowhere is actually going to cost the city no less than $113 million, says today's Dallas Morning News.
As we discussed this morning, this ain't the first time Calatrava has coughed up a project that cost millions and millions more than a city could afford; Milwaukee will never forget the day it hooked up with the architect whose whimsical (and, say it, cheap-looking) creations bear a staggering price tag. And neither will Redding, though it seems some in that town had no problem with spending $23.5 million on a flimsy-feeling bridge that was originally supposed to cost...this can't be right...$3 million. There's an entire history of the project available here, from the Record Searchlight in Redding, but in short, it goes like this--and see how familiar this tale sounds.
Eleven years ago, a guy named John Mancasola and something called the McConnell Foundation called Calatrava in Switzerland to see if he'd build 'em a bridge that would get locals--and out-of-towners, especially--to "revise their views of Redding," as Searchlight reporter Scott Mobley put it in his piece. "Mancasola and a few others were obsessed with bridges," Mobley says; damned if I haven't read this somewhere before about some mayor who used to be a journalist or something. Anyway, Calatrava turns in his design in 1997, the Redding city council goes nuts for the thing and figure it'll cost $5 mil and take a year to build. Yeah. Right. Construction finally began in November 1999, and by then the cost of the thing was touching the $13 mil figure. City officials asked the architect to scale back his design. Like that was gonna happen:
"Calatrava sacrificed a reflective pond at the bridge pylon's base. He gave up a slimmer deck truss profile for value-engineering's sake.
But the architect pushed hard for steel over the concrete some believed would save dollars, Mancasola said. Calatrava demanded rammed earth walkways around the plaza on the north bank over the less expensive asphalt Turtle Bay officials proposed. He was adamant that cracked ceramic tiles cover every inch of concrete on the bridge, including the granite plaza below the pylon.
The construction site sat empty behind its orange snow fencing much of 2001."
Blahblahblah, thing finally gets built by 2003 and costs about seven times what it was supposed to. And the architect Mayor Laura says will rework Dallas' Trinity River project didn't do a much to keep it on the cheap. No surprise there: What architect wants a monument to his greatness built with copper when there's platinum to be had? Anyway, this is what Mancasola told Mobley about the cost overrun after the Sundial was finally completed, some eight years after it was but a dream:
"'You agonize over the cost increases. But I have to say, just being out on that bridge, seeing it for the first time, was pretty awe-inspiring. Whether in the final analysis it was worth it--that's for future generations to decide.'"
Someone forward that Record Searchlight piece to Mayor Miller, so she can start memorizing her speech. Ah, she's got time. --Robert Wilonsky
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.