Boca Grande residents and the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority will be paying a lot less for the new bridge project, thanks to some sweat equity from Executive Director Jim Cooper and a Florida “Commercial Paper” program.
At the finance committee held on Wednesday, Nov. 5, Cooper explained that the Authority is now the recipient of $1.5 million from the state of Florida to handle the bulk of the design cost of the new swing bridge. It is known as a “Commercial Paper” program, and usually deals with county entities.
Finance Committee Chairman Bill Holmberg said that the original plan, which was to go out for a bank line of credit this summer and to commence with the design of the swing bridge and construction of the fixed bridges thereafter, didn’t work out as they had anticipated.
And that was a good thing, because in the interim time Cooper helped to get the state funding.
“Now, in light of what Jim was able to pull together from the state to obtain funding for the design cost of the swing bridge, we are now the recipient of $1.5 million from the state under the Florida DOT program, and trust fund financing will handle the bulk of the cost of the design on the swing bridge,” Holmberg said.
The underwriter, in this case J.P. Morgan Chase, wanted the county to be the primary obligant. There is zero percent interest on the loan, from year seven to 12, and amortization doesn’t occur until after year seven.
“It’s a real win-win for the authority,“ Holmberg said. “Jim deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this. He bird-dogged this through at the FDOT level. It took a lot of follow-up but he got it through. This takes out the need to go to a bank for the design cost … with terms that are hard to beat.”
Lee County has not yet approved the project, but Cooper has the ear of three of the commissioners already.
“Our bridges, in the pecking order of need, have to be fixed,” Cooper said. “It will put us ahead of the queue for most needy, most eligible. I feel fairly confident right now we’re on the right track.”
Holmberg said the particulars have not yet been worked through, and there still needs to be an interlocal agreement to backstop Lee County in the eyes of JP Morgan Chase on the credit.
This new announcement in the GIBA bridge replacement plan brings the total cost to around $32 million.
The next quarterly GIBA meeting is scheduled on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. in the Woman’s Club Room at the Boca Grande Community Center.
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