Bernard Spinrad is not unlike other retirees living in the Keys. He belongs to the Yacht Club and enjoys sipping wine with his wife of nearly 50 years, Marien.
However, there are not too many who can say they orchestrated a $75 million deal to rehabilitate and restore the historic 7 Mile Bridge.
When given credit for the monumental feat, Spinrad quickly defers to his organization and County Commissioner George Neugent.
“I would like to say we were influential in reaching this goal,” Sprinad admits through a melting pot of foreign accents. “That honor belongs to George.”
Bernard Spinrad is a man with a lively email account and if you work for the Department of Transportation, were elected to office, or have walked on the Earth since Christmas, chances you have been the recipient of one of his lengthy, yet pointed messages.
One trait Bernard Spinrad is known to posses is persistence.
“He and FO7 (Friends of Old 7) kept the troops rallied,” explained Neugent. “From the very beginning he showed a great focus and drive to do the right thing – which was to save the bridge.”
This past November, the Board of County Commissioners approved the framework of a deal between the DOT, Monroe County, and city of Marathon; a journey Spinrad started nearly two years ago when he attended his first “Save Old Seven” meeting.
Upon his arrival to the group he immediately brought focus and organization to the effort. Under his direction F07 secured corporate status as a 501-c3, developed a website, and became the county’s lead partner to build a coalition between public and private entities.
He cites the recent county approval to repair the bridge as one of his personal highlights – which includes earning degrees in physics and business from UCLA, teaching economics in Costa Rica, and helping to draft the framework for modern tourism in Aruba.
“They had a mono-economy which was solely reliant on oil,” said Spinrad of 1980s Aruba. The incremental plan succeeded in increasing hotel rooms from 1,800 to 12,000 and annual visitors from 180,000 to over a million within three decades. “My focus was to make sustainable tourism projects that were also economically feasible using local materials and food – rational tourism development.”
Sprinrad is both a student and teacher of tourism. He sits on the DAC III for Middle Keys and sees Marathon at a precarious crossroad.
“We can be a very successful tourist destination, but we need to be careful,” he said. “There is a temptation that once development cranks up – there is no stopping it. Tourism has the propensity to ruin the product that it originally used to attract tourism in the first place.”
He cites the cycle of Miami Beach as shining example of what (and what not) to do.
“It became popular in the ’40s and reached its height in the ’50s, and then died in the ’60s,” he said. “Miami Beach then reshaped itself in the ’80s by historical preservation, focusing on other markets by making it desirable by the groups that influence tourism – fashion, celebrities, etc. “
Now that Friends of Old 7 succeeded in securing a funding agreement to restore the old 7 Mile Bridge, Spinrad plans to parlay his group’s efforts into turning the entire area into a “world class facility.”
He envisions Sunset Park as Marathon’s Mallory Square and sees the bridge as a permanent historical link to one of the Key’s greatest environmental education sites – Pigeon Key.
“I fully subscribe to the idea that Marathon’s future lies in expanding its appeal as an eco-friendly family destination,” he said. “But let’s make sure it’s of high quality – driven not by numbers, but by quality. We have enough assets here in Marathon that people will come as a tribute to its own merits.”