The Merchant of Venice

The McKinley Bridge is broke — structurally and financially — and everyone wants it fixed. Trouble is, Mayor Tyrone Echols of Venice isn't about to give away the city's bridge. But he could be talked into trading it.

And what could the bondholders do if the bridge couldn't make the payments? "One thing they have the right to do is to take over operations," he says. "They could leverage the city out and take control and run it themselves. They don't want to do that. Their position is not all that strong. They could end up with a mile of concrete and steel. And I don't think there's $4 million of scrap metal out there."

Down the roadfrom Fields' office, Echols sits at his desk inside City Hall. On the building across the street hang four beer signs — Bud, Old Style, Stag and Busch — advertising the beers no longer available in the building. On the other side of the street hangs a badly written sign advertising a demolition company's office and phone number. Across the block, an abandoned gas station and a shuttered drive-in theater can be seen. A small post office and the one lonely business — Bob's Red Fox grocery — seem to be the only places with any activity at the town's major intersection.

Echols cannot help but talk about the town as much as he talks about the bridge. His concern is the town, but everyone else's concern is the bridge. He understands that the real challenge will come when they find the money to solve the immediate crisis and will face the question of bridge ownership. Asked whether he would favor the city handing over the bridge to the state in exchange for paying off the bondholders and the tax debt, he talks about the city's "equity" interest. He makes the best case he can — that his city deserves something for owning and operating the bridge for 40 years, and that the bridge, even as it stands, has some value.

"The bridge is worth something," he says. "Now, they can talk all they want about how ragged it is and this and that and the other — hey, we spent $40,000 a month to keep it safe. If it costs $500 million-$750 million to put a new one up, don't tell me this one's not worth but 2 or 3 or 4 million bucks. I don't wanna hear that. I'm not going to listen to that. It won't be a decision made solely by Mayor Echols, but my recommendation to the voters will be what I just said."

Echols wants to preserve both the bridge and his city. Trouble is, the region's political leaders see the McKinley Bridge as absolutely essential to moving traffic and so will find the millions of dollars needed to prop it up. It will be a lot tougher to find the concern — or the money — to sustain Venice.

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