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Fashioning a Fix for Medieval Bridge

Friday, March 28, 2014

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Bridges are the new black in Italy, where fashion-funded infrastructure projects are becoming a more common, if not controversial, way to boost cash-strapped public funds.

Renzo Rosso, the Italian fashion giant behind the world-famous denim company Diesel, is auctioning off his time to raise money to restore an Italian bridge that is more than 800 years old.

And it's not the first time he's fashioned a solution to an infrastructure problem.

If the Ponte Degli Alpini bridge doesn't get some TLC soon, experts say it could crumble, according to local media reports.

Alpini bridge Italy
Wikimedia Commons / Zyance

The Ponte Degli Alpini bridge in Italy is sagging and might not make it much longer if doesn't get some major restoration work, which the city can't afford. But Diesel's Renzo Rosso is a denim man with a plan: He'll tell you about it over lunch.

Located in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, the bridge was first built in 1209 and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its history. The current structure, a wooden bridge, was built in 1569.

Lunching for a Cause

The bridge suffered serious damage during World War II. It was fixed after that and was last repaired about 20 years ago.

The Alpini bridge is now sagging in some of its central sections and parts of the wooden structure are rotted. Restoring it will cost the small city €500,000 ($687,399 USD). So far, only €300,000 has been raised.

So Rosso is stepping in, hopeful that his celebrity status will help raise some cash. For upwards of €1,000 a person ($1,374 USD), the denim dynamo will have lunch with groups or individuals. The donation buys three hours of his time.

On Sunday (March 23), Rosso took to his Facebook page to announce the fundraiser, posting: "lovely to spend a lunch with all of U to save Ponte Vecchio in Bassano."

A resident of Bassano del Grappa since the mid-70s, Rosso, who also reportedly has a house overlooking the bridge, has already invested in the city's professional soccer team, initiated restoration projects in the town center, and launched a large Wi-Fi hotspot to provide free Internet to the city.

Rosso's net worth is $3.5 billion, according to Forbes.com. He started Diesel he was only 20 years old.

Although he could easily afford to pay for the entire project himself, Rosso told Corriere della Sera that "it would be wrong if just one person put things right by putting his hand [in] his wallet. Instead I want to collaborate with the city, working alongside those who are rising to meet this challenge."

According to The Independent, the mayor of Bassano del Grappa, Stefano Cimatti, said locals needed to do their part to preserve historical structures.

Renzo Rosso
Facebook.com / Renzo Rosso

Rosso started Diesel when he was 20 years old. He is now worth over $3 billion.

"There are far too many beautiful things in Italy—the state can't look after them all," Cimatti told the European news agency. "But I'm confident we'll raise the money we need. We've even had contributions from Japan."

It wasn't that long ago that Rosso opened his wallet to give a large chunk of change to restore the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice.

'Only the Brave' Buy Bridges

In December 2012, Rosso's holding company, Only the Brave (OTB), contributed €5 million ($6.9 million USD) restore the Rialto Bridge. The City of Venice awarded him a sponsorship contract, which means the city takes care of all the planning, management and restoration, but OTB picks up the tab.

OTB oversees Rosso's large portfolio of clothing brands.

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. The stone arch bridge was completed in 1592, and last restored in 1975.

However, there was one caveat: Rosso would be able to use the bridge for advertising. Rosso said he would "definitely foster creativity and use non-intrusive ads," according to a press release from the city.

Some have criticized Venetian authorities for the move, but they maintain that it's a positive example of public and private collaboration.

"Venice wants to thank Mr. Renzo Rosso, because, with his offer, he leads the way to a new relationship between entrepreneurs and local governments, putting into practice useful actions for their territories," said Venice's Deputy Mayor for Public Works, Alessandro Maggioni.

Maggioni added that Italy was facing a "period of severe crisis" and Venice could not afford the restoration and maintenance the city's "immense cultural heritage" would require.

"This is why Renzo Rosso's commitment is so important for us: It is a message for the entire world," Maggioni said.

'Not Here to Exploit'

Vice Mayor Sandro Simionato also praised the contract, saying, "This surely is a virtuous example of cooperation between public and private sectors, since Renzo Rosso is not here to exploit the City's image, but rather give back to his homeland what he received from it in the past and made him successful."

Venice bridges
Wikimedia Commons / Chene Beck

Rosso is funding restoration work on Venice's Rialto Bridge. He says its his "civic duty" to give back. Plus, he gets to advertise on a world-famous bridge.

Other corporations have since stepped to help fund preservation projects around Italy. Among them, according to The Independent, are jeweller Bulgari with a €1.5 million ($2.06 million USD) contribution to restore Rome's Spanish Steps, and Prada, Tod's and Louis Vuitton funding other projects.

Rosso said he felt it was a civic duty to give back to one's community.

After preliminary research is completed, the project is expected to take about 18 months, wrapping up around February 2016.

Rosso told NYTimes.com that the stone would be meticulously cleaned, followed by a study of the foundation by scuba divers.

"We want this restoration to last for the next 1,000 years," Rosso said.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Contracts; Funding; Rehabilitation/Repair

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