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Want to Get Rid of a Bridge? Have Hollywood Blow It Up

Rhode Island official has dynamite idea for Schwarzenegger's next film.

Lights, camera, dynamite!"

These words may be heard high above the Narragansett River someday if William Ankner has his way. Faced with the $13 million cost of dismantling an unused bridge, Rhode Island's transportation chief has made a novel pitch to Hollywood: Put this spindly gray span in a film, any film - as long as you blow it up and foot the bill.

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Now, Mr. Ankner admits the studios were a bit incredulous when he rang them up. "A bridge? You want us to blow it up? OK, who are you, really?" he recalls them saying. Then he got a don't-call-us-we'll-call-you brush off.

But Ankner's offer still stands. Indeed, his attempt to bridge two cultures - the excesses of Hollywood and the Yankee passion for pennypinching - could benefit both sides.

As he sees it, spending $13 million to destroy Jamestown's 1940s-era two-lane bridge isn't worth the cost, even as its graceful four-lane replacement stands right beside it. His department's $177 million budget would be better used, he reasons, on the state's 750 other bridges and 1,350 miles of road.

So for now, the soaring steel structure - which stretches nearly 7,000 feet across the mouth of the Narragansett - stands quietly by, as sea-foam-green water creeps past its pylons and a few fishermen cast from its heights.

But if the moviemakers arrive, it could hit the big time. After all, those Hollywood types do have a penchant for blowing things up. "As we say in the business, 'Boom-boom is in,' " comments one industry source.

There is a precedent for such explosive arrangements. When Orlando, Fla., wanted to get rid of its old city hall in 1991, the producers of "Lethal Weapon 3" paid $50,000 for the exclusive rights to the footage, filming Mel Gibson and Danny Glover running for cover during the blast. The deal nearly covered the $80,000 demolition cost.

And producers of this summer's "Con Air" persuaded the owners of the Sands hotel in Las Vegas to postpone destruction of the grand old casino so it could be imploded for the movie's finale.

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Hollywood certainly has the money for such costly endeavors. So far this year, film companies have put more than $16 million into Rhode Island's economy alone.

Movie producers aren't suckers for blowing up just anything, however. Last year, when the town of Haines City, Fla., wanted to clear out its decaying water tank, its ad in a movie-industry paper proclaimed, "Come blow up our tank!" But after no takers came, the city had to pay the $25,000 demolition bill.

As for the chances that Jamestown's old bridge will have a starring role, "when word gets out, people will sit up and take notice," says Ben Dewey, a freelance producer who often scouts locations for big productions. Bridges, he says, are hot property.

But he notes that the hefty price tag for the Jamestown bridge project could make it a hard sell.

As for a plot for the bridge's demise, Ankner - who has two railroad spans that need demolition too - has this suggestion: "A mad bomber blows up bridges. And after he blows up three, we catch him."

Well, surely Hollywood's script doctors could work with it. How about Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood together again in the action-packed "Bridges of Newport County?"

Whatever the plot, locals are fairly star struck by Ankner's idea. Ray Freemer, whose house looks out on the bridge, enthuses, "It's got to come down, so we might as well have Arnold Schwarzenegger do it."

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