Rialto in jeans, as Venice finds cash for repair

Fri Dec 14, 2012 3:46pm EST
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By Carlo Saccon

VENICE (Reuters) - The merchants of Venice always had an eye for a ducat to be made in the Rialto, but covering its boutique-lined marble bridge with ads for blue jeans might seem a commercial step too far, even for city built on trade.

Yet with public budgets across Italy struggling to maintain its thousands of historic monuments, that advertising, worth $6.5 million from Diesel jeans tycoon Renzo Rosso, is precisely what Venetian city elders say will keep the Rialto Bridge open across the Grand Canal it has spanned since Shakespeare's day.

"I hope the campaign will not be invasive," Rosso, a local celebrity, said on Friday at a presentation of the plan he is paying for to repair the 400-year-old structure. "Rialto is the most beautiful bridge in the world and it reflects our style."

Aware of carping that accompanied the city's move to tender for commercial sponsors for the project, councilor Alessandro Maggioni said: "Criticism comes with our job. But this city can't wait any longer ... Our monuments are falling to pieces."

Following in the footsteps of a shoe magnate who is paying to fix up Rome's Colosseum, Rosso - popularly known as Italy's "Denim King" - will cover the entire, 5-million-euro cost of restoration of the Rialto Bridge. Work should begin in 2014.

In return, Rosso's company, Only The Brave, may project advertising images onto the bridge, hold publicity events at landmark sites such as St. Mark's Square - and will slap its Diesel brand on Venice's ubiquitous water taxis, the vaporetti.

Events would be artistic and tasteful, said the 57-year-old entrepreneur, who cultivates a rock star look. And the work would only improve a city whose carnival, history, culture and romantic canals draw millions of tourists a year: "Venice is beautiful; Venice is unique," he said. "It's a romantic dream, a love story, and it will be more and more a city of dreams."

DEBT CRISIS   Continued...

Founder of Diesel clothing company Renzo Rosso gestures as he poses in front of Rialto Bridge in Venice December 14, 2012. Public works officials in Venice said on Thursday that restoration of the Rialto Bridge that crosses the city's Grand Canal will be carried out by Otb, a company headed by Rosso, according to ANSA. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri