Residents say no to big price tag for new Pier

Mayor Bill Foster says leaving the Pier alone isn’t an option because pilings under the base and approach are degraded.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Mayor Bill Foster says leaving the Pier alone isn’t an option because pilings under the base and approach are degraded.

ST. PETERSBURG — David Anhorn watched on television when the City Council voted this fall to demolish downtown's Pier and replace it with something new.

He also watched the year before, when officials voted to give a strip of sidewalk to the struggling BayWalk complex based on promises of a swift turnaround.

"I think they were woefully mistaken in both cases," said Anhorn, 61, a longtime city resident.

The Pier, Anhorn said, is a local landmark that doesn't need an expensive makeover. And BayWalk is a lost cause that the city doesn't need to get tangled up in, he said.

Anhorn isn't alone in his feelings.

A new St. Petersburg Times/ Bay News 9 poll found that a majority of Pinellas County residents — 69 percent — do not believe St. Petersburg officials should be committing more than $50 million to build a new Pier. They said the city should use that money elsewhere.

Meanwhile, they are split on whether the current Pier needs to be torn down and replaced with a new design, with 37 percent of those polled saying the city should tear it down, 37 percent saying it should stay, and 27 percent unsure.

The city already has paid a Miami engineering firm $418,000 to come up with a concept for replacing the 37-year-old Pier, set to be demolished in 2013 or 2014.

"It's just a part of St. Pete that we ought to keep," Anhorn said. "I think tearing it down and building some new monstrosity that's going to cost more is just ridiculous."

The poll, conducted by American Directions Group, surveyed 300 adults in Pinellas County from Dec. 8 to 14. It has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.

In addition to asking residents about the Pier, the poll also revealed that BayWalk continues to be dogged by familiar issues as it tries to attract new patrons.

About 77 percent of those polled said they rarely visit the downtown complex, with about 32 percent of people saying distance keeps them away. Another 20 percent said they don't visit often because there are too few stores and nothing of interest. And about 21 percent said they stay away because of safety concerns and its poor reputation.

Annmarie Attaway, 47, of Seminole said she used to have lunch at BayWalk a few years ago when she worked downtown. But it's been years since she came to the shopping complex or to the Pier, which she said only serves as a tourist attraction. That echoes the poll, in which 37 percent of Pinellas residents said they visit the Pier only once or twice a year, and another 38 percent visit less often than that or never.

Attaway said neither the Pier nor BayWalk stands out as a major draw for someone going downtown for entertainment.

"When it comes to the main focus of why you'd go downtown … BayWalk and the Pier just don't come to mind," she said.

City Council member Wengay Newton has been outspoken about keeping the current Pier and also voted against vacating the BayWalk sidewalk — a move backers said would rid the area of protesters who drove away patrons. He said he's not surprised by the poll's results.

"Well, duh," he said. "If you want total buy-in, then you have to have the people have their say."

He said mismanagement of BayWalk caused its failure, and that the city hasn't done enough to explore options for repairing and improving the Pier.

"I think we should build upon what we have," he said. "They're not listening."

Mayor Bill Foster, however, said the city needs to move forward.

Leaving the Pier alone is not an option, he said, because studies have shown the concrete pilings under its base and the approach have been degraded and are increasingly unstable.

He said to try to renovate the current building and update programming is too costly. It's better to start from scratch, he said.

Foster said that while he understands people's reluctance about the project's cost, opinions may change once people get a clearer picture of the vision for the new Pier. That should happen soon, he said.

"We have other priorities, that's absolutely correct," he said. "But these monies have already been set aside for downtown purposes."

That doesn't make Betty Watson, 69, feel any better.

The Pinellas Park woman said it's a shame the city can't put that money toward more worthy needs, given the bad economy.

She said putting $50 million into things like education, health care and public safety would yield better outcomes than a new Pier or another place for people to shop.

"There's a zillion things that could be done besides putting more concrete on water," she said. "They keep throwing things at it, and nothing sticks."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Residents say no to big price tag for new Pier 01/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 11:33pm]

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