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Residents can help shape the Pier's $50-million future

ST. PETERSBURG

City officials want you to take a walk down to the St. Petersburg Pier this month — to celebrate its 1973 rebirth and to contemplate its $50-million future.

It has been 35 years since the landmark, jutting a quarter mile into Tampa Bay since the turn of the century, was retrofitted with a dramatic main building in the shape of an inverted pyramid. Today, the Pier's legacy is both brimming with pride and plagued by frustration that the landmark is not all it should be.

This month, city officials are inviting the public to three brainstorming sessions to envision ways to spend $50-million earmarked for renovations beginning in 2012. Both the Pier and the main building are up for a redesign.

"We're asking people to rediscover what's in their own back yard," said Susan Robertson, marketing manager for the Pier.

Robertson said she has fond memories of visiting the television studio where the Captain Mac show was taped in the old building. Her mother still talks about the wonderful dances she'd go to at the old "Million Dollar Pier," she said.

But Robertson acknowledges that later generations may no longer see the Pier as a place to "create memories," much less get a thrill from mingling with a pelican.

Officials hope residents will come up with ideas that honor the Pier's past while also making it more economically viable into the future. "How do you make (the Pier) part of a city that is going through a renaissance?" Robertson asked.

Owned by the city and run by Chicago-based Urban Retail Properties since 2001, the Pier has encountered a double whammy in recent years. Amid the slumping economy, tenants have fled, amenities were scaled back and the walls have begun to crumble.

There was a time when it was dubbed the Million Dollar Pier, a reference to the near-million spent on building it in 1926. In those days, the Pier was an outdoor entertainment bonanza and a regional draw. When the upside-down pyramid was built at the edge of the Pier in 1973, it was heralded as the beacon of a new era, even as young and old alike scoffed at the architectural marvel.

These days, "million" is associated with the shortcomings: nearly a million fewer visitors in 2007 than five years earlier; lost revenue reaching $1.5-million in the last few years.

There is hope for a new Pier to come, officials insist, one in which millions will also refer to growth. Officials cite the recent successes of restaurant businesses at the Pier, and say that even in an age of belt-tightening the Pier can again be a family destination.

City Council Chairman James Bennett said that while it would be ideal to find ways to make the Pier more self-sustaining, it its important to understand that civic icons don't usually generate revenue.

"Regardless of how it does financially, I think you have to look at the Pier as one of the major icons of the citizenry of St. Petersburg," Bennett said. "This is something that is timeless, that is part of our culture, part of our heritage."

The first "Visioning Process" meeting takes place in Largo at the end of the month. Two sessions are scheduled for downtown St. Petersburg in October. Information from all and an online survey will be merged into a single report, officials say.

Also this month, various weekend events will be held at the Pier. "Funset" events include Friday night street performances by clowns, mimes and others, and Saturday afternoon face painting. Also Saturdays, local tribute bands will perform on the Waterside Courtyard.

Times and locations of all upcoming events are listed at www.stpetepier.com.

35 YEARS AT THE upside-down PIER

1973Upside-down pyramid structure is built.

1975"The Laser," an artistic display that featured inch-thick beams of light crisscrossing triangular patterns above the Pier, makes its debut. They disappear in 1978 due to technical difficulties.

1978 City enlists additional "foot patrolmen" to stave off drunks and other undesirables. The Pier is renamed "Pier Place" this year.

1983Double-decker bus service arrives. So do new laser lights.

1984An unidentified 84-year-old man drowns at the Pier in what police call an apparent suicide. Two months later, an 18-year-old high school student dives off the Pier and perishes in an apparent drowning.

1985A St. Petersburg woman jumps off the fifth floor of the pyramid building and dies in what police call an apparent suicide.

1986 The Pier is closed for an $11-million renovation.

1987A new outdoor lighting system, at a cost of $187,000, is introduced.

1989A 16-year-old girl is shot and killed near the Pier after being escorted away by security guards. A friend of the girl allegedly shoots at one of the guards, but the bullet finds the teenage girl instead. A nighttime curfew to keep underage visitors from the building's rooftop soon follows.

2006City officials plan major $50-million restoration.

Residents can help shape the Pier's $50-million future 09/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 12:10pm]
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