After two years of debate about what to do with the Pier, City Hall is picking yet another team to brainstorm a future for St. Petersburg's waterfront landmark. With $50 million budgeted for an overhaul, here's a reality check for those playing at home. Consider these points before even more outside-the-box ideas — so far everything from an open-air market to an underwater walk to a roller coaster — flow.
• The six-story inverted pyramid building is functionally obsolete (the air conditioning, plumbing and elevators need replacing), but structurally sound, including the pilings that support it. However, the corroded, 82-year-old Pier approach is — like the old Gandy Bridge — at the end of its natural life after decades of sprayed-concrete cosmetics. Rebuilding what's there will eat up most of the budget — about $40 million to replace the bridgelike approach and pier-head that surrounds the pyramid and supports under several shops. Tearing it down would cost about $6 million, leaving the rest to try the options of your choice (as long as they don't block the Albert Whitted Airport flight path between the Pier and Spa Beach).
• Current traffic of 1 million people a year can support tourist retail and activities like what's at the Pier now. Maybe another destination restaurant like the Columbia can parlay the view into decent business in a better economy.
But big chains — everyone from Starbucks to McDonald's have turned the Pier down over the years — require far more bodies to put a store on a dead-end street so far from the mainland that charges for parking. Given Ann Taylor's recent departure from a sweetheart lease at BayWalk, don't expect other apparel chain stores to flock downtown, much less out in the bay.
Say goodbye to Virgin Megastore. It'll lock up the largest music and movies store in Florida, an anchor to Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, on May 31. The U.S. version of a chain created by Richard Branson but now owned by real estate investment trusts is a victim of the Digital Age — Internet downloads, Netflix, Amazon.com and the iPod.
Disney is mum on a replacement. The Virgin Megastore in Times Square in New York will become a Forever XXI.
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The second annual Florida peach crop (yes, that's Florida peaches) will be appearing in select Sweetbay Supermarkets in April after minimal frost damage.
Using strains of the stone fruit developed at the University of Florida, Florida's initial crop of 70 acres of peach trees is centered around JON Farms in Dade City in the search for a more cold-tolerant replacement for citrus.
"This neatly fills a seasonal gap between the Chilean crop we sell now and the Georgia and South Carolina crops that arrive later in the spring," said Steve Williams, director of produce for Sweetbay, which will double stores stocking Florida peaches to about 40 this time.
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Another hot overseas retailer that's tapped into the disposable-fashion crowd (cheap and trendy designer duds for young hipsters) the British Topshop opens its first U.S. store in New York on April 2. The fashion press hype just kicked off with publicity stunts such as Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week handing Michelle Obama Topshop outfits for the first kids. Unlike other fast-fashion stores (the Swedish H&M, the Japanese Uniqlo and the Spanish Zara chains), envious Tampa Bay shoppers need not wait years for a local Topshop.
Topshop.com, which just launched in the United States, sells everything from $12 tops to $110 blazers by mail order.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.