Plans to demolish the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg and replace the waterfront landmark with a new structure much closer to the shore inched closer to reality on Tuesday.
The City Council's Pier Advisory Task Force narrowed a list of 23 possible configurations to a half-dozen that better integrate the Pier into the city's waterfront park network.
The plan taking shape envisions most of the restaurant, tourist and retail facilities in the current five-story inverted pyramid redeployed to about 21 acres that are now waterfront parking lots on the mainland between the Municipal Marina and the Vinoy Basin.
"It's clear there's agreement the linchpin of all this is to eliminate the long walk out in the bay to the Pier," said former Mayor Randy Wedding who heads the task force. "I'm not sure the plans we saw today totally address that, but that clearly is the direction we're going. The Pier does need to come in closer to the mainland."
The city has $50 million that comes available in 2012 to rebuild the corroded 83-year-old pier that leads to the 37-year-old iconic pyramid building that city officials say is functionally obsolete.
While a rebuild of what's there now, 1,100 feet out in the bay, remains an option, task force members figure replacing it with a much shorter and narrower pier will free up more of the $50 million to build commercial and tourist activities in what are now parking lots.
That would shorten the walk from Beach Drive into a more manageable 600 feet. Parking garages would be built above the commercial space.
Task force members agreed that preserving the view of the mainland from the Pier was an important feature of the current structure worth keeping.
One of the cheapest alternatives was building a simple fishing pier for $11 million.
Other possibilities included a waterfront amphitheater, amusement park activities including a Ferris wheel and full-scale water park.
But a solid consensus of committee members were intrigued by plans to develop the Vinoy Basin into a full-blown marina with pedestrian swing bridges linking an around-the-harbor walk to Vinoy Park and Straub Park.
Cost will dictate how much of the pipe dreams survive the next round. Some carried a price tag of more than $90 million, and one combination that scored the most interest from task force members is estimated to cost $78 million.
Some task force members questioned adding too much retail space to a downtown area that is struggling with high vacancy rates and plummeting rents.
Aside from the structural integrity of the aging Pier itself, the decision making is being driven by hopes rent from commercial ventures and stores will help diminish the need for government subsidies, which have plagued the current Pier since 1973.
Miami consultants Bermello Ajamil & Partners will translate the broad-brush concepts unveiled Tuesday into a formal plan, develop cost estimates and do market analysis on more specific ideas that emerge.
The consultants studied public pier attractions from California to Atlantic City and the United Kingdom.
The only two that didn't require big public subsidies — city piers in Santa Monica and Santa Cruz — had income from amusement park rides and arcades.
The task force plans to narrow the selection to four plans at its next meeting on Jan. 15 and have public hearings as soon as Jan. 19. Once they settle on a plan, the decisionmaking shifts to the City Council.
"We are talking about tearing down a landmark that has been the keystone of our waterfront for almost a century," said Ed Montanari, a task force member. "Let's make it clear to the public that rebuilding it as is will remain an option when the final decision is made."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.