ST. PETERSBURG — After months of indecision, the City Council has spoken: The Pier must go. It's likely to be replaced by a structure much closer to shore.
For regulars and business owners, it's bitter news. They vented Wednesday hours after the council's decision, as sightseers straggled in by the Pier's entrance and pelicans loitered patiently by the rod-and-reel rental shack.
"I think it's stupid," said Capt. Fred Dee, who has owned the Dolphin Queen sightseeing boat for 20 years. "They can stake it halfway out in the water, but that's not unique. There's a lot of piers like that."
Dee, who has followed the controversy since it began, opposes every argument for rebuilding the Pier closer to shore, from structural safety to convenience.
"The Europeans don't even take the trolley," he said. "They walk."
Longtime local visitors Craig Mitchell and Michael Hearn also disagreed with the move. The buddies, both retired, walk to the Pier's shops every day about 11:30 for coffee and a newspaper.
They remember days when activities kept the Pier hopping. Frequent festivals and concerts kept crowds coming in. But a bad economy is not reason to tear the attraction down, Mitchell said.
"Who walks to a pier that's closer?" said Mitchell, 49. "That's why it's a pier — you're going out there."
Ethel Gehron, who was leaving the Columbia Restaurant with friends, recalled the original Million Dollar Pier, built in 1926.
"My parents used to come here years ago," said Gehron, 92. She thinks the Pier ought to be restored in its current location.
"I think it would be far less expensive than to be rebuilt," she said. "I'm just sentimental about it."
Fishing pole in hand, Chris Kozlowski groaned Wednesday when told of the council's plans. He has caught pompano, flounder and snapper off the pier approach.
Word that the Pier will be reconfigured, not destroyed, failed to appease him.
"Fish don't come in closer," said Kozlowski, 64.
The part of the Friendship Trail occupied by the old Gandy Bridge was even better, he said. But that has closed, too. He doesn't want to trek from his home in Pinellas Park to the Sunshine Skyway, then pay to fish.
"If this closes, where will we go?" he said.
Several locals alluded to another downtown landmark with an uncertain future.
"What's the saying — if it ain't broke … (don't fix it)?" Mitchell said. "They messed around with BayWalk, and it's a ghost town now."
This story has been modified to reflect the following correction: The original Million Dollar Pier was built in 1926. An earlier version of this story included an incorrect date.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.