St. Pete approves money to build Doc Ford’s restaurant at Pier

Work has begun on the new Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille at the Pier. Jason Jensen, principal of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, which is designing the building, said it will reflect "the progressive, sustainable design" of the 26-acre Pier District. [Courtesy of Wannemacher Jensen Architects]
Work has begun on the new Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille at the Pier. Jason Jensen, principal of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, which is designing the building, said it will reflect "the progressive, sustainable design" of the 26-acre Pier District. [Courtesy of Wannemacher Jensen Architects]
Published August 23 2018
Updated August 24 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Work has begun on the new Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille at the Pier.

A total of 64 piles are being driven to support the new building, which is scheduled to be finished in August 2019 — ahead of the projected opening of the Pier District that fall.

The city announced earlier this month that the pile driving operation could take about seven weeks and that "every effort will be made to mitigate the sound."

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The City Council on Thursday approved spending $1.1 million for the second phase of the restaurant’s construction. Work on the building’s shell will include an elevated slab, foundation grade beams, columns, structural frame and roof deck.

Council members had previously approved $185,239 to buy the piles and $581,611 to install them. In a few weeks, the council will also be asked to approve additional funds to complete the 12,000-square-foot building.

Before the council vote, Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, spoke of "the intense process" and "moving pieces" involved in building the 26-acre, $76 million Pier District.

For instance, he said, moving the Janet Echelman aerial net sculpture from Spa Beach to east of the Dolphin parking lot meant spending more money and putting more pressure on the construction schedule of the Pier District.

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City Council member Ed Montanari inquired about the restaurant’s August 2019 completion date. Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination, said the city wants to give Doc Ford’s as much lead time as possible to move into the building and perform tasks such as training employees before it opens.

The schedule "is extremely tight," he admitted.

Montanari also used Thursday’s Pier discussion to ask about the expected taxpayer subsidy for the project, at one time estimated to be about $2 million a year.

"We should be well below that," Ballestra said, mentioning the restaurant operators already secured for the Pier head, the pavilion near the center of the Pier, and Doc Ford’s.

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DeLisle told the Tampa Bay Times that Doc Ford’s will occupy 10,000 square feet of the building, while 2,000 square feet will be allocated to the city and Colliers International, the firm hired to manage and run the Pier District.

Wannemacher Jensen Architects principal Jason Jensen, whose firm is designing the building, said it will reflect "the progressive, sustainable design" of the 26-acre Pier District.

"The building will maximize views both inside and outside, with a low profile and a large amount of glass," he said. "We have positioned the building to maintain the community’s view corridors and from inside you will have a panorama marina view. This location embraces the Florida environment with shaded marina-side patio and beach sand seating."

Jensen added that the new Doc Ford’s, which will sit in the former Pelican parking lot, "is designed to be symbiotic with the new, active landscape and waterfront park."

Inside the restaurant, he said patrons familiar with the popular Sanibel Island location and other outposts at Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach, will recognize the traditional Doc Ford’s look.

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On Thursday, the council also took up the second reading of an ordinance to allow a "substantial change of use" for charter-protected Spa Beach Park.

The council approved a change that will allow the construction of several Pier District amenities, including a state-of-the-art playground, a 54,000-square-foot paved plaza with pavilion and snack shack, kayak and paddleboard rentals and a vessel docking facility with passenger loading and unloading. Montanari was the only member to vote against it.

A public hearing drew several people who want to preserve the city’s downtown waterfront parks.

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Hugh Tulloch, who lives downtown, said the city’s downtown waterfront master plan calls for maintaining green space and activities at Spa Beach Park such as volley ball, not a playground.

"I don’t think very many children live close to that playground," he said. "Maybe we should put it in Midtown."

Tulloch said about 20 percent of green space will be lost under the current plan.

But Steve Urgo urged the council to approve the change. "This playground is going to be very popular," he said, adding that it will be a big draw to the Pier.

Council member Gina Driscoll said one reason in favor of approving the playground is that there are more families downtown. It was just a few years ago that residents were pushing their dogs in strollers downtown, Driscoll said. These days there’s more likely to be a child in there.

"Now, not only are we providing a playground experience for residents and visitors, but it is going to be enjoyed by children of all abilities," she said.

Phil Graham, Jr., a staunch supporter of protecting the downtown waterfront parks, wrote to the mayor and City Council outlining his concerns.

Spa Beach "may not be the best location to launch paddle boards and kayaks," he said. "The currents and boat traffic will conflict with this activity, especially at the Vinoy Basin entrance."

He also expressed concern about boat storage: "What kind of facility will this require?"

Ballestra’s response to council: "We are not talking about a big building on Spa Beach."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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