Sunday, October 21, 2018
News Roundup

Still waiting: St. Petersburg won’t see a concept or cost for its new pier sculpture until January

ST. PETERSBURG —The unveiling of international artist Janet Echelman’s ideas, and the cost estimate to install one of her billowing sculptures at the pier, have been delayed until the new year.

City architect Raul Quintana said the lag will not slow construction of the Pier District, which is underway.

"It really does not have any bearing on the pier project," he said, though he conceded that the city could save money if the sculpture is installed "while the contractor is still mobilized."

Echelman has sought two delays to present concept designs and estimated costs for her art, which will rise above Spa Beach. The first was in September, when Echelman, who works with aeronautical and mechanical engineers, architects, lighting designers and fabricators, requested a 60-day extension because of "significant delays" with her collaborators.

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Her request for a second extension will likely put a presentation before the city’s Public Arts Commission in January, Quintana said, adding that the Massachusetts-based artist needed the extra time to work on cost estimates.

The information will fulfill part of a $75,000, two-phase, preliminary agreement with the city that requires Echelman to conduct a feasibility study, produce concept designs and give St. Petersburg an approximate cost to acquire her work.

Acquiring an Echelman sculpture can cost millions. Her Secret is Patience, a piece in Phoenix, cost $2.6 million in 2009. Other works have been installed in such places as the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, and Porto, Portugal.

In St. Petersburg, early projections already have put acquisition of one of Echelman’s world-renowned pieces over budget. The cost of infrastructure alone for the aerial piece could top the $1.3 million earmarked for the project. That money comes from an additional $10 million recently allocated to the Pier District from funds acquired through tax increment financing, a common mechanism that allows cities to pay for improvements using increases in property tax revenue.

Quintana said Echelman is currently requiring five pylons — the tallest is 75 feet —- to hold up her rope sculpture. The pylons and their foundation, along with electrical work and programmable LED lighting for the sculpture, soil testing and engineering, could take the infrastructure cost well above the allocated $1.3 million.

But Quintana says the number crunching is "a work in progress" and that adjustments can be made to bring this part of the project within budget.

"I think we can get it there. We don’t have a final cost from her," he said. "The other cost is the art itself."

The city, which is planning to sell naming rights in the 26-acre Pier District, is gearing up to solicit private funds for an Echelman piece. Mayor Rick Kriseman has already raised $650,000 from undisclosed donors.

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, supports any plan to raise funds for the sculpture.

"What I do think is that everything that has been done so wonderfully in St. Petersburg’s 125-year history has been a public-private partnership and we shouldn’t expect the city to pay for it all," he said.

"And it’s my hope that the chamber and the entire community can identify those who would invest in the art, as well as all the other wonderful efforts on our waterfront. … It’s going to have to take the entire community to step forward. The city has demonstrated great leadership, and ideally the rest of the community will follow."

One well-known businessman and philanthropist unlikely to contribute is Bud Risser, a leader in the 2013 citizen-led referendum that derailed a previous pier design. Risser, who supported Rick Baker over Kriseman in this year’s bruising mayoral race, is taking issue with how Echelman got the prized commission.

He and his wife, Fran, will not "become involved in the private financing for art that has been proposed for the pier," Risser said.

"It isn’t about the art or artist. It is the decision by the mayor to ignore both the spirit and rules that should be followed," he said. "By leaping to a conclusion, it eliminates the opportunity for other interested artists to participate. As a result, we will have no assurance that we have made the best possible choice."

Meanwhile, Wayne Atherholt, the city’s director of cultural affairs, is getting ready for a fundraising push.

"Once we get the budget and presentation, we will get with council members and then to community asks," he said in an email. " I’ll be working on that plan through the holidays."

Pier District spokeswoman Kristin Brett said the city will not set specific fundraising goals "or develop a formal plan" until it has received and evaluated phase two of Echelman’s feasibility study.

Work will begin soon at the sculpture site on Spa Beach. It will include removing a section of the seawall on the east side of the beach and building a new retaining wall west of the current seawall. The beach also will be reconstituted.

The Pier District is expected to be finished in the spring of 2019.

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

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