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Architects unveil surprising new schematics for the St. Petersburg Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — A clearer picture of the city's new pier emerged Thursday, when architects revealed schematic designs for the $46 million project.

While much of what the public saw months ago remains intact, changes have been made and budget constraints may cause some elements to be dropped or postponed until they can be added later.

The much-discussed "water lounge" at the east end of the pier head is one feature that is likely to be put on hold. The area had initially been proposed as a spot where visitors could relax in a shallow pool of Tampa Bay water.

"I'm assuming that we're going to get a fair amount of feedback from the public that they want most of those" items, Council member Karl Nurse said after Thursday's workshop.

Background: The $66 million St. Pete Pier project

Rob Rogers of Rogers Partners Architects and Urban Designers of New York, which is designing the new Pier with ASD of Tampa and Ken Smith Landscape Architect of New York, said the items are not necessarily gone.

"We're holding contingency funds in the budget and as we refine costs, we may be able to pull some of those things in," he said.

The possible loss of the water lounge might be missed the most.

Situated at the east end of the pier head, it was proposed as a spot where visitors could splash or dip their feet in about 12 inches of Tampa Bay water flowing into a pool-like area. Far from an extra, the lounge is considered by many as a necessity in the summer heat.

"I can't see how you can build a pier without adding that," Nurse said of the much-discussed feature.

A floating dock with a boat house also is potentially expendable, along with a section of a proposed breakwater off Spa Beach. Though the children's splash pad will remain, some enhancements might be omitted.

The revisions drew an outcry from the project's loudest critic, former Council member Wengay Newton.

"This is not what they proposed to Council," said Newton, who fought to keep the now demolished inverted pyramid and opposed attempts to replace it with a new pier. "A classic bait and switch."

But the revised design drew no objections from Gene Smith, a member of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that helped scuttle The Lens, the previous pier project.

"It looks different, but if you look at it, it is recognizable as what you've seen before," Smith said. "We are mostly pleased with what we saw with the changes so far."

Paul Carder, a retired advertising executive who has paid close attention to the project, said changes to the original concept are to be expected, given budget and other practical issues.

"But I continue to be enthusiastic about the plans for the new pier and look forward to its eventual completion," Carder said.

What about the potential loss of the water lounge?

"Often in these design competitions there are a number of features included that appear sexy and really attractive and often prove to be impractical and too expensive," he said. "I'm not terribly disappointed."

Other changes to the original concept, which recently won a prestigious award from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, include reconfiguring the pier head building. Restaurant patrons will now have unobstructed views towards the city and space has been made for additional retail and cafes.

Also, the five 20-by-20-foot concrete caissons that supported the inverted pyramid will no longer be used for the new building's foundation. They will now anchor the fishing deck. The huge lawn in front and at the side of the building also has been reshaped.

Overall, City Council members were pleased with what they saw, but had questions about costs. Council member Charlie Gerdes wanted to know what it would take to restore elements that were put on hold.

While Council member Steve Kornell described the project as "very exciting," he said he is not willing to increase the budget. He would consider taking money from the $20 million budget from another segment of the pier project — the Pier Approach that will connect the Pier to downtown.

Gerdes also urged the architects to meet with the Ocean Team as they continue to refine the project.

"One of the lessons learned from The Lens is that the Ocean Team had not been engaged at this point in the process," he said.

Engagement is crucial as the U.S. Army Corps considers the city's application for a permit to build the Pier, Gerdes said, adding that the permitting process is "the biggest wild card" for the project.

The architects responded that they have been meeting with various groups as they fine tune the design. Council Chairwoman Amy Foster urged more public outreach.

"We want to make sure the average Joe is engaged in this process," she said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes

Architects unveil surprising new schematics for the St. Petersburg Pier 03/17/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2016 7:01pm]
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