Saturday, February 17, 2018
News Roundup

Budget constraints could restrict St. Petersburg Pier amenities

ST. PETERSBURG — In a poll last fall, close to 40 percent of residents said they would be willing to support a tax increase if additional money was needed to get everything they want in a new Pier.

Now, as Mayor Rick Kriseman's Pier working group is set to prepare a report telling would-be design teams what people's hopes are for a new or renovated attraction, it appears that the $46 million budget might be inadequate to grant all of their wishes.

A city estimate puts the cost of renovating the 1973 inverted pyramid and replacing the area around it and the approach at $46 million. That's without key amenities residents have said they want, including fishing.

Bill Ballard of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, a group that emerged amid the city's Pier squabble, is not surprised that the funds won't stretch to get everything the community demands.

"And that is $46 million with no fishing platforms, no shade, nothing but a plain Florida Department of Transportation bridge, 50 feet wide, going out there," he said. "It's all the more reason, in my view, for the working group to narrow the program activities they're going to recommend to just what can be done in the immediate vicinity of the Pier, if not on it."

Ballard also suggests some amenities might be better considered as part of the city's Downtown Waterfront Master Plan.

In five recently completed public input sessions and an online poll, participants expressed preferences for open-air casual dining, observation areas and accommodations for cycling, jogging, walking and fishing. Also high on the list were trams or trolleys, a marine discovery center, courtesy docks, water taxis, shopping, green space, a performance stage, and bicycle and watercraft rentals.

Some might even be willing to pay for exactly what they want, as indicated in a telephone survey last November, when 39 percent of the 1,000 registered voters polled said they would support a tax increase to accomplish that. When asked whether the taxpayer subsidy for the Pier — which averaged $1.4 million a year for the failing inverted pyramid — should be increased, decreased or remain the same at a new facility, a majority appeared unconcerned about cost.

But Kriseman has said the $46 million allocation is firm.

"What the mayor is dedicated to doing is sticking to the plan, and the plan said that we would include, through community input, all the programmatic requirements as determined by the working group and the public," spokesman Ben Kirby said. "He's looking for designs that will encompass those programmatic elements, and if it means something smaller, so be it."

Tuesday evening, working group member Joseph Reed asked colleagues to recommend that the city conduct a new poll.

"It's just possible we don't have enough money to create the Pier people have in their mind, " he said.

Reed suggested asking residents whether they would be willing to let the city "provide additional funding and/or consider phased development to build/refurbish the Pier if more money was needed to include all the amenities" they want.

Chairman Peter Clark rejected the idea of a poll, citing the group's deadline to complete its job.

Kirby told the Times he doesn't think it's a good idea "to make broad funding decisions on polling data." He added, though, that "if people who are involved in this process are hearing that something needs to change, the mayor will respond to that."

So far, at least two design teams have floated ideas that come in close to the $46 million budget. Darryl LeClair, president of Echelon, has proposed a new Pier with amenities for $50 million. Mesh Architecture has said it could renovate the inverted pyramid and add amenities for about $45 million.

The city's overhaul estimate would not include current features such as landing docks, the wooden fishing pier and shade structures along the approach. It would have "restaurant potential," with money for a kitchen and some retail space, city public works administrator Michael Connors said.

"It's a very basic structure," he said, adding that the closed Pier would be brought up to code and meet Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements. The pier head and pier approach, the latter reduced in width by half, would be elevated 6 feet. The first floor retail space added in the 1980s, which sits on foundations dating back to the 1926 Million Dollar Pier, would be removed. The estimate calls for spending $1.5 million to extend the life of the caissons supporting the pyramid, but a pending structural analysis of the building's steel frame and caissons could change that.

There is one person undaunted by the seeming budgetary constraints.

"We should, at this stage, not restrict our imaginations based on the budget we have," said Bud Risser, a Concerned Citizens' leader and businessman, who cites potential availability of federal, state and corporate funds. "Once we know what the opportunities for the Pier are, then we can look for outside help."

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

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Published: 02/17/18