Clock ticking on public art choices for St. Pete pier

A deadline looms with an artist and budget yet to be decided.

ST. PETERSBURG — Pilings for the city's new pier won't go in for months, but for the committee charged with choosing public art for the $66 million Pier District, the deadline is tight.

Architects must know soon whether special infrastructure will be needed for the chosen work. As yet, though, the committee appointed by the city's Public Arts Commission has not picked an artist and is unsure how much money it will have to spend.

The group is finalizing plans to hire expert help. Consultant Ann Wykell, a former cultural affairs manager for the city, has been tapped to guide the committee through the process. She will be paid $10,000.

Part of her job will be to deliver a curated list of artists from which the committee can choose. Another central task will be to help the committee boost the district's almost $400,000 public art budget.

The pier art committee and at least one City Council member believe more money is needed to make a statement on the downtown waterfront. Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

"If we consider ourselves a 'world-class city of the arts,' our commitment as a community to public art projects has got to reflect this notion," he said.

"Travel to any other world-class community, and you'll see a scale of public art that many desire for our city, too. … And public art usually doesn't just come from city tax dollars. I just believe if we look around, others, too, will help us grow the city's budget for this part of the pier project."

In keeping with the city regulations, the $46 million pier portion of the district — which stretches 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay and includes Spa Beach — will be allocated about $347,500 for public art. The $20 million pier approach, an area from Beach Drive to Spa Beach, will get approximately $138,000.

Those calculations come from the city's requirement that a percentage of the cost of certain public works projects be set aside for public art. For projects exceeding $10 million, three-quarters of a percent of the project's cost must go to public art. The cap is $500,000. The arts commission can allocate funds above that and the budget also can be supplemented with private contributions.

City Council member Steve Kornell, a member of the arts commission, says he will propose a boost to the Pier District's public art budget contingent on matching funds.

"If the public steps forward and raises some funds, what I'm willing to ask for is $250,000. … A dollar-to-dollar match," he said, adding that he will bring it up at Thursday's City Council meeting.

Pier art committee chairperson Laura Bryant said the group, which has been discussing potential artists, has ideas of what it wants for the waterfront attraction.

"Everyone on the committee has been particularly interested in things that do more than just sit there, things that engage people," said Bryant, who also sits on the city's arts commission.

"There are LED lighted discs that change color when they are touched, for instance. There's a piece that we looked at that uses the stream of social media going on around it that changes the way it looks. These are just for instances. We are looking at things that can be almost participatory."

Ken Cowart, an architect with ASD, the Tampa-based firm designing the pier portion of the district, said pilings are scheduled to start going in early next year.

"We just have limited time," he told fellow committee members at a recent meeting.

"There are significant areas for public art on the pier, however, exact placement of art needs to take a variety of elements into consideration," such as access for emergency vehicles and sight lines to downtown, he added in a later email.

The pier art committee hopes to have its short list of artists by the end of the year, Bryant said.

"Which means making decisions fairly soon after that, at least knowing what kind of work we're looking at," she said.

"We're certainly aware that we are stewards of the public money. With art, there's always someone who doesn't like it and that's one of the dangers we are going to be faced with. I think what we end up deciding on will delight people. That's certainly our goal."

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