ST. PETERSBURG — If city officials showed again on Friday that there's no consensus on how to rebuild the Pier — the city's famed and fading tourist mecca — they did decide on at least one thing.
They won't build it on land.
Recently, Mayor Bill Foster had promoted doing just that. It was the cheapest of the options now being considered, costing about $42 million. The most expensive option, at $87 million, would keep it where it is — 3,300 feet from shore.
"The elephant in the room is that we can't afford (to keep it where it is)," said Foster. "The only one we could build is (the one on land). Or nothing at all."
But council members Jeff Danner, Jim Kennedy and council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said it was a waste of money to have a landlocked building that would compete with restaurants along Beach Drive.
"That's not a pier," Danner said. "That's a mistake to build more on the waterfront. Talk about blocking the view."
By the end of the meeting, Foster said he changed his mind. He still doesn't support an option of keeping it where it is, but would support a new Pier off shore with a smaller approach. He said what convinced him was comments by Marilyn Olsen, who sat on a 20-member task force that since March has pondered ways to refashion the Pier.
"If all you want is another waterfront restaurant, it's a waste of money," Olsen said. Instead, she said the city should build a new pier at least 1,000 feet from shore and hire an architect who can design a building that's reminiscent of, not identical to, the existing inverted pyramid.
Yet Foster also said he's leaving it up to the council to decide. The city has $50 million to spend on the project, but he said about $10 million more could be made available. It would be up to council members to cut the projects that have that funding now. They include a parking garage budgeted for $14 million and $5 million set aside for pedestrian and streetscape improvements. Foster said he wouldn't support a price tag of more than $60 million.
Although the land version of the Pier has been eliminated, there's still no consensus on what one on water will look like six years from now if it's ever built. A survey of task force members showed that six wanted to keep it as it is and 10 wanted another option.
"The biggest decision facing City Council is what to do with the inverted pyramid," said Ed Montanari, the vice chairman of the task force. "Once you decide that, it should be clear as where to go."
Kennedy spoke extensively about some ideas he had. He said it doesn't even have to be a building, but large sculptures of the letters "S" and "P" that would symbolically represent St. Petersburg, much in the way the Gateway Arch represents St. Louis. He also said he'd be open to getting rid of the approach to the Pier, or having two approaches to the Pier with a fisherman's market in between them.
"The Pier is not there to be economically sufficient," he said. "It's supposed to be an economic engine. It will bring people to our city that will keep it vibrant."
Concerns linger that there isn't enough money to build something that will either last or that will be memorable and worth it.
"We're doing a huge disservice by limiting ourselves to $50 million," Curran said. "We don't need to be so shortsighted. We have to look at the future."
Curran asked for another workshop. Consultants may attend that meeting to talk more in detail about concepts, said the city's director of downtown enterprise facilities, Chris Ballestra. He said the meeting will probably be held in the next month.
"Will they find consensus?" Ballestra said. "It's to be determined."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]