'Today is not a dream;' St. Petersburg ready to start building new pier

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ST. PETERSBURG —Three years ago, with the now demolished inverted pyramid still standing stubbornly in the background, Mayor Rick Kriseman laid out a plan to replace or renovate the iconic pier.

He'd do so by 2017, he told the crowd, and within a $46 million budget.

Fast forward to Wednesday: Kriseman again stood along the downtown waterfront, but everything around him had changed.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg's new pier is a go: City Council approves first construction funds

The inverted pyramid was gone. In its place, will emerge an expanded Pier District. The budget for the new attraction is now $66 million — $46 million for the over-water pier, another $20 million for the approach — and the price could keep rising.

And so, finally, will a new pier.

Kriseman and other city officials broke ground on the long-awaited project Wednesday morning on Second Avenue NE, near Spa Beach. Among those joining him were Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and City Council chair Darden Rice. There was a sense of euphoria now that construction will soon begin for a project dating back about a decade and spanning three mayoral administrations.

A beaming Kriseman said good things come to those who wait.

"Today is not a dream," he said. "This is real life."

Tomalin told the crowd she was "pinching" herself.

The fact that the project will at last come to fruition was not lost on the crowd of 100 or so. Council member Ed Montanari, who had been involved in helping to plan a new or renovated pier for almost 10 years before he took office, said he never stopped believing.

"I knew that at some point in time we would have this day and it's very exciting that it's finally here," said Montanari, who participated in the pier visioning process in 2008, served as vice chairman of the Pier Advisory Task Force and went on to sit on two other committees, the most recent a Pier Working Group convened by Kriseman.

The freshman council member doesn't foresee obstacles going forward.

"We've got a plan for a new pier," Montanari said. "It's been studied and studied and studied and now it's time to build a pier that will be an attraction to residents and visitors to St. Petersburg for generations to come."

Betsy Johnson, 13, spoke on behalf of future generations Wednesday. She had wanted a place to get a snack and do homework, she said.

The new pier would be a "wonderful gathering place," she said.

Will Michaels, who headed the design committee of the Pier Advisory Task Force that issued a key report in 2010, said the new pier will continue "the tradition which reflects our sunshine, marine city."

The pier and the city's downtown waterfront parks "go seamlessly together," he said before Wednesday's ceremony.

Stephen Urgo, who administers a citizen-led website that supports the project, told the crowd that his group is "so excited" to finally see work start.

Ready in the background were construction trailers and equipment, including a crane atop a barge.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said the Pier District is a complicated project that should take about 18 months to complete.

The district, a 26-acre expanse that includes the pier, will extend 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay and include Spa Beach. The area also includes the pier approach, which will run from Spa Beach to the edge of downtown, following the waterfront from the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club to Pioneer Park and Beach Drive.

Pile driving into the bottom of Tampa Bay for the pier platform will begin next week. The project is expected to be complete in early 2019.

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

         
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