Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Lens design evolves as St. Petersburg leaders ponder ballot measure on Pier

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ST. PETERSBURG — The road show for the Lens — make that "the New St. Pete Pier" — is off and running.

A presentation highlighting changes to the initial concept proposed by Michael Maltzan Architecture is being delivered to civic, business and community groups. The evolving design is the result of public feedback, much of it criticism that there is little for people to do at the proposed $50 million Pier.

"We were encouraged by the positive comments that we heard, even the negative ones," said Lisa Wannemacher of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, the St. Petersburg representative of the Los Angeles-based Maltzan team. The adjustments are the first of many in a monthslong endeavor that will culminate in a design to be presented to the City Council in October, Wannemacher said.

In the interim, the designers are attempting to answer questions and soothe concerns about the intended replacement for the city's iconic five-story inverted pyramid.

Quickly summarized, "the New St. Pete Pier," as it is being referred to on the city's website, now will have shaded seating along its looping bridges. The bridges will accommodate bikers, runners, walkers and inline skaters, and the current parking lots will remain. There will be restrooms, and the project will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A tram will take visitors to and from the new Pier, where they will be able to fish, rent a boat, eat — a cafe is now being proposed — grab a beer or simply take in the view.

In the uplands area, at the point where the water meets the land, the designers now propose a waterfront restaurant — perhaps the size of a wing-and-fries sports bar — south of Spa Beach, a boardwalk, shops and a large public square for temporary markets, food trucks and community gatherings.

What about the controversial reef, the one architects promised would be a "habitat for oysters, reef wildlife and sea grasses" and that experts have said is doubtful? There's no real answer yet. Meetings are continuing with marine scientists "to discuss the possibilities and opportunities of the reef, as well as the practical realities of such an element," Wannemacher says.

The presentation has been playing to approving audiences.

"My personal view is that positive changes have been made," said Will Michaels, chairman of the design committee of the Pier Advisory Task Force that recommended a new Pier.

But Michaels, who also is a past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and chairman of its Pier proposal review committee, does have reservations about the proposed waterfront restaurant. He doesn't want it to bring unwelcome competition to thriving Beach Drive.

"Funds for this might better be allocated for a family-oriented water park as originally recommended by the task force, if both cannot be done," he said in an email.

"I would like to also see detailed information regarding the status of the various sustainability ("green") features originally proposed."

The green elements "would as much as possible be retained in the final design," Wannemacher said.

"I know one of the things that we would love to see is a family-oriented water feature,'' she said. "I think what will happen is we will provide optional elements that the community and the City Council can decide which best address the needs of most of the community."

The project, though, is at a precarious point. A group opposing the new Pier and seeking to renovate and refurbish the 1973 inverted pyramid has succeeded in getting City Council members to consider putting the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The $4.7 million contract with Maltzan allows for it to be suspended or terminated at any point. Meanwhile, the council will soon consider a staff recommendation to hire Skanska USA Building, which has an office in Tampa, to manage the construction.

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce wants the city to stay the course. In a letter to Mayor Bill Foster and the council, the organization restated its support for "the process, decision, timeline and budget" of the new Pier.

Wannemacher's presentation responds to criticisms that the Lens' designers have strayed from the guidelines of the city's Downtown Waterfront Master Plan and recommendations of the Pier Advisory Task Force. The task force had asked that the new Pier be iconic, have programs that start close to land and offer unique dining experiences, she said. The design also answers the call for lower maintenance and reduced subsidies by placing less square footage over water, putting the majority of restaurant and retail space on land, and eliminating public vehicular traffic, she said.

"This is a work in progress," Chris Steinocher, chamber president and chief executive officer, said after seeing the evolving design.

"We have to take time and let these people tell us what they are going to build for us, and that's what we had a chance to do. I hope that every citizen has a chance to hear it."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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