Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Mayor Bill Foster likes Pier plan changes, but not everyone agrees

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster was in good spirits Tuesday as he talked about the reworked design for the Pier project submitted late Monday by the Michael Maltzan Architecture team.

He was particularly pleased with the addition of two restaurants — one on the Pier itself and the second on the approach.

"I always wanted an eating experience at the end of the Pier," Foster said.

The design, he added, "is starting to evolve into something that people can grasp and get excited about. No one can say it is a sidewalk to a gelato stand anymore."

It's being promised that the project will not exceed the $50 million budget. Construction is expected to be $37 million and demolition $3.1 million. But, as the City Council gets ready to vote on the next phase of the project, likely approving $5.4 million for the final design and further preconstruction services, the project's detractors are speaking louder.

"It's still a concept that we don't think represents the character of St. Petersburg," said Fred Whaley, chairman of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg.

"It is a concept that has a . . . bridge to go out on and when you get out there you can buy a coffee or a soda or a hamburger at a very small concession stand. We think it fails to have a restaurant out there wanted by a majority of people."

William Ballard, another member of the group, said the proposed restaurant on the uplands area, which the Lens project refers to as the Hub, "is nothing but a foundational slab with plumbing."

"It's not even a restaurant shell. Basically, the restaurant is not included in the cost," he said.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said the city will solicit a request for proposals from restaurant operators.

"The city of St. Petersburg is not in the restaurant business," he said. "We want to make sure we leverage the city's dollars properly and look for public-private partnerships. We'll provide all of the infrastructure, the site preparation, the utilities. What we won't build is the four walls."

He said he expects the restaurant at the Hub to be about 8,000 square feet — slightly smaller than Carrabba's at Sunken Gardens. He said the proposed beer garden at the Lens will be about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet.

Ballestra added that the Pier budget includes about $750,000 to help with construction of the restaurants. The hope is, he said, that both will be built concurrently with the Lens.

What else should people expect for $50 million? The underwater light show is in, Ballestra said, as well as the proposed wood decking as shown in original renderings.

"The $50 million is geared toward getting the overwater component correct. I'm very happy that we've got the revised . . . Hub. I love the idea of playgrounds and a water park, but there isn't any money for that now," he said, adding that they could be included in the city's downtown waterfront master plan.

That idea upset council member Karl Nurse as he read the Maltzan report.

"I think the most unsettling part of it is that it made the assumption that the waterfront master plan is the funding source for several million dollars of the Pier that they can't fund with the $50 million," he said.

"Public amenities, restrooms, water fountains and a place to sit, that's essentially what you get for the money that is available," Nurse said. "Any upgrades to the Hub area, those are all assuming that they are going to be paid for by a separate source, from a funding that doesn't exist."

Council member Jeff Danner sees things differently.

"I think what people have to remember is that this is just one piece of our waterfront system," he said.

"There is a play park and swimming pool at North Shore Park, which you can see from the Lens. It's not that we don't have those facilities. They can't all be on the Pier approach. There are opportunities as we go into the waterfront master plan," he said.

"There is other money available for the waterfront that will enhance the Lens and the entire waterfront park system. We are constantly developing and redeveloping our waterfront," he said.

Whaley said his group's dislike of the Lens is fueled by concern for the waterfront.

"We really think this whole process is backwards and that the master plan should be addressed," he said.

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

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