Monday, November 20, 2017
News Roundup

Mayor Bill Foster: St. Petersburg will not reopen the old Pier

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ST. PETERSBURG — A top city official said the Pier could be partially reopened to offer food, shelter and restrooms to visitors.

The idea was pitched Monday by a committee the mayor created to solve the intractable issue of what to do with the Pier.

At only its second meeting, Mayor Bill Foster's 828 Alliance raised the question of what it would cost to reopen the aging structure — closed May 31 — on a limited scale while decisions about its future are hashed out.

Foster wasn't at the meeting, but gave an unequivocal answer Tuesday: It's not happening.

"The Pier was closed when it was for safety and budgetary reasons," he said. "It's all economics. And we are not and have not and will not budget for any part of the vertical structure itself to be reopened, even on a limited use."

Visitors are allowed to fish, bicycle and walk along the Pier approach, and portable toilets have been carted in, but the alliance wants to look at what it would cost to offer a bait shop, restrooms and food at the site. "The idea of subsidizing any business entity out there during the time of planning and designing the Pier is unacceptable," Foster said. "I stand by the May 31 closure."

He said he was surprised by the alliance's request. "What I expect the 828 Alliance to do is to stay within the mission of making sure we present a unified front to build the Lens, or in the alternative, come up with a process to build a Pier. The task of the 828 Alliance is to look ahead."

Foster did say he might consider opening the area around the Pier itself to nonvehicular traffic, depending on the cost.

Logistically, the Pier could be partially reopened, but several issues would need to be considered, said David Metz, the city's director of downtown enterprise facilities. "The whole question of opening the Pier head may require additional security and maintenance," he said.

While the Pier was officially closed six weeks ago, the last tenants did not leave until Monday, Metz said.

Monday also marked the end of the city's extended contract with Urban Retail, which ran the 1973 structure. The Pier is now being managed by the city.

Metz suggested that mobile vendors could provide the food service mentioned by the mayor's alliance, but that bait already is available at the city's marina at nearby Demens Landing. Another Pier amenity, the Dolphin Queen, which offers trips into Tampa Bay, now departs near Fresco's Waterfront Bistro through an amended lease with the city, Metz said.

As for the inverted pyramid itself, it is being kept "operational and functional" with fire protection and working elevators, he said. The air conditioning also is running to prevent mold and mildew.

But with a referendum to decide the fate of the Lens — the proposed replacement to the inverted pyramid — set for Aug. 27, council chairman Karl Nurse doesn't see any rush to make a decision.

"We will decide some of this in a few weeks," he said.

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