Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Pete sends Pinellas request to add millions to pier project

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is closer to getting the extra millions he wants to create a "world class" Pier District.

Without much preamble Thursday, City Council members voted 5-3 to amend an interlocal agreement between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County that would reallocate $14 million to help add "enhancements" to the Pier District.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pier District to add to construction din in St. Pete's downtown

If Pinellas grants St. Petersburg's request, the total budget for the 26-acre waterfront project will grow to $76 million.

The city wants the county to reallocate $14 million in tax increment financing, or TIF funds, once meant for a downtown transportation hub, to the pier project. The hub is no longer needed, so council has agreed to $10 million in extras for the pier project and $4 million for transportation and parking options downtown. The pier itself is currently budgeted at $66 million.

The measure must still be signed off by Pinellas County leaders. It is scheduled to go before the county commission on Sept. 14.

Kriseman had originally hoped to use the entire $14 million for "enhancements" to the district, which is projected to open in early 2019. His wish list included $1.3 million for a signature art element, $2 million for a floating platform and $1 million in playground equipment.

In April, though, City Council members argued that a portion of the $14 million should be spent on what they believed to be other vital downtown needs. So they voted to split the funds.

Council member Ed Montanari on Thursday expressed concerns about future parking space downtown.

"Things are changing rapidly downtown," he said, referring to the pier and other construction projects such as the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, which is scheduled to open in a few months at 100 Central Ave.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said construction of a new pier will result in the loss of about 300 parking spaces. The city's downtown garages will provide parking for the James Museum and other nearby attractions.

Council member Karl Nurse wondered why the wording about how the $4 million was to be spent was not more specific. City Administrator Gary Cornwell answered that broader language allowed for greater flexibility in its use.

Before the council meeting, Nurse told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that he would like to see the $4 million used on infrastructure that could expand transit options downtown:

"We could use it for the downtown BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) stations or, if there's a facility that's related to the electric buses, or even part of the facility for a ferry. It has to be used for infrastructure."

No decision has been made about what amenities the $10 million will add to the Pier District. Nurse has said he would like more money to be spent on a splash pad, larger restrooms, snack shops and additional seating in the Spa Beach and splash pad areas.

The county, in discussions with the city, has proposed a ceiling of $191 million in TIF funds to complete projects in the city's intown redevelopment area — where the Pier District is located.

The amended agreement will also allow future discussions related to parking and transportation improvements in the intown area and for projects connected to the redevelopment of the 85-acre Tropicana Field site, which seems set to happen whether the Tampa Bay Rays stay or leave the city.

Council members Montanari, Amy Foster and Steve Kornell voted against the resolution.

The pier project has long been a contentious issue. In 2005, the city and the Pinellas County Commission agreed that $50 million in tax revenue from the intown area would go to the pier. That was the budget the proposed replacement of the old inverted pyramid started out with. But a citizen-led revolt scuttled the plan, leaving just $46 million to draft a new pier project.

In 2015, Kriseman sought and received an additional $20 million from the county to expand the project, creating the Pier District, a combination of the pier and an approach linking it to downtown. The pier replacement's growing price tag has been used to attack Kriseman by his electoral opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker. Kornell echoed those cost concerns Wednesday.

"I am very disappointed that this has gone so far over budget," Kornell said. "I just think it's fiscally irresponsible."

Nurse, however, believes the county will grant the city's request.

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

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