Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: New St. Pete mayor tries to change outcome of pier's future

From all indications, the first-year mayor was excited and confident. And, from the looks of things, he had every right to feel that way.

The city's best and brightest had come together to work on ideas for a new pier in St. Petersburg. Nearly the entire City Council looked to be on board. And the mayor himself made a point of saying the new pier would not only be beautiful, but also functional.

"Rest assured,'' he declared, "the public will be engaged and consulted every step of the way.''

Yup, Bill Foster was the picture of optimism in 2010.

What could possibly go wrong?

• • •

Much has happened, and yet little has changed in the past four years.

Once again, St. Petersburg has a freshman mayor who is working with some familiar faces on yet another blue ribbon pier committee. The public is being invited to participate and architects are being asked to get creative.

So why should this effort be any different?

Mostly, because the last one failed.

This time, the mayor will not underestimate the anger of some residents who felt the City Council prematurely pulled the plug on renovating the inverted pyramid. And he will be cognizant of other residents who felt the aborted Lens design was too caught up in aesthetics and too lax on function.

New Mayor Rick Kriseman will also have the added benefit of an entire city paying closer attention this time around.

The significance of that last point cannot be overemphasized. And it's important that the flow of information goes in both directions.

Residents need to understand that building any type of significant structure above water is not easily, nor cheaply, done. In other words, they may need to accept a scaled-down version of a pier with more emphasis on the uplands that surround the approach.

City officials, on the other hand, need to understand that residents have already made it clear they want something more than a decorative appendage to the waterfront. It can't just be an amenity for bike riders downtown; it has to be an attraction for miles around.

Is all of that possible for the $46 million currently budgeted?

Sure, as long as everyone is realistic.

As long as traditionalists realize they probably will no longer be able to drive their cars on the pier and will instead be walking a shorter span or taking a tram.

As long as city officials realize sticking a gelato stand above the water is not nearly enough to attract people who want real restaurants and bars and, perhaps, nightlife.

As long as everyone realizes strategic development on the uplands can actually enhance the waterfront experience and should not necessarily be feared.

It will also be important that architects get more input up front. The original pier task force did a monumental job of compiling information, but they intentionally avoided offering specific suggestions. Instead, their work served as a broad guide.

That approach encouraged more creativity for architects, but it didn't capture what residents apparently were hoping to see.

So will the process work better this time?

The next mayor sure hopes so.

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