ST. PETERSBURG — Architects vying for a chance to design the city's latest Pier will work with a smaller budget than the Los Angeles firm originally picked to deliver the landmark waterfront project.
In the two years since St. Petersburg issued a worldwide call for iconic ideas to replace the inverted pyramid Pier, the project's $50 million budget has been depleted by more than $4 million. Of that, $2.2 million went to Michael Maltzan Architecture, creator of the ill-fated Lens design. The rest was spent on preconstruction costs such as permitting, environmental studies, geotechnical testing and consulting.
Since residents have voted to cancel Maltzan's contract, the question arises whether millions of dollars have been futilely spent.
"I don't think all the money was lost. Some of the engineering and exploration money is going to be useful going forward," said Tim Clemmons, an architect and local partner of one of the finalists in the international pier design competition won by Maltzan.
For the competition, design teams had been told to set aside $6.5 million for demolition, Clemmons said, adding that demolition bids for the Lens project actually came in at $3 million.
"The $2 million spent on Michael Maltzan is compensated now by reduced demolition costs," he said. "We are no worse off.
"At this point, there has not been a lot of inflation in construction costs, but if this were to drag on for many more years, then at some point costs will add up."
Council chairman Karl Nurse, who initially backed the Lens but pulled his support last fall, said about 60 percent of the funds spent so far could benefit another project.
"Those chunks are money we would have had to spend anyway," he said, referring to such work as geotechnical surveys.
Council member Steve Kornell said he would not support going over budget as efforts continue for a new or refurbished Pier.
"If we spend more than $50 million on this project, then it potentially comes out of general funds. … I have been deeply concerned that south St. Pete does not get the level of investment that it needs, it deserves," he said.
"The Pier is a worthy project, but I believe the $50 million should be the limit and some of that has been spent."
It would not be the first time a pier has gone over budget. In 1969, the City Council approved a new pier projected to cost "under $2 million." The following year, city officials allotted $800,000 more for what would be the iconic inverted pyramid. The final cost was $4 million. A major renovation completed in 1988 cost $12 million.
Last December, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that pushed the referendum that scuttled the Lens, urged council members to stop spending on the controversial project. That day, the council passed a resolution to appropriate $4.7 million for Maltzan, but stipulated that the money would be released in approved increments. With the project's end, Maltzan will receive $2.2 million in fees and reimbursable costs.
"Let's give the City Council credit, they didn't stop (spending), but they did slow down the expenditure of funds," said Bud Risser, a Concerned Citizens leader.
Budget aside, there are concerns about how long the city's downtown waterfront — which has mostly had a pier for more than a century — will be without the traditional landmark. The Lens was promised by 2015.
Mayor Bill Foster's 8/28 Alliance, formed to devise a post-Lens strategy, has made a number of suggestions for moving ahead, among them giving the public an opportunity to veto any proposed design.
"If it is rejected in some form or fashion, then you start over," said James Jackson Jr., architect for the city of Tampa and an alliance appointee.
Involving citizens is important, said Vikas Mehta, associate professor of urban design and architecture at the University of South Florida.
"In the very purest design circles, which I don't necessarily endorse, there is some sort of skepticism about involving the public when you're trying to create an icon," Mehta said. "The Pier is not just an icon, but also a very significant part of the waterfront experience.
''The community knows what it wants, but are not experts in designing buildings."
Jackson, a St. Petersburg resident, suggested that top architectural firms might be "gun shy" about getting involved after Maltzan's experience with the Lens.
"I think that some people in the community would prefer local talent, primarily because it was local talent that designed the inverted pyramid," he said.
By Jackson's estimate, it could take as much as a year to award a contract and develop a full design for the new Pier.
Clemmons, of Mesh Architecture in St. Petersburg, said it could be two to 21/2 years before construction starts.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.