ST. PETERSBURG — During their first public discussion on how to overhaul the Pier, Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council made clear on Thursday that there's little agreement about ways to redesign the fading tourist mecca.
Foster revealed that he favors putting the main building on land and shrinking the actual pier so it becomes a smaller walkway that's closer to shore and used only by pedestrians. The inverted pyramid would be removed.
Of four options submitted by a task force, Foster's pick is the cheapest, estimated to cost $42 million. The most expensive option, which is to widen the approach and renovate the existing building, would cost $87 million.
Foster had been seeking federal grants to help pay for the project, which has about $50 million that will be available in 2012. But he said Thursday that he no longer believes the project will snare additional money.
"We are limited to $50 million," he said.
While council member Karl Nurse said that he too supports that option, his colleague, Jeff Danner, said he strongly disapproved of it.
"Why would you build it on land?" Danner said. "You'd put a restaurant in there that would compete with private enterprise."
For more than a year, 20 members of a task force met 63 times to discuss design alternatives. Options that remain for the city are so broad that Foster now wants to reconvene the task force so members could rank the options. But council chairwoman Leslie Curran said the task force had already met enough.
"What would be great is if the mayor made a recommendation," Curran said. "At this point, to give it back to the committee that did its job is not the appropriate action to take."
After Foster said he preferred the cheaper option, he noted Danner's objections and said the task force should hold one more meeting with the City Council. Danner, Curran and the other members agreed.
The task force's recommendations to the council included several concepts such as creating about 50 boat slips along the Pier; dangling a gondola that links parking garages to the Pier; searching worldwide for an architect by holding a design competition; building a swing bridge that would connect the approach to Vinoy Park; and making the Pier a causeway, an idea favored by task force chairman Randy Wedding.
The Million Dollar Pier opened in 1926, closed in 1967, and reopened as the inverted pyramid in 1972. But the structural beams remain from the 1920s. They are in poor shape, crumbling against the crushing tide. Consultants have said it would be so costly to repair the beams that it wasn't economical to fix them.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.