ST. PETERSBURG — Alternating between lovefest and ambivalence, probing questions and pronouncements, the first official visit of the California team picked to design the city's new Pier is perhaps the closest thing to a honeymoon before contracts are negotiated and signed and the real work begins.
Negotiations will continue over the next few weeks on an architectural services agreement for the $50 million project, laying out fundamental issues such as the scope of work, budget, fees and liability. The agreement with Michael Maltzan Architecture could go before the City Council as early as April.
During a workshop Thursday, though, council member Charlie Gerdes cautioned the five-member Maltzan team to be prepared to look him in the eye when they return to sign the contract. Gerdes said he wants a hard dollar figure and a formula that would mean sharing cost overruns and underruns.
Colleagues Jeff Danner and Steve Kornell, though, talked about ways to integrate the project with the downtown waterfront. Danner suggested the addition of lower-cost elements, while Kornell spoke of the possibility of selling naming rights to allow for the construction of the amphitheater Maltzan proposed for a future phase.
During their whirlwind visit this week, the Maltzan team also met with the Council of Neighborhood Associations, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pier Advisory Task Force.
"This is about two days of listening to specific groups that have a stake in what is being proposed," said Raul Quintana, the city's architect.
Praise for the Lens design was tempered by questions about what would draw people to the new Pier, about the possibility of restaurants, minority employment during construction, feasibility and maintenance of the proposed 2.5-acre reef at the Lens' center, and whether the new Pier will require taxpayer subsidies.
Through it all, Michael Maltzan stayed on message. The Lens has the ability to stand alone as an icon for the city, but also fits into the city's downtown waterfront master plan, he said. His team had worked to make the design ecologically and financially sustainable, and he hopes his meetings with residents will guide them in fine-tuning the project.
"It's a strong concept, but its future lies in ongoing conversation in the next few months in fleshing it out," he said.
Bob Churuti, a member of the Pier Advisory Task Force whose family has owned property on Beach Drive since the 1950s, told Maltzan that he did not want the new Pier to hurt business on the now-thriving Beach Drive.
"What we need is to enhance Beach Drive, not take away from it," Churuti said.
"We're very aware of the accomplishments along the waterfront," Maltzan answered. "We're also mindful that the Lens can't siphon that success away."
The question of subsidies was recurring. Maltzan said his design took into account the city's concerns and tried to minimize subsidies by keeping restaurant and retail space low at the Pier itself. Instead, that space is concentrated at "the Hub," a 6,000-square-foot area where a Pier parking lot now stands.
Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said the Pier subsidy now is $1.5 million a year.
The artificial reef, which will sit on trays resting on the old pilings of the current Pier, has been a source of fascination and skepticism.
"The misunderstanding is that it is a fully developed idea, and it's not," Maltzan said during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday.
While his team believes that the reef — or underwater garden, as Maltzan calls it — is a feasible project, there still is much to be worked out, he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.