Public comments on St. Petersburg Pier don't hold back

ST. PETERSBURG — In the weeks since the city's residents got a look at what could be their next Pier, several thousand opinions have been offered on comment cards and a special website about the three competing designs.

There was no holding back. "Weird." "Wonderful." "One of a kind."

"Are we to give up an inverted pyramid for a giant Hot Wheels racetrack?" one asked about the Wave.

"Just plain horrid," declared another of the Lens.

And of the Eye, another quipped, "This building is an eyesore.''

The Lens, though, is the favorite, according to a city tabulation. The Wave ranks second, and the Eye, the much-maligned sea urchin clone, is a distant third.

For some, nothing worked. "Are these three designs our only choice?" one person asked. "Who are the people who picked them?"

Today, a five-person panel will rank each, having considered not only the designs and team presentations, but also analyses from independent consultants hired by the city to take a critical look at such issues as the costs, potential revenue, environmental hurdles, safety and practicality of the concepts.

The designs will all overrun the $45 million phase one budget by $11 million to $13 million, said construction consultants Oxley and Brannon. They said they came up with the overrun estimates — initially $13 to $23 million — after the design teams submitted additional information, clarifications and changes in response to questions.

The result is that each designer has found ways to bring their project within the $45 million budget. BIG, designer of the Wave, proposed reducing the length of the Pier approach and the size of the Wave pavilion. The firm also mentioned saving money by disposing demolition material near North Shore Park rather than taking it out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Michael Maltzan Architecture, creator of the Lens, said it would reduce the size of its canopy, which gives the project the tiara effect, and its dock. It also planned to shift the Lens about 100 feet west, which would decrease the length of its looping bridges.

West 8 Urban Design, whose concept is the Eye, also plans to shorten the length of its Pier approach and will reduce the size of the Eye.

The good news is that, according to the city's consultants, each design would lower the taxpayer subsidy, which has averaged more than $1.4 million annually for more than 15 years.

BIG, in an addendum, has presented firmer revenue-generating suggestions, including bringing in a "world-class" chef or operator such as Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse to lease a large section of the Wave for food service establishments.

"It is a true public space at the Pier's end," said Bjarke Ingels, founding partner of BIG, "a generous sheltered pavilion for all with many possible activities and events around, within and on top."

In another area, engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol does not expect significant environmental permitting concerns in the first phase of any of the designs for their "overwater structures and architectural features." The agencies, though, will look at each design's entire master plan during each permitting phase. The engineers said that could, for instance, present a problem for the Eye's proposed shoal, or beach, which West 8 has now moved to the second phase of its project.

"Everybody had to make sacrifices, and that is what is on the list of the potential cost savings," said Jamie Maslyn Larson, a principal with the firm, about the shift.

Moffatt and Nichol also raised concerns about the construction estimates of the designs, saying that they "are more consistent with inland construction and do not reflect the additional quality and level of finish required nor the additional logistics associated with open-water construction."

It's one of the types of practical issues that came up in the more than 5,000 public comments, like one about the Lens wondering, "How hurricane-proof is it?" And about the Wave, "Who swims in the bay (other than fish, dolphins and rays)?" Another, though admiring the Eye, offered, "The issue I see is maintenance of the beach area at the end of the Pier."

Michael Maltzan said he has read most of the comments and is pleased that a large number of people see "the potential" of the Lens.

At the same time, he conceded: "There are lots of questions about the Pier project. I think that any scheme going forward needs to continue to evolve in relationship to the whole picture of the community's hopes and ambitions."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Public comments on St. Petersburg Pier don't hold back 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:37pm]

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