A wave. A lens. An eye.
All are design concepts vying for the title of the city's new $50 million icon, a structure to replace the Pier's inverted pyramid.
The public got its first glimpse of the designs Wednesday, with the unveiling of three finalists selected from an international field aiming to create the likes of the next London Needle or Sydney Opera House.
The three competing firms, BIG, from Denmark and New York City; West 8 Urban Design in New York; and Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles; offered elaborate designs accompanied with poetic commentary.
"One gave me the wow," Mayor Bill Foster said. But he's not saying which one.
"They all tell a story about this rebranding of St. Petersburg,'' he said. "They all engage the community and they're all pieces of art.''
Wow seemed to be the word of the day. It's the one chosen by council member Bill Dudley and Ed Montanari, vice chair of the Pier advisory task force.
"The way that they integrated the design into the waterfront I think is very good and that is very important,'' Montanari said, "because that is one of the problems we have with the Pier, because it is so far out there that many people don't visit it."
But one council member refused to be drawn into the hype.
"I have no opinion either way,'' said Wengay Newton, who opposes the demolition of the 1973 Pier.
"My whole thing is that the people should be allowed to vote on this major expenditure,'' he said.
Maltzan's design, reminiscent of a tiara, is linked to the shoreline with a loop of pathways. The firm says its new Pier would act "both as a lens back to the city and a window into the underwater world beneath."
The proposal envisions a waterfront that could eventually include a water park, playground and areas for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The initial phase, encompassing the loop of paths out to the iconic structure, is projected to cost $44.9 million.
The West 8 design, dominated by a space-age-style pavilion that it calls the Eye, projects its structure as the People's Pier. Its design would establish "a rhythm of experiences along the entire length of the Pier."
The $44.7-million plan would offer a cultural experience on the waterfront, "a life on-the-water in the public marinas, a retreat into a vibrant natural preserve, over-water views and activities, communion with the pelican and the manatee, and finally, a gathering space on the horizon that is reserved for the people of St. Pete."
From BIG comes a design resembling a coach's whistle. The design anchors the new Pier to downtown with a tributary of paths and events along its approach such as strolling, swimming, boating, fishing and eating. BIG calls its structure the Wave. The landmark places emphasis on the water, with areas that include traveling and permanent exhibits, water play, an artificial wave room and Turkish baths. It comes in at the highest at $49.9 million.
Caroline O'Donnell, assistant professor of architecture at Cornell University, notes that each design has merits.
"Any of these projects would receive international attention,'' she said.
"My question would be which of these represents St. Petersburg. The playfulness yet connectedness of BIG? The looping paths of Maltzan? The historic and natural interpretations of West 8?
"Maltzan has the sinuous network of paths, the breath or pause from the city,'' she said. "I would probably select this one for its clever rethinking of the Pier as a loop and interweaving the city's paths."
David Sachs a distinguished professor of architecture at Kansas State University, also sees something to like in each.
"They all seemed to think about the connections from the Pier to the city,'' he said.
"In some ways, the similarities were stronger than the differences to me."
Tim Clemmons, a local partner with BIG, said his team has met the city's goals.
"The goal of the project is to have a strong iconic image for St. Petersburg. To have the clarity, the visual strength like the St. Louis arch or the Eiffel Tower."
It was important, he said, to distribute "energy'' throughout the approach to the structure now focused at the end of the Pier.
"There are no activities, no animation along the Pier,'' he said.
Adriaan Geuze of West 8 said the firm's project is not about an object, but an experience.
"Every aspect of our design is born from the heritage of this place: the notion of a 'people's pier,' the splendor of the views, life lived harmoniously with local ecology, an active lifestyle on the water with toes in the sand, and romantic settings set against the sublime views of the horizon,'' he said in an email.
One of the strong points of the Lens proposal, Michael Maltzan said, is "the project uses the structure of the old pier to create the Reef, an underwater garden that filters the water within the Lens and creates a habitat for marine life."
The first pier dates to 1889, followed by the "Million Dollar" Pier, completed in 1926 and demolished in 1967. In its place came the inverted pyramid, which opened in 1973. With the underpinnings deteriorating, the council decided to build something new that would attract residents and tourists.
"I'm excited,'' council member Steve Kornell said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the jury would pick and I'm looking forward to hearing the public's reaction."
Montanari's acknowledged financial questions.
"We have identified the funding for the over water part of the Pier and we haven't identified funding for the uplands area,'' he said.
"This is a 40- to 50-year project,'' he said. " We have time to work on these funding type questions."
Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.