ST. PETERSBURG — Don't be surprised if the new Pier ends up looking an awful lot like the current Pier.
Even though a task force is considering six design concepts — and the City Council won't mull those over until March or April — former Mayor Randy Wedding said he feels it's likely that the upside-down pyramid will remain intact with only the approach changing.
Wedding should know. He chairs the 20-member task force that since April has been considering how the city will reboot the financially and structurally shaky city landmark when $50 million becomes available in 2012.
On Thursday, Wedding told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board that about 70 percent of those who have spoken with the task force favor keeping the inverted pyramid the way it is. Some of the 60 people who attended a public hearing Tuesday at the Enoch Davis Center described their emotional attachment to the building.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful building," said Philip Barisciano, who walks the Pier every day. "Maybe the paint job can be different, but it's so unique you don't want to change it."
"It's part of our city," said resident Abdul Ali. "Taking it away would take away our tradition."
But keeping it "as is" comes with a price. It would still cost about $51.9 million to overhaul and renovate. While it's still one of the cheapest options, it doesn't address the cost of maintaining the approach or improving access to the building. While tourists don't mind trekking the length of more than three football fields to the five-story pyramid, many residents say that's why they haven't made a visit in years.
One concept Wedding would like to be explored is making the approach a causeway and ditching the bridge altogether. So instead of an elevated pier, it would be a wider road that slopes into the water. Its sides would be a rocky sea wall. This would cut maintenance and construction costs.
Each concept has its own benefits and drawbacks. If the approach is too short, then the views from the Pier are sacrificed. If the width of the approach is slimmed down, then the maintenance costs are reduced. But then cars can't travel it, making deliveries difficult. If the approach is widened, it would provide space for booths and activities that would make the walk more pleasant. But it would also raise maintenance costs.
"It's such a complex structure," said Ed Montanari, an American Airlines pilot who is the vice chairman of the task force. "Just when you think you have your arms around it, something else comes along that makes you rethink it. It's like getting your head around an expanding universe."
A final public hearing will be held Feb. 16, then the task force will meet and rank the options. The council could hear the task force's final recommendations as early as March.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8037.