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Sentiment strong to keep St. Petersburg's iconic Pier as is

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

SCOTT KEELER | Times

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 mvansickler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8037.

Option 1 (as is)

Pro: Maintains the best feature of the Pier: the view of the city and the bay. Keeps the iconic pyramid building. At $51.9 million, it's the second cheapest option.

Con: There's no "wow" factor for the money. It'll look the same, and the current problems will remain: high subsidy, long walk and functional design flaws.

Option 2

Pro: Preserves the iconic appearance and views, while lowering maintenance costs by reducing width of approach. At roughly $46.9 million, it's the cheapest option.

Con: Same cons as Option 1. Also, the slimmer approach eliminates parking along it, upping the need for more onshore parking.

Option 3

Pro: A wider approach provides space for booths or buildings that will make the long walk more engaging and could produce revenue. Public perception would be more positive because changes to the approach would be dramatic. Pyramid stays.

Con: At roughly $75.3 million, this is the most expensive, the long walk remains as do transportation challenges and pyramid design flaws.

Option 4

Pro: New Pier building with visual appeal and lower operating costs, compared with options with a longer approach. Maintenance costs of approach and Pier are reduced, lowering the operating subsidy.

Con: City view may be less impressive with the Pier building closer to land. Two-story height of building may limit how dramatic the architecture can be. Cost: $71.2 million.

Option 5

Pro: New Pier with lower operating costs and a potential for substantial visual appeal. Short but wide approach makes walks to Pier entertaining and short.

Con: The wider width adds construction, maintenance and operational costs. At an estimated $61.7 million, it's the third most expensive option.

Option 6

Pro: Shifting the major building onto land helps reduce construction and maintenance costs. The Pier's shops, restaurants and other attractions are closer to parking and other downtown activities.

Con: The city's famed "over water" icon would be lost.

Sentiment strong to keep St. Petersburg's iconic Pier as is 02/06/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 7, 2010 12:26pm]
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