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St. Pete council pledges new pier cost will be capped at $50 million

Council member Wengay Newton expresses concerns Thursday over the Pier project, which he opposes.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Council member Wengay Newton expresses concerns Thursday over the Pier project, which he opposes.

ST. PETERSBURG — As members of the City Council stepped back to dissect and discuss the costs and function of the Lens, the design that will provide the central elements of St. Petersburg's new Pier, many made one thing clear: There must be a cap on spending for the new landmark.

A resolution being prepared for them to vote on next week will say the project is not to exceed $50 million, including design, demolition, construction and contingencies. Those who competed in the international competition to design the Pier had been asked to stick to a $45 million budget.

During a workshop Thursday, several council members raised concerns about the cost of the project and future phases of the Lens concept designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles, which could run an additional $100 million.

What does the $50 million cap mean for the elaborate design with its looping bridges and crownlike canopy? For one, the proposed amphitheater is out. The water park and playground, also proposed for a later phase, would not be built.

Mayor Bill Foster said he wants residents to know that "what we're building now is a standalone pier and that future generations will be able to vision for landside amenities, some of which are suggested now."

"For $50 million, people will get a Pier," he said.

Foster's statement came after a lively workshop, during which most council members spoke of their concerns about costs.

Council member Steve Kornell, who pushed for the cap, said that the process felt "like shifting sand" and that he did not want to vote on a resolution authorizing negotiations with Maltzan without knowing the project's cost.

"I am concerned about the price. I think there needs to be a Pier right now," he said, adding, though, that he opposed a design dependent on other phases.

"The design that comes forward needs to be the whole design."

Council member Jim Kennedy said he learned a lot from the report by consultants Oxley and Brannon, who estimated that phase one of the Lens was approximately $10 million over its estimated $45 million.

"If you start a project with a 25 percent cost overrun, what is it going to be at the end of the project?" he asked.

Council member Karl Nurse said he felt a bit like going into a showroom to buy a car and being up-sold.

"Before we get serious about breaking ground … we need to have the hard number," he said.

Council member Leslie Curran, who sat on the Pier Advisory Task Force and also was a member of the jury that made the decision about the design, differed in her outlook about the future phases.

"I think that absolutely the focus is on the Pier itself. One of the reasons I like the Michael Maltzan proposal is that it did understand the entire downtown waterfront," she said.

"We are cognizant of the fact that we are starting a downtown waterfront master plan and during that time, we are going to look at the entire waterfront, which I'm sure will take some of those additional phases into consideration and we'll have discussion about that," she said.

Council member Charlie Gerdes wants to see negotiations with Maltzan start at $40 million, with a $5 million buffer.

"There are going to be overruns," he said.

One person likely to vote against next week's resolution to negotiate with the winning design team is Wengay Newton, who opposes the project. He believes the money would be better spent renovating the current Pier.

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

St. Pete council pledges new pier cost will be capped at $50 million 01/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 12:09am]
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