As the city embarks on another quest to find the perfect design for a new pier, a look at others around the country might prove instructive.
There are attractions that have emerged like a mythological phoenix from ashes, reinvented under private leases or ownership. At least one developed after a political bloodletting, followed by interminable public discussion and inertia that ended, one historian says, only when nature intervened.
In St. Petersburg, the latest incarnation of its more-than-century-old pier tradition, the inverted pyramid, was closed in May despite a pending referendum that ultimately doomed its replacement.
At his swearing-in ceremony Thursday, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced he will reopen the fenced off pier head for visitors. During his campaign, he promised a new pier by 2015.
A recent poll indicated that residents have little affinity for saving the inverted pyramid. A majority expressed a desire for fine dining, air conditioning, observation and viewing areas, an iconic design and a place to walk, jog, bike and fish.
Looking at several piers around the nation, here are some figures for comparison. The approach, or bridge, to the inverted pyramid is 1,026 feet long and 100 feet wide. The amount available to build a new pier or renovate the current one is about $45 million. There were about 700,000 visitors to the now-closed pier in 2012.
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier was once as controversial as St. Petersburg's. Considered an eyesore and a financial burden, in 1972, a city manager proposed replacing it with a man-made resort island. City Council members agreed.
Angry residents rallied to save the pier and get it designated a landmark, and "every council member who voted to tear down the pier failed in their bid for re-election," said Jim Harris, deputy director of the Santa Monica Pier Corp. and resident historian.
He said the community meetings that followed to discuss how to make the pier more viable dragged on, with little progress until about a third of the structure was destroyed by a storm in 1983. Afterward, the pier was renovated and topped with an amusement park, restaurants and a focus on events designed to attract diverse audiences.
The two-acre, privately owned Pacific Park, which opened on the 7-acre pier in 1996 and leases property from the city, features a dozen rides, the newest, a $1.5 million solar-powered Ferris wheel that "soars nine stories high and lifts riders more than 130 feet above the Pacific Ocean."
When it opened, Pacific Park — owned by CNL Lifestyle Properties Inc. — was part of a $15 million project at the pier.
Visitors number close to 7 million a year, drawn by fishing, dining, entertainment, rides and other amusements. But the common denominator, said Harris, "is the ability to walk over the ocean in a beautiful Southern California location."
Pier 39, San Francisco
Pier 39, part of San Francisco's popular Fisherman's Wharf district, is a 45-acre waterfront complex that boasts 14 restaurants, more than 90 shops, entertainment, a large marina and 5-acre waterfront park. It has the sweeping vistas St. Petersburg residents say they want at a new pier.
Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District, which spans about a mile and a half, or 30 square blocks along the northern waterfront, said the views are one of the top draws.
So are the famous sea lions that hang out at Pier 39, not to mention a carousel, sightseeing cruises and aquarium.
"It's one of San Francisco's major attractions," said Renee Dunn Martin, spokeswoman for the Port of San Francisco, which leases the pier to Pier 39 Ltd. Partnership under a long-term agreement. Spokeswoman Sue Muzzin said the pier "hit an all-time record" in revenue in 2012, reaching $215 million.
"We're projecting for 2013 in excess of $230 million," she said.
Martin said the pier, which gets about 12 million to 14 million visitors a year, is "one of the top revenue generators" for the Port of San Francisco.
Daytona Beach Pier
The Daytona Beach Pier, which has a long history, became a spot for photos of famous racers.
The city bought the pier in 2004, refurbishing it a few years later in a bid to woo a long-term tenant. City spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said some residents disagreed with the plan to spend money on the dilapidated pier.
"The pier was closed for two and a half years. It just needed a lot of work," she said, adding that the city spent about $6 million to repair pilings, reinforce the structure and do other work on the building.
The renovations lured Joe's Crab Shack, which spent another $2 million and opened in 2012. The 745-foot pier also features a bar and a place for entertainment. An adjacent boardwalk offers arcades, a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and amphitheater. Fishing is allowed on the east end.
Navy Pier, Chicago
Described as "Chicago's lakefront playground" and the top tourist and leisure destination in the Midwest, Navy Pier is a magnet of rides, restaurants, exhibitions, entertainment, shopping, dining cruises, tour boats, a children's museum, parks and promenades that occupy 50 acres on Lake Michigan. The number of visitors alone stir envy — 9.2 million in 2012.
Like St. Petersburg, Chicago turned to a design competition when it sought to redevelop its pier. It selected a team led by landscape architect James Corner, who designed Manhattan's High Line Park. Corner didn't make the cut in St. Petersburg's competition.
The first phase of Navy Pier's transformation will include turning its South Dock into "a more engaging, greener space with new paved surfaces, more seating and additional social areas," said spokesman Nick Shields. Visitors can also expect "a Chicago-themed food experience" and a lighted water fountain/ice skating rink, he said.
Renovations at the 3,000-foot pier are expected to be complete in 2015 and cost about $118 million, Shields said. The project is largely funded by $115 million from the bond fund of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency that owns the pier, according to the Chicago Tribune. The facility, which underwent a $150 million redevelopment in 1994, is governed and managed by Navy Pier Inc., a nonprofit corporation.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
The privately owned Galveston Island pier is 120 feet wide and 1,130 feet long, jutting into the Gulf of Mexico.
In reality a theme park, it features more than a dozen rides, games, entertainment, food and retail shops. The pier's publicity touts "rides from thrilling to gentle" that create "an exciting sensation of being suspended above the water." The rides are said to start 30 feet above the waves, with some much higher.
Here visitors must pay to walk on the pier, $10 for those over 48 inches and $8 for those under. Seniors are $7.
The pier is on the same spot as the island's first pleasure pier, which was dedicated in 1944. Now owned by Landry's Inc., a Houston-based company that operates more than 500 establishments worldwide, the pier underwent a $60 million renovation and opened in May 2012.
Chelsea Piers, New York City
Located between 17th and 23rd streets along the Hudson River, New York City's Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex gets about 4 million visitors annually.
The $120 million, 28-acre, privately financed project opened in 1995, transforming four long-deserted piers — where luxury liners such as the Lusitania once docked — into a center that offers such amenities as a golf driving range, rock climbing walls, quarter-mile indoor track, sand volleyball court, pool, gymnastics facility and a skating rink.
There is no charge to visit the complex, spread across Piers 59 to 62. The owners of the complex leased the property in 1995 from the state of New York through a 50-year agreement.
Race Street Pier, Philadelphia
Race Street Pier is a 500-foot-long pier along the Delaware River. It's another project designed by landscape architect James Corner.
The pier, which opened in 2011 and cost $6.5 million, features two levels, an upper terrace that rises 12 feet and is connected to the lower one by a multitiered seating area. According to visitphilly.com, at high tide, the river comes just 4.5 feet from the lower level of the pier, "bringing you right up to the water's edge."
It's described as picnic-friendly and features extensive lighting, including lighted rails and over 200 LED Solar Light Blocks embedded into the paving.
The month it was set to open, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that the designers had managed "to squeeze in a boardwalk, a lawn, a small amphitheater, a bosque of trees, meandering paths, and plenty of benches by manipulating the surface topography" in the small space.
And something to consider as St. Petersburg begins another round of public discussion, the Inquirer extolled the public input that played a part in the design, "without compromising the artistic vision."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.