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St. Petersburg could close the iconic Pier as early as October

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster said for the first time Thursday that closing day for the Pier could be as soon as Oct. 1.

Foster floated that date because it's the beginning of the new budget year and could save the city $1.5 million in operating costs next year, more than 10 percent of the overall budget deficit.

But Foster made it clear that he's only suggesting the date and that there will be plenty of time for the City Council, residents and tenants of the Pier to discuss when an appropriate time would be to close the structure, which opened in 1973 after a redesign.

"We don't have to talk about it today, but as we go forward in Pier discussions, this is something to think about," Foster told council members. "Is there any stomach to closing the Pier at the end of the fiscal year? It could save some money."

Only council member Wengay Newton has objected to demolishing the Pier and building anew, so he doesn't support closing it. "It's crazy," Newton said.

Council member Karl Nurse said a better closing date would be May 2013, after the tourist season ends. There could be promotional opportunities tied to the closure, he said.

"You could market events like the 'Last Fourth of July at the Pier,' " Nurse said. "There's ways to communicate that it will close that could boost attendance."

However it's done, it's too early to determine an actual date, said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination.

Oct. 1 would be ambitious. Some tenants will be allowed to stay open at least nine months after the council votes to demolish the Pier, which hasn't happened yet. It's not clear when that vote could come.

The council also will determine what a closed Pier would look like, Ballestra said.

Leave the approach open, but limit it only to joggers, cyclists, pedestrians and people who fish? Or completely close it at the bridge and plant a guard there so there's no trespassing?

Extra security would eat into the savings, Ballestra said.

"We have to see if the council is willing to fence the Pier off," Ballestra said. "Oct. 1 could happen, but certainly 2013 is a viable time frame."

St. Petersburg could close the iconic Pier as early as October 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:37pm]
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