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St. Petersburg Pier to become debris pile during demolition

ST. PETERSBURG — Time is running out for residents and tourists to shop, eat or stroll at the Pier. The inverted pyramid, where memories have been made by millions since 1973, will soon head to a dump.

Expect the Pier to resemble a war zone a few months after it closes on Memorial Day.

Fences will encase the building, cranes will go up, and barges will surround it like toy boats in a bathtub. The five-story behemoth will become a mountain of debris when the wrecking balls fly.

"It's coming down," said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who doesn't want to use any more taxpayer money to subsidize the building's operation.

But none of that can happen — yet.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have not approved the demolition permits for the Pier or building permits for its planned replacement, called the Lens. But approval could come as soon as the city responds to the agencies' requests for more information.

In late March, regulators asked the city to revise drawings for seabeds and proposed water points for turbid water discharge. The "permitting decision will likely be made upon receipt of the response to this third request for information," the letter said.

In September, St. Petersburg filed for a joint permit with both agencies to demolish the pyramid. No other state or federal permits are needed. Demolition is expected to cost $4.5 million.

Downtown residents won't see a made-for-television implosion when the Pier comes down because dynamite can't be used for environmental reasons.

Crews will have to balance safety by limiting the amount of heavy equipment on the Pier approach and concrete base. Once the building is gone, workers will remove more than 1,500 pilings, which are 24 inches wide, by cutting them off below the mud line.

To save money, the city plans to recycle 15,000 cubic yards of concrete — about 50 million pounds — by reusing it to shore up the sea wall around Albert Whitted Airport.

The debris will be moved by barge and is enough to fill 2,000 large rigs.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, believes the process could take three months, but said engineers have budgeted five in case problems arise.

"The target is to have it done by late December or early January," he said.

What, if anything, will rise in the Pier's place remains the subject of contentious debate.

Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, which opposes the new $50 million pier called the Lens, says it has the required signatures for a public vote to try to halt the project.

Meanwhile, the City Council will hold a public workshop Thursday to discuss the opposition's technical concerns about the Lens and to discuss the latest referendum challenge.

The workshop comes before a May 2 council vote to approve another million-dollar payment to the lead architect.

Regulators also requested construction drawings that provide paving, grading and drainage information and details for the development in the upland portion of the Lens project.

If the Lens is derailed, the decision would not impact the city's ability to demolish the existing Pier, said Terri Behling, a Swiftmud spokeswoman.

Once approved, the building permits are good for five years, she said, and could be modified if the city decides to build something else.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg Pier to become debris pile during demolition 04/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 9:43pm]
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