When it comes to designing the new Pier, may the best team win. Literally.
The city will hold a competition to decide what will replace the iconic upside-down pyramid.
"The complexity of a project of this nature simply warrants it," Chris Ballestra, director of the city's downtown enterprise facilities, told the City Council in a recent workshop. "The bottom line is we've got to get the Pier right."
The competition will be held in two phases.
In the first round, which could start this month, the city will solicit ideas from teams around the world interested in the project, which will cost more than $50 million.
A five-person jury will then narrow the field to three firms by the end of the summer.
The jury will be made up of a City Council representative, a mayoral appointee and three practicing professionals, identified Thursday as architect Stanley Saitowitz, urban economist Susan Fainstein and urban planner James Moore.
Once the top three teams are approved by the City Council, the second phase begins. The firms will have several weeks and a $50,000 stipend to produce a more in-depth vision.
"It is a concept, not a totally fleshed out design," said Pete Karamitsanis, who is helping organize the competition. "But we're asking people to go beyond a plan and a pretty picture."
The concepts will be on display for the public, who will then be invited to give opinions, Ballestra said.
The jury will have time over the holidays to rank the concepts, with the goal of presenting its top choice to City Council by February.
"The timing is very critical," Ballestra said, adding that officials hope to begin construction in 2014.
By that time, authorities say, the old pilings that are supporting the current structure will be on their last legs.
The future of the downtown landmark has been debated for years. Many believe it's time to abandon the inverted pyramid design that was created in the 1970s and come up with something new to draw both tourists and residents.
Others are fighting to save it, like the group voteonthepier.com, which is collecting signatures to put the Pier's fate before voters.
Officials said there's already a big buzz about the project, which they discovered while looking for professionals for the jury.
"The good news and bad news is that a lot of the people we talked to did not want to be jurors because they were so excited about the project that they wanted to submit," Karamitsanis said.
Reach Kameel Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.