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St. Petersburg will look for more money in remodeling of the Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — The $50 million the city has available to remake the Pier won't be enough.

Newly released cost estimates for each of the six options under consideration exceed the money earmarked for the project.

The cheapest proposal, being called Option 6, places the Pier building on shore. It's the most radical departure from the current Pier design. Its estimate is $11 million below the next-cheapest proposal.

Still, even that option will cost $9 million more than county and city officials have made available in 2012 for a Pier overhaul.

The shortfall already has city officials scrambling.

Will Michaels, the president of Council of Neighborhood Associations who sits on the task force, said Mayor Bill Foster told him he will make finding more money for the Pier a top priority.

"(Foster) said the project was of such great importance that it was vital to find more money beyond the $50 million," Michaels said Friday. "He said we should do this right and not have a second-class operation at the Pier because of limited resources."

Foster couldn't be reached, but it's not clear where that money might come from, especially after Foster got into something of a spat last month with County Administrator Bob LaSala over how to spend the $50 million for the Pier.

If the council doesn't choose Option 6, then Foster will have to find a lot more money.

The most expensive to build? That would be Option 5, which would include a new building and a shorter but wider approach. It's estimated to cost about $92 million, 84 percent more than what is currently set aside.

Calculations were made to help the 20-member task force, which was formed last year to guide the council to decide how to best rebuild the city's landmark.

City staffers worked with the Miami engineering firm Bermello Ajamil & Partners to estimate what it would cost to build, engineer and design all six options the task force is now considering. They are not, however, precise estimates. Chris Ballestra, director of Downtown Enterprise Facilities, said the estimates were based on assuming that each concept will have the same number of square feet as the current Pier.

That obviously won't be the case. Ballestra said they wanted to "compare apples to apples" at this stage, and therefore used the same square footage in establishing what each concept would cost. Options 4, 5 and 6, Ballestra said, would be smaller, so the cost estimates are higher than what they might cost.

Just as important as the capital cost estimates are the operating cost estimates, which the task force also received.

Again, Option 6 is the cheapest. Because the actual Pier would be much smaller than with other options, maintenance, security and transportation costs would drop.

Overall, operating expenses, over the 40-year lifespan of the project, would be about $15 million to $40 million less than with other options.

With such low cost estimates in an era of shrinking government revenue, No. 6 has emerged as an early favorite. On Friday, the task force will meet and could narrow the choices down from six to three.

"It's early, but Option 6 has pulled ahead," said Ed Montanari, an airline pilot who is the task force's vice chairman. "From a purely financial standpoint, it's a favorite. I can't say that about any other option."

But Montanari and other task force members warned that placing too much emphasis on cost might be a mistake. Other variables, such as building a structure that will last and be iconic, must be considered.

"Cost is important, but it's more important that we do it right," said Randy Wedding, an architect and the task force chair. "My concern is whatever we do, it has to have a long lifespan and we don't have to revisit in 15 years because it is failing."

Michaels said the design committee that he sits on for the task force is already leaning toward options 3, 5 and 6.

Option 3 widens the approach to the pier, allowing more activity to take place and generating more revenue for the project, while keeping the building where it is. Option 5 may be the most expensive to build, but Michaels said its big advantage is that it shortens the time it takes to walk to the Pier.

After Friday's task force meeting, Ballestra said there's a workshop planned with the City Council on April 29. In the third week of May, the council will get a final presentation in what promises to be well attended.

"My mind is open on this," Michaels said. "I'm nowhere near making a final decision on this."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg will look for more money in remodeling of the Pier 03/14/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 14, 2010 11:52pm]
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