Wednesday, August 15, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg's latest Pier brouhaha: how many restaurants does it need?

ST. PETERSBURG — As architects prepare to give City Council members an update Thursday on their plans to link the new Pier to the city's downtown, there's growing opposition to the number of eating establishments envisioned.

The proposal to put three restaurants in the $66 million Pier District is being rejected by a broad coalition: nearby businesses, advocates for the city's downtown waterfront parks, the group that helped jettison a previous pier design and also neighborhood leaders.

This week, Waterfront Parks Foundation President Phil Graham Jr. sent a letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman and council members outlining the organization's concerns about two elements it says could have a "negative impact on the character, function and visual quality " of the new district.

The group's primary concerns are the restaurants being proposed for land adjacent to the pier, particularly one planned for the Pelican Parking Lot. That restaurant, the group said, would have to be built with a floor level 11 feet above sea level and rise another 15 to 20 feet above the surrounding area.

"This large building will block views from the main plaza to the southeast, effectively cutting off the view of a large portion of Tampa Bay," Graham wrote. "No matter how attractive it is, it will be a blemish on our waterfront ...."

Construction of the Pier District is expected to begin next year. Plans call for one restaurant at the end of the pier, a second in the Pelican Parking Lot and a third near the St. Petersburg Museum of History on Second Avenue NE.

During an interview Wednesday, Graham added, "It's our position that parks are for people and not for buildings."

Another group, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, which was victorious in its fight to stop a previous pier project, also disagrees with the city's restaurant plans.

"What we've said to them is that we feel that it is inappropriate to try and build all three restaurants simultaneously," said businessman Bud Risser, a key member of the group.

On Monday, Concerned Citizens sent a letter to Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, outlining its concerns about "the number and placement of restaurants" in the Pier District.

"As you know, we have repeatedly questioned the efficacy of simultaneously opening up multiple restaurants at both the Pier Head and on the Uplands," the letter signed by president Joseph Lettelleir said.

"These questions directly impact the parking requirements, the amount of green space and the funds available for other amenities."

Any restaurant other than the one at the end of the Pier and a snack bar at Spa Beach "should be added only 'if warranted by demand and usage, in the future and without a subsidy,' the letter continued.

Risser spoke of the apprehension of Beach Drive NE restaurateurs and others who own establishments slightly west of downtown about the prospect of competing with the Pier District restaurants, which could add as many as 725 additional seats.

"At some point, there is a saturation point of food establishments," Chuck Prather, whose Birchwood hotel on Beach Drive NE is the site of two restaurants, told the Tampa Bay Times a few weeks ago.

Bill Edwards, owner of the Sundial shopping plaza — which he recently put on the market — the Rowdies soccer team and Rowdies Den sports bar, said at the time that so many extra restaurant seats would be "devastating to everyone that's trying to make it" in downtown.

This week Will Michaels, chair of the Council of Neighborhood Associations' pier and parks committee, said the group supports the Waterfront Parks Foundation position.

"They are raising many of the same concerns" mentioned by the CONA committee, he said on the foundation's Facebook page.

Thursday's update of the $20 million pier approach will likely be scaled back from the over-budget versions — guided by the city's Downtown Waterfront Master Plan — presented in June. That could mean fewer restaurants for the Pier District.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at @[email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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