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Structural integrity of St. Petersburg's Pier to be tested

The skeleton and support caissons of St. Petersburg’s Pier must be studied before the city invites designs for a new structure.

Photo courtesy of Harvard Jolly

The skeleton and support caissons of St. Petersburg’s Pier must be studied before the city invites designs for a new structure.

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has said the new Pier can be a completely new project or a renovation of the existing inverted pyramid.

But renovation raises a key question about the durability of the Pier, including the steel skeleton of the iconic building and the massive caissons that support it.

It's a question, according to an engineer with the mayor's Pier working group, that must be answered before the city invites design teams to offer their visions of what should rise off Second Avenue N.

"We're going to invite people to submit proposals and one of the options is you can reuse the inverted pyramid … but we don't know the condition of the structure," said Frank Carter "Bud" Karins, chief executive officer of Karins Engineering Group.

He has prepared a detailed protocol for testing the structure and has offered it without charge. Karins recently gave the city the report that he said would normally cost about $20,000. The 60-page document lays out how to assess the caissons and the Pier's steel frame.

Michael Connors, the city's public works administrator, said Karins' report is basically "an engineering tool … to address any structural needs associated with extending the lifespan" of the Pier.

Karins, one of 21 people appointed to the mayor's working group, was a fierce critic of the Lens, the project once proposed to replace the inverted pyramid. He also was part of a group that sued the city to demand a public vote on the fate of the Pier.

Karins and his company also helped make up a team that competed in the international design competition won by Michael Maltzan Architecture, creator of the Lens.

In an email to Connors, Karins said he is offering his recommendations with no strings attached, though he would like "to observe the process firsthand."

"Neither myself or Karins Engineering Group expect any monetary compensation for our contribution," he said.

Karins said he simply wants to make sure that no option "is improperly excluded" from the process to select the city's next pier. "Most of my friends, we just want to make sure the process produces something the majority of the voters in this town want," he added.

Connors said the city is already drawing on Karins' recommendations and is determining where to extract samples to test the structure's steel and concrete. The results would answer questions about durability and could help determine costs for repair and stabilization, he said.

The 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force had raised the idea of such testing.

"Since the structure will have achieved approximately 50 years of service life by 2020," the report said, "it is recommended that the concrete encased, steel caisson foundations be tested to better determine the remaining service life of the inverted pyramid foundation."

Four caissons — approximately 20- by 20-foot square — support the inverted pyramid as it was originally built in 1973. A later addition of retail space around the base sits on foundations dating back to the 1926 Million Dollar Pier.

The pier approach, or bridge, also dates back to that period. The task force noted that both the pier surround and approach are nearing the end of their useful life. On this, both sides of the rancorous pier debate have seemed to agree.

Asked why the caissons were never tested, though the Lens planned to reuse them, Connors said the loads for the rejected design "were considerably less" than the inverted pyramid. Reusing the caissons would have saved money, he said, adding that the cost to remove them would have been "significant."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

Structural integrity of St. Petersburg's Pier to be tested 06/06/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2014 9:17pm]
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