ST. PETERSBURG — Given Florida's searing summer temperatures, it's probably no surprise that a majority of residents surveyed about what they'd most like at the city's pier ranked air conditioning a top priority.
Fine dining was another, along with observation and viewing areas, an iconic design and a place to walk, jog, bike and fish.
But one answer to the telephone survey of 1,000 registered St. Petersburg voters likely was unexpected. When asked whether the taxpayer subsidy, which averaged $1.4 million a year for the closed inverted pyramid, should be increased, decreased or remain the same as the city proceeds with plans to continue its tradition of a public pier, a majority appeared unconcerned about the cost.
That got the attention of City Council member Charlie Gerdes, who read the results shortly after they were released Thursday.
"The biggest surprise to me is that 60 percent of the folks said the subsidy is okay, and some portion of that said they would be willing to pay more," he said.
"The only thing I can think intuitively is that people believe (the Pier) is worth having and worth paying for as an amenity to the city and they are not looking for it being an economic success."
Council member Steve Kornell has concerns.
"If we spend that money on a subsidy for a pier, then there are other things that are not getting done," he said.
According to the survey, only 3 percent of those polled want the subsidy eliminated, 27 percent want it decreased and 11 percent weren't sure or refused to say. Of those who answered the question, 46 percent would accept the subsidy at the same level and 14 percent want it increased.
Incongruously, only 39 percent said they would support a tax increase if more money was needed to include everything they want at a new pier.
The telephone survey was conducted in mid-November and later put on the city's website for additional feedback from residents. Results of the online survey, which ended Thursday, will be tabulated next week and posted online, Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said.
The surveys were part of the city's attempt to get public input on a contentious issue. Disagreement over the Pier spawned two petitions, a lawsuit and a referendum that saw voters reject the Lens, the proposed replacement to the inverted pyramid.
Mayor Bill Foster, who will be succeeded by Rick Kriseman on Jan. 2, proposed a survey after the Lens' defeat. Kriseman has said he will consider the survey results, but wants more public input. He also established a pier task force as part of his transition team.
Ed Montanari, who was vice chairman of the original Pier Advisory Task Force that completed a report with recommendations in 2010, is leading the Kriseman pier committee.
"The Pier Advisory Task Force report was widely accepted on all sides," he said. "Everybody kind of agrees with the way the Pier was studied and the general recommendations. We started there."
Montanari said several things pleased him about the survey results, including that 87 percent want a pier and many want scenic views and an iconic structure.
"I look at those three things, coupled with the fact that it sounds like the public is excited about the possibilities that come with a new design, and that's a good starting point to moving forward," he said.
Council Chairman Karl Nurse believes the survey offers guidance for the path ahead.
"The public has a list of things they would like at the Pier that in many respects mirrors the task force and can be largely used as the road map that we give to architects to show us designs," he said.
The survey was conducted by OpinionWorks of Annapolis, Md., with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
In other results, the poll indicated that high on the list of priorities for a new pier are open-air casual dining, space for special events and areas for entertaining and shopping. Also, 49 percent said they want amenities such as dining and shopping at the pier itself, not on the uplands, while 17 percent want them at both.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.