There may be wiggle room on that $50 million budget cap for St. Petersburg's new Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Taken in its entirety, from so-called soft costs such as plane tickets and hotel rooms, to actual construction of the city's new Pier, sticking to the $50 million budget will demand skillful maneuvering.

One City Council member, an adamant opponent of the project, says the amount designated for the landmark project is already short. That, he intimates, before the first pile is driven.

"They don't have $50 million," Wengay Newton said.

With thousands already spent on consultation fees and an estimated $6 million to $7 million slated for demolition, plus an anticipated 10 percent in architectural and engineering fees, there will not be enough money to build the new Pier, Newton predicts.

But even as the City Council prepares to vote today on a resolution to begin negotiations with Michael Maltzan Architecture and set a firm $50 million budget, at least two council members say they would be willing to supplement the amount. This, after much council hand wringing about costs and calls to establish a spending cap.

Council member Steve Kornell said he would consider using up to $10 million of the money allocated for a downtown parking garage to help build the Pier.

"I am certainly open to that discussion," he said.

"When the mayor first brought that up, I said yes. One of the things that we talked about is we really need a complete design," Kornell said. "There has to be some things on the upland and, at this point, there has to be some degree of flexibility."

But Kornell said his flexibility ends at $60 million.

Also willing to budge is council member Jim Kennedy.

"We want the project to be done correctly," he said. "It's not a carte blanche to spend whatever you want, but if another million puts the cherry on top … "

Council member Karl Nurse is firm on sticking to the budget.

"If we open the door to say we can spend more, then the designs will come in for more," he said.

Any extra money would likely come from tax increment financing, or TIF, a combination of city and county property tax dollars. The arrangement lets cities use property tax revenues in specific districts for capital projects in those same areas.

In years past, TIF funding has gone to BayWalk and parking garages. More recently, $25.9 million went to renovate the Mahaffey Theater and $2.5 million went toward the Dali Museum.

In 2005, the City Council and County Commission agreed that $50 million in TIF funding would be used to build the new Pier, which sits in a TIF district running roughly from Fifth Avenue N to Fifth Avenue S and from the water to 16th Street.

Almost $69 million in TIF funding is available for capital improvements in the area. Besides the Pier, $14 million has been designated for construction of a garage and transportation hub and $2.5 million for waterfront park improvements.

City Council members can shift funds from one project to another with the County Commission's approval. TIF cannot be used for most personnel costs, including police officers or firefighters, or most city programs. It also cannot be used outside its designated district.

Mayor Bill Foster recently reiterated the $50 million cap for the new Pier, but kept options open for requesting more money.

"I don't anticipate doing that, but I'm not going to say that I won't," he said. "We're not going to close the door on options at the very beginning."

Of the $50 million, $5 million has been reserved for predevelopment costs, said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination.

Expenditures so far have included $552,898 for consultants, $150,000 paid to finalists in the Pier design competition won by Michael Maltzan Architecture and $15,000 in stipends for the competition's jury. About $4.2 million remains of the reserve. Ballestra said the goal is to get the project done for $50 million.

"We have clear marching orders from the City Council and the mayor to live within the budget as it stands today, and we will get it done," he said.

He said he might recommend that Oxley and Brannon, construction consultants hired by the city to analyze estimates submitted by the finalists in the design competition, work with Maltzan to help contain costs.

Also to save money, the city will bid out demolition of the current Pier, Ballestra said. During the design competition, the city had estimated that demolition would run about $6.5 million.

As for actual construction costs, "We will be in an estimating mode until we have a full set of construction drawings," Ballestra said.

With emphasis on including residents in the evolving design, some of the $50 million also will be used to bring members of the Los Angeles-based Maltzan team to St. Petersburg to meet with the council and community.

"There are a lot of costs that go into a project," Raul Quintana, the city's architect, said.

"You have to begin with that $50 million and work backwards."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

>>If you go

City Council meeting

The St. Petersburg City Council meets at 8:30 a.m. today at City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

There may be wiggle room on that $50 million budget cap for St. Petersburg's new Pier 02/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 11:16pm]

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