TREASURE ISLAND — Nearly a half-century ago, the city built a sidewalk and a 3-foot-high concrete wall to keep sand from blowing onto upland beachfront properties.
A news report at the time said "city fathers feel the facility is one of the finest beach attractions in Florida."
Flash forward 43 years. The 4,000-foot-long sandwall is now seriously deteriorating.
Sections are missing.
Those that remain too often look like mouthfuls of broken teeth — concrete wall panels are cracked, with pieces of concrete missing and ends of rusty reinforcing rebar sticking out.
"It is unsightly," City Manager Reid Silverboard said Tuesday. "It is not dangerous now, but ultimately it will provide a danger to the public."
The City Commission has discussed the issue many times over the past months and even years.
Even the original project was controversial.
In 1966, 25 motel owners battled the city in court to prevent removal of shuffleboard courts and patios to make room for the then-proposed beach sidewalk and sandwall several feet west of the beach walk.
The hotels won that fight, but were forced to pay for the new beach improvements.
The 500-foot-wide St. Petersburg Municipal Beach was exempt from the ruling — which is why the 4,000-foot length of today's sandwall dead ends at either end of the public beach park.
A special redesign of beach amenities prepared by Architect Phil Graham in 1999 called for the city to replace both the sandwall and the sidewalk with a landscaped, meandering beach trail equipped with benches and even picnic tables for the public to enjoy.
The problem for the city is the wall, which cost $22,700 to build, could now cost $350,000 or more to replace.
Upgrading the entire beach trail would cost more than $1 million, according to city officials.
"No, we can't afford that, but that doesn't mean we can't take some of the elements of the plan and do that for our citizens, for the tourists who come to our beaches," Commissioner Carol Coward insisted during a workshop discussion last week.
Rather than consider building a new beach trail, she said the city should focus more on "making more beautiful what we already have."
Other commissioners agreed with Coward, but questioned where the money would come from.
Just removing the wall, which protects the central beach area from 104th to 119th avenues, would cost more than $50,000.
The city budget does include some $15,000 for engineering designs for the sandwall and beach trail, but no money has been put aside for actual construction.
Normally, such a project would be paid for out of Penny for Pinellas capital projects funds, but other projects have priority.
Coward suggested the money be taken from anything allocated to a proposed bike trail downtown.
Silverboard said another project, repaving the Treasure Island Causeway from the bascule bridge abutment to Gulf Boulevard, may need to be done first.
"When you start looking for money, you need to know what your priorities are," Silverboard said, stressing that he was not trying to "stall" the sandwall project.
The commission agreed to schedule a workshop to further discuss replacing the sandwall.
Meanwhile, the city's Beach Stewardship Committee will travel to Clearwater Beach by bus Feb. 3 to view the beach improvements that the city made several years ago. The committee will discuss its findings at its next meeting at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 10.