ST. PETERSBURG — Walkers stopped by, as did bikers and visitors from far away, each eager for detailed views of competing designs for the city's new Pier.
They came to stare, ponder and offer opinions at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, averaging a visitor per minute in the first hour after the exhibit opened to the public Tuesday. By the end of the day, more than 400 people had contemplated the exhibit of videos, large-scale architectural drawings and elaborate table-top, three-dimensional models.
There were musings about practicality and cost. Was there enough parking? What about shade along the Pier approach during sweltering summer months? Some couldn't quite keep the name of each project straight.
They are the Eye from West 8 Urban Design in New York; the Wave from BIG of Denmark and New York City; and the Lens from Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles.
The Wave and the Lens drew the most favorable comments. The Eye, likened by some to an object from outer space, left some visitors bewildered. And while adults around them talked about building a world-renowned structure, two middle-school-age boys — for whom the new Pier is supposed to be an icon of their generation — made an unequivocal choice.
"The Wave. It's like they have a lot more activities,'' said Alex Dunmire, 13, won over by suggestions of an ice rink, water slides, skate park and surfing.
His friend Branden Hoffman, 12, agreed.
So did Connie Dunmire, Alex's mother, who homeschools the boys.
"Architecturally, the Wave has a high level of sophistication,'' she said. "We do need to draw people to St. Petersburg. We always seem to be the stepsister to Tampa."
Those who visit the exhibit, which can be seen through most of December, are being asked to fill out comment cards about each design.
The Wave would meet the criteria of an iconic structure, said Gene Stokes, a retiree who lives downtown. "It's like when you see the opera house in Sydney. You know what it is."
His concern about each proposal, though, is that it's "hard to estimate with all the ancillary designs and features what's in the existing budget and what isn't."
Mayor Bill Foster was one of the first visitors Tuesday. "We are going to have people really crunching the numbers and make sure that any design that is selected can be created," he said of the $50 million project.
The exhibit drew Ron Nadolinski and his wife, Val, who were returning from the current Pier when they stopped to take a look at what might replace it.
He likes the Wave. "I thought it was a joke, but I think it's the best one,'' he said.
"I totally agree,'' his wife said. "I think the Wave is so elegant, so unique. It reminds me of the arch in St. Louis."
The Eye, though, "looks like the mother ship,'' Nadolinski said.
To David Simpson of the Old Northeast, it's a blob.
"My favorite, I think, is the Wave. If the rest of the world saw it, they would recognize where it's from," he said.
Cindy Matthews, a new St. Petersburg resident, prefers the Lens.
"I think it has a lot to offer, especially for biking and walking, but there's no parking. My general thought on all three designs is there was a level of thought that seems to be missing. They look beautiful, but as far as daily use for residents and even tourists, I don't think they're practical," the TV host said.
"I just think downtown St. Pete is a magical place and I'm so glad they're working on rejuvenating the Pier, but I'm not sure any of those designs will do it."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.