What to do about the Pier? A task force of 20 people has been working hard for a year to come up with options, which the St. Petersburg City Council will hear soon. But instead of options, I thought it would be interesting to hear one informed person's opinion unfettered by the compromises and trade-offs inevitable in committee work. So I asked the task force chairman himself — Randy Wedding, a former mayor and current architect — what he would do if it were his choice alone. Here, in words and pictures, are his ideas:
A. Turn the approach to the Pier into something else altogether — a linear park. Instead of a bridge, build seawalls and fill in the space to create a broad causeway of green so the approach to the Pier would become a double-sided waterfront park. Add boat slips to the new causeway so people can tie up their boats and have fun at the Pier.
B. Make getting there part of the fun. Build a people mover — something similar to the trams at Tampa International — that connects current downtown garages with the Pier. Keep cars away from the new causeway.
C. Keep the existing Pier building (the upside pyramid has its charms), but use the lower levels for museums or attractions. Wrap a park and seawalls around the Pier. Have only enough retail to serve the visitor.
D. Build a pedestrian swing-bridge to cross the Vinoy Yacht Basin, creating a family-friendly continuous promenade.
E. Develop family- oriented, theme-generated activities for children and parents on the linear park and at the Pier. Think "Hands-On Marine Science" and "Voyages of the Calypso" by Cousteau.
What the task force will propose
The task force itself will present to the City Council three options: one alternative that maintains the Pier building in its present location; one that would remove the building and put a new structure closer to the shoreline; and one that would rebuild the structure at the end of the pier. Though each has some support among the committee members and, in turn, gives some options to the City Council to consider, task force chairman Randy Wedding says they are not the real meat of the work that has been accomplished. Here, in his words, is the core of what the task force has discovered — and what any final plan must take into account to succeed:
• The Pier is in the entertainment business and needs to address a primary unfilled niche for family entertainment.
• The Pier needs to draw both local and tourist traffic.
• Access to the Pier remains a priority concern.
• While "drop-off" from cars is important, a "people mover" system with very short waiting times would be highly desirable.
• If a "people mover" were built, eliminating asphalt parking lots on land closer to the Pier would be an excellent byproduct.
• Retail operations cannot operate as the revenue-producing element in the Pier building; rent levels are not attainable.
• We should not create facilities that compete with those already existing near the waterfront.
• A maximum of 40,000 square feet of restaurant/food operations probably represents the most the market will support.
• Reconstructing bridges over pilings is to simply replace the current problem with a future one.
• A causeway creating a linear park and replacing "hardscape" with a green environment should be explored as a solution. (Wedding points out that current waterfront parks were actually dredge and fill.)
• Boaters need to have temporary slips available to enjoy the benefits of the waterfront activities.
• A pedestrian bridge connecting Vinoy Park with the Pier Park to the south is an important improvement for both.
• The approach to the Pier needs to provide interim activities supporting the entire concept. The Vinoy Basin represents an opportunity to bring mega-yachts and their cachet to the waterfront.