ST. PETERSBURG — Nancy Frainetti said she has never heard a bad word about the Pier. At least, not from the tourists who rent her boats and sail past it on the weekends.
"They like the view of the city from the Pier," said Frainetti, owner of Electric Marina boat rentals at the Pier. "They go tourist shopping, they take pictures standing in front of the pyramid. No one ever complains about the walk."
Frainetti is one of the many people who have spoken at Pier task force meetings to urge the city to preserve the iconic pyramid. She also exemplifies a challenge facing city leaders as they decide what to do with the Pier building and its deteriorating approach: Should the Pier be for tourists or residents or both?
"The appeal needs to be diverse. It has to be appealing to residents of St. Petersburg and visitors," said task force vice chairman Ed Montanari. "It needs to be integrated with the waterfront, but it needs to work with everything else we have in downtown."
Residents have long complained about the long walk out to the Pier, its chintzy "trinket shops" and its odd architecture. There are those who want to tear it down and build something new, something that would be more useful to residents than the occasional trip with out-of-town visitors in tow.
The task force's last public hearing was Tuesday, and like the two before it, it revealed that residents are clearly divided.
Of the 34 residents who spoke Tuesday, the ones who wanted to tear it down seemed to lean toward a land-based building to house shops and restaurants that would reduce maintenance and construction costs. Though this would include a small pier, St. Petersburg would lose its longtime "icon over the water."
Montanari said that those with the greatest emotional attachment to the Pier have generally been the city's older residents, many who walk the stretch every day.
The task force, however, must consider options that will be sustainable and favorable to residents 40 to 50 years in the future.
"The older generation is leaning toward keeping it," Montanari said. "The younger generation seems to want to go in a new direction. If you lock in that subsidy, they're the ones that'll be paying for it."
St. Petersburg resident Jennifer Stenger, who visits the Pier about once a year with her 9-year-old son, thought sustainability should be the No. 1 priority in considering a new structure.
"To maintain it is just not a sustainable option," Stenger said. "They're working with an older building. If they build a new one, they can build a long-term, sustainable building."
The city spends about $2 million a year to maintain the aging structure. Much of that goes into repairing the approach, which stretches the length of three football fields.
Shortening the approach has its weaknesses as well. Montanari, an American Airlines pilot, pointed out that a grand structure on land with a short pier would be subject to FAA limitations because of the proximity of Albert Whitted Airport.
Frainetti, who runs her boat rental business from the Pier, said she worries that a land-based option would face the same problem of empty storefronts as BayWalk and on Central Avenue.
"You're not going to make everybody happy, not with this many factors to consider," Montanari said. "We have a big task ahead of us."
Tania Karas can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8707.