Two thoughts on the pier:
Spa Beach Park. This area near the pier should become a major community gathering place with picnic pavilions and a large playground with play equipment, climbing nets, climbing walls and water features. A few years ago, the city built a playground and picnic area at Dell Holmes Park on the north side of Lake Maggiore (probably Florida's largest public playground) that has become one of the city's busiest centers of activity. A similar — perhaps larger — playground and picnic area on Spa Beach Park, connected to the beach, would become a hub for downtown and for families throughout the greater St. Petersburg region.
Pier Selection. A few years ago we set aside $50 million to replace the decayed pilings under the pier road. The pilings under the inverted pyramid do not need to be replaced; therefore the inverted pyramid does not have to be torn down. Any option chosen must come at a cost within the city's capital budget.
Factors to be considered in choosing a path include: (1) having an iconic structure that is graphically used as a symbol for the city; (2) having a fun gathering place that attracts both residents and visitors; and (3) designing a facility that allows the city to reduce its operating subsidy. In my opinion the the Lens design, taking out the amphitheater and large water park, best meets factors 2 and 3; and the existing Pier best meets factor 1.
As Plan A, I would seek a slight redesign of the Lens to create a more iconic look at the pier head — especially the view looking at the pier from the bay. Simultaneously, as Plan B, I would seek a new design that: (i) retains the existing inverted pyramid structure (except the outer first floor — which is on old pilings), (ii) develops a new and more inviting access approach; and (iii) increases the existing pier's strength under factors 2 and 3. The decision is important enough to make sure we have thoroughly considered all options — including retention of the existing pyramid.
I would lean toward Plan A if the iconic look can be established, but retain Plan B as an option to be chosen if a more compelling existing Pier proposal comes together.
Rick Baker served as St. Petersburg's mayor from 2001-10.