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Guest Column

St. Petersburg moving toward a new, better Pier

Being born and raised in St. Petersburg, some of my fondest memories involve the Pier and the unique inverted pyramid. If money were no object, saving this structure might be feasible. Many of our citizens share an appreciation or sentimental attachment for the Pier, and while I respect all voices on this issue, many are simply not based on the facts as presented to this mayor and City Council. Here are the facts:

1. The Pier is safe for general use and open for business, with restaurants and shopkeepers who would appreciate your business.

2. The inverted pyramid is not a historic structure, and it cannot be compared to any land-based asset since it sits entirely over a corrosive marine environment.

3. Structural repairs aside, most of the Pier approach and Pier head dates to 1926 and suffers from concrete and structural deterioration due to corrosion of reinforcing steel.

4. Patches have kept the Pier safe for general use, but the load capacity of the approach is now limited and truck use is restricted to the center lane.

5. The marine superstructure that supports the actual building was built in 1970, and structures of this nature generally have a 50-year service life (2020).

6. The City Council and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners have set aside $50 million from the Intown Tax Increment Financing District to ensure that we will continue to have a century-old tradition of pier access on Tampa Bay.

7. Tax Increment Financing cannot be used for general services such as salaries, pensions, more police officers or firefighters, pools, recreation programs, social services or the arts.

8. The estimated cost to replace the 1926 approach and Pier head and to keep the inverted pyramid as is, with no functional design enhancements to address programming, operational efficiency or transportation needs, is between $50 million and $55 million.

9. Over the last 10 years, the Pier has required $1.2 million to $1.6 million per year in subsidy support from the general fund, plus another $250,000 to $500,000 per year to maintain the superstructure.

10. During that same time, attendance, sales and total revenues have dropped, necessitating the renegotiation of some vendor leases.

11. A 20-member Pier Advisory Task Force made up of business and community leaders worked tirelessly from 2009 to 2010, meeting over 60 times in the sunshine and engaging the public at three public forums that followed four initial public visioning sessions.

12. The city engaged multiple consultants to provide expertise in engineering, marketing, economic studies and design. A separate property condition assessment generally concluded that renovating the existing building systems is not economically feasible.

13. Due to design challenges and limitations, the bulk of the third floor of the Pier has been without a tenant for almost 10 years, and it is unlikely this will change.

14. The task force concluded: The Pier needs to be a destination, and local participation is mandatory; programming for the Pier should begin close to the upland and should uniquely balance restaurant, retail and family entertainment; the building should be a worthy symbol of our great city, iconic in nature, efficient, flexible and integrated into our waterfront system.

15. Maintaining the status quo accomplishes none of these recommendations and is a poor use of TIF funding.

16. We can accomplish all of the visioning goals within budget by beginning with a clean canvas.

The City Council correctly concluded it makes no sense to spend more than $50 million if nothing changes to the Pier. True, programming enhancements could be encouraged in the inverted pyramid, but we would constantly struggle with the same functional, operational and design deficiencies that exist today. We would still have the operational subsidy from the city and continue to deal with inefficient mechanical and building systems requiring constant replacement and attention. To be truthful, given the facts, and setting aside one's own sentimental attachment, the choice was not that difficult, and I applaud the City Council.

As we go forward, I am excited about the prospects for a beautiful and functional Pier. Rest assured, the public will be engaged and consulted every step of the way. This is your waterfront, your money and your Pier, and I trust that we will come up with something that will make you a frequent visitor, and of which you will all be proud.

In the meantime, for the upcoming year while we discuss its future, please continue to patronize the city's proud landmark and the merchants who do business there, and enjoy the unique vantage point that so beautifully showcases one of America's most beautiful cities.

Bill Foster is mayor of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg moving toward a new, better Pier 08/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 7:35pm]
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