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Vision of St. Petersburg Pier lacks lure of big attraction

Chances are, I am wrong about this.

I am not seeing the big picture, and I am not considering the history involved. I am underestimating the plan, or I am over-analyzing the expectations.

I am a fool, a commoner, a man of no vision.

Yet every time I look at the plans for St. Petersburg's proposed $50 million pier, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Eh.

I don't hate it, I just don't get it.

It's sort of attractive. Sort of interesting. And sort of expensive.

Oh, the description sounds adventurous. Twin bridge paths and a lens canopy that offers unique views of the water below and the city's newly vibrant downtown behind it.

Or another way of putting it:

It's a sidewalk.

Now it's a fancy sidewalk, to be sure. A unique, ambitious, take-you-over-water sidewalk. But, in the end, it's still just a circular walkway.

To be fair, the plan also involves a water garden and reef with spectacular views of marine life, but no one is sure that idea will actually work.

There are also additional phases on waterfront land for restaurants and other commercial ventures, but finances, schedules and details are a little light on that front.

So in the foreseeable future, the Lens will stand on its own. And I'm just not sure how widespread its appeal will be.

Maybe this is where I lack imagination and romance. Maybe people will flock to the waterfront to walk this pier's twisting paths, and maybe the design will become an iconic image for the city for years to come.

I just don't know if I would bet $50 million on that.

Do I have a better alternative? Maybe not. But I have been to the Santa Monica Pier in California. And I have been to the Navy Pier in Chicago. And I seem to recall amusement parks, food courts, bars, stores, theaters, stages, fishing and boat rides.

I seem to recall reasons to go there besides a long walk.

Granted, the city is not in a position to build that kind of pier here. The cost would be outrageous to put that much construction above the water.

But have we considered developing the surrounding land before investing in the pier? Have we considered a water park? A Margaritaville restaurant? A water taxi to downtown Tampa? A beer garden? A miniature golf course?

Of course, none of those ideas is guaranteed to work either. After all, BayWalk was a downtown disaster. But I like to think that was a problem of execution and not concept.

Sometime in the coming days, the City Council will be asked to approve an architectural agreement for the pier design. It will commit to spending millions of dollars.

I'm not saying it's a foolish decision for the city to go ahead with this project. As I said, a lot of people smarter than me think this is a grand idea. I know this because I've been asking people about it for several weeks.

I would just feel better if I knew that everyone recognized exactly what the city was getting in return for a sizable investment.

Because, as it stands right now, I think the Lens idea is a nice amenity but it is not an attraction. And there is a difference.

John Romano can be reached at romano@tampabay.com.

Vision of St. Petersburg Pier lacks lure of big attraction 05/07/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 7, 2012 6:53pm]

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