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A Times Editorial

A new structure for the 21st century

Maybe the electrical failure that killed the tropical fish finally prompted them to pull the plug. Whatever it was, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and a majority of the City Council did the right thing Wednesday by agreeing to demolish the Pier and build something new on the downtown waterfront. The inverted pyramid is not worth renovating, and it is time to replace the outdated landmark with a more modern, useful building.

This was the next logical step in the public debate over the Pier's future that has stretched more than 18 months. A citizens task force has methodically examined the options, and it is not financially feasible to make the repairs needed to keep the status quo. That would cost $87 million, far more than the $50 million the city has set aside for the project.

Foster correctly described the state of the Pier debate as "analysis-paralysis'' as he urged council members to support his recommendation to build something new. The options have been thoroughly discussed, and it is time to refocus the conversation on moving forward with a new vision rather than clinging to an old one that no longer fits the character of the city. By clearing the way to start contacting engineering and architectural firms, an exciting new phase begins with all sorts of possibilities. And St. Petersburg residents should be just as involved as those options come into sharper focus as they have been in the discussions so far.

The consensus to demolish the Pier and to scrap suggestions to replace it with a building on land offers some direction. Now further research is needed on how much shorter a new pier approach should be and whether that would increase the viability of building a wider causeway approach. There is an opportunity now to create a public space that is an impressive destination for both tourists and residents, connecting a vibrant downtown area with the waterfront.

It is understandable that it is hard for some to let go of the existing Pier. On Wednesday, council members Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton still wanted to renovate it, and they talked of the emotional attachment to a landmark that has been a city symbol for more than 35 years. But this building replaced the Mediterranean-style Million Dollar Pier that was built in 1921, and both the approach and the building are in bad shape. Friday's fish kill at the Pier's aquarium because of an electrical failure only underscored the depressing state of affairs, and it is time to start fresh just as the downtown has reinvented itself in recent years.

St. Petersburg has had a landmark destination on its downtown waterfront for nearly a century. There is no reason it can't again have one that reflects the city's character in the 21st century.

A new structure for the 21st century 08/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 6:07pm]
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