In tough economic times, it's understandable that the St. Petersburg City Council and some residents are focused on building a new pier that can be financed entirely with the $50 million the city has on hand. With a new police headquarters also in the wings, there's an interest in keeping capital projects in check. But that short-term sensibility should not shortchange the city's long-term ambitions for this generational project. As the pier initiative moves forward — hopefully with an agreement today to begin contract negotiations with the winner of the international design competition — council members should not lose sight that this project will require more than one phase. The goal to better integrate a new pier with downtown should remain a long-term priority as more money becomes available.
The Lens design, by Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles, unanimously won the recommendation of the city's international design competition jury two weeks ago. Part of the design's strength is its phased construction proposal, reflecting the city's limited fiscal means. The first phase would be the over water portion of looping, escalating promenades, with limited development on the upland just west of the pier. Phases 2 and 3 would include dramatically more development, such as retail, a splash park and an amphitheater. Last week, several council members were intent on limiting discussions to the first phase and its $50 million budget. But that should not mean the city abandons the broader vision.
From the advent of a pier citizens' task force in 2009 to the design competition parameters drawn last year, the City Council has championed revitalizing the entire area immediately around the pier. The timing couldn't be better, as voters in November also amended the city charter to require a formal downtown waterfront plan. Maltzan has laid out a compelling vision for the future, and citizens will get ample opportunity to weigh in through the coming months and help refine it. That's a welcome discussion that should continue, and the long-term vision should not be limited by short-term financial constraints.