The latest list of what St. Petersburg residents want in a new pier on the downtown waterfront comes as no surprise. It tracks with what residents have said for much of the last decade: open-air dining, places for recreation and gathering, and a chance to get over the water or even into it on a boat.
What was new this week as the mayor's working group on the Pier wrapped up its public input sessions was a city staff report that suggests there may be life left in the inverted pyramid's supporting caissons. That surely buoyed the hopes of those who want to keep a version of the closed inverted pyramid, but it is far from the last word on whether it is prudent to salvage the current structure.
The city public works administrator, Mike Connors, says a preliminary examination of the 20-by-20-foot caissons appears to show "little to no structural degradation" of the supports. But it won't be clear until the final report later this month what that may mean for their long-term viability.
The bigger and more significant question about the inverted pyramid's future has always been the needed replacement of the deteriorating 90-year-old Pier approach and the platform that surrounds the building's base. Engineers have warned for years that demolishing those structures without simultaneously demolishing the inverted pyramid would add substantially to demolition and replacement costs, in part because much of the platform sits in the shadow of the building's overhang. In fact, most of the public area on the first floor of the inverted pyramid would also be lost, as it was an addition added after initial construction and sits on the 90-year-old platform.
One of the biggest selling points of the last $50 million Pier replacement plan, the Lens (which was also counting on using the caissons for support), was that it was expected to last more than a half-century. Plus, its annual operating subsidy was expected to be below the $1.4 million the city was spending on the inverted pyramid. Voters rejected that plan in November, but no one should use that as an excuse to avoid fiscal accountability and smart long-range planning.
The best solution for the Pier's future is not just what is possible, but what is fiscally responsible. The ultimate goal must be to create something within the $46 million capital budget that will last for decades and, in serving the needs and wants of residents, won't break the bank on annual operation and maintenance costs, either. There is always room for a better idea, but there has yet to be a persuasive public argument for keeping some version of the inverted pyramid rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch.