The lack of public consensus about St. Petersburg's new Pier is evident even on the City Council. Council members have voted to ask Pinellas County to sign off on spending another $14 million on the project — without agreeing how they will spend the money and or even if they will spend that much. Before the council votes a final time on that approach this week, they should agree on specifics rather than ask the county to simply trust their judgment.
In December, Mayor Rick Kriseman unveiled a list of desired enhancements to the Pier, including improvements to the shaded pavilion, a better playground and splash pad, a signature art element and a kayak launch. The list boosts the Pier's $66 million budget by $14 million, using tax money generated by rising property values in the downtown area. The additional money was originally intended for a transit hub as part of the failed Greenlight Pinellas transportation referendum, and Pinellas County commissioners have to sign off on redirecting that money to the Pier. Why would county commissioners sign off on a plan that even the City Council can't agree on?
During the City Council's April 6 meeting, members were divided over which features they want to add to the Pier. Amy Foster favored the splash pad and playground equipment but balked at the full dollar amount. Karl Nurse said he supports $8.6 million in extra Pier funds, with more being devoted to transportation options. Charlie Gerdes, who backed spending the full $14 million, said the gateway area connecting the Pier to downtown needs upgrading. The 26-acre Pier district would replace the old inverted pyramid, which was torn down last year, and remake the entire area. Kriseman and council members say they want to create a first-class destination for tourists and locals that lasts for generations. But with some construction slated to begin next month, there remains a remarkable lack of clarity.
Council members agreed to spend $37,500 to study the feasibility of erecting an aerial net sculpture at the Pier by renowned artist Janet Echelman. Only if the study determines that the sculpture would hold up to environmental conditions and not harm wildlife would the city spend another $37,500 to move forward — but even that wouldn't come close to covering the full cost of the artwork. The Pier design originally included three restaurants, raising concern among Beach Drive restaurateurs about unfair competition. Now it's down to two, including one on the Pier head that drew exactly no bids when the city put out a request for proposals. The city needs to set out a clearer vision for this landmark than the evolving picture it's currently presenting the public.
Council members are scheduled to vote again Thursday on the exact language for the request to the county for the additional Pier funds. Ideally, they should decide which enhancements to pursue, total up the cost and ask the county for that amount instead of a vague request for $14 million.