It is significant that one of the earliest opponents of tearing down the inverted pyramid on the St. Petersburg pier, who is also the owner of the pier's most successful business, now supports the pier's new design and wants to invest millions to be part of it. Opponents of that new design plan to flood downtown today seeking signatures to stop it, but the more this project evolves, the better it looks for St. Petersburg.
Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group announced Thursday that the local family chain is ready to spend up to $3 million to build the on-land, anchor restaurant for the new pier. It would sit roughly on the spot of the current Pelican parking lot, with a 10-year lease with the city. Gonzmart also is interested in running a smaller venue over water that will be built under the tiara-like wall of the design, called the Lens.
Other bidders can make offers before the City Council picks winners. But it's particularly significant that Gonzmart — well acquainted in the current pier's positives and negatives — is ready to invest in the new plan. A member of the citizen Pier Advisory Task Force, Gonzmart initially wanted to save the pyramid. But this week it was clear his position had evolved, and he spoke with enthusiasm for building something new.
If only more of the new pier's opponents would accept the facts and commit to improving the plan, rather than spending today on a massive signature-gathering effort aimed at thwarting years of thoughtful work. The reality remains that the dilapidated pyramid and its failed business model cannot be saved for anywhere near the $50 million the city has to spend. The pier approach will be closed to vehicles later this year due to safety issues. The city has spent years studying alternatives for a new pier and soliciting public input — including from an extensive citizens task force — before launching the international design competition that produced Michael Maltzan's innovative design. And there continue to be worthy refinements to the project based on public input.
Gonzmart's evolution embodies the reality of public projects. They are frequently met with initial public resistance, but over time, the best ones can win support as the public learns more facts and gets more comfortable.