St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members have reached at least one bit of agreement on the city's Pier: It won't be replaced with a facility on shore. That consensus, reached in the elected officials' first vetting of recommendations by a citizen task force, is clear progress. Now the challenge is to firmly agree that the iconic but deteriorating inverted pyramid should be demolished and to focus discussions on what comes next.
The Pier's situation has only worsened in the 18 months that a citizen task force thoughtfully examined options for its future. The 3,300-foot approach continues to disintegrate. The structure itself is near the limit of its lifespan and needs considerable work. And it continues to lose its business tenants, sending its city-subsidized budget further into the red.
In a recent workshop with the task force members and the City Council, Foster repeated that he can't support the sentimental option to keep the current pyramid at a cost of $87 million. That far outstrips the $50 million the city has set aside for the project. He said he instead supported the least expensive option offered by the task force: An on-land facility half the size of the pyramid with a pedestrian-only pier behind it. The cost would be roughly $42 million, significantly less than restoring the current Pier or building a new, shorter pier with a smaller facility at a cost between $59 million and $71 million.
But Foster smartly reversed himself after council members Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy strongly objected that an on-land facility strayed too far from the Pier's tradition, marred the waterfront view and would compete too directly with Beach Drive businesses. Such compromise bodes well for the future, when the council still needs to join Foster in his conclusion that the pyramid is too costly and too decrepit to keep.
Fans of the pyramid argue the city will sacrifice a trademark building, just as a previous generation bemoaned the loss of the Million Dollar Pier. But ultimately St. Petersburg must decide, particularly in light of limited resources, which is more important: maintaining a half-empty relic that few residents ever venture to, or reinventing the tradition of St. Petersburg's Pier as a proud destination for residents and tourists. Committing to the latter should include discussion beyond what the city should build over water. There also should be a long-term plan for enhancing the area around the Pier to improve the connection with downtown and other waterfront parks.
Foster and council are on the right path. Now they need to embrace the inevitable and get to work searching for the next pier plan.