It should come as no surprise that a St. Petersburg citizen task force has offered an array of options for remaking the Pier instead of one whiz-bang vision. There is no magic solution, and all of the alternatives would cost more than the city has to spend. So it will be up to Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council to develop a consensus that is both innovative and practical.
Even as it wound up with several competing proposals, the task force offered some significant contributions outlined on the front of this section. It confirmed that spending $50 million to rebuild the existing bridge to an outdated building would not be prudent. It narrowed down the possible best uses of the Pier to dining and some sort of entertainment, not retail that has failed there for decades. It also emphasized the difficulties of luring tourists to the Pier for any purpose unless there is more to see and do along the approach. All of that information should help the mayor and the council members focus their discussions instead of rehashing familiar ground.
The task force brought both somber reality and creative fun to the project. The bad news is that all of the options would cost millions more than the $50 million the city has earmarked. The most ambitious, which would include a wider approach leading either to the existing building or a new one closer to shore, would cost about $90 million. With the city trimming millions from its operating budget, it's difficult to imagine raising that much additional money for a visionary Pier project.
On the brighter side, the task force kicked around some intriguing ideas such as a pedestrian swing bridge that would connect the approach to Vinoy Park. Adding boat slips also would be an attractive addition. That is the sort of brainstorming that should continue.
With a lack of consensus on a compelling vision, though, the best approach for Foster and council members may be to first rule out some options. For example, they could agree with the task force that just reconstructing the existing bridges to the existing building would not be a good use of $50 million. They could rule out building a smaller building on land with a smaller pier for fishing — the least expensive of the task force's options but also the most unappealing.
Then the city could spend more time investigating the viability of creating a wider approach that would become a linear park as envisioned by former Mayor Randy Wedding, the task force chairman. The key question is whether the city could obtain the necessary permits to essentially build a wide causeway in place of the elevated approach, and that might be difficult and time-consuming at best. But a linear park that offers appropriate activities for children and families along the way is an attractive option that would add more vibrancy to the entire bayfront.
The biggest challenge, of course, will be balancing grand visions for the Pier with the city's financial realities.