When the St. Petersburg City Council hears from the public tonight about dramatic new ideas for the Pier, the challenge will be to keep the discussion moving forward. After two years of public debate, council members should create a clear path to a new vision and not rehash old arguments.
Designs recently offered by city consultant Luis Ajamil and local developer Darryl LeClair underscore the conclusions of a citizen task force that spent 18 months studying the Pier and offered four design ideas. The demolition of the money-losing inverted pyramid will give the city an opportunity to build a new destination that better suits the interests and needs of today's residents and tourists.
The designs — all provocative and potentially iconic — contemplate everything from a carousel and splash pad to an elevated boardwalk that winds all the way to Vinoy Park and a 5,000-seat open-air theater jutting out over the water. Ultimately, though, the designs beg for direction and highlight a key stumbling block. The council — despite commissioning a thorough study that cost taxpayers close to $250,000 — has yet to commit to what it wants six months after it voted to demolish the pyramid.
Does the council want retail? Restaurants? Entertainment? Meeting space? Is it committed to also using the land adjacent to the Pier to better draw pedestrians from downtown? Does it want to shorten the Pier's 1,000-foot approach? How much is the council willing to spend beyond the $50 million Pinellas County has earmarked from property taxes? And is the city really interested in some of the more elaborate ideas — such as expanding Spa Beach or the width of the Pier — that would require extensive environmental permitting?
The council is contemplating an international design competition, but it should embrace a clear vision and reasonable time line. Failing to do so will further confuse the discussion and delay progress.
Already, the lack of momentum over the past six months has given advocates of saving the moribund pyramid more hope of thwarting good public policy. They are gathering voter signatures to force a citywide vote later this year to save the building from demolition.
The council's decision to tear down the Pier and start over was the right one. The faded attraction has been losing tenants and visitors for years and costs the city about $2 million annually in operational and maintenance subsidies.
It is time to move forward. The council needs to decide what it wants and go after it.