St. Pete Pier's official budget is $80 million, but other pots providing millions more

The number started at $50 million, but has continued to rise
Published January 14

ST. PETERSBURG — The year was 2010, when the City Council voted to demolish St. Petersburg’s old inverted pyramid Pier that was costing taxpayers about $1.4 million in annual subsidies.

A new Pier would be built and the budget was to be $50 million.

Nine years later, the “world class” Pier of current Mayor Rick Kriseman’s dreams is under construction, rising in a downtown strumming with a youthful vibe.

The budget is now $80 million and the once 5½-acre Pier will now be a 26-acre destination boasting a $1 million children’s playground and internationally renowned art paid for in part with at least $1.2 million in private funding that will supplement an estimated $1.3 million in public money to create its elaborate infrastructure.

Though not part of the official Pier budget, millions more are being spent for an attraction that a market study estimates will have an annual $80 million economic impact. Taxpayer subsidies are expected to run about $1.9 million annually.

Funds earmarked for other projects long planned for the waterfront area, including new seawalls, docks and upgraded transportation and stormwater systems, along with grants and additional money from tenants to build out their interior spaces, will add to the total being spent.

City architect Raul Quintana says the project, parts of which have not yet been designed and still have to be contracted, is up against soaring construction costs.

“Every day costs go up,” he said, adding that current financial figures simply represent “a snapshot to date.”

Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley pointed to unforeseen problems, such as pilings from the city’s previous piers and old seawalls that had been filled in and weren’t discovered until excavation.

Quintana described the project as “significantly complicated,” with work going on simultaneously throughout the site, including much that is out of sight, such as electrical work, stormwater pipes, water and sanitary service. That work, he said, needs to be coordinated with what’s happening above ground.

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The new North Basin seawall, where the Cross Bay Ferry is eventually expected to dock, will cost $3 million. The money is coming from an interlocal agreement between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, Quintana said.

Work on the seawall on the eastern edge of the Pelican parking lot, which cost $1 million, was paid for from a seawall fund, through Penny for Pinellas.

So far, $55 million has been appropriated for the portion of the project that stretches from about 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay back to Spa Beach and includes a plaza, pavilion and sloped lawn. The money includes $3 million for the pavilion, an enhanced splash pad and a breakwater off Spa Beach. It also accounts for $4 million spent on the Lens, a previous Pier design that was rejected in a citizen-led referendum. Quintana said all of the money spent on the Lens was not lost, since work such as soil surveys was used for the current project.

The budget for the Pier approach, the landside portion of the project, is currently $27 million, including the money from other sources. A roundabout is planned for Second Avenue NE and Bayshore Drive and some of the cost may be covered by stormwater and transportation funds, Quintana said. The Pier approach budget also includes a $75,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for stormwater work and $400,000 for contingencies.

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Where did the money come from to make up the official $80 million Pier budget? In 2005, the city and the Pinellas County Commission agreed that $50 million tied to Tax Increment Financing would go to the Pier. Tax Increment Financing is a vehicle in which higher tax payments attributed to rising property values are set aside for a specific purpose. In 2015, Kriseman asked the commission for an additional $20 million. Then in 2017, he requested $14 million more. The $14 million was once meant to build a mixed-use transportation facility, but was no longer needed. Kriseman hoped to use the funds for Pier “enhancements,” but the City Council agreed to budget only up to $10 million.

The enhancements being funded so far include a floating net sculpture from acclaimed artist Janet Echelman. The city at one time said about $1.3 million would be used for the artwork’s infrastructure, which will include the foundation, steel pilings and lighting. The exact cost is pending, Quintana said. The mayor has received about $1.2 million in pledges for the art itself. Enhancement funds will also let the city add more jets to the splash pad and build the $1 million children’s playground.

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But the city is already dipping into the enhancement money to pay for other things. On Jan. 3, the council approved an additional $850,000 for the waterfront Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille restaurant being built in the Pelican parking lot area. Quintana said the increase was due to soaring construction costs and code requirements “for construction in a high velocity wind zone.”

The council also voted to add another $100,000 to the $300,000 in contingency funding for the Pier approach.

Addressing the request for more money, Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination, told the council: “We are staying within our lane, we are within budget....It is no doubt a struggle to stay there....But we’ve had to utilize contingencies in places.”

Quintana said $3.6 million remains from the $10 million in enhancement funds and said that a recommendation will be made in February about how to allocate the remaining money.

Cost is not the only thing that has changed since the project began. The timetable for a ribbon cutting has been adjusted. When Kriseman and the council broke ground in June of 2017, it was estimated that the Pier would be finished in early 2019. Then it was early fall 2019. Now, say city officials, contractor Skanska USA has given a “substantial completion” date of Dec. 20.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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