ST. PETERSBURG — Had the Pier opened on May 30, as promised more than two months ago, it’s likely that not all elements of the $92 million destination would have been ready for the big reveal.
As it is, the coronavirus pandemic has bought St. Petersburg’s much-anticipated new Pier more time for restaurants to put on finishing touches and the project’s signature public art to be installed. The pandemic also has delayed commitments on naming rights for key components of the 26-acre project. Hill Carrow, CEO of Sports & Properties of North Carolina, which is courting businesses and other organizations to sign up for sponsorship privileges, refers to it as “the pandemic pause.”
“That slowed everything down," he said. "When everybody was concerned about their family, their home, their work, their employment. But the good news is that things are starting to open.”
Major construction is complete, city architect Raul Quintana said Thursday, but tenant work continues at the Pier head building, the pavilion near Spa Beach, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, and the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center. Much of it is expected to be completed shortly, he said.
The final cost of the Pier District, including ancillary projects, is not expected to change, Quintana said. The sale of naming rights will be one way to offset expected taxpayer subsidies. Carrow said two organizations have expressed strong interest in sponsorships at the Pier.
“We’re telling them, let’s go ahead and wrap things up and be there at the beginning,” he said.
Naming rights are available for annual payments of $50,000 to $1 million for 10-year terms. However, “deals are customized for each naming rights partner as part of a negotiated process," said Carrow.
Among the areas being considered for naming rights are the splash pad, the $1 million playground, the coastal thicket and the area in which international artist Janet Echelman's sculpture will be installed.
Carrow declined to name the two main interested parties, except to say that they have local ties. There will be more interest once the Pier District opens, he said.
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“People haven’t really been able to kick the tires. We can show them all the pretty pictures. It’s like trying to buy a house on the internet,” he said, noting that the Pier is an unusual project to sell. “With sports, people know what a stadium looks like. Taking the plunge in advance is easier. Something like the Pier, it takes longer. ... I think you’re going to see some good things in the next couple of months.”
At the Pier head, Chuck Prather, who owns the Birchwood, a boutique hotel on Beach Drive NE, is readying his fourth-floor Teak restaurant with city and Tampa Bay views, the Pier Teaki rooftop bar and the second floor Driftwood Café.
“It’s at the final stages now as I look around, and I see cabinetmakers putting the final touches on the cabinets, and I see art installers putting in custom nautical charts that will hang from the ceiling. We had boats that will be suspended from the main dining room ceiling delivered yesterday,” he said Friday. “Light fixtures are going up. The kitchen is almost completed.”
One positive from the delayed opening is that all three areas will be complete, something that would not have happened had the Pier opened on May 30.
“We’re thrilled,” Prather said.
The menus also are ready to go.
“Chef Lee Aquino and his team have finalized the menu ... and not only is it a wonderful mix of dishes, also the deputy mayor (Kanika Tomalin) met with us," he said. "The Healthy St. Petersburg initiative is very important to her, so she was hopeful that our new menu would give a nod to some healthy dishes. We have several items that are healthy — not that they don’t taste good.”
And St. Petersburg, proud of its place in the arts world, has made public art a centerpiece of the new Pier. Echelman’s Bending Arc net sculpture will billow above the new district. The piece was hung early in the year, taken down and returned to a fabricator in Washington state. The netting is expected to be shipped back to St. Petersburg for re-installation in June, Quintana said.
Other public art at the Pier will include a whimsical, 10-foot, origami-style metal pelican by California artist Nathan Mabry. It was installed at the Pier entrance, although its accompanying life-size pelicans are yet to be added. Xenobia Bailey’s 23-foot wide by 7-foot high mosaic is complete at the pavilion, while artist Nick Ervinck’s Olnetopia awaits installation at the Pier head.
Visitors will get a chance to learn about Tampa Bay’s ecosystem at the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center presented by the Milkey Family Foundation — honoring $1 million donors and St. Pete Beach residents Kevin and Jeanne Milkey.
“One or two small items on the punch list” remain, said Dwayne Virgint, the center’s executive director. “Due to the COVID-19 delays, we took more time for water cycling for our aquatic tanks, which ensures the conditions are optimum for species introduction. We will be ready to introduce species next week," he said.
The Discovery Center will feature interactive experiences, living marine exhibits, free programs in the waterside amphitheater and introduce a floating classroom early in 2021.
The latest iteration of the Pier, the city’s century-old waterfront tradition, “is going to be an icon for the community for decades and decades to come,” Carrow said.