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The final costs of St. Petersburg’s new Pier District are almost in

The city says that the 26-acre district will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $93 million.
Children partake in a learning session about marine life put on by Tampa Bay Watch during the opening of the $93 million, 26-acre Pier District on July 6 in St. Petersburg.
Children partake in a learning session about marine life put on by Tampa Bay Watch during the opening of the $93 million, 26-acre Pier District on July 6 in St. Petersburg. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]
Published Jul. 24, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Now that the Pier District has made its triumphant debut, it’s time to tally the cost.

The project, which started out with a $50 million budget, will now top out “in the neighborhood of $93 million,” city architect Raul Quintana said.

That’s about $1 million above the estimate of more than a year ago.

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

The approximately $93 million tab includes ancillary projects, such as new seawalls and underground utility infrastructure for the district that grew from 5 1/2 acres to a 26-acre expanse.

The official cost does not include tenant contributions, which exceed $15 million, said Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination. That sum accounts for restaurants at the Pier head, the waterfront edge off the Pelican parking lot and the pavilion, he said, as well as work at the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, where visitors can learn about the area’s ecosystem.

During a City Council meeting, Quintana spoke of the extra costs that arose because of challenges related to the over-water portion of the project, which included the five-story pier head building.

Young sailors take to the water near the St. Petersburg Pier on July 17.
Young sailors take to the water near the St. Petersburg Pier on July 17. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

In an email to the Times, he said every aspect of the over-water construction was challenging, “given the elements and the complexity of the design.”

The design of the pier head building “called for sweeping, unblocked views, which meant cantilevered slabs and overhangs” and required “a high level of precision and technical capability on the part of the construction team,” Quintana added.

Related: After years, St. Pete Pier opens to a crowd of thousands Monday

An additional challenge was coordinating the work with tenant requirements during construction, he said.

The project benefited from philanthropic gifts. The American Academy of Dermatology gave the city $250,000 for a shade structure on Spa Beach. Private donations covered part of the infrastructure costs for the Janet Echelman aerial sculpture and paid for the entire sculpture itself. The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center received $1 million from the Milkey Family Foundation and other financial donations. Much of the money for the Benoist monument that will commemorate the world’s first commercial flight that took off from the southwest corner of the Pier District on New Year’s Day 1914 was raised locally.

The city also received a state grant of $632,000 to build about 22 courtesy docks near the Pelican parking lot. The docks are expected to bring boaters to the Pier, the city’s museums, restaurants and other downtown attractions. They will cost $1.4 million, with the remaining $770,000 coming from the marina capital fund, Quintana said. The docks are expected to be finished in October.

Other aspects of the Pier District that are not ready include kayak and paddle board rentals. They should be available in the fall, Ballestra said.

“They will be offered by UPS (United Park Services), who operates Spa Beach Bistro, Gator Jim’s and Pier Gear, with launching from Spa Beach, most likely,” he said. “Details are still getting ironed out.”

Finishing touches also are required for the Echelman aerial net sculpture, with the final cable connection of the net to the pylons being fabricated, Quintana said. Lighting adjustments for the piece are delayed because of the coronavirus and until Echelman can safely visit, he said.

The Pier District has been a three-year construction project, but for Quintana and Ballestra, their involvement has spanned a dozen years.

“I know that I will never see another project like this in my career,” Quintana said.

“It’s is clearly the project of a lifetime,” Ballestra said. “It’s hard to imagine anything comparing to it. It’s not just the physical asset, but the process we went through to arrive at such a beautiful result.”