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Hundreds gather to reminisce at St. Pete's farewell party for the Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Ciara Dibert stood under a blazing sun, her 8-month-old son, Emerson, boun­cing gently in a carrier on her back.

It was nearly 5 p.m., and Dibert, 22, had arrived at Spa Beach Park three hours earlier to make sure she got a commemorative paver from the Pier, a memento from the city's farewell party to the iconic structure.

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Dibert recalls visiting the inverted pyramid with her grandmother to buy dinosaur-shaped cookies. She spent many more hours there as a teen, visiting friends at Cha Cha Coconuts.

Now the stay-at-home mom was sweating and waiting for a dark red commemorative brick paver.

"So that I have a piece of the Pier for my kids and my kids' kids," she said. "My husband tried to talk me out of it and I said you're crazy, I'm going."

After a decade of planning and four years of delays and controversy, crews started demolishing the 42-year-old Pier this week to make way for the its $46 million redevelopment — Pier Park. By February, the Pier approach and the Pier head, the area that surrounds the inverted pyramid, will be gone.

The city billed Friday's party as an official goodbye celebration, and turnout far exceeded expectations, Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

Officials estimated that about 600 people braved the heat with hopes of scoring one of 250 pavers. As music blared from nearby speakers, many jotted down memories on the back of postcards and tied them to brightly colored ribbons that fluttered in the breeze. Others reminisced for a video camera set up by the Museum of History.

Across the water, a bright orange backhoe sat motionless near the base of the party's guest of honor, a symbol of its looming fate.

"This Pier is but another chapter in the history of the city of St. Pete, and after today we start writing the next chapter as we move towards our new pier," Kriseman said, and a cheer rose up from the crowd.

Not everyone came for feel-good reminiscing. About a dozen protesters showed up carrying signs with slogans like "DESTROYING OUR HISTORY."

"We've accepted that we've lost this battle, unfortunately," said Sherry Suttrich, a member of the grass roots group Vote On the Pier that four years ago ignited a fight to save the inverted pyramid, collecting more than 20,000 signatures. A subsequent voter referendum in 2013 rejected a proposed design known as the Lens and temporarily halted plans to replace the inverted pyramid.

Standing near the front of the line for pavers were Jocelyn Jolly and her sister Allison. Their father, Blanchard Jolly, helped design the Pier with William Harvard, founder of the architecture firm Harvard Jolly.

The Jolly sisters grew up on the Pier, playing putt putt golf, watching regattas and, in later years, dining at the Colombia Restaurant. They said they came to Friday's party mostly for their father, who is now 89 and still lives in Snell Isle with his wife. The couple decided not to come to Friday's party, but Blanchard Jolly has "a great attitude" despite the destruction of a structure he designed to last far longer, Jocelyn said.

For his daughters, it's sad and eerie to see a dark spot on the water where the inverted pyramid lights once twinkled at night.

"It's iconic, so it's hard to see a part of the city be torn down," Jocelyn said, her voice catching. "But it is very rewarding knowing the design will be part of St. Pete's history forever."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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