As the wind whipped the waves in Tampa Bay on Friday, workers went about their jobs building the city's next downtown pier.
Cranes rose from barges and inside a construction trailer, pictures of a model of the building that will rise at the end of the pier were on display.
As people jogged, strolled, walked their dogs or stopped to gaze through a construction fence, a front-end loader and backhoe beeped as it went back and forth.
The former Pelican parking lot now is a staging area for construction of the $76 million, 26-acre Pier District that will run from Bayshore Drive NE to the pier head and include public boat slips, docks for the Cross Bay Ferry and tall ship Lynx. A children's play area, splash pad and areas to stroll, relax and fish near the water will be among the other amenities.
City architect Raul Quintana, who has worked on the controversial and drawn-out project for about a decade, sounded elated as he gave an update to the St. Petersburg Downtown Neighborhood Association on Wednesday.
"There's a lot to be excited about," Quintana told the influential downtown group. "A lot of it is real and it's getting more real."
He spoke of his partnership over the years with Chris Ballestra, managing director of development coordination, on the onerous effort to build a new pier.
"For a long time we got beat up a lot," Quintana said, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. "There's a lot of history behind this project. There are a lot of things we didn't do right the first time. I think we got it right this time."
The fruition of the project follows years of objections from citizens who didn't want the old inverted pyramid pier to be demolished, disagreement about what should replace the structure and how much the new pier would cost.
Now it's well under way.
The south bridge and the pier head are under construction. One electric and two gas-powered trams will make stops near Bayshore Drive NE, the Pelican lot and at the pier head. Visitors will be able to park near the St. Petersburg Museum of History and at the Pelican lot, which will accommodate cars for both the new restaurant and marina.
On Friday, workers were getting ready to pump concrete to a section of the pier head deck. The deck for the entire pier will be 15 inches thick and topped with a 3-inch concrete slab.
Off Spa Beach, environmental markers indicated sea grass beds that must be avoided during construction. Full-time manatee watchers — seven rotate in the job — look out for the mammals and can temporarily stop the project if any are sighted.
Addressing environmental and sustainability issues are important, Quintana said. The infrastructure will be certified sustainable, he said.
Progress on the long-awaited Pier District means more areas will be closed to the public. On May 1, the construction fence will move nearer to Bayshore Drive. The St. Petersburg Museum of History nearby will remain open, with access from the sidewalk. Access will continue to the Central Basin marina. The Dolphin parking lot will be closed.
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The district is expected to be complete in the summer of 2019, with a grand opening in early fall.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.