Vision of world-famous artist Janet Echelman wins spot at St. Pete Pier

This rendering, provided before the comprise on the location, depicts a night illumination of Janet Echelman's proposed art piece. This shows it in the Spa Beach area, but the new location is on the Pier approach.
This rendering, provided before the comprise on the location, depicts a night illumination of Janet Echelman's proposed art piece. This shows it in the Spa Beach area, but the new location is on the Pier approach.
Published August 2
Updated August 2

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the famous aerial net sculptures of Tampa-born artist Janet Echelman, who has had installations around the world from Australia to the Netherlands to the United Arab Emirates, will come to St. Petersburg.

The City Council voted Thursday to give the artist a $1.5 million contract to put one of her billowing pieces in the 26-acre, $76-million Pier District that’s scheduled to open in a little more than a year.

The contract was approved 7-1, with Council member Ed Montanari the sole dissenter.

The approval was a turnabout from the council’s previous vote, which denied the contract three weeks ago after public opposition to a plan to install Echelman’s work at Spa Beach, one of the city’s charter-protected downtown waterfront parks.

Since the 4-3 vote on July 12, those opposed to Echelman’s sculpture at Spa Beach have agreed to a plan that would place it at a more central spot on the Pier approach that preserves waterfront views, doesn’t encroach on precious green space and is easy to access. The lighted, billowing piece will now soar above an area east of the Dolphin parking lot, where a family park and gardens are planned.

There was a general sense of goodwill Thursday, with only a couple of residents objecting to the artwork’s waterfront placement and voicing concern about its effect on wildlife.

Montanari said he liked the new location better, but was "concerned about the expenditure of public funds."

Council member Gina Driscoll, who had previously voted against the contract because of the Spa Beach site, said she is "so thrilled" that a "middle ground" was found.

Mayor Rick Kriseman thanked city staff and members of the public who pledged $1.3 million in private money for the $2.8 million project. He thanked them for "recognizing the impact the art will have on this community."

Kathryn Howd, of the city’s Public Arts Commission, congratulated the council for looking at the project again and those who worked to find a new spot.

Dan Savercool, president of the St. Petersburg Audubon Society, gave a presentation that addressed concerns some residents have raised about the sculpture’s potential hazard to birds.

For instance, on Facebook,
Lorraine Margeson, a well-known local environmental activist, called the net sculpture a "bird-killing monstrosity."

Thursday, Savercool admitted that his organization had objected to the sculpture at the Spa Beach location, but is comfortable with the new spot. He said birds deserve "more credit for their flying and navigational skills." He said it’s not the sculpture that one should be worried about, but the illumination. He gave "best practices" to reduce harm to bird life, including avoiding flood lights.

City Architect Raul Quintana assured the council Echelman will take "all of that into consideration."

Echelman is gratified.

"It will be my first permanent hometown sculpture, so it’s meaningful in a way no other commission has been,’’ she said. "I’m most looking forward to bring my mom with me to lie down on the grass beneath and watch the sculpture billow in the wind."

Echelman’s mother, Anne Echelman Kantor, is a jewelry designer who lives in Tampa and founded the Boulevard Shops of Florida.

Phil Graham Jr., president of the Waterfront Parks Foundation, which objected to Echelman’s artwork on Spa Beach, is pleased the issue has been resolved. He, Quintana, Driscoll and others visited the Pier after council’s original vote in search of a new site for Echelman’s art.

"It’s a nice space, where it is still visible from both the north and the south," Graham said of the Pier approach site, adding that existing trees "will help buffer the look" of the aerial sculpture’s towering support poles.

"I think it is a great compromise," he said.

Quintana said Echelman will adjust her sculpture to fit the new site.

"We anticipate that there could be a taller pole or two. The artist would like the piece now to hover above the trees," he said.

As a native Floridian, Echelman said she cares deeply about heritage trees and shade.

"So we will be working to adapt the sculpture to coexist perfectly with the heights of the existing shade trees," she said.

Echelman thinks the new location is even better than Spa Beach and calls it the "heart" of the Pier, "because it’s central to every amenity."

The Massachusetts-based artist, who often touts her Tampa Bay roots, drew on historical Spa Beach postcards for her concept.

Some redesign of the Pier approach will be needed, Quintana said.

"We will still have the family park and gardens," he said. "It will now be designed along with the art."

In an email, Echelman spoke of two main advantages of the new location.

"First, the new site is becoming a fully planted garden with shaped lawn and water features, and the landscape architect is redesigning the garden to fit the shape and usage of the sculpture. Second, the new site is more accessible," she said.

W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York, which is designing the Pier approach with local architects Wannemacher Jensen, will make changes to accommodate the piece.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes

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