ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has said that the budget for the new pier is firm, but a financial windfall or two may change that.
Of the $50 million originally budgeted for the project, about $4.5 million has already been spent, intensifying the challenge to conjure up amenities that residents have said will hold their interest in the downtown fixture.
The announcement of a $632,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, to be supplemented with $300,000 from the city, boosts the strained budget. The money will be used for transient docks south of the pier's Pelican parking lot, near the breakwater.
Council member Karl Nurse is pleased.
"Transient docks ranked fairly high on people's wish list," he said.
The new pier also may benefit from the higher-than-expected property tax revenue being generated in St. Petersburg's booming downtown. It's money that could be tapped to help integrate the attraction into the downtown waterfront master plan.
It all amounts to good news for Pier Park, the concept recently selected to replace the closed inverted pyramid.
The new pier is being funded through tax increment financing, or TIF. The financing tool allows cities to use annual increases in property tax revenue from specially created districts to pay for projects in those areas.
The pier sits in one of those districts. The Intown Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA, runs roughly from Fifth Avenue N to Fifth Avenue S and from the water to 16th Street. Projects that have benefited from TIF funding in the district include municipal garages, streetscape improvements, the Mahaffey Theater and the Dalí Museum. The city and county agreed to allot $50 million in TIF funding to the new pier.
But what this means to St. Petersburg taxpayers has become a matter of dispute for William Ballard, a retired construction and banking lawyer, and former president of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that halted the city's last plan for the pier.
Writing to Kriseman shortly after his 2013 election, Ballard attached a five-page treatise that represented his "effort to dispel the myth that tax increment financing is paid for only from property taxes collected from the owners of real estate within a redevelopment area."
And in a more recent email to the Tampa Bay Times, he said all of the district's " 'revenue' is by way of appropriations from the city and county general funds to which all property owners and every household must contribute, even if they own no property."
Anne Fritz, the city's finance director, and Joe Zeoli, managing director of administration and finance in development administration, say Ballard is wrong.
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"I think he is confused about the verbiage on the flow of funds," Fritz said.
The misunderstanding probably comes from the fact that when the county collects St. Petersburg's property taxes and sends them to the city, they are initially placed in the general fund before being moved to a special fund, she said.
"It flows through the general fund and it doesn't stay there. And that's per Florida statute," Zeoli said. "Those dollars go into that fund and are expended from that fund. It's not money we are taking away from other city services."
Ballard disagrees. "No portion of the property taxes from a redevelopment district is segregated into a separate account," he said.
What residents outside the Intown district actually pay for is the pier subsidy, Zeoli said. The estimated annual subsidy for Pier Park is about $1.5 million, though Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, said it is too early "to accurately assess operating expenses for any project that has yet to be designed, programmed or secured tenants."
Meanwhile, the city is preparing to issue bonds to build Pier Park. And the County Commission agreed in principle this month to Kriseman's request to dedicate $20 million in higher-than-expected tax revenue in the Intown CRA to capital projects related to the city's downtown waterfront master plan.
The funds will be used "to better integrate the pier uplands into both downtown and the pier," Ballestra said, adding that it is expected to "significantly help the pedestrian transition from the park system to the pier."
Council member Steve Kornell is pleased with the likely agreement, but is urging prudence.
"I totally understand that that money can't be spent anywhere else but downtown, but we need to make sure we are doing the things that we need first," he said.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.