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Architects propose changes for new Pier design

Published Nov. 27, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of public feedback — running the gamut from contempt to acclaim to indifference — architects of the city's proposed replacement for the current Pier have unveiled further design changes they hope will win broad approval.

A voluminous document released on the city's website Monday evening gives a detailed description of what can be expected, how the new Pier will be built and promises to deliver the $50 million project within budget.

The fine-tuning has wrought a number of changes to the iconic concept — known as the Lens — submitted by Michael Maltzan Architecture more than a year ago as part of an international design competition to create a new St. Petersburg Pier.

Among the highlights:

• A restaurant is being proposed at the Lens, where previously there had been mention only of a gelato stand.

• A waterfront restaurant, this one at the landside approach south of Spa Beach, is also being proposed for what will be known as the Hub, an area that will include space for retail.

• Shaded areas along the project's two looping bridges will include places to sit, rest and take in the view.

• One of the two bridges, referred to as the overwater drive, will accommodate pedestrians, service and emergency vehicles and have two balconies for shade and relaxation and a tram stop adjacent to the new Pier's marina.

• The other span, called the overwater bridge, will be for bikes and pedestrians and will offer a marina outlook, described as a shaded promenade with benches for sitting and boat watching.

• A floating dock will accommodate only non-motorized watercraft, including kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, standup paddleboards and silent electric vessels. The original concept included motor boats.

• Omitted is the idea of a nearly $900,000 underwater garden. The reef, as it was called, planned to reuse pilings from the existing Pier to create "an underwater garden that filters the water within the Lens and creates a habitat for marine life."

The idea has been panned by scientists as unrealistic. Still, the designers remain optimistic, saying a future underwater feature "can become an exciting attraction" and an "important resource for the bay and the community."

They say that after gathering "significant information" from the marine community and other experts, "the design team remains excited about the possibilities for an underwater feature as part of the Lens." The Maltzan team acknowledges, though, that "further indepth study and specific research will be needed to evaluate feasibility."

The Lens report, called a basis of design document, also gives a breakdown of the cost of the new Pier. Construction of the Lens will cost $37 million, not including demolition, which is estimated to be $3.1 million. The report gives overall costs for the project as $50 million.

Monday evening, Fred Whaley, chair of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, which opposes the Lens, said his group had not been able to thoroughly review the document.

"We need to have some time to review all the changes that have been made," he said.

"We are concerned about cost and how the new Pier is going to be operated and what type of subsidy is going to be required to maintain that type of structure."

The project to replace the inverted pyramid dates back to a 2004 engineering study that showed the concrete superstructure of the Pier head and approach — built in the 1920s — is in bad shape. The current Pier building needs extensive repair, the city says. Additionally, in the past 10 years, the Pier has had to be supported with an operational subsidy averaging more than $1.4 million annually. A Pier Advisory Task Force formed in 2009 went on to offer a number of recommendations for addressing the problem.

One of the main concerns of his group, Whaley said, is that the "Lens does not follow the original intent of the task force"

Vice chair Ed Montanari disagrees and said that he was impressed with the thoroughness of the Maltzan document.

"I looked at a couple of things that interested me," he said.

"They had a report summary of the work of the Pier Task Force and I like the fact that that was incorporated into the report. I look at the Lens design, and I see how it matches up nicely with one of the alternatives in our report to have a more land-based design, mainly pedestrian pier. We came up with two concepts for the uplands, and it matches up nicely with one of those also."

Whaley's group is not the only one to oppose the Lens. Voteonthepier.com collected more than 20,000 petitions in a bid to save the current 1973 Pier, but city council members rejected their attempt to let residents vote on the issue. Next week, the group, aided by former council member Kathleen Ford, will head to court to contest the decision and stop demolition of the structure.

Council member Karl Nurse, who recently added his voice to those against the project, noticed some changes in the Lens report.

"My first 30 minutes reading it, I can see that they have made several adjustments to reflect financial realities, but you could immediately see that several things have been eliminated, including where you can park a motorized boat," he said.

"The restaurant expectation now is that the private sector will build that and in the upland, there's no facility of any kind that is a playground or play-related."

The Lens, though, recently gained support from TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan, known for his OxiClean commercials. He has launched an effort, WOW Our Waterfront, to build support for the Lens.

Early next week council members will hold a workshop to discuss the Lens report. That will be followed by a council meeting on Dec. 6, at which council members will be asked to approve $5.4 million that will include payment for Maltzan to proceed with the Pier's final design and to cover additional preconstruction costs including geotechnical services for the project.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

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