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Auction of Pier bait house gets called off after outcry

This bait house dates to the 1926 Million Dollar Pier. The city stunned preservationists by announcing an auction.
This bait house dates to the 1926 Million Dollar Pier. The city stunned preservationists by announcing an auction.
Published Nov. 5, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The inverted pyramid will soon be just a memory, but the fate of a historic bait house has hung in the balance in recent days.

An announcement in late October that the city planned to auction the bait house, which dates to the 1926 Million Dollar Pier, stunned preservationists and other residents. Council of Neighborhood Associations president Marlene Murray objected in an email Saturday to Mayor Rick Kriseman's chief of staff.

"It has been my understanding that the city was going to ensure the bait shop was included in the Pier design or possibly the uplands or somewhere on the waterfront," said Murray, a mayoral appointee to the former Pier working group.

"In public hearings done by the Pier Task Force, I know that the bait shop was addressed by a majority of the folks. The historical value of this to the residents was important."

Will Michaels, a preservationist who was a member of a city committee charged with coming up with ideas for preserving and recording the Pier's history, also thought the bait house would be saved. He said his group, which included St. Petersburg Museum of History executive director Rui Farias, had recommended that both Pier bait houses be preserved. The second bait house's historical value, however, is less certain.

"The idea is to respect and honor the history of the Pier, and one way to do that is to preserve at least one of the bait houses that has been there since the Million Dollar Pier," Michaels said.

It wasn't until late Tuesday that Kristin Brett, who handles the city's Pier communications, said things had changed. The city had decided to donate the historic bait shop — on the western end of the Pier approach — to the St. Petersburg Museum of History and pay to move it off the Pier head as soon as possible.

Murray is relieved.

"I know that a lot of people were very, very concerned about it," Murray said. "I really feel that the mayor should be listening to the people before some of these major decisions are made. I don't think he is reaching out as well as he could before decisions are made."

It was just last Friday that the city announced it was giving the public "an opportunity to own a piece of history" and that bids for the bait house would be accepted through Nov. 11.

In her email to Kriseman's chief of staff Kevin King, Murray offered that "there are plenty of historical groups, folks in the art community and several other organizations that would contribute to doing whatever it took" to preserve the building.

King had said neither the St. Petersburg Museum of History nor St. Petersburg Preservation was interested in moving and restoring the building and that it would cost between $30,000 to $50,000 "to move it just once."

The city will now solicit bids to move the structure to a secure location as it awaits restoration, Brett said.

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Former City Council member Jeff Danner, who holds the position of interim executive director of St. Petersburg Preservation, had opposed the sale and suggested the bait house be incorporated into the new Pier project.

"The council has allocated $20 million for development on the Pier approach. I'm certainly thinking that allocating $30,000 to $50,000 out of $20 million would not be an unreasonable request to ask the council and the mayor," Danner said.

The idea has some support from Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes, who inquired about the bait house during a recent update on Pier Park, the new waterfront project.

"My preference is for the city to take it and use it as part of the uplands for something," he said. "To save it for $30,000 to $50,000 would be worth the investment."

On Wednesday morning, Michaels said he was "delighted" to hear that the mayor and his staff "have such a high regard for our city's history and are willing to reconsider decisions that sometimes might not be the best."

At the St. Petersburg Museum of History, which has a permanent exhibit of the city's Pier traditions, Farias is pleased.

"This is what we do," he said. "Our job is to preserve and present the history of St. Petersburg."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.


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