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Pier designers need creativity to fit into $33 million budget

Groups bidding to design the next pier for St. Petersburg have had to be creative to get the most out of a $33 million construction budget.
Groups bidding to design the next pier for St. Petersburg have had to be creative to get the most out of a $33 million construction budget.
Published Dec. 28, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The teams proposed splash parks and lagoons and touted sustainability, but the reality of delivering a pier that satisfies both the must-haves and appearance demanded by the public could be a financial challenge.

The group that wins the contract to design St. Petersburg's new pier, or to renovate the closed inverted pyramid, will have to work with a $33 million construction budget, the major share of what Mayor Rick Kriseman has said is a firm $46 million project allocation. About $4 million has already been spent from the original $50 million budget for a design that was eventually rejected in a referendum.

Amid the constraints, some design teams have devised ways to make the most of the $33 million. Ideas range from barely putting flesh on a skeleton of the inverted pyramid to narrowing the pier approach.

"We really thought the money had to be spent judiciously," said Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects of Chicago, which has teamed up with Long and Associates of Tampa.

Their rePier concept includes plans to gut the inverted pyramid and leave the structure open — without most outer walls — to provide 360-degree views, a marine discovery center and vertical gardens.

"Our theory about the whole thing is to use what we have," Ross Barney said. "You will feel like you're suspended over the bay somewhat."

Barbara Wilks of W Architecture and Landscape Architecture in New York, whose project is called Blue Pier, said the firm tried to figure out how to get the most impact with the budget.

"That's why we are maximizing the experience and the diversity of things to do" on the pier approach and uplands, she said, adding that it is less expensive to build on land than over water.

The design proposes creating over 3.5 acres of lagoons, artificial reefs, splash pads, boat docks and extending Spa Beach by almost an acre. The concept came in at $34 million, but Wilks said the firm would make it a priority to bring it down to $33 million.

It's "a relatively tight budget, given all the goals the community wants to accomplish," said Tim Clemmons, a principal with Mesh of St. Petersburg, which has teamed up with FR-EE, an international firm, and Civitas, which is redesigning Tampa's Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

The team, which is calling its concept Prospect Pier, is proposing three major transformations to the inverted pyramid, Clemmons said.

"We believe that starting with the pyramid gives us a head start. We couldn't build back all that space for the same cost," he said.

"Because of the limited budget, we could not do everything on the uplands we would like to and we felt it was important to focus on over the water. But it was also important that there would be uplands improvement."

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His group has budgeted about $3 million for the uplands, $15 million for the pier approach and $15 million for the inverted pyramid.

Steve Cona III, president and chief executive officer for the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said a shortage of skilled workers could affect the construction budget.

"You have projects sprouting up all over the region, Tampa International Airport, Jeff Vinik's plans for Channelside," he said.

"Obviously, when you have so many projects going on, you're really putting a strain on the workload. The really good contractors and subcontractors, they will get to pick and choose what projects they want to go to. I do think you will see prices go up, but it's not going to be the material prices, but labor costs."

The city has hired Skanska USA Building to be its construction manager. The firm will examine the concepts recently submitted by eight design teams and determine whether they can be built within budget.

Like other teams, the St. Pete Design Group, which is reusing the inverted pyramid, has considered the budget.

"We worked with our cost consultants very closely and prioritized to not waste a square inch. We've just been very careful and at the same time, we have looked for things that are fun, that are functional, that are buildable and efficient, in order to be affordable," said Salvador Dalí Museum architect Yann Weymouth.

Weymouth is working with Harvard Jolly, the firm that designed the original inverted pyramid, and Wannemacher Jensen, another local firm.

The design has "ambitious ideas" for the uplands park, but those could not be included for budgetary reasons, Weymouth said.

"But we were able to include the improvements on Spa Beach and we kept the Spa Beach grill design," he said.

To save money, the pier approach would be less than half its current 100-foot width. The main bridge and main deck at the pier head would be made of concrete to support vehicles, but the lower party deck and fishing decks would be wood.

"That saved us a lot of money and the fishing decks are made of sturdy wood," Weymouth said. "We did not skimp on the quality of the glazing of the windows, the high performance glass system of the inverted pyramid."

A proposed waterfall would not be part of the $33 million budget, he said. Billed as public art, money for it would come out of the city's $320,000 public art allocation for the project.

In a few weeks, Skanska will present its assessment of the design concepts to the pier selection committee to help determine which teams will continue to the next step.

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


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