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Council wants say in $20 million to link St. Petersburg pier to downtown

ST. PETERSBURG — With key steps seemingly in place for the new pier, including demolition and a design, city officials are moving ahead with what they're calling the Pier Approach Project.

The plan envisioned as a show-stopping entryway to St. Petersburg's latest version of its municipal pier will be financed with $20 million in tax revenues from its booming downtown.

Starting at the western edge of Pier Park — the new landmark to replace the inverted pyramid — the project will encompass areas of Bayshore and Beach drives and is expected to include such elements as a grand entry, pedestrian art promenade, an art bridge, an open-air market and two restaurants.

But plans might be moving a bit fast for City Council members, who want a say in how the $20 million is spent. Two have spoken of fairness and hint at an unequal distribution of city resources.

At a July 23 meeting, council members spoke of their desire to provide feedback and approved a motion asking that a portion of the money be earmarked to spruce up downtown waterfront parks. A few days later, the engineering and capital improvements department issued a request for proposals for firms interested in developing and designing the pier approach.

"I hope that doesn't mean the entire train has left the station," council member Jim Kennedy said this week. "I am hoping we will still have input in what we do."

Dave Goodwin, director of the city's planning and economic development department, says there's plenty of time for council members to weigh in. The city is now looking for qualified firms and their approach to the project, he said.

"This design is not going to go into a black box and everybody sees it done. There's going to be a public engagement process that the community gets a chance to participate in and review the concept plan before it goes to final construction design."

Like the new pier, the project melding it to downtown will be funded through tax revenue. A financing tool allows cities to use annual increases in property tax revenue from districts to pay for projects in those same districts.

The city and the Pinellas County Commission agreed in 2005 that $50 million in tax revenue from that area would go to the Pier. The commission recently agreed with Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate $20 million for capital projects in the downtown waterfront master plan, such as the pier approach.

Council member Steve Kornell supports downtown development, but has reservations, he said.

"People have now said that $20 million is just a start," he said. "I support the (Downtown Waterfront Master) plan, but we should not pull a project in that plan and give it priority without looking at the entire city."

Council member Karl Nurse echoed some of Kornell's concerns, noting that Kriseman is proposing the addition of 12 police officers for the flourishing downtown.

"As you increase the amount of activity downtown, you kind of shift the responsibility for the underlying services to the rest of the city, while creating an enormous fund for a part of downtown that is doing so well," Nurse said. "We want to sort of balance that with the relative needs across the city."

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

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