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Foster unveils a new Pier plan to an unimpressed St. Pete City Council

ST. PETERSBURG — A couple of weeks before a tight race for re-election, Mayor Bill Foster chose Thursday's City Council meeting to announce a new approach for a key issue that has bedeviled his administration.

His blueprint for proceeding with a new pier focuses on a three-pronged strategy:

• Gauging residents' opinions about what they want at the pier. An initial poll is to be done in two weeks, followed by continued public input.

• Melding residents' demands with suggestions outlined in the years-old Pier Advisory Task Force report, the 828 Alliance that Foster created to move the pier project forward, and the upcoming Urban Land Institute waterfront report.

• Inviting architects to translate all of this into a new design.

Foster promised a new pier by the spring or summer of 2017.

"We are moving forward, and we will build a new pier," he said.

Council members were not impressed.

"It's deja vu all over again," said council member Jeff Danner, quoting that well-known philosopher Yogi Berra. Residents were heard before, he said of the plan to involve them throughout the new process.

"I don't know how many more public meetings you can have. This is the same thing all over again."

Council member Wengay Newton made a motion to hold a special election to find out whether residents want to save the closed inverted pyramid. No one seconded the motion.

Foster turned to the local architectural community to come up with his plan, specifically to the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The organization, president Kim Headland said in a letter to Foster, "is strongly advocating for a clear, transparent and inclusive design selection process moving forward."

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development, said public input would let prospective designers "know where we're heading."

About five to 10 designers, short listed by a selection committee that will include about seven local members, will be asked to submit several concepts. The emphasis will be on the function of the new pier, Ballestra said.

The upcoming survey, which Foster said will cost less than $20,000, will pose as many as 20 questions. They will include at least one about renovating the 1973 inverted pyramid, with costs to do so being mentioned.

Foster said it would cost about $70 million to $80 million to refurbish the structure the way it is now. Of the original $50 million budget for a new pier, $46 million remains after the recently failed process to build an unpopular design called the Lens. Many residents said it did not offer the features they wanted.

This is the mayor's second attempt to end the stalemate that has bogged down the pier, a century-old tradition on the city's waterfront.

Meanwhile, the inverted pyramid, which was closed in May, is still costing taxpayers money. The estimated monthly cost to keep the pier approach open and maintain limited systems in the building is about $30,000, said David Metz, the city's director of downtown enterprise facilities. The cost includes utilities, 24-hour security and maintenance.

Foster says the city is saving $100,000 a month with it closed.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.