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It's for real: St. Pete says Pier demolition to begin any day now

ST. PETERSBURG — A month after hopes were dashed for an immediate start to demolish the Pier, city officials said Tuesday they have the necessary federal permit to begin.

By mid February, all traces of the Pier's approach, the bait shops and the controversial 1973 inverted pyramid will be wiped from downtown.

"It's served its time, just as many have before it," said resident Shirley O'Sullivan, referring to the past 102 years of three different public piers on the waterfront.

The demolition contractor, Sonny Glasbrenner, will be given notice to proceed this week, said Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman, Ben Kirby, who didn't provide a specific timetable.

"It will take 60 days for the building to come down, and it will take about four months for the Pier approach and the Pier head," Kirby said.

The city is paying Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Clearwater $3.2 million for the job.

Those who opposed demolishing the Pier stalled the project for more than two years. At least some of them Tuesday conceded they wouldn't seek any more delays.

"It is a shame to demolish the inverted pyramid before getting the permit to build the proposed new Pier, which is fraught with all kinds of difficulties," said F. Carter "Bud" Karins, an engineer who was part of the Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg effort that pushed a 2013 referendum that scuttled the last Pier project.

But "there is no point in tilting at windmills," Karins said.

A permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes demolition of the pyramid, bait shops, deck, approach, utilities and other areas of the landmark. The deck will be demolished or cut into segments and lifted off by cranes. The pyramid and surface structures, such as landscaping and pavers, will be hauled to landfills or recyclers.

Pilings will be removed "or cut off at an elevation of 1 foot below the mud line," the permit document states. Solar-powered navigation warning lights will be perched atop the five 20-by-20-foot concrete columns that eventually will be reused for Pier Park.

There will be no blasting. Some debris will be taken by truck or barge to Albert Whitted Airport for shoreline stabilization. Construction barges will be prohibited from working or anchoring within 20 feet of existing seagrass beds.

Lorraine Margeson, an environmentalist who had fought to save the pyramid, now accepts its fate.

"I have accepted that this was going to happen; I have accepted that little old me could not have stopped this," she said.

Furthermore, as a bird monitor for a construction project in Hillsborough Bay over the past two years, Margeson said she has come to respect the corps' rigorous protocols for protecting the environment.

"I feel comfortable with the federal oversight," she said.

A farewell of sorts is being planned for the controversial pyramid designed by the late William B. Harvard Sr., an award-winning architect.

Kirby said the mayor will host a community event that "will honor and best memorialize" the structure but said he had no details of the event that will likely take place near the Pier.

Plans to tear down the structure began in earnest July 9 after the City Council approved $5.2 million for initial work on the new Pier Park project. A construction fence quickly went up, but the corps said the city needed a permit to tear down the entire structure — including the inverted pyramid — because it sits in navigable waters. The city had asserted it didn't require a permit to demolish the pyramid.

The corps also said a permit could not be issued before a memorandum of agreement concerning historic preservation had been signed by the corps, the city and the state historic preservation office.

As part of that agreement, the city is required to document, with drawings and photographs, what is referred to as the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier District. Copies will be filed with the state, National Park Service and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. The city also will have to create a heritage marker at the Pier's approach and install an exhibit at the St. Petersburg Museum of History "depicting the history of structures previously located at the pier site."

None of that will likely appease those who oppose the new project.

"It is common sense that we should know exactly what will be built there before we tear down what is already there," said Bud Risser, a Concerned Citizens leader.

Council member Wengay Newton, who favored designs that saved the pyramid, said he is unnerved by the looming demolition.

"I'm a bit leery," he said. "Once you tear down what you got, there is no going back."

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

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