Latest Pier delay: Demolition of old Pier is seven months behind schedule

Months behind schedule, mainly due to safety issues, the project should wrap up this month, the city says.
Published September 5 2016
Updated September 6 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — A year ago, heavy equipment began chomping away at the city's famous inverted pyramid.

But just like all of the city's protracted and controversial efforts to replace the iconic Pier, demolition has not gone as planned.

The old pyramid, its deck and the pier approach bridge into the Tampa Bay should have been hacked to smithereens by February and hauled off to be recycled, disposed of or trucked to the city's historic airport to restore its shoreline.

Instead, seven months after the $3.2 million demolition project should have been completed, about 300 feet of the old pier approach still remains jutting out of the water. There's also a mountain of concrete debris left on site.

The city says, though, the end is finally near.

Demolition should be finished by the end of this month, said Michael Ryle, the city's assistant engineering director. He explained that concerns for the safety of the Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. demolition crew during the early stages of the project led to the missed February deadline.

The pier head had been rebuilt and modified three times in past decades, Ryle said, but some areas were found to be "significantly deteriorated." That led workers to be "slower and more deliberate" in carrying out the demolition.

The crew has to position its equipment on the bridge to tear down the bridge, and they don't want it crumbling beneath them while they work. So Glasbrenner was limited to using only one track hoe at a time on the bridge because of weight limits.

And while the last vestige of the old pier should finally disappear in a few weeks, Sonny Glasbrenner's work will continue through October. Ryle said the Clearwater company will clean up and remove the concrete debris, using it to shore up the seawall at Albert Whitted Airport.

Construction of the new pier is still slated to start in early 2017. Yet that construction cannot begin without key permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Pinellas County and the Southwest Florida Water Management, also known as Swiftmud.

Army Corps spokeswoman Nakeir Nobles said the agency is currently reviewing the city's application. Its evaluation will include a look at public comments and the project's probable impact on wetlands. According to Army Corps documents, there are approximately 1.9 acres of sea grass in the project area.

St. Petersburg engineering director Tom Gibson said he's confident the Army Corps permit application will be approved.

"A permit is expected when the review process is completed," he wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "We are working cooperatively with the Army Corps staff throughout the process to provide requested information to conclude the permitting process to allow the project to proceed to construction in early 2017."

The city's applications with the county and Swiftmud will be filed before the end of the year, Gibson said.

There are other preparations that need to be addressed as the city tries to make its deadline of completing the new $66 million Pier District — which includes the $46 million pier and $20 million approach — by late 2018.

A new parking study concluded that 550 parking spaces will meet the demand for normal weekend peak parking in the Pier District. Major-event parking could be accommodated off site, the Kimley Horn study says.

That's fewer than the old Pier. Evan Mory, the city's director of transportation and parking management, said the old Pier had about 825 spaces east of Bayshore Drive to the pier head, including spots for service vehicles and valet parking. Unlike the old Pier, private vehicles will not be allowed to drive to the new pier head.

While the city has not made a final decision about what transportation system it will use to take visitors to and from the new pier, Mory said it is leaning toward using a tram system that is capable of pulling "multiple trailers" when demand is high. The city could also use smaller electric vehicles when demand is low. The cost of those systems could come in from about $500,000 to as much as $1 million, Mory said.

The city also commissioned a study to assess the viability of eating and drinking establishments in the new Pier District. The issue is a sensitive one for nearby restaurants, particularly those on popular Beach Drive.

Restaurateurs don't want the pier's new establishments to crowd them out. Recently, the city dropped one restaurant from the pier plan. A report by Lambert Advisory says the area could handle about 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of food and beverage space.

Residents will get a chance to learn more about the Pier District and offer feedback during three "open house" sessions in coming days.

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

   
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