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Lower Pier renovation price means compromises

ST. PETERSBURG — What will it cost to renovate the inverted pyramid, the shuttered iconic Pier on the waterfront?

At this point, it's anyone's guess, but some insist it's definitely not the $70 million-plus figure officials have posited.

As the city embarks on a new course to carry on its century-old tradition of a public pier, ideas are proliferating for a new or renovated structure. Away from City Hall, at least two renovation ideas promise price tags to fit the $45 million budget designated for something brand new.

This comes as Mayor Bill Foster announced the city is working on new estimates to renovate the 1973 inverted pyramid, one aspect of a plan to push the moribund pier project forward.

A draft of the city's analysis indicates that the pyramid could be renovated for $45 million — or $75 million.

The widely divergent numbers are preliminary, Foster said, and "have not been verified by an independent third party."

Among those offering their own figures and ideas are Mesh Architecture, a downtown firm, and Dan Harvey, founder of Harvey's 4th Street Grill. Both say they can bring the project in within the $45 million budget.

In each proposal, as with the city's cheaper option, visitors would travel along a narrower bridge — by bike, trolley or foot — to a pier with a greatly reduced surrounding deck. Neither the city's nor Mesh's plan includes the ground-floor shops that were added in the 1980s. Upland development is emphasized by both Mesh and Harvey.

Central to any plans, says City Council chairman Karl Nurse, is the sturdiness of the four massive 17- by 17-foot caissons built more than four decades ago to support the inverted pyramid.

"We need to fairly quickly ask the question of how much the caissons can hold and for how long, before we get too far down the road designing anything,'' he said.

Still, Nurse, who opposed plans for the Lens — the proposed replacement for the inverted pyramid that voters rejected in August — is impressed with a preview of Mesh's proposal.

"We need to be interested, willing to learn, but cautious to make sure that their numbers do make sense," he said. "Because I imagine that is a several-million-dollar question."

Tim Clemmons, a principal of Mesh, said the firm could renovate the Pier and provide amenities on the uplands for $36 million. Soft costs such as architectural and engineering fees would be added to that sum, he said.

Mesh, which partnered with an international firm whose work was a finalist in the city's 2011 pier design competition, wants to please residents who want to preserve the pyramid as well as others who crave something new, Clemmons said.

Mesh would eliminate the Pier's fourth floor to create tall ceilings for a signature restaurant and accommodate family restaurants on the rooftop. The pier approach would be narrower by about 40 feet and the area around the building would be reduced by more than half. The resulting savings would leave about $8 million to develop the uplands for amenities such as a splash park, casual beach restaurant and a plaza for community activities, Clemmons said.

Lorraine Margeson, who fought the Lens as part of the Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg group and is running against Council Member Jim Kennedy for the District 2 seat, likes Mesh's ideas.

"This is an exciting plan that addresses all of the Pier Advisory Task Force's requirements, comes in at or under budget and totally re-imagines all of the spaces in a spectacular fashion and with a very green slant," she said.

Harvey, also of Concerned Citizens and a board member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said his plan would put $10 million toward upland development, $20 million to renovate the Pier and $10 million to create breakwaters for the Vinoy Basin and municipal marina. The Pier's original steel framework and caissons would be used.

The city's preliminary renovation figures emerged from examining both the cost to replace the approach and Pier head and what could be done within the budget, city architect Raul Quintana said.

For $75 million, the ground floor shops would be lost, but the width of the approach and Pier head would be preserved. With $45 million, the width of the approach would be reduced from 100 to 50 feet. The Pier surround would be smaller.

"Considerable structural analysis" must still be done to determine the cost to meet current codes, Quintana said.

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