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New study on St. Petersburg Pier offers few new findings

A new study about how the Pier should be used and what would make the most financial and practical sense in its redevelopment appears to validate many of the recent findings of a citizens group.
A new study about how the Pier should be used and what would make the most financial and practical sense in its redevelopment appears to validate many of the recent findings of a citizens group.
Published Nov. 4, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — A new study about how the Pier should be used, and what would make the most financial and practical sense, appears to validate many of the recent findings of a citizens group.

The $17,000 analysis by Lambert Advisory of Miami examined economic, demographic and real estate trends in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to come up with its recommendations, but offers little that is different from those presented to the Pier Advisory Task Force in 2010.

Here are some of the suggestions as the city considers a new or renovated Pier:

• The Pier "must be attractive to both visitors and locals," to be financially successful.

• Restaurants are the only retail-oriented use that "can perform reasonably well on or adjacent to the Pier," without entertainment and other activities to draw people there. The Pier and uplands could absorb between 50,000 and 60,000 square feet of restaurant, bar and banquet space, slightly more than estimated four years earlier.

• There is "substantial opportunity" for family entertainment, such as "waterpark-type features, arcades and certain well-positioned rides." With little competition in Pinellas County, there is a chance to get a private investor "who would take the risk associated with these ventures."

• An amphitheater-style performance venue with a capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 could be quite successful, but with potential bookings of only between 12 to 24 days a year, "should be considered only in conjunction with another more heavily utilized entertainment use."

• The market is "nearly primed" to support a hotel at, or adjacent to, the Pier.

• There's a need to accommodate larger local and transient boats, as well as for additional courtesy docks.

• A major aquarium, marine discovery center or similar facility would be a draw, but the city must consider these attractions only if "a dedicated funding source for capital and operations is identified during the planning process."

The report, given as a draft to the city late last week, updates the 2010 analysis prepared for the Pier Advisory Task Force, the group originally charged with helping to determine how the city should approach the Pier's rejuvenation.

This new analysis came at the request of the recent Pier Working Group appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman. Ed Montanari, vice chairman of both the Pier Advisory Task Force and the working group, said it was important to get a current market assessment.

"We only met for about five or six weeks and we got a lot of input, but we wanted a professional review. … A lot of it validates the work we did," he said of the working group.

"A lot of the report is in line with where we were in 2010, and there's some good things in this report — and then there are some cautionary-type statements."

The primary new finding is the potential market support for a hotel, said Will Michaels, who headed the design committee of the Pier Advisory Task Force.

"Personally, I would not want to see a hotel as a part of a new Pier complex, and I have heard no support for it from either the 2010 or the 2014 task forces," he said.

Michaels said he disagrees with the financial recommendations concerning a marine discovery center or similar attraction.

"As the first task force report stated, the Pier, while in part a revenue-producing enterprise of the city, is also a community amenity similar to a park or recreation center. Were a marine discovery center to be included, it should not be expected to assume the basic capital costs of its portion of the Pier any more than a restaurant, which the report is not recommending," he said.

"Also, it is not so much any revenue the Pier may itself directly generate for the city that is most important. It is the concept of the Pier as an economic engine fueling the rest of the city by the residents and tourists it draws to the downtown that is economically most important," Michaels said.

Montanari said the report seems to be suggesting that something new be done at the Pier.

"Let's find something that's unique, exciting. I want to have something that I can take my family to," he said.

The study will be sent to the eight design teams competing for the Pier project. Teams have until Dec. 19 to submit concepts.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com.

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