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No clear answer on when Pier can come down

Smith Fence workers Brandon Knight and Chris Tompkins put up barricades Monday on the approach to the Pier.
Published Jul. 14, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — A construction fence rose at the Pier on Monday, signaling that demolition is imminent, starting with the iconic and controversial inverted pyramid.

But that work could be weeks, even months away because of what appears to be a misunderstanding about a required federal permit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says nothing — including planned removal this month of metals and fixtures from the inverted pyramid — can occur without the agency's permission.

That's directly opposite to what Michael Connors, the city's public works administrator, told the City Council on Thursday, during a meeting to approve the $3.2 million demolition contract. Council member Karl Nurse raised the question.

"Mike was very clear that we could tear down the buildings without a permit," Nurse said. "His answers didn't leave any room for equivocation. There's a breakdown of communication somewhere. We need to get this clear."

Last week, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Nakeir Nobles told the Tampa Bay Times that since the Pier is over navigable waters, the agency must issue a demolition permit for the entire structure — the approach, or bridge, the pyramid and the area surrounding it. Further, she said, work cannot begin until an agreement concerning historic preservation is finalized. The tentative timing for that is this fall, she said.

This week, the issue became more confusing.

Tom Gibson, the city's director of engineering, had said the city's permit application didn't include the inverted pyramid. On Monday, though, Nobles said it does.

"We are in the process of discussing the permit application with the city for a correct way forward," she said. "Maybe something needs further explanation so we can proceed."

Gibson later offered the city's explanation.

St. Petersburg had hired a consultant to prepare the application, which included drawings and square footage of the proposed demolition, including the Pier approach and Pier head, but not the inverted pyramid or surrounding retail shops, he said in an email Monday afternoon.

"The Army Corps had not verbally indicated until this morning that the demolition work permit includes the inverted pyramid building," he said.

"We have nothing in writing from the Army Corps saying we cannot go forward. Our consultant who prepared the permit has indicated we can go forward with demolition, and the permit clearly does not include the inverted pyramid. However, based on the questions raised, we are attempting to obtain further clarification and are taking no action until further clarification is obtained."

He added there would be no delay with the Pier Park design — the replacement project — while the matter is being resolved.

Nobles said starting demolition without a permit would violate federal laws.

Frank Carter "Bud" Karins, an engineer who once joined a group to sue the city for a public vote on the fate of the inverted pyramid, believes the city is in a hurry to get rid of the iconic building.

"I'm appalled at the speed at which these people want to proceed. What's the big rush? You don't even have a final design for the new thing that is to be built," he said.

"Their primary objective is to get rid of the inverted pyramid."

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

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