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Opposition gathers as Pier Park preps for crucial first step

Pier Park — with its floating docks, "coastal thicket" and other features — was approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in May.
Pier Park — with its floating docks, "coastal thicket" and other features — was approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in May.
Published Jul. 7, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members are considering about $5 million in contracts this week for the first phase of Pier Park, St. Petersburg's new waterfront landmark.

Council members could vote Thursday on an architectural and engineering services agreement with the designers of the new pier. They'll consider a second agreement with the project's construction manager and a third to demolish the shuttered 1973 inverted pyramid that has symbolized the city's pier tradition for more than 40 years.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes is looking forward to this next step, which could mark the end of what has been a contentious, drawn-out process of false starts.

"I'm looking forward to starting the new pier and eliminating the view of an abandoned building," Gerdes said.

But groups that oppose the project could create further delays.

"We're actively moving forward to get the required number of petitions to give voters a say on any demolition or construction upon the downtown waterfront," said Tom Lambdon, the Safety Harbor resident who founded Vote on the Pier. The group, whose petition drive to save the inverted pyramid collected more than 20,000 signatures, helped fuel the 2013 referendum that scuttled the last pier process.

Despite that potential hurdle, council members are set to approve up to $5.2 million Thursday. The money will come from downtown tax revenue. Besides the contracts, the money includes other costs and contingencies.

About $1.2 million is earmarked for Tampa's ASD and Rogers Partners of New York for the schematic design phase of Pier Park, the new landmark. The designers will be paid a total of $4.4 million.

The schematic design phase is scheduled to take five months and will include feedback from residents. What form this will take is not yet known, but it will be handled by B2 Communications, a St. Petersburg subcontractor for the Pier Park design team, said Ben Kirby, spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"We are going to work with them and the design team to determine what's the best way to engage the public," Kirby said.

Among those watching will be Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that spearheaded the 2013 referendum that led to a resounding rejection of the previous design, the Lens, and derailed the construction of a new pier.

Like the previous design, Pier Park was not Concerned Citizens' preferred choice.

"While we disagree with the choice, we view our role as making certain that the choice that has been made now is in the best interest of the city," said Bud Risser, one of the group's leaders. He added that he hopes the city pays attention to the legal liabilities of the project, which features floating docks designed to let visitors get down to the water.

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"We're very concerned with the viability of the idea of having all these floating docks, where people can fall in and float to Mexico," he said.

Skanska USA Building, part of a global company with offices in Tampa, is on tap to build the project. Council members will be asked to approve an agreement to hire the company as construction manager. Skanska will initially get $490,000 for services before construction. The city has already paid it $80,000 to analyze the costs and "constructability" of the design finalists that vied for the $46 million project.

Demolition of the inverted pyramid will not mean a Lethal Weapon III implosion, as with the city's Soreno Hotel in 1992. The process, meant to be environmentally sensitive, will include the use of floating barriers to protect water quality and sea life.

Council members are also being asked to approve a contract with Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Clearwater for $3.2 million, a sum that is almost 5 percent higher than when first submitted in 2012. City documents show that Glasbrenner wants a 4.9 percent increase to cover an "escalation in prices for labor, equipment and materials."

"I'm satisfied with that," Gerdes said of the higher cost. "And I'm happy that it is a local Pinellas company."

But the city has yet to receive a demolition permit for the old Pier from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kirby said that is expected in a few months.

Meanwhile, Lambdon's group has been low-key.

Explaining why there's been little action on the group's Facebook pages, Lambdon said, "When you are at war with someone, you don't show them your cards."

The city's schedule calls for construction of the new pier to begin early in 2017 and continue into 2018.

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