Advertisement
  1. News

Romano: The St. Petersburg Pier is too important to get all cheap now

A rendering of the new St. Petersburg Pier design presented to the City Council at a March 17 workshop. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times]
A rendering of the new St. Petersburg Pier design presented to the City Council at a March 17 workshop. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Published Mar. 27, 2016

They are tightening here, and cutting back there.

They are manipulating, eliminating, redesigning and looking for spare change under park benches. St. Petersburg officials are asking architects and contractors to do whatever they can to bring the new pier in under budget.

And now that they've sweated and labored over all of those possibilities, here's one revision that will fix everything:

Change the budget.

Yup, it's really that easy.

It may not be popular today, but it will be the right decision down the road. This project is far too important — and already too expensive — to risk losing its appeal over a relatively small increase in the overall budget.

"In a worst-case scenario, we might invest another $5 million in a $50 million project,'' said City Council member Karl Nurse. "Otherwise, it's like buying a Christmas tree and not hanging any decorations on it.''

This is practically a no-brainer. It's foolish to doom a centerpiece of downtown's redevelopment because it might exceed the arbitrary cost established years ago.

Look at it this way:

From the time it was built, the inverted pyramid under-performed as an attraction. It was nice. It was functional. It had its supporters. But it wasn't spectacular by any definition.

Building a modern version of the same, boring, restaurant-based pier would be a mistake. Cutting too many corners would be a mistake. Stripping the uniqueness and charm out of the current design would be a mistake we would be staring at for the next half-century.

"Good stewardship doesn't necessarily mean pinching pennies,'' said council member Charlie Gerdes. "Good stewardship means making responsible decisions that may include spending more money right now to avoid spending more later.''

Before anyone starts flinging pelican poop, let's be clear:

This is not a bait-and-switch. Sixteen months ago, contractors looked at the design of all eight pier proposals and declared they would all come in over budget. The three proposals closest to the budget also happened to be three of the first eliminated.

Pier Park, as it was known then, was considered one of the two highest in terms of costs and, thus, of needing to lose amenities to get in under budget.

So, no, recent cuts and redesigns should not be a surprise.

And the idea that construction costs are higher now that the economy has rebounded also should not be a surprise, nor a reason to strip the pier down to the basics.

"Anybody who has ever done any major rehab in their homes knows that things can change, and you have to make game time decisions," said council member Darden Rice. "I feel confident that the majority of people understand this could involve some give and take."

The recent boom in downtown construction could actually account for any additional funds needed because it will likely increase revenue in the special taxing district that is funding the pier renovation.

Kevin King, chief of staff for Rick Kriseman, says the mayor is willing to be open-minded if it means maintaining Pier Park's original vision.

"The mayor has a track record of working with other stakeholders and getting creative to accomplish goals," King said. "If he has to look into new ideas in this case, I'm sure he'll be receptive."

Floating docks, a water lounge and a more attractive children's splash pad were all considered unique features that would draw visitors beyond a signature restaurant. Yet those features are all in jeopardy to some degree because of budget constraints.

Since it's an evolving process, it's hard to pin down exact figures, but all of those amenities could probably be redrawn in the project for somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million. That's not an unreasonable amount when you're trying to safeguard the 40- or 50-year success of a project this large.

There is a difference between not being able to afford something, and simply cutting because it doesn't fit into a pre-conceived notion.

Critics will surely scream. They will accuse local officials of going back on their word. They will employ I-told-you-so arguments about their favored pier proposal. They will make it seem as if the entire city is against the idea of spending one dime more than budgeted.

Officials should listen, but they should not be swayed by emotion.

This could be the difference between a nice pier and a potentially wonderful city centerpiece. Now is not the time for cold feet or small thinkers.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.,left, speaks with House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., right, during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP]
    The charges now go to the full House for an expected vote next week.
  2. Traffic backing up on southbound Interstate 275 on the Howard Frankland Bridge Thursday evening after the Florida Highway Patrol said a fatal crash took place hours earlier. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    The collision of two pickups left traffic snarled for hours.
  3. Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins, shown at Mort Elementary School in 2016, is retiring effective June 30. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
    Jeff Eakins, the current superintendent, is retiring, effective June 30.
  4. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has launched a campaign dubbed "Bead Free Bay" in an effort to keep beads out of Tampa Bay during the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates.
    Boaters, especially, are targeted in an information campaign designed to protect the marine ecosystem.
  5. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, joined by Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., left, questions investigators during a presentation of the findings in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    Approval of the two charges against the president would send the matter to the full House for a vote expected next week.
  6. A vigil at Pine Trails Park in Parkland for victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. At the request of a state lawmaker, Citizens Property Insurance Co.’s board is again bringing in an outside evaluator to help the insurer decide if and how to cull its policyholder base. Pictured is  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) (left) and Barry Gilway, CEO of Citizens. [Courtesy of Sen. Jeff Brandes and Citizens Property Insurance Co.]
    At the request of St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, the insurer will look for ways to shrink.
  8. Katie Golden, left, died from a drug overdose in 2017. Titan Goodson, right, is accused of manslaughter in her death. [Family photo | Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    Titan Goodson stands accused in the 2017 heroin overdose death of Plant High senior Katie Golden. In an unusual trial, a jury will decide if he is responsible.
  9. Some schools have already closed for the holidays, but everyone should be off by the end of the day Dec. 20. [Times (2015)]
    Some schools are closing for the holidays this week; others won’t be done for a few days. Then it’s lights out until early January.
  10. In addition to offering groceries through Prime Now, Amazon has just launched Amazon Fresh in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
    The online retailer branches out beyond the Whole Foods’ organic products it already offers.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement