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Romano: Why, yes, I'd love to spend millions more on the pier

This is a view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay looking west. The area where the St. Petersburg Pier used to be can be seen at the right, center. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
This is a view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay looking west. The area where the St. Petersburg Pier used to be can be seen at the right, center. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Dec. 15, 2016

Well, this is bad news. They've gone and raised the price of spectacular.

Based on the latest construction catalog, a city should expect only a no-frills, starter pier for its initial $46 million investment. Throw in an additional $20 million and you can get a complementary package that links the pier to downtown and creates a super-nice waterfront district.

But if you want truly spectacular?

That might cost you $14 million more.

Which explains why St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has been quietly lobbying City Council members and Pinellas County commissioners to shift some available funds from one pocket to another.

"I don't want us to have any regrets down the road," Kriseman said. "I want to be able to give the community something really special."

So how do you feel about this cost increase?

Misled? I'll buy that.

Annoyed? I get that, too.

Ready for battle? Sorry, but I disagree.

As frustrating as the details may be, the mayor's overall point is sound. This is a centerpiece project for a city. Not just a local amenity, but an economic asset. And do you really want to risk cheapening the city's signature landmark by arguing over an arbitrary price tag at the last minute?

To put it another way, saying no is easy.

That's why the conversation about a new pier is still ongoing 12 years after it began. That's why the new police station hasn't been built. That's why a Rays stadium is still a theory.

I'm not saying city leaders shouldn't be prudent, responsible or inquisitive. But there comes a time when you must be bold. When you must be visionary. When you must have courage.

This is one of those moments.

There will be arguments that a waterfront promenade, splash pool, floating dock, kayak and paddleboard station or covered pavilion at the pier are less important than infrastructure needs.

Like an out-of-date sewer system, for example.

But Kriseman says those arguments are misguided. The $14 million he's requesting from the county would come from a fund that cannot be used on any of the city's sewage plants.

"It sounds great to say, 'Let's use this money for this,' but legally we can't do it," Kriseman said. "At the same time, I am absolutely committed to fixing our sewer system, and we've got the funding in place to do that. It will get done."

Just to be clear, the extra pier money could be used to replace aging sewer pipes downtown, but Kriseman says those repairs would cost only $1.5 million. And, he points out, those particular pipes are not high among the problem areas.

If that's the case, I would suggest earmarking $2 million for the downtown pipes and cutting the pier amenities down to $12 million.

It's an easy compromise given the current climate. And it would help ease the perception that the mayor is more interested in shiny things than the nitty-gritty.

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In the end, here's what I do know:

If the money is spent and the pier is a spectacular success, no one will be bellyaching about the $14 million in five years.

But if the city cuts corners and the pier has a limited appeal, you can count on hearing complaints for generations to come.


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