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St. Pete pier design costs exceed construction budget, forcing cuts

The latest design for the pier was unveiled March 17. The designs will be used to develop construction documents for the downtown landmark that city officials hope will be completed by 2018. [Credit: Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers and ASD]
The latest design for the pier was unveiled March 17. The designs will be used to develop construction documents for the downtown landmark that city officials hope will be completed by 2018. [Credit: Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers and ASD]
Published Mar. 25, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Budget constraints have forced designers to eliminate prominent features in the new pier project, and they won't be restored before construction begins later this year.

An executive for the construction firm told the Tampa Bay Times that cuts were made in the project because the initial design — which won the job for the architects last year — is too costly.

"Our budget is very tight and everything over water is more difficult," said Chuck Jablon, operations vice president for Skanska USA. "We'd love to have those other pieces, but (Mayor Rick Kriseman) was very clear about the budget."

Among the features eliminated were a water lounge, boathouse and floating docks. Part of a breakwater, a barrier meant to protect Spa Beach, is also gone. Plans to enhance a splash pad are out.

Touted as a $46 million project, the actual construction budget is considerably less. In fact, Skanska's contract calls for the firm to deliver the Pier project at a guaranteed maximum price of $33 million.

The pier project was originally allocated $50 million, but $3.9 million went to the Lens, a design residents overwhelmingly rejected in a 2013 referendum. Another $5.8 million has since been spent to advance the current design — initially called Pier Park and now simply dubbed the St. Pete Pier.

Last week, the design team — ASD of Tampa, Rogers Partners Architects and Urban Designers and Ken Smith Landscape Architect of New York — revealed that they were scaling down the initial design.

Rob Rogers of Rogers Partners Architects and Urban Designers told the Tampa Bay Times that they might still be able "to pull some of those things in."

Not so, said Jablon.

"There's no part of this design that we haven't reviewed, cut apart, dissected and costed," Jablon said Thursday.

"We look at the materials very, very closely to make sure it would withstand the rigid environment out there," he said. "Those are the facts we look at: cost, schedule, longevity."

And while the St. Petersburg native, who has been in the construction business for 44 years, is optimistic, one industry insider questions the project's ability to draw skilled labor, keep costs in control and remain on schedule.

"It is going to be extremely difficult to find skilled labor, for two reasons," said Steve Cona III, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. "One is that obviously the construction industry is picking up and there's a real demand for skilled labor in the market right now."

Cona also pointed to St. Petersburg's hiring ordinances that require subcontractors on costly projects to make sure that 10 percent of work hours are performed by apprentices and 10 percent by the hard-to-hire. That limits "the amount of quality contractors" who bid on the project, he said.

"Skanska is a great member of our association. It will be interesting to see if these two ordinances have an adverse effect on managing a skilled labor workforce."

Council member Karl Nurse disagrees with Cona's assessment.

"When you're in a building boom and there is a shortage of skilled labor, that's the perfect time to bring on people that are hard to hire and people that need to go through the apprenticeship programs," Nurse said. "Because the need is to grow the next generation of skilled trades people."

Jablon, whose firm also has been selected to build the adjacent $20 million pier approach — the area that connects the pier to downtown — foresees no problem getting the right workers.

"We have a great group of subcontractors in the Pinellas County-Tampa Bay area, and I can assure you that every single one of those contractors is making it a priority to compete for this prestigious project," he said.

"I'm not worried. They will deliver. We are going to have the manpower and we're going to deliver."

On April 7, the City Council will consider transferring the remaining funds for the pier — $40.3 million — and $20 million for the pier approach. The council will also be asked to authorize the architects to continue to a more detailed design phase and construction documents.

Construction of St. Petersburg's newest pier could start as early as October, Jablon said.

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

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