ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman wants Pinellas County to shift another $14 million toward helping St. Petersburg finish the increasingly expensive Pier District.
The city has not yet made a formal request to the county, which last year dedicated another $20 million to the then-$46 million project, bringing the current budget to $66 million. Kriseman wants to spend up to $80 million to perfect the Pier, and the mayor has been talking to Pinellas County commissioners and St. Petersburg City Council members about his idea. But some are already pushing back against it.
Kriseman said the $14 million figure would be his maximum request, and it would come from money that was earmarked to build an intermodal transportation center for light rail and buses. But that project is no longer needed. It was part of the failed Greenlight Pinellas referendum that was voted down in 2014.
The budget boost would not pay for cost overruns or add more amenities. Instead, the mayor said, it would make the Pier even better.
"I'm looking at, if we invest some more money, we can have a world class Pier," Kriseman said. "It's more taking the elements that would exist in the current budget and taking them up another notch."
An example, he said, would be the splash pad, which right now is less impressive because of budget constraints. Spending more money would create "something that is super-cool," the mayor said. "I think that's a great example of what we could potentially do." And it would be done using "existing money that is just being reprogrammed."
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said Kriseman has called her twice in recent weeks to discuss the idea.
"I am open to the discussion," she said. "The city has to make a decision on what they want to do. It's their money, at the end of the day."
The money would come from tax increment financing, or TIF funds. The Pier sits in the Intown Community Redevelopment Area and is one of several downtown projects that have benefited from the special taxing district. The city and county originally agreed to allot $50 million in TIF funding to replace the old inverted pyramid Pier. But the first, failed attempt to build a new Pier left the city with $46 million for the project.
In 2015, the County Commission approved Kriseman's request to steer higher-than-anticipated tax revenues in the Intown CRA, adding $20 million to pay for the newly proposed Pier approach, an enhanced entryway to the waterfront Pier itself.
Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers said he wasn't aware that the transportation money was even available. Had he known, he would have raised the issue last year, when he voted against the additional $20 million that Kriseman requested and received.
Eggers said he has talked to several people in St. Petersburg who question the cost of the project.
"There are so many things that need funding in their community," he said, specifically mentioning the sewer system and adding that he is "not likely" to support "shifting of the money." That was a reference to the 200 million gallons of sewage the city's overwhelmed sewer system has released since 2015.
City Council Member Karl Nurse is tepid to the idea of increasing the Pier budget. He did not change his mind after meeting with Kriseman on Tuesday.
"His argument is that he doesn't want to do it on the cheap and construction costs have gone up," Nurse said. "I told him I wasn't convinced."
Nurse said he had heard from two commissioners who also are unenthusiastic about the mayor's pending request. Instead, he said, they asked: "Why don't you fix the sewers downtown?"
City Council member Steve Kornell was also concerned about putting more money toward the Pier.
"The solution to every problem is not that there are millions of dollars added that are not in the budget," he said. "There are other needs downtown and there are infrastructure needs downtown.
"I am very skeptical. I am very disappointed that we are being asked to go so far over budget ... somebody needs to be the adult in the room and say, 'Enough is enough.'"
But City Council member Darden Rice said she's not against the idea, at least not yet.
"I think it is important to keep an open mind as we hear an update about the Pier," she said referring to the architects' update on the project which is scheduled to take place at 8 a.m. Thursday at City Hall.
Responding to suggestions that the money go to other infrastructure needs, Kriseman said the city is limited on how it can use TIF dollars. He also said St. Petersburg's critical infrastructure needs are not within the Intown district.
County Commissioner Ken Welch noted that it's simply a reallocation of funds.
"It's using the money for a different project," Welch said. "He has my support for that."