St. Petersburg committee chooses Pier Park

The Pier Park, which proposes floating docks, is the selection committee’s first choice to replace the inverted pyramid.
The Pier Park, which proposes floating docks, is the selection committee’s first choice to replace the inverted pyramid.
Published April 24, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The inverted pyramid, once disparaged as a chicken roost, but in recent years lauded by admirers as a treasured icon, appears to be on its last days.

Late Thursday night a six-member committee voted to replace the 1973 structure with a new attraction — Pier Park — that integrates into the city's downtown waterfront park system.

Destination St. Pete Pier was the second choice, followed by Alma.

Pier Park, a concept from ASD of Tampa and its partners Rogers Partners Architects and Ken Smith Landscape Architect, will reuse only the structure's caissons and elevator shafts.

In place of the inverted pyramid it will build a four-level structure with a fabric roof made of material similar to that of Tropicana Field. The project also will include a 7,600-square-foot, air-conditioned bar and grill with panoramic views that will also cater events at what is being called the Pier Overlook. There are restrooms at each level and lobby spaces that are air conditioned. At the pier head a "tilted lawn" is offered as a concert venue for as many as 4,000 people.

John Curran of ASD said the project will have a total of 70 toilets to accommodate a large crowd so there's not a "sea of Port-o-Potties."

Good public space has the capacity to change over time and take on different uses, the designers have said. Rather than creating an icon to replace the inverted pyramid, they saw it as their task to create an iconic experience that doesn't focus on a building, but on a collection of spaces that offer "shade, cover and comfort."

The pier approach will have a wet classroom as well as an air-conditioned education center and a "coastal thicket" of native plants that will offer shade. On the uplands, the concept proposes a welcome center plaza with a covered tram stop, splash pad, tilted lawn, cultural gardens and expansion and renovation of Spa Beach, featuring a new public changing facility and restrooms. Floating docks provide a way for visitors to get down to the water, a idea that committee members liked.

The concept was praised for the different experiences it will give visitors, among them a grandparents zone that does not require visitors to venture all the way to the pier head and includes a splash pad. A sticking point was the floating docks, their durability and how they would stand up to a major storm.

Landscape architect Ken Smith told the committee that the project integrates into the city's downtown waterfront master plan and spoke of sustainability and the project's diverse programming.

"It's where you can go if you have 50 cents or $50," he said.

In answer to the committee's question about the durability of its floating docks and how they would stand up to a major storm, Pier Park's creators says that they are designed for year-round use.

"However, as with any access to the water, storm conditions can be a concern," the designers say. "We estimate there will be a few times each year that high winds or a major storm event could cause a shutdown or hazard concern, but would be no different on the floating docks than it is on the pier itself."

Thursday's decision came after a lengthy meeting that included exhortations from dozens of residents speaking on behalf of their favorite pier idea. Most people spoke on behalf of Destination St. Pete Pier, a design by an influential St. Petersburg group that won a controversial, unscientific public poll.

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But as anyone who has followed the controversial pier process knows, the committee's pick for the $46 million project does not mean the end of the inverted pyramid pier. The last attempt to replace the pyramid spawned lawsuits, petitions and a referendum that sank the would-be interloper.

The committee's selection also could be sidelined by the City Council, which will be asked to authorize contract negotiations with the selection committee's top choice.

In keeping with state law, the Pier Selection Committee appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman had to rank the three design team finalists based on their qualifications. For the pier project, that includes evaluating the design teams on such criteria as experience and how their concepts conform to the $33 million construction budget and project schedule. The nonbinding poll was one of the factors considered.

Thursday's meeting was the committee's second run at ranking the design teams. In a 12-hour meeting in March, the committee managed to get down to three finalists.

The City Council will be asked to authorize contract negotiations with the top-ranked team.

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