St. Petersburg Pier to close in May 2013

Published Feb. 24, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — The 1973 Pier will close in 2013.

May 31, to be exact.

Before then, expect the city and remaining Pier tenants to launch an all-out promotion of the last days of the inverted pyramid.

The closing date was discussed Thursday at a City Council workshop, during which council members listened to the complex logistics involved with closing, decommissioning and demolishing the structure and constructing the $50 million replacement expected to open in 2015.

There was no disagreement about timing, but several council members were against a proposal that would close the Pier approach to the public weeks or months before demolition.

"We should review that, once the building is decommissioned, and still allow access to the approach,'' council member Jeff Danner said.

The approach should remain open at least for fishing and walking, council member Leslie Curran said. "That's one of the reasons for piers,'' she said afterward.

Mayor Bill Foster mentioned liability concerns, but city staffers will look at the possibility of keeping the area open.

Establishing the timetable for shuttering the inverted pyramid revolved mainly around its tenants. The Columbia restaurant — the facility's primary and most successful tenant — indicated at the beginning of this year that it intended to continue to operate under its current lease through the end of March next year, said Dave Metz, director of downtown enterprise facilities.

Another key consideration was the tourist season, which wraps up in May, he said.

Metz said the city will work with the more than two dozen tenants to help them relocate.

"Hopefully, we'd want to keep them in St. Petersburg,'' he said. "The Central Avenue corridor is perhaps a good opportunity."

Foster said Columbia owner Richard Gonzmart supports the closing schedule.

"He's very appreciative of the time he has to celebrate the closure of the grand old lady of St. Petersburg,'' he said. "He's also very interested in having a sizeable presence in St. Petersburg.''

The city is committed to helping the restaurant do so.

"I am not going to be the only major city in Tampa Bay without a Columbia restaurant," Foster said.

The Pier's closing is pivotal to setting the schedule for its replacement, said Raul Quintana, the city's architect.

The old Pier will have to be "decommissioned," a process that would involve giving tenants time to remove equipment and improvements they've made to their spaces, he said. It's also a time to remove hazardous materials and salvageable items.

The city has set aside at least 45 days for the process.

"As early as we can, we will submit the permit application for the demolition (of the old Pier) and construction of the new Pier,'' Quintana said. "The Army Corps of Engineers (which is in charge of federal permits anytime something is built in a navigable waterway) essentially sees this as one project.''

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Permitting could take about 14 months, Quintana said, but he told council members he hopes the permit for demolition could be obtained sooner.

The project is a sore topic for some tenants, who have teamed up with a group,, that is trying to save the inverted pyramid. Headed by Safety Harbor resident Tom Lambdon, the group has collected more than 13,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum. Close to 16,000 signatures are required.

The project to replace the Pier took root in 2004, when an engineering study showed the concrete substructure of the Pier head and approach, dating to the 1920s, was badly degraded and could not be repaired.

The current taxpayer subsidy to operate the facility is $1.4 million a year, Metz said. Michael Maltzan Architecture, designer of the new Pier, says subsidies will be minimized. Its design calls for most retail and restaurant space to be concentrated away from the Pier itself and located at "the Hub," a 6,000-square-foot area that's closer to downtown.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.