Janet Echelman’s signature St. Pete Pier sculpture has temporarily disappeared

The aerial net sculpture by the world-renowned artist was taken down for adjustments.
The Net House of Cocoa removed the sculpture netting and prepared it for shipping back to the fabricator.
The Net House of Cocoa removed the sculpture netting and prepared it for shipping back to the fabricator. [ City of St. Petersburg. ]
Published Jan. 23, 2020|Updated Jan. 29, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The Janet Echelman aerial sculpture that was erected in the Pier District earlier this month was dismantled and crated last weekend for shipment to the West Coast.

Details behind the decision to remove the massive net sculpture, which will be returned and rehung, have been slim.

Ben Kirby, spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman, told the Tampa Bay Times that the famous artist “determined that the sculptural netting" needed to be removed from the structural rope that held it in place.

It was to be sent to the fabricator, Diamond Nets, in Everson, Wash., for adjustments, shipped back and reattached, Kirby said.

Related: St. Pete discovers ‘issue’ with $1.5 million Echelman sculpture

The Net House, based in Cocoa, had prepared the sculpture for shipping Tuesday, Kirby said. He added that Net House has a $26,685 contract for the operation.

“The city expects to be reimbursed for the costs,” Kirby said. He added that the city has heard from both Echelman and one of the Pier’s architects that “they do not anticipate that” the city “will bear any cost” for the sculpture’s adjustment.

He said repair costs are unknown at this point, since Diamond Nets needs to examine the piece “and assess the issues.”

Artist Janet Echelman talks about her work and unveils her plan for the St. Pete Pier during a presentation at Armature Works in Tampa.
Artist Janet Echelman talks about her work and unveils her plan for the St. Pete Pier during a presentation at Armature Works in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Shortly after the problem was discovered, Echelman told the Times through a public relations firm that her studio had “fabricated the sculpture correctly, and it’s not atypical to make adjustments once the work is viewed onsite.”

The additional work will delay completion of the Pier area under the soaring sculpture, including grading, irrigation and the planting of sod, Kirby said.

City development administrator Alan DeLisle noted the interconnected nature of work on the $92-million Pier project, but said: “The goal is to keep everything on track. We continue to make tremendous progress.”

Related: Janet Echelman’s Pier sculpture will be taken down and reinstalled

Echelman, whose studio is in Massachusetts, has a $1.47 million contract with St. Petersburg for her work. She has permanent installations in such places as Porto, Portugal, Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle. Kriseman raised $1.25 million in private money to pay for the sculpture that will be known as Bending Arc, and another $400,000 to help cover costs for the infrastructure, including the foundation, lighting, and four pylons.

Additionally, the city allocated $1.3 million in tax increment financing funds for the design and construction of the infrastructure. The Public Art Commission also committed $250,000 to the project.

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Related: Race to complete St. Pete Pier by spring heading into final lap

The city has not given a precise date for the opening of the 26-acre project, though officials have said the attraction will debut with a series of events starting in the spring and culminating on the Fourth of July.

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, who recently toured the site, appeared to confirm the timeline in a Facebook post. “Sections opening throughout the spring,” he said. “Official ceremony I think is July 4.”

Meanwhile, hiring has begun for jobs at the new Pier. The city is emphasizing recruitment of employees from St. Petersburg’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, which fall under the umbrella of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

“We have been working very hard with St. Pete Works,” said DeLisle, referring to a coalition that includes the Pinellas Urban League and Pinellas Opportunity Council. “We have been focused on the jobs that are being created at the Pier.”

St. Pete Works’ lead agency is the Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition, or PERC. Despite its name, executive director Michael Jalazo said that while the organization continues to work with ex-offenders, it does business as “People Empowering and Restoring Communities.”

He also wants to make sure that St. Pete Works is not misunderstood. “St. Pete Works is an employment program for the unemployed or the underemployed," he said. "It can include ex-offenders, but it is not an ex-offenders program. It is an employment placement and employment training program.”

The collaborative is organizing a job fair for South St. Petersburg CRA residents who want to apply for jobs at the new Pier. It will likely be held in February, Jalazo said.

“So far, we’ve met with eight of the employers who are going to be at the Pier. All of them are in the process of hiring," he said. "You could be talking over 200 jobs.”

There are no guarantees, he conceded, but, “I think they are willing to hire people where they find them. They are certainly committed to working with St. Pete Works.”