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

The next few weeks will bring the installation of Janet Echelman’s sculpture, a roof for the Pier head building and arrival of passenger trams.

ST. PETERSBURG — Some time this spring, the city’s new $92-million Pier will begin to welcome visitors.

But city officials have yet to pinpoint an exact date for its debut. Forecasts over the years have veered from the wildly optimistic 2015 to the fall of 2019, and most recently to “substantial completion” by December.

As 2019 came to an end, Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination, reiterated earlier statements that unveiling of the long-awaited Pier, now a 26-acre expanse, will happen with a series of events that start in the spring and culminate with the Fourth of July.

In preparation for the extended grand opening, the city plans to turn to a volunteer force of youths and adults to greet visitors to the new Pier. Meanwhile, Ballestra said, trams that will run the length of the Pier approach are expected to be delivered in the next few weeks. Two smaller electric shuttles have already arrived, he said. And the project soon will become more visible at night when illumination is complete.

Interior work at the five-story Pier head building continues at the Teak restaurant, Driftwood Cafe and Pier Teaki rooftop bar. The Pier head's canopy roof is expected to be installed in coming weeks. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]

Also, look for Janet Echelman’s soaring net sculpture to start rising in the skies in January, with installation scheduled to be complete in February. The artwork is being trucked in from Washington state, Ballestra said.

Janet Echelman’s billowing sculpture in the St. Pete Pier District will be called Bending Arc. [ Courtesy of Studio Echelman ]

Echelman, an internationally renowned artist and Tampa native, unveiled her Bending Arc design during an Urban Land Institute conference in Tampa early in 2019. The artist, based in Massachusetts, has a $1.47 million contract for her work. Mayor Rick Kriseman raised $1.25 million in private money to pay for the billowing sculpture and another $400,000 to help cover costs for the infrastructure, which includes foundation, lighting, and four pylons.

Related: Interest in St. Pete Pier naming rights gains traction

The city’s boast of owning Echelman’s work — permanent installations soar above such cities as Porto, Portugal, Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle — will benefit from $1.3 million in tax increment financing funds that will be used for design and construction of the infrastructure. The Public Art Commission is also contributing $250,000 towards the project.

Last year saw visible progress at the Pier, including new seawalls, installation of a $1 million wooden playground and construction of the Pier head building. The roof of the five-story structure — a steel canopy made of solid and perforated metal panels — is about to be added. Inside, work continues on the Teak restaurant, Driftwood Cafe and Pier Teaki rooftop bar. The fishing deck, Ballestra said, is almost complete.

At Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille in the Pelican parking lot area, interior work is ongoing. Behind the scenes work is also taking place at the Tampa Bay Watch building, which will house hands–on marine exhibits and teach about Tampa Bay’s ecosystem. Last spring, the structure near the center of the Pier approach became the first building to be dedicated in the new Pier District. Now, focus is on interior work at what will officially be known as the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center presented by the Milkey Family Foundation.

And for those wondering about the closure at Second Avenue NE, from the east side of Beach Drive NE to west of Bayshore Drive NE, a little more patience is required. Work, which will include stormwater improvements, is expected to continue for another two months, Ballestra said. The temporary closure is directly connected to the creation of the new waterfront destination’s “gateway.”

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