ST. PETERSBURG — Just under the wire, the new 26-acre St. Pete Pier — promised for spring 2020 — is opening on May 30.
The city announced the debut of its “new waterfront playground” on Thursday with a tweet and splashy YouTube video.
The $92-million Pier has been long in the making. As a first-time candidate for mayor, Mayor Rick Kriseman promised residents they would have a new Pier by 2015, but the controversial project proved difficult to tame. The dates shifted from 2018 to the fall of 2019, to “substantial completion” by December 2020, and then to sometime this spring.
The May 30 date has significance, Kriseman said, as it will mark 7 years since the the Memorial Day closing of the old inverted pyramid pier, to which about 20,000 people thronged to say farewell.
“What better time to open it than its anniversary weekend,” he said. “It’s also right after school has let out. It gives our kids an opportunity to enjoy it, not only that weekend, but going forward.”
Kriseman said he’ll open the Pier with a State of the City address. It will not be a phased opening, he said, though not all components of the project will be complete. The courtesy docks will definitely not be complete, and there’s also uncertainty about the Pier District’s signature public art.
Tampa-born artist Janet Echelman will install one of her internationally-renowned soaring net sculptures at the new Pier. The aerial sculpture had been erected in early January, but had to be dismantled and shipped back to its West Coast fabricator for adjustments. Kriseman said Echelman has told the city that the adjustments are beginning “and she is aiming to have it back and hung by the opening date.”
There’s also hope that the Teak restaurant, with its waterfront and city views, will make the deadline, said Chuck Prather, who owns the Birchwood, a boutique hotel on Beach Drive N, and the fourth-floor Teak and associated Pier head spots, the Driftwood Café and rooftop Pier Teaki bar.
The Teak restaurant, with its waterfront and city views, could miss the deadline. Chuck Prather, who will operate the Teak, as well as the Driftwood Café and rooftop Pier Teaki bar in the pier head building, said he is hopeful that the restaurant will be ready on time. Prather also owns the Birchwood, a boutique hotel on Beach Drive.
“We are greatly anticipating for the grand opening on May 30,” Prather said Thursday. “There are some challenging issues with some of the core building elements, which have delayed us. We are hoping to catch up on that time frame and make the opening.”
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He said the Driftwood Café will be complete, as will the rooftop bar, but in both cases food is set to be prepared in the Teak’s fourth-floor kitchen. If that’s not ready, a limited menu will be brought in from the nearby Birchwood, Prather said.
Meanwhile, the city has marshaled a volunteer force of teens and adults to greet visitors to the new Pier, whose features will include a $1 million playground, another restaurant – Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille in the Pelican parking lot area – and a Discovery Center that will teach about Tampa Bay’s ecosystem.
Besides Echelman’s piece, Bending Arc, which will measure 76 feet at its highest point and 428 feet at its widest, public art will include California artist Nathan Mabry’s Myth (Red Pelican). The whimsical, 10-foot, red origami-style aluminum plate metal pelican will greet visitors at the Pier entrance. African-American artist Xenobia Bailey’s Morning Stars mosaic, consisting of several crocheted geometric configurations, will also have a place at the Pier, as will the piece, Olnetopia, by Belgian artist Nick Ervinck.
The cost of the project, once budgeted at $50 million, has ballooned over the years, as more amenities and peripheral projects have emerged, including new seawalls and stormwater improvements. The $50 million came from a 2005 agreement between St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County Commission. In 2015, Kriseman asked for another $20 million to implement phase one of the voter-approved downtown waterfront master plan, which expanded the project. Two years later, he asked for another $14 million for Pier “enhancements.”
Kriseman, who said he expects the overall cost of the Pier to remain in “the ballpark” of $92 million, added that it’s important to remember that when the project was first being discussed in 2005, it was vastly different. Additionally, a public referendum rejected the first design, after $4 million of the initial $50 million was spent.
“Then we started the process over. We are still working with that same budget amount, not even adjusting for inflation,” he said, adding that expansion of the project was in keeping with the city’s waterfront master plan. The city has also spent money to make the project resilient and sustainable, he said.
The public will be pleased with what it is getting, Kriseman said. “If we bid all of that out today, I think you’d see a lot more than what we’re paying," he said. "I’m thrilled with what we are developing and the gift that we are delivering to the community, and people are going to enjoy for 50 years or more.”