St. Petersburg Pier's inverted pyramid a designer's dilemma

Published Dec. 19, 2014

And the Lens died for this?

Few civic debates have been as filled with frantic Sturm und Drang hand-wringing as what to do with the Pier, the city's answer to a rusting Yugo sitting on blocks in the front yard.

It's not too late for Mayor Rick Kriseman to hide the cost of some Semtex in the city budget to put the the Pier out of its misery. Boom! Problem solved. But we digress.

There was a time not long ago when the suggested replacement for the Pier appeared to be on track, if only then-Mayor Bill Foster more aggressively pushed for the innovative Lens design to go forward. But Foster folded faster than Monty Python's Brave, Brave Sir Robin after a bunch of community swells got their ascots in a wad and financed a referendum to kill the project.

That brings us to Act II of "MacPier" as a cast of eight architectural players have stepped forward with ideas for the site. Let the huffing and puffing begin.

This may well be presumptuous, but we can probably eliminate two of the groups right away — Alfonso Architects of Tampa and Ahha! Design Group. Both committed the unpardonable sin of submitting a design that would call for the razing of the existing old inverted pyramid, St. Petersburg's perverse homage to the crumbling block game of Jenga.

Apparently these architects failed to realize retaining all or part of the Pyramid of Phooey is too near and dear to even think about demolishing.

That brings us to the remaining six groups, who apparently got the memo that whatever they came up with, it darn well better include the inverted pyramid, which, of course, has led to an exercise in design more akin to putting lipstick on a Bob's Barricade and calling it a work of art. We pause here for a $33 million sigh.

It would seem the architects were confronted with a challenge to satisfy the city's secret handshake society. How do you design something remotely interesting, while at the same time retaining all or portions of the erector set with a gland problem?

Now comes all the knit-picking as a mayoral selection committee will narrow the submissions based on which entrants are actually feasible. At the rate this is going, we could well wind up with a giant re-creation of the leg lamp from A Christmas Story sitting at the end of the pier.

It will be mildly interesting to learn the fate of one design, Destination St. Pete Pier, which really ought to be called Deja Vu Pier, which at first glance does look sort of Lensy, with a looping promenade encircling the inverted pyramid. Cute.

The surviving designs will be presented in February at the Coliseum, followed by a survey of city residents to determine the finalists. If all else fails, perhaps the city could create a museum of discarded architectural renderings. Goodness knows the inverted pyramid would groan under the weight of all the good intentions sacrificed on the altar of preserving the status quo.