Pier Park's extension of the downtown waterfront gives St. Petersburg an exciting opportunity to heal civic division and rejuvenate a popular landmark. The top-ranked design's creative strength — activities, greenery and floating docks that run the pier's entire length — raises permitting and maintenance issues that Mayor Rick Kriseman must scrutinize as he negotiates inevitable design modifications with the architects. But that is the nature of fine-tuning a $33 million endeavor, not an excuse for timidity. The City Council should resist pressure for yet another design competition or voter referendum Thursday and authorize Kriseman to enter contract negotiations with ASD Rogers Partners so the city finally can move ahead with its next-generation pier.
St. Petersburg's iconic inverted pyramid has been obsolete for years, and an innovative design for the future called the Lens was killed by a 2013 voter referendum initiated by the pyramid's supporters. Had City Council members wanted to maintain the pyramid at all costs, they could have restricted the second design competition to renovation. Instead, architectural teams were invited to submit transformative concepts as well. A volunteer selection committee, working off specific criteria, voted 5-1 to rank Pier Park and its architectural team first, followed by the Destination St. Pete Pier idea that would give new life to the inverted pyramid. By law, the council must instruct Kriseman to begin contract negotiations with the winning team or throw out the competition and start over.
Yet some disgruntled Destination supporters are calling for another referendum, which would cause unnecessary delay and expense. Pier Park is not Lens Redux. The city conducted an online survey and heard hours of public comment without any design scoring a knockout punch. City Council members are reporting strong support from residents for the Pier Park selection, and a referendum strategy designed to stack the deck in favor of Destination would subvert the state-mandated selection process and invite a lawsuit. One sour grapes contention is that anti-pyramid city staffers led the selection committee around by the nose. That disrespects the committee's thoughtful, time-consuming public service that was open for all to see.
Pier Park's original design was scaled back to reduce its over-water presence, but floating docks and a new breakwater could raise permitting questions. Pier Park's estimated operational subsidies are about equal to Destination's, but long-run capital replacement costs are higher. Though Pier Park's design flexibility allows for ample cost adjustment, Kriseman must address these issues during contract negotiations to ensure that St. Petersburg's next pier serves its purpose without undue complication or tax burden.
The inverted pyramid created fond memories and will be missed by many. But Pier Park holds great promise as a lively new center of community activity. The mayor needs the council's authorization to begin the contract negotiations.
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It's time to move forward.