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Don't Pier the Reaper

A petition drive to save the Pier is not looking good. Our iconic building may be demolished for a $50 million curvy sidewalk.

Downtown St. Petersburg obviously has a lot of iconic places.  We have the Salvador Dali Museum, Tropicana Field, Mahaffey Theater and more.  Oh, and then - then – there is another standout icon:  The Pier.  And the Pier is almost doomed to the wrecking ball.

Our “iconic” Pier is, well, let’s just say interesting.

It looks like a cross between an alien mother-ship and an Egyptian pyramid built with Tinker Toys upside-down. A lot of people consider it an eyesore. But, you know, I like it.  And I’m not alone. 

Back to the way it looks, yeah, it's a bit strange.

And because it's a bit strange, it may be doomed.

The Pier is facing the wrecking ball because the pilings underneath it are deteriorating.  At least, that's the excuse that is being used; it's "the pilings" (where, really, I think it's mostly about more of the way it looks). 

It was built in 1973 and it’s getting a little old.  So, the big argument that has been happening for years now is:  A.) Fix the pilings.  B.) Tear it down and build a new one.

I guess the big factor is the $50 million pricetag. Do we take the $50 million and fix it, or build a new one for the same amount? 

I’m not sure where that amount of budgeted money came from through the City Council, but it seems to be the magic number. 

I guess it doesn’t just take several bucks to solve the issue.

As of now, the Pier will be gone next year, another memory.  It was decided that a new one will be built.  Different architect firms pitched ideas for a new pier to replace it, and the city decided on one.  It is a dumb one (sorry, architects, that designed the new one), in my honest opinion. 

They call it The Lens.  The Lens?  Really?!

There aren’t even any shops or restaurants to it.  Well, I guess their are inland, but not out into the bay. It’s just a big sidewalk, again, in my opinion (which is shared by others as well). 

I don’t like it.  We have enough sidewalks downtown.

Here’s why I like about our current Pier.

Listen, it may look a bit weird.  It may be a bit dated.  But it’s unique. 

And judging not by its looks, it’s very functional.  The place is 100 percent occupied even. And when you dine there, go there to shop or just to sight-see, it’s, well, cool.  The views from there are outstanding.  It is a great experience for us locals to take people and for tourists to enjoy. 

And that's not to say it could use a makeover.  Maybe new paint, new attractions, more appealing things for us residents of Tampa Bay – none of that would hurt.  The Pier itself, though, really stands out because of its, well, weirdness. 

Nobody ever talks of tearing down the Guggenheim in New York because it's a bit awkward.

There is a petition drive to save it. Me, as a registered voter, voted to save it as well. I really hope it doesn't get replaced.  Of course, I don’t know the mechanics for fixing it. 

Apparently it’s not easy and would be easier to knock it into the bay.  But, if we can go to the moon, I’m guessing we could fix the pilings.

A last-minute rescue is not looking good. 

If I were you, take advantage of the Pier while you can.  Because for now, it looks as our “iconic” building will soon become a $50 million curvy sidewalk.

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N.A.W. July 08, 2012 at 05:58 PM
The 50 million dollar figure comes from the 2005 TIF financing agreement put together by Rick Baker. It was for refurbishing The Pier. The agreement states, "4.3 million to refurbish the inverted pyramid" and the remainder to demolish and replace the approach, and pier head. Many people are confused when the city says that the "pier head" has structural issues...this leads people to think that the inverted pyramid itself has structural issues, which is DOES NOT. I have heard estimates ranging from 20 to 30 years left before the giant caissons supporting the pier, corrode through the outer metal and into the concrete. There are, as of now, NO HOLES going through the metal into the concrete support caissons. Sure there's rust on the outside of the caissons, they are in salt water after all. One would think that, regardless of the fact that some people find it aesthetically unpleasing, it is still UNIQUE to our city in that it is the first inverted pyramid building in the entire history of mankind, and the only one over water. A feather in the cap of a city our size. It has been estimated, from an average of city visitor numbers, that, since 1973, there have been an average of 65 million people through the doors of The Pier. The money left in our city from that kind of foot traffic and visitors is in the billions. Great article, thank you, yet I think our iconic landmark people's pier may have a chance after all.
N.A.W. July 08, 2012 at 06:24 PM
There might not be such a fuss over this had the decision to demolish had come from the people who pay for the upkeep yearly, the tax payers of our city. Many people don't know that there is no 50 million in a vault somewhere, it is a bond issue, with interest, paid back over 20 to 25 years by the downtown redevelopment district. There might not be such a fuss over this had the city simply sent out a few RFPs to a few outside marine contractors, asking them to look at cost effective ways of preserving the historic world's first inverted pyramid. The city did an "internal analysis" at refurbishing The Pier, and tacked on a cost of 87 million to a refurbishment option. This refurb option they looked at WIDENED the approach from the 100 feet it has now, to 150 feet! One third larger! Of course this will bloat the price tag, as well as a few other things that were put in that quote.
N.A.W. July 08, 2012 at 06:26 PM
It seems like simply due diligence to first have a vote on "refurb and fix? or demolish and new?" Once you get that answer, you move to step number two, based on step one. Then you first invite LOCAL architects to come up with variations of whatever option the public chose. I personally agree with St.Pete Preservation that the architecture should be preserved as what is known in architectural terms as "self expression" of a community, because it was designed and created by local firms. It has authenticity, whereas seeking architects from outside out community, who are not in touch with our community will end up with designs that totally lack authenticity, like the "lens". Another aspect that should be looked at, and arguable the most important, is the economic impact on the immediate region of Pinellas County. 74 million a year was the last updated number from the city on the county wide impact annually from the current pier. This affects a broad range of people across our area from food vendors, gas stations, hotels, retail, and on and on. I think The Pier should be completely modernized, covered in aquamarine glass to go with the Dali, be closed to vehicular traffic, have the retail relocated from cluttering the base, and built on the approach, creating shaded programming all the way out to the building.
N.A.W. July 08, 2012 at 06:26 PM
A municipal water taxi from the pier to channelside would create a transit hub/retail/market atmosphere that could be modeled after Reading Terminal, with attractions seen at Pier 30, Navy Pier, or Santa Monica Pier. Put an old fashioned electric trolley from Baywalk to the Pier, bringing a tradition back to St.Pete(the old electric trolley tracks are still under 2 ave n). There is so much that could be done to create a whole new life with our pier, make it energy efficient, and redesign as a model for green energy use. Hydro generators, solar, wind drum turbines, all could be used out there. We are supposed to be a green city, we should handle The Pier from a green standpoint. It's not green to demolish perfectly sound buildings. Gut it, bring it up to code, rebuild it green, with some vision. Leave the floors of The Pier open to the community to decide what goes in there.....create a list of options, and let people vote. A market? Imax? In house artist galleries? The original configuration of the pier was such that the skinniest part of the pyramid was on the horizon, so as not to obstruct the view of the bay beyond. We should go back to that look. Try to find a landside view of the "lens"...it doesn't exist. Why? Because it completely blocks the bay from downtown looking out.
Nate Fakes July 08, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I totally agree. There is so much that we could do with the Pier. I always thought the concept of bringing trolleys back to the city (out to the Pier, to Baywalk - also down Central) would be a great draw to the area along with a water taxi. I think the Pier could do a lot more with it's walk to get there as well. There are dated signs and information about our sea life along the stroll, but I think there are better things that could be put in their place (honestly, not too sure what, but I'm sure something could come about). I like the idea of shaded walk as well, because that's actually a tough walk on a hot day. So many things....I just hope it doesn't get torn down and more can be done with our existing Pier.
N.A.W. July 08, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Correction "Pier 39" :-)
Jeannie Cline July 08, 2012 at 09:25 PM
a water taxi along with a streetcar would help all of St Pete more than a new, esoteric artistic walkway with no attractions other than a few boat slips and a gelato stand! my gosh, writing this makes me chuckle at how a few people are still holding on to that provincial Lens concept.....gelato, baby, that's it!!! Couldn't agree more that a real streetcar would revitalize the true heart and soul of St Pete (Central Ave) and get people out to the world famous beaches in style.....more would benefit from this along with an updated and mean-green revitalized inverted pyramid than a walkway to nowhere......good article Nate......there are other articles appearing, too..the support is really growing exponentially to put the Lens to rest.....
cherylwithac July 09, 2012 at 02:47 PM
The streetcar idea sounds great--from the existing Pier all the way down Central Avenue to the beaches. Despite claims of downtown "walkability," try making it around on foot for eight hours on some hot day. Even try to make it from the Old Northeast to the Dali Museum. It's a hike. A streetcar with open-air windows like those in New Orleans would be more attractive to most people than the Central Avenue Trolley.
Nate Fakes July 09, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Thanks, Jeannie. And yes, I hope the Lens concept does get put to rest. I'm so glad the momentum for support to keep the current pier keeps building! I think as time goes by and the more people think about it, they realize our pier is pretty unique and worth saving - not an eye-sore.
Nate Fakes July 09, 2012 at 02:54 PM
It really would be great for St. Pete. Our city is set up pretty well for them as well (it seems to me). People would use them and definitely would add a boost to the area!
Jeannie Cline July 09, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Couldn't agree more! That group, Ride the Tide Tampa Bay has been promoting this and has been getting a whole lot of positive support!!! A water taxi connecting to a real streetcar in both Tampa and St Pete would be a total boost to this region. Sorry, those downtown "looper" trolleys are still buses.....slow, noisy, smelly......so "Branson, Missouri" touristy......a real system that would go to the beaches eventually is what we need.
Nate Fakes July 09, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Yea, the "trolleys" we have aren't the same as something authentic. I'm actually really surprised I don't hear more about wanting this. Seems like a no-brainer. Of course, I have no clue about the cost and everything, but it seems like revenues would be made up with tourism draw and local businesses.
Jeannie Cline July 11, 2012 at 02:09 AM
they are affordable and when included in a true mass transit line, they are a viable form of transportation due to our year round outdoor climate.....one central line in st pete can help us reduce the number of buses needed downtown....

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