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A Peerless Pier

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  • | 11:00 a.m. April 21, 2017
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St. Petersburg has grown into a thriving downtown, complete with residences, office, shopping, restaurants and cultural attractions around — or perhaps somewhat in spite of — its derelict Municipal Pier.

Today, the 26-acre Pier District, as city officials are calling it, is a largely languishing site with open space and a smattering of parking spaces.

But after years of planning, city officials are expected this summer to move ahead with construction that will transform the Pier and the surrounding land. The goal: build a cohesive recreation and event Mecca and a retail hub that will draw both visitors and locals alike.

In all, city officials are considering spending as much as $80 million to reshape the city's waterfront and extend its successful Beach Drive restaurants and shops outward.

To that end, earlier this month St. Petersburg's City Council approved hiring commercial real estate firm Colliers International to help create a mix of restaurants and shops that will enhance the Pier's appeal. The end result will likely be a festival marketplace similar to Pike's Place in Seattle, Harborplace in Baltimore or Southside Station, in Manhattan.

“We're looking at various elements that will bring people to the Pier of all types of groups, whether they be international travelers or local residents,” says John Scott, a Colliers International managing director.

“And we feel that the right tenant mix is the key to that.”

Besides the commercial space, designers ASD and Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers envision the revamped Pier will include an expansive playground for several age groups; a kayak launch site; water recreational facilities like a splash park; an educational center; parkland; and event space.

There, Colliers International and Big City Events will be required to stage at least 78 concerts or other events annually to benefit the community during its first year in operation. That figure rises to 83 the year following and 88 in the third year of operation. City officials have assigned a $3.2 million annual operating budget to the project.

But much about the Pier remains in flux, including its total cost, opening date and names of specific tenants.

To date, the city has devoted $66 million to the redevelopment. That figure could climb to $80 million if funding from other sources is shifted, as is being considered. Kristen Brett, a city spokeswoman working on the Pier redevelopment, says the project's guaranteed maximum price from contractor Skanska USA will be addressed during a city council meeting next month.

Two years ago city leaders dedicated an additional $20 million to expand the scope of the project to focus on enhancing the so-called Pier Approach property leading to the waterfront. That added more than a dozen acres to the redevelopment.

The project's construction schedule also has yet to be finalized. Brett says required underwater construction could begin in late May or early June, if necessary permitting is obtained by then, as is expected.

If that occurs, construction of the new Pier itself above land would commence “later this year,” Brett says. A new pier could be opened sometime in 2018.

What everyone involved does agree on, however, is the importance of developing the Pier so that it is accretive to the attractions and the fabric of the urban core, which has developed largely organically over the past decade.

City Councilman Charles Gerdes says the project is “the singular most important project that will affect our city.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman also has stated that the redevelopment of the Pier, the most recent iteration of which was constructed in 1973 and shuttered in May 2013, is a top civic priority for his administration.

Scott, too, realizes the Pier represents more than an urban redevelopment.

“People are calling it an attraction, but we see it more as a fundamental element of the community and the city as a whole,” he says. “That's our challenge in trying to position the retail for maximum benefit — to add to the success of the retail and the restaurants that are already there.

“This will be the seventh iteration of the pier in St. Petersburg's history,” Scott adds. “So what will it take to create success there? It will be many elements working seamlessly together. It'll have to have multiple prongs. It will have to make money, it will have to bring together a large swath of people with varied interests who can all enjoy it, and it will have to serve the community well for years to come.”


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