Foster: Pier Status Quo Not Good Enough Anymore

St. Petersburg Pier
The St. Petersburg City Council approved a plan Aug. 26 to demolish the existing pier and inverted pyramid building, opting to design a new "icon" for the city's waterfront.
ST. PETERSBURG (2010-09-01) -

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster is fighting off criticism of the City Council's decision to tear down the St. Petersburg Pier, arguing it doesn't make sense to keep an aging structure that gets little use.

"I am limited to $50 million," Foster said. "Fifty million dollars maintains the existing status quo in the inverted pyramid. Nothing else changes. I have a problem with that."

The limit of $50 million comes from an earmark in the Intown Tax Increment Financing District, money set aside by the city and county that becomes available for the pier in 2012.

Critics say the council's decision happened too quickly and without enough public input. Council members had a workshop on the pier Aug. 18. In a straw vote at that meeting, they voted 5-3 to move forward with plans for a new structure. Eight days later, the council voted on a binding resolution at its regular meeting. The vote was 7-1.

"When I come into my office on Thursday morning [Aug. 26] and there's a resolution that wasn't at the workshop, that we couldn't vet and we couldn't talk about, but we have to go vote on in three hours, that's really not letting the people have a say," said Councilman Wengay Newton, the lone dissenting vote on the pier plan.

Newton said he talked to a Pinellas County Commissioner who indicated the commission would have liked to weigh in on the pier issue before a final vote. The commission and the city each control half of the $50 million in tax increment financing.

"Once this train leaves the station, the over costs, the overruns, are going to go up," Newton said. We don't know what's going to happen once you start disturbing the ocean floor out one knows. So as far as being 50 million or 60 million, I think it'll be way north of that."

Newton said he will also be looking at the city's management contract for the pier in hopes of finding ways to save some of the $1.2 million to $1.6 million in annual operating cost paid by the city.

Foster and Newton agreed the key for the future of the pier will be getting more people to patronize businesses and attend events.

"We love that access to the waterfront, we love the pier," Foster said. "There are programming deficiencies, and it needs to be something that the locals will support.

"The folks out west, the folks out north, the folks in south St. Pete do not regularly support and attend pier events," Foster said.

"The [city's Pier Advisory Task Force] overwhelmingly talked about programming and things that happen down there," Newton said.

After the Miss Florida Pageant, he said he took his daughter to the pier, but "it was 9 or 10 at night and you could throw a rock and not hit anybody."

"People want to be able to come do stuff, so programming is important," he said.

Click here for more of our conversation with Foster and Newton.

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