There were two major items on St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s to-do list when he took office in January: hire a new police chief and figure out what to do with the shuttered Pier.
With the swearing in last week of Police Chief Anthony Holloway, Kriseman can check that first box. Now he needs to focus his attention on the much more difficult task of building a new pier or perhaps refurbishing the existing Pier.
We don’t envy him. He needs to be inclusive while at the same time making sure the process doesn’t sink under its own weight, which is what his predecessor, Bill Foster, allowed to happen.
Letting the public and the various pier factions have a say is important. But Kriseman needs to manage the process from start to finish, making his desires known and flexing the political muscle needed to deliver a plan that incorporates the functions citizens want with a form that fits well with the city’s famed waterfront.
The city shoved function to the side when arriving at the futuristic Lens design, and it never gained wide public support. But as ugly and painful as that process was, the Lens’ defeat at the polls can be viewed now as a blessing, a second chance to get it right.
One lesson of the failed process has already been taken to heart. A citizens’ committee has developed a list of the functions they want the pier to fulfill. Dining, fishing spots and observation decks top the list.
And the need for air-conditioned spaces is spelled out this time, rather than left for architects from cities with more moderate climes to determine. Architects can consider a refurbishing of the existing structure, too
The chosen functions will be known by architects wanting to bid. They have until Sept. 5 to submit their qualifications and a rough outline of their vision for building a pier within the $46 million budget. A seven-member panel appointed by the mayor will select a handful of firms that will receive $30,000 each to render a more fully formed design with cost estimates. Those designs will be put before the public for a ranking of the top three. The committee will consider that nonbinding ranking and make its own recommendation.
Kriseman may also weigh in, but the ultimate determination will come from the city council, which must vote to enter into negotiations with one of the firms.
Much has been made about the frustration and embarrassment of the passing months and years with a closed pier. Kriseman boasted during the campaign that he would have a new pier by 2015. It looks now like it will be 2017 at the earliest before a new pier is open. But his naiveté should be forgiven.
Kriseman knows now that rushing a decision of this magnitude would be foolish. He has chosen a deliberate path that is reasonable and fair to those passionate about a new pier and that draws on the good and the bad lessons of the disastrous first attempt under his predecessor.
His task now is to keep the process on track and moving as efficiently as possible and to snuff out any shenanigans when the various factions disagree.
In the end, if a design is chosen that satisfies the masses and enhances the aesthetics of the waterfront, the tortured process that delivered a new pier will be little more than a footnote to the city’s most iconic structure.