ST. PETERSBURG — At the start of the evening, the future Pier was a blank slate. As the night wore on, though, and the more than 50 residents who came to Childs Park Recreation Center weighed in, a rough sketch of what the future attraction might look like began to emerge.
Thursday was the first of five meetings to gather public comment to help the city determine the fate of the site, which is currently a lonely fishing spot in the shadow of an abandoned upside-down pyramid. The discussion was guided by the Pier Work Group, a 21-member panel of stakeholders who are not on city staff.
Mayor Rick Kriseman was on hand to talk about the process, which he said at this point is driven solely by potential functions the site would have, and not what it should look like.
“We’re going to figure out what we want it to do from a function standpoint first,” Kriseman said. “And that’s what’s going to drive the form as opposed to the way it happened last time, where the form was decided first, and then the function came as almost like an afterthought. I want us to be very clear on what it’s going to do.”
Attendees were given a list of options that included different types of dining, bike or watercraft rental opportunities, a hotel, a bridge linking Spa Beach to Vinoy Park and educational venues, among other things. They were also given the option to write in their own suggestions.
Thursday’s crowd seemed to comprise individuals representing a broad range of interests. Some were on opposing sides of the fence when debate over the controversial Lens Pier design raged last year.
There seemed to be broad consensus on the importance of dining options, especially casual outdoor restaurants. A few attendees said they’d like to see a ferris wheel at the site.
Transportation options also came up.
“I would certainly like to see a people-mover around there to serve the whole downtown area,” said resident Frederick Winters, adding that he’d like to see something comparable to the trams at Disney World and Busch Gardens. “That would be much better than what we have now. You could park remotely and have fun getting there.”
The Pier has had several incarnations, the latest of which had a mall-like atmosphere with shops that sold sarongs, a kiosk with handmade candles, a food court, an aquarium and restaurants with live music. It has been shuttered for more than a year but remains a popular fishing spot.
Built in 1973, The Pier was not much of a financial draw in later years. As the approach for cars and pedestrians began to deteriorate, city officials opted to replace the whole thing, including, possibly the pyramid.
In 2012, the city sought design proposals and selected one called the Lens. Residents, up in arms about the lack of public input, forced a referendum on the project, and the proposal was shot down.
It was back to the drawing board for the city, with critics warning that not engaging the public could cause more trouble.
The city has $46 million to work with, but Kriseman said that might get whittled to around $35 million once the project is ready to break ground
Some attendees offered thoughts on how the money could best be spent, and how the city could save money.
“What I’d like to see first is what is salvageable from the entranceway and the existing pyramid,” said resident Tom Lally.
Overall, the mood at the event seemed to have a cooperative air, a far cry from the often contentious tone that seemed to take over discussions over the Pier’s fate in recent years.
The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N. Residents can also weigh in online at StPete.org.
After a degree of consensus over what elements the Pier should contain, the city will seek pitches from architects on designs that incorporate the agreed-on elements. A list of seven to 10 designs will be chosen, which the public will again get to weigh in on. The most favored choice will likely become the next St. Petersburg Pier.
Kriseman said he hopes to start vetting architects by the end of the year and has a soft deadline of the end of 2017 for the entire project but said he won’t push the process if it needs more time.
“I would rather have somebody criticize me for not meeting the date I set and do it right than to rush it through to meet that artificial date,” he said.