ST. PETERSBURG — Voters were clear in a 2011 referendum that they wanted the city to adopt a master plan to serve as a blueprint for future development of the city’s signature waterfront.
Looks like that will be more expensive than first thought, though.
None of the architectural firms bidding to produce the city’s downtown waterfront master plan say they can do the job within the city’s $300,000 budget, city officials said. On Monday, City Council members agreed to allocate an additional $250,000 for the project as part of a vote to adjust the city’s 2014 budget.
Despite approving the move, some council members may yet balk when it comes times to hire a firm to produce the plan, though, after saying the cost has spiraled out of control and the money could be better spent on the city’s more urgent needs.
“To spend half a million dollars on a plan for the area of our city that is the best maintained?” said Councilman Steve Kornell. “It’s irresponsible when we have so many needs across our city.”
Also questioning the cost is City Council Chairman Karl Nurse, who said that a plan that reflects the city’s 100-year tradition of preserving the waterfront for public access should be simple to produce.
“We’ve already thrown $300,000 at it — it’s not that complicated,” he said. “We’re making a mountain out of a waterfront park.”
Work has already begun on producing the master plan including a five day visit from a panel of members of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land use. The panel’s report is intended to be part of the input into the master plan drawn up by consultants.
City officials said they expected to get lower bids from firms that specialize in land-use planning. Instead, all the bids came from architectural and landscape architect firms with estimates ranging between $450,000 and $500,000. Another factor that increased the cost was that the city increased the scope of the plan by extending the southern boundary from Poynter Park to Lassing Park, said Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.
“As we get more into the project and find out more about it, things begin to be more fully understood,” he said.
The involvement of architectural firms means the city will have to abandon its normal bid process. State law requires government agencies dealing with architectural, engineering and landscaping firms issue a request for qualifications. Companies that respond would then be ranked, with City Council giving staff the go-ahead to negotiate a price with the top-ranked firm.
“We want to use the process that casts the widest net for the most qualified firms,” Goodwin said.
The city has until July 2015 to adopt the plan.