ST. PETERSBURG — The 42-year-old inverted pyramid’s time at the end of the downtown pier is about to end.
The City Council on Thursday approved spending $5.2 million to begin replacing The Pier, including $3.16 million to demolish the iconic upside-down pyramid.
The six-month demolition by Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Clearwater will make way for The Pier Park project the council approved in May. Set-up for the demolition is expected to begin next week, Public Works Administrator Mike Connors said.
The $50 million pier project includes $33 million for the ASD Architects of Tampa/Rogers Partners of New York design team to build The Pier Park, which replaces the pyramid with a new structure at the end of the pier and adds a series of parks, water and recreation amenities along the way.
The Pier Park construction is scheduled to begin in early 2017 and be completed in mid-2018, according to the agreement approved Thursday. Prior to that, the city and the design team members in coming months will meet with residents, boaters, businesses and others interested to put final touches on the design.
Council members were relieved to move ahead with the contract and construction phase after a year-long process by the mayor’s Pier Selection Committee to choose a design team, which included public presentations by competing groups and long, contentious public hearings.
“It’s time to move forward,” said Council member Steve Kornell, echoing the sentiments of most of his colleagues.
Only Councilman Wengay Newton voted against the agreements, questioning the propriety of allowing Glasbrenner to amend its original bid from 2012, during a previous attempt to replace the pier with the so-called Lens project.
The Pier Park design incorporates gardens and paths, a water splash area, floating docks, boat tie-ups and shops leading to an expansive great lawn and new multilevel building and observation areas to replace the pyramid. Initial plans call for a destination restaurant in the uplands area near Beach Drive and concessions in other areas.
In addition, the city will have another $20 million in special taxing district money through an agreement Mayor Rick Kriseman negotiated with Pinellas County officials to tie in Pier Park with Spa Beach and other downtown parks and areas.
The dismantling of the pyramid and some portions of the pier will be done without explosives, Connors said. Some of the concrete pilings will be sawed, and larger pieces moved south to shore-up about 2,500 feet of eroding shoreline at Albert Whitted Airport. The 1940s seawall there is crumbling in some places and completely washed out in others.
Newton was the only council member who objected to the agreements, suggesting that allowing Glasbrenner to amend its first bid without offering other bidders the same chance amounted to “bid tampering.”
“I have a serious problem with that,” Newton said.
Glasbrenner added $147,526 to its original 2012 bid for the time that has elapsed since then, but still was $885,000 less than the next lowest bid.
Other council members saw no problem with the change after so long of a time, and the city attorney’s office said it did not violate the bid process.
Kornell challenged Newton, telling him if he believes there was bid tampering he should report it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Other than that, it’s just politics for the cameras,” Kornell said, adding that would be “ridiculous.” Councilwoman Darden Rice called the bid-tampering charge “a little outrageous.”
Councilman Karl Nurse said re-bidding the project without reason would be irresponsible, considering construction costs have increased as the economy has rebounded and the city would have to pay more.
Newton also sided with some residents who advised the council to delay the demolition in case ASD-Rogers fails to get permits for the project. The second-ranked design proposal by the St. Pete Design Group, which Newton favored, would re-use the inverted pyramid.
“I believe we’re rushing things,” said Hal Freedman, a downtown resident.
Connors said the agreements with ASD-Rogers already have been negotiated, which were part of what the council approved, and the rankings of the remaining design teams no longer matter.
“This essentially closes the chapter on any other alternatives to be considered,” he said.
Kornell questioned how the process could be considered rushed, given the year-long process to select The Pier Park and the previous effort to build the Lens project that was overturned in a referendum in 2013.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “It feels like it has gone on for years. Because it has gone on for years.”
Councilman Bill Dudley noted the pier has been an issue in the eight years he has been on the council. He said he was ready to approve the agreements “so we can move on and get this thing done in my lifetime.”
Kornell said residents had their say when the Million Dollar Pier was built in 1926 and when the pyramid was built in 1973, and that it is time for a new generation to have its opportunity.
“We’re never going to have unanimity,” he said. “Let’s move forward. Let’s have a pier. Let’s have the best pier we can.”