ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster has repeatedly said that to restore the inverted pyramid pier would cost upward of $70 million, well beyond the $50 million budgeted to build a new pier.
The sticker-shock number was quoted throughout the referendum campaign to refute calls to save the 40-year-old building that many viewed as an icon of the city’s waterfront.
Now, with The Pier closed, one local architectural firm has crunched its own numbers and says it could rebuild the pier approach and the inverted pyramid structure for $24 million.
The city’s quote was so high because it included widening the pier approach by 50 feet, replacing ground floor retail space and adding buildings on the approach, said Mesh Architecture CEO Gary Grooms.
That blueprint left out simpler options to rehabilitate The Pier, he said. One option for which Mesh has estimated costs is to build a narrower approach and re-use the superstructure, or the steel skeleton, of The Pier to re-imagine the building.
“There are a lot of people out there who say it cannot be saved within budget,” Grooms said. “We certainly have absolute confidence that rebuilding it and making it can be done.”
City officials have questioned Mesh’s numbers but are revisiting their own estimates for renovating The Pier without replacing the ground floor retail space. The total will still be about $70 million, said St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Mike Connors.
The new estimates are to provide information for an upcoming survey of residents, and renovating The Pier is not on the table, he said.
“We want to properly put a price on what it would take to replace the superstructure and renovate the building at the same elevation and same dimension,” he said.
After an eight-year planning process, voters in August soundly rejected the Lens, Michael Maltzan Architecture’s design that was chosen by a jury in an international design competition. Mesh’s “Wave” design was also a finalist.
The survey, for which the city is currently soliciting bids, is the first step in a plan produced by the 828 Alliance, a group of residents, engineers and stakeholders formed by Foster to move the city forward in the wake of the referendum.
The group voted against including renovation of The Pier as an option but did say that proposals should be able to re-use elements of the inverted pyramid.
After Mesh’s design was not chosen, the company took a back seat to not come across like a sore loser or undermine Maltzan, Grooms said. In the wake of the referendum, Mesh has renewed its interest in the project and may bid for the project again.
The company’s estimates — $120 per square foot for rebuilding the approach and $300 per square foot for the building — are based on recent cost estimates, Grooms said.
Opposition to renovating The Pier stems from fears it will look the same, he said.
“It is ugly; there is no getting around it,” Grooms said.
The estimate produced by Mesh is based on reducing The Pier approach from 100 feet to 60 feet wide with dedicated lanes for bicyclists, pedestrians and a trolley service. Downsizing The Pier would mean about $12 million left over that could be used to add attractions to the uplands at The Pier entrance.
Adding amenities there would psychologically “shorten” the half-mile walk from Beach Drive, said Mesh Principal and Architect Tim Clemmons. The narrower pier approach would make visitors feel more connected closer to the water.
“We wanted to find a way to keep the existing pyramid to satisfy the people who still see that as an icon for the city but re-imagining it as something fresh to satisfy those in the community that want something new,” Clemmons said.