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Friday, May 25, 2018
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St. Pete’s inverted pyramid pier up for historic status

St. Petersburg’s inverted pyramid pier could soon be listed alongside some of the country’s most famous landmarks.

State officials have asked the city to conduct a cultural survey of the 1970s-era building, which closed in May and was slated for demolition to make way for a new pier. One possible outcome is that the pier could be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s unlikely that would spare the 40-year-old building from demolition, but a historic designation would add an extra bureaucratic hurdle for city leaders to clear if they continue with their plan to raze the structure.

The request from the state’s Division of Historical Resources was made before the Aug. 27 primary, when roughly two-thirds of those casting votes rejected the city’s futuristic Lens pier design. The city is still awaiting a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to demolish the pier, but the demolition may not proceed until a new pier proposal has been adopted, said Chris Ballestra, managing director of city development.

The cultural survey the state has requested would consider the pier’s historical significance to city history and would require the city to detail how it would preserve a record of the pier if it were demolished. That could include a park plaque or photographic records being preserved in a museum.

“It’s a conversation to arrive at what is the best alternative to recognize the city’s history,” Ballestra said. “It runs parallel with same permitting process we’re going through.”

The national registry was established in 1966 to help protect buildings, burial grounds and other historical sites from being lost to development. Buildings must typically be at least 50 years old and have retained their historic integrity to be eligible for inclusion. But exceptions are made for structures considered significant or exceptionally important to a city’s history.

Buildings on the registry can still be demolished, particularly if they require expensive ongoing maintenance or if it would be prohibitively expensive to renovate them. City officials say it could cost as much as $80 million to refurbish the pier.

The pier’s location has subjected it to extensive wear-and-tear over the years, Ballestra said.

“It is a different environment than your normal landmark structure, being in a saltwater marine environment,” Ballestra said.

Designed by local architect William B. Harvard, the pier is considered an example of modernist architecture. The building was changed significantly when first-floor retail shops were added in the late 1980s.

Even St. Petersburg Preservation, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving important sites in the city, did not oppose the city’s plans to replace The Pier. Now, it’s unclear what will happen.

“The whole thing has been thrown into a state of confusion,” said group vice president Emily Elwyn.

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