Pier groups: a look at who’s backing which pier designs, and who's up for a fight.

click to enlarge IT’S #1, FOR NOW: A Pier Park rendering. - ASD design
ASD design
IT’S #1, FOR NOW: A Pier Park rendering.

St. Pete City Hall is gearing up for what will probably be another very long yet monumental meeting about the Pier on Thursday, May 7. On the agenda is a measure that would begin the negotiation process between the city and ASD/Rogers Partners/Ken Smith Landscape Architect, the group that collaborated on Pier Park. The mayor-appointed Pier Selection Committee ranked Pier Park first of the three design proposals it shortlisted in March.

Expect there to be calls for the council to opt for Destination St. Pete Pier, the design that overwhelmingly ranked first in more than one public survey and second by the selection committee. The committee ranked Alma, the third design, last after initially expressing preference for the design, which unlike the other two completely replaces the inverted pyramid.

It’s easy to cast the battle over the Pier as a fight between young professionals, who seem to like Pier Park and Alma, and older historic preservationists, who like Destination St. Pete Pier.

But it’s more complicated than that. Here’s a look at who supports which design and why.

Pier Park

When the list of design team finalists was narrowed to three, this concept was often overlooked as the debate focused on the stark contrasts between Alma and Destination St. Pete Pier. Some see this as a compromise between the two.

The design proposal, headed up by Tampa-based ASD Design, modifies the silhouette of the building at the pier head, getting rid of the inverted pyramid, while keeping some of its structural elements.

The Tampa Bay Times, which supported the failed Lens proposal in 2013, in a recent editorial called Pier Park a “flexible, innovative vision for revitalizing the city’s centerpiece public space.” Supporters of Blue Pier, an eco-conscious design that didn’t make it into the top three, have thrown their support behind Pier Park largely because of its emphasis on green space and water. Suncoast Sierra Club has given the design its blessing, as have St. Pete Chamber of Commerce head Chris Steinocher and urban planning guru Peter Kageyama. In recent weeks a group of young professionals has emerged to throw their support behind the design, including David Vega, a technology manager for Wells Fargo; Justin Bean, a business development and sales manager at Reusable Transport Packaging; Nate Matro, director of operations at LumaStream Intelligent LED Lighting Systems; and Brooks Wallington, financial planner at Hughes-Wallington.

Destination St. Pete Pier
The design, which renovates the inverted pyramid and surrounds it with looping sidewalks, was the most popular design in a public survey the city ran, and topped three separate independent polls. Not that the numbers were all that impressive: According to the Times, “only about 4 percent of the 229,780 residents eligible to do so took part in the city’s survey.”

Many of Destination’s supporters like the fact that it preserves the pyramid and, unlike the others, allows car traffic. Supporters include avidly pro-preservation folks like former City Councilwoman Kathleen Ford and Bud Risser, who spearheaded the anti-Lens referendum. Community activists Robert Neff and Nick Weathersbee have dominated stridently pro-Destination comments on news stories. Some supporters of the Lens design in 2013 are now in the Destination camp, perhaps because its design team includes local architectural firm Wannemacher Jensen, who worked on the Lens.

Former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker supports Destination. Baker works for developer Bill Edwards, who owns the Mahaffey Theater, Al Lang Field and Sundial; Harvard Jolly, one of the firms involved in Destination as well as the original inverted pyramid, designed the latter. The former mayor recently wrote an op-ed calling for support of the design.

Supporters of this design are the most likely to launch a rebellion against Pier Park if it wins the council’s approval on Thursday via petition drives and calls for a public referendum.


click to enlarge This design completely replaces the inverted pyramid, and didn't fare well in public opinion surveys. - Alfonso Architects
Alfonso Architects
This design completely replaces the inverted pyramid, and didn't fare well in public opinion surveys.
The discord really got loud when Pier Selection Committee Chair Mike Connors originally voiced his enthusiasm for this design, which demolishes the pyramid and replaces it with a tower. The group behind the proposal is Tampa-based Alfonso Architects. Pro-Destination people pointed to the public survey showing anemic public support of Alma. But in the weeks that followed, enough backers emerged to make the case for the design.

Notably, those who had operated restaurants at the Pier before it was shuttered in 2013, including Casey Gonzmart of Columbia Restaurant Group and John LaBudde, who owned Johnny Reno’s, spoke in favor of Alma. Gonzmart said putting a “destination restaurant” out over the water presented a logistical nightmare compared with having it at the base of the pier, a spot that could easily be accessed by delivery and garbage trucks.

Investor Steve Gianfilippo, who recently redeveloped two properties in downtown St. Pete (including the Station House), also said he supports Alma because it ultimately will cost less to build a new building at the pier head than refurbish an old one.  

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