This week, the City of St. Petersburg issued an economic impact report claiming the new St. Pete Pier — as part of its own district — would create $80 million in annual economic impact.
It would be “a complete return on investment in the first year of operation,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a news release.
That bold prediction caught the attention of WTSP’s Noah Pransky, who questioned some of the report’s findings.
To investigate, Pransky spoke with City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle, as well as the study’s author, Paul Lambert. Pransky also called on Victor Matheson, a Holy Cross economist, to review the report.
DeLisle said the $19,300 report was a “common tool” the city uses to make decisions on economic development. He also suggested the conclusions will help “disarm political opponents” of the Pier project, which is set to begin this summer.
Matheson expressed several concerns with the report, particularly with the assumption that the Pier would draw more than 200,000 tourists to add an extra night in Pinellas County.
Tourists are in Florida for sunshine and beaches, Matheson said, and while they may visit the Pier while in town, it’s unreasonable to call that spending “new income.” The money would be spent regardless of the existence of a new Pier.
Matheson also doubted the comparison of St. Pete’s Pier to Chicago’s Navy Pier and the Santa Monica pier.
“Who goes to Chicago just for the Navy Pier?” he asked.
Lambert’s study said the Pier district would create 102,000 new hotel room nights annually, as well as 1,080 full-time jobs throughout Pinellas County.
Many of assumptions were conservative, Lambert added, and the project should produce a major tourist attraction for the Tampa Bay region.
As for projected events at the Pier, questions remain as to whether other entertainment venues would suffer as a result — Tropicana Field, the Mahaffey Theater, Al Lang Stadium and other local concert venues.
Pransky suggests it is skeptical to believe the estimated $80 million economic impact would produce as much as $10 million in taxes annually, part of the claim that the Pier project would pay for itself in its first year.
Lastly, Pransky also questions the timing of the report — after many decisions on the project have already been made — wondering if it was politically motivated as the race for St. Petersburg mayor heats up.