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St. Pete City Council raises eyebrows at $14M in Pier ‘enhancements’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg council members had mixed reactions Thursday to a progress report on the new Pier.

They generally liked proposed “enhancements,” including family friendly recreation facilities. But the $14 million price tag for those enhancements was another issue.

So far, the city has earmarked about $12.5 million for the Pier approach and about $33.6 million for the Pier itself. Pinellas County had agreed to kick in about $20 million, bringing the price tag to $66 million. If all the enhancements were financed, the total cost could reach about $80 million.

“I feel fairly certain I will not support a $14 million figure,” council member Steve Kornell said.

Kornell noted that adding $14 million to the price tag would increase the overall cost between about 20 percent to 30 percent. He, like other council members, questioned spending that money on the Pier when there are other needs in the city.

 “As a council member, there’s an entire city to look at,” Kornell said. “We have other needs in our city.”

They were also concerned about the costs to maintain and operate the Pier. Council member Jim Kennedy noted that one problem with the old Pier was the approximately $1.5 million the city had to spend each year to keep it running. He wondered if city staff had estimated the annual subsidy the city would have to make for the new Pier — a much larger space with more activities.

“That subsidy could be a whole lot more,” Kennedy said. “I want to have an understanding of that before moving forward.”

No figure was forthcoming on Thursday.

Staff members and designers said some of the proposed enhancements came from comments the council had made during previous updates. Others came from comments St. Petersburg residents raised during public presentations.

Among the proposed enhancements are a kayak rental site with a boathouse and launch, playground equipment and an upgraded splash pad.

The current proposal would have 12 jets of water that children could run through. The project would improve the splash pad to 36 jets, which could include music and lights.

An estimated cost for the upgraded splash pad is about $300,000.

“We can have a splash pad or we can have a signature water feature,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

If done right, Kriseman said he suspected adults would also want to run through the fountains as they spurted water.

Kriseman told council members that the $14 million price tag was the outside amount for the enhancements. It’s likely, he said, they would not cost that much, but it is safer to have the money earmarked and not need it than to need the money and not have it available.

Kriseman proposed taking the $14 million from the tax increment financing, or TIF, money derived from the city’s downtown community redevelopment area. That’s tax money that is collected in that area that is set aside to be used only in that section of the city.

Council member Karl Nurse said he was concerned that some of the downtown TIF money should be spent on fixing sewer pipes in that area rather than on the new Pier.

But Kriseman said fixing those pipes would not help solve St. Petersburg’s real sewer problem, which is a lack of capacity. Fixing that, he said, requires work on the Albert Whitted and Southwest sewer plants. Both of those are outside the downtown CRA so the funds could not be used there.

Amy Foster was also concerned about having to use TIF money not just for the enhancements but also to make up future costs of the Pier.

“I know you have numbers you’re not showing yet,” Foster said about the price of possible subsidies to keep the Pier District operating.

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