As news spread Friday of the Pier Selection Committee’s pick for a new St. Pete Pier, social media has been buzzing with comments. The decision to rank Pier Park in the top spot above Destination St. Pete Pier and Alma came just before midnight and the news surprised many who had long since called it a night.
One of the groups weighing in on the historic vote is the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, headed by president Chris Steinocher, had not endorsed a design, but they stood steadfast behind Mayor Rick Kriseman in his established process to choose a new design.
In an email Friday, Steinocher echoed the Chamber’s support for that process.
“The Chamber is proud of the Selection Committee’s work and the competency displayed by the committee members during the pier selection process established by Mayor Kriseman,” Steinocher wrote. “The Committee’s public service over the last several months deserves all of our appreciation and sincere recognition for a very complex, detailed process handled with great care and concern.”
Prior to Thursday’s nine-hour meeting and ultimate tapping of Pier Park, controversy swirled around the design process. Members of the public overwhelmingly supported Destination St. Pete Pier in a non-binding public survey. Yet in a straw vote during a previous selection committee meeting, the six-member board seemed poised to cast that aside in favor of the design known as Alma.
The resulting chaos included threats that another referendum was imminent should the city go with the public’s fifth-ranked design instead of the overwhelming winner of that survey.
Time and time again residents were reminded that the survey was non-binding and the committee was under no obligation to use the public survey as a basis for its decision. On the contrary, state law prohibited them from weighting too heavily the will of the public.
Through all of the controversy, the chamber remained vigilant that consensus must be reached and a process followed.
“Our Chamber position from the beginning has been simple: honor the process, stay on the timeline and stay within the proposed budget for this phase of the project,” Steinocher wrote.
Now that a choice has been made, the Chamber is lauding Pier Park as an opportunity to enhance the city’s waterfront park system “as indeed the icon of our community.”
The email points to the city’s newly completed downtown waterfront master plan in which there are several themes “from which we’ll write our own future.” Those are stewardship of the environment, enhancing the experience of the water, an active waterfront park system, an economically vibrant downtown and accessibility.
“This narrative is in our DNA — Your Chamber was established over 116 years ago to assist with the preservation and activation of our waterfront park system. Our Pier Task force led by Ed Montanari and our DWMP task force led by Ross Preville have been collaborative stewards of the process to align our values with our assets. I’m especially proud of our Chamber Young Professionals led by Brooks Wallington, Cal Webster, Nate Matro and Justin Bean who processed all the details and organized other young professional to voice their opinions — after all, it is indeed for the future we build today.”
Steinocher goes on to write that the Chamber will continue to be an advocate to “ensure we do indeed move forward and stay on a tight timeline and budget.”
“There will be much input needed and care given as the design team, construction team and the city work to build the details of the vision created. I urge you to review and learn more about the design selected — it’ll help us all as we begin discussions on creating this new focal point for our city,” he wrote.
The Pier Park design includes an activated promenade from the Pier uplands to the Pier head that includes nearly continual park space along its entirety. The plans boast a tilted lawn where visitors can enjoy views from the Pier back to the city and another shaded lawn with porch swings. It also includes a casual dining space intended to be a bar and grill restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating.
The lawn area would offer ample space for events like concerts and festivals.
That design beat out Destination St. Pete Pier, which would have renovated the current inverted pyramid into a more modern style.
Alma was ranked third. It would have done away with the entire existing Pier and replaced it with a tower, including an indoor dance hall.
Pier Park now faces City Council approval on May 7. There’s little reason to suspect council will reject the ranking.