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Construction fences to go up around Pier next week

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Fences will go up as soon as next week in preparation to demolish the existing St. Pete Pier. St. Pete City Council members approved several items related to constructing a new Pier, including demolishing the current one, during a meeting Thursday.

According to Public Works Administrator Mike Connors, the city is prepared to fence off the area beginning next week. The city can begin demolition of the inverted pyramid almost immediately because that project is already permitted. Demolition of other parts of the Pier including the approach cannot be done until the city receives permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The initial phase of constructions razing the iconic structure is expected to take about 60-days.

Not surprisingly the issue was met with fierce debate on both sides of the issue. City Council member Wengay Newton stuck with his voting record of defending the current Pier. Newton echoed several concerns expressed during public comment including a potential conflict if the city’s contract with Pier Park designers falls through.

The city’s second pick for a new Pier, Destination St. Pete Pier, would have re-used portions of the existing structure. If it is demolished, that plan B evaporates.

“What happens if the pyramid is demolished and the city cannot finalize negotiations,” asked former Lens supporter Hal Friedman. “By state law you have to negotiate with Destination next.”

However, Connors quickly debunked that argument explaining that state law only required the city to establish a ranking in order to negotiate a contract with the top-ranked team. In this case that is Pier Park and once the contract is signed, which was done Thursday by council’s vote, the second- and third-place teams are no longer on deck.

Newton also expressed concerns about demolition costs. Council approved a $3.1 million contract with Clearwater-based Sonny Glassbrenner Inc. to demolish the Pier. That amount is up about $1 million from the company’s original bid the city awarded in 2012. Sonny Glassbrenner asked for a 4.9 percent increase to compensate for inflation.

Newton worried council was breaking rank by approving the increased amount without entering into another bid process. He questioned whether the move would be “bid tampering.” However, the city’s legal staff said it was its stance that council was not tampering with the bid. As part of the ordinance to approve the Sonny Glassbrenner contract, councilors waived a provision of the city’s procurement procedures to accommodate the change in price.

Connors also pointed out that the existing bid represented a huge savings to taxpayers. The next closest demolition bid from 2012 was more than $4 million. That’s nearly $1 million more than what the city approved.

“It is time to move on,” council member Amy Foster said.

Council member Steve Kornell followed with a similar sentiment.

“The idea that the process is rushed, I don’t get it,” Kornell said. “It has gone on for years.”

Concerns regarding environmental impact during demolition were also addressed. Connors explained the majority of materials removed from the existing Pier would be sent to a recycling facility near Pinellas Park. Nets will also be set up to minimize water contamination during demolition and no barges removing materials will be allowed in areas with sea grass beds.

Much of the removed concrete will also be used for a major shoreline stabilization project at Albert Whitted Airport.

In addition to approving the $3.1 million demolition project, City Council also approved a $4.3 million contract with ASD/Rogers Partners architects for completion of the Pier Park design. Another $490,000 was allocated for contracting with Skanska USA Building for the pre-construction phase of Pier Park. And $5.2 million will be reallocated from the downtown Community Redevelopment Area to the city’s general capital improvement fund.

Connors estimates it will take about a year to obtain all of the necessary permitting to build Pier Park. The city is planning a series of public outreach events in order to collect public input while designers fine tune plans for Pier Park.

Even Connors pointed out there were “a multitude of issues” needing to be addressed.

All four parts of the Pier-related ordinances passed with only Newton dissenting.

Image via Luke Johnson of the Tampa Tribune.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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