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Pier Park design is working out growing pains

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pier Park is still Pier Park. That’s according to the architects building it and the city staff working with them. But that doesn’t mean preliminary plans on how to accomplish building the design are still exactly the same as they were when the public first heard about it.

And guess what — that’s OK.

During a workshop Thursday morning, designers with Rogers Partners and ASD architecture firms met with St. Pete City Council to go over progress on fine tuning the Pier Park design.

The most immediate hurdle is obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Pier Park was pitched to the city with a host of fun features. There’s a nifty water lounge where people can interact with Tampa Bay without actually going into the water.

That plan has changed. But, while Pier Park critics may cry foul and lament the city was sold on a design that will never be built as it was originally pitched, the change is a good one.

When heads came together in the winning Pier Park design team, they thought about features that would be neat in a new Pier. They considered what the public had asked for in a series of public forums. And they delivered with a design they thought best met the needs and wants of a growing city.

What’s changed with the water lounge is simple — designers realized that a deck sitting stagnant in the bay would eventually grow barnacles. Not cool.

The solution? The team now plans to use a lightweight fiberglass deck that can be easily hoisted out of the water each night. No more barnacle problem.

Vince Lee of New York’s Rogers Partners also explained the team gave a lot of thought to where the sun would be during various events that would have onlookers gazing back toward the downtown skyline.

They’re now considering angling the Pier and its components slightly so those viewers aren’t staring directly into the sun as it dips below the horizon.

The team had always planned on reusing the caisons from the inverted pyramid. For a while, they thought they’d use the elevator shaft too. Now the team has realized using the elevator shaft is probably not feasible and they go back and forth over how many of the caisons to use in the new structure.

“We’re focused on, what’s been presented can actually be built,” said city architect Raul Quintana. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The team explained there will likely be tweaks to the project here and there to accommodate various scientific studies, to meet permitting requirements and to better jive with the city. But they reminded, the themes and programmatic elements that were pitched to the public and city will stay.

Designers are also taking steps to improve on environmental components of the design. The planned expansion of Spa Beach is expected to encourage seagrass growth. And the angle of the new Pier could increase the flow into the Spa Beach basin to possibly reduce the number of days the water there is deemed unswimmable.

The team says they are working on time and are drawing near acquiring necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Quite honestly there were some areas they particularly liked,” Quintana said.

That includes Pier Park’s reduced over-water footprint.

Lee reported that there were no health department issues with the water lounge because it’s not a pool, rather it’s more like a beach. And the team realigned some of the features of the planned indoor structure to ensure views of the water and back into downtown are preserved. The planned angle of the Pier will also ensure visitors have a view of Tampa Bay, but not a power plant.

Lee touted the 5,000-square-foot restaurant at Pier Park. It will be column three and encased in glass on three sides. Lee said he expects it to be a well-sought out space. His description prompted an interruption from City Council chair Charlie Gerdes.

“Wow,” he said. “Can you say that again?”

Lee also dispelled concerns that there wouldn’t be enough restrooms to accommodate large events. City Council member Jim Kennedy asked at what point would events require Port-O-Potties. Lee explained the goal was to have enough bathrooms to not have to have any — welcomed news to anyone who’s ever had to hold their breath and hover in an enclosed box of gross.

Gerdes did offer one piece of advice to the Pier Park design team. In one of the graphics often displayed during public meetings, the design is shown from a bird’s eye perspective. In that image, the water lining Spa Beach is shown as an unimaginable turquoise.

“This gets framed as a misrepresentation,” Gerdes said.

His suggestion may have been more of a plea, though. Gerdes added that he didn’t want the public coming back to council criticizing the image as “BS.”

The city expects Pier Park designers to have a more fine-tuned design to begin showing the public sometime in January of February.

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 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

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