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Rick Baker op-ed: Build Destination St. Pete Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Our city has been engaged in a lengthy discussion about the future of our St. Petersburg Pier. In the course of this discussion, the city and county committed $50 million to fund needed repairs to the Pier. The pilings on the approach and first-floor platform are deteriorated beyond repair and must be replaced. The inverted pyramid building itself, and caissons supporting it, have been confirmed to be structurally sound.

During the first four years of this decade, the city engaged in a pier selection process that resulted in the Lens design being chosen, a design that was seen by many in the community as being wrong for St. Petersburg. The resulting citizen backlash ended in the Lens design being abandoned, after the city had spent millions of dollars toward the process and design.

After being elected, Mayor Rick Kriseman put a new process in place to select a pier. Wisely, at the center of the process, the mayor required that the public be surveyed to give their opinion on what design they preferred. This element of the process is the key to ensuring that the city will not lose more time and money on a design that the public does not want.

In March, there was an all-day meeting of the Pier Selection Committee, the non- elected group that has been appointed and charged with the task of selecting and ranking the pier designs for our city. At one point during the meeting, the committee appeared poised to ignore the process-mandated public input and choose a pier design that is not supported by a sizable portion of our city residents and is not representative of the great urban center that St. Petersburg has become. Had this occurred, the action would likely have resurrected past discord in our community and could have further delayed the time when our residents and tourists can once again enjoy visits to the Pier.

Rather than selecting a design that falls short of our city’s expectations, the Pier Selection Committee should embrace the public input required by the mayor, listen to the clear will of the majority of St. Petersburg residents and move forward with the development of Destination St. Pete Pier.

Design Team.

At its core, the mission of the Pier Selection Committee is to pick a strong team to design our Pier. The architectural group that created Destination St. Pete Pier is The St. Pete Design Group, a dream team of highly qualified professionals from our community.

They are led by internationally known architect Yann Weymouth, as design director, who lives in St. Pete Beach. Weymouth, a Harvard and MIT graduate, has an impressive resume that includes the design of our Dali Museum and the chief of design for I.M. Pei on the National Gallery of Art East Wing in Washington and the Grand Louvre Project in Paris, among many others.

Weymouth is joined by two long-time, highly respected St. Petersburg-based architectural firms, including Harvard Jolly, the original design team for the current Pier; and Wannemacher Jensen, a member of the Lens design team. Both of these firms have extensive ties to our city and an impressive record of accomplishment. This is more than rooting for the home team. The fact that they are from and of our community makes them more sensitive to the values and character of St. Petersburg – and more vested in the long-term success of our important asset.

There is no other group in the competition that has St. Pete Design Group’s combination of deep and long-term ties to St. Petersburg and impressive record of accomplishment. Why would we not pick them?

Public Support.

A remarkable thing happened at the recent Pier Selection Committee meeting. The disparate groups that were at odds during the strongly contested Lens pier design debate 18 months ago came together to unify around Destination St. Pete Pier. They included the leadership of the Concerned Citizens group who opposed the Lens project and the Build the Pier group who supported the Lens. Joining them was the chair of the Chamber’s Pier Task Force and vice chair of the original Pier Advisory Task Force. Since the meeting, the chair of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership has also personally endorsed Destination St. Pete Pier.

Likewise, the city-conducted Pier Public Survey results were compelling. With 10,751 votes, Destination St. Pete Pier took first place, receiving nearly 60 percent more votes than the second-place design team’s tally of 6,811 votes. Additionally, in a March 19 poll released after the vote by the independent polling group St. Pete Polls, 62 percent of those responding supported Destination St. Pete Pier – by far the largest support of any of the proposed designs. No other design received the support of a majority of those surveyed.

Alma is an alternative pier design that was almost selected by the Pier Selection Committee. It was supported by some members of the committee – most strongly by the Tampa city architect who was given one of six votes on the Pier Selection Committee picking St. Pete’s pier. Alma, designed by a respected Tampa architectural firm, came in fifth place in the public survey conducted by the city and came in last place in the March 19 survey by St. Pete Polls – with 21 percent supporting and 63 percent disapproving. In a third, independent poll released on March 22, offering a choice of the three remaining designs, Destination St. Pete was again the clear winner, while fewer than 9 percent chose Alma as their top pick. Will the committee ultimately elect to ignore the clear will of St. Pete’s residents?


Destination St. Pete Pier takes the inverted pyramid, an iconic symbol of our city visited by millions of people over its lifetime, and makes it cool, new and fresh – so that the next generations can enjoy it well into the future. It includes all of the functional uses sought by the public and will be a special place to visit – not simply an architectural feature to look upon. Finally, more than any other competing design, it ensures that St. Petersburg will continue to have an impressive, iconic feature along its waterfront.

Destination St. Pete Pier is a beautiful and useful design created by a world-class group of St. Petersburg architects. That is why the citizens of St. Petersburg are strongly urging that the Pier Selection Committee move it forward. Hopefully the committee is listening.

Rick Baker served as Mayor of St. Petersburg from 2001 until 2010.

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