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Rick Kriseman next stop for 3 groups vying to run new Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Three teams made their cases Tuesday before a committee of St. Pete staff leaders and selected city residents to run the city’s new Pier. The team chosen will be in charge of management and operation of the Pier, Pier approach and the inclusive Pier district that runs up to Beach Drive.

The three teams who presented at the city’s water resources department facility were Philadelphia-based Spectra Venue Management, Clearwater’s Colliers International and St. Pete’s own locally based Skyway One.

The selection committee included several city department heads including the group’s chairman, managing director of development coordination Chris Ballestra. Also on the committee was development administrator Alan DeLisle; Clay Smith, director of downtown enterprise facilities; Dave Goodwin, the city’s economic development director; Carol Everson, the police department’s administrative services manager; and Parks and Recreation director Mike Jefferis. Erica Bolline from the St. Pete Young Professionals and Clint Anderson from the Vinoy were selected members from the community.

While the group will not specifically recommend a team for the Pier management gig, they are submitting a comprehensive list of notes to Mayor Rick Kriseman who will ultimately choose a team to move forward with the project.

Based on conversations with other committee members, it seems unlikely that Skyway One will walk away with a contract. The committee seemed genuinely impressed with the group’s passion for the project.

Its head, Paul Hsu, served on Kriseman’s Pier Working Group in 2014 helping to determine what residents are looking for in a new Pier. He also sat on the Pier Advisory Task Force that contributed to a 2010 report frequently referenced in Pier planning. The group Skyway One appears to have been assembled specifically to run Pier operations. It was established just two weeks before Requests for Proposals were due to the City in November.

“Their proposal really hit on a lot of nuanced areas ,” Ballestra said to the group’s credit. “They’re very locally driven in terms of both staff and focus.”

But each of the committee’s members agreed there didn’t seem to be enough of an assurance the group would be able to follow through with its ideas.

“What I didn’t get a handle on as well as the others was the ability to execute that programming,” DeLisle said.

Though Kriseman could choose to ignore those concerns in favor of a team headed by a man he has worked with in the past, it seems more likely based on discussions that he’ll choose between Spectra and Colliers.

Here the question becomes one of, do you choose a more locally sourced group in tune with the city’s dynamics or one that has global reach and access to key partnerships?

Spectra is a Comcast Spectacor business. The group of firms boasts a résumé of working with the Philadelphia Flyers National Hockey League team, Florida State University, and, more locally, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

During presentations, the group talked up a partnership with Ruth Eckerd Hall for major events. Jefferis, from Parks and Rec, compared Spectra’s ability to facilitate large-scale events as the Lamborghini. But he questioned whether that was good for St. Pete.

“I was a little concerned about being too international – not having that quirky St. Pete flare,” Jefferis said.

And DeLisle echoed that concern pointing out that Colliers had a “sensitivity” with other partners in that they would not seek to compete with other venues for large-scale events, but rather would collaborate and work with those groups.

But still, it’s hard to ignore that Spectra is, as Ballestra put it, the “big dog in the room.”

The group was seen as experts in food and beverage, which will be a large component of the Pier whether it’s at one of the Pier’s anchor restaurants or food trucks or kiosks along the approach or at the Pier head.

Meanwhile, Colliers was cast as the leader in leasing skills, having extensive experience managing John’s Pass. That may not be weighted as heavily, however, because leasable space won’t be a huge part of the new Pier.

Whoever is chosen will have to be scrutinized for financial acumen. The committee stressed a key point the city has been paying close attention to throughout the Pier process: subsidy levels.

A management team will be expected to drive activity and continued use at the new Pier while still keeping a keen eye on increasing revenue streams wherever possible. The city is looking for a wide array of uses at the new Pier from large events like concerts and festivals to weddings.

One possible edge Spectra might have in this fight is it’s $100,000 offer toward capital investment. Colliers, however, brings to the table a risk-free promise for events. The group would handle large events meaning the city would not assume liability.

Ballestra said he anticipates Kriseman’s decision within the next two weeks, though he reminds it is entirely at the Mayor’s discretion. He hopes Kriseman will choose one of the three teams vetted by the committee and will contract with them soon so the team can help collaborate on the final touches of the design schematic for the new Pier.

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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