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St. Pete City Council moves $20 million Pier Uplands plan to final vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council members, acting as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, unanimously approved a $20 million plan to develop the Pier uplands in coordination with the Pier Park project.

The plan is part of the newly approved Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. The proposed $20 million from an unexpected excess of revenue in the Intown Redevelopment Area would fund a grand entry way to the Pier, two restaurant shells on the uplands, an arts promenade, event space for a market or food trucks and a convertible Beach Drive where it could be used as a road with parking or could easily be blocked off into a pedestrian area for special events.

There would also be an arts bridge linking Bayshore Drive to the St. Petersburg Museum of History and improved utility aesthetics in the area.

The term “Pier Uplands” almost seems to imply the small area approaching the Pier around the museum, the two parking lots and Spa Beach, but the planned improvements actually stretch from the Vinoy to Al Lang Stadium.

Even though the CRA recommended that the plan be approved by City Council — the same board that approved it during the CRA meeting — there was still plenty of discussion about how to use tax incremental financing funds around downtown.

The city is looking at an additional $20 million in revenue above what had been previously projected despite the fact that the county is contributing less. City Council member Karl Nurse suggested the city do the same.

Under his suggestion that was not taken up, the city would use some of the $11 million annual revenue from downtown for other projects citywide. That includes expanding a component in the Pier Uplands plan that would require designers to make the blue overflow pipes popping out of the ground all over the area more aesthetically pleasing.

Both Nurse and Steve Kornell pointed out that was a citywide issue.

And Council member Jim Kennedy leaned on the history of the downtown TIF. It was created in the 1980s to remove blight. Spend five seconds downtown now and it’s quite clear blight is no longer an issue.

“At some point we have to declare victory downtown,” Kennedy said.

That led to the suggestion that maybe the city should discontinue the TIF early.

If council approves changes to the Intown Redevelopment Area, the Pinellas County Commission’s approval would still be needed.

The city has already sent out requests for proposals for a restaurant on the Pier that’s included in the Pier Park budget. The original RFP asked for a regional or national chain. Kornell asked that language be changed to seek local restaurants. arguing no one wants a Hard Rock Cafe on the Pier. Staff said they were working on changing that language already.

The design team the city hired to complete Pier Park is expected to bid for the design project for the uplands that the $20 million ask would fund. The two projects would be planned in conjunction and be geared toward creating a seamless Pier experience. Both would be scheduled to open simultaneously.

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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