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Tampa Bay Times used to think the inverted pyramid was a tourist draw

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Supporters of Destination St. Pete Pier are compiling a list of arguments about why City Council, and the public as a whole, should reject the Pier Selection Committee’s ranking of Pier Park as its top pick. Among them, the $50 million set-aside for the city for the Pier project was originally intended for repairs and renovations.

In 2005, the Pinellas County Commission approved the Intown Redevelopment Plan that extended Tax Incremental Financing until 2035. The move allowed $50 million to be allocated for renovations to the Pier.

At that time there was no mention of replacing the inverted pyramid.

Proponents of Pier Park and others who either favor or are at least on board with razing the nearly 50-year-old inverted pyramid argue the structure was a drain on the city. It required a high subsidy and didn’t attract enough residents and outside visitors, some say.

The aging structure has been called a failure, particularly in its later years.

But that hasn’t always been the sentiment. In 2005 when former Mayor Rick Baker was wheeling and dealing with Pinellas County commissioners to extend the TIF period from 2012 until 2035, the then St. Petersburg Times endorsed the move.

“That extension would allow the city to borrow against future tax revenues to pay for the Mahaffey Theater improvements and to cover extensive repairs to the Pier, a tourist magnet, which are expected to cost $50 million,” the editorial read.

Note the use of the words “tourist magnet” in reference to the Pier — the inverted pyramid that, more recently, the Times has called “outdated” and an “eyesore.”

The plan to renovate unraveled in August 2010 when City Council voted to demolish the inverted pyramid.

Then in June of 2011 city staff recommended the city “allow flexibility as the project design evolves.”

The recommendation struck the words “repairs and renovations” from the city’s Intown Redevelopment Plan so that it instead read, “…to bond public projects related to the Pier.” This paved the way for the city to move forward with plans to demolish and replace the inverted pyramid.

According to the website, savethepier.org, efforts to raze the Pier in favor of a new design began in 2009 with what the site describes as “controlled demise. The site, which is no longer updated but contains links to historical data and information relating to the Pier, describes those actions as intentional efforts to thwart needed maintenance.

Other efforts to undermine preservation of the current inverted pyramid are also evident. In June 2010, the Pier Task Force issued a paper detailing four options for the Pier including renovation. However, renovation was listed as the most expensive option and far outside the city’s then $50 million budget. The report left out an estimate that put renovation “as-is” at just outside the $50 million mark and instead included an estimate that was much more costly because it included a widened Pier approach.

The St. Pete Design Group’s Destination St. Pete Pier would have renovated the inverted pyramid and provided a series of improvements within a $33 million construction budget.

A Facebook page supporting Destination St. Pete has been put up called “Build Destination Pier.” It has 231 “likes.” Another, “Vote on the Pier,” has more than 700. And the Facebook page, “WOW the Lens sucks,” a page originally established to combat the previous design rejected by voters in 2013 but now serving as a support page for Destination St. Pete Pier, has 240 “likes.”

The group Vote on the Pier is circulating a petition to force any new construction or demolition on downtown waterfront property to be voted on by referendum.

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 [email protected]

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