After years of debate, ground has finally been broken on the new St. Petersburg Pier.
"This is a dream come true for so many in our community," Mayor Rick Kriseman said at a ceremony Wednesday. "For more than a decade, countless elected officials, community leaders, engaged citizens and city staff have poured an immeasurable amount of time and energy into this project - perhaps the highest profile endeavor in our city's history."
In front of a sun-baked crowd of about 200 people, Kriseman was joined by other city officials and project designers in pushing shovels into a commemorative pile of dirt resting on the concrete walk-up to where the famed inverted pyramid structure used to stand.
They hope to return in late 2018 or early 2019 for a ribbon-cutting for the new pier.
The Pier Head will feature observation decks, a restaurant, bait shop and fishing areas.
It will be surrounded by a Pier District that includes an expanded Spa Beach, a large lawn for concerts and other events, a market square and a family play area with picnic spots and shaded seating. There will also be an education center that features a "wet classroom" for marine science study.
(Take a virtual reality tour of the new St. Pete Pier by visiting www.asdsky.com/pier)
Kriseman believes that so many new features will make the new Pier more popular than the forty-year-old structure it replaces.
"Unlike our previous iteration of the Pier where typically the only time our residents came out is if they were bringing a visitor from out of town, I think this is going to be a place where our residents hang out and really enjoy it frequently, so, to me, that's really exciting," he told reporters after the ceremony.
He added that his favorite feature is that people won't have to spend a lot of money to enjoy themselves.
"The best thing about this Pier is that it's just going to be accessible to everyone in the community and affordable," Kriseman said. "Whether you have fifty cents or fifty dollars in your pocket, you're going to be able to come here and enjoy the pier."
The ground-breaking came almost seven years after the City Council agreed to then-Mayor Bill Foster's suggestion that the inverted pyramid come down. A proposed new design known as "The Lens" was selected by a city panel in January 2012, but was canceled after a vote by St. Pete residents in August of the next year.
A new Pier Working Group was set up in 2014 and Pier Park, designed by ASD Architects, Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers and Ken Smith Landscape Architects, was eventually chosen in Spring 2015.
"We knew from the beginning this was going to be a challenging project given its history when my administration came in," Kriseman said. "But we were committed to getting it done right and giving this community something special that it deserved, and I'm absolutely convinced that's what we're doing."
"It's the city's plan, I honestly don't even view people as a 'for' or 'against' at this point," Chris Ballestra, St. Pete's Managing Director of Development, added. "Everybody has had their say and, at the end of the day, this council and mayor, as well as mayors and councils before them - you got to make a choice, otherwise you're stuck in neutral and that does not serve any city well."
Ballestra says the current budget for the project is $66 million, adding that they're operating on budget at this time. Next month, Pinellas County Commissioners will consider allowing St. Pete to add up to $10 million in the city's current budget to further enhancements for the Pier District, along with up to $4 million for transportation and parking that can be used downtown.