Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — An economic analysis of the future Pier District promises a rosy return on the project's current $66 million pricetag.
The study by Lambert Advisory of Miami estimates that the district — which is not yet under construction and is expected to open at the end of 2018 — will have a potential annual economic impact on St. Petersburg of $80 million, create hundreds of jobs, bring in close to two million visitors a year and boost demand for hotels and restaurants.
Lambert expects spending by the anticipated crowds of local and out-of-town visitors to have a broad impact beyond the 26-acre Pier District and the surrounding downtown area. Visitors are expected to spend about $30 million for food and beverages, $10 million for retail and services and $15 million for hotels.
In a prepared statement following the report's release, Mayor Rick Kriesman said he was "thrilled" that the district "will not only be a world-class destination for residents and for visitors from around the world, but that it will also have such a strong economic impact."
City Council member Karl Nurse's response was somewhat muted.
"Candidly, I don't put a lot of credence on these reports. The impact of building something is pretty straightforward," he said, referring to the $17.5 million in wages expected from the 365 full-time jobs that would be created during the district's construction.
"When you add entertainment activities to an area, the only net gain is bringing money from out of the area into the area," Nurse added.
"So economically, if it causes visitors to come or stay longer, then there's an economic gain. Otherwise, it's just additional choices for people who live in the area. I have never seen an economic impact study that I haven't thought was inflated."
Meanwhile, the waiting continues for a key permit to get the project started. Pinellas County issued its permit in late April, but the one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still pending.
"We expect to have that shortly," said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination. "They committed to get that to us this month."
When that happens, workers will begin driving piles into Tampa Bay for the over-the-water component of the project.
Before that happens, though, the City Council will be asked on June 1 to appropriate about $17.5 million for that part of the project. The money will be a portion of the original $34 million estimated for construction costs before what had been planned as simply a new pier was expanded into the $66 million Pier District.
Other decisions await in coming weeks. On June 7, the pier public art committee will consider whether to commission a sculpture from internationally renowned artist Janet Echelman.
In April, the council approved a $75,000, two-phase agreement with the artist, who was born in Tampa and has her studio in Massachusetts. At their early June meeting, committee members will be reviewing phase one, which will include a feasibility study, at least two concept designs and cost estimates. Phase two would only proceed if the city decides to go forward with the full project, which could cost many more thousands of dollars.
Also, Pinellas County Commissioners still have to decide whether to allow St. Petersburg to allocate up to an additional $10 million to the Pier District for more amenities and $4 million for transportation and parking throughout downtown. The money would come from tax increment financing, or TIF, funds once meant for a downtown transit hub that's no longer planned.
Kriseman had originally wanted all of the money for Pier District "enhancements." City Council members pushed back at that and eventually voted to spend the money on transportation and parking, as well.
As yet, though, Ballestra said the city's request has not been scheduled to be heard by the County Commission.
"We're working with the county to schedule a time," he said. "We look forward to getting that on their agenda shortly."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes