Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

St. Petersburg council argues, then agrees on $14 million Pier District request

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ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council on Thursday night approved a formal request to Pinellas County to reallocate an extra $14 million to the Pier District project. But as usual, when it comes to the Pier, even this simple request grew complicated and contentious.

"I think everyone wants this Pier to be the best it can be," City Council chair Darden Rice said. "It's just figuring out the details in how to get there."

The council was divided by a new wrinkle proposed by City Council member Karl Nurse: He wanted the council to decide how to spend the money now to ensure county approval.

Nurse suggested spending $8.4 million on the pier and parts of the downtown waterfront master plan that affect the project, and using $5.6 million for transportation and parking in downtown.

That led to a convoluted discussion. Mayor Rick Kriseman walked into the council chambers after 8 p.m. and scolded council members for changing course from their April 6 discussion. They postponed the matter and took it up again at the end of the night.

Finally they agreed on this split: $10 million will go to add amenities to the pier and its approach. The other $4 million would go to transportation and parking.

"It always concerns me when we're making sausage on the dias," said City Council member Jim Kennedy. Then he asked the mayor to weigh in.

"It's not the ideal way of doing things," Kriseman said. "I can live with this language and I feel confident this is language the commission hopefully will be open to.

"I can never guarantee how they'll vote. But I think they will be receptive and I look forward to having discussions with each (commission) member."

The council voted 5-3 to make the request, passing it around 10 p.m.

If the county grants St. Petersburg's request, the pier price tag will climb millions beyond its current $66 million budget.

The final decision to reallocate $14 million in tax increment financing, or TIF funds, will be up to the Pinellas County Commission. The money was once slated for the city anyway, but to pay for a transportation hub that will no longer be built after the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum failed in 2014.

It was Kriseman's idea to tap into the TIF money and spend the entire amount on a list of "pier enhancements."

The mayor's wish list for the additional $14 million included spending $1.3 million on a signature art element, $2 million for a floating platform, $1 million on playground equipment and $300,000 to upgrade a splash pad.

But while the City Council appeared to go along with the mayor's idea of extra money for the pier, they will work on their own wish list.

City development administrator Alan DeLisle said the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce supports the $14 million in additional spending.

"I would hate to see us limit ourselves prematurely," chamber CEO Chris Steinocher told the council Thursday, referring to the idea of designating exact ways of spending the money before the request goes to the county.

The council's debate Thursday night foreshadows several decisions that the city must make to get the pier started and finished on time, by the end of 2018.

Construction of the 26-acre Pier District is set to start in May. Workers are expected to begin driving piles into the bay for the over-water component by June, but nothing can be done before permits are received from the Army Corps and Pinellas County.

Council members also have to approve construction costs for the over-water structure. That discussion is scheduled for May 18.

The target date for the grand opening is still December 2018.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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