The reimagined St. Pete Pier is beginning to take shape


  • Pier Park proposal for St. Pete's pier | Image via City of St. Petersburg, Florida
After years of delays, setbacks, and controversy the St. Pete Pier is finally taking form, and we’re finally learning what the finished project will be. The city had been discussing a new pier for decades but in May 2013 it closed its iconic downtown pier to replace it with a modern design known as “The Lens” despite the majority of citizens who participated in a poll voting against the $50-million proposal. By the end of 2013, a city-wide referendum had blocked the city moving forward with the design despite the city already spending $3.9 million on the original design.

  • Destination St Pete pier proposal | Image via City of St. Petersburg, Florida
It took until spring of 2015 for the city to select a new design, nearly two years after the pier had originally closed. Again, the selection committee, led the St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, picked a design, Pier Park, that wasn’t the public’s first choice. The city’s online survey had in first place a design, called Destination St. Pete, that kept the former pier’s inverted pyramid, though giving it an updated modern glass façade, and kept a restaurant and retail at the end of the pier. Instead, the city went with a design that had a sleek, jewel-like building at the end of the pier with dining sitting along the shoreline. The inverted pyramid that had called the downtown St. Pete home since 1971 was completely gone within months of the city’s decision.

By early 2016 the city’s dream pier was already running into budget constraints. Roughly $13 million was cut from the design including floating docks for boats, splash pad enhancements, and a water lounge that was one of the signature focuses on the design. As the city scraped together money, the majority of which was from a canceled transportation project, some of those things cut was added back, including the splash pad enhancements and a kayak launch.

A re-election win this past November of last year by Kriseman meant that the pier which has ballooned in cost, now clocking in at $80 million, will move forward. Kriseman’s opponent, former mayor Rick Baker, ran a campaign critical of the pier and the process that led to the final design. Baker was also critical of a study financed by the city and led by Lambert Advisory that stated the new pier will draw in an additional 100,000 room nights in the city’s hotels, translating into nearly $1 million in additional annual bed tax revenue.

The pier project now includes a café, an educational center, custom art, runoff renewal energy, has numerous improvement into the uplands around the pier, and will feature a breakwater enhancement that makes the water along Spa Beach more appealing to bathers.

Now the new pier is beginning to take shape along the shoreline of Tampa Bay. The deck is just over halfway built, and we’re starting to learn new details regarding what the finished project will actually be.

Two big announcements recently now give us two of the biggest details regarding what the finished pier will be like. The city has confirmed the shoreline restaurant will be Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. This will be the fourth location for the Southwest Florida restaurant co-owned by Florida based New Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White. Doc Ford is the central character is 24 of White’s books. The character is a retired NSA agent, now a marine biologist living along Florida’s southern Gulf coast. The books and the restaurant inspired by them are filled with references to historic Florida. Doc Ford’s at the pier will have 450 seats in an indoor/outdoor setup and is expected to hire upwards of 100 people. The restaurant will be the largest in the city and will sit in a former parking lot overlooking a small marina with 25 public boat slips.

Janet Echelman's proposed artwork of Spa Beach - IMAGE VIA CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
  • Image via City of St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Janet Echelman's proposed artwork of Spa Beach
Nearby at Spa Beach, a new neon colored mesh-like $3 million football field sized art piece was recently announced. This is one of the first major art pieces for Tampa Bay-based Sculptor Janet Echelman. The Teflon-like material used in the new sculpture is designed to flex in the wind but can withstand 150 miles per hour winds and is designed to last well over 20 years.

Currently, the city has only raised a third of the cost, with the majority of that, $600,000, coming from private donors. Altogether the city hopes to raise $1.5 million in private donations and will use $1.3 million raised via taxes paid by downtown property owners to finance the new beachfront artwork.

Both the new Echelman art piece and the new pier, including Doc Ford’s, are expected to be finished by next summer.


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