Many of the numerous northerners that made a winter rite of passage to sunny Florida in the early parts of the 20th century ended up just across the Bay in the city of St. Petersburg.
For some, a trip to St. Pete without a visit to one particular city landmark was incomplete. While it has gone through several design changes throughout the years, locals and tourists have always known and loved it simply as the Pier.
However, its current incarnation, the iconic upside-down pyramid constructed in 1973, is destined for another radical overhaul. Last month, the St. Petersburg City Council voted to tear down the beloved structure, making it the latest victim of city hall’s economic chopping block.
The decision to demolish the Pier, while endorsed by St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, spurred controversy among residents and long-time visitors to the area. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the city council received 40 e-mails regarding the vote in the days that followed, 33 of which opposed the decision.
Speaking from purely an economic standpoint, the decision may be justified. Visitors have declined in recent years, and the building is in desperate need of repairs. In 2004, the pilings underneath the “approach” to the Pier were found to be degraded, according to the city’s engineering department. The city earmarked $50 million for repairs in 2005, and in 2009, the Pier Task Force outlined a series of options for redevelopment.
The 5-3 vote last month by the city council decided how the $50 million would be spent: tearing down the existing structure and building a new pier closer to shore for cost efficiency.
Regardless of the logic applied in their decision, the Pier will always be an integral part of St. Pete’s brand. The city must take care in building a new structure that will continue the long legacy associated with the waterfront of downtown St. Pete.
While demolition is not scheduled for at least another three years, a trip to the current version of the Pier may be a wise idea before businesses begin to leave the ill-fated structure. For a bit of retail fun, check out the handful of shops on the first floor, where you can buy anything from kooky collectibles to island attire.
Or, stop by the Pier Aquarium and watch the fluorescent sway of anemones in the Pacific coral tank. The more adventurous in your party can reach out and touch sea urchins, spider crabs and tulip snails in the Tampa Bay Touch Tank. Admission is only $4 for students.
For a bite to eat, the Pier offers four full-service waterfront restaurants, as well as a more convenient food court. Cha-Cha Coconuts is a laid-back island-themed bar and grill, with outdoor seating that offers stunning views of the cityscape.
For rainier days or fancier occasions, make a reservation at the Pier’s version of the world-famous Columbia Restaurant. While the indoor motif is less interesting than the original in Ybor City, the fourth-floor picture windows offer a much better outdoor viewing experience.
Any trip to the pier, romantic or otherwise, can have a beautiful ending by renting a boat from the Electric Marina. Captain your electric boat out past the Pier into the calm Tampa Bay and gaze into a colorful Florida sky as the sun sets behind the St. Pete skyline. Price of rental is $40 for a half-hour.
The St. Pete Pier offers something for everyone: a romantic evening for couples, a fun shopping trip with friends or a simple day trip alone. But take advantage of what the Pier has to offer now before this important part of St. Pete history and culture is gone forever.