New St. Pete Pier will soon rise on downtown waterfront

The St. Petersburg Pier, a Tampa Bay landmark that closed in 2013, is finally undergoing a transformation after sitting dormant off the waters of downtown St. Pete for more than two years. The inverted pyramid structure, which opened in 1973 and served as a tourist draw for four decades, is being replaced by an attraction presently called the New St. Pete Pier. 

Demolishing the inverted pyramid structure and its adjoining 1,016-foot-long pier and constructing anew started in late summer 2015. The $46 million project will include building observation areas, a waterside restaurant, and room for retail, jogging, walking and biking. There will also be 17,000 square feet of floating docks designated for fishing and a bait shop. 

Several major firms are involved with the New St. Pete Pier project, including Swedish-based Skanska, which will serve as the main construction contractor. Also involved with the project are several local companies that have been tasked with a multitude of assignments, from demolishing the old St. Pete Pier to designing and coordinating the construction of the New St. Pete Pier. 

Out with the old, in with the new 

Todd Wiggins, Operations Manager for Sonny Glasbrenner, says demolition of the old St. Pete Pier inverted pyramid structure was a task the company was ready to handle. “We’ve been around for many years and handle all types of demolitions,” he says. Even the unique, five-story-tall inverted pyramid structure proved little match for Sonny Glasbrenner’s Liebherr 954 long-reach excavator, whose shear at the end of a 90-foot-long boom chomped away at the vintage-1970s landmark. 

“Every demo you come across has its challenges, whether it’s the location, size of the project or the site.” One challenge Wiggins noted in the case of demolishing the inverted pier was the size of the steel beams within the iconic building’s superstructure. “Some of the steel beams were quite thick,” he says. “A lot of the steel was also encased in concrete.”

All the steel beams are recyclable, as is the concrete that was used in constructing the inverted pyramid. “The Pier had a tremendous amount of recyclable material,” Wiggins comments. Sonny Glasbrenner’s recycling plant helped to process many of the materials removed from the site. Laughs Wiggins, “some of the old Pier concrete is probably already laying in driveways and flower beds in front of local homes.”

Sonny Glasbrenner, which has been operating in West Central Florida since 1959, has worked on several major demolition projects throughout the Tampa Bay Area and is now handling demolition of the Seminole Mall in the Pinellas County city of Seminole as well as removal of several Interstate 4 overpasses in the Orlando area.

Sonny Glasbrenner also partners with another local company called MagneGas Corporation. Located in northern Pinellas County, MagneGas produces a proprietary alternative fuel called MagneGas2 that is more efficient than acetylene and is used for cutting steel, such as the old St. Pete Pier’s supporting structure, at temperatures of 10,000 degrees.  

“We are the go-to gas,” says Ermanno Santilli, CEO of MagneGas. “Our gas is cheaper and burns hotter, so it’s quicker and more efficient to use for cutting steel than acetylene products'' which burn at 6,000 degrees, he says. “We’re also the only renewable gas on the market,” MagneGas, which is produced by converting liquid waste products such as vegetable oil and agricultural byproducts, is a type of biofuel that is less harmful to the environment than more conventional forms of gas. MagneGas2 also doesn’t puddle like acetylene, so it’s safer for users. 

New St. Pete Pier built with local innovation, design

Once remnants of the old St. Pete Pier are removed, which officials say should happen by early 2016, the New St. Pete Pier will begin taking shape. But designers aren’t waiting for the last sections of the 90-year-old pier to be demolished before hitting the drawing board. Several leading local architectural groups have been designing and refining their plans for months. 

Jason Jensen, AIA, is an architect and principal of Wannemacher Jensen Architects in St. Petersburg. The firm will help develop the New St. Pete Pier approach, which includes landscaping, roadway, land-side infrastructure, parking, places for activities, and connections with local culture and commerce. 

“Our part of the project will involve restaurants, shopping and other venues on the bayside,” Jensen says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-envision such a large area of our downtown waterfront parkland.” In January, the company will begin meetings with the community to provide the public and community partners a chance to come together and offer input on the design. “Our project potentially includes restaurants and a market,” he adds. “There have been many concepts considered for the waterfront park pier approach – we’re focused on creating a design that brings all the pieces together.” 

For this specific project, Jensen and his team have partnered with W Architecture of New York City. 

“We’re thrilled to work with them and for them to bring their flair for wonderful public spaces to St. Pete,” says Jensen. “W Architecture will have a substantial design role in the whole project. They’re an outstanding firm, and St. Pete is fortunate to have them working here.” 

In addition to the New St. Pete Pier, W Architecture is working on revamping Julian B. Lane Park on the west bank of the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa. “Having grown up in St. Pete, we’ve always wanted to do more with our landmark waterfront – this project offers a monumental opportunity.” 

Other local visionaries seizing the opportunity to reinvent the downtown St. Pete waterfront is John Curran, project director for the St. Petersburg Pier and studio leader for ASD, Inc. Curran, based out of Tampa, is taking an innovative approach to redesigning the new pier. 

“The St. Petersburg Pier turns the conventional thought about a pier on its head,” he explains. “Rather than taking a long walk to a destination (the pier head), the whole pier becomes the experience with this new design.” 

Designing for the present, as well as future

Curran says that one of the principle goals in designing the new pier is creating a park-like space that adapts to the evolving needs of the community. 

“It is a flexible place that can withstand the test of time not just from the material standpoint but also from an ever-changing programmatic standpoint.” 

Curran worked on several local projects, including the Glazer Children’s Museum and the University of South Florida Marshall Student Center, prior to joining ASD, which is partnering with Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers of New York City. Vince Lee, the project designer for the New St. Pete Pier, is excited about what this project represents for Tampa Bay community. 

“Our mission is to honor the St. Petersburg Pier’s eclectic history and rich tradition of a vibrant public engagement, as we transform it into a 21st-century destination and public amenity for the city,” says Lee. 

Designing the New St. Pete Pier may be a privilege, but Lee says it’s no cakewalk. “Budget, technical, and permitting issues are some of the greatest challenges for this project. We have put together a robust team of specialists to create technical solutions that address environmental issues from seas and storms to sea grasses and wildlife as well as related permitting issues.” 

He continues, “The entire project is about the experience of the St. Petersburg Pier more than about the object itself; this approach gives us great latitude in addressing these issues.” 

While Lee reflects on the many facets the project entails, designing a structure that must meet a complex series of objectives is nothing new for him and his team at Rogers Partners. The firm has designed many high-profile public spaces, including the 50-acre Constitution Gardens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Battery Park City Streetscapes in New York City.

Lee says the design process should be complete in early 2016, after which design finalization will begin. Construction should commence in early 2017, and the New St. Pete Pier is scheduled for opening in mid 2018. 

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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