New St. Pete Pier opens with fanfare, safety first

After nearly two decades of public debate and more than seven years of planning and construction, the new St. Pete Pier is finally open to the public.

The $92 million landmark creates a brand new 26-acre district along St. Petersburg’s Bayfront bringing with it new opportunities for local businesses, hundreds of permanent jobs, and endless possibilities for public events and new memories to be made for many years to come.

The new St. Pete Pier was originally planned for opening in May, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans for the public unveiling of what St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman calls the “biggest project the city has ever undertaken.” He hopes the new Pier District becomes a place where locals and tourists alike will want to converge.

“It is going to be our Central Park,” he says, evoking the famous public space located in New York City. “There was an intention to create a place welcoming to everyone in the community. It didn’t matter where you live, it didn’t matter what your income was. You could come here, experience, enjoy it, and take it in whether you have a dollar in your pocket or $500 in your pocket.”
 
He further tells 83 Degrees Media that one of his favorite personal experiences at the new St. Pete Pier is getting to see how others respond upon their initial visit to the new landmark.

“I’ve been out here with a couple of folks who saw it for the first time, and I just loved seeing the expression on their faces.” Presumably, the masses who come to visit the new St. Pete Pier will have similar expressions of awe.
 
This is the first time in many years that the St. Pete waterfront has had a pier attraction like this. The previous pier at the same location, a quarter-mile-long approach bedecked with a multi-story inverted pyramid structure known as “The Pier,” closed in 2013 after serving the city for 40 years. It was only the most recent iteration of a long line of landmark pier attractions that had been built at or near the spot in St. Petersburg since 1889.
 
Spa Beach, a famous stretch of coastal sand midway along the Pier District will be one of the few remaining vestiges of The St. Pete Pier’s past at the new Pier District. Those who enter the new St. Pete Pier via the Gateway are greeted by The Marketplace, a partially shaded promenade currently featuring 17 vendors. Walking further along the Pier District, one encounters a family park with play elements designed for children ranging from toddler ages into their tween years.
 
Nearby, Pier Plaza offers everyone a multitude of things to see and do, including a splash pad, Spa Beach Bistro, and the Cultural Grove featuring some of the many pieces of distinctive artwork to be found in the Pier District. The unique Tilted Lawn offers a two-story grassy berm for picnics and sunbathing, and nearby Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille serves up an array of great food and refreshments for those catching a break midway along the Pier District.
 
As visitors proceed toward the pier head, they can pay a visit to Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, an interactive education complex where guests can learn about and even come face-to-face with many of the diverse creatures living in the surrounding Tampa Bay waters.

A coastal thicket stands before the multi-level pier head itself, which on the first floor offers gift shops as well as a fishing and bait shop for anglers dropping lines off the nearby fishing deck.

Driftwood Café is situated on the second floor and on the fourth floor resides the Polynesian-themed Teak restaurant, offering stunning views of the surrounding Pier District and the downtown St. Petersburg skyline from 60 feet above the waters of Tampa Bay.

Many businesses and organizations were involved with building the new St. Pete Pier, including Skanska, which served as the main contractor for the project. Wannemacher Jensen Architects was principally involved with designing the Pier Approach park connecting the land and with the pier head over Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the main pier head building, Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center and other structures in the Pier District were designed by ASD/SKY.
 
Those who wish to see the new St. Pete Pier during its opening week (and perhaps longer) will need to reserve tickets to make their visit. They can register their free reservation on the St. Pete Pier website.

And to help prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus, all visitors are required to wear cloth face coverings or masks at all indoor amenities in the Pier District and are encouraged to wear them while outdoors, too. Ten touch-free hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the Pier District and social distancing is strongly recommended whenever possible.
 

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.
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