There is an old saying in the boating community about the two happiest days in the life of a boat owner. The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are when they first get the boat and when they finally sell the boat. The same is likely to be true of the emerging taxpayer boondoggle known as “Pier Park” in St. Petersburg – taxpayers will be happiest when they get rid of it, but likely even happier if they never buy it in the first place! The aging inverted pyramid pier is ready for upgrade and the over-water roadway to it is too unsafe for cars. City insiders had originally tried to force “the Lens” on citizens, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by a vote in August 2013. Now a hand-picked government-created committee has ignored the polled preference of St. Petersburg citizens and instead endorsed the creation of “Pier Park” as the replacement. An analysis of the documents used by the committee reveals that this is the most expensive of all proposals. The cost will not end with the at least $33 million to build (taxpayer money) or the millions in design fees or the $5 million on interest payments by taxpayers. But it and will cost taxpayers more every year in subsidies than the current Pier and all other proposals on the table.
High Annual Maintenance Costs
The current inverted pyramid pier required an average of $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars every year (over 15 years) as a subsidy. So taxes were used to keep it up and running and maintained. The Pier Park is basically a huge landscaping project over the choppy, storm-ridden salt water of Tampa Bay. There will be a small restaurant and a large public concert space totaling 41,00 square feet of sod at the end of the pier. There will be soil 3-4 feet deep in large landscape projects spread along the pier in an elevated platform above the water over much of its length. There will be floating docks with filtering systems to create “clean” Tampa Bay water for 12 inches of wading at the end. There would be building size fabric ribbons to provide shade that will be subject to intense conditions and likely fail. All of this will be very costly. In fact, the Pier Working Group hired an independent consultant (Skanska) to evaluate all eight candidates and look at the structural features and costs. They put it this way in their 1/16/15 report:
“The Pier Park’s potential subsidy would likely exceed the other competitors, and that of the existing inverted pyramid, due to expense projections. It is therefore ranked highest in terms of projected annual subsidy.”
“…would likely have the highest operating costs for reasons including higher utilities, security and janitorial to support the extensive activity “platforms”.
They went on to say about this about the cost of Pier Park “…the cost to maintain the pier [Pier Park] outweighing the revenue potential…”. They point to the high landscaping costs.
“The total square footage of the park is much larger than the existing and will require more maintenance in order to keep up with the overall cleanliness of the project. Servicing the event lawn at the pier head may prove to be difficult during events. In the harsh wind and salt water environment, the fabric strip canopy at the inverted pyramid may become a problem to maintain over a long period of time. Because of the high wave action, all of the floating docks will need to be replaced within 75 years. The water lounge is a safety and maintenance concern. The current depiction of the net railing along the pier is of concern, both from a life safety, vehicular traffic, and maintenance aspect.”
Cost Overruns Expected for Construction
The independent reviewers also felt that it was highly unlikely that Pier Park would be built within the designated $33 million construction budget. Ther is a “low probability” of getting under budget without altering the design in significant ways. Here is what they said:
“Given its grand objectives, the Pier Park concept creates potential schedule and cost overrun concerns. The estimate was under represented in numerous areas leading this concept to be more than 15% over budget, with a low probability of getting within budget without compromising design intent or losing program elements. Multiple program elements would need to be eliminated in order to get back within budget. The project as depicted would also be difficult to achieve within the required schedule, causing additional project labor charges.”
Safety and Environmental Concerns
The Pier Park would also have safety issues. The independent review expressed concerns about safety of net railings and the water lounge.
“The water lounge is a safety and maintenance concern. The current depiction of the net railing along the pier is of concern, both from a life safety, vehicular traffic, and maintenance aspect.”
This exposes taxpayers to paying the costs of lawsuits against the city for poorly planned and executed safety precautions when people are injured on the floating docks and from falling off the pier.
Further, the Independent review expressed concerns about the environmental impact and difficulties in expanding the current footprint of the pier. An additional 5,000 square feet will be added above the current pier footprint. There were concerns that permitting would be difficult for environmental reasons. Here is what the independent reviewer stated:
“Environmental Permit Analysis and Marine Considerations. The Pier Park concept increases the overwater area in relation to the existing pier and could be considered an increase in environmental impact. Areas of proposed fill for breakwater seems to impact to sea grasses and may also cause impacts to water circulation. The lower fishing areas would alleviate concerns related to endangered species. The location of the eastern most boat docking facility could present a problem for fire and emergency vehicle access. The location and number of boat slips will present permitting challenges. It is not clear whether the view-shed areas exceed the current pier, which could require a variance from Pinellas County. The size of the over-water assembly may be considered a non-water dependent use which could further complicate the permitting. Fire egress for the large assembly occupancies will need to be carefully analyzed. The size and area of overwater coverage presents challenges to the permitting of this concept, which ultimately may not be permittable.
Significant design modifications would seem to be required in order to provide assurance of environmental permitting.”
In response to these concerns, the Pier Park Designers have cut back their plans by about $2 million but the original designs were used by the Pier Working Group to make their selection – to the chagrin of some who oppose the plan and cried foul.
Taxpayers Stuck With Big “Progressive” Bill Again
So the city insiders are supporting the most expensive project to build what will require the highest cost to maintain every year. They expect the taxpayers to pay for it and ignore the fact that there will be very little business conducted on the pier by private entities. They have a vision for a massive park over the stormy salt waters of Tampa Bay. For some reason, the massive St. Pete waterfront park system is not enough! This is a taxpayer boondoggle in the making. There will be endless cost overruns and massive annual subsidies. There will be even more city workers hired to run the new massive over-water park. All of these city workers will require higher pay and benefits than most citizens of the city – special pension and health benefit plans that are not currently funded and are threatening the city with bankruptcy already.
Welcome to the “Progressive” vision of St. Pete where, as they say, we “move forward”. Citizens should come out in large numbers and oppose this plan, call for an end to a taxpayer funded pier and call for a long term lease to allow a private company to build something that will truly serve residents while costing them absolutely nothing in tax dollars.