By David McKalip, M.D.
The “Progressive” (liberal) big government of St. Petersburg continues to demonstrate their incompetence and deception to the city taxpayers. The latest instance is the emerging boondoggle called the St. Petersburg Pier. The latest episode in the continuing saga has the city finally admitting that it can’t build the award-winning design it sold to the voters within the promised budget. Of course, this is no surprise to anyone since Mayor Kriseman, Councilpersons Darden Rice, Charlie Gerdes and the rest of the gang knew all along that the promised “Pier park” could never be built within the $33 million construction budget. Now the St. Petersburg political class is scrambling to explain away the coming utilitarian public edifice as “practical”. What is really happening is that the political class is working to justify increased spending for this giant water-bound white elephant – that was likely always their plan.
Last May this humble blog, the Sunbeam Times, warned taxpayers of the coming budgetary problems. Even though the founder and editor of the blog, yours truly, is indeed a brain surgeon, it didn’t take any advanced training to figure out the cost over-run problems. All that was required was to read the documents provided by the Skanska Consultants to the St. Petersburg City Council and Mayor. Here is what was reported in the Sunbeam Times on May 4, 2015:
|From Sunbeam Times 5/4/15:
The independent reviewers also felt that it was highly unlikely that Pier Park would be built within the designated $33 million construction budget. There is a “low probability” of getting under budget without altering the design in significant ways.
“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.”
The city’s political class are scrambling with excuses now that the “new design” has been revealed showing most of the most expensive and unwieldy features slashed. Gone will be the canvas top, the floating water lounge, floating docks, a boat house, part of a break water for spa beach and a splash pad. These are good cuts since they were always expensive boondoggles that the Skanska pointed out would have high maintenance costs and lead to ongoing annual monetary losses for city taxpayers.
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board is reassuring us that it is a good thing to have a “more practical, less iconic pier”. Of course, this is likely a starting point for future advocacy in the Times to “find the money”. As the piece offered, a water lounge may be built “if money is somehow found” and “It would be nice to find the money” for a children’s splash park. Just watch the Times applaud the City liberals when they “find” the money by raising taxes or taking money from an important city functions like security or from the ever shrinking, pre-bankrupt pension accounts for city workers.
Then, enter Times columnist John Romano, the Utopian dreamer and liberal banner waver. He states the original design is just too important to “cheap out now” and that the government should “change the budget” to build the original design. Big spender, liberal city councilman Karl Nurse is on board. Romano quotes him as saying they should come up with at least another $5 million to avoid building a “Christmas tree” with “no ornaments on it”. Oy!
The real benefactors from this pier are those who have very little to do with the structure once it is built. They are the contractors getting city dollars for a bad project and the bond issuers who the city will pay interest to for the project. The so called $33 million budget is really not money that taxpayers have put in the bank. It is really a loan against future property tax revenues through the model called Tax Increment Financing (TIF). That means the taxpayers will be on the hook for the loan to build a white elephant with cost over-runs and unsustainable annual maintenance and operation costs. All for a park over the bay that will host some concerts and have a small restaurant that will be hard to get to and also have its own crony-corporate profits since it will have a subsidized building and lease!
The solution to this problem remains the same as offered several years ago by this author when I ran for City council. The entire effort should be privatized. The rights to build a new pier should be leased to a private contractor who can build something that will pay its own way and provide a structure that citizens actually want and will use. If there is no bidder for such a project, then losses should be cut and there should be no publicly financed pier. But don’t expect such common sense from our city leaders. They have Utopian dreams of pretty parks that fit within their extremist environmental and anti-business agendas. They seek a grassy patch with a government building that will provide government jobs, patronage money to donors and more tax burden for the citizens. This project thus ensures continued expansion of the political class and contempt of the taxpayers they take for granted.