ST. PETERSBURG — It's not quite back to square one, but it sure does feel like it.
Pier design 2.0 began in earnest Friday as a new, 21-member working group tasked with figuring out what the public wants in its pier held its first meeting. It comes more than five years after the city first embarked on a project to replace the aging waterfront icon.
Facing members is a daunting pile of past reports, studies and surveys on the condition of the existing pier and what amenities residents said they wanted in its $50 million replacement. The group is required to update that research so the city can avoid a repeat of voters' rejection of the Lens design, which critics said lacked restaurants and air-conditioned space.
“Our intention is to finish it this time,” Public Works Administrator Mike Connors said.
To make that simpler, city officials announced that the footprint of the project has been reduced to just the pier, Spa Beach and two adjacent parking lots. Previously, it included the upland approach all the way to Beach Drive as a way to better link the pier to downtown.
“We have to keep in mind the budget of $50 million is based on replacing the pier,” Connors said. “It wasn't based on doing improvements as far west as Beach Drive.”
City officials also want to save the existing pier bait shop and bike rental shops, part of the pier approach that dates to 1926.
The working group, which includes members of community groups, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and members of groups that campaigned for and against the Lens, was handpicked by Mayor Rick Kriseman.
He said the group need only finalize a list of amenities, such as shops, open-air dining and community meeting spaces, without having to decide whether those should be over the water or at the pier entrance.
“I want us to be very clear about what is the community looking for at the pier,” Kriseman said. “Do they want restaurants? Do they want retail? Do they want marina elements?”
In addition to the 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force report, the group also may consult a November survey conducted for the city by OpinionWorks.
It showed that residents want a fine dining restaurant and air-conditioned areas out on the water. Residents also said they want an iconic pier with sweeping views and facilities that promote walking, jogging, cycling and fishing.
The group has the option of updating that survey or commissioning a new one, city officials said.
A timetable presented by group Chairman Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch, gives the group 10 weeks to conduct its research and seek public input before producing a final report.
A sub-committee of the group will explore ways to get input from the public that will likely include social media.
City officials hope to issue a request for qualifications by early August, with a selection committee of industry professionals shortlisting five to eight companies to submit designs.
The public then will be invited to choose three favorite designs. That could possibly be done through utility bill inserts.
The selection committee and Kriseman will recommend one of the three favorites to City Council, which would have to approve the construction contract.
Marilyn Olsen, one of three working group members who also served on the original Pier Advisory Task Force, said she is optimistic this process will have a better outcome.
“The Task Force came up with a menu of options,” she said. “It was never charged with coming up with a specific solution. This should allow the process to be more streamlined.”