ST. PETERSBURG — The south side of the inverted pyramid pier was James Ward’s favorite fishing spot for more than 10 years until the pier was closed and fenced off in June.
Not only did he frequently haul in catches of sheepshead, snapper and black grouper, Ward also enjoyed encounters with curious tourists from as far afield as Russia, Sweden and Italy.
On Monday, Ward was back at his old hunting ground, dangling bait of fiddler crab and oysters for unsuspecting fish.
“It’s good scenery; it’s open water,” said Ward, 51. “It’s a great place to fish.”
Anglers, cyclists and walkers braved Monday’s cold and blustery weather to take advantage of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s decision to re-open the pier head while the city deliberates over its replacement. The 10-foot chain-link fence that sealed off the pier head was removed Sunday. The pier approach was inspected and the boat slip area fenced off before the public was allowed access.
The inverted pyramid building will remain closed and the city is still paying for round-the-clock security that officials previously said will cost $240,000 this year.
“As long as it’s open for fishing, I’m happy,” Ward said.
Cyclists also welcomed the decision, allowing them to extend their regular rides to loop around the pier building.
That includes Lance Parker, who rides to the pier from his downtown home up to four times a week.
“I hated to see that fence up there,” Parker said.
Former Mayor Bill Foster closed the 40-year-old inverted pyramid’s pier June 1 as a first step toward its demolition. But the city’s plan to replace it with the futuristic Lens project was rejected by voters in an August referendum.
Kriseman pledged during his election that the city could build a replacement by the end of 2015. However, members of his transition team have sketched out a more cautious schedule that includes more public input. Under that plan, submission of new proposals would not be until March 2015 with the pier scheduled to open in 2017.
“I am reviewing the findings from our transition team, and listening to the people of this city about what comes next,” Kriseman said in a statement Monday. “There is much work to do going forward in this long, public process.”
Toronto resident Aleks Kurowska, who is in town visiting family, walked along the pier Monday. A regular visitor to the city, she said the city should give more thought to renovating the inverted pyramid.
“We feel it’s the heart of St. Petersburg in many respects,” Kurowska said. “It would be a shame to let it fall apart. They should renovate.”