On foot, it takes approximately 12 minutes to get from the origami pelican sculpture at the gate of the new St. Pete Pier to the apex, 3,000-something feet out into Tampa Bay.
As the reporter strides, that is. Your results may vary.
The most striking difference between the city’s latest design and its predecessors – the Million Dollar Pier and the Inverted Pyramid – is that this one has been designed to look and feel like a contiguous park. From the moment a visitor faces east and begins to move, there’s something to see, and experience, just about every step of the way.
That’s why the City of St. Petersburg is now referring to it as the Pier District.
In the old days, that schlep to the pier head was hot, lonely and boring. It was essentially all parking lot until you got out there, by foot or by vehicle.
Observations from Sunday evening’s media preview: There are, in fact, parking lots at the new pier, discreetly hidden; getting there takes you past the opening marketplace, which is sustainably solar-powered, and the grassy field where Janet Echelman’s massive “floating net” sculpture hangs overhead like a blue and white cloud.
Trolleys run continuously from one end of the $92 million project to the other.
It’s more rewarding to walk.
As befitting a city park, there’s greenery everywhere – mostly native Florida plants, including hardy palms and even oak trees, according to Sharon Wright, Director of the Office of Sustainability and Resiliency.
“We pushed really hard to do everything we could to decrease what’s known as the Urban Heat Island Effect,” she said. “And just knowing that extreme heat’s going to be our issue. So, shade as much as possible.”
Catalyst: On a scale of one to ten, how frustrating was it knowing that you’ve had this ready to show the public for a while, but couldn’t?
Mayor Rick Kriseman: Definitely a 10. Every time I’ve come out here, I literally have gotten goosebumps. It’s a beautiful park. And the fact that we couldn’t show it off, and let the community who seven years has been waiting for it, it’s been hard.
There’s 500 new trees out here. And we were able to save nearly all of the existing trees. I’m amazed at how it’s already grown in, to where it looks like it’s been here for years. I love the Coastal Thicket, and when those trees all grow in it’s going to be just spectacular. And it’s all over water! That’s just so cool. And you can take that all the way out to the pier head.
As members of the media mingled with city employees, everyone – suitably masked – oohed and aahed at the dancing waters of the Splash Pad and the smooth-edged contemporary architecture of the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center.
People lined up to watch the sun set over downtown, from the Pier Tiki lounge, five stories up at pier’s end.
Catalyst: What do you say now to the haters, the people who will complain about this, no matter what?
Kriseman: Look, in this job you’re never gonna make everybody happy. It’s impossible. You just have to do what you think is the right thing. And I think – at least I hope – the vast majority of the residents of the city are going to come out here and they’re going to love it.
It’s like artwork; everybody’s going to have an opinion, and that’s OK.
The St. Pete Pier officially opens to the public today at 5 p.m. Due to COVID-19, capacity is limited. Tickets and info are here.