By Waveney Ann moore
Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — An economic analysis of the future Pier District promises a rosy return on the project's $66 million price tag.
The study by Lambert Advisory of Miami estimates that the district — which is not yet under construction and is expected to open at the end of 2018 — will have a potential annual economic impact on St. Petersburg of $80 million, create hundreds of jobs, bring in close to two million visitors a year and boost demand for hotels and restaurants.
Lambert expects spending by the anticipated crowds of local and out-of-town visitors to have a broad impact beyond the 26-acre Pier District and the surrounding downtown area. Visitors are expected to spend about $30 million for food and beverages, $10 million for retail and services and $15 million for hotels.
In a prepared statement following the report's release, Mayor Rick Kriesman said he was "thrilled" that the district "will not only be a world-class destination for residents and for visitors from around the world, but that it will also have such a strong economic impact."
City Council member Karl Nurse's response was somewhat muted.
"Candidly, I don't put a lot of credence on these reports. The impact of building something is pretty straightforward," he said, referring to the $17.5 million in wages expected from the 365 full-time jobs that would be created during the district's construction.
"When you add entertainment activities to an area, the only net gain is bringing money from out of the area into the area," Nurse said.
"So economically, if it causes visitors to come or stay longer, then there's an economic gain. Otherwise, it's just additional choices for people who live in the area. I have never seen an economic impact study that I haven't thought was inflated."
Meanwhile, the waiting continues for a key permit to get the project started. Pinellas County issued its permit in late April, but one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still pending.
"We expect to have that shortly," said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination. "They committed to get that to us this month."
When that happens, workers will begin driving piles into Tampa Bay for the over-the-water component of the project.
In the meantime, on June 1, the City Council will be asked to appropriate $17.6 million, the guaranteed maximum price from Skanska USA Building — the project's construction manager — for marine structural work to construct the pier platform. The money will be a portion of the original $34 million estimated for construction costs before what was going to be simply a new pier, was expanded into the Pier District, with its current budget of $66 million.
Other decisions await in coming weeks. On June 7, the pier public art committee will consider whether to commission a sculpture from internationally renowned artist Janet Echelman.
In April, the council approved a $75,000, two-phase agreement with the artist, who was born in Tampa and has her studio in Massachusetts. At their upcoming meeting, the pier art committee will review phase one, which will include a feasibility study, at least two concept designs and cost estimates. Phase two — along with the second half of the $75,000 payment — would only proceed if the city decides to go forward with the full project, which could cost many thousands of dollars more.
Also, Pinellas County Commissioners still have to decide whether to allow St. Petersburg to allocate up to an additional $10 million to increase amenities at the Pier District, along with $4 million for transportation and parking throughout downtown. The money would come from tax increment financing, or TIF, funds once meant for a downtown transit hub that's no longer planned.
Kriseman had originally wanted all of the money to be used for Pier District "enhancements." The proposed extras include a $1.3 million signature art element — though mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby said two donors have pledged "significant support for an Echelman piece" — $2 million for a floating platform and $1 million for playground equipment. City Council members pushed back at spending all of the money on the new district and eventually voted to spend a portion on transportation and parking, as well.
As yet, Ballestra said the city's request has not been scheduled to be heard by the County Commission.
"We're working with the county to schedule a time," he said. "We look forward to getting that on their agenda shortly."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes