Spotlight on the St. Pete Pier by Nicole Roberts
The St. Pete Pier is finally open!
Thousands of people have already seen the Pier, but many in our community aren’t ready to venture out yet. Whether you have seen the Pier already, or plan to see it soon, here are some fast facts about this new world-class amenity to our downtown.
This latest iteration of the Pier cost $92 million to build, which primarily came from a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) approved by the City and the Pinellas County Commission, which is a vehicle in which higher tax payments attributed to rising property values are set aside for a specific purpose, in this case the rebuilding of the Pier. By acquiring the funds this way, the City was able to avoid a major hit to the General Fund.
As you walk around the 26 beautiful acres, you can see that the money well used. The clean, modern architecture seamlessly combines with the surrounding natural elements, creating a serene environment. Residents of St. Petersburg will be proud to bring family and friends here for generations to come, as the Pier comes into its own and acts as a magnet for visitor and residents alike.
When you approach the Pier, you see St. Pete staples you know and love. Fresco's Waterfront Bistro, St. Petersburg Museum of History, and Hops & Props. You are also greeted by the “Myth” by Nathan Mabry, a 10-foot-high origami-style rendering of the signature emblem of St. Petersburg in brilliant red. Walking just past the Gateway, you will find the Marketplace, a lively bazaar featuring an array of independent vendors selling unique items with a local flair. There is a total of 17 spaces available for vendors in the Marketplace, including seven market stalls and ten market tents. Inaugural vendors include the locally famous Central Avenue shop, The Merchant, which will feature a local collective of St. Pete inspired souvenirs and handcrafted items, and One Community, which will sell work from a collective of various local black-owned vendors. You can check out these vendors and more every Friday through Sunday from 10AM to 6PM when the Marketplace is open. In addition to these artisans, visitors can expect to see a variety of performers and bands along the Pier since the City has a contract with Big City Events to hold a minimum of 78 events in one year, including roaming street performers.
As you are passing the final Marketplace kiosks, you will see the grandeur of the “Bending Arc” by Janet Echelman in full view. The monumental sculpture gently billows above the Pier District, allowing the wind to create a choreography of constantly changing shape in the sculpture’s 1,662,528 knots and 180 miles of twine.
Visitors are invited to lay on the grass, using slanted mounds to prop themselves up to enjoy the beautiful, never-ending movement of the sculpture. Not only beautiful, the piece speaks to the racial inequities that our country is confronting head-on right now. As Echelman designed the sculpture, she learned of the site’s important racial significance, as the place where citizens began peacefully challenging racial barriers locally, leading to the eventual Civil Rights Act of 1957, which upheld the rights of all citizens to enjoy the municipal beach and swimming pool without discrimination. The sculpture is composed of multiple arcs, which gently billow in the wind, so Echelman titled the sculpture Bending Arc in reference to the Theodore Parker quote, paraphrased and made famous by Dr. Martin Luthor King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The young at heart will be excited to reach the next stop, the Playground. The marine-themed playground, designed in collaboration with W Architecture and the City of St. Petersburg, sets the stage for an immersive shoreline narrative featuring an immense kraken swirling around a multilevel seaweed tower and a sunken shipwreck. Kiddos will be excited to play here for hours on end. When the kids have tired themselves out on the playground, you can head over to the Café at the Pavilion where you can grab a quick, healthy snack and dine on the Pier Plaza, enjoying the view. Or, if it's time to get wet, head over to the Splash Pad, designed to keep the kiddies cool–while tiring them out in the process.
At this point, you have reached the widest section of the Pier. To the South, you’ll find a gorgeous art piece commissioned for the Pier called 'Morning Stars' by Xenobia Bailey. On the waterfront, Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille sits ready to serve you authentic Florida fare and flavors from throughout the Caribbean Rim. Just behind Doc Ford’s, you will find the Benoist Plaza featuring the First Flight Monument, a life-sized sculpture of the Benoist Airboat that pilot Tony Jannus flew roundtrip to Tampa on January 1, 1914 for the first commercial flight, located on the exact same spot as the hangar used for that day’s flight. A little farther back, the courtesy docks are available for public use. To the North, you will find Spa Beach, a recreated beach that Downtown St. Pete can be proud of, filled with white sand and plenty of available seating.
After enjoying the quaint Spa Beach, it's time to experience the Coastal Thicket, an ADA-compliant boardwalk which runs along the north side of the Pier, inviting you to take a relaxing walk or bike ride through an oasis of native Florida plants, trees and shrubs as you make your way to the end of the Pier. On the way, you will pass the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, offering interactive exhibits, video presentations, a touch tank, and docent-led tours. The Center also houses a classroom space and an open-air wet classroom, bordered by walkways with railings and a covered observation deck. This will be the perfect destination for school field trips and summer camps for years to come.
Finally, you have made it to the Pier Point, and home to three amazing restaurants, brought to you by the owner of the locally-famous Birchwood Inn, Birch & Vine, and The Canopy. Teak is the marquee eatery in the elegant building at the end of the Pier. Located on the fourth floor, Teak offers elevated casual dining imbued with Florida flair and striking views of the ever-growing St. Pete skyline. If you're looking to really escape into the 360-degree views of the St. Pete skyline and Tampa Bay, head up to the roof to Pier Teaki, a modern take on the classic tiki bar. For a quick snack, there’s the Driftwood Cafe, a casual walkup spot offering sandwiches, ice cream, pizza and other delicious snacks. Or, if you are looking to catch your own dinner, head around the back of the Pier Point building for the Fishing Deck, where all are welcome to cast their lines!
There is much to experience at the new St. Pete Pier! Whether you decide to go sooner or later, we hope you enjoy the many surprises along the 26-acre waterfront park! Until then, stay safe and healthy.