The New Pier Transforms Our Waterfront

My husband Mark and I weren’t sure what to expect when we attended the media preview of the new St. Pete Pier on behalf of the Northeast Journal. I wasn’t convinced the old pier needed to be replaced with something new. But when we saw the amazing transformation of our downtown waterfront, we were astounded. It took creative vision to make this new venue possible.

As Mayor Rick Kriseman noted, the new pier is so much more than a building that stretches out over the water. “This is one of the biggest projects the city will undertake. It’s an entirely new 26-acre development for the community, for everyone to enjoy,” said Kriseman. “It’s been an honor and a privilege working with the team who has made something wonderful for our city.”

A pedestrian promenade leading from Bayshore Boulevard has lush landscaping on all sides and an overhead structure created with solar panels that offer some shade during the day. The solar panels power the colored lights that give the promenade a different look at night. Raul Quintana, St. Pete City Architect and a Snell Isle resident, points out that the shadows the solar panels cast are “meant to mimic trees by creating patterns in the walkway.”

Families will appreciate the many child-friendly features of the new Pier – definitely a missing element in most of downtown until now. There’s a fun interactive splash pad with colored lights and music; several outstanding playgrounds for various age groups; and a focus on marine life at the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, which has aquariums, touch tanks, and other educational displays. Plus, there are five acres of green space for walking, bike riding, and picnics. Even Spa Beach has been reinvented with brightly colored lounge chairs and a big shade cover donated by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Public art is spread throughout the Pier District, but the one that captures the most attention is the Janet Echelman sculpture, Bending Arc. It’s an enormous sculpture of an aerial net that hangs high up over a park-like area. During the day it’s blue-gray and looks like billowy clouds. But at night is when it can be fully appreciated. That’s when the sculpture turns incredible shades of violet and magenta thanks to LED lights.

Photo by Lynn Lotkowictz

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin drew our attention to the lone canoe tied up by one of the new restaurants, Doc Ford’s, a sister restaurant of the popular Fort Myers Beach venue. The canoe is a moving memorial to Terry Tomalin, the popular, longtime outdoors editor for the Tampa Bay Times who passed away in 2016. Terry was also Kanika’s husband, and yes, the canoe was his, she said.

At the Pier head – the cool modern structure replacing the former inverted pyramid –  Chuck Prather, who owns the Birchwood and Canopy rooftop bar on Beach Drive, has put a lot of creative thought into his three new Pier restaurants. Look for fun Tiki-hut décor and outstanding views of the water and city skyline at The Pier Teaki rooftop bar. It’s definitely a place to be seen. One floor down, the high-end restaurant Teak was designed with the help of Creative Arts, a local company with a national reputation for incredible museum exhibits, including the holographic pirate ship at the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa.

Prather told us Teak’s décor took its shape and spirit from his summer home in Maine. A replica of a gorgeous highly polished Chris Craft boat sits at the entrance to the restaurant. A large illuminated nautical chart hangs from the ceiling over the captain’s table. “I’m thrilled at how it has turned out, not only my venue, but the entire project,” said Prather. “All of the areas the city has created are going to be magical.”