Its entire history can be summarized with nicknames.
First it was the railroad. Then it was electric. It became the municipal, the million-dollar and, finally, the upside-down pyramid.
Now the City of St. Petersburg is now trying to decide what its iconic St. Petersburg Pier will become next—the Wave, the Lens, or the People’s Pier. Three new concepts, submitted by three different design firms, offer three great chances to modernize a relic of the ’70s. But which one should the city choose?
The Wave, designed by the Copenhagen-based Bjarke Ingels Group, takes the shape of—you guessed it—a massive wave barreling into Tampa Bay. The Wave takes the concept of the loop and puts it everywhere, including in hot dog stands, fire pits and trolley stops. The firm envisions local foliage taking up much of the park space, while the approach to the pier has room for swimmers, kayakers and other boaters.
The massive loop at the end of the Wave would feature rooms filled with fantastical activities. The firm envisions a rock-climbing wall, an ice rink, a wave room and, somewhat oddly, “a shallow pool complete with all ages of children incased in life-sized inflatable balls!” The top of the structure has room for an oval observational deck.
While the Wave screams for attention, the Lens is subtly impressive. The straight approach of past piers is eliminated in favor of two crossing paths. One hugs the water, while the other provides a view of the pier and the city. They meet at the end of the pier, shaped like the outline of a giant eyeball, with observational decks and water access.
Where both other designs simply eliminate the old pier in a slight against St. Petersburg’s history, the Lens remembers. Pylons from the existing pier would be preserved and turned into a man-made reef—a home for aquatic wildlife visible to all pier visitors. Retail and restaurant space in the Lens is limited, but design firm Michael Maltzan makes up for that by erecting smaller buildings at the base of the pier, as well as a mid-sized amphitheater facing the bay.
West 8’s People’s Pier is as much for the local flora and fauna as it is for the people. The firm would eliminate much of the park at the base of the pier and replace it with a wildlife refuge. Visitors could navigate the mangrove coast and sea grass meadows on kayak, while larger boats would be rerouted to preserve the sanctuary.
The pier structure would be dome-shaped and surrounded by sand. Retail and restaurants would be housed on the second level, while the upper level would serve as a circular navigation deck. West 8 envisions the lowest level becoming part of the beach.
The other option, no longer viable because of a binding vote from the city council, would be to renovate the pilings below the current pier and retain the rest of the structure. This idea is popular among residents, but for a city that has struggled to break the idea that it is a destination for retirement, preserving a visibly old structure makes no sense.
Out of the three designs, Maltzan’s Lens gives the city’s most prominent structure the facelift it needs. It remembers the history of the city, without being defined by it. The plans for the pier structure itself and the park at the base of the pier hold tremendous promise, and could prove to be a catalyst for tourism, as well as a friendly destination for locals.
The Lens is the pier St. Petersburg needs.