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03-22-21 | Feature

The Jewel of Downtown

St. Petersburg Pier Redesigned
by Julie Booth, Booth Design Group

The new pier in St. Petersburg, Florida was completely redesigned to provide a wealth of tourist opportunities throughout the 3,000 feet it extends over the water. The pier now includes a bar & grill, lawn area, fishing spots, the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, and many more recreational and leisurely offerings.
ne of the principle problems with the old pier was the long straight road-like approach out to the pier head. The strategy behind the design was to encourage pedestrian and bike use by creating a much more diverse system of pathways with two dominant paths and a diagonal connection to create a varied experience for users while providing cross access between the two legs of the pier. The design also aimed to stretch the open space experiences and landscape along the whole length of the new pier. The plaza, tilted lawn, coastal thicket and lawn bowl were all part of this larger strategy of activation of the spaces and creating a widened range of experiences and choices.
Found at the very end of the pier, the four-story building features a pier gift shop, cafA(C), restaurant, and rooftop bar. Below the building, the design team added steps that lower towards the water level to create a unique fishing spot. A custom precast concrete fish cleaning station was provided by Wausau Tile.
In addition to the resturant and bar, the multi-level pier building features many lookouts both to the bay in the east and to the city skyline to the west from this building. Additionally, a perforated metal roof paneling system overhangs and provides shade and shelter throughout the open spaces. The bottom where the bikes are located slopes 7' up to the Pier Head Building base level. The lawn slope is supported by structural foam lifts to avoid the weight of 7' deep soil.
The design team emphasized using plants native to the Central Florida coast for the project to strengthen and reinforce the sense of place and resilience within different areas of the pier. Sabal Palms were planted throughout the pier.
The plaza water spray feature is an interactive water spray for children and adults and a ceremonial feature of the plaza, with a visual connection to the bay beyond. Technically and artistically placing a water feature on a sloped plaza was an interesting challenge for Ken Smith of Ken Smith Workshop who solved this by tilting the level water spray zones to counteract the sloped plaza.
Located on the eastern coast of St. Petersburg, Florida the pier overlooks the western side of the Tampa Bay. The three vegetated sections on the left side of the pier, named the Coastal Thicket, is a series of walkways above the water. The oasis-like design consists of native Florida plants such as wax myrtle, myrtle oak and white buttonwood, as well as sabal palms, palmettos, sea oats, and native grasses.
California bamboo decking was integrated into this section of the pier with custom aluminum railing along the sides. The coastal thicket planters are built like a giant bathtub with chambers held up by pier. There is a bottom gravel drainage layer at the bottom of each planter covered with a filter fabric that promotes drainage. The soil medium was selected and blended to match the native plant requirements and then added to a shell mulch.
The sloped lawn found on the upper level has an oculus hole cutout to see the water and people below. The lower level is a shady walkway along the seawall that is shielded from the afternoon sun. There is lighting in the ring of the oculus for night viewing. The idea behind the sloped lawn was to provide a focal backdrop to the plaza. It's a classic conceal and reveal strategy. As one approaches the plaza the tilted lawn conceals much of the spaces that lie beyond, behind and under it, so that when one passes beyond the lawn the view of the open water and environmental center opens up rather dramatically and only then does one discover the cave like space beneath the lawn.

Opened in the summer of 2020, The New St. Petersburg Pier is the jewel in downtown's waterfront. It provides something for everyone, from tourists to residents, no matter how much money is in pocket. Visitors can choose their experience throughout the area, and its exploration and activity areas provide a multitude of flexible programs and experiences - from children to seniors, nature lovers to boaters, fishermen to fine diners. The views of the cityscape from the pier head are unparalleled.

The pier's 26 acres creates the ultimate place to relax, stroll, bike, shop, drink, and more. The design includes three restaurants, a beach, a walkable coastal thicket boardwalk running along the waterway, inviting spaces to sit and picnic, a concert space, a playground including interactive water play, a snack bar, a discovery center and classroom, a marketplace featuring local independent vendors, multiple restaurants and more with public art scattered throughout the project.

Landscape architecture firm Ken Smith Workshop, based in New York, was selected to partner on the project with architect Rogers Partners based in New York, and ASD|SKY serving as architect of record. Booth Design Group Inc, based in St. Petersburg, served as the local Landscape Architect. This team designed the portion of the Pier that includes the Pier Plaza and all elements East, extending toward the water, including the spa beach, splash pad, coastal thicket, education building, pavilion, tilted lawn, fishing deck, and Pierhead lawn/building. Another separate team worked on the Pier approach.

The design of the new pier was predicated on its past. The old pier's design was a simple, long, concrete walk and driveway out to the pier head. It was an early-1970's-era, inverted pyramid-topped predecessor which was demolished in 2015. It left a lot of room to improve upon. The expansive, multifaceted public space now serves as a natural extension of the waterfront. Ken Smith's firm describes the new design as "The Pier does not take you to a place-the Pier is the place."

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One of the main challenges was developing a project over the water. These included the wind, salt spray, ecologic impact, space limitations and hurricane preparedness. Another facet of concern was shade. Designing for the scorching hot Florida heat makes it imperative that shade is a high priority.

The Pier extends over Tampa Bay, so the wind and salt spray were particularly challenging to account for. Salt can damage plants, but the pier is elevated enough that waves weren't going to encroach on the pier. However, the salt spray the winds create can be extremely damaging. We made sure to use native plants that are resistant to Florida's heat and could tolerate the possible salt spray.

Another challenge was preventing nutrient runoff from entering the bay from the planters over water. In fact, the main driver of the design was to be sensitive to the ecological system of the area. Designers used a two-step process to prevent nutrient runoff. First was to not use traditional fertilizers on the project site. Biosolids was selected to be used because of its high nutrient absorption and lack of leaching. Second was to place a pocket of Bold and Gold Soil at the drainage holes to filter any remaining nutrients if they are present in the water.

Regarding space limitation, the new pier extends out to the four caissons of the old pier, where the new fishing deck reuses this structure. The overall footprint could not exceed the previous square footage as to not interrupt the ecological growth and existing habitats below. The new pier itself is a 148,000 sq. ft. concrete deck supported by over 400 concrete piles. Specifically, trees were placed on a 20' grid spacing so to pay homage to the old pier layout.

Lastly, it is hurricane season six months out of the year, so the threat of extreme winds had to be mitigated. A special anchoring system was used to tie down trees as well as a Platipus anchoring system for palms. The trees at the pier head had to be strapped up to 12' deep to reach the structural slab while others were only 4'-5' deep. This ensured the trees and palms would endure several windstorms throughout the years. Crews also built a new seawall, with the structure rising nearly 3.5' taller than the old one.

Several shade structures were incorporated across the pier. The snack bar has expansive roof cantilevers, a large shade structure was installed on the beach, and the lawn overlooking the interactive playground has beach umbrellas built into the ground. The coastal thicket showcases native plants that will grow, also providing shade as you walk to the end of the pier.

Design Team
Landscape Architect - Ken Smith Workshop and Booth Design Group, Inc.
Architects - Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers and ASD|SKY
Civil Engineer - Stantec
General Contractor - Skanska
Landscape Installation - Brightview Landscaping

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2021.

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