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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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Closed and needing repair, the Redington Long Pier faces an uncertain future

REDINGTON SHORES — The future of the 56-year-old Redington Long Pier is up in the air — including whether it should stay up in the air.

The 1,200-foot landmark has been closed since February after an evaluation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found it was dangerous to allow the public to access.

The state told pier owner Tony Antonious to fix it or tear it down. But fixing it costs $260,000 more than demolishing it would.

Antonious says he’s trying to sell it but the town of Redington Shores isn’t helping. Town officials denied that. His attorney plans to sue the town.

The state warned Antonious to do something about the pier on May 24. His lawyer wrote back that Antonious can’t afford to do anything about the problem.

The deadline for Antonious to prove he can’t afford to fix the pier passed on July 6 with no response.

Antonious’ lawyer, Jacqueline Kafedjian, blamed the stalemate on the town.

"I think it’s easy to draw the conclusion they don’t really care about the pier," she said.

Commissioner Jeff Neal said the town isn’t to blame for the poor state of its pier.

"The pier is in disrepair because the maintenance wasn’t done," he said. "We tried everything we could to make the current owner do maintenance."

• • •

The cost of saving the pier will run $650,000, while tearing it down is only $390,000.

Kafedjian said since closing the pier earlier this year, Antonious has lost too much business to pay his pier mortgage, let alone repair anything.

So, instead of sealing a fate for the pier and its parcel, he’s trying to sell it. He said he’s looking only for buyers interested in fixing the pier and keeping it open to the public. But they could prosper by developing the land.

He said a "major hotel chain" has expressed interest. They were interested in building a 100-room hotel on the property, according to broker John Burpee, who declined to name the chain.

Here’s the problem with that: The pier is currently zoned as a recreational space. Nothing can be built on it. To change that, the new plans must be approved by the town, the county and then the state.

Burpee said the town’s attorney told the potential buyer that rezoning the property "was not going to happen." So, the buyer withdrew their offer.

But Neal said the town’s commission has never had a conversation with anyone about rezoning the Redington Pier during his 30 years on the board.

Redington Shores’ attorney could not be reached for comment.

Burpee, though, says another hotel chain is negotiating to buy the pier. If a deal is signed, he estimated it will take up to three weeks to submit a rezoning request.

But the clock is ticking.

Antonious owes the state more than $12,000 in lease fees. He’s neglected to pay the state for over two years, according to DEP documents.

And because Antonious missed the deadline to submit the requested paperwork, DEP said its lawyers are working to determine its next steps.

One of those includes eventually tearing down the pier.

• • •

Antonious’ rocky relationship with the town runs deep.

In 2014, the town started fining him $250 per day for code violations. At one point, he owed more than $225,000 in fines.

Antonious took Redington Shores to court, saying it had no legal authority to cite him because the pier is technically on state land. In 2015, a judge ruled in favor of the town.

So, Antonious filed with the 2nd District Court of Appeal. He won, and the fines were wiped out.

Antonious said he’s tried to sit down and talk to town officials. He said he’s offered to give the town the pier for free, if it pay for the repairs.

"They’ve shown no interest in wanting to come to the agreement to really help preserve and restore this," Kafedjian said, referring to town officials. "You can tell by their legal action."

Neal denies Redington Shores has ever been contacted by Antonious or his lawyer. Even if they were, Neal added, the town is no financial position to buy or fix the pier.

• • •

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 people have signed an online petition to save the pier. That prompted residents to show up to the June 27 commission meeting and ask the town to do something.

Nearly a dozen people shared similar stories about growing up on the pier. That’s where they grew up learning how to fish, and spent their summer days.

Eddie Harrington, who started fishing competitions off the Redington Long Pier, said the landmark helped form generations of kids. He said it was a place parents could drop off their kids.

"I wouldn’t babysit your kid but I sure would look after them," he said.

The fishing off the pier brought people from all over the world. Three fishing TV shows were filmed on it, and it was one of the few places anglers could catch tarpon and kingfish.

The pier was renowned for being one of the best fishing spots in the area — and without it, that leaves the Suncoast Skyway as the only place that comes remotely close for over-the-water fishing.

"People wrap their lives around that pier because it’s in the Gulf of Mexico," Harrington said. "And the fish were so good."

• • •

Neal, the town commissioner, said he sent a July 3 letter to Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi asking for their help. Maybe the state could make the pier a historic landmark or provide financial support.

"I figured I had to try something," Neal said. "As a town, we don’t want to see the pier go away."

He said Redington Shores’ tourism and local businesses will suffer if the town loses its pier.

"It would be a very sad thing to see it go," Neal said. "People love this pier. If there is anything that can be done, we want to see the pier saved."

Contact McKenna Oxenden at moxenden@tampabay.com. Follow @mack_oxenden.

   
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