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The St. Pete Pier is expected to open next spring, but the restaurant at its end will be delayed

ST. PETERSBURG - The city's pier project, which has hit snags over the years - from citizen revolt to surprise encounters with forgotten pilings and seawalls - is facing another hitch.

The destination restaurant planned for the pier head building won't be ready in time for the project's now anticipated opening in the early spring of 2020. The fourth-floor Teak restaurant, with views of Tampa Bay and the city's skyline, is unlikely to ready before next June.

City development administrator Alan DeLisle downplayed the delay. "To be just a couple of months behind on the project, we really think that's par for the course," he said.

"Most large projects have tenants opening at different times, so it's not uncommon that you have this kind of thing. In fact, it might be somewhat remarkable that we might be able to line up everything except for the restaurant. We're not too concerned about that. What we are concerned about and are focused on is making sure that we're getting it right."

Chuck Prather, who owns the Birchwood, a boutique hotel on Beach Drive NE, has a contract with the city to bring his Teak restaurant, Driftwood Cafe and Pier Teaki rooftop bar to the pier head. But, said Prather, work on the interior spaces cannot begin until critical elements of the building are complete to the point where his contractor, Brandon Construction of Palm Harbor, can get in.

"We certainly are sensitive to the city's request to get this done as quickly as possible," Prather said. "The cafe and rooftop bar, being less complicated, can be completed before the Teak restaurant. And we can do that. The mayor would love to see the project finished in early spring, but we cannot get the restaurant completed then."

Previous coverage: The St. Pete Pier, now with a price tag of $87 million, has a new opening date in the spring of 2020

City officials have said that pier contractor Skanska USA has given a "substantial completion" date of December for the 26-acre St. Pete Pier District. The stairs in the five-story pier head building are not expected to go in until September, Prather said.

"By October, we can start building out our tenant space. I can't begin until I have a building and stairs and a roof. We will work through it. I can't wait for that freight elevator to be installed," he said, to convey cases of flooring, restaurant appliances and other equipment.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, described the building at the end of the pier as "rather complex in its construction" and pointed to the nighttime concrete pour of its fourth floor, where the new Teak restaurant will be located. That floor is 36 inches thick, he said.

At one time, city officials had projected that the entire district would be finished early this year. That was changed to this fall. Now the opening is projected to be next spring. With the exception of the Teak restaurant, the entire 26-acre district will be accessible then, Ballestra said.

"I've always said that the beautiful part about the Pier is that it is an unfolding experience and there's a lot to do," he said. "We are looking forward to going to the Teak restaurant, but it is one of many components in 26 acres."

Previous coverage: St. Petersburg's waterfront destination will have a name. Call it the St. Pete Pier.

The Driftwood Cafe, which Prather said will have "all the elements of a fine coffee shop," will be fully operational. He promises homemade ice cream, shaved ice, pastries, fruit cups, hot and cold sandwiches and pizza. Once the restaurant is open, most of the prep work for the cafe will be done there, but until then, he said the Birchwood will function as a commissary kitchen.

The Pier Teaki, with its themed furniture, decorations and drinks, will also be ready for the pier's opening day, Prather said. "I think the public will be thrilled, but they won't quite have the full menu until the Teak opens."

That menu is being developed, he said.

Of the building that will stand more than 1,000 feet into Tampa Bay and house his new restaurant, Prather declares it will be "spectacular."

"The architects have designed a beautiful building that certainly has its complexities," he said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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