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Work on a 'gateway' to St. Pete's Pier District will mean a six-month street closure downtown

ST. PETERSBURG - For the next six months, residents and visitors to downtown will need to make further adjustments as construction continues on the city's new Pier.

Starting July 22, work on a "gateway" to the 26-acre Pier District will close Second Avenue NE, from the east side of Beach Drive NE to west of Bayshore Drive NE. In addition, the intersection at Beach Drive and Second Avenue will be closed temporarily for stormwater improvements. The date of that closure will be announced later, City Architect Raul Quintana said.

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

The gateway is intended to create a wide pedestrian connection to the Pier, and will include removal of the center median, sidewalks, trees, bollards and light poles. When finished, it will feature new street and pedestrian lighting, curbs, gutters and asphalt drive lanes.

Traffic will be reduced from four to two lanes. A roundabout had been contemplated, but was dropped because of the cost.

A major part of the project will be stormwater improvements. Flooding occurs at the Beach Drive and Second Avenue intersection, Quintana said. He added that a stormwater treatment device, the Downstream Defender, will remove trash, debris and oil "that would otherwise run into the bay."

All told, the gateway will cost $1.7 million. Of that, $380,000 will come from stormwater improvement funds, outside the Pier budget. The overall cost of the Pier District, including ancillary projects, currently totals $89 million, but is expected to top off at $92 million, Quintana said.

City officials have been sensitive about the project's rising price tag, which years earlier had been set at $50 million and began as a modest 5 acres.

The $50 million came from a 2005 agreement between St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County Commission. In 2015, Mayor Rick Kriseman asked for another $20 million and expanded the project. Two years later, he got $14 million more for Pier "enhancements."

The City Council voted to use $10 million of the $14 million for the Pier. Those dollars have been allocated to such elements as a top-notch playground, an elaborate splash pad and much of the infrastructure for one of artist Janet Echelman's billowing net sculptures.

Council members stipulated that the remaining $4 million should be used to address transportation and parking problems downtown. Now, though, $1 million of that money is being used for the gateway.

"That does not feel right to me," council member Gina Driscoll said at last week's council meeting.

On Monday, Quintana said there was "always the desire" to create the gateway "because of the proximity to the Pier, and the timing for doing it now makes sense."

City officials have said it is financially prudent to include ancillary projects, such as new seawalls and stormwater work, during the Pier District's construction. Funds outside the Pier budget for such projects currently total $8 million, including $6 million for seawalls.

The total cost of the district so far also includes almost $2 million in non-city funds. Those include $75,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for stormwater work and $400,000 in private donations to help pay for the Echelman infrastructure.

Even with "substantial work" remaining, Quintana expects that the overall cost of the Pier District will remain at the projected $92 million.

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

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