Mayor Bill Foster recommends the St. Petersburg Pier close for business May 31, 2013. Since the winter tourist season is the most profitable for Pier merchants, they will have one more high season after the one already underway.
But after the closing date, they will have 45 days to vacate the premises before the Pier is fenced off to await demolition.
"Now that we have a hard date, it's somewhat of a relief," Jon LaBudde said. "It gives us some kind of idea to plan. Before, it was just left up in the unknown world, we didn't know how to plan for it."
LaBudde is the Pier's newest tenant, opening a bar named Jonny Reno's and a surf shop called Reno's Flaup House just seven months ago. He is also a commercial real estate agent and thinks many of his new neighbors will choose to retire rather than relocate when they discover retail space near the water has become hard to find in downtown St. Petersburg.
"Beach Drive is completely booked up -- no vacancy. The Jannus Live block is completely booked up, most of Central Avenue is completely booked up," he ticked off, adding market rental rates are roughly double what Pier merchants pay.
Crystal Mirage Gallery owner Carol Gray said she might open elsewhere, but "I don't think I would open another business here in St. Petersburg, even thought I've been here 26 years. My heart is broken."
Gray still hopes for a successful "Save the Pier" petition drive.
"Having a date is helpful, but it would be better to have a vote on the issue of the Pier," she said.
The city has known since 2004 that the Pier approach, the bridge leading out to the inverted pyramid Pier head, was deteriorating after 80 years in a saltwater environment. The inverted pyramid is more than 40 years old, and would also need heavy renovations.
A task force spent over a year studying options and concluded a re-built Pier could not collect enough rent to eliminate annual subsidies that hover in the $1.5 million range.
Most elected leaders are now focused on constructing a new Pier nicknamed the Lens. It will cost as much as $50 million and will not have shops and restaurants. Re-building the existing Pier would cost a similar amount and still require a subsidy.