Visitors last year to the Historic Bridge Street Pier enjoy the sights and sounds of Sarasota Bay. Now half the pier, including the once-popular waterfront restaurant, is closed and will remain so as a planned renovation project falls behind schedule. Islander File Photo: Mark Young
Renovation for the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier was due to be completed by the end of August, but the project is months behind schedule.
At a Sept. 5 city pier team meeting, Police Chief Sam Speciale, who facilitates the pier team, said design drawings from ZNS Engineering have been submitted and city staff is beginning the process to draft a request for proposal.
The RFP will need to be approved by commissioners before the project goes out for bid. In the meantime, half of the pier remains closed after being damaged when it was struck by two boats in June during Tropical Storm Andrea. The collisions occurred almost a year after the pier was damaged by boats that broke loose from their anchors in Sarasota Bay during Tropical Storm Debby.
Part of the renovation project will include the installation of additional pilings to act as a protective barrier to prevent boats from striking the pier in the event of future storm mishaps.
Speciale estimates that renovation will not begin until after the first of the year and construction could run into the high tourist season sometime in March or April.
Officials are becoming increasingly concerned with renovation costs, which are estimated to be about $900,000 based on 2-year-old estimates done when the project first gained traction.
Rising construction costs have left the pier team focused on cost-saving measures well before a scope of work has been completed.
The committee, which includes city commissioners, has focused on preserving the T-end of the pier while considering savings on materials, design and the removal of three copulas.
TDC to the rescue?
The pier could receive a boost from the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, according to Mayor John Shaughnessy.
State statutes limit the TDC in what it can fund as far as infrastructure projects, but tourist attractions fall within the guidelines and the pier may be eligible for TDC funding.
Shaughnessy said he approached the TDC for financial help with the pier and received a “positive” response.
“It’s within their laws that they can give money for the pier,” said Shaughnessy. “I’ve had two meetings this month about the process of submitting a request.”
Shaughnessy asked the pier team for suggestions on how much funding to seek and the general consensus was to ask for half of the current estimated costs, or around $500,000.
“That should allow us the ability to put the three copulas back into the plan and for us to use better materials, as well as helping with anticipating cost overruns.” said Commissioner Ric Gatehouse.
Shaughnessy agreed, saying the goal of the project is to update the pier, but not to change the design of what is an important and historic structure.
The pier was originally created using the landing of the wooden bridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach prior to the Cortez Bridge opening in 1956.
“My discussion with the TDC is that we want to put the pier back to the way it was,” said Shaughnessy. “I explained the history of the pier and that the pier is part of their philosophy of a family destination. They agreed, but wanted more information.”
The $900,000 cost estimate is old and doesn’t include the permitting process. Public works director Tom Woodard offered that the cost difference between using wood decking and composite materials would be about $115,000.
“The $900,000 estimate doesn’t include lighting and electricity,” said Woodard. “If we went with decorative lighting like we did on Bridge Street, you are looking at $5,000 a pole and just to do the electricity with new fixtures is about $35,000.”
Woodard said it’s going to be another $5,000 to replace the air conditioner in the harbor master’s office as just another example of how cost overruns can add up quickly.
“Everything we want to do relies on the funding on whether or not we can put the pier exactly back to the way it is,” said Shaughnessy.
Bids trickle in for pier restaurant
At least one bid was submitted to the city clerk’s office by the Sept. 6 deadline in the RFP.
If the city receives enough bids to consider it a competitive process, the sealed bids were to be opened Sept. 9 and commissioners will begin the ranking process the following week.
There have been some investors and entrepreneurs following the process as city officials worked through the creation of a new lease. The old lease was discarded following several issues that were raised when the former tenant fell behind on rent.
Accountability, enforcement and fairness were all thrust to the forefront of the problem when the rent went unpaid for almost a year and a subsequent eviction process ended in a settlement — ending the lease and a $15,000 payment to the city.
Commissioners and city staff had several discussions, sometimes heated, in working through the lease, but settled on a base payment of $5,500 plus 12 percent of the gross profits after the base rent is met.
There were still some split concerns on whether it was too high, but city attorney Ricinda Perry previously reminded commissioners that it was only a starting point for negotiations with the winning bidder.
An investor attending the lease discussions raised a new issue, saying the city will be required to pay property taxes on the restaurant when it’s leased.
As long as the property is empty, it is city property and exempt from taxes, but the investor said he was told that once the property is leased for a profitable venture, it becomes taxable.
However, the county has never valued the restaurant and it is never been placed on the tax rolls.
Perry wasn’t at the Sept. 5 meeting, but commissioners said they would direct her to look into the matter and how that might affect their negotiations.