‘CRUMBLING CROWN JEWEL’: County plans to let pier die; city of St. Augustine Beach to look for ways to save it

The St. Johns County Ocean Pier, which has been built and rebuilt over the years, is now in danger of disappearing.

 

The county has pumped money into the pier to keep it open to the public, but it’s not clear how long that will continue.

A study of the pier several years ago found that it had a useful life of about 10 years from then, County Administrator Michael Wanchick said. Another analysis is being done following recent hurricanes.

The county owns the pier and the pier parking lot, but Wanchick said he’s open to the city of St. Augustine Beach taking control of the pier. Officials from both governments said their agencies don’t have the money on their own to build a pier.

St. Augustine Beach officials say they are considering searching for a private company to help save the pier.

It’s been called iconic, beach Commissioner Gary Snodgrass recalled.

“It’s the crumbling crown jewel of … the city right now, and so … we’ve got to take the bull by the horn here,” Snodgrass said at a beach commission meeting this week.

The cost to replace the pier is estimated to be between $10 and $14 million, Wanchick said.

“I think it’s unrealistic for anyone to think that they’ll be able to save the pier that stands today,” Wanchick said. “At some point, it will have to be removed.”

But if officials can find a way to have someone else shoulder the cost, the future could be different.

Mayor Rich O’Brien floated getting county approval to ask for proposals for a public-private partnership to keep a pier in St. Augustine Beach. He also plans to talk with Key International, the group that bought the Embassy Suites property, to get their thoughts.

“If something happens to [the pier], it’s gone,’” O’Brien said.

Commissioners supported looking into it and forming a citizen advisory committee.

“I think our options are limitless. … The largest piers that I’ve ever been on would be the one in San Francisco and probably the one at Coney Island, so those are ginormous, but we could have a smaller, less invasive … pier,” Commissioner Maggie Kostka said.

Snodgrass asked city officials to create a report on the current state of the pier and how the city plans to approach the effort, as well as finding organizations that could give the city advice on forming a public-private partnership.

At least one person has suggested pledging bed tax dollars for bonds. Wanchick said while that’s possible, the money’s already being used for other programs and services.

“So which one of those does the community want to eliminate or reduce?” Wanchick asked.

He said he’s open to hearing ideas but doesn’t “see the county leading with its wallet” when there are fire stations, libraries and other things needing attention.

“We understand the desirability of having a pier,” Wanchick said. “I grew up in Florida. … but this is where small, less expensive government begins to bite into a community.”

 

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