As the image grew of St. Petersburg as “God’s Waiting Room” and the “World’s Largest Above Ground Cemetery”, the city desperately searched for ways to change its image. One of the most visible efforts was the removal of the thousands of green benches that lined the city’s streets and were popular with retirees.
The green benches were the brainchild of real estate wunderkind Noel Mitchell, who placed seating outside of his office at the corner of Central and 4th Street (where the Snell Arcade stands now) in an effort to lure customers to an area that was considered too far for a leisurely walk. Mitchell rightly figured that if he gave people a place to sit and relax they’d be more inclined to walk an extra block. His experiment proved so popular that other businesses followed suit and the city was compelled to mandate a standard size and color for the benches. At one point there were an estimated 6,000 benches lining the streets of St. Petersburg, and they grew to be a symbol of hospitality recognized across the country – unless you were black, that is. (See sidebar.)
In the late 1960s, tired of being the brunt of the joke for late night comedians, the city decided to change its image, and removed, virtually overnight, all of the green benches from the city. In a similar effort to project a youthful new image, the city approved an innovative “Inverted Pyramid” design by William Harvard for the new municipal pier. Two million dollars was budgeted for the work. Five years, and four million dollars later, the Inverted Pyramid Pier opened to the public in late 1973.
Almost immediately the new Pier was plagued with problems. Saltwater intrusion on the deck, broken elevators, and fickle air-conditioning units forced a closure and renovation of the Pier just 13 years later, in 1986. After a 19-month hiatus, the Pier was reopened, but chronic problems and a constant operating deficit continued. These problems were compounded by a growing concern about the stability of the pier approach and base, which, having been built in the 1920s, engineers concluded were nearing the end of their useful life in 2004.
Nearly a decade of heated political battles, voter referendums, and scathing editorials followed. In 2013 the Inverted Pyramid Pier was closed to the public and demolition occurred in 2015. Debates about the future of the Pier, including discussions of whether the city needed one at all, continued unabated, even factoring into the 2017 mayoral debate.
In late 2017 work on the new Pier Park began.