Columbia restaurant commits to new St. Pete Pier - FOX 13 News

Columbia restaurant commits to new St. Pete Pier

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

The next-generation St. Pete Pier picked up a big ally Thursday: The Columbia Restaurant, the anchor tenant at the existing St. Pete Pier for more than 25 years.

Mayor Bill Foster disclosed a tentative deal with the Columbia Thursday afternoon at a news conference.

"Their investment will exceed $3 million," Foster said. "The city has already set aside half a million dollars for the pad of any sort of restaurants, so we will invest that." The announcement was made on the site of the proposed restaurant, on land at the foot of the bridge, leading out to the existing Pier and its replacement, called the Lens.

After the event, the mayor told FOX 13 News that this is a good sign for the Lens.

"People are starting to see meat on the skeleton, and yeah, that's what's been lacking. Using concepts and emails just isn't cutting it," he said.

Onlookers included several people holding "Stop The Lens" signs. That is a petition drive calling for a referendum on canceling the contracts to design and build the new pier. Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart admitted two years ago that he worked behind the scene on plans to refurbish the existing Pier.

"Like many of you, I thought we could save it," Gonzmart said, "I thought there was an opportunity, but I started realizing that every pier has had to be changed because Mother Nature took its toll."

Gonzmart will operate the 7,500 square foot landside restaurant and has the option of providing food and beverages at the end of the giant loops over Tampa Bay.

"My wife and I just came back from Peru where we were investigating a new type of concept at the edge, showing fresh seafood, juices, wines and beers," Gonzmart said, declining to say more until his research is complete.

The landside restaurant will have interior, outside and rooftop seating.

The deal between the Columbia and the city is not finalized. The city will have to give legal notice that opportunity exists, and other restaurants will have 30 days to express any interest. Gonzmart said he has told current employees of the Pier Columbia they will be re-hired for the new restaurant if they stay until May 31st. That is when the Pier will close in preparation of demolition.

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