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Letters to the Editors

Many things are just fine at The Pier

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000

Re: Leaders check on Pier subsidy, June 11, and The Pier's management solution, June 15 editorial.

The most disturbing part about your recent article and editorial concerning The Pier is the assumption that something is wrong. The public and the city can be assured that as the manager of The Pier, we exert a consistent and concerted effort at all times to fine-tune The Pier operations. To review The Pier's financial progress, consider the following: for The Pier's grand opening year 1988/89, revenues were $625,000 against expenses of $2.2-million and the city subsidy was $1.6-million. Last year's revenues were $1.6-million ($1-million over 1988), expenses were $2.7-million and the city subsidy was $1.2-million (a decrease of $400,000 from 1989 and for the most part, the subsidy has decreased each year). Does this indicate that something is wrong?

The Pier's annual cost for operating and maintaining its bridge roadway is slightly over $1-million. This cost includes operating and maintaining the trolley system, which exceeds $500,000, maintaining the parklike entry along Second Avenue NE, and repairs and maintenance both above and beneath the roadway. These major costs are lumped together within the total cost of operation for The Pier and cannot be absorbed by the tenants. These costs alone account for The Pier subsidy and are usually defrayed by admission fees at other attractions. The Pier, of course, charges no admission fee.

Out of 40,000 square feet of leasable space, 10,000 square feet occupied by the Hands-On Museum, The Pier Aquarium and the Chamber of Commerce pay little or no rent. These tenants are a part of the city's commitment to a quality experience at The Pier. The bottom line is that of the 30,000 square feet of leasable space, The Pier generates $1.6-million in revenue -- an astonishing $53-plus per square foot. Under our company's management, The Pier has remained 100 percent leased.

There are 35 small family-owned businesses at The Pier. Several have been tenants since The Pier's reopening. Though the concept of attracting national tenants would seem by some to be smart business, they are difficult to attract since their requirements are fairly rigid and are not met by our facility.

We are not a mall but an experience. Local boutiques are much better suited to The Pier, where the esprit de corps is very high. These tenants own, live and spend in our community. Their profits are recirculated in St. Petersburg rather than being distributed to other areas of the country, as would be the case with any national tenant. Isn't this a better economic outcome?

Can we reduce the subsidy? Yes. Reduce or eliminate the trolley system and security, maintenance and housekeeping personnel, clean, paint and repair weekly instead of daily, or eliminate entertainment and promotions. We could, if so directed, reduce the service level and reduce the subsidy but definitely at the risk of visitation decreasing, revenues decreasing, tenants vacating and the subsidy increasing.

In reference to the management fee, the manager of The Pier is paid a salary from the management fee, which is less than that of the mayor and other city officials. Contrary to your article and editorial, WHG Management Inc. does indeed pay, from the management fee, its own insurances, payroll taxes, income taxes, unemployment taxes, state taxes, city taxes, real estate broker fees, accounting service, bank charges, secretarial/leasing services, office supplies, office equipment, legal fees, telephone, automobile and travel expenses, and all expenses for meetings and conventions that pertain to the tourism, hospitality and leasing/real estate industries.

My company neither fears nor resents being asked to compete for its job. It does, however, resent the idea that something is wrong. We believe that a more realistic approach would be to have a research study done to see what, if anything, is wrong.

Provided that the city does seek a request for proposal to manage The Pier, we certainly trust that its process will be carefully tailored to assure that the quality experience our residents have come to expect is not diminished by establishing criteria that would reduce or eliminate the current success that we all have worked so hard to achieve.
-- William H. Griffith, president, WHG Management Inc., St. Petersburg

What small businesses really want

Re: Businesses fear worst if sand castle is built, June 18.

City Commissioner Mary Maloof stated in this article that members of the business community in Treasure Island are asking her to make them successful by granting permission to use the beach for an event to draw tourists to Treasure Island.

Commissioner, members of the business community are not asking the City Commission to make them successful. The business community has seen an opportunity in a proposal to promote this area as a tourist destination. The economy of this region is tourist driven. Tourists seek out places with things to see and do that are not commonplace where they live. Clearwater recognizes this as being vital to a healthy economy and provides use of Coachman Park and Clearwater Beach for dozens of events each year.

Have you driven through Treasure Island's business district lately? Commissioner Stephanie Lavino put it best when she pointed out that our beautification effort may put palm-lined streets in front of empty storefronts. A healthy business community keeps residents' taxes low and improves the quality of life.

Maloof is correct on one count. The sand castle alone will not rejuvenate the business community. We need to have events and attractions on a regular basis to compete with other resort areas. Thanks to the marketing efforts of the Tradewinds Resort, this has been a good year for many smaller businesses on St. Pete Beach. We on Treasure Island do not have such an advantage. Our largest hotelier, the one the Times quotes as a no vote for the event, is selling his property.

Commissioner, we in the business community are trying to make our businesses successful ourselves. Contrary to what you've stated, we have a partnership with the community at large. That's what the rules and regulations limiting our operations are all about. All we ask from you is a climate that encourages businesses to thrive and a chance to do it ourselves within reasonable guidelines set by the community.
-- Dan Lenehan, owner, Sunset Beach Cafe, Treasure Island

Someone owes shoplifting suspect

Re: Proving her innocence does not allay hurt, June 21.

I trust that Clara Woodard will file a suit against Winn-Dixie for false imprisonment. And if she does, Winn-Dixie had better hope I am not on the jury. It is all well and good to quote facts on shoplifting and theft from stores, but it is known that much of the theft involves employees.

This serious mistake should cost someone enough money that they see it doesn't happen again. Clara Woodard is correct when she says it could have happened to anyone. But had she lived in a big home on Snell Isle, I wonder.
-- Maria Joseph, St. Petersburg

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