Columbia Restaurant to join Lens pier project in St. Pete

6:16 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida - The new St. Pete Pier project called the Lens, just became a little more in focus. 

On land at the base of the old pier Thursday afternoon, Mayor Bill Foster and restaurateur Richard Gonzmart announced a plan to build on.

"Right now you're standing on the grounds of the new Columbia Restaurant at the new St. Petersburg Pier," proclaimed Foster to applause.

A Columbia has been a part of the inverted pyramid pier for 25 years and Gonzmart admits that at first, he wanted things to stay the same. 

"Like many of you, I thought we could save it," said Gonzmart.

But after learning about the deteriorating condition of the pier and the need for demolition, Gonzmart is now backing the Lens plan. He says he's willing to sink $3 million into the landside portion of the Lens plan, called the Hub, where he'll build a waterfront restaurant.

If plans are approved by the city council, the new Columbia would seat more than 200 people indoors, and another 100 people outside. The restaurant would employee about 135 people. 

Gonzmart is also developing plans to operate the bar and grill proposed for the area at the end of the Lens structure.

"We want to be part of this," said Gonzmart, surrounded by several generations of his family. "We want to be part of continuing to make St. Petersburg the place to come visit."

While supporters clapped at the news conference, opponents of the Lens held signs. 

Fred Debardelaben runs the sightseeing cruises from the old pier and he hates the Lens design. 

"I don't like it at all. Once you go out there once or twice, what is there to go out there for? Nothing," he said.

However, for people doubting whether the Lens could attract a restaurant operator, today's announcement helps put an architect's watery vision a bit more on solid ground.

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