St. Petersburg City Council has voted 7-1 to approve the Pier Park concept to replace the existing pier.

The contract negotiations are estimated to take from 45 to 60 days, according to a press release.

The community will be engaged to weigh in on the concept as the city moves forward on the final design, permitting and construction. 

"Today, the Sunshine City took a huge leap forward in securing the future of the St. Petersburg Pier, and our treasured waterfront, for generations to come," said Mayor Rick Kriseman. "The process we implemented more than a year ago continues to serve our city well.”

The vote came after a lot of discussion and more than two hours of public comment.

The yes vote doesn't guarantee that Pier Park will be built. The City Council approved The Lens in 2012 only to be rebuffed later in a referendum. But it would be a huge step in that direction.

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Supporters of Pier Park and rival design Destination St. Pete Pier, ranked second by Mayor Rick Kriseman's Pier Selection Committee, were expected to turn out in force for this morning's meeting. (The No. 3 choice, called Alma, appears to have fallen out of the running.)

Only one council member, Wengay Newton, indicated in advance he planned to vote against Pier Park. Newton has indicated he wants a special election to let residents choose between the two lead concepts.

While Destination St. Pete Pier would preserve the existing - and some would say iconic - inverted pyramid structure, Pier Park would use only the supporting caissons and elevator shaft.

Created by ASD of Tampa and partners Rogers Partners Architects and Ken Smith Landscaping Architect, Pier Park re-imagines the site with an approach that focuses on public experience. There would be a new four-level structure with a fabric roof made of material similar to that of Tropicana Field. Within that would be a 7,600-square-foot, air conditioned bar and grill with panoramic views.

At the pier head, a "tilted lawn" could serve as a concert venue for as many as 4,000 people.

The design also calls for a wet classroom, an air-conditioned education center and a "coastal thicket" of native plants that will offer shade. There's a welcome center with a covered tram stop, a splash pad for kids, cultural gardens and expansion and a renovation of Spa Beach.

Floating docks are a key running the length of the pier are a key part of the design, but there are questions about the permitting they'd require, the cost of maintaining them and how they would hold up in a major storm.

Kriseman's selection committee was charged with ranking the top three designs based on their qualifications, including how they conform to the $33 million construction budget and build schedule. A non-binding public poll was one of the factors taken into account.

A newer poll, conducted by St. Pete Polls this week, showed that city residents favor Pier Park over Destination St. Pete Pier. About 1,000 residents participated in the survey, and the results were weighted to account for race, age and gender demographics.  But residents were also asked if City Council should call for a referendum to decide between the two designs, and 52.3 percent said yes.