The Naples Pier, a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk that has been a landmark of Collier County for more than a century, sustained significant damages when Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida in September. Now, city staff is working to make the pier a favorite gathering place for residents and visitors.
For City Manager Jay Boodheshwar, who just relocated to Naples this year, the challenge of opening the pier is seen as a chance for improvement. “This iconic pier represents a significant challenge for us to reopen, but I see an opportunity,” he said. “I see an opportunity for a more resilient pier, a more functional pier. And I see, probably more importantly than those two things, an opportunity to pull this community together.”
This isn’t the first time the pier has faced reconstruction. Along with renovations done after other major hurricanes, surface remodels were made in 2015. The pier faces a major $6 million to $8 million facelift after Ian, as the last 30% of the pier is no longer visible. The city hired engineering consultants Turrell, Hall & Associates to estimate damages and provide input on how to move forward.
“Obviously, the end of [the pier] has to be completely reconstructed,” Chief Engineer Josh Maxwell said. “We’ll need to completely remove the pilings. We’re not permitted by the state to just break them off and leave the bottoms still in the sand, and that comes at substantial cost.”
A barge is needed to replace the pilings, and the city could be facing more than $1 million to repair the existing pilings and extend their life an extra 15 to 20 years. The remaining pilings which stabilize the pier and provide the foundation are more than 30 years old, and in the eyes of the engineers, it would benefit the city to do a complete rebuild.
“Our opinion is that you would be spending a good portion of the money to fix it that could go toward rebuilding it,” Tim Hall with Turrell, Hall & Associates said. “For one, having more consistency appear in terms of the look of it, you wouldn’t have all these scattered pile jackets affecting the aesthetics. But also, we know that the storm cracked the pilings so there is concern in our mind as to the longevity of those and our opinion is that we’re better to start from scratch.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction permit. The city is currently working for state permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which it is expected to obtain by January.
Besides piling damages, the decking and structural lumbering up to the concession area were also removed by the storm surge. The concession stand is completely gone as well as the alternate gazebo. Maxwell said getting the public back onto the water as soon as possible is the priority.
“Getting the rebuild to the current concession area, that would be something we consider as phase one, which is about half the pier, and then keeping the rest closed until it’s all complete,” Maxwell said. “The nice thing about getting as much open as possible is you also get the public traffic on there, which keeps the birds off, which long term helps keep everything clean. So when we do have the grand opening again, everything looks pristine and brand new.”
According to Hall, increasing the height of the pier is an effective solution to creating a more resilient pier. However, it could negatively affect the visuals of people on the beach.
“We believe that the 3 feet would have prevented the vast majority of the damage that occurred during Irma. It would not have prevented all of the damage associated with Ian just because of the height of that surge,” he said. “But then to deal with that goes into the robustness of the pilings in a way they’re tied together to try to increase the resiliency that way. So the 3 feet was kind of a compromise to get a more sustainable structure without adversely affecting the visual views more than possible.”
KP Pezeshkan, vice president of Geis Companies, presented a complete redesign concept to Naples City Council on Wednesday. The design features increased seating, including benches that face the water, 12-foot-wide bump-outs and lowered fishing decks.
Council member Terry Hutchinson emphasized that if a redesign is being considered to not encourage congestion at the pier’s entrance due to a concession stand. “If you start queuing up people at a concession, it’s going to be mayhem, and it’s not going to be pretty and it won’t be fun,” he said.
Council member Beth Petrunoff wants to ensure bird safety is also considered when creating the redesign.
“There are a lot of things that can be probably engineered to this to preserve its landmark look while discouraging pelicans from even being around the pier,” she said.
Any improvements to the pier, such as the bump outs or the lower fishing decks, would have to go back to the Army Corps for a permit modification, which will lengthen the rebuilding process. Despite this, Council is in favor of pursuing a redesign of the entire pier.
“What we really wanted to hear from you today is, do you like the idea of rebuilding and taking advantage of this opportunity to be stronger and to be more functional? And we think we’re hearing yes,” Boodheshwar said. “So we’ll take it from here, and then we’ll be back to you and we’ll be back to the public to have a better understanding of what this thing is going to look like and how it’s going to take shape.”