City council members in St. Pete aren't sure about new Pier budget
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01/27/12 Liz McKibbon
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St. Petersburg has chosen a design known as "The Lens" for its new Pier. At a workshop yesterday some City Council members raised budget concerns about the project.

Council member Jim Kennedy said an independent review and analysis of “The Lens” design was conducted by Oxley and Brannon Construction Consultants and there are some questions about finances.

“And I see Mr. Oxley in the audience, and I’ve read his report and if I understand his report, he’s saying that this is 15 to 24% over budget at this point and time and that just seems like a bad starting point.”

Fifty million dollars have been allotted for the project. But only 45 million of that can be spent building a new pier because 5 million has to be set aside for administrative costs and demolition of the existing inverted pyramid. Despite the city’s financial review, the designer of The Lens, Michael Maltzan Architecture, estimates the construction will be $50,000 under budget. Council member Leslie Curran says she is more concerned with the selection of an architecture firm than the cost.

”And do I want it above that 45 million dollar mark? No. But I think to get caught up in all that is a disservice to the process and to our constituents because we’ve got a team that I truly believe recognizes the incredible asset that we have.”

Several members of City Council, like Steve Kornell, are concerned that as much as 95 million dollars more would be needed to complete design elements on land at the base of the pier.

”I’ve worked in the city for 20 years, never did I hear ‘this is going to be phase one for this amount, there’s a phase two and three that cost twice as much as phase one. But that’s okay we don’t have to do them, we’re just going to put them out there just in case down the road we might want to do them’ and I’m very, very uncomfortable with that.”

Council member Jim Kennedy asked ‘in theory’ what would happen if the council rejected the jury’s recommendation. Chris Ballestra from the City of Development Administration responded,

“If the council didn’t adopt the jury’s recommendation to proceed negotiations with Michael Maltzan Architecture, we would… in summary start over.”

Council member Wengay Newton says he believes that citizens should have been given the opportunity to vote on the project.

”When you talk about referendums and people voting, that should have been in the front of this. I think it would have been a much smoother process. I wouldn’t have been worried about 100 million, because I could have looked them in the eyes and say you voted for it.”

Members of the public were asked to rate the final three designs. Although “The Lens” was the top choice, Newton says he believes citizens would have preferred refurbishing the existing Pier.

“If council wants to go ahead, let them go. I will not… and I repeat... I will not vote to spend a dime of the people’s money on that without the people having a say.”

VoteOnThePier.com is a group forming against the project. They are collecting petitions to put the project on the ballot. Newton says they are just 4,000 signatures short of collecting 25% of St. Petersburg’s voting population.

St. Petersburg Pier Design

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