Lens critics grill local architect about new St. Pete pier plans

03/26/13 Janelle Irwin
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An architect working on the new St. Pete pier design dispelled what she calls myths about the $50 million project. More than 100 people crowded a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting Tuesday to ask Lisa Wannemacher questions about the Lens.

“It is not a sidewalk to nowhere. The pier is a promenade to a place.”

But critics have continued to lambaste city officials and architects over the project. After the design was chosen in 2011, a group called Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg popped up to stop it from being built. Fred Whaley heads the group.

“We would like to see them go back to the original task force report … I don’t think that you should go out and spend $50 million … that we don’t feel meet St. Pete’s objectives.”

Whaley and his followers have flooded city council meetings demanding residents get the chance to vote. The group even managed to compile more than the 10,000 required signatures needed to put the measure on a ballot and is now suing the city over the matter. City officials argue the public already had adequate time to give input, but Whaley claims that process was ignored.

“They asked for 30-some thousand … retail space and public space to be air-conditioned out on the pier and none of that exists.”

St. Petersburg city council member Lesley Curran led the panel that oversaw the design competition in 2011. She’s confident that even if the Lens issue was put on a ballot, the design would still be approved by voters.

“There are a lot of people out there that we’re finding now … that state now that they would not have signed it … the more information that gets out … the more support is being gained.”

“So, if you don’t think the end result would change, why not just let it go to a vote?”

“Because, we went through a process … I was the chair of the jury that made the decision … we’ve been through this for almost four years. I think it is time.”

But critics aren’t stopping the fight. Tiger Bay member Tom Dunn asked Lens architect Lisa Wannemacher why anyone would want to go to the Pier unless they were testing a new antiperspirant.

“There’s no purpose in hiking a half a mile out around the sidewalk in the heat and humidity unless you are a glutton for punishment.”

“A lot of people walk out there now in the hot sun and with no shade. The new pier provides nearly 40,000 square feet of shade that is not provided now. The entire oval is covered by the iconic canopy.”

Over the course of debate another group formed to defend the Lens design called WOW St. Pete. It’s headed up by infomercial pitchman Anthony Sullivan.

“I started hearing at the Saturday morning market, my taxes will go up, we didn’t get a vote, there’ll be no shade, there’ll be no restaurants ... it looks like a toilet bowl – that’s my favorite one … and my favorite one was nobody likes it … and I thought, baloney! I like it.”

Sullivan jokes with people when he speaks in public that the Lens doesn’t cost $50 million, just two easy payments of $25 million. But joking aside, Sullivan said there is some financial gain in replacing the iconic inverted pyramid with the Lens.

“I don’t think the pier is going to be profitable, but I do believe that it’s going to save money in the long by reducing the subsidy.”

The current Pier is set to close in May. It needs to either be replaced or rehabilitated because the roadway approach to the structure at the end of the Pier is falling apart. The new design would have limited access to vehicles and would serve primarily as a pedestrian and bike path.

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Please fix the following mistake: Stop the Lens, and Concerned Citizens are not suing the city. The city is being sued by Kathleen Ford, and 5 petitioners on behalf of the first petition effort by Vote on the Pier.com