St. Pete Mayor Foster jump starts plans for a new pier design

06/26/13 Janelle Irwin
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St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster is getting a jump start on plans to come up with a new design to replace the iconic inverted pyramid at the end of the city’s pier. Voters will decide whether or not to kill the contract with architects to build the Lens at the end of this summer during the primary election. Foster has convened a task force of stakeholders he’s calling the 828 Alliance. During a press conference Wednesday, Foster said the 828 represents August 28th – the day after the election.

“We will stand on the steps of City Hall and toast the fact that we will have a Pier and this group has been commissioned to recommend to me – this is a Mayor’s task force subject to Sunshine and public records request and all meetings open to the public – but their mission is to present to me a process for the design and selection of the new St. Petersburg Pier.”

Bill Foster

That’s assuming residents vote “yes” on the August 27th ballot to nix plans to build the Lens. The task force consists of people from groups both opposing and supporting the current design proposal. Foster has asked the task force to begin work after July 4th to come up with a process to choose a new pier design within just a couple of months after the election. If voters approve moving forward with the Lens by voting no on the referendum, Foster said their job won’t be quite so hard.

“But this group, on August 28th, will stand on the steps of City Hall and raise a glass of something non-alcoholic and we will toast the Lens if that’s the vote.”

From there, Foster isn’t quite sure what the group would do.

“Part A might be very brief. Part A might just be this unifying handshake that, you know what, if we build the Lens we’re going to do it together.”

One of the people chosen for the mayor’s task force is the head of the group responsible for getting a referendum on the future of the pier, Fred Whaley. Mayor Foster isn’t asking people on his task force to abandon their campaigns. But Whaley said no matter the outcome on August 27th, he plans to come to the table with opposing groups.

“We thought the Lens was not correct and we found 20-some thousand petitioners who agreed with us. So, we’ve given the people the right to vote and we appreciate that, but we certainly want to be part of the waterfront going forward and we want to be a part of the waterfront going forward no matter how that election comes out.”

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce has generally been on the side of moving forward with the Lens design. They briefly pulled support last week, asking city council to kill the contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture immediately. The next day, however, they were back to supporting the Lens. David Punzak heads that group.

“From our standpoint, there’s been about a four or five year process here to get to where we are today and we’re respectful of that process, but remember, the Chamber of Commerce is after commerce. What we want is commerce. What we don’t want is what happened in 1967 which is when the old pier came down and then nothing was there for four or five years.”

The task force will also include marine experts and architects to weigh in on the more technical parts of planning. But it won’t include anyone from city council. Mayor Foster said sarcastically, that’s because they’ve done enough.

“For over a year I’ve asked council to put things on the ballot and I think part of the people’s angst is that they didn’t get a chance to cast a ballot. This isn’t about – and I even noticed this Thursday or when we have these discussions about the Pier, when it was unanimous to put this on the ballot for August 27th – this isn’t about the pier anymore. It’s not about the Lens anymore. It’s about the people’s right to go to the ballot box and cast a vote.”

Concerned Citizens of St. Pete was the second group to run a petition drive for a referendum. The first was headed by mayoral candidate and former city council member Kathleen Ford was squashed in court. Despite the city’s legal challenge to the first petition drive, Foster said he has always been supportive of the people’s right to vote.

“We can quote the figures – you all know them – 64 meetings, the public input, the charettes, the task force, the international design, the jury selection and all of these opportunities for public input and at the end of the day, the people have said ‘so what?’”

Foster’s 828 Alliance will include one member from the original pier task force. Ed Montinari said if there is a second process, people need to be better informed.

“I think we need to bring ever body up to the same level of education. As the mayor pointed out, we have gone through a four and a half year process and some people are new to the process so we have to start off with that education. And we have to go through and talk about some of the basic things – zoning, environmental, marketing, what works, what doesn’t and there’s a lot of information out there.”

The city is currently seeking a demolition permit for the inverted pyramid at the end of the pier. Approval is expected sometime around the election. Foster has been supportive of moving forward with demolition, but said today that he would consider a recommendation from the task force to delay demolition.

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It would be nice if they would come up with the masterplan for the waterfront, and through that figure out what the pier should be.