St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman wants to reopen pier approach to pedestrians, city already planning to do that

06/13/13 Janelle Irwin
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A St. Petersburg mayoral candidate wants the city to re-open the outdoor portions of the Pier to pedestrian traffic something that is already slated to happen sometime next week. Former state Representative Rick Kriseman also wants city council and the current mayor to stop making any further decisions about the Pier’s future until a new mayor is elected. That includes possibly delaying demolition of the iconic inverted pyramid.

But during a press conference Thursday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, Kriseman said that doesn’t mean the current structure should be saved.

“Looking out for the taxpayer’s best interests, I have concerns about keeping and putting money into the existing pier. I’m not convinced we can do it within the budget and then even if we could do it within the budget, the question then becomes do you spend $50 million on renovating something that already requires more than a million dollar a year subsidy. I don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars and I think it’s time we move forward.”

Speaking in a room filled with old pictures of past St. Petersburg piers, Kriseman said he hasn’t spoken to Mayor Bill Foster or members of city council about his proposal, but that his plan was a common sense solution in the face of a citywide referendum on whether or not to kill the contract to build a new pier. Kriseman urged people to vote yes on the referendum.

“It’s the wise and prudent thing for council and the mayor to take a step back, to take a breath and let’s take this step, let’s get the vote and based on what happens with the vote move forward at that point in time.”

Mayor Foster did not return requests for comment by air time. But City Council member Steve Kornell, who represents parts of South St. Petersburg, said he would not support any delay on demolition.

“Anybody having a suggestion for raising $20-30 million extra, which I absolutely don’t support raising taxes to do it, I don’t support pulling monies that should go to other parts of our city’s infrastructure – West St. Pete and South St. Pete – to do it. So, if we’re not going to do it and we are going to demolish anyways, I don’t see any reason to delay it.”

Kriseman, who announced his bid for mayor in February, said he’s always questioned whether or not the city should move forward with the Lens, but he wouldn’t take an official stance until he had a plan. Now he does and that includes convening a task force after he’s elected, if he’s elected.

“The original task force meetings did have, I think there were 63 meetings that were open to the public. It’s unfortunate in some respects that we ended up getting a product that’s before us now that it actually doesn’t even have all the elements that originally was the reason it was selected. The key element in some ways that made the decision in going with the Lens doesn’t even exist anymore. So, I don’t think it’s fair to tell the public, ‘you had your chance to weigh in and now we’re going forward with this’ when what was originally selected here doesn’t even reflect what was originally presented.”

His proposal would call for results from a task force to be reported within the first three months of his administration, a final design in place within 9-months and construction on the new pier completed by the end of 2015. Kriseman didn’t lay out specifics on how he would improve on the city’s first design competition, but said it would include more public input and would prioritize local companies.

“In the process that the city just went through, when in was narrowed down to the finals – the citizens were not asked their opinion at all about those. It was a decision that was made, ultimately, by council. They made the selection and then it moved forward.”

The St. Petersburg primary is August 27; the general election is on November 5.

Demolition on the current pier hasn’t been scheduled yet, but permits are expected to be approved as early as this August.

Kriseman faces former St. Pete City Council member Kathleen Ford, incumbent Bill Foster, Anthony Cates and Paul Congemi.

Below is the text of Kriseman's Thursday speech, as provided by the Kriseman campaign:

Rick Kriseman Remarks on The Pier and next steps,

As prepared for delivery

Thank you for being here and thank you to the Museum of History for providing us with this space.

I entered the race for mayor a little more than four months ago knowing that the St. Petersburg Pier and the future of thatlocation would be a major issue requiring skilled leadership both now and in the years to come. This has been confirmed in the countless conversations that I’ve had with voters with the overwhelming majority of them telling me that they oppose The Lens design. Though I have consistently expressed concerns with The Lens design and support for a referendum on the ballot, it’s not my nature – and it’s not leadership to be against something without offering a way forward.

My approach on this issue is in line with what I’ve strived to do throughout my time in public service: Listen, Learn, and Lead.

After taking that approach, I’m here today to not just affirm my personal opposition to The Lens, but to propose a series of next steps should the contract with the architect be terminated.

My plan balances a sense of urgency with a spirit of collaboration. The first step is easy. We should reopen the pier to pedestrian traffic while the inverted pyramid structure is closed. Residents and visitors should be able to utilize and enjoy the surrounding area for sightseeing, fitness, or fishing until construction on the next pier begins.

Mayor Foster and the City Council should then refrain from taking any action related to the future of the pier site until a way forward is crafted with the next mayor after the election.

Before I even take office, with the cooperation of Mayor Foster and City Council, I will appoint a group of community leaders with proven track records to lead a thorough, but expedited process that builds on the extensive work done by the original task force and incorporates a final round of public input.

In addition to the town hall meetings and public forums, my administration will ask for feedback on the city’s website, via social media, and in the monthly utility bill.

I will personally knock on doors and call residents to get my own sense of what the community really wants.

And I will ask the new task force to submit its recommendation to the City Council no later than April 2, 2014. In making these recommendations, the task force should consider economic viability, coordination with the City’s Waterfront Plan,and a design which minimizes the City’s operating subsidy. These recommendations should also include an action plan to take the project from a community vision to a design process. And in order to give potential architects a clear understanding of our vision, these objectives must be expanded and must be more specific.

The same goes for the design competition’s Project Description and design parameters.

In fact, as mayor, I will explore the possibility of limiting the competition to local or Florida-based firms who have a better understanding of St. Petersburg, its history and its people. These firms may then choose to seek out their own joint ventures. The previous process, though well-intentioned, was done in reverse. It was a worldwide competition, allowing architects with very little understanding of our community to come in and partner with a local firm for the sole purpose of satisfying the State of Florida licensing requirements for Professional Architects and Engineers.

My goal would be for the designs to be reviewed, narrowed down, and sent to council by September of 2014.

In short, I will:

1) Get to work on November 6th on appointing a new task force.

2) Instruct the task force to complete their work within the first three months of my administration.

3) Ensure that we have a final design in place within the first nine months of my administration, and

4) Work with the architect to have the new pier built by the end of 2015.

It’s an ambitious, but necessary timeline.

Now, I want to be clear. Like most residents, I’m not happy about where we are today. It’s not ideal, and the next steps won’t be ideal. But we’ve had battles like this before. We’ve dealt with issues much more serious and much more sensitive than a pier. And we’ve always emerged from them strong and united.

My hope is that my friends who are for and against The Lens will be mindful of the fact that we all want the same thing. We want what’s best for St. Pete. The Pier – in all its forms – has long been our landmark; the signature structure of our prized waterfront. It is vitally important that we get this right.

The referendum to Stop the Lens is not the end. It's the beginning. The hard work starts the day after the election.

I urge residents to join me in voting yes to Stop the Lens and yes to solutions that move us forward.

Thank you.

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St.Petersburg being the first "Green City" in FL. Should wait until engineering studies are conducted about the reuse of the existing pier caissons and structure. To say what is there now is doomed is very premature. All options should be looked at and avoid a rush to judgment. I'm going to have to support Ford, because she is keeping all options available.

I have to say I think Kriseman got it right, he is the only candidate that seems to have a vision for what will happen after "the Lens". Good for him, I'm glad someone is finally standing up for St. Petersburg.

I support moving forward with the Lens. It looks like Rick has settled on a position on this issue to appease both sides. I disagree that if the referendum is passed, we will be able to move forward quickly. I see years of bickering and probable litigation of this issue. I look forward to seeing the candidates tomorrow evening and getting a better chance to get to know them better.

My family and I visited the Pier several years ago. We were disappointed. The entire structure is shabby, forlorn, and appeared to have few visitors. I kept expecting to see the water through the aged flooring. Even the fish tank showed lack of upkeep and originality. Several of the available business booths were empty and showed signs of abandonment. The large area of the cafeteria was empty except for my family and the food was mediocre. The two vendors that we noticed were selling trinkets and souvenirs of low quality. The architecture of the entire structure is out of date and uninteresting and uninviting.