St. Pete City Council schedules Pier workshop to appease anti-Lens group

04/04/13 Janelle Irwin
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Debate over the future of St. Pete’s iconic pier is heating up as it enters its final days. Critics of the proposed replacement are celebrating a small victory Thursday. City council members approved holding a workshop later this month to discuss some possible problems with the Lens.

St. Petersburg is being sued by critics of the Lens. That’s because the city won’t put the issue on a ballot even though critics got more than the 16,000 certified signatures required to force a referendum. Officials contend the petition language doesn’t meet requirements laid out in the city charter. William Ballard is with the group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg. He said there are too many technical problems with the new design.

“Such as, the contest winning design having bridges that could never be built because they did not conform with the state fire prevention code – at least the over water bridge.”

City Council members and architects leading the design process have argued that if there are any code violations, nothing will get built. In previous votes, the majority on St. Petersburg City Council has supported building the Lens. That includes Charlie Gerdes. But Thursday he was one of five council members to vote in favor of conceding a workshop to critics.

“We ought to invite scrutiny. We ought to be able to say, ‘your questions are welcome’ despite whether we think they’ve been answered or not. We ought to welcome scrutiny on these technical issues. We ought to hold our contractor, the architect, the engineer, the construction contractor, the construction manager accountable for being able to answer or go get the answers for these questions. If we can do that, than, to me, there’s a weakness in the justification.”

The workshop will be limited to discussions on code compliance and other technical issues. But Leslie Curran, who headed the panel overseeing the international design competition in 2011, was one of three council members to vote against the workshop.

“We’re going to have the final for the schematic design on May 2. That’s an appropriate time to discuss anything. I think if you all, whatever questions you have, get them all out in the public. I know you’ve got your list. No matter what is said by city staff, you’re not going to agree with it anyway. So, I’m sure that maybe some member of the public will know much more about aluminum clad steel than any of our experts that we have hired.”

A group supporting the Lens has popped up called WOW St. Pete. It stands for wow our waterfront. Former city council candidate Ed Montanari is one of the supporters. He said city council members need to stay the course.

“In 2009 we had an intense Pier task force that met for 14 months, 63 meetings, three public hearings, four consultants. We presented our report to you. You all studied it for another year. We then had an international design competition – invited the best architects in the whole wide world. We had a winner.”

The April 18 workshop approved Thursday will also include some talk about what will happen if a judge forces the city to put the issue on a ballot. Council member Jim Kennedy, who has been supportive of moving forward with building the Lens, said it’s looking likely that the city will have to go down that road.

“The technical issues relating to the possible referendum scheduled – what the process would be. I’ve heard pause button. Let’s understand what the pause button really means.

“It means stop.”

“No, pause is different than stop.”


City Council member Wengay Newton has been the only board member to consistently side with Lens critics. He made a motion to stop the city from spending any more money on the new pier design until the future is more certain. His motion died for a lack of a second.

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