City Council approves ‘Lens’ design for Pier, but why is no one happy?

By on May 18, 2012

The ‘Lens’ contract was approved at the St. Petersburg City Council meting yesterday by a 7 to 1 vote, but that likely won’t be the last you hear of this.

A local group has formed —  you may have heard of them — voteonthepier.com. It appears that the group is well on its way to collecting the 16,000 signatures needed on their petition to meet the threshold.

While that may sound intimidating, as though City Council should be shaking in their boots that the people are going to rise up in numbers and could potentially vote to undo the years of work, beginning in 1996 followed by 68 specific meetings and public hearings, that lead to where we are today, finally signing a contract for a new Pier.

However, City Attorney John Wolfe said that the language used in the petition from votefothepier.org would not require the city to offer this issue up to a public vote no matter how many signatures they collect.

Yet, many council members agreed that whether the city is required to offer the public a vote or not, legally, they will not disallow the people, registered voters in St. Petersburg, their opportunity to vote on the issue if they meet the threshold on petition signatures.

Councilmember Wengay Newton stated it clearly, “No one who wants to continue their political career will go against [16,000] votes,” explaining that each council member campaigns tirelessly during an election that is usually won by 2-3,000 votes. He said to the people, “Your vote still counts.”

Newton has remained steadfast that he does not support the new Pier design or the demolition of the existing Pier. Further, he said, “I’m definitely not voting for this,” referring to today’s contract. “If the people can’t vote, Wengay ain’t voting.” His was the singular “no” vote on the contract that was approved for signature yesterday.

Newton also motioned during yesterdays meeting to allow for a popular vote on the issue, for it to be put on November’s ballot. No one on council seconded the motion, so it died.

But why all the controversy — why are so many opposed to the new Pier design while so many in the city believe this is a great $50 million investment? Councilmemer Karl Nurse expressed angst at the state of things as he saw them yesterday and heard comments from the floor.

“My hope was that we would have designs that we would be fighting over which one we liked the most,” he said. “This is not where I hoped we’d be at this point.”

Mayor Bill Foster blamed the core of the disconnect between the city’s enthusiasm and the public’s mistrust with poor communication on the part of the city. “We have to do a better job of getting the facts out there,” said Foster. The majority of city councilmembers agreed.

Foster spoke of an upcoming town hall meeting that is being organized in the near future at the St. Petersburg Coliseum (date not yet set) that might begin the process of mending the communication gap between the city and the public on Pier issues.

Nurse said that he is certain that this isn’t enough. “At best we get a hundred people or so at these meetings.” Nurse recommended the use of an interactive web-based location where people could send comments and communicate back and forth.

A common plea from the people opposed to the demolition of the current Pier and the $50 million construction of another is that they would like the existing Pier repaired.

“The Pier is coming down. It will either be torn down, or it will fall down,” said Nurse. He described that the structure isn’t even safe for garbage trucks at this point.

“Engineers have been out there,” said Foster. “Anyone who thinks we can simply renovate the existing Pier [for less than $50 million], doesn’t have all of the facts.” He reiterated that the city needs to do a better job of communicating the facts.

It seems obvious that the existing Pier isn’t going to stand much longer. It will cease being safe in the near future, especially considering that it is sitting in Tampa Bay, held up by concrete that was poured in the 1920s. So where do we go from here now that the ‘Lens’ contract is approved, and many constituents are upset?

Councilmember Steve Kornell recommended that the council draft a letter to voteonthepier.com stating that the city will accept a petition with the 16,000 signature up until a specified date, though not legally obligated to do so. But, after this date, the city will take formal legal action and move forward. Kornell said, “I would like to see clarity on petitions,” explaining that it would be better to be clear about the next steps.

Another concern voiced by the people had to do with displacing the businesses currently housed at the S. Petersburg Pier. To this the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce formally stated that they commit to working with these businesses to see to it that they remain in business and that no jobs are lost in the city as a result.

To view a Twitter feed reported live during Thursday’s 5/17/2012 City Council Metting, click HERE.

Via Daphne Taylor Street. You may reach Daphne at dts.stretmedia@gmail.com

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