Only one Pier question may be on ballot

By on July 31, 2012

Nearly two weeks ago, the City Council voted 5-3to explore putting multiple questions about the future of the St. Petersburg Pier up for a vote on the Nov. 6 ballot, reports William Mansell of Patch.

Placing only one question on the ballot, members said, did not provide the city enough clarity on what the public wants.

On Monday, after nearly four hours on the topic, the Council reversed itself. The Council decided to put only one question on the Nov. 6 ballot: the original Pier petition question.

The question reads: Shall the City of St. Petersburg, Florida preserve and refurbish the existing iconic inverted pyramid structure currently located on Second Avenue NE in the Waterfront Park commonly known as “The Pier”?

Council members Jeff Danner, Charlie Gerdes, Karl Nurse, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton voted Monday to put the Pier Petition question on the ballot.

For Newton and Gerdes, their votes came with more than a hint of reluctance amid Monday’s discussions that were in a stalemate for hours before the vote.

Newton said getting the question on the ballot is better than nothing but warned that only proposing one question, with the unknown cost of rebuilding the Pier, is setting the stage for the “Lens” to still be built.

“I know what’s going to happen upstairs,” Newton said of Thursday’s vote in the council chambers. “They understand the costs associated with the proposed ballot question. I know what they want, Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy, is to build the ‘Lens.’”

“I really want that language (to reflect) the fact that we’re not just refurbishing, I want to clearly communicate that there is a demolishing and rebuilding part,” Gerdes said. “(However), in the spirit of getting something accomplished, I’m willing to trust in the education process for the election to do that.”

During the Aug. 2 public hearing, the Council can still amend the question asked or add other questions to the Nov. 6 presidential ballot.

More than a dozen votes were taken on various proposed questions for the referendum, which resulted in 4-4 or 3-5 split votes prior to agree to one question.

One question Council members voiced is how the city would pay to renovate and refurbish the existing inverted pyramid since all plans it has received to do that are over the $50 million budget for the Pier.

City staff suggested that if the public votes to save and renovate the existing Pier that overage would be paid for by property tax increases.

The lowest proposal the city has received to rebuild the Pier is $59 million, though VoteOnThePier.com says its proposal will fall under the $50 million line.

Council members Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy and Leslie Curran voted against putting the Pier Petition question on the ballot.

Kennedy said in a republic, leaders are elected to make tough decisions and to look into issues in greater detail that the public can. However, he said that when the public has looked into the update “Lens” design that opinion seems to change.

“I think the public is coming around to the ‘Lens,’” Kennedy said. He wondered if the “inverted pyramid would have been built if it would have be voted on during its design phase.”

There were several 4-4 votes Monday that nearly put three questions on the ballot regarding the future of the pier. The three questions centered on 1) should the existing pier be refurbished and replaced, 2) should the city continue with the process to build the “Lens” and 3) should the existing pier be demolished and restart the process to select a new pier.

Gerdes voted no a few times because he thought specific budgets attached to each question were not appropriate. He also said starting the process over was not an option he would vote for.

The exact opposite was said by Kornell, who stated the public deserved the right know at least the range for each potential proposal. In the end, however, both voted to move the one pier petition question forward.

Tom Lambdon, organizer of VoteOnThePier.com, said he is satisfied with Monday’s result but knows anything can happen during Thursday’s public hearing for the ordinance to place pier referendum questions on the November ballot.

“I’m hopeful that the public will come out on Thursday, take their 3 minutes (and) say what they have to say,” he said. “This is a long-term decision. It’s a 50-75 year decision. It is tax dollars and it really makes a difference when people get engaged.”

To date, more than 23,000 people have turned in petitions, he said. Two weeks ago the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections verified more than 16,000 petitions.

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