Pier still set to close May 31

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The Saint Petersburg Pier is still set to close May 31. 

For more than four hours Thursday, residents, business owners and members of Stop the Lens waited to hear what would come out of a discussion about delaying the closure of the St. Petersburg Pier until after the August election.

That discussion on council member Wengay Newton’s new business item, however, never happened.

Newton motioned to delay closing the pier, but his motion died for lack of a second from another council member.

Because there was no second, there could be no discussion, and the schedule to close the pier May 31 remains unchanged.

With 800 jobs lost at Universal Healthcare recently, Newton said it would not be prudent of the city to close the pier and lose around 400 more jobs. He wanted to extend the closing until a vote on the “Lens” pier design could occur.  

“I think it would be fair to preserve the jobs until (the vote),” Newton said. 

“Over 16,000 signatures have been collected in an effort to have the Pier question put on the primary ballot. With the thousands of signatures obtained, it seems fairly certain that a Pier question will appear on the ballot,” Newton wrote of the Stop the Lens petition in a memo to council. “Keeping the Pier open until the vote in August will allow service and Pier employees to keep their jobs.  After the recent closing of a large business in downtown St. Petersburg, causing the loss of hundreds of jobs, we do not need to add to the rising unemployment rate.” 

Had council voted to halt the closing of the pier, it would have still been without its two anchor tenants after May 31. 

Last week, Columbia owner and president Richard Gonzmart announced that he would be shutting down the Columbia Restaurant and Cha Cha Coconuts on May 31 regardless of Thursday’s vote by council. 

More than a dozen resident wearing red Stop the Lens T-shirts spoke Thursday asking council to “pause” future “Lens” funding and to delay closing the pier in order to save jobs. 

Nic Weathersbee, owner of the St. Petersburg Candle Gallery inside the pier, said shutting down the pier means more St. Petersburg residents will struggle to pay rent, buy groceries and support other local businesses. 

“Your constituents are letting you know loud and clear, keep the pier open and let the people keep working,” he said.  

Carol Gray, owner of the Crystal Mirage Gallery inside the pier, took issue with comments made by council member Bill Dudley, who argued that just because the city and Stop the Lens disagree doesn’t mean the city is not listening. 

Gray said she doesn’t think the city is not listening, “we think you’re deaf,” she said. She went on to question council members and Mayor Bill Foster for not paying attention to speakers at Thursday’s meeting. 

“You still are not listening,” she said. People would like the pier that we have.”

Stop the Lens says it has collected enough petitions to force a public vote on the issue already but is collecting additional signatures in case some petitions are not valid.

The Stop the Lens petition drive is written to cancel the city’s contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture to build the “Lens.” Once the petitions are certified and turned in, city council can either adopt the petition and cancel the Maltzan contract or hold a public vote on the issue within 90 days.   

Wednesday, Stop the Lens and Concerned Citizens of St. Pete president Bill Ballard wrote a letter to council asking them to delay closing the pier. 

“Council members, you have the power to postpone demolition of the pier.  Adopt a policy that responds to the realities of today,” he wrote. “Circumstances have changed. The Lens project is in jeopardy. While that uncertainty exists, the total closure of The Pier is unnecessary and would deprive us of an enjoyable amenity. Its demolition in the face of possible termination of The Lens project would appear to be a vindictive act.”

Up next for the pier process is a discussion about the next phase of funding for the “Lens.” The vote and presentation is set for May 2. 

Via William Mansell of Patch.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.