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Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 3 — The Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Petersburg and came up with a list of the top 10 most profound issues. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 3 — The Pier

Few things in St. Petersburg have caused as much consternation as The Pier. The dilemma over the future of the city landmark seemed to go dormant in 2014 while officials fine-tuned design details for a new selection process. In 2015, though, the struggle began anew.

Despite the lull, pent-up frustration over the Pier still bubbled below the surface after the 2013 defeat of the Lens design. But 2015 began with apparent consensus that the city would get it right.

Mayor Rick Kriseman had assembled what most thought would be an open, transparent and accessible process. There was even to be a public survey posted online for residents to weigh in on favorite designs.

That provoked the long-festering angst, again.

The public overwhelmingly chose the design by local architects in the St. Pete Design group known as Destination St. Pete Pier. It was a re-imagined version of the 1970s inverted pyramid with shiny-new modern features and a seemingly low subsidy.

Instead, the Pier Selection Committee seemed to favor another design: the Alma. The design featuring a tower as the focal point turned out to be the city’s least-favored design based on the public survey.

Initial conversations during an hourslong meeting led to outrage among some residents. During the final selection meeting, the appointed members — headed by St. Pete’s former Public Works Administrator Mike Connors — heard from dozens of residents weighing in favor of their favorite designs. Some supported Destination and referenced the survey. Others backed the Alma and called the survey bunk because only about 10,000 people weighed in.

And still another group, and what turned out to be the prevailing group, rallied behind the survey’s No. 2 pick: Pier Park.

The committee approved Pier Park. So too did City Council. Later negotiations were finalized, Pier demolition permits secured and, by the end of November, the inverted pyramid was no more.

Along the way, there has been growing disapproval from critics. At first, there was name-calling. Some in the pro-Destination, anti-Pier Park crowd even took to insulting reporters. Kriseman took the roll of most-critiqued with those opposed to the Pier process repeatedly calling for his ouster.

A group led by a Safety Harbor resident contends it has a petition effort calling for another referendum on any downtown waterfront demolition or construction.

The group cried foul when a Request for Proposal process for a Pier restaurant returned zero bids.

They laughed at the city when the developer of a residential project near Panama City in the Panhandle threatened to sue over naming rights: There’s already a Pier Park.

Despite the hostility from naysayers, the New St. Pete Pier project seems poised to continue.

A design team was even selected to come up with plans for the Uplands intended to compliment all things new Pier and link downtown to its waterfront. The petition effort may even be dead in the water. has yet to raise any money toward their efforts.

Demolition of the Pier is just about done. There is nary a trace of the upside down triangle that used to define St. Pete’s waterfront.

Next year, Rogers Partners and ASD Architects and their partners will work together on the final design phase. The shovel isn’t expected to hit the dirt until 2017 with completion sometime in 2018. The ride between now and then, considering the Pier’s long checkered past, is likely to be a rocky one.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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