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Rick Kriseman comments on Pier ‘vitriol’ on local Internet radio show

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman sat down with local musician and  Mark Etherington to discuss all things Sunshine City during a guest segment on St. Pete Radio’s Homemade Broadcast. That conversation included the controversial Pier demolition.

Crews began dismantling the Pier piece by piece Monday afternoon with a giant excavator. The inverted pyramid is expected to be completely erased from the downtown skyline within six weeks, with total demolition of the Pier head and approach done by February.

While some are continuing to cry foul over the process leading up to demolition and the eventual construction of Pier Park, Kriseman is looking forward to the progress.

“The longest period in this whole process really is the architects and the engineers to do the designs and get them down on paper and get the permit,” Kriseman said on the Internet radio broadcast. “The construction itself is not that long of a process.”

If all goes as planned, the new Pier Park is expected to be completed in 2018.

Push back from opponents may not be as credible a threat as they were in 2013 when a small group of naysayers were successful in mounting a massive petition effort that forced a referendum and ultimately killed the previous design known as the Lens. But they could be and the city can’t ignore the possibility entirely.

A new petition drive seeks to ask voters whether they should have a say at the ballot box on any downtown construction or demolition projects on city-owned land. With two giant chunks of concrete removed from the Pier’s façade after only an afternoon of work, it’s impossible for such a referendum to save the current Pier. But a successful petition drive by the group VoteonthePier.com could thwart Pier Park.

The group continues to argue they are just trying to ensure St. Pete residents are able to enjoy transparency and have a say in places their taxes pay for, but many Pier Park supporters argue they are just tied to the barely still existing Pier. Those arguments are based on continued cries from opposition that the city ignored the will of the people by rejecting the Destination St. Pete Pier design that would have revamped the inverted pyramid.

“That’s the real irony of all of it,” Kriseman said, noting that not many people visited the Pier when it was open. “The biggest crowds that we saw at the pier were probably in its last couple of months of it being open.”

Kriseman called the process full of vitriol and lamented that opponents’ time could be better spent on other city issues.

“I just wish their passion that they show towards a building was directed at people instead,” Kriseman said.

He listed homelessness, struggling schools and public education and poverty.

“If those folks showed the same level of energy towards those problems as their showing toward the pier we might have a chance of making a real impact,” he continued.

Kriseman also touched on a transit measure that could help Pier Park be successful. Tampa and St. Pete are collaborating on a possible ferry service connecting the two cities via Tampa Bay.

Kriseman said the plan is still a couple of years out pending funding. He said he hopes the city could potentially conduct a ferry pilot program using off-season boats from up north.

If implemented, the company HMS would oversee the program. That’s the same company that runs ferries in New York and Seattle.

Kriseman said it’s a service that the city has “sorely been lacking for a long time.”

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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 Patch.com 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 janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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