The first meeting of Foster’s 828 Alliance: It’s all uphill from here

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When Mayor Bill Foster’s 828 Alliance met for the first time yesterday afternoon at St. Petersburg City Hall, they received two basic guidelines:

  • St. Petersburg is passionate about their waterfront
  • NOT having a Pier in the future of the city is NOT an option

“I guarantee you,” Foster told about 200 people earlier that day at the Tiger Bay mayoral debate, “St. Petersburg will have a Pier.”

On the subject of a Pier — the Lens or otherwise —Foster was adamant. “No Pier is not an option,” he told the committee.

Other than those basic guiding principles, that was about it. The rest of the project was up to the dozen (or so) St. Pete residents, concerned citizens, and leaders from both the community and business.

At the table were Lens supporters and opponents, representatives of a variety of interests, members of the city’s marine science community, architects and others.

On paper, the job of the 828 Alliance may seem simple. The goal is to analyze ways for the city to move forward with a new Pier under two scenarios, each based on the Aug. 27 referendum: (1) continuing the contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture for The Lens or (2) cancel the contract and go back to square one.

Regardless of how the vote goes, the public needs to “buy in” to the proposal. It was a fancy way of saying they have to answer an age-old question first posed by Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Among the approximately 25 people and press in attendance were Mayor Foster, city attorney Jeannine Williams and Raleigh “Lee” Green, president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association. Green was the objective facilitator of the group.

Foster reminded the group several times that even though they will get all the staff support they need, other than that they were on their own, saying “this might be the last of these meetings where you will see me.”

Among the board members were:

  • Fred Whaley, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of St. Pete
  • Shirley O’Sullivan, Lens advocate
  • David Punzak, chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Rob Kapusta, president of the Downtown Partnership
  • Susan Jezek of the Urban Land Institute
  • Dr. Bill Hogarth of the Ocean Team/Marine Sciences
  • Pier Task Force’s Chairman Ed Montanari
  • Bob Churuti of the Beach Drive Merchants and Pier Visioning Task Force
  • Architect James Jackson, Jr.
  • Landscape Architect Phil Graham
  • Historian Will Michaels

The first meeting of the 828 Alliance was clearly “nuts and bolts.” to start, Williams gave members a thorough primer on Florida Sunshine Laws governing public business.

In essence, she said any future conversations between group members are now public record, requiring staff members present and meeting minutes taken. Emails and text messages are particularly problematic in public governance since state law requires recording and archiving all official communications.

Now that the board members are now working for the city, they fall under the same Sunshine Laws.

Sunshine Laws were only one of many challenges facing the group. Even things like scheduling become problematic; many of the 828 Alliance members are also attorneys and business people, with busy schedules to match. Getting them all in one place proved to be the first hurdle.

Like any good meeting, the first thing on the agenda was to set the next meeting. The one time that seemed to be the best for most at the table, is Monday, July 15 at 3 p.m. in City Hall. Rules of order are that as long there is a quorum (majority) in the room, other members can attend remotely by phone. There, the group will start forming in earnest, choosing leaders, co-chairs and splitting into sub groups to address different parts of the problem.

When you understand exactly what the Alliance is up against, you can see just how difficult their challenge is.

For example, whatever form the new Pier eventually takes, it has to meet certain federal FEMA specifications. In addition, due to the proximity to Albert Whitted Airport, the FAA might need to be consulted. Of course, there will be issues like renovation, refurbishment or demolition.

The Alliance will also need to address budgetary demands. Since the city spent $3 million so far on the new Pier, the question is should they deduct that amount from the estimated $50 million price tag, or perhaps other revenue sources will be available. If the new Pier is part of a transportation system, like with a high-speed ferry to Tampa, grant money and other resources might open up for its development. 

In the inaugural meeting, one thing became clear; the Alliance certainly has their work cut out for them.

Devising a post-referendum strategy, they must develop a process where a new Pier—if it should come to that—will be analyzed, budgeted and eventually brought to life.

Their job is NOT to imagine, design or build a new Pier; the mission is to cultivate a framework where St. Pete will finally get a new Pier that residents can live with.  

What’s more is that this group of diverse “good ‘Burgers” has to do it out of “whole cloth,” from the ground floor.

This is the uphill battle facing the 828 Alliance. They have to figure out where, from whom and (most importantly) how the city will create St. Pete’s next iconic structure.

And with it, hopefully mend the rift it created between its citizens.  

 

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.