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Bill Ballard letter to City Council lays out argument for Destination St. Pete Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Bill Ballard, an outspoken advocate for saving St. Pete’s iconic inverted pyramid, has sent another letter to St. Pete City Council urging them to vote down the final ranking of three concepts for a new Pier.

In the letter obtained by SaintPetersblog Ballard seeks to lay out the “subversion of the selection process” and includes a variety of videos containing statements supporting his claim.

In one of them, three committee members, Mike Meidel, Melanie Lenz and Gary Mitchum, all say the St. Pete Design Group has an edge when it comes to building over the water. This I used as evidence to support his claim that the group “was the most qualified design team.”

At a City Council meeting on April 9, city attorney John Wolfe explained what the roll of the selection committee is.

“The overall consideration is which firm is the most qualified to build this structure,” Wolfe said. That is what the Construction Consultants Negotiation Act requires.”

Ballard used the statements from three committee members to evidence his argument. That’s only half of the committee.

But, Ballard’s arguments don’t stop there. He also links to a video of Connors during the 12-hour Pier Selection Committee in March in which he lamented renovating the current Pier would mean the structure would have a lifespan of 125 years.

“One hundred and twenty-five years of lifespan deserves a greater iconic element than what this inverted pyramid has or will deliver in the future,” Connors said.

Connors made it abundantly clear that any design re-using the existing Pier was a bad choice and even argued such a decision would wind the city right back into the same situation when it ultimately fails again. In that meeting Connors ranked Destination St. Pete Pier and Prospect Pier – both with plans to renovate – into the bottom two spots of four.

During that same speech Connors referenced statements made by Casey Gonzmart during public comment. Gonzmart is a current owner of the Columbia Restaurant that used to operate out of the Pier.

Gonzmart spoke in favor of the Alma design concept. That design has a planned restaurant space on the Pier uplands.

In his statement, Connors gives a bit of a history lesson on the Pier. In 2004, Connors said, an engineering report indicated the city needed to start planning for replacement of the bridge leading up to the Pier.

“Over several years there after, that bridge replacement morphed into a strong consideration to replace all of the above,” Connors said.

He went on to say that the “only successful entity out there was Mr. Gonzmart and his operation of the Columbia. And I think you’ve heard from Mr. Gonzmart today on what he thinks.

It was essentially declared unsuccessful – in 2004, an engineering report given by the speaker indicted we needed to start planning for replacement of the bridge leading to the inverted pyramid. Over several years there after, that bridge replacement morphed into a strong consideration to replace all of the above.

Ballard also alleges in his letter to City Council Connors spread misleading and sometimes incorrect information.

“There were thirteen other for profit businesses operating at the pier head when it closed, which had been in business for ten years or longer prior to the closing,” Ballard wrote in response to Connors saying the inverted pyramid was a failure to taxpayers “from a subsidy standpoint.”

Ballard goes on to cite a 2010 study showing the Pier brought in $42 million in economic development each ear before it was shuttered.

“The March 20th appearance of Casey Gonzmart, a Tampa resident, to tell the selection committee a tale of woe about operating a restaurant on the pier, Mr. Connors, as selection committee chairman, permitting this show and utilizing Casey Gonzmart’s comments in his own remarks, is further evidence of the administration improperly trying to steer the selection away from reuse of the Inverted Pyramid,” Ballard wrote.

“Does this process pass your smell test,” Ballard asked in closing.

City Council will consider whether to approve the final ranking this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Crowds of supporters for the top-ranked design, Pier Park, as well as those who, like Ballard, support Destination St. Pete Pier are expected to attend and speak.

At least one Council member has indicated he will not be supporting the Pier Selection Committee’s ranking. District 7 council member Wengay Newton plans to ask council to approve a special election in which voters can choose a design. His motion is expected to fail.

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 [email protected]

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