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Can we please stop complaining about the new Pier and just get the dang thing built?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times recently reported that plans for the Pier and its day-to-day operations are “coming together behind the scenes.”

Queue the cacophony of ridicule. Enter the calamitous noise of Rick Kriseman haters crying foul over a process too far out of the public eye. The group VoteonthePier.com took to Facebook Monday to lament these silly bells and whistles the city is promising with Pier Park.

Before I dive into this, let me throw out a bit of a disclaimer. This Pier process has been going on for years – long before the Lens was even a glimmer of hope in Lisa Wannemacher’s eye. And I’ve been covering it for much of that time – most intensely since the 2013 Lens debacle.

For all that time I covered both sides. When a Lens critic cried foul, I listened and reported. When someone lamented there would be mounds of bird poop, I even covered that. Then when the Destination St. Pete Pier folks were angry the city dismissed two public opinion polls lifting their preferred design, I gave them a microphone.

I decided, after much internal debate about whether it was professional or ethical, that it’s time to stop handing out a voice to those whose sole goal is to slow down progress and cry conspiracy every time the Pier Park design changes or John Curran sneezes.

The reason I write about the Pier now in the first person and not as an unbiased narrator of facts is because it’s time to just move on. There is nothing left to do but to accept the coming of a new Pier, the toppling of an old and the opportunity to provide valuable public input.

Sure, I get it, you feel jaded. That mean old mayor surely won’t listen to the people!

Guess what, you’re probably right. Why would he listen to people whose only line of defense is to stomp some feet and shout out loud about permitting and pelican scat? He’s certainly not going to listen to tired arguments about the public poll. That’s old news.

I also doubt he’ll listen to alleged claims of nitty-gritty environmental and schematic worries that come from people wholly under-qualified to issue them. Let’s also not forget that any of those issues will be fully vetted by experts and changes made accordingly if there are unforeseen problems. After all, architects are not environmentalists or marine biologists. They’ll write some nice checks so people who are ensure the design gets it right. This is all part of the process.

As for that permitting thing – if the design doesn’t meet muster that’s on the architects designing it to get their keisters back to the drawing board and fix it ASAP.

And all that behind the scenes bologna critics love to spew – lack of transparency and whatnot – that’s intended to ensure any potential permitting issues or others that may stifle progress are headed off early to avoid delays. It is not, and I repeat, is not an ill-mannered attempt at slighting the public and pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. If they shared every dotted i and crossed t, we’d all be in for a very long delay. It’d be like reading the HIPPA agreement every time you go to the doctor. We only need to read it once.

Everyday I check out what folks are saying on Facebook about the Pier. They post daily, sometimes hourly, photos of the inverted pyramid’s demise. They call Pier Park names like “Potty Park.”

They ask the same questions over and over: Why didn’t the city tell us this? Why didn’t they think of this sooner? And most of them are responses to issues that only exist in the minds of people who simply just didn’t want any Pier that wasn’t an upside down pyramid.

But there’s only one of them in the world, they say. Well, maybe that’s for a good reason. The building was cool when it first went up. Certainly innovative. But by 2015 (probably even several years sooner) it became ugly, outdated and a colossal waste of space.

The city wasn’t trying to knock over a building just for sh*ts and giggles. They did it because the Pier approach was literally crumbling and it made little economic sense to preserve a building in the midst of construction that no one wanted except for six baby boomers and four tourists.

To be fair, critics do have some valid points. Most significantly, the estimated subsidy for Pier Park is about $1.5 million. That’s just a touch more than the subsidy for the inverted pyramid.

But even with that argument, there is nuance. A $20 million proposed project to connect the new Pier to downtown could spell huge economic impact in the area between visitors sauntering around the Pier and then shopping on Beach Drive or checking out a local museum or eating at a restaurant or grabbing a beer or any of a number of things one could do downtown.

The Times article mentioned plans for an open-air trolley — something like the trams used to shuttle visitors from parking lots to the front gate at Busch Gardens. It’s something that would make Pier Park feel more like an attraction. The numerous features planned for Pier Park make it a destination where the old Pier just kind of sat out there with little invitation to downtown patrons to check it out.

But I get it, I’m biased. I’m tired of all the arguing and I actually agree with the mayor when he says, “build a damn Pier.”

Maybe Pier Park isn’t perfect. Certainly there will always be some people who don’t care for it. But for every one of those people, I’m betting there will be 100 who do.

If we all listen to the rumblings coming from Pier Park naysayers, it’ll be years before a Pier is actually built. Voters rejected the Lens in 2013. It took until 2015 for the ball to really get rolling on a new design. What would happen if the city had to start all over again?

Change is tough and sometimes it takes a bit of time to acclimate, but don’t we all agree that Firefox is better than Internet Explorer? That the new software update on your phone actually turned out to be pretty cool even though it took a bit of getting used to?

Why not be a part of a positive process instead of grumbling about it constantly like a bunch of forlorn Eeyores? Help the city move forward, not backward. Because, guys, it’s starting to get kind of ridiculous.

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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