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City Council hears from first commenters during crucial St. Pete Pier meeting

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council has heard from a handful of speakers regarding a new Pier. During open forum some people spoke directly in favor of a design while others addressed the process as a whole.

Council is expected to hear a report from the Pier Selection Committee regarding its final ranking of Pier Park as the top pick followed by Destination St. Pete Pier and Alma. At that time the public will have a chance to weigh in again. Those who already spoke on the Pier issue will not be permitted to speak again.

Following the presentation, public comment and council debate the board will vote the ranking up or down. If approved, which is expected, the move will give Mayor Rick Kriseman authorization to begin negotiations with ASD Architects/Rogers Partners and the rest of the Pier Park design team.

Numerous speakers are expected at that time including a strong showing of people opposed to Pier Park in favor of preserving the inverted pyramid. Pier Park would replace the current Pier reusing only the existing caissons and elevator shaft and transform the space into an activated park.

One of the speakers was prominent community activist and brain surgeon David McKalip. McKalip rallies against many plans that include a possible tax burden. He told council he was speaking on behalf of “oppressed taxpayers.”

“I think a lot of them are wondering why in the world would you want to build another park in the city,” McKalip said.

He echoed some common criticism including a high estimated subsidy for maintaining Pier Park and the feasibility of planting large trees and other foliage in an over-water environment.

Public comment in favor of the Destination St. Pete Pier design preserving the current inverted pyramid is expected to include those same questions as well as others like permitability, the size of the proposed structure at the Pier head and even how the city plans to clean off all the bird droppings.

On the other side of the argument are a growing pack of Pier Park supporters. That group is expected to defend the design and tout its connection to the newly released Downtown Waterfront Master Plan and ability to grow with a changing demographic for years to come.

During the first round of public comment Gary Grooms spoke in favor of the design. Grooms heads the architectural firm Mesh. That firm was behind the Wave during the previous design competition that yielded the failed Lens and also behind this round’s fourth-seeded pick, Prospect Pier.

Now that his team is out of the mix, he’s throwing his weight behind Pier Park. He worked to dispel the notion that City Council should reject the Pier Park design because the public indicated they favored Destination St. Pete Pier.

“[That] isn’t how government is designed to work,” Grooms said noting that had public input been the sole deciding factor, a selection committee wouldn’t be necessary. “For that matter we surely don’t need a city council either.”

City Council is expected to approve the final ranking with only Council member Wengay Newton dissenting. Newton has already made waves. When one young resident spoke in favor or Pier Park Newton questioned how long he had lived in the city and whether he had an affiliation with any of the other teams.

Newton was quickly shut down after Council member Jim Kennedy pointed out he wasn’t allowed to engage with speakers during open forum.

Check back later for updates on this unfolding story or follow @JanelleIrwinFL on Twitter for up to the minute updates.

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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