City Council questions Mayor Bill Foster’s new Pier planning process

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Borrowing a line from Yogi Berra, Council member Jeff Danner declared “This is déjà vu all over again.”

Danner was referring to a plan that Mayor Bill Foster introduced Thursday to restart the city Pier design process. It includes an aggressive schedule to survey 1,000 residents, organize a selection committee and then pick 10 architects to submit designs.

Foster projected that a new Pier could be completed in 2017.

But Danner and other Council members raised concerns that Foster’s fast-track proposal sounds like a repeat of the failed Lens design, which voters rejected at the polls.

“It scares me we’re saying in a few weeks we’ll have survey results. We’re doing the same thing and asking for the same answer,” said Council member Charlie Gerdes.

Council member Wengay Newton urged Foster to “look at the past and learn” and to understand that the Pier “belongs to the taxpayers.”

Council member Karl Nurse said that the city at least needs to set up a website to allow residents who are not polled to voice their ideas and give feedback. The survey of 1,000 resident may start this month, after the city hires a survey firm.

In addition, there seems to be uncertainty over how costly it will be to redevelop the Pier. 

• The survey may ask residents if they want to rebuild the current Pier, which the city estimates will cost $70 million, which is more than the original $50 million price tag for building a completely new structure.
• Foster also indicated that residents might be asked whether they want to use the remaining $46 million allotted for the project for whatever restoration can be accomplished with that price tag. (The city already spent $4 million on the failed Lens design.)
• At least one local architectural firm – Mesh Architecture – has said it could rebuild the Pier approach and the inverted pyramid for $24 million.

According to TBO.com, the $70 million quote from the city includes widening the approach to add buildings along the approach. CEO Gary Grooms said in an interview that there are other options, such as a narrower approach and re-using the steel skeleton of the Pier building. 

Grooms told TBO.com: “There are a lot of people out there who say it cannot be saved within budget. We certainly have absolute confidence that rebuilding it and making it can be done.”

The new planning process will not only take into account the survey results but also a 2010 waterfront development task force report, as well as recent recommendations by the Urban Land Institute.