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Counter protest planned for St. Pete Pier celebration

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

City officials and St. Pete residents will gather near the St. Pete Museum of History overlooking the ill-fated Pier currently being ripped down by heavy machinery to honor its history and celebrate the future of a new Pier.

But Mayor Rick Kriseman and supporters of the new Pier design, Pier Park, won’t be the only ones there for the event. Beginning at 5 p.m., the same time the mayor’s event begins, opponents of demolishing the Pier will also gather for what they’re describing as a “LOUD protest of the decision to demolish OUR Pier.”

“Please come out this Fri 8/21 at 5pm to the Dolphin Parking lot to say goodbye and share your displeasure with our City Leaders and Elected Officials on their decisions to ignore the residents repeatedly regarding the fate of our Pier,” an event page on Vote on the Pier’s Facebook page read. “Bring protest signs, anything that makes noise (bullhorns, trumpets, drums, etc). The Mayor of Downtown, Rick Kriseman, will be speaking at 6pm. Let’s show them what we think!!”

According to the page, 521 people were invited, 25 have RSVP’d and 8 will possibly attend. Those going are among some of the most vocal activists fighting to save the inverted pyramid by way of preservation through the Destination St. Pete Pier concept that was rejected by the Pier Selection Committee.

That includes Scott Bitterli, Robert Neff, James DeRusha, Nick Weathersbee and Hakon Soriano. Those names have appeared regularly in social media comments referencing the Pier, Pier Park and the entire process.

The event could leave remarks planned by Kriseman to be drowned by the sound of bullhorns and noisemakers from a group calling for his head. Kriseman’s event has family-friendly entertainment planned as well as a brick-paver give-away.

The Pier is already under demolition. The progress is difficult to see with the naked eye, but a corner of it is already ripped apart. A large green trash bin for debris and some machinery can be seen through and around the fencing, but the structure’s overall façade remains, for now.

Demolition is expected to take about 60-days. It started this week.

A petition drive headed up by Vote on the Pier and its Preserve Our Waterfront aims to put a referendum to Special Election asking voters whether or not they should have a say at the ballot box on any downtown waterfront construction or demolition.

That petition effort is too late to save the inverted pyramid, but according to its organizer, Tom Lambdon, he expects to have enough petitions signatures – some 16,000 – in time to affect the construction of Pier Park.

Lambdon claims confidence in his petition effort, saying once he raises $38,000 it should only take five or six weeks to get the required signatures. However, Lambdon wouldn’t say how many signatures he has so far and, according to a campaign treasurer’s report allegedly filed yesterday, hasn’t raised much more than $100 toward his ultimate goal.

A Special Election for the referendum would be subject to City Council approval and, according to the City, cost taxpayers as much as $260,000. It’s also possible the referendum could be placed on the March Presidential Preference Primary ballot if the required signatures are verified in time.

Whatever side of the issue residents are on, the Pier is likely to have one last hoorah in competing rallies Friday evening.

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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