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Email Insights: Pier process still muddled in mixed messaging

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Two days ahead of the Pier Selection Committee’s meeting where they are expected to issue a final ranking of three Pier designs, the city is making sure the public knows their input has been weighed.

In an email sent to those who subscribe for Pier updates, the city recapped what will happen this week.

The committee will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday to hear presentations from the three design team finalists who will answer questions sent to them by the committee.

Those questions include things like transportation issues, resident and visitor appeal, cost, safety and how the designs fit in with the city’s newly released Downtown Waterfront Master Plan.

Some of the designs teams will answer questions specific to their own design. For example, the Alfonso Architects team will have to clarify how many floors in the proposed tower will be air conditioned. The St. Pete Design Group will have to answer how its proposal to allow vehicles to travel alongside cyclists and pedestrians on the pier approach will serve the function of the renovated inverted pyramid.

And Pier Park designers will have to weigh in on permitting concerns.

During this part of the committee’s meeting, the email reminds, the public will not be permitted to give input.

The committee will reconvene at 6 p.m. to discuss individual findings, debate still lingering questions and hear from the public.

That’s where things get hairy for the committee. There has been a flurry of controversy surrounding the committee’s projected favorite. During the previous meeting on March 20, the committee seemed poise to rank Alma in the top spot.

However, it was Destination St. Pete Pier that was the public’s clear favorite in a city survey and several independent surveys conducted by St. Pete Polls.

Based on two of those surveys, the majority of the public has indicated City Council should reject a ranking if it doesn’t put Destination St. Pete at the top.

This group is expected to come out in full force in favor of the public’s choice.

However, the email takes great strides, as did a previous one, to indicate that the public survey was “non-binding.”

The email mentions public input seven times in the email. In one mention, that input is described as “extensive.”

While the email doesn’t dive into the deep specifics about state law binding the city to this process, it does lay out the framework for using numerous angles to determine which design should be used to replace or renovate the aging inverted pyramid.

In a process that has been marred by controversy and swarming with threats, the city seems to be taking every final opportunity to engage the public and convince them of two things.

One, their voice has been heard and their opinions adequately solicited. If things don’t go the way of public preference, there are several other factors that were taken into consideration to reach that decision.

Two, respect the process so the city can build a Pier for “residents that have a vested interest in having a successful outcome for the building of the new St. Pete Pier.”

The end of the email encourages residents to continue advising City Council members of their concerns and preferences and also asks residents to respect the process.

The email also encourages residents to continue to learn more about each design.

As SaintPetersblog previously reported in a similar email, this one sends mixed messages.

On one hand the city is encouraging residents to continue engaging leaders on the issue. On the other hand it is painting a picture of a process that is working and should be trusted. Though there are numerous mentions of public input, nearly each reference is offset by a point that there are other factors to consider.

Regardless of the city’s intention with this email, Thursday’s meeting will likely come with a long line of speakers waiting for their turn to speak. Destination will have its cohort. Alma will have its Gonzmart family backing supporting a design that would best accommodate a revived Columbia Restaurant.

And Pier Park, the country least heard from in this mess, has a new set of friends likely to show their faces. Supporters of the rejected Blue Pier have chosen Pier Park as a worthy substitute and are expected to likely speak in favor of it.

If the March 20 meeting is any indication and if the reverberating noise since then offers any clue, the meeting will be a long one.

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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