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Former anti-Lens group supports new St. Pete Pier design process

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The group behind the campaign to kill the Lens hasn’t gone away, but this time they’re not the naysayers. Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg are not endorsing any of the seven designs being voted on by St. Pete residents to replace or renovate the current St. Pete Pier, but they are getting behind the process.

The group had collected more than 20,000 petitions from St. Pete residents asking for a referendum to kill the contract with Michael-Maltzan Architects to build the Lens. Their opposition to the city’s former pick for a new pier stemmed from a disdain for the process they saw as lacking in transparency and not adequately involving the public. Their efforts ended in nearly two-thirds of voters rejecting the design.

But Concerned Citizens is asking residents to back the city’s latest pier process.

“We stood with the Mayor and endorsed this process when he announced it, and we do so now,” the group wrote in a press release.

The process from a few years ago consisted of a Pier Advisory Task Force that made a recommendation on a pier design in 2011. They did hear from the public during a series of public comment opportunities, but the decision to choose the Lens was mostly in that group’s hands.

While some have said this go around isn’t all that different, the public is currently in the process of voting for one of seven pier designs. Voters can weight up to three choices for a new pier and Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Pier Working Group will choose the top two. While they are not obligated to pick the winner of the public vote, they are likely to make a choice based on those votes.

“We believe this process has led to much better results than was achieved by the last process,” Concerned Citizens says.

The process also previously included a series of public input sessions that identified top priorities in a new pier. Among those priorities were including dining space, some air-conditioned areas, fishing, recreation, space for rentals like kayaks and paddle boards and adequate transportation to and from the pier bulkhead.

Design teams had to demonstrate their plans met the city’s criteria. They also had to come up with plans that fit into the city’s $33 million construction budget.

Despite their overall approval of the new pier design competition thus far, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg is not without some disapproval.

“In reviewing the proposals, we note that despite the hard work that has been done by so many, the Teams vary widely in whether they include the functions desired,” the group wrote. “A few accommodated nearly every desired function, while others have ignored most, including the most important. This gives us some angst regarding the non-binding vote that has begun.”

Though they are not officially endorsing a design team, there are some hints into how the group is leaning. By pointing out that some teams have not met the group’s criteria it seems a couple of designs may be on the group’s naughty list. Blue Pier doesn’t include air-conditioned space, one of the group’s top priorities, and Blue Pier includes only 3,600 square-feet of dining. That includes a burger shack on the pier. The group had indicated they prefer fine-dining options. The AlmaDestination St. Pete PierProspect Pier and rePier all include fine dining options in their plans.

Concerned Citizens also urges residents to consider design teams’ knowledge of the local area when selecting design teams. That would seem to eliminate Blue PierDiscover Bay Life and rePier whose designers are all based outside of the Tampa Bay area.

The voting is available on the city’s website and select locations throughout the city including libraries until March 6. The selection committee is expected to have a final ranking of designs by March 20 with a preferred design sent to City Hall for a council up or down vote on April 2.

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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