Foster’s 828 Alliance update: Study the past, or be doomed to repeat it

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Education was the theme of Monday’s meeting of Mayor Bill Foster’s 828 Alliance, the group tasked with designing a process for the city to continue after the Aug. 27 referendum on the Lens.

The first decision was for the board to go back in history, specifically around 2009. They will need to learn from the past, so they can avoid being doomed to repeat it.  

The education of the Alliance will be through examining the work of the Pier Advisory Task Force, which met between April 2009 and July 2010. The job of that group of civic leaders was quite similar to the uphill battle facing the 828 Alliance; advise the city how to proceed with the Pier. The difference: nobody knew then that it would lead to the present—and the contentious and divisive Lens.

This time, the past would be a blueprint of what to do, as well as of what not to do.

In the audience of about 20 people were City Council Members Steve Kornell and Leslie Curran. Curran was on the Advisory Task force, along with current 828 Alliance members Bob Churuti of the Beach Drive Merchants and Ed Montanari, who was chair of the original board. Montanari was not present at Monday’s meeting.

Raleigh “Lee” Green, president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association and impartial facilitator of the group, began by giving each of them a “homework assignment” required before the next meeting July 25 at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall. Everyone must study the recommendations, agenda and videos of the three-year-old task force meetings.

Previous Advisory Task Force meetings should help them focus and reduce any areas of disagreement. The group agreed to ask the city to produce a white paper summary, as the first step to “debunking theories,” of what went wrong.  They also asked for simplified documents as a summary of all they would need to know.

“Where did the process fall off the track,” Green told the Alliance, “if it did fall off the track.”

“We need to look at it, and be very critical of the report,” said Dr. Bill Hogarth, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. “Maybe I would feel different after hearing what everyone else has to say.”

Another step forward by the Alliance was the possibility of keeping the existing Pier open for fishing and sightseeing, on a strictly limited basis.

The Alliance would ask the city to examine the costs and feasibility to keep rest room facilities available at the inverted pyramid during the process. They even mentioned the possibility of a small food stall or bait shop for Pier visitors. The made it clear that the city did not have to factor in real retail facilities in the proposal, just limited access and perhaps a food vendor.

By this second meeting, it was clear that Foster chose the Alliance members with the plan of gathering a diverse group of civic leaders, including both fans of The Lens and critics.

However, according to local business executive Dan Harvey, it seemed to be mostly Lens supporters.

“As I look around the here,” Harvey said during public input, “I don’t see a lot of people in the camp that is against the Lens. It’s kind of stacked pro-Lens.”

Harvey’s observation made one comment during the meeting seem a little less ironic.

Earlier, a member mentioned that keeping The Lens would be the “easiest thing” for the 828 Alliance. Defeat of the Michael Maltzan contract in August would mean “a lot more work” going forward, especially in ensuring public “buy-in” on the future of the Pier.

Coincidence?

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.