Kathleen Ford calls for “other options” on eve of Pier closing

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On the last official day of the St. Petersburg Pier, Kathleen Ford is convinced the venerable landmark still has life in it.

This afternoon, using the Pier as a backdrop, Ford spoke about the direction St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster is taking the city’s most recognizable building.

“It is unfortunate that we are here today,” Ford said in a press conference at Demens Landing. “Since this inverted pyramid can still be open this summer.”

“Over 400 jobs will be lost as a result of Bill Foster’s actions,” Ford added. “In the midst of the recovery from the Great Recession, I think that is unconscionable.”

Ford sees the Pier as a substantial asset for the city, one that only needs refurbishment, not destruction and replacement. Surrounded by a collection of “Ford for Mayor” and “Stop the Lens” signs, Ford called on local architect Kenneth Kroger to detail some of the reasons why she believes the future of the Pier needs further evaluation.

Kroger is a chief architect for Architectural Designs, Inc. of Tampa, which specializes in energy efficient building systems. Some of Kroger’s designs include the Hillsborough County Jail, additions to the mail facility at Tampa International Airport and all the dealerships for Ferman Autos. He has also been an expert witness on architecture in various Florida court cases.

 “I have a passion for the structure out there,” Kroger said, motioning to the Pier. “It is not the only possibility out there.”

Kroger asserted that the inverted pyramid structure is not only structurally sound, but aesthetically “one of the high points in architecture for modernism.”

According to Kroger, the design of the Pier—a structure built over water—represents a “peak of the Florida design community.” Kroger referred to the local culture that went into the design of the Pier. He also praised the “tangible value” of the Pier “brand” to the city.

William B. Harvard Sr., founder of the Harvard Jolly design firm in St. Petersburg, designed the iconic inverted pyramid-shaped building open since 1973.

“It was a local architect, a guy who was part of this community,” Kroger said. “That means the culture is authentic.”

“It’s wasn’t where we brought in a mall designer from California to do a building for us,” he added, a reference to Michael Maltzan, designer of the Lens. Michael Maltzan Architecture is based in Los Angeles.

“It has been an icon for the city,” Kroger said, “What is that branding worth? It’s all wasted when you destroy it.”

Kroger cites “misinformation and mismanagement” and “political motives” for the studies leading to the decision demolition of the Pier and replace it with the Lens. Ford is an outspoken opponent of the Lens, making it one of the main platforms for her mayoral campaign.

As dark clouds rolled in over the final hours of the Pier, threatening to douse the 25 supporters and reporters in attendance, Ford reminded everyone that if elected, a cherished piece of the city’s history could be saved.

“I just want you to understand that there are other options,” she said.

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.