‘Lens’ opponents party, introduce ‘American Idol’ style phone poll on Pier’s future

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Opponents of the $50 million “Lens” project celebrated a sweet victory Tuesday night, as St. Pete voters overwhelmingly sunk the $50 million city pier redevelopment project.

With 63.2 percent of the vote, members of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg expressed relief, noting the impressive lineup of opponents who were challenged — and defeated — in the grassroots campaign.

Organizer Fred Whaley reminded fellow volunteers during the group’s victory party at the Orange Blossom Tuesday night that this “little challenge” required facing down a majority of the City Council, city staff, the Chamber of Commerce, two PACs and the Tampa Bay Times.

“But here we are today,” Whaley said. “The Lens was voted down, and you got the votes. Thank you very much.”

Whaley also offered a special thanks to City Councilors Karl Nurse and Wengay Newton, who were in the minority on the Council when they opposed the “Lens” project.

Volunteer Mark Ellis, who described himself as a St. Pete native, said that even though polls showed that a majority of voters opposed the “Lens” going into Tuesday’s election, there was concern that the ballot wording might confuse people at the polls. Ellis also said that “Lens” supporters had a last-minute infusion of money.

“The Lens design was the worst of five bad designs presented,” he said. “Voters knew that.” Ellis added that residents realized the open-air design was not right for the sweltering heat and hurricane-prone weather of Florida.

Whaley told the crowd and media gathered at the Orange Blossom that voters have sent the city a clear message to explore all options for the pier’s future.

He introduced an “American Idol” style phone polling system that will enable residents to quickly and easily voice their opinion on the pier’s future.

Working with VoteStPete.org, the group showed gatherers how people can dial 727-944-1044 and choose one of four options:

1.) Demolish the pier and leave an open waterfront.
2.) Refurbish the existing pier.
3.) Demolish the pier and vote on recent design submissions.
4.) Demolish the pier and call for brand-new design options.

Although this phone poll is non-binding, Matt Florell of StPetePolls.org said that it will enable the city’s residents to have a voice in the future of the waterfront. “The Lens is pretty much dead and we saw this as a way to move forward,” Florell said.

Residents can see the real-time results at VoteStPete.org. Florell said that the polling system prevents robo-voting, as it makes note of the caller’s phone number, not allowing people to vote repeatedly. The phone poll is expected to be active for several weeks.