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Long shot or not, Blue Pier supporters aren’t backing down

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Beautiful weather over Easter weekend paired with the finally scheduled Pier Selection Committee meeting to assign rankings to the three remaining designs has created something of a media lull in the looming Pier debate.

While the silence could signal acceptance or even fatigue over the long-awaited replacement of downtown’s current Pier, the debate is anything but dead.

One group continues to build momentum. Supporters of the Blue Pier are plowing forward with their push to have the selection committee re-evaluate its decision to rank that design outside of the top three.

In a letter to the committee Monday from the group’s main supporter, Ryan Mitchell, specifically asked the committee to put Blue Pier back on the table.

“Emphasis on activated public space took a back seat behind the politically and financially supported advocacy coming from both the Alma and Destination Pier camps,” Mitchell wrote regarding discussion during the Pier Selection Committee’s last ranking meeting. “They deserve a seat at the table, but they don’t deserve to buy the table and stand on it.”

One of the themes reverberating throughout groups supporting Blue Pier is that the two seemingly preferred designs would create more concrete and cater to wealthy residents and well-off tourists, but not the whole of the St. Pete community.

But in his letter, Mitchell focuses on Blue Pier’s correlation to the city’s newly finalized downtown waterfront master plan. He points to the emphasis on the city’s parks and green space and moving parking away from the water.

“People aren’t traveling, moving, and staying here because we have an inverted pyramid or a future tower-icon,” Mitchell wrote. “People engage in this city and community because of the livability of our area. The foresight of our forefathers and mothers that designed our continuous waterfront parkland 100 years ago and the current walk-ability and bike-ability of our city, the outdoor cafés, the thriving small business sector made robust by consistent foot traffic, the dolphins along our shoreline — these are what the city of St. Petersburg is known for. These are our icons.”

The downtown waterfront master plan makes numerous calls for shifting parking away from the water’s edge and replacing it with activated space. Examples are North Shore Park, Straub Park, Bayboro and Salt Creek and the South Basin District.

“The DWMP backs up the very thing that many of us are arguing for,” Mitchell said.

That design is considered the environmentalist’s choice. It lacks what supporters of Alma and Destination St. Pete Pier call an icon. That icon is seen by many as something similarly representative and recognizable as the current inverted pyramid. But Mitchell points out the Blue Pier uses green space and environmental features as its icon.

During the Pier Selection Committee meeting that lasted 12 hours last month, Mitchell ran from his home to City Hall to make a ninth-hour plea — not quite literally — for Blue Pier when he saw it was about to get the boot. He showed up at the podium to speak out of breath and even a little sweaty.

“Perhaps not how I would’ve chosen to first stand before you, but I think it showed my investment in the process,” Mitchell wrote to the committee in his letter. “I hope that it also indicated that all age demographics are interested in having a seat at the table.”

Mitchell has launched a petition to build Blue Pier that has broken the 100-supporter mark. He’s also kicked off a Facebook page supporting the design called “CAUS: Citizens for Activated Urban Space.” That page has 74 likes.

Mitchell has a long way to go in his fight that may be too little, too late. Destination St. Pete Pier’s Facebook page has 1,570 likes. The Facebook page for “Build the Pier,” the group that supported the Lens during the previous design debacle, features a photo of Destination St. Pete Pier. It has more than 2,000 likes.

The group is also at a disadvantage because only the three top-ranked teams were asked to answer additional questions in preparation for the meeting on April 23 to issue final rankings.

Regardless, Mitchell’s petition is calling on supporters to show up to that meeting “en masse.”

“We need to take our will to stand up and put our name on this petition and bring our voices to the front of the room. If we can leverage our numbers to actually show up and speak, we will have shown not only the committee, but council, the mayor, and our city what we stand for,” the petition says.

The group hopes to reach at least 200 supporters by April 23 and plans to continue reaching out with a goal of getting at least five supporters each from the existing 100 that have signed the petition.

Destination St. Pete Pier was the top-ranked design on the city’s public survey. Blue Pier was ranked third. Alma, which the selection committee indicated they would likely favor, was ranked fifth. The other design in the top three is the Pier Park. That design was ranked second in the city survey.

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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