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Looks like the Times really doesn’t like Destination St. Pete Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times is not siding with St. Pete residents on its choice for a new pier. During recent online voting that concluded earlier this week, Destination St. Pete Pier, the design most resembling the current inverted pyramid, emerged as a clear leader among residents. Of nearly 10,000 residents who participated, more than 6,000 of them selected that design as a favorite.

The Times chose three designs that would “hold the most potential” and Destination St. Pete Pier is number three on that list.

The top three picks mirror the top three in the resident voting, but not in the same order. The Times listed Blue Pier as number one. Blue Pier came in third in online voting. They pick Pier Park at number two; same as residents. Destination St. Pete is the third on the list.

During online voting, residents were given the option to choose up to three designs they liked. There was no way to rate the choices though. So, for instance, if a voter liked Pier Park better than Blue Pier, there was no way to identify which of the two they preferred, just that both were OK. It’s possible that the order in which the Times lists its picks are arbitrary.

However, if the order were to mean nothing it would stand to reason that some method would be apparent. The list isn’t in alphabetic order. Nor is it in order of popularity considering the public voting. It appears to be in order of editorial preference.

In the intro, the editorial says that the Pier Selection Committee should “look toward the future and not be tainted by politics, the local ties of some design teams or the irrelevant results of an unscientific online survey with a tiny response.”

This is a dig on Destination St. Pete Pier on a number of fronts. First, this assertion dismisses the priority of voters who chose the St. Pete Design Group’s plan to renovate the existing pier. It also makes reference to the local ties of design teams. Destination St. Pete Pier’s St. Pete Design Group consists of Yann Weymouth, who designed the new Dali Museum, Harvard Jolly, the firm that designed the inverted pyramid and Wannemacher Jensen architects who designed the Lens. Both are local firms. Former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker also has a stake in the design.

The editorial preference toward Blue Pier is evident not just in its first spot on the list, but in the editorial’s overall language. The Times describes Blue Pier as an expansion of “farsighted leaders” who created the downtown waterfront parks.

They point out the design brings the pier closer to land and creates a lagoon that draws attention and expands and enhances the overlooked Spa Beach. Blue Pier would also carry the lowest subsidy – a problem noted during the previous design competition in which leaders were reluctant to build a new pier heavy on retail space that could be costly for the city over the long run.

There are some drawbacks noted such as possible permitting issues and the need to get rid of any plans for mangroves.

The Times then goes on to describe Pier Park with a little less enthusiasm. Instead of describing the design as some sort of piggy back on smart leaders of the past, the Times says Pier Park “nicely incorporates” a structure at the Pier head, like the inverted pyramid is now, with attractions along the approach. The current approach offers little more than sight seeing and unproductive fishing.

They describe some of the new amenities the design would provide – water play areas for kids, shaded nature walk and rental space – while reusing the current cassions and stair and elevator cores. But the editorial board is quick to point out potential problems including difficult permitting and the second highest subsidy of the seven designs still in the running.

At number three, the Times’ language for Destination St. Pete Pier grows even less flattering. In the first sentence, the Times points out that people who like the current Pier will love this design, but it then goes on to describe the current inverted pyramid as outdated. St. Pete Design Group would reuse almost the entire structure.

“This is what compromising to please everyone looks like,” the Times writes in perhaps the most flattering sentence describing Destination St. Pete Pier. “An unfortunate mix of old Pier wrapped by a scaled-down version of the more graceful Lens that was rejected by voters.”

With words like “scaled down” and “unfortunate,” it’s hard to imagine why Destination St. Pete Pier is even on the Times’ list.

If that’s not enough, the editorial board points out that the design would require a larger subsidy that the 10-year average for the “old, failed Pier.”

They call some residents’ nostalgia toward the inverted pyramid “stubborn” and say it doesn’t solve the “fundamental problems that have plagued the Pier for four decades.”

They even add some contingencies to the plan if the selection committee picks it. The group’s plan would allow cars to drive along the Pier approach. That, they say, would have to be nixed.

The Pier Selection Committee is announcing its pick on Friday with a ranking of its top three.

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 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

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