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Pier Park criticism is reminiscent of 2013 Lens saga

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Supporters of Destination St. Pete Pier are gearing up for a fight Thursday as the City Council prepares to approve another design, Pier Park, instead of their favorite.

Last month, the Pier Selection Committee ranked Destination St. Pete Pier behind Pier Park in its final ranking, even though a series of public surveys showed broad support for Destination.

Since that vote, frustration has spiraled into outrage with a flurry of attacks on both the Pier Park design and the city’s process as a whole.

In an email sent to SaintPetersblog last week, Tom Lambdon, chair of the group Vote on the Pier, laid out a series of arguments against Pier Park.

Lambdon’s chief complaint is that graphics being circulated by the Pier Park design team in the media, on social media and even on the city’s own website contain misleading images showing features that are not included in the available funding.

“We need to REINFORCE HOW BADLY this selection process was actually handled – at the last two meetings in particular – as Pier Park should have never even made it into the final eight teams – due to everything they later reduced or eliminated from their original proposal — still being shown as complete EVERYWHERE – even on the City’s website,” Lambdon wrote in an email.

He included a series of Pier Park graphics with his own overlays pointing out disparities. In several of the graphics Lambdon points out two spaces that are currently used for parking as potential restaurant space. This is not included in the budget.

Lambdon Pier Park lot

In another graphic Lambdon questions the placement of full-grown trees in the design graphics begging the question of whether or not the budget includes full-grown trees.

Pier Park trees

There’s also a broad aerial graphic showing an overview of the entire Pier from the uplands all the way to the Pier head. Lambdon slashes through several areas in red including part of the approach from Second Avenue, a dock or bridge connecting the approach to the mainland and, again, the restaurant space. In that same graphic he questions whether or not a large jetty would require additional permitting and alleges the existing Spa Beach is removed under the Pier Park Plan.


But supporters of Pier Park are firing back about the allegations.

First of all, in most of Pier Parks’ graphics the Phase 1 and Phase 2 items are clearly outlined with a prominent key located in the bottom right corner.

They also point out that many of the features included in graphics are merely concepts.

And as for the city’s website, when viewers attempt to look at the designs a disclaimer pops up informing them the graphics were submitted and possibly changed since.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 2.57.49 PM

“PLEASE NOTE: The images in this document were submitted on 12/15/14 and have changed since submission,” the popup reads before reviewing the original concept document.

But, as Lambdon points out, the Destination St. Pete Pier design team was forced to remove a $300,000 waterfall from its graphics because that feature was not included in the budget.

So, why not make Pier Park do the same?

According to supporters, the images for Pier Park that include future possible projects are clearly delineated by a white dotted line or the verbal key. That type of labeling is difficult with a waterfall.

Also, to look at the renderings without Lambdon’s overlays, many of the “extras” are hard to identify.

For example, the restaurant space Pier Park critics point out is included in the team’s graphics but not part of the $33 million construction budget as shown in an aerial image and is hardly noticeable as anything other than a rooftop. It’s not colored to draw attention or even shown with a slope or other decorative façade. At quick glance, it could just as easily be a parking lot.

The waterfall in Destination St. Pete Pier’s renderings was one of the most prominent visual draws.

Destination Pier

Lambdon also questions the feasibility of emergency vehicles or trams on the Pier Park boardwalk, noting that it is not wide enough to accommodate those and pedestrians. He suggests a traffic study is needed.

And he wonders if the structure proposed at the Pier head of Pier Park could require replacement before its 75-year lifespan is up due to the exposed galvanized steel and fabric makeup. He also writes that it would serve as a good lightning rod system.

The back and forth between Pier Park Supporters and Destination St. Pete Pier/inverted pyramid lovers is reminiscent of the same debate that unfolded during the Lens process.

Critics of the Lens then made similar claims – the materials planned for the Lens wouldn’t be able to withstand nearly constant saltwater sea spray, there were too many permitting issues, it was a sidewalk to nowhere, the public was sold on features they would never see built. The list goes on and on.

At one point, just like with Pier Park, someone even suggested the Lens design was bad because it was a target for bird droppings. The question was begged – who is going to clean it up and how much is it going to cost?

That last point is perhaps the most telling testament of this ongoing debate. Supporters of the inverted pyramid will stop at nothing to protect a structure they see as an iconic symbol of St. Pete’s downtown waterfront.

The difference between now and 2013, though, is inverted pyramid supporters now have the failed Lens debacle under their belt to point to and a series of public surveys showing broad support for a design that simply renovates and re-imagines what the city already has.

The Pier Selection Committee took a giant step in formulating a compromise. In the citywide surveys Pier Park was the runner-up behind Destination St. Pete. It was clearly a compromise aimed at showing the public their voices were heard.

But that compromise is not enough for people seeking to save the current Pier. City Council is faced with a tough choice on Thursday. They seemed poised to ignore the will of Lambdon and his crew, but they face certain backlash if they do.

The question now facing City Council is not whether another petition effort will be underway – it already is – rather they must weigh whether that effort will be worth it.

There isn’t a crystal ball to tell whether Lambdon can draw the same outrage stirred in 2013, but one thing is clear – he’s damn well going to try.

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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