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Pier Park critics’ points are a stretch at best

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Don’t be fooled by misinformation being shared by Pier Park critics. Over the past several hours, numerous posts have appeared on the Vote on the Pier Facebook page that contain incorrect, misleading or overly dramatized postulations.

A post Wednesday night asks, “who is the lead on the Pier Park design?” The post points out that ASD, the local architecture firm working on the project, is a “progressive interior design” firm and the larger firm, Rogers Partners, is not local.

That’s mostly correct, but unfairly attaches negative connotations to the design team as a whole. First, ASD does offer interior design services. However, they also do plenty of architectural work as well. The company did work on renovations to Al Lang Stadium for the Rowdies, for example.

ASD took immediate interest in the Pier project, but recognized their limitations as a local firm. That’s why they partnered with Rogers Partners, a firm based in New York that has completed large-scale projects worldwide. The idea was to combine the Rogers Partners experience on over-water, large-scale projects, with the local knowledge of ASD.

For now Rogers Partners is overseeing most of the design phase, which, contrary to what opponents would say, is still in its infancy. ASD is working in the background with a handful of people dealing with local permitting offices to ensure components of the design concept can be permitted, have the space necessary and maintain the programmatic elements laid out in the initial design phase.

As the design becomes more solidified and construction nears, ASD will shift to a more front-seat role in overseeing the construction phase.

The post laments two points echoed throughout the entire process – that Mayor Rick Kriseman back-stepped on his commitment to preferring a local design team and that the team chosen is not the most qualified.

This post is taking the components of the Pier Park design team and ripping them apart as individual entities. That’s not an accurate assessment of how the team works. They are working together to provide a seamless process from beginning to end. ASD fulfills the local component and offers inside knowledge of Florida architecture and architectural processes. Rogers Partners has the résumé.

There is also Ken Smith landscape design working with the team to ensure the expansive park setting proposed in design concepts is created adequately.

Another post shows a screen shot of an email dated March 10 in which Sherry McBee, the city’s administrator of Leisure services, addresses concerns voiced about the Pier Park design.

One of those concerns addressed the sloped lawn planned for Pier Park. The worry is shown in black, the response in blue. McBee points out that any maintenance of the lawn and enhanced landscaping within the design would be the responsibility of the “private entity,” not the city. The email suggests that the city would only be responsible for the structures.

Also listed are concerns over a lagoon concept.

The Vote on the Pier post asks whether Pier Selection Committee chair Mike Connors shared those concerns with the rest of the committee. Whether he shared that particular email or not is unclear; however, the general concerns addressed in the message were discussed at great length during public deliberations during the selection process.

The post laments that Connors, who is now retired from his post as Public Works Administrator, played an unfair role in driving the selection process. The same point has been made by critics of Pier Park for months, but it is now moot. The Pier Park design was approved by City Council. Subsequently the contract with ASD/Rogers Partners was also approved. That is done and over.

In a later post showing the same email, the poster asks why the information was not shared with the public. Again, these concerns were addressed in multiple public meetings in further detail than were even addressed in the email – along with several others. The email itself is also a matter of public record and, thus, available to the public.

What Vote on the Pier is not sharing with its 750 followers is that any concerns over the viability of design elements will continue to be vetted by engineers, architects, permitting experts and others with those who have specific knowledge of the various components.

Yes, certain elements shown in the design concept approved by the city may be altered between now and the time shovels actually hit the dirt, but that is a normal design process, not some sort of dupe by the city or the team hired to carry out the process.

According to Rogers Partners, the goal is to maintain all the programmatic elements provided in the concept – key word here is concept. If in further research and planning certain elements have to be moved, changed in scale or otherwise altered, that will be addressed.

What the public saw during the design phase were conceptual drawings, not a finished product. That was not kept a secret. A design concept is not the same as an architectural blue print.

A comment on one of the posts references Pier Park as “a disaster waiting to happen.” Not only is that inflammatory, it’s also naïve and shortsighted. There are certified professionals going through each and every detail of the Pier Park design with a fine-tooth comb to ensure Pier Park is a success.

If by “disaster” Linda Newcomb means she’s just not going to like it, consider there are more than 250,000 St. Pete residents. The anti-Pier Park group has just 750 page likes with only a handful of people passionate enough to actually comment on the repetitive rhetoric shared on it. If that’s representative of the forces at play trying to stop Pier Park from being erected, it’s a safe bet the city doesn’t have much to worry about.

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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