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Pier Park negotiations to go before City Council this week

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s been 60 days since St. Pete City Council approved Pier Park as the top-ranked design to replace the aging inverted pyramid. The decision paved the way for negotiations with the design team.

According to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s communications director, Ben Kirby, a contract will go before City Council at its meeting this Thursday.

The council’s decision paved the way for architects with ASD/Rogers Partners and Urban Designers/KSLA to have a seat at the negotiating table.

The city said the negotiation process would take from 45-60 days, yet nothing had been uttered about progress since a series of email blasts following the City Council vote updating residents that no dirt would be turned on a new Pier until 2017.

In an email dated May 21 from Kirby, a timeline listed negotiations running from May-July. It did not indicate when in July.

A conversation once buzzing with back and forth digs between Pier Park supporters and inverted pyramid preservationists has grown all but silent.

On June 18 an update on negotiations answered simply, “think it’s going well.”

But the question remains, in this later rather than sooner progress – what’s the holdup?

The team behind Pier Park fought a hard battle to win the chance to even sit at the negotiating table. Could they have been playing hardball?

Or is it the city that dug in to ensure any possible complaints coming from inverted pyramid enthusiasts were squashed before they even began.

While not much has been heard about a Pier Park counter insurgency, it is quietly brewing. A petition is circulating in an effort to place a referendum on the ballot before St. Pete voters asking them to make changes to the downtown waterfront subject to voter approval.

In a post dated June 25, the pro-inverted pyramid Facebook page “Wow the Lens Sucks” asks supporters to donate to the VoteOnThePier effort on their website. They need nearly 16,000 signatures to force a referendum and are trying to raise $20,000 to make it happen.

“We are confident Pier Park will never be built; this is more about preserving our perfectly re-usable Pier,” the post read. “You can also email City Council at council@stpete.org and tell them to reject the contract with Pier Park, and the City will be forced to negotiate with #2 team, Destination St. Pete Pier. Last call, folks.”

While it’s easy to dismiss criticism of Pier Park, the city is potentially facing Lens 2.0. In 2013 voters soundly rejected the previous design chosen by City Council to replace the current Pier. Even though the anti-Lens camp was chock full of inverted pyramid preservationists, they were successful in selling the Lens design as one that was full of holes, would be costly to taxpayers over the long run and didn’t fit the downtown aesthetic.

Those similar arguments have already begun with Pier Park.

Groups opposing the Pier Park design are already calling attention to potential permitting issues. They’re calling it a “concrete park.” They’re criticizing designers because they don’t live here, though ASD architects do have a Tampa office.

The City Council meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The Pier contract is the first item under “reports.” It asks council to approve $5.2 million from the downtown redevelopment district fund to the general capital improvement fund.

In addition to the contract with the design team, council members will also vote on a $3.1 million contract with Sonny Glasbrenner, Inc. to demolish the current Pier. Council will also approve or reject a construction manager at risk agreement with a guaranteed maximum price to be paid to Skanska USA Building Inc. for preconstruction and construction of a new St. Pete Pier.

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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