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Pier Selection Committee Q&A with Pier design teams wraps up, lengthy public comment on deck

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pier Selection Committee has now heard from all three remaining design teams for a new St. Pete Pier.

The teams were asked to answer a number of questions specific to each design ranging from transportation to bathrooms. Pier Selection Committee chair Mike Connors asked that names be drawn out of a hat to choose the order.

A member of the public wearing a hat did the honors of choosing the order. After choosing Destination St. Pete Pier, Alma and Pier Park, in that order, Connors made note of the fact that the public had already been engaged.

This is a key foreshadowing of round two of Thursday’s meeting where some 100 people are expected to weigh in on the designs and the overarching design competition process.

Many residents have argued their voices are being ignored after the committee last month seemed poised to rank Alma in its top spot even though it was near the bottom of the public’s preferences identified during a city-sponsored public survey.

During the Q&A process, committee members were given the opportunity to ask questions of designers. Among the most dominant questions posed to Destination St. Pete Pier, the public’s top pick, surrounded transportation.

The design team, led by prominent Dali Museum architect Yann Weymouth, explained that the width of the Pier approach in their renovation of the existing inverted pyramid allows enough room for both pedestrians and cars safely and effectively.

There were also several questions posed to the Pier Park design team. James Jackson expressed concern over the lack of “destination” dining in that team’s concept. They offer instead casual dining.

However, the team indicated that while they have described it as casual dining it could indeed be considered a destination restaurant and even offer special event services to make the dining option even more financially viable.

There were far fewer questions posed to Alfonso Architects for their Alma proposal. Most of the questions were technical in nature regarding height of the proposed tower and number of air- conditioned floors.

Connors praised the concept for including a dance hall. It’s something he said younger people would enjoy and flock to.

There were some concerns posed about lack of plans for a bathroom in the planned uplands restaurant space. Designers explained that space is just a “shell” and a bathroom would be added by whatever restaurant occupies it.

In all, the first part of the selection committee’s meeting went about an hour over schedule.

In the meantime, members of the public crowded in in preparation to speak and to watch the final ranking unfold. If a decision comes tonight, which is planned, it will likely not be until late.

City Hall council chambers were packed full of members of the public. An overflow room was also full. Early estimates of speakers were at 100.

Traditionally the public gets three minutes each to weigh in on topics. If that isn’t changed and the estimated number of speakers is accurate, public comment alone could last five hours.

At issue is whether the selection committee will choose Alma as its top choice as was previously indicated as a likelihood, or if buzzing conversations over the past month have changed the tenor of conversation.

Destination St. Pete Pier was the public’s top choice. Pier Park came in at number two. Both teams have broad support outside of the survey process.

In perhaps one of the most key moves throughout the process, former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker came out in favor of Destination St. Pete Pier.

Environmentalists have backed Pier Park, citing the need for any new pier to increase green space.

Alma is supported by the Columbia Restaurant Gonzmart family, which used to have a location in the existing Pier.

SaintPetersblog will be live tweeting the story as it unfolds. Follow @JanelleIrwinFL on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates on what’s happening at the meeting.

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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