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Rick Kriseman is censoring Pier comments on his official Facebook page

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pier has been a passionate source of debate in St. Pete for years. Since 2005, when money was first earmarked for renovations to the inverted pyramid, the voice surrounding the Pier’s future has only grown louder.

In 2013, the Pier seemed poised to get a facelift – removing the decades-old inverted pyramid and replacing it with a modern pedestrian and bike loop over the water called the Lens. But those diehard inverted pyramid fans rallied and the Lens was soundly defeated.

Now Pier Park is the new Lens and the same horde of area residents addicted to what they see as a timeless icon is banding together again.

But it’s getting pretty ugly.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman posted an event on his official Facebook page promoting Pier Park’s call to action for supporters to show support for the design at the May 7 meeting where council is scheduled to vote up or down the Pier Selection Committee’s final ranking placing Pier Park at the top of the list.

“This event page is not city-sponsored but we do encourage you to support The Pier Park at next week’s St. Petersburg City Council meeting. You may also email your council members at council@stpete.org,” Kriseman wrote.

While he did note the event was not “city-sponsored,” presence of the event and his own personal call to action does look an awful lot like an official endorsement.

And that sparked outrage in comments.

“I think that is in very bad taste for the mayor to share this event page,” wrote Destination St. Pete Pier fan Scott Bitterli.

“Poor decision on this post, you know what the residents want through the multiple surveys,” said Lee Palmer.

Palmer used a hashtag that seems to be trending among Pier Park critics and Destination St. Pete Pier fans – #OURPierNotADamnPier.

The hashtag is in reference to the mayor’s statement during a previous City Council meeting prior to the Pier Selection Committee’s final ranking where he encouraged them to support whatever ranking the committee settled on and, perhaps unwisely, said residents just want to “build a damn Pier.”

His support for Pier Park seems to echo that same sentiment – that Pier fatigue is real, especially among the ranks in City Hall.

As of 10 a.m. Thursday morning, there were 39 comments on the mayor’s post. Many of them came from critics.

“Why should we support something that we didn’t have a say or vote on,” asked Tracy Debracy in all caps.

Others pushed talking points gaining traction among the pro-Destination St. Pete camp. John Rose, a frequent commenter on Pier issues, asked the mayor to “please stop misleading residents with misleading photos” pointing to the presence of a restaurant in the Pelican Parking lot and some boat docks not included in the budget for Pier Park.

He questions whether the photo showing those amenities are a “bait and switch” the likes of what happened with the Lens when the public was sold on a design showing numerous “future” additions that could be possible if the City were to pony up some more dough.

Destination St. Pete Pier was forced to remove the image of a $300,000 waterfall in its renderings because it wasn’t included in the budgeted project. However, the difference in the two seems to be in appearance. The waterfall previously shown in Destination renderings was a prominent and immediately noticeable feature – perhaps the most noticeable save for the inverted pyramid itself. In Pier Park’s renderings, the added features aren’t noticeable to the untrained eye.

Still, the group calling attention to that has a point.

Some of the complaints laid out by Destination St. Pete Pier supporters are rebutted by those in support of Pier Park. There’s even a back and forth between some in which Pier Park supporter Neil Young tells them to “pound sand.”

At one point he references those attempting to hold up the process because they’re upset their design didn’t win as “dicks.”

His comment was not removed – possibly because he threw in a follow-up caveat signaling, maybe, he was referring to a person. Or it could be because he was on the mayor’s side.

Regardless, some comments were taken down.

Robert Neff, also a frequent pro-Destination St. Pete supporter, posted a series of comments that were taken down. In one, he asks why Kriseman is “supporting a page that is not an official city page when the council has yet to vote.”

He then posts a self-made graphic showing an overlay of the current Pier and the proposed Pier Park canopy structure demonstrating the proposed structure is far larger than the existing one and questioning whether the large size will fall within FAA guidelines.

“Ama had to adjust,” Neff wrote. “Why doesn’t the Mayor ask the Pier Selection Committee and his city workers why they missed this!”

He continues in what appears to be two more comments based on a screenshot posted on his own Facebook page. In those comments he presses the mayor and city on why the dimensions were not discussed or asked about and why the canopy wasn’t included in the square footage.

None of Neff’s comments are shown in the current comment thread.

Another vocal Destination St. Pete Pier supporter, Nicolas Weathersbee, asked the mayor why comments were being removed.

“As always, offensive comments will be removed,” Kriseman wrote back in his only response in the entire thread.

Weathersbee followed up by saying he’d be taking screen shots of all of his own comments from now on and “you deleting them will look ridiculous.”

As of late Thursday morning it appeared as though no further comments were removed.

Despite all of the noise against Pier Park, Kriseman did have some folks on his side.

“Mr. Mayor, please just do what Mayor Daley in Chicago did in 2003 to Meigs Field – bring in a wrecking ball in the middle of the night and end all this damn squabbling,” wrote Jeff Brown.

As SaintPetersblog noted in an earlier post, that may have just been what Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would have done.

kriseman screenshot facebook

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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