The fight for “The Lens” is lost; it’s time for St. Petersburg to move on

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“The Lens” — the controversial, looping design for a new St. Petersburg Pier — is not going to be built.

The referendum to “Stop the Lens” by cancelling the contract with Michael Maltzan for architectural services to build “The Lens” would be approved by the voters of St. Petersburg by an overwhelming margin, were it held today. 

Any campaign to oppose this referendum would not only lose, but is likely not to even materialize beyond the occasional debate online.

This all is is now crystal clear to me and to most of the other supporters of “The Lens.”

After spending the last three weeks meeting with several elected officials in support of “The Lens”, as well as crunching the numbers provided from internal and public polling, it’s clear that public sentiment — already generally opposed to Maltzan’s design — has hardened since the inverted pyramid was shuttered on May 31.

Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council need to move, without any further hesitation, to undoing the damage. Foster and the City Council need to negotiate with the Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg so that the organization’s proposed ordinance to cancel the contract with Maltzan is immediately enacted.

For his part, Michael Maltzan and his local representatives should beg off from working further on this project. Perhaps Maltzan could write an open letter to Foster and the City Council acknowledging that it’s a fait accompli that “The Lens” will not be built, so why not end the charade? 

With the ordinance cancelling “The Lens” contract enacted and an acknowledgement from Maltzan that the project is not moving forward, there would be no need for a vote on the issue. This would allow the mayoral election to be about, well, who is the best choice for Mayor, rather than which candidate is closest to the “Stop the Lens” movement.

Concurrent with these efforts, the supporters of “The Lens”, while still believing in the project, should unilaterally disarm. Anthony Sullivan and his allies, of which I count myself, should disband their pro-Lens political committee.  It’s time to say “Uncle,” fellas.

Sullivan and Co. are acutely aware of the precarious position their side is in in this debate and that’s one of the reasons why the debate should end. 

It may have been possible to stop the “Stop the Lens” referendum had “The Lens” supporters been able to raise and spend a half-million dollars on a political campaign. But that’s not going to happen — not by a longshot.

One anecdote in particular proves this point. Sullivan recently made his case before the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s board of governors. This is the one group whose members could have funded a campaign for “The Lens”, but at the end of the day, very few checks, if any, were forthcoming.

Of course, Sullivan could underwrite a campaign for “The Lens” by himself, but why should he? He’s read the poll numbers and doesn’t want to throw good money after bad.

I, for myself, will no longer be posting in opposition to stopping “The Lens.” I may still defend the merits of the project and I remain opposed to refurbishing the inverted pyramid, but, if there is still a vote, I will cast my ballot to “Stop the Lens.” 

As for the framing of the ballot question to “Stop the Lens,” I still contend that the language should not be changed at all. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent for future citizen initiatives.

But make no mistake — this is no trick — “The Lens” will never be realized.

And with that, all that will be left will be the autopsy of what went wrong.

The blame for the demise of “The Lens” does not fall squarely in the lap of Bill Foster, but he will shoulder much of it. Particularly at the ballot box. His complete lack of leadership on this issue may very well cost Foster a second term.

Staunch defenders of “The Lens”, such as Councilmembers Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner, are not to be criticized for their advocacy of the project. They did what they thought best, but have not been able to convince the public that they were right. This does not make them the evil figures that some have attempted to cast them as, it just means they’ve lost a debate. Oh well.

I’ll leave the rest of the autopsy for another day. Certainly there will be plenty of blame to go around.

But for today, it’s important that those who love St. Petersburg, this seamless city, move rapidly to keep the debate over the future of the new St. Petersburg Pier from tearing the community further apart.

It’s time to stop “The Lens.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.