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The Pier saga continues as final ranking is postponed

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pier Selection Committee has postponed a final decision on a design for the new St. Pier. The indecision came after a marathon 8-hour meeting ended in gridlock over whether or not to rank the public’s most popular choice at number three on the list.

During a public survey then ended earlier this month, Destination St. Pete emerged as a clear favorite. But after hours of presentations and several rounds of eliminating other designs, Destination was last on the list of three with another design, Alma, sitting in the committee’s top spot.

Alma was most championed by St. Pete Public Works Administrator Mike Connors.

“If and when a renovated pyramid will be completed, it will have been in existence for 50 years,” Connors said.

That means that if Destination St. Pete or Prospect Pier were chosen as the committee’s preferred design and construction ultimately completed, the inverted pyramid will live to be 125-years old.

Connors, who chairs the committee and is the only member of city staff to have a voting roll in the selection process, indicated early in the meeting that he was leaning away from the public’s top pick, Destination St. Pete.

But dozens of people lined up to speak during public comment on behalf of the St. Pete design group’s plan to renovate the current inverted pyramid. Ed Montanari, a likely City Council candidate and Destination St. Pete supporter, urged the committee on three separate occasions to postpone a final vote until the group could get more information from architects and answer looming questions.

However, the only question still in the air seemed to be the promise of returning the issue to the ballot box if the committee rejected the popular Destination St. Pete for one of the designs ranked by the public third last on the city’s survey and dead last in an independent poll conducted by St. Pete Polls.

“I don’t want to go through another whole process where a community is split,” said Montanari.

Other speakers echoed that sentiment noting that those who voted in the city’s survey are likely the voters most engaged in what happens going forward.

When the Lens was killed by voters in 2013 it was because a small group of people led a massive grassroots effort to rally opposition against what many of them called a sidewalk to nowhere.

Now supporters of Destination St. Pete are from both sides of that debate – both supporters of the Lens and those who rallied to cancel the contract.

The team behind the design consists of architects from both schools of thought. It’s being worked on by the firm that built the current inverted Pyramid – Harvard Jolly – and the one that designed the Lens – Wannemacher Jensen.

Whatever design is ultimately put at the number one spot by the selection committee will be voted with a simple up or down by city council. That vote was scheduled for April 2.

The meeting to continue debate over Alma, Pier Park and Destination St. Pete will be scheduled by staff at a date yet to be determined. Depending on what that meeting is scheduled, the city’s entire timeline could be thrown for a loop.

Any way you slice it, the process is turning out to be far messier than the city had hoped. You’d be hard pressed to find any insiders who are surprised.

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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