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There’s a third design in the Pier debate no one seems to be talking about – meet Pier Park

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Through all of the debate surrounding the Pier, there’s one team missing from the conversation.

“We received the most first-place votes by the selection committee,” said Ken Cowart, the local architect for ASD Architects, the team behind the design Pier Park.

During its 12-hour meeting on March 20, the Pier Selection Committee took a straw vote of four designs – the Pier Park, Alma, Destination St. Pete Pier and Prospect Pier.

While that straw vote didn’t put Pier Park in its top spot – that honor went to Alma – the design did get the most number one votes. What kept it out of the top ranking was a couple of number four votes. Regardless, the ASD/Rogers Partners design came in at number two on the committee’s straw poll.

The design also ranked number two on the city’s public survey and two separate St. Pete Polls surveys.

Despite its apparent popularity among not only the public, but also the selection committee there’s has been little to no talk of Pier Park in the ensuing discussions.

The debate has centered on Destination St. Pete Pier, the public’s top-ranked design, and Alma. The selection committee seemed poised to put that design in its top spot despite it falling at number five on the city’s survey, dead last on a St. Pete Polls survey and with less than nine percent approval on a third survey.

This outraged Destination St. Pete supporters who are crying foul at the city’s apparent disregard of public input.

“We’re trying to stay above and let the politics play out how they need to play out,” Cowart said when asked why his team wasn’t making more noise. “No one’s Talking about our design because everyone likes our design. There’s nothing to rally against.”

But the squeaky mouse tends to get the cheese. Alma has emerged as the controversial choice. It faces rejection by City Council as members face mounting pressure from the public. Destination St. Pete Pier seems to be the red-headed step-child of the selection committee’s fearless leader, Mike Connors. You’d think all that would leave Pier Park standing tall in the on-deck corner.

Maybe they are. Maybe by keeping their nose out of the insider baseball bickering pitting team Alma against team Destination St. Pete, Pier Park comes out looking like an obvious winner, unscathed and un-bloodied.

Or maybe they’ll just fade into the darkness.

Either way, Cowart is proud of the team’s plan. It was created with versatility in mind so that in the decades to come the pier doesn’t lose relevance. The design can adapt over time and its programmatic elements can change with its users.

“We don’t know 20 yeas from now what the next big thing is going to be,” Cowart said. “It hasn’t been invented yet.”

“We’re a continuation of the waterfront master plan,” Cowart explained.

It links up with existing transportation routes and pedestrian and bike paths and leaves open future possibilities like space to accommodate high-speed ferry service. That’s something that’s been batted around in Tampa.

He said the plan brings people to the water. There would be opportunities to interact with the Bay at Spa Beach. Residents and visitors could fish from docks or dock their boat at either the planned transient boat slips or docks for larger vessels further out on the pier.

The Pier Park meets most of the elements targeted throughout the pier working groups. It contains very few potential permitting issues and though the subsidy is expected to be higher than the historical average, that’s something Cowart says can also adapt.

Like Alma and Destination St. Pete Pier, the Pier Park’s fate also hangs in the balance. The teams are waiting for a final meeting to be scheduled by the selection committee to assign its rankings. That meeting is expected to be put on the calendar some time this week.

City Council was set to vote on the ranking at its meeting this Thursday, but that’s not going to happen. That vote will more likely come later in April.

In the meantime, the selection committee said they were going to send questions to teams prior to a meeting. Cowart said his team has not received any questions yet, but they have asked that whatever questions are sent to the other two teams also get sent to his team.

City Council will vote on the ranking. If they approve it, that authorizes the mayor to begin negotiations with the top-ranked team. If those negotiations fail, the process would move on to the second-ranked team.

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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