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Wengay Newton will ask City Council to hold special election for new St. Pete Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council member Wengay Newton has long been a proponent of saving the city’s iconic inverted pyramid. He was a vocal critic of the Lens and supported former mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford’s petition effort to save the current Pier as well as the successful petition drive by Concerned Citizens that led to the ultimate undoing of the Lens.

Now he’s supporting the only design out of the Pier Selection Committee’s top three picks that reuses and renovates the inverted pyramid. While the committee’s top pick, Pier Park, re-uses the current structure’s caissons and elevator shaft, it would call for demolishing the more than 40-year-old building.

Newton plans to ask his colleagues on council to hit the pause button before voting on the selection committee’s ranking of Pier Park as the top team with Destination St. Pete Pier in second followed by Alma.

“Respectfully requesting the Mayor, City Council and administration defer the Pier selection process and hold a special election to allow the voters to vote on whether they want the Destination Pier or a park,” his memo reads.

Even Newton’s language is telling of his longstanding commitment to preserving the current Pier. He addresses Pier Park as just simply a park -– with a little ‘p’ -– and calls Destination St. Pete Pier, “Destination Pier.” Whether this was intentional or not is giving Newton a lot of credit, but it does draw on a common theme throughout the Pier process. That is, the Pier should be a destination, not just a pier.

Newton lists three rationales for holding a special election and all revolve around public will. First, he points to the city’s public survey in which some 10,000 residents indicated Destination St. Pete Pier as a viable option for a new Pier. The results of this survey are oft cited as being indicative of the public’s top choice. While Destination St. Pete Pier did receive more nods of approval than any other individual design, that does not necessarily indicate it was the top pick of the entire 10,000.

In the city survey, respondents were asked to pick up to three designs they liked. There was no weight given to ranking. This means, some of those 10,000 votes for Destination St. Pete Pier could have come from residents who would otherwise have tapped the renovation as their second or third pick.

However, in Newton’s second point he references an independent phone survey conducted by St. Pete Polls in which respondents still overwhelmingly chose Destination St. Pete Pier as their top pick. That survey did give weight to top and subsequent picks.

In his third rationale, Newton talks about the April 23 meeting in which nearly 100 people showed up to share their thoughts. Newton points out more of those speakers and individuals who turned in comment cards were there in favor of Destination St. Pete Pier. SaintPetersblog kept track of speakers and comment cards and Newton is correct; however, Pier Park was a very close second with the difference in support being merely a handful of individuals.

Regardless, Newton writes, “we should not ignore the will of the voters.”

Newton will make a motion to hold the special election during the City Council meeting on May 7 when council is set to vote the Pier Selection Committee’s ranking up or down. His motion is not likely to be passed and may even die for failure of a second.

Still, the move is revered by Destination St. Pete Pier supporters.

“I wish all elected officials would represent their citizens like Wengay Newton does. He is the only one that actually will speak up,” wrote Lori Butler Denman in a Facebook comment on Newton’s memo.

The memo was posted on the Vote on the Pier Facebook page. The post asks supporters to show up early to the May 7 8:30 a.m. meeting to speak in favor of Destination St. Pete Pier design or to turn in a comment card indicating support. The page has more than 700 followers.

Despite what looks like growing support for striking down Pier Park as the go-to design for St. Pete, City Council is liking to approve the ranking. During a campaign event last night for Ed Montanari, council member Bill Dudley said he would likely vote in favor of the ranking.

“If I had to vote today, I’d be a yes,” Dudley said.

He added, though, a lot can happen in two weeks.

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 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 [email protected]

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