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What the low turnout on voting for a new St. Pete Pier really tells us…

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times ran a column about the St. Pete Pier yesterday by John Romano. He starts it off by saying, “the people have spoken. Or maybe they’ve just cleared their throats.”

It’s a great start to a good column and he makes some very solid points. Turnout for the non-binding vote where St. Pete residents 18 and older had the chance to pick their three favorite pier designs was abysmal. There’s no other way to put it.

Of the nearly 230,000 people eligible, less than 10,000 took the five minutes (less if you’ve ever used a computer) to vote for a design, or two, or three. That’s about 4 percent turnout.

Romano puts that into perspective by relating it to a room of two dozen people in which one of them voted in the process. That’s shocking, yes.

Despite the turnout, one design emerged as the clear winner and that was Destination St. Pete Pier by the St. Pete Design Group. It’s from the architectural firm of Harvard Jolly – the same group that built the inverted pyramid..

Add to that the fact that Wannemacher Jensen Architects are also involved in the project, and you probably have a winning team. For those who hate the Lens, you have Harvard Jolly protecting its masterpiece. For those who loved the Lens, you have the architects who helped design it.

But let’s talk about numbers here for a second and talk about what Romano may have missed. Is there a takeaway from the measly turnout for a new pier? Maybe not if you’re only considering what it means for St. Pete residents’ preferences.

In the 2013 St. Petersburg municipal primary, voter turnout was 31.5 percent. Of 160,000 eligible voters, 50,000 cast a ballot. That turnout is more than impressive for a municipal primary in a nonpresidential year.

It was also the ballot where voters rejected The Lens. While it didn’t happen, turnout in the primary that August was rumored to exceed turnout in the General Election. Turnout for the election between former Mayor Bill Foster and now Mayor Rick Kriseman ended up being only marginally higher at 34.2 percent.

The primary election turnout in 2014? Just 23.4-percent. It was even worse in 2011 when only 14.3 percent of voters cast a ballot. And in the most recent election this month in Tampa, officials rejoiced to see turnout rise above 12 percent.

So, just a little more than a year and a half ago people were so fired up to vote on the fate of the Pier it drove turnout numbers through the roof. Then when they had a chance to weigh in on a new design that intrigue suddenly evaporated.

People are over it. Those 9,631 people who voted during the public survey period are likely about the only ones left in the city who care too much about what’s going on.

Just get it done already is more likely the sentiment.

And the vast majority of that handful of residents who give a hoot want, it appears, Destination St. Pete Pier.

Before The Lens found itself on the chopping block, it was only a handful of naysayers who launched a massive petition drive. By the time they were done, an overwhelming majority of voters took their side and ousted the chosen design.

Nineteen months later, the city is back at the drawing board. If they want to wrap this up once and for all, the Pier Selection Committee would be wise to give the city’s only engaged citizens what they want.

Like it or not.

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

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