Why is St. Petersburg listening to Tampa about the future of its Pier?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Trouble for the Destination St. Pete Pier design for a new pier began last Monday when the Tampa Bay Times editorial board essentially weighed in against the concept, despite it being the top choice of residents in the city’s official online survey and a recent poll conducted by St. Pete Polls.

“This is what compromising to please everyone looks like,” is how the editorial describes the DSPP design. “An unfortunate mix of old Pier wrapped by a scaled-down version of the more graceful Lens that was rejected by voters.”

The editorial also says that the Pier Selection Committee should “look toward the future and not be tainted by politics, the local ties of some design teams or the irrelevant results of an unscientific online survey with a tiny response.”

Well, the Pier Selection Committee obviously listened to the Times and other critics of the DSPP design, almost removing it from consideration at the conclusion of Friday’s marathon meeting when the committee was suppose to make a final recommendation. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and a final decision was postponed.

But that was only after it became clear that the un-elected Pier Selection Committee was determined to defy the public’s will and choose as its final recommendation the Alma design, which only ranked fifth in the city’s online survey.

Alma was most loudly championed by City of St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Mike Connors, which means this is likely a or the top choice of Mayor Rick Kriseman. Connors wouldn’t have done what he did on Friday without at least a nod and a wink, if not tacit approval, of Kriseman.

Alma is the design of Alfonso Architects of Tampa. It was clear from watching the twelve hours of discussion by the Selection Committee that the city across the bridge held undue sway over some of the deciders.

This begs the question, why is St. Petersburg listening to Tampa about the future of the Pier?

Sure, the Selection Committee includes St. Pete-firsters like Gary Mitchum and Kai Warren, but neither of them are the alpha-types who can steer a committee the way Connors obviously can.

Other members of the committee seem to be going out of their way to ignore the will of St. Pete’s residents, to dismiss the DSPP’s ties to the local community, and award a Tampa architectural firm the rights to this project.

Here’s looking at you, Melanie Lenz. I know your organization, the Tampa Bay Rays, doesn’t understand the sensitivity of these issues, but that doesn’t mean you have to be as indifferent also.

Here’s looking at you, James Jackson Jr., the architect for the city of Tampa. Why you were named to this committee is beyond me, but if it isn’t a conflict of interest for you to vote for a bid by your city’s most prominent architectural partner, I don’t know what is.

Here’s looking at Casey Gonzmart and the rest of the Gonzmart family, which, despite operating a Columbia Restaurant at the now-closed pier, is all but synonymous with the City of Tampa.

A Gonzmart telling a St. Pete committee what it should do is like Kathleen Ford testifying before the Tampa City Council. (Actually, it was Ford who may have saved the day for the DSSP design after she pushed back against Gonzmart’s criticism of the proposal.)

Don’t get me wrong; Bob Buckhorn and the rest of the Tampa’s city fathers aren’t plotting how to takeover the Pier. They’re doing busy wooing the Rays to do that.

But this is yet another example of those without St. Pete’s best interests at heart attempting to make a decision about what’s best for St. Pete.

Those who truly care about the ‘burg should not sit idly by while this happens.

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.