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Young business leaders emerge with late-hour Pier Park support

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In response to former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker’s op-ed supporting the Destination St. Pete Pier design, a group of young professionals has emerged to offer a new dissenting voice.

“The way that this debate has transpired in my eyes, is it really comes down to the old generation of St. Pete verses the new generation of St. Pete,” said David Vega, a technology manager for Wells Fargo.

According to the group of six men, all young leaders in the business community, Destination St. Pete Pier represents a booming preference among older residents, but it doesn’t represent the desires of younger residents who enjoy more active functions in outdoor space.

“Young people want green space,” Vega said. Not, “something to drive up to only to turn around and go home.”

To this group, Alma is not an option despite the apparent leanings of the Pier Selection Committee. They note in a letter that selecting Alma is an option that would set the city back another two years.

This is reference to the likelihood that such a choice would likely lead to either rejection by St. Pete City Council or by a forced referendum launched by dissenters of which there are plenty.

Instead, Justin Bean, Canaan McCaslin, Nate Matro, Brooks Wallington, Cal Webster and Vega are pushing for Pier Park.

“If you want a new pier you should support Pier Park because it’s something entirely new,” said Bean, a business development and sales manager at Reusable Transport Packaging.

The Pier Selection Committee will choose between three designs during a meeting Thursday. Alma, the design that seemed to come out on top based on straw polls taken during the previous meeting, includes a tower as the iconic structure at the Pier head. It would also include restaurant space on the Pier uplands rather than at the head, a key sticking point for the Columbia Restaurant Gonzmart family.

Destination St. Pete Pier would renovate the current inverted pyramid to prolong what many long time residents see as one of the city’s most iconic structures. It would ad a series of overlapping decks surrounding the structure and allow private vehicular access to the Pier head.

Pier Park provides a sort of extension of the city’s park system with kayak rentals, outdoor event space, porch swings and even concert space. It would reuse the current Pier’s caissons and elevator shaft, but reinvent the destination.

Pier Park was the top choice of selection committee members Gary Mitchum and Michael Meidel both ranked Pier Park at the top of their lists. Two other committee members, Mike Connors and Melanie Lenz, ranked Alma first. The difference in preference between the two was in the fact that the other two votes for Pier Park ranked that design in fourth place, while the two remaining votes for Alma were in third.

Of the three designs, Pier Park was second behind Alma and in front of Destination St. Pete Pier. It’s the design that has been the least talked about in the media because the debate has been largely shaped around Alma and Destination.

But Pier Park came in second in the city’s non-binding public survey. The results of that survey have been a sticking point for supporters of Destination St. Pete Pier who argue a vote in favor of Alma is an affront to the public will.

Choosing Pier Park would seem to solve that argument by instead opting for the public’s runner-up.

The six young professionals aren’t the only ones coming out in support of Pier Park. A group of Blue Pier supporters has endorsed that as their preferred pick among the three and the Suncoast Sierra Club, while not officially endorsing a design, has also floated that concept as the most desirable of the final three.

The Pier Selection Committee will meet at 3:00 p.m. Thursday to hear from design teams’ responses to previously sent questions. They’ll reconvene again at 6:00 p.m. to hear from the public and debate the final ranking.

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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