A group aiming to stop the city from replacing The Pier with a $50-million structure known as the Lens announced today it is hiring a Los Angeles firm to gather petitions supporting a vote on The Pier.
Enlisting PCI Consultants will speed up efforts to gather 15,000 petitions and ask voters if they want to scuttle the project, said Bud Risser, a spokesman for Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, standing among supporters wearing “Stop the Lens” shirts at Vinoy Park, with The Pier in the distant background.
“By engaging them, we are certain that we are not only going to complete our petition drive, we’re going to do it in an expeditious manner,” he said.
Organizers say they already have half of the signatures they need, and hiring a third-party firm will remove some of the headaches of trying to qualify for the ballot. Donations will pay for PCI’s fee, which organizers said still needs to be worked out.
“We find 90-something percent of the people we approach sign [the petition], but it’s just hard to put in that much effort. Everyone has a day job,” said Fred Whaley, chairman of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg.
TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan, an outspoken supporter of the Lens proposal, doesn’t think a lack of spare time is the real reason behind the group’s decision to overhaul its signature-gathering approach.
“If you bring in a professional petition firm, I would assume you’re having problems gathering signatures,” he said. “There have been so many petitions, it’s hard to know what’s valid. ... I think people of St. Pete have had enough and are confused.”
The Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg petition drive comes on the heels of another effort, VoteOnThePier.com, which gathered more than 20,000 signatures of people wanting to save The Pier. Those petitions, though, didn’t meet technical requirements for a citizen initiative, and the City Council voted against a referendum in August. Despite a lawsuit aimed at forcing a public vote, the city is moving forward with plans to close The Pier in May.
This won’t be the first time PCI has had boots on the ground in Florida. The firm has worked on two Fair Districts Florida campaigns, which sought to force lawmakers to draw voting districts in a more straightforward manner, as well as the 2002 class-size amendment. The firm lists The Nature Conservancy, the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters among its best-known clients.
PCI officials are expected here next week to take over the petition drive, with the help of local volunteers, said Risser. He expects PCI to make quick work of the job.
“Inside two months we should be finished,” he said.