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Lens opponents look to St. Pete pier referendum

Tribune staff
Published:   |   Updated: April 10, 2013 at 11:38 AM
ST. PETERSBURG“If -

Now that opponents of The Lens say they have enough petition signatures to force a vote, they’re looking to gain support in the coming election by pressuring the city to keep The Pier open.

An open letter published by Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg today states the group’s petition campaign, Stop the Lens, has garnered more than 16,000 signatures, which is more than the 15,652 required, and that it expects 1,000 more in case any are ruled invalid.

The group is calling on city leaders to delay plans to close The Pier on May 31, along with dozens of businesses, arguing that they will be responsible if the Inverted Pyramid pier is destroyed before the vote, expected to take place in August.

The near certainty of a vote that could jeopardize The Lens project has led some City Council members to push for delaying The Pier’s demolition until the referendum question is resolved.

Concerned Citizens’ new message appears designed to gain stronger support among members of VoteonthePier, whose petition drive to save the Inverted Pyramid building failed. Last week, a judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the city’s refusal to validate and act on a petition the group submitted last year.

The letter from Concerned Citizens also seems intended to blunt criticism from some City Council members and Lens supporters, who have said the petition will halt progress on the necessary redevelopment of the pier, leaving a gaping hole in St. Petersburg’s waterfront after demolition of the Inverted Pyramid.

the Lens is stopped, that we have this derelict structure sitting out there unused, if that happens, that is purely the fault of the elected leaders of the City of St. Petersburg not Stop the Lens,” said Bill Ballard, of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, who wrote the letter.

City leaders, including Mayor Bill Foster, have insisted that closure of the Inverted Pyramid is inevitable and that residents had ample time to weigh in on potential replacements before the City Council chose The Lens project last year.

While engineers have said the pier’s approach is deteriorating and must be replaced soon, it could last safely until 2015 or 2016, city officials have conceded.

Demolishing The Pier this summer – and before voters weigh in on The Lens – is a risky prospect, said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse.

“I think we’re going to have it resolved one or the other what we’re doing by the end of August, and I would be open to talking about leaving The Pier open or not spending any more money until it’s resolved,” said Nurse, who signed the Stop the Lens petition.

Councilman Wengay Newton said he plans to put an item on the council’s next meeting, asking his colleagues to postpone the May 31 closing date and extend business leases on The Pier on a month-to-month basis until the referendum vote.

Newton has signed the petition and was an early supporter of the VoteonthePier petition, too.

Other City Council members, including Leslie Curran, have criticized the prospect of further debate about The Lens, saying it would waste years of planning done by the city.

Nurse said he doesn’t believe there will be enough support on City Council to delay closing The Pier.


jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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