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St. Pete begins to explore what's next after the Lens

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Published:   |   Updated: August 29, 2013 at 06:35 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — With voters having soundly rejected the Lens, the question now before the city is “What now?”

The 828 Alliance, the task force Mayor Bill Foster formed to help answer that question, presented its recommendations to Foster on Wednesday, drawing heavily on the work of the Pier Task Force, whose work several years ago preceded the city's decision to replace the aging inverted pyramid pier with the controversial $50-million Lens project.

The 11-page report the group gave Foster outlines general guidelines for recruiting potential designers for a new pier — or for refurbishing the inverted pyramid, which the city closed in May. A StPetePolls survey conducted Wednesday suggested there was public support for rehabbing the old pier.

Those recommendations call for detailed proposals and recommend extensive opportunities for public input and education through meetings, media campaigns and by including at least five residents on the committee that would ultimately choose a successor to the Lens, which nearly two-thirds of voters rejected.

Although the group recommended the city rely on the work of the Pier Task Force, which had a similar charge in 2009 and 2010, that first group's suggestions did not require firms to submit completed designs or for members of the community to sit on the selection committee. Those two factors became major criticisms of how the city chose the Lens.

Lens critics said city leaders didn't adhere to many of the Pier Task Force's recommendations, which favored a more democratic selection process and included rehabbing The Pier as an option, albeit expensive one. It also called for an international design competition, an iconic structure and an optimal amount of restaurant space — recommendations critics also say the city didn't follow.

“This time it's going to be a much more open process,” said 828 Alliance co-chairman Fred Whaley, one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that collected more than 20,000 signatures to force Tuesday's referendum.

“We hope to get about 30 designs. We hope to boil that down to 10.”

The 828 Alliance — so named because of the need to start reviewing options the day after the Aug. 27 vote, when voters were asked whether the city should cancel its contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture to build the Lens — was comprised of a range of stakeholders, including supporters and critics of the project. At times, its work sessions could be unwieldy.

“The expression herding cats came up a couple of times,” Foster said, joking, Wednesday.

The group had less than two months to formulate recommendations and, at times, looked as though it might not make its deadline — in part, because of the divisive passions that enveloped the Lens debate.

Foster, who supported the Lens, said he gave the report a cursory glance and that it appears to outline an “inclusive process.”

Members of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, many of whom want the city to seriously consider refurbishing The Pier, seemed skeptical about whether the mayor would take the 828 Alliance report to heart.

At least some Lens advocates, meanwhile, still seemed sore over Tuesday's election.

“Our whole position has been, since Day 1, we didn't always agree that the Lens was the best design or the most beautiful design,” said Steve Coderre, a member of the Build the Pier group. “No one's ever going to say that's the design. ... Our whole process was to keep the city moving forward so we wouldn't end up in this room today, where we're now going to start over with this ridiculous document ... which means we are back in the beginning of the process, and we've already spent [several years and millions of dollars].”

Some Lens advocates think the design should still be on the table.

“I would like to see, personally, it considered, going forward, after we spent all of this time and money,” said Tobin Robeck, a co-founder of Build the Pier. “If they do another design competition, why not include it? Maybe it wins that way.”

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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