ST PETERSBURG - As it considers how the city should move forward after next month's referendum on the controversial Lens project, the 828 Alliance task force is reviewing past options.
On Thursday's agenda was another controversial proposal: renovating the inverted pyramid building and its aging approach.
That idea was vetted by the last city-chartered group to study options for the pier. The Pier Advisory Task Force estimated that saving the inverted pyramid, which was built in 1973, and its approach, built decades earlier for the Million Dollar Pier, would cost $87 million. The task force concluded it would be better - and cheaper - to build something new. Ultimately, the city elected to build the $50-million Lens project, after an international design competition.
Despite the previous task force's finding, members of the 828 Alliance said Thursday they need to at least consider renovating the old pier, given the amount of public support that idea has. More than 20,000 people signed petitions to save the inverted pyramid, though the City Council rejected that call.
"We had 20,000 people that went and signed a petition," said Fred Whaley, who participated in Thursday's meeting by telephone. "It might not have been exactly correct, but they still did sign it.
"So there's obviously a big group of our citizens that think that's a good idea," said Whaley, chairman of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that collected enough signatures to force the referendum on the Lens. "So I think it needs to be vetted if we're going to try to bring people together."
That could be a tall order for the Alliance, which consists of both supporters and opponents of the Lens, along with other community leaders. The Lens project has split the city, as did the proposal to save the inverted pyramid. Last year, after the City Council rejected calls to save the old pier, mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford sued the city and has appealed a judge's ruling saying the city can demolish the structure.
The task force needs to work quickly. It needs to produce two recommendations - one outlining a plan should voters reject the Lens and one should they endorse the project. Mayor Bill Foster has said he wants the recommendations by Aug. 28, a day after the vote.
"If the Lens is approved, what steps do we take to build a consensus around it?" said Will Michaels, a task force member who supports the Lens.
"A lot of this has been done before. We're not reinventing the wheel here. We're maybe tweaking it in terms of recommendations for a new process if the Lens is not approved."