ST. PETERSBURG - At their first official meeting today, members of Mayor Bill Foster's 828 Alliance task force already felt they were running out of time to determine what happens after an Aug. 27 vote on the future of the city's pier.
The 828 Alliance, a group of supporters and opponents of the Lens design for the new pier, made few decisions, except for electing two co-chairs for the group, reflecting both sides of the Lens debate.
The group also sketched out several agenda items it will pursue at its next meeting Monday, ranging from reviewing the history of what caused construction of the current pier to be delayed in the 1960s to coming up with a list of agreed-upon facts about the structure's condition and options for its future.
Foster emphasized to the group that its goal is not to select a pier design but, rather, to come up with a process for selecting one that will unify the city, regardless of what happens in August, when voters will decide whether the city should scrap its contract for the $50-million Lens project.
"What I'm asking this group to do is to come up with the process for design and selection," he said.
The group chose Ed Montanari and Fred Whaley as its co-chairs.
Montanari was the vice-chair of the original Pier Task Force, and Whaley is the chair of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the anti-Lens group that put the referendum question on the ballot.
A major hurdle for the 828 Alliance will be time.
Whaley said he'll be out of town for two weeks this month and he'd have to decide by the next meeting whether he could devote the time needed to the group.
With busy work schedules and summer vacations, many of the other civic and business leaders in the group voiced similar concerns.
"There may be a lot to do, and time isn't our friend," said Lee Green, president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association, who is acting as moderator for the alliance meetings.
The group agreed to make time for public input, inviting several people who attended today's meeting to speak.
Leonard Smiege, a former City Council candidate, suggested polling residents online about possible pier designs.
"Public input is probably the most fundamental flaw and the Achilles Heel of this process so far," he said.
St. Petersburg resident Jim Chatham agreed that a better communication strategy about pier options is key but said information needed to be disseminated through traditional media that's more accessible to older residents.