ST PETERSBURG - One year after the St. Petersburg City Council elected not to put the question of refurbishing The Pier to a public vote, those fighting demolition of the 40-year-old inverted pyramid are trying to build momentum for their cause.
On Friday, about a dozen supporters of those efforts, including mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford and Councilman Wengay Newton, chided supporters of the Lens, the futuristic project chosen to replace The Pier, for circulating what they characterized as misinformation ahead of an Aug. 27 referendum on canceling the contract to build the Lens.
While voters won't be asked whether they want to save the inverted pyramid, that option could be up for consideration if a majority votes to cancel the city's contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the California company behind the controversial Lens design.
Saving the old pier has played a role in the mayoral race, helping Ford to an early lead in the polls, though the former councilwoman has lately surrendered that to incumbent Bill Foster. Ford sued the city to stop demolition of The Pier until a referendum was held on its future.
The task force charged with developing a plan for moving forward after the Aug. 27 vote, the 828 Alliance, also has spent time discussing whether to reopen the inverted pyramid building until the city decides what to do about a new pier and also whether refurbishing The Pier would be an option should voters reject the Lens.
"Well, that could be one of the choices," City Council Chairman Karl Nurse said. "Assuming the voters vote this down, I think you have to take a look at that.
"There's clearly a chunk of folks who would like to find a way to make it work."
While cost estimates for re-opening and refurbishing The Pier max out at $87 million, advocates say there's a way it can be done with $50 million or less - namely, by narrowing the approach to the old structure. That $87-million price tag is just one of the misleading claims Lens supporters have been circulating, they say.
"They're just trying to eliminate Pier refurb from the discussion," said Tom Lambdon, founder of Vote on the Pier, the group that collected more than 20,000 signatures asking for a referendum on restoring The Pier.
Lambdon said he still receives petitions in the mail; ultimately, though, it was another group, the Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, that succeeded on forcing a public vote - on canceling the Lens contract.
Part of the push for refurbishment may lie in nostalgia.
"I've lived in this area for 43 years," Lambdon said. "I've watched major signature landmark structures and businesses being unnecessarily demolished in the name of progress."
Lens supporters, though, don't see a demand for fixing up the inverted pyramid, built in 1973.
"It's almost a generational thing," said Councilman Jeff Danner. "The older you are, the more inclined you are to want to keep it open."
Citizens for the St. Pete Pier, a newly formed group trying to build support for the Lens, has been sending volunteers door-to-door in recent weeks talking up the new pier design. Volunteer Heather Grzelka said she has not met anyone who wants to refurbish The Pier.
"I think it's more hype than sentiment," she said.