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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

Vote still scheduled for Lens but support falling fast


Published:   |   Updated: June 21, 2013 at 06:02 AM

ST. PETERSBURG - The Lens isn't dead yet, but it's on life support.

City leaders declined to scrap the controversial new pier Thursday, but the proposed $50 million pier will limp toward an Aug. 27 referendum having lost the support of major backers, including the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and WOW Our Waterfront. The latter was expected to raise campaign donations to persuade voters to back the futuristic design.

Leaders of both groups said Thursday it was clear the project had divided the city and called on the City Council to terminate the city's contract with Lens designer Michael Maltzan. Repeated polls, including one conducted by WOW, suggested that residents would reject the futuristic design in an August referendum that was forced on the city after a citizen's group collected more than 20,000 signatures opposing the project.

"The lens and the pier are dividing the city," said Anthony Sullivan, WOW frontman. "We need to come together as a community."

On Thursday, the council selected a ballot title for the referendum that includes the words "pier" and Lens." An earlier draft of the ballot language only mentioned the name of the architect.

Council members said residents had earned a right to vote on the project through the petition process, a message that was echoed by Lens critics.

"The outcome of the election is by no means certain," said Bud Risser, one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg. "If you terminate the contract now, you disenfranchise the people who want to move forward."

In a letter sent to the council and Mayor Bill Foster on Wednesday, Chamber leaders said the city should begin a new pier selection process.

But they asked that The Lens design be included in a list of finalists since the city has already invested roughly $3 million in the project.

"To vote on nothing and then figure out what we do next is not fair to anyone," said Chamber President Chris Steinocher.

The futuristic pier, intended to be the signature landmark of the city's waterfront, was chosen after a 5-year selection process that included more than 60 public meetings. The city already has invested millions in the project and on May 31 closed the inverted pyramid pier, a first step toward its eventual demolition.

City officials are still working to get the permits they need to demolish the pier, which is scheduled to begin in August.

Although clearly disheartened, a few supporters rof The Lens still turned up at the council meeting.

"I am afraid St. Petersburg will become backwater USA as far the international architecture community is concerned," said St. Petersburg resident Hal Freedman.

St. Petersburg resident Shirley O'Sullivan said she fears the city is destined to go several years without a pier as it did between 1967 and 1973 after the demolition of the Million Dollar Pier.

"I don't want to go through what I went through in the late 60's, early 70's, with nothing out there," she said. "That was a terrible time."

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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