St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced a plan today that ultimately will lead to the creation of a new St. Petersburg Pier by 2017.
Speaking in Spa Park near the iconic structure, the mayor unveiled the concrete plan he promised throughout the 2013 mayoral campaign. It calls for substantial input from the public at large, with their ideas and opinions then collated and organized by what he calls the Pier Working Group — a diverse selection of activists, businesspeople and academics who will convene for three months. A Selection group will ultimately choose approximately half a dozen designs that will then be voted on by the public, who will select three different designs, with the City Council ultimately choosing the final design.
Saying "form will follow function," the mayor admitted that his timeline for getting a new Pier in place by 2017 is longer than he had said it would be during his campaign, when he talked about having something done by the end of 2015. "I'd rather get this done right than do it fast and risk dividing the community once more," he said.
The community was severely divided about the Pier a year ago, leading to the big electoral loss last August for the Lens, the design chosen by a five-member jury that proved extremely controversial — and was one of several reasons why Bill Foster is no longer mayor today.
"Form following function exists for a reason," said Councilman Karl Nurse. "If you start with a consensus from the citizens that 'here are the functions that we like,' and then you tell the designers 'here is a permitted range and here's how much money there is,' we should be able to get a spectrum of designs that will meet all of those criteria. And by doing that, the odds of getting to finalists that people are comfortable with are pretty good."
Restaurateur Steve Westphal is on the Pier Working Group. He acknowledges that he was a fan of the Lens, believing it was the type of design that befited the rennaissance along Beach Drive over the past several years.Others on the group include Council of Neighborhood Associations president Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Bud Risser with Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg (the group that fought the Lens), and Ed Montanari, vice chairman of the Pier Advisory Task Force and co-chair of the 828 Alliance, the group formed by Mayor Foster months before the Lens was defeated to keep momentum moving forward on a new Pier.
The original Pier Advisory Task Force was where the whole process of generating community input began years ago. But environmental activist Lorraine Margeson says that process went downhill when the International Design Competition began to field new proposed designs back in December of 2011, and "chucked away all that work."
"Now we have that data, the 828 Alliance (data), so we're not starting from zero," Margeson says. "The whole city understands it's absolutely impossible to produce something that is very important to our city without being very sure what the public wants."
After being inaugurated four months ago, Kriseman's first act as mayor was to take down the chain-link fence that was put up last June by Mayor Foster, opening the Pier approach and the Pier head for cyclists, runners and fishermen. "The response my administration has received from that one simple act has been incredibly positive," the mayor said today, illustrating the extreme importance that so many St. Pete residents attach to the current Pier, which was was built in 1973.
One of the arguments that advocates of creating a new Pier have voiced is that the city needed to stop pouring an annual subsidy of approximately $1.4 million into the aging facility. But City Councilwoman Amy Foster says that Mayor Kriseman has informed council members that surveys taken indicate that citizens may want to continue that, depending on the final product.
"From what I can tell from the discussions I'm having with people in the community, they feel they're being engaged, and that's the most important thing," Foster says, a factor critics said was missing from last year's failed process. "I don't think anyone's saying this [process] is drastically different. What I'm hearing that's different is that they feel they've been engaged and been heard."
(An earlier version of this story neglected to mention that the Working Group will dissolve in three months, and that the City Council will make the final selection of the design, with input from the mayor, the public and the Selection Committee).