St. Pete City Council punts on funding additional money toward the Lens

St. Pete's Public Works Administrator, Mike Connors, said the $1.5 million would break down to $300,000 a month: $100,000 for permits, $60,000 to test wind tunnels, and another $30,000-$40,000 to test the caissons. St. Pete City staff members are scheduled to elaborate on the financial breakdown before the Council reconvenes.

The Council's decision came hours after a new survey published by St.Pete Polls reported that there is strong sentiment against the progression of the Lens project. The poll showed that 67 percent of those surveyed are against the Lens, while only 28 percent support it. And by nearly the same numbers, people said the current inverted pyramid structure should not close at the end of the month, as scheduled.

The group fighting to get a measure on the St. Pete ballot, Leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, said it has verified more than 17,000 signatures on a petition that calls for the city to cancel the contract with Michael Maltzan. But the group has yet to be certified, though most people think they ultimately will be, probably in time for the August primary election.

One of the major criticisms of the Lens design is against the materials that would be used for the proposed canopy. Heavy concrete panels were originally planned, but they've been changed to aluminum panels.

Mayor Bill Foster said when it comes to concerns about the canopy or wind tunnels, the bottom line is about aesthetics.

"If we could just be honest from the blue shirts to the red shirts, you either like it or you don't," he said.

Council member Leslie Curran, a strong supporter of the Lens, said the problem is way too much misinformation in the public's mind. She said waiting two more weeks isn't going to help anything, and the city would be better off providing more education about what the Lens will do for the community.

There was plenty of fiery rhetoric during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Ed Montanari, vice chair of the Pier Task Force, said the project must go forward, potential referendum or not.

"Sometimes good leadership makes people mad. Trying to have everybody like you is a sign of mediocrity," he said.

But David McKalip, City Council candidate for District 4, said the board should stop spending money and listen to the public. He said the council should ignore concerns about how a delay would affect the architecture or arts community, saying the only community Council members should worry about is the voters of St. Pete.

Today, the St. Petersburg City Council opted to delay for two weeks whether or not to spend $1.5 million on the next phase of the the Lens design to replace the Pier.

Councilman Jim Kennedy made the motion to delay, saying he didn't have sufficient time to examine the more than 400-page report distributed late Friday by Michael Maltzan Architecture. Other members of the council agreed that they had little time to review the new additions. The final vote was 5-3, with council members Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner and Wengay Newton disagreeing.

According to a contract the city has with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the designer of the Lens, the next payment is due today, May 2. However concerns about a referendum that could ultimately stop the project from going forward were sufficient enough to make today's vote highly anticipated and uncertain, in what has become one of the most controversial issues in recent city history.

The rivalry was apparent in the city council chambers, where supporters of the Lens wore blue t-shirts, and opponents wore red. At one point, St. Pete Chamber of Commerce head Chris Steinocher said, "My heart hurts," because of the intense conflict about the Pier's future.

"This is crazy. This is sad," he bemoaned.

But one of the Lens supporters, Councilman Danner, respectfully disagreed with Steinocher, saying the conflict is a manifest example of democracy in action.

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