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St. Petersburg City Council, Lens opponents grapple over details

ST. PETERSBURG — No minds were changed, but a City Council workshop to discuss St. Petersburg's proposed new Pier may have clarified a few questions and left many unanswered for critics who want to halt the project.

The session was both pedantic and testy, with those opposed to the Lens, the project that will replace the current Pier, pitted against city staff and council supporters of the proposed $50 million project.

Following the two-hour workshop, more than 20 anti-Lens residents called on city leaders "to push the pause button" on the controversial project.

Council member Wengay Newton made another plea to postpone the May 31 closure of the current 1973 Pier. His motion died after he couldn't get a second from his seven colleagues.

He stressed that he didn't want to see another 400 people out of work in the downtown core following the 800 who lost jobs at Universal Healthcare.

"I think it would be fair to preserve these jobs until votes are cast," he said, referring to a petition effort by Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg to force a referendum on the proposed Pier.

Two members of the group, which wants to halt the project and says it's close to completing its petition drive, raised expected questions about construction materials for the Lens' iconic canopy and doubt about whether the project's dual bridges meet fire codes. Hurricane safety was also an issue.

F. Carter "Bud" Karins, chief executive officer of Karins Engineering Group in St. Petersburg, and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, spoke of the group's concerns about the soaring canopy.

It originally was supposed to be built of precast, white, concrete panels. The materials have since been changed to aluminum panels over galvanized steel. Specifically, the design now calls for an aluminum alloy with "very good corrosive resistance in harsh seawater environments," along with "a high grade coating."

"I have extensive experience in dealing with aluminum in a marine environment," Karins said, adding that the finish is not intended to protect the aluminum, but just "to make it look good."

He predicted corrosion problems and said he had tried repeatedly to find out where the Lens' method had been used in a marine environment. Instead, he said, referring to photographs displayed by Tom Gibson, the city's director of engineering and capital improvements, he'd only been shown light poles and highway signs.

"When you do a unique project like this, you really have to look at the basic fundamentals," to assess the risk, he said.

Karins, whose company was part of a team that submitted an entry for the competition that selected Michael Maltzan Architecture, creator of the Lens design, questioned the canopy's ability to stand up to hurricane force winds.

Given its proposed three-dimensional shape, he said, the first step in structural design would be to create an appropriate wind tunnel model for rigorous testing.

"The very first task should have been to institute wind tunnel testing. … Until you have that data, you can't design it," he said.

Addressing the corrosion issue, Public Works Administrator Mike Connors said, "We understand that this Pier is situated in a very difficult environment, so we put together a very knowledgeable group of consultants.

"I hope to deliver to the City Council a feeling of comfort," he said.

William Ballard, president of Concerned Citizens and a retired construction lawyer, spoke particularly about the bridges.

City architect Raul Quintana said they have been widened and will meet fire codes. He told council members that they can accommodate emergency vehicles. He also discussed evacuation scenarios, including a safety zone on the Lens' promontory.

The wind tunnel tests mentioned by Karins will come later in the design process, he said.

The Maltzan team is scheduled to present the schematic design, which will offer a more detailed look at the project, on May 2.

The council will decide then whether to release additional money.

In December, council members approved a resolution to appropriate $4.7 million for Maltzan to continue designing the Pier and for Skanska USA Builders to continue preconstruction services. Only $1.7 million was released at the time. Council members said city staffers must return for authorization to spend additional money.

The contract with Maltzan allows the city to suspend or terminate work at any point, but it would have to pay the costs and fees already incurred.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Mark Puente can be reached at (727) 893-8459.

St. Petersburg City Council, Lens opponents grapple over details 04/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:33pm]
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