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St. Petersburg City Council reacts to new plans for the Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Aided by a video and new renderings, Michael Maltzan and his team shared updated plans for the city's proposed new Pier to a largely approving City Council on Tuesday.

Only two council members expressed dissatisfaction with the reworked plans during the lengthy workshop, eliciting applause from supporters for their statements and questions.

The meeting was a precursor to Thursday's pivotal vote that will determine whether the $50 million project will continue. The council will decide whether to approve $5.4 million to allow Maltzan to finish the design and Skanska USA Builders to continue preconstruction services.

One affirmative vote is certain.

"I feel comfortable moving forward," council member Steve Kornell said.

Still, Kornell and other council members had questions about the project, including the decision to use aluminum panels instead of the initially proposed concrete for the Lens' iconic canopy. There also were questions about costs, subsidies and the planned restaurants.

Chuck Jablon of Skanska responded to critics' contention that the switch from precast concrete panels to aluminum over galvanized steel would cause corrosion and high maintenance costs. "This is 21st century architecture and design," Jablon said, adding that durability had been considered in the canopy's design and that the material used will be maintenance free. "Our team will deliver an icon that will stand the test of time."

Kornell felt he got the right answer about the change.

"I felt comfortable about the aluminum panels. I am going to ask to see some of their reports. They had a good answer, but it is something that they considered carefully," he said.

Other modifications to the project included the addition of a restaurant at the Lens and another overlooking the water at the land-side approach south of Spa Beach. There also will be shaded areas with seating along the two looping bridges.

Council member Karl Nurse was not impressed.

"Council was remarkably clear that $50 million was all that was available. The dramatic change that they have done to stay within budget has stripped all of the amenities," he said.

"I don't think this is a stripped-down version at all," council member Leslie Curran countered later.

Nurse criticized the lack of walls for the proposed restaurants, which will have to be built from scratch by interested restaurant operators.

The city will issue a request for proposals for the restaurants by February, said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination. "We've had people knocking on the doors for months," he said.

There also was discussion about the nearly $900,000 underwater garden originally included in the Maltzan concept almost a year ago. Local scientists said the idea to create a pristine underwater feature was not feasible in Tampa Bay, so the plan now is to use some pilings from the old Pier as a base for a future educational feature.

"This is what they used to sell us this pipe dream," said council member Wengay Newton, who has opposed the plan to build a new Pier from the beginning.

"Now the underwater garden is gone, a lot of amenities are gone and the price is still $50 million," he said.

"I don't think that $50 million was ever intended to put the Taj Mahal out there," council member Bill Dudley said.

Thursday's discussion centered on a report that gives a description of what can be expected and how much it will cost. Construction is expected to be $37 million and demolition $3.1 million.

The idea to replace the inverted pyramid continues to be controversial. The city says the concrete foundations for the area surrounding the Pier and its approach are crumbling and that the inverted pyramid is in bad shape. Taxpayers have supported the attraction with an operational subsidy averaging more than $1.4 million annually over the past 10 years.

The group voteonthepier.com collected more than 20,000 petitions to save the structure, but City Council members rejected its bid for a referendum.

A hearing will be held today in a suit brought by former council member Kathleen Ford on behalf of the petitioners. The suit seeks to force the council to allow a referendum on the inverted pyramid and asks for a temporary injunction to stop its demolition pending the court's ruling and the outcome of a vote.

Another group, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, emerged after the referendum effort failed. It has launched its own effort to stop the project, and leaders expressed confidence that they will succeed. Several were at the council workshop Tuesday dressed in red "Stop the Lens" T-shirts.

More recently, TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan of OxiClean fame launched a grass roots campaign to support the Lens. A few of his supporters showed up at the workshop in turquoise "Make Lens not war" T-shirts.

Representatives from each group are expected to speak for their cause Thursday.

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

St. Petersburg City Council reacts to new plans for the Pier 12/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 10:16pm]
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