Pier working group members differ on how to gather public input
ST. PETERSBURG - Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Pier working group got a wee bit fractious Wednesday as members met to hash out how to gather public input about what amenities should be included as part of the new pier project.
Environmentalist Lorraine Margeson suggested the group encamp to the Coliseum or another large venue to accommodate the eager crowds she says are yearning to say their piece. And she was insistent that the public get to speak at the beginning of the group's meeting Wednesday at City Hall.
That didn’t happen.
Frank Carter “Bud” Karins Jr., an engineer, wanted the 21-member committee to break into small groups and make their way to churches, condominiums and other locations that would serve as listening posts. The message should be, he said, “We’re not going to say a thing to you. We want to hear from you.”
The group was supposed to be categorizing and weeding out amenities from a list that included an amusement park, Ferris wheel, air conditioned fine dining and a pedestrian bridge from Spa Beach to Vinoy Park that had been culled from a poll and previous reports, including the 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force report.
Ross Preville, chair of the Chamber’s Downtown Waterfront Taskforce, obviously did not want to see a replay of the open mic nights that played out during the last attempt to seek public opinion about the waterfront landmark.
“I would highly suggest we not do the three-minute mic,” he said, suggesting instead inviting people to sit around tables where they could list and rate their wants.
Jen French of the Committee to Advocate for Persons with Impairments, said the outreach should not be focused on just downtown, but spread across the city, perhaps utilizing recreation centers and definitely places accessible to public transportation.
Margeson found a supporter in Joseph Reed, a retired investment executive. He had heard what the mayor said about listening to residents, he told those around the table.
At one point, Kevin King, the mayor’s chief of staff, felt the need to step in. “You are here representing the public,” he told the group that included adversaries from opposite sides of the last attempt to see a new pier rise off Second Avenue N. “The public part of this has already begun.”
When the public comment session eventually arrived at the end of the three-hour meeting, Bud Risser, a leader of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg – the group that defeated the Lens, the proposed replacement of the inverted pyramid -- scolded Kriseman’s handpicked group.
“I’m going to say things you’re not going to like,” he said, adding that the group was not being true to its mission.
“I believe your mission is to talk to the people and find out what they want,” he said. “Let the people speak.”
Further, he said, the group’s job is to build consensus in the community, not to “throw out things from the Pier Advisory Task Force report,” he said, referring to items pulled from the list that will be presented to the public to make their choices.
As for financial considerations, he urged them not to dismiss seemingly expensive amenities because of the $46 million budget. There might be additional ways to finance the project, he said, adding that the mayor knows how he feels.
The fact is, the group has been asked to keep the fixed budget in mind.
The first meeting of the group’s public input subcommittee is 8:30 a.m., June 9, City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg.