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Appeals court clears way for St. Petersburg Pier demolition

ST. PETERSBURG — An appellate court has rejected former mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford's attempt to stop the city from demolishing the inverted pyramid Pier.

The state's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day's ruling against Ford's bid to force a referendum on the 1973 structure and to get a temporary injunction to prevent it from being torn down. The decision came without comments.

"It's disappointing, but we respect the court's ruling," Ford said Wednesday.

Ford had asserted that the city's charter required a referendum before the Pier — part of the city's protected downtown waterfront — could be demolished.

Joseph Patner, the city's head litigator, said the court vindicated the advice City Attorney John Wolfe gave the City Council almost two years ago.

"If that position had prevailed, anything the city would have wanted to upgrade would require a referendum, any park or waterfront structure, whether we were talking about a park bench, a restroom or soccer field," Patner said. "In effect, it would have shut down any attempt by the city to replace or repair its infrastructure."

But Ford's fight could continue.

"I think that there are a lot of folks who are very much concerned about our beautiful waterfront, so I will be working with others to see what else we can do to protect the waterfront," she said.

Ford sued the city more than a year ago after the council dismissed an attempt by the group voteonthepier.com to force a public vote on the Pier's fate. The group collected more than 20,000 signatures.

Ford does not rule out another petition.

"I think that is something that folks will look at in conjunction with whatever proposals will be presented to renovate the structurally sound inverted pyramid, a significant St. Petersburg asset," she said, adding that this week's ruling demonstrates that the city's charter needs to be amended to protect the waterfront.

"The city can demolish whatever buildings we have on the waterfront without referendum approval," she said. "This is such an important issue, I believe it was very worthwhile getting a clarification on this issue with this lawsuit and appeal."

The inverted pyramid was closed on May 31, with plans to replace it with a design called the Lens. An August referendum scuttled the controversial design, sending officials back to the drawing board. Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman, who takes office Jan. 2, has said his goal is to have a new design within his first year.

The inverted pyramid was originally slated to be torn down in late summer, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not yet granted a permit. The city's request incorporated both demolition of the Pier and construction of the now-defeated Lens.

The city has since been advised that it can submit a separate request for demolition, pending a new replacement project, said Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination. That has not yet been done.

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

Appeals court clears way for St. Petersburg Pier demolition 12/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 12:08am]
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