Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

City Council member Karl Nurse joins effort to oppose the Lens

ST. PETERSBURG – The group that launched the latest volley against the city's plans to build a $50 million replacement for the Pier has won the support of a City Council member who once approved the project.

Council member Karl Nurse stood outside City Hall on Thursday with leaders of the Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg as they announced a petition drive to halt plans for the new Pier. Nurse was the first to sign the group's petition that seeks to terminate the architectural services agreement with Michael Maltzan Architecture, designers of the project known as the Lens.

"I can tell you, we are going to stop the Lens," Fred Whaley, chairman of group, said during an interview afterward. "I cannot find anyone who says the Lens is right for St. Petersburg."

He said the group has launched a website, stopthelens.com, and that supporters wearing red T-shirts will fan out to begin collecting petition signatures in downtown today.

According to its website, concern for the city's downtown waterfront is the group's primary catalyst.

"We wish to prevent our waterfront and the city's finances from being burdened for decades by the Lens which is a hastily conceived structure whose scale and character do not relate to our city," the site says.

Nurse told the Tampa Bay Times that he regrets his earlier support. "But I'm in a position to try to correct some mistakes, particularly when it's still an idea on paper," he said.

"The City Council should have listened to the voters when they sent us 20,000 petitions a few months ago," he said, referring to a previous effort to force a public vote on the Pier.

"I think the Lens project and in some respects, the RFP, took the ideas of the Pier Task Force and threw them overboard," Nurse said. "All the functional elements the Pier Task Force recommended essentially went out of the window and all that we really asked for and got was something distinctive and iconic, and now we are trying to stuff function into a design that frankly doesn't work."

Demolition of the current Pier is scheduled for late summer. There's time, Nurse said, to come up with an alternative to the Lens design, one "that really functions."

The effort came the same day the City Council voted 6-2 to approve a construction manager at-risk agreement with Skanska USA Building to build the Lens.

Nurse and Wengay Newton voted no.

A city committee selected the global firm, which has an office in Tampa, in July after 10 companies applied for the work. Skanska will work with the architect and contractors to ensure the cost doesn't exceed $50 million.

The council's vote authorized a payment of $50,000 to Skanska during the preconstruction design phase and $30,000 for services not connected to the at-risk agreement.

Mark Puente contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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