ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Maltzan, head of the architectural firm that created the controversial design for the city's new Pier, spoke at the Salvador Dalí Museum Thursday despite the objection of a former member of the museum board.
Maltzan, 53, sat for a more than hourlong chat with philosopher and artist Carol Mickett, before an audience of about 150 people that spilled out of the Dalí theater into an overflow room. The program was part of the museum's monthly "Our Town" conversations.
The Los Angeles-based architect spoke of how he got started in his profession and about his work, ending with the Lens design, the proposed replacement for the current Pier. He mentioned his surprise when he first visited St. Petersburg.
"It's extremely dynamic," he said, and noted the city's "extraordinary waterfront."
It's that waterfront and residents' relationship to it that he wanted to showcase with his design, he said. The looping bridges that are a signature feature of the Lens came from his desire to offer more than a one-dimensional experience for people visiting the Pier.
Maltzan said he wanted to create "more of a circuit, more of a promenade."
He was unequivocal about being able to bring the $50 million project to fruition.
"We will build it," he said.
Supporters and opponents of the Lens were in attendance, but civility reigned, despite what has developed into a contentious issue.
Days before, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg president William Ballard said his group of Lens opponents was not planning "any disruptive or attention-getting activities."
Bud Risser, another key member of the anti-Lens group and a noted local philanthropist, said he had shared his displeasure about Maltzan's appearance with museum director Hank Hine.
"I was on the board at the Dalí for a while and have been a supporter financially, so I wrote Hank," he said.
"These are supposed to be local people," he said of the program's guests. "I have no idea how they went off on this tangent. He doesn't match the criteria."
The Dalí has since changed its description of the monthly program from "Our Town: Conversations with St. Pete Mythmakers." It is now a conversation "with people who are engaged in significant issues and topics in 'our town.'"
"There is nothing political about anything that the museum does," spokeswoman Cindy Cockburn said.
Two of Concerned Citizens' largest financial contributors sit on the Dalí board, Thomas A. James, president, and William Hough, assistant treasurer.