Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

First of three meetings to see the Lens draws more than 100

ST. PETERSBURG — The first of at least three meetings to sell the Lens, the city's proposed new $50 million Pier, was meant to be tightly controlled.

But council member Leslie Curran promised the audience that she and city staffers would answer every question — even if they had to stay behind after the meeting ended, which they did.

District 2 city council candidate Lorraine Margeson appreciated that but said it wasn't enough.

"There are still very many questions that remain to be answered," she said.

Earlier public sessions about the controversial project became what Curran described as open mic nights, so Wednesday evening, audience members filled out cards to ask their questions. One or two tried to ask questions from their seats but were shut down.

Curran said the discussion became more interactive after the meeting was over.

"I felt it was a good conversation, whether you agree or not with the Lens," she said.

More than a 100 people turned out for the meeting, billed as an informational session to clarify issues about the Lens. The session hosted by Curran was the first of at least three to be hosted by council members before the Aug. 27 referendum about the project. Council members Charlie Gerdes and Jeff Danner also each plan to host one.

Before the program, Curran said it would not be a debate. "It's not an open forum," she said. "It's just to get out information."

Shore Acres resident Craig Halle wanted to know, "Who is going to pay for this?"

"They keep talking $50 million," he said before the meeting. "No way is $50 million going to build that."

The Sunken Gardens program drew several leaders of the new pro-Lens group, Citizens for the St. Pete Pier, which describes itself as "driven by a diverse group of 15 young professionals."

Members of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, who oppose the Lens and worked to get a referendum on the Aug. 27 ballot to cancel the contract to build it, were also present.

The group's goal is to get out the vote, chairman Fred Whaley said earlier in the day.

"The polls still show that two-thirds of the people do not think the Lens meets the character, the size and function for the St. Pete Pier," he said. "What we need to do is to make sure that enough of the 60-something percent makes the efforts to go to the polls."

Wednesday also was the first meeting of Mayor Bill Foster's 828 Alliance, which has been charged with ensuring that whatever the referendum's outcome, the city will move forward unified with a process for a new Pier.

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