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Pier factions support St. Petersburg mayor's plans, for now

ST. PETERSBURG — As he campaigned, Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke of unveiling a final design for the Pier within the first nine months of his administration and completing the landmark by the end of 2015.

The ambitious timeline now seems in doubt, with Kriseman's own Pier-appointed task force foreseeing an opening date in 2017 and city staff offering options that would put a ribbon cutting in 2018.

Now, after weeks of hearing the unfiltered views of people on all sides of the divisive issue, Kriseman will soon announce how he will proceed with a project that proved to be his predecessor's albatross.

At his side will be an unlikely coalition of those who fought to save the inverted pyramid, those who waged a fierce campaign to kill its proposed replacement and those who wanted the Lens.

"They are all saying the right words now, in terms of being comfortable with the process," City Council member Karl Nurse said.

"And if this actually plays out, you might end up with people who might not get their first choice, or even their second choice, but at least they got to weigh in. Normally, if people feel they have an opportunity to voice their opinions, they can live with that. That's the hope."

Striking one of the few discordant notes is Dan Harvey, founder of Harvey's 4th Street Grill in St. Petersburg.

"The elephant in the room is the 30 percent that want to save the inverted pyramid. They are a force to be reckoned with," he said.

And while pleased to have been invited to the mayor's office, Harvey has reservations about Kriseman's plan.

"He talked to me and he had a flow chart. I let him do the whole thing, go around the rigmarole," he said.

According to Harvey, the disconnect came when he asked the mayor how his new Pier plan would fit in with the city's pending Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. He said the mayor answered: "We are going to design the Pier now."

"I wasn't happy with his answer," Harvey said.

Asked about his Pier agenda this week, Kriseman issued a statement through spokesman Benjamin Kirby.

"My first act as mayor was to remove the fence around the Pier," he said. "Since that time, I have had nearly two dozen separate meetings with individuals who were involved in the last Pier process. The feedback I received is now informing the new process, which will be announced shortly."

As Nurse understands it, Kriseman's plan will include narrowing prospective designers to about 10, who will then produce preliminary sketches. The group will be whittled to three with input from residents. The City Council and administration will make the final selection.

This time around, Nurse said, those who submit designs for a new or refurbished Pier will be working with information about "what the public has told us is most important to them."

Shirley O'Sullivan, who supported the Lens, was among those who met with Kriseman. "He said he's got different phases for going through this process and that each phase is going to be ruled upon as it is evaluated. … I like his plan. I think it's concise and well put together."

She said Kriseman will adhere to "the best parts" of the June 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force report, which is the point from which Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg (the group that scuttled the Lens) has insisted should be the start of any Pier plan.

"Hopefully, that document can be used to shorten the process the mayor puts forth," group chairman Fred Whaley said.

William Ballard, Concerned Citizens' former president, said he left a meeting with Kriseman "confident that his process is going to work" and that there was "a decent possibility that it is going to work on the fast schedule that he is trying to get it on."

With staff options showing a schedule that extends beyond 2015 — the year that Kriseman called "an ambitious but necessary timeline" on the campaign trail — the mayor has asked to quicken the pace, Kirby said.

Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist widely known for her passionate opposition to the Lens, was thrilled to be included in Kriseman's talks. "He showed me a timeline and we got it all corrected, so I feel absolutely comfortable," she said.

Those corrections, she said, included some changes that could have presented permitting obstacles, such as making sure the length, width and height of any new project isn't bigger than the current Pier.

"When it is finished, we are all going to be invited on the stage with him," Margeson said of those who have been part of the mayor's Pier meetings.

Kriseman also met with Vote on the Pier leaders, early and spirited dissenters of replacing the 1973 inverted pyramid. Joseph Reed said the discussion was "cordial, yet frank."

Hal Freedman, who staunchly supported the Lens, foresees a few obstacles.

"I agree that the process is a good one, but I don't know that the end result is going to be different than the last time and there might be some Monday-morning quarterbacking by factions that are powerful enough to sink the ship, just as they did the last time," he said.

Margeson believes the bitterness of the Pier debate has dissipated. "I think the majority of the really sensible people have gotten over that," she said. "Everybody wants a Pier already."

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

Pier factions support St. Petersburg mayor's plans, for now 04/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:03pm]
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