ST. PETERSBURG — Sometime Friday afternoon, the group pushing for a referendum to preserve the city's iconic Pier expects to deliver the bulk of its petitions to City Hall.
The remainder, said Tom Lambdon, the Safety Harbor man who is leading the effort, will be dropped off early next week. The group's effort needs close to 16,000 petitions.
"We're comfortable that we're there," Lambdon said Tuesday, but added that he has been painstakingly purging those submitted by supporters who live outside St. Petersburg and are ineligible to vote.
Almost two weeks ago, his voteonthepier.com group mailed close to 40,000 postage-paid petitions across the city to ensure its goal.
"We don't want to send any kind of message that we're done," Lambdon said. "I don't want to be 50 short of stardom."
Lambdon and his group oppose plans to demolish the current Pier and say the 1973 structure can be renovated for less than the $50 million the city budgeted to replace it.
The city says the superstructure of the Pier approach and Pier head — the area surrounding the five-story structure — is crumbling, and the cost of renovation would be prohibitive. It recently signed a contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the Los Angeles designer of the new Pier referred to as the Lens. The plan is to demolish the old Pier next summer.
Voteonthepier.com is rushing to get the measure on the November ballot. Mayor Bill Foster had given the group until June 11 to submit its petitions, a deadline that he said would allow time for the city clerk to count the petitions, City Council members to consider an ordinance to put the issue on the ballot, and for the petitions to be delivered to the supervisor of elections.
"I've never wanted to stand in their way," Foster said.
Lambdon's delayed delivery is "going to make it hard, but not impossible," for council members to meet the city's deadline, Foster said.
But City Council member Leslie Curran, who sat on the Pier Advisory Task Force and the jury that chose the Lens design, said the mayor already gave voteonthepier.com a deadline.
"It seems the rules are being changed for one group,'' she said, going on to outline the yearslong public process that brought the project to this point. "So now we want the side that abided by the rules to wait while we put something on the ballot at the last minute."
City Council member Jeff Danner says he is torn about what he will decide.
"I think that there was a lot of misinformation given to people to sign those petitions," he said. "We've had this process going on for five years, and all of sudden people are energized in this 11th hour. I talked to a lot of people this weekend who like the Lens."
Lambdon's group has attracted support from at least one influential businessman. Bud Risser of Risser Oil Corp., who has urged Foster not to build the Lens, has given money to the voteonthepier.com cause, but declines to say how much.
"I frequently give money to people whose passion I value," he said. "I value their willingness to do something. At least these people are doing something, whether you agree with them or not."
City Council member Wengay Newton, who opposes the new Pier, anticipates a successful completion of Lambdon's petition drive.
"I can't wait for the day when the supervisor of elections certifies all these petitions. It's going to get real exciting. It's a shame that people have to go through all this," he said. "Everybody should get to vote."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.