Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Hurdles remain after jury picks Lens as favorite for new St. Petersburg Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — So, the jury has picked the Lens, with its looping bridges, reef, dock and tiara-styled canopy, as the winner in the international design competition for the new Pier.

In Los Angeles, Michael Maltzan is ecstatic.

"I'm absolutely thrilled,'' he said Friday, as congratulations hit his BlackBerry.

In St. Petersburg, though, the reaction is decidedly mixed. There is excitement, but also a bit of disappointment, a fair measure of caution and even resistance as the $45 million project moves to the next step.

Thursday the City Council will hold a workshop as a precursor to a vote on whether to accept the jury's decision and approve negotiations with the Michael Maltzan Architecture team.

There will be no rushing council member Karl Nurse.

"The Lens is an interesting design, but I think that $45 million is really a hard target,'' he said. "We have to have a design that lives within that amount of money, and not that $45 million is a starting point and we phase in something that has a second phase that's up to $100 million more.''

Council member Bill Dudley also is cautious. "I want to see what we're talking about before I make a commitment," he said.

"I live here and my grandchildren are going to live here,'' he said. "I want to make sure we make the right choice."

Then there's council member Wengay Newton, who was the only vote against demolition of the current Pier.

"I am going to vote for the people to vote,'' he said. "The people never got an opportunity to come in and give their testimony about their feelings about the Pier in council chambers."

Said Mayor Bill Foster: "There's going to be a lot of public input as we refine the concept.''

Council member Leslie Curran, who sat on both the Pier Advisory Task Force and the jury that made Friday's decision, says the public has had a say.

"I go back to 2008, when the public input was started and we have heard from the residents and we heard from all the tenants at the Pier," she said.

"I don't think that every decision that is made in this city goes to referendum,'' she said. "That's why we have elected officials."

It's time to move on, she said.

Council member Jeff Danner agrees. "I think it's time to move forward with the Lens and start fine-tuning it,'' he said. "I'm going to listen to the recommendations of the jury, who listened to the task force, who listened to public.''

Now that the rankings are in, council member Charlie Gerdes said he wants to study the Lens project again.

"What I'm focused on is eliminating or minimizing any yearly subsidies. I want the Pier to pay for itself,'' he said.

The five-person jury of experts in architecture, urban design and planning, along with Curran and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, voted unanimously for the Lens, ranking the Wave second, the Eye a distant third.

James Moore, senior vice president of HDR, an architectural, engineering and planning firm, said it was difficult to decide between the Wave and the Lens.

"I literally went back and forth several times. . . . They take a very, very different tack toward the project,'' he said.

"All three of them had some cost issues. I think the Lens itself took a little more of an incremental approach. There was a capacity to add things on, whereas the dramatic aspects of the Wave, that was it. I don't know if you can shrink it."

Welch, who quickly announced his preference for the Lens on Friday, has concerns. "I'm an accountant by trade, and the numbers do matter,'' he said, adding that he advocates a public hearing before the council votes.

Friday, Maltzan praised his local partners, Wannemacher Jensen Architects. "The project would not have developed as completely or as beautifully if they had not been involved,'' he said, adding that they helped the Lens team "understand more deeply" the nuances of the project.

For the teams from West 8 Urban Design, creator of the Eye, and BIG, which offered the Wave, Friday was disappointing.

"We put our heart into it, but I think it's more important that the city has a conclusive victory and a vision that everyone believes in and can move forward with," Jamie Maslyn Larson of West 8 Urban Design said.

Tim Clemmons is a local partner of BIG. "Obviously, we're very, very disappointed,'' he said. "We thought that we had presented a compelling vision for the next generation of what the Pier should be. I'm going to be excited like everybody else to see this process unfold over the next four to five years."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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