Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

John Romano: Putting the Pier out of our misery

The comic strip begins with a bored reporter sitting at the obits desk.

He waits. Waits a little more. Then he grabs a phone and dials a number.

When the woman answers, he sighs:

"Just checking, Mrs. Lipshulz.''

I thought about that long-ago Bloom County strip when I got in my car in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday. I took a couple of lefts and a right, and pulled into a parking lot.

Down a long driveway stood the Pier.

Just checking.

Once again, the plug has been pulled on the city's aging landmark. A judge ruled last week that the city had met all of its obligations when planning the Pier's demise.

Yet even at this late date, the old gal hangs on.

Sitting on the deck of Cha Cha Coconuts on Monday afternoon, Bud Risser, one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, said enough signatures have been collected on a petition to force a referendum on the fate of the Lens, the Pier's proposed successor. All that remains is the verification process, which could take two to three weeks. That doesn't mean the Pier will get a reprieve, but Risser argues it doesn't make sense to shutter the attraction as planned in May if the replacement is in limbo. "There's no rush to the gate here,'' Risser said. "The city is already on record as saying it's safe for another two or three years.''

And so the maneuvering continues.

With the petition in their back pocket, Lens opponents are not only trying to persuade the city to postpone the Pier's closure, but to also hold off on approving another $1 million or more for the architect to continue the Lens design. That decision is scheduled for the first week of May.

"We're talking an extra few months. Why authorize another $1.2 million, or whatever it's going to be, until you get the result of the referendum,'' Risser said. "Because we promise you there is going to be a referendum.''

From an economic point of view, that argument has some appeal. From a tactical standpoint, the city will probably balk.

If a referendum is truly on the way, I assume city leaders will want to make the choice as clear as possible for voters.

You see, this story has always been muddled because there have been too many competing voices. There are those who want to save the Pier, those who want to stop the Lens, those who think residents should have been allowed to cast a vote, and various combinations of all three.

With the judge's ruling, the Pier argument is now essentially moot. The city has won. So tearing it down quickly would remove the renovation option from the argument.

Granted, that might be a risky strategy because it could galvanize opponents, but I'm guessing it's a gamble the City Council will take.

The same could also be said for approving the additional funds for the architects. City leaders can argue that advancing the Lens design will give voters a better idea of exactly what the structure will look like.

And, in the end, isn't that what Lens opponents have been seeking?

This fight has gone on long enough. The city has prevailed on the demolition of the Pier. The grass roots folks appear to have struck a blow with the petition.

So let each side make their best argument, then leave it up to the voters.

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