ST. PETERSBURG — The denizens of City Hall have expertise in a broad range of disciplines, such as stormwater, traffic, firefighting techniques and good ol' cutthroat politics.
But how about someone steeped in world-class architecture, who would know a Le Corbusier from a Mies van der Rohe?
When the city decided to hold an international design competition to choose an architect for its new $50 million Pier, the obvious challenge facing Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council was finding the expertise needed to judge the contest.
"We knew that architects would look at who's on the jury and decide whether or not it's worth it," said Raul Quintana, the city's architect. "We wanted to leave the impression with them that the jury had technical expertise and complete impartiality. Without that, we wouldn't get a number of highly qualified firms to respond."
The city created a five-member jury with a heavy emphasis on expertise. Three slots were reserved for academics and professionals. One unexpected obstacle was that some of the potential jurists wanted to compete. A consultant, architect Pete Karamitsanis, provided a list of 18 experts from across the country, which was then reduced to three who specialized in architecture, urban planning, and urban economics. They will receive $5,000 for their time.
The other two jury slots were reserved for local officials (who aren't paid): Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and St. Petersburg council member Leslie Curran.
In July, the city received 30 responses, some from leading global architectural firms. By month's end, the jury whittled that list to nine finalists.
Today the jury will narrow it to three finalists who will then create their vision for a new Pier.
Here is a closer look at the jurists:
The architect of the Tampa Museum of Art, Saitowitz is principal of his own firm and a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Getting him to sit on the jury was a coup, Quintana said. "(Saitowitz) is probably one of the foremost educators and practitioners of architecture in the United States," he said. "And it helps that, because of his work here, he knows Tampa Bay." In the July 29 meeting, Saitowitz didn't hold back, bluntly criticizing favorites of other jurists, including Dale Chihuly, a sacred cow in these parts who was part of a team that was later rejected. Saitowitz denied reports of his saying, "I'm Chihulied out. … There's just too much Chihuly in the world."
A professor of urban planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Fainstein was chosen to fill the urban economist slot on the jury. Quintana said she has distinguished herself as one of the leading experts in the economy and politics of urban development, writing several books and articles. Her last book, The Just City, was published last year and was based on 20 years of research. The London Times said it would become a "classic" in the field of urban planning. Along with Saitowitz, Fainstein clearly had the most authority, helping steer the final choices to her favorites.
A senior vice president and national community planning and urban design principal for HDR, an architecture, engineering, planning and consulting company, Moore was chosen to fill the jury's urban planning slot. Moore works out of HDR's Tampa office, but most of his work is national, Quintana said. "He's seen a lot as far as urban planning goes across the country," Quintana said. "But he's sensitive to Tampa Bay and knows what works here. We thought that was a pretty good combination." Moore is also a licensed architect, having received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and a real estate development graduate degree from MIT. Before joining HDR, Moore was an associate professor in the school of architecture and community design at the University of South Florida.
Filling one of the two local slots, Welch was chosen by Mayor Bill Foster. An accountant by trade, Welch isn't a complete novice when it comes to appreciating architecture. When he served on the St. Petersburg College board of trustees, he helped select numerous architectural and design teams for campus expansions. "I was on a radio show recently, and half the calls were about the Pier," Welch said. "This is a very high-profile project, and I'm happy to be a part of it." Welch said his goal is to choose a design that will entice residents, as much as tourists, to visit the Pier. "To be successful, it has to draw both," he said. He appreciates the experts, but said he has his "own perspective" that he believes is more practical in choosing the next design.
Having sat on the Pier advisory task force, Curran was chosen by her council colleagues to chair the jury. Curran owns Interior Motives Inc., an art gallery and design business on Central Avenue. She also seems more willing than Welch to defer to the experts. "Commissioner Welch and I know the community," Curran said. "But I'm very interested to hear what the experts have to say. They are the true professionals who know how some of these architects have worked in the past. It's going to be really interesting."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]