ST. PETERSBURG — One day after voters soundly rejected the Lens, members of a group appointed to consider the Pier's future met Wednesday to offer recommendations for moving forward with other plans.
Perhaps most surprising, Mayor Bill Foster's handpicked 8/28 Alliance left open the option to refurbish the closed inverted pyramid Pier.
The city has yet to get permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to demolish the five-story structure. In addition, defeated mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford has filed an appeal in court to save the 1973 Pier.
Saving the Pier was not a suggestion alliance member Shirley O'Sullivan wanted included in the report handed to Foster at the group's final meeting Wednesday.
"I wanted it stressed that demolition is the way to go and that refurbishment is not an option. Financially, it is not an option," she said. "That's a conflicting view to me because the mayor has said that it is going to be demolished."
Will Michaels, who sat on a subcommittee that made the recommendation to refurbish the Pier, said the idea was to give potential design teams "the option to do this if they can do it within the existing budget."
"All the financial information I have seen shows that cannot be done. The more likely aspect of that is to use elements of the existing Pier," Michaels said, noting that the Lens designers had planned to use the existing caissons.
Co-chair Fred Whaley cautioned that the report "is a living document."
"That particular piece is just one of many things included, and all those would have to compete with new designs submitted by lots of architects," he said.
While the alliance members didn't agree on everything, Whaley called the report "a good start."
"No Pier is not an option," Foster told the group. "We are going to have something that everyone can get behind."
Rick Kriseman, who is running against Foster for mayor, has said he would appoint a task force to develop a new Pier concept if he wins in November. He said he would have a new Pier built by the end of 2015.
There are several issues to be considered:
• The $50 million budget for a new Pier is minus the $4 million spent on the aborted Lens project. Council Chairman Karl Nurse said Wednesday that a notice has been sent to Michael Maltzan Architecture, designers of the Lens, "so that the clock stops ringing up billable hours."
Next week, the council will certify the election results that call for termination of the Maltzan contract, Nurse said. The $4.7 million architectural and engineering services agreement with Maltzan allowed the city to terminate work at any point, but they don't have to return money already spent. The Los Angeles firm has been paid $2.1 million.
• Richard Gonzmart, president of Columbia Restaurant Group, had planned a Columbia concept for the Lens approach and to open a small cafe on the Pier itself. A day after the Lens was defeated, Gonzmart said he is waiting to hear from St. Petersburg officials about what happens next. "We hope to continue to be part of St. Petersburg in the future," he said.
• Then there's the concern that the city could be without a Pier for years to come. That's disappointing, said the Rev. Louis Murphy, pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. He wondered why the inverted pyramid could not have remained open until at least after Tuesday's vote. "I just think the whole process could have been handled differently. I would have left it open until we had settled on what we are doing," he said.
The mayor's alliance has made garnering public opinion a central part of its recommendations as the city works to continue its more than century-old tradition of a downtown pier. The group has suggested that any process seeking a new design include information from the Pier Advisory Task Force, a group that made recommendations for the waterfront landmark in 2010.
Council member Steve Kornell doesn't want a reoccurrence of the process that led to the Lens controversy.
"I think we need to learn a lesson from this. I don't remember who said this, but 'the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result,' " he said.
"I think we should come up with several different designs, a citywide vote should be built in, and I think we should use technology in ways that we didn't do this time to get public input."
O'Sullivan isn't optimistic.
"It would be great if we could choose one design and 250,000 people are going to agree on it," she said. "That should take no time at all."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.