ST. PETERSBURG — What would it cost to reopen the inverted pyramid that the city closed amid much fanfare and anguish barely six weeks ago?
That's the question being asked by a committee appointed recently by Mayor Bill Foster to address the fate of the city's downtown waterfront landmark, whether it be the old Pier, the proposed Lens or some other project.
At its second meeting Monday, members of the mayor's 828 Alliance decided to ask city staffers to find out what it would cost to reopen the darkened Pier on a limited basis to offer services such as a bait shop — fishing is being allowed along the Pier approach — restrooms and perhaps a bit of food and drink.
That was a new wrinkle raised by the group Foster has charged with cutting through the rancor of the Pier debate and devising a way forward, no matter the outcome of the Aug. 27 referendum that could cancel the contract to replace the Pier with the Lens.
"If the Lens fails, there's no point in it sitting there with no activity whatever," said Shirley O'Sullivan, an alliance member and staunch Lens supporter, after Monday's meeting. "I see no point, however, in opening a major part of the building because of electricity, water and hiring a manager."
The motion to reopen the old Pier was made by Fred Whaley, chairman of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the anti-Lens group behind August's referendum. Whaley is also the newly named co-chair of the alliance along with Ed Montanari, who served as vice chair of the Pier Advisory Task Force that eventually led to the controversial Lens design.
"The city has complained that we are going to be a long time without a Pier and, actually, if we started construction today, it would be awhile before we have a (new) Pier," Whaley said. "It just shows that the city cares about the public to keep it open on a limited basis until such time the Pier is rebuilt or replaced."
Foster, who had vowed that the inverted pyramid would be demolished, has also said the alliance could consider saving it. He could not be reached for comment Monday about the committee's discussion.
Council member Leslie Curran, who described the alliance as Foster's "failed attempt at re-election," said the group was "a little off kilter" in asking about reopening the inverted pyramid.
"I don't think that was at all what the mayor's intention for that committee was," said Curran, a Lens supporter. "I think what we need to do is to wait for the outcome of the Aug. 27 referendum and decide what we should have at that point."
Monday's meeting also dealt with how the group, made up of experts in marine science, architecture, business, finance and urban planning, should proceed with its task. Lawyer and mediator Raleigh "Lee" Greene suggested they start with the basics and asked the committee to study the Pier task force's 2010 report and identify and narrow areas of disagreement before the next meeting, July 25.
Greene's job will likely be difficult, as both those for and against the Lens make up the alliance. During the meeting, O'Sullivan tried to shield her face so she wouldn't be recorded by a Lens supporter who was attending the public meeting.
"I don't like a camera pointed at me," she said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.