ST. PETERSBURG — Less than two months before a referendum that will determine the fate of the Lens and the course of the city's downtown waterfront, opponents of the proposed $50 million project are pointing to what they say are inaccurate depictions on the city website.
Prominent on the pier site is a sleekly produced video that takes a visitor on a virtual tour above, around and through the Lens. That, coupled with earlier renderings, give a deceptive view of the controversial pier, those fighting to stop the project say.
"Somebody needs to give us more drawings. You can't decide how you're going to vote on a pretty picture," said Bud Risser of the anti-Lens group, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg. "The pictures the architect produced last summer, which are quite beautiful, are no longer accurate."
Risser and others say the Lens' appearance has undergone a dramatic change since St. Petersburg residents first saw the design more than a year ago. They say the change of materials for the iconic canopy from more expensive and heavier concrete panels to aluminum panels over galvanized steel has altered its look.
They also refer to a photograph of a model deep in the city's website that shows additional support columns and a canopy that appears to be fashioned with elongated, horizontal panels.
Lorraine Margeson, Concerned Citizens' office manager and a candidate for City Council, sent an email blast this week comparing a December rendering with a version of the newer model on the city's site.
"The city says that it 'can't afford' to update their website with renderings that reflect the current iteration of the very changed Lens concept," Margeson wrote. "Well, we have some folks doing that FOR FREE, Mayor (Bill) Foster, we'll take care of it for you if you'll guarantee to put up the truth on the city's site."
Indeed, finding the latest information requires more than a cursory visit to the website promoting "The New St. Pete Pier." For that, visitors must delve into the expansive "Book 3" of the Lens design presented to the City Council in May.
The city had said that a continued flow of updated renderings was not part of its contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, designers of the Lens. This week, though, city architect Raul Quintana said Maltzan is working on new renderings at no cost to the city.
"The essential components of the design are still there,'' Quintana said. "We haven't misrepresented that. It's the details that are changing."
Council Chairman Karl Nurse, who supports Concerned Citizens and its referendum to stop the Lens, shares the group's concerns.
"They are certainly correct in that the city's website does have essentially conceptual drawings that do not reflect the changes that have happened over time," he said.
Downtown resident Howard Taylor is among those leading the charge. In May, the former stockbroker fired off a letter to the mayor and City Council outlining his concerns. He raised the issue again at a council meeting.
"We just don't know, especially with the vote coming up, exactly what the Lens is," he said in an interview.
The new model "demonstrates what many of us believe, which is the beautiful, curving lines of the original concept cannot be produced using the newly proposed construction materials," Risser said.
"That model is not representative of the final condition of the canopy or the finishes to the canopy," Quintana said. "The intent of the model is a design tool that the architect uses to look at the project in three dimensions."
A lot has been learned from tests conducted and those are "reflected in the design of the canopy, the structural support system, the foundation and the overall geometry of the project," Quintana said.
Meanwhile, council member Jeff Danner, a staunch Lens supporter, wants to step up efforts to educate voters. He plans to bring up the issue at Thursday's council meeting.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.