Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Pier referendum supporters close in on goal, even as plans for Lens move forward

ST. PETERSBURG — The group that has been fighting for a vote on the city's Pier using Facebook, postage-paid petitions, drop boxes and robocalls appears to be winning its campaign.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office said Tuesday it had verified 12,037 signatures from 14,401 petitions submitted by voteonthepier.com. A spokeswoman said more than 5,000 were yet to be processed.

Voteonthepier, which wants to save the current Pier and halt plans for its $50 million replacement, is aiming for 15,652 petitions, representing 10 percent of residents registered to vote in the city's last general election.

Meanwhile, the process to build the new Pier, known as the Lens, continues. Tuesday, a city committee selected Skanska USA Building, a worldwide construction and project manager with an office in Tampa, to manage the project.

The company will advise the architect and keep the project on time and budget.

Public works administrator Mike Connors, development director Chris Ballestra and building official Rick Dunn each ranked Skanska the top firm of four finalists.

Connors said the city will now negotiate the cost.

Meanwhile, it will be up to City Council members to decide whether to put a Pier question on the ballot. The subject is on Thursday's agenda.

In a report to council members Tuesday, City Attorney John Wolfe said the city has no legal obligation to hold an election based on the petition effort.

Wolfe said the council could decide to place a nonbinding question or questions on the ballot to meet the supervisor of elections' Aug. 3 deadline by passing an emergency ordinance as late as Aug. 2, during a regularly scheduled meeting.

An emergency ordinance would require six votes, a supermajority. A regular ordinance, which requires a simple majority, would mean a first reading must be held Thursday, with an advertisement 10 days in advance of the public hearing that would take place on Aug. 2.

The city attorney suggested several ballot questions, among them whether the city should replace the existing inverted pyramid at an estimated $24 million more than the $50 million budget and whether it should cease building the Lens and explore alternatives.

The majority of council members have not made up their minds about whether to put the issue to a vote. Council member Bill Dudley says the petitions cannot be ignored, but won't decide until he knows which questions will be asked.

Council members Karl Nurse and Charlie Gerdes will support a vote if voteonthepier.com gets its petitions. Council members Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy are undecided, as is Steve Kornell.

"I'm still listening," Kornell said.

Leslie Curran, who was on the Pier Advisory Task Force and also was a member of the jury that selected the design for the new Pier, is upset that some people are trying to derail the process.

Council member Wengay Newton says St. Petersburg residents deserve to vote.

"Over 19,000 (petitions) have been turned in," he said. "I believe that the people have met the burden."

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