Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Pier workshop offers few guarantees

ST. PETERSBURG — For a project steeped in unpredictability, today's City Council workshop to discuss the Lens, the proposed replacement of the 1973 Pier, offers a few certainties.

• Opponents of the $50 million project, with 20 minutes to make their point, will question construction materials, costs, pedestrian, vehicular and hurricane safety, and likely draw comparisons to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner's burning batteries and Tampa Bay Water's cracked reservoir.

• City staff, led by public works administrator Mike Connors, will attempt to counter their skepticism.

• In the end, those against the Lens will stand their ground.

Nonetheless, council chair Karl Nurse, who pushed for the workshop, hopes the session will yield answers he and his colleagues can use as they prepare to decide whether to continue the contract with Lens designer Michael Maltzan Architecture.

"My primary objective is, let's know the facts, let's make it transparent, let everybody have the opportunity to know what the facts are," council member Charlie Gerdes said.

Days before the workshop, though, Nurse spoke of difficulties setting an agenda and getting firm questions from Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that spurred him to arrange the meeting. On the other hand, William Ballard, its president, expressed disappointment with the format. He had envisioned a less formal session, away from council chambers and in roundtable style, the retired construction lawyer said.

"We are raising questions and trying to bring a viewpoint of analyzing the risk of going forward that we do not believe they are getting from anyone else," he said.

The group has lined up several representatives to speak, with particular focus on the durability of the Lens' tiara-style canopy.

"There is the expectation this canopy will be impervious to hurricanes and will last for 50 years. I am going to see them tearing it apart and trying to fix it every year in my lifetime," Bud Risser said.

F. Carter "Bud" Karins, chief executive officer of Karins Engineering Group in St. Petersburg, emphasized that while he does not have access to the final design, it appears the canopy would be susceptible to corrosion.

"Saltwater and aluminum don't get along very well," he said.

Wayne "Skipp" Fraser, a retired accountant, will question the new structure's projected operating subsidy. The city provides $1.4 million in annual subsidies to the current structure and has said the amount for the new Pier will be much reduced.

"Any projection that anybody does is simply representing assumptions of that person looking forward," Fraser said.

A probable topic is Concerned Citizens' petition drive to halt construction of the Lens.

"We believe we have reached our goal," Risser said early this week, adding that his group hopes to get the city to delay the project until a referendum is held.

"There is no downside to waiting a few months. You just stop spending money. And yet, we have people on council that think it's the wrong thing to do."

The group also issued a statement Wednesday saying it wants the city to keep the 1973 Pier, scheduled to close on May 31, open until the issue is decided.

Council member Wengay Newton, against the project from its inception, advocates a delay. He is looking forward to the workshop.

"I'm just glad they are having it so they can get answers to hopefully all the changes, the metamorphosis from what was sold to us," he said of the evolving Lens design.

Nurse hopes the workshop will help "identify how many issues we can take off the table" before the May 2 meeting to decide whether to release additional money for the Lens.

"To me, a home run would be, here are three other things that we have changed, that we have addressed," he said. "And if we build it, I surely want to make sure we take care of these issues."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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