ST. PETERSBURG — The question has been asked over and over again.
What do the people of St. Petersburg want for the Pier project?
A marine discovery center? A bridge from Spa Beach to Vinoy Park? A picnic area? Perhaps a Ferris wheel? Each option has come up in the yearslong quest to regenerate the downtown attraction.
A fourth-time-could-be-the-charm attempt to mine public opinion will kick off Thursday evening at Childs Park Recreation Center and continue at other venues across the city. Those heeding the call will gather around tables to consider a list of possible amenities culled from past efforts to solicit public input. Residents can also add new ideas to the list.
Anyone unable to attend can share their opinions on the city's website, www.stpete.org.
At the end of the collection period, the ideas will be shared with architects competing to design a new or refurbished Pier.
Roy Puck, whose grandfather helped build the beloved 1926 Million Dollar Pier, is eager to participate in the public opinion process.
"My grandfather said, 'The Pier should be the crowning jewel of Tampa Bay,' " he said.
If money were no option, "put back what you had in 1926 with modern-day technology," he advised. "If you don't have all the money in the world, keep what you can and replace what you have to."
At the helm of this latest push for citizen feedback is a 21-member working group appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman. So far, the group has scheduled five public input sessions over a two-week period, an effort that could be extended.
"I am thinking of going back to the public, if we need to," said Ed Montanari, chair of the working group subcommittee charged with soliciting input. "If we need more time, we'll take more time."
Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said an expanded time line fits with the mayor's desire for public involvement. It's unclear, though, what that means for the mayor's plans to give St. Petersburg a Pier by December 2017.
"I am not sure it impacts that too much, or at all," Kirby said. "The important thing to keep in mind is to seek as much public input as possible."
The amenities residents say they want will serve as a road map for architects. Critics of the previous Pier process said that failed to happen with the Lens, the proposed Pier replacement project that voters rejected last August.
This attempt at coalescing the thoughts of St. Petersburg residents is the latest in recent years.
"We started this back in 2008 with visioning citywide," said Montanari, who served as vice chair of the Pier Advisory Task Force that held public meetings for more than a year and produced a report with recommendations.
"There's already a lot of public input out there," he told fellow subcommittee members at their first meeting.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results," committee member Jen French said then.
Besides the Pier visioning sessions and efforts of the Pier task force, the city also conducted a scientific poll last November to gauge the desires of residents. The poll indicated a high demand for fine dining, air conditioning, observation and viewing areas, an iconic design and a place to walk, jog, bike and fish.
Working group member Joseph Reed, who helped collect more than 22,000 petitions to get a vote on the fate of the 1973 inverted pyramid, wants a new poll. He also lobbied for residents to be allowed to speak at the upcoming input sessions.
"The point is that people need to weigh in," he said.
They must perceive that they have been heard, said fellow working group member Frank Carter "Bud" Karins, urging the committee to "turn over every rock" to do so.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.