Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Residents aren't fond of St. Petersburg's plans for a new Pier, poll shows

St. Petersburg is moving forward with plans to replace its inverted pyramid Pier with a new design that calls for dual bridges and a soaring canopy.

There's just one problem. A new survey supports what anecdotal evidence has long suggested: There isn't much love for the $50 million public project.

A Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey found that only 29 percent of Pinellas County residents favor the proposed Lens plan. Another 24 percent don't know how they feel about the city's plans for the would-be icon.

By contrast, 47 percent are against it.

"It's a very poor design," said David Jones, 61, chief executive officer for a small research firm and a longtime St. Petersburg resident. "I think it's a very poor utilization of our funds."

Mike Castle, 38, a private investigator who satisfies his hankering for a Havana ham and cheese sandwich at Cha Cha Coconuts on the Pier's top floor, shares Jones' concern about funding.

"I don't think the city should be spending taxpayers' money on the Pier," he said.

The poll conducted by Braun Research, based in New Jersey, surveyed 203 Pinellas County residents. The margin of error is plus or minus 6.9 percentage points.

Cost was the reason most often cited by residents who said they dislike the Lens concept. The next biggest objection was to the design. And the current Pier retains some support: The third most cited reason for not liking the Lens included a belief that the inverted Pier should be repaired.

"Clearly, there are a lot of people who are misinformed as to our ability to renovate and replace the existing pyramid and abutting structures," Mayor Bill Foster said.

Engineering studies have shown that the concrete superstructure for the Pier approach and area surrounding the inverted pyramid — dating back to the 1920s — is badly deteriorated. Also, the foundation on which the five-story inverted pyramid sits, built more than 30 years ago, is approaching the end of its service life.

Will Michaels, who served on the Pier Advisory Task Force as design committee chairman and is a former president of St. Petersburg Preservation, said that as much as he would like to see the Pier repaired, the city has not been able to consider proposals for doing so.

"To my knowledge, none could be done within the available budget," he said in an email.

The design doesn't do much for Christina Burris, 36, who lives in Safety Harbor and works in St. Petersburg.

"It is really too contemporary looking and it doesn't seem to go with downtown St. Pete," she said.

Of those surveyed in the Dec. 5-13 poll, a few included the loss of shops and restaurants that they like at the current Pier as a reason for opposing the Lens. A handful expressed dislike or distrust for the metal design of the new Pier, while a similar number said residents should have been involved in the decision to replace the current one.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who sat on the jury that selected the new design, was not surprised by the poll's findings.

"Those numbers are actually a little bit better than I've been hearing out in the community," he said, noting that many people disliked the three finalists in the international design competition won by the Lens.

"A lot of what I heard was, none of the above," he said.

For council member Karl Nurse, who recently pulled his support for the Lens, the main takeaway from the poll was "that we haven't presented something to the public that excites them."

Kathy Rooker, 58, from Clearwater, likes the Lens.

"It would be a great attraction for the young people," she said, "something new and exciting in the area."

Restaurant manager Patrick Franke also is a fan.

"I think it's pretty cool, fresh, futuristic, something that's landmarking for the area," said Franke, 49, of Largo.

On the other hand, there are those like Jim Cameron, 56, who believes the millions earmarked for the Lens would be better spent elsewhere.

"We are worried about attracting tourists downtown when the rest of the city is falling apart," he said. He mentioned code violations and crime as prime concerns.

"I would think that if more people understood that the funding for the Pier comes from the downtown special taxing district and that those funds can only be spent for capital purposes in the downtown area, that objection would be addressed," said Michaels, the former president of St. Petersburg Preservation.

Patrick Little seemed to express the ambivalence of some. The Largo resident and his 4-year-old son sometimes visit the aging Pier.

"Something needs to be done, but (the Lens) is radical," he said. "There really needs to be some buy-in from the community."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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