Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

John Romano: Is all this energy spent on Lens just a little too much?

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By now, we know lots of people are fanatically opposed to the Lens. They hate the look, the cost, the delusion of an underwater garden.

And we also know a fair number of people think the Lens is just what St. Petersburg needs. They consider it a visionary replacement for the now-shuttered Pier.

On the other hand, here's what we do not know:

Just how many people don't give a #@*%?

And I mean that in the most sincere sense of the phrase.

My guess is a lot more folks would rather tune in to a repeat of The View than a debate on the Lens. It's not that they don't care; it's that they don't care to this degree.

And yet this tiny parcel of coastline is threatening to swallow the rest of the city.

Council members are sniping at each other. The city's upper crust are waving checkbooks in the air. The mayor has gone through more contortions than a carnival act.

And the remarkable thing is we're not arguing about public safety or poverty. We're not posting signs in support of education reform or human rights issues.

We're talking about a man-made structure that will warrant a few paragraphs in the AAA guidebook while it conceivably decides the upcoming mayoral election.

Forgive me, but doesn't that seem a little warped?

It's not that the future of the waterfront lacks importance; it's that the scope of the argument has become wildly disproportionate.

I suspect this realization has arrived gradually for many of us. One minute we were arguing whether this thing could be rescued with a tiki hut and a hamburger stand, and the next we were hearing about lawsuits and referendums.

And what makes the issue difficult to navigate is that both sides — the anti-Lens crowd and the City Council — have legitimate points.

It's true the public was given plenty of opportunities to attend brainstorming sessions and workshops long before the Lens was ever conceived. ("Help shape the Pier's $50 million future," Times headline on Sept. 7, 2008.)

It's also true a majority of people whom the advisory task force heard from seemed to be in favor of the status quo. ("Public: Stand pat on Pier," Feb. 7, 2010.)

The City Council ultimately came to the reasonable and logical conclusion that renovating the Pier was not worth the cost and that St. Petersburg was better off looking to the future rather than clinging to the past.

The problem is some council members, at this point, got too cute. Instead of arguing the merits of their decision, they quickly and deceptively rushed through a vote that caught most people by surprise.

That little maneuver probably cost them a chance at widespread support, and it allowed a small band of angry residents to put together an impressive groundswell of opposition.

It's also left us where we are today:

With the strong possibility the city will have wasted years and millions of dollars on a project that will soon be rejected by voters and leave St. Pete starting all over again.

If that decision is inevitable, then so be it. Honestly, I don't give a rip.

Just as long as everyone understands that this waterfront amenity should not shape every other decision that needs to be made in St. Petersburg.

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