Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg council leaves Lens decision to voters

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council decided late Thursday night not to kill the $50 million Lens project and instead let voters decide the fate of the contract with designer Michael Maltzan Architecture in an Aug. 27 referendum.

Council member Charlie Gerdes made a motion to kill the controversial Lens deal that has roiled the city, but his effort died when no other member backed his proposal. The council instead voted 8-0 to let residents decide the issue.

"Let the chips fall where they may," council member Leslie Curran said. "We need to have an opportunity to let democracy work."

The council also voted unanimously to include the word Lens in the referendum title, which was not in the original ordinance signed by more than 20,000 people to get the issue on the ballot.

Residents will vote yes or no on: "An ordinance terminating the Michael Maltzan new pier design agreement based on the Lens concept."

"We have a moral obligation to put it on the ballot and to call it what it is," council Chairman Karl Nurse said.

Prior to the vote, mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford reminded the council that she was before them a year ago and told them to put the issue to voters. Mayor Bill Foster also told the council that he had wanted the issue on last November's ballot.

Foster, who is seeking re-election, noted that he and Ford rarely agree on anything.

The council rejected the idea in August.

Residents will vote as a result of a petition drive spurred by Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg.

"I am thrilled," said Bud Risser, one of the group's leaders. "They finally listened to the people."

After months of controversy, support for the Lens began to crumble among major supporters Thursday.

First, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Foster and the council urging the city to end the contract.

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO, explained how the group had always supported the Lens. But the group had never expected the issue to go on the ballot.

He stressed that the city shouldn't be without a pier.

"Nothing is not an option," Steinocher said. "If we are going to change the process, let us make the process fair."

The chamber also asked the city to immediately start a new process to find a new design and allow the Lens to be a finalist, noting that taxpayers already have spent $3 million on that design.

Later in the day, the project's biggest cheerleader conceded defeat.

Anthony Sullivan, leader of Wow Our Waterfront St. Pete, stood in front of City Hall and said the Lens has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

The animosity isn't good, the TV pitchman said. He urged the council to stop the contract.

"Maybe we can get together to build a pier for the city," Sullivan said. "We need to come together as a community."

Thursday's debate was the first time opponents and critics agreed on something: Both sides wanted residents to vote.

Willi Rudowsky, a Lens supporter, said the city failed by not educating the public about the project and addressing the wording of the petition title. But she supported putting it on the ballot.

"There are people who support the Lens," she said, "and they would feel disenfranchised if they are not allowed to vote."

Lorraine Margeson, an anti-Lens critic and candidate for City Council, said: "Don't you dare not let us vote."

But even if both sides agreed that the issue should go on the ballot, it was for different reasons and tension still festered.

More than 30 minutes after the council decided the ballot language, members still bickered and took jabs at each other about how to educate the public before the vote.

At one point, council member Steve Kornell asked: "Can we tone down the rhetoric and have a real discussion?"

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459.

Comments
It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

Happy Earth Day, Florida!In the spirit of the holiday that recognizes our planet’s clean air, water and land, here are 11 stories the Tampa Bay Times has published about how climate change affects the Sunshine State.1. The Florida keys have to elevat...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Former NFL kicker Jay Feely, who was born in Odessa and starred at Tampa Jesuit, has apologized for a photo he intended as a joke, showing him holding a gun as he poses with his daughter and her prom date."Wishing my beautiful daughter and her date a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store on Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported.Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27 and of St. Petersburg, now faces charges of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

The original Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 was inspired by how the Florida black bear roamed — and the space it needed to do so successfully. In 2010, expedition team member Joe Guthrie conducted research through the University of Kent...
Updated: 2 hours ago
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A man wearing nothing but a coat stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Tennessee before dawn Sunday and shot four people to death, according to police, who credited a customer with saving lives by wresting a weapon away from t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

Class 9A-8 (higher seed hosts)Tuesday: No. 3 Alonso at No. 2 Palm Harbor University, 4; No. 4 Sarasota Riverview at No. 1 Newsome, 7Thursday: Final, 4 or 7 (depending on who hosts)Class 8A-4 at Strawberry Crest Tuesday: No. 1 Wharton vs. No. 4 Wiregr...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Members of the Rays organization sent their thoughts and prayers to former teammate Danny Farquhar, who was hospitalized Saturday night in Chicago in stable but critical condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm.Farqu...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

After a two-hour weather delay Saturday evening at USF, the remote local threat of lightning finally dissipated.The postseason intensity never did.For the second consecutive night, the UCF-USF baseball series delivered, this time with the Bulls (25-1...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18