ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster and city staffers have done a poor job of promoting the $50 million project slated to replace the Pier, council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said.
Her declaration comes a week before the council is set to approve a $5.4 million contract to move the project, known as the Lens, to the final design stages.
With critics trying to halt the deal, Curran said a stronger marketing program might have educated residents and helped gain more community support for the project.
It's not an isolated case, she said. Similar problems have plagued the years-old stalemate over a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, the delay in building a new police headquarters and the years it took to find a tenant for the Manhattan Casino.
Curran compared the city's marketing and education efforts on the Lens to a group of people taking the back seats in a theater to watch a show.
"Why isn't the city promoting it more?" she said. "We can never get anything finished."
Critics agreed but said Curran is part of the problem.
At a meeting Wednesday with the Tampa Bay Times, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, a group working to stop the Lens, called Foster and the council "dysfunctional" because of the constant turmoil in public meetings.
"There's no consensus where they work together to make a decision," said Bud Risser, a leader in the group. "It's difficult to get anything done in this city anymore."
The group believes Foster hasn't taken strong stances in public because he's trying to appease all sides of the controversy.
With a $50 million project, Foster said he expects criticism, adding: "You're never going to please everyone."
He dismissed Curran's criticism and said the city hasn't launched a massive marketing blitz because the Lens is still being modified.
He pointed to recent changes suggested by residents: the addition of a restaurant and wider pathways leading to the Lens.
"My role as mayor is not to force feed the citizens," Foster said. "It is to engage the public. We have educated the public."
To highlight the recent changes, a new website should launch next week with Michael Maltzan Architecture, and an informercial will be produced for the city's television station and possibly Bay News 9, Foster said.
That's not enough for Curran.
Besides handing microphones to citizens at public meetings, the city should have held workshops to solicit more ideas from taxpayers, she said.
She wants Foster to champion the Lens in public, adding: "You don't hear the mayor say, 'We are going forward. We need your input.' "
The turmoil between Foster and the council boiled over in early October when the council repeatedly lambasted the mayor for not sharing enough information on projects. The tension could increase in the coming months as some council members could seek Foster's job next year.
Dan Harvey, a member of the citizen's group, believes Foster and Curran are locked in a power struggle, making it hard to move legislation forward.
He thinks Curran, who can't seek re-election to the council next year because of term limits, is putting politics in front of progress.
In response, he believes Foster is working to diminish a potential opponent.
"She's out of a job next year," Harvey said. "Leslie's all but declared she running for mayor."
Since all council members ask questions in the drawn-out debates, the entire group should be accused of playing politics, she said.
"If I think something is going in the wrong direction, I say something," Curran said. "I wasn't elected to just sit in the back row. I do what I feel is right."
She said she has yet to decide if she will run for mayor.
Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected]