ST. PETERSBURG — With just one resolute dissenter, the St. Petersburg City Council voted Thursday to move forward with a new $50 million Pier.
The decision came after more than a dozen speakers tried to make a case for saving the current inverted pyramid and a lengthy discussion by council members, who spoke both of their reservations about the design and agreement and praised the merits of the contract.
The $4.7 million architectural and engineering services agreement with Michael Maltzan Architecture, designer of the new Pier, is the first for the project known as the Lens.
Thursday's action kicked off a three-year process that will include demolishing the old Pier in the late summer of next year, constructing its replacement in 2014 and opening it in late 2015.
The agreement does not address a potential challenge posed by the voteonthepier.com group that is trying to save the 1973 inverted pyramid and force a vote on the issue. Though the city is not obligated to allow a vote, Mayor Bill Foster has said he would honor the drive, if it is successful. The contract with Maltzan allows the city to suspend or terminate work at any point, but it would have to pay the costs and fees already incurred.
Council member Jim Kennedy was concerned, however, that there are provisions that would allow the Los Angeles-based architect to pull out.
"If the architect determines that he is no longer interested in going forward, what do we have?'' he asked.
Lisa Wannemacher, a local architect who is part of the Maltzan team, assured the council of Michael Maltzan's commitment.
"He is very thoughtful and very invested both emotionally and financially" in the city and the project, Wannemacher said. "We are so excited about moving forward."
Council member Charlie Gerdes praised the agreement.
"I happen to like the fact that there are escape clauses in the contract. I think the flexibility of the contract is as optimal as it could get. I think the contract is a good contract for both sides, especially for the city."
Council member Wengay Newton, a staunch opponent of the project, cast the sole vote against the contract.
"I have the same concerns I had from day one," he said in a telephone interview earlier. "If the people can't vote, I'm not voting for it. … I never voted for it. I want to make sure people know that there's one council member that is not in cahoots with this"
Foster and several council members bemoaned what they saw as a proliferation of misinformation about the project, saying they are eager for the series of public input efforts to start.
The city will have to do a better job of conveying the facts about the condition of the current Pier, Foster said. City officials have said repairing and maintaining the Pier is not cost-effective and that more than $6.2 million was spent to repair and replace decking, beams and piles from 1991 to 2003. "Anyone who thinks it's going to be easy to keep the existing Pier doesn't have the facts,'' Foster said.
William Ballard, a St. Petersburg resident who said he has been sailing on Tampa Bay since 1947, told council members that "putting a huge public art project on Tampa Bay" will alter the character of the downtown waterfront. "Stop. Stop. Don't do this,'' he said.
Safety Harbor resident Tom Lambdon, who leads the voteonthepier.com project, brought three boxes with 13,300 of the close to 16,000 petitions the group needs to raise. "You have deliberately turned your backs on these people,'' he said.
Maltzan, which will be paid $557,687 for the initial phase, and the city will consult with marine scientists to determine the feasibility of an underwater garden, considered by some to be the centerpiece of the Lens concept. Marine scientists have told the Tampa Bay Times that the project might not be viable. Design costs are omitted from the contract, though the feasibility study is covered. If the garden is determined to be viable, an amendment will be added to the contract.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.