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St. Petersburg councilman Jeff Danner wants to educate voters on Lens

ST. PETERSBURG — Council member Jeff Danner wants to spend tax dollars to educate residents about the proposed Lens even as support for the project appears to be dwindling.

Danner will ask the council Thursday to discuss ways to educate voters before they head to the polls Aug. 27 to decide the fate of the $50 million project.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Danner said. "I think we've done a less than stellar job of educating people. We have over $3 million invested in this project."

The discussion will come the same day the council finalizes the title for the citizen initiative, which, if approved by voters, would kill the city's contract with Lens designer Michael Maltzan Architecture.

Danner, a Lens supporter, said he didn't know how much an educational campaign would cost but said it could be minimal if handled by city staffers at neighborhood and business meetings.

Council chairman Karl Nurse, a Lens opponent, said an education campaign will not help. "I think the public is educated," he said. "That's the problem."

As the referendum heads to the ballot, the anticipated political battle between Lens supporters and critics might be more bark than bite.

On May 31, TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan, leader of the WOW Our Waterfront St. Pete group, vowed to battle the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg.

On Monday, the WOW group's website was down for maintenance.

Speculation swirled that the Sullivan group hasn't raised money to mount a campaign. The group, Nurse said, conducted a poll last week and found it didn't have much support among residents.

Sullivan declined to comment at length Monday, saying: "We're strategizing."

Other winds have shifted in the past two weeks.

Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman announced his opposition to the project last week, a stance shared by fellow candidate Kathleen Ford. Mayor Bill Foster even divulged that he is forming a new committee to develop a replacement in case voters reject the Lens.

Hal Freedman, who supports WOW Our Waterfront St. Pete, said Lens critics might have an advantage with yard signs strewn around the city. Still, the outcome will not come until residents vote, he added.

"I don't know how to call anything at the moment," Freedman said Monday. "It's bizarre."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg councilman Jeff Danner wants to educate voters on Lens 06/17/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 9:55pm]
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