ST. PETERSBURG — The last time the city tried to revive the Pier, the process became a morass of accusations, petitions, lawsuits and, some would add, misinformation.
City leaders not only found themselves outmaneuvered by a couple of grass roots organizations that got their message out, but also pilloried on social media.
"We did not do well with informing the public about the Lens," Michael Connors, the city's public works administrator, said, referring to the Lens Pier design that voters resoundingly rejected more than a year ago.
A new administration now focused on re-engaging residents and winning assent for an overhauled effort has hired a marketing expert to sell the city's latest attempt to revitalize the waterfront landmark.
St. Petersburg resident Kristin Brett, who began her job in December, reports to both Connors and director of marketing and communications Robert Danielson. She holds what is described as a temporary full-time position in the engineering and capital improvements department.
The city had originally planned to hire a public relations firm for the project but "just felt that we needed someone on staff who, 24/7, had the Pier project in mind," Danielson said.
Brett is an independent contractor in marketing and communications whose experience includes working for the Tampa Bay Times, 11 years as the newspaper's marketing services manager.
The Pier "is her No. 1 priority," Danielson said, adding that her work for the city could continue through its planned reopening in 2018.
"We would love that, if she could plan the grand opening celebration with us," he said.
Brett is being paid $60,000 a year, a salary that will come out of the $46 million Pier budget, Connors said.
Among Brett's tasks will be to help residents understand that the Pier designs they have seen so far will evolve as adjustments are made to include only what is feasible and can be built for the $33 million construction budget, Danielson said.
During the previous process, residents complained that the renderings and models promised more than could be delivered within budget.
The campaign to engage the public includes outreach sessions at neighborhood meetings, civic clubs and the Saturday Morning and Midtown markets, Brett said. Hundreds of small cards with the message "Help pick your new Pier" are being distributed by police officers as they make their rounds. Similar information will appear in city utility bills and at city facilities.
Her most important task is "to let people know what the process is and to make sure that they are fully informed about what is happening with the Pier," Brett said.
"I've started going to the Saturday Morning Market, and I'm surprised at the number of people who are not clear about what has happened so far and what's going to happen next."
She is encouraging people to visit the city's website and to attend the public sessions in February at which design teams will explain their ideas for the Pier.
The online survey of residents 18 and older will be conducted through the city's website and include both registered voters and other residents. Those without Internet access will be able to participate at any of the city's libraries or at other sites, Brett said.
Mayor Rick Kriseman's Pier selection committee will rank the top designs, based on the city's criteria and the public vote, in March.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.