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As the Pier's final hours draw near, council delays decision on other ballot questions

Bernie and Christy Yost of St. Petersburg snap some photos and take in the view Thursday 
of the St. Petersburg Pier from Vinoy Park.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Bernie and Christy Yost of St. Petersburg snap some photos and take in the view Thursday of the St. Petersburg Pier from Vinoy Park.

ST. PETERSBURG — As the Pier's final hours draw near, uncertainty remains about what will take the place of the iconic inverted pyramid that has watched over the downtown waterfront for four decades.

On Thursday, the City Council indicated that it would be up to voters whether the $50 million replacement Pier known as the Lens should be built.

As of Thursday, the Supervisor of Elections Office had verified 15,313 of the more than 20,000 signatures submitted by the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg. The group needs 15,652 signatures to force a vote and thousands remain to be checked.

The council could opt to scrap the project itself once the petitions are verified, but officials said Thursday they would not.

If residents don't approve the Lens, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, during the Aug. 27 primary, it could be several years before the waterfront has a new anchor. Mayor Bill Foster has said the Pier will be demolished this fall regardless of the fate of the Lens.

The likely referendum caused tension during the City Council's two-hour agenda review Thursday.

Council members worried that residents might be confused with the proposed ballot question because it mentions Maltzan, but not the Lens.

"I'm a little confused that it doesn't automatically say the Lens," council Chairman Karl Nurse said.

Council member Charlies Gerdes suggested adding "the new St. Petersburg Pier" to erase confusion.

However, city lawyers and the mayor fear that the city could face litigation if the ballot language is changed.

"I would not add a comma without going to their legal counsel," Foster said about Concerned Citizens. He later lauded the group for submitting the proper ordinance to go on the ballot.

Council member Steve Kornell said the group shouldn't change language in the proposed ordinance.

"This is not about the Pier," he said "We're setting precedent rewriting citizen initiatives."

Although the review session lasted for two hours, the council didn't delve deeply into the mayor's proposal that they add four questions of their own to the primary ballot.

Foster has suggested that the public be quizzed on whether they want a pier at all, whether they want a much simpler scaled down fishing pier or whether the city should privatize the pier.

Foster wants to emerge from the primary with clear direction because he doesn't want some of the most pristine waterfront property in Florida left vacant if voters kill the Lens.

For the questions to go on the Aug. 27 ballot, the council must have a first reading of the proposed questions on June 6, followed by a public hearing on June 20.

The group can't waste time. The ballot language must be given to the county elections supervisor by June 28.

The group debated whether the questions, if any are picked, should go instead on the November ballot. Some council members feared that additional questions on the primary ballot would confuse voters.

City Clerk Eva Andujar said November's ballot language must be submitted by Aug. 27, the primary date.

Council member Leslie Curran sarcastically asked whether additional questions are even needed.

"Do we need pelican boats on Mirror Lake, or how about a mayor who makes decisions?" she said to Foster.

The mayor then left the meeting and said he doesn't "buy the argument" that more questions will confuse voters. The ordinance submitted by Concerned Citizens could go at the top of the ballot with the remaining questions on the bottom, he said.

Even with choppy waters ahead, Foster said he's committed to the more than 100-year tradition of having a municipal pier. "We're going forward with the construction of a new pier," he said. "We're building a pier."

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

The Pier: closing time

After a wave of 20,000 visitors over the Memorial Day weekend, Pier managers aren't sure what to expect today.

"It was like the Fourth of July and New Year's," said Susan Robertson of Urban Retail, which manages the inverted pyramid that will shut its doors tonight.

No fireworks or big good-byes are planned. At least five businesses already departed. The Bait Shop closed Sunday, Robertson said.

Extra security will be in place to handle any eventuality. Here's what you can expect:

Shops open at 10 a.m. Many have slashed prices on dwindling inventory and merchandise displays.

Want to eat at the Columbia one last time? Slim chance. The restaurant has 1,000 reservations for the final hours and is taking its last seating at 8:30 p.m. If you have gift cards, you can redeem them at one of the Columbia's other locations.

Last call: If you want to have one last drink at Cha Cha Coconuts, better grab it before 8:30 p.m.. Gift certificates can be redeemed at the Sarasota location. Jonny Reno's will close at 10 p.m.

Be flexible. Shops could close early if they run out of merchandise and eating spots might exhaust their food and drink supplies.

11 p.m.: The doors close.

Today on tampabay.com

We'll have updates throughout the day as we document the last hours of the St. Petersburg Pier. Follow #PierMemories on Twitter or Instagram and share your own. Or come to tampabay.com frequently during the day to see new photos and stories. We'll also be livestreaming from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at tampabay.com/pier, so check in during your lunch hour, or, if you're at the Pier, stop by and share your memories with our audience.

As the Pier's final hours draw near, council delays decision on other ballot questions 05/30/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 1:08am]
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