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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.