It has been one of the hottest topics across the city. Should the quirky inverted pyramid that has been St. Petersburg's landmark Pier since the 1970s be saved or sent the way of the 8-track tape?
Those craving a certain international savoir faire have latched on to its proposed $50 million replacement, while others panned the design, hoisted their clipboards and marched out to collect petitions to end the folly.
An eruption of Facebook unpleasantness has ensued, including name-calling, digitally altered photographs of the mayor and City Council chairwoman that portray them as hapless monarchs and a rendering of the planned new Pier made to look like a toilet seat. Amid it all, there's the spin.
For those on the outside, here's a chance to catch up.
THE NEW AND THE OLD
The 1973 Pier
The Pier, which opened in 1973, is known as the inverted pyramid. Its approach, or bridge and area around it, dates to 1926. Engineers say there is structural deterioration. The foundation directly supporting the five-story inverted pyramid was built in 1970, and the city says it will reach the end of its lifespan in 2020. Then there is the money. Between 2005 and 2010, an average of $250,000 was spent annually for structural repairs, with an average of $300,000 for plumbing, heating and air-conditioning and other elements of the aging building. Additionally, there is an average annual operating subsidy of $1.4 million.
Looping bridges and a tiara-like canopy are the attention-grabbing features of the proposed replacement for the inverted pyramid. It's the brainchild of Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles, whose St. Petersburg partner is Wannemacher Jensen Architects. The city says taxpayer subsidies will be lower with the Lens, since the bulk of its retail and restaurant space will sit on land, and projects an average annual 10-year operating and maintenance subsidy of about $670,000. thenewstpetepier.com.
FOR AND AGAINST
Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg
The slogan is, "Stop the Lens." This group has the clout of prominent residents. Fred Whaley, a director at Raymond James, is chairman. Other key figures include Bud Risser of Risser Oil Corp.; retired construction and banking lawyer William Ballard; restaurateur and investor Dan Harvey; engineer Bud Karins; and accountant and former St. Petersburg Yacht Club commodore Skipp Fraser. The group has opened an office near downtown, armed itself with T-shirts and signs, and is collecting petitions to force a vote to stop the project. The members' reasons for blocking the Lens include cost, unsuitability for the city and lack of programs to draw return visits. Long-term, the group says it wants a cohesive waterfront plan, which it says the Lens does not offer. stopthelens.com; Facebook: "Justsaynotothelens."
WOW Our Waterfront
The pro-Lens group was started by Anthony Sullivan, a St. Petersburg resident recognizable as a TV pitchman for OxiClean and other As Seen on TV products. He organized a free rock concert to support the Lens; T-shirts promoting the cause declare, "Make Lens not war." Sullivan says that the modern Lens design will enhance the city's image worldwide. Facebook page: "Wow Our Waterfront St. Pete."
Headed by Safety Harbor businessman Tom Lambdon, the group proposed a plan to save and refurbish the current Pier and amassed more than 20,000 petitions in its attempt to give St. Petersburg residents a vote on the waterfront landmark. City Council members rejected the group's initiative. voteonthepier.com; Facebook page: "Voteonthepier.com."
The former City Council member and mayoral candidate sued on behalf of herself and voteonthepier.com petitioners to force the city to hold a referendum. The suit also seeks a temporary injunction to halt demolition of the inverted pyramid pending the court's ruling and outcome of a vote. A judge has ordered Ford and the city to mediation.
Mayor Bill Foster
He continues to support the project. "My marching orders are clear as directed by the City Council, and unless the petition drive is successful and there is a referendum or a court orders otherwise, my desire is to proceed," he said. His parents can't stand the Lens.
City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran sat on the Pier Advisory Task Force and was a member of the jury that selected the Lens. Colleagues Jeff Danner, Steve Kornell, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy and Bill Dudley also support the Lens.
Wengay Newton was the lone council member opposing the project and was the first to sign the voteonthepier.com petition. Karl Nurse recently joined him in opposing the Lens and has thrown his support behind Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
$919,484 predevelopment costs
$5.7 million project design
$1.9 million permits, inspection, tenant fit-out, project administration
$3. 1 million demolition
$37 million construction
$500,000 geotechnical services
$1 million contingency funds
$50 million total cost
Tax increment financing, or TIF, a combination of city and county property tax dollars, is being used to finance the project. The property taxes are generated in the Intown Redevelopment District — within the city's downtown — and earmarked for capital improvements there. Projects funded by TIF include renovation of the Mahaffey Theater, construction of the municipal parking garages and various streetscape enhancements.
$3.7 million: Transferred from TIF funds since 2008 for such items as public visioning sessions; the Pier Advisory Task Force; the international design competition that selected the Lens; and recent, continuing design services for the new Pier.
$1.9 million: paid out from available TIF funds since 2008
$42 million: amount of the project to be financed with bonds or bank loans.
May 31, 2013: closing of the inverted pyramid
Late summer 2013: demolition
Early 2014: construction begins
Mid 2015: the Lens opens