Veteran mediator to referee 828 Alliance deciding Pier's fate

ST. PETERSBURG — It may be akin to herding cats, but a veteran mediator might just have been the right pick to attempt to steer divergent thoughts toward a truce in the contentious Pier issue.

With the Lens facing a residents-led revolt, Mayor Bill Foster has asked experts in marine science, architecture, business, finance and urban planning to find a way to continue St. Petersburg's century-old tradition of a public pier on its waterfront.

Feuding sides in the debate — those for and against the avant-garde, $50 million Lens design picked to replace the shuttered 1973 inverted pyramid Pier — have been asked to join the discussion.

The referee will be lawyer Raleigh "Lee" Greene, president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association and a federal court certified mediator. Greene will facilitate the so-called 828 Alliance charged with making sure that whatever the outcome of the Aug. 27 referendum on the Lens, the city will move forward unified on plans for a new Pier.

Here's a look at alliance members named so far:

The 828 Alliance
Member Do you think the Pier should be saved? If not, are you in favor of the Lens?
Ed Montanari was vice chairman of the 20-member Pier Advisory Task Force that issued recommendations for a new pier in 2010. "No. When you look at the bridge and Pier head, they are 90 years old. ... When you look at rebuilding everything and the cost to refurbish that building, the city says it would be over $70 million. ... It's throwing good money after bad." "The Lens meets a lot of the criteria laid down by the Pier Task Force. ... It came in under budget; the subsidy is cut in half. It has most of the programming we have at the current Pier and it has additional features. I see the Lens as a win-win situation for the new Pier."
Phil Graham, descended from one of the city's earliest settlers, was the landscape architect for the Salvador Dalí Museum. "That's going to be a question we all deal with. I think the mayor wanted to leave that on the table certainly and I think it is something that will be discussed." "There is a sense in the community that the Lens was not an appropriate facility for our waterfront and my feeling has always been that we really need the community to buy into what we do and we kind of had all those meetings and that report somehow didn't get fully integrated into the request for proposals. And as a result, we ended up with something the community doesn't feel is appropriate."
Bob Churuti sat on the Pier Advisory Task Force and is co-director with John Hamilton Jr. of more than 50,000 square feet of their family-owned Beach Drive retail property. "Given an unlimited amount of money, anything can be saved. It's just a case of if we have the money to save it." "After all of this, I am still not sure. It was a very long process ... and I'm not sure that the Lens would have been my first choice or not my first choice. I know we have to have something."
David Punzak is a lawyer with Carlton Fields and chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, which "supported the process that resulted in the Lens" but adjusted its position as an August vote became certain. "I am going into this with a wide open mind and see what comes out of the meetings." "We want whatever is in favor of commerce. We desperately don't want to not have a pier. It would be very bad for St. Pete. If the Lens is not ultimately the choice, let's get started building whatever it is going to be."
Susan Jezek is the executive director of the Urban Land Institute in Tampa Bay and a downtown St. Petersburg resident. ULI is working with the city and chamber on the downtown waterfront master plan. "I would say that because ULI is a nonpartisan group that it is really important that my representation be about best practices ... and to look at all the facts and see where we are and see how we can find some consensus." "At this point, how I personally feel about it is not important, because we need to make the best choice for the community going forward."
James Jackson Jr. is an architect for the city of Tampa and a St. Petersburg resident. "From a candid point of view, anything can be done if you throw enough money at it. ... But practically, you have enough evidence right now to advocate that it is not in the best interest to make that sort of investment." "I am in favor of the Lens because of the respect I have for the process that has happened. It's almost a three-year process to get to that point."
Jacqueline Dixon is dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. "My role on this task force is going to make sure that the decisions are based on sound science, so I'm not going in with preconceived opinions." She has no position on the Lens but believes "anytime anything is built in the coastal environment, it is important to make sure that the local experts in estuary, storm surge and local ecosystem health are involved."
Dr. William T. Hogarth is the director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and outgoing interim regional chancellor for USF St. Petersburg. "I think there are some issues with the construction and condition of the Pier. I think we need something that symbolizes St. Petersburg and the great waterfront and the whole economics of the waterfront here." "The mayor asked me to serve. I'm going into it with a completely open mind."
Fred Whaley is managing director at Raymond James Financial and chairman of the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg. "We need to start with the original task force report and use it as our starting guideline. And I think that the existing Pier should certainly not be eliminated from that opportunity." "No. The original task force report said it needed to be a family entertainment and destination and should include about 36,000 square feet of air conditioned space for restaurants, retail and meeting space. So I don't think the Lens meets the function that was requested by the community."
Shirley O'Sullivan, a native St. Petersburg resident, is a Lens supporter and one of the people behind the Facebook page Build the Lens. "Not for a second." "I truly believe that the Pier needs to be demolished and we need to start over from scratch. And the reason being I don't feel we should use any of the old parts of the Pier that may have a lifespan of only 25 years. I feel we should start new."

Rob Kapusta, a lawyer with Fisher & Sauls and chairman of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, could not be reached for comment.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Veteran mediator to referee 828 Alliance deciding Pier's fate 06/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 1, 2013 1:21am]

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