ST. PETERSBURG — What's next now that Tom Lambdon has carted 15,000 petitions to City Hall in a bid to save St. Petersburg's seventh incarnation of the municipal pier?
For starters, the counting is almost complete of the cartons filled with petitions that Lambdon delivered Friday, said city clerk Eva Andujar, adding that the tally went faster than she had anticipated.
"We don't normally get 15,000 at one shot," she said. "It's always easier to process in batches."
By Monday afternoon, her office had already delivered 11,000 to the Supervisor of Elections office, which will verify each signature to determine how many petitions are valid. Anticipating that a number will be ineligible, Lambdon and his supporters hope to submit an additional 2,000 in the next few days to exceed the required 15,648 total.
"I'm very confident we are going to make it over the hump," said Lambdon, who lives in Safety Harbor and heads the voteonthepier.com group. "We're not done until the supervisor of elections tells us we're done."
His group is facing a time crunch and other hurdles as it pursues its goal to get St. Petersburg residents to vote on the Pier in November. The decision, though, will be up to the City Council.
City Attorney John Wolfe has said there is no legal obligation to hold an election based on the petitions. The city's charter, he said, addresses petitions only for a proposed ordinance or repeal of an ordinance, whereas state law refers to petitions only in relation to changing a charter.
With time running out to meet the supervisor of elections' Aug. 3 deadline, the council may have to pass an emergency ordinance to get the measure on the November ballot. Such action would require six affirmative votes, a supermajority, Wolfe said.
A difficult discussion is sure to ensue about how a Pier question should be worded. Council member Bill Dudley, noting that the petitions cannot be ignored, said he's still unsure of what voteonthepier.com wants on the ballot.
"Do they want a Pier? If they want to redo the one that is there . . . it's going to cost money. Are they willing to tax themselves for the difference? The bottom line is that it cannot be saved," he said.
Council member Karl Nurse said any ballot question about saving the Pier should lay out the costs to preserve and subsidize the structure over 20 years. A similar question should be asked about the new Pier, called the Lens, he said. A third question, Nurse said, should ask voters whether they want to proceed with demolition of the current Pier and review additional choices for its replacement.
Nurse and fellow council member Charlie Gerdes say they will support a ballot question if Lambdon's group collects its nearly 16,000 petitions. Council members Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy say they haven't made up their minds.
"I am not convinced that we need to go to a ballot," council member Steve Kornell said Tuesday. "I may end up voting to move forward with the Lens."
Colleague Wengay Newton backs Lambdon's grass roots group, which has picked up support from a few prominent residents. Their involvement caught Nurse's attention at a recent public comment meeting about the new Pier.
"It was people who had historically been active in promoting progress in our community, which says to me what we've come up with hasn't resonated with our community," he said.
Gerdes, though, has not sensed what some view as rising antipathy toward the new Pier.
"I think there is a well-organized and passionate and genuinely engaged opposition, but I don't see it growing," he said.
Lambdon's group is fighting plans to demolish the current Pier and replace it with the $50 million Lens. The group advocates renovating the iconic 1973 Pier, which it says can be done for less money than the city plans for its replacement. The city counters that the superstructure of the Pier approach and Pier head — the area surrounding the five-story structure — are crumbling and renovation of the inverted pyramid would be cost-prohibitive.
Meanwhile, Mayor Bill Foster says he has heard from many quiet supporters of the Lens. Some residents who have signed the voteonthepier.com petition, he said, have told him that they are not in favor of saving the current Pier, but simply want a chance to vote.
"These are prominent people who are very educated on all things Pier and are not enamored with the Lens," Foster said. "I think that begs the question of council, do you ask another question? It's not just do you want to save the inverted pyramid. It's do you want to proceed with the Lens? And there's a third camp who doesn't want to build any Pier."
The city has signed an initial contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the Los Angeles designer of the Lens, and is evaluating proposals to hire a construction manager at risk for the project. The inverted pyramid is scheduled to be closed next May, with demolition to follow in the summer.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.