ST. PETERSBURG — When City Council members meet in a couple of weeks to discuss technical issues concerning the proposed new St. Petersburg pier, topics such as traffic safety, hurricane resistance and materials for the structure's iconic canopy could be upstaged by a pressing political development.
One of the groups opposing the controversial $50 million project predicted Thursday that it is just two weeks from its goal of collecting the required number of petitions to force a vote to cancel the city's contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the pier's architect.
The conclusion of that petition drive could coincide with the April 18 public workshop to discuss what City Council chairman Karl Nurse refers to as functional and practical issues about the new pier known as the Lens.
By then, a judge also is likely to have ruled in the lawsuit filed by former City Council member Kathleen Ford and five others who are also seeking a vote on the pier.
"I don't know where the train is heading," council member Wengay Newton said Thursday as his colleagues prepared to discuss whether to hold the workshop.
It was Nurse's idea to schedule the session, at which Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, a fierce Lens opponent, is expected to point out the project's flaws. Concerned Citizens has brought up "some practical issues that I believe can be addressed while the design is still on a computer," Nurse said of the group that is nearing its petition goal.
Bud Risser, one of the group's leaders, said in an email that Concerned Citizens has already raised issues with council members and is hopeful about the upcoming workshop.
"We think that getting council, the city staff and others (including us) with concerns about the project together in the same room will be productive," he said.
The council voted 5-3 to hold the public session, with Leslie Curran, Steve Kornell and Jeff Danner dissenting.
"We ought to invite scrutiny," said council member Charlie Gerdes, who supports the new pier.
The workshop comes as the council is getting ready to consider releasing additional money for the project. In December, council members approved a resolution to appropriate $4.7 million for Michael Maltzan Architecture to continue designing the pier and for Skanska USA Builders to continue preconstruction services. Only $1.7 million was released at the time, however. Council members said city staffers must return for authorization to spend additional money.
Concerned Citizens chairman Fred Whaley said Thursday that he is pleased the council has voted "to further discuss the issues of the Lens prior to spending the next $1.5 million."
Council members will make that decision after Maltzan and his team present their report May 2.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727)892-2283.