If you don't like the Lens, think about the alternatives

On Tuesday, voters will get the chance to decide the fate of the Lens, the proposal to replace St. Petersburg’s iconic Pier.

City of St. Petersburg

On Tuesday, voters will get the chance to decide the fate of the Lens, the proposal to replace St. Petersburg’s iconic Pier.

Years from now, they will talk of the Lens with a mixture of mystery and awe.

Remember, they will ask, the delusion of the underwater garden?

(Blank stare.)

How about the wonder of the tiki hut that never was?

(Shoulder shrug.)

Perhaps the bitter fight that divided a city?

Oh, (slaps forehead) the Lens!

Unlike the piers that came before it, the Lens is not likely to leave postcards or family memories in its wake. If the chatter is correct, the Lens will cease to be after Tuesday's referendum, making its death certificate the only proof of its theoretical existence.

For the most part, I'm okay with that. I was never particularly drawn to the idea, arguing it was more amenity than attraction. Fifteen months ago I suggested the City Council might want to rethink committing so much money to a structure that seemed more decorative than functional.

So if you vote for the Lens' demise on Tuesday, you will not get a loud argument out of me. My only request is that you understand exactly what your vote means.

Killing the Lens will not magically, or even hypothetically, return the current Pier to its former glory. Chances are, that Pier won't return at all. It has long been a money pit for St. Petersburg taxpayers, and a diminishing beacon to the type of visitors the city should be hoping to attract.

And that doesn't even get into the debate regarding the age of the structure and the stability of its foundation.

Killing the Lens also does not mean Ferris wheels and shark tanks are going to suddenly appear in some grand structure above the water. The $50 million budget has already been dinged by Lens bills, and it wasn't enough for Disney-like fun in the first place.

So where does a vote to stop the Lens leave us?

For the most part, stranded on the shore.

A whole new set of ideas will have to be considered, and the same old economic restrictions will still be in place. The perfect solution may yet exist, but inspiration seems to be taking its sweet time in arriving.

Here's the challenge:

Build something: A) unique; B) above the water; C) on a limited budget; D) to universal acclaim. In other words, good luck to that architectural firm.

One alternative is building something attractive, and far more cost-effective, on waterfront land with a more modest pier to complement it.

Of course, that idea is not going to win much support along Beach Drive, nor will it be a hit with residents who see the Pier as vital to St. Petersburg's identity.

Another popular option will surely be the renovation of the current Pier. This option might sound appealing if you dismiss studies commissioned by the city that say renovation costs would far exceed the $50 million budget. This option also requires you to dismiss the fact that the Pier draws far fewer residents than it once did, and the city has been losing money by subsidizing tenants and paying for upkeep.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

There is no one-pier-fits-all answer. Some sizable portion of residents will always feel the solution is too expensive or too boring or too chic or too fill-in-the-blank.

Maybe the Lens doesn't do it for you. I get that. I've even said it myself.

Just be aware that you may like the alternative even less.

If you don't like the Lens, think about the alternatives 08/24/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 24, 2013 8:21pm]

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