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St. Pete council formally votes to tear down Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — It's official: The Pier's days are numbered.

The City Council voted Thursday to ratify its informal straw vote last week to demolish the Pier and to replace the inverted pyramid with a structure closer to shore.

But it didn't come without some emotional debate.

Three of the council members who voted against demolishing it last week — Wengay Newton, Jim Kennedy and Bill Dudley — urged their colleagues to delay the final decision until a September public hearing. Newton said the resolution to vote, which members received late Wednesday, was rushed and didn't allow for public discussion.

"This is circumventing our own rules," Newton said.

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran, who is responsible for setting the agenda, bristled at that remark, and told Newton: "I won't sit here and let you say that. I'd appreciate it if you would not say I circumvent anything."

The bloc of members who voted to demolish — Curran, Jeff Danner, Herb Polson, Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse — didn't waver. They voted not to delay any longer.

"The public has had ample time," Danner said. "We're not rushing this."

The Pier won't come down anytime soon. Demolition isn't planned until 2013 or 2014. The city has $50 million to spend on building a new one.

After an earlier pier had been destroyed by a hurricane, the so-called Million Dollar Pier was built in 1926. That structure was destroyed in 1967 because it was in disrepair. Its replacement, the current pier, opened in 1973.

In the week since they voted for its demolition, council members have been criticized by some residents who are fond of the current Pier design.

"That was anticipated," Curran said.

Of the 40 e-mails, phone calls and letters the City Council received, 33 were opposed to the decision to tear down the structure.

"Foolish decision!" wrote Jo-Ann Pearce, an Oregonian who visits St. Petersburg often. "When it is gone, we will have to find somewhere else to go in Florida, maybe Sarasota. It's nice, but it doesn't have the PIER!!!!!"

"It would be shameful to tear it down," wrote Laurie Sore. "It would be like San Francisco tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge."

But the council did get six e-mails and phone calls from those who applauded the planned demolition.

"(The Pier) has not shown a profit, has not been attractive, has needed many repairs and overhauls, and in my opinion has always been an eyesore," wrote Rosemary Romero. "Everything has a season, and the Pier's season has been over a long time."

The final council vote was 7-1 to demolish the Pier, as Kennedy and Dudley came around and voted with the majority. Newton was the lone dissenter.

"It's a sad day," he said. "Five people have decided to reduce this asset to rubble. That's criminal at best."

In other action:

The City Council had a first reading of an ordinance that removes state oversight from a development project by Jabil Circuit. The project would build 1 million square feet of manufacturing, light industrial and retail space, and the decision to scrap state oversight saves Jabil about $4 million in transportation costs. But city officials were relying on a state law that was passed last year to do this, and on the same day, Judge Charles Francis ruled the law was unconstitutional. City officials said they were reviewing what this would do to the project, which is up for a final vote in September.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

What's next?

Over the next few months, a consultant will work with city officials to determine the scope of the project. Between the end of the year and March, a request for qualifications will be advertised. Architectural and engineering firms from around the world are expected to respond. Between three and six finalists will be chosen by the City Council. A winner will be chosen in a design competition. The City Council will vote on the final design in April 2012. The demolition of the existing pier will be in 2013 or 2014, with construction of the new pier expected to be complete by 2015.

St. Pete council formally votes to tear down Pier 08/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:44pm]
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