Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: New pier product of careful study, public input

Five years ago, the city of St. Petersburg embarked on a multiyear examination of what should happen with the city's aging Pier, some of which sits on pilings and beams more than 85 years old. On Thursday, the City Council will weigh whether to take the next step in that process. A majority of members of a citizen task force that studied this problem for years is unequivocal that the city council should move forward. We strongly disagree with those who say the task force was ignored. We believe the Lens should be built.

The city went about the study of the Pier's replacement in the right way. It all started with the people. The public was invited to a series of visioning events in 2008 to solicit community input for the future of the Pier, and to determine preferences for future use of the land area adjacent to the Pier. Months later, the mayor and City Council appointed 20 community and business leaders to the Pier Advisory Task Force and gave them a detailed report of the visioning information. The objectives given to the task force were clear: to create multiple redevelopment alternatives for the Pier; to estimate construction costs; to minimize the operating subsidy; and to utilize community input and solicit additional feedback.

Our study was exhaustive. We were assisted by experts in waterfront projects, downtown planning, marine construction, charter restrictions, capital spending, operations and maintenance costs, prior Pier plans, transportation issues, marketing studies, economic impact studies, the Pier Aquarium, Pier history, land use and environmental issues, and more. We had 63 meetings. We had three major public hearings. We set aside time at every meeting for public input. We listened, we studied, we debated, and we achieved the mission given us.

Our June 2010 summary report to the city council had four alternatives for the Pier, two alternatives for the upland area, and thirty-two general recommendations.

The mayor and City Council studied our report, hired a consultant, and approved the task force's recommendation to undertake an international design competition. In order to assure fairness in selection of a design, a five-member jury was selected by the City Council to judge the design entries. The jury included professionals with expertise in architecture and urban planning, and City Council member Leslie Curran and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

The response was substantial. Twenty-three architects entered, including Daniel Libeskind, who designed the new World Trade Center. Others included Yann Weymouth of HOK that designed our new Dalí Museum, and James Corner, who designed a phase of the High Line Park in New York. Three firms were selected to submit full designs. After seven weeks of public vetting, and in a unanimous vote by the jury, the Lens was selected.

We understand that innovative projects can be controversial, and that all participating in the current Pier debate love their city. We are aware that some would prefer to renovate the existing Pier, adopt some other as-yet unknown design, or even have no Pier at all. But renovating the current Pier is cost prohibitive. Sometimes consensus can be hard to achieve, no matter what design is chosen.

The new pier has the potential to buoy our burgeoning arts and marine science communities, and to extend our waterfront parks system into the bay. It will offer most of what our current Pier provides. It will contribute significantly to our city's economy and quality of life.

We strongly believe that over the past five years the city has engaged in thoughtful public input and smart professional analysis to create a project in an open and methodical manner. Modifications have been made and continue to be made to improve upon the original proposal.

We speak for many task force members when we say let's move forward with this signature public space and create a bold statement that will serve as our front door and downtown centerpiece for future generations.

Ed Montanari served as vice chairman of the Pier Task Force. Will Michaels served as the task force's design committee chairman.

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