Saturday, December 16, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: 'Icon,' meet scrap heap

By the time the sun sets over a yardarm somewhere today, St. Petersburg's Pier will finally, blessedly, be kaputski.

Oh, I know. There's all sorts of hand- wringing and nostalgic odes to the Pier's iconic status as a city landmark. Just between us? It's overdue for its date with the wrecking ball.

By sunrise Saturday, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster ought to pull a Richie Daley. Then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley hated Meigs Field, a small airport jutting into Lake Michigan across the street from Soldier Field.

For years, Daley had been rebuffed in his efforts to close Meigs, until the evening of March 30, 2003. The mayor had had enough. He ordered bulldozers to start ripping up the tiny airport's runways.

Needless to say, pilots who found their planes stranded in the wreckage of Meigs were not amused. But then again, what's the point of being mayor of a city if you can't abuse your power now and then? Foster could shut a lot of yaps if, by Saturday morning, he just started imploding the thing. Not that there is any risk of that happening from a mayor whose new plan is a multiple-choice quiz at the ballot box.

Let's be realistic. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic fixture in Paris. Athens would not be Athens without the Acropolis. The Empire State Building still holds a commanding presence in the hearts of New Yorkers. And yes, the University of Tampa's gleaming minarets atop the old H.B. Plant Hotel continue to define the city's skyline.

And in a city that can proudly claim the iconoclastic Dalí Museum, the urbanity of the Vinoy Hotel and a beautiful, welcoming Beach Drive, there are still some who believe a decaying, upside-down pyramid that long ago outlasted its usefulness somehow represents the defining image of what could be argued is Florida's most stylish, understatedly elegant city?

This would be a bit like London playing up its Black Plague Museum at the expense of Trafalgar Square.

What many of the Save the Pier crowd don't seem to accept is that to leave the pyramid in place would cost an estimated $70 million to renovate, some $20 million more than the budget to demolish it and replace it with the Lens project.

If Foster was promoting any other city public works project that would cost taxpayers $20 million more than the alternative, the hue and cry arising from the body politic would be deafening and hizzoner would be held up as a drunken sailor free-spending his way though taxpayer money.

Good grief, this is the city where efforts to replace a crowded, moldy, dilapidated, rat-infested police headquarters have been resisted by many citizens as an irresponsible waste of money.

Don't you suspect if some other structure had been occupying the end of the pier lo these many years and someone had proposed to replace it with what is now the Pier, the same non-change agents would be working themselves into a lather complaining what a stupid, horrible, hideous concept building an inverted pyramid would be for the city's image?

And it's entirely possible, some 50 or 60 years from now when the Lens has served its purpose as the renamed Beer Cap Opener, there will be many in this city sitting shiva for a much-revered "iconic" landmark that has seen better days.

A half-century from now, there will be fights to save it. There will be fights over what comes next. But in the end, on a warm spring evening die-hard supporters of the Lens will also gather to bid adieu.

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