Monday, December 18, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: Power of pyramid and negative thinking

Whew! That was a close call. The Lens is dead. Long live the peerage. • This probably qualifies as one of those "it seemed like a good idea at the time" moments: Replace the antiquated Pier with something flashy like the Lens. But by roughly a 2-to-1 ratio, the voters of St. Petersburg have seemed to suggest they would almost prefer to stare through a fence as opposed to architect Michael Maltzan's Lens design. • Fair enough. That's democracy. The people have spoken. But it sure seemed like an awful lot of energy was expended to probably stall the demolition of a structure that is really not much more than an inverted Devo hat.

So it was that a protracted campaign to stop the Lens, fueled by a handful of well-connected residents with a deep pocket or two, succeeded. Good for them. Now another committee appointed by Mayor Bill Foster called the 8/28 Alliance has offered its suggestions on what to do next. Stay tuned for a task force to be named later in return for a first-round study group.

After all this time, all this money, all the designs that competed to replace the Pier, all the many community forums, all the weeks the public was invited to weigh in on the project and, of course, all the votes, what was one of the 8/28 Alliance's recommendations to Foster?

Consider spending millions of dollars to refurbish the inverted pyramid scheme. Now there's out-of-the-box thinking for you.

As Foster pointed out in one of his 187 positions during the Lens debate, it would cost more to rehabilitate the creaking Pier than to replace it. This would be the public works equivalent of the French, after their vaunted Maginot Line successfully managed to hold off the German invasion for a whole six weeks in 1940, deciding to spruce up the battlement with some paint in the delusional hope that might improve its effectiveness.

To be fair, it is understandable why Foster's 8/28 Alliance gathering of eagles might propose calling in Bob Vila to fix up This Old Pier. After all, as the Lens experience has demonstrated, proposing any alternative to what is nothing more than a "we've grown accustomed to you" edifice gives rise to a Greek chorus of no, no, no and no.

By this precedent of putting functional public art to a referendum, the best St. Petersburg residents may be able to hope for is a banal lowest common denominator structure resembling a 1950s Soviet-era housing complex.

Renovating the inverted pyramid?

There could be some retail attractions, beginning with the "Remembrances of Things Past" exhibit featuring an Edsel display, Pat Boone's House of Thrills and the Hoop Skirtpalooza Emporium. It could be sort of a We're Gonna Party Like It's 1956 Pier. The key to winning support, it appears, would be to make sure everyone can still drive their four-door sedans down the length of the pier, hand the keys to the valet and dine at a familiar restaurant. With central air conditioning, of course.

Renovating the existing pier isn't a viable option. But it's reasonable to ask what creative architect is going to want to design a visually compelling, functional piece of public art to replace the inverted pyramid knowing it is quite likely to be doomed to failure if someone wants to pay for another voter referendum?

And so it's back to square one. Don't hold your breath getting to square two any time soon.

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