Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ruth: Survey says: Time for a cool change

You would think if you were about to ascend to the mayor's office in St. Petersburg, you would be anxious to start tackling the great issues of the day — crime, economic development, enhancing tourism, municipal services, transportation and most of all, figuring out how to prevent Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig from turning Tropicana Field into one giant whoopee cushion.

Instead, Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman has one nagging topic on his plate: the aging pile of bolts at the end of the Pier — the inverted pyramid that can't rust away fast enough.

Think of the Pier as the city's version of Mayan ruins if they were bought at the Dollar Store.

But with the public's rejection of the looping Lens proposal to replace the Pier, Kriseman has inherited an ongoing city survey to gauge public opinions on what to do about the public works equivalent of an addled uncle living in the attic.

Just how helpful the survey will be remains an open question. It seems a bit loaded to lead to a predetermined conclusion.

Let's review a few of the questions.

There were a few specific features in the design, called the Lens, that designers thought were changes for the better, but others disagreed. Respondents are asked what features they preferred, rejected or made no difference to them:

A) The proposed new pier was open-air with no air conditioned space.

B) The proposed new pier did not include retail shopping.

C) You could not drive and park on the proposed new pier.

D) The proposed new pier had a modern, futuristic design.

Translation: We don't need no fancy-pants, highfalutin whatchamcallit that looked like a giant worm with no AIR CONDITIONING for crying out loud, designed by a Los Angeles egghead.

St. Petersburg taxpayers have subsidized the operation of the inverted pyramid pier each year. That subsidy has averaged $1.4 million per year over the past 12 years, and is paid from the city's general fund. As a goal going forward, should the subsidy:

1. Be increased.

2. Be decreased.

3. Stay the same.

Translation: We've blown nearly $17 million in public money to subsidize the city's answer to This is Spinal Tap's mini-Stonehenge prop. Don't you think this is nuts? As a survey questioner, I'm not supposed to let you know you have the option of saying the subsidy should be eliminated, which is exactly what you should say.

As you may know, the voters turned down the Lens design, so now the city is starting over with the planning process for a new pier. The survey asks what should happen next, including:

A) It is important to have a pier.

B) The existing inverted pyramid Pier should be saved, even if it exceeds the allotted construction budget, requiring a tax increase and a significant operating budget.

C) The new pier should have an iconic or landmark design that people across the country will recognize and that our city will be proud of.

Translation: Do you want to keep spending oodles of money on a Quonset hut, or do you want something that people won't laugh at just as long as it isn't too artsy cutesie-wootsie and has air conditioning, of course.

I am going to read you a list of features or activities that might be included in the new pier.

Translation: Oh, let's just skip the cockamamie list and get to the point. Do you want air conditioning when we build the iconic-lite Pedro's South of the Border-on-the-Bay or not? Really, that seems to be all that anybody actually cares about.

Translation 2: Let's be honest, the purpose of this survey is to conclude that we could probably replace the pyramid with a quasi-iconic reproduction of a Bosnian minefield and as long as it is air conditioned and folks can slurp an Italian ice and buy a snow globe, they will be happy as clams.

Translation 3: Wait a minute! Clams! Would you prefer to replace the pyramid with a giant semi-iconic (but air conditioned) yawning clam?

Now we're getting somewhere.

The survey's anticipated results: There darned well better be air conditioning, a nice tile roof and a place to park the sedan up close to a new Pier designed by a 10th-generation St. Petersburg architect who graduated from St. Petersburg High and belongs to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

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