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St. Petersburg City Council made right call on Pier project

The current Pier is crumbling, and the city can no longer afford to continue to subsidize private businesses with taxpayer dollars.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2010)

The current Pier is crumbling, and the city can no longer afford to continue to subsidize private businesses with taxpayer dollars.

Last week, the City Council's task seemed biblical as it appeared to part the "red sea" of Stop the Lens supporters that crowded its chamber.

The Stop the Lens folks and the pro-Lens group, WOW Our Waterfront, showed up in force as the council voted 7-1 to cautiously move forward on the Lens.

Watching the discussion play out from afar made for interesting political theater.

There was rage, tears and laughter as residents stepped up to voice concern, disdain and support for the Lens project.

One thing is clear: The supporters and detractors of the Lens love the Sunshine City. It's just that one group loves the city's storied past, and the other loves its potential. There is value in both sides of this argument.

One wants to cling to the city's Mediterranean revival architecture and charm while the other wants to take advantage of a burgeoning arts community on the verge of making far greater strides.

Lost in all the emotional hyperbole is that there was a yearslong, open process that brought us here.

I recall sitting in a packed Enoch Davis Center two years ago for one of the visioning meetings with the task force. Similar meetings were held throughout the city.

This was before the city's International Design Competition was announced, or before 23 design teams stepped forward.

Where were the detractors during the process?

The plans have been in the works since 2009. The $50 million financing was set up in 2006 by then-Mayor Rick Baker. In March 2009, the task force was handpicked by Baker and approved by the council.

Last week, council members showed great leadership in voting to move forward. It was a tough decision but the correct one. That's what they were elected to do, make decisions on behalf of the 230,000 residents, not just 16,000 certified signatures on a petition. To do otherwise would not have been fair to the process.

The notion that the Lens doesn't fit with the city's Mediterranean architecture doesn't fly. The towers that dot Beach Drive changed the script years ago.

The Salvador Dalí's new museum is the crown jewel along the waterfront. Its architecture vastly differs from anything here. As does the Signature Place condominium, which adds a strikingly beautiful nuance to the city's skyline. Have you stopped to watch a Saturday Morning Market patron marveling at that building's flowing fountain?

There have been comments that the Lens will not be a draw for residents and tourists. Tourists will go to the Lens, just as they do the Pier. Residents are another matter. Unless the city starts hosting monthly Thrill St. Pete (residents dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller) or boat parades, the only residents you'll find there are fishermen and fitness buffs. The Lens project will accommodate these groups.

Unless the courts are willing to turn back progress, the clock is ticking and come May 2013, the Pier and its approach will be closed and demolition will begin.

Here's the bottom line: The current structure is crumbling, and liability aside, the city can no longer afford to continue to subsidize private businesses — $1.4 million annually — with taxpayer dollars.

It's time to move forward.

There's an old saying that speaks to the city's demise: "Let go of things that can no longer be fixed … Holding on is being brave, but moving on is what makes us stronger."

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at sgadsden@tampabay.com or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

St. Petersburg City Council made right call on Pier project 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 3:31am]
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