The next era of the St. Petersburg Pier has begun. The City Council's decision Thursday to demolish the inverted pyramid and the worn out pier and construct a new pier destination is ultimately the right one. But the timing of the council's vote left something to be desired as it came with no formal notice and no opportunity for a final public hearing on the matter.
City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran, along with others, defended the abrupt action, noting 18 months of public discourse on the Pier. But Curran failed to give fellow council members the same courtesy she frequently demands and the public deserves: ample notice before a matter is brought to the council for action.
It wasn't until some council members arrived at City Hall on Thursday morning that they learned a written resolution on the Pier would be considered on that day's agenda. The public didn't know either, since the published agenda for the council's Thursday afternoon meeting listed merely "Pier update (oral)." The resolution, obviously written in a hurry, calls for the entire Pier to be replaced and includes a provision to "further refine the redevelopment plan for the Pier to include a detailed planning phase, an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) and design competition process, a design-permitting phase and construction phase …"
Three council members — Wengay Newton, Bill Dudley and Jim Kennedy — argued unsuccessfully that a vote should be delayed until a public hearing in September. The council then passed the resolution 7-1, with Newton dissenting.
Ultimately, the resolution's contents weren't a surprise to council members. At an Aug. 18 council workshop a straw poll showed a majority of the council was ready to tear down the aging, unprofitable structure and replace it with a new pier. The council also asked staff at that meeting what the next steps should be, which were reflected in the resolution.
But in pushing the vote, the council never gave the public a formal opportunity to weigh in on what the resolution should contain. That casts an unnecessary shadow over an already controversial decision. And it makes for an awkward start to the next phase of pier planning.
Going forward, the council needs to be vigilant in keeping the public apprised. St. Petersburg has the opportunity to create a new public amenity for its beautiful downtown waterfront — a pier that will attract locals and tourists alike for generations and reflect the city's future rather than its past. But the public will need to be a part of that process, from start to finish.