The last attempt at building a new Pier in St. Petersburg crashed and burned in part because of weak leadership from the mayor. The new attempt may be headed for the same fate and for the same reason. Only the name of the mayor has changed. If it wasn't obvious after the Lens debacle, it should be clear by now that no amount of public hearings or citizen committee meetings will produce a new Pier that will be universally loved.
Bill Foster became a one-term mayor last year in part because he could not sell the Lens project, which opponents forced onto the ballot and which was killed by the voters. Mayor Rick Kriseman won in part by opposing the Lens and promising a fresh approach and stronger leadership. So far there has been little of either as another appointed citizens group plods along. Consider, for example, that the man who bankrolled the vote that killed the Lens is now advocating that the new pier advisory group ignore the city's $46 million budget. The committee assigned to gather still more public input cannot agree how to do it. And one of the losers in the last pier selection process is now volunteering as a city consultant in advance of a key engineering test.
Kriseman already has acknowledged he will blow his deadline for getting a pier open by the end of 2015 as he promised on the campaign trail. Now that he wants to expand the time for public input, his new timeline of 2017 even looks ambitious, particularly considering the dysfunction in the citizens group he is counting on to lead the way.
There is still time for the pier task force to turn this process around. It can start with taking the time to learn about the five years the city has already invested in this endeavor — from hundreds of hours of public meetings to thousands of dollars spent on consultants' reports. While it is reasonable to hear again from the public, the facts will not change. The inverted pyramid sits at the end of a deteriorating 90-year-old approach that is too costly to replace. The budget is $46 million, period. There will be long-term operating costs that likely will require a subsidy, although it should not be the $1.4 million a year the now-closed inverted pyramid required.
Prediction: There will not be a public outcry to build a new Pier until the closed eyesore is torn down. And there never will be a new Pier designed by committee and loved by every St. Petersburg resident. Moving forward will require fewer committee meetings bogged down by nostalgia for the past and more leadership from the mayor.