The optics were perfect. With swaying palm trees on St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront as a backdrop, an optimistic Mayor Rick Kriseman, flanked by supporters and opponents of the last Pier replacement effort and every City Council member, described in broad terms Thursday his plan to build a new pier by 2017. Now the hard work begins. Kriseman is banking that a concentrated, high-profile outreach effort over the next nine months will inoculate the eventual pier choice from the type of backlash that killed the previous pier plan pushed by his predecessor. That is going to require the help and cooperation of everyone who stood with the mayor for the new effort.
The difference between how Kriseman plans to pick a pier plan and how former Mayor Bill Foster did it differs only in the details. Kriseman envisions being more prescriptive up front about programming the pier must include, and he wants up to eight competing ideas that residents can weigh in on. Foster had three final proposals. Kriseman reaffirmed that he views restoring the outdated inverted pyramid as fiscally irresponsible but will remain open to it if a compelling plan emerges. But like Foster's plan, he also will rely on professionals to evaluate architects' visions based on feasibility and affordability.
It's that latter step where Foster drew the most flak as opponents of the eventual Lens design repeatedly made spurious claims about its soundness and spread misinformation about what activities it would accommodate. Kriseman's greatest problem remains that what the city can afford and what residents say they want are often at odds. His best hope for success is that everyone who stood with him Thursday spreads the word: The project's $46 million budget won't go as far as anyone would like, and it is in no taxpayer's interest to build a pier that will require the same kind of outsized operating subsidy as the inverted pyramid did.
Most importantly, the entire city needs to agree: Moving forward on the pier is more important than trying to achieve the impossible dream of designing one that has unanimous support.