The debate over the new St. Petersburg pier wasn't pretty — with misinformation still swirling after more than four years of public input and last-minute micromanaging by elected officials. But the outcome of Thursday's City Council meeting was the right one: The city will move forward with plans for a new pier for the 21st century. It is a positive step, and the next step is for Mayor Bill Foster and council members to keep selling the project to residents and refining the design.
Overshadowing much of Thursday's discussion about whether to extend the contract for architect Michael Maltzan and other preconstruction services for the design formerly known as the Lens was determined opposition of a misguided minority. Following a judge's routine ruling Wednesday for mediation with one group that foolishly wants to save the decaying and commercially failing inverted pyramid, supporters of a second group — Stop the Lens — repeatedly demanded that the City Council delay its decision. They claim it is only a matter of time before they gather enough signed petitions to force a referendum on the project.
Maybe. But every council member but Wengay Newton understood Thursday when they voted 7-1 that there is no reason to abandon an impressive pier plan now. The council has spent the past four years gathering public input through hearings, a citizen task force and an international design competition to come up with a solution to a problem compounded by limited money, challenging environmental conditions and conflicting visions for a new pier.
Critics on Thursday were frequently at odds with each other about the best course forward, or misinformed about what is actually possible with a budget of $50 million. Another common theme was aesthetics. As council chairwoman Leslie Curran correctly noted before the vote: "No matter what we do here, there is going to be someone who doesn't like it."
The council reduced the preconstruction appropriation slightly to $4.75 million and required the money to be disbursed in three installments, with the council signing off on each one. Ideally, such micromanaging wouldn't be required. It will be up to the council to ensure those future reviews don't become a continual stage for opponents to just spread misinformation.
Also dotting the council chambers Thursday was a small army of new pier supporters wearing turquoise shirts that read "Make Lens not war." Of the roughly 85 members of the public who submitted a card to speak to the council, a slim majority signaled they were there in support. That's a good sign. The council took the appropriate next step to keep the pier project on track, and this is not an issue that should be decided by referendum. But city officials and project supporters will have to better counter the fears and misinformation of pier opponents who cling to the past and spread misinformation about a distinctive design that should keep getting better.