This is what progress looks like one month after the St. Petersburg City Council rejected an ill-informed petition drive seeking to save the inverted pyramid Pier: a near-unanimous and supportive council asking thoughtful questions about refining a promising new design and an architect who is listening. The next big test for the Lens will come in roughly 60 days, when the council will need to decide if architect Michael Maltzan and his team have a project worth continuing. Right now, that looks more likely than not.
On Thursday, Maltzan and his colleagues unveiled refinements to the Lens design based on feedback from meetings with environmental regulators, marine scientists, construction experts and 25 meetings with nearly 1,000 members of the public. It's clear they are responding to what they are hearing.
The design's essential elements haven't changed: looping, escalating walkways that lead to a tiara-like canopy over the water. But now the amenities are clearer, such as details about the upland building called the "hub" that will house a restaurant with outdoor dining and retail space. There also will be a waterfront promenade with access for fishing and a public plaza for community events that could include a potential splash pad to attract families. A large dining space has been added under the tiara. And amenities along the walkways, including shade, restrooms, a marina, kayak rentals, a bait shop and concessions — and a promise that all will be accessible by wheelchair and serviced by a tram — make it much easier for residents to grasp how they will experience the new destination.
Maltzan and his team now concede their original vision for an uplit, clear water garden at the Lens' center isn't likely due to Tampa Bay's murkiness. But they are still looking for some way to use the space for educational purposes and have enlisted the help of several Tampa Bay marine scientists. Council member Wengay Newton, who stubbornly clings to saving the inverted pyramid against all logic, seized on that change Thursday as one more reason the Lens should not be built. And Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg — a group that includes individuals whose earlier petition drive failed to force a referendum on saving the inverted pyramid — is trying to derail the Lens with another petition drive. Their self-interests are not in the best interests of the city.
The council and Mayor Bill Foster should stay on course. Public projects of this size are rarely without controversy. This design is the culmination of a thoughtful, yearslong process that has spanned the terms of two different mayors and involved thousands of citizens. The council will need to do its due diligence in 60 days, when the Maltzan team delivers additional design refinements and detailed financial information about construction and long-term maintenance, to ensure it's the right decision to build. But so far, the process appears to be heading in the right direction.