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Nonbinding vote of St. Petersburg pier designs starts Monday

The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg, shown in July 2012, will be replaced by one of seven competing designs. The Pier Selection Committee will announce at least three top choices, ranked in order of preference, on March 20.
The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg, shown in July 2012, will be replaced by one of seven competing designs. The Pier Selection Committee will announce at least three top choices, ranked in order of preference, on March 20.
Published Feb. 23, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents will soon get their chance to weigh in on the city's next pier. But there's no guarantee their preference will be the winning design.

The "help pick your new pier" poll will be available online and at select locations, including all the city's public libraries, starting Monday and continuing through March 6. Respondents will be asked to rank up to three choices from the seven competing concepts.

But that public poll is just one step in the monthslong selection process and has always been referred to as nonbinding. In picking a winner, City Hall has to abide by a state law that requires professionals such as architects and engineers be hired based on qualifications — not solely public preference.

"I think it is important for the public to have an opinion, to weigh in on a public project. That said, you're not going to get great architecture through an opinion poll, through a popularity contest. It's not American Idol," said Robert MacLeod, director of the University of South Florida's School of Architecture and Community Design.

Mayor Rick Kriseman's Pier Selection Committee has defined those qualifications to include experience, how their concepts adhere to the $33 million construction budget, scheduling, permitting requirements, operating and maintenance costs, and desired amenities. The results of the city's nonbinding poll will be added to those weighty issues.

"At the end of the day, the merits of the proposal submitted, the presentation given, how those teams are formed, are really the big categories in defining which is the best team and what is the best concept," said James Jackson Jr., a member of the selection committee and an architect for the city of Tampa. "The public poll will obviously help us in understanding the public opinion of what they've seen."

The winner of the poll might not be the one the committee selects as the most qualified, City Attorney John Wolfe said. "I think that the survey can fit into some of those categories, so it does have some weight in the process," he said.

Some residents, particularly those who have participated in the pier debate in the past two years, are letting their choices be known.

"My three choices all have local affiliations because, as we knew, folks from out of town don't get it," said Bud Risser, a leader of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the influential group that helped halt plans to build the Lens design a Los Angeles firm previously proposed. He said there was "a clear correlation between local team participants and the recommendations" made in the 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force report and a recent survey of what residents want.

Risser was referring to Destination St. Pete Pier and Prospect Pier, both of which are reusing the pyramid, and Alma, which plans to erect a tower in its place.

Will Michaels, who headed the design committee of the Pier Advisory Task Force, likes Prospect Pier, Pier Park and Destination St. Pete Pier. Residents are being asked to list up to three choices, but Michaels also likes Blue Pier.

"I like what they're suggesting with the lagoons as part of the upland development and trying to bring back some of the habitat that was there before the city was founded," he said.

St. Petersburg native and Childs Park resident Faye Dowdell has fond memories of the Pier and went online to research the proposed plans. Pier Park, which only reuses the caissons and elevator shafts of the inverted pyramid, is her top choice, she said.

"That one was really close to Prospect Pier. It was hard to decide between the two of those," she said. "The Pier Park, what I like is where you get down to the water. Those two offered me the most."

The selection committee will make its decision March 20. State law requires that they select "in order of preference no fewer than three" qualified teams. The City Council will then be asked to authorize contract negotiations with the top-ranked team.

MacLeod, who noted it's "very possible" that the concept the selection committee chooses might not be the one most popular with residents, offered some advice.

"They need to see which pier will be inspirational for the city, not just one that meets the technical requirements," he said. "It's who adds magic to the city through the project and what project would stand the test of time."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.