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Poll: pier is St. Petersburg residents' top issue — but they lack answers

Published Oct. 28, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Heated emotions about what kind of pier should rise on the city's cherished waterfront ignited two petitions, a lawsuit and a referendum that unequivocally rejected a controversial design.

A majority of residents may now have settled on what should happen next: scuttle the closed inverted pyramid and erect something new. What that new pier will look like is a battle for another day.

According to a Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF Public Media poll, 58 percent of those surveyed want city officials to choose a new pier design — with public input — and build a pier within the originally allotted $50 million budget. Only 31 percent favored saving the iconic pyramid at an estimated cost of $70 million. Ten percent were unsure what should happen next and 1 percent declined to answer.

"I wasn't too crazy about the inverted pyramid," said Lynn Colt, 68, a former legal secretary.

Lauren Chamberlain, whose family has lived in St. Petersburg since 1912, feels differently about the structure that city officials have said would be too costly to repair. "I think it should be left alone, restored," said Chamberlain, 50. "It's a landmark."

Braun Research surveyed 809 registered voters in St. Petersburg who said they would definitely or probably vote in the Nov. 5 mayoral elections. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents ranked building a new pier highest among the issues facing the city's next leader. That was ahead of public safety, redevelopment in the city's struggling Midtown community and stadium negotiations with the Rays.

That did not surprise either Mayor Bill Foster or Rick Kriseman, his challenger in the upcoming mayoral race.

"People want to see that we will still have a pier. It's a 100-year-old tradition," Foster said. "I can put their minds at ease. We are going to have a pier and it will involve a great amount of public input throughout the process."

"The waterfront is really what sets us apart from so many other cities in Florida," said Kriseman, and a pier is its signature component.

He also attributed the ranking of the issue to the closeness of the poll to the mayor's announcement of his new plans for the pier, which will include public input and information from the 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force report.

"I see a lot of the same elements in what he was proposing that didn't work before" and people are concerned, Kriseman said.

Black respondents were less concerned about a new pier, giving a higher priority to improvements in Midtown and public safety, in that order. Council Chairman Karl Nurse, who represents a large section of the African-American community, was not surprised.

"When you are in some of the Midtown neighborhoods, focusing on the pier seems frivolous," he said.

Asked how he would balance such differing concerns across the city, Kriseman said "you have to be able to juggle a lot of issues."

Foster responded similarly. "The beauty of what mayors do is we are not focused on any one single challenge," he said. "They are all important."

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Black respondents were split between building a new pier for under $50 million — in actuality, Foster said about $45 million remains of the pier fund — and supporting renovation of the old Pier for millions more. White respondents were much less likely to want renovation.

Delores Atkinson, 57, who is African-American and lives in Lakewood Estates, supports renovation. "I think we could restore this Pier without the cost they are claiming it to be," she said.

She reflected what Nurse described as "a fair degree of skepticism" citywide about estimated renovation costs.

The poll surveyed 475 white residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, and 268 black residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 6 points.

The inverted pyramid, closed in May, was supposed to make way for the Lens, a design that drew widespread derision. The project was defeated in an August referendum. Foster has promised a new pier by 2017. He is, though, planning a poll that will ask residents about renovating the inverted pyramid.

Renovation would be a waste of money, said Eden Isle resident Peter Dawson, 79.

Jeremy West, 35, treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Pinellas County, has other ideas. Turn the pier over to a private concern that would build and operate the landmark and transfer it back to the city after 25 years, he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.


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