1. Opinion

Voice of pier task force was heard

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Published Aug. 1, 2012

Editor's note: In a column published Thursday, "Citizens pushed aside in Pier planning,'' retired St. Petersburg lawyer William Ballard questioned the process that produced the proposed Lens project that would replace St. Petersburg's Pier. Today, two leaders of the Pier Advisory Task Force respond.

The task force was formed in early 2009 and charged with proposing "multiple redevelopment alternatives including construction costs" for a new pier. It consisted of 20 residents appointed by former Mayor Rick Baker and the St. Petersburg City Council. Over 14 months, we considered public input from multiple visioning sessions, online comments, other task force-led public forums and 63 public meetings. We formed four subcommittees and hired four consultants to assist us to find the best options for this landmark feature on our waterfront.

Part of our work included case studies of seven different piers, five in the United States and two in the United Kingdom. We wanted to see how they were successful and concluded that they were all tied back into their downtowns; the programs began at the base of the pier and were located throughout the entire pier; and they provided short walking distances between attractions.

The city did not reject, but rather built upon the task force's report. We provided the city with four alternatives for the pier, and two alternatives for development of the upland area. These alternatives were generic in nature, basically outlining possible building footprints for the pier. The Lens design team modeled their plans around Pier Task Force Alternative 4, which provided for most of the new pier buildings on the upland with a narrow pedestrian pier extending into the bay. For the upland area, they used Task Force Concept 2 as a theme, providing new parks both active and passive.

The Ballard column states that the task force recommended as its primary attraction a single building to house a restaurant, limited retail and public space. These activities were not necessarily meant to be tied to a single building. In addition to the activities mentioned above, the task force report recommended further consideration of a marine discovery center, transient docks, on the upland a water park or family-oriented entertainment, incorporation of pedestrian/bike trails linked to downtown, and additional small food venues.

We agree the idea of a restaurant was prominent in the task force's report, but this was not intended as a linchpin. The Lens design was ultimately recommended by the independent jury and approved by the City Council. The design includes a cafe at the interior dockside. As a result of recent input from the community, including the Council of Neighborhood Associations, an additional open-air cafe/grill has been added at the eastern promontory, and the Lens is proposing an additional restaurant on the upland. While this is not exactly what we envisioned, it does substantially address the task's force's identification of a restaurant-based program as a focus.

We disagree that the City Council "rejected all of the task force alternatives." The council transmitted them to the international architectural community for their guidance. While the mayor and City Council could have selected a single alternative, they chose not to do this. Our understanding is they, like we, wanted to foster creativity and the best possible design. The task force report was a platform upon which to build. This was also why the task force recommended an open international competition. It was never the intent that the design competitors be limited to the alternatives and footprints developed by the task force. Given current budget limitations, not everything proposed and recommended in the task force report can be accomplished at this time. The design team together with the community needs to achieve a reasonable balance.

We agree with Ballard that wording in the introduction to the city staff Competition Design Principles document regarding the task force being "well-intentioned but shortsighted" is disturbing. Nevertheless, a close examination of the document shows that virtually every design principle put forth is grounded and reflective of the task force report.

During our long study we found that no design for the pier is going to be fully supported by everyone. If we are to continue to advance our downtown waterfront there needs to be a spirit of reasonable compromise and give and take. Even the best plans are seldom implemented as originally envisioned. They need to adapt to new information, feedback and circumstances as we proceed. We believe the Lens design team is seeking to do that.

Ed Montanari left, served as vice chairman of the Pier Task Force. Will Michaels, right, served as the task force's design committee chairman.