It's time for the opponents of the new St. Petersburg Pier to show their cards. The City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to spend $1.5 million more to continue designing the project, and the opponents seeking a voter referendum can make the council's decision easier. They can demonstrate their good faith by submitting their petition signatures to the city before the council's meeting so the city can verify them.
Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg leader Bud Risser told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday that the group has double-checked 16,000 of the 21,000 or so petitions he says it has collected seeking a referendum to cancel the city's contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, designers of the proposed new Pier. The organization needs 15,652 verified petitions — or 10 percent of the city's electorate — to force the referendum that likely would be on the Aug. 27 city primary ballot.
But Risser won't commit on when the petitions will be submitted to City Hall — a far cry from just a few weeks ago when the group threatened to force a special election before the August primary if the City Council didn't do what it wanted. The window for a special election before the August primary has now passed. The gamesmanship is the latest frustration from a group that in the past few months has spent tens of thousands of dollars from a handful of donors determined to undermine the city's thoughtful, five-year process in deciding to close the deteriorating inverted pyramid and replace it.
The opposition group's organizers refuse to acknowledge that the new Pier design hews to the findings of a pier citizen task force recommendation. They reject opinions of all engineering experts but their own. And they have repeatedly spread misinformation about the project — from how much money has been spent to date to how Maltzan's design has changed since first winning the city's design competition.
This month the opponents further muddied the waters by joining with those who want to stall next month's closure of the Pier's inverted pyramid in anticipation of demolition later this year. The two issues are not linked. The pyramid, like the Million Dollar Pier before it, has passed its lifespan, and it would be financially irresponsible to save it. Already, the two biggest tenants, the Columbia and Cha Cha Coconuts restaurants, have said they would not remain even if closure is delayed.
There are reasonable questions about the new Pier's still-evolving design. For example, the city staff needs to confirm that the plan can pass county permitting requirements after some confusion on that point. And Maltzan's team needs to confirm expectations about how the project's canopy structure will interact with the elements.
It would be more constructive for the city to be focused on refining and finishing its plan than defending a well-considered decision. But if the Pier opponents are determined to force a voter referendum, it's time for them to stop playing games, deliver the signatures to the city and act in good faith. If they deliver the signatures before Thursday, the City Council could even delay its decision for a few days on spending more money on the Pier design until the signatures are verified and it is certain whether there will be a voter referendum.