ST. PETERSBURG — The debacle of a shuttered pier and voters’ rejection of the city’s proposed replacement helped to doom one-term Mayor Bill Foster’s re-election campaign.
It’s a fate Mayor Rick Kriseman is hoping not to repeat.
Against the backdrop of the empty pier, Kriseman on Thursday unveiled his plan to come up with a new design to replace or renovate the city’s signature waterfront landmark.
In a clear reaction to the ill-fated Lens project, he laid out a cautious timetable, with opportunity for the public to weigh in, that means construction would not begin for another two years or be completed until 2017.
“Make no mistake, I still have the same sense of urgency about the pier that I had on the campaign trail,” Kriseman said. “I’d rather get this done right than do it fast and risk dividing our community once more.”
A new 16-member Pier Working Group will spend the next three months seeking public input before submitting a report of what amenities the public says the pier should provide and whether those would be better located over the water or on the uplands approach to the pier.
The group is comprised of residents and stakeholders, including members of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Neighborhood Associations. It also includes representatives from Build the Pier and Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, groups that fought an at-times heated battle over The Lens design.
Critics of the futuristic project frequently complained that the striking design lacked amenities like restaurants and had too little air-conditioned space for visitors seeking respite from Florida summers. Voters agreed and rejected it in an August referendum.
“We’re going to do this the right way,” Kriseman said. “Form will follow function, not the other way around.”
Once the requirements are finalized, the city hopes that up to 20 companies will bid for the project in a request for qualifications process.
A selection committee of industry professionals will short-list between five and eight companies to submit designs. Kriseman said he has not ruled out designs that use the existing pier.
Those chosen will receive a stipend to submit designs that will be reviewed by the selection committee to ensure they are feasible and will not run into permitting problems.
The stipend will come from the project’s remaining $46 million budget. The city spent roughly $4 million developing The Lens design and seeking a demolition permit for the inverted pyramid.
The selection committee and Kriseman will recommend one of the public’s three favorites to the City Council, which would have to approve the construction contract.
St. Petersburg businessman Bud Risser, one of the founders of the Concerned Citizens group that forced the referendum on The Lens, said he was thrilled with Kriseman’s plan.
“We’re all going to have a chance to say what is important,” he said.
Lens supporter Hal Freedman said the new process should work well, providing public engagement is successful in building a strong consensus.
“Getting the public more interested makes a lot of sense if they will participate,” he said. “My concern is somebody with money doesn’t like the design and will Monday-morning quarterback it.”
One group not represented in Kriseman’s working group was VoteonthePier.com, a political committee whose petition calling for a referendum to save the pier was rejected by the City Council.
Leader Tom Lambdon said he was invited to stand with Kriseman at Thursday’s announcement at Spa Beach but declined because he fears the new pier project will allow development on the city’s waterfront. He cited a deal between the city and Columbia Restaurant, a former tenant of the inverted pyramid, to build a new restaurant on the site of the Pelican Parking Lot as part of The Lens project.
His group is planning a new petition to prevent development on the waterfront, including Al Lang Stadium and a parcel of land west of the Pelican Parking Lot that Lambdon said is not protected under the city charter.
Any decision on a new pier should be by referendum, he said.
“It comes down to letting the people make a decision on these 100-year-plus projects,” he said.