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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Otto: St. Pete’s Lens still out of focus

Nothing is that easy anymore, even something that sounds as simple as a pier. Of course, this is no ordinary pier. Opponents of the Lens would argue it not only isn’t a pier, it is $50 million worth of nothing. “There is no there,” some say when talking about the proposed replacement for The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg, with its soon-to-be taken down inverted pyramid. The anti-Lens forces have become so vocal that city council members have been wavering on whether to spend $1.5 million on the next design phase of the project, and it now seems likely that residents will vote in August on canceling the contract with the architect altogether. Proponents, insisting that there really is a “there there,” keep coming up with more attractions for what opponents suggest is nothing more than a fancy jogging and bicycle path out over the water and back.
Their latest is to go environmental, saying the lake inside the Lens will become an educational water garden. Of course, the anti-Lens people jumped on that, maintaining it was faux science and the water would be too murky to see anything anyhow. My problem is that I’m old enough to remember as a boy going to the “Million Dollar Pier,” that great Mediterranean Revival building with its inner court full of shops and a TV studio where they did “Captain Mack” on WSUN, when a TV studio was as exotic as the Starship Enterprise flight deck. When they tore the building down in the ’60s and replaced it with that hideous inverted pyramid, St. Pete lost its greatest landmark. They won’t be bringing anything like that back. It was too much a symbol of a simpler time when “quaint” was in. Boosters and chamber-types don’t like the word “quaint” anymore. That’s why they painted the city’s green benches pastel colors and did everything but run seniors out of town to give it a more “with it” image. Maybe that’s why I’m beginning to lean more toward the Lens side of the issue. The Lens is about as “with it” as you can get. It’s as if they took Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard, known as having the “world’s longest unbroken sidewalk,” and ran the sidewalk out into the water in a geometric series of ovals and circles. It might look good, but there would be no “there there.” I think what they need to do is upgrade their proposed “water feature.” Instead of some scientific mumbo jumbo that you can’t see anyway, why not have a few sea monster sightings? Imagine the draw of having a return of the creature from the Black Lagoon swimming around the kayakers. What if there was a Nessie-like sighting, as in Loch Ness? Look at how many tourists go to Scotland just in the hope of seeing Nessie’s fin. You could call ours “Lens Louie.” I’m telling you, the profits from selling plastic Lens Louie Lenses glasses to see the creature in 3-D would pay for the project in no time. Throw up a few telescopes along the Lens boardwalk and maybe even talk the Gonzmarts into coming up with a Lens Louie sandwich at their Columbia Restaurant on the pier. I should have gone into marketing.
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