St. Pete mayoral candidate Kriseman opposes Lens
ST. PETERSBURG - With the city's new pier shaping up as the key issue in this year's mayoral race, another of Mayor Bill Foster's challengers has come out against St. Petersburg's proposed $50 million pier.
Former state lawmaker Rick Kriseman on Thursday called on St. Petersburg residents to vote against The Lens in the upcoming referendum. He also said Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council should postpone demolition of the inverted pyramid and, instead, re-open the exterior to pedestrians until after general election in November when residents vote on their next mayor.
If elected, Kriseman said he will appoint community leaders with a proven track record to a new pier task force. The group would build from the original task force, gather public input and recommend a final design for a new pier within nine months of his taking office, he said.
His plan also calls for the new pier to be completed by the end of 2015.
“It's an ambitious but necessary timeline,” he said. “It's vitally important we get this right.”
City residents are scheduled to vote on whether to build The Lens on Aug. 27, the result of a citizens group collecting more than 20,000 signatures opposing the project.
That could mean a higher turnout for the city's primary election, which will be on the same ballot. Residents will vote on the mayoral race and four city council seats.
Former city councilwoman Kathleen Ford, who is also running for mayor, is already strongly identified as an opponent of The Lens after she sued the city when it rejected an earlier petition. Foster has said he supports the referendum but believes The Lens is the iconic new pier the city needs and that the city would struggle to find a better design for the same money.
Kriseman's plan to form a new task force is likely to refuel arguments over the process the city followed in selecting The Lens.
More than 60 public meetings were held during a five-year period, which Lens supporters cite as proof that the public opinion was sought.
But members of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that forced the referendum, say The Lens lacks many of the ingredients such as restaurant and retail space and meeting places. Current plans show a gelato store and a small eatery out on the pier. A new Columbia Restaurant is planned for the water's edge next to The Lens.
Kriseman said he would not hold a referendum on any new design chosen by his task force. He said he will use public meetings, social media, the city's website and inserts in utility bills to ensure there is broad support for a design chosen by his task force.
“Citizens were not asked for their opinions on the final designs,” he said of The Lens. “I plan to be a much more engaged leader when it comes to this issue,” Kriseman said.