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Foster pitches new plan, timetable for St. Pete pier

ST. PETERSBURG — The Lens pier design may be dead, but the controversy over the city’s waterfront icon seems set to rumble on.

Mayor Bill Foster on Thursday laid out a new plan and timetable for the city to choose and build a new pier that he said could be completed by the middle of 2017.

The city plans to survey roughly 1,000 residents to find out what amenities people want and provide further opportunities for the public to weigh in on proposed designs. A selection committee of residents, stakeholders and local architects will be formed and will ask as many as 10 interested architectural firms to submit designs.

The plan has gotten the backing of the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects, a move intended to reassure architects there will not be a repeat of the public mauling and eventual scrapping of Michael Maltzan’s Lens design.

This time, Foster said, the design will focus on function and form and engage residents throughout the process.

“There were a lot of lessons learned,” Foster said. “There are greater points of public input in this process.”

But the plan was slammed by some city council members who said the aggressive schedule left too little time for public input and risked the city ending up with another unpopular design.

“It scares me we’re saying in a few weeks we’ll have survey results. We’re doing the same thing and asking for the same answer,” said Councilman Charlie Gerdes.

Supporters of the Lens on the city council design took another view, saying the original process gave the public ample opportunity to comment.

“This is déjà vu all over again,” said Councilman Jeff Danner. “We’ve done all this. We keep saying we’re going to do this differently, but we’re spelling out the exact same process. I don’t know how many more public hearings you can have.”

Councilman Wengay Newton proposed the city hold a referendum on restoring the inverted pyramid. His motion did not get seconded.

Foster’s plan will get under way in the next couple of weeks when the city hires a survey firm. Foster said the survey probably will poll residents on if they want to restore the current pier but said it must include details on the estimated cost, which city officials have said would be upward of $70 million.

For the first time, Foster also suggested the city give residents an idea of what it can do toward restoring the pier within the remaining $46 million budget. That could mean a narrower approach and smaller pier head, Foster said.

But he reiterated that the city is not considering reopening the pier in the meantime, saying closing it down has saved the city about $100,000 per month.

The survey would not cost more than $20,000, Foster said. The results would be combined with findings collected by the 2010 Pier Task Force Report and a study of the city’s waterfront conducted by experts from the Urban Land Institute.

“We want to make sure we revalidate what the task force laid out and put that in front of the process,” Foster said. “Let the creative juices flow from there.”

The selection committee would be comprised of up to nine people, including local residents, city architect Raul Quintana and city of Tampa architect James Jackson Jr.

The committee will produce a short list of architectural firms who respond to the city’s request for qualifications, a process where firms submit their work and qualifications for winning the project but do not submit their design proposal.

Shortlisted firms would then submit conceptual designs from which the city would choose the winning firm, which could then be required to submit multiple designs.

Council Chairman Karl Nurse said the city needs to set up a website or other avenue for residents who are not polled to give their opinion.

“People want to be able to voice their opinions,” Nurse said.

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