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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Many St. Pete council candidates oppose the Lens

ST. PETERSBURG — While they differ on issues such as transit and economic development, most of the City Council candidates who took part in a forum today have found a common enemy in the Lens project.

Asked at a today Suncoast Tiger Bay Club forum whether they support the Lens as a replacement for The Pier, seven of the eight candidates said they do not. Only Amy Foster, running in the District 8 race, supports the project.

The candidates — Foster, Robert Davis, Alex Duensing and Steve Galvin in the District 8 race; along with Darden Rice, Carolyn Fries, Richard Eldridge and David McKalip in the District 4 race — will compete in the Aug. 27 primary to see who goes on to the November election. August voters also will decide whether to cancel the contract to build the controversial Lens project.

The District 6 candidates — incumbent Karl Nurse, Trevor Mallory and Sharon Russ — did not take part in Wednesday’s forum.

Many of the candidates opposed to the futuristic project, which the City Council selected to replace the aging inverted pyramid and its approach, said the $50 million budgeted for the Lens can be spent in better ways.

“You give it back to taxpayers who made the money in the first place,” McKalip said.

He and Eldridge said the private sector, and not the city, should build a replacement for The Pier.

“Private enterprise is really the best thing for the pier,” Eldridge said.

Rice and Fries said they want to see a scaled-back pier plan, albeit for different reasons. Rice said she wants to protect the ecology of the waterfront with a “holistic” approach to its development, while Fries is concerned about the project’s costs.

If voters reject the Lens design, Duensing said he would support a vote on rehabbing the inverted pyramid. But he said he wouldn’t mind a new structure with a “Vinoy meets Jules Verne” look.

Galvin was the only candidate to express support for refurbishing the old pier.

“I think it’s important that we be fiscally responsible as a community,” he said. “I think our most fiscally responsible option is to rebuild the pier that we have.”

City Council Districts 4 and 8 are next to each other and cover ethnically and economically diverse terrain near the city’s geographic center. District 8 runs east of the Tyrone Azalea area between 54th and First Avenues North, while District 4 lies between Sunken Gardens and Sawgrass Lake.

All the candidates said they would support giving city employees a raise, except for Fries. Doing so likely would involve tough decisions, she said.

“The city can’t necessarily just sell products or raise prices on products,” she said. “Something’s got to give in order to give raises to folks. So you’re going to raise taxes, which nobody wants to do ... or you’ll have to be able to cut some jobs to free up money.”

Candidates also discussed how they would work with Pinellas County Schools to improve education.

Suggestions included providing better after-school programs and recreation centers and encouraging more parental involvement and students to stay in school.

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