St. Pete officials may demolish existing pier, judge says
ST. PETERSBURG -
It still is possible city leaders won’t build a new pier, but they can knock down the old one.
A judge on Friday ruled the city may demolish the downtown waterfront landmark without holding a referendum, a decision that could spell the end for the 40-year-old pier.
Circuit Court Judge Jack Day also determined city officials acted within the law when they rejected a petition collected by VoteonthePier.com, a citizens group looking to force a city-wide vote on whether to save the existing structure. The city’s move led former St. Petersburg City Council member Kathleen Ford to sue the city in August on behalf of the group.
Day agreed with city attorneys who said the petition was vague and did not state how it would amend the city’s charter, an omission Day described as a “fatal flaw.”
A referendum on the proposed $50 million replacement for the pier still is possible because a second petition effort led by Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg is close to its goal of 17,000 signatures.
But that would not stop the city from proceeding with the current pier’s scheduled May 31 closing and subsequent demolition.
“The most significant outcome of this ruling was we can move forward and demolish the inverted pyramid,” said Mayor Bill Foster. “Whether you agree with the new pier or not, the city does not have $80 million to refurbish and restore the inverted pyramid.”
Leaders of VoteonthePier.com said they will meet this weekend to decide whether to appeal the ruling or take other action.
The group gathered more than 23,000 signatures and said residents clearly wanted a say on the future of the landmark stretching into Tampa Bay from Second Avenue Northeast.
“It’s a very sad day in St. Petersburg for the more than 23,000 voters that had their voices silenced by council on this very important issue.” said Tom Lambdon, the group’s founder and president. “It’s clear the city council does fear the outcome of a vote otherwise they would have put it on a ballot.”
City officials want to replace the pier because it is outdated and expensive to maintain, they say. The 1973 inverted pyramid structure is inefficient to keep cool in warm months and the approach road is badly corroded. The city spends $1.5 million a year to keep it open.
Mindful of how the city rejected the last petition, members of Concerned Citizens focused their petition drive on the proposed Lens design. The group is using notaries to witness signatures and has hired a California company to help meet the petition goal.
The group is proposing an ordinance to cancel the city’s contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, the firm chosen to design the $50-million, futuristic new pier.
The likelihood of a referendum has led to doubts among city council members about spending more money on the project.
They are expected to decide the project’s future following an April 18 workshop and a May 2 presentation by Michael Maltzan.
Foster said whatever happens the city will have a pier. But he said it might be tough to find a design as iconic as the futuristic Lens that is within the city’s budget.
“I’m hopeful that we will construct an iconic pier structure that will be embraced by the citizens of St. Petersburg for the next 50 years,” Foster said. “Does the Lens fit the bill? I believe it does.”