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What will it look like during the day? Echelman’s Pier District sculpture a hot topic for St. Pete council

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council will tackle an agenda packed with Pier District issues Thursday, with the most watched a proposed $1.5 million contract with international artist Janet Echelman.

Some have derided the commissioning of one of Echelman’s net sculptures, which are famous worldwide for billowing from buildings and towering supports. But concerns raised by an influential group center solely on plans to install the art at Spa Beach Park, which is protected by the city charter.

The Waterfront Parks Foundation, whose stated mission is to preserve and enhance St. Petersburg’s historic downtown waterfront parks, became further agitated when the city proposed a controversial ordinance to change Spa Beach’s designation from a passive to an active park.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Parks Foundation opposes Echelman sculpture on Spa Beach

That could mean "possible future uses such as swimming pools, baseball fields, recreational buildings, amphitheaters, libraries, and museums," foundation member Will Michaels said in a letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman and the council.

Thursday was to be the final reading of the ordinance to legally allow Pier District amenities on Spa Beach, including a 54,000-square-foot paved plaza with pavilion and snack shack, an interactive playground, kayak and paddleboard rentals and a large vessel docking area along the south seawall of the North Yacht Basin.

But bombarded with objections to the plan to make Spa Beach an active park, the proposed ordinance has been pulled from Thursday’s agenda. Managing assistant city attorney Michael Dema said a replacement ordinance is being prepared.

He said the new "substantial change of use" ordinance will be "narrowly tailored" and limit active park uses at Spa Beach to those associated with the Pier District.

A first reading is scheduled for Aug. 2, with a public hearing on Aug. 23. Passage requires a supermajority council vote.

But the new strategy will not soothe everyone. There’s still the matter of the Echelman sculpture — a $2.8 million project whose infrastructure includes towering pylons at the northern end of Spa Beach.

The Waterfront Parks Foundation continues to object to the sculpture’s location, its president, Phil Graham Jr., said.

Allowing a piece "of this scope on designated waterfront parkland is inconsistent with the great vision of our city’s Founding Fathers," the foundation said in a May letter to the mayor and council.

In a new letter this week, the organization sought to illustrate its point with attached renderings it commissioned to show the sculpture and the impact of its support poles at Spa Beach.

"We felt the community deserved to see what they are buying for $2.8 million and what it would look like on the selected site during daylight hours," the group said. "It is unthinkable to place this kind of structure on our city’s most important open view of Tampa Bay."

Some, but not all, of the images being circulated of Echelman’s work show the sculpture at night time, when the supports cannot be seen as well. However, at least one image released by the city earlier this year shows a version of the sculpture during the day, and the supports are clearly visible.

Bud Risser, who supports the foundation but is not a member, also wrote to city officials. Referring to Thursday’s original agenda, Risser complained that a vote on the Echelman contract had been set before the public hearing to reclassify Spa Beach.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pier District brings proposal for new park designation for Spa Beach

"It is literally an example of "getting the cart before the horse," said Risser, a leader of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that forced a successful citizen-led referendum that scuttled the previous Pier project.

Besides addressing the Echelman contract, the council on Thursday will vote on a "substantial change of use" ordinance to allow the city to use a small portion of South Straub Park to accommodate a vehicle roundabout at Second Avenue NE and Bayshore Drive for the "gateway" to the Pier District.

Council members also will be asked to authorize a 10-year lease with United Park Services to operate a retail/sundry gift shop and a bait shop on the first floor of the Pier head building. The company will pay an annual base rent of $50,175 for the 1,115-square-foot space.

In addition, United Park Services is set to get a five-year lease to operate a concession at the Pier District pavilion. The firm will pay an annual base rent of $33,300 to lease 740 square feet of space.

The $76 million, 26-acre Pier District, currently under construction, is scheduled to be complete by fall 2019.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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