ST. PETERSBURG - The crisp, blue sky Wednesday afternoon with pelicans flying overhead and dolphins swimming nearby certainly gave St. Petersburg's pier its best possible look, as passersby in Vinoy Park stopped to admire the inverted pyramid structure.
"I think it's gorgeous," said Tracy Bruce, who hopes the building isn't demolished. "It doesn't look like it's outdated," Bruce said.
But just a few feet away and watching the same exact scenery was Randy Cochran, a St. Petersburg resident who sees the pier entirely differently.
"I think it's outlived its usefulness the way it is," Cochran said. He supports the replacement project, called The Lens, instead of restoring the old building.
"What we'd end up with is a 1975 building with a brand new pier. It doesn't make any sense to me," Cochran said.
That ongoing division over the pier's future played out in a downtown courtroom, as opponents of the Lens want a judge to validate 16,000 petition signatures that call for a public referendum on the pier. The city rejected the petition on grounds that it was legally invalid.
Kathleen Ford, a former city councilor and leading opponent of the Lens, said while there may have been minor legal details with the petition, its intent was obvious.
"The question itself we think is absolutely clear. Do you want the city to save and refurbish the pier, yes or no?" Ford said.
Assistant city attorney Joe Patner said there was language in the petition like "iconic" and "landmark" that was misleading to those signing it, because those words play on people's emotions.
"It's either an image of worship or a it's a place of important cultural events," Patner said, citing the definition of "iconic." "Those are exactly the types of words with a sense to convey a response based on emotion, rather than fact," Patner said.
The hearing lasted three hours, and Judge Jack Day took the issue under advisement. He could issue a ruling as early as Thursday. If Day rules in favor of the petitioners, it could mean the future of the pier would be placed on a ballot for a general public vote.
If not, opponents of the Lens said they will continue gathering signatures to fight the project.
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