ST. PETERSBURG - When it comes to city symbols, one has a lot to say.
"I used to get thrown off that wall there and swim my way back to Spa Beach," remembered Councilman Wengay Newton. "I crabbed and fished down here. I grew up down here."
The St. Petersburg City Council Vice Chair has a soft spot for this inverted pyramid -- it's the only Pier he's known in his 49 years of life. Despite his colleagues vote to replace it with the avant-garde futuristic "lens" design, he's stood in almost lone opposition because he doesn't think such a big deal ought to be left to such a small group of decision makers.
"This asset belongs to the people -- the taxpayers -- of the city of St. Pete," he said "Not to a bunch of politicians."
Today Newton was on hand as a group calling themselves the "Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg" announced their formation as a Political Committee -- whose main activity will be to stop the Lens. We were on hand earlier this afternoon as they brought their paperwork to City Hall.
"I've seen three piers… and the Lens is not the one I want to see," said life-long resident Fred Whaley. "The Lens is the third pier and I don't care for the lens."
This team is coming on the scene in the wake of another group who amassed thousands of signatures designed to force council to put a referendum on the Lens to voters in November -- met with the Mayor informally and told him they're going to go by the letter of the law to ensure they don't get their petitions thrown out like the last effort:
"I wasn't against the previous petition being on the November ballot," said the mayor. "I thought they had earned it but due to a technicality, City Council decided not to put it back on the ballot, and you know, this was expected… "
And the mayor expects that he -- and the City Council -- will receive thousands of signatures and a mandate for voters to have their say… which is all the concerned citizens are asking.
"We do not think the Lens fits the Pier design that we would think the city (citizens) would like," said concerned citizen Whaley. "So it's just back to the drawing board."
We will follow the group's petition process and their efforts to have a say in how tens of millions of city dollars will be spent. As for the current Pier's planned-for demise. Those demolition plans are still moving forward, according to Mayor Foster.
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