Future of St. Petersburg pier rests with public

Officials hope to reopen aging pier by 2017

St. Petersburg city leaders have hit the restart button on their controversial pier project. 
 
The move comes after voters shot down previous plans last fall. A new strategy looks to put residents in the driver seat. 
 
"I don't have a solution, and I don't think anyone else does here," Jerry Lester said.
 
Lester is a longtime St. Petersburg resident, so he remembers the days of a bustling pier filled with children, fishermen and joggers.
 
"It's a pretty, beautiful view of the skyline," Lester said.
 
A lot has changed on the pier he once knew.  The iconic inverted pyramid now sits idle, closed for more than a year after deep division on what to do with the aging structure boiled over.
 
Last August St. Petersburg residents voted to cancel the city's contract with architects who developed a design known as the Lens.
 
"We have to get it right this time," said city spokesmen Ben Kirby. 
 
Kirby said the divide highlighted a need to change the process. The city begins public meetings Wednesday, asking for the public’s consensus in shaping the pier’s future. 
 
"Forget design for a little bit. Let’s start with programming," said Kirby. "What do we want to see at the end of the pier? Do we want shops, do we want retail, do we want restaurants, do we want a bar?"
 
Kirby said the city hopes if the public can provide its opinion about the basics, design companies can later home in on something everyone can agree on. The city is working with a budget of $46 million and wants to reopen the pier in 2017.
 
Residents like Lester said they just don't want the time and money to go to waste much longer. 
 
"Not too many cities have a waterfront like this," Lester said.
 
A public meeting takes place Wednesday at St. Petersburg city hall from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
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