Judge orders City of St. Petersburg to talk with pier activists VoteOnThePier.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - By the looks of the City Hall lobby in downtown St. Petersburg, it might be easy for visitors to think the Lens design for the new Pier is a done deal.

"It's absolutely not a done deal," said VoteOnThePier.Com Director Tom Lambdon.

Lambdon reports more than 23,000 signatures of voters who want a chance to decide on the Pier's future. His group is suing the city for the opportunity to put the choice on a ballot.

"They said it's important to have a vote," said Joe Reed, listed as one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs. "What's the city afraid of? Let's have the vote."

Monday morning, Judge Jack Day ruled that the city must move forward with mediation on Friday if Vote On The Pier drops the 15,652 signatures listed as "plaintiffs" on the lawsuit, about 100 of whom didn't realize signing a petition might land them in litigation with St. Petersburg.

"They were angry, they were confused, based upon the phone calls that I was getting," said city attorney Joseph Patner. "Those people are all going to be out of the suit now, which I'm happy with."

Now, only about five plaintiffs remain.

"If they win, I think it'll be even more of a waste because you're going to have a big empty spot down here on the waterfront," said Lens advocate, Hal Freedman. "Stopping it without having something to say 'go' with basically puts us back to where we were five years ago."

Freedman has been fighting for the Lens design since its inception several years ago.

The current Pier is set to shut down May 31.  City Council voted in December to spend $1.5 million on the Lens, the first installment to move forward with paying an architect to begin the official design phase.

If voters decide to stop the Lens from taking its place, and the process starts all over again, residents may have to wait another five years for a new option.

"Do you start over? Do you pick three more designs? What if they don't like one of those three designs?" said St. Petersburg City Councilman Jeff Danner.

Critics argue that it's too important of a decision to rush, even if it's taken eight years to get this far. If voters have to live with the Pier, they should have a say in who their new neighbor might be.

"If the voters of this city choose to preserve and refurbish, that's all we're about, either way it goes. It's not vote for the Pier, it's not vote against the Pier, it's vote on the Pier," Lambdon said.

Friday, the city and Vote On The Pier will try to come to an agreement about how the question for voters should be worded.

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