Fans of old pier have renewed hope

Both mayoral candidates oppose saving icon

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Now that the Lens is off the table, there's renewed hope for fans of the old pier that the 1973 structure can be saved after all.

Defeated mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford has filed paperwork in an attempt to keep the inverted pyramid, which was closed to the public by Mayor Bill Foster in May.  

City Council candidate Lorraine Margeson, a member of the Stop the Lens coalition that helped defeat the project, said she will support keeping the existing building in service until a final decision is made on what to do with the waterfront.

"We should open up the pier back to the public, but in a minimal way," Margeson said.  "I think that would relax the community in a big way.  People who want to go back out there could go back out there.  What's the big deal?" Margeson asked.

The big deal, according to Mayor Foster, is cost.  Foster said even though the building is still being maintained with electricity and air conditioning, there's no chance he'll reopen the facility for the short term or the long term.

"It's costing the taxpayers a million and a half dollars a year," Foster said, noting that refurbishing the pier would cost more than replacing it.

"The idea of spending 60, 70 million dollars on something functionally that will only be around for 25 years," Foster said.  The estimated cost for the Lens was about $50 million.

The mayor also dismissed criticism from Lens opponents that the process was railroaded through city council with no input from the public.

"A lot of people were asleep," Foster said, claiming that early public meetings about the pier were poorly attended.  "50, 60 meetings and all of this public input, and I think people just assumed we would come up with something that they like," Foster said.

Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman said he, too, opposed reopening the old pier.  Kriseman said the vote to defeat the Lens sent a message that a new proposal needs more public input.

"Something that isn't just for tourists but for locals so that we all use it," Kriseman said. 

"I think if we do that it's going to be very successful."

During a brief meeting of the 8-28 Alliance, a group organized by Foster and named for the day after the Lens vote, several recommendations were presented to the mayor about what to do next.

The 8-28 group said the city should convene a broad cross section of the community, including government leaders, private citizens, and architectural experts to begin the process of finding a replacement pier project.

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