After a 7-1 vote by city council Thursday, contract negotiations between "The Lens" designer Michael Maltzan Architecture and the city can now begin.
Council's approval on Tuesday is the next step in the long process of replacing the ever-deteriorating city pier. The vote only means contract negotiations can begin and the approved budget cannot exceed $50 million.
Many council members who cited "Lens" budget concerns at a January pier workshop needed the $50 million-cap to be in the resolution.
"The process has been followed," Councilor Charlie Gerdes said. "It's been a deliberative process, collaborative process and an open process." Gerdes hosted a town hall in District 1 Monday to get public feed back and talk pier budget with his constituents.
Thursday's lone 'no' vote was councilor Wengay Newton, who said the public needs to have a final say on the pier.
"This was a good process, but we left out the voters," Newton said. "There is definitely going to be cost overrun. We know they are coming back.
"This a trough. When pigs come to a trough they eat," Newton said of the designers coming back to the city to ask for more money. Newton said he would be the first person on a bulldozer to demolish the existing pier if that is what the public voted for. "I want them to have a vote. [The public] should be able to vote," he said.
He is encouraging the public to take action if the city will not voluntarily hold a referendum.
Gerdes said he welcomes the idea of a public referendum if enough signatures are collected but he does not feel it is necessary for him to make up his mind about the pier.
"I am not afraid of the citizens using the petition provision in the charter to vote,' Gerdes said. "But I'm also not afraid of doing what I was elected to do, take votes on tough issues. That’s what I was elected to do."
Gerdes suggested that if it is the $50 million price tag that is the reason there should be a referendum, then there should be a referendum every September with the city's $500-$600 million fiscal year budget gets approved.
Many of the public who spoke during the open forum also clamored to have the final say on a replacing the existing pier. They cited the local petition, VoteOnThePier.com, which is collecting signatures from St. Petersburg residents to try and legally require the city to hold a referendum on the pier.
The issue(s) with that, according to Mayor Bill Foster, is the lack of referendum specificity.
He said you could hold a vote and be no closer to having closure on the issue.
"I've heard eight [possible] questions today," Foster said. "The Lens yes or no, tear it down and do not replace, tear it down and build something landside, privatize the inverted pyramid, privatize new construction and refurbish," Foster said of a few of the questions that could be put to a referendum.
Council member Jeff Danner said despite public perception, the city did consider rehabilitating the existing pier very early on. The price tag to renovate the inverted pyramid, Danner said, was much more than building a new pier.
The subsidy, Danner added, would also be comparable to what it is now. "We didn’t just gloss over those options," Danner said of revitalizing the pier.
Many concerns for the council will be ironed out during the negotiation process with the design team, Chris Bollestra with city development, said.
Councilor Steve Kornell said the $50 million needs to be a complete design. It needs to connect downtown to the waterfront, he said.
"I think it needs to be a complete design and I think it has to have something on the uplands," Kornell said.
Foster said the council could strike through all "phases' of the pier. There will only be one phase, he said.
"We are unlikely to see any future phases in our lifetime," Foster said.
Councilor Bill Dudley said the TIF fund that was set up and the process have shown that the city has been good stewards of the public's money.
"I have a lot of confidence about the funding," Dudley said. He said the history of St. Pete having a pier is a quality of life issue.
"[The Lens'] is going to be iconic and something that people are gong to come here and want to see," Dudley added.
"Now is not the time to stop this process," Councilor Jim Kennedy said. "I still have a lot of concerns that hopefully will be addressed," during the negotiation process.