One day after Circuit Judge Amy Williams ordered the city to have a mediation with local attorney Kathleen Ford over a lawsuit regarding the petition drive to force a vote on the St. Petersburg Pier, City Council voted 7-1 to approve the next round of funding for the "Lens".
The "Lens" is the $50 million Michael Maltzan design selected to replace the existing inverted pyramid.
Thursday's approval of the "basis of design" report was slated to allocate $5.4 million to cover the rest of the pre-construction services for the "Lens". However, with a pending lawsuit/mediation and an ongoing Stop the Lens petition drive, council amended the resolution to allow for council to approve that funding in increments.
What was approved Thursday was nearly $1.7 million in additional pre-construction services for Maltzan and Skanska USA Builders. Before more money is given to the project, city staff will have to come back to council for approval.
The two issues moving forward are Ford's lawsuit and the new petition drive.
Within 60 days the city will have to meet with Ford "in good faith" to try and come up with a resolution for the pier and potential ballot language.
Mayor Bill Foster and the city's legal team told council on Thursday that nothing that happened with Williams' ruling is any different then most civil suits filed in Pinellas County. Mediation, they said, is the norm.
However, council member Wengay Newton, who was the lone 'no' vote on the "Lens" funding Thursday, said as long as the case was not thrown out, the city is taking huge financial risks by continuing with the "Lens".
Before allowing Newton to probe more, City Attorney John Wolfe told council it should have a closed door attorney-client session next week to go over Ford's lawsuit further.
"We could lose the lawsuit, it’s always been a possibility," Wolfe said Thursday. "You never know what a judge is going to do."
"There are two things going on right now; a lawsuit and petition drive," Wolfe added. "Always been going on. Nothing (has) really changed from a couple days ago. They are both still out there."
While city staff and "Lens" supporters are hopeful they'll be successful against Ford's lawsuit, they fully expect Stop the Lens to be successful in its petition drive.
Wolfe said he has looked at Stop the Lens' petition and says if they are successful council would be legally required to pass a new ordinance canceling the contract with Maltzan or put it up for a referendum.
Members of Stop the Lens will not say how many verified signatures have been collected but council member Karl Nurse said he’d be shocked if the group does not reach its goal of 15,000 petitions by April.
"I don’t have any doubt they are going to get their petitions," Nurse said. "We need to go into this with our eyes open. It’ll stun me if they are not back here before April."
Even if the Stop the Lens group gets enough signatures, it would not stop the closure and the demolition of the inverted pyramid. The St. Petersburg Pier is scheduled to close on May 31, 2013 with demolition in August 2013.
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