'The Lens' Unites Rivals
Members of Occupy St. Pete and the Tea Party both oppose the city replacing the existing pier with "The Lens."
Members of the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement rarely agree. Occupy targets Wall Street and the one percent. The Tea Party targets cutting spending, government and taxes for the one percent.
On Thursday, there was finally an issue that united them — “The Lens”.
Before the 8:30 a.m. city council meeting, and before the council approved negotiations for the pier, around a dozen Occupy protesters held signs at the step of city hall asking for a referendum on the pier.
Inside during “open forum”, the messages of limited government, low taxes and a choice on the pier came from both sides.
Tea Party member and city council candidate David McKalip brought a poster with a “white elephant” to describe how he feels about “The Lens.”
McKalip had some strong words for the council. He told the council it needed a new way of thinking because, “you all think inside a very narrow box,” he said.
“You put the burden on the taxpayer,” McKalip said. “You rob money from this TIF zone and leverage that and put the citizens into debt so some bond holder can make millions. Shelve this idea.”
McKalip said there should be a referendum to lease the site to a private entity.
“I appreciate the hard work that you’ve done but I have issues with the process,” said Occupy St. Pete member Chuck Terzian.
Jasmine Carter, a member of Occupy St. Pete, said growing up with the pier her entire life is something she cherishes. She said she hopes her future children will be able to do the same.
“The citizens of St. Pete should have their fair chance to vote on the future of the pier,” Carter said. “It’s been here before us and if we have our way, will be here after we our gone. This is St. Petersburg. [We are] holding onto our heritage.’
The city is paying for the pier using money from a tax increment fund within the “Intown” community redevelopment area. The redevelopment area roughly stretches from 5th Avenue N. to 5th Avenue S and from the bayfront to 16th Street.
Property taxes above a baseline rate from the "Intown" redevelopment area go into the TIF fund. Those taxes can only be used for capital projects within that particular redevelopment area.
Two out of three people who spoke during public forum Thursday spoke out against the “The Lens.” All asked for a vote on the pier.
The problem with a referendum, Mayor Bill Foster said, is what question would actually be asked.
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.