Ultimately they voted 6-2 against any such referendum, disappointing the more than 20,000 citizens who had signed a petition requesting one.
One citizen who didn't sign the petition but said that he thinks there still ought to be one was St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. He said he didn't believe the question that was before the Council was the correct one, and thought that the citizens who worked hard to indicate their opposition to the new design, which was approved in February after 13 months of public hearings, still deserved a vote of some sort.
"There should be the reward in really going and getting the signatures," Foster said after all of the Council members had indicated how they were going to vote but had not officially done so.
The 6-2 vote was surprising in that it came three days after the Council had voted 5-3 in the opposite direction to support having a referendum on this November's ballot.
But Council members Steve Kornell, Charlie Gerdes and Bil Dudley changed their minds from Monday, when the Council also spent over three hours discussing the issue.
That evolution came as the Tampa Bay Times editorialized Thursday morning that the credibility of individual council members was at stake. The Times also wrote of the potential damage to the city's reputation:
Good luck finding civic-minded residents to spend countless hours working on city endeavors if their efforts can be so easily set aside. Good luck holding another nationwide design competition for anything if opponents can kill it by a voter referendum after the design is approved by local officials and a contract is signed. Here's a question: Would voters have approved the innovative design for the Dalí Museum that has won worldwide acclaim?
Saying he had considered the proposal carefully over the past few days, Kornell was the first councilman to speak. He said that clarity was called for, and went on to say that he could not support placing the measure on the ballot.
One criticism of the referendum was the fact that no price tag would be attached to it. Councilman Wengay Newton, who for over a year was the lone member of the board fighting the plan to raze the structure, said that the price tag was $50 million, the same amount that the council approved for pier redevelopment back in 2005.
The newest member of the council, Charlie Gerdes, said he believed the process that led to the selection of the Lens design by L.A.-based architect Michael Maltzan was a fair one, mentioning the 64 open meetings held over 13 months. Like many council members, he said it was a difficult choice.
"I've been sick to my stomach," he lamented.
In the end, only Newton and Karl Nurse supported the ballot measure.
The referendum campaign has gone on for nearly two years, led by Safety Harbor resident Tom Lambdon. Supporters of the Lens design said there were no provisions in the city's charter requiring such a referendum, but Foster had begun to soften on that in recent months as the group Voteonthepier.com began amassing the thousands of signatures required to qualify for the ballot. Even after the group missed Foster's first deadline, he ultimately allowed the 20,000 signatures to be submitted to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections office.
Two hours of public comment preceded the council vote. The first speaker was former mayoral candidate Scott Wagman, who said the council should slow down the process. He said the petition was flawed, but still needed consideration because of the passion and anger amongst the populace.
The Pier is slated to close on May 31, 2013.