Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Michael Maltzan and friends present their vision for The Pier before St. Pete City Council

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 8:52 PM

Michael Maltzan went before the St. Pete City Council on Tuesday
  • Michael Maltzan went before the St. Pete City Council on Tuesday
Reacting to public criticism about "The Lens" — his concept for a new St. Petersburg Pier — Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan and his team unveiled their new designs a week ago. The team went before the St. Pete City Council on Tuesday afternoon to elaborate on those changes, and what they mean for the final product.

Local architect Lisa Wannemacher is working with Maltzan. She began her portion of the hour-long presentation by emphasizing that through community education, people are starting to buy into supporting The Lens.

"We have taken the public's comments very seriously," she maintained. She vowed that The Lens "is and will continue to be an evolving design."

Some of the changes include a shaded amphitheater at the end of The Pier, and the area known as the Hub has been moved just south of the access roads. A waterside restaurant is also planned for the Hub.

All eight members of the City Council had questions for The Lens architecture team, as there are only two more days before they will vote on whether or not to approve $5.4 million to continue the project.

Not heard today were members of the public, who are not allowed to speak during the workshop, but undoubtedly will come in large numbers to speak up for and against the project.

Councilman Karl Nurse initially supported The Lens but has turned cold toward it in recent months. He was decidedly unimpressed by the new design, saying the city isn't getting much for its $50 million.

"The public amenities that we actually get are three restrooms, four drinking fountains, three seating areas," he said. "What we don't get ... include the Hub welcome mat, bayside dining. What we do get is a slab with plumbing stubbed in ... At the promenade, the grill they're talking about? That doesn't exist either. Again, that is stubbed in, assuming somebody else will build that. And so, though they say this stuff doesn't exist, if you look all through the presentation, this stuff is in there. This is many, many millions of dollars that we give the impression that the public gets, that does not exist and will not exist."

But Chris Ballestra in the city's development department objected to Nurse's sentiments. He said the design allows for the infrastructure of a restaurant, but the city has no intention of building one. He said the city will put in a request for a proposal for a restaurant next spring, and there is already interest from restaurauteurs to take the step and make it special.

Maltzan described his concept in flowery terms, comparing it at one point to the Eiffel Tower.

"When you go to Paris, you always see the Eiffel Tower, it's something to look at. People forget that when the Eiffel Tower was built, it allowed people to go up in it and see Paris as they never saw it, and imagine Paris in the future. It's (The Lens) not just a place for activity ... it's a place to come and connect to the extraordinary landscape of the Bay ... it's also a place to see the city now, and see the city as it will be, and continue to be in the future," he said.

Toward the end of the meeting, which lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours, Mayor Bill Foster said the whole process was a fascinating demonstration of democracy in action.

"This has been an incredible journey," he said. "It's been fun ... people are digesting this material and asking real good questions."

The mayor was in a good mood, but then again he didn't hear from citizens who are angry about The Lens. There were 10 or so members of the group Stop The Lens in attendance in their red t-shirts, and there will likely be many more on Thursday when the Council votes to authorize that $5.4 million for the next phase of the development of the new Pier.

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