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But the real bone of contention for the anti-Lens contingent was what the paper called “Myth#4.” The paper reported that the $50 million project is being financed with a portion of property taxes collected only on downtown properties, under the system known as tax-incremental financing (TIF).
Concerned Citizens say that’s false, claiming a bond issue will pay for the project, with those bonds paid by transfers from the city and county general revenue funds. But Times Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens says Ballard and Risser are flat wrong, telling CL that he’s written about tax incremental financing for 25 years, and he’s got the mayor’s office, the city attorney’s office, the city development’s office and the county administrator’s office all confirming the accuracy of that part of the editorial.
Nickens and Daniel Ruth won Pulitzer Prizes earlier this year for their series of editorials on the Pinellas County Commission’s move to stop putting fluoride in the drinking water. He compares Concerned Citizens’ advocacy to those who bombarded the Times a year ago with anti-fluoride arguments.
“The opponents of putting fluoride in the water brought in stacks of documents, tons of studies, and suggested science was on their side,“ he told CL last week. “And when you went through it, there were studies and it was technically accurate, but it had nothing to do with the broader argument, and that is what they have done. They have cited statutes and they have gone through the city budget and tried to track the money, and some of what they have may be technically correct, but it has nothing to do with tax increment financing and the way it works, and it has nothing to do with what’s in the editorial.”
Ballard calls Nickens’s comments a “terrible analogy,” and concludes by saying that the paper is “furthering the myth to the majority of St. Pete voters that they don’t have a financial stake in this.”
Karl Nurse says Concerned Citizens “have a point,” but adds “it’s a little gray, because at the end of the day we’re going to want to try to replace that pier in some fashion.”
It took a while to register that the Lens might be in real jeopardy. Then, on June 20, the Lens’s biggest public advocate, commercial pitchman Anthony Sullivan, bailed out, saying the community was now too divided.
Then, in early July, Jesse Landis decided to spring into action. A public relations staffer in St. Pete who believes in the promise of the Lens, he realized that he couldn’t live with himself without doing something proactive for the city, and the design, that he loves. So he teamed up with friends to create Citizens for the St. Pete Pier, a new political action committee. The group’s website, BuildThePier.com, published a list of “5 myths about the new pier” a few weeks before the Times ran theirs; the lists are similar, with Build the Pier also pointing out that the Lens implements 40 of the 43 task force recommendations and that the design has evolved due to public input.
Worth noting, however: In response to Build The Pier’s list, savethepier.org published point-by-point counter-arguments. Among its typically sarcastic responses: “We’re sure that you won’t mind that the main recommendation that was ignored was for a 36,000 to 46,000 sq ft of air conditioned, weather protected space … You’ll never notice the sweat in your food.”
On a recent Saturday morning, about a dozen supporters of Build the Pier, several accompanied by their young children, met up at Panera Bread on Fourth Street to assemble signs and get canvassing assignments, and to combat what they claim is a massive amount of misinformation spread by the Stop the Lens forces.
“Historically each generation has put its own mark on this city,” said Orlando Acosta, a military contractor based at MacDill Air Force Base who was leading the efforts that morning. “The pier has usually been that mark, so now we’re coming up on a new generation. It’s not just a generation of age but of spirit, and this new pier, the Lens, no matter how much you may like it or not, is reflective of this new generation.”
Marcus Martin with the group said he just assumed that the process would play out “like it was supposed to play out,” but got involved when he read about polls indicating that the Lens was in trouble.
If the Lens goes down to defeat, especially if it’s close, there will be recriminations about supporters’ inability to get their message out. After frequent complaints about alleged misinformation being spread by opponents, or just a general lack of information, three Council members have held information meetings on the Lens over the past couple of months.
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