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St. Pete to include public in pier architect choice


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City officials hope their second invitation for architects to design a new pier ends better than the first one.

Firms that respond to the city’s request for qualifications announced on Tuesday will need to demonstrate the right expertise to renovate or rebuild the iconic waterfront landmark while staying on budget.

More important, a seven- member panel appointed by the mayor is tasked with ensuring their architectural vision satisfies the varied demands for recreation and entertainment identified by residents who opposed the city’s previous decision to build an avant-garde pier known as The Lens.

Firms selected by the mayor’s committee to make a more detailed proposal will have plenty of history and public input to consider before they present their concepts to residents early next year.

Members of that committee bring expertise ranging from architecture to marine science, but they’re keenly aware that public relations — that is, making sure public input drives the process — will be key to making sure a new pier actually gets built this time.

Balancing the community’s many expressed desires for a pier that’s both a city icon and recreation hub certainly will prove a challenge.

“It could be Rubik’s Cube of all projects,” said committee member James Jackson, an architect for the city of Tampa who lives in St. Petersburg. “Buy-in throughout the process is the key to a hopeful win-win outcome.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman has sought to establish that buy-in through several months of public meetings with a group of 21 people representing both those who supported and opposed the previous pier design.

The new request for qualifications includes a report issued by the mayor’s Pier Working Group that identifies “must-haves” for the pier, such as dining, fishing spots and observation decks.

Also included is public input culled from the 2009 Pier Advisory Task Force, former Mayor Bill Foster’s 828 Alliance group and several other community surveys.

“The programmatic elements are spelled out that this is what the community wants to see, specifically,” city architect Raul Quintana said.

Architects have until Sept. 5 to submit both a statement of their qualifications and a rough concept of their vision for a new pier.

The mayor’s selection committee will narrow the submissions to a short-list of up to eight firms that will get $30,000 each to draw an initial design concept with reports, renderings, cost estimates and a description of how the amenities and programs satisfy the findings of the Pier Working Group.

After a technical review by staff to ensure the designs are feasible and on budget, the committee will narrow the list to three finalists in January, which the public gets a chance to vote on through a survey.

Finally, the committee will rank each of the finalists and the city council must vote to enter negotiations with the top-ranked firm.

Many elements in the selection process appear similar to what the city did previously, such as a survey in which a majority of people favored the ill-fated Lens design over two other contenders.

But after lawsuits and voter referendums, people are paying better attention to each step this time, selection committee member Bob Jeffrey said.

“I think the bottom line on this is the community is 10 times more well-informed than they were the first time on this process,” said Jeffrey, an architect, preservationist and former assistant director of development services for the city.

Former critics of The Lens design are cautiously optimistic about the committee selecting a better pool of architects with designs that fit the needs of the city.

Carter “Bud” Karins, a member of the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, said he’s pleased the new process includes the possibility of renovating the existing pier.

He says the Pier Working Group, which he participated in, underlined the need for functionality in the new pier over creating an architectural showpiece.

“We have listed the things it has to do and I didn’t see anywhere on the list a piece of art,” said Karins. “I hope we’ve got a commitment to keep to the program and measure it based on that.”

Other members of the Pier Selection Committee include: Melanie Lenz, vice president of development for the Tampa Bay Rays; Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County’s Economic Development Department; Gary Mitchum, associate dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science; Kai Warren, a preservationist and former president of the Roser Park Neighborhood Association; and Michael Conners, city public works administrator.

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