Monday, March 30, 2015

Kriseman administration silent on the Pier issue

Mayor Kriseman

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

It seems the Kriseman administration is having a little trouble multitasking. While the Rays stadium search deal is on the front burner it looks like the Pier issue may not even be in the kitchen.

Looking at this week's meeting schedule there are no meetings scheduled for the Pier Selection Committee, nor any public discussion of the current Pier ranking process.

All of this procrastination on the Kriseman administration's part and relative silence on the Mayor's part is fueling a series of responses from all sides.

New petitions are starting to develop for a referendum, Ryan Mitchell has launched an on line petition, Build Blue Pier, to get Blue Pier, already rejected by the Selection Committee, back into consideration and look for other rejected contenders to start doing the same thing.

All of this mostly because the Mayor's handpicked Selection Committee Chairman, Mike Connors, kind of blew the whole process up in literally the 11th hour creating a no decision from the Selection Committee and throwing the whole process into chaos.

Up to now the Mayor has been speaking about the Pier though his two spokespeople, Ben Kirby and Kevin King both who have total of about 14 months in St. Pete Government experience. Not too comforting.

It's time for the Mayor to make a personal statement on the record and get the Pier process back on track. Replace the Chairperson though I am not sure who would want the job, disband the Selection Committee and dump the whole mess in City Council's lap or least popular, declare a screw up and start the process all over.

The apparent choice of the administration, ALMA (AKA The Big Banjo), is in big trouble and this delay seems to me to be a typical effort to find a way to put some lipstick on a very unpopular pig.

I know the Mayor thinks baseball is the end all be all, but I suspect the Pier will be here long after the Rays have moved on. It's time for some sound comments from the Mayor on the Pier so everyone including those who have invested time and resources into making these proposals know what the next steps are going to be.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday March 29, 2015 The Inverted Pyramid – Is 125 years really all that bad?

By: Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog

During the final Pier Selection Committee ranking meeting, Mike Connors, in a now widely reported mini rant, went to great lengths in an attempt to make a case for a lack of technical, feasible and pragmatic value of the current inverted pyramid.

One of his statements seemed to stick with me more than the others. Loosely paraphrased he said, if we renovate the existing inverted pyramid and it lasts the projected 75 years it will been representing St. Petersburg for almost 125 years and that's not the image I think we want to project.

The Mayan pyramids, which were built starting nearly 3,000 years ago, are perhaps the greatest tourist attractions of Mexico and Central America.

There is general agreement the Egyptian Pyramids were constructed beginning in about 2500 BC which would make them about 4700 years old. The Egyptians seem to be quite proud of them.

I have been to the Mayan Pyramid at Chichen Itza, all the way to the top and down into tombs.

Very impressive.

Connors kind of hissed the remark out through his teeth like St. Petersburg would be some sort of scourge on the planet with a 125-year-old inverted pyramid as its symbol.

Ok..Ok I get it, it's upside down. I sometimes think it's the whole upside down thing that really freaks some people out. As Spoc would say, "it's not logical."

Maybe if it were right side up it wouldn't bother people so much.

But looking at it logically, neither Egyptians nor the Mayans have made a head long rush to tear down their pyramids. Maybe we should not be quite so anxious to tear ours down either.

I can imagine a couple with their kids looking out over the bay 75 years from now standing on the Pier observation deck and saying, "You know this thing is almost 125 years old it's been here all this time watching over its City. It's pretty neat."

The baby boomers have come and are in the process of going, the millennials will come and go and over the next 75 years several more defined generations will also come and go.

The point is generations come and go but what anchors us all and ties us together are the things in this world that are consistent like pyramids be they right-side up or upside down.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

ALMA - The Big Banjo.... Elroy and Cletus Return

 You may or may not remember from the days of the LENS debacle our two intrepid truckers from St. Petersburg, Elroy and Cletus, along with some of their friends, had a lot to say about the LENS and the Pier. Well - their back weighing in on the ALMA and the whole Pier issue.

Elroy had just cleared Atlanta heading down to St. Pete with a trailer load of dog food for one of the local pet store chains. He eased the big Cat powered Kenworth up to 70 and smiled as the diesel purred. A quick check of all the gauges, everything fine he punched up a classical music station on the HD stereo.

After few minutes of quiet reverie with a movement from Beethoven, the CB crackled to life, "Elroy, Elroy, this here's Cletus got your ears on?"

"Hey Cletus what's up," Elroy replied?

"You been following the Pier mess," Cletus asked?

"What a mess, I thought they were going to rank three finalists on Friday," Elroy replied.

"Ya... well, I had a layover so I watched the whole thing on TV. Kind of a cross between watching paint dry and getting a tooth pulled with no Novocain."

"The Committee jawed for almost twelve hours and couldn't make a decision, then that guy Mike Connors blew the whole thing up trashing the pyramid and started pushing the ALMA design," Cletus replied. "Have you noticed that thing kind of looks like a banjo when you look at from the land side?"

"What," Elroy replied, "A banjo?" 

Cletus must be losing it Elroy thought.

"Ya... just take a closer look at one of those overhead shots from the land side it looks like a banjo," Cletus said. "Plus, that box out on the end is just a box. You can lay the thing on its side or on its back and it's still just a box. At least the inverted pyramid has some personality."

Elroy reached across the seat and grabbed a news paper article on the Pier. He looked carefully and sure enough with a just a little imagination it did look like a banjo.

Elroy smiled as he squeezed the CB push to talk button, "The Big Banjo, he chuckled, looks like we got the new name."  "Should make for some really interesting T shirts." "You know that thing was my last choice on the survey."

"Mine too," Cletus replied. "As far as I can tell it was almost everyone's last choice except Mike Connors and his goofy Committee."  "People are so upset thee is already a petition drive getting under way."

"You would think by now they would have figured this Pier thing out," Elroy replied.

"Well, obviously not so much," Cletus replied. "Catch you on the flip side."

Elroy turned the stereo up and the thought crossed his mind, "When the people indicate their preference how can you screw that up?"

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bill Ballard, Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg clarifies His views on City Council Action Regarding the Selection Committee Rankings

 I am not speaking for Concerned Citizens.  The content of my March 23rd letter to Connors and in the “Hijack” email are personal observations and opinions.

From: William Ballard []
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2015 12:18 AM

To: ''
Cc: ''; 'Mayor'; ''
Subject: No, City Council Can't Hijack etc.

Ms. Irwin - I read your piece in St. Pete Blog.  We have a little disagreement here.  The City, an “agency” as defined in the CCNA (Section 287.055 Fla. Stat. 2014) has delegated to a selection committee the task of ranking the design teams.  On page 14 of the RFQ is the statement of the Stage II Design Concept Process.   In paragraph 6 it is stated that:   “The Selection Committee will present its final ranking to the Mayor and then to the City Council.  City Council will vote to acknowledge the ranking of the Selection Committee and authorize negotiations with the highest ranked Team.”  (emphasis supplied by me).  That “will vote” language in the final, underlined sentence should not be taken literally.  The ranking report will be placed on the Council agenda.  Two council members can move and second that Council acknowledge the ranking, or accept the ranking, or accept the report or other equivalent language, and to authorize negotiations, but if the motion does not get a yes vote from a majority (five of eight) of council members, this particular CCNA process has come to an end.  The CCNA contains no provision that compels an agency to proceed with a project.  It is not reasonable to attribute to the legislature legislative intent to compel a municipality to spend millions of dollars on plans for a project when its governing body has no intent to build it.  The CCNA only mandates the procedure for engaging design professionals to provide design services for a project if it is to be built.

According to the Timelines posted on the City’s “The New St. Pete Pier” site the RFQ was prepared by City Staff.  City Staff may be in possession of a document wherein Council has voted to irrevocably delegate its powers and duties to an unelected committee chaired by a City employee, but I doubt it.  That “will vote” language should have read “will consider” or similar language that is consistent with Council’s powers and duties.   A sloppy sentence in an RFQ does not trump the City Charter.  Another city staffer did better on a page at in which it is stated in the last sentence on the page:”It is anticipated that a final plan will be approved and contract negotiations will begin with the accepted team early next year.”

Early today (3/25) I asked a board certified City, County and Local Government Law lawyer who is very active in this field to read the concluding paragraph of my March 23rd  letter to M. J. Connors.  In that lawyer’s opinion, a governing body always has the authority to reject a committee report or recommendation.  That principle I had picked up by osmosis in my 38 years of actively practicing law.  I also had, when whipping out that letter, a strong recollection that the city is now the owner of the submitted design concepts. I found the provision.  On page 67 of the RFQ, there is a paragraph 11 titled Ownership and Reuse of Documents which states in the clearest of terms that all documents submitted in response to the RFQ and the ideas incorporated in them “shall become the property of the City” and that the City shall have the right to reuse them.

I stand by my March 23rd letter to Mr. Connors.  Council can redefine the project, hopefully with greater specificity, incorporating ideas from the concepts it now owns.  A new CCNA RFQ can issue.  I hope you will reconsider your “Hijack” post.  You do write some good stuff.
You know, if we did two projects such as redoing the pier much like Destination St. Pete (light fare on the roof top) and got creative on the financing of a restaurant/bar on the uplands as offered by the Alma concept, we would have the critical mass of dining opportunities that the Pier Advisory Task Force recommended in 2010.  Isn’t something like that what Lambert Advisory is suggesting in its March 11, 2015 economic benefits report?

Bill Ballard

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Wakeup Call

The Pier issue is heating up. 

Below is a letter sent to Mike Connors by Bill Ballard who was president of Concerned Citizens of St. petersburg during the LENS Referendum process.

I am not speaking for Concerned Citizens.  The content of my March 23rd letter to Connors and in the “Hijack” email are personal observations and opinions.
William C. Ballard
1255 Brightwaters Blvd.
St. Petersburg, FL 33704

March 23, 2015

Michael J. Connors, P.E.
Chair, Pier Design Team Selection Committee
Municipal Service Building
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Dear Mr. Connors:

This letter is primarily intended as a wakeup call to our Mayor and City Council.  Your committee is stuck in the middle.  The fig leaf of “select the most qualified design team” is inadequate cover for the real task – making the choice between two highly disparate conceptual plans which have attracted highly different levels of public acceptance.  That choice should be made by our city’s elected leaders.  Your committee could then confine itself to its proper task, the selection of the most qualified design team to implement a specific project concept which the governing body has chosen.  The process to date has not been a loss.  It has produced two worthy conceptual choices, either of which could reward us greatly if implemented on a scale sufficient to make them successful.  They are, alphabetically, the Alma and Destination St. Pete.

This pause in your committee’s deliberations gives our city leaders the opportunity to confront reality.  A $50 million project budget, originally intended for reconstruction of the Municipal Pier in 2010, now diminished to $46 million, will not permit the construction of a project with a primary draw as recommended by the 2010 Pier Advisory Task Force.  That task force, armed with economic studies, concluded that every successful recreational pier needs a primary draw, and that for St. Petersburg that element should be provided by a restaurant based program; specifically, 26,000 square feet of space to accommodate multiple restaurants.  None of the 2015 design concepts could even half way meet this requirement in the context of 2015 construction costs.  The recent economic study you mentioned, if I heard you accurately, concluded that none of the seven design concepts will provide the economic impetus for our city that the pier project was expected to provide. 

The balance of this letter assumes nobody grabs the helm and your committee has to stay on its present course.

The Alma project puts its major restaurant structure on the uplands.  This core choice has direct operational benefits.  The Alma pier solution is a thousand foot long skinny pedestrian pier terminating at a 150 foot high, narrow observation tower featuring a snack bar and a small ballroom.  As for the tower, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  The Alma pier is a reminder that you get what you pay for, rarely much more.

The RFQ does not list a ballroom as a program element.   Has a need for a ballroom ever been mentioned by any pier committee?  Don’t music groups require large buses and trucks to transport themselves and their equipment?  Are long walks out in the elements or tram rides part of a sought after ballroom dancing experience?  The Coliseum, at which the public presentation of the pier design concepts was made, is a large city owned ballroom with excellent street access and abundant off street parking surrounding it?  My take is that the Alma tower ballroom was an attempt to give an art object the appearance of having utility.  The available money does not support both a worthy pier head structure and the bridge to get to it if the primary draw is sited on the upland.  I have a bias towards Destination St. Pete, but I also firmly believe that there is great merit in the Alma concept’s focus on the uplands.

The Destination St. Pete concept re-uses the Inverted Pyramid as the primary draw plus a light dining facility and other enhancements in the Spa Beach area.  The bridge is less than half the width of the old pier bridge with bump outs to accommodate loading and unloading vehicles.  A wider bridge would appear to provide a better experience.  This design preserves the intangible benefits associated with this landmark structure.  I like it.  Of far greater importance, is what the people of this city want their pier project to provide them.

The St. Pete Polls’ March 19th scientific (as opposed to self selected) survey of city voters disclosed 62.6% approval and 25.2% disapproval of the Destination St. Pete concept.  This was the highest ranking of all concepts.  The same survey disclosed Alma had 21.3% approval and 62.8% disapproval among the survey respondents, the worst among all seven concepts.  In 2013, St. Pete Polls predicted with near exactitude the outcome of the referendum in which over 60% of the voters chose termination of the Lens design agreement.  A substantial majority of the people of St. Petersburg want their inverted pyramid shaped gem cleaned and placed in a new setting.  They want their dining at the pier head.  They are the client.  As long as what they want is legal, buildable and not likely to bankrupt their city, who is to deny them?  The St. Petersburg Design Group possesses a unique professional qualification among all contestants; they have provided the design concept most desired by the people who will use the project and pay for the project. 

The environmental argument against automobile access the pier head, as proposed to some extent in the Destination St. Pete concept, is weak.  The runoff water from our streets and parking lots near the waterfront runs into Tampa Bay.  My guess is that the Grand Prix in three days this week will put more burnt rubber and petroleum particulate into Tampa Bay than the automobile traffic on the pier did in the last two decades.  Particulate emission from road use automobiles has been greatly reduced thanks to good environmental legislation and great engineering.  I hope each of the committee members has revisited the drawings for Destination St. Pete and noted the bump outs which will keep traffic moving during vehicle unloading and loading.

I publicly and tangibly supported the Greenlight Pinellas public transportation initiative.  It failed.  Our pier is to be built for the transportation culture that exists today and will likely persist for the next decade or two.  This is not nostalgia; this is reality.  Vehicular access to the pier can be controlled inexpensively and easily to balance all needs.  For example, there are hydraulic barriers available which may be controlled by electronic cards.  These barriers can be used to control vehicular access to a restricted roadway or plaza without on duty personnel.

 You and your committee members are not jurors in a murder trial.  You are not sequestered.  You can receive information and talk to anyone other than other selection committee members and representatives of the contestants.  What is the best design for this city?  Which design will do the most to bring our community together?  Destination St. Pete has already proven that it will serve that important community healing purpose.  Which design best utilizes and preserves the icon that has served our city in the amazing burst of economic development of the last decade? Destination St.  Pete.

Some committee members don’t like the inverted pyramid.  Fine; it was and is controversial - but, it is noticed.  One of the committee members is plainly resentful that architect Michael Maltzan’s work was “submarined” by politics.  The politics in the case of the Lens was citizens exercising their rights under the city’s charter.  There was nothing sneaky about this exercise; it was a daylight, surface attack.   Architects do not rule.  Clients rule.  What happened with the Lens was no different than what happens whenever an architect delivers to a client a proposed plan that the client does not like, does not want to live with and does not want to pay for.  The plan goes on the shelf.

I have said little about Pier Park.  A great deal of thought must have gone into that design.  It does offer dining at the pier head.  It looks like a fun place.  My concern is that there are so many landscaping elements to be tended and maintained, so many thousands of square feet of floating dock which are not protected from storm swell and which cannot survive without a program of periodic removal from the water for scraping, repair and recoating, and so many activities to be managed, that this design will be a money pit.  All that kayak activity, as bright and fun as it appears in renderings, can better  and more safely be done off Spa Beach, North Shore Beach, Weedon Island, Pinellas Point (on  the flats) and Fort DeSoto.  Kayaks are not compatible with the heavy powerboat traffic in and out of our now successful, revenue positive yacht basins.  For these reasons I have assumed that the issue at this time is the selection of a first choice between Destination St. Pete and Alma.

The city’s elected leaders may decide to let your committee’s process run its course.  If the committee ranks the design team which offered the Alma concept number one, Council will have the option to reject the committee report.  If that occurs, Council could adopt whatever resolution or ordinance may be required to select the Destination St. Pete concept as the pier project they wish to have built and to direct the issuance of an RFQ for design services to implement that specific project.  A mirror image of this scenario is also possible.  Whatever happens, I will stand by what I said to the committee last Thursday regarding its diligence and the excellent quality of its discussion. 

                                                                        Very truly yours, 

                                                                        William C. Ballard

Selection Committee Members
Mayor Rick Kriseman
Council Members
Public Distribution

 I am not speaking for Concerned Citizens.  The content of my March 23rd letter to Connors and in the “Hijack” email are personal observations and opinions.

Things are starting to spiral out of control. Kriseman's statement Monday "We will continue to follow the process" may be a recipe for disaster. It's time to take some action.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The new St. Pete Pier. Are the wheels coming off this project yet again?

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

After a poorly planned final review meeting, lack of willing participation by the Committee members and a mini rant by Mike Connors, City Public Works Administrator and chair of the Pier Selection Committee resulted in a "no decision", the public is starting to respond to the process.

Here are some posts you might want to check out:

Here are just a few of reader's comments. Why don't you log in to one of these sites and post your thoughts or send them to me at and I'll be happy to share them.

Jay - We need to get rid of the pyramid and move on.

Nick - Too bad that's not what the majority of citizens want.

Jay - A vocal minority does not make a majority, but they usually get what they want.

Nick - Jay we collected 24,000 petitions from registered voters who wanted to have a vote in the fate of that building, not too shabby…the people at the first task force survey in 2010 chose a refurb plan, but pushed aside by the city(mahaffey theater vote). Now we have poll after poll saying the same thing….reuse the architecture. If you don't like the architecture, that's your right.

David - Destination St Pete Pier is just as described in the editorial. And there is nothing out there to determine what the clear choice of residents is. Both polls were worthless, so get off of that horse.

Joe - Except that the scientific poll taken by St Pete Polls essentially corroborated the same public sentiment.

 Tom -     I like the idea about doing the phone survey, but they should do the Internet survey again. First they should let everyone know what happened, which they should have done immediately after the meeting on Friday the 20th. I would have prevented much frustration among the public. Now much of the public believe the committee is incapable of doing the job.

The phone survey should also identify the "Destination" pier design as the one that got the most votes by the public. I had to chose undecided on the phone survey because I wasn't sure what one it was.

Nancy - It is outrageous that the residents of St. Petersburg who are paying for the Pier with the tax dollars do not get to chose the design as promised.  No one likes the Alma but it is in the running.  Just who is get kick backs?

Roger - Let's not mince words. This entire "process" has been a political sideshow, pre-planned and orchestrated with the desired outcome known for over a year. Parading Casey Gonzmart out to speak publicly, with his ridiculous pleas, was the final straw, and a really stupid move by those pulling the strings in this city. There is no other explanation as to why a useless, disliked by most concept that does not follow the Pier Advisory Task force is sitting at #1. It was planned that way all along. The survey was nothing more than a feel-good exercise to placate the public, but it backfired on them. The real truth is coming out now. Mike Connors should be fired immediately if not brought up on charges for conspiracy, IMO. The City's only hope of tearing down the Inverted Pyramid lies with their final strategy that the public is worn out with Pier fatigue and will not participate in another protracted petition drive/battle. What they DIDN'T consider is that the previous opposing forces in Concerned Citizens, VOTP and most of the Lens fans have joined forces, and quite a few are either Attorneys or have very deep pockets (or both) and will not stand by and let Mike Connors and Rick Kriseman pull another stunt like Bill Foster tried. You can take that to the bank.

And Connors temper tantrum on video just proves it even more. Oh and by the way, here's more: Perhaps someone should ask Mr. Connors why the City filed a demolition permit request on September 11th, 2014 to demolish the entire Pier to the seawall, including the Pyramid, even though 11 of the 16 teams planned a renovation? Keep peeling the onion back, kids.

T - Why ask the citizens of St Petersburg which Pier design they would prefer, if 1 person on the Mayor's Committee picks HIS choice?
This is an insult to everyone who was asked to vote!
A majority of citizens selected "Destination St Petersburg" & that is the design that should be used!
Mr. Mayor, is this how your city government works?

Bill - Was all the voting just a big sham??? 

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