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 St. Pete City Council Action Regarding the Pier Selection Committee Rankings

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

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.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wake up 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

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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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is the Kriseman administration playing straight on the Pier?

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

It is not a secret that Mike Connors is no fan of the Pier and especially the inverted pyramid.

The Kriseman administration's decision to let Connors run the Pier project and chair the Selection Committee was a ticking time bomb that finally went off late Friday afternoon.

Following almost 8 hours of tedious discussion of all the remaining Pier proposals with Connors virtually dragging comments out of the committee members, Connors at one point sank back in his chair and commented he was getting tired.

Connors noted for his eloquent and often quaint handle on the English language has been a stalwart staffer for at least three Mayors. He is smart, fearless and those who don't respect him in the City organization are either very brave or really stupid.

Well beyond the point where most people would have thrown in the towel, Connors kept pushing along in the final Selection Committee meeting trying to get to his boss's objective of a ranking of three of the proposals. 

When the discussion got around to ranking the four, not three, remaining proposals, Connor's frustration was beginning to rise.

In what some might actually call a near rant, he expressed his strong disdain for anything a that retained the existing Pier or any of its structure, thus putting him in direct opposition the City's recent survey of public opinion which rank Destination Pier as their first choice.

So was Connors speaking for Connors, or was he speaking for the administration? It probably doesn't really matter because the perception is Connors is the City guy running the Pier show, and as they say in government perception is reality. The guy running the Pier project wants the inverted pyramid GONE.

It's been a long time since I saw Mike Connors come that unglued, and even longer since anything near his very public anti inverted pyramid mini rant.

This round of the Pier saga is starting to look like another train wreck.

When a representative of St. Pete Polls a local poling organization offered to share some of their results on the Pier Survey, he was allowed to speak, but then when he asked if he could have the poll shown on the screen and thus TV, Connors lateralled to the Legal Department who promptly said "no". The Poll supports the City survey and indicated Destination Pier is the overwhelming choice of the public.

Just kind of makes one wonder.

The end of Fridays meeting had to be some where close to Mayor Kriseman's worst nightmare. All this effort and not even a ranking and the old LENS opposition looking very concerned about ignoring the public's input.

Looking at the expressions on Mr. Ballard and Mr. Risser faces as they spoke at the end of the meeting, it seems the Kriseman dream team has some damage control to do.

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A Million Dollars to Pin the Dots on the Board

Go Hillsborough has held a dozen transportation public engagement meetings. We've been to a couple of them. Parsons Brinckerhoff reported at the March 5 Policy Leadership Group  that about 600 had attended the first 7 meetings and they had received about 300 comment forms from all the meetings.

The schedule can be found at the GoHillsborough campaign website.  We hope more folks will participate but we also can understand skepticism with the effort. 

At the March PLG meeting, Parsons also reported "citizens want to speak to their elected officials". However, to our knowledge, only a couple of county commissioners have attended any of the meetings. There were no elected officials at the two meetings I attended in Lutz and Town and Country.

If the commissioners don't show up, the citizens have no opportunity to speak to any elected officials. The commissioners, in turn, do not get the opportunity to hear, listen and observe what is being said. The county is paying a million dollars for this effort and we would like to see the commissioners taking this effort seriously enough to at least show up at some of these meetings. 

While this is a public engagement effort, participants cannot actually make any public comment. Participants can see the displays and talk to county staff, the political consultant running the show and some transportation folks. Your public engagement is limited to filling out a survey and turning it in, drawing some suggestions on a map and placing some colored dots on a board. 

The dot board contains numerous buckets of transportation options you may choose to place the four colored dots given as you enter the meeting. This is not very scientific. Probably to some, the categories are confusing, overlapping, too broad and they may not even understand them. There are some brief definitions of the buckets provided next to the board. Who really knows what "complete streets" are? Who understands ATMS, especially when the definition provided did not even mention it included traffic signalization simply known as timing our lights.  
Dot Board at GoHillsborough public engagement
The County did public engagement in the fall of 2013. No results of that effort was ever presented to the PLG, not even a report or summary provided.  We do know that it didn't cost taxpayers a million dollars and people actually got to speak and make a public comment.

This time taxpayers are paying the big bucks to Parsons Brinckerhoff. But Parsons is just the front man. As we previously reported here, Parsons is funneling hundreds of thousands of our county taxpayer dollars to a very well connected political consultant Beth Leytham.  
Cost Estimates from Parsons Brinckerhoff

Scope of Work
Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to political consultant Beth Leytham

And Voila! We're paying for an expensive million dollar GoHillsborough PR campaign.

But you do get to play pin the dots on the board.