Florida Trend Web Jan 2014 : Page 92

> Editor ’ s Page Pier Pressure In 1922, while swimming in Tampa Bay near downtown St. Petersburg, a young woman named Dorothy McClatchie was bitten by a “large fish” — some say a barracuda, others a shark — and bled to death. The reference point used immediately by the local newspaper and residents to identify the area where the attack occurred was the city’s pier, which even by that date was already an iconic feature of St. Pete’s waterfront, instantly and intimately familiar to locals. The pier’s first incarnation was built by the Orange Belt Railway in 1889, three years before the city was incorporated, as a transfer point where goods were loaded from ships onto trains. It did double duty as a vantage point for sightseeing. In 1906 came a 3,000-foot “Electric Pier,” replaced in 1914 by the “Municipal Pier,” which was damaged by a hurricane in 1921 and ultimately supplanted in 1926 by the “Million Dollar Pier,” a Mediterranean-styled community gathering place with a casino, ballroom and observation deck. Later incarnations and transformations followed — the “inverted pyramid” structure designed by William B. Harvard has hovered above the bay since 1973 — and the pier, along with the city-owned greenspace along the waterfront, has remained a fundamental feature of the city’s civic profile. “St. Petersburg,” as the city’s website asserts, “has always had a pier.” The iconic features of a community are vital to its sense of place — particularly in Florida, where so much is so recent. And if anyone needs a lesson in how important it is for communities to successfully cultivate and revitalize their icons, he need look no further than the pier and St. Petersburg’s most recent mayoral election. The structural underpinnings of the current pier, you see, date to the era when the unfortunate McClatchie took her fatal swim. Eighty years of saltwater take their toll; a few years ago, the city determined that repairing the pier didn’t make economic sense and initiated a process to develop a replacement, working from the predictable municipal toolbox of advisory group, public hearings and design competition. Curiously, the city’s mayor, Bill Foster, appeared to take an arm’s-length approach to leadership during the whole affair. Handed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave his mark on his city, the mayor basically seemed to put his feet up on his desk and say, “Gee, guys, I’m good with whatever everybody else wants.” Foster championed neither the process nor any of the By Mark R. Howard [mhoward@floridatrend.com] options the process produced. Nor did he step up to the plate with some new approach when the designs developed by the final three architectural firms in the competition turned out to be, shall we say, whelming. One proposal looked like a waterborne wart. Another looked like one of the loops on a Hot Wheels toy racetrack. The third — the one chosen by the city council — had all manner of swoopy catwalks and platforms forming an ill-conceived “Lens” basin around which walkers and bikers could presumably stand and gaze into the water. The (out-of-town) architects had apparently never spent enough time at the pier to notice that the water at that point is usually pretty murky — the vistas are all out, not down. With Foster neither selling the winning design nor calling the project back to the drawing board, the absence of leadership let a vocal minority commandeer the process. A hate-the-Lens group, funded by some well-heeled longtime residents who clearly felt more ownership of their city than the mayor, emerged and engineered a referendum. Voters decided to cancel the contract with the firm that designed the Lens and send everything back to square one, which is where it currently stands. A court has cleared the way for it to be demolished, but meanwhile the pier sits closed, gruesomely chain-link-fenced off at the causeway that connects it with the city’s downtown. The Lens design wasn’t the only casualty. Polls indicating that voters thought Foster had done a decent job of managing the city, but not at leading it. And in November, they voted him out of office in favor of former state legislator Rick Kriseman. Kriseman got away with being remarkably unspecific about his plans for the city during the campaign; hopefully, Foster’s fate will inspire Kriseman to bring a little more focus and direction to the mayor’s job now that he’s in it. Despite Florida’s transience and Floridians’ alleged detachment from their communities, most really do care about where they live — and not just about the day-to-day management issues of fixing potholes and arresting crooks. People want to feel like they’re living in a real place — with an identity and a personality they can sense. And they want leaders who can articulate a sense of direction and create movement that’s consistent with that identity. Whether it’s a pier, an historic building or a piece of greenspace, symbols help define a place as a place. They matter. 92 JANUARY 2014 FLORIDATREND.COM photograph: Dan Gaye

Editor’s Page

Mark R. Howard

Pier Pressure

In 1922, while swimming in Tampa Bay near downtown St. Petersburg, a young woman named Dorothy McClatchie was bitten by a “large fish” — some say a barracuda, others a shark — and bled to death. The reference point used immediately by the local newspaper and residents to identify the area where the attack occurred was the city’s pier, which even by that date was already an iconic feature of St. Pete’s waterfront, instantly and intimately familiar to locals.

The pier’s first incarnation was built by the Orange Belt Railway in 1889, three years before the city was incorporated, as a transfer point where goods were loaded from ships onto trains. It did double duty as a vantage point for sightseeing. In 1906 came a 3,000-foot “Electric Pier,” replaced in 1914 by the “Municipal Pier,” which was damaged by a hurricane in 1921 and ultimately supplanted in 1926 by the “Million Dollar Pier,” a Mediterranean-styled community gathering place with a casino, ballroom and observation deck.

Later incarnations and transformations followed — the “inverted pyramid” structure designed by William B. Harvard has hovered above the bay since 1973 — and the pier, along with the city-owned greenspace along the waterfront, has remained a fundamental feature of the city’s civic profile. “St. Petersburg,” as the city’s website asserts, “has always had a pier.”

The iconic features of a community are vital to its sense of place — particularly in Florida, where so much is so recent. And if anyone needs a lesson in how important it is for communities to successfully cultivate and revitalize their icons, he need look no further than the pier and St. Petersburg’s most recent mayoral election.

The structural underpinnings of the current pier, you see, date to the era when the unfortunate McClatchie took her fatal swim. Eighty years of saltwater take their toll; a few years ago, the city determined that repairing the pier didn’t make economic sense and initiated a process to develop a replacement, working from the predictable municipal toolbox of advisory group, public hearings and design competition.

Curiously, the city’s mayor, Bill Foster, appeared to take an arm’s-length approach to leadership during the whole affair. Handed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave his mark on his city, the mayor basically seemed to put his feet up on his desk and say, “Gee, guys, I’m good with whatever everybody else wants.”

Foster championed neither the process nor any of the options the process produced. Nor did he step up to the plate with some new approach when the designs developed by the final three architectural firms in the competition turned out to be, shall we say, whelming. One proposal looked like a waterborne wart. Another looked like one of the loops on a Hot Wheels toy racetrack. The third — the one chosen by the city council — had all manner of swoopy catwalks and platforms forming an ill-conceived “Lens” basin around which walkers and bikers could presumably stand and gaze into the water. The (out-of-town) architects had apparently never spent enough time at the pier to notice that the water at that point is usually pretty murky — the vistas are all out, not down.

With Foster neither selling the winning design nor calling the project back to the drawing board, the absence of leadership let a vocal minority commandeer the process. A hate-the-Lens group, funded by some well-heeled longtime residents who clearly felt more ownership of their city than the mayor, emerged and engineered a referendum. Voters decided to cancel the contract with the firm that designed the Lens and send everything back to square one, which is where it currently stands. A court has cleared the way for it to be demolished, but meanwhile the pier sits closed, gruesomely chain-link-fenced off at the causeway that connects it with the city’s downtown.

The Lens design wasn’t the only casualty. Polls indicating that voters thought Foster had done a decent job of managing the city, but not at leading it. And in November, they voted him out of office in favor of former state legislator Rick Kriseman. Kriseman got away with being remarkably unspecific about his plans for the city during the campaign; hopefully, Foster’s fate will inspire Kriseman to bring a little more focus and direction to the mayor’s job now that he’s in it.

Despite Florida’s transience and Floridians’ alleged detachment from their communities, most really do care about where they live — and not just about the day-to-day management issues of fixing potholes and arresting crooks. People want to feel like they’re living in a real place — with an identity and a personality they can sense. And they want leaders who can articulate a sense of direction and create movement that’s consistent with that identity.

Whether it’s a pier, an historic building or a piece of greenspace, symbols help define a place as a place. They matter.

Read the full article at http://digital.floridatrend.com/article/Editor%E2%80%99s+Page+/1583767/190611/article.html.

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