'Lens' language could confuse St. Pete voters - WFLA News Channel 8

'Lens' language could confuse St. Pete voters

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Concept art of how "The Lens" design would look when finished. Concept art of how "The Lens" design would look when finished.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) -

Voters are preparing to go to the polls Tuesday in St. Petersburg, and one of the biggest issues on the ballot is the future of the St. Pete Pier.

However, there are concerns that the language on the ballot may confuse voters.

A "yes" vote means you want to the city to cancel its contract to build the new pier, dubbed The Lens.

A "no" vote means you want the city to go ahead and build The Lens.

Elections officials say they're expecting higher than normal turnout for this primary election, largely because of the pier issue.

"Sometimes ballot questions generate more interest in voters' minds," said Deborah Clark, Pinellas County supervisor of elections. "Sometimes voters are more passionate about a ballot question, and certainly the question that's on the ballot regarding the Pier in St. Petersburg has generated a lot of interest."

Groups on both sides of the issue plan to be at polling places Tuesday. Nicolas Weathersbee, who owned a candle business in the old pier, held up signs saying "Stop the Lens" Monday evening on the corner of 22nd Ave N.

"I think people are going to be voting 'yes' to cancel the lens...specifically because it offers less of everything people expected in a pier," Weathersbee said. "They want more restaurants than were over there before. They want an air conditioned space to be able to escape any kind of storms like we just had a second ago."

Weathersbee, personally, would like to see the old pier refurbished. He believes the process of the public voting on designs and ultimately selected The Lens was a bait and switch.

"During the competition at the history museum, they showed the full-blown $150 million Lens with the landside amphitheater, the little islands, a water park ...and all this stuff that you don't get," he said. "There was also no vote on none of the above option. So people voted on this $150 million Lens only to find out later that they're not getting all that. They're getting a stripped down $50 million Lens."

But Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce is supporting The Lens.

"We think it fits the experiences that we were hoping for...that our citizens were looking for during this whole entire process," Steinocher said. "It's not about the design as much to us as it is about - really - what are you going to do when you get there. What are you going to see? How are you going to feel?"

Steinocher believes the 4 ½ years of community conversation about a new pier have has strained some public perception.

"I think people are exhausted by it. I think they have missed some of the finer points," he said. "The biggest point I think everybody's really missed is - when we built this pier back in the 60s and 70s it was a different focus. It was a different purpose. We asked our city to spend our tax dollars to create some kind of restaurant and retail atmosphere. That's what we needed downtown because the private sector hadn't done it. Today, if you've noticed, our beach front, our Central Avenue, the entire waterfront is thriving with restaurants and retail and people are coming out here and coming to our streets, getting tables and watching people go by."

To view both websites and hear both sides of the argument:

Stop the Lens

Build the Pier

Voters will also choose the city's next mayor and select three new city councilors. Election polls open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. Find your polling location here.

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