The odds of a public vote on whether to demolish or refurbish St. Petersburg's downtown Pier are about to increase exponentially.
Voteonthepier.com suddenly has tens of thousands of dollars to mail petitions and postage-paid return envelopes to lots of registered St. Petersburg voters.
"We're doing it in two phases of 20,000 a piece," organizer Tom Lambdon told FOX 13 News. "The first phase is 20,000 going out Wednesday."
According to campaign reports filed with the city, Voteonthepier.com collected less than $5,000 in donation between November 2010 and March 2012. Lambdon said much larger donations came in "...the last week."
Asked who is making the donations, he replied "We've gotten some people who are high-profile city people. I can't really discuss their names, but there's people that are very passionate about people's right to vote."
Wengay Newton, the only St. Petersburg city councilman supporting the referendum movement so far, was a little more forthcoming.
"Lately, there's been a lot of distinguished property owners from Beach Drive and business owners, and they are upset because they will not get a vote and council won't look at other options," Newton said.
He also declined to mention specific donors.
Lambdon said the petitions will be filled out, so all recipients have to do is sign them and mail them back. He claims his group has already collected more than 15,000 of the 15,648 signatures required to call a referendum, but the new supporters want to make sure the issue gets on the November ballot.
Earlier this week, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the language on the petitions does not satisfy requirements of the city charter, but he would ask the city council to honor the citizens' request anyway.
Thursday night Foster told the audience of a public forum, "if the signatures come in, my personal view is the vote on the pier people earned it."
Council chair Leslie Curran oversaw the selection of a next-generation Pier design known as The Lens, and has nurtured it through the city council process. Recent public forums have revealed there is very little public support for the Lens, but Curran is not dissuaded.
"I think there's a lot of education that needs to go on, and people just need to be comfortable with the design," Curran said, adding the process of finalizing the Lens design will continue.
And if citizens deliver thousands of petitions calling for a vote on the existing Pier?
"We'll look at that when that day comes," Curran said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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