New documents detail 'Lens' plans, costs - FOX 13 News

New documents detail 'Lens' plans, costs

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Plans for a proposed downtown St. Petersburg Pier called the "Lens" have moved past the conceptual phase. Hundreds of pages of documents titled "basis for design" show the same general idea of two giant loops reaching out into Tampa Bay.

However, there are some changes, as well as an assurance the project can be built within budget.

"Both the mayor and city council have been crystal clear that this is a $50 million project, period," Chris Ballestra, the city's point-man on the project, told FOX 13 News.

LINK: See the plans at

The new documents put construction costs at $37 million, plus demolition and design costs. Ballestra said the numbers may change a little if the design process continues, but eventually the construction manager will agree to a "price not to exceed" contract.

However, the next decision the city council makes carries a $5.4 million cost. After hearing presentations from the architect and the construction manager next Tuesday, the council meets Thursday to decide whether to authorize construction drawings and other pre-construction expenses. Ballestra summarized that decision: "At the end of the day, you either want to do it or you don't."

Notable changes from the original Lens concept include the addition of shade structures along the 1,000 foot walk out over Tampa Bay, and two restaurants. One restaurant will be on the land, and one will sit at the end of the Lens.

Restrooms and drinking fountains have also been added.

Deleted from the original proposal: a clear-water reef or underwater feature in the middle of the loops, and a marina for transient boaters. There is a still a marina, but it would be for non-motorized boats.

Separate documents posted on total more than 800 pages, but were anxiously awaited by Lens supporters and detractors.

"I'm interested to see what's in the thousand pages for sure," TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan told FOX 13 News. This weekend, Sullivan is sponsoring a "Rock the Lens" concert at Jannus Landing.

"When I first kind of came out in support of the Lens, I was told I was the only person in St. Petersburg who was for it," Sullivan said. "Since then, I've had meetings with the chamber, I've had meetings with council members, I've had meetings with local business owners, I've been to several presentations and you'd be surprised how many people are for it."

There are also many people who are not for it, as evidenced by an organized "Stop The Lens" petition drive. Those critics question the process that produced the Lens concept and its cost.

Spokesman Bud Risser fears the city council is prepared to "....commit $50 million in debt, plus another $30 million in financing costs to build something that the majority of people in the city of St. Petersburg don't want."

But like Sullivan, Risser wanted to see the more detailed plans.

"The so-called Lens has changed form over and over and over again," Risser said. "I'm glad we're getting to a conclusion now where those of us who have opinions can anchor them to what they truly are proposing. Up until now it's been in flux, it's been a concept."

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