An attempt to promote the new St. Petersburg Pier may have backfired.
Thursday, the city started running a video promoting the Lens inside the main corridor of the existing Pier. By Friday afternoon, nearly every store at the Pier displayed one or more campaign signs for "Stop The Lens," a citizen petition drive for a referendum on building the Lens.
"They're giving away signs like crazy," said Bud Risser, one of the petition organizers, "I hope we can keep them in supply, we keep running down here with more."
Risser had just dropped off 25 more signs to Carol Gray, one of the Pier merchants offended by the video.
"It's saying, 'We're going to get rid of you and look at what we're going to have in place. Isn't it wonderful?' And people are going, 'No,'" Gray told FOX 13 News.
Nick Weathersbee, another merchant, referred to the video as "tap dancing on graves." His candle shop has displayed a "Stop The Lens" sign for months. However, fellow merchant Ian Mathew had not -- until Thursday.
"In general, I'm not a political-type guy, and it takes a lot to upset me," Mathews said. "And that upset me."
Nearly three dozen businesses will close May 31, when the city shuts down the existing Pier. About 400 people will lose their jobs. Mathews said showing the Lens video inside the Pier "... shows there's a lack of thought of the human side of what closing the Pier means."
Chris Ballestra, City Hall's point person on the Lens project, conceded the feelings of Pier employees was not considered when officials decided to play the video at the Pier. He defended the display as an opportunity to showcase the project to Pier visitors, many of whom are tourists at this time year.
Risser is pleased with the unforeseen result.
"All these people that are walking through here, when they find out that the Pier's closing and these people are going to lose their jobs, they say give me a sign," Risser said.
His group needs to collect the signatures of nearly 16,000 registered St. Petersburg voters to force a referendum.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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