Voting on Public Art in St. Petersburg Florida

Public art may soon get a boost in St. Petersburg, Florida when citizens cast ballots for a new design proposal to redevelop the 1971 St. Pete Pier.  After a 4-year process involving two design competitions (citizens roundly rejected the first competition results), this Florida coastal city will, in 2015, implement a design.

This time around, city officials are taking no chances and building consensus with the public step by step, keeping this $33 million public project at the top of voters’ awareness.  Seven design proposals are being considered, and after presentations in mid February, it appears that the field is narrowed.

While several schemes radically erase or change the city’s infrastructure, one scheme nicknamed “Discover Bay Life ” by Orlando-based VOA Associates seems to stand out.   All things being equal, this scheme’s monumental-scale transformable art by cutting-edge artist Chuck Hoberman can be had for the least capital investment by the city.  The team chose to keep the modernistic “Inverted Pyramid” at the end of the pier, shoo cars off of the over-water deck, and move restaurants and retail – which always struggled in such a remote location – from the end of the 1,400 foot pier back onto land.

Hoberman, who designed U2’s “Claw” for their 2011 album tour, is no stranger to moveable structures.  “It’s really very simple,” he stated during the presentation.  “There are a couple of motors, pulleys, and bearings.  We have structures like this in place that have lasted for decades.”  St. Petersburg, home to the world’s largest collection of 20th century surrealist Salvador Dali’s work, seems to have an affinity for cutting edge art, and this commitment could result in a grand, lasting civic space.

A popular vote will decide the scheme by March 20.  City leaders, anxious to proceed, have stayed neutral about the results and will ratify their decision afterward.  The lesson in urban studies is to proceed with caution when you are considering changes to civic space.  Far from being a lost cause, the public realm is very much alive and emotionally connected to its citizens, at least in St. Petersburg, Florida.