St. Pete City Council sends artist back to drawing board on pier installation

The St. Pete City Council sent an artist back to the drawing board after residents voiced opposition to a giant piece of art that would have accompanied the new pier.

The council voted 4-3 to ask for more options.

Artist Janet Echelman thought Spa Beach was the perfect place for her specialty: A giant, colored net made of space-age fabric, supported by metal poles between 35 and 60 feet high.

"I could instantly imagine the wind coming off the water, bringing life and breath into the movement to the sculptural net," she told FOX 13 during a phone interview from her home in Boston.

At a city council meeting on Thursday, not everyone was as warm-and-fuzzy about the 200' by 60' billowy net that city planners wanted to place to the north of the new pier on Spa Beach.

"This spot is the wrong spot at the wrong time for this particular piece," said one speaker.

"Nothing should go on Spa Beach, much less a large structure," said another.

"I think it is going to be wonderful and see the pier," said downtown resident Hugh Tulloch. "But I am concerned this thing is going to be in the way."

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Echelman insisted that during the day it would be largely translucent. She says it can also withstand hurricanes.

The city claims that anonymous donors will pay for most of the $1.8 million purchase price. There is an additional cost of about $1.3 million the city would spend to put it up.

"We think it is going to bring international attention and national attention to the city of St Petersburg," said Kyle Parks, the organizer of a group that supports the artwork.

But the city council chair was hung up on that last point, that the donors the mayor organized are not public.

"I need to know that if somebody is going to come to me for a major contract, or recommended for a major contract, I need to know, the public needs to know, that they didn't just make a donation," said councilor Steve Kornell.

City councilors, though, didn't want to lose the chance to buy Echelman's art, which is on display worldwide. 

They voted to see if she would consider a new placement at Spa Beach, a different location near the pier, and for the mayor to ask donors if they would agree to reveal themselves.

"They would want the citizens of St. Pete to interact with the nature and the art together," said councilor Charlie Gerdes. "I don't think the nature and the art are mutually exclusive. I don't think you have to choose between one or the other."

The artist has until August 2 to present alternative options.