TIA – Money, Signs, and the Future
This week, there was more news about the future development of Tampa International Airport.
– The Money
First, some money for to execute the master plan:
Lobbying for state funds in Tallahassee by airport officials and a private firm under an $80,000 contract began in February 2013, with the governor approving funding a week ago in a tightly held decision.
While the airport is paying for most of the project and the proposed State money is not as much as the airport asked for, it is still good. As we said previously, we do not really care if it is an election year move because we need the money. We are all for this spending. Improvement to infrastructure is a solid investment, and the airport does infrastructure right.
Though, since the money still has to be approved by the legislature, it does raise a question we have raised before. While we are unequivocally for the project, including the people mover, we admit shuttle buses from the landside terminal to the rental car facility would be cheaper to set up (it is not clear about running them), and the people mover will not charge anything to ride, so it will not pay for itself. Additionally, passengers have a choice of which rental car company they use or whether they use a rental car. If that is the case, based on the logic used by Tea Party, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and other opponents of rail, is it proper to support this project? In fact, even at the main part of the airport, why don’t people have a choice either to walk to the airside or pay to ride the shuttle? Under their argument, isn’t having free people movers just government waste? Will they try to kill the money?
Like we said, we are all for this project because it is a good project. And we are glad the airport is interested in quality, not just cost, which is not to say we think they waste money. They just do things properly just like successful companies do, which sometimes costs more. That is life and that is the market (just ask Apple).
– The Sign
A small part of the improvements at the airport include some new signage. Usually, signage would not much interest us, but 1) this is the airport, 2) it is quite a big sign, and 3) it is another example of how, when you do things cheaply you often have to come back and spend to fix them anyway, you might as well do it right the first time.
Sounds good, and this is what is will apparently look like:
But what we really like is the approach:
“It doesn’t portray an image of the community or the airport,” Lopano said. “I’ve never seen an airport that doesn’t have some form of a welcome feature that’s a little bit more stylish than a welcome sign.”
“I tell people when we put something in the airport as a new feature that we want it to look good on day one and look good on year 20,” said Al Illustrato, the airport’s vice president of facilities and administration.
Right, it is not a half measure that relies on hype, it corrects a mistake, is done right, has substance, and, hopefully, is made to stand the test of time – like the rest of the airport. We wish other parts of the Tampa Bay area would adopt the same attitude.
(And, following up on last week, here is an article and video of TIA receiving the route development award. What is notable is the inclusive, regional nature of the comments by TIA. Once again, a model for the area.)
Channelside – Just Buy It Back, Already
This week the Channelside saga kept going on (and on and on). When last we left, the liberty folks were grandstanding with an offer to buy Channelside. Now, the Port is having its say:
Last month a federal bankruptcy judge scuttled the port’s first attempt to buy the 234,520-square-foot outdoor mall for $5.75 million. But a majority of the board told the Tampa Bay Times they still support their original plan: The public agency should buy Channelside from the Irish bank that foreclosed on the property and then pick a private developer to turn the downtown icon around.
Channelside’s complex and dysfunctional ownership structure — the bank owns the mortgage on the building, the port owns the land — has left the complex bereft of tenants and customers. Both entities must approve a buyer, an issue that has separated them for years.
That would be fine with us. The entire thing is a mess. The Port should take control of the complex once again to protect the public and get the entire complex fixed.
Of course, there is always Liberty’s lawsuit against the Port – apparently, their position is that, if you can’t negotiate a deal you like, you can always try to get a Court to force the other side to make the deal – but anyone can file a lawsuit.
The Port should get the deal done to buy Channelside already.
Transportation – The Other Side of Gandy
We have written previously about Tampa/Hillsborough County’s abject failure over decades to connect the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge, even though everyone knows it needs to be done. (See, for instance, “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” ) As we noted, the failed efforts were part of an attempt to connect to I-275 in Pinellas. Well, even if Tampa/Hillsborough County are constantly caving in to a small number of loud people and failing the community at large, Pinellas County is moving ahead with work on its side of the bridge.
When this phase is completed, Gandy will have an elevated six-lane roadway (three in each direction) from I-275 to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. It will be four lanes (two in each direction) from King Street to east of Fourth Street. Overpasses will be built at Fourth, Roosevelt Boulevard, King and 94th Avenue. A frontage road system will parallel the main roadway.
The project will include pedestrian and bicycle trails along the frontage road, traffic signals, lighting, an intelligent transportation system and landscaping. An intelligent transportation system includes such things as informational signs although it’s unclear whether they will be part of the Gandy improvements.
Even though the new work will not go all the way to the bridge, it is a major part of the work, and way more than on the east side of the bridge. Once again, Pinellas County is ahead of Hillsborough when it comes to transportation. How long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?
Hillsborough County – An Endless Supply or a Dry Well?
Speaking of Hillsborough County, there was some interesting news this week.
– Chasing The Bright Lights
First, the County Commission decided to subsidize some films.
While state lawmakers consider pumping more money into Florida’s penniless motion picture incentive system, Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending $300,000 Wednesday to lure two movie productions here.
The bulk of the county money — $250,000 — is earmarked for The Infiltrator, based on the true story of a U.S. Customs agent who spent years working undercover as a Tampa-based money launderer investigating Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel and the banks that helped drug suppliers and smugglers hide money.
After Hagan finished his sales pitch, Commissioner Al Higginbotham asked for $50,000 to go to the makers of Saat Hindustani, a Bollywood movie also considering filming in Tampa. The film is about seven Indian college students studying abroad.
“It’s not an Animal House-type film,” said Higginbotham, who helped recruit the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, also known as the “Bollywood Oscars,” which will be held in Tampa in April.
Any county money that goes to either movie would be paid in cash, post production, after the filmmakers provide documentation showing they reached economic goals, such as hiring a certain number of locals or spending a set amount of money on local vendors, according to Ron Barton, Hillsborough’s economic development director. Barton’s staff would negotiate economic goals with the filmmakers, he said.
The Infiltrators is expected to have a budget of about $50 million, with $20 million to be spent locally, and has been pre-approved by Florida’s Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program for more than $4 million in tax credits, according to Gordon. But the state program is out of money.
So, we have no idea what the deal with is with the Indian movie. Maybe it will be good exposure, maybe not. (Though it sounds more like a pet project for one commissioner.) As for the other move, fine, but . . .
We want this area to become a major filming location. We think that is a good goal and, given good projects, would provide good exposure. We also understand that the film/TV industry looks for subsidies and goes where the money is. (Though there are some questions about it which should give us pause about getting too involved. For instance see here, here, and here.) Because of the nature of the industry, generally, if there is money, we are ok with limited, structured subsidies (though the projects should be properly screened so we do not waste money, and we should not expect miracles). But is there money?
In the overall scheme of things, the money is not that big. The real problem is that the money the County has overall is limited, and the needs are great. The County has not been effective in its spending priorities or its policy decisions, and, without great care (do you think there is great care?), subsidies can become a slow bleed that leaves us without money for things we, the taxpayers, need. For instance, read on.
– Bloomingdale Strikes Back
The hubbub in Bloomingdale about a sneaky approval of a big box store by the County and the lack of road improvements (or any planning) continues.
Meeting with Hillsborough County’s public works director on Thursday, a small gathering of homeowners said they would prefer spending $564,000 in impact fees by the project’s developer, Red Cast LLC, on fixing the major east/west road. Spending the money on sidewalks and bicycle lanes — county officials suggested doing so as a possibility — won’t cut it, the residents said.
In other words, the County’s response to demands for a road fix was sidewalks and a bike path. Somehow, shockingly, that did not cut it. So what was the County’s response?
John Lyons, the public works director, said he will review previous discussions by county officials about major improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue, including widening the road. Lyons said he will report back to the homeowners with his findings.
If county staff members decide the best option is to make sweeping improvements, he said, they might need approval from the Hillsborough County Commission. Mike Williams, engineering and environmental division director, said he would guess such a project could cost about $50 million.
So let’s review. The County Commission basically approved a project through the back door that will add a lot of traffic to an already congested road that the locals residents want fixed. The County is getting $564,000 in impact fees from the latest ill-advised and poorly planned project. However, actually fixing the road the County has neglected will cost $50 million.
It appears that the mismanagement of the County planning and development, as well as the policy of favoring sprawling development without dealing with the costs, has caught up with the County. Where exactly is the $50 million going to come from? Sure the County is fine with giving $6 million here and more millions there for strip mall development, but where is it going to get $50 million to actually serve the needs of the residents, even the ones in East County?
We can’t say we are surprised. The County has favored developers over planning and residents for decades. Anyone with eyes (and who drives) can see that the County has not kept up with the needs. This is just another example. The sad thing is that even if the County did find $50 million to fix the road, the money would likely come at the expense of other residents and their needs. And then there is the whole question of really planning so that to manage the needs in the first place. (Properly planned development with proper transit would not have created as much of a mess in the first place, so you would not need so much to mitigate it.
And let us be clear – responsibility for all this rest squarely on the County Commission. (The staff can only do what it is told with the money the Commission gives them. We actually feel sorry for them. They are like the customer service folks who get yelled at because someone else screwed up and won’t fix it.)
It is all fine to give subsidies to some pet projects (actually it is often not fine, but we’ll set that aside for the moment), but it is well past time the Commission actually starts solving the problems it created. And how long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?
Downtown Tampa – Something, But In the Wrong Place
There was news of another potential development in downtown Tampa:
The project is not yet announced, but city planners are working out details with The Richman Group on potentially a seven-story complex with up to 338 units in a sleepy area just north of the Forum and the Channel District.
According to city records, the block-sized site in question is bordered by Morgan Street on the west, Whiting Street on the north, Jefferson Street on the east and the Crosstown Expressway on the south. The property has not yet changed hands, and is still owned by an entity called JMC-Booker LLC, appraised by Hillsborough County at just over $5 million.
Officials with the Greenwich Conn.-based Richman Group declined to comment on their plans, other than to send an email that read “We’d be happy to talk with you after we close on the land in May/June 2014.”
You can check out the developer’s website here. This is the preliminary rendering of the project which has not been officially announced:
The status of the project is described as this:
As of August last year, one official with the Richman Group told city planners that “we are in the due diligence stage of building a multi-family structure in the [central business district] of Tampa,” and they asked questions about rules regarding open spaces in the area. By October, they started trading potential site plans and by December they started trading preliminary drawings of a structure that very much resembles others in the Channel District. The correspondence does not say whether the plan entails condos or apartments.
We are all for the development of downtown, but this project seems out of place.
This is the lot, which is quite large. It should be noted that 1) this is not the Channel District and 2) the project as described only resembles some of what was built in the first wave of Channel District development, not what is going on now, which is taller and more downtown-like. (And that is not even mentioning that it is going to be residential right under the shadow of the Selmon, which is also kind of odd.)
If this project as described were in Hyde Park, near UT, in “West River” or Tampa Heights (or Westshore), we would likely be completely fine with it. It is good infill for areas near downtown. However, the proposal is in the middle (pretty much literally) of downtown. It is in an area that is a blank slate ready to be the heart of downtown and right across the Selmon from the property of the Lightning owner that is supposed to be developed so nicely, and right near where the Mayor wants to put a baseball stadium. Not only that, it is a full block (if not more).
Given all that, this project as described is quite disappointing. (It is not as bad as Pierhouse, but it is hardly something that fits the middle of downtown.) It is not nearly dense or urban enough. They could put all the units (and get them over the Selmon) in a taller building more befitting the middle of downtown and still have room left over for another equally large building (which seems to us to make a lot more sense).
Because the developer is still talking to the City, this is the time for the City to express disappointment with the design and get something actually good built there. (And to show that the City actually understands something about planning, though we are not sure they do.) It is the future heart of activity downtown, right next to an area that is supposed to be completely redeveloped and connected to the Channel District. The land is valuable enough to not settle.
The real question is when that area develops, is this really what should be in the middle of it? In our opinion, it would be a waste if this is all that gets built on that land. The City should not settle.
HCC – Abracadabra, They Have a Deal
A few weeks ago, we wrote about what a Tribune report portrayed as just some ideas about redeveloping some land at HCC’s Dale Mabry campus for a sports complex. (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”) From the Tribune article:
Hillsborough Community College is considering two major development projects at its Dale Mabry Highway campus that could see a youth sports complex built near Steinbrenner Field and a new mixed-use complex on its south end.
One likely bidder for the sports project is Tampa investor and youth sports booster Bob Gries, who has wanted to build a volleyball and basketball complex in Tampa for a few years. If built, the sports complex would replace the large community tennis complex at HCC, which would be relocated to other college property.
It seems that may have been a little too casual a portrayal.
A local business group that includes the Westshore Alliance and Tampa investment manager Bob Gries is the only bidder vying to build a proposed amateur athletics complex at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.
College spokeswoman Ashley Carl said several groups have approached HCC about building a youth sports complex over the years. That includes Gries, a local youth sports booster who runs a Tampa investment firm. The college moved ahead in December by inviting would-be developers to submit proposals for such a facility on nine acres housing HCC’s large community tennis complex. Any developer would have rebuild the HCC tennis complex on land elsewhere on the campus.
On Friday, the school released bid documents showing just one bidder, the Westshore Alliance. a business group representing Tampa’s Westshore district. The college didn’t release details of the group’s proposal, citing a statute that closes bid documents for a period of time.
Carl, the HCC spokeswoman, said the college can move forward with negotiations even though it attracted only one bidder. For now, plans call for the college to award a contract for the project in late April.
Wait a minute. There is a plan to award a contract in April? What happened to the college may not do anything and that it was just thinking about options? And there is only one bid and no one knows what the bid actually is?
Sure, just sneak in a project on some of the most valuable land in the area to just one bidder while playing down the likelihood of anything happening.
Maybe this is actually a good idea, though it has not really been discussed and vetted (at least not in public) and no one has really seen the ONE proposal. Unfortunately, it sounds like another wired deal. And not one that there was any groundswell for or, with proposals all over the area for sports complexes, a glaring need that had to be filled.
Welcome to Tampa.
St. Pete Waterfront – More Planning is Outsourced
For those who may not know, St. Pete has been examining the future of its waterfront. First, it got a report from the Urban Land Institute, because apparently no local government can do anything without a report from the Urban Land Institute (We will not get into that report right now). Now, it is looking at hiring a consultant to master plan the waterfront (because apparently the ULI report is simply an expensive requirement to actually getting to substance).
Ok. Of course, St. Pete can’t be expected to plan itself even with the ULI telling it what to do. So who is this AECOM?
AECOM has been involved in other big projects in the Tampa Bay area. It helped shape Tampa’s vision for its waterfront, and is conducting a feasibility study on the proposed downtown aquarium in Clearwater. It also has done master planning in England, downtown San Diego and San Francisco.
Maybe it is just us, but it appears a bit strange that the same companies or organizations keep getting contracts – and not inexpensive contracts – to do all the planning work throughout the entire area. Does that really give us the best input and innovations or does it just keep recycling the same ideas? Using the same people and companies could be because they produce a good product, but, frankly, from what we have seen, most of their product is fairly obvious and not particularly inspiring (like InVision Tampa) and often silly (like ULI’s idea to make SR54 in Pasco an inspiring “boulevard”). Are they really just that much better than everyone else or is there something else going on?
Like all the RFP’s with only one bidder – it may be all above aboard, but it sure seems odd.
And it appears others have reservations:
City officials voted Thursday to delay by two weeks the process to select a company charged with creating a downtown waterfront master plan. City staff had recommended the council approve a measure to allow negotiations to start with global consulting firm AECOM, the top-rated firm that has been selected to carry out the plan, due by July 2015. But several city council members said they had concerns about the scope and price of the project, which has a potential budget of up to $500,000. The council voted to revisit the issue later this month after getting a chance to discuss it more.
Good. Make sure it is right for you and the taxpayers.
List of the Week
Our list of the week is wallethub.com’s Best Cities to Find a Job. The methodology, summary of it so brief as to be of no use, can be found here. Of note, they are really doing it by cities, not metro areas.
The best city to find a job is Ft. Worth, followed by Washington, Tampa, Arlington (TX), Dallas, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Mesa (AZ), Houston, Raleigh, Corpus Christie, Aurora (CO), Phoenix, San Jose, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.
So Tampa made a good list with the rest of the usual suspects. Did anyone have any reaction?
Setting aside that the recession only started in 2007 so we have no idea what the “in decades” comment is about, things are better, but a little perspective is in order.
As we said, there is no doubt that the economy is better now than a few years ago. However, there is an issue with the list. It is the list of the best city to find a job – it does not say what kind of job or how much it pays. Our economy, even though it is better, has a major issue regarding economic diversity, wage and income levels, as well as disposable income. Showing up on one list of relatively unknown provenance does not change that, as pointed out by this comment:
That was from the Mayor in the dark days way back a couple of weeks ago.
Nevertheless, we do admit, it is better to be on the list than to be excluded.
Transportation – Where Do You Really Stand?
Last week, we discussed the Gateway Express toll road project and how some elected officials, including the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee who is from Pinellas County, may be supporting the funding to counter the Greenlight Pinellas initiative.
Interestingly, we received a comment form a prominent local Tea Party member that helped clarify the State Senator’s position on Gateway and Greenlight. We will just post the whole comment:
February 24, 2014 6:27 PM
Regarding Gateway Express project which is good news for Pinellas, FL State Senator Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, stated this on a WFLA 970 radio interview on 2/18: “The newly announced I- 275 connector in Pinellas to be started in 2017 does not contemplate any involvement with a light rail system. In fact, it would help leverage the assets we already have in Pinellas County and work well with expanding Bus Rapid Transit and managed lanes and steer our conversation away from light rail and all the huge costs of a light rail system. Once this connector is completed you will be able to travel from the Sunshine skyway bridge to north of Countryside Mall without a stop light. This will be a game changer in Pinellas County transit.” Find the entire podcast here: http://www.970wfla.com/media/podcast-am-tampa-bay-AM_Tampa_Bay/sen-jeff-brandes-24352165/
Thank you for that clarification.
Setting aside that:
1) part of Gateway Express will be elevated and not given to much expansion;
2) every bus on the Gateway Express will create more congestion on the road and inconvenience cars and, because the state’s policy is to raise tolls to reduce congestion (in South Florida, going up to $10.50 for seven miles), make the road more even expensive for drivers;
3) Greenlight Pinellas includes bus improvements (there will be no real BRT on Gateway Express); and
4) transportation is a system so that roads, buses, and rail should work together to get people around but that each individual project does not necessarily include all aspects of transportation,
we will accept that his position is that rail is just so expensive, and we need to focus on BRT (whatever that is).
Which takes us back to last week when we also noted that the Governor wants to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Orlando for a train station at their airport and wondered if the anti-rail State Senator would block the money for Orlando’s train station. Why should the state spend hundreds of millions more to support anymore SunRail or build a station for All Aboard Florida trains? Based on the State Senator’s logic, Orlando should just build a cheap bus station at the airport, which already has highway access.
And then there is the Wave, a less than 3 mile streetcar project in Ft. Lauderdale that the State is going to pony up about $30 million to help build (the total cost is $143 million). Shouldn’t that be an inexpensive rubber tire trolley bus? What is his position on that?
We understand the State Senator’s position. But, once again, we have the question – is it rail that is the problem or just rail in the Tampa Bay area? And if he just wants to deny the Tampa Bay area the choice of rail while spending millions on it elsewhere, why is that?
Tourists, Taxes, and the Future
We recently wrote that Tampa/Hillsborough County should consider using bed tax money, and maybe raising the bed tax, to help pay for needs in the County and City. Then, last week, we saw an article on Pinellas that told us:
Pinellas collected $31.8 million in tourist development taxes in calendar year 2013. Also known as the bed tax, it’s a 5 percent surcharge added to the bill of every hotel room and accommodation rented out for less than six months. The 2013 figure makes it four consecutive years that Pinellas tourist tax collections have increased from the year before.
Pinellas collected $31.8 million in tourist development taxes in calendar year 2013. Also known as the bed tax, it’s a 5 percent surcharge added to the bill of every hotel room and accommodation rented out for less than six months. The 2013 figure makes it four consecutive years that Pinellas tourist tax collections have increased from the year before.
Under Florida law, counties that break the $30 million bed tax barrier can be designated as high tourism impact areas. That allows them to raise their tourist taxes to 6 percent, bringing in even more tax revenue to fund even more economic development projects.
That got us thinking that maybe Hillsborough in not presently allowed to raise the tax anymore. So we looked deeper. The state provides a summary of the possible bed taxes here. The statute, while a little messy, can be found here.
From the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council Guidebook, which is also not artfully drafted, , it does actually appear that the bed tax cannot be raised until Hillsborough County becomes a “high tourist impact” county. Given the criteria, we doubt that is going to happen soon.
Then we saw this:
Buckhorn said Tampa’s top priority will be getting lawmakers to approve allowing cities to vote for a sales tax referendum that could pay for transit or other services. Currently, sales tax referendums can only be approved countywide. In 2010, a sales tax that would have funded light rail won precincts in Tampa, but failed in the suburbs and rural areas of Hillsborough County.
Buckhorn sort of pushed for it last year, and it died. He said he’ll push it again this year, but there’s still no bill yet for it. With a staunchly conservative Legislature, chances are slim he’ll find any support for it, even from the Tampa Bay area’s own delegation.
In other words, the Mayor is going to spend another year (and probably some lobbying money) pursuing a plan that has almost no chance of success to raise taxes in the City of Tampa for “transit or other services.” We have no idea what the “other services” might be but a City only transit plan would, in our opinion, be a mistake anyway. (See “The City Tax”) And, even if the City got the power to hold a referendum on its own, we have seen no plan from the City for transportation, not to mention the talk for getting a County referendum in 2015 or 2016. How would the City tax work with that?
Standing there at the nexus of these things is an idea – try to push to change the law so that Hillsborough could increase the bed tax. That could be by changing the “high impact” definition (only the government could set up a system with where Walton County has high tourist impact but Dade does not, regardless of whether Dade wants to take advantage of the status or not.) or by just getting authorization to tax for a different purpose.
If other cities, like Miami, are cool with authority to raise taxes on their people, it is likely their areas are also cool with getting authority to raise taxes on tourists to match (or really stay lower than) most other places in other states. It is much more likely (though not necessarily that likely) that the state legislature would authorize more bed tax than a city tax.
No, the bed tax increase would not cover our transportation needs, but it would cover other costs for things that the City and County can’t pay for anyway, and, unlike the city tax, it may actually have a chance. (And we are not even saying the bed tax should be raised – as we noted before, there are arguments on both sides – but if you are going to go to the legislature, you might as well ask for something that makes some sense.)
Just an idea. And, even if it is not done, the city tax is going nowhere. Real planning, of transit and other things, and developing consensus throughout Hillsborough County and the region is the only hope to get a real transportation system funded.
The reality is that we have a lot of needs and not that much money to pay for them. Various entities and officials free lancing will not achieve anything near what can be done by having a consensus on a well reasoned and laid out plan on how to proceed.
Rays – Money and the State
Speaking of money for stadiums, the Legislature is considering changing the way money is allocated to stadium projects:
We have nothing against having set criteria for allocating money to stadium projects. On the other hand, a lot of these criteria seem to be ready made for political shenanigans (like the “signature events” idea – obviously a Super Bowl is a signature event, but the World Series or NBA finals go to teams that make are involved, not designated cities, so how does that mean there is no money to arenas or baseball stadiums?) And does the multi-use idea mean we have to go back and build stadiums like in the 1970’s? And would a Pinellas delegation support money for a Rays stadium in Tampa or would our legislative delegation continue to fight among itself rather than fight for the area?
Then there is this in the house bill:
The bills also would allow funding for a “motorsport entertainment complex,” mentioning the Daytona [sic] Speedway as an example, as well as a “professional golf hall of fame” and an “international game fish association world center.”
How do these fit any objective criteria?
The bills are interesting but problematic. That does not mean they cannot be fine tuned. Hopefully, they will be.
Gaming the System
Speaking of the legislature, there are expanded gaming proposals floating around, too.
The Florida Senate on Monday unveiled proposals that would bring casino resorts to Miami-Dade and Broward counties and expand gambling statewide with one new wrinkle: The gaming industry would be subject to new regulations.
Ok, stop right there. Why do Dade and Broward get permission for casinos but nowhere else? What makes them so special? And why would their facilities get special protection from competition? (And how is that a market based approach? Sounds like protectionism to us.) And there is this:
Once again, why the special treatment? If gaming is ok with the state, every county should be able to decide for itself whether it gets it. If that is not changed, the bill is fatally flawed in our opinion.
Then there is this:
Complicating the proposals is the fact that an expansion of gambling in Florida could nullify the state’s $230-million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, the owner of the Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and five other casinos in Florida.
Voter approval is good. Messing up the Seminole deal is not. Fortunately,
Good. Hopefully, the bill will die. These kind of discriminatory bills are unacceptable.
Economic Development – It’s Something
This week, it was announced that a local technology company of sorts would be expanding locally.
Public incentives will aid ConnectWise’s plans to expand its workforce, which will also require the company to add 10,000 square feet of workspace to its headquarters in the West Shore business district.
Officials said the company will receive up to $560,000 in incentives. That will take the form of $448,000 in tax refunds from the state, plus an incentive package of $112,000 jointly offered by Tampa and Hillsborough County. In all, that’s $5,000 per job.
What exactly do they do?
The company essentially is a technology consultant for other information technology service consultants. For example, it sells software that helps IT consultants track their service calls, billable hours and sales leads.
It has profited from the explosion in technology spending by corporations and currently has 50 open positions, Chief Executive Officer Arnie Bellini said. All told, ConnectWise has 330 employees and when combined with some sister tech companies employs about 600.
Ok. Not bad. It is essential to keep this kind of company here. That is a success. Of course, it is still a small step, but you have to start somewhere.
We just don’t want to keep seeing this listed as one of the reasons we have a “burgeoning” tech scene. It is a good thing and we are happy the owners are expanding locally, but we have a very long way to go.
DNC – Huh?
There was interesting news about the 2016 Democratic Convention.
“I think it would be much more difficult to be able to put together a competitive bid for the Democrats, largely because in 2012, they prohibited the city of Charlotte from taking corporate money,” he told reporters. “You guys saw the numbers.”
“If that (DNC) requirement is still in place, I can’t see a scenario that I would be willing put the city at risk to host that knowing full well that we couldn’t raise the money without taking corporate money,” the mayor said.
We get that (other than the setting the standard thing – just read the bottom of this Tribune article and here). Why try to host the event if it will become a costly mess? Of course, if we are all about hosting big events, why can’t we get the money to do it?
“I just don’t think that we have the resources here in the Tampa Bay area to muster the kind of money that it would take to put on a comparable convention, and I don’t want to do anything less than what we did before,” Buckhorn said. If the city won the bid to host and fell short, the burden would fall on the city “to kick in the money to make up the difference, and I’m not just willing to do it.”
Democratic donors in South Florida might have that kind of money, Buckhorn said, “but why would someone in South Florida write a check to a convention in Tampa?” (That’s a reaction the Tampa Bay Host Committee for the RNC knows something about. For all of its success anywhere else, it had little luck raising money in Orlando or from big corporations based there.)
We find that all kind of strange. Why wouldn’t Orlando interests give money to a Tampa convention? It is an hour away. We always hear we are a super-region. Apparently we aren’t. And is South Florida that detached?
It seems that this is another lesson that this area needs to work as a region (not necessarily for a convention, but for other things) since other areas are apparently just in it for themselves. If we do not act regionally, we will get run over.
LUV TIA Some More
People who have been here for a while, or people who just are interested in the airport, might remember (or be aware of) the old “Luv TIA” bumper stickers (which came before the airport began pushing to use the actual code for the airport, which is TPA). They were a sign of the well-justified pride with which this area viewed the airport.
It is good to know that we can still have that pride:
Tampa International was ranked third among global airports serving 15 million to 25 million passengers. TIA, which handles about 17 million passengers a year, finished fifth in the 2012 rankings, but rose two spots in 2013 to finish behind first-ranked Gimpo International Airport in South Korea and Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in China.
We are pleased that the present airport administration and staff have maintained the high standards to which we have become accustomed. (Funny how people love that fixed guideway transportation, even when walking or an airport bus would be so much cheaper to build.) And then there is this:
The airport on Monday was awarded the 2014 Routes Marketing Award for the Americas at the annual Routes Americas forum, held this year in Santa Ana, El Salvador. It’s the annual airline network planning conference where airports, airlines and tourist agencies get together to discuss developing new commercial airline routes.
TIA was recognized for working with community partners to market itself to new airlines. Tampa won its category of the best airport serving 4 million to 20 million passengers, besting Pittsburgh International, Oakland International, Portland International in Oregon and Southwest Florida International in Lee County.
It also topped the winner of the over-20 million passenger category, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and the under-4 million category, Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, Bahamas, to win the award for best overall airport.
Now the Tampa Bay area’s legislative delegation should make sure the state gives the airport the money to maintain its excellence and carry out its master plan.
Ybor – First Glimpse of the Hotel
As we have noted, the City is negotiating with the Liberty Group to build a hotel on what is presently City land. This week, we caught a first glimpse of the hotel plan.
Nothing special, but ok, except for a couple of potential problems. First, the rendering appears to show outside hallways – they could be balconies but they do not seem divided by room. If they are outside hallways, that would be horrible. There is no way the City should allow outside access to the rooms like an old Howard Johnsons at some rural exit. This is Ybor, and the building should reflect Ybor designs. The other thing is that there appears to be a dead streetscape.
We have no problem with a hotel on this lot or with the massing that appears to be reflected in the rendering, but, if the plan has outdoor hallways and no street activity, the City should demand changes.
Channelside – Who Do You Want as a Business Partner
Of course, the City might want to be careful with demanding changes from Liberty. As reported in the Tribune, there was a letter last week from a Port Board member that raised an interesting point (that we also raised tangentially):
With all the legal drama over who will control Channelside Bay Plaza, Tampa Port Authority Board Commissioner Patrick Allman had a pointed question: Should the City of Tampa ever do business with a developer who sues governments when they don’t get their way?
On one side, the port already owns the land under Channelside, and is trying to buy the above-ground shopping complex from the bankrupt Irish bank that holds a mortgage on the complex. The port recently offered $5.75 million, and set a deal with the bank. On the other side are two developers, Liberty Group and Convergent Capital, who cried foul because they tried to negotiate a similar deal with the port, but acrimony and accusations helped shut down those talks. Since then, Liberty and Convergent have come to the bankruptcy court with a $7 million bid, and the judge involved says the whole process might need to be re-opened for bidders.
“A bigger question to ask is whether or not local public entities should be doing business with companies whose dominant negotiating style is to use litigation as a means to get more favorable business terms for themselves,” Allman wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “For example, what happens if the City of Tampa doesn’t select the Liberty Group to develop a hotel in Ybor City on its current [request for proposals], will they be sued? If they are selected and can’t force their desired business terms on the City of Tampa will they then sue the City of Tampa?”
Exactly. Does it serve the taxpayer to deal with people who sue first and ask questions later at the Port or at the City? If Liberty does not want to fix their possibly flawed hotel plan, are they going to sue and why should the taxpayer have to pay to defend such suits? It is a very fair question.
List of the Week I
We will list the metro with the percentage of people with at least a bachelor degree in the metro in the parentheses. The top 20: Washington (47.6), followed by Madison, WI (42.9); Bridgeport, CT (44.9), Boston (43), San Jose (45.7), Durham (43.1), San Francisco (44.2), Raleigh (41.3), Minneapolis-St. Paul (38.7), Colorado Springs (34.8), Albany (33.8), Seattle (37.3), Denver (38.9), Portland, ME (35.8), Hartford (35.4), Austin (40.2), Baltimore (35.7), Provo, UT (35.7), New Haven, CT (32.5), Portland, OR (34.1). Of note, New York comes in 22nd, though many of the surrounding areas are in the top 20. Strange how many of the usual suspects are in the top 20. Most of the rest are in the top 40, with the odd exception of Houston and LA.
So, you ask, where is Florida? Sarasota-Bradenton (28.3) is 44th. Palm Bay-Melbourne (25.9) is 61st. Orlando (27.8) is 71st. Jacksonville (27.3) is 73rd. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (28.8) is 75th. The Tampa Bay area (26.0) is 78th. Ft. Myers (24.1) is 83rd. Lakeland (18.1) is 95th.
Not very good for Florida in general and the Tampa Bay area in particular.
List of the Week II
Our second list this week is the 2014 Central Connecticut State University list of most and least literate cities. The criteria are explained here.
The most literate city is Washington, DC, followed by Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, St. Paul, Boston, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Funny how many of the most literate cities are also the usual suspects on most of the other good lists we find.
The least literate city is Bakersfield (CA), followed by Corpus Christi (TX), Stockton (CA), El Paso, San Antonio, Anaheim, Chula Vista (CA), Fresno, Aurora (CO), and Mesa (AZ). The least literate list is a little (but not that much) surprising, but it is what it is.
Transportation – Of Roads, Rails, and Running for Office
This week, the Governor announced accelerated funding for the “Gateway Express” in Pinellas County.
Seizing on a project that sat idle for years, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he will make $131 million available to build an elevated expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19, the second major transportation project he has pledged to fast-track in an election year.
At a news conference, Scott said that because of Florida’s improving economy, the state now has enough money to build the expressway, a project that local planners have been discussing for more than a decade. Expected to cost nearly $338 million, the elevated toll expressway would allow motorists to travel quickly between the county’s two major arteries, I-275 and U.S. 19. It would also take them from I-275 to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and the Bayside Bridge.
Florida Department of Transportation officials said they expect construction to begin in early 2017 and to last for five years, a timeline that accelerates the project by roughly two decades. The elevated roadway linking I-275 and U.S. 19 will run over 118th Avenue and then north to the airport. Once completed, the expressway could potentially shave 9 to 13 minutes off commuters’ rush-hour drives.
There is some speculation that the money is due to this being an election year, to which we say, “Who cares?” If the road is needed and that is why we got the money, so be it. Would you rather not get the money? Are our local officials so unified and our legislative delegation so effective that not taking election year handouts for our woefully underfunded infrastructure has been a viable plan?
Of course, there is this:
To pay for the project’s accelerated timeline, DOT officials said the expressway will have tolls, but drivers will still be able to use the current road system for free. Asked how much the state plans to charge drivers, DOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson said the exact figures are still being determined, but they could fluctuate depending on the time of day. For example, drivers using the expressway at peak travel hours could be charged more than those taking it on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Those annoying variable rate tolls, again. (The Times thinks that the Gateway Express should not have any tolls because it is “short” and the Penny for Pinellas will pay a share. How about roads in Hillsborough, including the expansion of the interstate? How short is short enough? And note that the editorial says the Howard Frankland will not be tolled, but that is not exactly the case. At least one lane in each direction – and we think, though we may be wrong, one of the existing four, not a new lane – will be variable rate tolled. And some of all state money comes from local taxes.) While we have no problem with building new toll roads to pay the cost of construction and maintenance, highways used to be to move the maximum number of people, not create the maximum amount of profit. (It makes you wonder when better public schools will start charging user fees – you will still have a choice to either pay for the best school or go to a lesser school for free. How is that any different?)
But setting that aside, another thing to note is that it is now 2014. Even with the money, the road will not be done until at least 2022. That tells you have long it takes to get transportation improvements, even when you have the money. Just another reason there is no time to waste in getting on with planning for fixing our entire transportation system, which brings us to this:
Long and other Democrats said Scott’s announcement may have been intended to compete with the Greenlight Pinellas proposal, which will ask voters to approve raising the county’s sales tax from 7 to 8 percent to pay for an expanded bus system and 24 miles of light rail connecting Clearwater, the Gateway area and St. Petersburg. The referendum, which will be on the November ballot, is opposed by several of the elected officials who stood by Scott’s side on Monday, including state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and state Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater.
If the road money is to fight Greenlight Pinellas (and we are not sure it was), that is just silly – like all Pinellas transportation woes will be taken care of by this one road. Proper transportation involves a multiple technologies in a coordinated system.
Some (including the Tribune editorial board) get that:
“To me, it’s complementary,” said Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the Yes for Greenlight campaign. “You get great roads and you have great mass transportation.”
We’ll see in November how many.
And we are still waiting for FDOT to fix the bottleneck at the Hillsborough end of the Howard Frankland, which hamstring all other transportation improvements until it is fixed.
While the developments in Pinellas would mean that someone could drive from the Skyway to north of Countryside without getting off a limited access road, once there, you’d be stuck on surface roads again. And if you wanted to get to I-75 north of Tampa, you would be forced to go through Tampa, which is not fast and only creates more congestion. That (And Hillsborough County’s historical failure to address the issue when they could) is why there is a need for a limited access road across Pasco County. As we have noted before, there is a proposal by a private group, which the Times came out against again in an editorial:
It may be too early to abandon entirely the idea of an elevated toll road, as Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano is willing to do. But the skepticism is warranted even as the county considers all of its options. Commissioners cannot be close-minded, because the county needs a modern east-west transportation alternative after adopting land-use policies to drive growth toward the State Road 54/56 corridor. The county’s geography, including two large well fields north of the corridor, limit suggested alternatives of adding highway lanes elsewhere. And the state recognized the need to move traffic between the Veterans Expressway/Suncoast Parkway and Interstate 75 more than 20 years ago.
As the state and county’s long-range road plans were being developed, a predecessor to Florida 54 Express LLC submitted an unsolicited bid last summer to build and operate a private toll road above the existing corridor. It is a bid that “hijacked the conversation,” in the words of Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker. She’s right. The DOT should slow down and develop a viable, publicly owned alternative before cutting a quick deal with a private group that will be more interested in making money from drivers than being publicly accountable.
Ok, they want a public road, fine. (For the record, we would rather have a public road in Pasco, but despite decades of plans for one, it never materialized. We are not philosophically opposed to a private road.) How do they propose getting a public road when the Pasco opposition to the road is this:
“We’re not anywhere near the point where we need something like this,” Bech said. “I’m hearing people say they’re moving if this comes in. Neighborhoods will become neglected and homes will become rentals. I just don’t think this is the best place to put it and I’m not sure we need it.”
Stone Gate resident Jason Amerson said he knew nothing about the proposed toll road until he ran into his homeowners association president last week at the grocery store. Since then he’s been knocking on doors, sending emails and handing out flyers. He even hosted a community meeting to rally his neighbors.
Like Connors, he’s concerned about noise, light pollution and lower property values. “You can hear traffic from my house already,” he said. “I live in the back of the neighborhood. There are some people in my neighborhood who would be able to see it from their windows.”
Neither of which have to do with it being a private road. And the website for the opposition organizing group says this:
* SR 54/56 is a poor choice for an elevated super highway proposed to run from US 19 to I75 and beyond. SR 54/56 is located in the most densely populated part of Pasco County and has many successful thriving communities. Real estate values in all communities in southern Pasco County will be negatively impacted by a super highway running within hundreds of yards of communities along SR 54/56
* This project is an overreaction to relatively minor traffic concerns that can be solved through less drastic measures such as better traffic controls and the judicial use of overpasses and flyovers where appropriate.
* Residents of Pasco will endure endless hardships and inconveniences during and after the construction of this super highway. Examples to look to are construction along US 19 and the recent expansion of SR 54.
* Residents of South Pasco County don’t want a concrete edifice like the Selmon Expressway in their backyard. People moved here because of the natural beauty and less urban characteristics of Pasco County.
* This toll road is a tax hidden as a toll road. Pasco County has one of the lowest per capita incomes in Florida and this additional toll burden will negatively affect low and middle income families.
None of those positions allows for any useful road of any sort, public or private.
It is just another reason why waiting and waiting to build infrastructure that obviously will be needed and used (see the Veterans connection to I-275 or the Gandy Connector or rail) is folly. History shows that all that will happen is that the local government will allow the land to be filled with sprawling development, the problem will get worse, and fixing it will get more difficult and more expensive with more opposition. (That is why opponents to Greenlight, whether elected officials or otherwise, are simply kicking the issue down the road and perpetuating the problems, not providing solutions.)
That is the Tampa Bay way – which is why we are not going to complain if the election year makes the State government pony up more cash for long needed projects.
– Meanwhile in Orlando
Of course, with all that, the Governor also announced that he wants to spend even more on a transit hub (read train station) at Orlando’s airport.
Gov. Rick Scott announced this afternoon at Orlando International Airport that he intends to spend up $215 million in state money to build a new station at OIA that could house several trains, including a privately financed one that would link Central and South Florida.
Although Scott is willing to send the money to Orlando International, his budget is basically a recommendation to the state Legislature, which is responsible for adopting the annual spending plan. The session begins March 4.
The station also would have space for a potential future spur of the SunRail commuter train scheduled to start operating in May and for one other train, possibly the proposed magnetically levitated system from the airport to the Orange County Convention Center.
Setting aside that this once again points out that rail is fine everywhere but the Tampa Bay area (federally funded high speed rail anyone?), just another example of Orlando getting more than we do and being more connected with a better plan than us. We are behind and not really catching up.
We also will be interested to see if the Pinellas anti-rail legislators – who include the chairman of the Senate transportation committee – are consistent in their views of rail and kill money for Orlando’s train station or if they only oppose rail in the Tampa Bay area. (Of course, what would be better is if they dealt with the state’s issues and supported better transportation and connectivity statewide. Maybe they will.)
Transportation – Exit One Distraction, More Likely To Follow
Last week, we wrote about Tea Party attempts to remove a leader of the Greenlight Pinellas campaign, who also happened to be the head of TBARTA because of an alleged but nonexistent conflict of interest. This week, he bowed out.
After criticism of his public support for a Pinellas transit campaign, TBARTA chairman Ronnie Duncan announced Wednesday he is stepping down from his leadership role on the Yes for Greenlight campaign.
Critics of the transit plan said that as chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Duncan should not be involved in the advocacy campaign seeking to persuade residents to back a sales tax hike to pay for transit expansion. TBARTA is funded through tax dollars. Duncan is a gubernatorial appointee on its governing board.
While it is disappointing to give an apparent victory to the Tea Party, which, as we noted last week, is being quite hypocritical here, the step makes sense. Why distract from a proper campaign on the issues? The TBARTA head is keeping his eye on the prize.
Of course, now the Tea Party member of the HART board should either resign from HART or her position with Heritage Action. But don’t hold your breath.
And expect more of this tangentially silliness for the next year or so.
Port – Master Planning
This week, the Port moved forward with its master planning.
Following the presentation by Jim Brennan of Norbridge Inc.’s Washington, D.C. office, the Tampa Port Authority board approved in concept a year-long project to update the port’s long-range master and strategic plans.
That’s fine, especially if it allows the Port to avoid another mess like Channelside (see below).
One thing they also may want to look at is this:
But in a power play that a few years ago would have been unthinkable, the port is trying to snag several hundred acres of land from KSC and the Air Force station. It also wants to run a train route through KSC to more efficiently connect the harbor to the state’s rails.
“We believe with the rail connections, land expansions and cooperative programs … we can create 5,000 living-wage jobs in the port region over the next five to seven years and at least 10,000 jobs in the next 10 to 15 years,” Walsh said in prepared remarks. About 7,000 people now work at the port.
Given the our Port’s stated goal of becoming the port for Central Florida, the moves by Port Canaveral are not helpful. Hopefully any master plan and strategy will address all that.
Channelside – The Never Ending Mess
This week, the Channelside mess got even messier. When last we left the story, the Port had rejected a bid by Liberty after some acrimonious negotiations and failure of Liberty to commit to putting money in escrow. Then the Port tried to buy the complex. Liberty sued in bankruptcy court to block the sale to the Port and produced a check for $7 million to buy Channelside. (And sued the Port for damages.) This week we heard from the Bankruptcy Court:
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi killed the port’s agreement to purchase the most tormented piece of real estate in Tampa Bay for $5.75 million from the Irish bank that owns the mortgage on the foreclosed — and these days, seemingly accursed — outdoor mall.
The Irish Bank Resolution Corp. owns the mortgage on the building, but the port owns the land. For years neither could agree on who should buy Channelside. In September, the port decided to end the impasse by buying out the bank.
It just so happens that the judge recently met two bay area real estate investors who say they’re ready to pay more for Channelside right now: Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju showed up at the judge’s Delaware courtroom on Friday with a guaranteed check for $7 million.
So that kills that deal. But it does not resolve anything. The Bankruptcy Court is charged with getting maximum price for the bank’s entity which filed for protection. But the Port is not in bankruptcy and, as far as we can tell, is not obligated to approve a deal just because the Court thinks it is better for the bank. The Port has different interests than the bank – especially given that it is funded by taxpayers and Channelside’s messy history of mismanagement. Basically, the judge can stop the Port from buying the complex, but it is unclear if he can (or ever should) make the Port approve anything. That is probably why this happened:
The judge chose not to rule on whether the port can cancel any deal the bank inks to sell Channelside. Thus the impasse that has divided the port and bank for years — the “original sin” of Channelside’s woes — remains unsettled in a court of law.
All this means we are back to square one with the added pleasure of publicity stunts by Liberty. It still remains to be seen if the Port has any interest of making a deal with Liberty (the negotiations with which were previously caught up on issues of an escrow fund, not the ethnic issue which Liberty is emphasizing), regardless of whether Liberty is willing to pay the bank. There is also the suit by Liberty against the Port, which is also of questionable merit. And remember, this is basically public land to which Liberty believes it is entitled.
At least the rest of the Channel District is starting to move forward.
Downtown Tampa – Goings On
There were a number of news items this week about downtown Tampa. First, there was news about when the Aloft and Meridien hotels may open.
Developers of the Aloft hotel on the river have set July 3 for their formal “soft opening” date, and have turned on the reservation system and website for the hotel. That comes as the Le Meridien hotel may open June 1, if not a few weeks before.
We also noticed that the Framework Group, planners of the Residences on the Riverwalk, had updated their renderings. Here is one:
For all of them, see here.
Not bad except for the breadbox on the top of the building. We are not sure why they would work hard to design all the elements of the building and then leave that thing on top. Hopefully, this is not a final design, and they can change that before construction starts.
The Framework website also had some renderings of what appears to be the rumored apartment building on one of the last lots on Harbour Island. (News reports had not been clear about the developers. Apparently, at least one of them is the Framework Group)
To us, it is kind of boxy and uninspired (And what is with the pool with a window that gives a Weeki Watchee mermaid show to people on the street?). Framework has talent. They can do better.
Finally, there was a lesson in why the Related Group built Pierhouse, the less than inspiring or urban apartment complex in the Channel District.
Quite a profit for something so ordinary. If there are such profits to be had for even something so plain, it is just another reason why the City should not settle.
Ybor City – The Usual Suspects
There was also news this week that the City is negotiating sales of the land for which it issued RFPs recently. The first sale is not much of a surprise:
A partnership between the Intown/Framework Group and Forge Capital Partners, both based in Tampa, is offering $660,000 for the land. It proposes a $27 million project with 220 units and a brick-and-tall-window design inspired by Ybor City’s historic cigar factories.
The City is selling to Framework, the sole bidder for a property, which sounds familiar. In any event, at least the City demanded the appraised value for the land. We’ll have to see what is planned.
The other sale is a little surprising.
McDonaugh said Liberty’s proposal had more detail than the competing bid, with a site plan, floor plans, development time line, project budget, architectural renderings and a development team with an identified general contractor.
McDonaugh said two factors mitigate accepting an offer “marginally below” the appraised price. First, the offer is within 6 percent of the appraised price. Also, he said Liberty’s time line envisions “a relatively quick close and aggressive completion and opening schedule,” which would mean the land would soon start generating property taxes.
We are not so keen on a sale below the appraised price. If the Liberty people have money to burn to make more of a mess at Channelside, they can pay an extra $30,000 for the public Ybor land. Other than that, since we have no idea what their actual plans are, we have no opinion on the sale other than that the Liberty folks seem to be able to run a hotel, so that is good. We just have to wait and see.
HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?
A few weeks ago, we wrote about a proposal to build a sports complex at the Florida State Fairgrounds. This week, we heard from HCC.
Hillsborough Community College is considering two major development projects at its Dale Mabry Highway campus that could see a youth sports complex built near Legends Field and a new mixed-use complex on its south end.
One likely bidder for the sports project is Tampa investor and youth sports booster Bob Gries, who’s wanted to build a volleyball and basketball complex in Tampa for a few years. If built, the sports complex would replace the large community tennis complex at HCC, which would be relocated to other college property.
HCC’s main campus is land-rich, with a grassy 17-acre “front yard” along Dale Mabry Highway and another 18 acres along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at the campus’ north end. The state has been giving HCC and similar colleges less money for capital improvement projects lately, so the college started looking at its ample landholdings as a way to make up the difference, college spokeswoman Ashley Carl said.
We don’t know the details so we can’t speak to them. We understand some of the logic of building a mixed use development (whatever that means in reality) on Dale Mabry, but how many sports complexes do we need? (There are at least two other proposals for sports complexes in Pasco County, too.)
HCC may be “land rich” but there is nothing wrong with preserving that situation for future expansion. However, how much public land should be locked up with private interests for sports fields or otherwise when there seems to be ample private land around for such uses? Any use other than for the school should be exceptional. This is not exceptional.
Trader Joe’s – Opening
This week it was revealed that Trader Joe’s in south Tampa will be opening March 21, which is nice, even if the building itself is lacking a door or window facing the street (they have fake windows). In the article on the opening, the Tribune tells us helpfully:
As for anyone hoping Trader Joe’s will open more locations around town, don’t expect many. Many markets the size of the Tampa Bay area often only have one or two stores, making them more of a destination for loyal customers. Only one more is likely set to open soon in the region, on Fourth Street near downtown St. Petersburg.
Odd, that makes two for the entire Tampa Bay area of almost 3 million people. Palm Beach County, with 1,356,545 people is going to have at least four and probably five. There are definitely sub-markets in the Tampa Bay area other than south Tampa or northeast St. Pete which could be profitable. Just another example of the Tampa Bay area’s diminished expectations.
Coming Out Watch – Pinellas Edition
Recently, there was some recognition of St. Pete and its developing arts scene. This week, the Economist had a column about the special Congressional election in Pinellas County. While it did not identify the County by name, this was how the article began:
You can debate the specifics or the approach, but that is the portrayal. The rest of the article is not much more favorable.
List of the Week
Coming in first is Austin*, followed by Raleigh**, Phoenix*, Dallas*, Salt Lake City*, Denver*, Ogden (UT)*, Charlotte*, Orlando*, Houston*, Seattle*, Atlanta*, Provo (UT)*, Cape Coral (FL), Palm Bay (FL), Boise, Minneapolis*, North Port (FL), San Jose*, and San Antonio**.
(*rail – including SunRail, **planned rail)
TIA – On to Seattle
This week, the airport announced new nonstop service to Seattle.
Alaska Airlines will inaugurate daily Tampa-Seattle service on June 20, fulfilling Tampa International Airport’s longstanding goal for non-stop flights with the Pacific Northwest and gaining an airline renowned for its financial performance and passenger amenities.
More than 320 passengers a day fly between Tampa to Seattle, on various airlines including Southwest, United, US Airways, Delta and American and Alaska Air connections,, the third busiest U.S. route not served by a non-stop flight.
“Our strategy is working,” Tampa International Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano said regarding recruitment of the Seattle flight, along with recent new service to Panama, Switzerland, and Cuba. A start-up airline is planning intra-Florida jet service at Tampa later this year.
“To entice high-tech companies (to the Tampa Bay region), we need service,” Lopano said of the non-stop flights that can support established companies in the Seattle area including Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon along with entrepreneurial-oriented business that are a staple of the Puget Sound area.
Excellent. Good route and good new airline. (And we like the graphic designer the airport uses). Yes, the strategy is working. The other major tech hub and really underserved route is Tampa-San Francisco. Hopefully, we will get that soon.
Rays, Downtown, and Money
In the last few weeks there have been various news items presented separately that actually should be looked at together, so we will do just that.
The first one involves a theoretical location for a Rays stadium in downtown Tampa and the Lightning owner’s large land holdings.
Baseball might attract 2 million fans a year or more to the area, but the stadium footprint — at 12 to 14 acres — would consume half of Vinik’s current holdings without necessarily yielding ongoing income. Mid-sized market teams typically pay little or no rent to the stadium owner.
The best solution, Buckhorn said, could be locating the stadium just north of Vinik’s property, on land now occupied by a ConAgra flour mill. That site “would require a sliver of Mr. Vinik’s property but not gobble up the rest,” Buckhorn said.
(Win-win? Bro Bowl/Perry Harvey Park anyone?) It makes sense that the Lightning owner may not want to give up half the land he bought to build a stadium. It also makes sense, stadium or not, to get the Con-Agra mill out of downtown. While it may be a profitable operation, it is like a wall dividing various parts of downtown that could be relocated elsewhere. There is a downside to that land, though:
The Tampa Port Authority could offer land for a new flour mill, but Buckhorn said he has heard of building costs of $60 million to $80 million, a big add-on to a stadium already projected at $550 million or more.
So, even if it worked out, that plan would have to be paid for.
– Show Us the Money
So how could it be paid for?
The mill site carries one financial advantage, Buckhorn said. It is within a special downtown taxing district currently paying off construction costs of the Tampa Convention Center. When those payments end in 2015, revenues could switch to a new capital project — like a stadium, providing $100 million or more toward costs such as land acquisition or infrastructure, Buckhorn said.
Using that money to bring a Rays stadium to the downtown redevelopment district is likely the only way City Hall could participate seriously in the project, Buckhorn said. Otherwise, he said it would be “very difficult.”
Buckhorn has talked of using the redevelopment revenue — officially known as tax-increment financing, or TIF for short — for roads, utilities and infrastructure that could support a stadium. Or it probably could be used to assemble the land for a stadium. Or it could pay to create new mass transit connections to the ballpark.
“There’s a lot of moving parts, but they all relate to each other,” Buckhorn said. “That’s why that TIF money is so important to us, and it’s so important that council members, as they have these discussions, don’t get backed into a corner by making pronouncements that they can’t walk away from.
Ok, that is an idea. Are there any catches? Well, yes:
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s idea to put $100 million of downtown tax money toward a potential new Tampa Bay Rays stadium is getting a skeptical look from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and other nonprofits.
The money in question comes from the property taxes paid by downtown Tampa landowners. Through a system called tax-increment financing, some of these taxes are steered into an entity called the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area and used for projects that benefit downtown. For now, the system generates about $12 million to $13 million per year, and those dollars are used to pay off the bonds on the Tampa Convention Center.
Representatives of the Tampa Theatre, Tampa Museum of Art and David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts noted to the council that they operate out of city-owned buildings. They said they could use the city’s help as they make repairs and updates to their facilities.
(And see here. Remember, the cost of moving the mill is $60-80 million.) Let’s look at one non-profit, the Straz Center:
This week, The Tribune reached out to a few big downtown nonprofit groups, but the only one that expressed concern was the Straz Center. Chief Executive Officer Judy Lisi said she doesn’t object to a baseball stadium in downtown Tampa, but her performing arts center has at least $10 million in capital expenditure needs, and she’d like a discussion on the money.
Then there is this:
The panel — about 25 feet long, 5 feet high and 1 foot thick — fell from the third level of the 27-year-old city-owned building about 2 p.m. Dec. 12. It came loose from the west side of the building, facing the Hillsborough River, and landed outside the lobby for the Carol Morsani Hall.
The Straz Center has paid $35,000 to $40,000 so far to clean up, secure, study and install the cable reinforcements to the remaining panels. It also has filed a claim with City Hall because the building is owned and insured by the city of Tampa.
It is not clear who will pay for all that and to make sure something like that does not happen again. And that is not the only potential need:
And, there are scores of potential uses for the money, including giving some to nonprofits, spending it on Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park or steering some to a possible referendum on mass transit, he said.
(Not to mention renovating the convention center). There are a lot of needs.
– Enter the County
Of course, no decisions have been made (at least not officially):
Tampa’s administrator of economic opportunity, Bob McDonaugh, downplayed the issue. No one has dedicated any money to a stadium or any other cause at this point, he said. The city and county still have to decide whether they’ll continue setting aside downtown taxes for major projects through tax-increment financing.
County involvement in downtown Tampa? That should be entertaining.
So what have the Commissioners said?
A Channelside stadium, with road improvements and other infrastructure, could justify renewing the full county share, County Commissioner Ken Hagan said recently — as long as it did not lead to new property taxes.
Wait a minute. We understand that a baseball stadium may be a use for the money, but would the County really hold the money if it were used for something else? Is a stadium the only use the County would support? What about that other list of things to be done? What about all that new era of County-City cooperation?
In any event, there are other opinions on the County Commission:
But County Commissioner Victor Crist, now wants to claim some of that money for Hillsborough County needs. If that happens, it could eat into the $100 million pot Buckhorn proposed for stadium infrastructure.
In other words, there is no consensus in the County either.
We would like to see a Rays stadium in Tampa. (We just doubt their success in St. Pete.) Setting aside the whole St. Petersburg permission issue and the question of how much, if any, tax money should go to a stadium, there is the issue of paying for it and what money could be used for it. Unfortunately, there is a limited pot of money, and there are many needs. While we would like a stadium, a way needs to be found to take care of other needs as well.
Moreover, there is a problem with the County. This is all quite the conundrum.
We agree with this Tribune columnist:
Given that, even the most ardent stadium supporter should agree wholeheartedly with Capin’s demand for transparency. You may believe a new stadium should be built downtown as quickly as possible, but this has to be done correctly.
Indeed. Transparency is needed. Unfortunately, the discussions with the Rays are still shrouded in mystery, which does not help find solutions to all these issues.
Another Thought About Tax Money
This week it was announced that a million dollars will be put to promoting the IIFA (“Bollywood Oscars”):
This week Hillsborough County committed to spending $1 million in tax dollars to help market and support the event — and to sell the area as a tourist destination that Bollywood fans will want to come back to visit.
The Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council voted unanimously Thursday to release $900,000 in reserve tourist development taxes to Visit Tampa Bay for the April 24-26 IIFA weekend. The tax is a 5 percent surcharge on hotel rooms and other short-term accommodations that pays for tourism marketing, the Tampa Convention Center and other venues.
The Hillsborough County Commission also voted unanimously on Wednesday to give the tourism agency $100,000 to promote the show. Commissioner Al Higginbotham made the proposal and Commissioner Kevin Beckner added a stipulation that they get an accounting of how the money will be spent to brand Hillsborough County — and not just the city of Tampa.
Corrada said the marketing plan always counted on using tourist tax reserves. His agency gets a share every year. But the agency didn’t ask for its $360,000 portion of the surplus in 2012, before Corrada came aboard. The agency’s cut of the 2013 reserves was $540,000.
Setting aside that Hillsborough County is spending $1 million to promote a weekend event and $2 million total to support local startups (and we have nothing against promoting the IIFA, but the ratio seems a bit off if high wage jobs are the priority we are told they are), all the downtown tax talk plus the fact that the Rays conversation in Pinellas involves tourist taxes got us wondering about the Tourist Development Tax money. How much is the total?
The tourist development tax in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is a 5 percent surcharge on every short-term accommodation. Also known as the bed tax, it’s considered one of the best measures of the tourism industry because it’s directly correlated to hotel bookings.
The tax rate in Hillsborough County is 5%, which is the same as Pinellas, Broward, and most large Florida counties. Orange and Osceola Counties are at 6%. (Notably, Florida counties are quite low in tourist taxes nationwide.) And what are the uses of the money?
The broad purpose of the tax is to have a funding source that supports the continuous growth of tourism and visitors to the area. Besides the direct benefits of tourism (lodging sales, attraction of tourists, and jobs within the hospitality industry), additional impacts are realized by carefully planning the investment of tourist development tax dollars.
The remaining two percent portion, the “fourth” and “fifth” cents, are used primarily for the payment of debt service on bonds issued in connection with the Raymond James Stadium, George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) and the Tampa Bay Times Forum professional sports franchise facilities. In March 2003, the BOCC approved the expansion in the authorized uses of the TDT revenue generated from Hillsborough County’s “fourth” and “fifth” cent TDT, to reflect expanded authorized uses under the State Statute. After satisfying bond covenants and directives, the revenues can be used to support activities that promote and advertise tourism in the State of Florida nationally and internationally.
(from pg 5-6 of a Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council Guidebook pdf. The statute referenced appears to be this which allows for use of the tax money for sports facilities or convention centers.)
Based on the 5% tax bringing $21 or so million in 2013, an increase of 1% would bring in about an additional $4 million annually. That would cover a decent percentage of the $12-13 million development district money in the first item.
(For some context: Apparently in Pinellas County “Tourism officials recently conducted a survey, asking if an additional penny ‘resort tax’ to help promote rainy day destination activities would be a good idea. The results were split right at about 50 percent, officials said.” “Guests currently pay a 13 percent sales tax in New Orleans, which puts the city at the low end of the country’s top 25 hotel markets, according to figures from the American Hotel & Lodging Association Information Center. Houston and Anaheim top the list with a 17 percent sales tax rate.” That tax rate is normal sales tax plus any tourist/bed tax. In Hillsborough there is 7% sales tax and 5% tourist development tax. For more about New Orleans and the standard debate about tourist taxes see here)
Now we are not necessarily saying to raise the tax to Orlando levels. We understand there is an argument that we must be competitive with other areas in Florida and that there is a race to the bottom of sorts. And, of course, the hospitality industry probably would object. On the other hand, the tourist development tax is a tax paid by people from other areas, and we suspect most people do not really check the tourist tax numbers when deciding to visit somewhere. In other words, is it really a deal breaker? Frankly, it is not clear nor is it clear that the tax should be raised. But, with everyone looking for loose change under the seat cushions to fund various projects, it needs to be in the conversation.
To pay for the things we need and/or want, we are obviously going to have to get creative, so everything should be in the conversation.
Economic Development – Adventures In Branding
A few weeks ago, the Times had a column about Orlando attempting to rebrand itself.
Except Orlando no longer wants to be known only as a theme park playground. That’s why the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission is unveiling a new branding campaign that includes this slogan:
Clever. It says Orlando has a whole other half to its identity beyond tourism. New branding opens the door for Orlando to market other pieces of its economy. Like its Lake Nona medical complex. Or on-the-rise University of Central Florida. Or Full Sail University, which offers entertainment and media degrees. Or its defense industry.
One mock-up from the branding campaign features an image of a medical researcher with the text, “Fantasy, meet reality.” Another depicts a modern office building and the words, “Our home is more than our castle.”
* * *
But if Orlando pursues a more sophisticated brand, Tampa Bay may find its I-4 neighbor has turned into a stronger competitor. We might want to hone our own identity.
All good points. Which raises an interesting issue:
This identity dilemma is not new. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional marketing group, unveiled its regional business plan. Assembled by SRI International, the plan listed the area’s top weaknesses. Among them: a “lack of clarity about a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity.”
You can’t have clarity about a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity if you do not have a cohesive, forward-looking regional identity. . . and we don’t. We have forward-looking pieces – some bio-tech (with a stealth cloak), some startup supporters, some transit supporters, some urbanism supporters (and some objectors to all that, too.) What we do not have is a cohesive idea of what we want to be, at least not in the halls of government – not when strip stores get more local financial support than high paying jobs and transportation and planning are still a nagging issues (not that we don’t have planners but elected officials settle far to often as though we can brand sprawling subdivisions and strip malls). And, even if some have ideas, regional cooperation is still in very short supply.
The reality is that there is a lot of talk, but the facts on the ground, as it were, are usually much different than the rhetoric. We may be getting to an idea of what we want to be, slowly, but we are not there yet. And it is hard to brand what does not exist.
Transportation – The Diversions Begin
This week, opponents of Greenlight Pinellas launched a new attempt to confuse the issues.
In a letter copied to Gov. Rick Scott, members of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation say Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Ronnie Duncan’s leadership of the Yes for Greenlight campaign is a conflict of interest and will damage TBARTA’s standing. The letter also was sent to other members of TBARTA’s governing board.
Duncan was announced at a campaign launch event Friday as one of two members of the steering committee of Yes for Greenlight. The advocacy campaign is expected to raise about $1 million to persuade Pinellas residents to back a 1 cent sales tax hike to pay for development and operation of a mass transit network run by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
“I think it’s really impacting TBARTA’s credibility,” said COST spokeswoman Sharon Calvert, founder of the Tampa chapter of the tea party and a vocal opponent of other Bay area transit referendums. “If Mr. Duncan wants to go be the face of Yes Greenlight, he should not be the chairman of TBARTA.”
Duncan, a former Pinellas County commissioner, was appointed to TBARTA by Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed for a second term by Scott. He said his involvement in Greenlight is as a private citizen and that TBARTA would not be involved in the advocacy campaign.
“I’m a citizen and taxpayer and I have the same rights as everybody else does to do what they think is right for them and their community,” Duncan said. “People can think what they want but, at the end of the day, there is no legal conflict.”
Setting aside that the founder of COST is from Hillsborough, is there an actual issue?
TBARTA was established by state lawmakers in 2007 to produce a regional transportation plan for the West Central Florida region consisting of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Its governing board unanimously endorsed the Greenlight plan in October.
Duncan’s involvement in Greenlight has been reviewed by TBARTA’s legal counsel Don Conn, a Tampa attorney. He said Duncan can work legally on the campaign as long as he makes it clear he is not representing TBARTA, agency officials said.
PSTA leaders also were advised recently on what is permissible under Florida election law. Tax dollars may not be spent to influence how residents vote, but the law does not prevent elected or appointed officials from publicly advocating for an outcome, PSTA attorney Alan Zimmet recently advised PSTA’s governing board.
There is no controversy here – just obfuscation by COST/Tea Party.
Moreover, some of those complaining were the same people who sued to get County Commissioners removed from office so they could not support Greenlight Pinellas. The suit was thrown out, but they won’t let that get in the way, nor the fact that TBARTA supported the plan, anyway. And there is also the fact that the opponents and their friends seem to have similar issues of their own.
Like Duncan, Jaroch was appointed to the board of a public agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, or HART. She also works for Heritage Action, a 501c4 that functions as the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation that doesn’t release its donors’ names.
Of course, they distinguish their activities from those about which they complain:
Setting aside that Heritage Action is anti-rail, what is “the opposition?” It sounds like their position is that it is acceptable if the Tea Party/Anti-Rail folks do it but not for people with whom they disagree.
Just like the lawsuit against the Commissioners, there is nothing in this . It would be good if this campaign were on the issues rather than full of distractions. Nevertheless, get ready for much more of this type of silliness.
Transportation – A Nice Summary of What Hillsborough Needs to Do
We have written often about transportation in Hillsborough. Last Week, the Times had an editorial on the subject that echoed much of what we have said, and put it nicely, so we will quote:
City and county officials meeting on transit should acknowledge that bus and rail must play a central role in any transportation fix. The local, state and federal governments do not have the money to keep condemning property and walling off entire neighborhoods to add more lanes. Officials also need to better explain to suburban residents why mass transit is important to preserving their lifestyles. Expanded bus service and a new rail system would limit sprawl and reduce the need for more road projects.
Those pushing for a fresh transit vote in Hillsborough should build on the momentum from Pinellas but put substance before expediency. Hillsborough’s next transit package needs a clear route and a reasonable price tag for rail, a more robust role for buses and a timetable for taking the system to the suburbs and to Pinellas. It also needs to be backed by smarter land use policies that curb sprawl and preserve scarce transportation resources.
Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe should use his final year on the commission and his position as chairman to focus this debate. He should point to rail systems in Central and South Florida as examples of how the bay area has lost ground by not thinking regionally. Hillsborough already has learned from Pinellas’ transit referendum effort by recognizing that any transit plan must be clear and easily understood months before the election. The first step in getting there, though, is for policymakers to figure out what they are selling besides vague promises.
Well said, now if only the elected officials in Hillsborough can do it.
MacDill – Thinking About the Future
There was an article in the Times about the future of MacDill now that its biggest Washington defender has passed away.
“I’m not saying the sky is falling,” said Evelio “E.J.” Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who worked at MacDill for 14 years and lost a 2012 congressional bid to Kathy Castor. “But it’s a critical time in MacDill’s history. We can’t take the base for granted.”
MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, both of which have spearheaded the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The tinderbox that is the Middle East ensures both commands will maintain brisk activity for many years.
“The reality is you now have two basically brand new headquarters in SoCom and CentCom,” Fallon said. “That investment is already done. You don’t need a whole lot of Bill Youngs” to ensure the base’s long-term survival.
Good points. As are these:
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said the Air Force chief of staff assured her last year that MacDill will be a vital base for years because it is home to 16 KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. MacDill lost a bid to be among the first to get the next-generation tanker, the KC-46. The Air Force will rely on the Eisenhower-era KC-135s during the next two decades as the new aircraft are phased in, said Castor, whose district includes MacDill.
And there is another good point that was not mentioned – MacDill is one of the largest employers and one of the biggest economic forces in the area. It just so happens that the Tampa Bay area is the largest swing metropolitan area in the largest swing region in the largest swing state in the United States. It is well past time that we keep hammering that point home in Washington and elsewhere.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week this week is locality.com’s Yuppies (ed. Do Yuppies still exist?) Price Index for Services. You can find the methodology (basically the cost of various services) on the website.
The top 10: Coming in first (cheapest) is Indianapolis, followed by Cleveland, Houston, Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, Orlando, Dallas, and Sacramento.
For context, the most expensive was San Francisco, where the bundle of services cost $6,718. The cost in the least expensive, Indianapolis, was $5,181. The difference is $1,537.
In an article on the Rays, the Mayor explained why the price difference is not as attractive as it might seem:
Right. The list ignores income which makes it questionable at best.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is cheapism.com’s Top 6 Most Affordable and Growing Cities in the U.S.
Unlike the first list, the methodology takes income and wide variety of expenses into account:
We awarded the cities a score of 1 to 6 for each data point, based on where they fell relative to the competition. We gave the most weight to cost of living, as calculated by Sperling’s, which accounts for housing, food, transportation, and health care, among other expenses. We also factored in median household incomes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, to a lesser extent, state and local income and sales tax rates from the Tax Foundation.
Coming in first is Austin, followed by Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Charlotte, Houston, and Raleigh.
Master Planning – Something in the West River
Last week, the City unveiled the InVision Tampa master plan for “West River” (the eastern edge of West Tampa near the river – see map on pg 38 of the pdf – also below). Like most of InVision Tampa, it had some merit, even if those ideas were pretty obvious. Also, like most of InVision Tampa, it had some issues – in this case one in particular.
First, the unveiling:
Whatever. As the Tribune pointed out in an editorial, rebuilding public housing has been done before “at College Hill, Ponce DeLeon and Central Park Village” (the last one becoming the Encore project.)
So what is the outline?
The proposed “West River” plan would start with demolishing the World War II-era public housing at North Boulevard Homes. The imposing concrete-block apartments would be replaced by a more traditional neighborhood with walkable streets.
A total of 820 apartments would be bulldozed, making way for more than 1,600 new townhomes and apartments. The new housing would include both subsidized housing and units that sell or rent for market rates. With more working- and middle-class residents, businesses on Main Street should see more customers, officials say.
Most of that is true and fine, though it is also not exactly telling the whole story, but we will get to that. What else is in the plan?
The study area encompasses two public housing complexes, four schools (Dunbar and Just elementaries, Stewart Middle and Blake High) and the city’s truck maintenance yard, which is a block from the river, between Rome and Oregon avenues.
Various government entities own 80 percent of the land in the West River study area. Under the plan, several of those governments would swap land to make various projects happen. School baseball diamonds, for example, would be moved to land now covered by part of North Boulevard Homes.
• Relocating baseball diamonds and a quarter-mile track that now overlook the river behind Just Elementary and Stewart Middle schools. That way, Willow Avenue could be extended all the way north to the river. The schools would stay where they are. The sports fields and track would end up south of Spruce Street where part of the North Boulevard Homes now sits. No ballfields would be eliminated.
This is the main planning map from the master plan (pg 38 of the pdf):
That is all fine as far as it goes – which is not far enough. And how will this be paid for?
The proposal, nearly three years in the making, will lay the foundation for the housing authority to seek a $30 million “Choice Neighborhoods” grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
When relocation begins, North Boulevard residents will move to other public housing or get vouchers for private housing. They would have the option to move back to the redeveloped neighborhood as some people have done at Encore!, Ryans said.
Ok, there is no money. That’s ok. You have to start somewhere, and without money there is time to fine tune the plans.
So, like we said, there are some things to recommend themselves in the plan – most pretty obvious – like building to the street, having street retail, opening up the river, etc.
But there is a major flaw – density, or rather lack of density. (Even a quite gushing Times editorial noted that the housing is not dense enough. ) There was this comment of the representative from AECom (along with ULI, our outsourced planning department):
The idea that the number of units will be doubled is technically true, but it is missing some caveats. The reality is that the plan is not that dense at all, which can be seen from the plan itself. To understand, one should look at the proposed phasing map of the master plan (pg 58 of the pdf)
First, North Boulevard Homes (click on link for Google map view), which will be demolished, has 682 units. With some more public housing, the total comes to, the articles tell us, 820 public housing units demolished. The interesting thing is that all those units are in the southern end of the development, which the phase map includes in phases 1-4 (though about half of phase 4 is outside the housing area) of new construction. The rest of the land in the master plan is presently used by the City for parks, utilities, and parking for its fleet. In other words, there is no housing there.
Of the area that is presently public housing, pg 58 of the plan tells us that about 850 units will be built (assuming half of phase 4 is outside the area) and some of the land will be new sports fields. Of course, the new buildings will be nicer than what is there now – they will have front doors to the street, and there will be some retail. However, going from 820 to 850 units does not increase density much at all. Moreover, looking at the map, much of the lots used for housing are going to be taken up with surface parking lots. (see pg 44 of the pdf; for more on the massing of most blocks see pg 48-50 of the pdf) The reality is that a lot of the plan is basically building suburban apartment complexes inside out (putting the big parking lots in the middle of the lots rather than the outside) which is not creating a real urban environment with density. (The increase in unit number comes from building in what are presently non-housing lots.) The fact is that there may be an increase in units, but the housing is not really becoming denser.
Then there is this:
Of course, almost no one living in the district will have those views (unless they walk to the river) because on most blocks the tallest building is going to be 3 stories (the tallest building in the plan is 6 stories; most will be 2 stories) which will not get over the tree line and may or may not get over the reconstructed I-275 to the south. Short buildings and lots of surface parking is hardly the making of the west end of downtown.
And there is another issue. The median of I-275 is supposed to be the heart of any transit between downtown and Westshore/TIA. How does it make sense to not build with density near the likely transit line? How is surface parking the best use of the land a few blocks from a main transit line (whether bus or rail)?
Moreover, the phased plan locks in this lack of real, urban density first (and closest to transit) then sees what comes later. Why not first build with some density (maybe just like Encore, which is not that dense but is certainly better) and transit oriented development and preserve the other land to build densely later if there is demand. (Why foreclose the option of having real density in the whole area?)
If the plan is to make the river the center of downtown, then the master plan is inadequate because it is just not that urban.
Nevertheless, we agree with this:
There is no better time to start than now. Remaking this area is a once in a generation opportunity. It is just too bad that, while it has some good ideas, the plan fails to think big. While it is “ok,” excellent would not be any harder. Fortunately, there is still time to change it.
Economic Development – We’re Talking the Talk, but Are We Walking the Walk? Cont.
Last week, we featured a Tampa Bay Business Journal item about biotech in the Tampa Bay area. In that discussion, we noted that one insider said there was a “stealth cloak” over biotech in the Tampa Bay area. The Business Journal had a follow up item that looked at the stealth cloak comment.
Part of the issue is there is no “center” to the local industry, said John Bonfiglio, president and CEO of Tampa-based Oragenics Inc. (NYSE MKT: OGEN). Bonfiglio said he wants to see a cluster of buildings where like-minded startup companies are located. That prompted Valerie McDevitt, associate vice president for technology transfer and business incubation at University of South Florida, to invite him to visit USF’s research facilities. “The fact that I don’t know about it and I’m a CEO of a biotech company and I’ve been here three years means it’s probably not as well known as it should be,” Bonfiglio said.
Right. As we noted in a discussion of an economic development report in 2011:
The Executive Summary does not address infrastructure, planning or creating an attractive urban environment to both draw and retain talent. For instance, how will Tampa Bay compete with Orlando’s “Medical City” – where all the biomed and healthcare industries can be concentrated in one location following a pattern set in many places (Houston comes to mind). Where is that going to be? If it is near the USF Medical School (a logical choice), is Pinellas going buy in – hopefully, but, sadly, there is little evidence for it. There is also mention of destination medical care, but we need a concerted effort to make Tampa Bay more accessible to people willing to travel than competitors for that market – so back to the airport issues.
In other words, this has been an issue for years. Despite all the technological advances, physical clustering helps intellectual clustering. There are other issues:
Proximity helps networking, though it can be done without it. Of course, if you are networking between Hillsborough and Pinellas, you have to have a good way to get around. (On many days, you can arguably get from USF’s main campus to Disney in the same time than you can get from USF to downtown St. Pete.)
Education is important (including being able to read), as is retaining those you educate and attracting more, which goes back to lifestyle, transportation, the built environment, and amenities. (And whether we can attract those people if we keep trying to solve all problems on the cheap when other areas are fully investing.) Funding is always an issue – which gets us back to regional cooperation and competing with other areas of the state and country.
The bottom line is that this discussion just points out the actual effects of all the issues we have been discussing for years – planning, built environment, transportation, and proper economic development efforts. They are all related, and all need to be properly addressed.
Transportation – When To Do A Hillsborough Referendum
Last week, there was an interesting article regarding the timing of a possible Hillsborough transportation referendum.
Though details are still sketchy, proponents say the referendum could be held in March (2015) to coincide with the Tampa mayoral election. They don’t want to hold the referendum this November because a similar transportation tax is on the ballot in Pinellas County that month and officials here want to see how that vote goes.
“We’re going to have some finality to all these conversations this year,” said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who supported the 2010 referendum. “What would likely then occur is we will be talking about funding options and then you will likely see (a referendum) in 2015.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he supports holding the referendum in March. By that time the county and city transportation planners will have identified the projects, including a potential rail route, giving the policy group time to vote on the list as well as a funding source, he said.
First, it has been obvious all along that Hillsborough elected officials are going to wait for Pinellas to vote. That being said, it makes sense not to interfere with the Pinellas referendum, particularly since opponents of transit spend a lot of time working to create confusion in the issues. No need to add to that.
As for 2015 – on the one hand, Hillsborough has already waited too long, so we would like to see something happen quickly. On the other hand, Hillsborough needs to have all a solid plan and an ability to explain it to people before anything goes to a vote. What does the County say?
The county commission could act this year to set a referendum for March 2015, said County Attorney Chip Fletcher. The state statute dealing with such local tax elections leaves the timing up to county commissioners, Fletcher said. The referendum would require an ordinance approved by a simple majority of the seven-member commission.
That majority might be hard to come by, however. Five commissioners reached by The Tampa Tribune on Wednesday said March might be too soon to ask voters to raise their own taxes. Republicans Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist, who say they have heard rumblings about a referendum next year, cite the continuing weakness in the economy as a reason to wait.
Other commissioners said a March referendum would not give the policy group time to digest the large package of transportation projects still being developed and then sell the improvements – and a tax increase – to county residents.
“We just want to make sure we have all the information back: the citizen feedback, the funding sources, the economic development areas,” Republican Sandy Murman said. “I just think there’s a whole lot that needs to be coordinated and put together before we even talk about a referendum.”
We are not so concerned about the economy issue. (It is not like the Commissioners citing the economy have been out front on transportation anyway.) In terms of getting feedback, that is needed, which is why this process should have taken place earlier.
It also is a bit odd to have a County referendum at the time of an exclusively City election. What is likely to happen is that those people who really care – on both sides of the issue – will turn out. Most other people in the County will stay home. We have no idea how that would work out.
Frankly, we have decidedly mixed feelings on a 2015 date. Yes, we want to get on with it, but we want to get on with a proper plan, not something cobbled together. As it stands, what has been said in public does not lead us to think a full plan can be created in time for a campaign, but maybe it can. To do that, the elected officials are going to have to pick up the pace and get behind doing something. It is just another problem caused by the lackadaisical approach taken over the years to Hillsborough transportation issues.
Transportation – Another Voice
Last week, Connect Tampa Bay, the initiative started by young professionals, but inclusive on anyone who wants to contribute, issued a proposal regarding Hillsborough. Much like we advocate, it takes the approach of creating an integrated system that includes various technologies (and some non-technological ideas like walking). It is really more of a strategic outline, but it is definitely worth a look (you can see the pdf here)
It is, in our opinion, worthy of support. Overcoming the obstacles that have held us back (and still hold us back) will take collective action, and they have taken a good first step.
Transportation – The High Speed Ferry Moves Forward Slowly
The County has decided to study the south County-MacDill ferry proposal.
A multimillion-dollar proposal to launch a high-speed ferry service crossing Tampa Bay inched forward Wednesday as Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending up to $125,000 to study its feasibility.
The ferry would primarily shuttle MacDill Air Force Base employees who live in southern Hillsborough to the base from a terminal near Apollo Beach. Routes linking downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg on nights and weekends could be added.
Most of the money commissioners approved spending Wednesday — $100,000 of the $125,000 — will go to HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Group LLC, the private groups behind the proposal represented by lawyer and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. Some of that money will cover research Turanchik’s clients already did for their unsolicited bid. The remaining $25,000 will cover any costs the county incurs as it researches the ferry.
We have no problem with getting a proper study of the issue, though it is a little odd to pay those who propose an idea to study their own proposal.
So how close is the ferry to becoming reality?
Merrill was cooler on the proposal, which calls for the county to spend $24 million on docks, parking and the boats, with HMS covering operating expenses. A number of hurdles remain, he noted, including approval from the Department of Defense to land the ferry at the Air Force base, and an agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the land west of U.S. 41 and north of the TECO Big Bend Station in Apollo Beach that Turanchik’s clients have proposed for a ferry terminal and park.
In other words, we have no idea.
Transportation – Interesting but Unknown
Last week, it was reported that the Selmon Expressway will become a test bed for self-driving cars.
But don’t expect driverless cars to join traffic any time soon. Most likely, the vehicles would be tested on the expressway’s elevated lanes during non-peak hours when officials could close the lanes to regular traffic.
The designation gives the Tampa area access to the businesses, automakers and researchers developing the technology, said the authority’s executive director Joe Waggoner. Long term, the goal is to make Florida a leader in driverless transportation systems.
“We think this is a coming revolution in transportation. A lot of the technology is there,” Waggoner said. “What it comes down to is moving it into practice. We want to know what it takes and be a part of it.”
The Selmon Expressway is one of two sites statewide that have been approved for driverless car testing by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The other is in downtown Orlando.
Nothing wrong with all that. If someone is going to test a new technology, it may as well happen here.
The only issue we have with automated vehicles is that, while there is a lot of discussion about them, it is not clear whether they will be the modern equivalent of VHS or of betamax. That will not be known for a while. It is fine to work on these technologies, but putting too much faith in them could be folly.
Downtown/Channel District – The Start of Something, Finally
On Tuesday, the Skyhouse apartment building in the Channel District finally broke ground – hopefully the first of many new buildings in the area.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and many city officials were on hand Tuesday morning for a celebratory, if hot and muggy, groundbreaking event at SkyHouse Channelside’s future site, on North 12th Street between Washington and Whiting streets.
Atlanta-based developers Novare Group and Batson-Cook Development Co. have built several SkyHouse apartment towers around the country, each of which has a rooftop “skyhouse” — a community area with pool and lounge, fitness area and club room. Its new Tampa tower will follow the mold, offering 320 luxury units in 23 stories.
One of those will be in Channelside, called the Martin on Meridian. Another is by the Straz Center — the Residences at the Riverwalk. There’s another project near the Straz that’s just getting started, as well.
Martin is supposed to break ground in March, and the Residences at the Riverwalk will begin road work to realign the lot in June. As for the fourth project, we do not know to what it is referring, but we will be interested to see.
In other news, more information about the Lightning owner’s proposed hotel came out.
This week, the Tribune got an additional document from the city showing Vinik’s group proposes a 400-room hotel on the property. The document doesn’t mention a specific hotel brand, but that size would make it larger than the nearby Embassy Suites and Westin Tampa Harbour Island hotels, each of which have about 300 rooms.
Vinik’s hotel could be a player in small or midsize conferences with up to 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and it would have up to 45,000 square feet of commercial/retail space, the document shows.
As a general idea, that would be nice, though we would like to see the actual design.
In any event, finally things are moving in downtown. It is about time. Other cities have been chugging along for a few years now.
Downtown – Making the Riverwalk Accessible
There was news this week that the City is going to make the Riverwalk full accessible.
The elevator, required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, will carry passengers down from Kennedy Boulevard at the base of Rivergate Tower to the Riverwalk’s new Kennedy Plaza, now under construction between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park.
The $250,000 elevator is being paid for by a mix of city funds and private money raised by the Friends of the Riverwalk. It’s not part of the $10 million grant that paid for construction of Kennedy Plaza, said Bob McDonaugh, Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s chief of economic development.
The city’s conceptual drawings show the elevator descending along the face of the Rivergate Tower parking garage adjacent to the Kennedy Boulevard bridge. Users will reach the Riverwalk from there by a small walkway.
That is a good thing.
Transportation – County Policy Blooming
This week, the County held a public meeting in Bloomingdale to discuss spending some road money set aside after the County approved a big box development over the opposition of the neighborhood.
They came to Bloomingdale High School to hear how residents would like to see developer money spent to reduce the impact of a big box store and apartment complex scheduled to go in next to the Bloomingdale Regional Library.
What the Hillsborough County Public Works staff got Tuesday night instead was a flood of raw anger from several hundred residents who say the county has done little to improve a road system that will be overburdened by the development it has been approving for years.
We are sympathetic to the crowd. The County has done a horrible job of planning and allowed all sorts of development without having any way to pay for the roads and other transportation needed to handle the development. That has been County policy for years.
On the other hand, the east County collectively (we haven no idea about individuals) has supported those who created those policies for years.
Meanwhile Elsewhere In the World
It seems that, like the Bro Bowl, London has had its own skatepark preservation issue.
Southbank Centre wanted to demolish Undercroft skatepark and relocate it 120 metres along the riverside, under the Hungerford Bridge, to make way for eateries as a means of providing commerical income for its Festival Wing redevelopment. But the proposed £120 million redevelopment met was with opposition from the skaters who use the park ever since plans were unveiled in March 2013.
In January Mayor of London Boris Johnson quashed the Southbank’s plans to move the skatepark after 27,286 planning objections to the development were delivered to Lambeth Town Hall, making it the most unpopular application in history. The Mayor said: “The skatepark is the epicentre of UK skateboarding and is part of the cultural fabric of London. It attracts tourists from across the world and undoubtedly adds to the vibrancy of the area – it helps to make London the great city it is”.
As made clear by London’s mayor, historic skateparks do have cultural value that enhances the city and should be leveraged, not fought against – even if that is not understood in Tampa City Hall.
Saving the Bro Bowl would not have any effect on any development, it just requires a good faith compromise that should have happened long ago. If done in good faith, it will be a win-win for all the community. We’ll see if the City can finally realize that.
List of the Week
Regrettably, we did not find any list this week that met our stringent standards. Our apologies.
Economy – The Housing Market
As usual, there is much news about the economy, including the housing market. Things are better, but how much?
The annual study projected that home prices will rise by 8 percent in the 12 months ending in September 2014, CNN said. That gain makes Tampa the sixth “hottest” housing market in the country, CoreLogic found.
That is positive, but there are some caveats.
Still, since the area was hit so hard by foreclosures and the housing crisis, buying in Tampa is still a relative bargain. The median home price in the area is $177,000 compared to the national median price of $207,000, CNN said.
Inexpensive housing is good for buyers but starting at a very low point means each percent of increase is not very much compared to other areas. Then there is this:
More than a quarter of homes sales in December in 10 of the country’s largest metro areas were processed as either foreclosures or short sales, a new report says. Tampa ranked fourth, with such transactions making up 30.1 percent of home sales.
So there is improvement (and people still are moving here), but we still have a way to go. The key is to create demand by developing a diverse economy.
Economic Development – We’re Talking the Talk, but Are We Walking the Walk?
One of the major economic development target areas, and topics of conversation, locally is biotech. There has been some growth (like Bristol-Myers Squibb), but a recent Tampa Bay Business Journal item provided a much needed reality check.
In communities where biotech is a growth business, such as San Francisco, Boston and the Research Triangle in North Carolina, there are strong clusters of biotech firms, said Dr. Alan List, president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center, during a Tampa Bay Business Journal roundtable discussion on the state of biotech.
Of course, the cluster/critical mass point does not apply just to biotech, but given all the talk about biotech, it is interesting to note that we have not reached “cluster” status yet. So what is the issue?
It’s been a slow go building biotech clusters in Florida, according to a new report from two agencies that provide oversight for the state legislature. “Biotechnology cluster development can take many years, and while Florida has the potential for additional growth, it faces challenges,” the report said. “The major challenge to furthering cluster development is fostering an environment that translate discoveries into marketable products.”
Well, there is a massive amount of competition both within the state and from outside the state for biotech facilities and many clusters resulted from a confluence of circumstances that may not exist everywhere that wants to be a cluster.
Anything more Tampa Bay specific?
Now that is a surprise in its harshness (though it probably was not meant to be harsh). There has been so much effort to get the Tampa Bay biotech name out there and so much hype about biotech (things like this) that one would think that everyone would know about the Tampa Bay area. Obviously things take time, but “stealth cloak?”
Maybe we need more regionalism:
One answer may be more proactive outreach between existing companies, said Caroline Popper, co-founder and president, Popper and Co., a strategy and M&A advisory firm in Sarasota. “Drive an hour, take a bigger view of a cluster – maybe more like a spider – the whole I-4 corridor, as opposed to just a 10-minute drive down Sand Hill Road.”
Or mega-regionalism. (It might be good to master regionalism first.)
We are all for development of the biotech sector. We are also for development of other sectors and the cluster/critical mass argument applies there, too. And regional cooperation, rather than marketing individual areas, is a key to success. We also tend to think that having successful discoveries and products coming from our area vital. The fact is that we are just not there with the number of companies and institutions and successes. Moreover, while the marketing efforts are a start, clearly they need to be refined. (Not to mention the issue of making the area more attractive for talent to live in.)
Frankly, we are happy for the article because 1) it provides a necessary corrective to all the hype, and 2) it shows that people who deal with reality are not “putting down” the area, they are looking after its best interests by noting when the area’s efforts need modification to increase the likelihood of success.
Port – Of Style and Substance
At the recent speech, the Port unveiled a new name:
Anderson wants to position Port Tampa Bay as the closest full-service U.S. port to the expanded Panama Canal and the booming economies of Latin America. The new brand was unveiled with a video showing Hillsborough business leaders pitching the bay area to potential clients — but it did not include any Pinellas leaders.
Marketing the Tampa Bay region as a whole is an approach the bay area’s other economic development leaders have taken to heart. When Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano pitches his airport to airlines, he’s selling something even bigger: the 3.5 million people who live within an hour’s drive of the airport, from Hernando to Sarasota counties.
That’s fine (though whether the port is the closest full service port is really a function of facilities and geography, not branding). Frankly, we do not think rebranding is that big a deal, but if it helps bring more business, great. How are the rest of the area facilities taking the change?
The name change also reflects a new leadership role that Anderson wants Port Tampa Bay to take with much smaller regional ports like the Port of St. Petersburg and Port Citrus. Neither are cargo ports, but both recently signed agreements to work closely with the Tampa Port Authority. Anderson said his port could provide them with the expertise and help they need if they ever grow their operations.
Port Tampa Bay’s relationship with its nearest competing cargo port, Port Manatee, is a different story. In October, Manatee’s board pre-emptively voted to oppose any potential merger with Tampa. Anderson said Wednesday that he’s committed to working more closely with all nearby ports, including Manatee.
So there is one hold out to working cooperatively. Nothing new there (except that in this case the holdout is not Hillsborough.) It would be nice if everyone could take a regional approach, but at least overall there is a step in right direction.
Of course, it all means nothing unless we get positive results:
We are not sure about the fresh air comment, but maybe some business plans will come to fruition.
Discussions are under way with major vehicle manufacturers who are making cars in Mexico to ship them through Port Tampa Bay, the head of an international auto processing company said Thursday at the first day of the two-day Shifting International Trade Routes conference in Tampa.
“Within the next year you will have cars here,” Steven Rand, president and chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Amports, told a group of about 200 shipping industry officials meeting at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
Setting aside Port Manatee because it is part of our region, there is a lot of competition for the Port. For instance, Port Everglades is building rail lines right up to the ships to get containers right onto rail lines (kind of like the rail line expanded in Tampa in 2012) as well as looking to dredge their channel to permit the biggest ships to use their port (unlike Tampa).
The rebranding is fine, but the results are the key.
TIA – It Seems There Is Demand, Initially At Least
TIA released initial load information for the Copa flights.
Strong demand is important because Copa has signed only a one-year deal to fly out of Tampa International Airport. The airport and its economic development and tourism partners have pledged to help fill Copa’s seats to persuade the airline to stay in the Tampa Bay market.
That is positive news. It is just another sign that those people, like the former Aviation Authority board chairman (see here and here), who pushed so hard to get more international service were correct. (Other signs are success in Cuba flights, expanded British Airways service, and Edelweiss service.) Let’s hope it lasts and grows further.
We are happy that so many people have joined in supporting the international flight push (the more the merrier), but credit should go where it is due – to the people who stuck their necks out and pushed the issue when it wasn’t popular (and took a lot of crap for it). That is leadership. (It is the people who said/say we could not do something or that we shouldn’t really try, not the people who said/say we should accept neither mediocrity nor failure to reach our potential, who “put this area down.”)
In further airport news, TIA is moving forward with its master plan. (check the article for renderings) We fully support that, but more flights, please.
TIA – Regionalism in Action
We ran across an article about a Sarasota promotion for an event this March.
The daredevil act is getting a little hairy here as Visit Sarasota and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport disagree on whether Tampa’s airport should be with them for a Nik Wallenda promotion in London.
Visit Sarasota is partnering with Tampa International Airport to organize a March reception for tour operators featuring Nik Wallenda in London to get Europeans to come to Sarasota. But Frederick “Rick” Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ Airport, is protesting the partnership, saying Sarasota should not be taking money from TIA when it also promotes SRQ.
“This is an exclusive Sarasota County event. It is not a regional event,” Piccolo said at Monday’s Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority meeting. “We fully understand that Tampa International provides a lot of lift to this community as well. It’s a wonderful airport, but we objected to their participation in the event because this is a Sarasota event only.”
Interestingly, it is not Sarasota giving money to TIA, but TIA promoting a Sarasota event.
British Airways is providing some airfare for the promotion, Hayley explained, and during unrelated meetings with Tampa International, staff there heard about the promotion and offered to help with a $10,000 to $15,000 contribution as a sponsor.
When working an international event, it’s important for smaller cities to stand out and show the ease of connecting to other destinations, and that’s why using British Airways from London to Tampa is vital, Hayley said.
Even though Sarasota-Bradenton airport does not have flights to London, not all are convinced by TIA’s efforts:
Yes, but then they would have to change planes.
Good for TIA for getting involved and good for Visit Sarasota for accepting the help. It makes sense and promoted the area. On the other hand, the complaints are another example of how local rivalries can get in the way of regional progress.
Transportation – Streetcar Insurance
We learned recently that the Streetcar Board is still trying to get out from under CSX’s very expensive insurance requirement.
After paying $4 million over the past decade for insurance to permit the non-profit streetcar to cross a CSX Transportation track that about eight freight and passenger trains use daily, the streetcar board is seeking relief from the state government.
The streetcar board has prepared a resolution requesting the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to get the Florida Legislature to amend state liability agreements with CSX to include the Tampa streetcar crossing and get the state to cover the costs.
“The Florida Department of Transportation has an agreement with CSX covering liability for passenger services that use or cross CSX facilities for South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail – West Palm Beach-Miami) and SunRail (Orlando area), and the state is absorbing that cost,” the resolution said.
“Extension of the FDOT/CSX liability insurance agreement to the TECO Line Streetcar System would provide equitable treatment to all geographies in the state regarding cost of liability for using/crossing CSX Facilities.
Exactly. The State covers insurance for CSX on other systems in other areas of the state which have much higher risks. It should cover the streetcar, which will free up money to make the streetcar more useful and financially sound. There is no reason CSX should object, and there is no reason the State should object.
It is odd that this move did not happen much sooner (like when the State made the SunRail deal), but at least there is a push for it now.
And, hopefully, there will also be a push to integrate the streetcar more fully in any upcoming Hillsborough County transportation plans.
Transportation – Why Polls Do Not Matter, Especially This Early
The Tribune had an article on a new poll regarding Greenlight Pinellas that was quite interesting.
Commissioned by former St. Petersburg City Council candidate and local neurosurgeon David McKalip, a fierce opponent of the transit plan, the survey found that 45 percent of residents opposed raising sales tax to pay for a “commuter train from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.”
A previous survey by the same group in April showed roughly half of voters thought the county needed a light-rail system, but respondents deadlocked on whether they would pay more taxes for it. Other polls have shown stronger support for the Greenlight plan.
Of course the guy who commissioned the poll provided an interpretation of the results:
“It shows that people don’t want their taxes hiked to build transit or to grow a government bureaucracy,” said McKalip, who is a contributor and supporter of No Tax for Tracks, a group opposing the Greenlight plan. “When people are informed this will be the highest sales tax in the state, they don’t want to support Greenlight Pinellas.”
On the other hand:
But transit supporters say the questions written by McKalip were designed to skew the results. The survey fails to mention that the new sales tax will replace a special property tax that funds Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority operations, they said. It also focuses on the more controversial rail component of the plan and omits that roughly half of the money raised through the new tax is earmarked for a 65 percent expansion of the county’s threadbare bus network.
“The polling results based on those questions is not a surprise,” said Ken Welch, a county commissioner and chair of the PSTA’s governing board. “Our focus will be to give voters the full package of information about what Greenlight Pinellas is about.”
So what does the pollster have to say about his own poll?
That sure sounds like an admission that the questions in the poll were phrased in a way that would skew the result.
In any event, we do not think polls are relevant at this point, except for the hype value. Those in favor of Greenlight Pinellas should learn from Hillsborough’s 2010 experience, assume it is a tie (or they are losing) and that they need every vote, because they do, and act accordingly.
The only poll that counts is the vote, and right now no one really knows where the voters stand.
Fairgrounds – A Modest Proposal
Recently, details of a proposal for development of the Florida State Fairgrounds came out:
A committee of the Florida State Fair Authority, the board that oversees the fairgrounds, met Wednesday to evaluate Republic Land’s offer to build a sports, hotel and entertainment complex on its grounds. The developer would use 123 of the fairgrounds’ roughly 330 acres, leaving intact the annual fair’s core area, the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater and Cracker Country.
So what does this proposal include?
*GoodSports Village. The anchor tenant would be a new sports-themed hotel and athletic complex operated by Sarasota-based GoodSports Enterprises. GoodSports is an affiliate of longtime hotelier Focus Hotels of Sarasota.
The company would operate a new 200-room GoodSports Hotel catering to business travelers during the week and amateur athletes in town for tournaments over the weekend. Next to the hotel, a 65,000-square foot sports field house would host basketball and volleyball tournaments, said Anthony Homer, a GoodSports Enterprises vice president.
*Virtual golf experience. Republic’s project would include an indoor “virtual golf experience,” developed in conjunction with an unnamed celebrity golfer. The documents don’t shed much light on the idea, but competing virtual golf companies use simulators, which allow golfers to hit balls into a screen that shows fairways and greens of elite golf courses. The idea is to recreate the feel of playing on these courses.
Our initial reaction is to wonder whether this is the best use for the Fairgrounds, as well as to wonder what the rush to develop the area is.
A few other things we wonder about: Why build a water park when we have Adventure Island? Won’t the golf facility compete with the hype filled Top Golf down the road? Why build a restaurant complex on public land when it can be done on private land nearby? Big box retail? Why, because SR60 and Brandon is so far away?
It is not like the land is going to become less valuable over time. Most likely, especially given the proximity of the Hard Rock and the County’s desire to develop the area around the I-4/I-75 junction, the land’s value will increase and better uses can be found. Nevertheless,
There is nothing wrong with exploring an idea, but, as we said, is this really the best use of and the best time to develop the land? We have our doubts, and we have not seen a justification for making this deal at this time.
Ybor – More Stirrings
This week, the Tribune reported that some private property in Ybor may actually get some development.
Hopefully, something will come from it. Filling in the blanks in Ybor, especially without giving up public property (the value of which will only increase as private development occurs), is a good thing. It would also be nice to bring this building to life. Of course, the past should inform the present:
A nearby hotel has a relatively large surface lot. Hopefully, the City will not require the same here. Parking is an issue (and the property is not that big), but it is also an urban area with City parking not that far away. One thing Ybor does not need is more big surface parking lots.
We shall see.
Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida
We stumbled across an article about South Florida counties working together to develop their region and its economy. Not surprisingly (because it is obvious), part of the focus is on creating walkable areas and better transit.
More diverse, urban housing will let more folks of different ages and incomes live together. And more coastal areas will be protected against sea level rise through such investments as back-flow preventers.
The mayors of Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties made a rare, joint appearance at the presentation to celebrate the plan and pledge cooperation on common concerns, especially in areas such as transport that demand massive, regional investments that no single area can make on its own.
Well, the ideas sound familiar, but not the process. How about this?
“Only when the region speaks in one voice can we be effective in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C.” to persuade officials to fund major projects for Southeast Florida, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief told a crowd of more than 200 people gathered for the presentation at the county’s convention center.
There is no doubt – and, unless things change dramatically here, if South Florida speaks with one voice and Orlando speaks with one voice, the Tampa Bay area will get crushed in money game in Tallahassee.
In that scenario, 98 percent of trips still rely on cars, and just 70 percent of households live within one mile of a park. That lifestyle pushes obesity rates past 25 percent, presenting big health risks and costs.
But the outlook brightens with a more mixed-use, walkable areas with new transit links in a scenario dubbed “Region In Motion.” In that case, only 60 percent of trips use cars, 90 percent of households live within one mile of a park, and the region’s obesity rate slips to 17 percent.
What’s more, regional efforts attract more of the “creative class” in high-tech, arts and innovation, with one of three workers in that group and the area rising into the top 50 U.S. creative hubs, the plan said.
Admittedly, a bit ambitious, but why not try? But then there was this:
“The I-4 corridor [in the Tampa-Orlando area] is kicking our butt, because the 13 counties there are working together,” said Michael Busha, executive director of the three-county Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and co-director of the Seven50 effort.”They have accepted the fact that they are a region and are behaving that way.”
That kind of confused us. We don’t remember having the leaders of Pinellas and Hillsborough (and don’t even get into other counties) get together and do any joint planning, let alone really cooperate. Maybe Orlando is organized and cashing in (they are), but the Tampa Bay area is no where near that level.
Regardless, it shows what other areas are doing, and where we should be.
– Riverwalks for All
Given all the talk of making the river the focus of Downtown Tampa and about the Riverwalk, both of which are fine with us (though if the river is the focus of downtown, the west side needs to be relatively dense), we decided to look for other riverwalks in Florida. Interestingly, there are a number (some complete, some not): Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jacksonville (see here and here).
While the Tampa Bay area goes back and forth regarding transit, including rail, Miami is now considering whether to build another rail line, this time between downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Obviously, this would require traveling over water. The article does not indicate whether FDOT would be putting any money into the project or leaving paying for it to locals.
List of the Week
In light of all the stories about why you should visit St. Pete, our list this week is a Yahoo! Travel list of 10 classic steakhouses to visit. They do not appear to be in any particular order, so we will just list them as they appear in the article.
Peter Luger, New York City; Keen’s Chophouse, New York City; The Snake River Grill, Jackson, Wyo.; Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse, Chicago; Musso and Frank Grill, Los Angeles; House of Prime Rib, San Francisco; Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, San Antonio, Texas; Bern’s Steakhouse, Tampa, Fla.(there’s that “Fla” again); The Angus Barn, Raleigh, N.C.; Ye Olde Steakhouse, Knoxville, Tenn.
Because this week’s Roundup is a bit long we thought we would provide a brief description. We begin with a more general discussion of BRT and light rail. After that, there are the news items, starting with transportation, followed by other topics. Finally, we have our list of the week.
Transportation – Inadvertent Truths
The Tribune now features a new column of a designated “conservative” columnist (Ironically named after a movie/book about one of the biggest ever government programs in real dollars). What makes his views “conservative” is unclear. In any event, recently there have been two columns regarding BRT versus rail. We think they are worthy of some discussion.
– The Left Stuff
The first column:
I like trains, to begin with. I’ve gotten around on light rail in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay area and in Atlanta, as well as in subways in London and Paris. And I have found all those experiences uniformly satisfying.
But I’ve also boarded London’s iconic red double-decker people-movers and, in lanes dedicated for bus travel, breezed past traffic jammed up tighter than your worst Malfunction Junction nightmare. Lane exclusivity makes true Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, a dazzling (and, compared to rail, breathtakingly cheap) thing of transit beauty.
Know this: Whatever else happens, we’re going to lay more pavement. Streets and highways will be widened, so that’s an expense already baked into our getting-around cake. For the price of road-striping paint, signage, ticket kiosks and cutting-edge buses, the system urban planners call “light-rail on tires” could blossom here at a scant fraction of the billions needed to do even the most meager commuter train.
As I say, trains are terrific. In urban areas far more densely populated than ours, there’s an argument for them. But as a key to relieving what ails local transportation, and given the alternatives aching for full exploration, they’re overpriced, hopelessly rigid and, frankly, antiquated 19th-century solutions to 21st-century headaches.
First, it is good for people to try and figure out these issues, and public discussion is also good. Second, and it is a small point, rail in DC and Atlanta is not light rail, it is heavy rail. In San Francisco, the Muni is light rail/streetcars and BART is heavy rail. (see here and here) And neither is a commuter train.
To the substance: London is an odd example to use to make the argument for BRT. First, London has one of the most extensive rail systems in the world – not just the Underground but also commuter rail. (see here) In fact, Transport for London (the transit agency) coordinates the bus and rail system and buses in central London, where we suspect the abovementioned London bus was ridden, are completely coordinated with the rail system.
Moreover, while there are bus lanes (where the striping paint comes in), there is no BRT (which is much more than striping paint) in central London. There are buses in bus lanes than can take you a distance, but, as stated, it is all coordinated with the rail system. There are BRT-ish bus lines in the eastern suburbs of London. Those lines are in the eastern outer areas and connect to rail. (see here and here) Moreover, another suburban BRT line was planned for the outer areas by the former mayor (a self-described socialist – is BRT a socialist plot?) that was cancelled. On the other hand, even under a Conservative mayor and government, London is building the rather expensive Crossrail rail line. (see here and here. While we have not done a financial analysis of it, the price alone has to create doubts that Crossrail is worth the price, but we did not bring up London’s transport system.)
And then there is the other issue – central London vehicle traffic is subject to a congestion charge – that is, if you drive your private car within a boundary in central London, you have to pay to use the local roads – all of them. (This was also the idea of the socialist former mayor of London.) The money goes in part to fund more transit. Basically, it makes the entire area of central London a Lexus lane. (Are Lexus lanes, a la FDOT, socialist, too?) The point is to remove cars from the road and reduce overall traffic, which obviously helps buses, but is not very conservative.
And regarding the argument “As I say, trains are terrific. In urban areas far more densely populated than ours, there’s an argument for them,” that requires a little examination. First, acknowledging the utility of rail is good. Too many opponents of rail just can’t do that. However, the density argument is a bit odd. Take Atlanta, for instance. MARTA’s rail lines began in 1979. The 1980 Atlanta metro area population was 2,233,000, which is basically Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties present combined population. Much of Atlanta’s density came after the rail. (Same with Miami, for that matter. And we are not even going to try to list all the rail systems in areas the size of the Tampa Bay area, but see List of the Week below.)
As we have said many times, we think buses form an integral part of a transportation system (though we are not fans of congestion charges), but to draw assumptions for a small snapshot without looking at the whole picture is not helpful and conclusions drawn from such an examination are quite weak. As is the conclusion that “given the alternatives aching for full exploration, [rail is] overpriced, hopelessly rigid and, frankly, antiquated 19th-century solutions to 21st-century headaches,” which is pithy but is completely unsupported by everything else in the column.
– Cleveland Rolls
The same author had blog post about a study regarding transportation oriented development (TOD):
But suppose communities got a similar boom from bus rapid transit — modern coaches traveling dedicated lanes and getting favorable treatment from traffic signals; passengers pre-purchasing tickets at well-spaced weather-proof kiosks — and, at least in part because capital expenses were far less, the return on investment was several dozen times higher than for light rail?
Standing on the threshold of a new path for getting around the Tampa-St. Petersburg region, who wouldn’t love to know that sort of information? If only someone had performed a reliable study. Wait. What? Somebody has?
Indeed. ITDP, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, dedicated since 1985 to “ implement[ing] projects that reduce poverty, pollution, and oil dependence,” released a survey of 21 North American transit projects in September that found BRT routinely produced bang for the government buck that summons up Gulliver in Lilliput.
Two extremes: A BRT project in Cleveland, completed in 2008 (just as the Great Recession was sinking its teeth into America), had, as of the time of the study, generated $5.8 billion in development, or $114 per transit dollar. A LRT project in Portland, Ore., completed in 1986 leveraged just $3.74 per transit dollar.
Stipulated: This example constitutes an apples-to-oranges comparison. The larger point, however, remains: The flexibility of routes does not automatically cause developers to regard BRT as something to avoid, particularly — as the study shows — when government actively pursues redevelopment efforts along BRT corridors.
Setting aside that TOD’s are an incomplete way of measuring economic impact of transit because it ignores jobs, productivity, value of the land, pre-existing empty space that gets filled, and developments just outside of the study area that occur because they are near but not in the TOD area, the comparison described certainly is provocative (we’ll set aside the admission that it is an apples to oranges comparison – even though it is). So provocative that we looked at the organization website and checked out the report. First, the organization. When you look its website, it tells you this:
While effective rail-based public transport plays a vital role in many regions, our specific area of expertise is bus rapid transit (BRT), and we work to spread knowledge about BRT and provide high-level technical assistance to cities pursuing BRT projects in the U.S. and abroad.
In fact, this organization created the “standard for BRT” (which the central London buses do not meet). While none of this is noted in the blog, the organization is hardly unbiased.
Nevertheless, is the study reliable? It is not clear. But let us look at what the columnist takes from it, namely Cleveland’s “health line” BRT got much more TOD per dollar spent on the BRT line. First, if you read the study, the cost of the transit line used is just capital costs of the line, and really the initial capital costs – the cost to build it. (pg 18 of the report pdf.) Moreover, the report tells us:
Transit operating costs are more variable and harder to measure than capital costs. Not every city measures operating costs in the same way. For example, in addition to standard maintenance and operations, the cost of depreciating the rolling stock as well as the cost of maintenance and depreciation of the catenary of an LRT or streetcar should be included in operating cost figures. Frequently, however, these additional costs are not included. When they are, BRT is generally seen to be less expensive to operate than LRT. Obtaining accurate operating cost information that is corridor-specific has proven to be quite difficult for both BRT and LRT systems anywhere in the world.
One distinct advantage of the low operating cost of BRT versus LRT is that BRT services generally replace conventional bus services, assume their operating costs, and reduce those costs through operational efficiencies. LRT, on the other hand, sometimes duplicates conventional bus services and competes with those services for ridership, thus increasing total transit agency operating losses. However, the potential operational savings for any system depends entirely on the service changes introduced as part of the new system.
(pg 18 of the report pdf)
In other words, while the report makes arguments about operating costs, it does not know operating costs because it depends on the system, which is fine. And in terms of capital costs, the GAO did a study which HART used to promote MetroRapid, which tells us this:
Factors Affecting Capital Costs:
The difference in capital costs between BRT and rail transit is due in part to elements needed for rail transit that are not required for BRT projects. Light rail systems, for example, often require train signal communications, electrical power systems with overhead wires to power trains, and rails, ties, and switches. Further, if a rail maintenance facility does not exist, one must be built and equipped. On the other hand, transit experts who have evaluated both rail transit and BRT told us that while initial capital costs are higher for rail transit than for BRT, life-cycle capital costs for rail transit are potentially lower than BRT. For instance, although more expensive up front (typically $1.5 million to $3.4 million per car), life cycles of rail transit cars are longer (typically 25 years or more) than most BRT vehicles (12 to 15 years).[Footnote 36] However circumstances affecting costs will vary among projects, and research has not yet been done to compare life-cycle costs of BRT systems in the U.S., as they are still relatively new.
In other words, lifetime capital costs are not clearly in favor of BRT over light rail. Basically, it is not clear which costs more over time to build, maintain, and operate. That is fine, too. Some things are complicated. What is not fine is to claim to know what is not known – like real BRT (not MetroRapid), with a dedicated bus lane and good stations, is “breathtakingly” cheaper in all cases, in all times, than light rail. Even the BRT-promoting report does not know.
But let’s get back to that Cleveland example. There is no question that the Cleveland “health line” BRT is successful. However, we do question whether it is proper to attribute all of the TOD, especially that around the Cleveland Clinic, which is a main source of the TOD (and the reason the line is called the “health line”) is due to BRT. First of all, it is unclear what development would have taken place without the BRT line just because the Cleveland Clinic is a world class biomed and healthcare facility.
Then there is the other point, which seems to be a recurring issue with the BRT claims – the Cleveland Clinic is near a light rail stop. Yes, Cleveland has a light rail system. It forms the spine of Cleveland’s transportation system – the part its own transit agency calls “rapid transit.” (see rail map here and full system map here) In fact, the “health line” BRT connects to rail at a number of stops, including near the Cleveland Clinic and University Circle, a major employment area. (see here and here) That is how buses should function.
As we said above, buses are part of any good transportation system, as is rail. Ideally they work together to connect the systems to major employment centers and residents to promote good transportation, which helps with economic growth. That would appear to be the case in the Cleveland BRT case and its connections to rail.
And let’s get back to that really inefficient Portland line noted in the blog. Here’s what the report tells us:
Portland has experienced this problem acutely. The city revised its zoning code to allow higher densities and a more intense built-up environment along the full length of all of its light rail corridors as well as in other areas it hoped to revitalize. This widespread up-zoning, however, undermined the city’s ability to target growth more carefully. Competition from strong land markets in certain parts of the city has pulled development away from other locations that are desirable but nevertheless have a weaker real estate market. The Gateway Transit area, for instance, was up-zoned as part of Portland’s zoning code revision. Although the area has the highest concentration of public transit in the city, with the MAX Blue Line LRT, the Green and Red LRT lines, and several bus routes passing through it, it has had difficulty attracting new development because of competition with other areas that are also zoned for high densities. In short, revised zoning in the city of Portland has resulted in excess capacity citywide, and the city is unable to down-zone to correct this problem. Allowing developers to build for higher densities as-of-right in most parts of the city effectively under-mines the future use of zoning as a tool for directing development toward a particular site.
(pg 75 of the report pdf) The lesson is that Portland did not focus its planning to take advantage of the studied rail lines so development went to higher end areas rather than the area targeted for redevelopment with the rail line. That is a zoning/planning mistake, not a weakness of transit. (And with all that, the gross TOD investment in the Portland line was still greater than Cleveland. see pg 9 of report pdf. It is also interesting to note that the report itself highlights a dedicated bus line in Pittsburgh that has existed since the 1980′s which only now, due to better zoning and redevelopment efforts, if bearing TOD fruit. Who knows what will happen in Portland in 20 years?)
Frankly, our concern for the Tampa Bay area would be the opposite – that zoning for areas near transit would allow too little density. (Like in the preliminary ideas for redeveloping West Tampa [aka "West River"] found starting on pg 31 of this pdf, which feature rather large surface parking lots and, while definitely nicer than what is there now], is not particularly dense for a city, especially in the area around I-275, the median of which is often designated as being for some form of transit. We cautiously await the unveiling of the actual master plan that is supposed to occur this week.)
The blog post ends with this:
And we totally agree. As shown by the examples given by the Tribune’s communist, a proper transportation system involves rail, buses, and roads (not to mention trails, bikes, good sidewalks, etc). Just as importantly, the elements need to be properly understood, integrated, and coordinated with each other and with proper planning that allows for greater density along the spine of the system first, then spreading to other areas. So keep your eyes open to see the whole picture (especially when Hillsborough County’s elected officials propose their transportation fixes).
And we still disagree that congestion charges would be good for Tampa Bay.
Transportation – HART/PSTA II – A Self-Fulfilled Prophecy
This week, the second consultant report regarding cooperation/coordination/merger of PSTA and HART was released. It disagreed with the first report about how much can be saved:
The $200,000 state-funded 2013 KPMG report found the transit agencies potentially could save $339,500 to $585,300 annually through changes affecting 44 duplicative senior administrative and management positions.
After reviewing the draft KPMG report this week, the consultant and transit staffs determined it would cost as much as $15 million in infrastructure purchases — not $5 million as the initial draft version indicated — to achieve $1.1 million in annual savings if the two agencies operated the same type of fleets.
A major obstacle to consolidation is that HART and PSTA fleet modernizations are headed toward different types of buses — HART powered by compressed natural gas and PSTA by hybrid-electric — and funds for replacements and infrastructure to service them have begun to be spent.
If that is what the report found, so be it. It would take about 10 years to make up the cost of merger. Of course, let’s look at the report for a second. First, the (apparently draft, even though it is from the HART website) report tells us:
HART and PSTA are members of the Florida Transit Association Finance Corporation Consortium Purchasing Board (Consortium) that collaborate and prepare common minimum vehicle specifications. Further, HART and PSTA collaborate on joint procurements related to fuel and bulk fluids to help leverage cost economies. Also, HART and PSTA are collaborating with five counties to establish a regional fare collection system to support connectivity in the area
(pg 105 of the pdf)
So they collaborate on vehicle specification. Yet, the report also tells us this:
Despite their cooperation on vehicle specification, as the article tells us, each agency is currently buying different vehicles. The interesting thing to note is that basically all the cost of merger (now said to be $15 million, not the $5 million in the slide) comes from the changing so that they use the same vehicles (having the infrastructure to use them). The biggest impediment to real consolidation or merger, working like a poison pill, is the result of decisions by the agencies themselves, as explained here (pg 56 of the pdf):
If they were already really collaborating and buying the same vehicles, they could save anywhere from $400,000 to $1.1+ million a year from merging/ really consolidating, and the cost would be limited (since the cost is in the infrastructure for the new vehicles) That money could have gone to service.
Transportation – Pinellas and the Overt Truths
The Tribune has a profile of the leader of No Tax for Tracks, the Tea Party based opposition to Greenlight Pinellas and the transportation referendum in 2014. (In fact, the Tea Party member of the HART board was part of the Hillsborough No Tax for Tracks.) We are not going to get into the whole article (you can read it here) However, there were a few quotes that were enlightening. First:
Haselden’s deep distrust of government is obvious. She suspects bus windows are tinted so residents will not be able to see how few people are onboard. She describes leaders of the agency and the county as “power-hungry people who will not prune this system.”
“That same kind of mentality that is wrecking our country in Washington, we can do something about here,” she said. “Only government thinks the answer to empty buses is more empty buses and an empty train.”
This is noteworthy for the oddness of the claim. PSTA ridership is at record levels. Watchfulness over government is appropriate, but it should be based on facts.
Then the article gets to the bottom line:
As for arguments that a government-owned bus network should serve low-population communities so that elderly, disabled or others who cannot drive or afford a car have access to transportation, Haselden says she doesn’t buy into that “guilt trip.”
Let’s follow that line of reasoning. People will take care of themselves, so if you have kids, live near the school – no buses fixes the school budget. If you are sick, live near the hospital – no ambulances lower care costs. If you need to drive, pave your own road – why should we be taxed for your road?
But, more to the point, what it really tells us is that it is not rail that No Tax for Tracks opposes. It is the government providing useful transit at all (unless it is a road they want to drive).
Transportation – Hillsborough Looks for Someone to Handle Transportation
As part of Hillsborough’s talking about transportation, local officials recently discussed who should coordinate all the transportation for economic development ideas they will someday come up with.
Several members of a Hillsborough County transportation policy group said Wednesday the county’s bus agency, HART, should be enlarged and charged with financing and building road, rail and other projects to spur economic growth.
The subject came up after County Administrator Mike Merrill told the group — made up of county commissioners, mayors of the county’s three cities and the chairman of the HART board — they would soon need to pick an agency to finance and start transportation projects the policy-makers approve this year.
Members noted that HART has experience running a transit system, which will likely be a part of what the policy group recommends; it is a major recipient of federal grant money; it has its own taxing authority; and its governing board already includes a mix of elected leaders from the county and two of its cities. (One or more Plant City representatives would need to be added.)
There is a certain logic in all that. Creating a new agency of Hillsborough official might just add to the problem. Were there any caveats regarding HART?
The group, consisting of county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities, said HART would need to be reimagined. For one, its board of directors would have to be expanded to include more elected officials and people skilled in planning roads.
In other words, HART is not built for this now, which is somewhat of an understatement.
Then there was this from the new Chairman of the HART Board, who is also a Tampa city councilman, which goes to the heart of the problem with the entire idea of planning transportation just as economic development:
A PARADIGM SHIFT IS PRIMARILY ON THE LEADERSHIP THAT WE PROVIDE HERE TO MAKE SURE THAT WE CAN GO FORWARD AND PROVIDE THE KINDS OF DOLLARS THAT WE NEED TO PROVIDE THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INCENTIVES FOR PEOPLE TO COME DOWN HERE, AND THAT INCLUDES TRANSPORTATION AND AN EFFECTIVE TRANSPORTATION NETWORK.
I DON’T THINK THAT HART AS A BOARD OR HART AS A SYSTEM OR ANY TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM THAT GOVERNS NOW CAN BE THE OVERARCHING CONTROLLER OF WHERE ECONOMIC DOLLARS – ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DOLLARS GO OR HOW ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IS GOING TO BE.
The real bottom line is this. It makes sense to try to use an existing organization to coordinate whatever projects emerge from this process, if they ever do emerge. HART is a possible candidate, but it is not fit for the job now. It is unclear that it will ever be. Moreover, it is unclear that the singular goal of economic development is the proper way to look at transportation. (It definitely is one factor but not the only factor.)
So, does anyone have an idea of how to fix HART and how long will it take?
How that would happen remains murky. County Administrator Mike Merrill and County Attorney Chip Fletcher said they would work with their counterparts in the cities to craft a road map to a new HART. That likely would include options involving other government agencies, such as the planning commission, which at least one board member said also should be considered.
HART was created by an interlocal agreement between the governments whose residents it serves, said Fletcher, who has represented both the city of Tampa and HART. That agreement is enabled by state law, which spells out certain parameters under which transit agencies operate and are governed.
In other words, no idea.
We understand the thought process behind considering HART, but, as the most vocal County Commissioner of transportation said:
And that would be business as usual in Hillsborough County.
Sulphur Springs – Not Bad
Months ago, the City of Tampa started demolishing run down houses in Sulphur Springs. At the time, it was not clear what, if anything, what would replace them. Now, we know:
As a result, the city now has 25 buildable lots and plans to put a new single-family home on each as funds allow. The $1.4 million the city is using to start the initiative comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As the first new houses are sold, the city plans to use the proceeds to build the next set of houses.
As a concept, we are good with that. It is a nice way to use the funds and try to revitalize the neighborhood. As long as the choice of contractors/builders is fair and open, we like it.
Coming Out Watch – St. Pete Gets Some Press
In the last few weeks there has been much celebration that St. Pete has gotten write ups in the New York Times 52 places to go in 2014 and the Independent (UK). We think it is great. While the methodology of the NY Times list is a bit odd, which Nashville at 15, Calgary at 17 and all of Scotland at 16 (St. Pete was 49, between Varadzin, Croatia and Belize (yes, the whole country) and a few slots before Niagara Falls), it is not really a ranking, and all that kind of exposure telling people it is cool and has lots of craft beer (which seems to be the theme of January) is positive. Of course, the Dali Museum figures large in all the media, but so what? It was incredibly fortuitous for St. Pete to get it and the most should be made of it. (Much more was made of the catalyst of the Dali in St. Pete than anything the City of Tampa or Hillsborough County did with their assets.)
This is all the kind of press that Tampa would kill for (and was supposed to come with the RNC). It is also interesting that both articles ignored Tampa. So what did the Mayor of Tampa have to say?
We are not so sure about that; this is how the Independent told its readers to get to St. Pete:
Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com) flies to Orlando from Gatwick, Manchester, and Glasgow. The airport is around two hours’ drive from St Petersburg. American Airlines (0844 499 7300; americanairlines.co.uk) serves Miami from Heathrow; the airport is around three and three-quarter hours’ drive from St Petersburg. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies to Orlando from Gatwick, and Miami from Heathrow.
A seven-night fly-drive package, including return flights to Orlando from either Gatwick or Manchester, plus car hire, costs from £699pp (based on two sharing) through Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk).
Odd, we thought British Airways flew to Tampa. How did that slip by in with the RNC, IIFF, multitude of trade missions, and all?
Downtown Tampa – Bringing the Hype
There was a video report on WSTP’s website about upcoming construction in downtown. It says the Martin is supposed to break ground in March. (@ 1:10) We hope so. We want downtown to grow and, as we have said before, look forward to construction there.
However, one thing we are not big on is the hype that blows everything out of proportion, like the video report which is very similar to local print and TV coverage since the early 1980s. For instance, the report tells us that there will be a “massive” building boom downtown and defies anyone to say otherwise (@ about 0:25). We will definitely say that it would be a relative boom in Tampa if all the projects proposed were under construction downtown, but we will not accept it is “massive.” Here are links to examples of “massive” building booms: Toronto, Miami (try three groundbreakings in one day for a boom), Houston, and, though we are not sure we’d call the there boom “massive,” more to a comparable metro area size, just one part of Denver (starting pg 47 of this pdf .)
Moreover, despite the Mayor saying that there are more things going on than have gone on in “probably a decade,” (@ 0:55) if everything planned for downtown were to be under construction at once, it would be less than when Channelside was booming before the crash (plus the apartments in downtown proper) (There was Element, Skypoint, Towers of Channelside, Embassy Suites, Plaza Harbour Island, Grand Central, Ventana, The Place, Parkside at One Bayshore, Park Crest, Residences at Franklin, The Slade, and a bunch of other stuff in the mid 2000′s, right before the crash, but that doesn’t count).
That is not to say that what we have coming up this year isn’t good – it is. But it needs to be kept in perspective. That is not putting anything down – that is dealing with reality.
And one more thing: At 0:50 of the report, the Mayor, who the report says is “driving the development” (even though most of it was planned before the crash and many have been downsized since the original proposals), tells us once again that Tampa is not “asking for permission” anymore. Once again, we ask: who exactly has the Mayor been asking for permission? What is he talking about?
List of the Week
Our list this week is Jones Lang LaSalle’s (a company specializing in the various aspects of commercial real estate) list of the World’s 20 Most Dynamic Cities. You can find the criteria here, but it is summarized with this:
In its new, proprietary City Momentum Index (CMI), Jones Lang LaSalle goes beyond traditional, static economic rankings to delve into the underlying drivers that are the hallmark of highly dynamic cities.
Coming in first, unsurprisingly, is San Francisco, followed by London, Dubai, Shanghai, Wuhan, NYC, Austin (There is that pesky Austin again.), Hong Kong, San Jose, Singapore, Shenzhen, Jakarta, Beijing, Chengdu, LA, Tianjin, Boston, Seattle, Tokyo, and Lima.
And, in some ways more interesting and telling, the North American cities that the report studied were (see pg 11 of the full report pdf): Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, St Louis, Detroit, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Denver, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego. (All have rail transit if you include the soon to be open Sunrail.)
Notice anybody missing?