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Roundup 7-25-2014

July 25, 2014

Channelside – Ending With a Whimper and a Payout

For those familiar with litigation, it should come as no surprise that the Channelside complex lease/ownership/bankruptcy/auction saga ended with a settlement before the judge ruled on the issues.  The basic outline:

♦  Port Tampa Bay will pay $1.9 million to purchase the mortgage on the complex.

♦  Vinik will still pay $7.1 million for the lease on the property. But he will pay more elsewhere. Though financial terms are not spelled out directly in the papers, Vinik was also “able to negotiate a settlement of pending litigation relating to the Lease Assets,” and he obtained “rights to certain plans” that Liberty had for the site. Obtaining that lease was largely the goal of the Liberty/Convergent pair of developers who sued in bankruptcy court, claiming they had a pre-existing deal with the Irish bank that held the lease on the property.

♦  All sides of the dispute agree to pay their own attorney’s fees.

So the Lightning owner gets his property, the Port gets their “owner,” and Liberty got their money.  How much that cost the Port (and thus the public) in legal fees is not clear from the reporting.  In any event, that is now over.  Let’s see what is proposed to fix the mess that is the complex itself.

And in more news, the Lightning owner closed on more land downtown.

We sure hope he knows what he is doing because with so much land he can really make or break downtown.

Economy – The Latest on VC

This week there was the latest report about venture capital funding, which should give a window on whether our economy is changing.

Venture capitalists are pouring money into companies at levels not seen in more than a decade, nearly hearkening back to the dot-com era.

But Florida continues to largely miss out on the party.

Nationwide, venture capitalists put $13 billion into 1,114 deals in the second quarter of 2014, according to the latest MoneyTree Report being released today by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The quarterly analysis, based on data from Thomson Reuters, marks the highest level of venture capital funding since investors put $13.1 billion into deals in the first quarter of 2001. For the first half of the year, total investment reached $22.7 billion, the highest first-half total since 2001.

Less than 1 percent of that money, however, is directed to companies in Florida, which is on track to becoming the third-biggest state in the country this year.

Florida investors closed on just 13 deals totaling less than $113 million in invested capital in the second quarter. That’s up 57 percent from the first quarter, but down 15 percent from year-ago levels.

That is less than 1% to Florida, which has about 6.2% of the US population (using figures here)  At least one local company did ok:

The biggest Florida deal was out of Orlando: $50 million going to software firm Kony Solutions. Second biggest was in the industrial energy sector with $26 million going to AquaVenture Holdings in Tampa.

The Orlando Sentinel tells us:

Statewide, Florida companies received $113 million from more than a dozen deals in the period, down 32.7 percent from the 2013 quarter, figures show. Nationwide, Florida ranked 14th in the second quarter, while California ($8 billion), Massachusetts ($1.15 billion) and New York ($1.05 billion) led the way.

Nationwide, venture-capital investment rose 34 percent in the quarter to $13 billion, the largest total since the first quarter of 2001, according to MoneyTree. The report is published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on Thomson Reuters data.

However, do not fret:

Mark McCaffrey, global software industry leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Florida shouldn’t be disheartened. To the contrary, he sees the state on the rise.

“I do hear Florida’s name coming up a lot,” said McCaffrey, who is based in San Jose, Calif. “You’re seeing some larger deals.” Among the state’s strengths is its diversity, as companies in software, media and entertainment, industrial energy and biotech are all drawing investors.

McCaffrey said the latest quarterly report was skewed in part because it included the biggest deal in MoneyTree’s tracking history, a $1.2 billion deal out of Silicon Valley. Moreover, he said, many of the California companies drawing investor interest have operations in Florida — so funding is flowing south whether or not that’s reflected in the MoneyTree report.

So California is drawing the big money (In fact, LA County drew 3 times as much as all of Florida).  Fine.  We are getting money tangentially, which leads to the question of how many of those California companies getting funding have facilities in the Tampa Bay area of any decent size?

Anyway, another appraisal:

Jamie M. Grooms, a venture-capital expert in Gainesville, said Florida’s investments often fluctuate because of the internal timing and funding cycles of the venture capital firms that do business here. Florida also has a way to go before it has a “critical mass” of investment-worthy companies similar to what’s found in San Francisco and Boston, he said.

“Our pipeline of companies isn’t deep enough yet to attract large numbers of the big venture-capital firms,” said Grooms, chief executive officer of the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which works with UCF and other state universities in creating startup companies.

“We’re definitely seeing more and more companies in the pipeline,” he said. “And as they develop and mature, they’ll attract more venture capital, which will help flatten out those fluctuations we see in the survey.”

The reality is that the trend pretty consistent.  Sure, a small number of companies here get VC funding and there is some increase in funding (sometimes), but it is hardly a real change in the structure of our economy, especially in the Tampa Bay area.  Maybe someday, but not today, hype about the economy notwithstanding.

Transportation –For It While Against It

The Tribune had an editorial about their endorsements for various primary races.   While the endorsements do not really concern us (we are more interested in actual policies) there was something in the editorial that shows why transportation progress in this area is so difficult.

The next commission also will need to respond thoughtfully to the transportation strategy to be proposed this year by a task force made up of leaders from the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Only two commission seats — District 4 and District 7 — are being contested in this year’s Aug. 26 primary election (early voting is Aug. 14 to 24).

So let’s look at the contested race involving an incumbent:

Higginbotham supports the multi-government transportation task force’s efforts, though he believes improving roads and the bus system should be the priorities.

He would support rail only if he thought the routes made sense and especially if private dollars were involved.

That strikes us as odd.

We are all for a rail plan that makes sense.  But remember that this Commissioner sits on the Transportation for Economic Development committee, and the Committee has not even issued its proposal yet.  Given that, one would assume that the Commissioner would make sure the proposal made sense and then support it.

If the Commissioners are just going to go through the motions of coming up with a plan then opposing it (notably, not the first time that would happen), is it any surprise that it is so hard to move forward?  Hopefully, he will refine his position.

Transportation – HART Gets It Right, Sort Of

Following our policy of pointing out when someone makes a good point or does something right, we give you the HART board:

The regional transit board gave a unanimous thumbs down Monday to a plan that would focus most early transit expansion in downtown Tampa. That plan, board members said, could leave people in the rest of the Hillsborough County standing on a corner waiting for a bus that won’t be coming.

Rich Clarendon, senior transportation planner for the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented a plan to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board outlining a study that calls for possible light rail and expanded modern street car service that might use existing freight tracks to operate. It also looked at connections to the planned transit station on Interstate 275 in the West Shore area. The study was a joint project of the MPO and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

So, what did HART do?

Instead of giving that plan the nod, the HART board voted to ask Hillsborough for funding to hire a specialized planner that can look at all transit needs throughout the county.

Clarendon was asking for a HART recommendation to include the downtown study in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.

It is imperative that county, state and federal officials all work together to plan transit’s future here, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the HART board. “How is this integrated into what the city and county are doing? We need to work on one plan. We can’t have every agency having its own little plan.”

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who also sits on the transit board, said he didn’t readily see how this downtown plan would “connect with everything else.”

And that is right (giving the benefit of the doubt to the two comments above) – while we have no problem with rail, there needs to be one, comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan for a real transportation system.  Even if some aspects of it may be good, why is the MPO even presenting a plan (especially a partial one) when the Transportation for Economic Development plan is going to come out in a month of so?  Why can’t the County entities just wait and properly coordinate?  Good for HART.

Why they got it “sort of,” and not “all,” right is this:

HART’S existing Transit Development Plan would double transit throughout Hillsborough County, said HART board member Karen Jaroch. This plan, she said, “would eat the entire apple of a 1-cent sales tax,” something that is being considered to fund expanded transit and roadway expansions in the county. The sales tax would require a referendum.

In other words, for the same reason they were right to not back the MPO right now, they should not be planning independently.   Yes, a plan to provide one aspect of transportation should not eat the whole proposed sales tax.  On the other hand, HART’s existing plan (and board) may soon become irrelevant so HART should put aside any plan for a few months and wait for the TED committee. The above quoted comment is not consistent with the reason for questioning the MPO in the first place.

So, yes, in this case, HART’s board is generally right.  For that they get credit.  But then they should also be consistent.

Transportation – The PTC Keeps Chugging

It seems that despite claims that reform was coming and it would try to work out some way to accommodate ride-sharing, the PTC really hasn’t done anything.

The sides in Tampa’s hired-car wars have largely kept to a cease-fire in their legal and public relations battles.

But hardly any progress has been made in allowing the entry of smartphone-app based car services like Lyft and Uber into the Tampa market.

Kyle Cockream, executive director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, has been in talks with representatives from both companies, first in March and again in May, he said.

“We’ve discussed variances to some of the rules,” Cockream said. Those discussions haven’t yet resulted in action.

Not that we are surprised.  Did you really think that Hillsborough County would move effectively?

Contrast all that with Miami which gave initial ok to letting ride-sharing happen there. (and check this opinion piece about how taxi companies treat the drivers and how the apps give options to taxi drivers, which may account for the opposition in the protectionist PTC) or Colorado, which just passed legislation to accommodate ride-sharing, though apparently not all law enforcement got the message.

The PTC could have worked quickly, or even preemptively, on this issue if they were really paying attention (these services have been around for a while) and were acting for the benefit of the public.  Instead, the PTC still has done nothing to get with the times, let alone be innovative, in dealing with this issue.

Innovation is not just a matter of technology.  It can come up in all areas, including governance.  If this area wants to be an innovation hub, then it would be helpful to actually innovate when given the opportunity.  Then again, this is the PTC we are talking about.

Port – The Great Cruise Conundrum

As noted previously, there has been a fresh spasm of discussion of the threat to the cruise business (a quarter of Port revenue) caused by bigger ships.  This week, there were a few more reports which you can read here and here.  We are not going to get into a detailed discussion about them because there is no point as the State is going to do another study.

Port Tampa Bay isn’t anywhere close to deciding how to handle its cruise ship business in the future, Port Director Paul Anderson told the Westshore Alliance Wednesday.

“No decision has been made. We haven’t studied the options,” he told the group of business leaders. “We are so far out from doing anything.”

* * *

Without further study, Anderson said, no one can make a decision. And, he said, the numbers in the report are speculation.


Meanwhile, Anderson told the Westshore Alliance, the port’s cruise ship business should continue to grow over the next five to eight years.

Which means now is the time to come up with a solution.  Hopefully, the discussions now turn out not to be just another short period of discussions with no further planning. We’ll see what the State says and see what happens.

TIA – Copa Likes Us

It seems that the Copa flights to Panama City, Panama are doing well.

Here’s a good indicator of the strength of Tampa International Airport’s Latin American travel market: Copa Airlines will fly daily over the holidays.

Copa started flying four times a week between Tampa and Panama City in December. But the airport announced Monday that the airline will increase its Tampa flights to seven times a week from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2.

That is a good deal and shows the potential for such flights was here even when the previous airport director said it wasn’t.

It seems the one place where this area’s DNA has really changed is at the airport, and that is due to the Director and his staff.  Once again, the people to thank are those who fought the local political complacency pushed for the change when it was not popular.  Sure, now almost everyone is on board (which is good), but it was the people who defied local political inertia who allowed the change.  Hopefully, that change will rub off on others.

MacDill – Steady

There were a couple of interesting items about MacDill this week.  First,

MacDill Air Force Base will likely receive about $32 million in upgrades to accommodate eight new KC-135 refueling jets scheduled to arrive here over the next few years, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Castor, who hosted a bipartisan meeting between Tampa’s Congressional delegation and a top Air Force official on Tuesday, said that the delegation was advised about the needed infrastructure improvements by Kathleen Ferguson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics.

Ferguson advised that $32 million in infrastructure upgrades to prepare for the additional aircraft likely will be programmed in the next couple of fiscal years, Castor said in the media release.

Which is great.  Potentially even better was this:

Castor, a Democrat, was joined in the meeting by Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, David Jolly, Richard Nugent and Dennis Ross.

Look at that, we actually have a Congressional delegation that can meet and work together.  We are glad they work together on MacDill, but we need that cooperation on far more issues (say transportation) – like other areas of Florida (and the country) get.

In further MacDill news:

MacDill Air Force Base, the only military installation in the world home to two U.S. combatant commands, may be loved in the Tampa area, but it was tied for sixth best in the Air Force Times’ ranking of 68 Air Force bases.

MacDill, home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the 927th Air Refueling Wing, the Joint Communications Support Element and other mission partners, was tied with Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio were tied for the top spot in the Air Force Times’ rankings.

Los Angeles Air Force Base was rated the worst.

To determine its rankings, the Air Force Times wrote that it used resources like, Zillow,, and Sperling’s Best Places to evaluate statistics in a dozen categories: school quality, cost of living, housing costs, commissary size, base exchange size, size of on-base health care facilities, crime rates, commute times, pollution levels, climate, unemployment rates and sales taxes. It then assigned each category a score on a 10-point scale. 

Even though it did not get the full write up in the Air Force Times article. Sixth out of 68 is fine with us.

Public Art – How To Be Seen . . . Really Briefly and Without Effect

As some of you may be aware, there was a work of art kind of sandwiched into a parking garage entrance downtown by previous efforts to revitalize Tampa’s waterfront.

But by the end of this year, it will be cleaned up and moved to a place of pride closer to the front door.

The City Council voted Thursday to approve a $38,515 upgrade for the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome.

Agam is an Israeli artist with a global reputation as the father of “kinetic art” — art that appears to move.

But for years, Visual Welcome has been all but hidden on a stub of Twiggs Street between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the ramp into an underground parking garage. Its closest neighbors are a row of crape myrtles with hot pink blossoms on one side and 20 large, Army green trash bins on another.

It looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article (please note the truck is not part of the artwork)

So what is special about this piece?

One side features checkerboard and color block patterns. The other has color blocks and circles. As the viewer passes by, the patterns shift.

“With an Agam, when you look at it, if you move 2 feet one way or 2 feet another way, the whole thing can completely change,” said Dennis Carhart, the fabricator who originally installed the piece and who will restore it. “That’s what’s so cool about it. It moves.”

Ok, so it is the perfect thing to put near the Riverwalk downtown so people walking by can appreciate the changes and contemplate the art. And it is just the kind of interactive art that can help draw people the Arts District.  Awesome.  So where is it going?

In November or December, he will reinstall the sculpture in the median of Bayshore Boulevard, just south of the Academy of the Holy Names.

It’s a good spot, said City Council member Mary Mulhern, who said the Agam piece has never received the prominence it deserves.

The sculpture is meant to be viewed as people pass by, she said, so Bayshore is ideal because of its constant stream of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

In the median of a road.

So it will either distract most of the people driving by (that’s a good idea) or be ignored by them (which is more likely).  Moreover, in the median, pedestrians and cyclists going along the waterfront are not going to be getting anywhere near the art or interacting with it.

Bayshore has natural beauty, no doubt.  But art like this sculpture belongs in the public space downtown where it was intended to go and people can and will interact with it.  If you want the Riverwalk to be special, downtown to be walkable, and the Art District to be the center of the arts in the area, why not put the art in a prominent place there?

Coming Out Watch – Sort Of

There was a good article in the New York Times this week about proposed new regulations on cigars and the potential effect on the last cigar factory in Tampa. Interestingly, the headline was “After 150 Years of Rolling Them, Tampa Is Close to No Cigars” – so score one for the RNC.  On the other hand, the dateline was “Tampa, Fla” – note the Fla., which is certainly not used in this article on Miami.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

– Of Brazil and Latin America

Brazilian tourists are the largest group of foreign tourists in Central Florida (meaning Orlando area) these days.

George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando, said the state and Central Florida are looking for ways to capitalize even more on a recent surge in Brazilian visitors.

Speaking at a luncheon at GrayRobinson on Monday, Aguel noted that international visitors are surging in Central Florida, and that Brazil recently passed the United Kingdom as the No. 2 foreign market for visitors here.

“As you know international visitors stay longer, and spend more,” Aguel said.

He said Brazilian soccer star Kaka’s arrival in Orlando should boost the foreign interest.

“We are talking about how we can leverage Kaka’s presence here, and increase our connections with Brazil,” Aguel said.

Mark Wylie, ‎president & CEO at Associated Builders and Contractors, asked about All Aboard Florida, the planned high-speed train, and its impact on tourism.

“Our opinion is that it’s great, for both South Florida and Orlando,” Aguel said. “They are already looking at how they can position with our tourists to get them down there. We just want to see more Brazilians to come to Orlando.”

Not sure how much of that is bleeding off to the Tampa Bay area, which is only an hour away, but we are sure it will not get here by train, since we will not be connected to the rest of the state that way.

Speaking of Brazil, it seems Ft. Lauderdale might be getting flights to Brazil to add to its Latin American flights and Orlando may get more.  (Miami and Orlando already have flights to Brazil.)

In other news, it seems from this article that the New York Times still thinks Miami is the gateway to Latin America. (No “Fla” in the dateline there either)

This all goes to show that while it may be a laudable goal to someday be THE Gateway to Latin America, that is very far off (if it ever happens).  The goal now should be to become A gateway to Latin America, which is doable though we are starting from a position quite far behind others.  That is reality, and it should be honestly acknowledged.

– SunRail

In more Orlando news, SunRail is apparently exceeding expectation, even with its limited hours:

SunRail ridership, he said, is a little fewer than 4,300 daily, the number that the system was supposed to hit by the end of its first year of operation. That has resulted in some rides running at or near capacity, especially during the afternoon Thursday and Friday, when more leisure passengers tend to board. Early in the week, the trains are not as crowded.

The solution, Olson said, has been to add a third car to the usual two-car, one-locomotive set. Typically the extra car goes on the 12:30 p.m. southbound train from DeBary, which tends to pick up more of the additional late-week passengers.

(Note how, unlike roads, capacity is added by simply adding a car to the train.)  In fact, SunRail is already looking at expanding service, as long as it can be funded – which is responsible. Being Orlando, we assume their various delegation will get that worked out.

– All Aboard Florida

Speaking of trains, All Aboard Florida released renderings for its planned West Palm Beach station here while the massive Miami station proposal got county approval with groundbreaking set for September.   And that does not include the state funded station near Orlando airport.

By contrast, a recent meeting in Tampa about the (vaguely) proposed multimodal center in Westshore drew worries from neighbors., which you can read about here.  Just so you know:

The proposed center, which would go up between the interstate and West Cypress Street, is not yet funded, but if it is constructed, it would be used as a hub for a people mover from Tampa International Airport, as a bus depot for those using Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and possibly as a future depot for light rail heading to Pinellas County. It could also include some commercial development.

Nothing is final yet, FDOT officials said. And the public still has time to comment on the project through July 28. Go to or call Project Manager Elba Lopez at (813) 975-6403.

Feel free to send a comment.

It Could Be Worse, Cont.

As bad as the hype-tastic and other assorted comments from elected officials in this area can be, from time to time, it needs to be noted that it could be worse.  At least local officials stay generally on topic, which is not always the case everywhere. For instance, just read this  article about an Australian MP. (note: it is kind of adult content) [Note: after posting, it came to our attention that when you click on the link you get an error message that the story had been moved.  When you get that, just reload the page and the article should appear.  The URL is right.  We have no idea why the Telegraph's site is behaving that way.]

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ list of Most Creative Cities 2014. The methodology can be found here.

Coming in first is San Francisco, followed by Boston, Nashville, Austin, NYC, Portland (OR), LA, Seattle, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, DC, Richmond, Miami Beach, and Charlotte.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Roundup 7-18-2014

July 18, 2014

Bro Bowl – Did You Really Expect Anything Else?

In what will come as no surprise to anyone who observes Tampa politics, the Mayor is going to succeed in destroying the Bro Bowl, the latest step being the City Council’s rubber stamp.

The City Council on Thursday approved a $6.9 million construction budget to create a new Perry Harvey Sr. Park near downtown Tampa — and to demolish and rebuild the historic Bro Bowl skateboard park at a new location.

This means skateboarders have less than two months to enjoy the original graffiti-spattered bowl, which last October became the first skate bowl in the United States to be named to the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s because city officials expect the contractor, Cutler Associates of Tampa, to fence the park in early September and begin construction a few weeks later.

The article then goes on about the merits of the new park and its honoring African-American history and includes some quotes from the Mayor.

What the article does not do is ask why the Bro Bowl had to be destroyed to honor African-American history (why ask such inconvenient – at least for the City – questions).  Nor does it provide any explanation. (The closest you can come to finding any motivation is probably this article from 2006.)

As we have noted numerous times, African-American history could have been honored and the Bro Bowl saved. But it would be a waste to discuss it in depth again. (Though you can read some of what we have said here and here) The City is not interested in creative, inclusive solutions.

The determination to destroy the Bro Bowl rather than work a constructive solution is just part of the same old, small town, zero sum politics that has been the hallmark of Tampa for decades while other cities moved onward and upward.

Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away

FDOT has quite the love for variable rate toll lanes.  Every time they come up, we are told that it is ok because those lanes are new lanes and people who do not want to pay can always travel the free lanes. Nothing is lost but faster lanes are gained.

Well, a while ago, FDOT told us that they are going to rebuild the Howard Frankland north bound span, which is good.  But there is this interesting nugget:

The other huge project is the construction of a new northbound Howard Frankland Bridge. The state has rated the current bridge, which reopened in January 1993 after rehabilitation, as “structurally deficient,” said Ming Gao, state DOT planning manager. By giving the bridge that rating, the DOT is saying that it needs to be continually repaired or replaced by 2025. Gao estimated that the DOT is already paying about $2 million a year to maintain it.

* * *

The recommended replacement project calls for building a new span between the existing bridges because that will have less environmental impact on the area and would not require changes to the seawall on both the Hillsborough and Pinellas sides.

When complete, it would have four lanes. It would also have a substructure strong enough to be widened and to support light rail or other such fixed guideway transit, should that ever be built.

One of the four lanes would be a toll express lane. The other three would be traditional lanes.

The project is expected to start in the 2018-19 fiscal year and be complete some time in the 2022-24 time period. The cost is expected to be about $390 million, which includes demolishing the existing northbound Howard Frankland.

What?  So FDOT is taking away one of the existing free lanes.  Then, based on the idea that variable rate toll lanes are priced to make sure that traffic keeps out of the toll lane so it keeps flowing, FDOT is pushing cars into the free lanes which are now limited to three. (How expensive will those lanes be?)

We wonder how many other areas of the state are actually having free lanes removed from vital arteries. (Sometimes it makes you wonder if we even have a legislative delegation.)

That’s ok, though, because, if you want to avoid crossing on new but shrunken Howard Frankland, you can just take the very effective regional mass transit system . . .

Port – The Great Cruise Conundrum

The state just came out with its preliminary report about the threat posed to the cruise business in Tampa by the growth in the size of cruise ships.

Here, mega cruise ships cannot fit beneath the Sunshine Skyway bridge. The Skyway can handle cruise ships that measure 180 feet from the top of the waterline. But the mega ships can sit as high as 225 feet above the waterline.

Those ships would never be able to sail unimpeded to the cruise ship terminals in downtown Tampa’s Channel District. But those are the ships that the industry is rapidly adopting. There may not be enough of the smaller, older ships in the future to dock in Tampa.

The $150,000 report listed options for dealing, or not dealing, with the coming problem:

• Officials could choose to build a new Skyway bridge, or raise part of it, so that mega cruise ships could pass beneath it.

Building a new Skyway (which was finished in 1987) would cost $2 billion. It also would take two years to tear down the current bridge and four years to build a new one.

The span could be raised, but at a cost of up to $1.5 billion that would leave it closed for years. That option creates a “high risk of instability,” the report said.

Both options could block motor vehicle traffic between Pinellas and Manatee counties for an extended period and interfere with shipping routes to Port Tampa Bay.

* * *

The study also identifies another expensive and problematic issue: Tampa Bay’s shipping channels. Even if mega ships could fit beneath the Skyway, the channels are two narrow for them to pass by each other side-by-side. The bottom of the bay would have to be dredged, which is expensive, difficult and highly regulated.

Mega cruise ships further are too big to swing around in the turning basin in Sparkman Channel leading up to the cruise terminal.

* * *

• There’s another option that would cost only about $700 million: Build a new cruise ship port west of the Skyway so that the larger vessels won’t have to travel under it.

That facility would be built at the mouth of Tampa Bay, on Hillsborough County land owned by the Tampa Port Authority, which runs the cruise ship terminals. But that would require cooperation from Pinellas and would have to overcome environmental challenges.

The report projected that a new cruise terminal would include a 100,000-square-foot building on up to 58 acres with a six-level parking structure that has up to 9,000 spaces. Construction would take place near Pinellas’ lucrative and world-famous beaches.

* * *

• The cheapest option laid out in the report: Do nothing. Port Tampa Bay could settle for becoming a port of call for older, smaller ships. But Raul Alfonso, chief commercial officer of the Tampa Port Authority, said that would spell the end of Tampa Bay’s cruise ship industry.

“Over 90 percent of the future cruise ship fleet will not be able to come under the Skyway bridge,” he said.

So why should we care, really?

The FDOT report laid out some tough choices just as the local cruise industry is poised to enjoy a record year: 1.1 million passengers are expected to pass through Tampa on 239 cruises in 2014. The Tampa Port Authority got 22 percent of its revenue from cruise ships in the last fiscal year: $9.5 million out of total revenue of $44.1 million.

In other words, 21% or so of all port revenue is from the cruise business.  It would be hard to just let that go.  So what is going to happen?

The state does not endorse any option. The next step would be for bay area leaders to ask FDOT to conduct another study to evaluate which of the above options is best.

Which the Port is going to do.

The sad thing is that, even though it is very important to Port revenue, this issue has actually been known about for years:

But Richard Wainio, former executive director of the Tampa Port Authority, has some insight into those issues. He took over the Port Authority in 2005 and spent his seven years there wrestling with the cruise ship issue.

“I knew it was going to be a problem even before I got here,” said Wainio, who left the Port Authority in 2012.

but nothing was really done.  Not that any solution is easy, but this process could have been much farther along by now.  Instead, what actually happened was that the issue was ignored publicly (and the owners of the Port – the County residents – not informed for years) and, during that time, the cruise business was actually hyped by the Port. (See “The Bridge, the Port, and “Thinking Ahead’”)

We don’t pretend to have a full solution to this mess at this point, though we have some thoughts.

More to the point – this episode shows how thinking small or medium and failing to plan for the future and invest in infrastructure can come back to bite you.  Just like with international service at the airport under the last director (though, thankfully no longer), there has a been a complacent attitude about the port for years, if not decades, as container ships, larger ships, bigger cruise ships, etc. – and the consequent business opportunities – have passed us by (and that includes apparently not caring about the Skyway’s height not accommodating the tallest ships going through the Panama Canal at the time it was built).

The reality is that none of this is going to be easy, but, as with most other issues,

1) the failure to deal with a problem and its realities when they became known combined with

2) public officials essentially hiding the realities of issue (sometimes even the issue itself) with pollyannaish hype

has left us in a weakened position, having to play catch up with our competitors, and having to expend far more resources in the process than we would have if the issues were dealt with openly, honestly, and timely.

We wish we could say that was rare for the Tampa Bay area, but it is really par for the course.

Channelside – The Beat Goes On

So now that there has been an auction for the Channelside complex (sort of) and the Lightning owner won, Liberty (which did not bid at the auction) has gone to the same Judge that ordered the auction to complain about how the auction which he ordered was run. That judge held hearings about the auction he ordered and will decide Monday.   It is all quite ridiculous, but this is Tampa.

In further Liberty news, their Aloft downtown is opening this week.

More on “Changing DNA” and Dealing With Issues Head On

While the Bro Bowl story was in the Times, we found this in an article in the Tribune, where the Mayor was in a panel discussion (and no, it was not about innovative transportation solutions or how to develop a proper code city-wide):

Buckhorn hit once more upon the theme that has underpinned his first term in office, reminding his national audience that he’s trying to shift the city’s “economic DNA” away from one driven by building housing toward one driven by innovation and tech-savvy young people.

“We built subdivisions for people that didn’t even exist,” he said.

First, we’ll take his word on the subdivisions because he was the government affairs rep for the home builders back in the 1980’s.  Second, the economic DNA has not shifted (see “Economic Development – Some Good, But Not As Good As You Think, Cont” and “Economic Development – A Success, But Is It A Model?” ). Setting those two things aside, let’s see where he is going:

Buckhorn told the Politico audience that the city requires buildings to include “workforce” housing in their development plans. Pricing lower- income people out of the city defeats any effort to create a diverse citizenry in downtown, he said.

The Encore project has benefited from grants by the federal Housing and Urban Development department and from private investment, led by Bank of America.

Buckhorn said cities like Tampa are being weaned off federal funding. The economic downturn and 2013’s federal budget sequestration both reduced the federal grants the city has relied on to cover some of its costs.

The federal government still has a role to play, however, he said, particularly when it comes to funding roads, utilities and other “basic government.”

Which all sounds good, until you remember that the entire InVision Tampa West Tampa/West River plan, which we are so often told is the Mayor’s plan, relies on Federal money to rebuild North Boulevard Homes as the first and key phase. (See here and, from the same reporter who wrote the above quoted article, here.) That is the catalyst for the rest of the redevelopment.

We understand why Federal money is needed.  We understand the realities of the area (which is why we said it was premature to spend money moving the City facilities.)  The question we have is why does the Mayor act like his policy is something other than what it is?  Why does seemingly everything have to be obfuscated by hype, rhetoric, and mixed messages?

Economic Development – Chile

This week it was announced that there would be a joint Hillsborough/Pinellas trade mission to Chile.  First, we are happy for the regional approach. Hopefully, it is not the last time and something will come of it.  Moreover, we are not against trade missions at all, even if they are overhyped and politicians try to hog the spotlight.

You may remember a few weeks ago there was a kerfuffle about trade missions, the Hillsborough EDC, the County Commission, and the Mayor, where the County Commission thought the Mayor was getting too much credit for trade promotion even though the County gave more money than the City. (See “Economic Development – Who’s Your Daddy?” )   The papers duly ran articles and editorials.  Then everything supposedly was solved.

Given all that, we thought it would be interesting to see how the papers started the articles.  First, the Tribune article entitled “Tampa trade mission to Chile set”:

The Tampa Bay Export Alliance, a partnership of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Pinellas County Economic Development, will lead a mission to Santiago, Chile in December to promote export opportunities for local businesses.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will join the delegation, according to the Tampa Bay Partnership.

Actually, quite subdued.

The Times article, which went with a more traditional Tampa Bay media approach, was headlined “Buckhorn, Kriseman leading trade mission to Chile”:

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will be among the local elected officials leading a trade mission to Santiago, Chile, later this year.

The mission is being organized by the Tampa Bay Export Alliance, a new collaboration between Pinellas County Economic Development and the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

“This mission to Chile is our first joint mission since we made that announcement (of the export alliance’s creation) in May,” said Jennifer Mikosky, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC’s vice president of marketing and communications. It is scheduled for Dec. 1 to 5.

Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr. will help lead the mission. The export alliance will use private funds to cover the travel costs of $2,360 per person for the elected officials going on the trip, Mikosky said.

This sort of trip is becoming increasingly familiar to Buckhorn, who, as mayor, has traveled to Panama (three times), Germany, Switzerland, Colombia, Brazil, Israel and India to promote his city.

Why would another public official get annoyed by that coverage?

It should be acknowledged that most of the success in a trade mission will be from the businesses involved.  Except for a very small number of exceptions, the politicians are mostly moral support.

Setting that aside, once again, hopefully something will come of the trade mission.

Nice Video, But

The Tribune featured a link to a nice video of downtown Tampa.

The Tribune web article tells us this:

A local videographer used a quadcopter drone and a GoPro Hero 3 camera to capture this stunning view of downtown that will remind you how beautiful this city actually is. One real estate blogger says it’s so good, that if you don’t already live in Tampa it will make you want to move here.

While downtown has its points, we don’t know about that.  In any event, it is a nice video, but realize, the entire thing is basically shot from above Curtis Hixon Park and does not show most or all of downtown anyway.  In any event, we suppose it is a start.

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

Orlando has gotten approval for a multi-modal center near their airport:

The Federal Aviation Administration on July 11 announced it approved plans to build a new intermodal transportation center at Orlando International Airport.

The approval of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s economic development plan means the airport can start work on the first phase of its $1 billion South Terminal plan, which involves a $470 million extension of its existing automated people mover and a $200 million-plus transit hub with passenger rail stations, ground transportation and a new parking structure.

It also will be the final destination of the $1.5 billion, privately funded intercity passenger rail All Aboard Florida, which will connect downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with Orlando by 2017. Read more on the project in our previous article.

Construction is expected to start this year. The SunRail connection is not yet funded, and possible maglev to I-Drive are still not secured.   Of course, the member U.S. House Transportation Committee from the Orlando area is fully behind it, unlike our local state delegation and our local projects.

List of the Week

The list of the week is taking this week off.  It is summer, after all.

Roundup 7-10-2014

July 10, 2014

There will be no roundup this week.

Roundup 7-3-2014

July 3, 2014

Have a happy and safe 4th of July.

West Tampa – Yes and No

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the City’s plans for part of West Tampa, which is now called “West River” after the InVision Tampa thingy.

The price tag for one of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s big dreams could top $17 million, and he is ready to pay a premium to make it happen.

* * *

For more than two years, Buckhorn has talked about moving city utility trucks off 12 acres near the Rick’s on the River restaurant.

That would let City Hall market the land to developers as part of a much larger redevelopment of a 120-acre area being called the “West River.”

But relocating those 272 vehicles and 250 employees won’t come cheaply. The costs include a proposed $941,000 real estate deal in which the city could pay 60 percent more for a piece of land than the value estimated by two appraisals.

It’s worth it, Buckhorn said Tuesday, because redeveloping the city’s truck yard will stimulate development in the larger West River area north of Interstate 275.

“I look at public money as seed money that will bring private capital to the table,” he said. Most of the West River area, he said, “will be developed by private developers, not by the government. The return on investment for what I put in is significantly multiplied by the private development that will come after.”

The city’s water and wastewater operations yard is at 2609 N Rome Ave., two blocks south of W Columbus Drive. That, Buckhorn notes, is just a block from the Hillsborough River, with great views of downtown. The West River plan suggests it could be a good spot for midrise apartments.

In early 2012, Buckhorn said the cost to move the water and wastewater operations from Rome Avenue could be $10 million.

Now the total is expected to be at least $17 million. That includes $2.17 million to buy nearly 8 acres for a new Water Department operations hub on N 40th Street, plus $15 million to design and build new operations facilities for the Water and Wastewater departments.

We have decidedly mixed feelings on this.  We have no problem with moving the facilities and developing the land, provided it is proper development, not the standard Tampa settling.

We also understand the investment argument.  On the other hand, it is a bit odd to pay 60% over assessed value for the new land.  (Of course, Tampa has a history of interesting land deals involving public entities, like this.) The question is even bigger because the City is still running a deficit.  Why would the City pay so much?

Buckhorn said the fact that there’s an existing business — a vehicle repair company called American Hydraulics — that needs to be moved drove the purchase price above the appraisals.

“It’s not a vacant piece of property,” Buckhorn said. “It’s a viable business that we have to pay to relocate, which is why the purchase price is a little bit higher.”

Maybe, but probably not 60%.  And, remember, the City is already running a deficit, and this move will cost a lot of money.  But never fear, the City says it will make it up:

Council chairman Charlie Miranda asked what would happen to the N Rome Avenue land and whether the city would make a profit selling it for development.

That city intends to make some money selling the Rome Avenue site and its redevelopment should generate $1 million a year in property taxes, said Bob McDonaugh, administrator of economic opportunity.


No developers have approached the city about the Rome Avenue site, officials said.

For now, officials can’t say what the site might be worth, and it might not even be sold. Instead, it could be developed through a public-private venture.

In any case, Buckhorn said it might be 18 months to three years before officials seek development proposals.

So no one is asking for the land (at least not publicly) and there are no firm plans for it (great).  So here is an idea (which we have mentioned before): instead of spending the money on that lot now, focus on North Boulevard Homes and the area closer in to downtown and do it right, then move north as demand and development possibilities indicate.  With more development nearby, the value of the land will only go up, and the City can recoup more cost of the move and more tax revenue.  Maybe no one wants to develop the land now.  It is not a priority lot. It can wait. Why the rush?

As the Times said in an editorial:

The most troubling aspect is the supposed sense of urgency. The truck yard is not the best use of this land, but it’s not stopping development, either. Developers have talked for a decade about turning the land into condos or shops. Vacating it now without a buyer creates the worst of both worlds: The city would have to buy land to move the trucks even as it loses out on rising property values for land it already owns. And having the property sit vacant would make the city look desperate to take the first offer that came along.

The Buckhorn administration is right that the trucks have to go, but there are many questions to answer and no compelling argument for moving forward today.

Like we said, in the long term, we have no problem with the idea (provided it is done right), but do we really need to do it now, before we have any idea how much money may be recouped through selling the land and taxes from a possible development.  The answer is plain – No.

Of course, because it seems quite clear that there is no reason to do this dance now, and despite no real discussions of the merits and no real planning, City Council performed its traditional rubber stamp role.

Oh, the old Tampa DNA.

Transportation – Inertia Is Not the Answer

While we await word on a new plan for Hillsborough transportation, the Chairman of the HART Board has taken the traditional HART stance:

The chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board of directors said Wednesday that he thinks time has run out on the chance to get a referendum on new taxes for county transportation projects on the 2016 ballot.

HART Chairman Mike Suarez said he doesn’t think enough progress has been made to engage voters and identify projects for a referendum that has a chance of passing by then. The ballot question would create a new countywide sales tax to provide funding for road and transit projects.

“If they’re looking at 2016, I think the boat has sailed on that,” said Suarez, who also serves on the Tampa City Council and on a countywide group of elected officials focusing on transportation issues. “There’s no way we’re going to put out a referendum and get the kind of synergy that Greenlight (Pinellas) has.”

Pinellas County voters will decide a similar referendum in November that, if passed, would implement a sales tax to expand transit services.

Planning for that referendum began in 2009, Suarez said. Hillsborough, he counters, has dedicated less time to its own referendum and does not have the same community involvement that Pinellas does.

“I think we need more time,” Suarez said during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board. “2018, I think, would be better for us.”

Quite the strong kick of the issue down the road. (It is World Cup time, after all). Of course, HART wants to kick the can down the road because then it would avoid changes to HART.  But that will solve nothing because HART as it is now is part of the problem (and what has it really done since 2010 – or even before – to prepare Hillsborough for a real transit system?)  Doing nothing then saying we need a delay because nothing has been done is an odd strategy, even if it is all too common in the Tampa Bay area.

The County Administrator disagrees with the HART Chairman:

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said the policy leadership group, which includes Suarez, “absolutely will be ready for a referendum by 2016.” The policy group recently voted to approve a larger transit role for HART — a move that Suarez was resistant to, citing the lack of authority for the group to make such a decision.

Merrill said he was not aware of any other members of the group, which includes county commissioners and elected officials of the county’s three cities, that share Suarez’s concerns about the 2016 referendum.

We agree that there is enough time, though it will be tight and require a lot of work, which we are not sure the Transportation for Economic Development (TED) committee will do.  For instance:

Suarez’s comments come on the heels of an announcement by the transportation leadership policy group to postpone a key meeting, originally scheduled for today, until late August.

The policy group was supposed to finalize a list of proposed transportation projects that could include rail, expanded bus routes and roadway improvements. The group cited scheduling conflicts as the cause of the postponement.

Delay does not increase our confidence.  As noted by the Times:

The next meeting of the policy group has been rescheduled for Aug. 12. This means the group won’t talk about a new tax until the final two weeks of the primary campaign season, which includes candidates running for two County Commission seats.

Pretty embarrassing.

The Mayor of Tampa is right when he says this:

“There are scheduling challenges during the summer, we all recognize that, but we still have two years before 2016,” Buckhorn said. “I think two years is plenty of time to do the work and to make the case to the public that there are significant benefits to a robust and vastly improved transportation network.”

Indeed (though he really has not contributed much to the public discussion of actual plans). The question is not time – it is whether the group has the political will and the leadership qualities to actually do what needs to be done.  Past performance do not give us hope, but they might surprise us.

In sum, the elected officials have the time.  Do they have the guts?

Transportation – Greenlight Pinellas Polls

Greenlight Pinellas released some polls.  Here and here are links.

As we have said before, the only poll that counts is in November.  Until then, there is no way to know how accurate any poll is.

Port – The Great Cruise Ship Conundrum

So, it turns out that the FDOT has been looking at the problem of growing cruise ships and the Skyway Bridge.

Port Tampa Bay’s cruise ship business could go from thriving to shriveling without a plan to get the newest and largest of these floating cities past the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway.

The Florida Department of Transportation is preparing this week to release the results of a study examining four options to address the issue: do nothing, replace the Skyway, build a cruise ship terminal near the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line in Tampa Bay to avoid the bridge issue, or build a drawbridge at one end of the Skyway with a new channel for the giant ships to navigate.

The decision will likely be based on return on investment, transportation officials say. And that has yet to be studied.

“The Tampa Bay region has enjoyed a significant amount of cruise ship traffic through mainly the facilities at Channelside in Port Tampa Bay,” transportation department spokesman John O’Brien wrote in an email. “This business generates a significant economic impact for the region and the State of Florida. For many years, however, the cruise industry has been building ships which no longer can enter Tampa Bay …”

The state agency sanctioned the study in April 2013 to review the options and get input from stakeholders, O’Brien said. 

Apparently, taxpayers are not stakeholders.

In any event, we knew all this years ago. (See “The Bridge, the Port, and ‘Thinking Ahead’”  It does not seem like there was much discussion by the Port Board about the issue since then.)  At least now, as the Port is master planning (why it is not before the Port did their master plan is a mystery), FDOT will tell us what they think.

Any idea what the Port Board thinks?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the Tampa Port Authority Board, said she is eager to see the new study.

She said she hopes it finds that the best option for keeping cruise ship business growing here is to build a new cruise ship terminal on submerged lands Hillsborough County owns in Tampa Bay, west of the Skyway.

“We are getting close to a million passengers right now, and that is a very significant increase over recent years,” Murman said. “We’ve got a great relationship with the cruise companies. I know ships are getting bigger and I don’t want to lose that momentum, because it’s a huge economic driver for our area.”

Indeed, we do not want to lose that.  There is an open question whether a terminal outside the Skyway will make sense or have a real return on investment. (Rebuilding the bridge could allow bigger ships into the Port, both cruise and cargo, which has a better chance to have return on investment, but we are not FDOT and bridges are very expensive.)

It should be noted that the cruise business is not just a niche business:

The port served 854,000 cruise passengers in fiscal year 2013 on five ships representing the world’s largest cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.

A report titled The Local and Regional Economic Impacts of the Port of Tampa, completed in 2013, states that the cruise ship industry was, at the time, providing 1,984 jobs and had a “total value of economic activity” of $379.7 million.

Local businesses and suppliers to the cargo and cruise industries at the port, according to the 2013 report, made $933.1  million in local purchases and were responsible for generating $90.9 million in wages and salaries.

The real question is why the Port Board, if it had an opinion, was not very vocal about it – why it did not rally the region to push FDOT in a specific direction. (If it did say something, it was sure quiet about it.) Why is it waiting for FDOT to tell it what to do?

Other regions go fight for what they want.  They push and lobby, then push some more.

Just hoping is not enough.

Channelside – Enter the Lightning Owner

Because the whole story is so tedious at this point, we are not going to get into it at length.  However, in the auction process that happened this week, the Lightning Owner made a bid for the Channelside complex.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik just jumped back into the race to control Channelside Bay Plaza.

The owner of the Lightning controls CBP Development LLC, which according to court records has the highest starting bid for Channelside in the auction coming on Wednesday.

CBP bid $7.1 million, records show. That is now the highest offer on record for downtown Tampa’s dilapidated outdoor mall.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett confirmed that Vinik controls CBP Development LLC and has put in a bid for Channelside. But the Vinik spokesman declined to answer any other questions.

More than 60 potential bidders signed the confidentiality agreement required to participate in the Channelside auction. That allowed potential buyers to examine Channelside’s records before the sale.

But according to court records, just three turned in bids.

Those three were reported before the auction as the Port, the Lightning Owner, and Liberty/Convergent, which is suing the Port.  (There was an interesting article on Convergent in the Tribune here)

The Lightning owner’s proposal apparently brings back the Channelside Live idea that he brought up years ago:

The circular centerpiece for the new Channelside Bay Plaza would feature a large screen and be capped by “Channelside Live” signs. CBP’s renderings showcase an entertainment complex heavy on open-air and glass elements, including a glass bridge with tubular supports that connect to the parking garage, glass skylights and an opaque glass box lit from the inside.

The group would not specify what retail, restaurant or hotel brand names it has in mind as tenants. Nor would it say how much it would invest, beyond pledging to spend more than the minimum $8 million estimate that consultants pegged it would cost just to fix the site.

An endorsement by the port board is viewed as crucial since it controls the land under the site But a green light from the port is just the first of several steps toward determining Channelside’s fate.

We are all for tying the area together, as long as it also ties into the rest of downtown (which LA Live does not do that well). Of course, it would be nice if somehow the proposal centered on the waterfront which is presently ignored and is not just something that could be built anywhere. (We’ve already tried generic entertainment trends with the Harbour Island Festival Marketplace – yes, it’s gone – and the poorly planned, waterfront shunning, Channelside complex itself.)  Whether that is the case is entirely unclear from the pastel-ly sketches in the reports, like this one:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Nevertheless, all that still sounds better than what Liberty proposed. And the theme was good, too:

Unifying the district — paving the way for Lightning fans to easily go from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to Channelside restaurants after a game — is a vision Vinik and his partners have had since arriving in Tampa four years ago.

“It was always contemplated that all of this would be connected somehow. It just hasn’t happened, and we’re intent on making that happen,” Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke said. “This could be something cool. This city deserves something better.”

“We can make it America’s next great waterfront,” added Jac Sperling, a sports financial adviser who helped facilitate Vinik’s purchase of the Lightning and is CEO of the CBP Development, the Vinik-controlled investment vehicle making the Channelside bid.

The governing board of Port Tampa Bay loved what it heard so much, it unanimously pre-approved negotiating a lease with Vinik’s group for the site. The port owns the land beneath Channelside and has long asserted a right to approve any sale.

So that tells you what the Port Board really wanted (like anyone was really going to fight with the guy who owns about a quarter of downtown).  And, not unexpectedly (especially since he could put up escrow to show he could pay for the renovation), the Lightning owner’s bid won the auction (especially because Liberty decided not to bid and may challenge the auction.) The Court must approve all this.

And even then, we have no idea what will really happen and how it will really tie into the rest of downtown.  We like the Lightning owner (he has been good for the Lightning) but he has no track record of developing in downtown Tampa so we withhold judgment until we have seen more. We shall see what happens.

Transportation – Raising Tolls

Interestingly, FDOT is raising tolls on state toll roads:

Beginning at 1 a.m. Tuesday, motorists using SunPass transponders will pay a little more to travel on most state toll roads and bridges, including those in the Tampa Bay area.

A 1.5 percent increase is being put in effect because of a 2007 state law that enables SunPass and toll-by-plate rates to be adjusted every year based on changes in the consumer price index. That will result in an increase of a penny or two at most toll plazas, according to a news release.

Cash tolls will not increase – which is not that relevant since most roads are going to SunPass/toll-by-plate systems.

Yes, the increase is small, but get ready for increases every year.  Why the prices are actually rising, and only rising for SunPass users, is a mystery to us.  The state should not just raise prices because it can.

Our concern is not this small increase – it is the impression that FDOT seems to not have any concerns that it keeps increasing prices and even has price increases as part of its transportation strategy.  And using the electronic system where you do not have to hand money to a toll taker makes it easier to nickel and dime (or penny) users who lack any real recourse other than to be shunted onto the entirely inadequate road system.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere

We ran across a couple of interesting pieces, one about All Aboard Florida and one about a private plan for rail between Dallas and Houston.   They are both worthy of reading and not too long.

The interesting thing is the focus on the private nature of the plans.  We have no problem with private plans for rail – depending on how much public money they want (preferably none).  One thing to note is that both these plans arise between cities that already have local transit – including rail.  All this will eventually form an integrated system.

And we will not be connected.

And if that is not enough, here is a Miami Herald article about another major Miami project/proposal that is basically bigger than everything proposed for downtown Tampa right now. (See also here and here) Of course, it may not happen, but there are enough such projects under construction or planned in Miami as it is.

List(s) of the Week

Our list this week is actually two parts of the same list: CNN/Money’s lists of most and least stressed out cities.

First, the most stressed out cities: first is NYC, followed by Detroit, LA, Riverside/San Bernardino, Houston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Memphis.

The least stressed city is Salt Lake City, followed by Rochester (NY), Raleigh, Minneapolis, Richmond, Buffalo, Hartford, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Sacramento.


Roundup 6-27-2014

June 26, 2014

Economic Development – Some Good, But Not As Good As You Think, Cont.

This week the US Conference of Mayors issued their metro area growth report.  So how are we doing?  According to the Times:

Tampa Bay’s economy was the ninth fastest-growing among the 100 largest metros nationwide last year, and that momentum is expected to continue for several years.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is offering that rosy assessment in a detailed analysis released Friday morning during the kickoff of the group’s annual meeting in Dallas.

At $125.7 billion, Tampa Bay’s economy last year was the 24th largest among all metros.

This year, the bay area economic output is expected to swell 3.6 percent to $131.7 billion, moving it up one notch to No. 23 as it overtakes Pittsburgh.

* * *

Between 2013 and 2020, Tampa Bay’s economy is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent, according to the mayors’ conference report, which would place it in a seven-way tie for 46th best among all 263 metros.

So is it the 9th fastest growing or the 46th? (46th place is not quite “swelling.”) Is it growth in real terms or percentage terms?  Does any of this mean anything useful?

Back in November, we looked at the previous report from the US Conference of Mayors. (See “Economic Development – Some Good, But Not As Good As You Think”  ) We noted that while Tampa-St. Pete was the 18th largest metro area, we were the 24th largest economy.  That has not changed.  We also explained how, while it is interesting to look at gross GMP numbers, a better way to look at how the economy is performing is by looking at the per capita GMP, to wit:

It is good to generate jobs – of course, there is the question on the type of jobs.  It is also important to note that growth, while good, is not a very good measure of our economy as it compares to other areas because growth is relative (a smaller economy might have faster growth than a larger economy even if the actual dollar increase is less).  A better measure of how we compare is per capita GMP.

Instead of doing every metropolitan area, we did a select group from Florida, the usual suspects that are around our size, and some other southern cities. (See here).  Last year, looking at the numbers, we concluded that:

From per capita GMP, which shows the value of economic productivity per person, it is clear that we are way behind, even in Florida.  (In terms of raw numbers statewide, we do a little better:  the Tampa Bay area has 14.7% of the state population (2012 estimates) but 15.4 % of the gross state product. see report page 36 here)

In sum, we are growing, which is good.  Certainly we are not at the low point of the economic cycle.  The problem is that we are chronic underperformers, as seen in both the smaller areas with larger economies and in per capita GMP.  This is mostly because of the structure of our economy and the focus on sprawling real estate, call centers, and tourism.  Until we change that, we may grow, but we will not be anywhere near where we should be.  We likely will be playing catch up for a while.

Now that we have new numbers, it is time to do new calculations and see how we are doing.

Using the same method as last year (the report’s  estimated GMP for this year – 2014 – and the Wikipedia list of the Census latest population estimate, which is for last year – 2013 ) we calculated new per capita gross metropolitan product numbers for this year, with percent change and actual change in brackets. We list last year’s number in parenthesis for comparison purposes.  Salt Lake City is new this year so the comparisons are not available.

Metro Area 2014 per capita GMP 2013 per capita GMP % Change Actual Change
Salt Lake City* 71197.9047 n/a n/a n/a
Minneapolis 68687.4737 66622.5633 3.1% 2064.9104
Denver* 67692.9100 65514.672 3.3% 2178.238
San Diego 59416.0782 57474.4662 3.4% 1941.612
Pittsburgh* 55445.7324 53585.0518 3.5% 1860.6806
Birmingham* 55073.2263 53226.5869 3.5% 1846.6394
Raleigh* 55495.3578 53173.4093 4.4% 2321.9485
Orlando* 51590.8047 49377.7415 4.5% 2213.0632
Miami 51268.0521 49178.1915 4.3% 2089.8606
Little Rock* 50939.7627 48908.5452 4.2% 2031.2175
Jacksonville* 48830.3658 45769.7642 3.4% 1582.8425
Jackson (MS)* 47537.9176 45769.7642 3.9% 1582.8425
Columbia (SC)* 46738.4499 45365.0549 3.0% 1373.395
Tampa Bay  45879.4058 44145.4048 3.9% 1734.001

From the per capita numbers, it is clear we are still way behind generally and lagging in major Florida areas as well.  While our growth rate beats some areas, it is basically average (and trails both Jackson and Little Rock) and, because we start from a lower base, the raw growth figure is one of the lowest on the list- hardly swelling.

Now add to that this:

The Tampa Bay market is hardly better. Hillsborough County’s average weekly wage in the fourth quarter of 2013 hit $960. That’s a paltry gain of only 0.4 percent from a year earlier, and less than an inflation rate that wasn’t all that high in the first place.

People employed in Pinellas also had little to crow about. Their average $900 weekly wage rose just 1 percent in the same period. In Pasco County, the good news is the 1.6 percent wage gain slightly outpaced inflation. The bad news is the average weekly wage in the county was an anemic $695.

Back in 2004, Pinellas workers averaged just $720 in weekly wages. But wages were growing at 4.2 percent back then. Hillsborough’s average wage then of $776 was rising at a brisk 5.4 percent clip.

That was then. Now it’s tough to tout a genuine recovery with rising costs and flattened paychecks.

Not exactly the road to a broad based economic boom.

Once again, the numbers speak for themselves.  We are laggards – and all that hype about it being “our time” and “booming” notwithstanding.

Transportation – Acting Before Planning

To no one’s surprised FDOT picked the location for the Westshore multimodal center, and it is the lot featured in their conceptual drawings for the task force:

From – click on picture for website

A string of parcels hugging Interstate 275 in Tampa, including the current sites of the Double Tree hotel and Charley’s Steak House, have been chosen as the recommended location for a new transportation center to serve buses, a people mover connecting to Tampa International Airport and possible future light rail.

The transportation center may also include commercial development. At present, there is no set funding or time frame for the Westshore Regional Multimodal Center, but the Florida Department of Transportation has set an open house for July 17 to get input on what the public would like to see at the new center.

The open house will take place at the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore, Westshore Room, 2225 N. Lois Ave., Tampa from 5 to 7 p.m. with a formal presentation at 6 p.m.

Ming Gao, FDOT’s Intermodal Systems Development Manager, said the 9-acre site is being recommended because, of the four sites under consideration, it is the one closest to a platform that could accommodate light rail, the median on I-275. The project will involve timing, he said, since there are so many moving parts.

A people mover coming from Tampa International Airport, a possible light rail system connecting to Pinellas County, expanded bus service by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, construction of a new north span of the Howard Frankland Bridge and other projects all must be coordinated, he said.

That would be this area.

You can look at this study for the various ideas they went over.  We have to say – the grand sounding “multimodal center” does not look too impressive in that study, regardless of location.  It really just seems to be a parking garage with a walkway to the interstate median and a couple of slots for buses to pick up passengers.

Moreover, at this point- as there is no multimodal plan for real transit in Hillsborough County, we are not sure why they are picking a location for a multimodal center, but whatever.  That is how things are done in Hillsborough.

One interesting thing to note from the map above – this lot really has very little potential to make the area in any way more walkable or urban, especially given that it is bounded on one side by the incredibly sprawl-tastic Jefferson High School. (or is that going to be moved again?)  But why plan to maximize an investment?

Bro Bowl – St. Pete Is Ahead Again?

There was an article in the Tribune about a pop-up skateboard park in the downtown St. Pete.  You can read the whole article here.

The essence of the report was that skateboarding in downtown St. Pete (which is generally banned at the moment) could be a good thing with even ideas of a skate park near the Pier:

Back in the 1990s, long-time skateboarders recall, the city began viewing their presence as a nuisance and menace to public property. A ban was put in place from the waterfront to 16th Street and from Fifth Avenue North to Five Avenue South.

Earlier this year city council members expressed support for lifting that ban, but no votes have been cast.

The council last month also endorsed the concept of a 40,000-square-foot skate park that could go in exactly where Saturday’s event was held along Spa Beach.

The funny thing is that the Mayor of Tampa often points to St. Pete as doing good things downtown, but he still seems to view (he definitely treats) skateboarders like St. Pete did in the 1990’s, which is not a surprise because that is when he started his local political career.  St. Pete is realizing their error and trying to correct it, but that is not how Tampa rolls.

Since the Austin X Games just happened and St. Pete is now looking to change, it is odd that the one location in the area with real skateboarding history – Tampa and the Bro Bowl – is so determined (without explanation) to destroy that history rather than keeping it and building on it.

It would be as if the Old Federal Courthouse (which is now Le Meridien) was torn down so that a replica could be built a few blocks over.  What is the point of that?

Regionalism – Good Talk

Speaking of Tampa and St. Pete, there was this item in the Times regarding the Mayors supporting Greenlight Pinellas:

“The days of us fighting over bridges and artificial lines are over,” Buckhorn told the crowd of several dozen people.

Kriseman said counting Buckhorn as a friend makes it easier to work together. But the reality is parochialism doesn’t pay, especially when it comes to catching the attention of Washington, D.C., and corporate titans, he said.

“Business and the federal government are all looking for more regional cooperation,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman sees better opportunities for Tampa Bay to snag federal dollars if Washington notices Tampa and St. Petersburg speaking with one voice.

“That’s a little different from what you’ve seen in the past,” Kriseman said.

If the cities work together, they’ll be more effective on joint trade missions and luring corporations to relocate to Tampa Bay, the mayors said.

If a company relocates to St. Petersburg, many of its executives will live in South Tampa, Buckhorn said.

“We’re competing against San Diego, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and Nashville,” Buckhorn said. “Not each other.”

And that is all good stuff.  We support it (and have said pretty much the same thing for years).  If they had stopped there, it would have been great.  However:

Appearing together publicly and delivering the same message matters, Buckhorn said.

“There’s nobody better to do that than the two mayors. If people see two mayors on the same page, people get a sense of how important this is, we’re not fighting silly parochial battles anymore,” Buckhorn said.

The problem with that is that the two mayors control less than a quarter of the area population.  Moreover, they do not control most of the government money in the area.  By overstating their power, position, and influence, the Mayor of Tampa has done the exact silly sort of thing that led the Hillsborough County Commission to complain about the EDC a few weeks ago.  The reality is that the County Commissions (and through them agencies like HART and PSTA) are the key to regionalism namely because they govern far more territory, population, and money.  And, as the saying goes – in government, if you ain’t got money, you ain’t got . . .

TIA – To Seattle and Beyond

The Alaska Airways flights to Seattle began last week.

Alaska Airlines’ inaugural flight from Seattle — a full flight carrying 162 passengers — was scheduled to land on Tampa soil at 5:30 p.m. today, with a flock of Busch Gardens pink flamingos on hand to greet the arriving passengers. A returning flight to Seattle was set to take off at 6:30 p.m. The daily flights, through August, are as low as $170 one way.

Landing the non-stop flight took three years, multiple meetings and involved lots of cheerleading from local tourism agencies, said Chris Minner, vice president of marketing for Tampa International.

* * *

Even before this flight was introduced, some 320 passengers a day have been flying between Tampa and Seattle on various airlines. It was the third busiest U.S. route not served by a non-stop flight.

The articles were full of comments by tourism officials talking about how they will boost tourism, which is fine, but there was scant mention of expanding business opportunities other than hospitality.  The Tribune had this:

The new daily flights out of Tampa International Airport will take just under six hours, so they could also be a coup for business travelers heading to the tech corridors of the Pacific Northwest, airport officials say.

Which is far more significant in our eyes.  We need these kinds of connections (and the San Francisco Bay area) to develop our economy for the future.

There was also this:

Lopano said American Airlines announced it’s going to begin flying a non-stop route from Tampa to Los Angeles. The CEO said he’s working on getting a non-stop flight to San Francisco next.

Good.  It needs to get done.  Once again, the airport administration is on top of the issue.

And there was also this good news about the Edelweiss flights:

So how have things been going for Edelweiss in Tampa so far?

“Satisfactory,” said a grinning Michael Trestl, the airline’s director of strategy and network development, after a Tuesday evening news conference at TIA.

The airline said that its planes — Edelweiss flies Airbus 330-300s into TIA that seat up to 315 — have been more than 80 percent booked. More than 75,000 passengers have used the flight to travel between Switzerland and the Tampa Bay region, according to Edelweiss.

The route has been so successful for Edelweiss that in March the airline quietly bumped service from once a week to twice, ahead of the usual summer bump to two flights weekly. Flight are Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Edelweiss executives were at TIA to promote the airline’s new business-class “lie flat” seats: bigger, roomier seats that extend so that business-class passengers can sleep during the 10-plus hour flight. More significantly, airline executives reaffirmed their commitment to the Tampa Bay area even though the airport incentive program that helped lure Edelweiss to TIA recently expired. That allayed concern that the route could have gone back to Orlando International.

* * *

Edelweiss chief commercial officer Alain Chisari said the airline has nearly doubled its passenger numbers in the last five years to 1.1 million passengers in 2013 and wants to keep growing. That’s why the airline is committed to Tampa Bay for the long term, he said.

“We are a strategic company,” Chisari said. “We don’t make six-month plans. We want to stay and grow.”

Edelweiss executives said the airline intends to stay at TIA — barring economic and other shocks that roil the airline industry — as part of its strategic plan through 2020.

The more the merrier. It just goes to show that this area can compete when it does things right.

Channelside – Please, Just Walk Away

There was an article in the Times that was very interesting.

A few days ago, the folks running the auction for Channelside Bay Plaza released 1,027 pages explaining the complicated rules for selling the most complicated piece of real estate in Tampa Bay.

But tucked inside is an escape hatch for the Irish bank that has failed to unload downtown Tampa’s beleaguered outdoor mall: If it isn’t sold this time, then the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. asked a judge to let it walk away from Channelside once and for all.

“Given the mounting carry costs, the ongoing litigation, and the relatively small value of (Channelside) … ” the bank’s lawyers told the court, “the abandonment of (Channelside) is in the best interests of IBRC and its creditors.”

The bank wants to abandon Channelside? Is that even possible?

It’s possible, but would be highly unusual.

* * *

The Irish bank’s argument to the court is that if the July 2 auction fails to result in a sale, Channelside is no longer worth its time and effort. The IBRC, which took over Ireland’s failed banks after the worldwide recession, said it has to get rid of nearly $34 billion worth of distressed assets around the world.

Channelside is just one of those assets, and the highest offer on record for downtown Tampa’s failed mall is just $7 million.

* * *

Or as the bank’s lawyers put it: “The time and effort expended … to dispose of (Channelside) is markedly disproportionate to the value” of everything else the bank has to sell off.

So then what would happen?

There are ways municipal governments can take control of abandoned properties. But in this case, McDonaugh said only one government agency would get Channelside: the Tampa Port Authority.

That’s because the port leased the land that Channelside was built on in 2001. The port has an “unsubordinated ground lease” that gives it certain powers over Channelside. The port would be first in line to take over the abandoned property.

“That’s the only way it would happen,” McDonaugh said. “The port is the only one who has rights to the property. If the bank walked away, the property would revert to the port.”

Fine.  Let’s hope the bank walks away so we can move on.  Of course, that still leaves the Port Board – but at least they will then have a chance to prove they can do this thing right.

Port – Master Planning

While Hillsborough County is in advanced discussions about having a local south County-MacDill ferry, there was an article in Tribune regarding a possible ferry to Cuba.

Patrick Allman envisions the day when a Cuban businessman could come to Tampa, purchase 20 cars at auction and on the same day, ship them back to his home country on a ferry docked in the Channel District.

“I could see a shipment of Ruskin tomatoes heading to Cuba,” accompanied by a boat-load of tourists, said Allman, a member of the Tampa Port Authority board.

Should the political winds change and travel and trade between the United States and Cuba resume in a more traditional sense, Port Tampa Bay needs to be prepared, he said. “We’re thinking ahead to future opportunities. We are apolitical, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this situation will change in the future.” Cuba’s leaders are aging, he added.

Allman said he has already spoken to the consultants preparing the Channelside Master Plan about earmarking a piece of property near the cruise ship terminals for a future cargo and passenger ferry that could run between here and Cuba.

Of course, this is not the first time this idea comes up (see a 2011 story here and a 2003 story here) –and goes nowhere. It is fine to look into it, but whether it ever happens is another story.

In any event, that was not the interesting part of the article. This was:

Years back, cruise ship growth was a top priority for the Channel District, said Ajamil, of Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc., the firm conducting the study. But the newer, larger cruise ships can’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, so that priority is shifting.

“Now you have a lot more residential and decreased cruise ship traffic (in the future), so that opens a lot of opportunities for adding to the urban living experience,” Ajamil said. “When you have housing, there are needs that must be met, whether it’s open space or coffee shops,” grocery stores or office buildings.

“At the same time, there is a side that wants a working waterfront,” Ajamil said. “That ferry might be one of those things we might fit in there. It can be a multidimensional property.”

Ajamil said only about eight acres of the 45 acres the port owns in the Channel District are already developed. “The bad thing is that there is nothing there,” he said. “The good thing is that there’s nothing there, so we don’t have to be knocking stuff down.

“We are going to be pretty wide open” in listening to ideas from the public during the open house, Ajamil said. “We will share our site analysis, what we see as the attributes of the site. What we want from the public is ideas.”

In other words, a large part of the ideas for the new master plan involve real estate development on Port land downtown. Frankly, some of the land downtown probably should be developed.  However, given the Channelside mess and the Port’s poor choices in urban design and planning (have you seen their mess of parking garage?), we are not sure the Port is the organization to do it.  Has the Port learned any lessons?  Do you really trust the board in land deals and development?

Moreover, it also sounds like the port may be giving up on cruise ships long term, which is an interesting way to deal with the problem of the Skyway, especially since cruise passengers have been such a big part of the Port hype and growth plans for so long.

It all makes one wonder what directions the Port is really looking at and where they plan to make up revenue lost in cruises.  And how will they deal with Port Canaveral positioning itself as the port for Central Florida? (see here)

Downtown Goings On

This week we decided to play with the City’s new online permitting/zoning service.  It is a little clunky at first, but then you get the hang of it – though the little instruction pdf could be a bit clearer.  In any event, while looking at filings, we found a few renderings or massing diagrams in the public filings.

The first is a “massing diagram” for the hotel/condo proposal near Encore.

It is not very clear, so we cannot have an opinion other than thinking it looks like origami gone wrong, but maybe a final, clearer proposal might be better.

The next are renderings for the Related Group proposal for The Manor at Harbour Island.

Click on picture for larger version

Click on picture for a larger version

First, we are glad that the Related Group decided to go vertical.  We have mixed feelings about the apparently, mansard-ish roof  on the ends, especially since it is not consistent across the entire, very long top on the wide façade of the building, but so be it. For what it is, the building is fine. (It is funny that Related is going with such a design for Tampa when most of their other vertical projects – in other words, not Pier House – are much more modern looking.  Maybe that says something about the perception of our market.)

Downtown – Pie In The Sky

We saw a report about a “proposal” for a 72-story mixed-use building downtown that was noted in the Business Journal, with this note:

Based on published information, Ricardes does not appear to have land or funding to build the skyscraper.

In other words, it is just an idea without any real backing or land. (You can see a WTSP report here)  This is the video:

Well, that is pretty.

Before you get too excited, even if there was land money involved, you might also want to consider that there are height limits in downtown Tampa imposed by the FAA because of both Peter O. Knight airport and TIA. (You can see in this old report how that came into play with another unbuilt proposal.)  Any such plan would have to get a waver.

We have nothing against a mixed-use building or anything so tall.  That would be great, but at this point, it just a drawing.

List of the Week

Our list this week is’s Employee Satisfaction Report Card.

The top 25 for worker satisfaction were San Jose in first, followed by San Francisco, DC, Norfolk, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, OKC, San Antonio, Austin, Boston, Raleigh, LA, Baltimore, Memphis, New Orleans, Sacramento, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Houston, St. Louis, Dallas, Orlando, and Providence.

Miami was 26th.  The Tampa Bay area came in 47th out of 50.

As noted in a Times article, finishing below us were Denver, Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh, which are some of the usual suspects on our lists.

Of course, as we often note – we are not concerned about each individual list because they all have their quirks.  Our concern is the trend.  Even if an area is a usual suspect, there are always going to be some times it ranks poorly in something.  However, you should be a usual suspect, and we are not.

Roundup 6-20-2014

June 20, 2014

PTC – The Fist of Righteousness

The PTC has decided that it needs help making sure that its price fixing, cartel creating rules are enforced:

In its crackdown on the increasingly popular but unregulated Uber and Lyft ride-sharing programs, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission agreed Wednesday to ask other law enforcement agencies for help.

The two outfits have operated in Tampa for several months now, causing friction with the transportation commission and the taxi and limousine industries, which say the companies are in violation of state laws and local regulations. Uber and Lyft don’t carry the proper insurance and aren’t certified, they say.

Uber and Lyft allow customers to request a ride via smartphone apps from drivers who aren’t required to have the same costly licenses and permits required of taxi drivers. Their websites tout that they are a cheaper option than taxis and don’t rely on the same meter system.

So far, PTC inspectors have fined 12 drivers and issued 44 tickets that come with fines ranging from $100 to $500.

But at least two local law enforcement agencies that will soon be formally asked to help the PTC say that policing these regulations is not their battle.

Oops.  And the law enforcement agencies are right.  They have better things to do.  But the vanguard of local anti-competitive practices does not want to take “No” for an answer”

“When you look at the state statues and the enacting legislation, the PTC is a legislative body just like a city council and a county commission,” said PTC Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a Hillsborough County commissioner.

“And when we legislate rules, they become laws. And the laws are to be upheld by law enforcement and by the courts.”

The PTC’s Enforcement Plan B – courtesy of Wikipedia. Click for source page

Yes, but there is such a thing a prosecutorial discretion.  Not all rules have to be enforced with the fervor demanded by the most vocal proponent of the rule.  Maybe no one else likes the PTC’s rules.  Maybe there are more important laws to maintain.  In any event, the PTC may be subsumed into HART soon.  Of course, the door is still open to law enforcement making sure you have to pay $50 to drive one block in a limo – because that is really important:

Both McKinnon and Mandell said the agencies first need to see the specific written request from the transportation commission. Once the letter is received, they said, further conversations will determine what role, if any, local law enforcement will play in the crackdown.

We shall see.  And don’t expect any give from the PTC:

Uber and Lyft argue that the laws are antiquated and don’t apply to their business models. The companies, Cockream counters, are lawbreakers.

“I’ve never had a group of organized criminals tell us or the federal government, ‘Your laws don’t fit in our business model, so we’re going to continue to break the law,’ ” he said. “They will have to make some changes. We’re not just going to roll over on this.”

There you have the promised PTC reform in full flower in innovation central.

Economic Development – The Unanswered Questions

There was an interesting column in the Times regarding Orlando’s developing “start-up culture.”   So what is the deal with Orlando?

Don’t let Orlando’s size — it’s smaller than the Tampa Bay metro market — fool you. The city’s run with precision and cooperation by veteran politicians like Jacobs and Mayor Buddy Dyer. Orlando enjoys a deep bench of talented tech engineers. Its University of Central Florida boasts a strong reputation for economic development. All the tax dollars that flow from being the world’s biggest tourist destination help, too.

In the downtown core, cheap spaces dedicated to startup businesses and business accelerators are opening in dormant Church Street Station, where tourist restaurants and bars once flourished. UCF will soon open a digital-media incubator downtown for startups developing video games, animated film and Web products.

A free bus system called Lymmo circulates downtown, making it easy to get around, and cheap for young entrepreneurs who can leave their cars at home and skip pricey parking garage fees. Nearby, a major proposed project known as Creative Village will feature clusters of urban housing, working space and support services dedicated to high-tech innovation.

Interesting, if not shocking ideas (though, as with Tampa, the circulator is not too useful if it does not connect to a system or run at decent times.  The Creative Village is much more interesting proposition.).

Contrast this glimpse of a highly focused and even cocky Orlando to Tampa Bay’s more fragmented approach to supporting startups. Many projects operate as separate silos in Tampa or St. Petersburg or Largo or Clearwater or Oldsmar or Wesley Chapel. And talk of better coordinating Tampa Bay’s startup culture is modest so far.

Exactly – a coordinated, regional approach versus a scattered mess within a framework of political dysfunction.

So what is the reaction in the Tampa Bay area?

“The rise in Orlando’s ecosystem is a good thing for Tampa Bay,” says Linda Olson, who co-founded the Tampa Bay WaVE business incubator in downtown Tampa. “This is not a zero-sum game. If we work with Orlando to get the word out about Central Florida’s strengths for tech talent and tech companies, we will all enjoy a fantastic economic boom for the long term.”

At the same time, Olson agrees it is “great” to let our local political and business leaders know how aggressively Orlando is building its ecosystem. “If we don’t wake up, they very well could steal a lot of our talent and most promising companies.”

That is kind of odd.  The rise in Orlando could be a good thing if there was a rise in the Tampa Bay area.  However, if we do what we are doing how we are now doing it, the rise in Orlando will just steal our talent and leave us behind (as usual).

As if to make the point, the whole column is started with this:

Yes, the City the Mouse Built is quietly gathering a critical mass as Florida’s startup hub for digital technology.

While we still identify Orlando as a place overgrown with theme parks, the city’s startup renaissance was recently captured in a 45-minute documentary called Orlando Rising. The film is clearly promotional. But its can-do theme resonates, suggesting the entrepreneurial stars are aligning in this metro area, especially in its downtown.

I viewed Orlando Rising recently and toured some of the city’s vibrant startup community with the film’s executive producer, David Glass. A founder of the Florida Technology Journal, Glass is a re-energized entrepreneur who relocated to Orlando after an underwhelming stint in Tampa.

Which leaves the questions: why was his stay in Tampa so bad that he had to move (to Orlando or all those other places we lose talent to), and how many other people like him are there?

Which ties into the seemingly mandatory positive note at the end of every column by this particularly columnist:

At Tampa Bay WaVE, Olson says she see plenty of reasons to validate Tampa Bay’s efforts. She cites the recent decision by the major health care incubator Healthbox to choose Tampa Bay for its home base in Florida.

“After looking at ecosystems around the state, including Orlando and Miami, they chose Tampa Bay because they liked what they saw here,” Olson says. “And I personally know of other national programs who are looking at Tampa Bay, and not Orlando, for some exciting opportunities because we have a lot of what they are looking for.”

That’s the beauty of the entrepreneur: Hope springs eternal. In Orlando and Tampa Bay.

And that is good.  But we have to wonder if it will just be another announcement of something that never really comes to fruition and leaves (like this) or, if it stays, will really grow.

In any event, incubators in this area are nothing new. (see this Times column by the same columnist from 2001 – before the iPod was released to the public. Read it to see that the Tampa Bay area already was behind and what hype was tossed around in 2001.)

The questions remain: why haven’t they worked, why do so many people feel the need to leave this area to succeed, and why should we expect anything to be different this time around?

Economic Development – Ok Versus Really Good or Excellent

Speaking of economic development, there were a few interesting items this week.

First, there was more news about what is often held out as a great success – the Amazon warehouse. As we have said numerous times, even though we do not view them as a great economic development accomplishment, we would rather have the Amazon warehouses than not have them.  But the fact remains that they provide quite low paying jobs, even if they have some decent benefits for low wage jobs.

And that leads to the bigger issue of jobs. Sit at my desk long enough and you’ll find out people are desperate for work, even for $11 an hour in a warehouse.

To many, landing a job at Amazon seems like a good opportunity. You earn more than minimum wage — though not by much — you get health benefits and, after a year of full-time employment, Amazon will cover most of your college tuition. Educationwise, all you need is a high school diploma or equivalent.

Consider that this isn’t “sit around and eat bon bons” kind of work. Jobs at Amazon’s fulfillment centers are rigorous. Picking, packing and shipping orders at lightning speed is physically demanding, stressful and monotonous. Amazon requires applicants be able to lift up to 49 pounds and stand and walk for up to 10 to 12 hours. Not everyone can do that, or wants to.

In other words, they are low wage warehouse jobs with benefits.  Fine.  That is not an overwhelming success, especially since there are a large number of Amazon warehouses nationwide (it is basically like saying getting a Bass Pro Shops is a huge economic development success). Of course, for the people with a new job, it is a good thing, but such jobs should not be the measure of success. (Which economic development official or politician in Hillsborough County is going to tell their kid to stay in town because they can get an $11/hour job?  That is the measure.)

Similarly, there was an announcement that Quest Diagnostics would be adding some jobs in the area:

Quest Diagnostics on Wednesday pledged to create up to 350 jobs by 2015 at a newly opened national logistics hub in Tampa.

The project — roughly double the number of jobs that state officials initially expected — marks a major coup in an ongoing drive to make the bay area, in particular Hillsborough County, a cluster for higher-paying jobs in life sciences.

Quest, a major provider of medical testing services, is investing $9.3 million in the new Tampa operation.

The company will use the 48,000-square-foot Tampa facility, at 3011 University Center Drive, to monitor both air and ground operations for its transportation fleet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Using 18 control stations and a 250-square-foot digital display, workers in Tampa will be able to track the shipment of patient specimens from one of Quest’s 2,200 patient service centers and other patient locations in the United States to one of its clinical laboratories for testing.

So, first things first – we are glad that Quest is expanding in the area.  We are happy they brought jobs here.  But, the above coverage does not seem exactly accurate:

The presence of lots of workers with experience in customer service was one of the primary reasons Quest (NYSE: DGX) decided to open the center in Tampa, said Doug Lang, director of national logistics operations centers for Quest.

“We looked at a number of locations. We have an existing presence in Tampa, a major lab. We also considered the roles we are looking to establish here. There’s a strong employee market in the customer service area in Tampa,” Lang said.

The lab was already here.  The new jobs are in large part call center jobs.  The rest are in logistics, which is better, but not really life sciences at all. But, as we said, we are happy for the jobs even if they are not really part of building a life sciences cluster.

Then there was this oddity in the reporting:

Quest began operations in the new center at the beginning of the year and has already filled a little more than half of the total 350 planned positions. The remaining positions will be filled over the next two to three years, Lang said.

So, in essence, this is already old news, even though the announcement came this week.  Once again, we are happy for the jobs, but they are not life sciences jobs, so we have no idea why they are being held out as such. (At least the accompanying comments from local officials were more measured than usual.)

And the coverage this week of Amazon also made us wonder about something else we have noticed:

For weeks, I’ve been inundated with calls asking for information about Amazon. Callers read my stories about Amazon opening warehouses in Florida and think I work for the online seller.

I don’t. I’m a newspaper reporter.

Around the office, it has become something of a joke. Colleagues laugh at the sheer number of times in a week I say, “I don’t work for Amazon.” My editor says I should get a commission from Amazon for everyone I direct to its job sites.

What does that say about balance and realism in local business/political reporting?

Downtown – Tampa, a Low Rise Kind of Town

There were a few articles this week about potential developments downtown, though they did not really give much detail.  First, it seems more apartments are proposed near the Straz:

New Jersey-based Denholtz Associates owns the surface parking lots directly east of the Straz and is in the final stages of a deal to sell about 5.3 acres to make way for several hundred apartments, with a large parking deck later taking up the other portion of the available land.

The deal isn’t closed yet, and people involved say that construction likely won’t start for more than a year, even in the most rapid of schedules.

This is the land:

From the Tribune – click on map for article

Ok, so what is the plan?

The first step involves Denholtz selling the northern parcel to a developer who would build about 330 to 350 units in a series of four or five-story buildings. Proceeds from that sale would then help build a two-story parking deck on the southern parcel. That parking project would not preclude anyone going to shows at the Straz center from parking there, Sampson said. More likely, he said patrons would simply pay to park in the new garage in the same way they pay to park in the surface lot now. The parking deck would end up serving the apartments to the north, the office building to the East and the Straz to the west.

Excuse us if we are not at all excited by the prospect of using prime downtown land for 4 story apartment buildings and a low slung parking garage. What an utter waste of space. They could easily build two buildings (like this one in St. Pete) and double the apartments, add green space and retail, and improve the area.  Moreover, some creative planning and mixed use could help energize the area, including the Riverwalk, rather than leave a dead zone north of the Straz near the interstate.  But, alas, you should expect no such thing in Tampa.

And, with such low buildings, of course no views would be blocked because the buildings would barely get over the trees (not to mention not having any views themselves, unless highway on-ramps are your style.).  Moreover, the fact is that such buildings would be out of scale with the immediate area where most of the buildings around them are ten stories or so.

Not to mention that nothing will help energize the area around the Straz and take advantage of all those potential customers like a squat, wide parking garage – a perfect architectural complement to the Library.

But then again – maybe that article was all lot of noise about nothing:

. . . Ryan Sampson, the Eshenbaugh Land Company broker-associate marketing the lots, said Wednesday that any potential deal was “a long shot” that could take years, if ever, to complete.

“I wouldn’t say anything’s close or even imminent,” Sampson said. “There’s no story. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing going on.”

Well, that is inconvenient for the media blitz.  Nevertheless, we hope there is nothing planned for this lot – at least nothing like what was reported.  We shall have to see.

The second proposed project reported is vaguer and involves a local property veteran. (See here and here)

A Tampa developer is getting closer to beginning work on a hotel planned for Encore, the Tampa Housing Authority’s ongoing redevelopment of land on the northwest edge of downtown.

Developer Frank DeBose has asked Tampa City Council to tweak the zoning of property at Cass Street and Governor Drive at the south entrance to Encore. The property covers two lots designated for condos and hotels.

One of those lots straddles the zoning districts created for downtown and Encore. The conflict needs to be ironed out before development can move forward, said Leroy Moore, chief operating officer for the housing authority.

“We were set to close in July, when this came up,” DeBose said Tuesday.

Once that fix is made, in six to eight weeks, the way will be cleared to close on the hotel property, probably in early September, DeBose said.

DeBose’s Pinnacle Group will pay the housing authority $7.8 million for the site under an agreement last year with the authority.

The condo project will start later, DeBose said.

DeBose said he envisions three buildings spread across the two lots. Along with the condo and the hotel, there will be low-rise residential and street-level retail, he said.

The hotel will house two separate brands, each with a different price point and target audience. DeBose said he will release the names when he closes on the property.

So the Housing Authority is selling public land for a project without providing any real details to the public.  (this area)  What is the assessed value of the land? How tall/dense is it going to be?  What is the lay-out? What are the hotels going to be (with apparently 380 rooms)?  What is the deal with the condos?  What the hell is “low-rise” residential and how does that in any way fit with the Encore project and its purpose? How much street activity will there be?  Why are you selling before anyone knows anything?

Just another deal involving public land that is exceptionally short on details. (Think HCC sports complex)  And was there an RFP for the land to see if a better use could be found (leaving it empty is a better use than “low-rise” residential? Maybe there was one, but we can’t find it – so if it was there, let us know. (Note to Tampa: you don’t just do RFP’s when you have to; you do them to get the best deal)

The first project, if it is a project, is a major settle for the City – very sad.  The second is entirely too vague.  Maybe it will turn out to be ok, but we won’t know until the land is already sold, which is not particularly good governance on the part of the Housing Authority.

How is any of this a change in Tampa’s DNA?

And one more thing about Encore:

Another zoning tweak that will need the city council’s approval will allow a small amount of surface parking within Encore’s boundaries. To this point, all the parking within the project has been in garages.

The surface parking is being requested for a potential grocery along Nebraska Avenue, Moore said.

Grocery store is fine.  We can even see a small amount of surface parking, but it better not abut the street and it better be very limited.  Otherwise, it will mess up the whole point of Encore – but, really, what do you think the City will do?

Built Environment/List of the Week – We Know You Can’t Walk Here

To anyone who reads the papers and sees news of pedestrians getting hit by cars on a routine basis (or anyone who actually tries to walk somewhere), it will come as no surprise that Tampa is not considered walkable. This week the Times  had a short feature on’s list of most/least walkable metro areas.  The methodology section starts on page 8 of the pdf.  A key is:

Only office and retail space was employed to rank the walkable urbanism of the U.S.’ 30 largest metropolitan areas.

In our evaluations of individual metropolitan areas, as we have done for metro Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, DC, we have been able to assess all real estate product types. Due to resource constraints in looking across all 30 metros, we have used office and retail as a proxy for development trends. 

(Pg 8 of the pdf) Though it is not like including residential would really change anything for the Tampa Bay area. The current rankings can be seen on page 11 of the pdf. They are as follows:

DC, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland (OR), Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, LA, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa (meaning the Tampa Bay area), Phoenix, and Orlando.

It is not surprising to us that the Tampa Bay area is not considered walkable, because, basically, it is not walkable.  And, from the list, it should be noted that transit in and of itself does not cure walkability issues.  There has to be a change in approach to how things are built around the transit and elsewhere.  If there is a narrow area of walkable development around transit and wild sprawl everywhere else, the score is still likely to be low.

We are also not surprised that in the potential future rankings, Tampa moves up considerably, but that is potential future rankings.  It is contingent on having real transit, changing the building codes, and actually caring about how things are built – which does not appear to be the case anywhere but in sort of in downtown Tampa and definitely in downtown St. Pete.  Certainly Tampa does not seem to care about how anything is built if it is outside the InVision Tampa zone, and that includes Westshore where many of the newer retail developments show a regression rather than progress.

And why should anyone care about walkability?  Because, as can be noted above – the top of the list is populated by the most of the usual suspects of most positive lists.  It is an economic development, brain drain, and quality of life issue, which has been ignored for so long to our own detriment.

There is a huge amount of potential for this area. Sadly, most of it is untapped.  The main impediment to progress is lack of political will and the epidemic of settling – which really points to a lack of pride of place.  While there are some truly excellent things and people in this area, there are not nearly enough (and very few excellent buildings), though the excessive hype works to cover it up.

But the bottom line is that as long as mediocrity is routinely passed off as excellence, we will continue to lag in this area and most others.

Built Environment – Newspeak

Speaking of hype, we saw something new this week:

Another new retail development is going in on South Dale Mabry Highway, an area that’s been seeing some upgrades after decades of gridlock and general fatigue.

Palm Harbor-based Paradise Ventures has acquired a 4.92-acre strip mall property across from Britton Plaza, with plans to redevelop it into a spiffy new open-air mall. 

So this  is going from a strip mall to an “open-air mall,” which appears to be a strip mall with an outparcel – or, as normal people speak, a strip mall.  Hey, we are fine with fixing up the old strip mall (while we would prefer something else, we understand the area this building is in and that the City does not care), but don’t try to pass it off as something other than a renovated strip mall.  It’s not like it is becoming Wiregrass  (which, as you can tell from the sea of parking around it, is really just a mall without a roof or awnings, which is fun in the summer, not some urban-ish development.  It appears the designers were in California and have never visited Florida in the summer.)

But more to the point – we would expect the developer to try to pass it off as something it isn’t, but why does the paper?

Channelside – Tedium

The Port Authority gave its negotiators authority to bid on the Channelside complex in the upcoming auction  that is being contested by Liberty.

And if you are confused by the whole Channelside saga, you can check out this Tribune article which is an attempt to explain the issue but, as far as we could tell, does not clarify anything.

Maybe it is beyond clarification.  It is certainly far past being silly.

Coming Out Watch – The New Hotels

This past week, the Le Meridien in downtown Tampa had a soft opening.  A little while back, the Epicurean also opened.  We just happened to run across a couple of bloggy reviews – both favorable to the hotels.  Here is the one for the Epicurean.  And here is the one for Le Meridien.

Like we said, both reviews of the hotels are favorable.  The Le Meridien review did have this though:

If I’m being honest, my only complaint is that the hotel is in downtown Tampa. I know this appeals to some business travelers, but having lived in Tampa for over a decade I can say that downtown Tampa is about as exciting as downtown Cleveland…

Which then included this video about Cleveland which is worth viewing whether you care about the reviews or not (warning – there may be a language issue):

Forget “Orlando Rising.”  Downtown Cleveland is an instant classic.

List of the Week

Our list this week was in the “Built Environment/List of the Week – We Know You Can’t Walk Here” item above.

Roundup 6-12-2014

June 12, 2014

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week’s Roundup had to be posted a day early.


Transportation – Piecemeal as Usual

The HART Board Chairman had some interesting things to say last week:

Without the backing of the business community, the regional transit system will be hard-pressed to expand successfully, members of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association heard Thursday.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, who also serves as board chairman for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) board, spoke to the group during its June membership luncheon.

“We need better choices for our community,” Suarez said. “The most important thing about transit is that it helps develop our businesses.” In Cleveland, he said, a city with an award-winning transit system, $4 billion to $5 billion has been invested near its two hubs, proof that transit can bring economic growth.

“The easier it is to get around, the easier it is to sell hotel and motel rooms. We want to be able to provide mass transit” for trips to the zoo and Pinellas County beaches, he said. To do that, a truly regional transit system must be in place.

And, he said HART needs more money to make the transit system more robust. “We may need a sales tax.” Suarez spoke briefly about the ongoing discussion among area elected officials to put a referendum before voters for a sales tax that would pay for expanded rapid transit coordinated between counties, among other projects.

“We have 186 buses and vans. We probably should have double that for a city and county of our size,” Suarez said.

Sure.  That makes sense. (And note that Cleveland has a decent sized rail system to which its actual BRT-ish line – not like MetroRapid – connects.  And note – the rail goes to the airport.) The business community does need to support transit.  And we need more buses.  Of course, whether that is useful or not depends on how the buses are used and whether there is a comprehensive, coordinated, synchronized transportation system.

So, is there?

“Bus rapid transit is our next goal,” Suarez said. Regional planners are working with the Florida Department of Transportation right now on a plan to add express toll lanes to local Interstates 275, 75 and 4 that could be used by both cars and buses to loosen gridlock.

No. While the Transportation for Economic Development group is supposed to unveil their plan next month, it appears that HART and FDOT are just continuing business as usual.  Even if this idea has some utility, it should be part of the overall vision, which does not seem to be the case.

As with the things we discussed last week, the questions here are pretty straight forward:  How does this fit into an overall plan?  Where are the lanes supposed to go, and are there better uses for the land?  What happens when the lanes reach capacity?  Why is the HART board acting like it might not be radically changed soon?

So what was the reaction to the HART Board Chairman’s comments?

“Rapid transit, or transit in general in our community has been transformed,” Morrison said. The transformation was triggered by MetroRapid, HART’s limited answer to bus rapid transit — express buses that have fewer stops and that can manipulate traffic lights to stay on a faster schedule.

Well, actually, our area is pretty much the same way it was before – deficient.  There is absolutely no sign of a transformation in transit that would help hotels or hospitality in any way. Nothing has really changed other than the Tribune finally coming closer to accurately describing MetroRapid. (Though what they mean by “limited” is not clear.  The reality is that MetroRapid is not even close to BRT.  It is more like regular bus service with fewer stops.)

What actually seems to be happening is that every vested interest in Hillsborough County is trying to get its idea out there before the TED groups unveils its plan in order to prejudge what is the plan is.  Sadly, it seems all very uncoordinated, which does not bode well for the plan. (On the other hand, it could all be coordinated but not announced, which is just as bad.)

Given the gamesmanship, hopefully, the TED group is not just another version of this:

If one symbol helps capture the bureaucracy of companies too big and too bewildered in the economic headlights, it may be the “GM Nod.” That phrase appears in the recent 325-page report detailing a three-month investigation of why GM took more than a decade to recall 2.59 million vehicles with potentially fatal flaws. The GM Nod happens when everyone in a company meeting agrees to take a proposed action without any intention of doing so.

This gesture is not to be confused with the “GM Salute” — also cited in the report — described as “a crossing of the arms and pointing outward toward others, indicating the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me.”

We are not that optimistic, but we will just have to see.

Transportation – the Downtown “Trolley”

There was an interesting column in the Times this week about the Tampa downtown “trolley,” which is really a dressed up bus that looks more at home shuttling visitors in a 1980’s theme park parking lot than downtown.

From HART – click on picture for website

When I started thinking about it, I realized I’d seen this trolley now and again and heard mention here and there. Turns out the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority does indeed run the In-Town Trolley every 15 minutes on a logical route that takes in major office buildings, hotels and the convention center, at a most modest fare of 25 cents. What’s not to like?

Then, I saw the hours — 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. As in, idle when most downtown workers are out and about.


First, we agree, the hours are questionable – and something not to like.  Second, unless you live on Harbour Island and work downtown, the utility of the “trolley” is not that great.

“We used to have all-day (trolley) service — kind of ironically — before we had the plethora of restaurants,” Karen Kress of the Downtown Tampa Partnership says.

* * *

HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison says hours for the trolleys were cut in 2011 after “poor ridership and budget concerns,” and that it would cost about $90,000 to expand those hours. The city pays $200,000 to run the current service yearly.

Hillsborough Commissioner and transit proponent Mark Sharpe sighs when I call. (He does that a lot when I call.) “I was shocked to find out — and I’m on HART’s board — that we had one,” he says of the in-town trolley service.

Setting aside that the last bit is odd, it is not surprising that a dressed up bus that looks like something for tourists and does not really connect much had poor ridership.  Of course, there is more to connect now, but still.

And when I ask a handful of fellow downtowners about their trolley knowledge, nearly everyone thought I was talking about that streetcar to Ybor.

Right.  No matter how hard you try to sell it to the public, a dressed up bus is not a trolley, it is a dressed up bus. (You can find the definition of trolley here)  And the area it services is not that big. You can walk most of it without having to wait for a bus – though if you are going the full distance of the route it makes some sense.

Yet, there is some merit to circulators, especially when they are connected to rapid transit – like a train.  The rail gets you across the large distance while the trolley gets you to and from the station – that how a coordinated, comprehensive, transportation system works.

The reality is that it is hard to see the appeal of a dressed up bus with a silly name that does not go many places, does not connect to much, does not function most of the time, and is not part of an efficient, coordinated, synchronized system.

In any event:

Changing how we view buses — and just as important, how we sell them to potential riders — will take a “cultural mind-shift,” Sharpe says. He’s right, and transportation types will tell you they are working on downtown as we speak.

Indeed, we have to stop thinking of buses as the be all and end all of transit options. We have to integrate them into real systems. And we have to stop acting like they are just for tourists or just a last resort for riders with no car – but that will only happen when bus are part of a real system. (And the same goes for the streetcar or rail – they need to be part of a system that includes buses, especially circulators.)

We think buses are integral to a system, but they need to be part of system.  The fact is we do need to change how we view buses, and that change needs to begin at HART and in local government.

Economic Development – Who’s Your Daddy?

Last week, there were a number of items regarding complaints the Hillsborough County Commission had about the EDC:

Hillsborough County commissioners today criticized Rick Homans, leader of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., for failing to communicate on a regular basis with the county government, the EDC’s biggest public funding source.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham led the charge, saying Homans had “lost his way” in ignoring the EDC’s prime government benefactor when Homans launched key initiatives, such as bringing the MediFuture 2024 medical conference to Tampa in September. Higginbotham also said Homans had been talking to surrounding counties about a joint economic development effort, which commissioners learned about through a local business journal.

“He’s ignoring this board,” Higginbotham said. “I don’t like it.”

Homans was not at the commission meeting. He could not be reached for comment.

Other commissioners remarked that none of them had been invited on overseas trade missions, while Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has gone a number of such trips.

“I would like an explanation of why we haven’t been invited on these trips,” Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. “I appreciate that our largest municipality is Tampa, but Hillsborough County is providing a large amount of these funds and Hillsborough County should be involved, absolutely.”

Beckner said his main concern is that the county, though providing the bulk of public support for economic development, is not being branded as a good destination for companies that want to relocate.

“It has to do with the branding of Hillsborough County,” Beckner said later. “Taxpayer dollars from outside the city of Tampa are (supporting the EDC). I think they need to be used to brand Hillsborough County.”

In all honesty, there is a decent amount of reasonableness in these concerns, if they are limited to what is stated.

First, the EDC does get more money from the County than the City, so it is a bit odd that the Mayor goes on all these trips but County Commissioners do not get invited. This Tribune editorial called the complaint about trade missions “petty,” which is a bit odd, given that the media are the ones that create the impression that the Mayor is the key to all the trade missions.  See, for example, here, here, here, and here (a Tribune article from the EDC website), not to mention this EDC press release.  Is it any wonder the Commissioners are annoyed. Why should the Mayor get to hog the spotlight?  (The media have only themselves to blame.) Yes, it is politics, but why did you expect from local politicians, including the Mayor? And blatantly favoring the Mayor is a political mistake when he does not control the money or the votes.  If you don’t think so, enjoy that light rail trip to the airport.

Moreover, the EDC should be providing the County Commission with full information (even if they tend not to be that productive – maybe they will change). And, while we are very much in favor of regionalism, the EDC should be working with the County as well as the City and business leaders on it.

On the other hand, if the complaints are just a way to get in the way of a regional approach or impede economic development (like there is not enough of that from the County Commission already), then the complaints are ill-conceived.

This is how a quite Times column described the EDC’s reaction:

Under Homans and an energized staff, the economic development group has helped deliver some major business expansion projects in both Tampa and Hillsborough County. Two whopper deals — the high-end expansion of drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Amazon distribution center — happen to be sited on county land.

The Hillsborough County Commission provides $700,000 to the EDC in fiscal 2014, or just under a quarter of the total EDC budget of $2.9 million. More than half of the EDC budget comes from area businesses, sponsorships and revenue generated by EDC events.

None of this is meant to excuse Homans and his team for failing to communicate properly — with maybe a touch of bowing and scraping — to county government.

That’s why Homans has already offered his mea culpa in print and spent most of Friday talking to County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Assistant County Administrator Ron Barton to try to ease tensions. That process continues this coming week with others in county government.

“I am committed to increasing our culture of communications,” Homans said Friday.

“Rick recognizes the Hillsborough County Commission is the EDC’s largest shareholder, so we have to make sure we communicate with them, no doubt,” says banker Allen Brinkman, the EDC’s current chairman and the CEO of SunTrust Tampa Bay. The EDC reports quarterly to the County Commission, while one commissioner even sits on the EDC board. “So the perception was that the county was getting enough information, but perhaps the individual commissioners were not.”

Brinkman calls Wednesday’s meeting remarks “unfortunate.”

“I believe this is an easy, solvable issue,” Brinkman says.

First, Bristol-Myers Squibb was a pretty big deal.  An Amazon warehouse is hardly a whopper. (This data center, though not that big, is more in line with what should be long term goals. And USAA, which just broke ground on its expansion in the area but is not mentioned in the column, is not bad, but USAA was already familiar with the area, so . . .)

Setting that aside, the EDC properly said they will work to be more communicative, though maybe they should spend time talking to the Commissioners who publicly complained, which is not what apparently happened.

In our view, this is all more of a speed bump – in a parking lot, given our lagging behind other areas in terms of economic development. (Which is partly the EDC’s fault, partly the fault of elected officials who have adopted poor policies for years, and, in all honesty, partly the public’s fault for tolerating the status quo for so long.)  The EDC has done some good things.  It can do a lot more, as can the County.  And using past performance comparisons as a measure of success is quite weak.  We should compare ourselves to areas with which we compete, like Denver or Austin, today.

We would be much happier if the Commissioners’ complaints were about the failure to produce more big deals, diversification in the economy, the failure to keep up with competitors, and increase in the per capital regional product, but that is not the normal course of business here.

So, in sum, everyone is to blame.  Now fix it.

Economic Development – Housing

So, how is the economy really doing?  Let’s look at housing:

The Bennetts are among thousands in Tampa Bay caught in a tale of two recoveries: one for wealthy buyers who can afford pricier homes, pay cash or easily get loans, and one for everyone else.

A Tampa Bay Times analysis comparing the number of sales year over year for the six months ending in April shows the dramatic trend:

• Homes priced above $500,000: Up 14.97 percent.

• $250,000 to $500,000: Up 7.6 percent.

• $125,000 to $250,000: Up 1.9 percent.

• Below $125,000: Down 13.2 percent.

That shift is important because a healthy housing market —and a thriving local economy depends enormously on the middle class, which still accounted for about 80 percent of the 16,000 homes sold.

Their spending ripples through layer after layer of the economy, from movers and remodelers to appliance makers, and their confidence after moving up or finding a first home can influence their financial decisionmaking for years to come.

But the Tampa Bay housing market, which an index of mortgage giant Freddie Mac recently called one of the nation’s weakest, still shows few signs of rallying for anyone but the upper crust.

Apparently, not so well.  But, given those numbers, it is clear why some insist the economy is really moving forward – some are doing fine. For the rest, not so much:

Most middle-class hopefuls earn wages that have stagnated as median home prices, now at $160,000 in Tampa Bay, have grown year over year for 29 months in a row. Interest rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage climbed in recent months to a full percentage point over the year before.

Many hopeful buyers never get that far. Banks imposed super-strict guidelines for new loans after the housing bust, blocking buyers with old debts or weak credit from qualifying.

That is interesting.  Economic development efforts here often use the low cost of workers as incentive.  However, that low cost comes with a price.  Wages for most are not really going anywhere, which is why we are not calling the Amazon warehouse a big win.  There are also other reasons (like lack of houses on the market because their owners can’t find an affordable house to move to) but most are tied to wages and debt, though investors who propped up the market not buying up homes is also an issue. (For some more of the reasons, see this Times article on prices slipping for the first time in months.)  And people with low wages buy less from other people, holding up economic growth.

The bottom line is that as long as we are determined to be a low wage (retail, tourism, call centers, etc.) and housing based economy, there will be a problem.  That is what the EDC, the County, the City, and everyone else interested in economic development should be focusing on.

Channelside – Planning by Judge

There was more news in the Channelside saga:

In a little over three weeks, investors hoping to take over Channelside Bay Plaza will have yet another chance to bid against one another and maybe take over the long-struggling retail property.

However, unlike past unsuccessful auctions, this new process has something else going for it: A federal judge is ultimately in charge. Date: Wednesday, July 2, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Ok, whatever.  But this is a bit different:

Price alone won’t rule the day, as bankruptcy courts consider both the highest offers but also the best use, meaning the court will also consider which parties have a credible plan to follow through with rehabilitating the complex, as bankruptcy courts generally favor a productive investor reviving a struggling property.

The port owns the land underneath Channelside, but leases the above-ground property to the now-bankrupt tenant. Hence the complexity.

One big difference between the first auction and this current one is this: The court will have more direct control over Channelside’s fate because it may also decide this month on whether Port Tampa Bay still retains a so-called “veto” over the transfer of one tenant to another.

It is an indication of what a mess this whole issue has become that a judge will be deciding what the “best use” of prime, publicly owned, waterfront property in downtown Tampa is – not the Port or the City or any other public agency.

And that still does not work out the lawsuit between Liberty and the Port (Though this is interesting, especially regarding why the Port may have wanted that escrow that liberty refused to pay. )

Whatever the case, it is best if, for now, one just considers that a lost property.  Maybe, someday, it won’t be, but who knows when.

Downtown – Goings On

It seems that the Lightning’s owner is buying even more land downtown.

Jeff Vinik is taking another step forward in his drive to buy up and control land around the Forum, where his hockey team plays.

One of his real estate partnerships is now under contract to buy the last few residential properties in the immediate area, including three 100-year-old shotgun-style homes at the northwest corner of Cumberland Avenue and Nebraska Avenue, and a low-slung apartment building next door with four units.

The homes stick out as the last remaining residential holdouts between the Selmon Expressway and Channelside Drive in what’s now a sea of open-field parking where more than a few political players in town hope Vinik might usher in a baseball stadium.

Whether it is good or bad depends on what eventually ends up there.  Only time will tell.

And, in other news, the Le Meridien in the old Federal Courthouse is set to open June 16, which is nice.

Pasco – Road Saga

So the Pasco Elevated Toll Road is dead.  Fine (especially since the “private” road wanted public money).  The ULI recommended SR 54 be turned into a boulevard.  Even if that made any sense, it is doubtful it will happen any time soon.

A report Tuesday from staff showed that more than a dozen road projects were delayed or shelved in the past two years so that more funds could be spent on road maintenance, such as filling potholes.

Staff said that millions are necessary to keep up with growth. They gave commissioners an option of adding $5 million or $8 million more to the capital budget for roads, but urged that they back the $8 million request, which commissioners supported.

So there is no money and there is trouble just keeping up with what is already happening.  What will Pasco do?

Last September, commissioners backed down from raising gas taxes after angry residents complained at several meetings.

Four votes were needed to increase gas taxes from their current 7-cent level, but only three commissioners backed the increase.

As with last time, commissioners remain divided, with Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson voicing opposition to the tax while Ted Schrader, Pat Mulieri and Kathryn Starkey supported the increase.

Mariano, however, said he might consider a combination of higher gas taxes and property taxes to pay for the work.

“I’m willing to look at it,” he said.

Schrader said he favors gas taxes because it’s a user-based fee, plus Pasco can benefit from having truckers and others from outside the area fill up here.

Apparently nothing now.

It is just another illustration of what bad planning and poor decision making does.  If Pasco does not want to raise the money needed for their infrastructure, fine. That is their choice, but don’t toss out pie in the sky ideas.

Pasco needs a real east-west road.  As we always said, the private plan may not be the idea they should go with but not doing anything will just lead to more problems.  IF Tampa Bay patterns hold true, those who today oppose the road will start complaining about how they can’t get around. And the great Tampa Bay transportation failures cycle will just keep going.

Find a solution.

List of the Week

It being summer, the choice of lists is often quite thin.  This week, we have lists of best and worst states to make a living.  You can see the methodology here.

The best states to make a living are as follows: Washington, followed by Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, Virginia, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. (So, some of the usual suspects and a few others).

The worst states to make a living are: Hawaii, New York, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

At least Florida did not make the second list.



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