Hillsborough Transportation – Life in the Slow Lane
This week the politicians of Hillsborough County and the municipalities therein met to address an issue that, based on the outcome of the meeting, apparently arose out of the blue – transportation. After much hoopla, they determined that transportation is important.
Hey, that’s a start. Anything else?
They also accepted a premise, driven by the county, that the ultimate priority list should get shaped by projects that promote economic development around the county but in targeted areas where growth is desirable.
Well, that is suitably vague. If by that they mean that a transportation system should connect areas of activity so people can get where they want to go and not promote a sprawling mess, great. If they mean they are going to continue with the sprawl-centered policies of the County, not so great.
So what was proposed?
While there were no votes, the participants also agreed to begin discussing where to focus future investments and that, after that, what sorts of transportation projects should be pursued. Once that work is done, they’ll start talking about how to pay for them.
So with years and years of underinvestment in the transportation in a county with clearly identifiable nodes of activity which conveniently are not that far from each other and at least a month’s notice of the “summit,” the leaders of Hillsborough County could not say what should be connected and/or how they should be connected? (We bet many of the young professionals who leave could tell them.)
So what did the participants have to say? The Mayor brought his best effusively noncommittal comments:
Part of the transit sales pitch will tie it to the region’s economic future. Cities that invest in transit have attracted the kind of tech-savvy, innovative young workers commissioners and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn say they want.
We’re all in, too. Just one question, all in for doing what exactly? Maybe someone else can help us:
“There’s no mystery that I want to get it done,” said Sharpe, who leaves the commission in 2014 due to term limits, describing what he took from Wednesday’s discussion. “But rather than starting with a conversation about how we’re going to pay for it, let’s determine what it is first.”
It is reasonable to know what you are going to do before you work out how to pay for it (unlike the 2010 referendum). Too bad no one apparently was willing to say what the “it” should be, which, in fact, does mean there is somewhat of a mystery.
One thing we do know:
“The important thing is we wanted to have all of our partners at the table at one time,” Hagan said. “Everything is on the table, but I seriously doubt there will be a Hillsborough County referendum in 2014.”
Interestingly, we actually agree with that assessment – at least the timing. But, at this point, nothing has been put on the table. On the other hand, because it seems no one is actually willing to be the first person to propose something concrete, there is no way there can be a referendum in 2014 that would have a reasonable chance of succeeding.
Maybe the lack of willingness to get to the point arises from this persistent myth about the 2010 referendum:
This is the map of results which actually show the real results. The support was near the vaguely planned rail route, which happened to be in the city, though it lost in many precincts in the city and won in county precincts near its path. That actually indicates that, if people think they are paying for something that will never benefit them, they will likely not support it. Which makes this a more accurate reading of the lessons from 2010:
So true. Maybe this time around the politicians and planners will actually be concerned about the entire county and provide a plan that addresses it, even if it is a staged execution. Of course, none of that will happen if the politicians don’t propose something, anything other than just subsidizing sprawl (see Hillsborough County Commission.)
The headlines of both the Times and Tribune articles referred to the meeting attendants as leaders. Maybe they should start leading and say what they would like to see.
The fact is this discussion transit has been going on since at least the 1980’s. We have already lost a couple of generations of talent to delay. From the meeting, it looks like the Hillsborough leaders are fine with losing another, though we are open to being surprised. (And they are supposed to create an innovation destination?)
Transportation – Wow, You Mean You Can Ride a Boat?
While the local leaders we unable to think of (or too timid to propose) any specific ideas on transit, this week someone else officially proposed an alternative means of transportation – a ferry.
HMS Ferries Inc., whose companies carry more than 16 million passengers annually from multiple ferry services in the Seattle area to cruises serving Alcatraz and Niagara Falls, announced preliminary plans Wednesday for a project that could provide high-speed ferry service here in about two years.
The concept would be based on core morning and late-afternoon commuting runs between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base, providing a transportation option for 5,300 military families that could take thousands of cars off roadways and save commuters 30 minutes of driving time. The ferries would carry passengers, not their cars.
The same catamaran-type vessels, capable of speeds as fast as 35 knots, would be available to operate on weekends and possible midweek, off-peak hours between St. Petersburg and sites to be determined in Tampa. Those routes could serve events at the Forum, the Tampa Convention Center and Tropicana Field with shuttle service.
The proposal website is here.
What will it cost the taxpayer?
Transit ferries normally require a subsidy to operate, Dronkert said. But in the case of the MacDill commuter route and other runs built around that service, preliminary studies indicate the privately held company could successfully operate without local or state subsidies for operations, with HMS taking any risk for annual operating costs, estimated to be about $3.5 million at the onset.
Most ferry services use public-sector terminals, docks and facilities, just as airlines use public-sector airports, so the next step toward making the ferry plan feasible would be for a local entity, perhaps the county government, to seek federal funding for infrastructure.
Ferries operate all over the place, but not here (unless you are going from Ft. De Soto to Egmont Key). We have no idea if the proposal’s numbers actually work out (apparently the MPO studied it the concept – though not this specific proposal – and, according to them, there is some potential), but the idea appears at first blush to have some merit. It should certainly be considered, especially if the federal government will fund the infrastructure. On the other hand, something not to be considered is this:
Huh? It is a ferry not a trip into space. Sex appeal has nothing to do with it, especially for all the commuters that ride ferries every day around the world.
One thing that comes to mind though – it would seem like the project requires a lot of parking in the South County area for commuters taking the ferry. If this project happens, is there just going to be a big parking lot or will the County actually do something forward thinking about the hub of activity they are creating in the South County?
One other thing: We have no problem with the idea of ferries. On the other hand, it has to be remembered that this would only be a very small part of what should be an integrated transportation system that involves real, land based transit. Don’t think that a ferry will fix what is broken. It is only a small piece.
HART/PSTA – Bring On the Study
We had previously noted that the HART Board has asked the Governor to veto the second study of how to make HART and PSTA more efficient. We also noted that PSTA was in favor of the second study. In a Times article regarding what the Governor did and did not veto, we learned:
Sen. Jack Latvala’s request that the state spend $200,000 on a consolidation study of the Pinellas and Hillsborough transit agencies made it out alive, but officials in Hillsborough would rather it hadn’t. The board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit system has repeatedly voiced its objections to discussing consolidation with the Pinellas agency, calling Latvala’s intervention a power grab and citing concern that the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is underfunded.
Good. Now let’s get on with it, and, given the opposition of the HART Board to looking at ways to save taxpayer money while providing better service, we still think the entire process needs outside oversight.
Channelside – Back to the Beginning
After much hype (and not much detail) about the Liberty Channelside proposal for the Channelside complex, then some apparent fireworks during negotiations, then apologies for the mysterious fireworks, the whole thing came to naught this week.
A new ownership group, Liberty Channelside LLC, had struck a deal to buy the failed downtown retail center from the Irish bank that owns it. But the port board has the final say because the 234,520-square-foot complex was built on port land.
So what was the logic of using this maneuver?
The board didn’t like that port staffers had spent “hundreds of hours” negotiating but no deal was at hand. Liberty also had yet to produce numerous requests for financial information. Liberty said it was still working on that, but the board decided not to waste any more time.
The port isn’t going to accept just any deal the Irish bank makes for Channelside, said board chairman William “Hoe” Brown, not after all these years of financial and legal turmoil. Reviving Channelside is key to helping realize the potential of the Channel District.
“What we’re going to do as a board here is what’s best for our city,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the price someone’s paying the bank. We’ll do what we think is right and proper for Channelside.”
Might the port even consider buying Channelside at a steep discount, as Liberty tried to do? Anderson wouldn’t rule that out. Channelside’s last appraisal in January was for $12 million, a far cry from the $27 million the Irish bank loaned the old owner to buy it in 2006.
This is all fine by us. It is nice to have proposals, but the whole Channelside saga needs to be fixed once and for all. It is ok to wait until we get the right project.
Economic Development – Crashing Out of Boot Camp
There was a story in the Times this week about a proposed start up boot camp.
A college dropout, Ressi went on to start at least eight businesses, including Total New York, a regional city guide that AOL bought in 1997 and turned into AOL/Digital Cities. Since starting Founder Institute in 2009 in — of course — a Palo Alto garage, Ressi travels incessantly and globally to hear startup pitches. He is quick to interrupt, mixing a veteran’s advice with sharp criticism (“I’ve only heard that same startup idea a hundred times this year” is a favorite) and plenty of humor.
Founder Institute was ready to claim a stake in Tampa Bay with its first boot camp. It had pitched itself as an international-caliber program for startups with strong potential, tough skin and sufficient obsession to make the cut. Area mentors from university business schools and other startup programs had been engaged and were standing by. And a Founder Institute graduate, serial entrepreneur Michael O’Donnell, already had moved here from Seattle. He was the one who liked what he saw in Tampa Bay and decided the institute could operate a local version here.
It turns out, according to O’Donnell, that there were “not enough aspiring entrepreneurs qualified for the Founder Institute” in the Tampa Bay market. Failing to reach a minimum number of qualified candidates, the boot camp was canceled.
We do not decide who participates in the Founders Institute, but they had issues here. It is fine to talk about developing a start up culture and all, but it is also interesting to have an outsider give an independent opinion of how you are doing. This evaluation did not go so well.
One alternative explanation was offered:
Maybe, but we have a hard time believing that the Tampa Bay area has vastly more programs than areas like Seattle or Denver, that have Founders Institute programs. (You can see all the locations of Founders Institute programs here.)
As the Times column said:
This is a good if harsh lesson for Tampa Bay. In the end, this region’s goal is really the same as Adeo Ressi’s: Creating more startup successes not only boosts economic recovery but creates more and better jobs at locally founded companies.
Yes it is a good lesson. Yes, the goals are the same. However, you cannot discount the possibility that, while we are moving forward, other areas are still moving forward faster, leaving us farther behind.
Economic Development – Chile
There was news that the Governor is going on a trade mission to Chile.
Chile is Florida’s seventh largest trade partner with nearly $7.7 billion in bilateral trade. Florida-origin exports to Chile have expanded by 53 percent in the last two years, and the state has experienced a two-way trade growth of 262 percent since the implementation of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement in January 2004, the governor’s office said.
The news coverage was strangely devoid of Tampa Bay participants. Maybe they are going but just aren’t reported. We really don’t know, but the lack of mention is interesting. (Maybe it does not have the sex appeal of Brazil.)
While Chile’s growth slowed in the first quarter, Chile is one of the strongest economies in Latin America. (See here, here, and here) It is hard for the Tampa Bay area to be a gateway to Latin America without strong connections to all its major economies.
List of the Week IA
This week we have two lists of the week, but they are allegedly for the same thing.
The first list is Business Insider’s List of 20 Most Innovative Cities in the US. It is basically a list of the highest number of patents per 1000 residents, so it favors some university towns and small cities with research institutions, as well as the usual suspects.
First place goes to San Jose, followed by Burlington, VT; Rochester, MN; Corvallis, OR; Boulder, CO; Poughkeepsie, NY; Ann Arbor, MI; San Francisco; Austin; Santa Cruz, CA; Seattle; Raleigh; Rochester, NY; Durham, NC; Trenton, NJ; Sheboygan, WI; San Diego; Albany, NY; Ithaca, NY; and Minneapolis. Because of the calculation, some big cities have a hard time getting on the list but have a lot of patents and get an honorable mention: NYC, LA, Boston, and Chicago.
Of course, large or small, Florida is shut out.
List of the Week IB
Our second list is Techieboom.com’s The 5 Most Innovative US Cities of 2013 (cached here ) In no particular order they are Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boulder, and Boston.
Don’t let the recent more positive news about the local economy lull you into complacency.
Economic Development – Speaking of Disruption
Last week, in discussing an article on Miami as “America’s Next Start-up City,” we discussed the concept of creative disruption. Coincidentally, the issue arose locally in the context of developing the health care industry in the Tampa Bay area.
Harvard’s Clayton Christensen describes “disruptive innovation” as a process by which a product or service at first takes root in simple applications at the bottom of a market but then relentlessly moves up market, displacing established competitors.
Citing the computer industry, Christensen described how the mainframe got replaced by the minicomputer, which in turn was deposed by the desktop, the laptop and now the smartphone. In each case, the next product was more affordable and accessible to more people.
Disruptive innovation can do the same thing for health care, he said, pushing mobile and cheaper medical technology further into the hands of retail clinics, nurses, pharmacists and even into the home.
Indeed it can. However, can the Tampa Bay area, where the issue of USF and a teaching hospital still can’t be worked out, overcome its own culture to accept such disruption? And can you succeed with an environment where you only have disruption in one industry while living in the past in all other ways or do you need to create a comprehensive culture where disruption is embraced?
To attract and retain people who will find these innovative solutions (which are often multidisciplinary), you need to create an environment which attracts them and in which they will thrive. (Like it or not, that requires real transit, not just buses, and urban development. You can hardly claim to be a hub of innovation if your public policy is living in the 1970’s.) If you look at innovation hubs, like Boston, NYC, the San Francisco Bay area – even Austin or Atlanta (not to mention places like London, Tokyo, and Berlin) – they are cities of broad ranges of innovation in many fields. For real innovation through disruption, there needs to be cross-pollination and an environment of openness to new ideas. It cannot be isolated.
Interestingly, the speaker made another point which really gets to the Tampa Bay area:
Don’t confuse disruptive innovation with lesser imitators, he warned. Simply making good products better is a fine form of innovation but won’t generate new jobs. Making goods and services more efficiently will actually result in job cuts.
As far as we can tell, that applies almost across the board in the Tampa Bay area. Simple improvements are held out as innovations, while elsewhere real innovations in politics, transportation, arts, music, science, technology, design, and development occur. Incrementalism is not innovation.
We support developing our biomed sector, and we are happy the idea of disruption is actually being discussed here. We are all for transformational techniques and technologies. However, we understand that we need a wholesale opening of our culture – especially politically.
If you create an app to sell buggy-whips, you still have not accomplished anything.
Built Environment – The Sprawl Strikes Back
We have been critical of Hillsborough County’s love of sprawl. We still are. For a long time, the east part of the County has supported politicians that support sprawl and poor transportation planning. Well,
Residents in the area, which includes Bloomingdale High School, a ball field and numerous retail stores, have collected more than 1,000 petition signatures opposing the development. They said the big box store, rumored to be a Wal-Mart, will add traffic to already congested roads around the store, making it dangerous for children and students who cross Bloomingdale.
“The proposed changes impact not only our traffic but our environment on the Lithia-Bloomingdale bottleneck,” said Theresa Cecchini. “I resent that our community had no input into this decision which impacts our quality of life, to say nothing of the investment in our homes.”
If nothing else, the community has the input of elections. It is unfortunate the Commission has its hands tied by what its predecessors did (one of whom is still on the Commission and who happened to be the main advocate of the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal). Yes, it is poor planning. Yes, it is unfortunate. However, you get what you vote for. On the other hand, there is this:
Too bad the entire impact fee system in Hillsborough County is outdated and inadequate to help support the sprawl policies. Those Bloomingdale residents sure could use the $6+ million going to the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops developer.
Transportation – What Should Be On That Confounded Bridge?
The plans for replacing the Tampa-bound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge continue.
State transportation planners are studying three types of structures to replace the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge by 2020-2025, with costs depending on what kind of transit corridors might be included.
Ok. What are the options?
The price to replace the Howard Frankland with four lanes of roadway will be about $367 million, FDOT said. That does not include relieving the traffic bottleneck at the Tampa International Airport/Memorial Highway interchange.
Well, FDOT should have fixed the bottleneck a long time ago – at least when they did the Pinellas side. But, setting that aside, that is the cost for a no-frills four lane bridge.
If the project added two express lanes in each direction to accommodate bus rapid transit and cars paying tolls to avoid the free, congested lanes, the cost would increase by $339 million to $706 million.
Logically, if you add four more lanes to allow a few people to pay really high tolls and not really relieve most people who will sit in traffic, the price is double.
And if the new bridge were built to accommodate a transit exclusive guideway — a corridor for either light rail or bus — the cost would increase by $989 million to $1.36 billion. That price would include additional work in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to accommodate an enhanced transit system and link with new transit terminals in the Pinellas Gateway and Tampa West Shore areas.
Also logically, a rail-capable bridge would be more expensive. Then there is this:
State and federal money would be used for the new span if the current bridge is replaced with one the same as today’s, but if other features such as transit corridors are incorporated, FDOT could ask local entities to come to the table, District 7 spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
We thought it was the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Cars, so why the disincentive to creating transportation options? Why penalize locals for planning ahead. If there is a statutory reason, we would like to hear it and why it cannot change. Do they make locals pay in other toll road projects? (See here)
Regardless, we favor the last option. We need to have connections other than cars, and this corridor is the best place to put that connection. It is well past time that this area actually started planning for the future rather than just maintaining the status quo. Yes, it is more expensive, but:
Waiting will just increase the cost. We have already increased the cost by waiting so long. It is time to invest in our infrastructure. There is really no reason not to do it now. Even if buses run along the path for a while, it will allow rail to be built in the future.
In other news from FDOT:
We understand that idea of toll lanes to speed traffic but 1) we do not have HOV lanes because our interstates have long been neglected and 2) we have a problem with variable tolls. By allowing uncapped, variable tolls, it is entirely possible that the average driver is going to be priced out of the lanes, which seems an odd way to spend taxpayer money, especially if there are no transit options. Of course, FDOT could surprise us.
Transportation – The Selmon Connector Moves Forward
It seems the Selmon Connector is back on schedule.
The latest schedule update is that traffic will begin using the 1-mile toll road by Dec. 31 and the entire project will be completed by spring 2014, said Bill Adams of Johnson-Adams & Associates, the senior project engineer.
That is good. The idea is only about 30 years late, but at least it is getting done.
Imagine that, a fixed toll so drivers know whether it is worth it or not to use the road.
Transportation – HART/PSTA, Whatever
We noticed that the Tribune ran a guest opinion piece from one of the Tea Party members of the HART board regarding the HART/PSTA issue. Here’s what she had to say:
When politicians don’t get results from a consultant study they want, they simply issue another study. Why not? It’s not their money being wasted. That is what is behind the $200,000 spending item inserted into our state budget to fund a study on consolidating the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).
A consolidation study costing more than $100,000 was mandated by the Legislature last year, and the study findings were mixed. HART put the issue to rest, but special interests wanting to seize control won’t give up.
Um, it was HART that rejected the study’s findings, not unnamed “politicians” or PSTA or anyone other than HART. (For instance see here, here, here, and here) We have no idea what the unnamed “special interests” are either.
Rail advocates want to take away local control of HART, which has been successful in meeting budgets while accommodating increased ridership demands despite less revenue from the down economy. This is about forcing HART to alter its 10-year Transit Development Plan, which includes six cost-effective bus rapid transit routes throughout the county, to instead support the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority’s master plan that includes 250 miles of costly rail. This is about bypassing the HART board made up of folks from all ends of the political spectrum yet are united against the merger.
HART has a five-year balanced budget that routinely shores up its reserves, and early budget projections indicate it will have enough revenue to expand weekend and night service. On the other hand, PSTA taxes property owners at a 40 percent higher rate, and its own CEO recently indicated publicly that PSTA will deplete its reserves and go in the red in 2015.
Its seems her real opposition to studying whether money can be saved and better service provided is that she does not want rail. (She apparently thinks it is a UN plot after all. ) But even setting that aside, it is hard to square her other claims with what has been reported. First, as the Tribune reported, HART does not have funding for its second Metrorapid line, let alone four more. Moreover, as the Tribune reported, HART does not have money to replace older buses. Additionally, HART has already cut services and raised fares, (see Tribune report and Times report) though maybe they will not have to do the same this year. (See Tribune report that HART may luck out because property tax revenue may increase enough to add some service and also Creative Loafing) Even the resident bus expert thinks there is a problem with HART’s future plans:
At Monday morning’s monthly board meeting, HART board member Dr. Steven Polzin said he was concerned that a gap was growing between what the current budget calls for and community expectations. “At some point we need to close that gap,” he said.
While many of you might think this is all problematic, the following may explain why the Tea Party Board member thinks it’s all good:
“I don’t know if we want a bus company that will serve everybody in the community,” Jaroch said. “That’s not feasible. But as a cost safety net to serve the people who really need it, I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s done in a fiscally responsible way.”
“If HART provides a service that is faster and cheaper and more convenient than other forms of transportation available, people will try it and would very likely adopt it in their routine,” Jaroch said.
“She simply does not want everyone to pay for a service that benefits a few.” What a pithy philosophy. We’ll go with that. All roads should be toll roads – why should we pay for the road to your house when we never use it? We haven’t had a fire in while, so why should we pay for the fire department to help you? All schools should charge tuition – why should we pay for your kids to get educated? (And that includes the full cost of that degree – no, not the tuition, the full cost – this Board member got from USF. Why did she attend a taxpayer subsidized school?)
It is difficult to defend HART’s obsessive attempts to not examine how to better serve the taxpayer, and the guest opinion piece does not really address that actual issue except in the vaguest rhetorical terms. Then again, given this HART Board member’s apparent priorities, that is not a surprise. The real question is why the Hillsborough County Commissioners put her on the HART Board in the first place and if, knowing what they now know, they would do it again.
Transportation – Do We Want a Ferry?
Over the years there have been a number of proposals floated for a ferry in the area. Frankly, it is a bit odd that there is not one, but there isn’t. Now:
Turanchik, a lawyer with the Akerman Senterfitt firm, has been quietly pitching a proposal to some civic leaders and elected officials on behalf of a client hoping to operate a commuter ferry service in Tampa Bay.
The ferry service would focus on shuttling employees of MacDill Air Force Base to and from their homes in southern Hillsborough County, where many of them live. During noncommute times the ferries, with an initial capacity of 250 people, could potentially be used to carry passengers between southern Hillsborough, the Channel District in downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.
Ok, what does it cost?
Here’s the rub: Turanchik and his client, HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind., are seeking public money from the county, the state and possibly the federal government to build the docks, dredge bay beds near them and buy the boats. The price tag Murman says she was told: $24 million.
Since we have not actually seen the proposal, we can only speak generally. Generally, we are fine with a ferry. We are not sure that the government should pay for it. On the other hand, in the greater scheme of things, $22 million is not really that much for a transportation project – if it works. The bigger question is whether it will attract passengers and, given our lack of proper transit, how any passengers get around when they land? How will the lack of real transit limit the success of the potential ferry?
We are curious to see the actual details.
Downtown Tampa – Same Ole Decision Making
Last week, we discussed the apartment tower proposed for the lot behind the library and the objections to it, which we think are mostly without basis. In our discussion, we noted the skywalk issue and that it was not an insurmountable problem. Then the Tribune ran a column that hints at what the real problem is. We are not going to get into the whole article, partly because the arguments against the project are quite weak, especially this:
That was Jan Platt’s signature word during her time on the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa City Council. She argued and voted against projects and proposals so many times she got the well-earned nickname of “Commissioner No.”
“That area is the crown jewel of downtown,” she told me Friday when I called her for a follow-up. “That high-rise is misplaced. To put it slap-dab in the middle of the cultural district is just weird.”
(Just to be clear this is the lot in question.) The opposition to the idea of a tower in that location is misplaced. Putting a tower with street interaction on that lot makes perfect sense because it is now an uninviting turn lane that does nothing to enhance the “cultural district.”
It should also be noted that the failure to build a dense city leads to more sprawl, not less. If one wants to protect the environment, one of the best ways to do so is to build a denser city with good transit so there is no reason to pave the entire county. Of course, for all the time this opponent was in office we did not have or develop density nor did we have good mass transit (we still don’t). Always saying “no” can be counterproductive.
What was the Mayor’s reaction?
Instead of actually explaining why the project is good, this is basically a personal attack, which also counterproductive. And there is this, from the former County Commissioner and City Councilwoman, which is more about process and personality than the actual project:
So do we, which is why we think the proposed idea is ok.
On the other hand, there is some truth here. It is not effective to just announce a project and expect everyone to fall in line and approve it. While Tampa has a “strong mayor” system of government, the Mayor does not govern alone. If he believes the project is key, he needs to sell it – to be entrepreneurial. He has not done that. (For instance see here) And he needs to communicate better.
On the other hand, it is not ok to reject a plan just because the Mayor may have done a poor job selling it. If it is good, it should be approved. So far, we have not heard any good objection to this plan. In fact, many of those complaining now started off supporting the project. (see here and here) If there is an isolated issue like the skywalk, work it out and move forward. (And if politicians don’t like each other let them play a winner-take-all game of cribbage and get back to work.)
Everything about this process is business as usual in the City government. The DNA has not changed. And you wonder why young professionals just leave for other cities and don’t look back?
Channelside – Show Us the Money
The recent, highly hyped offer to take over the Channelside complex went before the Port Authority Board and promptly ran into reality. (And we are not even going to get into the very odd “decorum” issue. See here and here)
After two weeks of nonstop negotiations, Liberty Channelside LLC came to an impasse on Wednesday with the Tampa Port Authority over its proposed purchase of the failing downtown waterfront entertainment and retail complex.
The Tampa Port Authority staff wants Liberty Channelside and its principals, real estate investor Santosh Govindaraju and hotel developer Punit Shah, to pay $8 million in escrow up front before allowing the port’s governing board to vote on the deal. The Tampa Port Authority owns the land Channelside was built on, so the board must approve any sale of the lease.
We have absolutely no problem with the Port Authority’s position. It is well past time to get this whole thing right. If the new guys really want to fix up the Channelside complex, especially if they are asking for public money, they can commit fully. And not only that:
The port said there are several reasons why it needs Liberty Channelside to pay such a large financial guarantee up front. For one, the port wants proof of financial commitment in exchange for all of the rights that Liberty Channelside is asking the port to surrender.
The escrow would also give the port financial assurance that the Liberty group will actually spend the millions it has pledged to put toward upgrading and revamping Channelside. Liberty has proposed spending anywhere from $13 million to $22 million to bring in new restaurants, new shops, add office space and build a boutique hotel on top of the building.
We have no problem with that position. And this:
We agree with that, too. We are glad to see a businesslike approach from the Board. In many ways more importantly:
The port wants Liberty to show it is financially committed to revitalizing Channelside, and not just buying and repainting it. But that’s not the only issue frustrating the port. Officials said the Liberty group’s plans for the complex, like its funding, are still too amorphous.
Exactly. We still do not know what the real plans are, so why sign off on anything yet? We do not really care if this group or another group takes over the complex, particularly since we have not seen real plans from anyone. We care that Channelside is finally laid out and run properly so it enhances the area. There have already been many mistakes made. Thankfully, it seems that the Port Board may have learned from those mistakes. Hopefully, they will do it right this time.
Trader Joe’s – Not Yet
Last week we discussed all the rumors about Trader Joe’s in South Tampa and noted that there are plans for Orlando and Miami. Well,
The popular Trader Joe’s grocery chain known for carrying unique products — like turkey meatloaf muffins and chicken cilantro mini wontons — said it has signed a lease to open at the PGA Plaza in Palm Beach Gardens next year.
You can see the urban oasis in where they are opening in Palm Beach Gardens here.
So what exactly is the issue in South Tampa? Maybe Trader Joe’s is about to announce a location or maybe not. Based on this map of wealthiest zip codes, if they are having trouble with their targeted site, maybe they should consider more options in the area.
List of the Week
Our list this week is the Men’s Health Best and Worst Places to Exercise (also known as the most active and laziest cities list) This list ranks 100 locations with number one being the best place to exercise.
The top 10 are: Portland, OR; Boise, ID; Salt Lake City, UT; Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Madison, WI; Oakland, CA; and Aurora, CO.
The Florida cities on the list are St. Pete at 45th, Miami at 49th, Jacksonville at 64th, Tampa at 70th, and Orlando at 76th. For a warm and supposedly active state, that is not very good.
City Tax – About that Plan B
We have noted over the last year of so that the Mayor of Tampa seems to have had only one idea for transit – getting the legislature to give cities the power to raise their own taxes, which he wanted to pay for transit (Though he never gave specifics). The logic being that the 2010 Hillsborough Transportation Referendum would have passed in the City if Tampa, though it lost countywide. We have noted a number of problems with the tax – a major one being that if the City had its own tax, it would be hard to get whatever system was built out into the county, which would be necessary for any decent system. However, on a much more basic level, there was another problem – the fact that it was very unlikely that the legislature would pas such a bill in the first place. Well,
The proposal was a top legislative priority for Tampa, where Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants his own shot at passing the kind of transit tax proposal that three years ago failed county-wide while winning precincts inside the city.
Going into this year’s legislative session, the idea was supported by the Urban Partnership, which consists of the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, Hialeah, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.
“We thought we had some momentum to do an amendment on the transportation bill, and we had some folks lined up to be supportive of it,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden in the midnight hours, I think someone drove a stake through its heart.”
Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he was lobbied on the idea “a little bit,” including by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. He said he doesn’t know what happened to it, but noted that “the position in Tallahassee by leadership is not to raise taxes.”
Entirely predictable. As we asked many times, what is Plan B?
Ok, well that has little chance of working, so maybe the City should try Plan C. In any event, the article then tells us this:
In the meantime, Buckhorn has hopes for transit assistance in the next several years from Washington, D.C. For one thing, President Barack Obama’s administration already has been good to Tampa, awarding:
• $30 million to help develop Encore Tampa — a 12-block urban redevelopment project with apartments, condominiums, stores and offices — where the Central Park Village public housing complex used to stand.
That is all nice but, while a couple of the items deal with transportation, they are not transit so not really relevant.
More importantly, the article tells us the Mayor is relying of relationships with people in Washington. That is fine. Relationships are necessary. However, even more important are actual plans, and the Mayor has not said one word about the actual transportation system he would like to build. Yes, he has said “rail” but where? How?
The decision to bet on the City Tax may have just been ill-advised or it may have been political calculation (Expend little political capital while waiting for the legislature to pass a flawed idea, and blame them every time it does not pass.) Whatever it was, it is not leadership. Leadership is to propose an actual plan to fix problems, work out funding in the real word, and sell it to the community. We are already behind. We don’t have time to waste.
HART/PSTA – A Little Progress, But Just a Little
This week, the HART board acted again. No, it did not give a comprehensive plan to fix transit in Hillsborough County. No, it did not address its manifold funding issues.
The HART board wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a late addition to the state’s transportation bill that includes $200,000 for further study of a merger between the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit authorities.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority voted 11-1 on Monday to ask the governor to intervene in the issue. The pressure to merge is being pushed primarily by Pinellas Sen. Jack Latvala; HART board members staunchly oppose the idea.
The new study would follow a legislatively mandated consultant’s report last year that found a merger wouldn’t lower expenses in operations or maintenance but would save $2.4 million annually by consolidating senior staff.
No surprise that HART opposed the studies. Clearly the Board fears that any more studies might show that the origin study was valid. Then again, they might not. Without a study, we won’t know.
Did the HART board give any ostensible rationale for rejecting a study?
The study issue is not an issue of local control, it is an issue of which locals get to control. The reality is that it should be an issue of having the best transit service for the lowest cost serving the Tampa Bay area, but we know that is not the goal of HART’s board. Though there was the little bit of sensible talk:
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, also said she opposes a merger. But the former state legislator said objecting to the study could more deeply embroil HART in a political battle at the state level.
In sharp contrast to the HART board, the PSTA head put out the following:
“PSTA thanks Senator Latvala and the Florida Legislature for responding positively … and for supporting further research into how to make the best transit system for the Tampa Bay region possible,” CEO Brad Miller said in an email to The Tampa Tribune.
“The PSTA board took a position approving the previous locally-funded study of coordination/consolidation of the two agencies as a way not only to save public money, estimated at $2.4 million annually, money that could be reinvested in better regional transit service, but also a way that could lead to a more efficient, competitive regional transportation network for the Tampa Bay area.”
Amazing how the Boards can view the same idea so differently. It also still amazes us that Hillsborough County is so scared of regionalism, especially because of this:
Through phased implementation over the next four years, the new system will provide seamless and common fare media for passengers throughout the Tampa Bay region. Conversion is expected cost about $8 million.
This is a totally rational idea. Why is the HART board so scared of a study that might reveal additional rational ideas?
Pinellas Transit Referendum – Still Alive
You may remember that some Pinellas County Commissioners were sued ostensibly because of term limit issues but actually to interfere with the Pinellas Transit Referendum. Well, the judge dismissed the case, noting:
“This issue was clearly not the focus of Plaintiffs’; complaint, nor mentioned in their request for relief,” Schaefer wrote in his ruling. If the plaintiffs wanted to take issue with PSTA spending, he wrote, they should have named the agency in their suit.
Or maybe the opponents of the referendum should make their case against the referendum and let the voters decide, like people who believe in democracy would do. There is no guarantee anything will pass.
Downtown Tampa – The Straz, the Library, the Tower, and the Council
This week the apartment tower proposed for the lot behind the library in downtown Tampa came up for a hearing before the City Council. Before the hearing it was reported that some are worried about the fact that the portion of the skywalk between the Poe Garage and the Straz that connects to the Straz may be removed. But then that concern morphed:
Specifically, the Straz Center’s chief executive officer, Judy Lisi, and advocates for the John F. Germany Public Library shared their concerns about the vast scope of the tower and all the roadwork needed around it.
That appeared to spook several members of the City Council, who said they didn’t have enough information about the project to move forward. After more than an hour of discussion, the council made no decision other than to schedule another hearing on the issue on Aug. 8.
The skywalk may be an issue, but it is nothing insurmountable. Maybe a continuance will help people work on that issue. Frankly, we don’t care about the continuance.
On the other hand, we do care about the substance of the debate. The discussion showed that opposition to the project has a much more fundamental basis than the skywalk:
“The proposed scale of this project is so massive that it seems to us not only incompatible but aggressively incompatible with our riverfront and the community institutions that we have there,” said John Mullen, a board member of the Friends of the John F. Germany Public Library.
We are not talking the Sears Tower. In reality, the project is not that big, and the footprint, which is what pedestrians will see, is definitely not that big. As for the tower’s compatibility institutions nearby like the Straz center, please note the locations of performing arts centers in Charlotte, Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix (symphony – hard to see because it behind the big building, and San Diego – two different buildings (symphony and theatre) in the middle of downtown. It seems that all these institutions can deal with having towers near them. Anything else?
The Straz Center originally came up with the idea of reconfiguring Cass and Tyler streets to be safer and to give the center a bigger, better arrival plaza. But Lisi said it also originally envisioned a smaller project on the piece of city land that developers want to build on.
Yes, she said, getting the roads redone would be nice, but “we are very concerned about the scale of this project and what it is going to do that area and how it is going to really be a barrier between the Straz Center and the arts district and how it’s going affect all of our patrons.”
The only way the proposed building is going to be a barrier for people going from the Straz to the museums and Curtis Hixon Park and back is if they have to jump over it. (They don’t)
Maybe the Times’ editorial against the building, which had nothing to do with the skywalk, can explain the argument against the building.
The argument that the tower fits with the city’s new InVision master plan for downtown is weak, too. The InVision plan has a broad enough sweep to justify almost any new development. But if anything, it warns against these sort of big-box waterfront projects. The plan also emphasizes creating harmony between the river and any surrounding development, and maintaining river views by preserving open spaces. The tower would subvert these goals in one of the few remaining open spaces on the downtown waterfront.
(We find it interesting that the Times says that the InVision plan can be used to justify almost any new development. If that is the case, what exactly was the point of it?)
First, the proposed building is not a “big box.” Second, InVision Tampa actually has a building in the lot in a rendering on page 58 (though that may have been wired into the report).
More importantly, the Times’ position that the building to too big (it is downtown) or cuts off the water is inaccurate. We have shown that performing arts centers are often right next to large towers. As seen in this picture, the proposed building is not even on the water – in fact, the Straz has a parking lot to the left of the building that is on the water. The truth is that if anything cuts off the water, it is the Straz and the Tampa Museum of Art which pinches the sight lines to the river (To be clear, we are not objecting to the Straz or the Museum.)
The rendering shows that the building is set back from the riverfront and the axis between the Tampa Museum and the Straz is unobstructed. In fact, there is a wide sidewalk connecting the two that does not even touch the lot of the proposed building (though it does go by the Straz’s riverfront parking lot.) There is no barrier. What is a barrier is the barren streetscape that now exists.
Here is another angle of the proposal:
The location of this building is fine (though we would like to see a final plan of what they really propose to build). The proposed scale is also fine.
As far as we can tell, the arguments about preserving the “arts district” have no merit. The building does not interfere with the riverfront. Moreover, the height of building is not really an issue for pedestrians. What is an issue for pedestrians is what is on the street – what the pedestrian experiences. If the building addresses the sidewalk properly, pedestrians will not notice the height. (You can walk down Fifth avenue in NYC and not really even notice the building heights.) If the building ignores the sidewalk (like most of the library), it is a barrier to pedestrians.
Deal with the skywalk issue and move on. The reality is that the status quo is not acceptable (nor are the petty politics that often get injected into issues like this one), and the concept of the project as proposed would be a vast improvement.
Downtown Tampa – Channelside
The folks that want to take over the Channelside complex had a public meeting this week. First, we give them credit for having a public meeting. What happened there?
After spending an undisclosed sum to acquire rights to the lease, the two companies could easily spend $9 million on renovating the site, and another $15 million to build a 150-room hotel that stretches three stories tall and wraps around much of the crescent-shaped second floor.
The hotel would have views over the complex to the water, and be a “select service” tier, similar to a Hyatt Place, though they haven’t settled on a final brand. A walking bridge would connect the hotel to the more modern parking garage across the street, and parking rates would be lower and more predictable than the current system.
They also hope to shrink the movie theater space, and transform it into a more upscale, perhaps dinner theater business, similar to Cinebistro in Hyde Park Village. With some of that space opened up, they hope to add 45,000 square feet of office space. Adding a hotel and offices, Govindaraju said, would mean more people walking the complex in the daytime.
Govindaraju and Shah want to say goodbye to the nightclubs and theme restaurants of the complex’s past. They want to bring in homegrown restaurants and the top fast-casual chains. They want to bring back the movie theater — with a dining option. They want to turn Channelside into a place folks can bring their kids to during the day and a date to at night.
The two want to have concerts, festivals and outdoor markets. They want to build excitement on the sidewalk to get people to come inside. They want to fix the garage, parking and traffic issues. They want to add office space.
That is all very nice, if not particularly specific, except for wanting public assistance. Before anything goes forward, there needs to be more detail.
On the other hand, there was this:
Govindaraju also floated the idea of turning Channelside Drive into a one-way street, which would actually continue the one-way direction that fronts the Forum downtown, and turning Cumberland Drive into a one-way street that flows back into downtown.
Really, the City is spending all this money to two-way streets in downtown to make them pedestrian friendly and they want the City to spend money making streets one way? What is the point?
Our bottom line on this has not changed. We think there needs to be real detail before the Port approves anything. Moreover, we still think just completely starting over on the lot should be considered.
Downtown Tampa – Senior Apartments
It was announced this week that there is another project for downtown Tampa.
American Realty Development of Maitland hopes to break ground next month on a seven-story apartment project on North Florida Avenue, just north of Fortune Street. Named Madison Heights, it will be across from the Marion Transit Center at the north end of downtown.
Plans call for 80 one- and two-bedroom apartments above a first-floor parking area, American Realty manager Patrick Law said. Would-be residents must be 55 and older and meet income requirements based on Hillsborough County’s median household income.
Rent will run from $275 to $674 a month. His company is financing the $15 million construction cost with a mix of government tax credits and a loan from PNC Bank. He hopes to finish construction by the summer of 2014.
It will look something like this:
It is kind of bland, but so be it. At least, unlike the building under construction in the Encore project right now, this building does not seem to have a surface parking lot. On the other hand, it does not seem to have any street retail even though it is right next to the Marion Transit center. While we realize the transit center is not really a major facility, it could use a little store. Also, the garage opens to the sidewalk.
We do not find this project overly exciting, but it is not horrible either. It is filler. Hopefully, some of the bigger projects that have much more press will also get built.
Trader Joes – Tampa Following from Behind
Last week there was an article in the Times regarding rumors of Trader Joe’s coming to Tampa and issues arising therefrom.
Jason Donald, of the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm, mentioned Trader Joe’s at Tuesday’s annual meeting of the Westshore Alliance Development Forum. Donald confirmed that he said, ”It’s rumored that Trader Joe’s has found a site along Dale Mabry.” He did not offer specifics, saying he is under a confidentiality agreement not to discuss details.
The current talk has Trader Joe’s going into the site that currently holds the Shapes gym on Swann Avenue near S Dale Mabry Highway. Employees there said they had not heard anything about the gym closing.
The property at 3808 W Swann Ave. is owned by Swann Avenue Properties in Brandon. Elliot Raj, who Hillsborough County records show has filed an option to buy the property, would not confirm that Trader Joe’s had chosen the building. But, he added, he knew Trader Joe’s was looking to move into the heart of South Tampa and could decide within a week on whether to open a location there.
Robert Karshner, co-owner of Swann Avenue Properties, said he was aware of Raj’s purchase option but did not know Trader Joe’s was involved. He said he had not even heard of the store until this week.
Vince Julien, the other co-owner, said he had not been in touch with Trader Joe’s and knew nothing about the plans for the site. Julien said if he and Karshner choose to exercise the option on the property, any investor would have to lease it back to them for 20 years.
This could all be a smokescreen or it could be part of this:
Brian Bern, a senior director with Franklin Street real estate services, said he heard through industry sources that Trader Joe’s has a particular intersection in mind but hasn’t been able to find a suitable site.
Maybe they have a deal or maybe they do not want to pay what people are asking. While all this goes on Trader Joes already has stores in Naples, Sarasota and Naples. Moreover,
Surprise. Lagging again, though hopefully not for long. Clearly they should have asked for money from the County Commission.
From the Backlot
We learned this week that:
The executive director of the commission will be charged with attracting film, TV, still photography, digital media and new media productions to the area as well as promoting media opportunities from here.
Makes sense. We need someone to work on this.
“Hiring the right person for this role is just the beginning,” said Rick Homans, commission chairman and president/CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Once hired, the executive director will work with our local production community to raise the awareness of Tampa and Hillsborough County as a destination for film and digital media productions.”
We hope so. It was just announced that another studio will be built in Atlanta, joining a number of other major projects. Miami already is the scene of numerous series, projects, and Spanish language media. Orlando has Disney and other companies. Quickly perusing a list of companies from the Florida Film Commission, listings for Tampa Bay area companies are sparse at best. Despite some recent projects, we are way behind.
America’s Next Start-Up City?
We found this article and accompanying video about a city aspiring to be America’s next start-up city on the Atlantic website. No, it is not the Tampa Bay area. It is Miami.
The video is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. First, a lot of what is said about Miami can be said about the Tampa Bay area – especially about talent moving away, about generations of people looking for things to do and not finding them there, and about urban development, though Miami’s development is in full bloom and ours is mostly in full-ish discussion.
There are also distinguishing factors – Miami is an international business center; Miami is an international style/film/art center; there is much more capital flowing about in Miami; Miami has an international draw; Miami has transit and urban neighborhoods (note the plural). All those are key factors to getting a critical mass of multi-disciplinary talent that can interact to create successful start-ups.
The one thing that really caught our attention. Starting at 2:24 of the video there is a comment about how Miami does not mind “disruption.” We assume the comment is about creative disruption – the idea that present systems or ways of doing things can be abruptly changed and that new ideas are tried and create new ways of doing thing and new systems. That is key in the arts, and it is key to innovation. It is key to urban design, and it is key to industrial design. It is also generally lacking in the Tampa Bay area – from the complaints about the scale of the building proposed for the lot near the Straz (see above), to the complaints that always arise every time there is a successful dining/night district – including in downtown, to the reliance on real estate, to the lack of a developed alternative music scene, to the lack of notable new architecture, and on and on.
For all the talk of changing DNA, we do not see too much of it, especially in the political culture.
Without creative disruption (which is a real change of DNA), we will never compete.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week is the list of cities with the worst traffic. Not surprisingly, LA is worst, followed by Honolulu, San Francisco, Austin, New York, Bridgeport, San Jose, Seattle, DC, and Boston. Yes, most of them have rail, and none are in Florida.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is Forbes’ list of Best Cities For Jobs 2013. What makes this list very interesting is that it is created in part by the sprawl advocate from the Daily Beast articles we discussed a few weeks ago. (see here and here).
The number one city for jobs is San Francisco, followed by Nashville, Salt Lake City, Ft. Worth, Houston, Dallas (not sure why they split Dallas and Ft. Worth – maybe they just wanted more Texas entries), San Jose, Charlotte, Denver, and Austin. (All have rail, though Nashville is only commuter rail, which is ironic for the sprawl advocate.)
Downtown Tampa – Move Slowly
As part of efforts to develop downtown Tampa and the area around it, there are often calls to change the design of various streets. In the last few weeks, we have heard about a two of these roads – Ashley and Nebraska.
Setting aside that InVision Tampa was a report by a consultant, not the Mayor, what is the purpose of these changes?
We are for making downtown more walkable. We also think that not removing lanes, which had been proposed in the past, is a good thing.
On the other hand, among other things, downtown is a business district that is supposed to draw workers from all over the area. As we have said before, InVision Tampa’s ideas have an odd proclivity for working to make it difficult to get into downtown from all areas other than South Tampa. As evidenced by the recent postponement of a planned office building in the downtown due to lack of demand, downtown already suffers from a weakness as a regional business draw. We doubt that making it harder to get around downtown from the interstate will help make downtown a viable location for regional business and entertainment facilities (like Channelside or a baseball stadium).
Additionally, other cities have multiple lanes and no on street parking but do not seem to inhibit the cities through which they run. Just a few examples – and we do not consider them necessarily ideal streetscapes: Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Brickell in Miami (though it is not a huge pedestrian area, yet) or Boylston in Boston (has parking, but is also one way – which apparently is a no-no these days) So why can’t we do that? Could it be the lack of non-bus transit alternatives to get people around?
The point is this: yes, downtown should be more walkable. However, there needs to be ways to get in and out of downtown from places other than South Tampa. The general idea of walkability is good, but the execution seems misplaced.
Downtown streets are just not that intimidating (As shown by the people sitting at outside at restaurants on Ashley or crossing Ashley to get to Curtis Hixon Park.) – downtown’s lack of proper urban designs (and its multiple surface parking lots) is much more harmful. Downtown is not just a neighborhood or South Tampa’s front yard. If people cannot get in and out of downtown, it will lose even more to Westshore and other areas.
In truth, making Ashley – one of the gateways to downtown from the north (and east and west) – slower might make sense if there were good transit alternatives and good road alternatives. For roads there is Tampa/Florida and Nebraska. However, now the City is planning further changes to Nebraska Avenue, which has already been narrowed from four lanes to two (with a turn lane).
Between 14,000 and 16,000 cars each day travel Nebraska, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. The street is a major link between downtown and neighborhoods like V.M. Ybor and Southeast Seminole Heights.
* * *
The rebirth of Nebraska is tied to HART’s plan to begin new bus-rapid transit, known as MetroRapid, running north along the street between downtown and the Hidden River regional park-and-ride lot on Fletcher Avenue. That service, which includes new green-and-silver stations along Nebraska, starts operating in June.
City officials want people who live, work and drive along Nebraska to offer their ideas for how to make the street a better place to do all those things. They’re inviting people to a workshop at 6 p.m. tonight at the Children’s Board offices in Ybor City to brainstorm the street’s future.
First, once again, Nebraska definitely could be a nicer street. We also applaud the attempt to get input about the road from the public, though it is questionable how many people commuters will go to a meeting in Ybor City.
However, as we said, Nebraska was narrowed a few years ago (and made “bike friendly,” which was supposed to spark a renaissance. Apparently that didn’t work. So what are the ideas? You can see some basics, most of which are fine, in an eight page pdf on the city website. But then there is this, which goes to “taming” Nebraska:
Trees are fine, but we have an issue with the general goal. Some roads are not supposed to be quaint. This is not Cedar Key or Micanopy. This is the middle of the city, and, as the article says, Nebraska is a major connection to the north. Some roads are necessarily major roads. And the speed limit on Nebraska where it is one lane in each direction is 35. (see here and here) Continually making Nebraska harder to drive on is not a solution. Additionally, even if Metro Rapid is a success (which we hope it is) that will just lead to more buses on the road, and nothing says café dining like streams of buses.
As actually pointed out in the eight page pdf, what would make Nebraska nicer is having nicer things on Nebraska, like wider sidewalks, pedestrian friendly buildings, and better developments. (And how about not putting drainage ditches touching the sidewalk)
What is needed is economic development, real transit, and a proper code. It is not possible to have simultaneously every road be a quiet, small town street and have a vibrant downtown, especially when you do not have real transit. Where is the traffic supposed to go? If you choke access too much, you choke downtown.
The real problem is that all this is putting the cart before the horse. It is not a part of a well thought-out transportation system that includes real transit. Without that, there is no way to offset changes to traffic patterns, and the changes are more likely to create more bottlenecks and congestion, which is counterproductive.
We have to remember that the goal is to build a city, not just a cluster of Mt. Doras (as nice as Mt. Dora may be). And real cities require real transit.
Channelside – What is It?
There was a big flurry of news about a new group looking to take over the Channelside complex.
A pair of Tampa-based hotel and resort developers are now in the lead to take over Channelside Bay Plaza, and have now filed formal paperwork with the Tampa Port Authority in hopes of taking control of the long-struggling restaurant and retail site.
If approved by political leaders and financial institutions involved, Liberty Group and Convergent Capital Partners would together begin a dramatic re-organization of the government-backed complex, with renovations possibly starting this autumn.
* * *
And similar to a residential “short sale,” Govindaraju said his partnership now has a signed agreement with the bank that holds the mortgage on the property, and that deal precludes any other party from acquiring those rights. If approved by the Port of Tampa to become the new mall operators at the Port’s monthly meeting in May, Govindaraju said they could close on the deal in June and start construction by autumn.
Ok, so they want to buy at below market price and make “significant changes.” Before anyone signs off on another plan for Channelside, what are the changes?
No lineup of potential tenants has been revealed. Shah said he wants restaurateurs and businesses interested in coming to Channelside to start contacting him. But they envision adding fast-casual dining, “unique” retail and “first-class” entertainment.
They want to appeal to several demographics: fans attending Lightning games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Florida Aquarium visitors and the more than 900,000 cruise ship passengers who stream through the Port of Tampa annually.
Ok, some office space and maybe a hotel, though we are not clear exactly where any of that will go. And they want “fast-casual” dining (so a Chipotle or reasonable facsimile thereof). And they want to appeal to many demographics – who doesn’t? In sum, we really don’t know much. (And what is a “life-style” center anyway? Is that the modern “festival marketplace”?)
This is all rather vague. As made clear from the idea of getting local input, it seems there is no full plan, aside from asking for public money:
If accepted, the bidders would like the base rent they pay to the Port cut by 50 percent, permission to build a 150-room hotel, and a contribution of $1 million from the Port toward a pedestrian “Sky Bridge” that’s part of their vision for renovations.
Because we do not know what the plan is, we can’t really judge it. However, we are not sold on what we have heard.
The truth is that the Channelside complex was built for a different time. When it was built, there were not very many people living nearby; now there is a growing population. When it was built, people could still access the waterfront from the building; now they cannot. When it was built, people did not have to sit behind Plexiglas to dine facing the water; now they do.
The main feature of the lot is that it is waterfront property. The main feature of the building is that it cuts people off from the water. Any real change to the building needs to address that or it is questionable whether it will work.
It is good that people are making proposals. Maybe they are good, maybe they are not. The Port should be very cautious in approving any deal. The half steps of the past have not worked. It might be better to just tear down the complex and start again.
The Westshore Alliance has a released a proposal for redoing the “public space” in the Westshore area.
The Public Realm Master Plan calls for landscaped medians, shaded sidewalks, screens to hide parking lots and shared bus and bicycle lanes along West Shore Boulevard, between International Plaza and Kennedy Boulevard. It would narrow traffic lanes and reduce speed limits on West Shore and Boy Scout boulevards and Lois Avenue. Pedestrian bridges would connect restaurants and offices along Boy Scout with a new public park and International Plaza.
Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity, said the plan underscores “West Shore’s coming of age.” Several residential projects and restaurants have opened or are in development stages.
“The master plan reflects some of the changes we’re seeing in the West Shore district,” he said. “It was solely a 9-to-5 operation. Now we have more residential coming in. It’s important to enhance the area’s walkability because not all of these people want to use cars.”
The plan would improve pedestrian access without taking away vehicle lanes or adding traffic congestion, Rotella said. Rather than drive a few blocks to grab lunch or run an errand, West Shore’s nearly 100,000 workers could walk or hop on a bus. Guests in the 8,000 hotel rooms could get safely to a store or restaurant without dodging speeding vehicles.
A presentation of the plan can be found here.
First, we are all for improving the urban environment of the Westshore area. Thanks to both the developers and the City, for too long Westshore has been a suburban office park in the middle of the city. (If they screen parking lots, they are going to hide the first floor of almost every building.)
Of course, that is the major problem with this plan. Regardless of streetscaping, the fact remains that the buildings in the Westshore area are suburban buildings, and there is really no evidence of that changing (see here and the Container Store). We are all for making the sidewalks shaded and wider, but that will not get people to walk if the buildings are not built for pedestrians. That is up to the developers, and they have shown little interest so far. And then there is this:
Again with making it harder to get around. What would you have the cars do, 30 mph? In our experience one thing pedestrians like even less than cars moving by at 40 mph (which is really not a big deal) is breathing the fumes from thousands of cars stuck in gridlocked traffic. Quite frankly, if there are good sidewalks that are buffered from the street by landscaping with something for the pedestrians to do (see here) – as opposed to little ribbons right next to the road adjacent to parking lots (see here and here) – people will walk. Moreover, if a circulator bus is stuck in slow traffic, it will become useless for getting people to malls and restaurants for lunch.
Now for a couple specific issues. Look at this picture, which can also be found at page 15 of the pdf (another angle is on page 17):
This is a rendering of a proposed park around the International Plaza retention pond on Boy Scout Boulevard. While a pedestrian bridge over Boy Scout may be a good idea, we see no reason to spend money on a “park” sandwiched between a large surface parking lot and six lane road and smacked against a retention pond. Who is going to use this “park” space, especially in the summer?
In addition, notice the large teal-ish and yellow swirls on the pavement of Boy Scout. As shown on page 20 of the pdf, that is not just an artistic flourish for the rendering; it is actually a proposal to color the street. We are all for better streetscaping (though we do not think it is a panacea), but painting the street is just silly. (As anyone who has observed the fake brick crosswalks painted all over Tampa become blackened by traffic over the years will know).
So how much would all this cost?
Implementing the plan would cost millions and could require buying public right of way. The “only practical source,” Rotella said, would be the creation of a tax increment financing district through the county. The TIF district would earmark a certain amount of future county property tax revenue to finance the debt issued to pay for the improvements. County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has said he supports it.
The city of Tampa recently approved an $80,000 engineering feasibility study on moving utilities and obtaining right of way needed for the West Shore plan. It also collects impact fees for district improvements.
We give them credit for trying to keep costs down and consider alternative funding. (Though the cost would be even less if the swirly street paintings and retention park were removed.)
The bottom line is this – upgrading the streetscaping is fine. We have no objection. However, having nice streetscapes for people to look at as they sit in traffic trying to get to the malls and back is not making an area walkable or urban. We find it hard to get too excited about this plan when there is no evidence that anything built in Westshore will actually be built in a walkable way. When pedestrian friendly, urban buildings are actually built, we will get excited. Moreover, it makes no sense to make it even harder to get around the area by slowing down traffic on most of the major arteries – on Kennedy and Westshore it can already be slow enough and the speed limit on Lois is already 35. And we have no interest in ideas like the park and painting the street.
The only way to make Westshore truly walkable is to build the buildings in a walkable way. Otherwise, this risks being window-dressing.
CIT – The Well is Dry
It seems that the fiscally conservative Hillsborough County Commission has basically spent all the Community Investment Tax money.
Once expected to grow at a robust 6 percent a year, receipts from the voter-approved tax have increased just 1.8 percent annually over the last decade, Fesler said. He blamed the recent economic downturn for the tax’s demise.
But that’s only part of the story. Another reason the tax can’t pay for big projects is that prior county commissions borrowed heavily against the CIT for drainage, transportation and other needs requested by constituents.
Oops. So how did this happen?
But at a September 2005 meeting, Commissioner Ronda Storms pushed to spend an additional two or three years of Community Investment Tax money to pay for storm-water drainage and transportation upgrades. County officials told commissioners Storms’ proposal could be done, but the money would be borrowed against taxes collected a decade later.
Current County Administrator Mike Merrill, who was the debt management director in 2007, told commissioners then that the county could expect just $213 million before the tax expired in 2026, rather than the previously anticipated $480 million.
Another factor in the decision to borrow all the remaining CIT was the commission’s determination not to raise taxes, said current Chairman Ken Hagan. The county was desperately trying to build infrastructure to keep up with the booming population but taxes were off limits.
“So bonding the CIT using favorable interest rates at the time was an extremely prudent thing to do,” Hagan said recently. “If we refused to raise taxes, how else are you going to meet the infrastructure needs using existing revenues?”
As Norman warned, the decision to bond out the remaining CIT revenues on the cusp of a recession puts today’s commission in hard position. The county has an $8 billion deficit in transportation and other infrastructure, according to Hagan.
At the April 10 meeting, Merrill’s staff presented commissioners with a list of possible ways to raise revenues. Most of the ideas involved tax increases or new taxes, hardly palatable options for the Republican majority, two of whose members face election in 2014.
Basically, the County Commission simply postponed facing reality so they would not have to talk about taxes. (We are sure that putting their interest in getting reelected had nothing to do with it.)
The real question is that if we have an $8 billion dollar infrastructure deficit and no way to pay for it, why is the County Commission giving away millions in subsidies to developers for roads that do not need to be upgraded?
For all the talk about innovation zones near USF, it seems that everyone is getting hung up with talk. (For the fuller details, the Tribune story is here)
A beautiful vision for the University of South Florida area, it would clean up the ugly streets around Busch Gardens and USF, bring in new businesses and turn the area into a research and medicine-based zone that capitalizes on USF and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center’s brainpower.
For example, the biggest institutions in the area, including USF and Busch Gardens, focused on beautifying the streets and attracting business; community activists concentrated on the decades-old problems of crime and joblessness. Eventually, a consultant who was hired to plan Innovation Destination was let go when the parties couldn’t agree on a vision.
None of this is surprising – especially the idea that streetscaping can cure any ill.
Look. While we are not for odd ideas like a USF stadium replacing the dog track on Bird Street (a USF stadium should be on USF’s campus), it is clear that to really create a zone for “innovation” (whatever that means) around USF one has to deal with the less that prosperous neighborhood around USF. Moreover, there are office parks near enough to USF to not require anyone to locate in the “innovation” zone. You have to give them a reason to go to suitcase city.
As we noted last year:
Apparently no one has answered these questions.
Why not come up with an innovative idea to fix the innovation zone and help the people in the area at the same time (and streetscaping is not innovation). Isn’t that the kind of thing that major research institutions should do?
TIA – Back to Holguin
TIA announced, among new domestic flights, flights to Holguin, Cuba, are resuming seasonally.
Not bad. We would like flights through the whole year, but in a developing and politically charged market like Cuba, it is perfectly understandable. Though it is notable that:
International business has proven a key factor in the airport’s growth. While the airport served 1.8 million passengers in March, a 5 percent gain since March 2012, international passengers in March soared more than 13 percent over the same time period, and 43 percent higher than March 2011, airport data show.
Excellent. And there is this:
Now we need more European and Latin American flights, as well as to the Pacific Coast.
Economic Development – The Germans Are Coming, At Least for a Visit
Last week it was announced that:
Local economic development officials did not name any of the prospects, but said Monday that the companies make everything from heat-exchange equipment and radio frequency identification devices to aerospace components and cleaning equipment for the pharmaceutical industry, to water recycling and fuel filtration systems.
Some are interested in opening sales and distribution offices here. Others could explore bringing in manufacturing operations. And local officials have been working for months with a German manufacturer interested in establishing its U.S. headquarters in Hillsborough County.
It is all positive news, especially the bit about the HQ. Hopefully it will bear fruit, which will be the true measure of success. This is the kind of effort of which we need much more.
List of the Week I
Our first list this week is the Fast Company list of best states (and districts) for innovation.
Florida is number one, followed by Texas, Maryland, Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. You can see why they say Florida is the best here. It is nice to be first, but we are a little dubious.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week seems to tie into the first. It is nerdwallet.com’s best cities to start a business. (Reading through the criteria, it seems that success of the business is not particularly relevant.) Atlanta is first, then Raleigh, Austin, Tulsa, OKC, Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, and Omaha.
List of the Week III
Our third list this week seems to contradict our first two, at least as related to us. It is Bloomberg’s Top 12 boomtowns (we have no idea why they chose 12).
Austin is first, followed by New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, Houston, DC, OKC, Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Dallas, and San Jose. Florida is shut out.
It is interesting that this week, Tampa (and Florida) made an appearance. That is positive. However, in contrast to places like Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte and Houston that show up on almost every list, we still have a long way to go.
Please note that there will be no Roundup next week.
Regionalism – Business Takes the Lead
We have often noted that the Tampa Bay area needs to learn to act (and think) more regionally. Unfortunately, political leadership in that vein is usually lacking. (See HART/PSTA or the Rays). However, there are other kinds of leadership:
Leaders of the three major chambers of commerce representing Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater gathered like long-lost brothers Wednesday, sending a message that regional cooperation is starting to gel.
Starting last year, senior executives of the three chambers have met quarterly in what is called the Council of Chambers to share regional concerns and offer mutual support where possible. The briefing in St. Petersburg was meant to clarify the council’s ambitions and show the chambers do not operate only inside their own silos.
Why do we care? Because to the outside world, Tampa Bay is simply one metro area and economy, so locals better exhibit some signs they can work together. And because new and expensive economic pressures are rising — from funding mass transportation, a new baseball stadium and even a new aquarium — that may force regional sharing of such burdens.
Exactly. The world sees us as one area. If we cannot get our act together, they will just see us as an area that can’t get its act together. Business leaders can see that and have an incentive to act because the market (for sales and labor) does not really care about political boundaries. Hopefully, the business cooperation can get the political leaders to also act cooperatively.
Of course, from some of the comments, it is clear that this is still a new process:
It is ok, but it is less productive. On the other hand, at least there is an effort underway, which is best summed up by this:
Yup. But it is a start. If you put one foot in front of the other, soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.
Port – What exactly?
This week at the Port:
Ok. That makes sense. What else?
In other business Tuesday, commissioners agreed to spend nearly $2.25 million on channel dredging and spoil island expansion projects that will help keep the port economically competitive for the next 20 years.
We have no objection to dredging the channel and we understand the bureaucratic problems with it. (The Port Director’s thoughts were reported in the Miami Herald. )
However, what exactly is the plan and how will it keep us competitive in the post-Panamax era? What is the real plan?
Urban v Sprawl – Cont.
A couple of weeks ago we discussed an article in the Daily Beast regarding the debate between advocates of the “creative class” (we actually favor the idea of “knowledge based industry” to the idea of “creative class”) and those of “sprawl” as economic models.
We pointed out that a diverse economy with diverse lifestyle choices is the best model for a metro area. We also pointed out that the advocate of sprawl actually made the case for our position, rather than sprawl. This week the sprawl advocate, in an article which focused on Houston, made our argument even more clearly.
Even as Houston has continued to advance outwards, the region has added more multiunit buildings over the past decade than more populous New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. With its economy growing faster and producing wealth faster than any other region in the country, urban developers there usually do not need subsidies or planning dictates to be economically viable.
Modern urban culture also is spreading in the Bayou City. In what has to be a first, my colleagues at Forbes recently ranked Houston as America’s “coolest city,” citing not only its economy, but its thriving arts scene and excellent restaurants. Such praise may make some of us, who relish Houston’s unpretentious nature, a little nervous—but it shows that hip urbanism can co-exist with rapidly expanding suburban development.
And Houston’s not the only proverbial urban ugly duckling having an amenity makeover. Oklahoma City has developed its central “Bricktown” into a centerpiece for arts and entertainment. Ft. Worth boasts its own, cowboy-themed downtown, along with fine museums, while its rival Dallas, in typical Texan fashion, boasts of having the nation’s largest arts district.
More important still, both for families and outdoor-oriented singles, both cities are developing large urban park systems. At an expense of $30 million, Raleigh is nearing the completion of its Neuse River Greenway Trail, a 28-mile trail through the forested areas of Raleigh. Houston has plans for a series of bayou-oriented green ways. For its part, Dallas is envisioning a vast new 6,000 acre park system, along the Trinity River that will dwarf New York’s 840-acre Central Park.
In other words, Houston is developing as a city. Yes, the suburbs are growing, but so is the urban part of the city – especially urban amenities. Moreover, even though the sprawl advocate does not approve, booming Houston (his model for growth) is rapidly expanding its rail system. (And note this interesting idea of having HOV lanes which, if you are a single driver, you pay a toll to use. To our eye that makes more sense than Lexus lanes. Are you listening FDOT?)) Moreover, in the list of fastest growing cities cited by the sprawl advocate (see here) 12 of the cities have rail (many expanding), a thirteenth (Las Vegas) sort of does and is considering building real rail, two other have commuter rail, three (other than us) are considering rail while another sort of is. Then there is the Tampa Bay area – which is considering rail in part.
Once again – a key fact is the diversity of the economy of a place like Houston with oil, the port, biomed, education, old money, and on and on. Moreover, there is great and growing diversity in lifestyles that allows a city like Houston to draw strongly from all segments of the potential workforce and provide them jobs and al lifestyle they can appreciate.
(And, as an aside, there is one other point – just because something is suburban – the article mentions 20 miles from downtown – does not mean it has to be built in a sprawling, unwalkable way. (It is just that the government does not care.) There is a certain latitude in how developments are built. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area has had a hard time realizing that.)
We find all this a bit amusing because (and we are still trying to find the articles in the archive but we remember it well) going back to the 1980’s Tampa and the Tampa Bay area has looked to Houston as model for our growth. What did we miss?
Economic Development – DTCC
We received news this week that:
DTCC announced Monday that it chose Tampa over New Jersey and other sites to add up to 255 jobs to its existing pool of 590 employees in New Tampa. The jobs’ total compensation when including health insurance and bonuses will be nearly $100,000 apiece, said Eric Miller, managing director of DTCC in New Tampa.
We can’t break down the insurance and bonus value, but rough (and we admit it is rough) math gives you about $25,000,000 in wages/bonuses/insurance created by the new jobs. Interestingly:
State and local governments awarded DTCC economic incentives worth more than $4 million to get it to expand here. The money included an upfront grant of about $1.2 million from the state’s Quick Action closing Fund and $1.78 million from a tax refund program paid after DTCC creates the jobs.
If you look at the numbers, the ratio of total payroll to total incentives is roughly equivalent to the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal, assuming everyone gets hired at the Estuary and everyone gets hired at DTCC. ($4 million for a $25 million payroll versus $6.25 million for a $36 million payroll.) Of course, the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal was all local taxpayer money and there were no guarantees that anything other than the Bass Pro Shops would be built (or jobs created) while DTCC was only $468,500 in County money and partially contingent on actual job creation. (A much better return on investment for Hillsborough County.) There is also the fact that the original DTCC deal, which also had incentives, attracted more DTCC jobs (and we would venture to guess other related jobs). What will the low wage retail at Bass Pro Shops attract?
Economic Development – Another Deal
There was also news of another deal:
We do not really have enough details to judge, but from the little we know, it sounds good – especially the 1,215 high wage jobs for $729,000. Unless there is something really odd in the deal, it is almost guaranteed to be a better deal that the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal.
Economic Development – Just Because They Like Us
And in a little more news:
The company currently has about 90 employees at the former SRI corporate offices, at 12425 Race Track Road, and expects to hire 20 to 30 more over the next year, said Dr. Richard Steeves, founder. That doesn’t include workers at a separate operations plant in Tampa, he said.
And they received no incentives. Nice to hear.
Economic Development – The High Tech/High Wage Multiplier
While we do not have enough detail to fully evaluate the DTCC or the mystery deal, there is also this: During the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops debate we argued numerous times that high wage jobs should be the target for our economic development efforts because they have a much higher multiplier effect on the economy. This week, the Economist had an interesting article about immigration, high tech jobs around the United States (which did not mention Florida, by the way), and the opportunities for cities other than the main tech hubs in the United States. You should read it here.
For our purposes, the key point in the article was the following:
High-tech jobs matter not just to software engineers, scientists and the folk working in factories such as Bloom’s and View’s. They also have a broader impact on employment. Engine’s report estimates that for every job created in the high-tech sector, another 4.3 jobs emerge over time in the local economy. That is more than three times the local “multiplier” for manufacturing jobs. Well-paid techies shop a lot and hire others to iron their shirts (if they wear shirts, that is).
Please note they are not even comparing high tech jobs to low wage retail, they are comparing them to manufacturing jobs. Quite a difference. Additionally, they are saying that high tech jobs have this multiplier to a large degree because of the wages.
In other words, the high wage jobs are the type of jobs that support a Bass Pro Shops by creating customers with money to spend, not with a subsidy.
Given all of the above, hopefully, the Hillsborough County Commissioners revise their view of economic development accordingly.
As an example of what is wrong with Hillsborough County’s strategy of economic development through real estate subsidies, we saw an article on a proposed Wal-Mart in Lithia.
Traffic and the impact of the proposed store – widely believed to be a Walmart – on schools will be huge, they said, not to mention the homes that back up to the site, whose owners will see the parking lot and the proposed apartments when they sit on their patios.
The property is zoned to allow a big box store and apartments, bordered by Lithia-Pinecrest Road, a failed roadway, and by Bloomingdale Avenue, which is daily jammed with cars heading both east and west.
So the County is considering allowing a big box on a failed road. All the while they are giving taxpayer money to developers to build big box shopping plazas, some of which have not even broken ground.
We have an idea: before handing out subsidies to low wage retail, fix the roads for the people who are already here.
Riverwalk – Moving On
That is all good. We like the Riverwalk and want it finished. As a City Councilman said:
It may be. Of course, it depends on what else happens around it. There is progress, but it is still tenuous.
South Howard – What is it, What Will It Be?
This week there was an article in the Tribune regarding parking issues in the South Howard area.
Many people compete for the existing spaces, while others use taxis or take advantage of sometimes-complimentary valet service at the different venues. Regular SoHo patrons post advice about the best places to park – for free and without getting ticketed — on online message boards.
As the economy improves, more people will want to open bars in the popular SoHo district, and some owners of businesses already there want to expand. But under city law they would have to create more parking on a stretch where there isn’t much undeveloped space remaining.
We completely understand the complaints about parking (and noise) in the South Howard area. On the other hand, it seems that every time there is a successful entertainment district in Tampa, people complain about noise and parking and rules are put in place that eventually stifle the area. (Ybor had/has noise issues – though not really parking) We admit there are no ready-made solutions at this point.
The real issue is how to create a balance, which is very difficult. The problem is that the way Tampa is laid out, there are not that many areas that people can park, walk around, and bar hop (It could have been done on Kennedy, but that is not really laid out properly right now). Moreover, there is no area designated for this kind of activity, where people know what they are getting into before they move there. We also know transit is not really an option either. And some people just do not want to go to a bar at the mall, and downtown will not draw everyone (anyway, people complained about noise when Channelside was busy. There are complaints about noise in downtown St. Pete.).
The City could build a parking garage, but that is expensive. The area around Hyde Park Village, especially on Swann, could have been like South Howard is now, but aside from the Old Hyde Park Village development, there is not much built around it to support bar hopping.
This perpetual problem is the price to be paid for poor planning and allowing poor development patterns. Hopefully, the City will learn for the future.
We Found Gamera’s Hideout
This week, the first building at Florida Poly was topped out.
With the placement of a final stanchion alongside a symbolic tree and a rousing round of applause, Florida Polytechnic supporters and officials celebrated the “topping out” of the campus showpiece – the $134 million Innovation, Science and Technology building.
When done, it will look like this:
Oblong, high tech, arching building in a pond. It doesn’t seem practical for an academic building, but it is a great place for a giant flying turtle to hide.
List of the Week
Our list this week goes to economic development. It is the Moneywatch list of Best US Cities to Grow a Business. Austin is first, followed by Boston, Houston, San Jose, Portland (OR), DC, San Francisco, Bridgeport (CT), Salt Lake City, and Raleigh. (Just as an aside: 8 rail systems, one rail connection, and one plan for rail). Florida is shut out.
Makes you wonder.
On Managing and Leadership
Last week, the Aviation Authority Board approved an amendment to the Director’s contract that gave him additional retirement funds. While in our view there is no real argument that examining ways to keep the Director was the right thing, there can be disagreements on whether the final contract was optimal. We are not going to get into the details of that.
More interesting was a comment made by one of the Board members, which really crystallized something we have been saying (we wish we said it this way, frankly):
Hillsborough County Commissioner and Aviation Authority board member Victor Crist . . said he believed Lopano had the skills and drive to go beyond being a “general manager CEO to an entrepreneurial CEO.
That was a really good comment, and not just about the Aviation Authority. The Tampa Bay area has long excelled at having managers. In our politicians, our Port Directors, the old airport Director, many other positions, we often (though not always) have good managers. They balanced budgets and maintained the status quo. (And, yes, they even did a little business development. Though they usually seemed to have excuses of why they only did a little and could do not more.) And this all seeped down into the general political culture. Now, there is something to be said for all that (except the excuses). You need good managers.
On the other hand, one thing we have not seen much of is entrepreneurial leaders – people who can really sell the area, sell its assets, truly grow its economy. (And too often we have been told that something cannot be done and that we must settle for what is “realistic” while other areas go ahead and do what is claimed to be unrealistic here.) In other words, we have lacked real leaders with a comprehensive, forward-looking vision and the ability and political will to actually implement it.
And, as an area, we have become conditioned to having managers in leadership positions, leading to lowered expectations because too often we mistake good managers for good leaders. They are not the same thing. If we were a leading metropolitan area and international city with companies knocking down the door to relocate here and were a hub of world leading industry, managing would be ok. If we had a built out transportation system, managing would be ok. If we were a major hub airport with links across the country and the world and/or with airlines fighting for landing slots, managing would be ok. If our port were a leading container port of which companies were fighting over to get a berth, managing would be ok.
But that is not the case, and just managing is not ok. We need to develop and sell our area and our economy. We need to grow our markets and compete. We need to understand the global nature of modern markets. We need to realize that the economy of the 21st century is not the economy of the end of the 20th century. That is why creating the proper team of leaders with vision who will not settle – and maintaining that team – is so important. (We are getting there, but are not quite there.) Consequently, we need to pay for entrepreneurial leaders to help lead the change. While our market is not used to that and has a hard time dealing with the costs (and even the ideas), it is still the case.
As we said, we are not going to opine about whether the Airport Director’s contract was optimal or not. There is room for argument. But the measure of the contract is not what a local politician is paid from tax revenue or what other Directors are paid out of tax revenue. The simple fact is that if (and right now it is “if;” hopefully that will change soon) the airport Director succeeds in attracting a couple more international flights, the economic impact will far exceed anything paid to keep him. That is the kind of calculation we need to be making.
The Commissioner was right – now it needs to be applied across the board, including with politicians. We don’t need more rhetoric. We need real vision. We need real implementation. We need to see the performance, or people, including politicians, need to see the door. That is a real change of DNA.
Economic Development – Some Good, Some Reality Check
Somewhat coincidentally, there was news this week of a new trade mission:
“If we are truly going to be an international destination, then we’ve got to go get the business,” Buckhorn said. “We’ve got to make sure that we plant Tampa’s flag around the globe in areas where we have strategic advantages, where we have existing relationships, where we have companies that are interested in establishing a presence here.”
The delegation includes representatives of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. (EDC), Tampa International Airport, including chief executive officer Joe Lopano, Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough County’s tourism development agency, and Norma Henning, the Naples-based honorary consul to the Federal Republic of Germany.
In Munich, Nuremberg and Frankfurt, the group is scheduled to meet with companies that make tools and specialty devices, pharmaceutical equipment, computer hardware, software and applications, and thermal engineering systems, as well as an aerospace and defense technology firm and an Internet service provider.
The EDC spent three months working with an Enterprise Florida staffer based in Germany to schedule appointments with the companies. All are interested in expanding their manufacturing, distribution or sales in the United States. Two have a particular interest in Florida. Another two already have subsidiaries in the Tampa Bay area.
Most of the delegation’s meetings are in Germany, but it is flying in and out of Zurich on Edelweiss Air, which began offering direct Tampa-to-Zurich flights last May. The group’s agenda includes discussions aimed at boosting travel from Germany to Tampa via Edelweiss.
Good. We have no problem with trade missions, provided they are properly targeted. We wish them success. (It is also notable to see the symbiosis between air [and sea] connections and the ability to market the area.) Of course, in line with the Commissioner’s comment above, the results (over time) will be the key to determining whether it was worthwhile.
In the meantime, we noticed this, related to the Mayor’s “not playing second fiddle to Miami” comment:
South Florida residents are accustomed to hearing Portuguese accents as Brazilian visitors flock to stores and tourist attractions, but they may not be aware of just how popular the Sunshine State is in Brazil.
“Florida is a very important state for Brazil,’’ said Vieira, who was a speaker at the 8th Annual Latin American Symposium, which is organized by the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.
Speakers at the day-long event, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami, addressed everything from the changing political landscape in Latin America and the need for economic reforms to trade and political issues that are driving the U.S.-Latin American relationship. Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, also discussed his country’s strategy for lowering violence levels associated with drug trafficking, guerrilla movements and organized crime.
Brazil, meanwhile, is Florida’s top trading partner with $19.6 billion in trade last year and the second largest source of international visitors. Canada is still tops. But in Miami-Dade County, Brazilians have dethroned Canadians as the top international visitors.
First, it indicates the importance of Brazil to the Florida economy and need to fully develop ties between the Tampa Bay area and Brazil.
The other thing it shows, especially the number of Brazilians coming to Florida and the fact that Brazilians are the biggest foreign visitors to Miami, is how far back the Tampa Bay area, which does not even have a flight to Brazil, is behind Miami in links to Latin America and how much work is needed. (And don’t forget the annual major conference on Latin America taking place in Miami. What do we have?)
And all this is ok to note. Wanting to aggressively pursue the Latin American market (and other markets) is the proper position. However, the strategy to do that has to be based on a realistic assessment of the present situation and calculating the steps necessary to get to the goal. How else can you formulate an effective plan?
And in another development, the Business Journal told us this about health care (which we have pointed out a number of times):
“We have a lot of biotech jobs in this community. The problem is we haven’t focused them so they are scattered all throughout the community,” said Jack Kolosky, chief operating officer of Moffitt Cancer Center. What this area lacks, Kolosky said, is the concentration that’s found in places such as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. That makes it difficult to be recognized as a national leader, despite the presence of powerhouses such as Moffitt, University of South Florida and Draper Laboratory, among others.
Clearly. (And lack of clustering does not just inhibit recognition – it harms marketing to new companies and developing a critical mass, which may be why clusters get recognition.)
This area has much potential, but there needs to be vision and political will, as well as coordination. It also requires not settling.
All this just shows how much entrepreneurial leadership we need.
Port – Where are We
Houston is North America’s “most irreplaceable port” and Mobile, Ala., waterfront is the “up-and-comer” to watch, according to “North American Port Analysis: Capex or Capsize,” a white paper released by Colliers International.
Tampa gets two mentions in the report: that it has no plans to dredge or raise the Sunshine Skyway bridge to accommodate larger post-Panamax ships, and that it is one of the few ports aligned with a national intermodal rail system.
“Port and inland distribution markets that invest CapEx in their transportation infrastructure will capture the economic opportunities from changing global trade patterns and evolving e-commerce,” the reports says. “Those that don’t invest the needed CapEx risk capsizing their economies.”
Not really great marketing material for Tampa. So let’s look at what the report says. The first thing is that Tampa only gets mentions in lists. First, on page 7, there is a chart of Port Readiness for Post-Panamax ships. Of the 18 ports (including Houston, Mobile, and four in Florida) listed, only 3 were taking no steps to get ready for Post-Panamax ships, and one was due to labor issues. The other two were New Orleans and Tampa.
There is another chart on page 7: NORTH AMERICAN PORT TEU CONTAINER VOLUME UPDATE. It lists 18 ports with the number of containers they handle. Only two listed ports do not have a number given. Instead the chart lists them as: “N/A – A cruise & bulk cargo port.” Not surprisingly, these two are New Orleans and Tampa.
In a section (on page 11) trying to determine where industrial real estate will be most in demand the report says:
…are aligned with the national intermodal rail system; that is, physically connected to one of the seven Class-1 North American railroads. Tampa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Savannah, Philadelphia, Mobile, and New Orleans are examples along the East and Gulf coasts.
In other words, while Tampa’s port/rail connection is a good thing, many of the ports near us have connections, too.
We realize that there is a new Port Director (and he came from Jacksonville, which, based on this report, appears ahead of Tampa in planning for the future). We also realize that there are constraints in Tampa – the Skyway, the channel. The question is what is the real vision and plan. Serving Central Florida is fine, but other ports can do that, too. And partnering with Mobile and Houston is fine, but both are better prepared for large ships and an increase in traffic. What will we do to overcome our constraints and lack of preparedness?
One issue that usually flies under the radar is the encroachment of development on MacDill AFB and the subsequent noise complaints that come with that development. Not surprisingly, those complaints can grow quite tiresome, particularly because the base has been there far longer than most of the people living nearby (it is not like they did not know there would be noise if they lived near the base).
State Rep. Dana Young said Tuesday that a state task force to which she has just been named should be attentive to a potential encroachment issue that could threaten MacDill Air Force Base’s ranking in the next round of base closures.
Young, a Tampa Republican, said Florida Rock & Tank Lines owns property on Dale Mabry Highway adjacent to the base that should be acquired because it could be used for residential development incompatible with base operations.
We are not going to speak to specific parcels of land right now, but this issue really should be addressed. MacDill is key to this area, and it needs to be protected.
Aquariums for Everyone
We learned this week that the local aquariums are now looking to work together.
They’re also thinking about offering a discounted ticket package that would give visitors access to both aquariums plus a third one, St. Petersburg’s Pier Aquarium, which is relocating later this year to expanded quarters at John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach and will have a new name, Secrets of the Sea.
“If you look at it as too many aquariums in the area, that’s the glass-half-empty perspective,” added the ever-optimistic Yates. “The glass-half-full perspective is we have an opportunity to grow the market and expand the tourism base. Rather than saying we have to share the pie, we grow the pie.”
It remains to be seen how effective such a strategy would be, but the aquariums may have little choice but to work together. If the Clearwater group is able to follow through on its plans, the Tampa Bay region may soon be testing the limits of how many major aquariums one tourism destination can support.
It is good that the aquariums are working together. That is much better than working against each other.
On the other hand, while we may be wrong, we have a hard time believing that having numerous smaller aquariums is better than having one major aquarium. While we like aquariums, we just tend to believe that there are a limited number of people who will visit more than one aquarium on vacation.
If Clearwater is determined to build their own aquarium, it is better that the facilities cooperate, but it still seems counterproductive to us.
This week we learned that one of the projects which was used as precedent for the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal – Southshore Commons – still has not broken ground.
Really. That is odd because:
According to U.S. Census Bureau data for South Shore – Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Sun City Center and Wimauma — the area’s population grew from 57,119 to 142,178 between 2000 and 2010, an increase of nearly 150 percent.
With all that demand, what is the problem?
We have no doubt that something will get built eventually, though it likely will still be the sprawled shopping plaza originally envisioned.
The real question is whether this stalled project really needed or deserved a taxpayer subsidy.
Housing Market – A Mix
There was conflicting news regarding the housing market this week. First, house sales a way up:
. . . More Tampa Bay homes sold last month than have in nearly seven years, as moneyed investors sparred with rushing homebuyers over a scant for-sale supply, My Florida Regional Multiple Listing Service data show.
And two-thirds of those homes were sold the old-fashioned way, untarnished by foreclosure. Conventional sales accounted for 20 percent more of all agents’ local sales than they did in March 2011, improving prices and stabilizing a market long shaken by debt and distress.
That is a good thing. It is not exactly clear from the article how many of those sales are by investors who are going to rent out the houses, but, nevertheless, good.
On the other hand:
In fact, Florida was well represented among metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates. Miami, Orlando and Ocala finished first through third among 209 metro areas across the nation, with Las Vegas in fourth place and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater in fifth.
Quite a mixed message.
There was an interesting article in the Tribune this week about how some funding sources for a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County may dry up. You can read the whole thing here. This really sums it up:
“Either you have politicians who fly in the face of strong public sentiment – which is not very likely – or the numbers will tell the Rays there are not any tax dollars for a stadium,” said Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at USF St. Petersburg.
List of the Week
Our list this week is the Business Insider list of Best Urban (ed. loosely applied) Cities to Retire. Miami is number 1, followed by El Paso, Jacksonville, Tampa, Memphis, OKC, San Antonio, Louisville, Tucson, and Nashville.
Apparently, some things do not change.
How Many Things Can You Jam Into a Highway Median – Part I
This week, despite the recently announced countywide talks on transportation, the piecemeal approach to transportation ideas and seemingly unquestioning coverage continued. The Expressway Authority and HART introduced us to “bus toll lanes.” (You can see the report here)
Imagine riding a premium bus to work that travels swiftly along a corridor added to local freeways, which could also serve motorists willing to pay a toll to avoid congestion on the adjacent lanes in place today.
Transit agencies would seek revenue from federal grants and issuing bonds to finance additions to highways and purchase buses, with the promise of collecting bus fares and tolls from motorists to eventually cover capital and operating costs.
Bus Toll Lanes could provide three options: express bus service in special lanes financed by transit backed initiatives; motorists using personal vehicles in the expanded capacity; and the continuation of motorists using their personal vehicles in existing general purpose lanes.
(Yes, imagine . . . a premium bus.) In other words, lanes would be added that are both variable rate toll lanes – “Lexus lanes” – and a route for express buses. Setting aside our concern over the uncapped cost to drivers of “Lexus lanes,” it is an interesting idea, though we see one immediate issue – where will the buses stop? (Or, to say it another way, does this idea even have a purpose in the greater scheme of getting people around the Tampa Bay area?) We have previously reported on plans for brt in the interstate median. If their route is a “Lexus lane” in the interstate median, where are the stops going to be and how much space will they take from the “Lexus lanes”? (If the buses have to get off the interstate to stop and then get back on, they will not be express or brt buses.)
So where would these routes be?
In other words, no one is willing to actually commit to any idea, but . . . .
And let’s consider one idea: Dale Mabry. How exactly are you going to build a “Lexus lane” on Dale Mabry? Well, this is how the report (see here) portrays it:
Setting aside the risk of drowning all the drivers in summer rain storms, how many lanes are they planning to take away from normal traffic on Dale Mabry (see rendering on the right above ? And overpasses all the way down Dale Mabry? And what about people who want to turn left into one of the multitude of sprawling establishments along Dale Mabry? (Good luck getting the businesses to go along with this idea.)
Also interesting is that the calculations in the report are all for an imaginary city – why not make them for an actual city? (Not to mention that the report speaks of transit oriented developments – but what development is going to occur with buses zipping by in “Lexus lanes” without a place to stop?)
We are all for looking at new ideas and alternative funding solutions for transportation. Maybe this idea would work in some contexts. In fact, the idea of letting express buses drive in the “Lexus lane” seems kind of obvious, like high priced, tolled HOV lanes. However, this concept hardly rates the obligatory breathless comments like this:
But setting that aside for the moment, the biggest problem is that there is no explanation of how this idea fits into a comprehensive plan, how it helps or hurts other plans, how it would work with anything done in Pinellas, how the bus routes would work, how it fits with the MPO’s ideas, how it fits with the Mayor of Tampa’s hidden ideas, and if anyone would ride it. Nevertheless, it is portrayed as a potential game changer. In other words, business as usual.
How Many Things Can You Jam Into a Highway Median – Part II
Continuing the theme of disjointed planning, enter FDOT:
State planners also think [Westshore is] the perfect area to build the transportation hub of the future — be it light rail, bus rapid transit or a combination — that could one day link Pinellas to Hillsborough and eventually Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
The project is called the Westshore Multimodal Center. A Florida Department of Transportation feasibility study determined that such a hub will be needed to link whatever mass transit systems — what FDOT calls “premium transit” systems — that leaders and voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties decide to one day build in the bay area.
There are two components of the Westshore multimodal project. One is a platform that would be built between the interstate from N Trask Street to N Manhattan Avenue. That’s where people would get on or off the “premium transit” system that would be built between north and southbound I-275.
The second component is a combination light rail/bus station/parking garage that would allow riders to park and use the “premium transit” system of the future. It would be built alongside the interstate, and a walkway of some kind would be built over the lanes, linking the station to the platform.
The FDOT specs call for a 10,000-square-foot building at least two stories tall that would have at least 750 parking spaces. It would ideally have space for administrative offices, restaurants and retail, bike racks and lockers and be pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
FDOT has chosen four sites near I-275 for the Westshore center. The next step, in the coming years, is to fund a study to pare them down to one. The sites are: the north parking garage of Westshore Plaza; the Charley’s Steakhouse property at 4444 W Cypress St.; a Jefferson High School parking lot; and parking garages along Trask and Cypress streets.
These are the mentioned potential locations:
Once again, we are all for people thinking and talking about ideas, and we are for a multimodal center. However, we are not for disjointed speculation and, more importantly, this is putting the cart way before the horse. Setting aside some obvious questions (like how would this idea work with “bus toll lanes” and why is there a park and ride garage in the middle of a business district that is likely to be a destination rather than an origination point for people with cars) there are bigger questions -
Since nothing has actually been planned and approved in yet, how does FDOT know that Westshore will be the logical hub of whatever transit system may be built – if one is built? Why decide where to put the “hub” before anyone has decided how, where, and what of the system itself? Why is there an assumption that any system will run through the interstate median – which is not a logical place to have the most effective transit? Why is the “hub” for transit for a major metropolitan area going to be squeezed into a relatively small lot with basically no room for expansion vertically and horizontally as the system develops? If there is ever intercity or commuter rail to Tampa, how will it get to the “hub” (it gets to Miami’s Intermodal Center and is planned to get to anything built in Orlando)?
Frankly, it makes no sense to predetermine the hub of a system that has not even been proposed. But at least we now know why the airport connection mysteriously moved from a logical place – the south end of the airport – to some random spot near the interstate.
TIA – Master Planning
The Hillsborough Aviation authority unanimously approved the new TIA master plan this week.
TIA will also build a consolidated rental car facility, or ConRAC, along the southern edge of its property, near the economy parking garage and airport post office. A new automated people mover will link passengers to the main terminal and the new rental facility 1.3 miles away.
The facility will serve two functions: moving the rental car counters and cars from the main terminal frees space for future expansion and opens up the parking garage. It will free 1,200 long-term garage parking spaces and get 8,500 rental cars off the road a day. Then the airport will build out the four corners of the third-floor transfer level, adding 50,319 square feet.
Lopano has called the new 2.3 million square foot facility an “airtropolis” — a hub the airport could commercially develop with restaurant and retail space, car rental counters and a parking garage, maybe even a new airport hotel. The nearby mall, International Plaza, is 1.2 million square feet.
Looks like this:
The new plan is an alternative to an old plan that was not flexible enough to handle new realities without either leaving the airport overcrowded or spending very large sums of money.
The airport has spent the past two years paying down its debts so it can fund the new master plan with revenue bonds, Lopano said. It will also seek out federal and state grant money and public-private partnerships for funding.
Dr. Joseph Diaco, a board member, likes this master plan much better than the old one. That called for building a new terminal for billions of dollars. But after the recession, TIA no longer has the passenger numbers to justify that.
You can read more about the possible expansion in the article.
We are all for this master plan. As we have pointed out – when you have one owner a master plan can make sense. We like that the plan takes a staged, conservative approach to expansion while being true to the airport’s original, innovative design concept of limited walking distance and using people movers.
One thing of note:
We are all for the airport being connected to mass transit. In fact, it is necessary. We still question whether the “hub” for all local mass transit should be jammed next to the interstate in Westshore – but that is FDOT, not TIA.
One other point – the fact that the airport plans to connect to the parking garages and transit “hub” in Westshore via the people mover and no one questions it shows how, implicitly through the airport, people in this area understand that rail (fixed guideway, to be more exact) is qualitatively different and more attractive than buses – even premium buses – otherwise the present bus service to the remote parking garages would just be extended to future “hub.”
Urban v Sprawl – The Debate, Sort of
The Times ran an interesting column this week on the debate between the concept of attracting the “creative class” and the concept of focusing on sprawl. (While we have used it on occasion, we do not really like the term “creative class.” We think a better idea is “knowledge-based industry” but that is not the language or concept used in the article.)
Ten years ago this month, urban economist Richard Florida introduced Tampa Bay to his idea that cities able to attract and grow concentrations of technology workers, artists, gays and other skilled innovators will enjoy higher levels of economic development.
Florida called these groups the “creative class” and promised that the more of them places like Tampa Bay could lure, [sic] the more that high-end companies hungry for bright, young workers would follow with good paying jobs.
Interesting ideas. However, at least for our area, a key point is that only
And not a big part. The rest, and the part that ultimate made policy, were and are wedded exclusively to sprawl and tourism/call-center/real estate model. And we have a brain drain and have problems attracting high-end companies.
The Times column is prompted by an article on the Daily Beast by an advocate of sprawl that takes the “creative class” idea to task after an advocate of the “creative class” idea admitted there were some issues. Many of the criticisms are valid, to a point – though they do not support sprawl as a model of development. One issue is whether the increase in wealth of the “creative class” starts to price others out of the market. (Though we doubt there is a risk of Silicon Valley house prices in the Tampa Bay area. And is that really an argument for low wages?) There is also a question of whether taxpayer investments in museums and other attractions will attract people to places. (They will, but they may not be the optimal investment in certain areas.). On the other hand, probably because the writer is a prophet of sprawl, the article fails to address the urbanization of most of the fast growing, Sunbelt areas it cites in support of its argument and areas like Denver. The crux of the pro-sprawl argument from the Daily Beast is this:
To be sure, the leading “creative class” cities have much to recommend them, and some of them, such as Portland and Boston, have registered impressive rises in their per capita income in recent years. But over the past decade, most “cool cities” have not been enjoying particularly strong employment or population growth; in the last decade, the populations of cities like Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta, and Nashville grew by 20 percent or more, at least four times as rapidly as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Chicago. This trend toward less dense, more affordable cities is as evident in the most recent census numbers than a decade.
One reason for this: the fastest job growth has taken place in regions—Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha—whose economies are based not on “creative” industries but on less fashionable pursuits such as oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing. Energy mecca Houston, for example, last year enjoyed the largest GDP growth of any major American city, easily outpacing “creative” urbanist favorites like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, or Boston. The other two top GDP gainers were Dallas-Fort Worth and, surprisingly, Detroit, largely as a result of the auto industry’s comeback.
Of course, as we have pointed out, growth percentages can be deceptive, but we’ll go with it. We also question whether there is a trend for less dense cities or whether it is for warmer cities, which, not coincidentally, are becoming denser. And we will admit that the oil sector has been in growth mode. Of course, whether one has oil or not is not a choice, so that is largely irrelevant. For that reason we will ignore Oklahoma City as an example, just as we would ignore a city in North Dakota. And for a variety of reasons – namely no one really wants to imitate it right now – we are ignoring Detroit.
But even setting all that aside, by listing examples of successful cities, the Daily Beast author actually – though probably inadvertently – points out that the successful Sunbelt cities – and the cities that the Tampa Bay area is competing with – are those that have a diverse mix of neighborhoods and are moving toward developing a more urban core. Places like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte have more than just oil or heavy manufacturing. (Though we are all for manufacturing and support trying to develop that sector.) They have hub airports. Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta have numerous universities each. They also have what we consider creative, knowledge-based industries – biomed, technology, etc. . Houston has a biomed hub which rivals either Tampa or St. Pete’s downtown for density (beats em, really) and skylines (it is close).
The Daily Beast article also ignores success stories like Pittsburgh, which remade itself into a research center, or Minneapolis.
It is also worth noting that most of those cities have rail (including a stop at said Houston medical cluster) and are expanding it. Most also have (or are in the middle of developing) much more developed urban areas than the Tampa Bay area. In other words, it is not sprawl or the lack of an urban environment that is drawing people. The key to success is either a specialized growth industry (like oil/gas in OKC) or the diversity of economy and lifestyles available in many of those areas.
The real point is this, as the Times columnist says:
With a nod to economist Florida, this is a metropolitan region still trying to make its downtowns in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater more dense with young people and more cool with universities, artistic variety, condo and apartment living, tech businesses, and an emerging entrepreneurial network for business startups.
The reality is that a diverse economy and a diversity of living conditions is the most healthy situation. It allows people from various walks of life and industries to live here and enjoy life. Moreover, having a healthy urban core allows people from the suburbs to enjoy urban amenities, even if living in the suburbs serves their day-to-day life conditions better. Between urban and suburban, it is not a winner take all situation – except, historically, in the Tampa Bay area.
The problem in the Tampa Bay area is that our area is lacking economic and development diversity – though we have no lack of sprawl or retail and low paying jobs. The deficit is in the urban aspect and knowledge based and industrial industries. (The recent success of urban development and amenities like Curtis Hixon Park shows the pent up demand for urbanism, but too often this area settles for lesser development.) It is also way behind on transit.
Right now the reality is that, except in the narrowest areas, our local governments, through action or inaction, promote sprawl or sprawl-like conditions. That does not give people the choices they want. That is why we have a brain drain. Frankly, if the Daily Beast author was correct that sprawl is what people really want, we would have no trouble attracting young talent. (And remember that young talent become the business owners and job creators of the future.)
We like the discussion and think it is important, but we think the Times column tries to be a bit too ecumenical. The Tampa Bay area lacks the necessary diversity of lifestyles or industries. Even though there has been some improvement, it started from a deficit of urban environments, industry, and transit and has failed to keep pace with our competitors (not New York or San Francisco, but Charlotte and Austin). Most importantly, despite rhetoric, even now, it is not clear that we even have real buy-in by most local leaders or the will to stop settling.
Built Environment – West Tampa
There was an article in the Tribune about the West Tampa Convention Center.
We have not seen a plan for the Dollar General. Maybe it is more pedestrian friendly than most buildings near this lot. If so, great. But we have our doubts.
So this is the deal – we know it is private property. We also know that the market will dictate what gets built there. However, the market does not dictate all aspects of how whatever goes there will be built. To a large degree, the City does that.
Even though it is a busy little retail area, Columbus east of Himes through West Tampa is not the most attractive road for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that the City traditionally has not really cared how anything is built there, even though it has a lot of potential. (It seems like the City is just happy if anything is built there.) The reality is that it would not cost anymore to have a more pedestrian friendly design for most of the buildings on Columbus; it is just that the City did not try to do it. Nor would it price anyone out of the market. It would just make it a nicer area for the people who are there and the City in general. The real question is why not do it. Why settle?
Downtown Tampa – Office Building On Hold
This week, not surprisingly, the proposed office building was put on hold.
Bob Abberger, Trammell Crow’s senior managing director in Florida, said he isn’t giving up on his SouthGate project, which would include a 20-story office building and a separate 350-room hotel. But he won’t proceed until he’s convinced demand for office space has grown.
We have mixed feelings about this. We are not really fans of the 1980’s design of this building, but it would be nice if the office market downtown were stronger. We still think one of the reasons downtown’s market is not stronger is that, unless you are a lawyer going to court, there is little to distinguish downtown’s office buildings from Westshore other than the fact you have to pay for parking downtown.
Coming Out Watch
Eight months after the RNC, we found a Washington Post article (column really) that finally refers to Tampa without the Florida after it, here. Interestingly, the Post article on the Rays opening day game still put the “Fla” after St. Petersburg.
List of the Week
Continuing with the idea of sprawl versus urban (we are not really going to go with creative class) our list this week is Forbes’ List of 15 US Cities Emerging Downtowns. (To be honest, we think some of them have already emerged, but whatever.) Here is how the list is described:
America’s major metro area downtowns welcomed double-digit population growth in the decade ending 2010, more than double the rate of growth for their overall cities, according to the U.S. Census. As more Americans, particularly college-educated young adults ages 25 to 34, opt for urban lifestyles, cities scramble to revitalize their central business districts. Here’s a run-down of some of the development efforts underway in U.S. cities.
To be honest, we are not sure that this is a ranking more than a highlighting of things being done. However, even if it is just highlighting cities, it is interesting who is chosen to be highlighted. The cities are, in no particular order: Denver, El Paso, Des Moines, Detroit, Louisville, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, NYC. Like we said, this seems more like a highlight list. Interestingly, Florida is ignored.