Bro Bowl – The City is Willing to Do What It Wants
Last week, there was news that the City is willing to move the Bro Bowl, which we already knew.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn is still no fan of the Bro Bowl, but he has come to recognize that its spot on the National Register of Historic Places could delay a project that he and black community leaders care about a lot more.
To avoid that, the city asked an engineering firm whether it’s possible to move the skateboarding bowl out of the bigger project’s way. The answer is yes, with the move costing an estimated $115,000 to $125,000.
But now Buckhorn has another problem. Historic preservation officials in Tallahassee told the city that moving the Bro Bowl would be an “appropriate compromise,” Buckhorn said. They’ve also said it would trigger another review process — the third in a year.
That’s because federal regulations say that changing the boundary of a site on the National Register means that a new nomination must be made to keep it on the list. And the new review would take at least nine months.
That, city officials say, would further delay a $6 million project at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, where the Bro Bowl is located. City Hall has spent years planning to transform the drab 11-acre park into a memorial to the history of Central Avenue — once a vibrant black business and nightclub district.
So just leave it where it is and slightly alter the park plan and get it done. It is only the City’s lack of flexibility that is making this hard.
And then there was this:
Buckhorn said he has spoken to Fred Hearns, the leading advocate for the plan to honor the history of Central Avenue. It’s also the mayor’s understanding that state officials have reached out to skateboarders. Based on what he’s heard, both sides are okay with the plan.
First, the leading advocate for the plan is on the City payroll, which raises an interesting question about who is the real advocate of the plan. Second, did the state officials talk to any of the people here? Who exactly were the skateboarders with whom they spoke? Why is no one quoted or identified?
Once again, there has been no stated justification for stubbornly clutching to a plan that is not even the Mayor’s. The easiest thing to do, probably the cheapest (we doubt tweaking the plan will cost over $100,000), is to just tweak the park plan, save the Bro Bowl, build all the items that honor African-American history and move on. Though the Mayor keeps saying that is a problem, he has not explained why. The only thing holding up this project is the City’s an unwillingness to do a real compromise.
Economic Development – Some Good, Some Questionable
This week, there was economic development news, some good and some bad First, there was an announcement for Plant City:
James Hardie, headquartered in Ireland, opened its factory at 809 S. Woodrow Wilson St. in 1994. The company plans to convert a section of the 400,000-square foot factory that was used to make pipe into sheet production and add 100,000 square feet to the overall plant.
That is good news. More manufacturing is nice.
Then there was this:
The Texas investment group building a $100 million-plus used-oil processing plant at the Port of Tampa that was envisioned as an economic development showcase for the region has suspended construction of the plant for 90 to 120 days, the group said in a release.
But no matter, we are getting a Top Golf, arguably helped along by taxpayer money to the Estuary/Bass Pro shops project. (Top Golf uses computer chips in the golf balls so it must be one of the County’s high tech targeted industries.) And, as we were told when during the subsidy debate, that is real economic development.
Economic Development – Does Opportunity Knock?
Last week the Times ran a column on economic opportunity that echoed a key issue we have noted (we quote extensively):
Much to the delight of the elected in Tallahassee, the state’s unemployment rate continues to drop. That’s thanks to more jobs, but also a worrisome trend of more people dropping out of the workforce.
It’s a lesson politicians in this state, obsessed with the simplistic jobless rate as a barometer of the health of our economy, still struggle to learn. Young people in Florida may stay for a job but find it hard to build their American Dream here. Many more sense better opportunity elsewhere and will leave for a career.
We need to fix that. We can’t become a leader as the nation’s third-largest state (as we will become shortly) built on a flimsy foundation of abundant but often mediocre work, weak high school graduation rates, and high crime and poverty.
Exactly. More jobs are good, but to truly have economic development, we need good, high paying jobs.
The state lands at an unimpressive No. 40 in the country, just below Kentucky and above Tennessee, according to a recent annual ranking by the bipartisan group Opportunity Nation. The group’s leadership council includes such diverse names as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Harvard Business School professor Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas and Bain Capital managing director Joshua Bekenstein.
The index compiles more than a dozen factors from jobs and economy to education, community health and civic life. Each state and almost every county then gets a letter grade from “A” to “F” on its economic mobility — the opportunity for people to get ahead via hard work, perseverance, education and the belief in a brighter future.
In Tampa Bay, the two dominant counties, Hillsborough and Pinellas, received a “C.” Hillsborough’s measurements closely tracked the state’s, though the county suffered a higher rate of violent crime. In Pinellas, high school on-time graduation rates (65.2 percent) lagged behind the state’s numbers. And Pinellas, too, lost marks for a higher-than-average rate of violent crime.
To the north, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties all received grades of “C-.” The three counties suffered with more than 19 percent of their youth, ages 16 to 24, as disconnected — neither working nor in school. And all three counties had a relative scarcity of health care providers.
The opportunity index even contrasts two kids — “Jane” born in Hillsborough with a “C” opportunity grade and “John” born in Michigan’s Oakland County with a “B” grade — and maps the likelihood of their success in life as they contend with different qualities of education, community safety, affordable housing and household incomes.
In other words, according to the report, a kid from suburban Detroit has an opportunity advantage over a kid from Tampa. This echoes an item from our last Roundup which indicated we are behind Pittsburgh in gross economic performance (not to mention per capita. And just to be clear, we are not the ones comparing the Tampa Bay area unfavorably to the Rust Belt.)
The column closed by making this succinct point:
So let’s give a conditional cheer for every drop in Florida’s unemployment rate. But let’s be clear: All the low-paying, dead-end jobs in the world will not transform Florida into a land of opportunity.
Exactly. And let’s be clear – local economic development and elected officials need act according to this reality, including in their public statements and actions about economic development policy. They also need to understand that the status quo in economic development and all related areas, such as transportation, are not acceptable. And they should not talk down to the voters by misrepresenting the situation. There is a lot of talk about successes, but most of those still involve an inordinate number of low paying jobs. Very few successes are the listed target industries or other knowledge-based, high wage industries. Moreover, we need a truly regional approach, as indicated by a major local business leader in a recent interview:
And, as if provided just to emphasize the reality created by this situation, there was this in a Tribune article about housing and the boom in investors buying up houses and renting them out:
Zaragoza and Black are part of the single-family home rental boom that has swept through the area the past two years. With thousands of rentals hitting the market, one might assume rates would fall and vacancies would rise because of the new supply.
However, two data sources, a local property management firm called Home Encounter, and a national rental research firm called Rent Range, suggest rents are staying robust in the $1,000-to-$1,500-a-month range, although not rising.
That’s welcome news for investors buying houses, but bad news for people such as Zaragoza and Black looking to rent them. Using Census Bureau data, the Tribune reported in April that the Bay area ranks sixth in the nation in percentage of financially burdened renters because of its relatively low-wage jobs and high rent costs.
While it is all good for out of state investors, unaffordable housing is not a recipe for success for the Tampa Bay area.
Finally, we understand that part of the job for economic development officials and even elected leaders is to do so cheerleading to sell an area. However, governing is not about cheerleading, it is about dealing with reality, and the reality is that, even with some growth (even better growth than the rest of Florida), we are not where we should be. No amount of cheerleading will hide that. As we said a few weeks ago – if you do not acknowledge deficiencies, you will not deal with them. (And, in this area, often when deficiencies are identified, like with transportation, they still are not deal with.)
PTC – A Whole Lot of Nothing
This week it was announced that efforts to abolish the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission in the legislature will go nowhere.
Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the bill to allow Hillsborough voters to hold a referendum on the fate of the PTC, an agency that regulates taxicabs, limousines, basic life-support ambulances and tow trucks.
If the local bill had passed and voters had decided to kill the PTC, legislators expected that some parts of its job would go to county government. But the lack of a plan for that transition troubled even legislators who voted to let the local bill go forward.
Failure to delineate what will come next is a reasonable concern, but it is not clear why the next step after dissolving the PTC wasn’t worked out and the bill moved forward. In any event, so what now?
Grant and Brandes said they now plan to pursue a statewide law. It would not seek to eliminate the PTC, but rather would ban what they see as transportation regulations that are anticompetitive and anticonsumer. Their bill was inspired, in part, by a PTC rule that kept the Uber smartphone ride service out of Tampa during the Republican National Convention last year.
That is something. What is the PTC reaction?
But County Commissioner and PTC Chairman Victor Crist said the agency provides critically important consumer protection. Yes, he said, the agency has had problems, but said it is tightening its policies, improving its operations and putting new, more professional management in place.
“Abolishing the PTC and the important safety safeguards it upholds is reckless and needlessly puts consumers at risk,” Crist said. “I urge you to allow the ongoing reforms to continue and vote ‘no’ on this well-meaning, but reckless bill.”
We do not buy the idea that the PTC provides necessary safeguards, particularly since no other county in the state has such a commission. Clearly, the commission’s work can be done without it.
But, for the sake of argument, we’ll go with the reform idea. What reform? How about putting the regulations on the website? How about looking at the anti-competitive rules right away instead of creating more delay and hoping the issue goes away, which is the standard MO for Hillsborough County? How about listing the reforms clearly? How about adding non-industry, outside members to the board or some other action to limit the influence of political donations?
At this point, asking us to just have faith is asking a lot. We need something concrete.
Transportation – Pasco Road Movement
This week, the Pasco County government sort of said they were still interested in an elevated toll road.
Pasco commissioners on Tuesday gave their blessing to a feasibility study linked to a proposed toll road on State Roads 54 and 56 in south Pasco County, but they couldn’t agree on whether to back the project without more information and public input.
That is reasonable enough. But we still feel obligated to address this:
After a group of planning experts from the Urban Land Institute cautioned the county against building an elevated highway, some commissioners began to rethink their support for the project. Chairman Charles Long said major cities across the United States were in the process of removing elevated highways.
We invite you to go to Pasco County and drive (even better, walk) SR54 or SR56, which are both six or eight lanes, depending on where you are. If anyone thinks that ULI’s proposal of a walkable, tree-lined boulevard on SR54 is 1) going to solve the traffic issues in this area or 2) even be feasible is deluding themselves. (See here) Everything built on the roads would have to be demolished and rebuilt for a boulevard to make any sense. (Frankly, the ULI’s discussion of building boulevards rather than a highway in this area makes us wonder more about the ULI than the highway idea.)
We have no problem with public hearings and a deliberative process. We do have a problem with this area’s overreliance on ULI to tell us what to do.
Built Environment – How Not To Build
This week, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported:
Brian Ray of Ray Design Development has proposed developing a tree-dotted, half-acre lot bound by East Laurel and North Jefferson streets and North Orange Avenue. He owns a small part of the lot and says the other properties are under contract to close early next year.
His proposal calls for a triangular-shaped building to accommodate up to a 10-story hotel with 114 rooms; a four-story apartment with 27 units; or a four-story office with 35,760 square feet of space, including a street-level cafe. All the configurations would include first-floor parking and additional parking on an adjoining lot.
The first point is that nothing is really planned right now. However, we think this proposal is still worth discussion because the proposer, an architect, has a website for it that has some renderings, which are worthy of a look. The biggest building is the hotel. However, for our purposes, it is easier to look at the office building:
As noted in the quotation above and clearly indicated on the (very preliminary) rendering, all the buildings would have first floor parking. In fact, all the renderings indicate that basically the only thing on the first floor is parking and that there is a completely dead streetscape.
Once again, we realize that the concept is in early stages. We also understand the renderings are preliminary. However, the last thing downtown Tampa needs is more dead streetscapes. This is the time to intervene. In fact, this is the time to just say that a dead streetscape is unacceptable in any project in downtown (and really anywhere else). It would be nice to have more built in downtown, but it should be good and the City should insist on it. There should be no more settling.
Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida
While Tampa is busy being THE gateway to Latin America and hoping someday to get intercity rail and real transit (about which the Mayor and County Commission are still strangely silent), Miami is just being Miami. In addition to Brickell City Centre and its proposed 80 story mixed use building and high end shopping and Miami World Center (see here and here), now the developer of the 4-story, suburban-ish Pierhouse in the Channel District (See the Mayor’s comments about Pierhouse and being our “destiny” here), the Related Group, has proposed a massive development in Miami:
The mega-project, dubbed One Brickell, will include three buildings rising 80 stories, 70 stories, and 55 stories, and will encompass more than four-million square feet, including two-million sellable square feet, according to Related.
The Miami-based developer said it expects to close Dec. 9 on the four-acre site, located where Brickell Avenue meets the Miami River. It includes the Rivergate Plaza building, which is home to The Capital Grille, and the parking lot behind it.
And, in addition to plans to develop main train stations in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, AAF is planning a major development around its train station in Miami:
The new Special Area Plan, which AAF is calling the Downtown Intermodal District, gives some details of the station complex, without revealing any actual designs by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. Station platforms will be above grade, elevated above cross streets and thereby minimally interrupting existing cross traffic, with towers above that. There will also be some development below grade, and under city streets. The station and its towers will have about 1.5 million square feet of office space, almost a million square feet/785 units of residential, 495,000 square feet/820 hotel rooms, 450,000 square feet of retail, and a 63,000 square foot intercity passenger rail station and concourse. It will have (only) 3,730 parking spaces, a significant reduction from what is required under the zoning code. But hey, the zoning code requires too much parking, especially for a city-within-a-train-station-within-a-city, anyways.
We don’t know if all this will get built (probably not), but even one of these projects would dominate downtown Tampa.
And you can read about Art Miami here. And here is a Financial Times article about (sort of) the new Perez Art Museum in Miami (coincidentally named after the CEO of the Related Group.) And about their high level tech conference here.
Well, at least Related is considering building other projects in Tampa . Hopefully, the new projects will be more like most other Related projects, which are generally of very high quality, than Pierhouse (which looks to be one of the worst projects they have done, especially in a downtown area. See Related’s main website here and Florida specific website here).
Coming Out Watch
This week’s coming out watch features the lead article in the United States section of this week’s Economist magazine, which has a worldwide readership. First, the byline is “Atlanta and Tampa” with no sign of “Fla.” What’s more, it says that Miami and Tampa are “joint capitals.” Of course, the article is about ID Theft. At least the Mayor got a cameo:
The article does present local law enforcement in a good light, so that is something.
List of the Week I
Our first list this week is the Milken Institute’s List of Best Performing Cities 2013. Interestingly,
Unlike other “best places” lists, Milken’s report is not a quality of life survey. It does not focus on weather, number of golf courses or healthcare facilities, but rather on job and wage growth and the propensity for technological innovation.
They breakdown the list by city (really MSA) size. Since the Tampa Bay area is 18th largest metro area in the US, we will focus on the Large City list.
Here is the top 30. Coming in first is Austin, followed by Provo, San Francisco, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Boulder (CO), Greeley (CO), Charleston (SC), San Antonio, Raleigh, Nashville, Denver, Ft. Worth, Corpus Christi, Trenton, Bakersfield, Ft. Collins (CO), Portland (OR), Laredo, Cambridge (MA), Lafayette (LA), San Luis Obispo, Ogden (UT), Charlotte, OKC, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Des Moines.
Clearly, some of these “cities” are really part of larger metros, like areas around the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley and Denver. Cambridge is part of Boston as well as home to Harvard and MIT, and Trenton has Princeton. Some others areas are in an oil boom. Nevertheless, it is many of the usual suspects.
So, you ask, where are the Florida cities? Of the big ones, the Tampa Bay area is 93rd, Orlando is 98th, Ft. Lauderdale is 129th, Jacksonville is 133rd, and Miami is 144th.
While Tampa Bay is up from 113th last year and the best big metro in Florida, 93rd is pretty weak. Moreover, if you look at city to city comparisons available on the website, the margins (between Florida cities at least) in most categories are pretty slim, and it is the 1 year job growth that really is what helps us. Also, growth in our very low wages puffs some of the growth numbers used in this study.
What also cannot be concealed is that the usual suspects are way ahead of us again. Even if we are moving forward, they are very far out in front and moving forward as well. (Take whatever heart from the horrible rankings of Florida cities that you like.)
List of the Week II
Our second list this week is actually a link to Travel & Leisure‘s America’s Favorite Cities 2013 survey. To find the rankings for each city, just click on it. Of course, Travel & Leisure does not acknowledge the existence of the Tampa Bay area, so we can’t have a low rank in anything.
There will be no Tampasphere this week due to Thanksgiving.
Economic Development – Some Good, But Not As Good As You Think
This week, there was some positive news on the economy.
Based on Monday’s report, Tampa Bay has a gross metro product, or economic output, totalling $125.5 billion this year making it the 22nd most productive metro in the country. Compared to countries, the size of Tampa Bay’s economy would fall between Hungary and Bangladesh.
First off, growth is good. Faster growth is better. There is no doubt. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay area is the 18th largest metro area in the US and the report puts us at 24th in terms of gross metropolitan product (GMP), not 22nd. (See page 10 here) So, who are the six smaller areas that are ahead of us? Denver, Portland (OR), St. Louis, Pittsburgh and two relatively unique situations in Baltimore (federal govt spending) and San Jose (CA). (And note that Pittsburgh has fewer people than the Tampa Bay area, so if we were performing well, it should not be ahead of us anyway.)
It is also good that we are growing faster than other parts of Florida, but the article from the Times touches on a caveat:
In some ways, Tampa Bay is playing catch-up. After the Great Recession ended in 2009, Tampa Bay was slow to bounce back. In fact, the bay area’s economic recovery was among the weakest in the country in 2010 and 2011, according to the Brookings Institution.
Since then it has been another story. Tampa Bay is now the biggest job generator among Florida metros, adding nearly 42,000 jobs between September 2012 and last September, the most recent figures available.
It is good to generate jobs – of course, there is the question on the type of jobs. It is also important to note that growth, while good, is not a very good measure of our economy as it compares to other areas because growth is relative (a smaller economy might have faster growth than a larger economy even if the actual dollar increase is less). A better measure of how we compare is per capita GMP. Luckily, we can calculate that from the report’s GMP numbers and Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, the last being for July 2012. (We use the Wikipedia page for population info because they actually do a ranking, but we spot checked it with the census numbers.) While taking GMP estimates for 2013 and using population estimates for 2012 is not optimal, it gives a pretty good picture. Instead of doing every metro area, we picked some of the usual suspects in the rankings with populations close to ours (both larger and smaller), as well as Florida and southern cities, listed here in order of highest per capita GMP to lowest (* for metro areas with a smaller population than ours).
San Diego 57474.4662
Little Rock* 48908.5452
Jackson (MS)* 45769.7642
Columbia (SC)* 45365.0549
Tampa Bay 44145.4048
From per capita GMP, which shows the value of economic productivity per person, it is clear that we are way behind, even in Florida. (In terms of raw numbers statewide, we do a little better: the Tampa Bay area has 14.7% of the state population (2012 estimates) but 15.4 % of the gross state product. see report page 36 here)
In sum, we are growing, which is good. Certainly we are not at the low point of the economic cycle. The problem is that we are chronic underperformers, as seen in both the smaller areas with larger economies and in per capita GMP. This is mostly because of the structure of our economy and the focus on sprawling real estate, call centers, and tourism. Until we change that, we may grow, but we will not be anywhere near where we should be. We likely will be playing catch up for a while.
Economic Development – Good News
This week, there were more business announcements:
We know the job numbers are not huge and it is unclear what they (at least Covidien) are going to be making and what the salaries will be, but, in addition to being biomed, we like the manufacturing aspect. One area we really could use a boost in is manufacturing.
Jackson House – On the Edge
Over the last few months there has been talk about honoring African-American history (see Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Park). The City has tried to portray itself as the vanguard of honoring said history, but then there is the case of Jackson House, the last actual building from the time when Central Avenue was a hub of the African-American community. Jackson House is in disrepair, there is no doubt. Recently, there have been private moves to try to fix (or at least stabilize) the building. As recently as three weeks ago the Mayor said this:
After three years of talk and no progress, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday the city is open to working with Robinson and his supporters, but it won’t wait forever. Buckhorn’s immediate concern: The building is unsafe and “on the verge of collapse.”
How long is “not forever?”
Robinson, 65, said issues that include his health and his family’s wishes factored into the decision. Adding urgency was a letter last week in which City Attorney Julia Mandell said the house is in “seriously unstable condition.”
Apparently, a few weeks. We know the building needs major repairs. That is not the question. The question is what has the City done (and not just this administration) and what is it doing? For a city that claims to care about its history, there has been a strange inaction regarding Jackson House. It is not as though the issues with Jackson House were unknown. (Here is a 2008 article that says there is no structural damage but signs of decay. Too bad no one did anything.)
On Thursday, news came out that preservationists are still trying:
The supporters of Tampa’s historic Jackson Rooming House, located at 851 Zack St., appealed to Tampa City Council this morning for a 60-day extension of a potential demolition order to allow time for a non-profit group to buy and stabilize the dilapidated structure.
“A number of people have contacted me who are willing to step up and stabilize it,” Linda Saul-Sena, a former city councilwoman, said. “We’re putting a deal together with people that want to save this piece of Tampa history.”
(Nothing says respect for history like snarky comments about efforts to preserve it.)
If African-American history is so important, why not give the effort a little more time? Why not say they get 60-days but no more? Why the rush to tear the building down?
Hillsborough County – Shenanigans?
We have previously written about the proposed big box development in Bloomingdale. (See Real Priorities and Built Environment – The Sprawl Strikes Back) You may remember that the residents opposed the development, but:
Well, as shown in an article about a lawsuit filed by residents, that may not have exactly been the case:
Previous owners won county permission in 2003 to rezone the property to a relatively new land-use category, one that called for a “traditional neighborhood design.” The goal of the designation was to create a commercial and residential hub similar in appearance to the Winthrop Town Centre a few miles to the west on Bloomingdale with its distinctive architectural styles and local roads and sidewalks linked to nearby homes.
The company floated a new plan a year later, this time as a change to broader growth rules in the county known as the land-development code. But the change applied to this 43-acre parcel alone, not any other property in the county. It changed the way roads and buildings on the property could be configured.
It was not considered a rezoning by the county. If it had been, that would have required the county to place signs about the proposed changes near the property and notify nearby residents and neighborhood groups. As it was, few people showed up to the hearings that followed.
In other words, if this report is accurate, it is not the 2003 rezoning that is the issue. It is that the County Commission essentially did a back door rezoning in 2011 and now is claims it can do nothing. We don’t know if it is illegal, but it is questionable.
This whole controversy, not to mention all the pronouncements by the County that strips stores are economic development, makes you wonder if and when the County designates economic development zones, will it be a process for the common good or just a select few interests.
Downtown – The Growing Land Collection
This week there was news that the owner of the Lightning is collecting more empty lots in downtown Tampa.
Partnerships tied to the Tampa Bay Lightning owner recently paid $10 million to buy 3 acres of empty downtown real estate across the street from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the home of Vinik’s hockey team.
Last year, Vinik tried to add to his holdings by purchasing the lease to the Channelside Bay Plaza retail center — but backed off due to legal complications. That left his plans for the rest of his Channel District land holdings in doubt.
That is an interesting development. What did the Mayor have to say?
Well, that is not in doubt since the Lightning owner is on track to own a huge chunk of downtown and whatever he does or does not do will be very important.
Frankly, we are not sure what else the Mayor could say. (Though, however unlikely, he could say nothing.) The reality is that the Lightning owner’s compiling of a property portfolio could be a great thing if he builds quality projects on the land. On the other hand, even though from all public information the Lightning owner appears quite financial secure, there is always a risk with so much land subject to the financial health or plans of one group. (It would not be first time big plans for developer or land owner came to little or nothing or were inordinately delayed. Hopefully, that will not be the case.) Or they could just have bad plans. Frankly, no one (at least no one in the public) really knows, and that is a concern.
Well, here is a review of LA Live by an architecture critic which can be summarized thus:
For cities, the benefit of a gargantuan new development is not only the boost it gives to the tax base but also, in urban terms, its spillover effect — energy and people flowing into the surrounding area. The entirety of the AEG development downtown — Staples plus L.A. Live — is designed like an airtight cruise ship, turning not a welcoming face but the architectural equivalent of a massive hull to the neighbors. Its spillover effect may be measured not in gallons but in drops.
Not exactly what we need (or the Mayor claims he wants). And here, maybe more importantly, Yelp. (Only 3 out of 5 stars.)
Of course, nothing says the Tampa plans have to replicate the mistakes of the LA Live plan. We certainly have nothing against Lightning owner or what he has done for the Lightning and the Forum. Hopefully, he will apply lessons learned from LA Live and improve on the concept in his project, whatever it is. That would be great.
Whatever gets built could be great or it could be a mess (or somewhere in between or little to nothing gets built.). Only time will tell. Hopefully, it will all work out (and, hopefully, the Lightning owner will apply lessons from LA Live and other places like Boston to truly enhance downtown.)
Downtown/Channel District – The Port Plans
In a related development, the Port is going to master plan its property in the Channel District.
So what is the idea?
The port’s master plan also will have to blend with the still-private plans of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who since 2011 has been acquiring acreage on the west side of Channelside Drive near the downtown hockey arena.
Well, at least the company has some experience. (see here) On the other hand, the Port has a poor track record in the Channel District (see Channelside fiasco and the horribly designed garage and its horrible addition). The real concern is that we get a canned plan presented as a fait accompli with much fanfare and hype and only cursory public input.
The other thing is that we have no idea what the goal of the plan is. There is a pretty good argument for leaving it as part of the port rather than developing real estate. (There is also the question of the long term future of the cruise business at the port – a discussion that disappeared almost as fast as it appeared. see here and here)
In all honesty, we go back and forth about what should happen to this land. What has not been done is a full public discussion about the benefits and liabilities of real estate development versus maritime functions (which actually should have started long before anyone was hired to create a master plan), nor is it likely. It is not the Tampa DNA.
This week, we got another peek into the mind of a Hillsborough County Commissioner (at least one of them is willing to discuss issue publicly).
He sees that not especially connected area one day smoothly quilted together into the kind of place people would come for health care and a virtual array of services, connected and cohesive. He sees hospitals, but also entertainment, retail, food, hotels and yes, roller coasters.
There is nothing wrong with this idea. In fact, it is good, though there are a lot of hurdles – especially that the whole area in question is a planning mess, not to mention the surrounding area needs to be completely fixed up. Of course, that is not a reason to despair. It is a reason to get on with it and deal with the details. There was also this:
Do we want to be the innovators, he asks in that caffeinated Mark Sharpe way, or just support staff for the innovators? Why did Forbes list us rock bottom for commuting? How come we don’t make the top 20 as a place friendly for startups?
Actually, we do not think that the Commissioner is not saying that Tampa is a sleepy burg. (He’s actually not saying anything one way or the other.) We think he is saying that Tampa is not in the proper posture to take advantage of our assets and potential. We are not where we should be, are not adequately competitive, and are underperforming. If that is the reality, it is the reality. It really does not matter if some people think it is “putting Tampa down.”
Better to deal with reality than be Pollyannaish. (And the above discussed economic information makes the reality clear.) Why sugarcoat things? That is just a sign of insecurity and weakness, if not downright dishonesty – and it is not leadership. If we cannot discuss our deficiencies, we will never overcome them (which may be why we struggle to overcome so many of them). Speaking of deficiencies:
Yes, Sharpe is still a true transit believer in the name of bringing in people and jobs (and maybe even medical tourism), but in a different way than that failed rail push. You need plenty of private partners in the mix, he says now.
“It’s not going to be an old-school system where government walks in and basically pays for it through traditional tax,” he says, having experienced exactly how voters feel about that particular model.
This is where we have a big question. What does he mean by private partners in the mix? What local transit service in the US is based on private partners? What system expansions anywhere else in the US is private? Not that we are ideologically opposed to private partners – we aren’t. We just know of no examples. It seems an unlikely strategy.
That being said, Sunrail in Orlando, though publicly funded, is not funded by a simple sales tax. It is creatively funded. Whether public or private, there is nothing wrong with being creative, as long as it is reasonable and not an ideological statement that will just lead to more delays and deficiencies.
In sum, we are fine with this discussion. It is actually a good and healthy thing, even if some don’t like dealing with reality, warts and all. (It is hard to trust the judgment of someone who will not look at the full picture.) However, as with so many issues, the devil is in the details, and we don’t have any of those yet.
Transportation – Just Another Reason to Build the Gandy Connector
This week, the Tribune had an article about the development going on near south Westshore Blvd (meaning near Gandy).
That has changed, which is why Coley’s company, Shamrock Realty Advisors, is building an apartment complex in the area. Bermuda Bay apartments, near the railroad tracks at West Shore Boulevard and Prescott Street, will be the latest in a string of new developments in the once heavily industrialized area.
The change from heavy industry to mixed-use residential is a natural one, real estate experts and city officials say. And now that the economy is recovering, developers and property owners are poised to complete this metamorphosis of some of Tampa’s last waterfront property available for large-scale redevelopment.
Which is fine, if it is done right. But setting that aside, all those people are going to crowd onto Gandy (and use the businesses, unless they can’t get around on an overburdened Gandy Blvd.)
And an “apartment boom” is taking place all over Tampa, said city Councilman Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa. The stretch along south West Shore Boulevard seems to be one of the most popular places to build.
The city has invested time and money in the Port Tampa neighborhood in recent years, Cohen said. Workers broke ground on a state-of-the-art fire station there this summer, and they recently completed a makeover of Picnic Island Park.
Yes, really hot, but not very well connected or planned. (Interestingly that is the same City Councilman who opposed doing anything about the Gandy Connector.)
Sadly, this is typical of the Tampa Bay area transportation planning. A need is identified, but there is no political will to fix it. In the meantime, the government entities push development. Eventually, the new users want the issue addressed and the whole cycle starts again. It happened in Brandon. It happened in New Tampa. It happens everywhere. When it happens to Gandy, we will all know why.
Transportation – A Failure of Planning and Imagination
This week, the Tribune had an article on widening Bruce B. Downs.
Once known as “the road to nowhere,” Bruce B. Downs, which extends from Fowler Avenue in Tampa to State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel, has become one of the area’s busiest roads. County statistics show 60,000 vehicles travel Bruce B. Downs through New Tampa daily.
So what do the residents need?
Huh? The residents need an eight lane road where they can bike on the shoulder? Good luck with that. And there is to be future transit – fine. So how are people supposed to cross eight lanes of frustrated traffic from any transit stop? That sounds safe. And once they cross the street, where are they to go? (Where exactly can you walk here. Frankly, you can’t bike too many places either.)
Sadly, New Tampa was a chance to build an area from scratch and learn the lessons of the sprawly past. However, what was built was even more poorly planned, with only one main road and more sprawled than ever. It is not that there are no nice neighborhoods in New Tampa – there are. The problem is that the overall planning is a mess. It is even less transit ready than most of the rest of Hillsborough County and what happens when the eight lane Bruce B. Downs gets jammed? What is the plan for that?
Transportation – Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida
A few weeks ago, FDOT announced that, when it replaced the Howard Frankland bridge, it would spend an extra $25 million or so to make it capable of handling rail, for a total of $415 million. This week the Governor announced plans for Miami:
Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday the early stages of an agreement with the city of Miami in which the state will put up $600 million to reconstruct the Interstate 395 overpass and bridge that connects the mainland to Watson Island and Miami Beach.
Speaking briefly at a Coalition of Miami-Dade Chambers function at PortMiami, the governor said construction could begin by 2018, but didn’t go into details on the project, referring to it only as a “signature bridge.”
Scott said the Florida Department of Transportation will seek funding to build the bridge from the Legislature, and listed a group of South Florida state lawmakers who support the initiative, including Sen. René García and Reps. Eddy Gonzalez and Manny Diaz.
The new agreement calls for the state to increase spending on the bridge from $550 million to $600 million. It also calls for a five-member advisory panel to study plans on how the bridge should be built, and ultimately give a recommendation. FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego and Miami Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo would sit on the panel and choose the three other members.
Sarnoff, whose district includes the bridge, said the goal of the lawsuit was to get FDOT away from building a segmented bridge and build a new one that is tall enough so that walking under it isn’t such a dark, dank experience.
Rebuilding the bridge that juts out from the mainland between the old Miami Herald building and the new museums being erected at Bicentennial Park has been a sensitive issue for city leaders for well over a decade. Urban planners say the low-hanging noisy structure that now straddles Biscayne Boulevard inhibits, and even scares, pedestrians from walking from the performing arts center to AmericanAirlines Arena and the new restaurants and condos that line the boulevard. It’s even more important to renovate the highway, they say, now that the museums are being built.
(Apparently this is what $50 million or so will get you these days. )
Setting aside that the Howard Frankland is the transportation spine of the entire Tampa Bay area and the Miami bridge is just one of many and that the proposed extra money is for ornamentation not functionality, why is the bridge so expensive and why do we struggle to get money for our projects? It sure would be nice if we got that extra $200 million (to match the $600 million) to put ornamentation on our bridge, or maybe toward a transit system (in addition to the normal state matching funds.)
Maybe the local legislative delegation should get together and do something about it.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week is Yahoo!’s list of cities adding the most high paying jobs.
Before we get into the list, we note they say the following, which we said during the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops debate:
This concept of high-wage and low-wage job growth going hand-in-hand might sound strange, but it’s been well-documented by regional economists. Jobs created in high-wage, export-oriented industries do more than increase the number of well-paid workers in those industries; they also lead to job openings in lower-paying service industries in their city or region — which means more jobs for the baristas, cashiers, and retail clerks who make up a large portion of any local economy.
Sure, it is obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be repeated.
The list is as follows: First place goes to Washington, DC; followed by Seattle; Boston; Baltimore; Kansas City; San Jose; Hartford; Louisville; Denver; and San Francisco. So, some of the usual suspects plus Louisville, Kansas City, and Hartford. Still no Tampa.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is FlightNetwork’s Top 14 (ed. 14?) Winter Destinations for Canadians.
Coming in first is Ft. Lauderdale, followed by Las Vegas, Orlando, LA, Phoenix, Tampa (we think they mean the Tampa Bay area), San Francisco, Miami, Ft. Myers, London, Riviera Maya, Paris, NYC, Puerta Vallarta & Riviera Nayarit.
Bro Bowl – You’ll Get What the City Gives You and Like It
There was more news about the Bro Bowl this week, as a Times columnist told us this:
While groups on opposite sides talk options — like incorporating pieces of the old Bowl into its new incarnation, or not moving it at all — Mayor Bob Buckhorn said there may be a way to literally move the bowl as a whole.
Well, at least that is a little bit of compromise (though it is far from intriuing). But, of course, any discussion comes with this caveat:
Why? Apparently, because the Mayor said so. Instead of explaining that conditions have changed (like actually acknowledging that the skateboarder community exists and the Historical Designation of the Bro Bowl) since the plan for Perry Harvey Park was created (which apparently predates the Mayor’s administration ) and, consequently the plan should change to deal with the new reality, there is an odd stubbornness.
Simply put, it is odd to contemplate moving the Bro Bowl for a number of reasons, among them 1) it hurts the historical nature of the location and, 2) even more importantly in many ways, it is probably quite expensive. Once again, we are not sure about this, but it seems logical that it is more expensive to move the Bro Bowl than to alter the as yet unbuilt plans for the park in the way we have discussed previously or some similar way.
And just so everyone understands how the City’s plans so far have honored the vitality of the Central Avenue area, we present you with a picture of Encore’s treatment of Central Avenue taken from across the park.
Nothing says vital street life like a blank, 15 foot (or so) high wall. (Frankly, the picture does not do the wall justice. You really have to go look, and remember, this whole debate is about honoring the heart of a community and a street filled with vitality.)
All this raises the question of why is the Mayor so insistent about moving/demolishing the Bro Bowl? What is so important about the exact plan for the park as it exists now? Why not make the easy compromise to a problematic plan that is not yours? Because, this is Tampa, and the DNA is not changed.
Transportation – Thank You, Sir, Can We Have Another
First off, we have to say that we are happy that people are finally discussing Tampa’s failure to be connected to the developing statewide, intercity rail system, All Aboard Florida (AAF). It took an inordinate amount of time, but at least there is not silence.
This week, the Chairman-designate of the Tampa Bay Partnership spoke:
“If we cannot do that, why would somebody be interested in hooking us to the rest of the state if we cannot hook up to each other,” said Barry Alpert, who becomes chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership on Nov. 22.
“We will do these things, gradually,” Alpert said. “I commit to you it will happen. Maybe not 2014, maybe 2016. We will become the attractive bride for a suitor to connect us to the rest of the state.”
He insisted that the political and economic climate is different today than in 2010, when the Hillsborough transit referendum was defeated in an election that included the national uprising of the anti-tax tea party and local confusion about the county proposal and a federally-funded bullet train between Orlando and Tampa.
First, the confusion in types of rail obviously remains since the article referred to AAF as commuter rail when it is intercity rail.
Setting that aside, the Chairman-designate makes a salient point – there is no reason for AAF to connect to Tampa because the Tampa Bay area has manifestly failed to create a modern infrastructure, which, as the article points out, is a failure of economic development as well as transportation planning:
Tampa Bay isn’t included in All Aboard Florida’s initial segment. That means the region also will miss the expected bump of economy-boosting development near the train stations, including West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
The Partnership also supports development of an intermodal transit center in the Westshore business district, including connectivity with Tampa International Airport. Alpert, Raymond James’ senior vice president of investments and a Tampa Bay businessman for four decades, said he has seen how the region’s lack of transportation options has hampered growth and economic development. “It has been a significant barrier,” he said.
Of course, the economic ramifications of the Tampa Bay area’s failure show the flaw of fixing the problem gradually. To be honest, we have been doing it so gradually that nothing has gotten done. There is no time to waste – how many opportunities have we missed? How much lower is our gross metro product? How much less attractive are we for the high tech business and knowledge based entrepreneurs we now covet? How many people have already left the area over the past few decades and taken their money and talent with them? How long are you willing to lose out?
And, how exactly does an intercity train coming from Orlando connect to an intermodal center in Westshore? Sure, it can run down the median of the rebuilt I-275, but then there is no room there for transit, so where would the transit go? It is all well and good to talk generally about these things, but it is time for detail.
But we digress.
With all due respect, “people” have gotten it for 30 years. It is the elected and economic development leaders that failed to come up with real plans, real explanations, proper land use and zoning, and real development, as well as the political will, that have inhibited the development of real transportation systems. (If Orlando and most of the big cities of Texas, Arizona, and Utah could do it, why couldn’t we?) Yes, the voters rejected the 2010 proposal, but it was fatally flawed and poorly sold. (And anyone who studied how these things have gone in other areas would know that the first referendum often fails and so such a failure is no reason to dally afterwards.) It is unclear why there is faith that voters will support rail when there is no plan or even proposal to discuss. Once again, it is time to get to details.
Then there is this:
Tampa Bay has 20 percent of the state’s population and over 2 million jobs. Economics will drive the decision, Alpert said.And if All Aboard Florida doesn’t connect to Tampa, he insisted that somebody else will.
Maybe or maybe not, but do you really want to gamble on it? (And who is that someone else?) People 30 years ago said real transit was inevitable and, since then, a generation has come and gone with nothing done. Think of all the opportunities missed. Once again, we are happy that people are talking about AAF and transit and that Pinellas is doing something, but Hillsborough is just a talking shop. Where is the plan?
There was also this in the article:
We think he was trying to say that we do not have the infrastructure to support intercity rail, so we should not expect to get it – which makes a certain amount of sense. (Though we are not sure about not “deserving” it.)
Yet, we think the idea of envy deserves some discussion. If by envy he means a bitter jealousy towards Miami and Orlando, there should not be envy. On the other hand, if by envy, he means the idea that we should be able to do what Orlando and Miami have done in terms of transportation, maybe there should be envy. (And given all the comments by the Mayor of Tampa and others about people noticing that there is another city in Florida other than Miami and Orlando, and the stated desire to the THE gateway to Latin America, there is clearly some envy of Orlando and Miami, and, in many ways there should be.) Those areas have gotten their act together in ways our leadership has not even come close to approaching. We are ok with that kind of envy if it motivates people in the Tampa Bay area to do what they should be doing and stops them making excuses for doing little or nothing or overly celebrating incremental steps while Orlando and Miami push forward at a much faster rate.
Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida
And just so we know what we are talking about when the Mayor tells us all about gateways to the Americas and there is talk of becoming a tech hub while exuberantly celebrating Bass Pro Shops and Amazon warehouses:
Florida Atlantic University, Fort Lauderdale-based software maker Citrix Systems Inc. and tech giant Microsoft Corp., which has its Latin American headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, are among Broward and Palm Beach county groups helping organize the first eMerge Americas conference set for May 4-6 next year.
More than 5,000 people from dozens of nations are expected at the inaugural conference, spearheaded by the Miami-based nonprofit Technology Foundation of the Americas led by entrepreneur Manny Medina, who sold his Miami-based tech company Terremark to Verizon for $1.4 billion two years ago.
“This really is a tri-county effort. Miami is just a brand,” Medina said at a breakfast in Coral Gables for more than 50 young tech leaders. “It’s no different than San Francisco for that entire area or Boston. Whether you are in Palm Beach Gardens, Sunrise or Miami, it’s all the same thing.”
South Florida is poised to become a tech hub of the Americas now, partly because of surging interest by U.S. and European companies to buy tech ventures in fast-developing Latin America, as the tech industry shifts focus from hardware to software, said Medina. South Florida is the logical hub for that activity because of its concentration of Latin American corporate headquarters, he said.
And then there is the Latin American bankers’ conference. (As for the Tampa Bay area this is something, not much but something; of course, it is in St. Pete not Tampa – not an issue for us but we are not politicians.)
Can anyone honestly say we are anywhere near that level?
Downtown Tampa – More Talk of Apartments
This week, talk emerged about a potential apartment tower on Harbour Island.
An unnamed apartment developer has a contract to purchase a small vacant lot just east of The Plaza condo, said Ryan Sampson, a broker-associate with Eshenbaugh Land Co. who’s handling the deal. He couldn’t reveal who the potential buyer is, but it’s an apartment developer with plans for a 22-story building with about 230 units. At that height, it would be a bit taller than the 20-story Plaza tower next door.
On the west side of The Plaza, a Boca Raton-based firm called Crocker Partners is marketing a little more than an acre as an apartment or condo site. The company put the property up for sale lately, and while it’s not under contract yet, Crocker Partners has fielded multiple offers, partner Angelo Bianco said.
It is notable that two condo buildings and/or a hotel were planned for these lots. It is also notable that nothing has actually happened, and it might not:
Lately, residents of Harbour Island have been abuzz with gossip that two of the last chunks of undeveloped land on the island would make way for apartments or condos. Gail Bernucca, president of The Plaza’s condo association board, is a little worried about traffic one or two new apartment towers would bring.
As we said, there were supposed to be condo/hotel buildings on these lots (see here and here, so anyone who bought a condo in the Plaza had notice of potential traffic. Moreover, it appears that Harbour Island only has about 1/4 the traffic planned for. (See here.) In other words, traffic is a non-issue. Of course, that does not mean that the City will view it that way, though it should.
All this just reminds us that there are a number of proposals out there (some of which were supposed to have broken ground by now) and yet, very little is being built downtown. Contrast that with just a small area of Miami, a small area of Toronto or Austin. And, yes, we know about the shorter projects in Tampa and hotel renovations, but those other places have all of that and much more. (If you are really curious about real booms, while it is unlikely we will be like this in our lifetimes, if ever, here is run down on San Francisco.)
Sure, we think some of the proposals will get built (maybe most and maybe soon), but, as usual, despite talk of a boom, we are years behind other areas even in real estate because we did not use the past and the last crash to prepare for the improvement – like with a new code and transportation improvements. Unfortunately, being late comers, just like the last crash, when the next crash comes we will lose an inordinate number of projects that have not managed to get out of the ground. (Interestingly, Miami overbuilt before the crash but caught up quickly because of the market’s allure. for example, see here.) Same as it ever was.
And then there is this:
A recent study by Jones Lang LaSalle shows that because law firms are having difficulty finding large blocks of contiguous space downtown, they are migrating to the Westshore submarket. About 76 percent of Tampa law firms are in the central business district, but the JLL study found firms looking for more than 50,000 square feet are migrating to the Westshore area.
In one sense, it is good that there are not large blocks of contiguous space downtown, because it means that space is taken. On the other hand, if major law firms leave downtown, there could be a number of large blocks of contiguous space soon. Already, some large firms have moved to Westshore. Now, it seems, more could follow. So who will downtown’s office customers be?
As we have long said, downtown is basically a large mixed use project. There has been a good amount of focus on entertainment and housing, and that is fine. However, it cannot be forgotten that office space is very important. There has not been a new office building in downtown in quite a while because of the lack of demand. The reasons for that really need to be addressed or downtown risks becoming a fancy bedroom community for Westshore, which is hardly an urban environment.
Ybor City – A Couple of Things
Ybor City has seen precious little development recently, leaving 7th Avenue (and maybe 8th) a bit isolated. This week, the City revealed that it is going to issue RFP’s for a couple of lots.
The request for proposals would cover an L-shaped piece of city-owned land at Seventh Avenue and Nuccio Parkway. Developers could also purchase the former home of Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization whose former headquarters lies on Eighth Avenue just north of the city property, Robert McDonaugh told Tampa City Council on Thursday.
Fine. It is not clear there is demand, but, if there is, why not? It is near the streetcar and provides easy access to the heart of Ybor. But there is this:
Developer Arnold Gitten with the Phoenix Group out of Broward County already has approached the city about purchasing the land, now used for parking. But because Ybor City is a community redevelopment area, the city is required to invite anyone interested to make an offer before it closes a deal.
So the RFP looks to be possibly just a formality, but at least the City is telling everyone ahead of time, unlike past RFPs. Hopefully, quality counts in the proposals, and, if there is a lack of it in any of the proposals, there will be no deal.
The other site is this:
The Ybor City Development Corp. has had inquiries from a Miami developer interested in putting apartments on the property. Because the land sits within the Ybor City Community Redevelopment Area, the land has to be put up for bid, McDonaugh said.
Once again, at least the City is being upfront that the RFP is quazi-wired (hey, at least they are giving people a few week’s notice this time), even if the RFPs are coming out only because they have to.
While there are always concerns when the City is getting rid of land and the exact lot in question is not identified (though from the description and a small map in the Times hard copy it appears to be the 1600 block of Palm next to OLPH, which is underutilized), whether it is good or bad really depends on what is proposed and where exactly it is. (Which the City is supposedly considering.) Time will tell.
Unfortunately, given past performance (and we mean decades, not just now), it is hard to have faith that the City will hold out for a proper project rather than just settle for whatever someone offers.
Rays – Something is Better Than Nothing
This week, the Times has an interesting article on conversations in St. Pete about what the outline of deal with the Rays to look in Hillsborough could look like and what would become of the Trop land. It is long and basically rehashes old ideas, but is a good read. We are not going to get into all that because it is still speculation. We’ll just have to see what the new Mayor of St. Pete does (though he seems to understand the gravity of the issue) and, if he allows them to look in Hillsborough, witness the mad scramble among Hillsborough politicians to take credit for “saving” the Rays.
Clearwater Aquarium – Bait and Switch
When plans for the new Clearwater aquarium were announced we opposed them, not because the idea is bad in and of itself (though reliance on Winter is questionable) but because there already is an aquarium in the area and it does not help to compete rather than cooperate. Regardless, the referendum on the aquarium passed.
Last week, Clearwater voters approved a referendum to allow Clearwater Marine Aquarium to build its new facility on land now occupied by City Hall. Discussions before the vote estimated the size at 200,000 square feet, though aquarium officials, at times, suggested that the size and cost might come down.
“We may have to cut back on some of the wow factors,” Dame said. “We can make it a very nice facility, but it is not going to be the Georgia Aquarium. Monterey Bay is not the Georgia Aquarium either, but it still attracts millions of visitors a year.”
Former Mayor Frank Hibbard, who will lead fundraising efforts for a 2017 opening, said aquarium officials will meet this week to consider possible savings — among them, building in stages to cover more construction costs through ongoing revenue rather than debt.
First, we are all for saving money (maybe a reason to not build the aquarium in the first place). On the other hand, if you are going to do it and make it successful, do it right. Moreover, do not put out a fancy plan for the election then actually build it on the cheap after it is approved. Do not intentionally make it second class and talk about how great it is.
In other words, don’t settle. Do it right or don’t do it. When will the Tampa Bay area learn?
Built Environment – Think Big, Act Small
This week, PNC bank opened a branch at Dale Mabry and Spruce.
We have no problem with being environmentally friendly. In fact, we think it is good.
What is not so good is that this particular branch, as well as the Chase branch across Spruce and a number of other buildings in Tampa, does not face the main street it is on, in this case Dale Mabry. (Or like the HomeBanc near Wawa on Dale Mabry) Even worse, they basically turn their back on the major road by having side doors, utilities and/or blank walls on the main street, and the back of the building clearly visible from the main street. (Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture, but we are sure you drive by it all the time.) We understand that many will say that no one walks on Dale Mabry, but with buildings arranged this way, no one ever will – and it is not just Dale Mabry. Even the Trader Joes on Swann does not even seem to have windows facing Swann planned. There are buildings all over town like this – including on Westshore. And it is not that these companies don’t know how to do it right – see the Chase branch on Swann at Howard – they just have no need to do it right – even though it wouldn’t cost any more to do so.
The point is that the City seems completely unconcerned about what is built in Tampa as long as something is built and the neighbors stay quiet. And, as made clear from all the buildings around town over time, it is nothing new or unique to this administration. But remember this:
Fine aspirations, but if the City can’t even do small right, how is it going to do big? If even the City has no pride in itself and no desire to be attractive and even potentially walkable, why would developers? As goes Dale Mabry, so goes the rest of Tampa. Change the code.
List of the Week
This week’s list the AARP’s list of 10 Great Cities for Older Singles from its Best Place to Retire. This list is not exactly a ranking but on the list are San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, NYC, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee.
Ok, so it is kind of an odd list, but there it is. As a bonus, here is AARP’s 10 Great Sunny Places to Retire: Asheville, N.C.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Sarasota, Fla.; San Diego; Las Cruces, N.M.; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; St. George, Utah; Santa Fe, N.M.; Bend, Ore.; and Fort Worth, Texas
We don’t even make the retiree list (assuming Sarasota is not the immediate Tampa Bay area).
Bro Bowl Controversy – Enter the Columnists
Now that the City has created a divisive issue regarding the Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Park, a few local columnists have had their say. First, a Times columnist:
But the city’s biggest booster, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is not high-fiving [about the Bro Bowl being getting a historic designation]. He is not fist-bumping. He is instead saying things like “marginally significant” and “absurd.” There has been mention of bulldozers.
And a lot of people who want to see this park rise as planned will have to wait and see. Getting the Bro Bowl on the National Register is impressive, no doubt about it. Skateboard enthusiasts should consider that designation an accomplishment to honor its history.
Can they now move forward in the spirit of compromise — one that includes a new skate park that pays homage to the Bro Bowl? Can they consider all that happened in this place over decades and decades before the first drop of skate-able concrete was ever poured?
Interestingly, she glosses over the City’s failure to do anything for Jackson House or to rebuild Central Avenue so it can be a bustling street again and Encore’s shabby treatment of Central Avenue. (And if the linked image of Encore does not help, go down to Perry Harvey Park today, look across Central Avenue and behold the big cement wall in Encore honoring Central Avenue’s vitality.) And, of course, the only compromise is by the Bro bowl supporters.
Then there is the Tribune:
Mayor Bob Buckhorn has a bigger vision in mind. He is pushing plans for a $6 million renovation of Perry Harvey Sr. Park that includes, controversially, replacing the current Bro Bowl with a larger one in another part of the park.
Opponents think so little of that, they managed to get the bowl placed on the National Register of Historic Places this week. They are likely to be disappointed, since Buckhorn usually gets what he wants.
He may often get what he wants (Tampa does have an imperial mayor system, after all), but, more importantly, is what he wants the right thing? (see “The Museum Across the Bay” below)
Then along came Mayor Build-It, supporting an ambitious plan to renovate the park with a tribute to other significant contributions to the neighborhood. That includes a history walk to celebrate the area’s important place in our community.
Visitors might learn that in 1935, Perry Harvey Sr. started the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1402 in Tampa. That provided minorities of that era a rare chance at well-paying jobs. They might learn that he later became a statewide leader in the civil rights movement, or that his son, Perry Harvey Jr., became Tampa’s first black city council member.
The new park will be better. Bro Bowl II will serve more skateboarders. So we’re at the point where the city needs to tell those who object to the plans that their complaints have been noted, considered and rejected.
But the park can be better still if the City would just stop being divisive. (Amusingly, both columnists tell the pro Bro Bowl crowd what is good for them, completely ignoring their actual opinion.)
Unfortunately, both columnists miss the point and buy into the false dichotomy put forward by the City. This is not a zero sum game where either African-American history is honored OR the Bro Bowl is saved. We can have both – easily. Visitors to the park can learn everything listed above and more about African-American history and the park can be rebuilt – and the Bro Bowl saved. (And while they’re at it, the City could do something for Jackson House. Lamentably, it is probably too late to fix Encore’s poor treatment of Central Avenue.) The entire Bro Bowl controversy has been created not by the skateboarders but by the City. As we have already pointed out, the park has ample space for everything, and a real compromise is there for the taking. Saying the skateboarders just have to accept the City’s plan and just be happy they got something is not compromise, but it is the normal way things go in Tampa.
It is time to show that all Mayor’s the talk of changing Tampa’s DNA was not just rhetoric by making the easy compromise that really honors all the history in the area. Too bad the City and the columnists are just interested in business as usual.
Jackson House – Something is Better Than What the City is Doing
Speaking of African-American history, it seems that there is still a small hope that Jackson House, a historic African-American building that is still standing, might be saved.
Former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena and property owner Willie Robinson Jr. plan to talk with bankers about taking out a loan secured by the property to cover the estimated $50,000 it would take to shore up the building.
The hope is that securing the property and stabilizing the two-story building will buy time for supporters to come up with a long-term plan to restore the Jackson House — once a way station for famous black musicians and civil rights leaders — and the money to pay for it.
Interesting. Who is in on the effort?
On Wednesday, a new group met at the Tampa office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Hosted by Chloe Coney, a longtime redevelopment activist who is Castor’s district director, the meeting included Robinson, Saul-Sena, plus representatives of Bracken Engineering, the city, the Tampa Housing Authority, the NAACP and state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa.
“It is the only remaining structure from the era when the nearby Central Avenue thrived as Tampa’s black business district,” it said. “We are helping to get the group in position to obtain the resources to save this important structure.”
So what is the City’s position?
After three years of talk and no progress, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday the city is open to working with Robinson and his supporters, but it won’t wait forever. Buckhorn’s immediate concern: The building is unsafe and “on the verge of collapse.”
Before anything else, Buckhorn said, the property must be made secure. And for any work to take place, someone has to buy insurance that covers the city against any claims. Because the city has declared the building unsafe, it needs that protection before it can let any repairs proceed.
If the City is so concerned about African-American history, how come there has been nothing done for Jackson House for three years and why has nothing been figured out yet? Like the old saying goes: the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Transportation – Howard Frankland
FDOT this week confirmed that the new Howard Frankland will be built so that it can accommodate rail.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said the state is committed to building an estimated $25 million substructure to accommodate light rail on the replacement span of the Howard Frankland bridge.
The cost would be added to the $390 million price tag of the three-mile span, which state officials expect to complete between the two existing bridges by 2025. The existing northern span would eventually be demolished.
Good for FDOT. Now if only Hillsborough County and Tampa could actually stop just talking about transportation and actually do some planning, maybe we could get somewhere.
Transportation – HART/PSTA
This week, the Tribune ran an interesting article that was essentially a discussion of why the Tea Party does not want HART and PSTA to discuss merging.
However, Pinellas and Hillsborough tea party members, who helped defeat the 2010 Hillsborough transit initiative, believe a merged transit system could attract federal grants for light-rail, which they oppose.
“HART Board members are rejecting a strong-arm attempt by Sen. Jack Latvala and Brad Miller, (director) of PSTA, to a takeover of the Hillsborough bus system to accomplish Pinellas County goals of building light rail,” a post on the Tampa Tea Party’s website said.
“… This merger would be the Progressive’s logical step to consolidating into a regional Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority taxing authority. Regional taxing authorities enable special interests, remove local control and result in higher costs (from being) an arm’s distance from local taxpayers.”
“Making us regional, it really just takes government further away from us,” said Barb Haselden, an organizer with the South Pinellas 9.12 Patriots movement, who also is spearheading the Pinellas County No Tax for Tracks effort to defeat the sales tax increase.
What can you say about those comments? There is no discussion of what is more efficient or more effective nor is there an attempt to look at what provides better service for lower cost. It is a purely ideological statement. (Their position is reminiscent the Anti-Federalists opposed to the Constitution. See here and here. Also note that the Constitution was created because the Article of Confederation and its overly local focus did not work, at least in the minds of the majority of the Founding Fathers, who the Tea Party supposedly reveres.) You can’t really argue with ideologues, but you also do not have to do what they say. Unfortunately, the Hillsborough County Commission and the Governor put just such Tea Party members on the HART board.
At the end of the article was a somewhat fascinating, if totally ambiguous, item.
Let’s try to figure this out. The City is considering leaving HART. Is that because the City wants a regional agency or because the City wants to run its own agency? Is the Mayor a Tea Party sympathizer? And how is leaving the most stubbornly anti-regional agency around, HART, avoiding a merger? And why is the City opposed to a merger in the first place? (It would have been helpful if the reporter had actually explained anything.)
In any event, more regionalism in transportation only serves the interests of Tampa, which is the biggest city in the area and, conveniently, also sits at the center of the region. How cutting itself off is good for Tampa is not clear at all. It is all part of the double secret transportation planning in Hillsborough County.
Economic Development – The Good
First up, there has been some good economic development news recently. There was Bristol-Myers Squibb and a number of financial back-office operations. If you are most of the County Commission, there is the Estuary/Bass Pro Shop development and hand out. Amazon is fine. In other words, there is some good news, though nothing economically transformative, though Bristol-Myers Squibb is at least a targeted industry.
This week, USAA announced a local expansion, as well.
In the latest signal of regional economic momentum, financial services giant USAA said Tuesday it will add up to 1,215 jobs by 2019 and build a 420,000-square-foot facility in Brandon by 2015 to accommodate its expansion.
The project was made possible through incentives and partnerships between state and local organizations including Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Hillsborough County, Workforce Florida Inc. and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
In April, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a local incentive package of $729,000, supporting a commitment of $2.9 million from the state through its “Qualified Target Industry” or QTI program.
According to the state, that total QTI allocation of $3.65 million will provide USAA with $3,000 per job for each of the newly created, high-wage positions. The incentives will be distributed over a period of nine years, the state said, and are performance-based. That means the funds are only paid after the jobs are created at the wages promised. Those jobs will include various positions across all USAA lines of business, including insurance and banking services.
That’s good. We have no objection (though it would be nice if we could attract major corporations without giving them money, but that is probably a ways off). Even with recent job loss announcements, there is a net gain. One thing it would be nice to know if the new building was going to be a sprawling mess, like other buildings in Brandon, or whether it will be a nicer building. It would also be good to know if, as it appears on its face, these jobs are more back-office/call center jobs or jobs that will diversify our economy. (Decide for yourself from this: “The company is already posting area jobs online at usaa.com, seeking to fill a broad array of insurance and banking positions, including customer contact representatives.”)
People should be happy there are more jobs, though we are still waiting for transformational developments that will change our economy (though maybe Bristol-Myers Squibb might be a start). And we wonder whether it will just be another sprawling, low complex or something nice. Nevertheless, well done. (And at least there were no reported hype-tastic comments, though see below.)
Economic Development – Le Comté? C’est l’Est.
This week, we also learned that Hillsborough County still is completely focused on the east County.
Hillsborough County wants to label Brandon as a key economic development area and is considering creating a tax-increment finance district to help drive growth, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
“Brandon has the advantage of a relatively mature business environment, so the greater Brandon area will be one of what we call the economic development spaces that we will be focusing on,” Merrill said, speaking at a chamber luncheon. “What that means is, and there will be a few of them identified around the county, we will then be focusing our economic development resources, both people and money, in those areas to leverage an already existing base that’s working.”
The county hopes to focus on areas it identifies as hotbeds for business innovation and capitalize on the fact that the area is recovering from the recession. This means transportation solutions and redevelopment money, Merrill said. It also means creating tax-increment finance districts for the first time within the county.
If Brandon is already working, why change anything? Just let it be (and stop subsidizing it). So what is the purpose of a tax-increment finance district?
Typically, these districts arise after elected officials identify a specific geographic area as blighted or in need of special attention. The retained tax revenue can then act as a tool to address the blight and, hopefully, make it a more inviting place to live or work.
In other words, TIFs take tax money away from the County as a whole, punishing other areas by lowering general revenue. This makes sense for areas that need redevelopment. However, it does not make sense for areas that seem not to need any help (and Brandon just got the USAA project with other subsidies, not to mention the County payment for Estuary/Bass Pro Shops). So is Brandon working already, as the County administrator says, or not? Apparently, it does not matter.
But Murman said the commissioners view these districts as a powerful financing tool. The commissioners are eager to foster growth, and these districts could be one mechanism for encouraging development.
Thus, the answer is “who knows?” But what is known is this:
Earlier this spring, Hillsborough commissioners voted unanimously to consider creating the so-called tax-increment finance districts in three areas: near the University of South Florida, near the Florida State Fairgrounds and in the neighborhoods of Progress Village, Clair-Mel and Palm River along Causeway Boulevard.
The listed areas make a good amount of sense for TIFs. They are economically disadvantaged. Of course, they are also generally in the east County, which, it seems for the County government, is all the County.
We have no problem with TIFs for redevelopment areas, but if the County is going to exclude money from the general fund, why not set up a TIF in the northwest/near Westshore which is already working, too? Why should it have to share more than the rest of the County? How about Plant City? Why should it share more, too? Brandon does not need a TIF, it needs good planning. Sadly, this plan just seems another attempt by the County government to find out how to subsidize developers in the east County and ignore the rest.
Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Swagger City
This week, there was a prep rally of sorts for economic development officials in Hillsborough County. If reports are to be believed, it was quite an odd scene:
So, the meeting/pep rally was not as much about recounting the group’s successes as it was about announcing its intentions. Newly seated Chairman Allan Brinkman, president and CEO of SunTrust Tampa Bay, rode into the arena on the Zamboni to Jay Z’s “Swagga Like Us.”
Those accomplishments and a new sense of confidence were celebrated Monday evening in the Tampa Bay Times Forum at the annual meeting of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The public-private group’s task is two-fold — at least: To push for better jobs for Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City; and to better unite the Tampa Bay area into one competitive voice for the long run.
“Today, the energy in our community is tangible. We’re thinking bigger, reaching higher and achieving more than ever before,” Tampa Hillsborough EDC chief executive Rick Homans states in his organization’s just released annual report. “Some call it confidence. Some call it swagger. But we just call it like we see it. And what we see now is just the beginning.”
We are all for having a sense of confidence. If you do not believe in your product, you will not close many sales. We don’t really have a problem with getting excited either. But there is a line between confidence and being so silly you are not taken seriously.
So, let’s look at this swagger thing. “Swagger” has become a fashionable term in some circles, spawning “swagga” and “swag.” Now “swagger” seems to be bleeding into the general culture including business and motivational speaking. What exactly does it mean? The urban dictionary gives “swagga” definitions that one would consider for “swagger.” It defines “swag” with definitions which are off color and potentially offensive enough that we are not going to quote any of them.
But let us go back to “swagger.” Merriam-Webster defines it as such:
(A good example of swagger would be the Mayor of Toronto, which is undergoing quite a boom, whose excuse for smoking crack was that he was hammered. What could be more swagger-ful than a Mayor smoking crack while trashed, yet having an economic boom?)
On the other hand, “confidence” is defined like this:
In other words, “swagger” and “confidence” are not the same thing. Confidence is belief you can get the job done – and belief in what you are selling. Swagger is arrogance. In reality, swagger is often a misplaced confidence or a cover for insecurity. It is an affectation. And swagger is usually off-putting. Confidence is has substance; swagger is puffery. (Houston and Dallas do not have swagger, they have confidence and we doubt their elected officials think a Bass Pro Shop is “economic development at its best.” )
Our point is that confidence in the economic development mission is fine, necessary even. It instills confidence in others and helps move things along. Confidence is quietly understood and effective. Moreover, real success instills confidence in you and those with whom you speak because they know that you can get it done without you telling them. Swagger is hype without substance.
For illustrative purposes:
(Setting aside will set aside who “they” are.) Telling yourself that for three decades while people still do not do it is swagger. (See this article from January 1986.) Methodically doing all the things you need to do so that those people actually say it on their own without prompting is confidence. (And, as much as we like getting the new jobs, great cities do not have to subsidize back office operations to get them to relocate.)
We’ll just assume the economic development officials were just having fun and really meant “confidence,” but, unfortunately, we cannot really be sure.
The Museum Across the Bay
This week, we learned that the arts and crafts museum initially proposed for Curtis Hixon Park is now going to be built in St. Pete.
Against the backdrop of craftsman homes in the historic neighborhoods of Kenwood, Roser Park and the Old Northeast, an enthusiast of the arts and crafts movement has chosen St. Petersburg to build a museum to house his $60 million collection from the period.
Rudy Ciccarello plans to establish his Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement at 333 Third Ave. N, in the city’s downtown. The 90,000-square foot, four-story facility will include galleries, a cafe, restaurant, store and studios.
Ciccarello, 67, had once set his sights on Tampa, hoping to build a museum and upscale restaurant at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. He broke off negotiations about a year ago when he couldn’t get a five-year commitment of financial support from City Hall.
The new museum will be designed by Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso, who also designed the space for the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The site is being bought from Synovus Bank, which will be its neighbor. The museum’s architecture will not be reminiscent of the arts and crafts movement.
Interestingly, the St. Pete plan appears to involve a completely private endeavor while the Tampa plan was in Curtis Hixon Park (apparently the Mayor’s idea – part of his vision for parks which the columnists above would have us follow without question) and required public money (about $5 million). We opposed the Tampa plan due to cost and location, but would have been fine with having a privately financed museum on a private lot near Curtis Hixon Park. The question is why the deal for Tampa was so much worse than that for St. Pete.
This week, the City hired a designer for Riverfront Park.
As proposed, the city would hire the Civitas landscape and urban design firm from Denver to lead the planning effort. Civitas specializes in urban park, urban waterfront and urban revitalization projects.
In its proposal to the city, Civitas said Riverfront has a “curious design,” with barriers to visibility and movement. The firm said the main thing the park needs is to “open vistas from place to place, activity to activity,” plus “multiple new destinations connected into a cohesive hole.”
That is all generally fine (except the “cohesive hole” part). But there is this:
Being pithily dismissive is all well and good, but it does not really address the issue raised in the proposal (or the questions raised by the proposal for the crafts museum in Curtis Hixon Park). Sure, the mounds do inhibit some movement (though not much especially given the size of the park) , but the biggest mound provides far better vistas of downtown than anything on offer anywhere else near downtown (except for the trees which can be moved).
Any new design, as stated in the proposal, should take that into account. There needs to be a major vertical element in the park, whether it is the mound, a reconstructed mound with a more organic appearance (our preference), or something else that maintains the vista. The vertical element, and people’s opportunity to do more than move on a plane, is what makes the park different. That should not be forgotten in the rush to be cute.
List of the Week
This week we are going to do multiple lists regarding the best American cities from different perspectives.
First, Conde Nast‘s reader poll. First place goes to Charleston, followed by Santa Fe, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, Carmel (CA), New Orleans, NYC, Savannah, and Napa (CA).
Second, is best cities from Businessweek (though it may be from last year). First place is San Francisco, followed by Seattle, Washington, Boston, Portland (OR), Denver, NYC, Austin, San Diego, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Kansas City (MO), Atlanta, Madison (WI), Raleigh, Honolulu, and Columbus.
Finally, a list of US “World” Cities from Brookings: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the U.S. leaders in global connectivity, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington (with honorable mention to Boston, Seattle, and Houston.)
Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week Tampasphere is posted a day early.
Bro Bowl – It Is Historic, Too
This week the Bro Bowl was designated as historic.
To the delight of skateboarders trying to save it, and the chagrin of city officials planning to honor black history there instead, Tampa’s Bro Bowl is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The designation from the National Park Service comes amid debate over the future of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — home to the iconic skateboard bowl, but also part of the city’s vision for redeveloping the Central Avenue area and honoring its rich history.
So what does that mean?
Because federal money will help pay for the park’s redevelopment, officials are required to devise a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the impact on the bowl. That could range from putting a plaque on the site to documenting its significance to incorporating pieces of the bowl in the new skate park.
Our guess is that the City will go with the plaque (though that does not really honor the Bro Bowl), but maybe it will actually work a compromise (you can see our suggestion here) which is the obvious route. On the other hand, we doubt the obvious and relatively easy route will be chosen given this:
“I want to get bulldozers out there and I want to get this park built,” Buckhorn said. The Bro Bowl “may be significant to a very minute percentage of the population,” but alongside “the history of the African-American community in Tampa and Central Avenue, it absolutely pales in comparison.”
The new Perry Harvey Park will have statues, a history walk and displays on different aspects of life on Central Avenue. And the skate bowl, now at the center of the park and thus in the way of the memorials, will be moved to the northern end of the park.
“A win-win for everybody,” Buckhorn said. “I just don’t understand how you can look at those two historical perspectives and somehow come to the conclusion that they are comparable or equal or deserving of the same level of attention.”
Skateboarders had pushed for the designation in hopes of saving the bowl. Still, at this point, Buckhorn said, the federal decision to put it on the National Register of Historic Places “seems to be more of a meaningless designation.”
First, moving the skate park is apparently not a “win” for the people who want to save the Bro Bowl. It would be one thing if the City had to choose between the histories, but, as we have explained previously, it doesn’t. It is not clear why the City won’t slightly alter the plans for the park to preserve and honor all the history rather than divisively picking one history over the other. The reality is that this does not have to be a controversy at all; the City is making it one.
We agree with this from one of the Perry Harvey renovation advocates who admits he does not like the historic designation of the Bro Bowl:
There is an easy compromise that honors every interest ready to be done. Just do it.
Transportation – Pinellas
The Times conducted a poll that found that there is support for the Pinellas transportation referendum.
By a clear majority, likely voters who participated in a new poll sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF Public Media said that they would support a 1-cent sales tax increase to build a light rail system and expand bus service across Pinellas County. Of the 809 people surveyed, 56 percent said they favored the proposal, 36 percent were opposed and another 8 percent declined to answer or were unsure. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
It is way too early to put much faith into such polls (if we can put any faith in such polls after the Hillsborough referendum). The report also talks about the language the Pinellas County Commission is considering for the referendum. It will be interesting to watch developments.
Transportation – The PTC
Our position on the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission is well-known. Well, step one:
State Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa and Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, both Republicans, said in a news release today that the agency is a barrier to competition and innovation in public transportation.
“The Public Transportation Commission has evolved from an agency designed to preserve public safety into an agency that is preventing competition in the market and restricting consumer choice,” Grant said.
Step two is pass the law, then we can deal with step three. We are happy they introduced the bill though we are unclear why there is not just a bill to abolish the PTC outright.
Built Environment – Westshore, With Walls
There was an article in the Tribune this week about a deal to redevelop the Without Walls Church land in Westshore falling apart. We are not concerned with the specifics of the deal. (If you want to learn about it, you can read the article.) The more interesting part was one thing at the end of the article where it discusses Westshore’s success. The Director for the Westshore Alliance comments on the Without Walls property:
“In the scheme of things for the district of West Shore, it’s not a major issue” if this sale doesn’t go through, Rotella said. “If it becomes available, clear of litigation, it will be developed by someone.”
Exactly, and the same could be said about most lots in the Westshore area. The area is central to the Tampa Bay area and in great demand, which is why it is a mystery why the City does not get on the ball and set out requirements to make it more walkable, urban, and vibrant. Even with such requirements, Westshore will get developed, just better than has been done in the past or the present (See southwest corner of Westshore and Boy Scout and the new buildings with blank walls and fake windows facing the street).
There is absolutely no need to settle.
Built Environment – The Clearwater Beach Example
The Times had an article detailing multiple plans for hotels on Clearwater Beach.
Years of stagnation on one of Florida’s best-known beaches is [sic] over. Clearwater Beach is leading Pinellas County’s beach hotel renaissance with some 2,000 rooms proposed, cheering tourism officials eager for more beds and city leaders hopeful for revenue.
We have no problem with that, assuming they are well designed and add to the vitality of the beach. More interestingly, the article had this:
“I’m just concerned,” said St. Petersburg developer J. Michael Cheezem, who developed the ritzy Sandpearl resort and high-end Belle Harbor condominiums on the beach. “Maybe they’ve gone a little overboard.”
Cheezem protested when the City Council recently approved a 202-room hotel, “the Views” by Enchantment LLC that got 92 units from the reserve. Cheezem said it would crowd his 4-acre property next door, where he and international hotel developer Ocean Properties plan to build Marquesas, an eight- to 10-story hotel plus a condo tower.
He added that shoulder-to-shoulder hotel towers that eliminate views of the gulf and force pedestrians to wander a retail desert along S Gulfview Boulevard could be the beach’s future if the City Council doesn’t “put down some guidelines.”
That is true. Walling off the beach and the views would be bad. On the other hand, without getting into all the details, Beach By Design has a multitude of various height limits. f (The highest we could find was 150 feet – about 15 floors for a hotel). The odd thing about height limits is they are generally counterproductive because they force developers to build squatter, wider buildings (and in terms of condos, more expensive) to get value out of their property. In other words, height limits promote the very walling off of views about which people are worried. Moreover, they cause units/buildings to be more expensive because they artificially limit supply.
In other words, the plan is the problem. If you want to preserve views, you should allow taller, narrower buildings.
The same thing is true for downtown Tampa – scale is not all about height. (see apartment building next to the Straz) If present residents want to preserve views, they should advocate taller, narrower neighbors, not building nothing, which is unlikely to become the City’s policy. The City’s policy cannot be stagnation, but it should be good design.
That is rational planning that accommodates all interests.
Hillsborough County – Watching the Money
There was an article this week that really caught our attention in terms of the Hillsborough County government involving housing the homeless.
Hillsborough County has paid millions of dollars to house homeless people, including veterans, the mentally ill and families with small children, in filthy, crime-ridden slums across the city, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.
That the county was paying for dangerous housing first came to light last month, when the Times reported that William “Hoe” Brown, the politically connected former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, had collected more than $600,000 to house the poor in squalid complexes, including an illegal, makeshift trailer park behind his Tampa office.
You may remember:
That the county was paying for dangerous housing first came to light last month, when the Times reported that William “Hoe” Brown, the politically connected former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, had collected more than $600,000 to house the poor in squalid complexes, including an illegal, makeshift trailer park behind his Tampa office.
The County’s failures in that case alone were “WTF” worthy. But now, it seems, there was oh so much more.
It is good that the County is now addressing this issue (It will be interesting to see how, exactly), but this has gone on for five years. How did no one notice? The answer from the article is this:
Huh? No oversight? And people did complain, but, apparently, just doing the right thing is not enough; you need the pressure of media scrutiny to get the County to act.
We have nothing against trying to find housing for the homeless and people in need (in fact, we favor it.). We also understand that some of that housing may not be the nicest, but it should fit minimal requirements for housing, not this:
A quarter of the $4.3 million the county spent in the past five years has gone to landlords whose buildings are hotbeds of crime and drug use, or whose properties repeatedly failed basic health and safety inspections.
That is not fiscally (or morally/ethically) responsible.
(Strangely, the article did not have a hype-tastic quote from elected officials. In fact, it had no elected official quotes at all.)
Rays – Still Mysterious
We all know that the Mayor of St. Pete is very stubborn about the Rays. What do the people of St. Pete think?
Among the 809 respondents, 48 percent were open to letting the Rays explore new stadium options all over the Tampa Bay area, with 39 percent opposed, while 13 percent were unsure or did not answer. The margin of error was 3.4 percent.
People did not see stadium negotiations as the city’s single most pressing issue. Building a new pier, public safety and Midtown redevelopment came first. But the poll does show that the electorate is keeping pace with city administrators as they evolve into a more nuanced position on the stadium.
In the poll, 38 percent of respondents would let the team look in Hillsborough — but only after the Rays and city negotiate some financial compensation. Ten percent of respondents would allow a Hillsborough search without preconditions.
So opinion is split (though the Mayor’s stubbornness was a distinctly minority opinion. What he really thinks now is unknown.). But people want the Rays to give something in return for looking in Tampa. So where does that stand?
But earlier this year, Foster quietly began negotiating a legal and financial framework that would allow the team to start looking across the bay. Those talks fell apart in September, with Foster saying that the Rays were offering no financial compensation for breaking their contract — “nothing but a thank-you note.”
“I have talked to (Rays president) Matt Silverman and I was told that the allegation is not true — that the Rays weren’t offering anything,” Kriseman said. “They expressed concerns about how forthright the mayor is being with them and the community on this issue.”
In other words, we still do not know the truth. Apparently, we will just have to wait until after the election.
Public Land – The Fairgrounds
There was news about the Florida State Fairgrounds this week.
The Florida State Fair Authority’s board is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to issue an “invitation to participate,” an open call for developers interested in building on part of the publicly owned property along Interstate 4 east of Tampa. The Fair Authority announced the vote in a press release Saturday afternoon.
“It will be competitive, transparent and fair,” Doyle Carlton III, chair of the Fair Authority board, said. “We want to hopefully be able to accomplish something that will bring in some revenue, but not anything that will compromise the core of the fair and its integrity.”
We have no problems with seeing what people propose. On the other hand, none of the previous proposals has really kept with the mission of the fair. The fair is a public trust and the grounds should not be given away for just anything, which may explain why developers have complained that the approval process takes too long.
So are we, but we are in no hurry to give away public land.
Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida I
There was an interesting article on the funding of channel dredging at Port Everglades. We are not even going to get into the Panamax issue and the Port of Tampa’s container strategy because there was something more generally relevant.
Recognizing that Congress can take years to approve big ports projects, Steve Cernak suggested that local groups pre-fund design and engineering studies to speed up things up — and then get Congress to sign off on construction and reimburse those studies later.
When the chair of the House transport panel showed interest, a broad coalition came together to push Cernak’s idea. Florida lawmakers in Congress, local officials and business leaders — Democrats and Republicans — worked together to convince the chair to include that measure in a House bill that passed Wednesday
Once the chief of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the dredging project — likely next year — then Broward County can pay $4 million for design and engineering studies, which could take two years to complete. By then, Congress could approve the dredging and with it the reimbursement.
There are two points here. First, there is the need for coordination and support from our Congressional delegation and the rest of Florida, something at which we are not very good.
Second, and in many ways more importantly, there is the need for forward planning and a proper strategy. We cannot sit around and wait to plan. We have to determine what we need and plan for it, simultaneously seeking money – especially in transportation. If we wait for money to be available, others areas which already have plans will jump to the head of the line and take it. (Frankly, the fact that the Riverwalk was planned and partially done, then got Federal money to finish, is clearly illustrative of this idea.) Pinellas seems to have learned this. Hillsborough, with a few exceptions, not so much.
Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida II
For all those who do not understand the idea of brain drain and the need to retain talent and culture, there was an article in the Miami Herald about an influential art gallery moving from St. Pete to Miami. The reality of our circumstance is encapsulated in a comment quoted from the Times:
In a review of Solomon’s final show in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett wrote that she’ll “miss Mindy Solomon and the vitality of her vision. I’m proud of her, too. She’s one of ours, going for the big time.”
What can you say when the Times art critic lays out so plainly the perception of Miami versus the Tampa Bay area? You can’t build your bona fides in culture (or anything else) if you lose the key players.
Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida III
And for all those looking to make biotech the heart of the economy in the Tampa Bay area, there was this:
The Florida Blue Innovation Center will break ground next year and open in 2015, leaders announced during Lake Nona’s Second Annual Impact Forum underway this week at the Medical City complex in southeast Orlando.
The center will be a launch pad for new business ideas and high-paying jobs, said Thad Seymour, president of the Lake Nona Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to create sustainable communities.
Florida Blue will be the Innovation Center’s anchor tenant with its Collaborative Imagination Center, said Pat Geraghty, chairman and CEO of Florida Blue. He made the announcement at the forum, which drew health-care leaders and academics from across the country.
Other Innovation Center tenants will include a partnership between the University of Central Florida and University of Florida to turn 15,000 square feet into a “life sciences incubator,” Seymour said.
It is not that this could not happen here, but this is real clustering of an industry in one specific area with major corporate support. It is interesting that Florida Blue chose to do this in Orlando. Was the Tampa Bay area even in the running for the collaboration? And then there is this:
“We want to be the next Silicon Valley of health care,” Main said, adding that his firm would not get involved in such a project without being confident the Tampa market is big enough and has all the right stuff to make it happen.
Right, it is not that there is no competition. Wanting is not the same as getting.
(And then there is this about Orlando International Airport’s expansion plans. We like their attitude and the fact that it is rationally stated. We’ll see what happens.)
List of the Week
Our list this week is On Numbers Economic Index. The article does not tell us how they arrived at the numbers, but here is the top 20.
Coming in first is Austin, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth; Provo, Utah; Houston; San Jose; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Honolulu; Ogden, Utah; Denver; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich. (?); Salt Lake City; Nashville; Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; San Francisco-Oakland; Pittsburgh; Tampa-St. Petersburg; and Baton Rouge, La.
Orlando was 27th. Jacksonville was 28th. Miami was 38th.
Well, that is something.
Economic Development – Whither Venture Capital?
This week, we learned that, despite all the local incubators, we are still lagging badly in terms of venture capital investment.
So far in 2013, four Tampa Bay area startups have attracted close to $30 million. That’s out of $277 million committed to 34 deals across the state. The bulk of that money — $65 million — landed at a Miami firm called FoxyP2 that operates an online language school serving Spanish-speaking students around the globe.
Still, the latest numbers pale when compared to the peak of the “dot-com” boom that started in the late 1990s. In the first three quarters of 2000, Florida attracted a record $2.3 billion in venture capital. In the third quarter of 2000 alone, shortly before the technology bust, Florida attracted $927 million in venture capital, according to data collected by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
This is distressing. It is hard to develop an economic base of growing local companies if funding is not available. There are at least two issues: 1) having people willing to invest and 2) having businesses worthy of investment (the goal of the incubators). In a column in the Times, one company was highlighted as saying it is possible to get investment (and it is), but there was a key factor:
And while SiteWit keeps close ties with Silicon Valley, Lasa says a Tampa Bay headquarters is a big business advantage. Competition for top engineering talent in Silicon Valley is expensive and fluid, he says. The team behind 3-year-old SiteWit here has been working together for a decade.
We think the column got it backwards. It is helpful to have lower cost employees, but having connections to the heart of VC funding is helpful for getting capital. So is having a good idea, and you are more likely to have abundant good ideas if you have more people coming up with ideas. That is where everything, from capital to transportation to planning gets connected.
You need to draw money, which means you need good ideas. Your chance of coming up with good ideas increases when there are more people doing it. You draw those people by having a better climate for the kind of businesses they create, more knowledge based businesses, and an ability for those people to live in a way which they want to live. Never forget that they have a choice where to live. There are places already that provide more of the lifestyle choices they want. There are also places that already provide more access to capital, ideas, and talent. There are already places that provide more exposure for their product. In other words, we are behind in all these areas (and we are not just talking about Silicon Valley). None of the factors exist in isolation. They all need to be addressed or we will fall further behind.
Despite anything you may hear from those creating excuses for why are those issues are not addressed or why we only need to deal with only one or the other factor, the reality is that we need to deal with them all. Denying it will only lead to more reports like VC report we had this week.
Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction
We have written about the Gandy Connector and a recent poll about whether it is supported or not. Despite the fact that the poll found support for the Connector, the idea was shelved. We looked at some of the MPO documents about the Gandy Connector and thought that they provided a nice example of the failure of planning in this area.
One power point presentation presented a good summary of the history of the Gandy Connector project showing how the need has been identified for years, but nothing has been done.
Under Project History, starting on page 5 here, we learn that back in the early 1990’s FDOT recommended a 4 lane expressway extension of the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge and then a six lane expressway to 4th Street in St. Pete (we would go to 275, but that is just us). Nothing happened.
In 1994, the new southbound span of bridge was built, which actually ended up not increasing capacity. (see page 6) Still, nothing on the Connector.
Then, between 1996 and 2000 there was another FDOT study that offered three alternatives (pg 7):
Again, in 2001 and 2002, FDOT did more study and came up with two alternatives (pg 8):
Then in 2006, there were some changes to Gandy Blvd. that resulted in “No significant traffic capacity added.” (pg 9)
In 2007 the City of Tampa performed a study and came up with some small changes.
Then again, in 2010, the Expressway Authority did a study and came up with the two lane elevated tollway idea, but nothing happened.
So, as shown by Slide 12 (below), 20 or so years of study have led to the project scope continually shrinking and still nothing is done.
Now we have a new poll (notably of only people who live nearby the road, not the thousands of other people who use the road, see map on page 2). And still nothing is going to be done.
For all this time, local officials have bent to the will of some businesses on Gandy and local residents, even though it is clear from the survey that not all are opposed or even care one way or the other. So, we wondered, how many people are the elected officials bowing to?
To try to get a number, we looked at the number of voters from the surveyed area that voted in the last election? The precincts and survey do not line up perfectly so we looked at the precincts west of Dale Mabry and used the numbers from the 2012 Presidential vote with the assumption that most people who vote cast a vote for President. (Information from Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor.)
The two possibly relevant precincts south of Dale Mabry, home of the most vocal opponents of ever solving the Gandy conundrum, were #103 (2,628) and #105 (2,565), for a total of 5193 voters. On the north side of Gandy, there are precincts #113 (2,013), 115 (1,392), and 116 (1,118), for a total of 4523 voters. The overall total is 9716 out of over 2 million residents in Hillsborough and Pinellas (or 0.76% of the Hillsborough population and 0.44% of the Hillsborough and Pinellas population, based on Census estimates from summer 2013).
That’s it, and many (maybe most) of those voters do not oppose the connector. (Just for context, the MPO says Gandy Blvd between the bridge and Dale Mabry has 43,000 daily trips. Notably, the Selmon Expressway near Gandy has 32,500 daily trips, which implies strongly that a large percentage [if not majority] of the traffic on Gandy is through traffic. See slide #4 here) The conclusion is that local officials have spent two decades caving into a very small minority of people to hold up a long necessary transportation, and, if you count hurricane evacuation, safety, improvement for the whole area. (This is not a local store or local road, where local concerns are rightly more heavily considered.)
In other words, like so much planning in the Tampa Bay area, people have known that something should be done for decades, but not had the political will to do anything about it.
Last week, we noted that some at the transportation summit asked:
The answer is simple: because, if we do not plan and build for the future, nothing will get done and, in the future, the problems do not just go away, they get worse. We are now living in 1990’s future still discussing the same problems that were ignored then. Given the Gandy example, is it a surprise that we are behind?
Transportation – Pasco Road Hold Up
It seems that, like the Gandy Connector, the idea of a Pasco Toll Road over SR 54 may be stalling.
The Florida Department of Transportation was set to open bids for the $2 billion project Wednesday afternoon but canceled the bid opening that morning and extended the deadline six weeks after the original bidder expressed concerns over the ULI report.
The ULI panel cautioned Pasco against building an elevated freeway, noting that several cities — Seattle, New Orleans and Louisville — are replacing their elevated highways with ground-level boulevards. “It’s not something you want to rush into,” warned Charles Long, an Oakland-based developer who was co-chairman of the panel.
So the ULI, our locally favored outsource planners, does not like the idea of an elevated toll road. We are not exactly sure why, but their application of the examples of cities removing elevated roads is odd for a suburban and undeveloped county like Pasco. We understand not having elevated roads in an urban area or along a waterfront – they tend to slice the urban area up. However, Pasco County along SR54 has none of those qualities. And how exactly will a “boulevard” help with roads that are already wide and overcrowded? Let’s be honest, SR54 is not going to become a walkable area. It is already built in such a way that it would take 50 years to change its character and, even then, a freeway would be necessary because traveling along a walkable SR54 would be too slow. So what is Pasco County now thinking?
Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said that in light of the ULI recommendation, which came out just two weeks ago, it makes sense to hit the pause button on the project. “It does require political support and community support to do a project like this,” she said. “We haven’t even had a chance to sit down and talk about these reports and look at the concerns they raised.”
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said the delay “could be a telling sign that the elevated freeway may not come to fruition.” He said the ULI panel forced him to rethink his support for the concept.
Baker said Pasco officials would be willing to meet with IIP, or any prospective bidders, before the Dec. 9 deadline. “There has to be a dialogue with the community, so let’s have that dialogue sooner rather than later.”
There is nothing wrong with looking at the ULI report, though we are not sure that it should be given excessive weight. We also see nothing wrong with having a community discussion as long as the entire community is considered. And it should be remembered that waiting only makes transportation improvements ever harder and more expensive. The Tampa Bay area needs an east-west road near the Pasco-Hillsborough line. That has been known for decades in both Pasco and Hillsborough (which also caved). In the future, it will only get harder to do it.
Amazon – Two Warehouses
It appears that Amazon is going to bracket Tampa with two warehouses.
Seattle-based Amazon said it would create more than 1,000 full-time jobs at the centers with health care, stock awards and other benefits. It didn’t say when the distribution centers would open or when they would start hiring.
Some more detail:
Hillsborough leaders expect Amazon to build a 1 million-square-foot “fulfillment center” inside the South Shore Corporate Park just west of Interstate 75 and north of State Road 674. The company is expected to eventually employ about 1,000 full-time workers in Ruskin and perhaps as many as 1,000 more temporary seasonal workers at peak periods.
Many of the jobs will be low-skill positions involved in sorting and picking customers’ orders, jobs that typically pay around $11.25 an hour, according to job postings for Amazon’s other warehouses around the country. However, at least 375 local jobs are expected to be higher-wage positions at average annual pay of $47,581. Hillsborough County offered the company more than $6 million in economic incentives to persuade it to open in Ruskin and hire workers, and the state will kick in at least $900,000 more.
Jackson House – Too Late
A few weeks ago, we wrote about efforts to save Jackson House, the last building from the original African-American neighborhood around Main Street in downtown Tampa. It appears those efforts, though well intentioned, were too late.
But none of that will spare the Jackson Rooming House from what now seems like certain demolition as the most recent effort to save it has fizzled. The latest would-be champions for restoring the house on Zack Street in downtown Tampa, as well as city officials, say the building is in too great a state of disrepair.
Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden confirmed Tuesday what others had suspected. The more than 100-year-old, 24-room house was too damaged to restore without essentially rebuilding it from scratch.
We applaud those who tried to save the house despite their inability to do it. They have no blame. If there is blame, it goes to the City of Tampa, which has an odd proclivity for sitting around, letting buildings rot, then condemning them while wringing its hands about how its history disappears. (Like here and here, now a parking lot or here) Historic preservation policy seems to be very similar to transportation and planning policy – let someone else do it and take your chances.
Rialto – Well It Is Something
In contrast to Jackson House, there is news that the Rialto Theater might get repurposed.
Donnelly’s dream is one step closer to reality as she begins renovations on the Rialto Theatre on north Franklin Street between Interstate 275 and Palm Avenue. Under the business name 8-Count Productions, the 10,500-square-foot space will soon be home to art galleries and other space for small businesses, two dance studios for private lessons and group classes, and event space for up to 300 people.
The theater was constructed in 1925 and first opened its doors in 1926. It has been vacant since 2005, at which time it had been used as an auto repair shop. The renovation plans are to keep the historic nature of the theater in tact while adding a contemporary feel.
For those who don’t know, the Rialto looks like this:
It used to look like this:
It would be nice if the building could be returned to all its glory, but realistically, that was not possible. Reuse is the next best option.
The area north of 275 near downtown and near the Heights project is the next frontier of redevelopment. We are glad to see that the redevelopment might be starting. (Maybe the City will get lucky.)
Franklin Exchange – The Vault
And speaking of reuse, we are happy the old (and we mean old) Exchange Bank lobby downtown has found a new use.
The former bank building survives, however, and in its new life as “The Vault” is a venue for events such as a gin seminar for Tanqueray company executives, a fashion show and an opening party for Tampa’s International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
The website is here. While it is not necessarily the fullest use of the space, at least it was not demolished and turned into a surface parking lot.
The article in the Tribune did have one odd sentence that made us wonder how long old attitudes about urban spaces will linger:
Well, Tampa Theatre is a block away, Le Meridien is across the street, and the Floridan is about two blocks away. (see here) We would hope that is “walking distance.” The fact is that almost all of downtown is within walking distance. It really is just not that far, even if the desolate streetscape in much of the area makes it seem so. (If you were on vacation in a northeast city, you wouldn’t even notice the distance.)
Going A Ways Back
Some of you may remember efforts many years ago to bring the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Forrestal to serve as a museum in Tampa. It was an interesting idea, but nothing happened, partly because the Port did not want to give up any land in Channelside that it wanted to use for cruise ships. Well, the Forrestal, which is presently tied up in Philadelphia, is going to be scrapped.
List of the Week
One again, our list this week is a hybrid list. The information comes from Interest.com’s House affordability Index. The index gives grades to 25 major areas based on house affordability, which involves home prices and income. Therefore, there are a few lists.
First, highest house prices: highest is San Francisco ($706,300), followed by San Diego ($469,000), Washington, D.C. $403,000), New York ($399,900), and Boston ($382,200).
Next is lowest home prices: lowest is Detroit ($124,000), followed by St. Louis ($136,600), Pittsburgh ($140,000), Atlanta ($143,300), and Tampa ($145,700).
Now, highest median income: highest is Washington, D.C. ($88,233), followed by San Francisco ($74,922), Boston ($71,738), Baltimore ($66,970), and Seattle ($64,085).
Finally, lowest median income: lowest is Tampa ($44,402), followed by Miami ($46,648), Detroit ($50,310), Pittsburgh ($50,489), and Phoenix ($51,359).
While Tampa has relatively low home prices, its median income is so mow that it still gets a D+ for house affordability. (Full disclosure, San Francisco’s well reported excessive home prices lead it to get an F, even with high income, as did San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Miami.)