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Roundup 4-18-2014

April 18, 2014

PTC – Innovation Hillsborough Style, Part II

As you may remember, last week, Lyft began operating in Hillsborough County. (See “Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style” )  This week, it was Uber’s turn.   Of course, neither got approval from the protectionist, price-fixing, anti-competitive PTC.  So, the PTC responded.

Inspectors with the Public Transportation Commission that normally police the area for “pirate,” unlicensed taxi drivers spotted several of the pink mustaches on cars downtown this past week, stopped the drivers, and issued them warnings. Their crime: Picking up customers for the start-up ride-sharing service Lyft which uses the mustaches to make them stand out and — along with the similar service UberX — is trying to crack into the long-established and deeply regulated taxi and limousine marketplace with a new business model.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to take the high road on this,” said Kyle Cockream, the incoming executive director of the PTC. “We’re not here to hammer anybody.”

Some local politicians may want stiffer penalties to come, but for now the dispute mirrors other legal fights across the country. Both Lyft and Uber fall into what they say is a new category for transportation — somewhere between asking a friend for a ride and calling a taxi.

Good, don’t hammer anybody, especially since your regulations are questionable at best. (And the price-fixing PTC surely can’t appreciate that there is a price war going on in this new transportation segment. See here and here. Can’t have competition in Hillsborough County.)

You may also remember that last week we noted that at least one County Commissioner on the PTC does not want Tallahassee to change anything about the PTC (see “Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style”).

PTC chairman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said that while he is not against making some changes to allow new technology, any decisions should be made in Hillsborough instead of Tallahassee. 

So what was his response to giving warnings to Lyft?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist represents the county on the PTC, and said he wants to work with Lyft and Uber, but they must follow the same rules as taxi and limo companies.

“If they continue flouting our rules and regulations, we may have to exercise our rights under the law,” Crist said. “There are many new companies that want to come in and set up shop. … We invite that, but they have to understand there are certain steps they have to take and certain rules and regulations they have to follow.”

That clearly sounds like a reform plan.  In fact, it sounds like all the other reform plans put forward by the PTC members – namely nothing.  How exactly do you propose working with Lyft or Uber when the PTC policies are completely opposed to what they do?

Instead of exercising your rights under the law to punish innovation, why don’t you exercise your rights under the law to change rules that are anti-competitive, protectionist, and price-fixing?

Since the members of the PTC have done nothing to reform, we have to they have no plan to reform, which is completely unacceptable.  If they do not want the PTC abolished, do something.

Transportation – SR60 Calling

This week, we learned that FDOT is looking at SR60 in eastern Hillsborough.

The time will come when State Road 60’s rural swath won’t be so rural, state road officials say.

Traffic on the ribbon of pavement between Valrico Road and the Polk County line will increase 54 percent — some 71,000 vehicle trips per day — by 2040, Florida’s Department of Transportation estimates. Unless that 12.3-mile segment is widened to six lanes, it will not measure up to its designation as a major east-west corridor and evacuation route, transportation officials say.

“It’s not going to be built anytime soon, but at least we can look at the impacts,” said Kirk Bogen, environmental management engineer for the DOT. Bogen estimates it will be five to 15 years before any construction gets under way.

The decision to pursue the project was based on growth projections, he said, which could include conversion of farmland to subdivisions and businesses along the highway. For now the area is dotted with strawberry fields, mobile home parks, farm stands, and a sprinkling of older houses and new construction.

Some people are not so happy:

Hillsborough County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which orchestrates future transportation plans, objects to the state’s plan.

The area east of Dover Road is rural and would remain so in the county’s blueprint for future growth, according to a letter the MPO sent to the state road agency earlier this month. Also, there is not enough demand for the project and there are higher priorities in the Brandon area where traffic is chaotic, said Lisa Silva, an MPO planner.

We have decidedly mixed feelings about this.  We actually have nothing against the state looking at SR60 to plan for the future.  On the other hand, we completely agree with those who say the state should focus on fixing the roads where there already is development.

The real problem with this whole situation is that the County cannot be trusted to stick to anything in its plans.  Far too often, a developer wants to contradict or build outside designated areas in the plans, and the County has happily gone along with it.  That is a major reason our transportation system is such a mess.  Our local failure to plan is as much a failure of political will to stick to any plan as it is a failure in the planning (which is also influenced by County politics).

So, yea, go ahead and look at SR60, but don’t do anything.  Maybe the County Commission will someday actually stick to a plan.

Transportation – More Talks on the TIA-Downtown Bus

As has been noted a number of times, the Airport Director would like an express bus from the airport to downtown.  This week, there were reports of more discussions.

Like many transportation issues in the Tampa Bay region, creating a swift, convenient, 9-mile bus connection between the airport and downtown Tampa has evolved into one that’s become complicated and lengthy to resolve.

However, a battalion of local transportation and economic development interests are pursuing a new service as an alternative to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit’s Route 30, which takes 42 minutes along Kennedy Boulevard between the airport and downtown. That compares with perhaps 15 or 20 minutes on a direct run, depending on the number of city stops.

(That they all become complicated tells us a lot about local officialdom.)  In any event, discussions are ok as long as they are focused and do not get sidetracked.

Some now view the bus proposal as a pilot project for how HART should approach transit to include a focus on business and community development, in addition to moving people from one place to another.

So much for that.  We find it hard to understand why it is not clear that getting people from where they are to where they want to be, in and of itself, helps develop business and the community.  Getting people from where they are to where they want to be should be the focus.  If people want to go from the airport to downtown and the other way around, just provide the service – permanently.  That will cause development.

But we digress:

If sufficient demand were shown for a direct downtown-airport service and HART had plentiful resources, it’s possible a new bus route might have been created months ago.

But like any metro transit agency, HART is not a revenue producer and covers only a little more than 25 percent of operating costs with fares.

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In addition, because HART relies on federal grants for a portion of its operating and capital grant revenue, it must comply with stringent federal regulations ensuring service to low-income neighborhoods isn’t stripped to provide other routes.That assurance also benefits employers who rely on employees who don’t have cars to get to work.

So HART has neither the equipment nor budget to simply start a new service, which frustrates some — like Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Mark Sharpe, who in recent months has sought ways to create new and innovative service.

Ah, Hillsborough exceptionalism returns.  For some reason, other cities seem to have no problem have an airport-downtown connection, but HART is special.  So what are the discussions about?

Following the failure of a 2010 county referendum to add a penny to the sales tax to create a light rail line and enhance bus and highway mobility, a consultant’s analysis showed running rapid-transit bus service between the airport and downtown would cost $1.8 million to $3 million for operations and maintenance annually, depending on frequency of service and the number of vehicles.

So officials from the Downtown Partnership, the airport, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority and HART are holding discussions to develop ways to create and finance a direct airport-downtown route.

In addition, service from the airport to Brandon and Pinellas County is being considered.

If a new airport route is successful, it could serve as a model to look beyond the typical lengthy time period and bureaucratic restrictions HART faces in creating a new route.

Setting aside that it is completely unclear what exactly “rapid-transit bus service” is, why did they not come up with a plan for how this could be done when they did the study?  Anyway, what are they considering?

The latest thought emerging from the discussions is that rather than a conventional HART bus, airport passengers might be better served by some sort of shuttle vehicle that would accommodate baggage, provide Wi-Fi connections and make stops at various downtown hotels, rather than a central location such as the Marion Transit Center.

Fine with us.  On the other hand, we are not sure about how that fits into Brandon or Pinellas service, and we are not even going to get into the so-called bus rapid transit discussed for a later phase near the bottom of the article.

One thing that does become clear from all this is that HART, as current constituted and with its current limited outlook, is definitely not ready to be the go-to agency on transportation in Hillsborough County.

Economic Development – Hillsborough Style

Over a year after Hillsborough County approved subsidizing its model for economic development, the Bass Pro Shop might finally actually start construction:

More than a year after Hillsborough County officials approved a $6.25 million subsidy to bring a Bass Pro store to Brandon, construction is about to begin.

David Verardo Development said Monday a ground-breaking for the project will be April 24 at the Estuary shopping complex across from the Westfield Brandon mall. Also headed to the center is the area’s first TopGolf, a sport entertainment complex.

Bass Pro is scheduled to open in spring 2015. Construction is well under way on TopGolf, which is expected to open late this fall.

County commissioners in February 2012 voted 6-1 for the subsidy for road improvements, with Commissioner Kevin Beckner voting against it.

The money will pay for roads needed to access the property, normally the responsibility of developers. The funding will not go directly to Bass Pro.

Since it is buying the land, we are not so sure Bass Pro Shops is not directly benefitting from the subsidy, but whatever.  And why did it take so long? (Amazon made its announcement later and started sooner. )

Interestingly, in an article regarding the thoroughly unsubsidized Dicks Sporting Goods in Westshore Mall, we learn:

Dick’s new opening comes as a string of sporting goods stores are either entering the Tampa market, or adding new locations. Gander Mountain opened a location just west of Tampa, and Bass Pro Shops plans a massive location in Brandon, likely with fishing pond and museum-sized aquariums. Meanwhile, other stores are scouting sites in Florida, including REI, Cabella’s and Academy Sports + Outdoors.

Seems like the subsidy was entirely unnecessary.  Too bad, despite all its hype, the County Commission does not have faith in the allure of this market.

Pedestrian Safety – The Best We Can Hope For With What We Have

This week, there was much discussion about pedestrian safety focusing on Hillsborough Avenue.

A signaled crosswalk is just one potential solution to pedestrian safety problems plaguing Hillsborough Avenue, a topic that brought together representatives from local agencies Tuesday morning.

State and city officials said a plan was in place to put in the crosswalk and signal in the area where two Middleton High School students were struck and killed over the past three years.

The announcement came during a meeting to explore traffic problems and solutions on a dangerous stretch of the busy six-lane road hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation with officials from the city, and the Hillsborough County school district and sheriff’s office.

“There is no one magic silver bullet that’s going to solve this,” said Paul Steinman, secretary of the transportation department’s District 7, at the start of the meeting.

* * *

The department has spent millions of dollars on pedestrian safety education programs and road improvements along Hillsborough in recent years, Hsu said. Workers have added raised medians, crosswalks and “yield to pedestrians” signs.

State transportation officials are working with Tampa Electric Co. to improve lighting along the road and with city officials to add the signaled crosswalk in front of Meridien Point Apartments, which will take 16 months to complete.

City transportation Director Jean Duncan said there have been a lot of heavy hearts about the recent crashes on Hillsborough, but officials have been working to make improvements for years and will continue to do so.

It’s true – there is no silver bullet given how the area is laid out.  One could talk about pedestrians not crossing at crosswalks and other potentially risky behavior, but that still does not solve the problem.  Given the number of fatal incidents and the nature of the road, it seems that a signaled crosswalk is the best solution.  We are not going to quibble with that.

But that does leave the question of the nature of the road?  We understand that the area in question has needed economic redevelopment for a long time, and we do not begrudge it any redevelopment that occurs.  However, the redevelopment that came was suburban style development which is quite unfriendly to pedestrians. (See the area here) There is no logical and efficient way to walk.  Given that, it should come as no surprise that there are problems now.  It could have been done better.

That should be a consideration when redevelopment is proposed.

Downtown – Goings On

During the State of the City address, the Mayor made reference to five possible residential towers under construction downtown.  We knew of three – Skyhouse which is under construction, The Martin which was rumored to be starting months ago and now is rumored to start soon, and the Residences at the Riverwalk/Straz.  We were unsure of the other two, though thought they may be the rumored buildings on Harbour Island.  This week, an 83 degrees media article seemed to lay out the referred to buildings, which are the aforementioned three, plus a Crescent development almost done on Bayshore and a building at Encore, neither of which are really towers (seven or eight stories are mid-rise, not towers).

In any event, back to the original three.  We know about Skyhouse.  What over the other two?  First the Martin:

Developer Ken Stoltenberg, whose Grand Central helped jump-start the first wave of redevelopment in the Channel District, is almost ready to break ground on his newest venture, The Martin. Completion is anticipated in late 2015.

In other words, it will go up if and when it goes up.  As for the Residences:

At the earliest, a groundbreaking will come after June to avoid disruptions to the Straz’ center’s Broadway show series. A lawsuit filed by a Skypoint condo owner also is pending based on objections to the tower’s height. 

We knew it was going to wait until after the Straz season, so that is consistent.

In sum, we are still waiting.

Built Environment – Encore and the Grocery Store, Cont.

Last week, we discussed the Housing Authority’s rejection of a suburban style Walmart grocery store at Encore. (See “Downtown – Good for Encore”) In that discussion we provided a few links to information on more urban Walmarts.  As a comment to last week’s edition, a reader provided a link to an article on a plan for a Walmart with apartments over it.  (Thanks for that).

We also wanted to point out that Sarasota has a Whole Foods in its downtown that has a garage, not a surface parking lot.  There is no need for a surface parking lot for a downtown grocery store.  People use the Target at Dale Mabry/I-275 even though they need to go to a garage.  They will use a downtown grocery store, even if there is a garage.  It is likely that the key factor would be if there is a charge to park.

Ybor – No Deal

It seems that a deal to build a hotel on City property that was put out in an RFP is not going to happen.

After offering $650,000 for a city-owned parking lot in Ybor City, a prominent hotel developer now is looking to build somewhere else in the historic district.

In December, City Hall put out a call for development proposals for a third of a block it owns at E Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway. It got two responses.

The best, officials say, came from the Liberty Group, a Tampa-based hotel investment, development and management company with $300 million in assets. It proposed an $11.3 million hotel with 70 guest rooms and suites, interior lap pool, ground-floor lounge and rooftop bar.

Recently, however, Liberty president Punit Shah told the city he was considering taking his project to a bigger site elsewhere in Ybor.

* * *

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Shah said his company has made no firm decisions.

“We are very interested in developing a new hotel in Ybor City and are actively considering several options, including the city’s parcel for which we were selected to purchase during the (request for proposals) process,” he wrote. “However, at this time we have not confirmed our final plans or determined the exact location for the new hotel.”

If the plan was what we saw previously, that is fine with us.(See “Ybor – First Glimpse of the Hotel”)   Public land is a resource that should not be given away lightly, especially if it can all be done privately.

Channelside – The Port Still Wants It

As the seemingly interminable Channelside saga goes on, the Port is making noise.

The board members wanted to make sure that CEO Paul Anderson and chief legal officer Charles Klug have the legal and financial firepower they need to prevail in the court case that will decide Channelside’s fate.

“I want to make sure the two of you have the authority to take the right action,” Murman said, “and if you don’t have the authority, we need to give it to you today.”

Both said they have what they need to continue litigation.

Ok.  So what next?

The port, which owns the land beneath Channelside but wants control of the building, believes it is the best choice to unify ownership and pick a new developer to refurbish the complex.

The board also wanted to make sure that Swindal, who once personally brokered a deal for the port to buy Channelside —a deal the same federal judge dismissed in February — can still act on behalf of the port to resolve litigation. But settlement talks seem far off, officials said.

If the port can buy Channelside, it will likely be for more than its last offer of $5.75 million.

Fine.  Just get it done.

CSX – Maybe A Little Quieter

Speaking of the Port, at the board meeting this week, CSX made a presentation, which led to a discussion:

The longstanding issue of CSX freight train horns awakening downtown Tampa residents at night moved a step closer to consideration by railroad and city and county officials on Tuesday — if not resolution of the problem that’s bedeviled some for years.

Bob O’Malley, resident vice president Florida for CSX, told Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman CSX would be willing to meet local government staff members to discuss prospects of a “Quiet Zone” designation.

* * *

The noise issue came to light at Port Tampa Bay’s monthly board meeting, following a presentation O’Malley gave on CSX’s new intermodal truck and rail terminal near Winter Haven that he said would pair with a smaller Tampa facility to create better transportation options for the state’s largest population growth corridor.

Buckhorn, who sits on the port’s board, raised the noise issue as an unrelated topic.

“I hear them all night long,” Buckhorn said. “Then people call us. A sleep-deprived constituent is not a good thing.”

Buckhorn added that with five new high rises under development downtown, the CSX noise issue is becoming urgent. The sound reverberates off downtown buildings, he said.

Murman added that residents on Davis Islands were reporting hearing train horns at 5 a.m.

We are not sure where the Mayor is that he hears downtown trains all night, but otherwise it is a fair point. If CSX can have a quiet (or quieter) zone in downtown, so much the better.  Of course, given that this issue had nothing to do with the Port, it makes us wonder if anyone bothered to raise also long standing issue of the ridiculously high insurance premium the Streetcar has to pay?  That would have been nice.

Coming Out Watch – Looking to the Future

Last week, while the Economist was discussing the property boom in Miami, it also had an article about inflexibility and failure of the US embargo of Cuba.  Interestingly, it had this nugget:

Despite their failings, Cuba’s new rules are a reminder of how inflexible United States law remains. Because of the 53-year-old embargo against Cuba, some Cuban-Americans fear they will be left behind as investors from Brazil, China, Russia and Europe move in. Already Tampa, on Florida’s west coast, is vying for a greater share of Cuban business when the embargo is lifted. “Every day we’re missing opportunity,” says Bob Rohrlack, head of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

The by-line of the article is “Miami,” but apparently they not only have to say Tampa is in Florida but tell people where in Florida.  So much for big events like the RNC.  In any event, the Chamber of Commerce appears forward looking.

And an aside, efforts to develop contacts in Cuba for the time when trade begins to open up have been going on for a long time.  In 2002, the then Mayor visited.   Business leaders and the Airport Director have gone.  So has a local Congresswoman.  As for the present Mayor, for all his talk of this being “our time,” we “don’t need permission from anyone,” and we are going to challenge Miami as the Gateway to Latin America, his policy is apparently being outsourced to Miami.

List of the Week

Our list this week is successfulmeetings.com the Top 10 Cities to Move to in 2014. There is no methodology and we are not sure if it is the best place for meeting planners to move or for everyone.  With that caveat, here is the list.

Coming in first is Boise (which makes us wonder right of the bat), followed by Seattle, Ft. Lauderdale, Phoenix, Orlando, Minneapolis, Ft. Worth, Salt Lake City, Tampa (they felt the need to have the “Fla”, as they did for Ft. Lauderdale which makes you wonder what kind of meeting planners are behind the site),  and Houston.

Roundup 4-11-2014

April 11, 2014

Jackson House – Another Attempt to Fix It

There was news late last week that another group may enter the fray and attempt to save Jackson House.

The local chapter of the NAACP is stepping in where others have failed to save the historic Jackson House.

Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, told Tampa City Council members Thursday that her group will lead an effort to secure and restore the 113-year-old rooming house, which is in danger of collapsing. Other groups and individuals have championed the Jackson House in the past, but an organized plan and funding to save the structure have failed to materialize.

“We want to do it for the history of Tampa and to make sure we maintain not only the history of the city, but the African- American community,” Collins said after the meeting.

She said the project would cost between $2 million and $3 million, but did not elaborate on a source for the money.

The group will announce details of its plan to save the Jackson House in coming days, Collins said.

The executive board was set to take a final vote to approve it Thursday night, she said, and a community meeting will be held next week.

“We’re going to do this one right,” she said.

We hope so.  They would seem a good group to succeed where others have not, and it would be hard for the City to dismiss the NAACP as just seeking a publicity stunt.

We hope it works out.  Too much history has already been destroyed, and too much is still at risk.  While we should be looking to, and planning for, the future, it is good to remain grounded in our history and certain places, like Jackson House, are vital for such grounding.  And what better way to honor Central Avenue’s history than to actually preserve the last part of the old neighborhood.

Downtown – Good for Encore

We learned this week that we will still have to wait for a grocery store downtown, but, in this case, we have no problem with that.

A plan to build a 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Tampa’s Encore district evaporated this week after the Arkansas-based retail and grocery giant wouldn’t consider requests to adapt its prototype.

“We had to turn it down,” confirmed Leroy Moore, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s not the right fit for Encore.”

This is not your typical suburban store, Moore said.

“It did not engage [main thoroughfare]  Ray Charles Boulevard and that is an absolute must. They came to us. We asked they understand the nature of our urban village and be prepared to adapt to it or you can build your store elsewhere.”

No, it is not a suburban store. Good for the Housing Authority. What is Walmart’s issue?

“The notion that they only have one store they can drop in a location is ridiculous and it was insulting to hear that from a Walmart person,” Moore said. “I lived in a very urban boulevard in the middle of downtown Chicago and there was a Walmart and it was not the prototype Walmart – it was a very urban design.”

Walmart doesn’t see Tampa as an urban community, Moore said. “They want a suburban Walmart for us.”

Surface parking was about as much of a compromise as the Housing Authority wanted.

A surface parking lot at Encore is never something it never wanted to do but has had to consider to accommodate a grocer, especially if it had the right “aesthetics and landscaping to camouflage the parked cars.” To “turn the shoulder of the store to Ray Charles Boulevard” and not have any of that frontage of Ray Charles Boulevard “engaged” was insulting, Moore said.

Whether it is insulting or not, but it certainly is unacceptable. (Especially since they are building this in Miami.  Here is an article on urban Walmart’s.)  And we do not really care how Walmart views Tampa – what counts is how Tampa views Tampa.  A suburban Walmart grocery in Encore would be silly, especially one that is bigger than usual:

Walmart Neighborhood Market stores average about 38,000 square feet in size. This one was slated to be 42,000 square-feet, Moore said. The stores offer produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and deli items, household supplies, health and beauty aids, plus a pharmacy. Walmart’s giant Supercenters average about 182,000 square feet. The company has 45 Neighborhood Markets in Florida, compared to 204 Supercenters.

It is too bad there is no grocery store downtown yet, but one will come.  If Walmart does not want the market, that is their choice.

Thankfully, for once, there was no settling.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.

Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style

Disruptive innovation is coming to Hillsborough County.

TAMPA — Lyft is going rogue. The ride-sharing service, which uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal vehicles, began accepting passengers in Tampa on Friday evening.

That happened despite a letter sent last month to Lyft by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission that made it clear the San Francisco-based company does not meet the requirements to operate legally here.  

So what does the PTC, a majority of which are either Hillsborough County Commissioners or Tampa City Council members, object to?

On the other side of the issue, you have the Public Transportation Commission in Hillsborough County, established to regulate taxis, limos, tow truck drivers and others. Such agencies nationwide have staunchly fought against start-ups like Lyft, Uber and others, and the local PTC last year all but shut down Uber’s hopes of offering rides during the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012 — infuriating business-minded Republicans. Similarly, would-be electric car pickup services have also attracted the regulatory muscle of the PTC and been driven out of business.

“My understanding of Lyft and Uber’s model is not conducive to what’s in place in law,” said Kevin Jackson, interim executive director of the PTC, who added that his responsibility is to enforce the rules that Hillsborough County sets. “People may think it’s protectionism … Well at the same time we make taxi and limo companies do things that are not profitable at all,” he said, such as require taxis to accept any passenger, regardless of the neighborhood, their race, gender or even the distance they need to go — even if only one block.

In theory, Lyft drivers could face a $100 penalty for picking up passengers, and law enforcement officers could technically make an arrest, but Jackson said such instances are “highly unusual.” More likely, he said, his officers would make a written warning. He notes the county will likely take up the issue of Lyft and Uber and others at its next monthly meeting.

As for why make such a big deal, “The PTC has a legal obligation to protect the safety of transportation service customers through regulation of transportation service providers,” the PTC’s letter to Lyft read in part, noting drivers must have commercial licenses, background checks, training, and pass vehicle inspections. A ride from Tampa International Airport costs about $26 in a traditional taxi, and any limo ride has a minimum charge of $50.

(Note that Lyft is rich in investor capital and going to lower prices.) Nothing says innovation hub like government enforced price fixing. The PTC should be put in the first slide of every presentation on attracting innovators and young professionals to the area.  Hey, it is innovative – it is the only body like it in Florida,  even if its raison d’être is protectionism.

Nevertheless, changes still might be afoot.

But the PTC, which regulates all vehicles for hire, could soon lose much of its power if a bill moving through the Florida Legislature succeeds.

Refashioned Friday to take aim at the agency, the proposal initially sought to let technology-based transportation companies circumvent local municipalities and win approval directly from the state. It was nicknamed the “Uber Bill,” after the California-based digital booking service that has been rebuffed by government agencies in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

On Friday, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, gutted the bill and instead proposed new rules for the state’s 10 special transportation districts, including the PTC, which has more power than others.

Under Grant’s revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based commercially licensed driver services, such as town cars and limousines. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.

Not enough, but at least it is something.  What does the PTC say?

PTC chairman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said that while he is not against making some changes to allow new technology, any decisions should be made in Hillsborough instead of Tallahassee.

(Wonder if he would say that if he was still in Tallahassee? )

Regardless, if he wants to make changes, then make the changes.  No one is stopping him.  The PTC doesn’t need Tallahassee’s action to stop being an innovation killing, anti-competitive, cartel supporting, price fixing, extra layer of government bureaucracy.  The PTC/County Commission did all that on its own.  It can reverse it.

The question is why it hasn’t done it yet.

Transportation – The Lack of Alternatives in Action

This week, we got a lesson in what a lack of transportation alternatives causes:

It was supposed to be an overnight resurfacing job.

Work would begin late Saturday on two northbound lanes of Interstate 275, just east of the Howard Frankland Bridge, and be done early Sunday. Minimal traffic disruption.

At least, that was the plan.

The asphalt was late. Work went past schedule. When the road finally reopened, the new surface was torn up by traffic. The lanes were closed again.

The result has been monstrous traffic jams more resembling a natural disaster or evacuation than a lane closure.

Backups on the Howard Frankland have had a domino effect. In the middle of the day Sunday, eastbound Gandy Bridge traffic was bumper-to-bumper and moving at a snail’s pace as motorists tried to get around the mess on the Howard Frankland. Even the normally smooth Crosstown Expressway was jammed.

First, we realize that having alternatives to roads does not mean there will never be traffic jams and that such a mess is not an everyday event, but it is a clear example of what happens when you rely on only one system for your transportation.  It is worth noting that the other bridges and roads got jammed.  It is also worth noting that buses and automated cars would also be stuck in that traffic.  Finally, even if they were not also blocked (which is unlikely given the mess), variable toll lanes would end up being priced beyond belief because they are supposed to be priced so high that they do not get jammed or, if the tolls were temporarily lifted (or not raised enough to create a smooth flow) to ease the problem, just become part of the jam.

Just an object lesson for those who claim that roads are the be all and end all in transportation.

Transportation – HART Picks An Interim CEO

HART picked an interim CEO this week.

HART’s board on Monday named Chief Operating Officer Katharine Eagan, 40, as interim chief executive officer to replace Philip Hale, who is retiring by month’s end.

Transit board members said a search for a full-time director likely would not begin until autumn after a countywide transportation advisory group offers recommendations that could restructure HART’s board and dramatically alter the transit agency’s role, to possibly include an economic development focus.

Board members reasoned strong candidates from across the nation were unlikely to be interested in HART’s top position without knowing new expectations beyond fundamental transit operations and how HART’s board would be constituted.

Reasonable enough, except that part about “fundamental transit options” since right now HART does not really provide much in the way of options.  Nevertheless:

HART’s long-term direction and the board’s expectations of its next chief executive are expected to be affected by the outcome of the county advisory committee, which includes county commissioners and mayors of three cities who have met for nearly a year to discuss an ambitious new role for HART.

Some have said they hope a newly constituted HART board and vision would lead to innovative transit solutions, including more regional service.

However, what must be determined is how to alter HART’s financial bottom line to achieve transit improvements guided by a new vision and how to recruit and pay for new staff expertise capable of handling expanded roles beyond fundamentally operating a bus system.

That is more like it – fundamentally operating a bus system is what HART does.  Which is an issue.  So is this:

“A lot of people have a vision of what they would like to do with transportation in Tampa Bay,” Hale said. “But in my experience I haven’t met a lot with experience in transit.”

Maybe a lot of those people do not have experience in transit (but many have experience with transit, though usually somewhere else where transit works much better), but that is why you hire someone who does have experience and who is in line with the vision of how HART should operate.  You hire someone with drive and experience to execute the plan, even if it costs a little more.  (Kind of like flight development and the present the airport director.)

That is not the problem.  The problem is that right now there is no plan.

Transportation – More Election Year Money

The Governor was in the area again this week to hand out more election year road money.

Gov. Rick Scott returned to the Tampa Bay region Thursday for the third time in three months to promote transportation infrastructure funding, but his announcement repeated news more than a year and a half old— Interstate 75 would be widened in Pasco County.

* * *

One project will expand I-75 from four to six lanes from north of State Road 52 to Hernando County with construction beginning April 14 and completion expected by Spring 2016.

A second project will expand the Interstate from four to six lanes from north of County Road 54 to north of State Road 52. Construction begins May 27 and will be completed by Spring 2017.

Like the previous piles of cash announced this year for local road work, we are not going to complain about getting it, even if it is a result of the election year.  The roads need upgrades so it is fine with us.  It may not be the best way to plan, build, and pay for roads, but so be it.  Pasco also needs an east-west road (since it only has 2, which is horrible planning), but that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Channelside – On and On

This week, the bankruptcy judge in the Channelside saga had some rulings.

The bankruptcy judge overseeing Channelside Bay Plaza handed the Tampa Port Authority some wins but one notable loss in the ongoing court battle on Wednesday.

The judge dismissed the claims for damages made against the port by Liberty Channelside LLC, which is waging a tenacious legal campaign against the port for control of Channelside.

But the port also failed to get U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi to give up jurisdiction over Channelside, and the judge indicated during the hearing that he may continue to chip away at the port’s rights over the complex.

Frankly, it just seems like more to perpetuate the misery that is the Channelside story.  Other than that, we’ll just have to wait some more, comforted by the fact that we still have a black hole on the downtown waterfront.

Economic Development – Lights, Camera, Something

There was a lot of hubbub recently about the drive to have more film, TV, and commercial work in the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa Bay can lead the state in film and digital media projects and Film Tampa Bay’s relaunch on Friday is the first step on that ambitious goal.

“We want to become the state leader in this industry,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said at a relaunch event at Tampa Theatre for Film Tampa Bay, formerly the Tampa/Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

And

When movie makers train their lenses on Tampa Bay, the region’s tourism economy will feel it.

That was the theme of a ceremony held Friday in the lobby of the Tampa Theatre to mark the official relaunch of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

Standing on a stage amid a bright spotlight in the historic building’s lobby, business and political leaders touted film as a potential boon for the region.

“This is a segment of our economy we’ve been missing for a long time,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, noting that the film commission was an entity that has been dormant for several years.

Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan recalled their decision last year to set aside city and county funds to relaunch the commission. The goal, they said, is to make Tampa a magnet for the film industry in Florida.

As long as too much money is not spent on it, there is no problem there.  We are all for developing various industries. How much we will really get out of it is another question, which is why we are concerned about cost.

Dale Gordon, who was named executive director of the local film commission in July, showcased for attendees the commission’s website, filmtampabay.com, designed to attract filmmakers to the region. It features interactive information on potential filming locations and a rundown of the film permitting process.

Commission representatives have also visited film festivals and trade shows with the goal of putting the Tampa Bay film market on the map, Gordon said. And they have talked with state legislators, seeking support for pending bills in both the House and Senate that would provide financial incentives for the state’s film industry.

We are also fine with getting state money, though we have a feeling Miami and Orlando will get more of it and there is a question about whether incentives in this industry really have a good return on investment.

So how will we compete?

“I have an investor now who wants to build a soundstage [in Hillsborough County],” she said. She has advised the investor to be patient until the legislature makes a move on incentives.

An $11.5 million soundstage from EUE Screen Gems is in development now in South Florida.“They have a lot to lose,” if the state’s incentive package does not come through, Gordon said.

So Miami is already getting a soundstage – not to mention all the Spanish language media, while Orlando has a large number of production facilities. (and Atlanta is getting in the game. )

The point is this – we have no problem with the goal of developing this industry.  We do have an issue of spending a lot of local taxpayer money for it.  We also think that there needs to be a realistic plan for achieving the goal that has a step by step process with real benchmarks and not a lot of hype.  However, while we do support the goal, our real concern is that it is just another attempt to shortcut the long, hard process of developing our economy broadly and deeply.  In other words, that all this effort will create unrealistic expectations and limited results.

So, can we do better in this industry?  Surely.  Are there other areas far ahead of us? Yes.  Will this effort detract from the goal of developing a modern, high wage economy with a decent tech sector?  It better not.

Something Positive This Way Comes

This week, the Tribune had an article on new apps that Tampa and Hillsborough County are developing:

The city and county governments have new phone applications that allow you to ask for service with a few clicks on your mobile device.

The Tampa app even allows you to photograph a problem, such as a pothole, a downed tree or an illegal garbage dump. A global positioning satellite function then sends the location to the appropriate city department.

Hillsborough County will have the photo-GPS option by early May, according to communications director Lori Hudson.

The county application is available for Android phones, but iPhone and iPad users will have to wait a few weeks until Apple approves the app.

The city and county apps are free.

Good deal.  Keeping with our policy of giving credit where credit is due:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the app rollout in January. City information technology workers had started work on the project about six months earlier, said Russell Haupert, the city’s chief information officer.

* * *

The genesis of Hillsborough County’s app was a trip by County Commissioner Al Higginbotham to New York with his wife, Devon. Higginbotham noticed there were a number of free apps available for city services, walking tours and subway routes.

* * *

The new app is also a testament to County Administrator Mike Merrill’s twin passions for better customer service and cutting-edge technology.

Since Merrill became administrator, the county has joined Tampa in a $34.2 million software project to integrate administrative functions such as payroll, accounting, procurement and human resources.

All that is good.  We have not tried the apps, so there may be things that need tweaking of which we are unaware, but that is the nature of the beast.  If only such initiative was applied to so many other issues in this area.

Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Mayberry

This week, there was an interesting Times business story that really says a lot about this area.  It involved the opening of a Spanx store at International Plaza, which is really not very interesting, but it had this about the company’s founder (and our interest is not in the Spanx founder but what is written in the article):

Fourteen years after starting Spanx, Blakely is opening her sixth standalone store, this one at International Plaza in Tampa, near her old stomping grounds. For local fans, it’s like a homecoming for a small-town girl who went big. As in billionaire big. Last year, Blakely became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. In February, she appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine.

That’s right, just a “small town” (if the 3 million or so people of the Tampa Bay area can be viewed as “small town”) girl from Clearwater who went to Atlanta and made billions, providing jobs and capital in Atlanta.

We have nothing against people making their fortunes, but what exactly is there for Tampa Bay to celebrate?  Losing talent?  Having a headquarters in Atlanta?  That our largest local paper likes to refer to the talent in the area as “small town” folks who have to go to Atlanta to make it big?  So why exactly should young professionals and innovators come here instead of going directly to Atlanta or some other “big town”?

You may say we are making a mountain out of a molehill, and, probably, in some ways we are – though it is hardly a mountain – it is just an observation.  However, the fact remains, that, despite all the swag and hype, this is a very commonly demonstrated attitude of the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

– Of Gateways and Capitals

This week, we noticed two different articles about Miami.  First, the Miami Herald had an interesting article about the fortunes at Opa-Locka Executive airport.  The relevant portion:

“Private jet owners want to go to the nice, new, pretty buildings. They love that kind of stuff,” Blanchard said. “What we are seeing is a huge influx of South Americans: Venezuelans, Colombians, Brazilians … the guys who are coming in here and dumping money into the real estate market, those cash buyers.” Miami’s growing reputation as an adult playground also has added to private jet traffic at the Opa-locka airport. “You have things like Ultra, like Art Basel, the boat shows: Miami is such an event-driven town that you pull from everywhere,” he said.

Apparently, they are copying our event strategy.  In any event, then there was an article in the Economist about Miami real estate, the relevant portion of which is thus:

ICON BRICKELL, a three-tower complex in Miami’s financial district, was supposed to be a flagship project for the Related Group, the city’s top condominium developer. It would boast 1,646 luxury condos, a 91-metre-long pool, and a hundred 22-foot columns in its entryway. By 2010, however, it had become a symbol of the excesses of the city’s building boom, and Related was forced to hand two of the towers to its banks. Miami condo prices plunged to 60% below their peak. The vacancy rate jumped to 60%. Predictions flew that the market, the epicentre of America’s property crash, would take ten years to come back, or even longer.

The speed of the recovery has surprised everyone. Condo prices are already back near peak levels in Miami’s most desirable areas, and at 75-80% elsewhere. The available supply of units has fallen back to within the six-to-nine-months-of-sales range considered normal, from a stomach-churning 40 in 2008. Only 3% of condos are unoccupied. Sales of condos and single-family homes are above pre-crisis levels across Miami-Dade County. Commercial property, too, has rebounded, with demand outstripping supply. Developers are once again relaxed enough to crack jokes. “I call the current expansion the Viagra cycle,” jokes Carlos Rosso, Related’s president of condominium development. “We just want it to last a little longer.”

The recovery has been partly driven by low interest rates and bottom-fishing by private equity, which helped to clear excess inventory. But the biggest factor is that the city nicknamed the “Capital of Latin America” has attracted a flood of capital from Latin America. Rich people in turbulent spots such as Venezuela and Argentina are seeking a safe haven for their savings.

(Now we understand, we are the “Gateway” but Miami is the “Capital” of Latin America.  Our bad.  And how about the Related project, the columns of which are almost as tall as Pierhouse in the Channel District.)  Do you sense a theme?

Once again, we are all for pushing trade and transportation connection to Latin America, and we would be all for taking business from Miami (or anywhere else, really – that is nature of the beast). And Miami has its own issues – but Latin American connections are not among them.

On the other hand, we are not much for hype that is completely divorced from reality, like saying we will be THE Gateway to Latin America. (We are a long way from ever really being A gateway, so why don’t we just aim for that now?)  We’ll just leave it at that.

– And, Yes, Other People Get It Wrong Too

We often point out things done improperly in this area and say we are behind other areas (and we are).  Of course, that does not mean everyone else, even people ahead of us, are doing everything properly.  Thankfully, we can look at what others do and try to avoid their mistakes (though that seems rare).  This week, we noticed two items about Orlando that fall into that category.  First, there was a column in the Sentinel about the area around UCF.  You can read the whole thing yourself, but the main takeaway is this:

It’s the same old Florida growth story playing out at lightning speed. Build fast to meet market demand. Pay little mind to transportation. Fix problems later.

The planning geniuses can’t even muster up something as simple as shade trees along University Boulevard to make the walk a little less brutal.

“It’s the prototypical example of urban sprawl,” said Jim Sellen, a longtime Central Florida planner and principal with planning, design and engineering firm VHB. “There’s no attempt to soften that area. Cars live there. That’s what it’s about. It’s auto-centric.”

The reality is that if you look at the area around UCF, even with all its issues, it is quite a bit nicer than the area around USF.  Moreover, even with a few crosswalks being installed by the County near USF, crossing Bruce B Downs at Fowler or Fletcher is a ridiculous idea.  We can, and should, do better.  And all should note that palm trees, while iconic, are not shade trees.

The second item was about a new proposed restaurant/attraction in downtown Orlando.

Ace Cafe, a British hub for vintage-motorcycle and custom-car events, plans to open its first U.S. complex in downtown Orlando within a year.

Owners of the Ace brand, with its “petrol and speed” cult following, have signed a long-term lease for acreage and several industrial buildings facing Interstate 4 at Livingston Street, next to the downtown Lynx and SunRail stations.

* * *

The new cafe would provide a meeting place for car and motorcycle fans, with surface parking for fans to show up in their rides and garage parking nearby. Events could include everything from Old Ford Night and Mini Cooper meetups to gatherings for motorcycle clubs.

You can see renderings for the business at Sentinel website.  Frankly, we are surprised that Orlando has a proposal for a surface parking lot for hot rod car gatherings right next to its downtown rail/transit station.  It seems like quite a blunder.  Once again, something to note and never do.

What Is A Conservative?

Often in this area, there is a presumption that to be conservative one must oppose rail transit (and really most transit).  However, as we have pointed out often, that is not really the case nationwide.  Many conservative areas have rail transit (note the rail in Texas and Arizona, among others)  This week, we found an interesting item on the different strands of conservatism in Wisconsin and Utah.  You can explore it for yourself here.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Gallup/Healthway’s well-being survey of the highest and lowest cities by “well-being.”  To figure out what that means, look here.

The top ten best cities for well-being are Provo, Boulder, Ft. Collins (CO), Honolulu, San Jose, Ann Arbor, Naples (FL), San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, and Lincoln (NE).

The worst are Huntington (WV), Charleston (WV), Reading (CA), Spartanburg (SC), Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (NC), Beaumont (TX), Columbus (GA), Shreveport, Mobile, Evansville (IN), and Chattanooga.

Roundup 4-4-2014

April 4, 2014

Economy – A Sober Assessment

This week, we got some information of where we really are economically:

Every quarter, Brookings ranks the recession’s impact on the 100 largest metros based on four criteria: jobs, unemployment, economic output, and house prices. Wednesday’s report is tied to data from the end of 2013.

Tampa Bay was the ninth hardest-hit metro in the country during the recession. Housing prices fell more than 50 percent; total jobs shrunk by 11 percent; economic output tumbled 10 percent.

Since hitting its low point in 2010, the bay area’s recovery has been impressive, ranking 21st strongest out of 100 metros.

Ok, that is good.  On the other hand, we are nowhere near where we were before the recession:

Getting back to its pre-recession economic peak is another matter. By that gauge, Tampa Bay is still in the bottom 20, ranking a dismal 82nd.

And that does not even include that on a per capita basis, we still were quite far behind before the recession.

As we keep saying – certainly things are getting better, but they are nowhere near good enough.  There is a lot of work to do.

Economic Development – Still Waiting

Last year, we noted reports that a company was considering building a large facility in the area. (See “Economic Development – When There Really is a Nexus”  and “Economic Development – TECO Waiting Game”  ) This week, we learned that nothing has happened either way since:

An undisclosed company that since last year has expressed an interest in creating an operation that would become a major power customer in the region served by the Tampa Electric Co., has not yet decided on a location, a TECO spokesperson said Wednesday.

“There’s no decision from them yet, it’s still pending,” TECO spokesperson Cherie Jacobs said in an email.

A TECO request of the Florida Public Service Commission to consider a special rate for the customer sparked interest regarding a potential economic development windfall for the area. But the deal cloaked in the normal secrecy of a company seeking to relocate or build a new facility at various sites around the nation remains in the dark.

It would be nice to know what this is, but apparently we will just have to wait.

Transportation – Better Late Than Never, Sort Of

Last week, the elected officials of Hillsborough County decided that, after about a year of talking among themselves about the future of transportation, maybe they should talk to the people who have to pay for it.

After nearly nine months discussing what Hillsborough County’s future transportation system should look like, county leaders are now ready to hear from the people.

On Wednesday, a transportation policy group that includes county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities gave the go-ahead for a massive public engagement campaign. The goal is to learn what transportation improvements residents want and if they’re willing to tax themselves to pay for them.

* * *

The public engagement campaign will come in two stages. Stage 1 will run from April through June and include a robo-call survey with three to five questions, plus field interviews and questionnaires targeted to special-interest groups, such as the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Building on the information gleaned from the first stage, the board and county managers will develop a detailed proposal for public comment in stage 2. That proposal will outline how money will be spent and what group will be responsible for collecting and spending it.

How helpful.  Maybe they should have showed up at the public meetings on transportation held at the beginning of this process in the first place.

And, we thought that they wanted a plan by July 2014.

Stage 2 is scheduled for August and September and will include focus groups, town hall meetings and perhaps a scientific survey. The county and cities will hire a private company to craft the questions and develop a strategy to engage as many residents as possible in the discussion.

Huh?  There are between 1.2 and 1.3 million people in the County.  How are they to get a good feel for what people think then come up with a plan by then?  (And shouldn’t this group be well on the way to formulating a plan already?)

The first survey will start in late April or early May, and the results will be ready for board members at their next meeting May 28, said county administrator Mike Merrill.

But according to the article, they have not even chosen a company to do the survey. How can this be done?

At least there were some reasonable suggestions about whoever does the survey:

Several board members emphasized that the company chosen to handle the campaign should be free from bias.

“This is a major, major issue that we’re dealing with,” said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, “so spending a few thousand dollars, or whatever it takes, to get what we’re looking for is going to be critical to me, and I’m willing to support those allocations.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the group should get the best firm available, even if it means going outside the county or state.

“I would encourage you to use people who do this for a living, not amateurs, not (public relations) firms, not people who make T-shirts,” Buckhorn said. “This information is going to be important because as we head down this path we’re going to want to know what people are thinking and to frame the discussion moving forward. I strongly urge you even if it involves spending some money.”

Indeed.  Actually, we think they should get a company from outside this area because too many companies in this area are too connected to the politicians.

Really, we have nothing against this survey idea, but it should have been done a while ago.  Now the process seems even more confused. Sadly, this is standard fare for leadership in the County and its municipalities on big issues.  And then throw in elections and the fear many elected officials have of loud but small groups, and you get what we have – which so far is not much.

Transportation – Entering the 20th Century

If you travel any amount, you will realize that pretty much every major city has connections from the airport to downtown.  Many, if not most, large cities connect the airport to downtown with rail (We’ll just give a list of US cities, which is not meant to be comprehensive: Newark, JFK, Boston Logan, DC Reagan National, Philadelphia, O’Hare and Midway, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City , Cleveland, DFW opening this year, Denver under construction, and Oakland, under construction.  Orlando is looking for funding, which clearly the State Senator will kill.  We are not even going to try to list all the bus links, though even Buffalo has it.).

Of course, we do not have rail so the best we can hope for is buses.  On the other hand, we have HART and the PTC, so there has been little hope of that, either.  On one more hand, now we have the TIA director, who is not steeped in the local political culture, and keeps pushing for some service.

To Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, it’s pretty simple: You should be able to hop on a shuttle that goes straight from downtown to the airport. The vehicle should have a place for your luggage, and maybe even Wi-Fi.

But in Tampa, this shuttle does not exist. If you don’t want to take a taxicab, there’s the Hills­borough Area Regional Transit authority’s Route 30, which makes two stops between downtown and the airport, takes about 40 minutes and has no place to stow luggage.

Lopano hopes this is the year it changes. At a Thursday morning meeting of transit officials and Hillsborough leaders organized by County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe, Lopano implored the group to put together a concrete plan for a shuttle that starts this year.

So far, nothing, but maybe things are changing.

Sharpe, County Administrator Mike Merrill and HART chief operation officer Katharine Eagan expressed optimism and set a goal to have a plan by the end of May to present.

Merrill and Eagan noted two potential hurdles: vehicles and money. The answers to both, they said, probably require getting businesses involved, possibly in helping procure the vehicles and in funding the service.

In other words, maybe.  We guess that is better than “no.”  Though, with all the talk of intermodal stations in Westshore and transit, it is sad that even this small step is an issue to which HART will not commit.  Unfortunately, the airport, which maintains its cutting edge, is held hostage to the area’s proclivity for being 30 years behind in transportation planning.

To some degree, what is more interesting is the effect of someone coming from outside the local political culture of stagnant inertia can accomplish.  No one was even talking about this obvious point before the Airport Director started.  Sadly, that seems to be what it takes to get even the smallest progress.

Transportation – Hillsborough Helps Pedestrians

If you are familiar with Fletcher Avenue west of USF, you know the road is not particularly nice nor, despite a decent number of pedestrians, pedestrian friendly.

County officials say Fletcher Avenue is one of the most dangerous thoroughfares for pedestrians and bicyclists in the county. One reason is that people dart across the street where there isn’t a signal.

“People just sheet-flow across that road from every direction,” Valdez said. “I’ve seen bikes pulling wagons with kids in it.”

That is true, but why? There are few lights and most of the buildings are fronted by parking lots and curb cuts.  While not unusual for the area, the road and its development pattern is not very good.

So, Hillsborough County is going to make it better:

In the effort to make the road safer, the county will be installing four new crossing signals that feature rectangular flashers atop green cantilevers warning drivers a pedestrian is about to enter the crosswalk. The driver is supposed to yield to the walkers.

At the Wal-Mart store on Fletcher, just west of Bruce B. Downs, a crossing signal is being added that will have a red light to make vehicles stop. The signal will also produce sounds to guide visually impaired pedestrians safely across the street. Pedestrians activate both types of crossing signals with push buttons.

Another new safety feature is called a Z crossing. When pedestrians reach half-way across the street, a fence will direct them into a 90-degree turn before they can turn to cross the rest of the way.

“It’s an engineering technique that changes behavior by making them look at the on-coming traffic,” said Bob Campbell, the county’s manager of traffic engineering. The technique is widely used in Europe, he said.

Aside from the threat of Euro-socialism caused by using the crosswalks (clearly County government has been compromised), we have nothing against making the road more pedestrian friendly.  We do thinks it is a bit odd – and it is a fact, we checked – that most of the crosswalks do not correspond to intersections.  In other words, Hillsborough County is dropping a bunch of crosswalks into a road that has a number intersections but ignoring all the intersections.  Why?  We are not sure.  (Moreover, some of these crosswalks are very close to each other.)

Angela Evans, who was walking on the Fletcher Avenue sidewalk with her 2-year-old granddaughter, Marianna, said the road is so dangerous she will only cross at a traffic light. Evans said she can’t wait for the new signals.

We understand her point, so why not add some signals at intersections so that there are more opportunities to cross?  And, if people are just going to dart into traffic, will crosswalks change anything?  And wouldn’t they be more effective if people coming from side streets could cross naturally to the other side of the Fletcher rather than have to walk down the street to a crosswalk, then walk back?

Like we said, we have nothing wrong with making the area more pedestrian friendly, and at least Hillsborough is actually putting money in the area, but making the intersections more reasonable would create a higher chance of the buildings nearby getting fixed up and would help the neighborhood off the street.  The real problem is that just dropping in some crosswalks is not examining the whole picture and really fixing the street.  It is basically a third of a fix – it does not address traffic or the poor layout of what has been built on the street.  Moreover, if you are going to stop traffic, you may as well do it at a cross street rather than some random location that is not an intuitive or natural place to stop for drivers or pedestrians.

But never fear, the County will teach people how to use the crosswalks:

But those improvements — crosswalks with flashing warning signs and expanded “safety islands” in the middle of the street — won’t help much if people don’t use them. So the county is also creating an educational video and brochures to explain the new safety features and persuade people to use them.

“We’re going to be putting together a video that says bicycle and pedestrian safety in this area is paramount,” said Steve Valdez, spokesman for Hillsborough Public Works. “You need to use these traffic control features we’re installing on the road.”

The video will be shown in north Tampa community centers and on television monitors at the University of South Florida. The brochures will be distributed at schools, retail establishments and other place people congregate.

How counterintuitive does the crosswalk have to be to require a video to explain it?

Odd, indeed.

Trails – If You Build It . . .

This week, the Times reported on a proposal to build a system of trails to connect the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail to Clearwater Beach.

For ambitious cyclists who dream of saddling up on Ben T. Davis Beach in Tampa and a few hours later easing sore muscles into the Gulf of Mexico, more than 7 miles of trails slated to be completed in the city by late 2016 would make the bay-to-gulf ride a reality.

A biker who started pedaling on the Tampa end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway would take a patchwork of trails through Clearwater that are either already open, under construction or planned:

• West on the Courtney Campbell Trail across Tampa Bay. The Tampa side of the trail is finished. The Clearwater side is under construction and scheduled to open in 2015.

• North on a short connecting trail along Bayshore Boulevard. The segment is planned, but not yet under construction.

• West on the existing Ream Wilson Trail that crosses over McMullen-Booth Road.

• South on the existing Duke Energy Trail just west of U.S. 19.

• West on another connecting trail along Druid Road that is scheduled to open in 2016.

• North on the existing Pinellas Trail to Memorial Causeway across the Intracoastal Waterway to Clearwater Beach.

Planners and civic boosters say the new trails could be a potential game changer for Clearwater’s biking reputation.

Setting aside the “game changer” thing, we think it is a great idea.  While this area has some actual trails (and some roads that are bizarrely designated as trails – like, according to Google maps, Dale Mabry  – how it is a trail across the Dale Mabry/Waters intersection and on the overpass going over Busch is beyond us – and the cycling pleasure that is crossing intersections of Bruce B Downs and Tampa Palms Blvd or I-75), other than the Pinellas Trail, there is no real system that goes anywhere.   It would be great if the disjointed segments we now have could be connected to make a real system that is not in the road.

The article noted some doubts about the plan:

Mike Riordon, who has owned City Cycle and Supply Co. on Court Street beside the Pinellas Trail since 2007, doesn’t see a big economic bump from a bay-to-gulf trail. The roughly 20-mile trek would be windy and a lot tougher than many people realize, he said.

“The percentage of people who will bike from Tampa to Clearwater Beach is astronomically low,” Riordon said.

Interestingly, we do not disagree on one level.  We do not view the creation of the trail as creating, by itself, a big economic bump.  We are not sure how many people would ride the whole trail, but that is not the point. (Of course, very few people try to ride to the beach now because it is ridiculously dangerous.)  Even if people ride part of the trail, it should be a system that is available to the public.

Not every amenity has to create a direct economic bump.  It is often the cumulative effect of creating a more attractive living environment and providing people the opportunity to do the things they want to do that makes the area attractive and it creates (indirect) economic impact.  Too often that reality is ignored.

And sometimes it is enough to just build nice things that people will use in whole or in part.  There is nothing wrong with spending some local money to make local life better.

– About Bikes Generally

Speaking of which, we were directed to the website of the Green Lane Project,  which describes itself as:

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program helping cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. We focus on protected bike lanes, which are on-street lanes separated from traffic by curbs, planters, parked cars, or posts.

We work closely with leading U.S. cities to speed the installation of these lanes around the country. In the first two years of the project (2012 and 2013), we worked with Austin, TX, Chicago, IL, Memphis, IL, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA and Washington, DC. In March of 2014, we selected six new cities: Atlanta, GA, Boston, MA, Denver, CO, Indianapolis, IN, Pittsburgh, PA and Seattle, WA. The Project will kickoff the collaboration with these six new cities with a gathering and press conference in Indianapolis in late April.

We know that it is sometimes difficult to build a trail that is completely detached from the road.  Protected bike lanes that connect to trails are key to developing a decent biking environment.  It would be good for local governments to get in touch with these people. (And notice the number of the usual suspects who are already working with them.)

Transportation – Planning, Tampa Bay Style

This week, the Times ran another editorial on the Pasco Toll Road.  It has the usual concerns about a private road. (As we have said, we prefer a public road but are not ideologically opposed to a private road.)  But what caught our eye was this paragraph:

Steinman’s comments should provide some comfort to Pasco residents near the State Road 54/56 corridor who contend the highway is a boondoggle that would enrich the private sector. They are correct in questioning its need, at least for now. The DOT sees the elevated road as a solution to a future problem, but not a traffic problem bad enough to warrant immediate attention. The state is pursuing plans to add two lanes to SR 54 between U.S. 41 and the Suncoast Parkway, and it continues to study a flyover at the SR 54/U.S. 41 intersection in Land O’Lakes. But the DOT has no plans to build an elevated toll road here or a large-scale alternative. No wonder the public is suspicious of the unsolicited proposal by a private group.

In other words, because the road will only be needed in the future, we should not plan for or build it now – which is what is usually called planning.  And because FDOT does not have a plan for building a road now, though there was a plan for an east-west road for decades in Pasco County, the process should not move forward.

While the argument is bizarre, we are willing to paint it in the best light – that the Times is so ideologically opposed to a private road that they are willing to grab any argument to support their position.  Yet, it is exactly the type of thinking shown in that paragraph that has led us to have a substandard transportation system.  Because there were not traffic jams in Pasco or northern Hillsborough 20-30 years ago, there was never an east-west road connecting I-75 to US19 (or the Veterans/Suncoast) and now it is very difficult and expensive to build. (Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get to Pinellas without having to drive through Tampa?) Because the area was not sufficiently dense 20 years ago, no real transit was built and now it is difficult and more expensive to get it done and the development pattern is a mess.  The reason there are big traffic jams through Tampa is because FDOT waited so long to fix I-275 even though everyone could tell that such expansion would be needed.  It is the same US19 – which is much more expensive and disruptive to change now than it would have been decades ago when the future need was still obvious. (And look how long that project has taken.  Can we afford to not start now?)

The same can be said for allowing sprawl for decades before the roads are an utter mess and then trying to retrofit a fix to an obviously flawed development strategy. (Or in economic development – relying on low paying jobs until it becomes clear that other areas are way ahead of us.  Now it is much harder to fix than if it was the original plan and focus.) And that is not even mentioning the ring road around Orlando, much of which was built when the area was basically empty but now provides access to its Medical City, OIA, and other areas and provides a way for us to avoid I-4 through downtown Orlando.

Sadly, the Times paragraph is basically a validation of what we have said over and over – that this area does not plan.  It reacts.  We wait until the problem is in full bloom and then find that the fix will be very expensive if not impossible both economically and politically.

As we have said from the beginning when the Pasco Toll Road proposal came up – it deserves study.  Whether the private road is the best idea or not can be determined. But the road is necessary, whether in this exact location or nearby.  It should have been built years ago for the benefit of the whole area and to guide development to specific locations.  Not doing that was a failure of imagination and planning.  And ignoring the present need is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, the Times, intentionally or not, has now endorsed that failed approach.  Thankfully, they can always rectify that.

How Many Fields Do You Really Need?

Over the last few months, we have noted that there are numerous efforts to build youth sports fields all over the area – Pasco, HCC, Fair Grounds, etc.  We wondered if there is a potential for oversupply. (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”  and “HCC – Abracadabra, They Have a Deal”)  This week, the Tribune had an article examining the sports field complex phenomenon and discussing the less than stellar performance of a complex built near Gainesville.  You can read the article on your own here.   It is definitely interesting.  We just want to highlight one comment:

When asked how many communities in Florida are considering building sports facilities to lure tournaments, Clearwater-based sports marketing consultant Dev Pathik said, “I can’t think of anyone that’s not.”

We are all for youth sports but we are not for spending money or giving up public assets just to chase the latest questionable economic development fetish.  If everyone (or just many) builds a sports complex, there will be not enough people to use them.  If private interests want to spend private money to build on private land, fine with us.  However, any use of public assets or land should be very carefully examined.  Are you listening HCC?

Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida

Cost estimates for a proposed rail line from downtown Miami to Miami Beach were released:

A passenger light rail system from Government Center in downtown Miami to the Convention Center in Miami Beach via the MacArthur Causeway would cost about $532 million to build and some $22 million a year to operate and maintain, project planners told the mayors of Miami-Dade, Miami and Miami beach during a meeting at County Hall on Wednesday.

Mayors Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade, Tomás Regalado of Miami and Philip Levine of Miami Beach enthusiastically embraced the project and formed a partnership to pursue funding for the first major step in advancing the endeavor.

If the state wants the Tampa Bay area to pay for any actual rail (or BRT) built over the Howard Frankland, the Miami project should not get any state money.  Then again, Miami is not the Tampa Bay area, so rail is probably ok there.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is PayScale Index’s rankings of the top 20 metro areas by wage growth.  Here is how they describe it:

In the last year, where did wages increase the most overall and where did they dip the deepest? PayScale looked at the top metro areas by population and then listed them from best to worst in terms of wage improvement for jobs. See who came out on top and who has a ways to go.

The biggest wage growth is in Minneapolis (1.9%), followed by Seattle (1.6%); San Francisco (1.5%); Boston (1.3%); NYC (1.2%); Houston (1.1%); a tie between Philadelphia and Detroit (.9%); St. Louis (.7%); a tie between Atlanta, LA, and Chicago (.5%); Dallas (.3%); San Diego (.1%); a tie between Baltimore and Tampa (-.1%); DC (-.2%); Riverside (-.4%); Phoenix (-.6%); and Miami (-2.1%).

Considering that we start pretty much at the bottom of in terms of income levels and that we had negative growth, that is not very good. (We have no idea what the cause for the Miami number is.)

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is actually a graphic of the popularity of baseball teams based on the number of their Facebook friends.

From sfgate.com – click on picture for article

Of course, this is not very scientific but so what?  It is better than using the list that says that the Rays are the least valuable MLB team.

Roundup 3-28-2014

March 28, 2014

State of the City 2014

Like we have said in the past, we are not much for speeches like the State of the City because they are mostly fluff, as a Tribune columnist with a generally favorable bent toward the Mayor noted:

You can read the details of his speech elsewhere, but generally he suggested that Tampa is now the center of the universe and that the millennial generation as well as everyone else wants to be a part of what’s happening. 

Nevermind San Francisco, Austin, Seattle or Denver.

In any event, this year, we had some time so we decided to check it out. First, the location was a good one – the Armature Works building which, as some may know, was originally a streetcar service building. Second, we openly admit, while quite fluffy, it was a good speech, especially for a campaign speech that would get generally uncritical coverage in the media, like in editorials like this and this (that approach is not just for this Mayor’s State of the City, but most mayors’. See here and here) We also noted that much of the speech sounded to very much like things we have said over the years, such as:

“We are a city poised on the verge of greatness, unwilling to settle for anything less than excellence. . .” 

Nice rhetoric. Unfortunately, it is often contrary to the facts. (And note that we were told by the previous mayor back in 2006 that we were already a great American city.  What happened?)

The Mayor is good at giving rousing addresses full of big ideas. And, we should note, that most of the big ideas presented in vast generalities, we agree with. As we have said before, the Mayor is an intelligent man who, we think, understands most of the big issues. The problem we usually have is not with the big ideas. It is with settling for something much smaller than the big idea and calling it accomplished.

Because it was a wide-ranging speech, we will not cover every detail, but some things are worth noting.

– Transit

The most widely covered item in the speech was the Mayor’s discussion of transit.

“We’ve got to have more transportation options,” Buckhorn told a crowd of about 850. “For too long, the only real option we’ve ever given ourselves is to build more roads, widen them and start over.”

Instead, Buckhorn said, the region needs to talk about rail that connects Tampa to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
“Our goal, at the latest, should be a referendum in the fall of 2016,” Buckhorn said. “I would prefer sooner.”

He did not mention Hillsborough’s last attempt at a similar referendum. Four years ago, that vote won precincts in the city, but lost in the unincorporated county on its way to defeat.

Along the way, he said, everyone should recognize that rail will never pay for itself, and anyone who argues that it can survive from fare box revenue is kidding.

Stations would not be in every neighborhood, so transit must include buses connecting to light rail and bus rapid transit from New Tampa to downtown.

“Buses are a big part of this solution,” he said. “It’s not just one option. It’s not just two options. It’s multiple options, but we need to start now.”

First, there is nothing there with which we disagree (except having a referendum before 2016, simply because there is no plan). It has all been said before by us and others (and some of it by the Mayor). In other words, it is not news, even the referendum idea. Nevertheless, it is good he said it, especially about transportation never really paying for itself, which is a point that opponents of transit completely ignore.

On the other hand, three years into his tenure, while always saying he supported rail, the Mayor still has not given any detail about exactly what he wants. So celebrate that he his apparently on board with the concept, but to lead there should be detail. Vague ideas are part of what got the 2010 referendum defeated.

Then there was this, which is probably the only new-ish thing regarding transportation:

“We need to support Greenlight Pinellas,” he said, referring to the Nov. 4 Pinellas referendum on whether to raise that county’s sales tax by 1 cent to expand bus service and create a 24-mile light rail line from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure that passes,” Buckhorn said. “When Pinellas succeeds, we succeed.” 

That was good.

– The River

As usual, the Mayor focused on the river:

• The Hillsborough River — “This river that you see behind me will be the center of everything that we do,” Buckhorn intoned. He touted the Riverwalk, 40 years in the making, that he expects to be completed by year’s end. The mayor also emphasized the need for redevelopment on the oft-overlooked west side of the Hillsborough, and made reference to the new West River Master Plan.

(Hey, he stays on message.) It is fine to better integrate the river into the city. We have no problem with that or fixing up the west bank of the river (which many people have wanted to do for a long time). Our problem is with the Mayor’s plan. (see “Master Planning – Something in the West River” )

We also have a problem with implementation in areas outside the plan. Unreported in the media, the Mayor said that the area from Howard to the river should be viewed as part of downtown. We are good with that idea, but how does it translate in reality? For instance, during his tenure, this was built on Kennedy. Is that downtown? Is that the urban experience? What is that if not ignoring the big idea and settling?

And, the focus on just the area around downtown will not cut it. Once again unreported in the media, the Mayor, while talking about transportation, made reference to the airport people mover dropping someone off in a walkable Westshore district. However, as we have noted over and over, the City has allowed all manner of particularly non-pedestrian friendly development in Westshore in the last few years. Where is the push to make Westshore actually pedestrian-friendly and walkable? Once again, the idea is good, but the action is lacking.

That does not even discuss all the other neighborhoods that get basically no attention whatsoever.

– Trade

Another issue is trade.

International trade — “We need to be the gateway to Central America and South America. We need to plant Tampa’s flag in Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Uruguay and beyond.” The mayor noted that two years ago Panama’s Copa Airlines did not have Tampa on its radar, and now there are direct, three-hour flights on the airline from Tampa International Airport to Panama four days a week, a major catalyst for increased trade.

Setting aside the attempt to take excessive credit for the work of many people (including many who pushed the international flight and international trade issues before he was Mayor or ever publicly raised them), we are not going to even get into the hype-tastic aspect of this. (We have done that enough.) We want to expand trade, but it would be nice if the speech and other comments actually dealt with the issue realistically. For instance, one flight is good, but it is a very long way to THE Gateway to Latin America. (Maybe we should work to be A Gateway first, then move on to THE Gateway.)

– The One Item With Any Detail

Sadly, the Mayor on really presented only one item that included a policy detail:

In talking about his plan to redevelop Perry Harvey St. Park, Buckhorn took a verbal shot at supporters of the Bro Bowl, the last surviving unaltered, public concrete skatepark from the 1970s in the United States. It is now in danger of demolition, though the mayor would like to build a new skate park three times as big, but move it from the center to the northern end of the park. That dispute, which surfaced last year, still continues. “We must give those residents an active park that they can enjoy,” referring to the residents of the Encore project who will be living there. “A park that reflects the history of Central Avenue and that pays homage to the many historic contributions of generations of African-Americans. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but a concrete skate bowl pales in comparison to the history of our African-American community and Central Park. We’re going to get that park done!” 

Sadly, the detail involved “either I win or I lose” binary thinking. Why? Because. (Especially given that the park plan is not even his.) Even more oddly, this type of destructive thinking is neither in evidence in the rest of the speech nor necessary because we can have both the Bro Bowl and the renovated park (as we pointed out months ago). There is no reason for the Mayor’s position, which is actually what is holding up the money for getting the park done. It is unfortunate that the Mayor does not seem to understand that inclusiveness is not a sign of weakness.

– Bottom Line

The bottom line is that speeches are nice, but reality is what counts. We hope the City stops settling, but, unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet. Tampa is improving, but it is slow and much of it is the result more of an improved national economy than anything else. (Like The Heights, a Novare project in the Channel District which became Skyhouse, and the Martin, not to mention possible apartments on Harbour Island, which were proposals that were held up by the recession and are now moving forward.)

The fact is that businesses and young professionals are interested in facts on the ground, and they do not care if we are patting ourselves on the back. That is why with decades of positive State of the City-like speeches, even if we are improving, we are still behind our competition.

Economic Development – What Is It?

There have been a number of recent articles that have fleshed out different aspects of economic development. However, each article seems to only deal with one aspect or the other. We thought it might be good to look at a few together.

– Setting Some Goals and Showing Some Insecurity

The first article is a Business Journal article on the goals of the CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

By Sept. 30, 2016, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. wants to have recruited three divisional, regional or national corporate headquarters to Tampa Bay. 

Well, that’s aggressive and fine with us. How does he intend to get there?

He mapped out a checklist of four main criteria for targeting companies that would be candidates to establish or relocate HQs in Tampa Bay.
* * *
No. 1 — Can they get here? Are there nonstop flights between Tampa and the targeted market?
* * *
No. 2 — Has something happened within the company? (ed. Is there new company leadership?)
* * *
No. 3 — Has something happened in the community? (ed. Like did something change in the politics or economy of their present location?)
* * *
No. 4 — Is there some natural connection to Tampa Bay?

So let’s go through the list. First, flights. That’s all there is to it. We need more flights. We need international and domestic flights. We need a flight to San Francisco. We need a flight to Germany. Everyone should get behind the effort to get more flights, loudly. (It should also be recognized that those who originally pushed this issue years ago against a lot of local political opposition were well ahead of the curve. Not surprisingly, many of them we also out front on getting more service to the Port and also faced opposition.)

The next three are a bit uncontrollable. Things change all the time, but things change here all the time. Frankly, the items are fine, but not necessarily dispositive. In fact, they sort of imply a lack of faith in the area’s appeal as a location and ability to compete to get companies that are just looking to relocate.

More important than those three factors are having a talented pool of potential employees, good schools, good transportation, and a diverse area with many amenities. (Companies don’t go to Atlanta or Denver just because the CEO likes vacationing there. Of course, to be clear, if something like local connections works, great, but it does not really seem to be the basis of an effective strategy.)

Setting that aside for the moment, the CEO did say something important:

By Tampa Bay, he means Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and parts of Polk and Pasco, a metro with a population of 3.2 million. It’s vital, Homans said, to put aside provincial competition and to present as a region. “If a corporation senses infighting between counties or municipalities, that’s pretty much a deal-breaker right there,” he said. 

Right. But we are not there yet. Not in economic development, not in regional transportation (though the Mayor’s Greenlight comments were good), not in the Rays. At least pretty much everyone supports the airport.

– Just Because You Have A Deal Does Not Mean It Will Work

One thing that is not mentioned in the article above is incentives. The Times had a recent column discussing three different projects supported by incentives that ended up not working out, including one that involved a headquarters moving to St. Pete. We are not going to recount the entire article (you can read it yourself), but let’s just say that not all changes in circumstances in companies are opportunities.

Incentives can help grease the wheels, but for real economic development the appeal of the area has to be there first.

– The Fun and the Grind

Then there was a Times article about hopes for a big payoff after the “Bollywood Oscars,” which ended with this dose of reality regarding the big, super-hyped events that come to the area from time to time.

Don’t expect blockbuster deals overnight. Tampa Bay hoped that its hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention would spark fresh business here. It may yet, with time and dedication.

India, 9,000 miles away from Tampa Bay, will require even more follow-up and patience. And lots of frequent flier miles.

In other words, when people say these events will do anything other than fill some hotel rooms and restaurants for a few nights, they are just speculating/hoping, even when there are events with prominent business people.

As we have said many times, we are all for events in the area (provided they do not cost the area that much), but people should be realistic about what they accomplish.

Real economic development takes time, persistence, and enduring quality of amenities, talent pool, transportation, and quality of life. Just talking us up will not cut it. Companies can move to many locations. They can also see through hype. Events provide exposure, which is fine, but our competitors thrive on their attributes and business community, not events. At least people are now talking more realistically about long term engagement to take advantage of the exposure, which is a welcome change. (Interestingly, despite Tampa’s “global coming out” at the RNC and all the other events we have held, a Tribune editorial about the awards and business notes “Tampa is not particularly well known in India,” which is telling. )

– A Final Point

And there is a final point – why should a company invest time and money and make a commitment to this area if the political leaders – and not just a handful, but most or all – (and voters) of this area do not do it and do not maintain real standards of quality (including the built environment)? Why wouldn’t companies (especially ones with high paying jobs) just go where it is clear that the locals are really committed and it is easy to attract needed talent? Why should they wait decades for the possibility of decent transportation and urban environment when they can go elsewhere and get it now?

If locals don’t really care about and bring quality to the area, why would someone else?

Transportation – The Great Greenlight Pinellas Debate

This week, there were a couple of interesting articles on Greenlight Pinellas that indicate once again that the debate is going to be long and full of attempts to confuse the issues, which are already confused enough.

First, PolitiFact looked at the latest No Tax for Tracks argument.

“Greenlight Pinellas is nothing but an attempt to put a happy face on a 300 percent tax increase and money grab,” the group’s website, RailTaxFacts.com, trumpets.

A 300 percent tax increase sounds like a pretty hefty fee to build a light rail line and add more buses. We decided to find out if the county really would be taken for a ride.
* * *
The entire plan hinges on whether Pinellas voters on Nov. 4 approve a sales tax increase from 7 percent to 8 percent, making the county’s sales tax rate the highest in the state. The higher sales tax would replace the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s current county funding, a property tax assessed at a 0.7305 millage rate.

The sales tax would only go up on items already subject to the sales tax; Florida has a long list of items that are not taxed, such as medicine, groceries, certain agricultural and manufacturing startup equipment. It also would be limited to the first $5,000 of major purchases.
* * *
The new sales tax is projected to increase the authority’s budget from its current $34 million per year to about $120 million to $130 million, said Bob Lasher, the agency’s external affairs officer.

This is the source of No Tax For Tracks’ claim that the tax revenue expansion amounts to “a 300 percent tax increase.”
* * *
Under the plan, a family that owns a $161,000 home and makes about $46,000 would stop paying the $90 share of the property tax destined for the transit authority, but it would instead pay $104 in additional sales taxes. Allowing some uncertainty for the exact mix of taxed and tax-exempt purchases, that’s a tax hike of about 15 percent. The increase in dollars in this example is pretty modest — $14 more per year.

Other residents, however, could face heftier impacts.

County residents who currently don’t own real estate won’t benefit from the authority’s switch from property tax revenue to sales tax revenue, so if they owe $104 in additional sales taxes, that won’t be offset by tax reductions. Still, on a percentage basis, that’s an increase in sales tax burden of about 14 percent. In other words, it’s not correct to call either of these examples of increases a “300 percent tax increase.”

In other words, the No Tax for Tracks argument is deceptive, if not downright false. Admittedly, there is a regressive element in the proposed plan for some people. Some people do not directly pay property tax – though people who rent are likely already paying the landlord’s property taxes. However, an increase in revenue does not mean an increase in taxes for everyone (and certainly not 300%), especially since much of the revenue increase from the sales tax will be from tourists.

In contrast to that argument, there was another article about an effort to actually flesh out the Greenlight proposal better that shows why deceptive arguments can be a real problem.

The bulk of the Greenlight Pinellas mass transit plan is a major transformation of the county’s bus network, a 65 percent expansion of bus service that would mean buses running every 15 minutes on the county’s busiest routes.

Yet, most Pinellas voters associate Greenlight only with its more controversial light-rail element and are in the dark about the plan’s bus improvements, according to a new survey of 1,600 residents by the People’s Budget Review, a group that includes local trade unions, activists and neighborhood associations.
* * *
Almost 52 percent of respondents in the online poll conducted over the past few weeks said they have never heard about the bus plan whereas almost 66 percent were familiar or aware of the plan for a 24-mile light-rail link between Clearwater and St. Petersburg, the survey showed.

In other words, people do not fully understand the plan. (Surprise.) So what is this group going to do?

Organizers from People’s Budget Review say they will hold workshops and also go door-to-door to spread word about Greenlight. The group is not endorsing the Greenlight plan, although it may do so closer to the referendum provided members feel it will benefit a majority of Pinellas residents.

“The bulk of this whole outreach will be nuts-and-bolts organizing, hitting the doorsteps, trying to target those folks who rely on public transportation,” Dietrich said.

Fine – a normal part of democratic discourse. What does No Tax for Tracks (aka the Tea Party) think of that?

No Tax for Tracks Campaign Manager Barbara Haselden said she doubts that People’s Budget Review will stay neutral.

“These are the same people when we had hearings for the budget who said we should raise taxes for St. Petersburg,” she said. “It’s another layer of help for Greenlight Pinellas.”

First, so what if the Budget Review people take a position? That is their right, just like it is the Tea Party’s right. Second, maybe such outreach would be less necessary if No Tax for Tracks wasn’t so busy creating distractions and diverting discussion from the real issues.

The reality is that the No Tax for Tracks argument is deceptive and an appeal to raw emotion rather than a real discussion of the issues, but that is what we expect from them. They do not address the issues or how to improve transportation in the area or build the economy. They provide no alternatives other than the status quo or less. They are simply the party of “No.”

Like we said a few weeks ago, just be ready for a campaign of distractions and disinformation.

Downtown – Good and Bad

There was an interesting article in the Tribune on downtown occupancy rates. In sum, occupancy is high, but there are still some issues.

Even with rents at $1,500 to $2,000 per month, downtown Tampa’s residential buildings are 98 percent occupied, according to one estimate by the Smith & Associates real estate firm.

The question remains how many more luxury apartment towers the market can handle. Ken Carl, a real estate banker with PNC Bank, cautions that with the rising cost of construction, continuing to build high-end apartment towers will require an influx of high-paying jobs. 

The residential boom is great. It started before the crash, petered out a bit, but is resuming. Problematically, even with the latent demand for urban living, there is the need for high paying jobs to keep filling the growing number of residential units. What those jobs will be is anyone’s guess. The reality is that there still is no big influx of high paying jobs, especially to downtown, which leads to another problem.

Things couldn’t be more different for two segments of downtown real estate, office and residential. Andy May, an office broker for the Cushman & Wakefield firm, lamented that there are no speculative office buildings going up in downtown Tampa, even with single-digit vacancy rates at luxury office towers such as 100 North Tampa, the Regions Bank building.

The Trammell Crow real estate firm has been trying to line up tenants for a proposed 20-story office tower across from the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, but there’s no word on when that project might go forward.

If you look at downtown development comprehensively, there are really three aspects – residential, office, and retail, with retail being dependent on both residential and office. Tampa is doing well with the first. Apparently the existing office space is also filled, but the demand for more seems low (Just look at the law firms moving to Westshore as well as all the small firms in Hyde Park rather than downtown. On the other hand, there are still rumors of at least one possible big move to downtown. ). Anecdotally, retail is somewhere in the middle.

The City has focused on residential, and that is ok, but there needs to be a push for office. The problem is that offices require more than just people living downtown. They draw employees from all over the area, which requires transportation and creating a positive environment where people live, as well as work. What is the transportation plan? How will the proposed narrowing of Florida and Tampa streets as well as the continuing lack of a real transportation plan really help draw people downtown, especially when Westshore has better highway access and free parking?

It is all well and good to talk about improvements downtown, and there is no doubt that there have been improvements (though not nearly as much as many other areas with which we compete), but there is a glaring hole. What needs to be addressed urgently is to create demand for business to be downtown lest it becomes a bedroom community for Westshore and the I-75 corridor.

Land Use Portal – Good Idea But Not Done

There was an article in the Times regarding Tampa’s new land use web portal, which is having, much like it seems every other government web portal, some birthing issues.

In early 2012, Buckhorn said the city would pay $2.7 million for a fully automated permitting system from Accela, a company based near San Francisco that provides web- and cloud-based software applications to government agencies.

The goal was to replace an inefficient patchwork of old software, provide online access to permitting and, Buckhorn said, deliver “less hassle and more money saved in lost time.”

But land-use professionals have told the city they’ve gotten just the opposite. One planning consultant said he and a client spent three days trying to navigate the system. After trying to access the site via Google Chrome and getting numerous error messages, another said he would rather fill out and turn in applications by hand.

“There are some growing pains,” said Thomas Snelling, the city’s director of planning and development.

The city originally aimed to have all of Accela Citizen Access online by January. Now officials are aiming for July. The first phase that went live in December did not include building permits, but did offer access to applications for less-complicated functions like rezonings, changes of address or splitting a parcel in two.

Since then, the city has gotten complaints mainly in two areas.

First, the system can’t find thousands of Tampa addresses. The city imported about 300,000 addresses from perhaps five different files into a new database. But because some of those old address files were incomplete or included ambiguous data, the new system could not match about 18,000 addresses to particular parcels. To fix it, city employees have been updating those files at a rate of 400 to 500 a day.

Second, the new portal is not compatible with some web browsers. For now, officials say the new system supports Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 or 9; Firefox 13; Safari 5; and Google Chrome 19.

First, we are not going to fault the City for trying to get everything online. That is a good goal. We are not even going to fault them for the system not working as planned right away. (Though maybe they should have held off on the roll out until it fully worked.) As noted, that seems to be par for the course. From the article, it is clear the City is trying to get it worked out.

Our biggest issue is that when we went to the portal, even those items we found provide links to the actual documents. Maybe we were not using it properly, but such items should not require complicated steps. Other cities have had such information accessible online for years. If it is not part of the system, it needs to be, and, even if it is part of it, the system is not natural and intuitive. Fortunately, all that can be fixed.

Port – Es La Gran Piña, (Port) Tampa Bay

The Port recently held a meeting to try to convince Latin Americans to ship pineapples through Tampa.

See where this is going?
• • •
It’s all part of Port Tampa Bay’s plan to try to expand and diversify the cargo that flows through its docks.

The port has long been known as a bulk port, moving phosphates, limestone and petroleum. But now it wants to attract more profitable cargoes like cars, containers and food.

“It’s part of our business plan, our strategy,” said Raul Alfonso, the chief commercial officer of Port Tampa Bay.
The port is especially keen on cargo from Latin America, which is now producing more and more of what the United States consumes — including pineapples.
* * *
It’s hard to believe that a port once known for its iconic banana docks actually has to persuade importers to ship their fruit to Tampa.

In the 1990s, fruit from all over the world ended up on Tampa’s docks. But that dried up in the next decade. The last fruit importer left in 2009, and the port tore down its dilapidated refrigerated warehouse.

Now Port Tampa Bay is trying to get back into the business. 

Hey, why not pineapples, and all sorts of other things. Diversification is good, including in diversification of markets. It is notable that there is no explanation of why the business dried up. Did the port let it atrophy or were there external reasons? Did others just poach our business? In any event, what is the pitch?

The trip by water and by rail from Tampa to the Midwest market would be about five days total — half the time it would take for a cargo ship just to reach Philadelphia or another Northern port.

“With the rail service going into the Midwest,” Alfonso said, “that’s the part that gives it more bang for the buck for growers, importers and distributors.”

The faster the fruit can be shipped, the less of it will spoil.

“That’s the key,” Alfonso said. “If we’re able to reduce shelf time on transit, that means money.”

The port is also building a refrigerated facility to service CSX’s high-speed “Green Express” food cargo train. The $18 million facility is in the design phase and should be completed by 2015. The port is splitting the cost with private interests.

Sounds good, though we are not sure that shipping to Mobile, New Orleans or Houston then going by rail is slower. (Really, we are not sure. It would be nice to have that addressed to tighten the pitch.)

Overall, this is all good with us. The more things shipped through Tampa (whether imports or exports) the better. Aggressiveness is good, as is the lack of hype. That is the approach this area needs – a sober, businesslike approach that is ambitious in its goals and that does not oversell its achievements.

We would like it more if we could get more containers going, too.

List of the Week

Our first list this week is the Knight Frank 2014 Wealth Report, which lists the favorite cities for the ultra-wealthy.

Coming in first is London, followed by NYC, Singapore, Hong Kong, Geneva, Shanghai, Miami, Dubai, Beijing, and Paris.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is dailymeal.com’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants in America.  The criteria are here.

Come to think of it, we are not going to list a bunch of restaurants. Just know that none of them are in Florida.

Roundup 3-21-2014

March 21, 2014

Jackson House – The Sad Truth

This week, the Times gave us an update, which is not really much, about Jackson House, the last remnant of the Central Avenue neighborhood central to African-American history in Tampa.

The March 1 deadline to stabilize the Jackson Rooming House has come and gone, but City Hall is in no rush to bulldoze the decomposing historic landmark.

The roof still sags. The floors still slant. And safety is still a city concern, though officials say they need to talk with owner Willie Robinson Jr. and his attorney before taking their next steps.

“Ultimately, it’s Mr. Robinson’s property,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said recently. “It’s not the city’s property. He’s going to have to decide what he wants to happen.

“If he’s gotten to the point where he recognizes that it’s not salvageable, and that some of the folks that have been involved don’t have the resources to get it done, ultimately, that’s going to be his decision,” the mayor added. “If his decision is to demolish it because it’s unstable, and he wants to salvage parts of it to be incorporated into Perry Harvey Park or something like that, we would be more than happy to work with him.”

(Funny how the City waited until just after Black History Month.) Yup, nothing has happened since the City first began the process to demolish Jackson House then undermined an attempt to get the building fixed up. (See “Jackson House – the City Marks MLK Day (a Little Early)”  The Mayor still maintains that:

“I would be willing to work with anybody if they came with a plan,” Buckhorn said. “We’re in the same position that we’ve been in from day one.” 

Except working with the people with, as the article notes, the one plan that was actually put together.

We fully expect, as the City wants and has wanted for so much of Tampa’s historical built environment, the building will be demolished.  As the article points out, the building was in bad shape before this Mayor took office.  There is no denying that.  But there is also no denying that this Mayor and the one(s) before him, have done nothing of substance to buy and/or save this historical building.  And if you need proof, a Times columnist who no objective reader could say was anything but extremely well disposed towards the Mayor wrote a column about all the people who tried/are trying to save Jackson House and the one person conspicuously absent was the Mayor (and, truth be told, all mayors before him).though the column did manage to ignore the City undermining the last plan.

And one other note, for those who think that the Bro Bowl will be saved just because of the National Register of Historical Places, remember this about Jackson House:

Later, it earned a place on National Register of Historic Places and Florida’s Black Heritage Trail as a way station for entertainers that included Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Ray Charles. In the Jim Crow South, they could pack dance halls on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” but they were banned from whites-only hotels.

When Tampa wants to screw something up, it usually succeeds.

Economic Development/Built Environment – Everyone Eats

Quite routinely, the local media have fluff pieces about the Mayor of Tampa (and not just the present mayor.  Actually, it seems to be part of the DNA of the local political scene.   Hey, if everything is so great, why innovate or change?)  Usually, we ignore these articles because they do not really have any substance.  However, last week, there was one in the Tribune that was actually interesting entitled “‘Foodie Mayor’ Buckhorn says bars, eateries mean jobs, allure.”  (This did not come from nowhere.  Three days before, USA Today had a feature about the 10 best “foodie spots” in the Tampa Bay area, which the Business Journal featured with the headline “USA Today finds foodie heaven in Tampa Bay,” which was a bit of an overstatement for a list of ten restaurants.)

Setting aside that no one other than the media calls the Mayor the “foodie mayor,” there was some substance.

This is the message of Tampa’s mayor:

Tampa needs jobs.

It needs young people to stay in Tampa.

Young people need jobs and cool places to go.

Restaurants and bars and food businesses can accomplish all of that.

Buckhorn is using the city’s flourishing food culture as a tool to keep the best and brightest from jumping to bigger, trendier cities.

We’ll let the last part of that slide because it is not clear that is actually happening (and a number of the areas that people leave for are not bigger, they just have better amenities and opportunities.)  As for the other elements, we agree.  And the Mayor is doing some things to move in that direction. (Although we are not sure any of them address the issues raised in a recent Times article on youth employment rates and how badly the Tampa Bay area has done.)

We also agree with the following for the most part – except for the “hip” thing (and not every young professional or innovator is a hipster, some like to enjoy good food but are not so cool on skinny jeans):

“In order to keep them here, you need to have a city, especially in the urban core, that’s hip, that’s cool, that’s diverse, that celebrates diversity,” Buckhorn says. “A critical component of that is the social lubricant, if you will. Bars and restaurants. If you do that well, you become, at least in their eyes, a much hipper, cooler, more attractive city to be in. So at the macro level, it’s all about keeping and bringing talent here.”

Yes, a city.  We’ll get back to that. So what is being done?

Q: I know you say you streamlined the permitting process, but restaurants and bars still complain about the red tape they have to endure, especially construction permitting. Is there a kind of permitting you can do that would streamline the process for food businesses to accelerate the growth and the hipness you have?

Answer: Here’s the problem with some of that. The best locations for a lot of these restaurants, particularly these up-and-coming restaurants, are in locations that historically have not been restaurants.

Q: Like Rooster & the Till? That was a medical center before it was empty for a long time.

Answer: Yeah. There are some land-use constraints. There are zoning codes that they bump up against that we can’t necessarily resolve. They get frustrated because they want to do great things, but they might be on a road where DOT has jurisdiction. Or they don’t have enough parking.

And there was this about food trucks, which are probably the most overrated aspect of food culture:

So I came home and said we needed to figure this out. Taco Bus was probably the only true food truck we had at the time. And every code on our books at the time prohibited that from happening. In the beginning, I said, “I don’t care how you do it, get it done. Find a way to get it done.” Even if we have to — and we had to at the beginning — post the fire watch out there, because most of the trucks didn’t have exhaust hoods. They were clearly in violation of every code in the world, but we found a way around it. As a result of it, they all have hoods now. This was in the infancy of it.

We changed some parking regulations about their ability to park and serve. We just moved mountains to get it done. It was easier because in a strong-mayor form of government, I can do that. But it turned out to be one of the best things we’ve done and spawned a whole industry of food trucks.

(So, it is apparently ok for the City to bend or break the rules for something the Mayor wants, which apparently is easy under the “strong mayor” government.  What does that say about Jackson House or Bro Bowl?)

Even though the article had an interview with the Mayor from an establishment in Seminole Heights, the article devolves into much on the Mayor’s obsession with bringing everything downtown. (Note, of the 10 restaurants in the USA Today list, one is arguably “in” downtown Tampa, and one has a secondary location in downtown but the main location is elsewhere – basically Seminole Heights.)

So what is wrong with all this? For the most part, nothing as far as it goes (except as noted).  But it does not go far enough.  The real problem was in evidence on a recent visit to a restaurant in Seminole Heights which was packed with a long wait.  If you are not going to wait, where do you go?  This particular restaurant was surrounded by boarded up buildings and used car dealerships.  There was the dollar store, but that is not much for dining.  In sum, there were very limited choices even though the area is ripe for renewal and there is clearly a market in Seminole Heights.

The obsession with downtown is all well and good, but there are other neighborhoods in the City. (Admittedly, in an ad hoc way, the City sometimes does help in those areas, but where is the comprehensive plan, the incessant marketing, etc., given to downtown.)  There are many unused or underused buildings.  There are poor projects being allowed in many of the neighborhoods. And despite some NIMBYs complaining about parking, we are pretty sure that the people of Seminole Heights would rather have a bustling restaurant scene than be overwhelmed by used car dealerships and boarded up buildings.

In the article, the Mayor keeps mentioning Cigar City and how he would love to see them downtown.  That’s fine, but Cigar City started in Westshore  – where the Mayor has shown no interest in decent design and planning – and has a restaurant/gastropub in Northdale, where apparently people eat as well.  This all shows once again that every neighborhood counts, so stop obsessing about only downtown, which, by the way, is not the only riverfront property in Tampa either – how about working on the water tower in Seminole Heights and the land around there or is that too far north for the City government to care?

And why is the Mayor changing the rules for food trucks and isolated places, but ignoring fixing the rule in the places where people are already going?  Is it really going to harm “food” culture downtown if Seminole Heights actually gets really fixed up and booms or will promoting those areas energetically create a real critical mass that will spread to other neighborhoods, including downtown?  (It should be acknowledged that bohemian type clusters often originate in areas other than downtowns.)

We understand that the Mayor is not starting new businesses (which is also why he should not take credit for starting new businesses) but, as he said, he can make things easier.  He can find city lots that can be used for parking.  He can work to develop areas outside of InVision Tampa.  That will only help develop the area covered by InVision Tampa.

Real cities, the kinds to which the Mayor referred, take advantage of burgeoning scenes, no matter the neighborhood.  They do not just push everything into a narrow area, just like they do not just focus on one or two industries.  That is how they attract and retain young (and other) talent that may like to be downtown but may not like to be only downtown all the time.  And it helps to retain that talent after they have kids and do not want to live downtown in apartments anymore.

And then there is transportation . . .

We will not succeed in becoming a true destination for talent by having a small area of walkable, urban development surrounded by a sea of sprawl-style development.  Like we said, there is much that the Mayor said that is good – especially if applied city-wide, which it is not.  As he has also said (though we paraphrase) as goes one neighborhood, so goes the City.

Transportation – Gateway Express, Greenlight Pinellas, and Planning

There was some bizarre news from Pinellas this week that shows just how bad local planning really is.

A month ago, when Gov. Rick Scott announced he would fast-track an expressway linking Pinellas’ two major corridors, U.S. 19 and Interstate 275, he seemed to offer a well-timed gift to a region he’s aiming to win over as he seeks re-election.

But he also dropped a ton of concrete on top of Pinellas’ plans for a light rail route, which will also be on the November ballot, when residents will be asked to decide whether to support a sales tax increase to pay for rail and an expansion of the bus system.

Maps of the expressway and the rail line show that the two proposals — both years away from construction — come into conflict at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, where the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans for a new road could choke off rail passengers’ access to the airport.

* **

Drawn up in 2012, plans for a light rail route from St. Petersburg to Clearwater show it making its way to the Gateway area, then traveling along the west side of Roosevelt Boulevard. Once there, it would stop at a station near the airport, around which planners envisioned hotels and shops would open to serve business travelers and tourists.

But FDOT plans for the expressway add a serious wrinkle.

It addition to building an elevated expressway connecting U.S. 19 and I-275, which would be constructed on top of 118th Avenue N, the FDOT is also planning to build an expressway from 118th Avenue to the Bayside Bridge. The road would run along Roosevelt adjacent to the light rail route. As designed, it would stand between the proposed train station and the airport.

So, essentially, the road would cut off any potential rail from either the airport or from development on the other side of the road.  How could that happen?

Scott’s sudden decision to accelerate the expressway’s construction appears to have caught both FDOT and Pinellas transit officials off guard. At a meeting on Thursday, members of the two agencies said they had only recently realized that the two projects overlap near the airport, a problem they hadn’t anticipated because the expressway seemed like a far-off idea that might materialize decades from now, if at all.

“This was not on the radar screen of the county. It was a very long-term plan,” said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller. “But the whole world changed about a month ago because now it’s a real project.”

Odd, planning is supposed to deal with what is going to happen in the future.  It should take into account proposed project, not just those that are funded.  It would be good if PSTA and FDOT actually talked to each other regularly.  And their discussions should not just deal with what is funded (and Gateway Express is not even funded, yet.)

Thankfully, there are potential workarounds:

PSTA officials have devised several possible alternatives, one of which includes building an underpass that would run beneath Roosevelt, allowing visitors to take a shuttle from their hotels to the airport.

Another idea is to move the rail route to the east side of Roosevelt so that it could still ferry passengers directly to the airport. But this proposal comes with a major downside for economic redevelopment — there’s little room on the east side for hotels and shops.

While the Tea Party will probably rant and rave about how this shows PSTA cannot be trusted (of course, they would do that regardless), we will not, namely because it shows no such thing.  (And exposing the problems created by a previous failure to plan is a reason to do more planning, not less.  Not to mention the fact that this issue was caught before anything was built.)  There is blame to go around (why didn’t FDOT consult with PSTA regarding any plans since they have been out there for a while?)

Regardless, this is a teaching moment.  Hillsborough should learn from this episode and make sure any plans it creates actually plan for real eventualities and work in coordination with other planning infrastructure.  (Of course, you have to come up with ideas before you can check whether they interfere with other plans.)

Channelside – Really, It Never Ends

This week there was a new entry, sort of, in the Channelside saga.

Benjamin Mallah Sr. said he’s willing to pay $7.5 million — the highest offer made public so far — for the dilapidated downtown mall.

The president and CEO of Equity Management Partners Inc. of Largo declared his interest in buying the mortgage to the Channelside building during Tuesday’s meeting of the Tampa Port Authority governing board.

“Our company specializes in taking distressed assets and getting them back to what they should be,” Mallah said.

Mallah made his pitch knowing full well that there’s no process right now for anyone to actually buy Channelside.

Well, we are not going to recap all the comings and goings, but it is interesting that there is another potential bidder raising the price.  We really have no opinion about this possible bidder.  We still think we would be better off if the Port bought it back and then started over, completely.

It really is quite the mess and goes to show how one bad decision can grow into a complete cluster that stretches on for years (see Veterans Expressway and Pasco Toll Road).

Harbour Island – Something Else

A few weeks ago, we had a rendering of a possible apartment building planned for Harbour Island. (see “Downtown Tampa – Goings On” )  Now, there is news of a possible apartment building a few blocks west of that.

Emails from city of Tampa planning officials show a developer is proposing a new building on land just west of The Plaza Harbour Island condo tower. The project, at 402 Knights Run Ave., would include an overhead walkway over Harbour Place Drive that would link the new building to an existing parking garage.

The city emails refer to the developer as Related Development, but that could be a reference to Miami-based condo and apartment developer Related Group, which is copied on some of the emails.

* * *

A Related Group executive copied on the emails, Arturo Pena, declined to comment when reached by the Tribune this week. And Steve Wigh, a vice president of the island’s master homeowners group, the Harbour Island Community Services Association, declined to comment, other than saying Related Group made a presentation to HICSA this week about a proposed multifamily development.

In another clue, a newsletter published by another homeowners group, the ParkCrest Harbour Island Condominium Association, goes into more detail and tells its readers that a developer is planning an apartment tower on the land with more than 300 units. The owner will make the units “condo-ready,” giving it the option of converting them to condominium units in the future, the newsletter says.

Related are the same people who brought the less than impressive Pierhouse complex in the Channel District.  Thankfully, the lot in question is not very big, so 300 units would have to at least be a mildly urban project.

We are all for developing Harbour Island more in lines with the original plan, which other than the north end of the island, is nothing like the present development.  We shall just have to see what, if anything, actually comes of it.

Trader Joes – Opening

This week, Trader Joes in south Tampa is opening.  That is good.  We like Trader Joes.  The location is not necessarily optimal – nor is the building, but so be it (it makes us think they are leaving room for other locations).  Among all the hype in the local media, the standard line is embodied by the Times column entitled “Pass the Two Buck Chuck — we have arrived.”

You can read the column (and all the other coverage) for yourself.  All we have to say about Trader Joes showing we “made it” is that Fresno already has Trader Joes, as does Lincoln (NE), Buffalo, Des Moines, Dayton, and a large number of other places. (for locations, see here )  It is good to have Trader Joes, but at this point, it is not a sign you have “made it” – it is a sign that you are not lagging woefully behind your contemporaries.  (That is reality – not all the hype about super special demographics and the like, unless they are telling us that south Tampa is finally equivalent to the finest neighborhoods in Fresno.)

We are happy Trader Joes is here (and we will go there when the grand opening hype dies down and the traffic will not be a mess), but the opening just means we made average.

MacDill Airfest

Don’t forget Airfest this weekend.  You can get info here.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is livability.com’s Top 10 Best Downtowns 2014. The methodology can be found here.  To be honest, it is an unorthodox list, but you can read about that.

The best downtown is Ft. Worth, followed by Providence, Indianapolis, Provo, Alexandria (VA), Frederick (MD), Ft. Lauderdale, Bellingham (WA), Eugene (OR), and Birmingham.

Roundup 3-14-2014

March 14, 2014

Transportation – Insight Into the Hillsborough Conundrum

We have been quite critical of Hillsborough County’s transportation planning and system – and quite rightly so.  We have also noted that the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group (aka Transportation Talking Shop) has, after months and months of consideration, figured out that there needs to be one organization that is in charge of implementing whatever is proposed.

Last week, the Times had an interesting article that showed just what a mess Hillsborough’s transportation system really is.

In Hillsborough County, a dozen different agencies are responsible for some aspect of transportation.

There’s HART and TBARTA, the MPO and the PTC. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays a role. So do county government and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

* * *

In Florida, Hillsborough County seems to take separation to the extreme.

This county has one of the most decentralized transportation decision-making processes in the state, Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher noted recently at a meeting of the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group — yet another transportation entity.

Other counties in Florida combine related agencies, Fletcher said, such as the Planning Commission and the Public Transportation Commission or port and aviation authorities.

“There’s not another one I found that had everything separated,” he said.

Yup.  It’s a mess.  Of course, it is not a mess without cause.  For instance, why do we have the PTC? (And note the PTC is made up of elected officials.)

Having pointed out the mess, the article gets the requisite comments:

The sheer number of players makes coming up with unified decisions on transportation issues difficult, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who serves on the boards of five of the 12 agencies.

“We lack one voice,” Murman said. “I think that’s a huge weakness.”

Well, if you are on the board of 5 of the 12 organizations and many, if not most, of the other board members are also elected officials who are on the same boards, it should not be too hard to speak with one voice.

We thought it would be helpful to look at the makeup of these various boards (we will not list the makeup of the Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace or Plant City governments):

HART

1 Tampa City Council member

2 Tampa appointees

3 County Commissioners

4 County appointees

2 State appointees

1 Temple Terrace City Council member

THEA

Mayor of Tampa

1 County Commissioner

THEA Director

THEA General Counsel

FDOT, District 7 Secretary

TBARTA

1 member each from Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, and Sarasota County Commissions

1 member each from the elected officials of NorthPort, St. Petersburg, and Tampa

1 member from the West Central Florida MPOs Chairs Coordinating Committee (currently a Hillsborough County Commissioner)

4 State appointees

FDOT, District 7 Secretary (non voting)

MPO

The current Board consists of 14 representatives:

Voting Members

4 Hillsborough County Commissioners

3 Tampa City Council members

1 Plant City City Council member

City of Temple Terrace City Council member

1 HART Board member

1 Hillsborough County Aviation Authority director

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority director

Tampa Port Authority director

Non-Voting Member

Hillsborough County-City County Planning Commission

PTC

As best as we can figure, because the County website does not just provide a list of members (surprise)  so we had to look at the minutes and, low and behold, not everyone is a regular attendee to the meetings.

3 County Commissioners

2 Tampa City Council members

1 Plant City Council member

3 PTC Administrators/Staff

Aviation Authority

3 State appointees

Mayor of Tampa

1 Hillsborough County Commissioner

Port Authority

Mayor of Tampa

1 Hillsborough County Commissioner

5 State appointees

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission is led by ten citizen appointees from all four local jurisdictions, and two ex officio members.

As you may have noticed, there is a lot of overlap – especially involving elected officials.  Given that, you have to wonder what the problem is.

So what will Hillsborough County do?

While no one is trying to eliminate any of the groups, both Murman and Sharpe are in favor of making one of them stronger.

They, along with some other members of the Transportation for Economic Development group (which includes county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities) suggested that HART may be the ideal agency to oversee the building and operation of new roads, expansion of bus service and planning for commuter rail.

The change would most likely require a restructuring of HART to include more elected officials and planning experts, though no details have been worked out.

“We just want HART to go beyond simply managing buses and take on a broader mission,” says Sharpe, who also serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, HART and TBARTA.

As we have said before (see “Transportation – Hillsborough Looks for Someone to Handle Transportation” ), HART makes some sense, but so does this:

Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, who serves as chairman of HART and as a member of the Transportation for Economic Development group, isn’t convinced that would solve anything.

“No transit agency anywhere in the country has the kind of power — implementation power — they are talking about,” Suarez says. “(HART) is doing very well in terms of our budget and in what we are able to provide. We don’t have dollars to expand service now, we don’t have the capability to do more technology. Those are problems we need to solve and having a new, different organization doesn’t solve that problem.”

Instead, he suggests, the Transportation for Economic Development group, which he joined two months ago, needs to focus more on what it hopes to accomplish.

“I wish I knew more about what we are trying to do because I don’t think it has been fleshed out yet,” Suarez says. “We haven’t talked about how we are going to make things work.”

Exactly.  You actually have to know what you are doing before you can figure out how to do it.  And, so far, no one has said what they actually want to do.

So where is the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group in the process?

That hasn’t stopped others in the group from moving as quickly as possible. The group hopes to present a plan for the future of transportation in Hillsborough sometime this summer, despite not knowing exactly what that means or who will see it through.

The fact is that, looking at all the transportation agencies above, the County Commission is the one organization with a hand in every pie. Its members are by far the majority of the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group.  It is also the one organization that can place a referendum on the ballot, and it controls most of the money. (Of course, the City of Tampa also has a hand in most organizations, but the city tax idea is going nowhere.)  It is fine, probably necessary, to talk about structure, but until the County Commission comes up with a plan, this is all going nowhere.

And then there is this comment:

Regardless of who is responsible, early success will be key, Murman says, to bringing on board voters who rejected attempts to fund transportation projects in the past.

“They’ll need to be successful quickly,” Murman says, “to gain credibility in the community.”

Because 1) it is essentially the County that will have to decide on the responsible agency and 2) the County that will essentially be coming up with a plan (even though it does not know what it will be or how it will be run), we think what she should have said is that the County Commission, of which she is a part, (in concert with a few other elected officials) will need to be successful quickly to gain credibility in the community.

Especially given the Mayor’s lack of a stated plan, the main address for transportation plans in Hillsborough County is the County Center, and that is the bottom line.  No amount of talk will change that.

Transportation – More Noise in Pasco

A few weeks ago, we noted that the opposition to the proposed Pasco toll road was not based on the fact the proposal was for a private toll road.  Rather, it has far more to do with the idea of the road itself. (See “Transportation – Of Roads, Rails, and Running for Office”   That was further confirmed by a public meeting in Pasco this week.

Finally, the meeting was opened to the public and, one by one, folks lined up 30 deep to address the officials.

Much of the criticism was leveled at them.

“The presentation was very demeaning,” Land O’Lakes resident Susie Hoeller said, leading off the comments.

Another speaker, Paul Zalon of Trinity, blamed officials for allowing unrestrained growth, thereby requiring more roads.

“You are approving all of these communities and shopping centers without any thought,” he said. “Transportation is a regional problem. Why are you dumping it all on Pasco?”

But most the talk seemed aimed at sending a message: Don’t build it here.

“These people are invested in this community,” said Jason Amerson, summing up many in the crowd. “We don’t want you gambling away our property rights in the name of so-called progress.”

Setting aside that property rights are not at issue (and the Tribune article quoted him as saying “property values” ), yes, there is a failure of planning in Pasco (and the area generally) – namely, the infrastructure is completely insufficient and the buildings are way too sprawled out.  And, yes, the original failure was when the Veterans was built in Hillsborough but not connected to I-275.  Then, Pasco failed to build the long planned east-west road before allowing all the development to fill up the space.  Nevertheless, the road is needed, and the opposition is not just to this plan.

All it took was one mention of the projected “20-lane highway” along State Road 54 for Pasco officials to lose control of their town hall meeting Monday night.

Opponents of the proposed elevated toll road took over. They booed. They yelled. They demanded to be heard.

“Why are you dumping this on Pasco County?” one man asked.

Good question – 1) because Hillsborough screwed up 20 years ago and put its faith in the planning acumen of others (though it is not like Hillsborough had planning acumen), 2) because Pasco had planned an east-west freeway for decades but it never happened, and 2) because where the hell else is it going to go to help traffic on SR54.  (What alternatives are the opponents of the road proposing?)

Pasco officials tried, to no avail, to explain why the road is needed.

“This roadway doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” Gehring said. “It comes in a community that’s growing from 500,000 people to 600,000.”

But the moment he showed the photo of a 20-lane superhighway, the crowd started yelling “Scare Tactic!”

“Name all the places in the country that have a 20-lane road!” one man shouted. 

We don’t know about 20 lanes, but the intersection of SR 54 and Bruce B. Downs is already 10 or 11 lanes in each direction.  And, you may want to look how far the buildings are set back from the road.  What do they think that right of way has been saved for?

One the other hand, we do not care if the road is elevated or not. We would be fine, given all that land, if the road was more like the limited access with frontage roads US19 in Pinellas. (Or the work that just began on Gandy in Pinellas.) Regardless, some road is needed whether there is mass transit or not. (And it needs to be recognized that Pasco County is not developed in a way that favors local mass transit – as opposed to commuter transit to denser areas with park and ride.)

The real issue is that the opponents don’t want any solution – they claim there is no problem – and, if the past is any indication, they will probably get what they want.  Eventually, traffic will get so bad that the same people will be clamoring for a solution – which will likely, since the development pattern is so sprawled, be the same solution they now reject.  But in the meantime, there will be no solution and their property values will suffer because of the poor transportation and the poor planning of the development already in Pasco. (Just ask Bloomingdale.)

If Hillsborough had not been so short sighted, this would not even be an issue.

– One Last Thing

And one more thing, the ring road around Orlando goes through a number of counties and involves a FDOT and the Orlando-Orange County Express authority even though much of it is not in Orange County (for instance see here)  that have all worked together to get it built over decades.  Nothing like that happens here – and that is a major reason why our regional transportation infrastructure is so poor.

Downtown Tampa – Maybe

There are rumblings that a big tenant may be moving back to downtown.

Executives at Syniverse Holdings Inc. are on a tight timeline to make a decision on whether to renew the company’s 200,000-square-foot lease at Highwoods Preserve in New Tampa or build something in the downtown or Westshore office markets.

Syniverse’s 11-year lease is up in 2016 and if the company is going to build elsewhere, it might be too brief a time frame for architecture firms and construction companies to get a structure built in time.

Discussions with as many as four sources close to the deal – none of whom would talk on the record – indicate that if the company builds, it will need at least 175,000 square feet, which could be as many as 16 stories on some of the sites being discussed for the wireless telecommunications firm.

Possible sites for Syniverse include the proposed downtown Tampa Southgate tower, in which the company would be the anchor tenant; the waterfront site at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street, where Syniverse would likely be the only tenant; and even possibly a site near International Plaza in Westshore.

While we are not huge fans of the street treatment and parking in the Southgate design (see here – but it is nothing that couldn’t be easily fixed if the developer wanted to and the City was not so eager to settle), getting a big tenant downtown would be a good thing.  It has been a long time since there was new office space downtown.  On the other hand, if they are going for new construction downtown, the timeline is very tight.  And Westshore is still very possible.

We shall see.

Gasparilla – Good Stuff, but Can We Tighten It Up A Bit

Last week, there was a nice article in the Tribune about the Gasparilla music festival.  By all measures, it is a success.

The eclectic music festival has been a smash success so far, growing from a surprisingly robust 6,500 attendees at the inaugural festival in 2012, to a near-capacity crowd of close to 10,000 people in 2013.

Now the bearded men, Gasparilla Music Festival board president Phil Benito, 37, and executive director Ty Rodriguez, 41, are preparing for yet another growth spurt. The festival gets expanded over two full days for the first time this weekend. The Flaming Lips headline Saturday, Trombone Shorty headlines Sunday.

* * *

The festival is a runaway success, with total revenue of more than $430,000 in 2013 according to IRS records, but nobody’s getting rich. The festival is incorporated as a 503c nonprofit organization. There are 13 board members, none of whom take a salary. Rodriguez is the lone paid employee.

* * *

Part of the festival’s appeal is that it offers more than just music. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on both days, the children’s program with arts, crafts and games, makes for an enjoyable family experience. Some parents will have a babysitter pick their kids up before staying to enjoy the evening headliners, Rodriguez said.

Good for them, and good for us.  We are all for this kind of event, and we are thrilled it is growing.  We need these kinds of events to build this area going forward.  Not only is it the kind of thing that attracts young professionals and other high paying jobs (people want things to do and go where those things are), it also just adds to the quality of life.

Of course, one of the biggest music festivals is Austin’s South by Southwest, which has grown far beyond just a music festival. (For instance, this year, the Jimmy Kimmel Show will be live from Austin during the festival – and there has been bad news this year) We are not there yet, but at least the organizers of the Gasparilla event are ambitious:

As for the future of the festival, Benito hopes it will start to draw people from around the U.S.

“Right now we don’t advertise a whole lot nationally, but with people seeing the Gasparilla Music Fest on these bands schedules year after year, we’re slowly cutting our niche. Ideally, we’d like to have 50 percent of the crowd traveling in, buying hotel rooms and spending money downtown. We want an economic impact.”

That’s the attitude.

We do have one question, though – when exactly is Gasparilla?  The parades start in January, and the events go to March.  It does seem kind of hard to make and market a big, multifaceted event out of something that stretches so long.

MacDill – Some Good News

With all the talk of defense cuts, there has been concern that, even though it is central to so much of the military, there could be cuts at MacDill.  This week, there was news that MacDill may stand to gain from consolidation.

MacDill Air Force Base is scheduled to receive an additional eight aerial refueling tankers under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, according to the Air Force.

If the plan is approved by Congress, the new KC-135 tankers would arrive in Tampa starting in October 2017, according to Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. 

Hopefully.  While we do not want anyone else to suffer the pain of closures or losing a base, it would be good for MacDill and the area.  We will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

A few weeks ago, the Times had an article about international investors looking to the Tampa Bay area, the premise of which was:

“Tampa is becoming as popular as South Florida with foreign investors, and many of the same retailers and companies in both markets,” David Sobelman, a managing partner of commercial real estate brokerage Calkain Cos., wrote last year in a report to investors. Tampa Bay, he added, is arising “as a more slow and steady alternative to the rest of the state.”

While foreign investors may be looking at the Tampa Bay area, there was nothing in the article to support the idea that Tampa is becoming “as popular a South Florida.”  However, we are not going to go through the article, because we found a good anecdote regarding a condo building in Miami to show the point.

1010 Brickell is 90 Percent Sold in only 90 Days Since Sales Launched.

Key International and 13th Floor Investments, the developers behind 1010 Brickell, are pleased to announce the 387-unit luxury residential development is 90 percent sold out. Key International Sales, the exclusive sales and marketing firm for the project, has experienced tremendous demand since entering pre-sales in December.

A strong market, energized by buyers primarily from Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, has translated in a buying frenzy at 1010 Brickell where only 39 available units remain.

(Just for frame of reference, the Element in Tampa is 34 stories and the Towers of Channelside are each 30 stories.) And this is just one building in Miami, where there are numerous buildings that would be among the tallest, if not the tallest, building in Tampa under construction now.  (We don’t know if Miami’s condo market is overheated, but we would take some of that overheating for a few years, especially given how fast Miami recovered from their previous overheating.)

So, yes, our economy is better and there are foreign investors, but, no, it is nothing like South Florida.  Period.

Built Environment – Embarrassment of Riches

This week, we start a new, occasional feature “Embarrassment of Riches,” not on Tampa’s architectural heritage (since most of it was inadvertently bulldozed), but Tampa’s architectural present, which is overflowing with gems.   We hope to highlight the best efforts taken in bringing superlative design to Tampa. While Tampa is replete with examples that deserve comment, the buildings featured in this feature will be only the products of the zenith of architectural innovation which are critical both to building the kind of city we want for the future and to attracting all the talent that economic development professionals and elected leaders seek.  As the Mayor has told us, as goes one neighborhood, so goes the City.  Every area is important.

This week, we feature a building in the burgeoning Westshore area, the largest office district in the area and one of the largest in Florida.  While in its early years, Westshore adopted a sprawling pattern, recently, we are told, there have been efforts to create a pedestrian friendly, walkable, urban environment.  If recent development is any indication, the area has made great progress towards that goal as best exemplified by the newest dining establishments to grace Westshore Boulevard.  Because it is on Westshore Boulevard in the heart of the district and was built after the push for walkability was well under way, this week we feature development occupied by our neighbors in Orlando, Darden restaurants. (And we are sure Orlando is jealous that we got this development.) While we do not have a picture of the entire development, believe us, this portion is representative of the whole and an exemplar of the new face of Westshore.  Moreover, this development screams 21st century walkability and the bustling, urban environment that are the hallmark of bustling business districts and tech hubs worldwide.  Without further ado, we give you the Longhorn Steakhouse on Westshore Boulevard:

From Westshore Boulevard – click on picture for larger version

Good thing the City did not settle.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is fitting for the season – Travelocity’s Top 10 Spring Break Destinations.   While we could guess, we have no idea what methodology they used.

Coming in first is South Florida, followed by Orlando, Phoenix, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Cancun, Los Angeles, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Maui, and Honolulu.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Forbes Most Affordable Cities 2014.  The methodology is explained here.  Notable among the methodology is excessive weight given to housing prices, which arguably favors markets that either got battered in the recession, that have low incomes or that are just not that popular, keeping housing prices down.

Coming in first is Buffalo, followed by Memphis, Cincinnati, Dayton, Knoxville, Akron, Grand Rapids, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Warren (MI), Toledo, Detroit, Birmingham, St. Louis, Virginia Beach, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Tampa, Syracuse, and Columbus (OH).

Roundup 3-7-2014

March 7, 2014

TIA – Money, Signs, and the Future

This week, there was more news about the future development of Tampa International Airport.

– The Money

First, some money for to execute the master plan:

Scott on Wednesday designated $194 million in state funds toward the $1 billion first phase of Tampa International’s master plan improvements outlined last year.

Those include main terminal redevelopment, a new rental-car facility, and an automated tram linking the main terminal, remote parking garage and the rental car area.

* * *

“This is the biggest project at this airport since it opened,” Tampa International Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano said.

The master plan concept is to create improvements to avoid building an additional main terminal north of the current facility for years.

It will create 7,100 short-term construction jobs, and up to 1,100 permanent positions. Construction is expected to begin this year and be completed by 2017.

Airport officials sought $272 million from the Florida Department of Transportation through Scott, and got about 70 percent of what they asked for.

Lobbying for state funds in Tallahassee by airport officials and a private firm under an $80,000 contract began in February 2013, with the governor approving funding a week ago in a tightly held decision.

While the airport is paying for most of the project and the proposed State money is not as much as the airport asked for, it is still good.  As we said previously, we do not really care if it is an election year move because we need the money.  We are all for this spending.  Improvement to infrastructure is a solid investment, and the airport does infrastructure right.

Though, since the money still has to be approved by the legislature, it does raise a question we have raised before.  While we are unequivocally for the project, including the people mover, we admit shuttle buses from the landside terminal to the rental car facility would be cheaper to set up (it is not clear about running them), and the people mover will not charge anything to ride, so it will not pay for itself.  Additionally, passengers have a choice of which rental car company they use or whether they use a rental car.  If that is the case, based on the logic used by Tea Party, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and other opponents of rail, is it proper to support this project?  In fact, even at the main part of the airport, why don’t people have a choice either to walk to the airside or pay to ride the shuttle?  Under their argument, isn’t having free people movers just government waste?  Will they try to kill the money?

Like we said, we are all for this project because it is a good project.  And we are glad the airport is interested in quality, not just cost, which is not to say we think they waste money.  They just do things properly just like successful companies do, which sometimes costs more. That is life and that is the market (just ask Apple).

– The Sign

A small part of the improvements at the airport include some new signage.  Usually, signage would not much interest us, but 1) this is the airport, 2) it is quite a big sign, and 3) it is another example of how, when you do things cheaply you often have to come back and spend to fix them anyway, you might as well do it right the first time.

The sign was metal. It hung over the highway. Its message was spelled out in white letters over a black background: “Welcome to Tampa International Airport.”

But back when Joe Lopano applied for the airport’s top job in 2010, he didn’t feel welcomed.

“My impression was that this is nothing but a roadway sign that tells you where you are,” said Lopano, now the airport CEO. “But it doesn’t welcome you.”

That’s why Tampa International is spending up to $662,000 to erect a grand new sign in the grass median at the entrance of the George J. Bean Parkway.

The new sign will be imposing, made of concrete and translucent polycarbonate. It will stand 21 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It will be lit at night and be able to change colors on command.

It will be built to withstand not just the rigors of Florida’s thundershowers and the occasional hurricane, but an even harsher foe: the sun’s UV rays.

Sounds good, and this is what is will apparently look like:

From the Times – click on picture for article

But what we really like is the approach:

Lopano believes that the new sign, set for completion around the middle of this month, will raise the airport’s profile and better reflect its role as an economic engine in the Tampa Bay area.

The current entrance sign overlooking the main road, he said, just doesn’t do that for him.

“It doesn’t portray an image of the community or the airport,” Lopano said. “I’ve never seen an airport that doesn’t have some form of a welcome feature that’s a little bit more stylish than a welcome sign.”

* * *

“I tell people when we put something in the airport as a new feature that we want it to look good on day one and look good on year 20,” said Al Illustrato, the airport’s vice president of facilities and administration.

Right, it is not a half measure that relies on hype, it corrects a mistake, is done right, has substance, and, hopefully, is made to stand the test of time – like the rest of the airport.  We wish other parts of the Tampa Bay area would adopt the same attitude.

(And, following up on last week, here is an article and video of TIA receiving the route development award.  What is notable is the inclusive, regional nature of the comments by TIA.  Once again, a model for the area.)

Channelside – Just Buy It Back, Already

This week the Channelside saga kept going on (and on and on).  When last we left, the liberty folks were grandstanding with an offer to buy Channelside. Now, the Port is having its say:

Last month a federal bankruptcy judge scuttled the port’s first attempt to buy the 234,520-square-foot outdoor mall for $5.75 million. But a majority of the board told the Tampa Bay Times they still support their original plan: The public agency should buy Channelside from the Irish bank that foreclosed on the property and then pick a private developer to turn the downtown icon around.

* * *

Channelside’s complex and dysfunctional ownership structure — the bank owns the mortgage on the building, the port owns the land — has left the complex bereft of tenants and customers. Both entities must approve a buyer, an issue that has separated them for years.

Some board members said that they’re willing to pay more, perhaps $7 million or higher, to get the Irish bank out of town and put Channelside’s destiny in Tampa hands once and for all.

That would be fine with us.  The entire thing is a mess.  The Port should take control of the complex once again to protect the public and get the entire complex fixed.

Of course, there is always Liberty’s lawsuit against the Port – apparently, their position is that, if you can’t negotiate a deal you like, you can always try to get a Court to force the other side to make the deal – but anyone can file a lawsuit.

The Port should get the deal done to buy Channelside already.

Transportation – The Other Side of Gandy

We have written previously about Tampa/Hillsborough County’s abject failure over decades to connect the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge, even though everyone knows it needs to be done. (See, for instance, “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” )  As we noted, the failed efforts were part of an attempt to connect to I-275 in Pinellas.  Well, even if Tampa/Hillsborough County are constantly caving in to a small number of loud people and failing the community at large, Pinellas County is moving ahead with work on its side of the bridge.

This first phase, estimated to cost about $83 million, will focus on the section from Fourth to Interstate 275.

When this phase is completed, Gandy will have an elevated six-lane roadway (three in each direction) from I-275 to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. It will be four lanes (two in each direction) from King Street to east of Fourth Street. Overpasses will be built at Fourth, Roosevelt Boulevard, King and 94th Avenue. A frontage road system will parallel the main roadway.

The project will include pedestrian and bicycle trails along the frontage road, traffic signals, lighting, an intelligent transportation system and landscaping. An intelligent transportation system includes such things as informational signs although it’s unclear whether they will be part of the Gandy improvements.

* * *

Work is scheduled to finish in 2017.

The second phase, west from I-275 to the end of the Gandy overpass over U.S. 19, has not been funded. Construction is not scheduled to begin until 2021.

Even though the new work will not go all the way to the bridge, it is a major part of the work, and way more than on the east side of the bridge.  Once again, Pinellas County is ahead of Hillsborough when it comes to transportation.  How long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?

Hillsborough County – An Endless Supply or a Dry Well?

Speaking of Hillsborough County, there was some interesting news this week.

– Chasing The Bright Lights

First, the County Commission decided to subsidize some films.

While state lawmakers consider pumping more money into Florida’s penniless motion picture incentive system, Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending $300,000 Wednesday to lure two movie productions here.

* * *

The bulk of the county money — $250,000 — is earmarked for The Infiltrator, based on the true story of a U.S. Customs agent who spent years working undercover as a Tampa-based money launderer investigating Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel and the banks that helped drug suppliers and smugglers hide money.

* * *

After Hagan finished his sales pitch, Commissioner Al Higginbotham asked for $50,000 to go to the makers of Saat Hindustani, a Bollywood movie also considering filming in Tampa. The film is about seven Indian college students studying abroad.

“It’s not an Animal House-type film,” said Higginbotham, who helped recruit the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, also known as the “Bollywood Oscars,” which will be held in Tampa in April.

Any county money that goes to either movie would be paid in cash, post production, after the filmmakers provide documentation showing they reached economic goals, such as hiring a certain number of locals or spending a set amount of money on local vendors, according to Ron Barton, Hillsborough’s economic development director. Barton’s staff would negotiate economic goals with the filmmakers, he said.

The Infiltrators is expected to have a budget of about $50 million, with $20 million to be spent locally, and has been pre-approved by Florida’s Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program for more than $4 million in tax credits, according to Gordon. But the state program is out of money.

So, we have no idea what the deal with is with the Indian movie.  Maybe it will be good exposure, maybe not. (Though it sounds more like a pet project for one commissioner.) As for the other move, fine, but . . .

We want this area to become a major filming location.  We think that is a good goal and, given good projects, would provide good exposure.  We also understand that the film/TV industry looks for subsidies and goes where the money is. (Though there are some questions about it which should give us pause about getting too involved.  For instance see here, here, and here.)  Because of the nature of the industry, generally, if there is money, we are ok with limited, structured subsidies (though the projects should be properly screened so we do not waste money, and we should not expect miracles).  But is there money?

In the overall scheme of things, the money is not that big.  The real problem is that the money the County has overall is limited, and the needs are great.  The County has not been effective in its spending priorities or its policy decisions, and, without great care (do you think there is great care?), subsidies can become a slow bleed that leaves us without money for things we, the taxpayers, need.  For instance, read on.

– Bloomingdale Strikes Back

The hubbub in Bloomingdale about a sneaky approval of a big box store by the County and the lack of road improvements (or any planning) continues.

Bloomingdale homeowners upset about plans for a big-box store and apartments in their area want major improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue, which fronts the property and an adjacent public library.

Meeting with Hillsborough County’s public works director on Thursday, a small gathering of homeowners said they would prefer spending $564,000 in impact fees by the project’s developer, Red Cast LLC, on fixing the major east/west road. Spending the money on sidewalks and bicycle lanes — county officials suggested doing so as a possibility — won’t cut it, the residents said.

In other words, the County’s response to demands for a road fix was sidewalks and a bike path.  Somehow, shockingly, that did not cut it.  So what was the County’s response?

John Lyons, the public works director, said he will review previous discussions by county officials about major improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue, including widening the road. Lyons said he will report back to the homeowners with his findings.

If county staff members decide the best option is to make sweeping improvements, he said, they might need approval from the Hillsborough County Commission. Mike Williams, engineering and environmental division director, said he would guess such a project could cost about $50 million.

So let’s review. The County Commission basically approved a project through the back door that will add a lot of traffic to an already congested road that the locals residents want fixed.  The County is getting $564,000 in impact fees from the latest ill-advised and poorly planned project.  However, actually fixing the road the County has neglected will cost $50 million.

It appears that the mismanagement of the County planning and development, as well as the policy of favoring sprawling development without dealing with the costs, has caught up with the County.  Where exactly is the $50 million going to come from?  Sure the County is fine with giving $6 million here and more millions there for strip mall development, but where is it going to get $50 million to actually serve the needs of the residents, even the ones in East County?

We can’t say we are surprised.  The County has favored developers over planning and residents for decades.  Anyone with eyes (and who drives) can see that the County has not kept up with the needs.  This is just another example.  The sad thing is that even if the County did find $50 million to fix the road, the money would likely come at the expense of other residents and their needs.  And then there is the whole question of really planning so that to manage the needs in the first place. (Properly planned development with proper transit would not have created as much of a mess in the first place, so you would not need so much to mitigate it.

And let us be clear – responsibility for all this rest squarely on the County Commission.  (The staff can only do what it is told with the money the Commission gives them.  We actually feel sorry for them.  They are like the customer service folks who get yelled at because someone else screwed up and won’t fix it.)

It is all fine to give subsidies to some pet projects (actually it is often not fine, but we’ll set that aside for the moment), but it is well past time the Commission actually starts solving the problems it created.  And how long is the Hillsborough talking shop on transportation going to take?

Downtown Tampa – Something, But In the Wrong Place

There was news of another potential development in downtown Tampa:

The project is not yet announced, but city planners are working out details with The Richman Group on potentially a seven-story complex with up to 338 units in a sleepy area just north of the Forum and the Channel District.

According to city records, the block-sized site in question is bordered by Morgan Street on the west, Whiting Street on the north, Jefferson Street on the east and the Crosstown Expressway on the south. The property has not yet changed hands, and is still owned by an entity called JMC-Booker LLC, appraised by Hillsborough County at just over $5 million.

Officials with the Greenwich Conn.-based Richman Group declined to comment on their plans, other than to send an email that read “We’d be happy to talk with you after we close on the land in May/June 2014.”

You can check out the developer’s website here.  This is the preliminary rendering of the project which has not been officially announced:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The status of the project is described as this:

As of August last year, one official with the Richman Group told city planners that “we are in the due diligence stage of building a multi-family structure in the [central business district] of Tampa,” and they asked questions about rules regarding open spaces in the area. By October, they started trading potential site plans and by December they started trading preliminary drawings of a structure that very much resembles others in the Channel District. The correspondence does not say whether the plan entails condos or apartments.

One potential layout calls for about 50 units on each of seven floors, with a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, with cantilevered balconies on many units.

We are all for the development of downtown, but this project seems out of place.

This is the lot, which is quite large.  It should be noted that 1) this is not the Channel District and 2) the project as described only resembles some of what was built in the first wave of Channel District development, not what is going on now, which is taller and more downtown-like.  (And that is not even mentioning that it is going to be residential right under the shadow of the Selmon, which is also kind of odd.)

If this project as described were in Hyde Park, near UT, in “West River” or Tampa Heights (or Westshore), we would likely be completely fine with it.  It is good infill for areas near downtown.  However, the proposal is in the middle (pretty much literally) of downtown.  It is in an area that is a blank slate ready to be the heart of downtown and right across the Selmon from the property of the Lightning owner that is supposed to be developed so nicely, and right near where the Mayor wants to put a baseball stadium.  Not only that, it is a full block (if not more).

Given all that, this project as described is quite disappointing. (It is not as bad as Pierhouse, but it is hardly something that fits the middle of downtown.)  It is not nearly dense or urban enough.  They could put all the units (and get them over the Selmon)  in a taller building more befitting the middle of downtown and still have room left over for another equally large building (which seems to us to make a lot more sense).

Because the developer is still talking to the City, this is the time for the City to express disappointment with the design and get something actually good built there. (And to show that the City actually understands something about planning, though we are not sure they do.)  It is the future heart of activity downtown, right next to an area that is supposed to be completely redeveloped and connected to the Channel District.  The land is valuable enough to not settle.

The real question is when that area develops, is this really what should be in the middle of it?  In our opinion, it would be a waste if this is all that gets built on that land.  The City should not settle.

HCC – Abracadabra, They Have a Deal

A few weeks ago, we wrote about what a Tribune report portrayed as just some ideas about redeveloping some land at HCC’s Dale Mabry campus for a sports complex.  (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”) From the Tribune article:

Hillsborough Community College is considering two major development projects at its Dale Mabry Highway campus that could see a youth sports complex built near Steinbrenner Field and a new mixed-use complex on its south end.

One likely bidder for the sports project is Tampa investor and youth sports booster Bob Gries, who has wanted to build a volleyball and basketball complex in Tampa for a few years. If built, the sports complex would replace the large community tennis complex at HCC, which would be relocated to other college property.

Until Wednesday, the manager of the tennis complex had only heard rumors that a large development project was under consideration and occasionally saw officials touring the property.

* * *

For now, members of the college’s board insist they’re just weighing their options and might decide to do nothing.

It seems that may have been a little too casual a portrayal.

A local business group that includes the Westshore Alliance and Tampa investment manager Bob Gries is the only bidder vying to build a proposed amateur athletics complex at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.

* * *

College spokeswoman Ashley Carl said several groups have approached HCC about building a youth sports complex over the years. That includes Gries, a local youth sports booster who runs a Tampa investment firm. The college moved ahead in December by inviting would-be developers to submit proposals for such a facility on nine acres housing HCC’s large community tennis complex. Any developer would have rebuild the HCC tennis complex on land elsewhere on the campus.

On Friday, the school released bid documents showing just one bidder, the Westshore Alliance. a business group representing Tampa’s Westshore district. The college didn’t release details of the group’s proposal, citing a statute that closes bid documents for a period of time.

* * *

Carl, the HCC spokeswoman, said the college can move forward with negotiations even though it attracted only one bidder. For now, plans call for the college to award a contract for the project in late April.

Wait a minute.  There is a plan to award a contract in April? What happened to the college may not do anything and that it was just thinking about options?  And there is only one bid and no one knows what the bid actually is?

Sure, just sneak in a project on some of the most valuable land in the area to just one bidder while playing down the likelihood of anything happening.

Maybe this is actually a good idea, though it has not really been discussed and vetted (at least not in public) and no one has really seen the ONE proposal.  Unfortunately, it sounds like another wired deal.  And not one that there was any groundswell for or, with proposals all over the area for sports complexes, a glaring need that had to be filled.

Welcome to Tampa.

St. Pete Waterfront – More Planning is Outsourced

For those who may not know, St. Pete has been examining the future of its waterfront.  First, it got a report from the Urban Land Institute, because apparently no local government can do anything without a report from the Urban Land Institute (We will not get into that report right now).  Now, it is looking at hiring a consultant to master plan the waterfront (because apparently the ULI report is simply an expensive requirement to actually getting to substance).

A dozen years ago, the city embarked on a months-long endeavor to get feedback from residents on what they wanted the community to look, feel and be like for the next generation.

That exercise, which came to be known as Vision 2020, laid the groundwork for reworking city land use regulations.

Later this year, the city will once again seek input, this time about the waterfront. The same planners will be tapped to lead this effort, too.

The City Council will be asked Thursday to authorize negotiations for a contract — worth up to $500,000 — with AECOM, a Los Angeles-based global consulting firm.

AECOM was one of 18 companies that responded to the city’s bid request to develop a master plan for the waterfront.

Days ago, a selection committee ranked AECOM at the top of its list. Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates and Virginia-based Ecology and Environment were ranked second and third, respectively.

Ok. Of course, St. Pete can’t be expected to plan itself even with the ULI telling it what to do.  So who is this AECOM?

AECOM has been involved in other big projects in the Tampa Bay area. It helped shape Tampa’s vision for its waterfront, and is conducting a feasibility study on the proposed downtown aquarium in Clearwater. It also has done master planning in England, downtown San Diego and San Francisco.

Maybe it is just us, but it appears a bit strange that the same companies or organizations keep getting contracts – and not inexpensive contracts – to do all the planning work throughout the entire area.  Does that really give us the best input and innovations or does it just keep recycling the same ideas?  Using the same people and companies could be because they produce a good product, but, frankly, from what we have seen, most of their product is fairly obvious and not particularly inspiring (like InVision Tampa) and often silly (like ULI’s idea to make SR54 in Pasco an inspiring “boulevard”).  Are they really just that much better than everyone else or is there something else going on?

Like all the RFP’s with only one bidder – it may be all above aboard, but it sure seems odd.

And it appears others have reservations:

City officials voted Thursday to delay by two weeks the process to select a company charged with creating a downtown waterfront master plan. City staff had recommended the council approve a measure to allow negotiations to start with global consulting firm AECOM, the top-rated firm that has been selected to carry out the plan, due by July 2015. But several city council members said they had concerns about the scope and price of the project, which has a potential budget of up to $500,000. The council voted to revisit the issue later this month after getting a chance to discuss it more.

Good.  Make sure it is right for you and the taxpayers.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is wallethub.com’s Best Cities to Find a Job.  The methodology, summary of it so brief as to be of no use, can be found here.   Of note, they are really doing it by cities, not metro areas.

The best city to find a job is Ft. Worth, followed by Washington, Tampa, Arlington (TX), Dallas, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Mesa (AZ), Houston, Raleigh, Corpus Christie, Aurora (CO), Phoenix, San Jose, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.

So Tampa made a good list with the rest of the usual suspects.  Did anyone have any reaction?

“We’re on a roll. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“People are shaking off the depression and are looking forward to a much, much brighter future. There’s an electricity in Tampa that hasn’t existed in decades. It’s palpable.”

Setting aside that the recession only started in 2007 so we have no idea what the “in decades” comment is about, things are better, but a little perspective is in order.

As we said, there is no doubt that the economy is better now than a few years ago.  However, there is an issue with the list.  It is the list of the best city to find a job – it does not say what kind of job or how much it pays.  Our economy, even though it is better, has a major issue regarding economic diversity, wage and income levels, as well as disposable income.  Showing up on one list of relatively unknown provenance does not change that, as pointed out by this comment:

“This is not New York, this is not Chicago, it’s not L.A. We don’t have that much disposable income or corporate headquarters.” 

That was from the Mayor in the dark days way back a couple of weeks ago.

Nevertheless, we do admit, it is better to be on the list than to be excluded.

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