Skip to content

Roundup 10-17-2014

October 17, 2014

USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun

This week, there was more on the push to put the USF med school in downtown.  While the explanation of the real plan and how it would work for the entire med school ecosystem was pretty thin, there were statements, like that it

is a game-changer for the University of South Florida and the city of Tampa and will attract industry leaders and medical experts from around the world. . . [and that they will make it] a national center for transforming medical education and create a hub for biomedical research in the downtown area.

Oh, wait, that was about CAMLS.  About which:

Officials say that tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, radiology technicians, anesthesiologists, residents, emergency medical personnel and others who require medical training are expected to travel to Tampa to visit the center. As with many economic forecasts, the numbers aren’t precise. In January of 2011, when dirt was first broken, a story on USF Health’s website reported “some 60,000 health care professionals are expected to visit Tampa each year.” That figure has been readjusted down to 30,000 annually (with as many as 10,000 of those professionals coming from the Bay area), but according to figures from USF, CAMLS will still have a $5.7 million impact on the Tampa Bay economy.

* * *

Although CAMLS hasn’t been open for a full month yet, everyone associated with it expects it to grow. Deborah Sutherland says in fact that Trammell Crow and Colliers Arnold are developing the lot across the street from CAMLS for a hotel and mixed use retail area, which could also house more of the office components of the current structure. But don’t call it “CAMLS II,” since that’s what officials are calling a possible project in the works in Panama.

Of course, that part about the complex across the street did not happen because of lack of demand, and the person who led that effort now works with the Lightning owner’s development group.

Here is the info on the med school:

”It will have a tremendous impact . . . It will be a magnet for people to come to downtown.”

Making the argument for it:

Civic leaders also hope [it] will help the convention center and hotel, . . . performing arts center and a marketplace and hotel already on Harbour Island. The latter two have so far not been successful.

Whoops, that was the aquarium in 1989.

And about the convention center, which seems to always need help (including from the Lightning owner’s planned hotel), when it was built  around 1990, there were claims that it would allow Tampa to host the biggest conventions, including political conventions.  There was a political convention, but only after there was an arena built nearby to actually host the event.

And let’s go back to CAMLS for a minute:

To much of the public, the details of what takes place at CAMLS have taken a back seat to its potential as an economic driver for the Tampa Bay area. During the Tampa mayoral campaign in the winter of 2011, the facility shared center stage with high-speed rail as a touted instrument for economic renaissance.

Indeed, that was how it was sold, but not how it functioned.  It is a good facility, but not the driver of an economic renaissance.

The point is this – we are not opposed to the convention center, the aquarium, CAMLS or potentially moving the USF med school.  Each one is a potential element in building a solid downtown.  However, each one was sold as being the solution to downtown’s issues.  They were not (though the final consensus about that usually came years after the hype).  The convention center lacked (and apparently lacks) enough hotel rooms nearby  and is too small for the largest conventions (and cannot readily be expanded).  The aquarium (which we love for a number of reasons but view realistically) sadly has underperformed, though it has gotten better. (see here and here) And it has many competitors, including the one that will be built in Clearwater.   CAMLS may have been cutting edge when built, but it was obvious that other facilities would be built in other locations to compete with it.  And none of it was part of a comprehensive plan to make them work well together.

It is true that a city is built in steps.  Each step should add to the whole, eventually making it a thriving, enjoyable place.  We get that the idea to move the USF med school is part of that – which is why we do not reject the idea out of hand. (In fact, we like the idea provided the relevant questions have proper answers.)  However, if it shows anything, the history of downtown efforts in Tampa shows that when these steps are executed without a real plan – not a 4 or 8 year plan – but a real, long term plan, they fall short and you should not believe the hype.

Frankly, the USF med school idea, while looking like it is a done deal, also looks like it was spur of the moment idea.  There is as yet no evidence that it is well thought out.  There is no public explanation of how it will work and what will happen to the related, existing institutions. That is why we keep saying the case needs to be made, though we doubt it will be because:

Buckhorn said Tuesday that local players, including top administrators and trustees at USF, have “lined up” behind the idea of putting the medical school not only downtown but on Vinik’s property.

“We are focused on that downtown site, as I think everyone else is, too,” Buckhorn said.

Details — should USF lease or buy? What other parts of USF Health might come, too? How big would the building be? — are “to be worked out between Jeff and Judy,” the mayor said, “but I think that’s eminently doable.”

So they are on board with what exactly? It does not matter because we are told they are on board.  Why discuss it?  (The “local players” were on board with the other projects discussed in this segment, too. That did not make the excessive predictions verify.)

We are all for the Lightning owner’s outlined project concept.  We think it can really change downtown, assuming the actual product resembles what is advertised.  If it is built, we plan on enjoying it.  We get why he wants the USF med school as part of his project, and we get why he did this:

Jeff Vinik wants the University of South Florida to build a new medical school on his downtown property so badly that he’s willing to give the school an acre of his land to seal the deal.

* * *

The land that Vinik has proposed donating to USF is “about an acre,” Freeman said, at the corner of Channelside Drive and S Meridian Avenue, across the street from an arena parking lot Vinik owns next to the Tampa Bay History Center.

That is both a nice move and also a private business decision to benefit his project.  That’s fine. Our concern has nothing to do with that (though that choice of specific lot seems a bit odd).

Our concern is crystalized in this comment on downtown Tampa from 1985 coverage of the opening of Harbour Island:

The overall development of downtown Tampa is just as important to Smith as Harbour Island.

He was one of the original members of the Tampa Downtown Development Authority and was its chairman from 1978 through 1980 during the time after leaving the sports authority and joining Harbour Island Inc.

Smith said trips were arranged to other cities for businessmen, who paid their own way, so they could see what was going on in other areas.

“They had to believe that it could happen here,“ he said.

“The one thing that is going for us is that Tampa was a late bloomer. No one had a chance to mess it up before its time came. I think we have benefited from other people`s mistakes.“

Sound familiar?

The problem is that the downtown med school idea is being sold solely on the basis of predictions of economic development, and, as demonstrated above, we have seen that movie before and it did not end that well (like this).  If everything we had been told over the years by local officials had been true, downtown would not need the USF med school as an activity center in the first place (and the Tampa Bay area would be a “usual suspect” on the List of the Week). Such rhetoric should not be relevant to the decision.

The threshold question should be whether moving is the best thing for the USF med school and associated institutions.  It may or may not be, but that has not been part of the discussion.

We don’t care about the hype.  Give us the details of the full plan and why it is best for USF and the entire biomed ecosystem of the Bay area.

In other words, make the case.

Economic Development/Downtown – Long Live the CRA

This week, the County Commission approved extending the CRAs.

The deal comes via the renewal of a city-county agreement authorizing Tampa’s community redevelopment areas, or CRAs, and also must be approved by the City Council.

Tampa has CRAs in seven parts of the city, including downtown, the Channel District, Ybor City and East Tampa. Along with extending the life of several CRAs, commissioners agreed to the creation of an eighth in West Tampa.

The decision was not controversial. Commissioners described the CRAs as a targeted way to steer property taxes generated by growth back into a select list of areas where redevelopment is a priority.

* * *

Under an agreement that goes back to the 1980s, the county agreed to turn over 100 percent of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds to the city for use on CRA projects.

As proposed, however, the downtown CRA would be extended through 2043, but the county’s total contribution to future CRA projects would be capped at no more than $50 million.

Not only that, but that money would be committed only after city and county officials entered into a separate redevelopment project agreement, which would be negotiated between now and next May.

The project agreement would spell out the agreed-upon uses for the money. If there was no agreement reached, the county would not contribute any of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds.

That’s all fine with us.  Like we said last week, it is not clear that the County would use the money particularly well.

CRA’s have their uses.  The bottom line is that they should not be judged when they are authorized, they should be judged by the outcome of the projects they fund.  Time will tell.

Economic Development – Building Something

There was news about construction rebounding in Tampa.

The last 12 months have been a banner year for construction in Tampa, with builders pulling permits for more than $2 billion in projects.

That’s a record, city officials said Thursday, that surpasses the previous high mark of nearly $1.8 billion worth of permits issued in permits during 2007 at the height of the real estate bubble.

For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the numbers were more encouraging than surprising.

“We knew we were trending this way,” Buckhorn said from Pittsburgh, which he was touring with members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “What’s exciting for us is that we have gotten to this point this quickly, which tells me that we are really accelerating out of the recession.”

When it comes to the total number of permits issued, the total for fiscal year 2014, which ended on Sept. 30, was 34,500. That’s below the 39,066 from 2007.

Still, Buckhorn said the upward trends in both the numbers of permits and total values of residential and commercial projects show that Tampa is growing. The pace of the growth, he said, convinces him that changes he’s made to make City Hall’s permitting faster, more efficient and user-friendly have paid off.

Well, that is good, but the article did not really give useful information about how good.  Because costs are subject to inflation and a change in the value of a dollar, rather than looking at plain dollars, it is better to look at constant dollars.  Luckily, the Federal government has this handy website to help you look at inflation. If you plug in $2000 in 2014 dollars (you can’t do billions), it says that is about $1740 in 2007 dollars.  So, adding a few zeros, it can be determined that building permit values are around the peak.  Whether it is a record or not is not material. (The article was sufficiently vague so that exact comparisons cannot be made.)

The streamlined process may have helped (and we like the Accela website), but an improving national economy probably did more.  There is likely much pent up demand being met and, if the Lightning owner moves forward, that value should still go much higher.

The article makes the comparison with past performance in Tampa.  The other relevant comparison – in many ways far more relevant – is with other cities.  It is hard to get overall numbers for specific cities, but we did find that Denver had $1.8 billion in projects under construction in downtown alone in 2013.   Whether that is building permits or not is unclear.

We also found this handy census bureau website that provides information about “Annual New Privately-Owned Residential Building Permits” for cities.  The following chart has numbers from the website for 2013 residential permits (note: the website had only numbers for Mecklenburg County, not the city of Charlotte)

Austin $1,255,616,970
Charlotte-Mecklenburg County $1,128,299,563
Denver $822,919,653
Nashville $640,751,000
Orlando $421,733,511
Portland (OR) $467,259,584
Raleigh $525,894,535
Tampa $337,936,110

 

Conclude from that what you will.

Economic Development – A Look at Reality

We were gratified to see a recent column in the Times that, as we have done many times, looked at per capita metro area GDP numbers.

At first glance, Tampa Bay’s $115 billion gross domestic product, a measure of this metro area’s economic output of goods and services last year, seems quite respectable, growing 2.3 percent in 2013. After all, the nation’s 300-plus metro areas combined averaged just 1.7 percent growth.

* * *

It’s only when we take a closer look that the cracks in this metro area’s GDP start to show.

Measured per person, Tampa Bay’s GDP badly lags many key metro areas that routinely are considered direct competitors or have similar GDP numbers.

* * *

Also, the pace of Tampa Bay’s GDP isn’t improving much over time. Over a dozen years, from 2001 to 2013, Tampa Bay’s GDP per person rose a mere 3.1 percent. (Notably, Orlando’s per-person GDP actually fell 4 percent in that same period but still remains bigger than Tampa Bay’s.) Meanwhile, Indianapolis enjoyed a 5.2 percent bump, and Cleveland soared by 12 percent in the same period.

These are not subtle differences. They represent startling gaps in the quality of regional economic output.

As we have noted before, it is startling, as is the lack of broad discussion of this reality over the years. The column then notes the low wages in the area and looks at causes of our poor performance:

Why does this metro area suffer such weak numbers? Here are five likely reasons.

  1. The recent obsession with reporting record tourism numbers feels good in these harder times but also reminds us that the jobs being created in bulk — and that helped drive down the unemployment rate — tend to be lower-wage opportunities.

  2. The severity of Florida’s recession discouraged much of the earlier economic development efforts to pursue higher-wage jobs in manufacturing and biotech. The once-common pitch by economic leaders describing Florida tourism and agriculture as the state’s industries of yesterday is rarely heard these days.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and Tampa Bay officials have done little to revive policies to attract higher-wage, higher-skill jobs at a time when any job is still considered a plus — especially in an election year.

  4. Tampa Bay’s tri-city metro structure — split among Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — remains inefficient and tends to impede larger-scale economic initiatives that could benefit the region as a whole.

  5. While this metro area remains economically diverse, it boasts few significant corporate headquarters. Only three of Florida’s 14 Fortune 500 companies are based in the Tampa Bay metro area and are split among the three larger cities. None of the three ranks among the Fortune 100, and none shows a propensity to serve as significant regional leaders in the economy.

We have a few issues with this list, but the overall themes are about right. The column concludes:

Given such dour trends, Tampa Bay may want to remove the rose-colored glasses long enough to rethink how to get back in the economic game. It’s a game that’s certainly not going to get any easier in the years to come.

As regular readers know, that has long been a Tampasphere theme, and we could not agree more.  Far too often reality is drowned out by all the hype.  The more people who are discussing these realities, the more likely we will get some solutions – which is the ultimate goal.

PTC – They Just Don’t Get It

After, thankfully taking a week or so off of talking about the PTC, it is back.

Regulators who oversee Hillsborough County’s for-hire vehicles want to create a countywide transportation smartphone app similar to ones used by Uber and Lyft — only without including those ride-share companies in it.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Public Transportation Commission heard pitches from two companies proposing the agency get its own app featuring legal transportation options — such as licensed taxi and limo companies and buses — rather than the ride-share services currently operating here against the rules.

“We’ve developed an app that does everything theirs do, except it complies with the law,” said Tom Smith, who presented an app nearly identical to Uber’s called Click-a-Ride.

Commission executive director Kyle Cockream said he would put together a draft of a request for proposals from companies interested in creating the app, which he will present at the next board meeting. 

Of course, that misses the point.  It is not just the app.  It is the service, the cost, the price fixing, the lack of competition, etc.  And why is the PTC making an app?  Is it in competition with Uber and Lyft or regulating them?  Shouldn’t the cab companies develop their own app or is the PTC now their agent?

Meanwhile, there was a little hubbub about a recent transportation confab that included rideshare companies.  One cab owner (the same that worked to eliminate the independent, free electric shuttles downtown) sent a letter complaining.

Minardi concludes his letter by stating, “Simply put, you have leveraged public monies to support illegal business operations, validated breaking the law in Hillsborough County, and called into question the ethics of elected officials to support it. I believe you should publicly apologize to Commissioner Sharpe and Senator Jeff Brandes and retract your support of Uber and Lyft until they are in full compliance with the law.”

But Brandes says the only who should be apologizing are the regulators who are enforcing a system that he says no longer makes sense in 2014.

“I don’t see the point of the letter,” he said. “It just shows how these types of old-line industries are trying to keep competition out. They don’t want to compete on a level playing field.”

Pretty much.

But Minardi says when the PTC attempted to cut the minimum fares and minimum times over the summer, neither Lyft nor Uber were interested in that compromise. And regarding those companies’ insurance and background check policies that have come under severe scrutiny in jurisdictions across the country, Menardi says, “Whether you agree with the law or not, you follow it.”

Modifying price controls is not the same as eliminating price controls.  They should not have to compromise.  The PTC’s protectionist position is the problem.

Brandes says that there should no longer be any minimum fares, minimum times to ride in a vehicle and no caps on licenses to own or run a cab in Hillsborough County. “If the argument is that they feel there’s an unfair playing field, well, then let’s make the playing field level, and let them compete. Ultimately, consumers will decide.”

Indeed.

Instead, now the PTC wants to subsidize cab company apps, which shows the problem with the PTC once again.  It does not represent the public.  And, even though we have no problem with having background checks (we encourage it, actually), until the PTC eliminates minimum prices and other policies that favor the cab companies over competition and over the consumer, it is very hard to take what it says seriously.

Built Environment – Hyde Park Forward to the Past

There was news that Hyde Park Village might be getting renovated.

WS has not yet formally filed its plans to the city, and the conceptual renderings will likely change as they go through the public vetting process, Masiello said. He said it was too soon to attach a cost to the renovations. But so far, he said, the reaction from the surrounding neighborhoods has been positive.

The mostly vacant, 35,000-square-foot H building — across Snow Avenue from Piquant Epicure & Cuisine — would be demolished and rebuilt, Masiello said. Plans now call for a one- to two-story building in its place, possibly with a rooftop bar or restaurant. Snow Avenue will be widened, and on-street parking will be added. WS also plans to repair sidewalks and rework some of the public space in the village, to make it more enticing to pedestrians.

The renovations to the remaining buildings will focus on “freshening the facades” to make storefronts more visible, Masiello said. Retailers and restaurants will be able to remain open during that construction, he said.

There is nothing wrong with that.  You can check the article for renderings.

So what is the goal?

The redevelopment of Hyde Park Village could transform the property into the kind of signature urban district that attracts people from well outside of Tampa’s city limits.

WS Development, which has owned the property for just more than a year, shared its early-stage plans with the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Tuesday. The plans will likely change as WS goes through the public process — WS will file plans with the city in the next one to two months — but the overarching theme is a pedestrian-friendly district with highly visible storefronts.

If brought to fruition, those plans could attract cutting-edge retail, dining and entertainment concepts and become a regional shopping destination — think the Gulch in Nashville or Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood. Those types of neighborhoods help build a sense of place in a city and attract a Millennial workforce, thought to prefer urban environments and local shops and restaurants.

And there is the irony.  When it was first built, that was exactly what Hyde Park Village was. The problem is that the City then settled and allowed all sorts of poor development nearby on Swann that did not take advantage of what the original complex offered – which was a core of an urban walking neighborhood around which to build, connect down Swann to Howard and create a full district.  Instead, you got the Kash and Karry with its massive, street facing parking lot, some random playing fields with no streetscaping, and the Post apartments that belong in an exurb (though, in fairness to Post, they later built some pretty good projects in other places). That cut Hyde Park Village off from what was happening on Howard, which, in many cases, was no better design-wise but was contiguous and now is, at least partially, getting filled in.  The Hyde Park Village story just shows how easy it is for the City to settle its way out of quality.

We wish the owners luck, and we hope the City stops settling and starts actually planning (especially in relatively open areas like much of the land north of Kennedy closer in to downtown).

USF – Business Means Business

Besides the med school, there was other news about USF.

On Friday morning, USF officials unveiled the business school’s new name — the Muma College of Business — and announced that the couple, married now for decades, had donated $25 million. The money is part of USF’s ongoing “Unstoppable” campaign to raise $1 billion.

The announcement was made during an event in the rotunda of the College of Business building on USF’s main campus before a room full of faculty, staff and students.

“It’s a landmark day in the history of the University of South Florida and the College of Business,” USF President Judy Genshaft said. “It’s very unusual and special for a university founded in 1956 to receive this kind of gift.”

The donation brings to $41.2 million the total the Mumas have given to USF, making them the largest individual donors in the university’s history. Their name already was attached to the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center, home of the Bulls’ men’s and women’s hoops programs since it opened in 2011.

The gift comes a little over a month after USF Saint Petersburg received a $10 million gift from entrepreneur Kate Tiedemann and named its College of Business after her.

Nothing to say but “Great,” and “Thank you.”

Downtown – The Search for Groceries

There was an article in the Tribune about efforts to get a downtown grocery store.  It noted the attempt to get Wal-Mart at Encore, which the housing authority rightly rejected.  It also noted that the Lightning owner’s project might include a grocery store, though that project is, we have been told, a few years away.  As noted in the article:

Downtown could use a major grocery store.

Yup.

Innovation, at Least Locally

We ran across something interesting in Creative Loafing. First, the issue:

St. Petersburg independent, non-corporate commerce has been growing by leaps and bounds, but Tampa has a long way to catch up to the city across the bay. Many blame the fact that commercial spaces downtown and in Ybor are owned by a handful of landlords who won’t let go until they can score a big return on their investment from a real estate developer.

“If you’re able to find it, so much money has to be spent on the building to make it work, and most of the time it doesn’t have enough parking,” laments artist and  Mishou Sanchez.

Indeed.  So what do you do about it:

Sanchez’s team at Mercado has developed a plan that would ostensibly provide much needed affordable space on a 3.25-acre piece of land by Nebraska and Columbus avenues, land owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

FDOT told Sanchez that it’s willing to lease it to Mercado for a reasonable rate, with the condition it’s a limited land lease and the buildings are non-permanent.

So, what would be temporary structures with a repurpose-ful, hip cachet? Shipping containers.

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

You can see their website here.

This is not a new idea (though we are not sure it has been used here, and we doubt it, or anything else really, is “hip”).   You can see an example here.

It could work, though we are not sure about the traffic at that location, but why not try it?

Snob City

This week both papers ran articles on the Travel  & Leisure list of snobbiest cities. (see here and here)  The list is a bit tongue-in-cheek as in “you have the right to be a snob,” listing Tampa as #5 and praising the Epicurean, Bayshore and Howard. (At least tt neglected the article where mayor(s) past and present discuss “high society” and “posers.” [ed. note: the link in this paranthetical was oringinally incorrect.  It has been fixed.)

In any event, the Tribune article had this:

The Big Apricot is five spaces behind the snobbiest city, the Big Apple. Tampa ranks between Boston and Dallas on the list.

The Big what?  It’s Big Guava, not Big Apricot.  The “Big Apricot” is the nickname of the fictional Metropolis in Superman comics.

C’mon, man.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is a follow-up to the best beer cities poll in USA Today.

Coming in first was Grand Rapids, MI; followed by Tampa; Asheville; Bend, OR; Fort Collins, CO; San Diego; Portland, ME; Portland, OR; Denver; and Burlington, VT.

Ein Prosit

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is wallethub.com’s 2014′s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for Your Wallet. The methodology is here.  They rank 150 cities, so we will stick to the top 43, because Tampa came in 43rd.

First is Orlando; followed by Grand Rapids; Madison; Boise City; Cincinnati; Reno; New Orleans; Austin; Lexington-Fayette, KY; Pittsburgh; Huntington Beach, CA; Modesto, CA; Brownsville; Santa Ana, CA; San Francisco; Denver; Spokane; Oakland; Salt Lake City; Fort Lauderdale; Garden Grove, CA; Springfield, MO; Des Moines; Worcester, MA; Providence; Rochester, NY; Seattle; Glendale, CA; Albuquerque; North Las Vegas; Tacoma; Milwaukee; Atlanta; Tempe; Fort Wayne; Omaha; Cape Coral; Sacramento; Jersey City; Tucson; Sioux Falls; Oceanside, CA; and Tampa.

Other major Florida cities: Miami is 46; Hialeah is 49; St. Pete is 65; Tallahassee is 73; and Jacksonville is 131.

Roundup 10-10-2014

October 10, 2014

USF Med School – The Beat Goes On

There was more roll out of the idea of moving the USF Med School, including, among a slew of articles, an article in the Times this week entitled “USF to seek money for new medical school; key players favor downtown.”  Of course, we knew that.  What we did not know is if moving downtown is best for the medical school.  As we have noted before – it may be or it may not.  Unfortunately, even with the number of articles on the subject, there really are not details.

The Times article does not really shed much light, though it does say:

USF Health officials have said they are bursting at the seams at their 40-year-old complex.

Freeing up space in the medical school would also allow USF Health to expand enrollment and offerings in its nursing program. This past fall, the nursing program had to turn away 331 of its 431 qualified applicants in the prelicensure nursing program because of space limitations. Enrollment in the nursing school exceeds 2,000 students and “will not be able to accommodate further growth without additional space,” the USF document says.

Of course, we already knew that.  It is a question of where that expansion takes place.  (And wouldn’t any new buildings create more space, regardless of location?)

USF Health officials would not comment on such details. “A decision of this magnitude, it’s more important we make the correct decision rather than a decision by a particular date,” said spokeswoman Lisa Greene.

Buckhorn said he’s confident talks are moving well based on discussions he has had with Vinik, his business partners, Genshaft, medical school dean Dr. Charles Lockwood, outgoing state House Speaker Will Weatherford and several members of the USF board of trustees.

“I think all the players are lining up … behind the project of moving the medical school downtown,” Buckhorn said.

We have no doubt, but that is not the issue.  The issue is that the case that it benefits the USF med school and the institutions connected with them more than leaving it where it is has not been made.  As we have said, we understand putting it downtown.  If it had originally been downtown, it would be a no brainer because the ecosystem would have been built around it.  But it was not built downtown.  If you are going to make a decision of this magnitude, at least make the case that the actual institution as it exists and its ecosystem would really benefit.  That’s all.  It should not be difficult.

Of course,

Even if USF does want to make the move, Buckhorn said the Legislature and Board of Governors would need to approve it, and money for the project would have to be lined up.

Which is a point that must be considered.

USF officials say they are still weighing whether to expand on their current campus or build in downtown Tampa. But members of the Florida Board of Governors’ facility committee said USF risks missing out on state construction money in the next legislative session if it doesn’t make up its mind by the end of the year.

“This committee will not vote on anything it doesn’t feel comfortable with,” said committee member Mori Hosseini.

USF President Judy Genshaft told members she expected a decision in the next couple of months. The board submits its list of recommended funding priorities to the Legislature in January.

Which, in due course, brought up something else:

USF officials on Wednesday threw another complication in the mix. If the medical school does indeed go downtown, USF would consider adding another project to downtown: the proposed $50-million USF Heart Health Institute that already has a planned location on the current campus on the main campus, on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

After the meeting, Genshaft said it would make sense to move the heart institute with the medical school. The heart institute has already received $34 million in state funds and needs another $15.8 million next year for construction to begin.

But moving that project from its current proposed site would likely require additional state permission since the costs might change, said medical school Dean Charles Lockwood.

USF plans to ask for a total of $62 million in state funds over the next three years, including $17 million next legislative session, for the new medical school project. Total costs would likely top $80 million, but USF plans to make up the difference with private donations, primarily a $20 million gift from Frank and Carol Morsani.

And

If the medical school goes downtown, Lockwood said he hopes to combine it with the nursing and pharmacy programs, as well as the Heart Health Institute, now planned as a 100,000-square-foot, five-story research center in the university’s medical corridor on the main campus.

“If we were to move downtown, we would want that to be a USF Health building that would include all the schools,” Lockwood said.

And, yes, it would make a certain amount of sense to have the Heart Institute next to the new med school – but then that is the issue with all the other stuff that is located near the present med school – like Moffitt, which has not figured into the (public) conversation at all, and the Byrd Alzheimer complex.  If the main institution is downtown, what happens to the other facilities and institutions? So far, no one has said. And moving nursing and pharmacy does not seem to fit with a bifurcated med school program.  So how will this all work? No one has said.  And how much will it cost?

Committee members told USF that their plans sound necessary, but lacking in key details. “It sounds a little bit like you don’t have an idea of how much it’s going to cost,” said committee member Wendy Link.

We assume they mean the expansion plans – not necessarily the downtown plans. In either case, knowing the cost and how it will all work is part of not only making the case but the actual analysis of whether it makes sense in the first place – Is it cost effective?  Does it work properly?  Is it the best thing?

USF officials said they would get the committee all the data they requested before the end of the year.

Why is there so much discussion without even knowing the costs?

It would be best if the facts were known and the case made before anything is decided, though apparently that is just not going to happen.

– One More Thing

The aforementioned Times article also had this rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

With the caption: “A preliminary artist’s rendering shows what the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine building might look like. [State University System of Florida]”

We are just going to assume that this is a generic rendering and not anything that anyone would consider building downtown.  You would be hard pressed to build anything less urban or beneficial to an urban area (or even a university campus) than that.  If the med school is built downtown, it better not be laid out like that.

– And One More Thing

Finally, the aforementioned Times article had this:

Meanwhile, a similar project is emerging in Orlando, where the University of Central Florida announced last week what could become a $200 million campus in downtown Orlando.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that the university has been exploring the idea of a downtown campus since January. That’s when UCF administrators saw Arizona State University’s campus in downtown Phoenix.

UCF president John Hitt said the university would seek $50 million to $60 million from the Legislature next spring.

Aside from being downtown, it is not that similar, but regular readers would already know that. See “USF Med School – The Push Begins

– Conclusion

Once again, we are open to the idea of a downtown location, but it would be helpful if, before the decision, the facts were actually determined (which apparently they aren’t), then discussed.

In other words, make the case.

Downtown – Show Us the Money

With all the ideas floating around for downtown, there is almost always a call for public funds to help in things like infrastructure.  Most, if not all, of the money for such things will likely come from the CRA.  But there is a catch.

As the value of downtown Tampa real estate has grown since the 1980s, it has generated millions of dollars a year in new property taxes.

But because of a deal that goes back three decades, Hillsborough County officials have watched every penny of their share of that new revenue go to City Hall to aid in downtown’s redevelopment.

Now that could change.

Before we get into that, let’s review what the CRA is.

How Tampa’s downtown CRA works

Starting in 1983, with an addition in 1988, local officials created a downtown community redevelopment area, or CRA, covering a total of 870 acres.

In that area, they added up the total assessed taxable property value — $454 million.

Since then, the property taxes generated by that $454 million base value have continued to be split between the city and the county just like any other property taxes.

Meanwhile, the total assessed taxable value of downtown property inside that area has grown. It’s now more than $1.7 billion.

The city has gotten the county’s share of the new revenue generated by the growth in property values above the base value. (Tax revenues going to the Hillsborough school district are not affected.)

The CRA revenue — often known as tax-increment financing — must be spent to foster private development inside the downtown redevelopment area. In 2015, it is expected to top $15 million. Currently, the city uses most of that money, about $13.5 million, to repay bonds for building the convention center. Those bonds are scheduled to be paid off in October 2015, freeing up the money for other uses.

So the catch is that, when the present system expires, the County Commissioners want some of that money, and they control the existence of the CRA.  Now, there may be a deal.

With the downtown Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA, scheduled to expire, Tampa and Hillsborough officials have spent about a year in on-and-off negotiations to extend it.

Briefly, here’s their proposal:

Frankly, we have no strong feelings about the deal itself.  It is hard to believe that the County would do anything particularly useful with the money.  (Maybe, they’ll can invest in a tech startup.)  On the other hand, there are a lot of requests for the money downtown, but it is pretty clear where it would go:

Three years ago, for example, Buckhorn said the CRA funds could, in theory, be spent on roads and infrastructure for a new downtown Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

That’s still possible, but these days Buckhorn first mentions Vinik’s plans to create an entertainment and office district — including, maybe, a new medical school for the University of South Florida — on 24 acres he’s bought around Amalie Arena.

Buckhorn expects Vinik’s master plan will be “certainly the first one out of the box” for consideration of roads, drainage and other infrastructure projects paid for by CRA funds.

“What will happen (with Vinik’s property) is probably going to come to us sooner than any other project — sooner than transit, sooner than any discussion of baseball,” Buckhorn said.

“I think they’re ready to go,” he said of Vinik’s development team. “Once they lay out the master plan, they’re going to have a feel for what their needs are, where the county and the city can be helpful. Out of that will come an opportunity.”

There is some logic to that, though the actual costs and changes are not publicly known (though we assume they have been discussed privately).  Nor is it clear that all the money should be tied up for this one, as yet unknown project. (Maybe it should be, but there is no way to know without information).

So what is the time frame on this?

The County Commission could consider the proposed CRA extension as soon as next week. Over the 28 years of the extension, Hillsborough officials estimate — conservatively, they say — that the county could end up keeping at least $280 million that it now gives away.

Of course, why let anyone be able to consider the plan with all the relevant facts?  But that’s how this area rolls.

– One More Thing

One thing we will note is the Mayor saying that the money may be required before transit comes up.

City officials have had conversations about doing this kind of infrastructure work in conjunction with Vinik’s master development, but there’s no formal agreement, said Bob McDonaugh, Buckhorn’s top economic development aide.

“When there’s an event at the arena, we have a form of gridlock,” McDonaugh said. “If there’s going to be more development, it would behoove us to make some improvements in the roadways down there.”

It would, but there are a limited number of ways into and out of downtown.  There are natural bottlenecks.  Even if you “fix” the grid, it may not help grid lock in a redeveloped area around the arena because people will have a hard time getting in and out (especially if the City eliminates main exits and entrances to downtown and “calms” traffic, as suggested in the InVision Tampa plan).  Transit is key to the success of the Lightning owner’s project and all of downtown.

Greenlight – Calling “Shenanigans”

As we have noted often, the “debate” about the Greenlight proposal in Pinellas has mostly focused on opponents creating distractions, leaving the real issues just hanging out there.  This week, that was pointed out by proponents:

Leaders of Connect Tampa Bay on Monday launched an attack on No Tax for Tracks, painting the Greenlight foe as a rebranded extreme wing of the Tea party and saying its leaders have a long history of distorting facts, smears and spreading misinformation.

Brian Willis, president of Connect Tampa Bay, said the group is run and promoted through the South Pinellas 9/12 group, a Tea Party offshoot, and that many of its members are in both groups.

* * *

With far fewer resources — its campaign has raised just over $78,000 — No Tax for Tracks has highlighted that the plan will give Pinellas the highest sales tax in the state, while using email and social media to highlight how few people ride the bus in Pinellas and to criticize PSTA and county leaders.

Some of those have been inaccurate and offensive, said Willis, speaking at a news conference in Williams Park on Monday.

Willis highlighted a video parody created by a No Tax supporter titled “Hitler loses it over Greenlight train fiasco.” The clip from the movie “Downfall” shows Hitler lambasting his top officers who in the parody are named as Greenlight leaders. The video was briefly posted on McKalip’s website before being removed.

A recent email sent to more than 1,000 people showed a picture of an empty parking lot that No Tax leaders said was a park-and-ride lot of Denver’s Regional Transportation District or RTD.

When shown the picture, RTD officials said the lot is part of the Pepsi Center arena, home to NBA Denver Nuggets basketball team and NHL Colorado Avalanche hockey team.

“This is a total misrepresentation,” said Pauletta Tonilas, RTD senior manager for public relations and public information.

Par for the course. How did No Tax for Tracks respond?

No Tax Campaign Manager Barbara Haselden said she took the picture on a trip to a transportation conference in Denver.

Which is fine, except for the part about completely misrepresenting what was in the picture.  But that is the type of thing we have expected all along.  Facts are not relevant.

The Connect Tampa Bay guys are on to something.  The loudest, most activist opponents, as opposed to just some people who might vote “no,” are ideologically opposed to transit, especially rail. They approach transit from a position that finds it a threat to the American way of life, even though it is in almost every big American city – blue state, purple state, AND red state. (See “Does God Hate Trains?” and “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN.”)  It is not an issue of facts or solutions to a problem.  It is not logic. Opposition to Greenlight just is.

On the other hand, the proponents approach transit from the idea of solving problems and increasing economic activity.  For instance, there was a column in the Times that laid out a strong argument for transit.

Whether approved or defeated by county voters next month, the Greenlight Pinellas mass transit plan that promises more robust bus service and a 24-mile light rail line from Clearwater to St. Petersburg won’t go away. Ultimately, a regional mass transit system, whether kick-started first in Pinellas or in neighboring Hillsborough County, is going to happen.

The key question is how far behind other metro areas — how less competitive — does the Tampa Bay regional economy want to become until viable mass transit arrives?

Well, we do not think it inevitable.  There have always been places that just refuse to compete (and usually stagnate), but the basic theme regarding competition is right.

In the long run, if Tampa Bay can’t get it together on an effective mass transit system, its economy will be outdistanced by the likes of Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Denver, San Diego and any of dozens of other metro areas. These cities boast the leadership and economic desire to embrace a more efficient way to move lots of people around a large, multicounty region.

Many of those like-sized metro areas already outmuscle Tampa Bay with better-paying jobs and more robust economic output. It’s not only because these areas have superior transportation, many with light rail and better bus systems. But there’s no question — it’s already making a difference.

“This area must understand that mass transit is long term and very expensive,” corporate scout and former Largo resident Larry Gigerich of the site selection firm Ginovus, told area business and political leaders last month in Tampa.

“But it will pay off.”

And what of the opposition?

Funding in support of Greenlight Pinellas dwarfs the opposition. Recent numbers indicate the pro-Greenlight movement has raised more than $775,000 through August. Contrast that with the $46,000 and change collected by the anti-Greenlight, tea party-flavored group No Tax for Tracks.

This is the organization whose leader has suggested Pinellas’ bus windows are tinted to hide the lack of passengers. Funny. I thought, like Florida cars, windows are tinted to help deflect the intense heat from the sun.

A related group known as Ax the Tax paid $500 to Cato Institute libertarian think tank contrarian Randal O’Toole to write a report criticizing the light rail portion of Greenlight Pinellas as a loser — like other light rail systems in the country that somehow keep expanding. This is the same anti-mass transit guy who, last month in Minneapolis, remarks against a new rail line to St. Paul, called planners the “Ebola of urban living.”

My favorite part of O’Toole’s hatchet job in St. Petersburg last month was his suggestion that people sharing driverless cars will render mass transit “superfluous” as people “simply call for a self-driving car to come to their door.”

Really? That’s O’Toole’s cost-effective alternative? Won’t driverless cars become just as “superfluous” when Capt. Kirk knocks on our doors to have us beamed up to our next destinations?

Indeed. (See “Transportation – The Choice Between Ideology and Practicality” and “Transportation – the Driverless Car”)

One clear message is that mass transit done right can help drive regional economic development.

Veteran site selector Dennis Donovan’s corporate clients include about a third of Fortune 500 companies. He told a Tampa audience last month that large metro areas that lack the means for young, highly skilled people to commute longer distances easily to their jobs will increasingly be passed over by companies in favor of cities with stronger mass transit options.

“Lots of headquarter companies are looking for millennial talent,” Donovan said. “You really do need to pass this (Greenlight) initiative.”

It’s not just creative talent that benefits. Beach resorts say they endorse Greenlight Pinellas because a strong bus system will make it easier for more hotel and restaurant workers to commute to the beaches, where parking is at a premium, and leave their cars behind.

And that is all true.

What happens if Greenlight Pinellas fails to pass next month? The regional clock starts anew. Both Pinellas and Hillsborough mass transit efforts will rethink the timing of referendums.

But new referendums there will be.

And that is true, as well. But this columnist is looking at goals and how to reach them.  The opponents are looking at ideology. That explains the complete disconnect in the debate, which is unlikely to end regardless of the vote.

At least election day is almost here.

Economic Development/List of the Week – A Look at Job Growth

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal regarding employment growth in the last few years.

Nearly a quarter of metropolitan areas had fewer jobs in August than five years earlier, showing that the national labor market recovery has missed broad swaths of the U.S.

According to Labor Department data released Wednesday, 92 regions have experienced net job loss since August 2009 despite the country steadily adding jobs during much of that time.

* * *

Many of the areas with the fastest job growth over the past five years are in Texas, including Midland where payrolls are up 36.5% and Odessa where employment increased 30.5%.

Los Angeles added the largest total amount of jobs during the five-year span, almost 390,000. Houston, Miami and Dallas followed.

Which is interesting.  However, what was really interesting was chart that listed 350 metro areas and their job growth numbers from August 2009-2014.  We are not going to list them all, but we show the top 50 (because the Tampa Bay area was ranked in the 40’s in percentage growth) in terms of percentage growth (first column) and a second ranking by jobs added (second column).  You can play with the chart for yourself to see about other areas.

Metro Area
Jobs Added Change Metro Area Jobs Added Change
Midland, TX 25,699 36.52% Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 389,614 6.8%
Odessa, TX 19,692 30.55% Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 374,474 14.18%
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 19,602 26.5% Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 350,424 14.05%
Naples-Marco Island, FL 25,146 20.65% Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 347,560 11.82%
Columbus, IN 6,496 18.86% New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 334,817 3.85%
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 148,481 17.85% San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 245,056 12.11%
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 41,972 17.61% Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 184,354 4.21%
Palm Coast, FL 4,740 17.03% Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 175,692 6.12%
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 57,044 16.73% Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 151,285 15.27%
Holland-Grand Haven, MI 18,808 16.66% Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 148,481 17.85%
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 151,285 15.27% Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 140,798 9.24%
Provo-Orem, UT 31,786 15.27% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 121,573 10.55%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 119,565 14.99% San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 119,565 14.99%
Bakersfield-Delano, CA 45,913 14.54% Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH Met NECTA 115,712 4.92%
Greeley, CO 15,943 14.24% Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 114,755 6.69%
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 374,474 14.18% Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 114,749 8.97%
Casper, WY 5,386 14.09% Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 108,438 6.35%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 350,424 14.05% San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 104,193 7.42%
North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL 36,509 13.68% Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 101,294 4.2%
Kokomo, IN 5,093 13.57% San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 97,464 10.7%
Victoria, TX 7,271 13.39% Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 87,133 11.25%
Punta Gorda, FL 7,920 13.15% Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 75,058 9.05%
Boise City-Nampa, ID 34,140 12.76% Jacksonville, FL 74,170 12.1%
Raleigh-Cary, NC 65,674 12.61% Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 72,358 9.99%
Auburn-Opelika, AL 7,173 12.11% Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 72,013 6.86%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 245,056 12.11% Baltimore-Towson, MD 67,931 5.18%
Jacksonville, FL 74,170 12.1% Raleigh-Cary, NC 65,674 12.61%
Lafayette, LA 15,111 11.99% Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 65,078 3.63%
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 347,560 11.82% Salt Lake City, UT 57,375 10.22%
St. George, UT 6,341 11.62% Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 57,045 3.03%
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 87,133 11.25% Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 57,044 16.73%
Laredo, TX 9,667 11.24% Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 56,697 6.63%
Anderson, SC 8,335 11.22% Richmond, VA 53,705 9.04%
Port St. Lucie, FL 17,679 10.94% Columbus, OH 50,431 5.66%
Winchester, VA-WV 6,437 10.86% Bakersfield-Delano, CA 45,913 14.54%
El Centro, CA 5,741 10.71% Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 45,004 1.64%
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 97,464 10.7% Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 44,269 4.75%
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 121,573 10.55% Oklahoma City, OK 43,742 8.23%
Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, LA 10,187 10.46% Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 41,972 17.61%
Boulder, CO 16,440 10.22% New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 38,850 7.78%
Salt Lake City, UT 57,375 10.22% North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL 36,509 13.68%
Columbia, MO 8,501 10.04% Pittsburgh, PA 34,502 3.02%
Tuscaloosa, AL 8,839 10.04% Boise City-Nampa, ID 34,140 12.76%
Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC 28,989 10.02% Provo-Orem, UT 31,786 15.27%
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA 11,941 10% Honolulu, HI 31,232 7.54%
Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 72,358 9.99% Baton Rouge, LA 29,411 8.33%
Dubuque, IA 4,763 9.75% Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC 28,989 10.02%
Merced, CA 8,810 9.69% St. Louis, MO-IL 28,935 2.22%
College Station-Bryan, TX 9,790 9.51% Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 28,892 3.77%
Napa, CA 6,603 9.5% Fresno, CA 28,666 7.59%

Of course, that does not tell us anything about the quality of jobs.  Nevertheless, looking over time, we have job growth, but not at the rate of Florida and most of the usual suspects.  On the other hand, raw numbers are relatively high (though it does not indicate how hard the recession hit various areas – the lower the base, the easier to have a higher growth rate).

In any event, it gives a window into how we compare.

Economic Development – Lots of Tourists

It was finally confirmed that tourist tax revenue for the past year was a record high.

Tourism officials knew last month that Hillsborough County would set a bed tax collection record in fiscal year 2014. The fiscal year ended in September, and now the record is official.

Hillsborough County collected $23.7 million in tourist development taxes, according to tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay. That is the best year ever for tourist bed tax collections.

The tourist tax is a 5 percent surcharge levied on every hotel room and short-term rental in the county. The tax is considered a reliable indicator of the county’s tourism market because it tracks the volume of accommodations booked in the county.

The new record is 12 percent more than the $21.1 million the county collected in fiscal 2013. It is also 9 percent more than the previous record, the $21.8 million raised in 2007.

That is all good, and people should be pleased.  And it is not unique to Hillsborough.

In Pinellas County, tourism officials reported that they’re also on the verge of another tourist tax record. Pinellas collected $33.1 million in bed taxes in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2014, according to tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. That’s already better than the record $31 million the county garnered in the full fiscal year of 2013.

Once again, great.  And that will lead to some jobs, though mostly low income. You can read this article about Orlando’s low wage problems to understand why, while tourism is nice, it should not be that much a cause for celebration.

We can only hope that soon our quest to increase annual income and attract high paying jobs – which are the real key to the local economy – will do as well.

Economic Development – (Part of) A Movie

It seems that parts of a new movie will be filmed in Tampa.

The local movie industry welcomed news Wednesday that the film “The Infiltrator,” based on a story from Tampa, will shoot scenes here and star Emmy Award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.

Local production is set to begin in February 2015 on a film with an estimated budget of $47.5 million.

Still, the news left many who are involved in bringing productions to Tampa asking, “What if?”

The bulk of the film apparently will be shot in England, which offers government incentives of up to 25 percent and is home to production company Good Films. The company was on the verge of shooting most of the film in Tampa when state incentives dried up during the spring session of the Florida Legislature.

That’s good.  We have nothing against movies being shot here (even if it is just part), but just having a few movies shoot some scenes here is really not that big a deal in the overall scheme of things.

“The Infiltrator” will represent Tampa’s biggest movie role since the John Travolta film “The Punisher” in 2003.

Remember that?  Of course, there was this:

Pinellas County, meantime, is showcased in films such as “Dolphin Tale” and its sequel, and “Spring Breakers.”

“Dolphin Tale” and “Spring Breakers” received tax credits while they were still available and “Dolphin Tale 2” was made possible through a special $5 million incentive approved by the Legislature.

A 2012 study by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business estimated the economic impact of “Dolphin Tale” would reach $5 billion.

Huh? $5 billion? Over what time frame and with how much indirect impact?  Sounds like an analysis based on the six degrees of Dolphin Tale.

In any event, we are all for a film/commercial/visual arts industry here, but we are realistic.

Harbour Island – New Starts

As we have noted over the last few weeks, the Harbour Island apartment project once called Hiku, was rumored to be breaking ground in October. Well,

Downtown Tampa’s newest residential tower will break ground before Halloween.

The developers of the Harbour Island project confirmed Wednesday that they will begin construction on the 21-story tower, on an empty lot at Knights Run Avenue and South Beneficial Drive.

The tower will have 235 units, one- and two-bedroom floor plans and two-story townhouses. A seven-story parking garage with 414 spaces will be part of the project.

The tower is yet unnamed and is being referred to as HI Apartments. It will include an infinity edge pool and on-site fitness center.

Good deal.  We look forward to it.

Downtown – Trail in the Mix

The Selmon Greenway, a trail under the Selmon Expressway in downtown Tampa, has started construction.

It doesn’t look like much now, but the Selmon Greenway trail should be attracting cyclists and joggers by spring.

Construction on the 1.7-mile trail started about two weeks ago. It is expected to open in mid March.

The goal: to make walking around downtown easier and promote transportation alternatives.

“It’s all about mobility, and it’s all about choices,” said Sue Chrzan at the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which is creating the trail.

That’s good.

The expressway authority awarded Ajax Paving Industries of Tampa a $1.6 million contract to design and build the trail. The greenway’s route will start at the Riverwalk near Brorein Street and mostly go east under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to 19th Street.

Along the way, it’s meant to link the Riverwalk with the Meridian Avenue trail, as well as provide connections to public bus service and the TECO Line streetcar.

“It’s like putting together a big puzzle,” said Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, who is chairwoman of the livable roadways committee of the countywide Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“For so long, we have not emphasized walking and biking,” she said, even though new trails attract tourists, commuters and families alike.

“It’s just a matter of filling in all the blank spaces,” Montelione said, “and the Selmon Greenway is one of those.”

That is all fine.  We have nothing against the project and filling in blank spaces.  Hopefully, at some point, it will connect cleanly to other trails and across the river, though we have to say, with all the cross streets, we think it more likely that it will be more beneficial to walkers than bikes. Either way, it is better than not having it – and at least there should be some shade.

Crew Art – Protection?

The Tampa City Council has begun looking at protecting crew art in downtown.

On Thursday, council members heard a report from City Attorney Julia Mandell on potential actions the city can take, but she noted that the issue quickly delves into concepts such as the first amendment, one’s definition of “art,” and when “graffiti” becomes “art.”

The city will look at limiting the activity to a certain area and whether it can specify what type of art would be allowed. Mandell said currently, graffiti is a crime under both city code and state statute.

Council members expressed discomfort with the status quo.

“I don’t like the idea of allowing it to remain illegal and saying with a wink and a nod that we’re not going to enforce it,” said council member Harry Cohen.

Mandell will report back to the council with recommendations.

This should be interesting.

List of the Week II

While we already had lists above, this week was noteworthy because Travel & Leisure’s America’s Best Cities survey came out this week.   We are not going to go over all the rankings, but it was noteworthy because Tampa showed up in some. We didn’t know that Travel & Leisure even knew we existed. (You can look at all the lists here.)

So where did Tampa rank? Cleanliness, #5; Weather, #5; Rude, #2; Beach Getaway, #2; and Family Vacation, #2.  Setting aside all the categories which Tampa did not rate (and there are a lot), that is an odd list of rankings.

Roundup 10-3-2014

October 3, 2014

Downtown – The Big News

As most presumably knows by now, the Lightning owner has partnered with Cascade, an investment company for Bill Gates, on his project for the very large land holdings at the south end of downtown Tampa.  The news came in a number of reports, so we tried to put it all together.

Bill Gates’ riches will help fuel Jeff Vinik’s vision.

An investment fund controlled by Microsoft’s billionaire founder will help finance the Tampa Bay Lightning owner’s ambitious plan to build a massive entertainment, office, residential and retail district around the Amalie Arena.

“This has the potential to be a billion-dollar development,” said Vinik’s top lieutenant, Tod Leiweke, during a 90-minute interview at the arena Thursday.

Here is a map of the holdings from the Times print edition of September 26, 2014 (the issues with the notations on the map are from the original):

From the Times – click on map for article

And don’t forget the Marriott Waterside that he just bought.

The Lightning owner’s development team would not say how much Cascade is putting up for the project, but the Mayor did say this:

“It’s north of a couple of hundred million dollars,” Buckhorn said.

Whatever the amount is, good.  Cascade joining is certainly an interesting development and nice to see.  We knew the Lightning owner could finance his project without too much trouble, but it is good to have even heavier weight partners.  Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that, as beneficial as the project could be (we don’t actually know what it is yet, so we can’t be completely sure), it is business:

If the development comes to fruition and is a success, it will spur other developers to look at Tampa. Leiweke said the project — which is far too large in an unproven market for a traditional developer — is not a philanthropic endeavor for Vinik. The intention is to demonstrate the commercial viability and financial success that draws other developers to an area.

“If this is just benevolence and charity, it will ultimately fail,” Leiweke said.

And there is nothing wrong with that.  And given some market dynamics, the involvement of Cascade will help move this project and also have a knock on effect:

As a secondary city, Tampa’s commercial real estate market struggles to attract big institutional investors, many of whom fled to gateway cities like New York and San Francisco after the last downturn. And while Gates’ endorsement won’t result in an immediate flurry of transactions, it’s a good story — and that’s what investors like to hear, said Mike Davis, executive director of the capital markets group with Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc.

And having names like Vinik and Gates involved gives investors confidence that this project will come to fruition.

“When you have pockets that are this deep and commitment this deep, people are going to say, ‘Boy, no matter what market swings may occur, these are the guys that can see this through,'” Davis said.

And that last part is important because there are often grand plans announced that never come to full fruition because of economic cycles and over-extension of the developer.  So far, we have to say, the Tampa Bay area got lucky when the Lightning owner bought the team and decided that he wanted to invest further in this area.

– What is it?

So when will we learn what the plan really is?

Vinik’s development team plans to unveil at least the first phase of the master plan before the end of the year. It needs to be a balanced plan, Leiweke said, with scenic places to walk, good ways to get around, places to eat and a sense of “a place that has a soul and a spirit.”

Vague, but promising. In fact, it is one of the few times we have heard a developer in the area speak of creating a sense of place, which is encouraging.

Leiweke said the district will have a “terrific blend” of hospitality, residential and commercial uses. All of those types of users — as well as the existing residential base in Channelside — want the same types of amenities, such as basic service retail, restaurants and a visually interesting, walkable environment.

We hope it does. The hotel/condo plan released already, the zoning changes for which were approved on Thursday, seems a good start.

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Hopefully, the rest of the project will continue the basic ideas in that preliminary information – and it will all fine tune them.

And when might it get all going?

Abberger said while it’s hard to put a specific timeline on the project, vertical construction could begin in 2016.

Coincidentally, that is when the transportation referendum might happen.

– Transportation

Speaking of transportation:

Transportation — a key factor in urban renewal and attracting Millennials — will be a big part of the plans, Leiweke said, and that includes the waterfront. He said the team envisions people walking, biking, using the street car and the water as means to get around the district.

We agree.  Luckily, the project area already has decent internal transportation, assuming the streetcar increases service (and maybe pushes farther north into downtown and to Tampa Heights or even across the river possibly with more modern, faster moving cars).

However, there is another part of transportation.  If fully built, this is going to be a very big project drawing many people from outside the immediate area.  How are they going to get to and from the project and special events?  Even if the “grid” is made more consistent, that will not fully meet the need.  Good transit is important to attracting tenants, buyers, patrons to this project, and it should become part of the push.  All the issues – proper development, proper transit, and attracting tenants/professionals/young professionals – are interconnected.

– The New Stuff Road Show

So, this all sounds great, and we hope it comes to fruition. On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that this is business and we would not expect any of the people involved in the development to just power through the project without the prospect of it being really successful.  In other words, there need to be tenants/buyers/patrons for whatever is built.

Being good business people, that is clearly understood and part of the plan.

Leiweke said Thursday that while there’s a rough draft of a master plan of Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s downtown real estate holdings, the team is also gearing up to help efforts to drive corporate headquarter relocations to Tampa Bay.

At the heart of the plans is a connection between the district and the city’s waterfront.

“We’re going to become phenomenal salespeople,” Leiweke said, “not just for our district, but really for the city, because it’s a fundamental principle of what we’re trying to do.”

The development of Vinik’s downtown real estate will be backed by Cascade Investments LLC, the Seattle-based investment firm controlled by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates. It could be a “potentially billion dollar” undertaking, Leiweke said. For those plans to be sustainable, Leiweke said, Tampa needs to broaden its corporate base — and what Vinik and Cascade plan to do in Channelside will make the city even more appealing to corporate relocations.

That last part is key. (Sure, a residential focused project could probably work, but not nearly as well as one with a strong office component and it would run the risk of cannibalizing other projects.) While talk of the plan is great and getting Cascade involved is a coup, for the plan to really work, companies need to be attracted to the area.  (One interesting take away from this Wall Street Journal article on Cascade is that it seems to like to do everything very quietly, so it is notable that this announcement is public – maybe to draw interest to the project.)

Of course, that has always been the case, but it is nice for a major developer to point out that for real estate to thrive, you need to grow the overall economy. (Hopefully, that banishes once and for all the idea that we can grow through a real estate based economy.) A really good plan for the area (we look forward to seeing the plan) and big investors with big connections can do nothing but help.

Leiweke did not disclose how much Cascade will invest in the project, but he said the overall goal is to make the whole district a profitable project that includes residential buildings, new offices, likely a new grocery store and an overall walking neighborhood. Vinik’s team will soon take to the road on a nation-wide tour to visit CEOs and persuade them to expand into the new neighborhood — which will likely have a new name as well.

A new name? Ok.

The next phase, Leiweke said, involves a nation-wide road show to visit CEOs of major companies to show off the Master Plan for the Channel District, and persuade them to expand into soon-to-be-build office buildings, if not move their headquarters here.

That “Road Show,” he said, would resemble something of an economic development venture, done in concert with officials from the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and others.

“We can bring those prospective CEOs here,” to the Amalie Arena, Leiweke said, “and have Steve Stamkos skate up to them after a game … and take them to a Tom Petty concert, and show them what a cool, work/play place this can be.”

Indeed.  Hopefully, those CEO’s will buy in, but that remains to be seen. We assume deep pocket support, a good project, and the Road Show will give a big push to recruitment efforts that have been much too slow to date.  (And, yes, it is lucky to get deep pockets on our side, but so what?)

So what are the targets? The site selectors tell us:

Instead of aiming too high, Donovan and other site selectors suggested this region target “middle-market” and big family-owned companies based in expensive Northern cities like Chicago or New York.

Huge companies need headquarters in places that allow easy travel to extensive international locations. Tampa International Airport has some international flights and is adding more, but could not handle the biggest corporate headquarters’ needs.

While we get the reasoning, and it seems sound, you can’t score if you don’t shoot.  Our view is that Tampa should go after whatever is there (though keeping in mind the probability – or lack thereof – of success with each effort). Maybe we’ll get lucky.

– USF

And, of course, there is the USF med school:

Vinik’s development team hopes to add a medical education complex to the neighborhood, and are still in talks with the University of South Florida for a project in the area.

Once again, we see nothing wrong with wanting the USF med school on his property.  That is good business.  Whether it is the best for the med school is a matter to be determined.  Just like a corporation will move its HQ if it makes sense for its business, not just as part of development, USF should  move if it makes sense for its mission, which is an open question. (Though, on past experience, we have been functioning since the roll out of the idea to the media on the assumption that the med school move is – or is very close to – a done deal at this point.  We could be wrong but. . .)

– One Cautionary-ish Note

Among all the excitement, it is worth noting that a project this big will take some time to build out and things can change over that time.  In fact, we have an example right in downtown Tampa. When plans for Harbour Island were first announced, it was a “$1 billion” project with deep pockets that was to bring “an urban community.”   This was a photo of a model (probably massing) of the plans:

From 1981 Tampa Downtown Development Authority report

Looking at Harbour Island today, it is almost fully built, though, aside from the north end of the island, most of it is not built based on the original plans.  That is not to say it is not nice, but almost 25 years later, it is not done (though in a few years it might be), and it is not built as proposed – an urban neighborhood.  Just keep that in mind.

Of course, past performance is not a guarantee of future returns, so this project may be different.  The backers are different.  The area is different (though the political culture still has not really changed that much).  Times are different.  The market is different.  So there is a good possibility the results will be different.  Nevertheless, that history is something to keep in mind in terms of expectations and timing.

– Bottom Line

So, this all sounds good.  It appears that the outline of the plan is sound (hopefully the details will be truly urban) and based in sober reality, like this:

“The ultimate thing we can do for this community is to make it commercially viable,” Leiweke said. “When this becomes a commercial-grade investment, we will have done a phenomenal thing for this city. We will have created thousands of jobs. We will have created ad valorem tax (value.)

“If this is just benevolence and charity, it will ultimately fail.”

It is ok to be excited, but that excitement should be tempered with the reality that most of the hard work still has to be done and the true success is contingent on attracting more business to the area.

The involvement of the Lightning owner and his partners and team in economic development (and their sober approach) is in many ways the most exciting part of this project. Having such networked business people with a lot of skin in the game and committed to leading the charge is nothing but helpful.

Hopefully (and, yes, we are saying that a lot in the item), the full plan will be as good as advertised and the whole thing will come off, because that would be transformative for downtown.

– Aside: So What Does a Billion Dollars Get You These Days?

A billion dollars is a lot of money.  Sometimes it is hard to know just what you actually get for a billion, so we thought we would provide some examples.

The closest city with major projects is Miami.  (You can find a list of major projects here.) Among them are the $1.05 billion Brickell Citi Centre, the $ 1.5 billion  Miami World Center, and the $ 3 billion Resorts World Miami.   The 1100 Millecento by Related, a single condo building, is estimated at $105 million.

Closer to home, the Residences at Riverwalk project is estimated to cost $ 85 million.   And Encore is $450 million in the basic model and about $1 billion if you add in the proposed private development in a few of the lots.

Economic Development – Fortune 1000

Continuing on the theme of corporate relocations, we found this interesting site that lists Fortune 1000 companies by metropolitan area.  You can check the cities in which you are interested.  It lists seven for the Tampa Bay area.

TIA – More Signs of Success

Edelweiss is expanding its service to Tampa once again.

Edelweiss Air’s route connecting Tampa to Zurich continues to be one of Tampa International Airport’s big international success stories. It also has been a big success for the airline: That’s why Edelweiss announced Monday that it will increase its overseas flights to Tampa from twice a week to three times a week starting in June.

* * *

When the third flight comes online in 2015, Edelweiss will arrive and depart from Tampa on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

That is great news.  Apparently, there is a market for more European flights, after all.  Also notable was this:

TIA used $464,000 in cash, as well as marketing help and waived airport fees, to attract Edelweiss in 2012. The airport also helped put together a coalition of community partners to market the route to Tampa Bay and Europeans alike, including Hillsborough County’s tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay and Pinellas County’s tourism arm Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Those incentives expired after two years, but Edelweiss is still flying out of Tampa.

In other words, the incentives worked.  They helped open a market that is continuing to grow, which is great.

Then there was this:

The parent company of Edelweiss is the Lufthansa Group, the largest airline in Europe. TIA has been talking to the German airline about starting a nonstop connecting Tampa to Frankfurt, Germany.

Which would be nice, though we know it is an ongoing process, as is finishing our connections to major US cities with a San Francisco flight.

Nonetheless, well done.

Westshore – Possibilities Over Time

There was this interesting nugget from the Business Journal:

The complex of office buildings that late Westshore pioneer Al Austin started developing in the 1960s is under contract to be sold.

Redstone Investments, which has offices in Tampa and Youngstown, Ohio, plans to buy the five buildings that make up the Austin Center, according to real estate sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal.

This is the complex.  Why is this interesting?

The Austin Center’s location in Westshore — home to 12 million square feet of office space and more than 93,000 office workers, as well as a population base of nearly 14,000 and growing with several apartment developments in the works — makes it an ideal redevelopment play for a mixed-use project. Add in the potential of a multimodal hub, and the location is even more desirable.

Redstone is a retail developer, and a source said the company would likely bring in a multifamily developer for that portion of the project. Publix Supermarkets Inc., long rumored to be looking for a site in Westshore, could be a candidate for the project, and Redstone has done deals with Publix previously. Westshore, despite its office and household base, does not have a grocery store; the closest stores are a Publix on South Dale Mabry Highway and Trader Joe’s at South Dale Mabry and Swann Avenue.

That sums it up.  Of course, the utility of the multimodal hub, what will really go there, and when it will get built is not clear – and won’t really be worked out until 2016 at the earliest, as it is contingent on a referendum.  And throw in the tendency for not very walkable development in Westshore, and it makes us wonder if, even if this report is true, if anything of interest will happen for years on that property (or if something does happen, will it be done to take advantage of what might come later?).  In other words, interesting but very speculative at this point.

Economic Development – More IT . . . But Just How Much?

There was good news on the job front:

LabTech Software, a Tampa-based IT company, is adding 100 jobs at its Tampa corporate headquarters by 2016 in a strong boost to efforts to lure higher-paying technology jobs to the area.

CEO Matt Nachtrab said he was excited that LabTech Software could contribute to a growing IT presence in Tampa Bay. “Tampa has become our home, and we’re thrilled that our commitment to the growth of the LabTech product and our commitment to the local economy can go hand-in-hand,” he said in a statement.

And that is great.  We love expanding IT businesses in the Tampa Bay area. But we have to admit, the reporting is a little confusing.  First, let’s look at this week’s announcement:

The company, which is pledging to make a capital investment of $644,000, has been promised a combined local and state incentives package worth $500,000. In March, Hillsborough County and the Tampa City Council approved an incentive package of $100,000, added to $400,000 coming from the state of Florida’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) program.

The funds, which are to be distributed over six years, will only be paid out if the company meets a pledge to create jobs at the promised minimum average wage of nearly $50,000.

* * *

Founded in 2004, LabTech has a total of 350 employees, most located at its primary facility on George Road in Tampa. Its software, which is used by more than 4,200 IT service providers globally, helps clients monitor and manage their IT environments remotely and automate any IT task through a single console.

And that’s fine.  But in late February, there was this report about ConnectWise:

ConnectWise, which sells information technology software, support and expertise to other IT companies, plans to invest $1.28 million to add 112 jobs to its Tampa operation by 2016.

That news brought the bipartisan trinity of high-tech job evangelists — Gov. Rick Scott, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe — out to the company’s headquarters Wednesday to celebrate the news with ConnectWise’s founding brothers: chief executive officer Arnie Bellini and chief operating officer David Bellini.

* * *

Public incentives will aid ConnectWise’s plans to expand its workforce, which will also require the company to add 10,000 square feet of workspace to its headquarters in the West Shore business district.

Officials said the company will receive up to $560,000 in incentives. That will take the form of $448,000 in tax refunds from the state, plus an incentive package of $112,000 jointly offered by Tampa and Hillsborough County. In all, that’s $5,000 per job.

The salaries of the new positions in sales, human resources, accounting, marketing and software engineering will average about $52,000.

The brothers founded ConnectWise in 1982 in Tampa in their parents’ spare bedroom. The CEO said his company employs about 600 people, most of them in Tampa, but about 30 work in a Seattle office. ConnectWise bills itself as the world’s No. 1 “business management platform” for IT firms and says its software is used by more than 6,000 businesses and 80,000 people.

Which is also fine.  No problem with that.  But if you Google LabTech, you get this page, which is ConnectWise.  Google maps also placed both companies in the same building. Moreover, the Sunbiz entry for LabTech Software makes it clear that ConnectWise’s founders control the company.

We are very pleased that the jobs are coming to Tampa.  We think it is great and are happy that the investment in the area is being made. But the reporting is confusing.  Are they the same jobs (the “March” reference in this week’s article makes it seem so) or are we getting double (which would be better)?  We’re not going to complain in either case, but the news should be clear.

Harbour Island – Toward Building

Last week, we noted that the developer’s website said ground is to be broken on HIKU (though maybe the name will change), an apartment building planned for Harbour Island, in October.  This week it seems they got a loan.

The developers pursuing the deal, under corporate entity Harbour Island Residential LLC, received a $41.5 million loan for the project from Birmingham, Ala.-based Compass Bank, according to a Hillsborough County mortgage filed Wednesday.

The 235-unit tower will be built on a site at the intersection of Knights Run Avenue and Harbour Post Drive, east of Plaza Harbour Island, a condominium tower.

Good deal.  With SkyHouse close to topping out, it would be nice to have another building going up.

Transportation – Recycled Is the New Original

This week, the Tribune’s “conservative” columnist recycled arguments he brought up at the beginning of the year regarding transit, namely buses, to discuss Greenlight Pinellas.   In the interest of conservation, we will not use more space to analyze his argument, because we already did it – here.  Nothing has changed.

Rays – And Then?

This week the MLB regular season came to an end.  Unfortunately, the Rays did not make the playoffs.  On the other hand, a large number of former Rays did – like James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Johnny Gomes, Sam Fuld, Stephen Vogt, and Scott Kazmir.  We are not second guessing any trades or other deals (and we like Wil Myers) because we know the Rays have a reason they cannot keep much of their best, developed talent so they have to make deals.

The Tampa Bay Rays maintained a disappointing trend this season — the third consecutive year of declining attendance.

An average of 17,857 people came out for games at Tropicana Field this year, down from 18,646 in 2013 and 19,255 in 2012, the lowest per-game attendance in the league.

With their home games completed, the Rays will conclude the season this weekend in a series against the team with the second smallest crowds in baseball, the Cleveland Indians, who have drawn only a couple of hundred more fans per game than Tampa Bay and fewer people in total this year.

At some point, one has to conclude that the location is an issue.  Of course, basically nothing happened over the last season to move the stadium issue forward.  Now, there is news that things might move a little.

Kriseman and Rays president Matt Silverman met for about an hour Friday afternoon at Tropicana Field, the latest in a series of “good” meetings that haven’t yielded any concrete steps toward resolving the long-running saga of finding a new stadium site for the Major League Baseball team that finished a losing campaign Sunday with (depending on how you tally the numbers) MLB’s lowest attendance.

* * *

City officials say they remain hopeful that a deal can be reached by year’s end. The Rays want a deal that would allow them to look at sites in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

Well, that would be good, but we have heard such things before.  Over in Hillsborough, there are moves to get ready for the time the Rays can look there. Which is fine to do (advisable even) but not yet relevant.

And it seems hard to believe that St. Pete will just let the Rays look in Hillsborough.

Kriseman conceded as much in a Friday night interview, saying the subject has come up in recent discussions he’s had with Rays management. Still, Kriseman called Hagan’s proposal “premature” and potentially “problematic” because of the Rays’ contract binding the team to Tropicana Field.

“I’m more open to having those discussions and I will see where they lead,” Kriseman said, “but my focus first and foremost is to do what I can and work with the Rays on keeping them in St. Petersburg.”

Sounds a lot like the last St. Pete mayor.

Even setting that aside, the other question is where would a stadium in Hillsborough go?  Does the Lightning owner want it near his project (it could help bring people around, but it would also compete for entertainment dollars.)?  Given the scope of his project and its likely request for infrastructure money (though, if done right, infrastructure improvement could also be used for a stadium), he likely has a lot of influence.  And if not there, where?

In other words, we still have not gotten anywhere on the Rays.

State Fair Grounds – Stick With the Duck

The State Fair Board rejected a proposal to develop part of the land:

Deflated directors of the Florida State Fair Authority shot down a developer’s proposal Monday to build a hotel, an RV park and a field house at the fairgrounds, saying they expect more money and more “wow.”

So what was the proposal?

The development plan presented to the Florida State Fair Authority Board Monday lacks a “wow factor” and brings in a less-than-favorable amount of revenue — less than $500,000 a year, once the developments got off the ground. The phased plan called for a sports-themed hotel and field house, an RV park and handful of restaurants on 35 acres. The board gave the plan a unanimous thumbs down.

When Virginia-based Republic Land Development first came to the board with its plan a couple of years ago for an amateur sports village, a sports-themed hotel, water park, an indoor virtual golf facility and a “restaurant park,” board members envisioned a smart-looking plan that would relieve them of some of the constant scrambling for money to keep the Florida State Fair running efficiently, some members said.

What they saw Monday more closely resembled a typical mid-priced box hotel and gymnasium, plans for four fast-food restaurants and four sit-down restaurants and an enhanced RV park, they said.

Not very inspiring, but rejecting such a proposal is unusual for the area.  Why did it happen?

The Florida State Fair could make more money in five years on a floating sign shaped like a giant rubber ducky than it could make on a lackluster development plan that would tie up a chunk of its property for years, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

* * *

“I have always said… our No. 1 priority is to this fair,” said Putnam, who sits on the board. “This is a decision about tying up the future of this fair for 40 years and really not getting a lot in return.

“We will get more money selling a (sign on a) giant rubber duck than we will for five years in this deal,” Putnam said “I don’t believe it is offering a return to this board to support our core programs commensurate with what we are giving up in terms of time and land.”

Putnam’s rubber duck comment was referring to a five-year sponsorship agreement the board made with Spa Manufacturing Inc. earlier in the meeting that will include placing its name on a giant rubber duck that will float in a lake on fair property.

Well, that about says it all.

List of the Week

This week’s list is Wallethub.com’s Fastest Growing Cities.  You can find the methodology here.   Helpfully, they have overall rankings and also break down rankings by large, medium, and small cities.  We will focus on the large cities. Because Tampa is number 41, we will list the top 41.

Coming in first is Austin, TX, followed by Fort Worth, TX; New Orleans, LA; Denver, CO; San Antonio, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Washington, DC; Bakersfield, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; Columbus, OH; Omaha, NE; Nashville, TN; El Paso, TX; Portland, OR; Minneapolis, MN; Pittsburgh, PA; Houston, TX; Raleigh, NC; Anchorage, AK; Seattle, WA; Aurora, CO; Philadelphia, PA; Oakland, CA; Louisville, KY; San Jose, CA; Dallas, TX; Miami, FL (#27); Fresno, CA; Boston, MA; San Francisco, CA; Charlotte, NC; Kansas City, MO; Cleveland, OH; Baltimore, MD; Colorado Springs, CO; San Diego, CA; Lexington, KY; Albuquerque, NM; Santa Ana, CA; Arlington, TX; and Tampa, FL.

Looking at Florida specifically: Miami is 123 overall. Tampa is 226 overall. Jacksonville is #46 (308 overall).  In “medium cities,” Orlando is #56 (116 overall), Clearwater is #74 (145 overall), Fort Lauderdale is #84 (180 overall), West Palm Beach is #94 (191 overall), St. Pete is #147 (304 overall), and Lakeland is #189. In “small cities,” Largo is #81 (236 overall) in small cities. Brandon is #30 (62 overall) in medium and Town’n’Country is #65 (199 overall) in small cities even though neither is actually a city.

Roundup 9-26-2014

September 26, 2014

PTC – On and On

In all honesty, there are some issues that just drag on and on and writing about them become quite tedious.  One of those is the PTC and its treatment of ride-sharing companies.  This week two things happened – neither of which was surprising.  First,

A hearing officer has upheld citations that Hillsborough County inspectors issued earlier this year to drivers working for the ride-sharing company Uber.

Uber had challenged nine citations issued by the county’s Public Transportation Commission between July 7 and Aug. 28. The drivers were charged with violating PTC rules by failing to obtain permits to provide a taxi service and public vehicle drivers’ licenses.

* * *

Though Uber drivers use their own private vehicles, they were acting as taxi drivers when they picked up customers, More said. Also, More said the smart phones the Uber drivers used to calculate distance and fares were equivalent to a taxi meter.

“Although the make and/or model of the vehicles involved in these citations were not actual taxicabs, they were functioning in the same capacity, in that they were providing a ride, for hire with a device mounted in the front of the vehicle that displayed a fare,” More wrote.

More upheld just five of the nine citations, however, because PTC inspectors failed to appear to testify about the other tickets. She fined Uber $1,000, or $200 per ticket.

Remember that last bit about inspectors not appearing.  Then there was this:

In her findings, More made it clear she was not ruling on the larger questions of whether the PTC’s rules or definitions apply to Uber, only that the agency had reason to believe Uber violated those rules in the five cases.

If you uphold the fine and find that the service is similar to taxis, then it would seem logical to conclude that you have decided that the PTC’s rules and definitions do apply to Uber.  But, anyway.

The second thing that happened was a confab about transportation.

A panel of local leaders, including politicians and the heads of bus and expressway authorities, gushed Wednesday about the positive aspects of having ride-share companies operate in Tampa Bay — despite fervent pushback from the Hillsborough County agency that regulates for-hire vehicles.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and state Sen. Jeff Brandes said it is not a matter of whether companies such as Uber and Lyft will be able to operate here with support from local governments, but when.

* * *

“We need to offer what most business leaders and tourists want, which are these types of options,” said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who faces re-election this November. “We’ll work through all these other issues, both the insurance issues and the background check issues. …I’m 100 percent confident that we can find a reasonable solution to those issues.”

Don’t forget the ridiculous minimum pricing.  Maybe the legislature should ban that once and for all.

How did the PTC respond?

“I think there’s still some hurdles to get over, and I don’t think it should be taken so lightly,” Cockream said. “I also think elected officials should uphold the laws of this country, regardless of how they feel about them. If laws need to be changed, there’s a civil and democratic process to that.”

Predictably.  First, as we have said numerous times – the PTC makes the rules.  They cannot say they are powerless before rules.  Second, as a former law enforcement officer, he surely knows there is such a thing a prosecutorial discretion.  Third, his own inspectors did not show up to the hearings to enforce the rules.

Just change the stupid rules or dissolve the PTC.

USF Med School – The Push Begins

Last week we discussed the proposal for putting USF Med School in downtown (see “Of Downtown, Rays, Med Schools, and Money”) and concluded:

Again, if USF med school had started downtown, it would likely have a cluster now and would be a good thing, but it is not clear at all that moving it now would make sense. And, while we are not completely opposed, the case for moving it has not been made.

Over the weekend, it became clear that this is more than just an idea floated when the Tribune ran an article entitled “Vinik open to med school in downtown Tampa.”  So did the article make the case?

A push to bring the University of South Florida medical school to downtown Tampa has received a shot in the arm, with key landowner Jeff Vinik saying he will support the school’s leaders as they explore the concept.

While tactfully avoiding specifics, a statement from Vinik’s companies nonetheless suggests that the Tampa Bay Lightning owner is listening as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, downtown’s biggest cheerleader, touts the potential move as a “game changer” for the city.

“We have great respect for the mayor and his leadership,” the statement from Vinik’s companies said. “We understand the value that an increased USF presence could have for our downtown and also understand how an urban school could benefit the University.

“This is a model we have seen in many other urban centers and we look forward to supporting USF’s leaders as they explore this and other ideas that help make the university and our region succeed.”

Setting aside that “game changer” may be the most overused phrase of the decade (though if the full Lightning owner property is really developed in an urban way with or without a med school, that would definitely change downtown considerably), we completely get that someone who owns a lot of land downtown would favor having the USF Med School downtown, especially if:

Buckhorn and Ayers both touted a high-profile Vinik tract as a potential site. Vinik owns a pair of empty lots just north of the arena and had filed last month to rezone them for a major office structure. But that request was pulled this month.

Other downtown sites could be available for the medical school.

We have nothing against a business person promoting their location for development.  That is what business people do. We would expect nothing else.  Why wouldn’t he be in favor of it? (Though we do not think the success of a good development project in basically half of downtown is dependent on the USF Med School.)

That being said, it is still not clear that putting the USF Med School in the middle of what is supposed to be “Tampa Live” or some other kind of entertainment district makes sense for the school.  And there are other questions: does it make sense to put the Med School right near an arena?  Does that help students study? Will students who are paying med school tuition and getting in debt really fork over for downtown rents?  Those are questions that need to be answered.  And how would this all work?

Frank Morsani, a longtime auto dealer who donated $20 million to the medical school that bears his name, said he supports a downtown center. He said the campus center could serve those starting out their medical training, with those students shifting downtown as they focused on clinical practice and duties at Tampa General Hospital, USF’s teaching hospital.

“It would be an asset to the city and to Tampa General Hospital and give a real presence to our city,” Morsani said. “There are all kinds of models across the country. … I think it is feasible. I certainly am supportive of that, and I think it could happen.”

First, we applaud him for his generous donation.  And yes, that idea is feasible, but the question is if it is optimal for the med school and related institutions.  Is it optimal to have a bifurcated medical school complex?  There are no patients downtown, they are at TGH or near the main campus.  Does the downtown location really help that?  If patients are the key shouldn’t that part of the school be near a TGH facility – either the hospital or the outpatient facility that is to go on Kennedy? Those are also questions that need to be answered.

So what does USF say?

The existing Morsani College of Medicine and USF’s affiliated health programs are crowded. The university received $5 million in this year’s state budget to start planning a new medical school.

Documents provided to the state university system’s board of governors last week show that USF trustees are requesting $17 million next year, $20 million in 2016-17 and an additional $20 million the year after that for the Morsani school.

The requests are labeled a “high priority” for USF.

The $57 million total is listed under “projects for review,” and the board of governors will consider those requests, among nearly $900 million in legislative budget requests from the state’s 12 public universities, on Oct. 8. No votes will be taken at that meeting.

So USF looks noncommittal.  Though this was odd:

While Genshaft said USF Health needs to grow on campus, according to a recent article in the Tampa Tribune, USF is considering building a new building for the Morsani College of Medicine and is considering construction either downtown or on-campus, which some consider especially with new construction starting on the USF Health Heart Institute.

“I want to be absolutely clear: Whatever decision is made about the location of the future USF Health facilities, it does not mean that USF Health is leaving the Tampa campus,” Genshaft said.

She said USF remains committed to continuing close work with the Hayley Veterans Hospital, the Moffitt Cancer and Reasearch [sic] Institute, the Florida Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children “who all value our close proximity.”

“The Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare will absolutely continue to be a facility where thousands of patients receive the highest quality care each year,” she said. “…With more than 450 doctors in the USF Physicians Group and the continuing demand for high quality health care all across our community, there is room for us to grow without taking away from what currently exists.”

While it may be that the decision has not been made yet, that comment could easily be a preamble to a move.

– Some Actual Examples

Still, the actual case for having the Med School move downtown now still has not been made.  So, we decided to find some examples of downtown medical schools to see if their situation is comparable and can shed some light on the issue.

One similar sounding project is the University of Arizona Medical School in downtown Phoenix, which began as a satellite for the main school (in Tucson) serving 3rd and 4th year students, then grew into a full school.  That example is worth examining, though there are at least two factors that make it different: 1) it is basically a new school because the main campus is in Tucson and so affiliated institutions in Phoenix will be new and not far from the med school campus and 2) Phoenix is the capital and main city in Arizona, which gives it much more pull for state money and investment.

Another example is in Buffalo, where SUNY Buffalo is building a downtown med school.  It is still under construction, so it is hard to assess.  One thing that is known is that it is adjacent to a hospital. (see here and here)

And both campuses are within a few blocks of rail transit.

So it seems neither example is really comparable. (Nor is the Tulane/LSU complex in New Orleans which has two medical schools and hospitals  basically right next to each other)

So, yes, there are ideas, but, as we said, are they optimal for the medical school?  Do they help develop a medical cluster and the bio med industry in the area?  Do they help the medical students? Maybe, and maybe not.  No one can really say because there has not been anything specific proposed publicly and no real case made or discussion had.

I would not be the first time that a major decision was made like that in Tampa.

– Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

It is worth noting here something going on in Orlando that may give some context to the push to move the med school.

University of Central Florida President John Hitt made it official Tuesday, announcing to community and business leaders that UCF will push to build a campus in downtown Orlando that could ultimately cost as much as $200 million.

UCF has been studying the idea of a downtown campus at the Creative Village — where the city’s old NBA arena used to sit — since visiting Arizona State University’s campus in downtown Phoenix in January.

Hitt said the university expects to seek $50 million to $60 million in state money during the Legislature’s upcoming spring session. That would fund, in part, the campus’s first building: a joint-use facility for UCF and Valencia College.

* * *

Between UCF and Valencia, the campus would serve about 10,000 students. The university has about 60,000 students, most of them on its main campus 13 miles east of downtown.

Hitt said the new campus would not significantly increase the overall size of UCF’s student population, at least at first. Rather, some existing programs would move downtown.

What programs would make that move are still undecided, but Hitt did say WUCF-TV, Central Florida’s PBS station, would relocate downtown.

UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and Center for Emerging Media already are at the Creative Village downtown, and other tech-focused programs would be a natural fit there, too, Hitt said.

(You can check the ASU downtown campus website here) For those who do not know, Creative Village is a project to develop a relatively large area in Orlando as an urban, tech hub cluster. /  There are a few differences between the UCF idea and the USF idea.  First, the UCF idea does not really move away from a large cluster of related institutions and business. (which is a major concern with USF). Second, there was already the Creative Village concept before the idea of moving parts of UCF. Third, Creative Village was planned with higher education in mind and to take advantage of it.  Finally, the raw numbers for UCF are bigger. (Which goes to the question of what is the live-work-play plan around UT)  And note that the relatively newly built UCF medical school is in the emerging Lake Nona Medical City biomed cluster, which is not really built how we would do it, but that is what is there. And even UF has a presence there.

One thing that is similar:

“The fact that UCF is considering growing in downtown is an absolute game-changer for our urban core,” Dyer said.

It really is an overused phrase.

Port – More on Masterplanning

There was recently news about the Port’s developing master plan:

Port officials are taking the next step toward developing vacant land along Channelside Drive, setting up meetings with stakeholders including the City of Tampa, nearby landowners and businessman Jeff Vinik, among others.

They plan to coordinate the Channelside Master Plan with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Vinik, who is moving ahead with development plans of his own, now that he holds the leases for the Channelside Bayside Plaza.

* * *

Earlier this year port officials and their consultant spoke of ways they could use vacant port-owned property other than for maritime uses. Years ago, when the cruise ship business was going strong, growing that industry was a priority. Now, not so much, due to the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway. The bridge isn’t tall enough to accommodate newer, taller cruise ships. The focus now is more on building amenities around the residential structures in the area.

Ram Kancharla, vice president of planning and development for Port Tampa Bay said that while there has already been a lot of outreach and gathering of public comment on plans for the land, there is still much to do.

“We are still in the stages of formulating” the vision, he said. He and consultant Luis Ajamil of Bermello, Ajamil & Partners Inc. will meet with various entities over the next few months to fine tune some logistics, like parking, transportation issues and roadway improvements needed to accommodate the plan.

Kancharla said that preliminary ideas floated at a public meeting to enhance urban living in the area have gone over well with just about everyone. Those plans mention coffee shops, office buildings, grocery stores and other retail.

We are open to the idea of developing the waterfront, though that did not work so well the last time (see Channelside complex) and do we really need a waterfront grocery store? (and there already is a coffee shop in the middle of the Channel District  so why plan more? If the market will support it, there is vacant retail space already.)

And, from the article and the plan, it seems that the Port is just giving up on the cruise business – even if it is just smaller cruise ships.  If not, how can it really develop a master plan effectively without knowing exactly what is going to happen with the cruise business.  If it is giving up on the cruise business (a quarter of its revenue), when was that decision made and by whom?  Why didn’t the Port just say it was going to plan real estate development?

As we said when the announcement of the master plan process was made:

Well, at least the company has some experience. (see here) On the other hand, the Port has a poor track record in the Channel District (see Channelside fiasco and the horribly designed garage and its horrible addition).  The real concern is that we get a canned plan presented as a fait accompli with much fanfare and hype and only cursory public input.

The other thing is that we have no idea what the goal of the plan is.  There is a pretty good argument for leaving it as part of the port rather than developing real estate. (There is also the question of the long term future of the cruise business at the port – a discussion that disappeared almost as fast as it appeared. see here and here)

In all honesty, we go back and forth about what should happen to this land.  What has not been done is a full public discussion about the benefits and liabilities of real estate development versus maritime functions (which actually should have started long before anyone was hired to create a master plan), nor is it likely.  It is not the Tampa DNA.

(See “Downtown/Channel District – The Port Plans”)

Like the USF medical school downtown, it is not that what is being contemplated is necessarily wrong, but it is not necessarily right.  The problem is that no one really knows, and there has been essentially no discussion.

Economic Development – Talking Trade

There was an article in the Tribune regarding attempts to develop trade in the Tampa Bay area.  Because it really rehashes information that is already known, we are not going to go over it.  We know people are working to develop trade.  We know the airport is working for international flights.  We know the Port has made some moves to trade more.  One thing we did like was this:

“We are certainly investing on the infrastructure side to be in position to handle new growth,” said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development for Port Tampa Bay. He referred to the two new gantry cranes the port is purchasing to better handle wider loads on new container ships traveling to and from the port. The $24 million cranes should be in place in about two years.

“Essentially, the key to our success is working with our partners,” Elliott said. The port is also focused on attracting manufacturing operations to the port, so they can ship quickly. And the new Interstate 4 connector road to Port Tampa Bay allows trucks from all over Florida and the south to more quickly and directly reach the port and get goods shipped out, he said.

Hopefully, it will actually work.

Coincidentally, there was an article in the Miami Herald about preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal.  Of course, it focused on Miami and preparations being made there, but it had some interesting points of more general application, including some by the former Port Director:

“You better be ready to handle these big ships because that is what’s coming,” said Alberto Alemán, former head of the Panama Canal Authority and now chief executive of ABCO Global, a logistics advisory company.

“If you have a port today and don’t have the capacity to handle the new ships, pretty soon you will be without ships” or must be content to be a small port where older, smaller ships call, he said.

The prospect of an expanded Panama Canal has only served to accelerate the pace of orders for post-Panamax vessels, Alemán said.

Still, Wainio said not every U.S. port needs to be big-ship ready as a reaction to the Panama Canal — even though many have jumped on the expansion bandwagon.

“This idea of keeping up with the Joneses and everyone needs super-post-Panamax cranes and deep water is just crazy,” he said. “There will be winners and losers in this and in-betweens.”

What will determine who is successful and who is not in the post-Panamax era, said Wainio, depends on simple demographics: “How many people you have, how much money they have to buy stuff and where they are.” 

So the question is whether we are going to be winners, losers or somewhere in-between.  How does our lack of capacity influence that?  That is another discussion that needs to take place.

Downtown – Goings On

– Harbour Island

Just as an update, the Framework Group website indicates that HIKU, the apartment tower project for Harbour Island (as opposed to the Related project that has a parking issue) is set to begin construction in October.   We shall see, but that would be nice.  It is not a bad project.

– Lights

For a few years now, there have been projects to light up downtown, either permanently (like the nice, if not original, lighting of the bridges) and temporarily.  This week, the latest temporary lighting was announced.

Since it began in 2006, Lights on Tampa has seen the private investment of more than $2.5 million in permanent illuminated art. In 2012, the program worked with Tampa Electric to light up four downtown bridges before the Republican National Convention.

You can check the Times article (here) for the February 2015 line up.  We just want to point out two.  The first appears to be the permanent lights along the Riverwalk:

From the Times – click on picture for article

While everyone in the rendering looks very festive, we hope the actual display is better than the rendering, which looks a bit of a mess. On the other hand, because the colors are supposed to change, it may be that a snapshot rendering does not really do it justice.  We shall see.

We also want to note this one:

From the Times – click on picture for article

If it is anything like the rendering, we definitely think it rates two thumbs up.

Transportation – A Discussion of Toll Roads

There was a very interesting article in the Times (and other state papers)   about FDOT’s toll road – and variable rate express toll lane – policy.  Oddly, it is the first article we have really seen that in any way tries to look critically at that policy to ask if it makes sense and why does it exist.  We are not going to go over the whole thing (you can read it here) but we are going to point out a few things.

In the next decade, Florida’s biggest cities will add toll lanes to the state’s busiest highways. Nobody knows exactly how much it will cost. Maybe as little as $3 billion. Maybe double that.

What’s clear is that when the toll lanes across the state are complete, they will become one of the largest infrastructure projects in state history.

There’s little debate that these toll lanes, also called express lanes or managed lanes, make commutes quicker for those willing to pay as much as $10 to use them. But there has been little debate about the need for the projects — not one resident will cast a vote on the lanes or the billions spent to create them. 

Certainly if you charge people so much that most people do not want to use the express lanes (which is the policy), what is left will move faster.  However, there is also a question of whether they penalize the vast majority of people trying to get around, especially in a state where median incomes are quite low.

That claim seems to have been supported by a state-issued report on toll lane drivers, which found that 87 percent of motorists who use the lanes most frequently have an annual household income of more than $76,000. Of those, the people who use the lanes most frequently have household incomes of at least $150,000, three times the median household income in Florida. The least frequent user are the poor, those whose household income is less than $25,000, who account for 4 percent of toll lane drivers.

Poole disputes the idea that the toll lanes become Lexus lanes and says the average cars driven by these drivers are affordable — Toyotas, Hondas, and Chevys. He says the lanes give all drivers a chance to get somewhere when they’re in a hurry.

Well, if there are Toyotas and Hondas that settles it, regardless of the State’s own reports.  In any event,

Prasad says toll lanes effectively create a free-market highway system, where only those who use them have to pay for them. “It’s about trying to efficiently move traffic,” Prasad said. “It’s about how we use existing lanes most efficiently.”

Well, move some traffic, at least. And what about this “free market” thing? While you can find a number of definitions of “free market,” this one seems about on point:

Where buyers and sellers can make the deals they wish to make without any interference, except by the forces of demand and supply. A stockmarket comes closest to this ideal. See also market economy and open market.

And Cato tells us:

Free Markets. To survive and to flourish, individuals need to engage in economic activity. The right to property entails the right to exchange property by mutual agreement. Free markets are the economic system of free individuals, and they are necessary to create wealth. Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized.

Heritage tells us this:

In an economically free society, each person controls the fruits of his or her own labor and initiative. Individuals are empowered—indeed, entitled—to pursue their dreams by means of their own free choice.

In an economically free society, individuals succeed or fail based on their individual effort and ability. The institutions of a free and open society do not discriminate either against or in favor of individuals based on their race, ethnic background, gender, class, family connections, or any other factor unrelated to individual merit. Government decision-making is characterized by openness, and the bright light of transparency, illuminating the shadows where discrimination might flourish, guarantees equal opportunity for all.

So the question is, how many private highways are there in Florida?  Can people just file on sunbiz.org and start building a highway?  Can they just charge what they want?  Do they have to ask FDOT for permission?

The fact is that there is no free market in our highway system.  The state owns all the means of production – and even if someone built a private highway, the state would have control over all aspects of the project.  The state restricts entry into its monopoly, and, right now, the state reaps the benefits of all the production.   And, especially given its control of the supply and prices, if the state chooses to provide better service to those with more means, it is favoring one group over another and intervening in their decisions.

Now, don’t get us wrong, there are good reasons that highways should be regulated and mostly, if not completely, government owned. However, because they are government owned, they should provide everyone the same service at the same price.  The fact that, if the variable rate express lanes do not price the average person, and even many above average earners, out of the market for the lanes, the concept will not work. Express lanes are not about free market, they are about exploiting a monopoly.

We have often said that we understand the utility of toll roads but think the tolls should be fixed and everyone should pay the same – everyone treated the same.  (And FDOT should not be taking a free lane from the Howard Frankland.)

Transportation – the Driverless Car

There was an interesting editorial in the Tribune regarding driverless cars, which are often held out as the future of transportation, though no one really knows when or if that future will arrive.  It lays out all the issues that arise from the concept of driverless cars – privacy issues, how much the driver must pay attention, will they actually bring safety (and does not mention the inevitable questions of legal liability for accidents, insurance, etc.)  It concludes:

Higher levels of automotive technology, we expect, will require even better roads, better driver training and sharper drivers, exactly the opposite of what promoters of the autonomous vehicle anticipate.

Toyota is right to back away from the unrealistic promise of the driverless car. It is concentrating instead on helping people and their cars work better together.

Politicians should follow that lead. Stop promising how good it will be in five or 10 years. Tell us what you’re doing today to make the transportation network safer, more reliable, more affordable, and more humane. 

Exactly.  People used to always think that flying cars, and hydrogen cars, and all sorts of things were the future. If that future comes, it comes. However, for decades, local governments have waited for the future by doing little or nothing in the present.  That is why we have a problem. We have to deal with what is.

In Cervisiam Spes Est

We did not have time to mention this last week, but there was news that Tampa is in the running for a USA Today poll on best beer towns.   You can go to the website and vote.  While we may be lacking a number of things, good local beer is not one of them (and the history actually goes back a while – predating most of the present companies), so go ahead and vote for Tampa. (The poll is here)

And if only we had good transit and walkable neighborhoods, we could all safely enjoy a little more.

Transportation – A Fine Idea

There was an interesting article in Citylabs.com  that made a good point:

“There are way too many people working on transit who don’t actually ride transit,” he says. “If you’re going to be making decisions about transit, you really need to know what it’s actually like. Not what it’s like in theory, but what it’s actually like. ”

Indeed, especially the Board members.  And we do not mean ride once; we mean really use it.  If people are going to decide about something, they should have first-hand knowledge about it.

List of the Week I

Our list of the week is 247wallet.com’s list of best places to live in the US.  The methodology is thus:

To determine the best cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 550 cities that the U.S. Census Bureau reported as having more than 65,000 residents in 2012. Data were collected in seven major categories: crime, economy, education, housing, environment, leisure, and infrastructure.

Within each category, specific data points contributed to category ranking. For example, the economy category included median household income, cost of living, employment growth between 2011 and 2013, and the 2013 unemployment rate. We then used a formula to weight each category and convert each category rank to a meta rank ranging from 0-100. Crime, economy, education, and housing received full weights, while environment, leisure, and infrastructure received half weights.

Because of the weighting of the categories and because it covers full cities, the list is mostly suburbs of larger cities. Therefore, we will include the nearby big city in parentheses where applicable.  Here are the top 20.

Coming in first was Newton, MA (Boston), followed by Bellevue, WA (Seattle), Mountain View, CA (San Jose/San Francisco); Pleasanton, CA (Oakland, but also near Livermore); Evanston, IL (Chicago); Irvine, CA (LA); Troy, MI (Detroit); Cary, NC (Raleigh); Flower Mound, TX (DFW); Johns Creek, GA (Atlanta); Boca Raton, FL; Carmel, IN (Indianapolis); New Rochelle, NY (NYC); Edmond, OK (OKC); Weston, FL (Ft. Lauderdale); Missouri City, TX (Houston); Richardson, TX (DFW); Charleston, SC; Naperville, IL (Chicago); Gilbert, AZ (Phoenix)

Roundup 9-19-2014

September 19, 2014

Economic Development – How Are We Doing?

Time to check in on the economy. There was more news about the local gross metropolitan product.  In most rankings, the Tampa Bay area comes in a under its top 20 population ranking, meaning that it is underperforming compared to the competition, even more so when you look at the per capita numbers.  How did we rate this year?

The metro area posted a 2.3 percent gain in its GDP last year, according to newly released figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

A broad industry category that includes finance, insurance and real estate contributed 1.2 percent of the total, with smaller gains in trade, up 0.44 percent; professional and business services, up 0.21 percent; and educational services, health care and social assistance, up 0.19 percent. There were declines in the government sector and non-durable goods manufacturing.

The Tampa metro GDP for 2013 was $122.5 billion, ranking the area No. 27 in the nation. The 2.3 percent increase in GDP for 2013 was lower than the 3.2 percent increase the area recorded in 2012, but it was substantially higher than the collective 1.7 percent increase for all U.S. metros.

In other words, it was decidedly mixed.  Growth is good, but slowing growth is not, and being 27th is still underperformance.  Let’s do some comparisons of some usual suspects with smaller populations than ours from the Bureau of Economic Analysis website (you can go to the website to do growth calculations for yourself):

GMP in millions 2013 Per Capita GMP 2013
Austin 103,892 52,110
Charlotte 139,022 55,802
Denver 178,860 61,595
Orlando 110,443 45,855
Tampa Bay area 122,515 40,153

 

So we are still playing catch-up from quite far behind.

In other news, bed tax revenue is rolling in, which is great.  However, that does not really help this:

Median household income in Tampa Bay has sunk lower than it was after the recession ended three years ago, cementing the bay area’s dead-last ranking in income among the country’s 25 biggest metro areas.

* * *

“I’m not surprised,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo who has tracked Florida since the 1980s. “There’s no getting around that a lot of the jobs we’ve added in the past five years are in leisure/hospitality and in the retail trade, and they tend to pay lower wages.”

Yes, dead last.  That will attract young professionals. . .

While tourists and visitors are fine, they will not lead to a broad-based, higher income economy.  To where we need to be we need to change how things are done, how we are built, how we get around, and how we function (politically and otherwise) to attract (a lot more) young professionals and other talent to this area and to keep what we have.  In other words, actual, rather than rhetorical, change.

Economic Development – Startups and more

Speaking of attracting and retaining talent, there was a little buzz last week when it was announced that a company started in St. Pete was getting bought by Ticketmaster.

Ticketmaster, the nation’s juggernaut in ticket sales and distribution, said Thursday that it has acquired Eventjoy, a provider of a free digital ticketing platform for event organizers that launched in St. Petersburg.

The move is good news for anyone involved in the bay area’s startup community, which continues to fight for attention, credibility and — of course — investor money.

For the individuals involved, it was good news.  Of course, there has never been a lack of creativity in this area.

“The talent and ideas coming out of the Tampa Bay area are validated by deals like these,” said veteran entrepreneur John Morrow, who spends much of his time advising Tampa Bay startups and helping build the regional community of entrepreneurs.

The real question is whether any of that creativity will thrive here growing the area’s economy overall. So the key for the area is this:

The two met in 2012 at a StartUp Weekend Tampa Bay. Their business, first known as ExMo, was designed to help convention and workshop organizers, from TED to Home Depot, to offer interactive experiences with attendees in ways that a printed program could not. The business quickly snowballed. ExMo later changed its name and relocated to California for further mentoring at the invitation of Y Combinator, one of the nation’s top business incubators.

That’s where the renamed Eventjoy caught Ticketmaster’s eye. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

It is unclear how it helps the area as a whole to have another example of people who came up with good ideas here but had to move somewhere else to get noticed and have real success.  Isn’t that just reinforcing the impression that this is not the place to be ultimately successful?

Randels hopes Goldberg and White return to Tampa Bay after their time with Ticketmaster and build another company.

“That is what builds a true startup community rather than shiny buildings and venture capitalists,” she says. “If the entrepreneurs who have been successful continue to build more companies in the community, then and only then will we really prosper.”

Exactly.  People starting companies here for the ultimate benefit of other areas is not the goal.  The goal is to have the companies thrive here.  We do not want to be other cities’ farm system.

In a related note:

The University of South Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship started the school year off on a high note, earning a spot on an important Princeton Review list.

The center came in at No. 13 among 2,000 colleges and universities surveyed and published in the 2015 Top 50 Schools for Entrepreneurship Programs. USF was the only school in the South to make the top 20 and the only school in Florida on the list.

Which is great and hopefully will help change things.  The real change in DNA will be when people do not feel the need to leave to get real success.

Of Downtown, Rays, Med Schools, and Money

There was an interesting article in the Times about a potential pot of money for something (no one is clear what) downtown:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn raised his city’s profile in the discussion about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays by saying in 2011 that City Hall could, in theory, contribute up to $100 million toward a new ballpark in downtown Tampa.

Three years later, Tampa still expects to have millions in cash on hand after it pays off its convention center bonds. But it also has other potential contenders emerging for that money.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who is working on a master plan for 24 acres he’s bought near Amalie Arena in the Channel District, is expected to be one of them, Buckhorn said.

The University of South Florida, exploring the idea of moving its medical school downtown, could be another.

Buckhorn made clear he still likes the idea of a downtown ballpark, but the city has not committed its downtown development money to that project.

“I’m not going to spend seven years waiting for a stadium deal when we have an attractive option in hand,” Buckhorn said in an interview at City Hall. “We’re going to try to be as helpful as we can to make these things happen.”

First, it is logical not to commit to a stadium when there is no actual stadium proposal.  On the other hand, we are not clear why the City would pay money for the lightning owner’s development or a USF medical school or if those are good uses for the money.  So where is the Mayor on all this?

Asked which he thought would give downtown the bigger economic boost — stadium or medical school — Buckhorn didn’t hesitate.

“In the long run, I think the med school,” he said. “That’s not to say we won’t pursue a stadium given the opportunity with equal vigor.”

But unlike a stadium, which would sit empty most days, a medical school would create “a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week environment that would attract thousands of young professionals” who would fill up apartment towers, shop and dine out downtown, Buckhorn said.

In cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, urban universities like Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon “drive the economy in the downtown area,” he said.

We have already said what we thought of the downtown med school idea generally.  See “USF Medical School – Where to Go”  In sum, if it had been done years ago, it would have made sense, but it is not at all clear that is makes sense now.  And, given the importance of the med school to helping move the area’s overall economy, the decision certainly should be about maximizing the biomed industry and not about urban renewal.

Interestingly, regarding a related urban renewal project, CAMLS, this was announced this week:

The Veterans Administration broke ground for a national medical simulation training center at Lake Nona’s Medical City, as part of the campus of the new Veterans Medical Center under construction.

The new 52,000-square-foot Veterans Health Administration Simulation Learning, Education and Research Network National Simulation Center – SimLEARN for short — will use simulation and other technologies to provide medical training to hospital trainers from throughout the VA system.

The formal groundbreaking took place Sept. 4. Construction is expected to take 15 months, so the center will be opening near the end of 2015, shortly after the medical center itself begins full operation.

The new building will have 10 classrooms, capable of accommodating up to 160 students. They will be able to use mannequin-based simulation, virtual patients and virtual environments to learn to train new procedures in areas ranging from out-patient clinics to intensive care wards.

In addition, the center will provide space for the development of new simulation programs and education curricula to address national VA clinical priorities, such as women veterans’ health and surgical team training.

Yes, you read that right.  Somehow, CAMLS did not get a contract to train VA doctors; Orlando’s medical city complex got a new institution. (We have no idea if CAMLS even tried to get a contract to do it.) From scratch, Orlando continues to build a much more concentrated cluster of medical institutions and organization around their new medical school.  Here, it does not seem logical to break up any cluster that may be developing.  Once again, while if, way back when, the med school was built around downtown it would have been great, we are not sure that using USF medical school as a downtown redevelopment project at this point is really the best use of the asset and money.

And there is a problem with the money anyway.

Tampa now receives all of the money — known as tax-increment financing funds — generated within the downtown community redevelopment area. In 2015, that is expected to total $15 million, of which $13.5 million is budgeted toward paying off the convention center bonds.

At the same time, the redevelopment area is scheduled to expire soon, so city officials are negotiating its renewal with Hillsborough County officials.

At this point, it hasn’t been decided whether the current split of tax-increment revenue — 100 percent for the city, zero for the county — will change. But Buckhorn said that under the worst case for the city, he expects that the city would still get half.

In other words, the pot of future money is not clear.  What it can and should be used for is also not clear. We will see what happens.

– Checking Facts

Having said all that, given the importance of the possible projects and the decision of where to put the med school, we just want to go back to the Mayor’s examples of schools that “drive the economy” in various downtowns.  While we agree that a medical school could create activity downtown, because the location of the USF med school decision is such a potentially important a decision for the whole area and moving it away from where it has grown is so potentially disruptive (and not in the “creative disruption” way), any case for moving it must be rock solid.  Therefore, let’s look at those examples again:

In cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, urban universities like Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon “drive the economy in the downtown area,” he said.

Is that the case?

1) Carnegie Mellon is about four miles from downtown Pittsburgh – basically the distance from downtown Tampa to Dale Mabry. (Not to mention the much bigger Pitt is between Carnegie Mellon and downtown, and Duquesne University is downtown. ) So the effect of Carnegie Mellon on downtown is tangential at best.

2) Johns Hopkins is close to, but not in, downtown Baltimore.  (Though Hopkins medical school is closer to downtown Baltimore than the main campus, ). However, if you have been to Baltimore, you know that neither really drives the downtown.

3) Penn is arguably in Center City Philadelphia but is not even close to the main driver of the quite developed Center City area.   And Thomas Jefferson Medical School is in Center City proper, anyway  Yes, there are two medical schools in relatively close proximity, though we are not sure you would want to walk – and you don’t have to because there is decent transit.

Another thing to note is that Penn  (if you zoom a little to the bottom right you can see the train station nearby) and Hopkins medical schools  (they also have a train station) have hospitals and large research clusters attached to them and, as noted, are served by real transit.  USF would not have a hospital attached to it and, as we have noted before, most of the research surrounding USF med school is already on or near the main USF campus (we doubt it would move).  You would not really be able to walk to TGH. (If USF med school goes anywhere near downtown, a more logical place would be near the planned TGH outpatient complex on Kennedy where there at least will be actual patients, though we have no idea if there is enough land, especially for future expansion.)

In fact, we can look across the Bay where Bayfront Medical Center, All Children’s Hospital, and, don’t forget, St. Anthony’s Hospital are all in downtown St. Pete.  They may add to activity there, but they do not drive it.  Tampa would not even have one hospital actually downtown.

It is also worth noting that UT is much closer to downtown Tampa than Penn, Hopkins or Carnegie Mellon are to their downtowns, but the Tampa has never done anything to really encourage the area around it to be developed to take advantage. If Tampa cannot take advantage of that larger number of people living, working (including going to school), and potentially playing basically in downtown, will it take advantage of a med school detached from most of its related institutions?  Can the area afford to make a mistake?

Again, if USF med school had started downtown, it would likely have a cluster now and would be a good thing, but it is not clear at all that moving it now would make sense. And, while we are not completely opposed, the case for moving it has not been made.

– Oh, Those Crazy Mounds

Finally, we noticed that the picture the Times used on its website for the teaser to the article on downtown money was this:

From the Times – click on picture for Times website

The Mayor standing at the top of the biggest of the mounds in Riverfront Park.  It just goes to show that, as we have noted over and over, if you remove a few of the poorly trees, that mound has one of the best vistas of downtown. 

Downtown – Goings On

– Lightning Owner’s Land

There was mixed news about the Lightning owner’s proposed projects downtown.  First, the hotel/condo proposal moved forward:

The Tampa City Council on Thursday night gave preliminary approval to rezone a property at Old Water Street and Florida Avenue now controlled by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, where he plans a hotel.

Because Vinik’s plan calls for a combination hotel/condo project, there’s a very good chance such a project would be a Ritz-Carlton “or higher” brand combination, said Jan Freitag, a senior vice president with Smith Travel Research.

* * *

Vinik’s new hotel complex would contain 400 guest rooms, 50 residential units and 45,000 square feet of retail space. With the preliminary approval given Thursday night, Vinik’s team will potentially return to the City Council in two weeks for further approvals.

That would be nice.  However, because there is no indication of what kind of hotel will be there – or really anything else – we withhold more comment.  Let’s just see what actually happens. Though here is another rendering (not sure about the need for a skyway between the hotel and the arena when the plaza connects them, but whatever):

From WTSP – click on picture for website

We did note this:

Normally, Tampa’s land development code limits the height of buildings in the central business district to 120 feet unless the zoning includes a detailed site plan. At 325 feet, about 25 floors, Vinik’s hotel would be a foot shorter than the neighboring Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which has 27 floors and 719 rooms.

Kind of odd that the code restricts heights downtown to 120 feet (basically ten stories) without further approval.  We know there are some FAA issues, but that should be left to the FAA.

The other news involved the recently filed application for an office building nearby.

After losing Syniverse as a prospective high-profile tenant, Vinik’s real estate development team has withdrawn a rezoning application to build an office building near Amalie Arena.

It also is dropping, at least for now, a related request to close Eunice Avenue for the project.

That is too bad.  Downtown needs more office development.  Of course, a major part of that issue is transportation and parking (which are very connected).

– Kress/Grant Blocks

Finally, we noticed that there was an application filed for Grant (just north of Kress) block downtown by a potential purchaser/developer of the lot, a lot where a previous, pre-recession proposal did not come to fruition.

Potential developers of the site known as “the Grant block” — which includes 901, 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. — have filed a request with the city to reduce the overall size of the mixed-use project, which is to include residential units and commercial space.

Looking at the information from the City’s website (it shows up as 910 north Florida but searching Franklin Street works better for some reason.), the application seeks 375 multi-family units in a 260 foot, 23 story building with what appears to be ground floor retail. We are not surprised there is renewed interest in that area given the proximity to Tampa Theater, Curtis Hixon Park, the Straz, the museums, and the other apartment/condo buildings – and the small but nice retail they brought – that were built a block or two away before the recession. (Thankfully, at least in some parts of downtown, the City learned from lack of street interaction of the 1980’s and 1990’s office buildings south of Kennedy and their lack of street retail.)

Of the Kress block, the Tribune tells us this:

Jason’s company has been closely watched by downtown observers, as that firm also owns the historic “Kress” block just to the south of the Grant block. Jason said she’s currently marketing the Kress property, but there is no deal on the table yet. Preliminary brochures for the Kress site suggest a plan with residential units, commercial space and a boutique grocery store.

(here is a brochure we found.  It is not clear when it if from.) Of course, the Kress block has historical buildings, so that is a bit trickier.

Until we see more, there is not much to say other than, at first blush, the Grant block idea looks ok.

On a more general note, this is the area where this building might go. (to the left of the Floridan)   While we know there are a number of factors involved with choosing where to build, it sure would be nice to fill in the surface parking before tearing down more of the limited amount of the old fabric that survived decades of demolition which, while kind of haggard now, could be brought back to life.

Channel District – A Look at the Future

Last week, there was news of a proposal for the old Amazon Hose property in the Channel District.  This week, the Business Journal had a rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The rendering is remarkably unremarkable.  Hopefully, it is just a preliminary drawing that does not show any of the (once again, hopefully) nice details and retail that will be involved.

Interestingly, the Business Journal article explained the appeal to developers of the Channel District:

The first four speak for themselves.  There is demand for housing in an urban area – no surprise.  The last one caught our eye.

We have nothing against developers making a profit – in fact, we are most definitely for it. And we have nothing against full buildings – we are definitely for that.  However, we are not for poor designs. (Take a drive down 12th Street and behold how Pierhouse deals with that street some time)  It is up to the City to make sure that it does not settle because those buildings are going to be with us for a while and, especially the larger ones, can make or break a street or neighborhood.  They do not have to be palaces, but they should be done properly.

Economic Development – Suckers for Bass Pro Shops

We are not sure how we missed this, but, sadly, we did.  As regular readers all know, there is a Bass Pro Shops store going up in Brandon.  This particular store was the subject of much debate about an incentive/subsidy deal to be given to the developer in the form of offsetting road building costs – which eventually bled to Bass Pro Shops when it bought the property for its store from the developer.  The entire reasoning for giving the particular money was that Bass Pro Shops was “destination retail” that would draw tourists and money, etc., and was a “once in lifetime” economic development opportunity (for the developer for sure).  Being Hillsborough County, the money was given by the County Commission.

Even at the time, the idea that people would flock to Brandon as tourist when there was a Bass Pro Shop in Ft. Myers and one in Orlando was very questionable.  Then, in July, there was this:

SARASOTA — It’s official: Bass Pro Shops will open a retail center in Sarasota, it’s just not where it was expected.

The outdoor retailer announced its future location on the northeast quadrant of Interstate 75 and Fruitville Road. The Bass Pro Shops Outpost store, which will be the company’s 14th store in Florida, is set to open sometime in 2016. New locations have already been announced in Tampa, Daytona, Jacksonville and Gainesville.

In mid-June, Bass Pro Shops had plans to build a 140,000 square-foot store beside the Mall at University Town Center. Bid documents showed that the company was soliciting bids for construction and specialty construction jobs for the store.

Plans for the new store are for a smaller 80,000-square-foot Outpost and, according to a news release issued Monday by the company, it will serve as “the primary anchor” for the new 260,000-square-foot, planned mixed-use Fruitville Commons development.

We understand this is the smaller version of the store than the one in Tampa, but, it will still have many similar amenities like this:

About 200 full- and part-time associates will be hired to work at the new store, according to the release. The store will feature Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill — a 20,000-square-foot nautical-themed center within the store featuring twelve bowling lanes. The menu will feature appetizers, sandwiches, salads and burgers, according to a news release.

According to Google maps, the travel time between the stores is about 45 minutes.  We also saw no evidence of any incentives or subsidies in Sarasota (pretty embarrassing) or, for that matter, for a similar store in Port St. Lucie.

As a Tribune columnist said:

Tourism wasn’t the only argument to give breaks wrapped around the Bass Pro project. Commissioners were vocal about wanting to bring jobs to the county, and Bass Pro will do that for sure. I’ll leave you with a couple of points, though.

First, businesses are going to expand to places where they can make money. The Bass Pro outlet will be successful in Brandon, so that should have been enough to get it here.

More than that, I would ask leaders considering projects like this in the future to stop phony-baloney rationales. Just say you think Bass Pro will make life better here and leave it at that. Everything else is hot air.

The beach is a destination. The ballpark can be a destination. Busch Gardens is a destination.

Bass Pro is a store. 

Indeed – and it was the case when the subsidy was approved, as well.

Finally, at the time the subsidy was approved, the supporters of it argued: Hillsborough County subsidized retail before.

Let’s not do it again.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

We previously mentioned that Orlando is getting a VA simulation center.  Another thing Orlando is getting is the downtown HQ of the recently spun off Red Lobster.

And in Ft. Lauderdale, there was this:

While the New River splits the city’s downtown in half, a new water trolley could provide visitors and locals a convenient way to bridge the divide.

The free service along Riverwalk would shuttle people across the New River between the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to the west and the Cheesecake Factory on Las Olas Boulevard to the east.

The one-year pilot project could be in operation by the middle of October if approved by commissioners at their Oct. 7 meeting.

Interesting.  Why would they do that?

City officials see an inexpensive water service as critical to creating a more popular Riverwalk, the linear park with brick paths that straddles both sides of the river. To get from one side to the other currently, pedestrians are limited to using bridge crossings at Andrews Avenue or Southeast Third Avenue.

Because the bridges are not a convenient connection for their riverwalk on both sides of the river.

As we mentioned in discussing Riverfront Park in Tampa, there is no really good connection of the park to the Riverwalk in Tampa, especially to locations where people will want to go.  We do not know if the “river trolley” is a good idea, but we should learn from others. Something needs to be done to address that connectivity oversight.

List of the week

Our list this week comes from redfin.com, in a series of articles they have about where educated Millennials are living. (see here and here).  It should be pointed out that these articles include some choices and aspects of a lifestyle that many would not necessarily choose, but that is the way it goes.  If you want to attract a certain group, you need to know what they think is important and want, not what you think they should think is important and want. In any event, because one of the articles had a graphic of the top Millennial neighborhoods, we just thought we’d post the graphic:

From redfin.com – click on chart for article

Aside from a few missing locations, pretty much what you would expect.

Roundup 9-12-2014

September 12, 2014

PTC – Of Words and Deeds

This week, there were a number of developments in the PTC/Ridesharing issue.

First, there were the mailers (you can see them here)

The taxi wars in Tampa are turning personal.

Ride-sharing company Uber has started a direct mail campaign in specific neighborhoods, pointing an accusing finger at individual politicians on Hillsborough County’s taxi and limo governing body, and saying they’re siding with taxi companies against local residents and limiting “consumer choice.”

Those politicians, in turn, are calling such mailers “illegal” political advertising and they’ve authorized a month-long billboard campaign around the region, warning people against taking unlicensed taxis.

We do not consider that particularly personal.  Elected officials are elected officials.  The policy decisions they make are fair game for comment and advocacy. (As far as we can tell, there is no implication that they did anything illegal or immoral, just that they might take a position that the mailers oppose.  It is also worth noting that, at the hearing referenced below, one of the PTC members approached the mailers with some humor.)  And, even if you ignore ridesharing, the PTC intentionally does limit consumer choice right now through price controls.  That is a fact (as is also shown below).

Second, the mailers tell the recipients of a PTC meeting on Wednesday, September 10 and suggest people attend.  Nothing wrong there. (The article does say that the mailers may have violated a law requiring some notices.  We don’t know if they did or not, so we take no position, other than to say that the senders should make sure they do it right.)  We thought that was a good idea and had some time, so we took it in. (It is not clear if a video of it is online)

There were a large number of people there – both for and against, though it looked like more for, ridesharing. (As far as we could tell, everyone who was against was connected to the cab or limo industry, including one insurance person.)  Notably, some of the PTC Commissioners were a bit testy about the mailers and repeatedly said they are looking after the safety of the public, saying things like this:

“I will not be strong-armed or bullied or pushed around by special interest groups when it comes to safety,” Higginbotham said. “I want to say one last time that these kinds of tactics are unacceptable, especially when I have worked so hard at bringing business to this community and I’ve been a supporter of consumer choice.”

Ok, but, if that is the case, why not focus on efficient background checks and insurance and drop the minimum pricing? (It was notable that during the PTC board’s discussions, no one seemed to know why the minimum pricing existed.  Some thought it might have to do with insurance requirements for limos, which has nothing to do with ridesharing. It was pointed out that the PTC did research on all summer and was waiting on a report about insurance.  Still, no one knew the basis for the policy.)  If the PTC members do not like people saying they are blocking consumer choice, they should stop fixing prices.

There were also protestations that the PTC was open to working with ridesharing companies.  Ok.  Once again, drop minimum pricing as an issue and focus on safety – car checks, background checks, and insurance.  Stop buying ads and ticketing people while you fix your own flawed rules.

And here is another comment with the same theme from an article before the meeting:

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who has been on the PTC for about a year, said he doesn’t remember speaking publicly at board meetings about Uber and Lyft. Nor has he been part of negotiations between the commission and the two car-for-hire companies. “I’m not on record as being in opposition,” he said. “That’s why I’m flabbergasted … I’ve been an advocate for free enterprise and open markets since long before I was elected. I’ve only voiced two concerns: insurance and safety checks.”

That’s fine – we’ll take the statement at face value.  So where is the motion to eliminate minimum pricing?  And there was this from the meeting:

“This is about building consensus and taking new ideas and growing from them,” Crist told the crowd. “But it is of paramount importance that we not lose sight of where we are and what our sole responsibility is, and that’s consumer safety … Is there room for change, of course there is, but we now have a foundation to work from.”

Do you notice a trend? So how does minimum pricing have anything to do with safety?

As we have pointed out previously, this is the argument the County Attorney representing the PTC made in court in support of minimum pricing:

County Managing Attorney Rob Brazel, in arguing for dismissal, said the transportation commission was created by the Legislature to regulate fares for limousines, taxis and other vehicles for hire. Those regulations, Brazel said, do not deny a customer his choice in the marketplace because he can choose to take a cab instead of a limousine.

“If you want to spend $50 on a limousine, you’re welcome to do that,” Brazel said. “If you don’t want to spend it, do something else.”

Using a hypothetical situation – a short vehicle trip from the George C. Edgecomb Courthouse downtown to Channelside – Brazel tried to demonstrate why the minimum fare rule for limousines is needed.

“(If) we found ourselves in a situation where a cab could cost the same as a limousine, we might not ever choose the cab,” Brazel said. “There wouldn’t be any reason to if they cost the same.”

That is the PTC’s lawyer.  That is not about choice (in fact, it is about pricing people out of choices to benefit a specific group), competition (likewise, it is about reducing competition), protecting the consumer, safety or supporting the market (it is market distorting).  The question remains: if the PTC exists to protect the consumer and provide safe transportation, why does it care if someone can provide a better service for a cheaper price?  That is not its role.  So why is it stopping that from happening?

And there was this:

The speaker sequence was frontloaded with people from PTC-sanctioned cab and limo operators. The gist of their argument: They are following the laws, paying the hefty fees and taking out expensive commercial insurance policies. Why shouldn’t the ride-share people?

Actually, the real question is what is the justification for the hefty fees?  Should they be lowered?  Do they serve consumers by making cab expenses higher? Are the laws reasonably necessary for public safety or just the way things have been done?  Are the PTC’s costs justified? Maybe there is a better way for all of this to be done.  Inertia may be the reason for the PTC’s policies, but it is not a justification.

This really gets to the bottom line:

As for the Uber debate itself, “It is not corrupt to uphold the law, and we are upholding the law,” Crist said. “We are enforcing the laws that are on the books to protect consumers.”

That’s fine, but if you make the rules, you cannot then claim to be helpless before them.  You made the rules.  You can change them.  (And just because they are rules does not mean they are not corrupt or do not facilitate corruption.) Change the rules, and start with eliminating minimum pricing, which is the most obviously anti-competitive, anti-consumer rule.

It is nice to have meetings, but it is more important to have your deeds match your words. It is really not that hard.

Riverfront Park – As Expected

The City revealed its plan for Riverfront Park, and it was pretty much what was revealed before.  Because, as expected based on past experience, nothing much changed, we are not going to repeat what we have already said.  You can read it at “Parks – What Is and What Should Be” .

We will only say two things about the announced plans.  First, the plan is now $20 million.  All previous coverage suggested $9 million was budgeted and never really indicated it would cost much more. Frankly, we do not care that much if it is a little more expensive than previously stated.  It is ok to spend some money for a long term investment provided it is done right. (See our previously referenced comments)  Such investments have to be made from time to time.  (Of course, such investments should be made outside of the InVision Tampa area, too.)  There is a question of when all the money will be allocated so this thing can get done, but we shall see.

Second, and it is not a big thing (it will not make or break the park), but it goes to an issue in our local designs (more of a built environment issue). We noticed this rendering which looks to be around the boathouse:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Note the wooden frame structure. Much like using palm trees as shade trees, it is cute but probably useless.  It does not protect from rain or sun.  This is Florida.  That frame may work with vines in California or Colorado or Tuscany, but here it does not do much other than provide the veneer of shelter without actually giving any.  (You can see the same sort of thing with the “awnings” on Element and Skypoint.)  We have no idea what it is for.  It would be nice if local plans were made for local conditions.  We don’t mind spending some money for quality, but, as we said, it should be quality and fit our conditions.

Transportation – The Choice Between Ideology and Practicality

This week, there was an article in the Times about one of the national anti-rail campaigners who was brought in by No Tax for Tracks to attack Greenlight.

If light rail opponents had a rock star, Randal O’Toole would probably be him.

There are a couple of others, too, but anyway.  So what is his analysis?

The senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has written extensively on the subject, arguing that there has never been a successful light rail project.

Well, that is rational.  Never?  Not one?  Anywhere?  (Here’s one list of all the US systems  and here is one list of all the systems worldwide .  They all suck) Now, if he said that some systems or lines waste money and listed the reasons he thought Greenlight was flawed, fine.  But just a blanket “it all fails” is pretty hard to take seriously. But, then again, he does not appear to be one for half statements.  His Cato bio tells us this:

In his book The Best-Laid Plans, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation.

We are not sure if he wants to abolish all planning regulation, but ok.  We’d be fine making developers pay all the cost for all the roads and utility connections from their developments to everything else . . . and the maintenance costs. (Why should they be subsidized like they are now?)  He seems to forget that the taxpayer is paying for a lot of that cost.  Roads, water, and sewer are not free.  Someone has to pay for them, and that is through taxes, so the taxpayers gets a say in the obligations private parties want to foist on them – including some planning regulations. Just ask Pasco.  And he seems to ignore that dense development around transit is a way to raise more revenue that can be used to offset some of that cost, as well as limiting some of that cost by making connections shorter.

But who needs regulation or taxes. Apparently, if someone wants to put a chemical plant on Bayshore or a fish packing plant on Clearwater Beach, no problem.  And if you have 18 wheelers rolling around your neighborhood at all hours, just deal.  And who needs schools?

Then we found this blog post discussion about an article he wrote (as far as we could tell after some searching, the article does not appear to be available online) telling people in Detroit to reject rail – not because Detroit’s plan has flaws (a colorable argument for that exists) but because all rail is a failure, citing the examples of Denver and Portland as failures.  We suppose what is a “failure” all depends what you want (if you want no rail then any rail is a “failure”), but we have no doubt that we could find a large number of people in this area that wished we were failing like Denver and Portland, especially in terms of per capita gross metro product and incomes. And what about Salt Lake City or Phoenix or San Diego or all the other failed cities with rail?

Of course, what is done in Denver or Portland, and other cities, is the product of a collective decision by the people – especially with referendums – in the relevant jurisdictions (through that oppressive socialist election thing) that they want to live in a community that has various choices in how to get around.  That is their choice and how democracy functions.  Greenlight is the same. (And, note that Oklahoma City, that bastion of the socialist gas and oil industry, is also working towards rail. And even Omaha is considering a combination or streetcar and, apparently real but who knows, BRT.  Will the oppression never end?)

The bottom line is that because his analysis starts with the position that all rail is a failure (which it is clearly not), the expert is not particularly interesting or believable.  If he wants to live in a sprawling subdivision in an exurb and be forced to drive everywhere and be stuck in traffic all day, we really don’t care (really, we don’t). People should have choices. But that also means they should have a choice to not live that way – which too often the supposedly market oriented policies of local government does not allow and even subvert with subsidies.  And, ironically, the very transit and density he is against is likely the best way to preserve the big, open spaces he seems to want.  But that does not fit into the ideology, so it cannot be considered.

Sadly, that is the quality of the debate about Greenlight and most transportation in this area.  But, then again, did you expect anything else?

Channel District – Amazon Hose Lot

The Amazon Hose property in the Channel District has been purchased.

Florida Crystals has closed on the Amazon Hose and Rubber site in Channelside where it plans to develop apartments.

The all-natural sugar producer paid $3.84 million for the site, said Sean Lance, managing director of NAI Tampa Bay.

So what is the plan?

Florida Crystals launched a real estate division in 2013 and has been active in the apartment sector since. The Amazon Hose site is its first Tampa deal, but the company’s real estate director, Juan Porro, was the developer of The Slade, a condominium building in Channelside.

Plans are for 270 units in a seven-story mid-rise building, with a six-and-a-half story parking garage, Lance said. The apartments will be mostly one- and two-bedroom units, and the building will likely include a few three-bedroom units. The land price breaks down to $47 per square foot or $14,222 per unit.

Lance said the company is “extremely well capitalized.” The developer who went under contract on the site in summer 2013 struggled to attract an equity partner, but he said that won’t be an issue for Florida Crystals, which went under contract on the property in August.

And

The apartment complex, the name of which wasn’t announced, will have a parking structure alongside the building, allowing most tenants to park on their own floor. The building and the units will have a modern architectural feel inspired by Miami Beach’s art deco design.

We are not sure what that last part means (maybe some waving thing and some lights). In any event, we do not know what the project design will be or when it might get built, so we cannot comment on that other than to say that hopefully the parking garage will be hidden from the street. (And, if it isn’t, it would be nicer if the apartments were on top of the garage to provide more view corridors and light near the street and allow for more open space among the buildings.) And it is too bad that this project is much smaller than the original proposal for this site.

Ybor – Adaptive Reuse

There was news about the old Oliva Cigar Factory in Ybor.

A corporate entity tied to Darryl Shaw, CEO of BluePearl Veterinary, has filed a request with the city to reduce the parking at the Oliva Cigar Factory from 42 spaces to 21 as part of its conversion to a multifamily building. Shaw’s plans call for the conversion of the building into “a maximum of 42 multifamily rental units.” The three-story, 30,000-square-foot factory was built in 1900, according to Hillsborough County property records.

We are not completely clear how having 21 parking spaces for up to 42 units works, especially in a city where public transit is lacking. Other than that, we are fine with the idea.

And this is not the only project the developer has planned in Ybor.

Shaw is a longtime advocate of the revitalization of Ybor City, recently buying the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn and the former Blue Ship Cafe building. He plans to renovate the Blue Ship Cafe property into a mixed-use concept, with apartments on the second floor and retail on the ground floor.

Aside from the parking question, this all sounds good to us.

Economic Development – Foreign Students

Almost a year ago, there was an article in the Times that discussed foreign students. Some interesting perspective was given by an interesting report from Brookings about foreign students in the United States.  It ranked 118 metro areas.  You can look at it for yourself, but we will pull out a few interesting numbers.

The Tampa Bay area, a top 20 metro area, ranked 44th for the number of foreign students overall.  28.6% of the students in the Tampa Bay area were in the STEM fields, which ranked 101st.  , 51.6% of foreign students in the Tampa Bay area choose to remain in the Tampa Bay area, which ranked 21st.  Finally, there were 16.3 foreign students for every 1000 Tampa Bay area residents, which ranked 80th.  It is also notable that the only Latin American country in the Top 5 for foreign students in the Tampa Bay area was Venezuela.

Economic Development – Reading List

– The Challenge of MedTech

There has been a lot of discussion on developing the biomed/medtech sector in the Tampa Bay area.  It is one of the target areas of Hillsborough County economic development efforts.  It is a hot topic.  Therefore, we were quite interested when we ran across this article in Foreign Policy about Minnesota’s challenges as one of the main biomed/medtech centers in the country and world.  We are not going to summarize it, but for anyone who is interested in the subject, it is worth a read it here.

– High Tech

There was also an interesting article in the Guardian about how Chattanooga developed its tech economy. This excerpt gives you a taste:

He’s not alone in thinking so. Lamp Post is one of several tech incubators in this mid-sized Tennessee city. Money is flowing in. Chattanooga has gone from close to zero venture capital in 2009 to more than five organized funds with investable capital over $50m in 2014 – not bad for a city of 171,000 people.

The city’s go-getting mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat tipped for higher office, is currently reviewing plans for a city center tech zone specifically designed to meet the needs of its new workforce.

In large part the success is being driven by The Gig. Thanks to an ambitious roll-out by the city’s municipally owned electricity company, EPB, Chattanooga is one of the only places on Earth with internet at speeds as fast as 1 gigabit per second – about 50 times faster than the US average.

The tech buildup comes after more than a decade of reconstruction in Chattanooga that has regenerated the city with a world-class aquarium, 12 miles of river walks along the Tennessee River, an arts district built around the Hunter Museum of American Arts, high-end restaurants and outdoor activities.

But it’s the city’s tech boom has sparked interest from other municipalities across the world. It also comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to address some of the biggest questions the internet has faced when it returns from the summer break. And while the FCC discusses whether Comcast, the world’s biggest cable company, should take over Time Warner, the US’s second largest cable operator, and whether to allow those companies to set up fast lanes (and therefore slow lanes) for internet traffic, Chattanooga is proof that another path is possible.

It is worth reading the whole thing.

Built Environment – Real Adaptive Reuse

One of the big arguments in the transit discussions in this area involve how the area is built in such a sprawling fashion – even in Pinellas, which is commonly said to be “built out.”  There was an interesting piece on NPR this week (yes, it was NPR, but, no, it was not about socialism) about reuse of malls that closed that indirectly speaks to this.

Old mall properties can become many things:

On new suburban downtowns replacing malls

There’s about 40 malls that have more or less bulldozed the existing mall and are now building the downtown that that suburb never had before. One example is Belmar in Lakewood, Colo., just outside of Denver. It used to be the Villa Italia Mall, a very large regional mall on a 100-acre single, superblock site. Today it’s 22 blocks of walkable, urban streets that connect up with the neighboring streets. At the ground floor you get a lot of shops and then above that, a lot of either offices or apartments. At the same time, they basically tripled density on that site but they’ve more than quadrupled the tax revenue that the town is receiving and … actually cut traffic because so many of those people now are able to walk to their daily needs.

On the mixed-use development real estate trend that has replaced the shopping mall trend

It’s often referred to as “new urbanism,” the movement that’s been driving a lot of this, because it makes so much sense from an economic point of view, certainly from a sustainability and environment point of view, from social — building more opportunities for people to get together. And it also just really makes sense in terms of our changing demographics. Folks in their 20s — millennials — most of them grew up in the suburbs and most of them have made very clear they want to live a more urban lifestyle. They don’t want to become their parents.

You can learn more about the Belmar experience here (note this is from our outsourced planners the ULI)  and here. This is what it was. You can look here and see what it is. This is an aerial view.

To be honest, it still has too much surface parking for our taste, but at least is makes some effort to integrate the parking into a more urban layout, rather than local attempts like Wiregrass that are more like roofless malls surrounded by seas of parking.

The point is that just because there is a development pattern now does not mean it will never change.  Some things can get worse, others can get better.  It depends on the market, the overall economy, the infrastructure, a desire to do better, and the regulations put in place by the local government.

Our situation is not static.  It can be made much better with the proper conditions.

List of the week

Our list this week is smartasset.com’s best cities for tech workers.  This is the methodology:

For two hundred cities, we collected data on average wages for all workers, average wages for tech workers and percentage of all workers who are employed in tech from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also looked at the cost of living index for each city from the Census Bureau. We then ranked the cities for three categories, giving high marks for high relative pay for tech workers, high percentages of tech workers in the workforce (representing high levels of opportunity in the field) and low cost of living indices. The total of these three rankings became the cities’ overall tech industry scores.

Coming in first was Omaha, followed by Colorado Springs, Huntsville (AL), Dallas, Springfield (IL), Charlotte, Columbus, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Tampa.

So we made a list (with Dubuque, Huntsville, Springfield, and Cedar Rapids). Notably, two of the three elements are relative salaries – how much higher tech workers get paid than everyone else – and low cost of living.  Because of our low wage economy and low cost of living (though from the website apparently not lower than Charlotte), it is not surprising we made the list.  The lists we make usually weigh low wages and low cost of living heavily.  We are ok with a lower cost of living but not low wages.

And the overall low wages in our area makes one wonder why, unlike some other areas, our tech jobs have such a low effect on the economy as a whole, which is a subject worthy of study.

Roundup 9-5-2014

September 5, 2014

PTC – Newspeak for Old Policy

The PTC/Ridesharing silliness goes on and on.

Both sides in the battle between local regulators and ride-share company Uber are taking their fight to the public, despite claims of an imminent compromise.

Uber sent an email blast to its riders last Tuesday urging them to contact Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist telling him they “want access to safe, affordable, and reliable rides like Uber.” Crist’s office said it received more than 750 emails by the end of the day.

That salvo came one day after the PTC put up the first in a series of billboards warning people to “be cautious of illegal transportation providers.” The billboard along Interstate 4 near 50th Street cost $4,000 — paid for by revenue from regulatory fees and fines — and will be up for 30 days, executive director Kyle Cockream said.

From the Times – click on picture for article

That is a good use of resources?  The issue is why the PTC is making ridesharing illegal in the first place.

In any event, where do we stand on a potential agreement?

These public campaigns started a week after the PTC made an attempt to compromise with the ride-share companies by suggesting they charge customers at least $30 and make them order a ride at least a half-hour in advance.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett called the suggested compromise disappointing.

“Frankly, it’s anticompetitive and it’s anticonsumer,” Bennett said. “Really what it does is restrict the competition, protect an industry that does nothing for consumers, and make it harder for folks to get an affordable ride and move around the city easily.”

Bingo.  The minimum pricing does nothing for consumers.  It just protects the cab companies. Period.  As long as that remains (in any form – for limos, too) the PTC is not really making an attempt to come to any agreement or represent the interest of consumers.

Bennett said the company hopes to reach an agreement with regulators within a matter of months that would allow it to operate legally in the area.

Crist said he is reluctant to believe Uber’s assertion that an agreement is imminent.

“I would like to believe that, but I will believe it when they sign on the dotted line,” Crist said. “Because I’ve heard it before, and every time we hand them the pen, it’s something else that we’ve got to change.”

Maybe they don’t sign because the PTC is not acting in good faith or with the interest of the consumers in mind.

Crist, who called the technology “innovative, forward-thinking and ingenious,” said he is supportive of Uber providing consumers with another transportation option, but it must find a way to do so within the regulatory framework that governs for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough.

“And at this point, I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t think they want to operate legally,” Crist said. “By operating illegally, they don’t have to meet our high standards. They can cut the prices, steal the fares and make more money.”

So he knows that ridesharing is a good technology – he just wants to stifle it with the same protectionist, cartel supporting rules that the PTC has promulgated for years. The Commissioner would be much more believable if the PTC dropped the minimum pricing which has no logical benefit to the public and is hardly a “high standard.” (and note this article about how, at least in areas where it is more prevalent, Uber customers have far lower wait times than cab customers)

Until it drops its unjustifiable requirements, especially minimum pricing, (as far as we can tell, the only justification ever given for minimum pricing is to protect the cab companies See “PTC – Crony Capitalism Hillsborough Style” ), it is clear the PTC is more interested in protecting vested business interests than protecting the public, all rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

Port – More on the Cruise Conundrum

There was another Times article on the issue of growing cruise ships not fitting under the Skyway.  The basic crux of the article was that there is a need to balance between trying to save the cruise industry in this area and protecting the environment – specifically the Bay and Gulf waters for both environmental and economic reasons.

In July, a Florida Department of Transportation study said Tampa Bay’s cruise ship sector — which supports up to 2,000 jobs locally — could disappear in the next 10 to 15 years.

The options for saving that $380 million-a-year economic engine are daunting:

One of the more realistic but still challenging options would be to build a $700 million cruise port on an artificial island off the Pinellas coast, west of the bridge.

But that option would require tens of millions of federal dollars to dredge a new channel in the bay — and dredging is a job for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps of engineers maintains the nation’s navigational waterways, including the 70 miles of channels in Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Port Authority asked the corps to explore whether there would be “federal interest” in improving Tampa Bay’s cruise ship operations.

* * *

The corps issued a report in February that said there could be a “national economic development” benefit to streamlining shipping traffic through the bay. That’s because when cruise ships enter the bay’s channels, no other ships are allowed in.

For safety reasons, the Coast Guard decided that the channels are too narrow to allow cargo ships to pass, overtake or meet cruise ships. Depending on the weather, ships could spend four to 12 hours at sea waiting for cruise ships to enter or exit the bay.

The corps estimated how much a cruise port west of the Skyway would have saved in the past decade if it kept cruise ships out of the bay: $90.6 million. Going forward, the report said a cruise port could save $10.1 million annually in fuel and other costs.

So that sounds a little promising . . . maybe.  Is there a catch?

The corps of engineers report offered a potential site for a Pinellas cruise port: just north of the center of the Skyway, on the seaward side of the bridge.

That location is right on top of the last part of the 400-square-mile Tampa Bay estuary that is untouched — and undeveloped — by human beings. It’s called Lower Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Sierra Club chair Kent Bailey said dredging a channel and building an artificial island on top of the marine ecosystem there, right next to the island beaches of Fort De Soto Park, would hurt the bay and the economic activity that depends on the bay.

“Traditional dredging … creates an environmental dead zone,” he said. “Creating a dead zone in one of the most sensitive and valuable parts of the bay is very shortsighted.”

In July, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council released a report that, for the first time, measured the economic impact of the bay itself.

Planning director Avera Wynne said the study wasn’t meant to address the cruise ship issue. But its conclusion — that the clean, or “healthy,” waters of the bay annually produce $22 billion of GDP for a six-county region — is now part of the conversation.

Well, that is a catch.  What does the Port have to say?

But Tampa Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson said everyone needs to take a breath.

No decision is imminent, he said. The port’s top leader asked everyone to keep an open mind: Time and technology may present solutions that haven’t yet been considered.

“There are numerous other options,” Anderson said. “We don’t have anything in our minds as to what those options are.”

Nothing in mind?  That is a bit odd.

But Anderson, the port’s CEO, said his agency in no rush to make a decision.

He also said he was disappointed that the FDOT report offered a limited number of expensive options that have stirred up a lot of emotions in the bay area.

“There are other options that (the FDOT) didn’t look at,” he said, “and I wish they did.”

Anderson said options that the state did not consider include ideas like floating cruise ship docks. Such a project has been pitched in Grand Cayman as a way of avoiding having to dredge 22.1 million cubic feet of sea floor to build a new cruise port.

That sounds like an option. . . though we have no idea how viable.  A tunnel is also an option, though we do not know the cost, and there is the question of whether to incorporate it in the Skyway or just remove the Skyway.

In all honesty, we are not sure what the solution is. It is all quite a mess – and a constant lesson that when we plan and build, we need to plan and build for future, as well a present, needs.  If the Skyway had just been built a little higher, none of this would have been an issue.  And the longer you wait, the more expensive and/or harmful the lack of forward planning and action will be.

That should be remembered when planning for transportation and transit (and anything really.)

TIA – Proactive

Part of proper planning ahead is being proactive.  Once again, the airport is showing how.  It has a plan for dealing with the future needs and a plan for its execution, including this:

An audit team will monitor every dime spent for a billion-dollar Tampa International Airport master plan, scheduled to begin in earnest this fall.

Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and administration for the airport, told the Hillsborough Aviation Authority Board Thursday that he’d rather audit every step of the way than discover when it’s all complete that something went awry, financially.

“We’ve heard the horror stories about years after a project is complete, there is a tremendous error discovered,” Illustrato said after the meeting. “We’re trying to ensure that doesn’t happen here.”

An in-house audit team, including a new employee the airport plans to hire, will oversee the auditing process, said Laura Tatem, director of internal auditing for the airport. “This is a significantly large project with large monthly expenditures.” This auditing process will “deter mismanagement and improper billing,” she said.

Tatem said her team will issue short reports or memos as the projects progress.

Is it perfect?  No.  Nothing is, but it is an attempt to catch problems quickly and fix them. (Unlike the Hillsborough County homeless housing program. See “Hillsborough County – Watching the Money”).  Just another way the airport is showing how to do major projects responsibly. (Maybe they should give a seminar to the TED group)

– And One More Thing

It also gives us the opportunity to bring this up (and, yes, we know there is work to get express buses to downtown, but what other choices are there right now?):

Costs related to the master plan in 2015 are associated with design work and road work that will be done in preparation for larger projects like the planned People Mover. The new train will transport passengers from the airport to the Westshore business district where it will connect with a new consolidated rental car facility planned for that area and with an intermodal transit station the state plans to construct alongside of Interstate 275.

Everyone knows that the People Mover is so popular with the vast majority of people of all stripes in dealing with the airport.  And that system went in before the airport was anywhere near as busy as it is now and has only been expanded.  And, when the airport expanded, it probably would have been cheaper to go to moving sidewalks (like with the long-term garage) or some other technology, but the airport stuck with the plan (except with the budget garage, which is now, properly, going to replace buses with the People Mover).  And everyone (including FDOT) is behind the further expansion of the People Mover (which is nothing but a slightly modified version of the “19th Century” rail technology and, at best, is a mid 20th Century technology) – even when connecting to the intermodal station quite a distance away and even when it could all be done with buses.

That should tell you something.

Economy – Looking at Exports

This week, there were reports about new figures from the Federal government regarding exports.  First, the headline of the Times article: “Florida trails smaller states as an exporter of goods.”  Then the headline of the Business Journal web post: “Tampa metro scores big on national export report.”   So which is it?

Florida, which is on the brink of becoming the third-most-populous state in the country, ranked seventh overall nationwide, the data showed. It was far behind leaders Texas (where exports supported 1.1 million jobs) and California (800,000 jobs) and also trailed Washington, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Louisiana.

Ok, not proportional to our size, but not so bad, maybe.  Anything more detailed about the Tampa Bay area?

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area was the 43rd largest export market in the United States in 2013.

Merchandise shipments from the metro area totaled $6.7 billion last year, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration.

More than one-third of that total, or $2.4 billion in exports, went to Mexico. Other top export markets for the Tampa metro were Canada, with 8.8 percent of the total exports; Brazil, 5.4 percent; China, 4.4 percent; and the United Kingdom, 2.3 percent.

Computer and electronic products were the top export sector, comprising 38.2 percent of the Tampa metro exports in 2013. Chemicals made up 21.7 percent of the local exports, followed by transportation equipment (5.2 percent), machinery except electrical (5.2 percent), and food and kindred products (4.2 percent).

That sounds good, but the Tampa Bay area is a top 20 metro area, so still punching below our weight, as it were.  Who had more exports than us? Well, here is the Top 50:

  1. Houston; 2. New York; 3. Los Angeles; 4. Seattle; 5. Detroit; 6. Chicago; 7. Miami-Fort Lauderdale; 8. New Orleans; 9. Dallas-Fort Worth; 10. San Francisco-Oakland; 11. Philadelphia; 12. Minneapolis-St. Paul; 13. San Jose; 14. Boston; 15. Cincinnati; 16. San Antonio; 17. San Juan, PR; 18. Atlanta; 19. San Diego; 20. Portland, OR; 21. Washington, DC; 22. El Paso; 23. St. Louis; 24. Greenville, SC; 25. Peoria, IL; 26. Salt Lake City; 27. Phoenix; 28. Memphis; 29. Cleveland; 30. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT; 31. Charlotte; 32. Pittsburgh; 33. Hartford; 34. Indianapolis; 35. Riverside-San Bernardino; 36. Louisville; 37. Milwaukee; 38. Austin; 39. Nashville; 40. Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX; 41. Kansas City; 42. Davenport; 43. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; 44. Providence; 45. Baton Rouge; 46. Baltimore; 47. Sacramento; 48. Columbus, OH; 49. Lake Charles, LA; and 50. Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA

At least Denver and Orlando were not ahead of us, though pretty much every other usual suspect, plus a large number of other places were.  Of course, there is the small matter of a number of inland and much smaller metro areas being ahead or near us.

So is that lagging or scoring high?  You can decide for yourself.

Westshore – Keeping an HQ

Soon there should be a new building in the Westshore area.

Highwoods Properties Inc. plans to build a custom office development for Laser Spine Institute.

Laser Spine signed a long-term lease with Highwoods for a 176,000 square foot headquarters and ambulatory surgery center on four Highwood-owned acres in Avion Park, in Tampa’s Westshore district. Laser Spine will occupy the entirety of the property.

The $56 million project is expected to break ground this fall and be completed in the first quarter of 2016. Once it’s complete, Laser Spine will vacate 60,000 square feet in Harborview Plaza, also in Westshore. Laser Spine said Wednesday it expects to create 100 jobs and increase patient capacity by 25 percent.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That’s fine.  It is good to have expanding HQ’s retained in the area.  The only downside is that Avion Park is entirely unwalkable, but that is Westshore.

West River – Deals Being Done

This week, it was announced that land near Riverfront Park was changing hands.

A company controlled by Tampa’s SOHO Capital this week purchased the Oakhurst I and Oakhurst II projects that stretch for 7 acres along North Boulevard Street, just north of the University of Tampa, from West Cass Street on the south to West Arch Street on the north, and from Boulevard on the east to one block west. The sale price for the two parcels totaled $7.2 million.

“It is going to be managed in a stable way and will be business as usual for current residents at this point,” said Adam Harden, a development executive with Tampa-based SOHO Capital. “This property is a key gateway to downtown, and probably will be important to the future, potential east/west corridor … And this is an important site as you look at University of Tampa as a stabilizing factor on that side of the river. So we’re committed to do what it takes to make this a success.”

* * *

SOHO Capital is a growing player in the downtown and wider Tampa development scene. The company has housing, restaurant and office projects of various sorts from south Tampa towards Pasco County. The company also owns a large parcel almost directly across the Hillsborough River from Oakhurst called The Heights that includes the large “Trolley Barn” brick warehouse structure.

That parcel is directly north of the newly opened Ulele restaurant that opened to huge fanfare, and next door to the new Waterworks Park that the city just opened after a multi-million-dollar investment.

SOHO is redeveloping the warehouse and surrounding neighborhood into a mixed use, commercial, residential and restaurant neighborhood, helping anchor the northern end of the Riverwalk.

* * *

“Nothing should happen as far as the residents are concerned,” he said. “All residents will continue to receive the benefit of affordable housing through their existing lease arrangements.”

Harden of SOHO said he expects a minimum of three or four years before any real changes come to site, though over time, he envisions a dramatic overhaul, particularly in conjunction with the city’s plans. The area would still be a neighborhood, but it would also have apartments, student housing for UT, perhaps some restaurants, plus some “light commercial” uses, such as services for residents.

In other words, nothing is going to happen for a while, which is logical since the developer has the Heights property to redevelop first.  It will be interesting to see what actually happens there – whether it is truly urban and well designed and built or whether it becomes another example of Tampa settling. That will tell us a lot about the future of this new property.

Hopefully, something will happen on this land eventually and before another of the usual cyclical downturns comes and delays things more.  And when something finally is built, it should be quite dense (since, if the river is the center of downtown, this land is now considered to be part of downtown).  There should be no settling.

Rays – Rumblings

There was a column in the Times that says a deal for the Rays to look around Hillsborough and Pinellas may be coming.

If you recall, dreams of a new waterfront home in St. Petersburg were once abandoned by the Tampa Bay Rays, in part because critics said the process was too rushed.

So it was agreed that a more deliberate approach was needed, and community leaders would take the reins. A blue-ribbon committee formed, and the first meeting was scheduled.

That was six years ago this month.

Of course, nothing happened because that blue ribbon committee determined that the majority of the best locations for the Rays stadium, financing aside, were in Hillsborough County and St. Pete was not going to have that. (The other was Gateway).

That was then.  So what now?

An agreement between the Rays and St. Petersburg that would allow the team to begin conversations about future stadium sites seems to be growing near, based on conversations with those involved.

Unlike a deal talked about under former Mayor Bill Foster, the latest agreement may not spell out the financial implications if the Rays leave Tropicana Field before its stadium use agreement ends in 2027. Instead, the team might be allowed to look at potential sites in Hillsborough County with further discussions in St. Pete to follow.

The impetus seems to be a need for clarity. That goes for the Rays, St. Petersburg and Hillsborough.

Clarity is nice, and the column lays out some of the issues:

It’s become clear Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is moving ahead with plans for development in downtown Tampa without a baseball stadium on his collection of properties.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other sites in downtown Tampa that might be suitable, but there is a risk of baseball being squeezed out if options aren’t explored soon.

Likewise, there is potential for redevelopment of the land where Tropicana sits. If it is inevitable that baseball will eventually leave St. Pete, it makes sense to line up a replacement ahead of time.

Jabil Circuit is in the market for a new headquarters, and landing a major high-tech firm on the Tropicana site could transform the western edge of downtown. But Jabil, or any corporation for that matter, can’t wait indefinitely for a decision on the Rays.

Another potential piece of the puzzle is a 60-acre plot of land in Tampa’s West Shore district, where Jefferson High and two other schools sit.

West Shore, along with downtown Tampa, were the two Hillsborough sites identified by that blue-ribbon committee as having the corporate base necessary for a stadium location. If Hillsborough officials decide that land is in play, it creates another potential stadium site that would have to be explored quickly before it is earmarked for something else.

In other words, things are coming to a head (including in possible financing, which is not covered here).   Of course, we have heard a lot of this before.  The bottom line is that, until something happens, nothing has happened.

Reuniting Ybor

It seems that work on fixing up 21st and 22nd Streets in Ybor is about to begin.

Plans to refurbish 21st and 22nd streets will transform them from part of the state’s rumbling truck route into scenic throughways that could actually reunite the long-divided Ybor City historic district.

* * *

For the better part of 18 months, traffic on both roads between Adamo Drive and Hillsborough Avenue will be slow-going, Florida Department of Transportation officials say. Work is slated to begin in early October and for much of the time, traffic on one road or the other will be down to one lane.

Once completed, both roads will be turned over by the state to the City of Tampa in a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly state, said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

At that point, the city can pass an ordinance outlawing commercial truck traffic on the roads, Pardo said.

It is a good idea, and we are glad it is getting done, though 18 months sure seems like a long time.

That reunion, said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp., could make the area more appealing to businesses considering relocating there, including developers seeking to build residential units.

“Our business recruitment and targeted industries haven’t changed,” Pardo said. “It will just be more appealing to locate there.”

Ybor City’s business plan targets residential, hotel, retail and restaurants for that area, Pardo said, as he traveled to meet with a developer this week on possible future residential for the area.

Fine.  We are not sure this change will be an engine for development, but hope it helps.  And how about offices? (You know – live, work, play) Any more details?

A big part of that plan was to create a shady, pedestrian-friendly zone, he said. The sidewalks will be shaded with 63 Washingtonia palms, 15 Medjool date palms, 70 lavender crape myrtles and six royal poinciana trees.

Ok. Stop right there.  Palm trees are nice.  They are iconic for sunny, warm places.  They are pretty.  One thing they are definitely not, though, is good for providing shade.  We understand that their roots may not mess with sidewalks like actual shade trees, but putting palm trees is not creating a shady zone. (And crape myrtles, while also pretty and providing some shade, will drop flowers everywhere, including on the pedestrians.) Of course, the City’s issues with real shade trees and palm obsession in Ybor is not new.

So, overall, the plan is not bad, but drop the palms in favor of real shade trees, please.

List of the Week, Plus

This week we have a combination item/list(s).  First, the plus . . .

An article in the Tribune featured a Wallethub.com list of the best places to retire.

Even as Mayor Bob Buckhorn tries to shift the city’s economy toward tech-savvy young people, Tampa is offering older folks more reasons to come here than any big city in America, a new study says.

The city ranks No. 1 among the nation’s 150 largest on 2014’s “Best and Worst Places to Retire” from the financial social media site Wallethub.com.

Rounding out the Top 5 are Sunbelt cities Grand Prairie, Texas, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Scottsdale, Arizona.

At the bottom of the list are urban giants Providence, Rhode Island, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.

Cities are the focus of the study, not larger metropolitan areas. Tampa, with about 353,000 people, accounts for about 27 percent of Hillsborough County’s 1.29 million people.

Wallethub uses five criteria in arriving at its rankings, four of them given a weight of five points — Affordability, Activities, Quality of Life and Health Care — and one, Jobs, weighted two points.

Tampa isn’t tops in any one of the five categories but the city ranks No. 3 in Activities and No. 9 in Affordability. It’s tied with St. Petersburg in the Affordability ranking.

You can find the full list and methodology here. As the article notes:

But in his first term, Mayor Buckhorn has touted the growing appeal of Tampa — especially the downtown area — as a place for young professionals to live, work and play.

At a July conference in Los Angeles on how cities are reinventing themselves, Buckhorn hold a national audience he’s trying to shift the city’s “economic DNA” away from one driven by housing construction toward one driven by innovation and tech-savvy young people.

So, is there progress on that front?  Coincidentally, this week citylab.com had an article in which they crunched the numbers on the 20 best job markets for new college grads.

With the help of the economic and labor market data firm EMSI, we ranked America’s 100 largest metros based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures on full-time regular employment for some 320 occupations that require post-secondary education, including bachelors’, masters’ and doctoral degrees, as well as more specialized training. These jobs, in fields like nursing, engineering, business, media, and education, pay an average of $34.28 an hour, or $71,300 a year. Across the United States as a whole, 2.2 million such jobs were created from 2010 and 2014, of which the 100 largest metros accounted for 1.7 million, roughly eight in 10.

The rankings are based on five key factors:

So what did they find?

Coming in first was San Francisco, followed by San Jose, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, Houston, Raleigh, LA, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Des Moines, San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, and Columbus (OH).  Nary a Florida locale.

(The article provides more detailed information for those who are interested.)

Sadly, the list is so predictable, it is almost boring, as is our exclusion from it. (Though, every now and then we show up on lists.)

At some point it should be clear to all those involved (and that includes far more people than the Mayor – unlike many elected officials, at least he is out there consistently identifying the issue) that the incremental, sputtering approach this area has taken and, for the most part, is taking to our issues is not sufficient.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers