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Roundup 12-19-2014

December 19, 2014

Downtown/Channel District – The Lightning Owner’s Vision

At long last, the plan (or vision) for the Lightning owner’s land was revealed.

Jeff Vinik has finally unveiled his vision for transforming downtown: a $1 billion project that would add nearly 3 million square feet of space for people to ”live, work, stay and play.”

“We own the land, we have the capital, we have the vision,” said Vinik executive Jim Shimberg Jr. “We think this is the time to move this project forward.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning owner revealed his vision of Tampa’s urban future to the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday morning.

“We think Tampa desperately needs something like this,” Vinik told the commissioners.

That is definitely true. So, what exactly are we talking about? Here is the map going around:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

The yellow is the Lightning owner’s plans. (You can click here to get a map that magnifies quite a bit.)

Here is a snazzy video.

What is the big picture?

In all, the plan calls for 575,000 square feet of new hotel/meeting space, 250,000 square feet of retail, 1.1 million square feet of office, 660,000 square feet of residential, 330,000 square feet for USF colleges and more space for utilities and parking, totalling 2.9 million square feet of development, with a budget topping $1.07 billion.

Ok, the first thing is that is a lot of retail (among other things), which is great if it is filled.

Now some details. From the Tribune:

A concrete parking lot along the water will be renovated into a grassy park that connects to the existing Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park along the water that overlooks a new water taxi terminal to ferry USF medical school students to the nearby Tampa General Hospital. Next door there is a multi-use recreation dock for things like paddleboards.

A new hotel tower — already disclosed this year — will rise at the corner of Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, with a bridge that connects to the Marriott Waterside.

The plan calls for at least three towers devoted to office space, totalling 1.1 million square feet, roughly a third of the office space in the entire Westshore District.

Adjacent to the Arena, a new street will run north/south called Water Street North, devoted to mixed-use buildings and ground-floor retail space. A pair of USF medical education buildings and medical office towers will go in at the corner directly east of the Arena, with the school alone spanning 330,000 square feet, triple the size of a Super Wal-mart.

To the north, the plan becomes more flexible, Shimberg said, as that phase will be later in the development process. There are at least five towers labeled “mixed use.” 

And from the Times:

Several key details of the overall development plan, however, were revealed Wednesday:

Ok, before we go any further, some issues of the coverage.  First, we are going to address the use of “tower.”  Some in this area use tower to mean anything probably to build excitement. (Classic example is the 6-story Moffitt Tower  – we love Moffitt, but that is not a tower)  When we think tower, we think tall, not 8-12 stories.  8-12 story builds may be very fine buildings with great design, nice amenities, and good street interaction – but they are not towers.

And then there are issues of scale. Yes, 1.1 million square feet of office space is nice, but it is 1/12 of Westshore (if you go by Westshore Alliance numbers.  Not to mention only 1/8 of the space in downtown right now according to the Downtown Partnership.)  It is also the size of one major office building in most cities (take this in Houston or this in Denver).  Nevertheless, for a downtown that has not seen any major office construction in two decades, it is good.

Now, none of this has anything to do with actual project, it has to do with the coverage.  So, having said that, let’s get into what was presented about the project.

– First, the good stuff

- The Overall Idea

We really like what they are trying to do.  They are trying to make a walkable, vibrant urban area in what is now empty land.  That is great.

We completely understand that the project has to make business sense, and there is nothing wrong with that. It can be a good investment and help the city at the same time. In fact, if it did not make business sense, it probably would not help the city in the long run.

- Green Space/Waterfront

As part of their overall plan, a major feature of the plan is its focus on the water and the connection of Channelside to the Riverwalk by putting green space in the Channelside parking lot (which is now at least a leased part of the project land after a slightly odd Port Authority meeting.)  That is good. (The long term plans for Channelside the complex are still not known.)

- Transportation

There are intriguing ideas for transportation:

Transportation is a huge part of this. Beyond the street reconfiguration, SPP “is prepared to take a leadership role in the future” of the TECO Line Streetcar System, said Jim Shimberg, COO and general counsel, making it more connected to key parts of downtown and a more reliable mode of transportation.

Water-based transportation is a big part of the plan, Shimberg said, and could include water taxis, high- speed ferries and electric boats taking doctors and medical students between Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

That is all good (except the lack of a plan for the USF med school’s associated institutions). Maybe they would like the streetcar to be less heritage and more real transportation?

Team Vinik also wants city and county officials to help get downtown’s struggling trolley system on the right track — and extend that track to the north end of downtown, by the museums. The trolley needs to run more frequently so more people will use it, Vinik said, but service was cut because ridership was low. The mayor echoed that goal.

And

The streetcar system that runs between Channelside and Ybor City has struggled to attract riders but is seen by Vinik and Buckhorn as a cheap way to provide transit links to Tampa’s business district and central downtown. Another option would be to replace the tourist-friendly streetcar with a vehicle designed more for commuters.

It’s unclear how those changes would be funded but Buckhorn said establishing the streetcar as a reliable robust transit system could also help convince residents about the benefits of mass transit.

(It should be noted that the streetcar runs through some essentially empty areas that this project will fill.) We are all for all of that.  And it makes sense, especially when considering this reality:

Feldman thinks one drawback of Vinik’s plans is that his 24-acre site is not in the prime downtown core and lacks the spectacular river and bay views of some current buildings.

“Now it’s more an edge place,” he said. “The true walkable downtown means you can walk from one building to the next and some of the buildings in Vinik’s site may be (at) a problematic distance. You’re going to have to get in your car.”

Feldman says that will change as Tampa continues to grow.

“There are areas in New York that used to be on the outer edge of the city, now they’re prime real estate. Ultimately I think (Vinik’s) location will improve as the city fills in but right now it’s frontiering.”

Extending the streetcar and making it more of a transportation system while building this project will help make downtown more complete and connected.  Assuming it goes near museums, performing arts center, and Curtis Hixon Park and is done in a way that allows easy future expansion, such as to the Heights (it would be nice if the Heights projects were properly connected to the project and Ybor), rather than just being a limited circulator (in other words, it is real transportation, not a glorified downtown shuttle), it will help the project AND help the city.  Because it is a demonstration of transit, a major investment, and important to downtown and the project, any streetcar extension needs to be done right. (And maybe now, with such a big project and the investors, is the time to revisit the issue of the CSX track crossing both to Ybor and potentially to downtown.)

- The Money

And, of course, that there is the financial wherewithal to really get it done.

“It’s a great situation because we do have the financing to complete this project,” Vinik said.

Which is key. As noted in a Tribune editorial:

Plenty of plans to reinvigorate downtown Tampa have been pitched over the years. But none have had the resources and the bold vision that distinguishes this plan.

Aside from the possible exception of Harbour Island, that is pretty much true – especially the resources part.

- Recruitment

As noted previously, the Lightning owner will be actively trying to attract business to downtown.

Vinik is also chasing a big corporate relocation to help launch the office component of his plan. That will require more public investment in the form of incentives from Enterprise Florida and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to attract new companies.

But Vinik himself will be a part of that push. He vowed to travel the country to sell corporations on the joys of Tampa Bay life — great weather, friendly folks — that the former Boston resident discovered when he moved his family and his businesses down here.

“I’m going to talk about why I live here and why this is a misunderstood place,” Vinik said. “People up in the Northeast don’t have a full appreciation of that.”

This all makes business sense for him, but that does not detract from how good it is for the area.

- Openness

And one thing we really like is that there appears to be an openness to ideas on how to improve the project:

“This is our vision plan,” Vinik said. “This is not a master plan.”

That’s why he’s asking for public input to “crowdsource” his project and help shape the final details through a new website, tampawaterfront2020.com.

If they really are open to those ideas, that is a great thing. So give them a suggestion here.

– What we wonder about

- Roads

One thing we wonder about is the rearranging of the roads.

But Team Vinik will also seek taxpayer funds to help pay for fixing the street grid, stormwater work, landscaping and streetscaping. His firm will propose spending $25 million to $30 million on that and then be reimbursed by the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA, which allows property taxes to be reinvested into the area they came from.

“We think the return on (public) investment will be very high,” said SPP’s chief operating officer, Jim Shimberg Jr., who was Tampa’s city attorney before joining Vinik.

We are ok with spending on infrastructure if the project gets built and the public spending is mostly for TIF money for downtown (and is reasonable, of course). And we have no problem with fixing some of the roads.  Making the area roads more grid-like for the most part is fine with us.  The real issue is what is the plan for Platt/Channelside and Brorein.  While the present diagonal swirl on Brorein may be a bit odd, if you look at the map above, there is not logical way to get lots of people from the heart of the development out of downtown, which is a bit of a concern for a live, work, play and entertainment district with an arena.  We love the transit ideas, but that is not going really do it.  For success, this project must draw people from beyond downtown and it needs to be laid out so they can get in and out relatively easily or they may not come as much.

- Density

And while we really like the overall concept, we are actually kind of surprised by the lack of density, especially in some parts. While renderings are known for not being really to scale, look at this rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article/gallery

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article/gallery

There is a cluster around the forum, which is good.  Behind that are some giant parking garages.  The rest of the area, while planned for vibrant streets (which is very good) is much less dense.

Of course, the vision is denser that what is there (or more accurately, not there) now, and you have to start somewhere and develop the area.  But, from what is presented, it seems that a lot of the land could be used better – to be more urban.  There is a massive amount of parking in big, free-standing garages. While you need parking, as far as we can tell, none of it is under buildings where it would not take up huge amounts of land. (no, not underground, under the main building like many buildings downtown).  We think that would be a better use of the land and allow for more future development.

Of course, if the first stages are successful, the less dense areas could be changed. We know it all has to make business sense, but hopefully denser will make more sense. And since this is a vision plan, not a master plan, hopefully, that will be one of the changes made.

Bottom Line

We think a Times editorial summed it up well:

This development is the most ambitious ever for downtown Tampa, and it presents many public benefits, from a boost in jobs, wages and taxes to the opportunity to build a more livable, sustainable and exciting city center. And it would build the critical mass necessary to bring a grocery, better mass transit and other vital amenities to downtown at the very time that more people and industries nationwide are returning to the urban core.

Still, there are many details to answer: How would the project be affected if the state rejects or delays a downtown medical school? How would local government and Vinik’s private investment group divide the cost of improving public services and infrastructure? How would the city keep Vinik to a reasonable timetable on the build-out? And how does the project affect the emerging debate over what to do with Tampa’s working port?

Vinik’s proposal puts into play a city vision for the Channel District that dates back for decades. It gives new life to a historic and underused part of downtown where the waterfront has as much to offer the public as it does to Vinik’s group. The city should continue to work with him, and Vinik should continue his commendable efforts to solicit public input on his still-evolving vision.

So this is the thing.  We really like the conceptual framework of the project.  What we hope is that the early stages are so successful that they decide to add to the density while maintaining the walkability and pedestrian friendly concept.  Either way, if built, it will significantly change downtown for the better.  We just want them to do what they want to do, but do even more of it.

Downtown – The Lightning Owner Strikes Again

Even while getting ready for the rollout of the vision/plan, the Lightning owner added to his holdings downtown:

The holding company for Vinik’s real estate endeavors, Strategic Property Partners, said Friday it had closed on a four-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Florida Avenue and Whiting Street, bordered by Morgan Street to the east and Brorein Street to the south.

* * *

The site is entitled for [] 450,000 square feet of office space and 350 hotel rooms.

Which makes business sense.  Really, why not buy more?  Especially when the guy who got the previous use entitlement is on your team now?

Tampa developer Bob Abberger, who joined Vinik’s real estate development team in September, had targeted the site for a mixed-use office tower with hotel rooms. Stymied by the recession and a stagnant office market, Abberger and his team were never able to put together enough tenants to prelease the tower, and the deal never came to fruition.

Notably, we will not know the plan for the land yet:

The site will not be part of the development plans SPP will announce on Dec. 17. 

And it wasn’t.  Hopefully, that will be denser development.

Rays – A Whole Lot of Nothing

The St. Pete City council voted on the proposed Rays search deal.

The St. Petersburg City Council Thursday rejected an agreement negotiated by Mayor Rick Kriseman that would have given the Tampa Bay Rays three years to explore new stadium sites in Hillsborough County as well as Pinellas.

Too many council members thought the deal’s compensation was too low and they did not want to risk the team leaving the area.

If they really did not want to risk the Rays leaving the area, they had an odd way of showing it – since by rejecting the deal the increase the likelihood.  In any event, it is not a surprise (just like the last Mayor’s strategy for the Rays).  Nor is this kind of detachment (also like the last Mayor):

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had warned council members this month that if they rejected this offer, baseball’s long-run future in Tampa Bay would be “doomed.” Sternberg said he would not negotiate another deal and he would not keep playing at the Trop. He would eventually sell the team to another owner, who would then move the Rays out of the region after 2027, he said.

Council members Charlie Gerdes, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse voted for the agreement. Council members Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Bill Dudley voted against.

The council did vote to hold a workshop to discuss building the Rays a new stadium in St. Petersburg.

Ah, a workshop to keep the Rays when the Rays have said for years they want to look around the whole area – and the owner says he really means it (and has acted like he means it).  Great.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The reality is that the majority of the St. Pete City Council would rather the Rays leave the Tampa Bay area than have them play in Tampa. (Not quite the highly touted regionalism). It is all just sad.

Economy – Low Wage, But a Glimmer of Hope

There was an interesting piece in the Times this week:

Compare the annual average pay from 2004 and 2013 and one-third of all U.S. counties have seen their pay decline, when the figures are adjusted for inflation.

But in Florida, three quarters of its counties suffered wage declines in that period, indicating the standard of living in Florida has declined even as most states show at least some modest gains. And states rich in energy jobs — like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Dakotas — show booming wage increases.

* * *

Just 17 of Florida’s 67 counties reported average wage gains, while 50 saw declines. The biggest drop appeared in Flagler County on the state’s east coast, where wages dropped 17.3 percent to $31,425 in 2013 from $38,013 in 2004. The biggest gain: rural Glades County, where wages rose 16.1 percent.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties showed slight wage growth over that decade, up 2.8 and 2.7 percent, respectively. Pasco County wages fell 2.5 percent, while Hernando dipped 3.8 percent. Citrus squeezed out a 0.9 percent uptick.

The Times links to an interesting Wall Street Journal map. (You can see it here)   Not even looking at growth, the map tells us that the average income in Hillsborough County in  2013 is $47,408, Pinellas is $42,494, and Pasco $34.540.  And Sarasota does not help: $40,567 (-1.4% growth)

While the map is by county and Florida counties tend to be larger than many other states, we can compare with some other areas.  For instance, around New Orleans, Orleans Parish had an average of $48,818 (7.3% growth) while nearby Jefferson parish had an average of $44,628 (11.2% growth).  Mecklenberg County (Charlotte) had an average of $ 58,362 (.8% growth), Wake County (Raleigh) had an average of $ 49,862 (2.2% growth) while Durham County (Durham and Duke) had $64551 (2.0%). In Texas, Travis County (Austin) had an average of $55,041 (1.4% growth).  In the Denver area Denver County had an average of $ 61,152 (2.8% growth), Arapahoe County has $ 58,021 (-.6%), Douglas County $ 55,853 (18.1%), Jefferson $49,561 (-.3%), Adams $ 47144 (1.5%), and Boulder $58,009 (-.5%).  And we can look at a huge county, like San Diego and see an average of $ 54,836 (4.9% growth)

We could go on, but you can play with the map, too.  There are a couple of clear points: 1) our wages are too low.   It is clear that other areas with smaller counties have more clearly delineated concentrations of higher wages, but overall, as we all know, our wages are just too low. 2) There is some positive from our growth numbers compared to what are often considered competitors.  On the other hand, growth is a tricky stat.  Yes, at least some parts of the Tampa Bay area are getting better, but how long until we catch some other areas?

So, yes, there is some progress.  But it is nowhere near time to pat ourselves on the back.  We still underperform. (maybe the Lightning owner’s project will at least catalyze some faster improvement.)

Economic Development – Announcing an Announcement

There was some odd, but seemingly good, new this week.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is planning to announce a corporate headquarters relocation on Jan. 7.

In an email to EDC investors Thursday, CEO Rick Homans wrote that “Tampa will be welcoming another venerable national organization to our community next month.”

The email is an anomaly for the EDC. Notification for such announcements is not usually provided weeks in advance. It offers no indication of the size or magnitude of the deal and whether it is a state, regional or U.S. headquarters.

Ok. The Times had this, which makes it even odder.

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said it will announce the relocation of an organization with international reach to Tampa at an event to be held Jan. 7 at the Tampa Convention Center’s rotunda.

The initial news was revealed in an email the EDC sent to its investors on Thursday. EDC officials would not identify the organization.

“Organization?”  Does that mean nonprofit?  It is all quite strange.

Early January should be quite interesting.

Channel District – Another Proposal Moves Forward

Another proposed building for the Channel District is moving along:

Not every upscale apartment project going up in downtown Tampa is a tower.

In fact, one of the splashiest will be an eight-story mid-rise in the heart of the Channel District.

New architectural renderings filed Thursday by developers of what’s tentatively called the “Channelside Residences” structure show an eight-story, sleek, modern building at the site of the now-empty Amazon Hose & Rubber warehouse at the southeast corner of Kennedy Boulevard and N. 12th Street.

The project will ultimately have 300 residential units with on-site parking and about 5,000 square feet of retail space, said Truett Gardner, the land use attorney who handled rezoning the property from commercial to residential. The plan is for a particularly upscale development, as the project shares the same architect that designed the upscale Crescent Bayshore apartments, Miami-based MSA Architects.

Tampa City Council approved the project unanimously on Thursday, which lets the developer proceed with engineering details and construction permitting.

It looks like this:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We have no idea what makes it “one of the splashiest.”  It is fine (and the street treatment looks good in the drawing; we have no idea what the reality will be), but nothing exceptionally exciting (maybe, it is really cool inside).  In any event:

If all goes according to plan, the new project by Florida Crystals in the Channel District may break ground in mid-2015.

That is fine.

Harbour Island – Questions?

Speaking of proposals, demand, etc.

A group of Harbour Island condominium residents has lost a round in their battle against a planned 21-story apartment tower next door, but the fight isn’t over.

After taking evidence from both sides, a hearing officer has concluded that city officials followed proper procedures when reviewing plans for the Manor of Harbour Island, a 340-apartment tower proposed at 402 Knights Run.

The ostensible reasons for the argument are that the building will use another building’s parking garage and there have been some murmurings about traffic.  (Of course, the building will block present residents’ views, but that is not a stated reason.) Yet:

Nearby, a second tower on the other side of the Plaza is under construction, with an opening expected in early 2016.

But, back to the argument:

Despite the European architectural flourishes, some condo owners in the 20-story Plaza Harbour Island next door view Related’s plans with alarm.

They contend that the new project doesn’t comply with Harbour Island’s zoning and would create traffic problems and hurt the quality of life of residents who already live there. And they say the city should not have okayed the skybridge.

“The zoning on the island does not permit that parking arrangement,” said John Grandoff III, a land-use attorney who represents residents in the Plaza.

City officials should have reviewed the Related Group’s proposal as a substantial change to the existing zoning, Grandoff said.

But hearing officer Steven Pfeiffer disagreed last month, concluding that the project — skybridge included — is consistent with the city’s ordinance.

We are not going to take a position on any legal issues.  We do not see anything wrong with the skybridge or parking arrangement, but there may be details of which we are unaware.  It will be interesting to see if the City can resolve the issue between a big, deep pockets developer and the Harbour Island folks, who tend to have strong influence in political matters.

Transportation – What Do You Expect?

There was a report in the Times about the most crash prone intersections.

Hillsborough County officials analyzed accidents from 2006 to 2010, including nearly 11,000 severe crashes that caused deaths or incapacitating injuries. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 31 percent of Hillsborough’s traffic deaths.

* * *

In Hillsborough, multiple intersections on heavily traveled, heavily developed Dale Mabry Highway were among the most crash-prone locations. Other dangerous roads were Fowler, Fletcher, Waters and Hillsborough avenues; and Bruce B. Downs and Brandon boulevards.

Hillsborough officials are studying several of the most dangerous intersections to see if anything can be done to make them safer.

This is the map from the Times report:

From the Times – click on map for article

The first thing to note is that Tampa does not appear included in the analysis. (We are not sure if it was or not, but we will assume it was not).  The other thing to note was that the worst areas for crashes are all along the intersections of major arteries.

Most of Hillsborough’s accidents occurred along major urban roadways. And nearly 35 percent of those crashes involved drivers making left turns. The next-highest categories were rear-end crashes and lane-departure crashes, which accounted for 26 and 18 percent of accidents, respectively.

“People are being too impatient, trying to make that left turn,” said Gena Torres, a senior transportation planner with Hills­borough County.

One common danger comes with four-lane roads with no medians.

“You want to make a left turn, but there’s somebody across the intersection who also wants to make a left,” Torres said. “It’s really hard to see if another car is coming. You end up inching forward to peek around each other.”

Of course, that makes sense because that is where most of the traffic is.  On the other hand, when you have a road plan that essentially forces everyone on to a few major roads and inhibits any other traffic with impediments like poor road connections and speed humps where there are connections, you should not expect anything else to happen.

The reality is that the County’s road plan is silly.  There are few, if any, alternatives to arterial roads, forcing traffic onto a few roads, making them more dangerous.  The way to deal with that is to have more of a grid, but Hillsborough County has gone the opposite route.

They can study traffic issues all they want (and maybe make a few changes that might make a few roads a bit safer), but the reality is that the County made this problem all by themselves.  There are not enough useful roads, and there are not enough well connected roads.  The roads that exist are not adequate for the traffic. (The County’s road funding issues are also of its making.) And there are no real alternatives to driving.

That is a (poor) planning choice.  Accidents are the result.

TIA – To the Bahamas

The airport is getting a flight to the Bahamas.

Silver Airways will begin twice-weekly flights from Tampa International Airport to the Bahamas in February.

The flights, according to an airport news release, will begin Feb. 14, flying to Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands on Saturdays and Sundays. The new route is expected to be popular among Tampa International Airport’s leisure travelers.

The lack of a flight to the Bahamas has always struck us as a bit odd.  While not as flashy as some other flights, we are glad the airport is getting more service.

St. Pete Takes on the Pier, Again

St. Pete is trying again to figure out what to do with the Pier. (Just think if they had kept the old – we mean old – one, it would be a huge landmark.).  We are not going to get into what we like and what we don’t.  It doesn’t really matter, anyway.  Whatever is picked will be challenged.  You can find the latest proposals here.  Some are quite interesting (even if we have some questions), others not so much.

One thing we will say – St. Pete is looking to find something really good through competition, not just anointing a designer out of the blue and then just following what they say.  Tampa could use a little more of that.

List of the Week

This week, we are not going to present a whole list.  We are just going to note that Ulele made the opentable.com list of 100 best restaurants in the US based on reviews. They rank a top 10, but we are not going to concern ourselves with that. You can see the whole list here.  (note: Ulele is the only restaurant in the immediate Tampa Bay area that made the list.  Maison Blanche in Longboat key and a Seasons 52 in Sarasota made it.)

Roundup 12-12-2014

December 11, 2014

Rays – Something, Finally . . . Maybe

This week, something positive finally happened in the Rays saga: a proposed deal to let the Rays look in Pinellas AND Hillsborough for stadium location.  First, the issue:

But speaking publicly on the proposal for the first time Tuesday, Sternberg upped the ante, indicating that he will look to sell the team and that a new owner would likely move it out of the region if the St. Petersburg City Council does not green-light the deal.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave,” Sternberg said in San Diego, where he’s attending Major League Baseball’s winter meetings. “I’m not taking this team out of the area. But that’s me, and the chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, it’s just the reality.”

Ok.  Straight-forward enough.  The comment may be a little posturing, but it has a lot of validity.  (And there is a good chance it is not really posturing at all.)  The fact is that given the attendance woes at the Trop and that the lease period is getting shorter and shorter, St. Pete has constantly diminishing bargaining power and, as long as St. Pete stonewalled/stonewalls, the Tampa Bay area will have diminishing bargaining power.

There is little appeal to the Rays and baseball in the status quo.  The status quo will just lead to the Rays going to another metro area which does nothing for the taxpayers of St. Pete. So, as we have noted, dragging this on does not protect St. Pete taxpayers or the Tampa Bay area.  The deal does more than anything else to protect them.

So what is the deal?

After years of deadlock, Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Bay Rays owners have agreed on a deal to let the Rays explore new stadium sites in Tampa Bay in exchange for up to $24 million in compensation for the city.

Under the proposal, the Rays would compensate the city for every unfulfilled year of its contract to play at Tropicana Field through 2027 but would not have to pay a so-called “exploration fee” included in an earlier proposed deal. The agreement requires the team limit its search to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Payments to the city — intended to compensate for the loss of economic activity around the stadium — would be made at the end of each baseball season and would decrease as the number of years left on the Trop contract dwindles.

The most the Rays could pay in one year is $4 million if they find and build a new stadium in time for the 2018 season. The following year, payments would drop to $3 million per year through 2023 and then to $2 million for the remainder of the original contract.

* * *

In addition to compensation, the proposed deal with the Rays would give St. Petersburg $1 million worth of in-kind promotion including signage at Rays games over the duration of the original contract.

It gives the Rays until Dec. 31, 2017, to finalize any deals on a new site and would require the team to pay off any remaining construction bonds on Tropicana Field.

Quite reasonable, especially given the relative negotiating power.  (Sure, the terms could be harsher, but if St. Pete insisted on that why wouldn’t the Rays owner just walk, sell the team, and let the chips fall where they may?)

It should be noted that the St. Pete City Council still has to approve the deal.  The vote was originally going to be this Thursday, but was put off for a week to give people time to comment and think about it.  That is fine.  None of the relevant facts will change in a week. And

“The idea of this delay is not for purposes to try to negotiate new terms,” Kriseman told the council. “The Rays have been clear they are not up for considering any changes.”

Acknowledging that the deal is not yet approved, let us assume that is gets approved for the moment – what then?

Coincidentally (or not), right before the news broke, the Times ran a story on possible locations in Hillsborough.   We are not going to go into all the details, but the locations considered are: Tampa Park Apartments site, Ybor Channel (with infill), ConAgra flour mill site, the cruise port area (if the cruise ships go away), Jefferson High School site, near Raymond James stadium, and (though the Mayor says “no” and we are not sure who is considering it) around Julian Lane Riverside Park.  The Times article included this helpful graphic:

From the Times – click on picture for article

All the sites have some issues – some more than others. At this point, we are not going to say what we prefer because our preference may change depending on costs.  However, the article tells us:

Major League Baseball prefers urban locations near office towers, restaurants, condos and parking garages — at least 10 acres in vibrant, walkable areas.

And so do we. (Anyone who has been to the newer baseball stadiums, with a few exceptions, knows this).  We also favor an area where having the stadium actually helps support a vibrant area, rather than just fill parking lots. (The rumors have long been that MLB and the Rays favor somewhere in downtown Tampa. Said rumors probably being part of the cause of St. Pete’s past behavior.) That is especially true if there is public money involved.

Of course, there is also the question of cost.

Buckhorn is blunt: he doesn’t know how the stadium, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, will be financed. It will likely be a “creative” deal, Buckhorn said, requiring public and private money.

“The Rays have to come to the table with a significant sum of money to make this deal work,” he said. “The Rays need to be at the table as equal partners.”

Options for financing the deal include a rental car surcharge, a tourism development tax and some type of public financing, such as debt or bonds.

It will be interesting to see what Hillsborough comes up with (and Pinellas, for that matter).  They have had years to develop the outline of a plan, so we would hope they have already done so (as a contingency plan) and things will move relatively quickly (though “relatively” is the key word.  These things often take time.)  In any event:

The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County have formed an ad hoc committee to work on the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium site selection process.

Here are the members:

“That’s sort of the great Switzerland, if you will, for sports facilities on the Tampa side,” Buckhorn said.

Well, that is a start (though we are not sure what the great Switzerland thing is all about).  Even more of a start is that two of those people were involved in a joint look at the issue by the Tampa and St. Pete Chambers of Commerce a couple of years ago.  (Here is the report summary. This article gives a shorter summary for those not ready to read the official summary. )

Finally, here are the comments of the former manager of the Rays:

In an exclusive interview with FOX 13, Joe Maddon said the Rays should leave Tropicana Field and even St. Petersburg altogether and set up shop in Tampa.

“A new ballpark is absolutely necessary. And it’s absolutely necessary in an appropriate spot where everybody can get to it at the end of a workday. It’s just common sense,” he said, referring to Tampa. “I hope I’m not offending anybody but I believe that’s true.”

* * *

Maddon did not mince words about the St. Pete stadium, which the Rays are contractually tied to through 2027. He also and hinted that attendance was part of the reason that the team could not retain top talent like David Price and James Shields.

“It’s been there how many years and how well has it been attended? It hasn’t been supported there. That’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting the same result.”

Prior to his sudden departure, Maddon was a popular figure with Rays fans. Not only did he lead the team out of the basement and into the World Series, but he was an active participant in local charities — which he insists will not change.

But he had a message for Bay Area baseball fans — especially those who support the visiting teams.

“If the players really wanted to speak out, really lay it out there, it’s no fun. It’s no fun to be in your own ballpark and be entirely rooted against. That doesn’t happen anywhere else,” Maddon said. “We really thought that by going to the World Series and being involved in the playoffs so often that it would go away. But it never went away and it still exists.”

There is nothing surprising there.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Economy – How Is Employment?

It seems that employment growth was not so good last month.

Payroll processing company ADP estimated that Florida added 13,900 non-government jobs in November down from 20,500 a month earlier.

“In something of a surprise, New York was the only one of the large states with job gains greater than October,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute. “Gains in Texas were roughly flat, while jobs added in California and Florida were down significantly.”

Throughout the year, Florida has trailed the two biggest job-generators: Texas and California. That trend continued in November as it produced roughly half as many private jobs as the top two. Texas added 29,700 jobs while California was up by 24,000 jobs.

* * *

October was a hard act to follow. According to the Labor Department, Florida added a total of 34,400 private and public jobs over the month while its unemployment rate fell to a six-year low of 6 percent.

We know California and Texas are bigger than Florida so they should create more jobs, but not that many more. And the kicker:

As with much of the recovery, lower-paying service jobs dominated, with the service-providing sector accounting for 10,300 of the newly created jobs. 

So October was good for raw numbers and November was not.  And the quality of jobs is still an issue.  Is there anything on that front?

Economic Development – St. Pete Gets an HQ

It was announced this week that a company was moving its HQ to downtown St. Pete.

A New York company with more than 32,000 employees worldwide is moving its international headquarters to downtown St. Petersburg.

More than 100 employees of iQor U.S. are expected to move into three floors at the Tower at One Progress Plaza, 200 Central Ave., in January, the global outsourcing company said Tuesday.

The news is a major score on several levels for economic development efforts: Not only does it retain and create high-wage jobs topping $84,000 on average in St. Petersburg, but it makes the city home to another multinational company, one that boasts more than $1.5 billion in annual revenues with locations in 17 countries.

IQor first made its mark on Tampa Bay earlier this year when it bought the aftermarket repair business of St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit for $725 million. But Tuesday’s announcement, which comes after months of negotiations and a hefty tax incentive package, ratchets its presence to another level.

* * *

In picking St. Petersburg, iQor is eligible for a pair of government incentives worth up to $1.275 million, which would be paid after promised high-wage jobs are created:

The decision probably was influenced by the company having some roots (though the acquisition) in the Tampa Bay area.  So what?  It is a nice gain – not superlative (not enough to anchor a building), but definitely nice.  One thing it shows is that creating a good built environment is very helpful to economic development.

Now it is Tampa’s turn.

Economic Development – Some Jobs

Speaking of Tampa, there was a jobs announcement there.

Cognizant is roughly doubling its Tampa operations, pledging to add more than 400 new jobs and invest about $5.7 million here over the next four years.

The information technology and consulting business currently has more than 900 employees throughout Florida, half of them based in Tampa. With headquarters in Teaneck, N.J., Cognizant has nearly 200,000 employees worldwide.

* * *

Local development officials involved in the expansion deal said the tax incentive package used to lure Cognizant is still under confidentiality.

However, in June, Hillsborough County commissioners approved an incentive package offering local tax refunds totaling up to $494,400 for a then-unidentified IT operation in unincorporated Hillsborough if it created up to 412 higher-wage jobs.

Under the state’s Qualifed [sic] Target Industry program, companies are reimbursed through tax refunds after promised jobs are created. The state typically provides 80 percent of tax refunds and local governments cover the remaining 20 percent. That indicates the maximum QTI package for Cognizant may be worth nearly $2.5 million.

And that is all good, assuming the jobs are actually created.

There is one concern that to have a truly sustainable high tech economy and attract creative talent, we need to add developing products to servicing products and companies. (Ideally, we’d have both the manufacturer, which, in all honesty, the iQor deal, plus Jabil, essentially does.)  We have some, but we need much more.  That should be kept in mind when hunting an HQ – not that we would say no to any HQ but it should be considered when coming up with the optimal move.

Finally, we will note the expansion – not huge, but it is something – of Tampa Steel.  Sometimes, just making things is nice.

Economic Development – What We Lost

Speaking of making things and technology, there was an interesting article in the Times entitled “Tampa Bay natives behind the first 3-D printing in space.”  As you might have guessed, it tells the story of two guys from the Tampa Bay area who were involved with the first 3d printing in space, which is quite cool.  Except:

Dunn went to the University of Central Florida and became a rocket scientist. Kemmer bounced between majors at the University of Florida, eventually settling on a concentration in communication and leadership development. They met in 2010 at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley program that encourages people to tackle “humanity’s grand challenges.”

* * *

Dunn, Kemmer and the Made in Space team sent the digital file from their office in California, and an astronaut aboard the space station collected the finished product.

Just another story of talent lost.  For all the talk of attracting talent and innovation to this area (which we are all for and which is slowly – oh, so slowly – progressing), we need to remember what we lose because of what this area fails to provide.  There are so many things on that list (innovative environment, critical mass of talent, proper business environment, proper political environment, proper amenities to make people want to stay, money, etc).  Yes, we are getting better, but we are nowhere near being where we need to be.

Good for those guys for their achievement.  Too bad they felt they needed to leave.

– And Another Thing

Speaking of which, we noticed this:

Waymon Armstrong has a simple answer when asked to explain why one of the world’s largest simulation and modeling conferences takes place in Orlando.

It is all about talent.

“What Silicon Valley is to tech startups, Orlando is to simulation,” said Armstrong, CEO and president of Engineering & Computer Simulations in Orlando. “It’s the place you want to be developing the technology and getting it out.”

The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, known as I/ITSEC, has been at the Orange County Convention Center since Monday and closes Thursday.

Organizers say the conference set up shop in Orlando years ago because of strong resources in the field, from military-simulation companies to educational programs at University of Central Florida and other schools.

So what is our creative talent cluster?

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont.

Last week, we asked again how many playing fields do we need and whether playing fields are the best use of $15 million dollars for a County that keeps saying it is lacking money to do necessary things.  Not surprisingly, there was an article in the Tribune regarding the push for fields in Hillsborough.  At the risk of laying this out a bit backwards, we will quote the reality part before we get into the County’s pitch.

“Sports tourism is the only segment of the tourism industry that did not decline in any quarter during the recession,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said Wednesday, making his case for the complex. “It’s an estimated $7 billion industry, and is growing by 3-5 percent annually.”

But as in other cases where large sums of public money are spent for economic development, the benefits of sports tourism are open to question. Even proponents say the “build it and they will come” philosophy doesn’t always work, especially if athletic fields are not marketed properly.

“If you build something and don’t have that marketing in front, it takes time to be on the radar of promoters and to get the proper events in there,” said Ed Caum, tourism manager in Pasco County.

“Sometimes it takes longer to get the long-distance travelers,” Caum said. “You don’t just have to build the facility; you have to build the interest in booking the facility. So it takes two levels of sophistication.”

What’s more, the proliferation of these sports venues could pit counties in the same region against each other as they try to fill expensive new centers with tournaments.

In Pasco County to the north, promoters have been trying to get a sports complex built for nine years. A potential deal to build a $35 million baseball/softball complex with 19 fields fell through Friday when the development group, Pasco Sports LLC, couldn’t deliver a financial package.

In Bradenton to the south, the expansive IMG Academy provides athletic training for a host of sports, including baseball, football and soccer. But IMG also hosts tournaments, including the 2015 IberCup world youth soccer tournament in April. The international tournament will draw 600 teams and more than 8,000 players.

“Why should a group of teams that have been playing at a specific site for year after year, and have a good relationship with that site, play at a new site with people they don’t know? It’s a question that needs to be asked,” said Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions.

Here is the County’s pitch:

Hagan said Hillsborough County is deliberately planning rectangular fields at its complex so it won’t compete with Pasco for the baseball and softball tournaments.

But what will really set Hillsborough apart as it seeks tournaments is the area’s airport, thousands of motel rooms and attractions such as Busch Gardens, Ybor City and the Pinellas County beaches just 45 minutes away.

“You don’t often find all these things to do around a venue,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “This would really be the perfect background for hosting events, which is why it will separate us from the competition.”

Higgins noted that the commission has lured big-time amateur events to Tampa, such as NCAA conference football and basketball championships, the men’s collegiate hockey Frozen Four and the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament.

Not as well known is that the sports commission brings youth athletic tournaments to the county almost every weekend. Last year, those tournaments generated 150,000 hotel visitor room nights, Higgins said. A room night is a motel room occupied for one night.

But Hillsborough has lost three major soccer tournaments over the past four years because of a shortage of fields, Higgins said. The county’s principal soccer venue at Ed Radice Sports Complex has only nine soccer fields. Larger tournaments have had to schedule games at other sites, forcing teams and their followers to drive 30 minutes or more.

“The soccer market is something we could get back and the lacrosse market is one we haven’t really been able to capitalize on that we could go after,” Higgins said. “I think the versatility of this complex would allow us to pursue a lot of different sports markets that will bring a great return on investment in terms of tourism.”

Before we get into that we will note what we said last week – if we had the money and no other needs or a company was taking all the risk, we have no problem with the idea.  However, right now, that is not the case.

Now to the pitch: IMG is closer to the beach (though farther from Busch Gardens, but anyone who knows what really competitive youth tournaments are like knows that theme parks – and the beach, unless you are staying there – are not really an issue.  The people are there to play games, not play at parks).  And the most prominent complex around is in Disney Wide World of Sports (private).  There are also a number of complexes around Florida that have had issues (such as in Gainesville. See here ). Also, if you know where Ed Radice is (if you don’t, it is here), you know that most people visiting  the area (not locals playing), and therefore actually contributing to tourism, have to drive something around 30 minutes to get there from their hotels (unless they are staying in hotels in Oldsmar, which is in Pinellas County or maybe a little closer in Pasco) anyway.  (NCAA tournaments are irrelevant.)

The question is what will the real return of investment be and is it worth more than spending the money on other issues? And shouldn’t this all be a private initiative?

Downtown – First Glimpse at the Grant Block Concept

A few months ago, we discussed a proposal to build an apartment building on the Grant Block, just north of the Kress Block.  A recent filing provided some line drawings (admittedly hard to make out) of the concept for the block.

From the public records

From the public records

From the public records

It is hard to make out all the details in the line drawings, but it appears to be a large L shaped building with the corner of the L in the northeast corner of the block. We can’t say anything about the exterior or materials.  We understand that not every building is going to be an architectural masterpiece and that the building plan has street interaction (which is good), but it seems a bit of a hulking building.  Tampa should take care that what gets built now does not make it significantly harder to build other buildings nearby.  That does not mean getting into every item of every proposal, but attentiveness, at least to some degree, to view corridors is a good idea.

We look forward to seeing something that is easier to make out to get a better idea of the plan.

The Heights – A First Look

This week, the Tribune had an article on the Heights project north of downtown.  Much of the information was a repetition of what was announced before, but there were some new things.

Developers of “The Heights” neighborhood on the Hillsborough River this week unveiled their preliminary plans for the 43-acre mixed-use project — complete with a public food market, an apartment complex, office space, restaurants and lengthy expansion of the Tampa Riverwalk boardwalk from the city’s Waterworks park through North Boulevard.

It’s an expansive project, and rehabbing the Armature Works factory space alone could easily top $10 million, developers said. But once done, the Armature space will have at least three restaurants, several bars, a cafe/bakery called Ola Cafe, an open-air entertainment stage called “The Gathering” and the 14,000-square-foot “Heights Public Market” in the style of East End in Orlando or Eastern Market in Washington.

Still, perhaps the most visible element will soar above the whole neighborhood. Developers plan to move in a massive 16-story water tower from Bartow to become the signature icon of the area.

We are not exactly sure what the water tower will look like (that is quite tall for a water tower) but the article included this rendering:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

That looks fine, but that does not tell us much about the project, really.  So here are some reported details:

The to-do list is long, Bruck said, but is doable, particularly as the development (and financing trend) is toward building new spaces in the urban core of American cities. On the list:

♦ Begin construction on a 300-plus unit, mid-rise apartment complex on the northeast corner of the project, called “The Pearl.”

♦ Extend and rehabilitate Palm Avenue from Highland Avenue to the river, and make it dogleg around the Armature Works building, with parts of it privately controlled to allow for street festivals.

♦ Reorient some of the streets into an angle that parallels the downtown grid, so pedestrians walking in the village will have clear views of the downtown skyline across the river.

♦ Build integrated parking into each of upwards of a dozen different apartment buildings, office towers and possibly hotels.

♦ Rehabilitate the seawall along the river, with space for new boat docks and walking paths.

Overall, the general idea seems like a good one.  The developers seem to get the concept of good urban development.  Nevertheless, we are not sure about changing all the roads, especially making part of Palm private so it can be closed.  It would be better to just build a private road in addition to Palm.  As for the rest, we have not seen what the buildings are supposed to look like, so it is hard to comment.

Regardless, this is a major project that could, if done correctly, really transform that area (or mess it up for years, if done wrong). We look forward to learning more.

South Howard – So What Will the Reaction Be?

Last year, there was a proposal to build a four story apartment building on the site of the closed Xtreme Fitness on South Howard.

As proposed, SoHo Flats includes 212 apartments, a 518-space garage and 15,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and offices.

The project site covers a little less than 3 acres and would replace a largely vacant strip center on S Howard Avenue, north of W Morrison Avenue. The site once was home to Xtreme Total Health & Fitness, owned by Joe Redner, but also includes a laundry equipment supply company.

It died because the surrounding neighborhoods objected due to traffic and parking.

Now comes this news:

Jeff Vinik is getting into the South Tampa apartment game, at least as an investor.

Paperwork recently filed with the city of Tampa show a development group backed by the Tampa Bay Lightning owner hopes to build a four-story, 46-unit apartment and retail complex at the corner of South Howard Avenue and West Morrison Avenue. That’s the site of the now-empty Xtreme Total Health and Fitness gym.

The Tampa Tribune recently confirmed Vinik’s involvement, as a partner in the company that purchased the site, led by Tampa developer Andrew Wright of Franklin Street. Wright has described Vinik’s role as a supporter and partial investor in the project, though the two have other partnerships underway. Wright is also helping Vinik redevelop the Channelside Bay Plaza complex in downtown Tampa.

In recent days, the developers of the Howard Avenue site filed permit applications for the South Tampa site, requesting meetings to review preliminary plans with departments such as water, fire and solid waste. The application describes two adjacent sites. The first is the main building along South Howard Avenue, with 46 residential units (listed as two-bedroom units), plus 6,950 square feet of office space, 3,350 square feet of retail space and 8,650 square feet of restaurant space.

The second area is a new, off-site parking lot along the adjacent South Eleta Street, with 26 parking spaces. In total, the project calls for 246 spaces, compared to the 245 required by city rules for such a project. 

So it is a much smaller project with what appears to be a surface parking lot (and a big name attached).  It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be.

University Mall – Are the Times Changing?

This week, it was announced that the long-suffering University Square Mall has been purchased.

A New York developer has acquired the beleaguered, bank-owned University Mall on Fowler Avenue.

Richard Birdoff, principal of RD Management LLC, confirmed Thursday that he acquired the entire enclosed mall, with the exception of the anchor boxes. . .

* * *

He said he is planning to redevelop the site, though it’s too soon to disclose many details. He envisions a mix of uses on the site.

They bought the mall for $29.5 million.  (It seems the previous owner paid $144 million.)

So what do the new owners plan to do?

The new owners of University Mall may have big — if preliminary — plans for redeveloping the long-struggling mall property.

Paperwork issued by the developers suggests they’re looking for a grocery store, a warehouse club, and potentially a tower on the north end of the property for either medical offices or University of South Florida student housing.

New York-based RD Management purchased the property last week and according to papers filed with Hillsborough County, the purchase price was $29.5 million. That includes the mall itself, which county records describe as 456,700 square feet, plus several outparcel restaurants and maintenance shops.

The preliminary (what appears to be very preliminary) site plan sketch looks like this:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

While we are happy someone wants to fix up the mall and we suppose they are partially limited by not owning the anchor (store) boxes, it is a shame that, if that is what actually happens, such a big, critical parcel, right next to USF will not be transformed into something much better.  Hopefully, they will take more advantage of the opportunity. Time will tell.

List of the Week

We first saw mention of this week’s list in the Business Journal. It is Wallethub’s list of 2014′s Best and Worst Cities for an Active Lifestyle. The Business Journal tells us:

WalletHub ranked the 100 most populated U.S. cities to find the ones that offer the most cost-effective and accessible fitness and sports facilities, according to a statement.

The methodology is here.  As you can see, it measures things like the number of personal trainers, baseball fields, pool, and basketball hoops per capita. So let’s look at the Top 20.

Coming in best was Omaha, followed by Portland (OR), Pittsburgh, Reno, Orlando, Tampa, Irvine (CA), Tucson, Colorado Springs, Atlanta, Boise, Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Denver, San Diego, Buffalo, and Richmond.

St. Pete was 33rd. Miami was 49th.

So what made Tampa rank so high? It was 4th in sports facilities and outdoor environment.  We will give them that.  It is warm year round and we have many places to play (how many playing fields do you need?)  Notably, Tampa was not in the top five of any specific category listed in more detail.

Of course, one has to wonder about a list that puts San Francisco at 44th not just because it is expensive (it is) but also ranks it low on sports facilities and outdoor environment. (Have they been to the other bay area?) And puts Buffalo in the top 20.

In any event, even if it is a bit odd, we’ll take it.

Roundup 12-5-2014

December 5, 2014

USF Med School – What Did You Expect?

To no one’s surprise:

The USF board of Trustees on Thursday approved a downtown location for the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute in a unanimous vote.

Now:

The next step for USF comes in January: the university must ask for state funding from the Florida Board of Governors it meets Jan. 21-22 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

The total cost of the new medical tower was estimated to be between $150 million and $163 million. USF believes it has up to $130 million already lined up, including state funding, so the university would need to raise more money from other sources.

We assume they will eventually get it.

And there were the beginnings of an idea for a plan for the future of the institutions around the main campus revealed in a Tribune editorial:

School officials say moving the medical school would make space available that could accommodate a major expansion of the university’s neuroscience research. It also would allow expansion of the College of Nursing, which is important considering the state is expected to experience a shortfall of 50,000 nurses in the coming years.

The downtown project also would free up space that could allow the construction of a joint research building with Moffitt Cancer Center and a new Department of Bioengineering facility.

It also would allow the university to give new focus to microbiology, biodefense and infectious disease, expanding both clinical work and research.

Setting aside that at one point the nursing school was to move, but now apparently it won’t (or will it), that is the beginning of a concept of a plan.  On the other hand, it raises a simple question: if the downtown med school is supposed to be a big draw for all these researchers and companies in biomed and make us a hub, who is going to do all that stuff on the main campus and if all this research is going on the main campus, what will be drawn downtown?

In any event, as we have said from the beginning (in addition to this being a done deal and it is over hyped), we get that the Lightning owner wants an anchor for his project (that is only good business), and we have no problem with that. (Apparently, his bigger plan will be unveiled on December 17.)  And we like the idea of the med school move if there is a real plan (though not having an adjacent hospital is a problem) – but we have not seen a real plan.

Once again, it is not the Lightning owner’s job to have a plan for USF and affiliate institutions. It is the public officials’ job to do it and not do this (note that the Times edited the linked article to remove this quote – something they often do with hype-tastic quotes.  No matter, we saved a copy of the original):

“We would act as an economic development anchor for Tampa,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical school, “for one of the biggest urban projects in the history of this country.”

Yes, it would be an anchor.  As for being one of the “biggest urban projects in the history of the county,” there are bigger projects both being built and planned in Miami right now  (see subsection “– Aside: So What Does a Billion Dollars Get You These Days?”) not to mention this in New York and a bunch of others.  It is fine to say the Lightning owner’s project is a major project and could really change downtown Tampa, but we need to deal in facts.  (Much more of that and it will be difficult to take other statements, like potential ideas for how to deal with the main campus and their effects, seriously.)

Regardless, the move is probably going to happen,  The bottom line is this: if it turns out as hyped, great.  But if it doesn’t, don’t be surprised. And in any event, the real driver of the development in that area of downtown is the Lightning owner (with his bigger project and push for a corporate HQ) and how much and in what he decides to invest, not the med school or public officials.

Economic Development – The Time Is Now (As It Has Been For a While)

Those who watch the Daily Show know there is a running joke that whenever the show takes a week off, something big happens.  Last week, we felt the same way about economic development news.

– Warm, Low Tax Area Seeks Lonely, Cold, Overtaxed Corporation for Long Term Relationship

As is widely reported, this area (and Tampa specifically) is seeking out a major corporate HQ, preferably for downtown.  Recently, there was a presentation on how CEO’s see us:

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has made the relocation of a major brand name headquarters to Tampa Bay a big priority.

Perception of the region from CEOs with no connection to the market and CEOs that run local operations of companies based elsewhere has changed dramatically for the better, new research from San Diego-based Barry Quarles and his firm, Market Enhancement Group, shows.

He briefed EDC investors in person last week about the data.

“As we create websites and brochures and take people to dinner and lunch we know a little more about what is going in their head and how they view this marketplace,” said EDC CEO Rick Homans. The data follows on a similar set of questions asked in 2002, so it is comparison-rich.

Twelve years ago, the high cost of doing business here was a strong negative. Now, the area has a better rap, and even more critical is a pro-business attitude of local and state public leadership. That, combined with an absence of unnecessary rules and regulations and a lack of bureaucratic interference, dominated the perceived advantages of doing business here.

Tampa is rated No. 1 in areas where other markets are struggling, Quarles said, such as cost of living and expensive government.

Well, that is good.  Being business friendly is important, if a bit ambiguous.

Nor does it hurt that people like the Lightning owner are investing in the area. (Apparently, his project has already drawn interest.) Often times, money likes to follow money.  Yet,

But the consultant also shared executive perceptions that show this area has some gaping holes to address.

“Transportation is your greatest vulnerability,” warned Quarles, who heads Market Enhancement Group. It’s the latest reminder that the mass transit referendums rejected earlier this month in Pinellas and Polk counties will need to be reconsidered to make them more appealing to tax-wary area voters.

Well, that is no surprise – and it is a gaping hole, especially to attract up and coming talent who want that urban environment.

Other than that, the reports did not really list any other findings about perceptions.  This area is cheap and easy to get business done (which really has been the case, even if not always perceived as such, for a long time.  And if it was so hard to do business twelve years ago, why wasn’t that reported?  Really, the mayor back in 2003 was hardly anti-business.  And it does not seem from these articles from 1999 and 2000 that it was hard to do business in the area.  Maybe the big change is not in local government.)  On the other hand, transportation is a mess and unlikely to get better soon. Moreover, there is no discussion about schools, amenities, talent pool, etc.

In other words, we are not sure we learned much.  Then there was this:

As much as 13 percent of the respondents are very likely to move to establish new headquarters in the next three years. Another 15 percent are somewhat likely. They are heavily concentrated in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

So, yes, there is opportunity out there –especially, unsurprisingly, in colder states.  Of course, that opportunity has been there for years.  It is well past time to take real advantage of it.

– 20 Years On

Then again, not taking advantage also has been the case for a long time, so why hasn’t it happened?

There was some discussion, if tangential, in the last few weeks. It all started with a column in the Times a few weeks back about the Tampa Bay Partnership about its 20 year anniversary.

The Tampa Bay Partnership has had moments to shine and reasons to hide in two decades. In recent years there’s a growing drumbeat that the partnership mission has become muddied and its leaders turned gun-shy — even as other area economic development groups boast of newfound “swagger,” pursue outsized ambitions and deliver concrete results for the economic community.

The partnership’s membership, which has ballooned to eight counties from Sarasota to Citrus to Polk, has grown unwieldy and fractured. Its bold plan to webcast days of live, pro-region business interviews under the “Front Row Tampa Bay” name during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa proved expensive, reached small audiences and generated little value.

The group’s recent priority to raise money and support for mass transit referendums — from Hillsborough’s first try in 2010 to this month’s Greenlight Pinellas and a similar initiative in Polk County — all ended with voters delivering crushing defeats.

Setting aside that the same columnist praised “Front Row Tampa Bay” back in 2012.  (Whether that is part of the long-standing Tampa Bay tendency to overplay “achievements” before determining that they are not actually achieving much – something that plagues us politically and otherwise and is part of the reason things have not happened – or just a change a heart, you can decide.), this is not the first time criticism has arisen, just the most pointed expression of it.  Others have said the same things behind the scenes.  We will summarize this quote as “the main regional economic development organization has underperformed.”

The column continued:

That may be why a call for change at the top is growing. Few business leaders sense the partnership’s marketing message, whatever it may be these days, makes Tampa Bay stand out in a competitive crowd of aspiring metro areas. Rogel counters that it’s hard to make a big noise with a small marketing budget.

Fueling the debate is the strong perception that a new crop of leaders recently recruited to run major area economic development groups or key businesses — namely Joe Lopano at Tampa International Airport, Rick Homans at Tampa/Hillsborough’s Economic Development Corp., Santiago Corrada at Visit Tampa Bay and Paul Anderson at Port Tampa Bay — has delivered boffo results with new international flights, a boom in company relocations, record tourist visits and strong shipping numbers.

While one can weigh the accomplishments of the different leaders listed above in different ways, the point is valid (especially for the airport).  There has been new blood that has changed the approach locally – in fact, especially with the airport, the new blood has pushed a more complacent local establishment to raise its ambition and game – which is all good.

One thing that has not happened in the last 20 years is that a major HQ has not moved to this area.  Another thing that has not happened is that this area has not become a hub of technology or other high wages jobs.  And, of course, transportation has not really been addressed (while other major metros in the state have moved forward).  Moreover, planning is still questionable.

None of this is exclusively the fault of the Tampa Bay Partnership or its leadership. Some of it has nothing to do with the Partnership. (For instance, it should not have taken 20 years to get the political officials to actually consider acting regionally, which they still do only intermittently.  And planning is still a mess.)  On the other hand, the Partnership has held itself out as an organization that wants to deal with (actually lead on) these issues, so the failure to achieve them is also a failure of the Partnership to achieve its goals.

Yes, we are more regional, especially in tone, though not nearly regional enough in fact. (Cooperation on the airport expansion is a start, as is the trade mission to Chile this week.   Yet, has anyone seen a regional transportation plan other than the completely ignored TBARTA ideas or even a real proposal to for cross-Bay transit?) Yes, we have grown and changed, but there is really no question we are still followers, not creators, of economic development and city-building fashion. We can (and should) do much better.  Some of that has to do with organizations like the Partnership, but much is more about local (especially elected) officials.

In the event, the aforementioned CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership then resigned.

Stuart Rogel, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, is stepping down after 20 years at the helm of the multicounty economic development and advocacy group.

Partnership chairman Brian Lamb said chief operating officer John Schueler will assume day-to-day activities as needed while a national search is launched to identify a new CEO.

In revealing his plans Wednesday, Rogel, 60, insisted he was under no pressure to leave. Rather, he said he felt the time was right to part ways, both for his family and for the partnership. “I had a great run. Loved every minute of it,” he said in an interview. “But who the heck stays anywhere for 21 years?”

The partnership, which was created by local business leaders in 1994 to market Tampa Bay as a single metro region, had been on the losing end of a number of recent campaigns, including mass transit initiatives in Pinellas and Polk counties.

The reason for his resigning is not relevant. What is relevant is what will happen now.  Regardless of past performance, the change in leadership is an opportunity to refine the approach for the present circumstances and take advantage of the new blood.

Lamb, who runs Fifth Third Bank’s bay area operation, said Rogel also leaves the partnership in strong financial shape. He credited the outgoing CEO with a string of successes, including helping to attract notable companies to the area, establishing relationships with site selection experts around the country, marketing the area as a prime business destination, and taking on difficult regional challenges such as transportation and water.

The partnership, Lamb said, will remain focused on several key initiatives: marketing the region, improving its workforce, solving transportation challenges and securing the future of Major League Baseball here.

He declined to give a timetable for the executive search but said it will include candidates who have held leadership roles in high-performing economic development regions.

Here are some suggestions about the next CEO.  First, that person should be an independent actor and not be beholden to any political actor.  The Partnership is supposed to be regional.  The leader should be regional.  In other words, use the airport director as a model: pick someone who already has a high level of achievement somewhere else and who will bring fresh ideas and elevate everyone’s game (and especially push local officials).

Second, the person should be paid a competitive salary, but that salary should be reasonable and contingent on performance.  It is fine to pay for talent, but keep the eye on the prize.

There is opportunity to accelerate positive change.  It should be taken.

– And One More Thing: Insecurity Watch

Though, in all the coverage, there was this:

On Friday, the partnership’s community luncheon will feature a “Legacy of Leadership” theme and praise the businesspeople who chaired the group over the past 20 years. Brian Lamb, Fifth Third Bank’s top area executive, also gets officially welcomed as the 2015 chairman. Next November, SunTrust area chief Allen Brinkman — now coming off a year chairing Tampa/Hillsborough’s EDC — follows as the next partnership chairman.

After wrapping up a year of can-do “swagger” at the EDC, Brinkman says he wants to try to revive some of that confidence at the Tampa Bay Partnership. The partnership can be a powerful group, he says, but it has lost its voice.

“We’ve got to get back that one voice, to say we are here to do business.”

Says Brinkman: “My mission will be to give it that swagger.”

Please, no. (The idea that what this area needs is supercilious pompousness just won’t go away.)  Confidence is fine, but, as we have noted a number of times (See “Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Swagger City”  and “Economic Development – Show Us Your Supercilious Pomposity” ), swagger is not confidence.  Nor is swagger competence or achievement.  Swagger is a sign of insecurity.  Swagger is the old Tampa Bay DNA.

As they say in sports, act like you have been there before – or at least that you deserve to be there.

Transportation – Election Aftermath

As noted above, transportation is a major negative for this area in terms of business recruitment.  Coincidentally, the first information of what led to the failure of the Greenlight proposal is coming out (also coincidentally, from the Tampa Bay Partnership).  First, from the Tribune:

The proposed 1-penny sales tax hike was the overwhelming reason cited by Pinellas voters who rejected the Greenlight plan, an exit poll commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership found.

Pinellas voters did not believe mass transit improvements would benefit them and were unconvinced that any overall benefit to the county was worth the hit to their pockets, according to the survey of 400 voters conducted by Frederick Polls in the two days following the Nov. 4 election. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.

Even the pledge to eliminate the transit property tax did little to make the new sales tax more palatable, with 80 percent of Pinellas “no” voters viewing the tax swap negatively, the study found.

That level of resistance to raising taxes for transit likely will worry Hillsborough County leaders in 2016 when they are expected to put a mass transit plan before voters.

* * *

The study also skewers some immediate post-election hopes that voters would have approved a half-penny sales tax hike for a scaled-down version of the plan that did not include the controversial light rail link.

That proposal barely moved the needle from the level of support that Greenlight garnered at the election, according to the poll. 

Now, the Times:

Survey results released Thursday cast doubt on the theory that the light rail component doomed the plan.

More than 90 percent of the voters who rejected Greenlight Pinellas did so because of the sales tax increase, according to a survey commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership. They would not have voted yes even if the light rail had been excluded, said the 400 voters surveyed Nov. 5 and 6.

* * *

About 55 percent of those who voted no blamed light rail for the decision, Rogel said.

When voters were asked if they would support a half-cent sales tax for only bus improvements, support remained virtually unchanged at 38 percent.

The Yes on Greenlight campaign emphasized that many homeowners would break even or save money as part of the so-called tax swap, but the survey showed many were skeptical. About 78 percent of the no voters had a negative view of the tax swap, a potential sign that voters didn’t trust leaders to fulfill that promise, Rogel said.

First, it appears that rail was not really a main issue at all.  While some may be fixated on opposing it, paying for anything seems to be the issue.

Second, none of that is surprising in an area with the lowest average income for a major metro area and where housing is not very affordable to the average resident.  Even if people want to improve transportation, they have personal concerns that come first. When you market yourself (de jure or de facto) as low-cost and recruit jobs with low wages, it is not surprising that many of the people you attract want to maintain that low cost and maximize their low wages.

Consequently, it is harder sell many of those people on the higher cost for investments, regardless of whether they are needed or not.  You have to have a very good message with good marketing and create trust in officials to get the job done, and that apparently was not the case. (It should be considered that the culture of excessive hype with less than optimal results contributes to this lack of trust.)  A plan will not succeed just be local officials say how great it would be.

A sales tax may pass at some point.  However, it seems pretty clear that, like the Orlando area, local officials should start looking for alternative funding sources for transportation improvements.  (We suggest that a first step is to stop subsidizing retail and sprawl.)

That being said, backing off of fixing the obvious transportation problems by taking the traditional “incremental” approach (as is hinted in the article), which is what we have now, rather than dealing with what needs to be done will just leave us with more of the same and relatively less competitive. It will also indicate that local government really cannot get done what needs to be done. We need to get the issue worked out.

Whether local officials are creative enough to get there – and to build enough trust among the electorate – remains to be seen.

Transportation – HART Goes Transparent

While it does not directly affect service, HART is making a nice move.

Hillsborough’s transit agency voted Monday to move a large amount of its financial information online in an effort to show the public the board is spending its dwindling money in a responsible manner.

The move goes beyond posting the budgets required by the state. It includes expenditures, monthly financial reports, vendor information, payroll, wire transactions and more. 

Credit where credit is due.  It is a good move because more information to the public is good.  And

HART board member and County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the transparency initiative will help show the public that HART is doing the best it can with its resources, despite being “strapped for cash.”

“A lot of people think it’s so easy to do stuff because you have so many millions of dollars, but what they don’t understand is where all that money goes,” Murman said. “You are providing that transparency so people understand that every dollar that comes to HART is being spent frugally and wisely.”

We won’t go far as to say every dollar is being spent wisely, but HART is not flush with cash.  It will be good for people to see that, though it might be lost on some who will see numbers in the millions and do not really know the costs of running a transit system.  In a separate but related note:

There was also discussion about splitting the Finance, Governance and Administration committee into separate governance and finance committees, allowing the latter to delve further into potential revenue sources.

HART continues to look for ways to increase its revenue sources to keep operating without a massive shortfall. Much has been made of a potential 2016 tax-for-transportation referendum, similar to those that failed in Pinellas and Polk counties in November.

Yet, HART should look for alternative financing because:

Board member Josh Burgin, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, has long warned against relying on revenue from a potential tax that voters could reject.

“HART should next expect to see dramatic budgetary growth as a result of a near future tax increase proposal,” Burgin wrote in a letter that was read during the meeting. “The most likely scenario for increased HART funding through additional taxes is one where a half-cent tax is passed with a majority of the revenues committed to roads and a relative small amount is dedicated to HART.”

Indeed, thanks in part to the anti-transit advocacy of people like that Board member, they cannot count on a sales tax passing.  (see here and here)  In any event, they should have learned from other regions and gotten creative long ago, like this.  That is creative.

Transportation – Who Does The PTC Represent?

This blog is firmly nonpartisan.  We do not care about parties.  We care about policies, and we both criticize and commend people regardless of political affiliation.  (What we would really like is if everyone promoted good policies for the good of the area in a wonderfully bi-partisan and regional fashion.)

Additionally, we have made no secret of the fact that we think the PTC’s policies regarding ridesharing companies are not very good.  It is no secret that the majority of the County Commission and PTC is made up of Republicans, and the two most vocal Commissioners on the PTC are also Republicans.  Given that, it was interesting that the Tampa Bay Young Republicans issued a statement recently:

The Hillsborough County PTC is made up of numerous county commissioners and city council members. It is TBYR’s believe [sic] that since the PTC enjoys a quasi-autonomous rule over most transportation services they have resorted to fining, arresting, and ultimately shutting down businesses such as Uber and Lyft because of the stiff competition they create for taxies and limo services. The PTC has supported their bans by stating that these businesses are providing illegal taxi services; however, these companies simply connect people who are able and willing to give other people a ride.

This is why TBYR believes that this ban violates conservative principles by limiting consumer’s choice and impeding the free market to flourish. The exact language of the motion is as follows:

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans stands in full support of ride share services to freely operate in Hillsborough County, FL

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans feel the PTC is overexerting their power and incorrectly and unfairly attacking innovation, free enterprise and consumer choice & REJECT the actions of the PTC, its Board Members, and The Hillsborough County Commission to stifle the aforementioned

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans fully support the notions of free markets, consumer choice and competition & REJECT government interference in the free market place regarding the PTC’s actions

Whereas The Tampa Bay Young Republicans DEMAND the PTC cease and desist all negative actions on ride share services and allow the market to determine their fate

NOW, THEREFORE be it known that these are the sentiments and opinions of The Tampa Bay Young Republicans, the premier grassroots and politically active young professionals in Hillsborough County, FL and surrounding areas.

If even the Young Republicans reject the PTC’s ridesharing policy, who is for it?

Tampa Heights – Just Maybe This Time

It seems that the The Heights project in near the river north of downtown might actually get going early 2015.

. . . The developers are planning to begin construction on the first phase of the Heights, a 317-unit apartment building on a parcel north of Palm Avenue, in the first quarter of 2015. The building will be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments and will include a few three-bedroom units as well as 17,000 square feet of retail space.

Riverside Heights is a undeveloped parcel of land on the Hillsborough River, just north of downtown Tampa. It is entitled for 1,600 residential units, 400,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of retail space.

The apartment building will be masonry construction in four to seven stories. The developers have obtained letters of intent for portions of the retail space, Bruck said. A letter of intent in commercial real estate is a nonbinding outline of the terms of the deal and allows the company time to do due diligence on the potential site.

“Optimistically,” the building could break ground in February, Bruck said, concurrent with the closing of the construction loan. He declined to identify the lender.

After decades of plans, it is nice that something might get done.  We are not sure if “four to seven stories” means some of it will be four and some seven or they are not sure about the height.  Hopefully, the former.  We are anxious to see what they come up with (especially with the building not being a stick building.)

Downtown – What Do Big Sales Mean?

We recently wrote about the sale of One Tampa City Center.  Since then, the Wells Fargo building was also sold.  So what does this all mean?

Driving those deals is a multifaceted dynamic, investment brokers say. Higher prices and lower returns in bigger cities have created more investor in interest in secondary markets like Tampa, where investors still see potential for upside.

But investors have also come to believe in the market itself, besides how it compares to its larger counterparts.

“There’s no way anybody plunks down $70 million if they don’t believe in the market,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the capital markets group at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc. “It’s not just running from other markets. There’s increased demand for quality product in [central business districts] nationally, and Tampa has been a slower market to recover than others in the state in terms of the CBD. I think its time has come, and investors want to get out of ahead that.”

It means outside investors can think they can make a better return on buying in Tampa, which is good.  Does that mean a flurry of new office buildings are coming?

While the aggregate sales numbers are impressive, the pricing per square foot on each of the towers is well below what it would cost to build them — giving the investors who bought them a sense of security that it will be years before they have to compete with a brand new building in the urban core.

“It’s very difficult to justify a new tower today,” Davis said, “although we are certainly seeing real rent growth and real absorption.”

In other words, no.  On the other hand, if the big push by the Lightning owner is successful in getting relocations, maybe there will be some office development downtown.  In any event, the market appears to be recovering, which is good.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont.

We have previously questioned the proposal for playing fields at HCC.  (See “HCC – How Many Playing Fields Do We Need?”) and noted that Pasco was moving forward. (See “How Many Playing Fields Do We Need? – Cont.”)  Well, the Pasco plan is still out there, even if it has some issues.

Retired baseball star Gary Sheffield told Pasco commissioners he would personally guarantee $3 million of his own money toward a youth baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch if that’s what it takes to get the financing in place for the $34 million project.

Sheffield and his business partner, James Talton, have spent nearly all of 2014 trying to raise the $23 million to match the county’s $11 million contribution. Commissioners gave them a 90-day extension in July. On Tuesday, they set a drop-dead date of Dec. 5 to guarantee at least $3 million for the design and permitting of the park. They’ll decide on Jan. 13 whether to accept the deal or terminate the contract.

The HCC idea has been quiet, but, then again, it came up without any real discussion, so that does not mean much.  And then, Hillsborough County, which needs to develop high wage jobs, infrastructure, and a host of other things, still wants more fields.

Two years after pledging $15 million for an amateur sports complex, Hillsborough County commissioners are ready to start searching for land and seeking bids from companies interested in building and operating the fields.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the project at their meeting Dec. 3. Commissioner Ken Hagan, who started pushing for a multifield complex several years ago, said he wants the county to look at different scenarios to get the best deal possible for taxpayers.

“The thinking is the private sector can likely construct this facility cheaper than the county can do it,” Hagan said. “Everything will be on the table, from land purchase to design and building to maintaining and operations.”

* * *

The project has been delayed for two years while the county negotiated a deal with Tampa Electric Co. for lighting at the complex. The company has agreed to install and operate the lighting and allow the county to pay back the costs over a 10- or 20-year period, Hagan said, reducing the county’s upfront costs.

So, $15 million up front (does that include paying TECO back?)  What else?

“Based on our review of other complexes and studies, it will be a revenue producing asset,” Hagan said. “But it will not pay for itself. That’s why we need to come up with an advantageous model to allow us to minimize our yearly operation costs.”

In other words, it will operate at a loss.  So who knows how much more it will cost?

We have nothing against having playing fields and tournaments.  We are all for lifestyle amenities.  But what do we get out of the investment?

Communities across the state have built or are planning to build multipurpose complexes to attract large amateur softball, baseball and soccer tournaments. Sports economists say the tournaments boost community sales tax and bed tax collections as families plan trips around their children’s sports interests.

Ok.  That’s fine but how much will we make in sales tax?  Where is the real analysis?

The real question is whether playing fields are where Hillsborough County should spend its money now.  Is that the priority?  Does that get us to better paying jobs and improved transportation?  Do we really want to pay for that or use the money for something else?  And do we want to compete with other local counties?  Does it really matter for the area if fields are in Wesley Chapel, as opposed to Seffner or Gibsonton?  How much will it really bring in to the county?  How much of the money will be just local kids going to local tournaments?

Never mind that, the County Commission just wants to move forward.

If we had surplus money or a company was going to take all the risk on land that has no better use (or County land with no better use that can be leased to the company and no other cost to the taxpayer), we would have no objection. But this involves taxpayer funds while the County keeps telling us it has limited money.  So the question remains: How many playing fields do we need?

List of the Week

Because local media is now highlighting a wide variety of lists (like this in the Business Journal on ports  – they like the Port and most other major ports in Florida and around the Gulf – or this from the Times about beautiful people  – there are attractive people frequenting bars in south Tampa), we are trying to find more practical lists.

Because of all the talk about tourism and hospitality (like this from the Tribune ) and seeming focus on tourism as economic development, this week our list is wallethub.com’s list of 10 best cities for waiters.

Coming in first is Seattle, followed by Burlington (VT), Boston, Spokane, Bellingham (WA), Honolulu, Worcester (MA), Olympia (WA), Napa (CA), and Santa Fe.

Notably, the average waiter salary in the best market for waiters, Seattle, is $29,410.

Roundup 11-27-2014

November 27, 2014

There will be no Roundup this week.  Enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend.

Roundup 11-21-2014

November 21, 2014

Economy – Of Booms, Basements, and Bombast

Last week, regarding economic development, we spoke of a culture of diminished expectations that has held us back. See “Economic Development – The Quest for an HQ”.  Diminished expectations are a private phenomenon that manifests itself in excessive hype and exaggerating accomplishments, saying that something which may be just good or ok is actually superlative, as well as settling.  (See exaggerated comments regarding the Amazon warehouse. See “Amazon – Time to Hunker Down”) While there are achievements, they are often portrayed as far more substantial than they really are.  While we understand the tendency to play up accomplishments, doing so interferes with our actual progress by distorting what is actually going on. (And it is all a sign of lack of faith in the ability and potential of this area.)

See what you can see in some recent articles.

– A Means to an End

This week, there were a few articles about tourism culminating in a Tribune editorial about the benefits of tourism.

It may not be readily apparent to those of us who call this place home, but Tampa is setting tourism records at a remarkable pace. A rebranding of the area and a concentrated marketing push, along with the fading recession, have propelled the number of visitors — and the dollars they spend here — to levels that might soon put Tampa in the same company as the state’s perennial top tourist draws — those being Disney World and the other theme parks near Orlando, and the famed international nightlife and beaches near Miami.

Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s publicly funded promotions engine behind the robust numbers, reports hotel revenues in Hillsborough County climbed to $524 million in fiscal year 2014, a 13 percent jump over the previous year. Hotel bookings, known in the industry as room nights, topped 760,000 with an estimated economic impact of $374 million related to those bookings.

It is good that tourism is up, though the comparison to Orlando (or Miami) is based on a state statute with a threshold to increase bed taxes, not pure numbers.

The tourism growth feeds a key economic engine in this area and in the state, and the counties that excel are rewarded. Counties generating $30 million in annual bed tax receipts are designated by the state as “high-impact” tourism counties and eligible to collect 6 percent bed taxes on hotel room stays rather than the 5 percent allowed for other counties.

Hillsborough is about $6 million shy of that $30 million amount, and Visit Tampa Bay is focused on a mission to cross that threshold in three years, joining Orange, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties, among others.

Note that it is a goal of the Governor to have a hundred million tourists per year visit Florida and Orlando already has over half of that at 59 million.  Given that and that Miami, Pinellas and other areas are ahead of Hillsborough, clearly Hillsborough County is nowhere close to Orlando (and probably not close to Miami). Setting aside that hyperbole,

According to Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the numbers show Tampa is fast becoming a destination for leisure travelers and conventioneers who couldn’t find the city on a map just 10 years ago.

“People used to ask me where in Miami is Tampa,” says Corrada, who served nine years in a variety of roles under two Tampa mayors and was hired to run the nonprofit Visit Tampa Bay about 18 months ago.

Apparently, all the Super Bowls and other events, marketing pushes, mayors, etc., back then were not successful.  Why didn’t the Tribune report about the failures back then?  In any event,

The area would not be setting tourism records had the community not made sensible investments through the years in developing such attractions as the Florida Aquarium, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Riverwalk, the Tampa Bay History Center, Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. Historic preservation efforts, particularly in Ybor City, have also paid off.

Once again, it is good there are more tourists.  And the listed investments were useful, though when they were first proposed many were oversold as panaceas, which they were not.  (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun”)  Nevertheless, we’ll take it the increase, for now.

On the other hand, a dose of reality.  We are not alone setting tourism records.  In fact, it seems that tourism generally is on the rebound.  Some other places setting tourism records are Pinellas, Miami , Orlando, Jacksonville, SarasotaGalveston , Abilene, Georgia, Illinois , Louisiana, and the Alabama beaches. (Frankly, we got bored searching all the places setting records.)

The point is this: tourism is fine, and we are glad we are breaking records.  On the other hand, it is part of a state and national trend, so let’s not get giddy.

And getting back to that economic engine thing.  Yes, tourism is an economic engine (especially if you own the hotels) but it is way down on the list of accomplishments. Most hospitality jobs are low wage jobs, which is a recurring problem for our area. (See the next sub-item.)

Yes, tourism brings some money into the economy. But the best thing about tourism is that it provides exposure to people who could potentially chose to move here and build the economy and it allows us to grow things like air service and restaurants that can also help attract more lucrative businesses to the area.  To parlay tourism into more than just low wages jobs requires viewing tourism as a tool, not an end in itself.

Go ahead, build tourism and be happy that it is growing, but keep the hype in check because it is not the real prize.

– Yes, It’s Cheap, but Can You Afford It?

Economic development leaders like to tout the low cost of living and low cost of doing business to promote this area.  However, despite the hype, what that has historically attracted is companies focused on low wage jobs (to go along with the tourism jobs).  And that creates problems – for instance:

Stung by a median income that ranks dead last among the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, middle-class families in Tampa Bay are unable to afford median-priced homes, according to a new study by financial adviser website interest.com.

Tampa Bay’s median income this year is $45,880 — a full $4,000 less than the second-worst city, Miami, and nearly half as much as the highest-income city, Washington, D.C.

Home affordability isn’t the problem. In fact, Tampa Bay’s median home price of $156,000 is fourth most affordable among the biggest 25 cities. Only Pittsburgh, Detroit and St. Louis are more affordable.

But that median income figure is a major drag for Tampa Bay and leaves middle class families with incomes 3 percent short of the money needed to buy even the most average of homes. (The 3 percent shortfall is a slight improvement from last year, but still not much to brag about).

So the houses are not very expensive, but, because of low wages, they are still not affordable to the middle class. In other words, the low cost of living does not help much if you make even less money – which is the case for far too many here.  (Yes, the market is a roller coaster, like this, but the point remains). Aside from housing, that affects the market for other amenities, including everything from clothes to dining to cars.  It is all a result of policies that have pushed real estate, services, and hospitality as the key to growth.  As we have said for years, we need to focus on higher paying jobs to build up the income levels.  The spin-off effects will lift others, pushing the economy to a new level.  Yes, that is a common talking point now, but, based on the consistently poor rankings, the real successes are still not very common.

And then there is this:

Any spurts of job creation aside, it’s still hard to make a living in Tampa Bay.

The latest evidence of hardship comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which released data Thursday showing per-capita personal income rose a tepid 1.3 percent in Tampa Bay in 2013, trailing the nationwide average of 2 percent.

Bottom line: Tampa Bay residents, on average, made $40,425 in 2013, up from $39,903 in 2012, but far shy of the U.S. average of $44,765 and even more distant from the per capita income in all metro areas: $46,177.

* * *

Among area counties, income in Pasco grew at the fastest clip of 2 percent. But with per capita income of $32,975, Pasco has a long way to go to catch up to Pinellas ($45,574), Hillsborough ($40,680), and even Citrus ($34,380). Only Hernando, which also historically suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the region, posted a lower average income: $31,422.

Starting low and growing slow.  And “all metro areas” includes more than just “major” metro areas.

When people speak of our boom, keep in mind what that means – one of the lowest per capita gross metropolitan products and the lowest average income of major metros in the country is doing better than it had been (especially if you do not count pre-recession). But the numbers above make it clear, we are still not doing very well.

– Forever Blowing Bubbles?

Another place that there is boom talk, at least as far as proposals (though not yet in actual buildings), is in downtown Tampa.  Given our economic performance, that raises questions which we have raised and that were echoed by a column in the Times.

Not to pooh-pooh the growing celebration of more and more apartment and condo towers proposed or already under construction in downtown Tampa. But — please — let’s not become so euphoric that we end up in a real estate bubble in the core of this emerging city.

* * *

It’s the tower craze that begs caution. More than nine major residential towers are going up or preparing to do so with enough combined housing to add at least 10,000 new people to the downtown area. That number is practically the size of the city’s downtown residential population just a few years ago. Nor do those numbers include lesser-sized residential buildings in the works as well as those rising along Bayshore Boulevard or in the massive Encore project just outside the downtown core.

* * *

The question is how many towers — the vast bulk of them expecting to charge monthly rents ranging from $1,200 to more than $3,000 based on apartment size, amenities and view — can be introduced into a modest market all at once. 

For a variety of reasons, we are all for building up downtown.  But it is legitimate to ask who is going to fill all these buildings. (Probably not med students.)

We have been here before (note that the County Center is a speculative building in a previous “boom” that never had a single tenant and was bought at a large discount by the County.  Also note that in the last boom there were a number of large proposals for downtown/Channel District that never came off (just look at the items on this list with proposal dates).  A fixation with towers, or even non-tower projects – really just fixation on real estate – alone is misplaced, as nice and exciting as they may be.  Without developing the full economy (including, but not limited to, real estate), the buildings will eventually struggle.  As we have noted many times, all these things are connected.

If we were in downtown Miami, city leaders would ridicule such concerns. Miami goes through real estate booms and busts like the Bucs go through quarterbacks. The glaring difference between Miami and Tampa is that Miami is the lucky recipient of a firehose of Latin American flight capital, money that gets plowed into its giant condo towers (even those still on the drawing boards) as safe investment havens beyond the reach of grabby Latin governments.

Tampa gets very little of that action. Miami might wince at only nine new towers going up in its downtown, where 1.25 acres of mostly vacant land along Biscayne Bay sold this summer for $125 million and where nine of 10 buyers are typically from abroad.

Tampa lacks those dynamics and may want to be a bit wary of a sudden surge of housing supply outstripping demand.

The fact is that Tampa has always lacked really strong dynamics.  Sure, some people have made good money in development, but there is a constant boom-bust cycle because the fundamentals of the market are based on real estate and other low wage industries, not a strong, diverse, relatively high income, business base.  Additionally, we start our booms late and begin our busts early because of that and, as has been noted a number of times recently, it takes a while for investors to decide Tampa is worth the risk. See here.  Though this is not an issue with the Lightning owner’s plans.)  We have no idea how long the boom, such as it is, will last, but until the economy is fully addressed, the boom-bust cycle will continue.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn surely would disagree with such concerns. “This is our time,” the state’s most gregarious politician likes to crow. 

We hope there is good amount of building downtown, which be an achievement – though years behind our competitors. (See a couple of Austin pictures here  and here and this Denver blog.  It should come as no surprise that the per capita GMP in Austin (29.8%) and Denver (53.4%) is much larger than that in the Tampa Bay area and the development is a result of that. See “Economic Development – How Are We Doing?”) However, we are not sure how having the lowest income levels of any major metro is “our time.”

Yes, there are successes – like getting Lufthansa and Bristol-Myers Squibb (and, though nothing has happened yet so it cannot be a success now but in the future, if built as advertised, the Lightning owner’s development). Yes, things have gotten better over the decades. Yes, the area has matured some. But other places have improved and matured more, which is the real issue. We are not competing with the 1995 Tampa Bay area.  We are competing with other similarly sized metros today and in the future, and, right now, we are not even average.

The reality is that, even though we may have a good line-up of potential assets, we are starting from so far behind – and lack some crucial things like proper transit and multiple, real urban areas in our cities (not just downtown) – that even some good accomplishments will not necessarily get us to where we need to be while other keep moving ahead.

Even if we get nice development downtown and an HQ (things we are all for), it will take a long, sustained effort to really get the Tampa Bay area to where it should already be – among the usual suspects.  And being among that group of cities should be the expectation.  Be pleased when good things happen, but know where we really stand and do not be satisfied.

– Half Lessons/Incomplete Analysis: Pittsburgh

Speaking of improvement, one of our consistent mistakes as an area is to latch onto an idea that may have merit and then treat it as though it were a magic key that will unlock amazing prosperity. Recently, it has involved the push to move the USF Med school downtown, an idea which has some merit.  We have documented how the idea been promoted in the same fashion as previous ideas that did not panned out as advertised. (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun” and “USF Med School – The Editorial”)  This week there was an article in the Business Journal regarding Pittsburgh as a model for our redevelopment.

Between the redevelopment of the Kress building and a potential medical school in downtown Tampa, there’s an undeniable buzz around the urban core. And yet the city has been here before — poised for a downtown renaissance that would make it the next great Sunbelt city.

You can say that again. When do we stop being next and actually get there? (and note that being a great city involves also looking beyond downtown.)

What could make this push a success goes beyond development deals. The key to revitalizing downtown Tampa lies in fixing a fundamental problem: Growing a highly skilled, highly paid workforce — the type of demographic that entices real estate investors and developers, because they have assurance that there will be sustained demand for their projects.

That’s what makes a University of South Florida medical campus in downtown Tampa so compelling; the potential ripple effects are enormous. It would be an anchor for Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for downtown, if a deal comes to fruition. But it would also likely spin off ancillary businesses, as biotechnology and health care companies want to cluster near the medical school — and the talent pool there.

If the USF medical school’s downtown campus comes to fruition, it would lay the groundwork for a new era for Tampa — the era of the knowledge-based economy.

Setting aside that the article ignores what happens to all the existing institutions near USF’s main campus that were supposed to build the knowledge based economy there (for instance see here) and about which there is no apparent plan if the med school leaves, we are all ears.

Today, Pittsburgh has a technology workforce that includes more than 600 Google Inc. jobs and has racked up innumerable “best place to live/eat/work” accolades from national media outlets. But it wasn’t always that way — the city was on a steady decline from the mid-1980s until the early 2000s, with Murphy serving as mayor from 2000 to 2006.

There’s a parallel between Pittsburgh’s crisis and the effects of the housing market crash on Tampa, though Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Pittsburgh was in a much more dire situation than Tampa. There’s also a similarity between the two mayors, with Buckhorn’s unyielding emphasis on downtown Tampa mirroring Murphy’s approach, characterized in the Pittsburgh Business Times as ” hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners” leadership. (Though it’s important to note that Murphy wasn’t without his critics, who opposed the amount he spent on downtown projects, some of which failed.)

Here the article – and whatever point it is trying to make – loses direction.   It started off talking about developing downtown, then goes to knowledge based economy, then to Pittsburgh and Google.  So what is the problem?

It says that Pittsburgh was worse off than Tampa, and in many ways that is true – weather, loss of a main industry, population loss, etc.  On the other hand, regarding the knowledge based economy, Pittsburgh was much better off (just not downtown).  Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University, which is not downtown but has long been an innovation hub. (see here, here, and here)  It also has the University of Pittsburgh, which is almost immediately adjacent to Carnegie Mellon – a real knowledge cluster (just not downtown).

As for Google, it first came to Pittsburgh to be part of a Carnegie Mellon center.  It then moved to a renovated Nabisco factory and expanded.    (And note that the factory is even farther from downtown than the Carnegie Mellon campus.)

Moreover, Pittsburgh already had and infrastructure to reinvent itself: large local benefactors, a large corporate presence, the Carnegie and other long established institutions, transit, and strong local loyalty.  Also, the redevelopment push in Pittsburgh began decades ago with things like the Pittsburgh Technology Center, work on which started in the 1980s on the site of defunct steel mills.  (You can read more in this 10 part blog series that was referenced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And note that the Post-Gazette portion indicates the failures of the mayor referenced in the Business Journal article.)

So why is that relevant?  Because the discussion about using Pittsburgh as a model for downtown redevelopment is not based on facts.  Moreover, the areas are not really comparable.  (If you are talking about region wide development, they may be a bit more comparable.) No doubt, there are things to be learned from Pittsburgh (and other area brought up in the USF med school discussion).  But to learn those things, you have to deal with the facts as they are, not as you want them to be.  And you have to set aside the hype. And that has simply not been done.

While we agree that developing nice, urban neighborhoods is a key to attracting talent and higher paying jobs and we are all for developing downtown – and we are not even opposed to moving the USF med school provided it is a done with a good plan for the related institutions it is leaving behind on and near the main campus (of which we have heard nothing) – it has to be remembered that the promises made about USF med school have been made over and over again about other developments (the failure to meet those promises is made clear by the perceived need to move the USF med school). And there are other factors to building the economy and creating sustainable growth for a whole area (including planning how to maintain momentum in the institutions on the main campus).

We believe the Tampa Bay area has many assets and a great amount of potential.  However, to maximize those assets and reach that potential requires a broad-based approach and dealing honestly with what we have done wrong and what needs to change.  And, while we need a good downtown, it goes far beyond that.  The real lesson of Pittsburgh is that developing a sustainable economy requires decades of sustained effort based on a sober assessment of reality.

TIA – Breaking Ground

The airport broke ground on its very large, master planned, expansion project this week.

A well-tilled box of soil took center stage atop the economy parking lot at Tampa International Airport today as aviation officials, politicians and local economic gurus celebrated the largest expansion in the airport’s history.

With construction set to begin in just a few short days on a $1 billion expansion at the airport, CEO Joe Lopano couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. “I can’t stop smiling,” he said as he took the stage to kick off the ground breaking event, which drew several hundred to the sixth floor of the parking garage. 

So let’s review.

The new consolidated rental car facility — which will be called the Tampa Gateway Center — will be built south of the main terminal at budgeted cost of $318.7 million.

The new 2.6-million square-foot facility will allow TIA to move the car rental counters out of the terminal and the rental cars out of the short-term parking garage. That would extend the life of the airport’s roads and also give it a new revenue-producing building for shops and restaurants.

The new rental car center will be connected to the main terminal by a 1.4-mile automated people mover, a $417.5 million project that will build a bigger version of the shuttles that now whisk passengers from the terminal to the airsides and back.

The main terminal itself will also undergo a $122.5 million renovation. The third-floor transfer level will be gutted and replaced by a sleeker, wide-open space. New outdoor terraces will be created for dining and drinking, and the third-floor’s footprint will be expanded by 55,000 square-feet by extending the four corners outward.

All the concessions in the terminal and airsides will also be redone, and the airport is soliciting bids from local brands — restaurants, bars, breweries and shops — to bring more local flavor into TIA. Those contracts will be awarded next year.

The Taxiway J bridge, which drivers pass while traveling on the George J. Bean Parkway, will also be replaced at a cost of $30.7 million. Other projects include $21.4 million in road improvements and a new concession warehouse that will be built for $17.2 million.

The project is expected to have an economic impact of $370 million on the area, according to the airport, and is also expected to create or preserve about 9,000 short-term construction jobs.

That’s all good.  The airport is really a model for other organizations in the region.  It began as a well-planned, innovative, forward thinking, and expandable facility.  The new master plan works off that excellent, original model.  The present administration runs the airport well and aggressively seeks out business without excessive hype.  It is sober and deliberate.

Said board chairman Robert Watkins: “We all know Tampa International Airport is the crown jewel of this community.”

It is, and really nothing in the area rivals it for that status.  Why is that?

Buckhorn said the project would benefit all of Tampa Bay, and that a bipartisan effort helped make the project possible.

“We’re not Democrats or Republicans, we’re not Pinellas or Hillsborough,” said Buckhorn. “We’re not divided by these bridges … We are the bay area and if we stand together and we don’t let them divide us nothing — nothing — can stop us.”

A bit rhetorically excessive, but there is a truth there.  Getting money for the airport was a regional effort that was not impeded by officials’ personal political considerations, unlike most other issues in this area.  It is local division that holds up transportation.  It is local division that holds up economic development.  (We won’t even mention the Rays.) The airport transcends those divisions.  It is just unfortunate that it is about the only thing that does – and it shows.

Seminole Heights – Interesting

There was an announcement of a development proposal in Seminole Heights.

Wesley Burdette, a partner in Access Capital Mortgages, is planning to redevelop an old warehouse at 4375 Florida Ave. into 46 apartments, ranging in size from 475 to 1,224 square feet.

The Warehouse Lofts is slated to cost $5.5 million to $6 million and will begin construction in January. Burdette is the equity investor, putting down $1.5 million, and has secured a construction loan from Sunshine State Federal for the remainder of the costs.

Smaller projects like the Warehouse Lofts can help create the type of urban density that most neighborhoods in Tampa lack. It’s typically entrepreneurial developers like Burdette, whose day job is in mortgage banking, who pursue them.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

For us, while much smaller, this is far more interesting than many of the projects around downtown.  To be a real city, urban, walkable areas must be developed in various neighborhoods, not just downtown.  Not everyone can afford rents downtown and not everyone who wants an urban neighborhood wants to live downtown.

His pro forma is conservative: He’s projecting rents of $1.55 per square foot. Most new multifamily construction in Tampa’s urban neighborhoods is built on projections of at least $2 per square foot. 

Seminole Heights is ripe for this kind of development, especially with so much underused land on Florida (think used car lots).  Areas with lower rents should be where more innovative, less established and start-up companies can find space and still provide urban amenities, creating lively culture (such as in food, retail, and even tech companies) and, ideally, economic clusters. The workers for these companies should be able to have an urban experience near those jobs.

Moreover, by creating such walkable, urban neighborhoods, the entire City’s culture can be transformed.  Frankly, without such neighborhoods, downtown will not thrive because the area will remain car-centric, without effective transit, and without a culture to support real urban development. (Downtown may be the heart of the city, but a heart without arteries and other organs really does not do much.)  But there is a problem:

Most bankers liked the idea, he said, but at the end of the day saw the neighborhood as too risky.

“If it’s not Channelside, it’s nothing,” Burdette said.

We do not blame them.  The City has failed to really push redevelopment in these neighborhoods beyond InVision Tampa (though it goes back before this administration), even though they should be thriving, urbanizing areas.  We hope this succeeds, and we see more.

PTC – Same Old

There were a number of articles this week about ridesharing. (And, yes, we know about the possible issues with Uber nationally, but that does not apply to Lyft or the entire concept of ridesharing and how government deals with innovation.)  We are not getting into them all, because it is mostly the same old stuff.

An Uber attorney asked Hillsborough County to make new rules to fit the trendy ridesharing movement pioneered by his company and Lyft, but was told flatly on Wednesday that Uber is an illegal taxi service.

The county’s Public Transportation Commission unanimously affirmed that an appointed officer had enough evidence to fine Uber, based in San Francisco, for providing hiring and public taxi services without proper licensing.

And UT told rideshare companies not to come around because of the PTC rules.   It all goes back to the PTC.  You can read its rationalizations here.

What we will note is that there is a different approach in Orlando.  While right now the rideshare companies are not within Orlando’s rules, drivers are getting tickets, and Orlando International is trying to get them to stay away because of it,

At the same time, city officials are working on changes to a city ordinance that would allow ride-share companies to operate legally. The proposal would drop many of the requirements now in place, such as a $35 minimum fare for town-car service.

Drivers would likely have to go through a background-check process different from the ones currently used by the companies themselves, and comply with state insurance requirements. They would have to get a permit from the city and another permit if they want to pick up at the airport.

The first of two public hearings is scheduled Dec. 8, but some city commissioners doubt Uber would comply with the new rules.

One proposal — price — likely would have the biggest impact on consumers. Uber and Lyft set their own rates and are typically about 30 percent cheaper than traditional taxi companies. Both companies recently cut their rates in Orlando even more, by an additional 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

We have no problem with a background checks.  The insurance is an open question right now.  We are not sure anyone should have to get multiple permits.

The key difference – Orlando is showing it cares about consumers, not the cab companies because it is dropping silly things like minimum pricing.  The PTC has never offered to fully drop its protectionist bent. (here is an interesting article on protectionism and ridesharing. )  Until it does, as far as we are concerned, all the other issues are just cover for its bias.

Port – The Director Gets a Raise

The Port Director got a raise this week, notably without the drama that surrounded a raise for the airport director in 2013.

Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson on Tuesday got a four-year contract extension and a 4.5 percent pay increase. And if he stays for five more years, he’ll get $50,000 each year in deferred compensation.

All seven of the Tampa Port Authority board members gave Anderson a grade of “outstanding” on his annual performance review, then extended his contract and gave him the raise, bringing his salary to $365,750 from $350,000, not including the deferred compensation.

“Personally, I think he’s done an outstanding job and taken the necessary steps to market this port,” said Port Commissioner Patrick Allman. He said the port saw declining revenue for six straight years until Anderson took the helm “reorganized the staff, changed the culture and its marketing. If we don’t do anything, it’s like professional sports. If you don’t extend the contract, he’s a lame duck, he’s out of here.”

We are the first to say that you need to pay for talent and accomplishment.  So what are the accomplishments?

Anderson said getting the port on sound financial footing with increased revenue is his most important accomplishment to date. He is now in his second year at the port.

Maintaining a strong financial balance sheet at one of the busiest ports in the nation, driving new projects like one in the works to bring new automobiles here from Mexico and working to lure new manufacturers to the port are all important accomplishments, Anderson said.

Two new gantry cranes coming to the port in 2016 will help increase the volume of cargo coming here even more, Anderson said. The cranes, which will replace two at the port that are some 42 years old have a longer reach to off-load cargo from wider ships.

While fewer ships are coming into Port Tampa Bay those that are coming are larger than in the past and carry more tonnage and cargo, he said. And he’s working on bringing even more here, but noted that such deals tend to take a few years.

That is something, though not an unvarnished success.  Anything else?

Anderson said he is putting a great emphasis on increasing container volume here, which tends to bring with it more jobs for not only crane operators, but for truck drivers, terminal operators, laborers and logistic services.

The number of containers coming to the port has fluctuated through the years, but the port has an aggressive plan to grow its business, said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development.

In 2013, 42,198 containers, or TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) came through the port. In 2014, the number increased to 47,265. “We definitely have targets,” Elliott said. “Looking out over the next five years, we’re shooting for 200,000” containers coming into the port.

While some ports are dredging deeper to prepare for mega ships coming through the newly expanded Panama Canal, Anderson said he will be going after “trans-loadable cargo,” or cargo moved from a mega ship to a slightly smaller ship, that can navigate in to Port Tampa Bay.

If they get to 200,000 in five years, that would be good. (Though, as we noted recently, Port Everglades is already at 1,000,000.) However, the “trans-loadable cargo” strategy does raise some questions about the aggressiveness of the Port’s approach. And there is no news of the cruise ship problem and we have not seen its new master plan.

Right now, unlike the airport, the jury is still out on the Port.  We hope the Director is successful and justifies the confidence the board has shown in him.

List of the Week

This week’s list goes back to tourism.  It is trekaroo.com’s Top Picks for Where Your Family Should Be Heading in 2015.    There does not seem to be any methodology.

We are not sure the list has any specific rankings but we will list the destinations in order of appearance on the website: Sunriver (OR), O.A.R.S. Rogue River (OR), Paso Robles (CA), Oahu, St. Simons Island (GA), US Virgin Islands, Sevierville (TN), Quebec City, Tampa Bay, Coronado Island (CA), Indianapolis (?), Blue Ridge (GA), Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Kyoto (Japan), Kings Canyon (CA), NYC, Vermont, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains (CA), Southeast Alaska, Big Sky (MT), and, the top trek, Cape Cod.

Ok, so with cities, states, regions, a couple of foreign locations, and parks, the list is a mess, but at least we made it.  Then again, when listing things to do in “Tampa Bay” they tell us this:

Best Beaches in America

From Clearwater Beach to St.Pete Beach, Tampa Bay is only an hour away from the tropical, postcard-perfect, paradise vacation you’ve dreamed of! Our friends to the West have sugar sand beaches and sunsets like no other. Clearwater’s Pier 60 has “The Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival,” a nightly sunset celebration. This free, family event features artisans, crafters, street performers and musical entertainment. Another local favorite is Pass-A-Grille beach in St. Pete where you can enjoy beachcombing and boating abound in this barefoot wonderland. Grab a bite to eat at The Hurricane, a local favorite, and watch the sunset while dining on fresh seafood.

Um, ok.

Roundup 11-13-2014

November 13, 2014

For reasons beyond our control, this week’s Roundup is being posted on Thursday.

TIA – Willkommen in Tampa

From Wikipedia – click on picture for Lufthansa entry

For those who may not know, Tampa used to have flights to Frankfurt on Condor which went away under the previous airport director.  (And, at the time, few officials or aspiring officials really pushed hard for international flight.  The push came from a vocal few from the outside.)  This week, we prepared an item about comments by the Lufthansa CEO that Lufthansa may bring a new, more leisure based product to Tampa (See here and here).  Well, happily, we have had to scrap that item because

Mit einer Florida-Verbindung steigt Lufthansa im Herbst 2015 in den touristischen Langstreckenverkehr ein. Tampa wird ab 25. September fünfmal wöchentlich von Frankfurt aus angeflogen, im Winter viermal. Neben Miami und Orlando ist es das dritte Lufthansa-Ziel in Florida. „Großes Interesse und hohe Nachfrage erwarten wir vor allem bei Privatreisenden“, sagt Passagevorstand Karl Ulrich Garnadt.

Die neue Verbindung wird mit einem Airbus A340-300 durchgeführt. 261 Gäste finden in der Economy Class Platz, 19 in der Premium Economy und 18 in der Business Class. Die Preise für Hin- und Rückflug sollen bei 739 Euro beginnen.

Whoops.  We meant

The new nonstop Lufthansa flight from Tampa to Frankfurt that was announced at Tampa International Airport this morning will do more than just link the bay area to Germany.

It will connect Tampa Bay to the rest of the world.

“We are now plugged into the most powerful hub in the world,” said airport CEO Joe Lopano during today’s announcement.

That’s because TIA’s latest international route is to Frankfurt Airport, one of the world’s busiest commercial and cargo hubs. Through Frankfurt, the bay area can catch flights to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Frankfurt Airport airport moves 58 million passengers and 2 million tons of air cargo annually. This past summer, it had 108 airlines flying to 295 cities in 105 countries.

It’s the third busiest airport in Europe behind London Heathrow Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s also the biggest hub in Europe for Europe’s biggest airline, Lufthansa.

The new Frankfurt service will start on Sept. 25, 2015, and there will be five flights a week. Lufthansa will fly Airbus A340-300s into TIA that will offer about 298 seats. It will be an 11-hour flight between Tampa and Germany.

It is a great addition (especially starting with 5 flights a week).  Congratulations to the airport administration on a job well done.  Their vision and organization has really lifted the area’s game and expectations (and surely it helps with the issue in the next item).

TIA still covets nonstop routes to international destinations like Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; and domestically to San Francisco.

We have faith the airport administration will be able to get that done in time (San Francisco is especially important for business development).

Economic Development – The Quest for an HQ

There was an article in the Times about the quest to bring an HQ to the Tampa Bay area.

As an adolescent in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tampa Bay business community was delighted to be dubbed the nation’s Call Center Capital. During its latter teen years, the metro area tried on such nicknames as Wall Street South, eager to leverage its ability to attract more sophisticated back office operations of major financial institutions and corporations based elsewhere.

Maybe some business people were delighted with those steps, but not everyone was, especially all the people with talent that left the area in search of better opportunities.  The reality is that being “delighted” with such things is just indicative of the culture of diminished expectations (you know – settling) that has long been a feature of the local scene.  But, anyway:

Now Tampa Bay’s economic developers want the world to know the economy here has become an adult, capable of recruiting and sustaining corporate headquarters — ones with real name-brand recognition. That’s why the first meeting of a task force devoted to recruiting corporate headquarters was held here this past Tuesday.

Its mission: to start crafting an in-depth strategy to find, woo and relocate the headquarters of better-known companies. Not some A-level name like Apple or Google or Procter & Gamble. The early aim is to target recognizable B-level brands, especially companies based in the more expensive (and colder) metro areas of the Northeast and Midwest.

And there is nothing wrong with that (though getting an A-level company would be better, if very hard).  In fact, it is about time.  Why the change?

The surprising and successful headquarters relocation in 2013 of Hertz, the rental car giant, from New Jersey to Estero, north of Naples, was a clear wakeup call to Tampa Bay that, under the right circumstances and the right timing, many major corporations might consider a move to warmer and typically far less expensive Florida.

Right, setting aside a unique circumstance around that deal (the CEO had a home in Naples), we got caught napping with our diminished expectations.  The question was not about the unique success in Southwest Florida, it is why was Southwest Florida pushing it but not the Tampa Bay area? (Just like the previous airport director not pushing to get international service while other areas pushed hard for it – diminished expectations.)

In any event, so what is the task force doing?

To help identify more likely candidates, the headquarters task force and the Tampa Hillsborough EDC are calling on relocation experts for guidance. Ellen Harpel, the founder of consulting firm Smart Incentives, specializes in helping communities like Tampa Bay evaluate the competitiveness of their incentives offerings when recruiting businesses.

And Barry Quarles, a consultant with Market Enhancement Group in San Diego, has worked with economic developers here for years. Twelve years ago, Quarles surveyed hundreds of CEOs across the country to capture their perceptions of the Tampa Bay business market. Now he is doing it again, polling 50 CEOs based here, 50 CEOs with some kind of regional ties (perhaps a subsidiary operates here) and an additional 250 CEOs with no connections to this area.

CEO attitudes about the Tampa Bay market have changed since 2002. Quarles will share those insights with the headquarters task force later this month. “There’s a lot of good news in there, but also some wakeup calls for us,” Homans says.

Ah, consultants.  Setting aside the consultants and why these things have not been determined already, we will be interested to see if the “wake-up calls” are anything new or just what everyone should have known and been dealing with for years, but just chose to ignore.

And:

The EDC already has produced some compelling testimonial videos praising this metro area from such area executives as Bloomin’ Brands CEO (and Manhattan transplant) Liz Smith, Tampa Bay Lightning owner and former Boston hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik, and John and (son) Chuck Sykes talking about their own headquarters relocation of Sykes Enterprises from Charlotte.

That is all fine.  We are all for it.  It would also be helpful to really look at the issues that lead to our culture of diminished expectations, local government’s failure to address transportation (not just referendums but the prior failure to plan and invest which is what leads to all the referendums in the first place), failure to plan, and the manifold other issues that keep dogging us.  That may help us recruit companies. (As we have asked before: Why should we expect companies to invest in us if we do not invest in ourselves?)

At least now we are lucky enough to have some nationally known deep pockets.  That should help.  Yes, it is a quirk of fate, but so what?  Other cities have also had quirks of fate. The point is to take advantage of those quirks of fate and build on them.

We are glad for the push.  May it be sustained and successful.

– So, What is Happening?

We thought it would be interesting to do a quick search on what is going on around the country in company relocations.  The first few pages of results gave us this:

Bridgestone is America is moving is HQ to downtown Nashville from a more suburban location.

On the other hand, Charlotte has scored a big and small relocation.  The big one is Sealed Air Corp., which is bringing 1200 plus jobs and “[t]he jobs will carry an average salary of almost $120,000, Sealed Air says.”   The HQ will go near the Charlotte airport.  The small one is Velocity, a tech firm.  (Not all HQ’s are equal.)

Meanwhile, Boston seems to have some appeal, maybe at Charlotte’s expense.  One analyst is driving rumors Bank of America might move its HQ from Charlotte to Boston. (no idea if there is any truth to it.)  There are also rumors that Baxter International will move from Chicago to Boston , though that is deniedSchnieder Electric is also moving from Illinois to the Boston area.  It seems that all the engineering and biomed talent in Boston is very attractive.

Economy – the Housing Market

There was news last week about the housing market.

Sales of single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area rose in the three months ended in September, but don’t go looking to take the Grand Tour of Europe on the proceeds.

Of the state’s 20 metropolitan statistical areas, only three had a lower median sales price than Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, the trade group Florida Realtors reported Thursday.

While Tampa Bay sales rose 4.4 percent over the same period a year ago, the median price of $145,000 was 9.3 percent lower.

Only the Punta Gorda, Ocala and Lakeland-Winter Haven areas had lower median prices in the third quarter of this year.

Alex Jansen, CEO of Coastal Properties Group International, says South Florida, Naples and Sarasota have long had higher prices because rich people from the Northeast tend to flock there.

Well that explains Naples and Sarasota, but it does not explain the other areas where prices rose while ours fell.  Any other explanation?

Another reason for Tampa Bay’s low median price is a lot of older, smaller houses built as second or retirement homes.

“Most of the new construction in the last 15 or 20 years is not that type of home, but we still have those homes in our market, which is a good thing for seasonal people or first-time home buyers,” said Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker.

Right, because the rest of Florida doesn’t have any of those.  That does not explain why prices fell here. Anyway

Statewide, single-family home sales rose 7.6 percent in the third quarter and the median price of $182,000 was up 4 percent. Sales of townhomes and condos dropped by 4.6 percent, though prices rose almost 7 percent to a median of $139,000.

Overall, “The housing market has settled into a stable pattern of activity that is reminiscent of the market before the craziness of the last few years,” Florida Realtors chief economist John Tuccillo said in a release.

“Sales and prices are up for single-family homes but at sustainable rates. The condo market is reflective of the general declines in new investor purchase in Florida. . . . The good news is that this type of progress in the real estate market is likely to continue.”

That’s fine, but we are concerned about the Tampa Bay area and why we are lagging.  It seems the housing market it is in for a sustained period of inconsistency.

Transportation – Some Post Election Thinking

There were a number of articles about what is in store for the future of transit.  Because it is so soon after the election, we are not going to get into detail, but we will note a few things.

Hillsborough County tried to pass a transit tax four years ago and failed. Similar efforts in Pinellas and Polk counties crashed even harder last week. Could they try again at the same time and succeed together?

Transit advocates on both sides of the bay say it’s a question worth considering.

Tuesday’s defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas ballot measure and Polk’s My Ride/My Road referendum sets up a possible scenario in which all three counties try to pass transit taxes two years from now. Hillsborough leaders have been laying the groundwork for a proposed 2016 referendum asking for a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for a combination of road construction and bus service.

Speaking to voters in a unified voice about how the various plans would work together to connect the region might help the counties score a victory, Tampa Bay Partnership president Stuart Rogel said.

“We’ve got to really think differently and ask ourselves what’s going to make that winning format,” Rogel said. “If it’s a regional solution, with the understanding that we all have the same transportation needs, more or less, and we all need to be connected, then I think we need to explore that as an option.”

Yes.  The real obstruction to a regional approach right now is the government entities and officials themselves. (You can search “HART/PSTA” to see our past discussions.)  They do not plan together because they have not wanted to. Really, there needs to be a regional plan even if it includes some county specific elements (look to the other Bay area for an outline of the concept), not just coordination, but at least it is a start.  And it also should be noted the transit hand up is more of a local issue:

Outside Florida, mass transit fared better on election night with 17 of 26 transit-related ballot measures passing, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence.

* * *

“It takes time to convince people,” Thurman said. “It’s not sexy; there is no silver bullet.”

One option that might make mass transit more palatable to voters would be to find a different funding source than sales tax.

The addition of another penny sales tax on top of Penny for Pinellas made Greenlight an easy target for critics who highlighted that it would saddle the county with the highest sales tax rate in Florida.

“It’s a 1 percent tax increase and I feel like I’m being taxed enough,” said Debra Crisp, a St. Petersburg resident who voted against Greenlight.

The Orlando area’s $1.2 billion SunRail commuter rail system used federal and state funding with the state buying an existing rail line from CSX and agreeing to cover the first seven years of operational costs.

After that, participating counties including Orange, Seminole and Volusia say they plan to pay their share of operating subsidies from general funds. Orlando will pay its share from revenues from a special downtown taxing district.

We agree (long time readers will know that).

There was even a column in the Tribune about how the streetcar could help move people around.  There have been ideas floating around to expand it for years. (We have no idea why the column acts as though this, or most of what is going on downtown, is a new idea. Regarding the streetcar, check out the map on page 3 of this old document from 10 years ago – looks like 2004 – which envisions extension to around Waterworks Park and the Arts District and looping around. And don’t forget this article from the last station opening in 2011 when the Congresswoman from Tampa says that it should go to the Arts District and the last mayor says the streetcar should go beyond tourists. ) And, as we have said for a while, the streetcar should be part of a comprehensive transportation system. The idea is not new, but, as the column notes, maybe enough local officials have finally gotten on board and it may be time to do it. (And it is worth noting that the proposed USF med school downtown is caddie-corner to a streetcar stop which could be very useful if the streetcar is actually operated as a real transportation system.)

Reagardless, do not expect hard-core opponents to just go away.  Their opposition is to the whole idea of robust public transit and reimagining how our cities are built. (Which many of them think is a UN plot. See “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN,” here, here, and here) And, as this report shows, spruced up sprawl (aka “the American way of life”) is likely most of what Pinellas will be for the foreseeable future.

It is good that people are thinking.  We will see if anything real happens. We are still waiting for the results of the punt to consultants in Hillsborough.

Transportation – US19, Almost Done With This Portion

It seems like our roads are always under construction and traffic is beyond capacity.  Well, at least it seems that the latest work on US19 will be finished soon.

Three weeks behind schedule, a beefed-up road crew is working day and night to get traffic flowing on a heavily traveled section of U.S. 19 in north Pinellas County.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott promised an extra $4.8 million to get cars on the main highway by October, which included $3.2 million to hire more workers and a $1.6 million incentive to hit three key deadlines.

Perhaps the most important of these milestones — getting traffic onto two northbound and two southbound lanes — came and went on Oct. 16. That means contractor Hubbard Construction has been losing $41,666 in bonus money with each passing day, officials with the Florida Department of Transportation said.

Calling in even more help from inside and outside the state, crews aim finally to reach the goal in the next week or two, transportation officials said.

That means thousands of cars crowding frontage roads along a 2½-mile stretch of the highway between Gulf to Bay Boulevard and Whitney Road finally will be able to zip along the raised roadway with no interruptions.

* * *

The final goalpost is March 2015, when all the highway on and off ramps are scheduled to be completed, as well as a third lane on either side of the road.

The $112 million road project began in 2009 and has become viewed as a seemingly endless source of headaches for commuters and business owners along a busy commuter stretch of U.S. 19.

Scott announced an accelerated timetable in January, and crews were able to hit their first deadline, opening southbound bridges over Gulf to Bay Boulevard and Seville Road in the spring.

We are glad.  The road should have been fixed long ago.

– Let’s Look at the Numbers

For those who are counting, that is 5 years and $44 million/mile, and would have taken longer without the close election that brought extra money. (We assume that is 2009 – or earlier – dollars.  If so, according to the handy inflation calculator, the cost would be $124,270,000 and $49.708 million/mile in today’s dollars.)  Of course, that does not count the cost of the fixing the rest of US19 and probably does not include much right of way acquisition since most of the road was already there.

It seems like a good time to look back at our segment on a consultant report produced for the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group:

So what does this say, really?  It says that BRT is cheaper than LRT (which is true in many cases, though not all[)], which can be seen from the charts on pg 12 which gives a cost range in millions of dollars for BRT of $30-$168 and Light rail of $48.3-$436.2. Those numbers are drawn from charts on pg 9 (light rail) and pg 7 (BRT).  Those charts have some issues.  First, the light rail chart does not mention that the Pittsburgh light rail number, which is at the very high-end, involved tunneling under a river, which is quite expensive.

If you take the Pittsburgh outlier off the list, the LRT average is $66.95 while the BRT is $52.6, even if you include the Eugene and Grand Rapids – which is not really true BRT because it just closes lanes in rush hour  – numbers which are likely to have no bearing on the cost of going through a decently populated area.  Once that is done (and even before, really) there is a decent amount of overlap in the cost range that is not explained.  Pg 9 gives a list of four cities where the light rail cost was under the high-end of BRT (Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and San Diego.)  So light rail is not necessarily more expensive right off the bat.  The TED group needs to get details – and AECOM should have provided them.

(See “Transportation – More Muddle” ) Compared to $44-49.7 million/mile to just upgrade an existing road.

In the words of a local columnist, just saying.

Downtown – Will Kress Finally Get Renovated?

There was news of something we have been waiting for (other than the Lufthansa flights) – there are new plans for the Kress block.

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for article

The historic Kress building in downtown Tampa is on the verge of a transformation from vacant to vibrant, with plans under way to redevelop the building into a hotel, possibly with residential components.

A group of Tampa real estate veterans has teamed up with an Atlanta hotel developer to redevelop the five-story Kress, which was the home of five-and-dime store S.H. Kress & Co. The Tampa team includes father-and-son construction executives Sam and Casey Ellison; Anthony Italiano, a partner with the Ellisons in EWI Construction; and Tampa developer Alex Walter.

Atlanta-based HRV Hotel Ventures, which is also pursuing a four-star hotel in Ybor City, is forming a partnership with that group to pursue the redevelopment.

Tampa developer Jeannette Jason, who owns the building with her father, Miami-based broker Doran Jason, declined comment. Walter said Jason would play a role in the redevelopment, though he declined to give specifics of the deal structure.

That is a bit of surprise, though not completely a surprise given the on again, off again efforts to redevelop the block over the years and the Oxford Exchange, the Le Meridien, and the Floridan showing that renovation is possible, even in Tampa (not sure why the Tampa Theatre did not give that lesson years ago).  So what is the plan?

A partnership between Tampa and Atlanta developers Monday applied to redevelop the downtown block that’s home to the historic S.H. Kress & Co. building with a 22-story hotel and apartment tower.

As proposed, the Kress would remain, along with the old Woolworth and Newbury buildings, but a new 287-foot-tall tower would rise above them with 190 hotel rooms, 58 apartments and 15,200 square feet for restaurants.

In the new building, plans call for parking on the lower levels, then an amenity deck, then nine floors for the hotel, topped by nine floors of residential.

* * *

The Kress building is on the 800 block of N Franklin Street, south of E Cass Street, between Franklin and N Florida Avenue. Along with the old Kress store, the Woolworth is historically significant as the site of the first sit-in that led to the peaceful desegregation of Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960.

A previous (not very good) proposal for the lot involved demolishing pretty much everything but the Kress façade, which caused a ruckus because the other buildings are also historic. (see here, here, and here)  In one of the rare instances of not settling, the City Council objected to it – forcing a wait for a new plan but also allowing something much better to be proposed. This time around, the group is working with one of the better local architecture firms, so it is likely that they will deal a bit more sensitively with that.

Let’s see what they have proposed:

From public filings

From public filings

That looks much better, even with the parking garage behind one of the façades.  Moreover, if you look at the submitted site plan on the handy accela website, it is clear that most of the ground floor is useful space. It looks like a much better concept (Full opinion is withheld since things can change and we have no idea what the materials being considered are.  Regardless, we are thankful that the most recent economic upturn coincides with a growing architectural awareness by many in the area.)  In any event,

Construction is scheduled to begin in the second or third quarter of 2015. Walter said the project “definitely has a lot of interest” from capital sources. Historic renovation projects can be difficult to finance because the costs can fluctuate wildly if unforeseen issues surface during construction.

That would be nice, though we shall see. (Though, while we are for striking while the iron is hot, there has to be a bit of a concern about the area supporting all the apartments and hotel rooms announced.  Not all proposals get built.)

It would be great to resurrect this block (and the Grant block just north of it where there is also a proposal) after decades of nothing.  Not only would it revive one of the nicest old buildings in downtown, it would add depth and connectivity to northern downtown, hopefully leading to the future development of the surface parking.

If it comes off, all the credit goes to the developers who are actually putting up the money and building the concept. It is just too bad that the City settled for allowing the demolition of the Maas Brothers building, which would have been really nice to see renovated, before realizing that historic buildings can be revived.  Maybe, we have finally learned.

Rays – Maybe Something

There were a flurry of reports (like this one and this one) that the Rays and St. Pete are near an agreement to let the Rays look outside St. Pete (read: Hillsborough) for a stadium location. We are not going to really get into it because nothing has happened yet, though we will note these two statements:

“If the Rays simply do not want to be here any longer, then they should be given the opportunity to compensate our city in order to look at other locations in the Tampa Bay area,” Kriseman said during last year’s mayoral campaign. “Throughout the negotiating process I will ensure that our taxpayers are protected.”

And

“We are being held hostage” with an undeveloped Trop, Dudley said. If the Ray “are not going to use it, then we want to. If you are not going to use it, it’s best to get on with it.”

Right.  Unfortunately, that was the case wasted years ago, too.  Maybe soon we can all get on with it.

Downtown – Have Drink (From Preapproved Locations), Cont.

The City Council, not surprisingly, approved the plan to let people drink alcohol on the Riverwalk, as long as they buy it from the right place. That does not answer any of the questions raised when we previously wrote about it, (See “Downtown – Have Drink (From Preapproved Locations)”) though we did not expect any answers. That is not the Tampa way.

Downtown – Context

A few weeks ago, there was news that the Tampa City Center office building had been sold for a very large sum.

In one of the largest commercial office transactions in Florida history, the 38-story One Tampa City Center has sold for $128.13 million.

“It’s got to be in the top five or 10,” said Mike Davis, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield, which represented the seller. “It’s the largest square-footage deal that’s ever happened in downtown Tampa, that’s for sure.”

Among the tenants in One Tampa City Center, which has 750,000 square feet of leasable space at 201 N Franklin St., are the University Club, Verizon, Merrill Lynch and several banks.

There is no doubt that rising values for downtown buildings is a positive sign.  Yet, it is hard to really get context on the relative size of the sale (such as the price per square foot).  Interestingly, there was a recent sale of an office building in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.

The Broward Financial Center, a 24-story “Class A” office building in Fort Lauderdale, has sold for $112 million.

AGS Property Corp., an investment firm, bought the 324,429-square-foot tower from DRA Advisors LLC. A Miami-based commercial real estate firm, HFF, marketed the property for sale.

* * *

In March, a division of Deutsch Bank spent $204 million for the Las Olas Centre, a two-building signature office complex. In July, 200 E. Broward Blvd., a 214,000-square-foot building, sold for $66.4 million.

That is where we are now, though not necessarily where we will be in a decade.

Lessons in Branding

As regular readers will know, the Tampa Bay area is always trying to figure out how to brand itself – some attempts are ok, some not so good.  There was an interesting article on Citylab.com about city branding.  The article discusses three branding efforts – using Taylor Swift in NYC, an effort in Leeds, and effort in Hamburg, and St. Louis.  We are not really interested in NYC because that is unique. (We have no idea why they are even trying branding.  Do they really need it?)  The Leeds example was amusing because they inadvertently chose a campaign that used the same slogan as Hong Kong.

The interesting examples were Hamburg and St. Louis because they both sound so familiar:

Hamburg, 2009: Things got a bit more heated in Hamburg when residents reacted strongly to an ongoing marketing of the German city as an arts and culture capital and, ultimately, a watering post for the new global and globalized “creative class.” The branding was meant to communicate “stereotype images of Hamburg as ‘city on the waterfront,’ with ‘rich’ and ‘creative’ residents, offering a various range of cultural programs like ‘musicals’ to its visitors,” social scientist Erick Braun and his team wrote in 2010.

* * *

St. Louis, 2010: A local economic development group put out a series of videos meant to “raise awareness of the vitality and richness of experience downtown St. Louis provides for those who live, work, and play there.”

Sound familiar? You can read the articles to see what issues arose. The real point is that branding yourself like everyone else is not really creating a brand, it is just adding to the muddling of identity.  Before you get an effective brand, you actually have to know who you are.  And, while highlighting desirable components of your area is necessary and good, simply reiterating what everyone else says does not create a brand, it creates a muddle.

Just something to consider.

List of the Week

Tampa loves it airport (and we do, too).  It is one of the points of pride.  So we were interested in this week’s list is Yahoo Travel’s list of best airport food. In it, they rank “every important airport” in the US, a total of 72.  We will list the top 30.

Coming in first, is DFW, followed by San Francisco, LAX, JFK, Newark, Portland (OR), San Diego, Denver, Nashville, Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, O’Hare, Austin, La Guardia, Seattle, Sacramento, Phoenix, Boston-Logan, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Antonio, Charlotte, Kansas City, Houston-Hobby, Salt Lake City, Miami, Houston-Bush, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Chicago-Midway.

Really?  Even airport food goes to the usual suspects?

Orlando came in 52nd. TIA was 56th. Ft. Lauderdale was 65th.  Apparently, West Palm Beach, SW Florida Regional, and Jacksonville are not important (though, oddly, the list includes include Portland, Maine)

This is what they said about us:

Do yourself a favor: next time you are visiting your cousins who live in Tampa (NOTE: everyone has cousins that live somewhere around Tampa) — it doesn’t matter if you are in any of the other terminals — just go to Airside C, and go to Cigar City Brewing. They make some of the best beer in the country. Drink several of their beers. Then maybe go to Shula’s Bar and Grill, and talk knowingly about Mark Duper.

At least we have the beer (and maybe some wurst) – and more international flights.

Roundup 11-7-2014

November 7, 2014

Transportation – The Uncertain Path

As everyone knows by now, the Greenlight Pinellas proposal was defeated.

Sixty-two percent voted no on the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, refusing to pay an extra penny in sales tax to expand the county’s bus service and build a 24-mile light rail system connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The sales tax would have increased to 8 cents on the dollar, eliminated the bus system’s property tax and brought in about $130 million annually for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to make the $2.2 billion plan a reality.

The margin of the loss shocked supporters. It won only two precincts north of 54th Avenue N in St. Petersburg.

In fact, it did worse than the 2010 Hillsborough referendum (which makes one question the analysis that the reason the 2010 referendum lost was the economy.)  This is the map of how the voting went:

Screenshot of Pinellas Election Supervisor website from late night November 4, 2014

One can propose a number of reasons why it failed – PSTA missteps, poor campaign, lack of north Pinellas service, etc.  Clearly, there is a constituency in St. Pete that is different than the rest of the county – but then St. Pete has developed into something of a city, which is different than the rest of the county. It is possible is that there is a disconnect within the parts of the county on aspirations for what they want the county to be.

The Tea Party folks said this:

But it was opponents No Tax for Tracks’ message that resonated with voters. The group warned that having the highest sales tax rate in Florida would hurt business and it questioned the wisdom of building a $1.6 billion train that did not connect directly to Tampa or the county’s beaches.

“Our message of rejecting the highest sales tax in the state was a message people agreed with,” said Barbara Haselden, No Tax campaign manager. “They agree we don’t need a light rail system in Pinellas County.”

Setting aside that the Tea Party opponents were completely anti-rail (and buses) – not only opposing the plan because it did not connect to Tampa or the beaches – the sales tax issue carries some weight.  (Especially when you look at the even worse result in Polk, which had no rail element. . Apparently, it is not about rail.)  It is likely that more creative financing, like Orlando did with SunRail, should be considered.

The news articles had some more “direct” analysis, which probably explains some of the multitude reasons people did not vote for Greenlight.

One man at the Yard of Ale offered the most plainspoken analysis. “It’s typical,” he said. “People come to Florida from elsewhere and say, ‘I’m here and I’m not paying any more taxes. Screw transportation and social services. I have my little piece of paradise and that’s it.’ They don’t realize that their children and grandchildren will pay a helluva lot more than that.”

And

That included St. Petersburg resident Ielise Christensen, who voted against the referendum saying that it made no sense to build a light rail link to Clearwater and not to Tampa.

“I would be completely for it if it had some connection with Tampa,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be going to any main place; what’s the point of using it?”

Both of those have some merit.  There is no question that there are many people in this area who do not want to invest in the area.  It is also true that the lack of a regional approach (something Orlando and almost everywhere else has but the HART/PSTA argument showed this are does not) hurts the effort.  Until the counties stop acting a though they live in their own universe (even if some officials talk as though they see the region, most vote and plan as though they don’t) it appears hard to convince the voters, who live in a region and know it, to pay for disconnected ideas.

While the officials like to stay on their respective sides of the water, it has to be understood that to the people in the region, the connection across the bay is key.  Transit needs to be seen to connect us.

– Meanwhile, Across the Bay

So where does that leave Hillsborough County?

“Obviously, it would’ve been nice to have a victory in Pinellas County because I think it would’ve helped the bay area recognize that we’re all connected,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“We’re going to go make the case to the voters in Hillsborough County, which I think are far more progressive, far more inclined to believe that our future is better with a robust transportation system,” Buckhorn said. “It’s got to include bus, it’s got to include rail, it’s got to include additional roads, and it’s got to include fixing potholes.”

That is all true – but what is the actual plan?  What do you want to see? (And why are the discussion and plan always outsourced to consultants?)

County Administrator Mike Merrill wants to avoid the snarl of 2010, when the hot-button term “rail” dominated discussions about approving an extra penny of sales tax to help pay for transportation projects. His goal is to build consensus by first asking people what their needs are — instead of jumping into a conversation about whether light rail is the best solution.

“We want to acknowledge it, but we don’t want to go down the path where it’s all about rail,” Merrill said last week. “We really don’t want to get into the habit of saying it’s all about transit. . . . It’s about fixing what we have. Repaving. Safety projects. Community projects. That has as much value as the transit conversation.”

Sure.  It is not all about rail.  On the other hand, the Polk referendum was not about rail, and it did worse than any of the referendums with rail.

People still need to know what they are voting for and being vague will not do that.  Moreover, saying nothing about transit will just lead opponents to say that officials are trying to sneak rail by the voters.

Fixing what we have is necessary, but the real problem is that the County government has not done what needs to be done to maintain what we have and give us what we need in the first place.  It all needs to be done, including be real, effective transit. Better to keep trying and being straightforward – such as relying only on roads will always cost too much, not relieve congestion, and not really develop the economy.

But Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he expects to get an exceptional, methodical product from Parsons Brinckerhoff that starts with a “foundation of why and works toward the how” instead of mistakenly jumping to the conclusion that one particular mode is the solution.

“Rather than going like we did in the past — ‘Everybody else has light rail, why don’t we have light rail?’ — that’s not the case this time,” Sharpe said.

“It really needs to be based upon a careful analysis of our own build-out, how we’re constructed, how we maintain what we currently have, and how best to connect our key economic development areas along defined corridors using current and future technology.”

Aside from expecting an exceptional product (though, we guess it might be true that he expects it), that is all true, but it neglects one major (in reality THE major) point: what do we want to be?  We should not just invest based on what we were or what we are.  The point of investment is to help determine what we will be.

The sprawled, relatively uncompetitive, economically lagging area that we are now is not due to law of nature, it is the result of policies instituted (and often subsidized) by government.  We did not, nor do we in the future, have to be that way.  It was and is a choice, which is made even clearer by places that first made the same choices, then changed direction, like Denver and Phoenix (and here is a good interview with the mayor of Phoenix about transit in that city.)

Will we be a thriving, vibrant, major metropolitan area that competes with the best (not necessarily the biggest, but the best) or will be we bringing up the rear (or will we be some middling area)?  So far, we (voters and government) have chosen the easy and ineffective path (we are getting better but others are still moving ahead faster in terms of development, income, economic power, etc) and to make sure that other areas are far better positioned to compete in the present and near future.

So what will we do in the future?

Stuart Rogel, who rallied corporate support for Greenlight Pinellas as president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Partnership, vowed to train his sights on Hillsborough.

“It’s going to be as important tomorrow as it is today,” said Rogel, who watched the results come in with a subdued crowd at the Yard of Ale in Clearwater.

Yes it is.  In fact, it will become more important as the generations change and other areas develop their infrastructure, built environment, and high wage economies while we lag.

The one consolation is that, as we have noted before, almost every area has to go through numerous referendums to get transit moving forward.  We are not sure the reason for this – maybe the electorate has to become more acquainted with the idea, maybe the officials have to fine tune the plan, maybe both, maybe something else.  Whatever the case, it is not unusual.  The problem is that time is wasting, and we are falling further behind.

– And One More Thing – Irony

Interestingly, the Times had an article that listed some of the failed ideas of the past that brought us to where we are.  It is worth quoting the whole list (because the quotes bold the whole quote, we underlined what was bolded in the original):

Lost highway: A highway running the length of Pinellas, the most densely populated county in Florida, would have been really useful. But the county got left out when the interstate highway system was birthed in the 1950s. When the county finally got included in the 1970s, Interstate 275 only went through southeastern Pinellas, skipping the county’s northern half.

Geography and politics played a role. Tampa, seen as the commercial center of the metro area, got crisscrossed by more highways. Democrats who controlled highway money didn’t want to help Pinellas, then a Republican stronghold. And the parochial concerns of Pinellas’ 24 cities kept politicians from uniting behind a single plan.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater Expressway: In the 1960s, this was envisioned as a toll road linking Pinellas’ two biggest cities. Opposition along the proposed route, an unused railroad, killed it in 1969. That right-of-way later became the bicycle-friendly Pinellas Trail.

Pinellas Parkway: Voters hated this one. It would have been a toll expressway from St. Petersburg to Pasco County, following 49th Street N and what are now McMullen-Booth and East Lake roads.

In a 1976 referendum, it got rejected by an 8-1 ratio. “It was pretty decisive,” Brian Smith, the now-retired Pinellas County planning director, said with a laugh.

That resounding defeat wiped out any future Pinellas toll roads, even as the surrounding counties would go on to build the Selmon and Veterans expressways and the Suncoast Parkway. (The tolled Pinellas Bayway, a product of the ’60s, already existed.)

U.S. 19: So the quest for the long-lost Pinellas north-south freeway shifted by default to U.S. 19, a heavily developed surface road that’s being retrofitted into a limited-access highway. That’s time-consuming and expensive. County Commissioner Karen Seel figures that taxpayers have spent $1 billion on U.S. 19 construction in the last 15 years — most of it on buying rights-of-way for overpasses.

“One overpass on U.S. 19 would have built the North-South Expressway,” Seel said.

Pinellas light rail: Pinellas leaders have kicked around ideas for light rail for 40 years. Until now, they’ve deemed it impractical and too expensive for this car-oriented county.

A decade ago, the last rejected plan envisioned a commuter line following a railroad freight corridor between the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, then heading east to Oldsmar and Westchase, then south to Tampa.

The problem with that route: It’s a terrible way to get to downtown Tampa or Tampa International Airport. It also goes nowhere near the jobs-rich Gateway/Carillon area.

The Greenlight Pinellas route attempts to fix that, and is the county’s first light-rail plan to actually go to voters.

The Monorail: Picture an elevated monorail, like the one at Disney World. In the 1990s, some in Pinellas were proposing this.

The benefits: It wouldn’t disrupt traffic, and no houses would be bulldozed to make way for it.

At least two monorails were in play: A 38-mile line from Clearwater Beach to St. Petersburg, and a 2-mile line from Clearwater Beach to downtown Clearwater. Both were too pricey.

Ferries: Commuter ferries have been proposed for Tampa Bay many times, to no avail. Companies’ attempts to launch a St. Petersburg-to-Tampa water taxi as a business venture foundered. Government officials have never been convinced that a taxpayer-subsidized ferry would be worth it. Now a high-speed ferry linking MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg is in the works — maybe.

Lutz Expressway: It would have run through north Hillsborough, connecting the Veterans Expressway with I-275 and Interstate 75. Protests from Lutz residents killed it in the 1980s.

Bi-County Thruway: Pasco County’s lost road. Conceived in the 1980s, it would have been an east-west toll route linking I-75 with the Trinity area near the Hillsborough-Pasco border. The county scuttled it in the 1990s when traffic projections failed to support building it.

Brandon Beltway: In 2006, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority proposed a 70-mile toll road circling north Manatee, east Hillsborough, south Pasco and north Pinellas. The idea was dropped after critics dubbed it the “sprawlway.”

High-speed rail: In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott killed a high-speed Tampa-to-Orlando rail line that was slated to get $2.4 billion in federal funds. Florida was going to pay a fraction of the cost, $280 million, but Scott fretted that overruns would put state taxpayers on the hook for more cash.

Tampa’s rail plan: That brings us to Tampa Bay’s last transportation referendum. Also, its next one.

In 2010, Hillsborough voters rejected, by 58 to 42 percent, a 1-cent sales tax hike for light rail. Hillsborough officials are now planning a referendum for 2016 — with less emphasis on rail.

They should have added the Gandy Connector. (And we do not endorse all the projects listed, but it just shows how many times this area has rejected attempts to fix things that everyone knew needed fixing).

Everyone says they dislike the congestion and something needs to be done.  The irony is that all those proposed solutions were rejected, some because they were just bad ideas, but most either for political expediency or because people did not want to pay for them. Not surprisingly, the problems did not go away and now we will all pay more – either to fix the problem or suffer the continuing consequences of it.

Even more ironic is that the same areas that say they do not want transit so often rejected roads, which supports the view that a large number of people just don’t want to invest in anything – at least until the thing is built, when many start using it.  Now, even if they want the roads, there is not enough money to pay for them or land to build them (see Veterans Expressway), and, in the rare case some money can be found, the projects take forever – like US19.

The bottom line is that, unless your goal is stagnation, waiting does not solve anything.

USF Medical School – Of Plans

We have been saying since the USF med school move was first revealed to the public that there needs to be a full plan.  We decided to look for an example of a plan, and found one, not surprisingly, in Austin.  The University of Texas in Austin is working to develop a medical school with adjacent hospital (like a medical school really should have).  We thought it would be useful to provide links to some of the planning to see what we mean.  You can see it here and here.  Of course, that entire university is in the center of Austin, so it is a bit different than the USF issue, but at least they have a real development plan and agreement to have a hospital.

And, here you can look at the Buffalo master plan for the downtown medical school, which is more like the USF issue though with a hospital  As you can see by reading the landing page

In 2001, the BNMC was created through a unique partnership in which the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Kaleida Health, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, and Buffalo Medical Group Foundation began working in collaboration with the surrounding neighborhoods and local government to cultivate a world-class medical campus in downtown Buffalo. Over the years, Olmsted Center for Sight, Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, Unyts, and the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care have joined the collaboration.

A critical first step in achieving this goal was the development of a Master Plan & Implementation Strategy to provide a framework for future growth at the medical campus.

In other words, they worked with related institutions to get success for all (whether it works or not is not the point) and had a real plan.

And speaking of a plan, in the coverage of the trustee committee last week, there was this exchange:

But Genshaft said she doesn’t want USF Health split apart forever. One day, she hoped, mass transit could connect the new downtown campus to the main campus. Hillsborough County could vote on such a system in 2016.

“You may shut off our water,” she told the mayor. “But we need that light rail to our Tampa campus. Do you promise?”

“I’ll be out of office,” Buckhorn said. “So yeah.”

It was probably a joke, but it holds an important reality.  There is no guarantee that there will be a real connection anytime soon and that issue is likely to be left to other officials, like so many other issues in the area.  And looking at the list of failed ideas for transportation above, no one can assume there ever will be a real transit connection between a downtown med school and the main campus (or TGH or planned TGH facilities on Kennedy).  That needs to be figured into the plan and all the calculations.

TIA – Making Money

The airport had a good year.

TIA reported a record $197.2 million in operating revenue in fiscal year 2014, which ended in September. That’s an increase of 7 percent, or nearly $13 million more than last year, when the airport set the old record of $184.3 million in revenue.

The key, said airport CEO Joe Lopano, is that those passing through TIA are spending more money there.

“We’re providing more and better food, beverage and retail options,” Lopano said. “We’re seeing a much higher spend per passenger than in the past.”

The airport made $11.37 per passenger in 2014. That’s an increase of nearly 5 percent, or 52 cents, from the $10.85 per passenger that TIA made in 2013.

Good deal.  How were passenger numbers?

The airport served 17.3 million passengers in 2014, which was a 2.4 percent increase from the 16.9 million who came through TIA the previous fiscal year. It was the fourth straight year of passenger growth for TIA, and the first time it has hit 17 million since 2009.

But 2014 was still 2 million passengers shy of the airport’s all-time record of 19.3 million in 2007. That record was set in a much different economic climate for the country and the airline industry, however. For TIA to get back to 19 million passengers, Lopano said, depends on a number of factors the airport doesn’t control.

“The more people who have good-paying jobs,” he said, “the more seats you’ll see filled in the market.”

Once again, more evidence that everything is connected – transit, jobs, economy, built environment, airport – and subject to the choices this area makes.  One of those choices, after much debate and a push from a forward-looking minority against a prevailing “go along to get along” attitude, was to seek international routes.  That is paying off, like this

TIA’s biggest growth has been in international flights: Copa Airlines started flying direct to Latin America in December 2013, Edelweiss Air added a second weekly flight to Switzerland and the Cuban market added a flight to Santa Clara, Cuba. The airport had almost 600,000 international passengers in 2014, a jump of 14 percent from 2013.

And it could get better.

In December, Copa started service to Tampa four times a week, giving the bay area its first direct flight to Latin America. Copa’s passengers can use the airline’s hub at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to catch connecting flights all over Central and South America.

But TIA wants Copa to start flying daily. Heilbron, who was at TIA on Thursday as the 2014 winner of the Tony Jannus Award, said strong passenger numbers this holiday season would go a long way toward convincing the airline that Tampa is ready for daily flights.

“That is the first step to see how it goes with dailies,” Heilbron said. “We hope that in the not-too-distant future we will be able to make it daily year-round.”

Copa will go to daily flights from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2. If the airline has a good holiday season in Tampa, then it could also shift to daily flights during the summer, too.

And don’t forget the Edelweiss service increases.

And in other news, the airport is about to get the master plan construction under way. See here and here.

You can see pictures, like the one below of the main terminal people mover station, here.

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for gallery

Port – Talking Trade

There was a recent confab about exports at the port.

Florida’s road to success depends on its ability to compete outside of its borders, he said. Davidson helped lead an export pep rally of sorts on Thursday at Port Tampa Bay, with some 200 attendees. The recurring theme: the Tampa Bay business community must work in unison as a region if it is to become an export powerhouse.

A statement of the obvious, yes, but there is no harm in a little reminder since it seems so hard for people to do.  And, at this point, we would settle for pretty successful export area.  Powerhouse is a bit of a way off.

Davidson helped the Florida Chamber Foundation pen a paper called Florida: Made for Trade, a document that looks at projected growth, demographics and economic trends, as well as the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is nearly complete.

“We need to move more trade through our ports and airports,” he said, noting that much of what is now shipped out of Florida is actually trucked here from manufacturing states like Georgia and Alabama. Moving manufacturing here means more jobs here and more exports from here, he said.

“For every 10 jobs we create through manufacturing, we get 20 additional jobs” from bankers, to retailers, to truck drivers and more, he said.

“We have the potential for 500,000 more jobs if we get global trade and logistics right,” added Tony Carvajal, with the Florida Chamber Foundation.

And that is good, but there has been no real plan in this area for dealing with the expanding Panama Canal, at least as far as really taking advantage of it.

Then there was this:

Back when Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman served in the Florida Legislature (1996-2004), no one talked about incentive packages for business, she said. “There is a new energy in the community. The recession was a total wake-up call. The climate has changed in the state to support economic development.

“It is our time, but it will only be as good as us getting the job done,” said Murman, who serves as a member of the Hillsborough County Port Authority. “We’ve got to have incentive packages lined up” and ready to lure new businesses here, she said.

In other words, it is our time (whatever that means), unless it isn’t.

Setting aside the rhetoric, we need to lure business, but how about incentives to build a strong business base, not retail, strip stores and golf driving ranges?  And maybe investing the community to create a 21st century infrastructure, rather than a late-mid 20th century one.  And about all the sprawl . . . In other words, if you want to attract strong business, you have to do more than just throw money at companies.  Talent wants amenities and lifestyle (including proper transportation) – which will lead to business.

But we digress.

At least the port is doing this:

The port is adding 25 acres and expanding to seven total docking cruise lines in time for cruise season starting Sunday, CEO Paul Anderson said. It’s in negotiations with manufacturers, including a handful from Latin America, to open in Tampa Bay.

That’s good, though we have no indication of the quality or scale of the manufacturers. Hopefully, that can move some containers.  We look forward to hearing more about it.

So what is the rest of Florida doing?

Port Everglades moved a record amount of cargo in shipping containers in the year ending Sept. 30, according to preliminary data released Monday.

For the first time, the seaport moved more than 1 million TEUs in a single year. TEUs, or Twenty-foot container Equivalent Units, are the standard measure for containerized cargo. Freight moved in shipping containers is widely considered the most profitable business segment for seaports.

That is a milestone and does not include Miami’s container traffic, which is close.  At least the Port talks about one day getting there.  Though, we are really far behind, and it is not clear how being a spoke on a hub and spoke system will accomplish that.

Harbour Island – A Ground breaking

The former Hiku, now apparently HI Apartments, has broken ground in Harbour Island.

Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group, developers of HI Apartments on Harbour Island, held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning. The 21-story tower, which will be built on an empty lot at Knights Run Avenue and South Beneficial Drive, will include a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as townhouses.

This is the latest rendering.

From Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for article

Fine. Now that Skyhouse is topped out, it is nice to know that at least one crane will be visible in the new year.

Transportation – Road Diet

The City is going to alter Platt Street to make it friendlier to alternative transportation.

After meeting with residents, city officials said last week they plan to add on-street parking and a bike lane to Platt all the way from S Armenia Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard.

In August, officials first said the south side of Platt could get 54 new metered parking spaces from Armenia to S Dakota Avenue, just west of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway overpass.

* * *

Platt’s new bike lane will be paired with another planned bike lane along Cleveland Street’s westbound traffic.

We are not opposed to the idea, but it will be interesting to see what happens with traffic, given the dearth of transit.  It will also be interesting to see if the few projects with some urban form going up on Platt are joined by more or it stays much the way it is, which is not particularly pedestrian (actually, in many areas, not very inviting at all).  Hopefully, that can change.

List of the Week

Our apologies, but we found no good list this week.

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