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Roundup 9-19-2014

September 19, 2014

Economic Development – How Are We Doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Economic Development – Startups and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a related note:

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

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

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

Of Downtown, Rays, Med Schools, and Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there is a problem with the money anyway.

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

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

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

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

– Checking Facts

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

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

Is that the case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Oh, Those Crazy Mounds

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

From the Times – click on picture for Times website

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

Downtown – Goings On

– Lightning Owner’s Land

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

From WTSP – click on picture for website

We did note this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Kress/Grant Blocks

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

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

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

Of the Kress block, the Tribune tells us this:

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

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

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

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

Channel District – A Look at the Future

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – Suckers for Bass Pro Shops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a Tribune columnist said:

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

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

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

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

Bass Pro is a store. 

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

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

Let’s not do it again.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

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

And in Ft. Lauderdale, there was this:

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

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

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

Interesting.  Why would they do that?

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

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

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

List of the week

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

From redfin.com – click on chart for article

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

Roundup 9-12-2014

September 12, 2014

PTC – Of Words and Deeds

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

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

The taxi wars in Tampa are turning personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was this:

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

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

This really gets to the bottom line:

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

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

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

Riverfront Park – As Expected

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

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

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

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

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

Transportation – The Choice Between Ideology and Practicality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel District – Amazon Hose Lot

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

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

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

So what is the plan?

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

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

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

And

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

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

Ybor – Adaptive Reuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – Foreign Students

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

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

Economic Development – Reading List

– The Challenge of MedTech

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

– High Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is worth reading the whole thing.

Built Environment – Real Adaptive Reuse

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

Old mall properties can become many things:

On new suburban downtowns replacing malls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the week

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup 9-5-2014

September 5, 2014

PTC – Newspeak for Old Policy

The PTC/Ridesharing silliness goes on and on.

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

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

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

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett called the suggested compromise disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port – More on the Cruise Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing in mind?  That is a bit odd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIA – Proactive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– And One More Thing

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

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

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

That should tell you something.

Economy – Looking at Exports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westshore – Keeping an HQ

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

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

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

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

West River – Deals Being Done

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Rays – Rumblings

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

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

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

That was six years ago this month.

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

That was then.  So what now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuniting Ybor

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the Week, Plus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa isn’t tops in any one of the five categories but the city ranks No. 3 in Activities and No. 9 in Affordability. It’s tied with St. Petersburg in the Affordability ranking.

You can find the full list and methodology here. As the article notes:

But in his first term, Mayor Buckhorn has touted the growing appeal of Tampa — especially the downtown area — as a place for young professionals to live, work and play.

At a July conference in Los Angeles on how cities are reinventing themselves, Buckhorn hold a national audience he’s trying to shift the city’s “economic DNA” away from one driven by housing construction toward one driven by innovation and tech-savvy young people.

So, is there progress on that front?  Coincidentally, this week citylab.com had an article in which they crunched the numbers on the 20 best job markets for new college grads.

With the help of the economic and labor market data firm EMSI, we ranked America’s 100 largest metros based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures on full-time regular employment for some 320 occupations that require post-secondary education, including bachelors’, masters’ and doctoral degrees, as well as more specialized training. These jobs, in fields like nursing, engineering, business, media, and education, pay an average of $34.28 an hour, or $71,300 a year. Across the United States as a whole, 2.2 million such jobs were created from 2010 and 2014, of which the 100 largest metros accounted for 1.7 million, roughly eight in 10.

The rankings are based on five key factors:

So what did they find?

Coming in first was San Francisco, followed by San Jose, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, Houston, Raleigh, LA, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Des Moines, San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, and Columbus (OH).  Nary a Florida locale.

(The article provides more detailed information for those who are interested.)

Sadly, the list is so predictable, it is almost boring, as is our exclusion from it. (Though, every now and then we show up on lists.)

At some point it should be clear to all those involved (and that includes far more people than the Mayor – unlike many elected officials, at least he is out there consistently identifying the issue) that the incremental, sputtering approach this area has taken and, for the most part, is taking to our issues is not sufficient.

Roundup 8-29-2014

August 29, 2014

Transportation – More Muddle

There was an article in the Times regarding a report commissioned by Hillsborough County:

A study commissioned by Hillsborough County government cautions that improvements are needed in public bus service before the community could compete for light rail grants under new federal criteria.

The recent study dismayed advocates of a plan to put a tax-for-transportation referendum on an upcoming ballot, perhaps in 2016. But county staff cautioned the report is more of a checkup than an indictment, and that a more comprehensive study is needed once a specific transportation plan is developed.

Hmm.  What else?

The Hillsborough County Transit Options Assessment was completed by consulting firm AECOM in May, but some local officials only recently were made aware of it before a meeting unveiling new strategies for a countywide transportation plan.

The assessment, which summarized previous studies over the past couple decades and included data from a range of sources, surfaced during a meeting announcing a plan to elicit feedback from the public on a list of hundreds of projects including light rail that could be helped by voter approval of a 1-cent sales tax.

The report calls for developing enhanced or rapid bus options before delving into light rail.

“Hillsborough County should approach making transit investments cautiously and prudently,” the report states. “There is significant room for ridership growth in the HART service area before a major investment in (light rail transit) would be viable.”

The report argues that “only smaller scale transit investments seem to make economic sense” in light of new criteria adopted by the Federal Transit Administration — part of the U.S. Department of Transportation — for evaluating applications for funds.

Interesting.  So what did the report actually say? (As far as we can tell, you can find it here)

First, the problem:

Travel demand in the Tampa Bay region has been growing, and is forecast to continue to grow. The rising roadway congestion will cause longer travel times, reduced reliability of arriving at destinations as planned, higher operating costs, and reduced competiveness of the region when compared to other regions investing in integrated multimodal transportation systems.

(pdf pg 22) So the roads are clogged and getting more clogged and the situation harms competitiveness.  What does it recommend?

Recommendations:

There is significant room for ridership growth in the area before a major investment in light rail transit would be viable. Hillsborough County should undertake steps to build patronage on the current bus transit system and develop a long-term transit and land use strategy that will support fixed-guideway transit, and that could allow a project to qualify for federal funds. Specific recommendations include:

-Continue investing in improvements to existing bus services, such as expansion of the MetroRapid enhanced bus system, which will help to increase transit use in key corridors. A full bus rapid transit option in some corridors might qualify for FTA funding once the projected ridership is higher and investment costs are lower.

-Develop a long-term transit/land-use plan that identifies travel corridors that could be developed to contain high capacity transit, and adopt specific land use policies that encourage transit-supportive development in these corridors.

-Include in the transit/land use plan a dedicated local funding source for transit investments, which will demonstrate a commitment to fund fixed-guideway transit

-Invest in complete streets and other infrastructure that can create more walkable, transit supportive development in these key corridors, including Downtown circulator .

-Continue dialogue with CSX to determine if commuter rail options are operationally feasible and cost effective in their rights-of-way

(pdf pg 22)  First, what makes sense: don’t shortchange the bus system anymore, change how development is done, and show real commitment to a new way of doing things.  We have no problem with that.

Regarding viability, the report details the transit studies done in Hillsborough County since 1993, starting on pg 23.  In all, it lists eight studies, most involving real transit.  What is so interesting is that since 1993 the area has basically failed, with very few exceptions, to do anything about preparing itself and the built environment for transit.  20 years wasted while other areas changed, adopted transit, thrived, and developed.  And, questionably, the report does not tell us is in what state of readiness those areas (Denver, Phoenix, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Diego, etc.) were when they started their transit push.  Without that, the viability discussion of the report is incomplete.

Having said that, Tampa is lucky because due to a quirk of geography (definitely not any planning) the core (from the airport to downtown, etc.) is relatively compact (see “Tampa/Pasco – It’s So Fluffy”).  Despite the fact that poor planning and settling has left this area not very walkable, it has the opportunity for rapid transformation if it had proper transit with a core system and proper feeders and proper planning. And given the underuse of so much of that land (and we do not mean houses in the corridor, though we do mean a lot of the other buildings and empty lots), fill in development should follow relatively quickly. In other words, even with all the settling and complacency, proper transit and development can still be done.

Now, it might be helpful to look at the report (the full AECOM pdf, not just the May section) in more depth.

– BRT

It is hard to argue that Hillsborough County needs to expand bus service from the pathetically low service levels provided by HART.  (And note: it is hard to have ridership if you don’t have buses for people to ride, which is another problem with the report’s reliance on bus ridership numbers.)

The report also keeps pointing to BRT as a middle step to rail (if not a final goal). This is how it describes BRT:

BRT is a viable technology alternative and should be a considered option. It is significantly lower in cost than LRT and has greater flexibility in terms of developing an operating plan that grows with the market. It can be implemented faster and sooner and provides the opportunity to provide quality curb to curb connections by providing one-seat trips by circulating on local streets to collect or distribute passengers. The shorter vehicle life, 12 versus 25-40 years provides the opportunity to update propulsion technology, amenities and features more frequently. BRTs land use impact is not as proven as LRT, but early results look promising as seen in Cleveland.

(pdf pg 35)

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 Pittburgh 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.

The report also tells us that BRT is not really fixed – it can drive around and be moved.  This gives it far less certainty, which generally harms economic development purposes because uncertainty makes people not want to invest as much in development nearby.  Moreover, the report tells us that the economic development prospects for BRT are unknown.  Yes, Cleveland worked, but that is one city with specific circumstances.  Moreover, the Cleveland BRT is part of s a system that includes rail relatively nearby, which is not the scenario AECOM is discussing. (For more see “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” )

Finally, the report lists the short useful life of the buses involved as a positive and does not seem to account for the cost of replacing buses two or three times more often than rail in either operating or capital costs or the per mile building costs.  Without that, it is not possible to make a real comparison of the actual costs.

It seems odd to choose something that is not truly proven as a stand-alone idea and requires constant, major expenditures.  It is even odder to choose a system with significant start-up and operating costs as a stepping stone to another system with similar costs.  Why not just go to the proven system in the first place?

There is a place for BRT as part of a system, but it is not at the core.

– Managed Lanes

The report also discusses using buses in managed lanes giving is an apparent thumbs up:

The prospect of a network of managed lanes within the Tampa Bay region provides an extremely attractive opportunity to provide high quality, higher speed Rapid Bus or Enhanced Bus on managed lane services to address regional travel and longer distance commuting markets. This strategy has the unique ability to provide the premium service attractive to choice travelers while still sharing the infrastructure and alignment right away cost with toll paying travelers using the managed Lane. Even this strategy would require far stronger commitments to feeder/distributors services, carefully sited park-and-ride facilities, and perhaps transit stations and transit exclusive entrance/exit ramps necessary to provide quality curb to curb service. Such a network could be implemented far faster, at much lower cost for public transportation, and provide far greater flexibility for serving the dispersed activity patterns in the Tampa Bay region.

(pdf pg 49) Except:

If managed lanes are implemented with enhanced express bus services and if additional HART Metro Rapid or BRT corridors are implemented, new guideway alignments would need to be evaluated in the context of these sometimes competing service and facility investments. This type of analysis can only be carried out with more detailed planning and modeling efforts.

(pdf pg 49) If more than just express buses use the highway, it would require all sorts of highway work, and unknown costs.  So essentially, while it is a great idea, they have no idea about it at all.

As we have said before, the idea of express buses in managed lanes is interesting for long distance routes (say Pasco or Hernando or Plant City to downtown).  Though, there are hidden costs, and it has to work with the whole system.

– Land Use

The report then goes on to look at land use, as an element of the Federal funding criteria (which is apparently completely different than the section which is referred to in the Times article):

 Land Use Impact

The ability of the proposed projects to influence land-use is a significant consideration in the FTA New Starts project evaluation process. While the cursory review makes it difficult to assess the land use influencing potential of various options, some observations can be made. The West Corridor alignment from  downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport, while in a capacity constrained corridor where new capacity could enhance development potential, is currently presumed to operate within the I-275 alignment. This location has limited stations and those stations are distant from attractive developable land. This alignment serves extremely limited residential areas and limits access to the stations to cars and feeder buses. The median of the I-275 freeway is not a pedestrian friendly realm. Station area space would be partially consumed by parking and/or bus transfer facilities in order to enable passengers to access this alignment. Consequently, the I-275 alignment options will not encourage dense, mixed-use transit oriented development necessary to build ridership and alter travel patterns in the region.

The Northeast Corridor traverses more real estate and has more areas where transit service would be accessible to adjacent land. However, unlike the West Corridor there is no obvious evidence of market potential for incurring the risks associated with redevelopment.

In both corridors the land-use potential will be influenced by the actual alignment decisions and policy and planning initiatives carried out to complement a guideway investment. More study is needed to find the alignment that best serves local travel markets and attracts transit oriented development.

(pdf pg 48)

In other words, this is just a general discussion.  The real issue is where exactly the planned route would be and whether the City/County would actually push to maximize development along the way.  This has always been a concern for a City and area that loves tis sprawl and loves to settle.  Clearly, if the route is bad and the City settles in development, the route would not function well.

The real issue is that it is not clear what the exact route would be and the City and County have sat on their hands and never really pushed for proper development along the potential routes.  There is a cost to all that – maybe lack of Federal funds and inability to build proper transit and compete.  On the other hand, the article pretty much ignores this aspect.

Then there is final recommendation of the report:

Hillsborough County should also look at adopting plans and policies that will advance land uses that will support transit use. This can start with an overall countywide or regional transportation and land use plan that will identify the major travel corridors and trip generators in the region. Once these corridors are identified, Hillsborough County can focus infrastructure investments (highways, complete streets and transit) to support growth in these corridors. Finally, and more importantly, the County can focus transit and transit supportive development within these corridors.

(pdf pg 49 )

In other words, if this area wants transit is should have proper planning and a commitment to actually have transit and urban development.  Whether that requires doing it by building bus service then building rail or doing it simultaneously can be debated (the report says go buses first, though we disagree), but what cannot be debated is that how this area has been built and all the settling that has occurred cannot continue – either for transit or to be competitive for real economic development.  It has failed, and it will fail to keep pace with other areas.

– The DMU Option

The report then tells us this (see here for more background on DMU):

Discussions with CSX are currently underway to determine if the DMU options are operationally feasible and cost effective once all costs and ridership estimates are known. This is extremely important to any serious consideration of rail transit in the region.

(pdf pg 49) Right, because all costs and ridership estimates for 2014 are not known, only HART’s 2010 ideas.  And there has been no real discussion of technology or real routes.  Basically, the report tells us that it is not a definitive statement.

The DMU discussion has been going on for 20 years.  And it may be much more cost effective, lower rail costs even further into the BRT level (but with greater capacity and less interference with other traffic.)  However, right now, we don’t know.

– The Reaction

So what was the reaction reported in the article?

“What we wanted was an honest assessment, an independent assessment of where we stand in terms of our preparedness and our ability to embark on all kinds of transit solutions,” Merrill said. “You want to know, what is your health today in terms of transit. … We needed to know the answer, and the answer is not negative.”

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, one of the most fervent mass transit supporters, said the report is correct in its analysis but only one piece of a larger picture.

“Because of our very limited bus system and lack of an established track record in regard to extensive use of transit by all of our citizens, it would be challenging to just stand up a system tomorrow,” Sharpe said.

“To state that we wouldn’t be competitive is, I think, a stretch. But, at the same time, it does point out some very obvious shortcomings that we’ve got to address as we move forward.”

Indeed.  It does not say we cannot get there – it really says we are way behind our competitors and have work to do, which is basically pointing out the obvious:  HART/the County has neglected transit; the County/City planning has been horrible; infrastructure investment has been poor.

In essence, there has been no real policy to make this are anything other than a sprawling, car-necessary mess (except to a small degree downtown Tampa, but even around downtown there is too much settling).  Despite that policy, the market has in the last decade or so started to address the desire of many people for something more and government has sort of tagged along.  However, our problems have been obvious for decades and have not been addressed, except in a very piecemeal fashion.  Now there is an attempt to do so, no matter how muddled, which is something.  But there is a long way to go.

One of the problems is that, primarily due to lack of political will, there is still no plan, just ideas.  The report just points out some of the predictable results of the bad policy.  What should be done about it is just the author’s opinion – like the 8 previous reports the author lists.

Another problem is that the long history of complacency may lead us to be unable to get funding for projects we need to stay competitive.  Once again, it should be pointed out that there is a cumulative effect of poor decisions and settling and that is to put us ever further behind the competition, even as we try to move forward.

This can be fixed.  As we said, geography favors fixing it.  Hillsborough County/Tampa can have a proper transportation system – but it requires more of a commitment than just having some meetings or cutting a few ribbons.  It is more than cheerleading.  It requires a change in how things are done in the City and the County and how the area is built. It requires the TED group to bear down and make the necessary decision.  It requires a real change in mentality – especially among elected officials – that involved having political will, follow-through, and a real plan – and no subsidies to Estuary/Bass Pro Shops-like projects.

In other words, it requires a real change in our DNA.

Crew Art – How to Govern

Last week, the City Council approved funding for the Mayor’s plan to scrub a portion of the sea wall downtown of crew art to add colored lights.

The City Council on Thursday night voted to allow a clean scrubbing for a 650-foot stretch of riverfront seawall now painted over with about two dozen rowing team logos, a half-dozen roughed-in Greek fraternity names and a couple of four-letter words.

The city will pay $40,000 for the project, with another $40,000 coming from the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants the wall cleaned because the city plans to install interactive underwater lights — they will change color as people walk by — along the Riverwalk as part of the Lights On Tampa 2015 public art program.

As we said previously, it may be ok to remove this section of the crew art if there are clearly delineated areas where the City would not seek to remove the crew art now and in the future.  Of course, from the reporting, we did not see any steps in that direction. (Not that we really expected any.) Of course, the Mayor professed that he does not want to get rid of the remaining crew art:

“There’s a perception out there that we’re going to pressure-wash the entire both banks of the river, which we’re not,” Buckhorn said before the vote. “No desire to do it.”

But the supporters of the administration proposal seemed to have different ideas:

On the other side, supporters of the proposal included a major downtown developer, the building manager of a downtown office tower, officers of the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership and the president of the Stewards Foundation, which coordinates visits from visiting college rowing teams. Stewards president Tom Feaster said it’s much more important that the public get a chance to see the grace and discipline of the sport of rowing up close, like from the vantage point of the Riverwalk, than to see the rowing team logos on that one section of seawall.

One project supporter said the seawall paintings should be considered vandalism that would destroy the waterfront as a destination if allowed to remain.

“Crew art and graffiti don’t belong on our new front door, our new beautiful Riverwalk,” said Troy Manthey, owner of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises in Channelside. “No one should be allowed to freely paint and deface public and private property.”

Neither position sounds like it favors crew art (especially the second).  In any event, don’t be surprised if the City decides to remove more crew art in the future.

There was also one other thing in the coverage that was really telling about the administration’s governing philosophy that appeared on the Times website but was later edited away (luckily, we saved the original):

Buckhorn said he’s a fan of the rowing team graffiti in general, but the seawall that will be next to the Riverwalk has some painting with no aesthetic value.

* * *

The council’s role, he said, is not to determine what’s appropriate, but to decide whether to allocate the city’s half of the funding for the power-washing. In addition, the council is scheduled to vote on giving the Friends of the Riverwalk’s contractor access to the seawall.

(originally in the article at this url)

First, it is not a direct quote, but it is clearly attributed to the Mayor.  Assuming it is accurate, it is odd. (and slightly ironic for a former City Council member.)  How is the Council supposed to decide whether to allocate taxpayer dollars unless it determines what is “appropriate?”  Does the Council exist just to rubber stamp proposals? (It does that often enough, anyway) Is it only the Mayor that decides what is “appropriate”?

It’s a funny way to run a government.

Economy – A Look at Housing

Once again, let’s check in on the economy through the housing market.

Home-price appreciation in the Tampa Bay area is slowing — good news for buyers, less so for the many Florida homeowners still seeking relief from underwater mortgages. Tampa Bay’s median single-family home price grew just 1.3 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, making the metro market one of the slower to appreciate among the 25 largest metros in the country. In contrast, Orlando market prices rose 13 percent in the quarter, followed by Miami-Fort Lauderdale at 7.6 percent. Nationwide, single-family housing prices grew 4.4 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, the slowest annual pace since 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors. The association found that median prices for existing single-family homes grew year-over-year in 122 out of 173 metropolitan areas it tracked, while prices declined in 47 metro areas. Only 19 areas showed double-digit year-over-year price increases, a substantial drop from the 37 cities that showed such increases in the first quarter.

In other words, while there is some improvement, the Tampa Bay area is lagging in the state and as a large metro area.

In the Tampa Bay market, 3,517 single-family home sales closed in July, a 0.5 percent decline over July 2013, Florida Realtors reports. The good news is that the median sale price for a single-family home is up 1.9 percent to $168,110.

Not really boom times, though there are a lot of apartments going up (we are not sure how we compare to other areas).

Downtown – Is an Office Building Coming?

There was news this week that there may actually be an office building built downtown sometime.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s vision for the Channel District is coming into focus, and it includes bringing in hundreds of white-collar workers along with tourists and sports fans.

The latest piece of his plan is a 202,000-square-foot office building that Vinik’s companies propose to build north of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

And a rezoning application filed last week suggests a tenant for that building could be Syniverse, a fast-growing high-tech firm now based in New Tampa.

* * *

Vinik’s proposed office building would go up on land he owns at the northeast corner of S Morgan Street and Channelside Drive.

Plans call for 195,000 square feet of offices, 4,000 square feet of restaurant space and 3,000 square feet of retail. The rezoning seeks approval for a building up to 160 feet tall. Sketches on file with the city variously show an 8- to 10-story structure.

The project site is about eight-tenths of an acre and is currently used as a parking lot. Tampa’s development code requires the building to have 201 parking spaces. A letter from a design firm working on the project said parking would be in a garage immediately to the northeast.

This is a rendering from the filings (and, once again, the City’s new online system is a great improvement to what used to be there. The Mayor deserves praise on that):

Rendering from the public filings

And this is the site plan:

Siteplan from the public filings

First, bringing Syniverse downtown would be great.  (Though it is unclear how the resignation of its CEO this week will affect this project.  And Syniverse denies that they are planning to move downtown.  We have no idea how likely it is that this building will get built as described.)

Second, while we are not huge fans of the preliminary rendering or height of the building, fine. The little park space is nice (it is a bit odd that the park does not really open on the plaza in front of the forum, but so be it) and also gives room for potential expansion if it is needed.  We are good with the retail, assuming it is on the street not focused on the interior of the building (which is hard to tell from the information).

The one thing that concerns us is the parking garage.  It is free standing and huge.  Moreover, the entrance and exit face the park and the building which means that frontage space will basically be dead on one side.  And depending on the Morgan Street façade of the garage (is there street retail or just a blank wall?), it may also serve to help cut off the building from the rest of downtown rather than connect it.

There is the possibility that such a large parking garage is actually intended to be parking for more than just this project.  Maybe it is intended for developments in other lots owned by the Lightning owner.  And it can be used if the project is expanded.  Unfortunately, we have no idea if that is the case.

If none of that is the case, while it would be more expensive to put the parking under the office building, that would be more in line with what downtown should be.

Unfortunately, we just do not have the information.  If the building and garage is part of a bigger, integrated project with good street interaction (like the Lightning owner’s proposed hotel nearby seems to have), then, while not optimal, fine.  However, if it just an office park building squeezed into downtown, it will be hard to get very excited (and, frankly, be anything but disappointed).

Hopefully, it is the former not the latter.  Downtown has had enough settling for poor designs over the decades. (And we already have Westshore; downtown is supposed to be different.)  It is starting to overcome that, slowly.  It would be a shame if the whole cycle just started again.

Anyway, with Syniverse’s reaction, it may not happen. We shall just have to see.  One thing is for sure – while we appreciate the Lightning owner’s moves to do projects downtown and like many aspects of what has been announced so far, the City should not settle.

Transportation – Choppiness for the Ferry

Since it was proposed, the south county ferry project has seemed destined to move quickly to realization.  Recently, some objections have arisen.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Sandy Murman made a surprise move that Turanchik said could jeopardize the ferry: She asked county staff to start looking for a different spot.

“I am very optimistic about this project … ” Murman said, “but the dam has broke and people are expressing concerns. . . . If there is a huge citizen uprising over this location, it’s not something that this commission will stomach.”

In the past few weeks, environmental advocates and Gibsonton residents have criticized the use of a nature preserve for a ferry terminal and parking lot.

Turanchik, a lawyer and former commissioner who represents the private companies that would operate the ferry, was not at the commission meeting. Any search is a waste of time, he said.

“We’ve been through painstaking analysis . . . county staff can do whatever it wants, but that’s the only site that works,” he said.

The 134-acre Schultz preserve is partly owned by a Hillsborough land-preservation program, and more than $3 million in public money has been spent buying and restoring the land. Turanchik has proposed swapping nearby land owned by his clients with the preserve land needed for the terminal.

That did not placate officials with Audubon Florida.

“It would have been a very destructive project that would have wasted millions of public dollars invested in that site,” said Charles Lee, Audubon Florida director of advocacy.

The ferry would provide commuter service for southern Hills­borough residents who work at MacDill Air Force Base and could add service linking Tampa to St. Petersburg. The project needs more than $20 million in startup funding, most of which would be covered by the county under Turanchik’s plan.

In February, commissioners approved spending $125,000 on a feasibility study. In June, the project won a $4.8 million federal grant.

You can read more about the Audubon Society’s objections here and here.

To be honest, we are not clear about the whole discussion and why it came up now.  We do not want environmental preserves harmed, but we also think that, if there was agreement on the site, it is kind of odd to change that now when nothing new has really been discovered. (While they seem hesitant to even do it when it comes to transportation, at some point the County Commission has to make a real decision.)  Given all that, it would be better if another site could be found just to avoid the problem completely.

But, regardless of what happens, it is a funny way to run a government.

Westshore – Jefferson High

For many years, it has been pretty obvious that the Jefferson High campus is an odd use of a large amount of land in the Westshore area and breaks up the ability to really develop the area. (Here is an aerial view.)  Of course, moving a high school in the middle of a city (again, since Jefferson has already moved once) is not easy to do.  Moreover, having a large government owned property is useful and should not be given up lightly.  Given all that:

When the head of the politically powerful Westshore Alliance looks at Jefferson High’s sprawling 60-acre campus, he sees the perfect spot for new retail businesses — maybe even a hotel.

Ron Rotella, executive director of the alliance, which represents hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees in the area, envisions at least a portion of the campus as the future home for apartments or townhouses, shops and more — all tied in with a transit hub the state plans to construct nearby.

Rotella, speaking at an alliance luncheon Tuesday, said he plans to make his case for a redevelopment plan before the Hillsborough County School Board on Sept. 30 and to ask permission to work with its staff.

“Jefferson is an old, one-story school,” Rotella said. “I would never suggest to them that they relocate Jefferson. That would be their decision.”

But he is hoping the school board will at least consider consolidating school buildings — including adjacent Roland Park K-8 Magnet School and Lavoy Exceptional Center for students with disabilities — into one multistory building and using the rest of the property for economic development.

“By anyone’s standard, there is a gross under-utilization of the site,” Rotella said.

We are not sure that those are the best ways to use the land, but, yes, the land is underutilized.  What did the school board say?

Hillsborough Deputy Superintendent Cathy Valdes said school district officials are open to discussion as long as the plans come at no cost to them.

“That’s a big tract of land,” she said. “It’s very valuable. We’ve told them we’ve got to operate our three schools. It can’t cost us any money.”

Valdes added that the district has been involved in the planning process for West Shore development for years.

“While we need to make sure we’re protecting the interest of the school board, schools and taxpayers, we’re always willing to talk,” she said. 

That is sensible, and we have to say having an elementary school and special needs programs in the same building as a high school strike us as a questionable proposition.  And there is the neighborhood nearby and its needs.

The reality is that we can see all sides of this discussion, and a lot depends on what is proposed for any land the school gives up (we are not sure retail and hotel make sense).

We shall see what comes of this.

– And One More Thing

And then there was this:

“We want to make West Shore more pedestrian friendly, more walkable,” Rotella said.

For a busy office, retail, hospitality district in the middle of a city and heart of a major metro area, it would be hard to make it less pedestrian friendly than it is right now (though recent developments have tried).  There are definitely other things that can make it more walkable that have nothing to do with the school.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida and the Beyond

– Rail

While this area struggles with transportation alternatives and rail, other parts of Florida are just moving along.

Preliminary work has begun for construction of a $2.5 billion express passenger train between Miami and Orlando.

In preparation for the project, 35,000 linear feet of new steel rails have been laid on the ground alongside existing freight train tracks at two sites in Palm Beach County just west of North Dixie Highway in Boca Raton.

Parking lots that for years were packed with vehicles next to the Miami-Dade County Hall building and Metrorail tracks in downtown Miami are now empty, closed for coming construction of the train’s Miami station.

The shuttered parking lots and the new steel rails mark the first physical work on the future service since the ambitious project was announced in March 2012.

All Aboard Florida, as the project is called, is expected to begin operations in two phases: first between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2016 and then between West Palm Beach and Orlando in 2017.

Of course, it is getting state support:

The project has been plagued by controversy, including debate over whether Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is secretly assisting All Aboard Florida by funding infrastructure that will benefit the project. Critics cite $214 million in state money for construction of a transportation hub at Orlando International Airport — where All Aboard Florida will have a station — as evidence to support the claim.

“That’s not true at all,” said Reininger, who said the transport hub was planned before All Aboard Florida became a reality. “Long before there was such a thing as All Aboard Florida, there was a need for a long-term vision for the expansion of the Orlando International Airport.”

Whatever.  It is getting state support, just like Tri-Rail and Sun-Rail get – though less.  The only place that does not get state support in the Tampa Bay area.  (Though, in all honesty, a good part of that is the failure of local officials to present a unified approach.  We’ll see what happens if Greenlight passes.)

It is also worth noting that Tri-Rail in South Florida is working on expansion.  We wonder what the bus ridership in Palm Beach and Broward counties was when Tri-Rail started.

And note that Texas seems to have further solidified its status as a socialist state because it apparently has no problem with rail – even in El Paso.

– Enter the Soundstage

Every now and then there is a spasm of discussion about the movie industry in this area.  Just to keep everything in perspective, we check in with Atlanta.

Atlanta developer Jim Jacoby has taken another big step toward remaking the OFS plant at Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard into a what it calls the largest movie studio campus in the Southeast.

Jacoby, chairman of Jacoby Development Inc., says his company has struck a partnership with Los Angeles-based MBS3. Its television and feature film studio is home to James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and the next three sequels to Avatar, a science-fiction blockbuster from 2009.

MBS3 will invest in new lighting and equipment and deploy large portions of its inventory to Atlanta. It will lease, manage and operate the Atlanta Media Campus. Those connections could attract major film productions to the OFS plant, which Jacoby plans to transform into Atlanta Media Campus and Studios.

* * *

Upon completion, Atlanta Media Campus will have six sound stages and production support space at the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85 in Gwinnett County. Jacoby said the plan is to film at least two films per year there, as well as television shows.

So it is not a done deal, but it is moving along. Keep that in mind when everyone talks movies.

List of the Week

This week’s list is actually from a blog.  It is munsoncity.com’s list of most affordable walkable neighborhoods.  You can see the blogger’s background here (note: he works for AECOM).  You can see the pretty elaborate methodology here.  So what did he find?

Capitol Hill, Seattle led the pack. To be honest, I was expecting something like a smaller, affordable Midwest town or something, but it the highest scoring areas were usually just outside of major downtowns. Other top areas included Cambridge and Somerville outside of Boston, and the South End in Boston; Columbia Heights, Washington, DC; The Mission District, Lower Haight, and Russian Hill, San Francisco; Midtown, Atlanta; Greenwood, Dyker Heights, Kensington, and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn; Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, where we used to live; Lake View, Chicago; and Five Points, Denver.

Despite its low housing prices, there is nothing in Florida.

Roundup 8-22-2014

August 22, 2014

Port – Developments

The Port Tampa Bay board approved buying new container cranes.

The Tampa Port Authority on Tuesday approved spending $21.5 million to build two new gantry cranes that officials hope will expand the port’s cargo container business.

This summer, the Florida Legislature awarded Port Tampa Bay $12 million to help pay for the project. The port will pay for the rest using a loan from the state’s infrastructure bank.

The port’s governing board voted to award the $21.5 million contract to ZPMC, aka Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., one of the world’s largest crane manufacturers.

Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson wants to expand the port’s share of cargo containers, which are a more lucrative cargo than the bulk cargoes, like phosphates and ammonia anhydrous, that dominate the port’s business.

The port handled 34,379 containers in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over last year. The Port of Miami handles more than 900,000 containers a year.

Without the new cranes, Anderson said, Port Tampa Bay would not be able to unload the cargo ships of the future.

That is true, though many of the ships cannot be handled in Tampa, regardless. (All part of that annoying bridge thing)  In any event, a good move.  Hopefully it will pay off.

– Inadvertent Truth

Even more importantly, there was other interesting news about the Port that revealed more about our local political culture.  A little confab was held by FDOT to talk with Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee and help them get along.  You can read here how that went.  What was more interesting was this:

When the room seemed to turn on Anderson, Murman came to the defense of the CEO of Port Tampa Bay, who has led the port since 2013.

“Our board has complete confidence in him,” she said. “When we brought him onboard as CEO, you have to understand, we were stagnant.

“We weren’t doing anything and we had a port director banking everything on the cruise business, which was not good.”

“Stagnant” and focused on the cruise industry, which the Port administration knew (the Port Board either knew or should have known) was threatened. See here and here.

The comment is very odd because, back in 2011, after some Port tenants complained about the last director,  the Board came to his defense:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested giving Wainio a new evaluation tied to specific financial and business goals for the port.

“Let’s not make it personal,” she said. “We all respect Mr. Wainio for the job he’s done here.”

And see here.  Then, they gave him a two year extension:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman first proposed only one additional year. After her motion failed on a 3-3 vote, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed the two-year contract. It passed 4-2, with Murman and fellow board member Patrick Allman voting against.

The deal would keep Wainio in the agency’s top job through March 2014.

Most board members were pleased with how he guided the port through a recession that devastated international trade.

But they criticized Wainio for his sour relations with port tenants and businesses that say he doesn’t listen to their concerns.

“There is a serious issue in terms of communication,” Buckhorn said. “On substance, I’m fine. I think these other issues can be resolved. Two years gives us the opportunity to resolve these issues.”

Then, the Board gave him a 7% raise.   About 8 months later, he resigned.   That is an odd way to deal with stagnant growth, poor planning, and policy issues.

If the Board thought he was doing such a bad job and was in a hurry to replace him, why didn’t they inform the public, who at least the elected officials serve?  Why did they keep publicly saying he was doing a great job and then rewarding him? Didn’t the Board know that performance was not acceptable?  Isn’t that the Board’s job?

Let us be clear: we think the present director is an upgrade.  The concern we have is with lack of oversight and accurate information from the Board, especially the elected officials. (Maybe this is the Commissioner/Board Member coming clean on mistakes in the past; if so, we applaud her.)  Far too often we are told everything is great, our agency leaders are great, all the policies are great, our area is the conqueror of all – then, out of the blue, it is not. (Like the whole cruise mess, planning in the area, and, it should be said, the previous airport director)

We understand that issues arise over time and that sometimes change is necessary. What we don’t need is puffery and hiding problems.  We don’t need vapid cheerleading.  And we don’t need officials who call stagnation progress and small achievements “game changers.”  We have had that for decades, and it has held us back. We need the facts and dealing with issues like adults, otherwise known as “leadership.” (Thankfully, many of our present agency leaders – like the airport and, to a large degree, the port – now seem to do that. At least, as far as we can tell right now. And the County staff appears to be trying to deal with transportation, despite the best efforts of some elected officials.)

We need dealing like adults to be the rule, rather than something notable. And don’t expect real progress against our competitors until that is the case.

Transportation – TED is a Mess

There was more news about the Transportation for Economic Development committee.  First,

Starting after Labor Day, local government leaders will hold a series of meetings in all corners of the 1,000-square-mile county. The purpose of the gatherings will be to get feedback from the public on a long list of road, trail and mass transit projects. The list has been 14 months in the making.

County Administrator Mike Merrill, speaking Tuesday to the county’s transportation policy leadership group, said the purpose of the meetings will not be to “sell’ the project list, but to ask residents, civic and business groups to critique it and suggest changes.

Merrill said the outreach program, which will include a social media blitz, will last through mid-October. Then the results will be brought back to the policy leadership group, which consists of the seven county commissioners, the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities, and the chairman of the HART bus system.

“What we’re really talking about is bringing it back to you in October and letting you know what we’ve heard,” Merrill said.

So where to start?  First, it is good to get public input.  Second, they are way late on getting public input.  Third, who is going to be at these meetings?  Why does staff have to bring the results back to the elected officials?  Aren’t elected officials interested enough to finally personally go get the input they should have gotten long ago?

Depending on what county officials hear in the public meetings, the leadership group may pare down the projects list or add some new roads and transit routes.

At some point late this year, or in early 2015, the leadership group will decide whether to hold a referendum in 2016 to raise the sales tax by a penny. If it passes, the tax hike would produce $6 billion over 30 years for transportation.

Those discussions will be fun.

The emphasis on public outreach is an outgrowth of lessons learned from the failed sales tax referendum in 2010. Proponents of that effort felt that large portions of the county were left out of planning when transportation projects were developed and the residents were unclear about how the tax would benefit them.

“In 2010, everything was not crystal clear; it was real muddy,” county Commissioner Les Miller said Tuesday. “If we don’t make it clear, we’re doomed to failure.”

We definitely are in favor of having a specific list of things to be done.  People should know what they are being asked to pay for.  Of course, it seems the lesson has been learned, if it has been learned, quite late in the game.  On the other hand, we cannot wait forever – even if some want us to.

But County Commissioner Victor Crist echoed similar concerns Tuesday, saying he favored waiting until 2018 to ready the public and explore more funding options.

“Timing is crucial,” said Crist, who faces re-election this fall. “I’m not sure we have enough time to sell this, and I’m not sure we have time to really do the leg work that needs to be done to generate the voter buy-in to get this passed.”

And if that time is conveniently after someone can’t run for their present office again, that is just a coincidence.  And just what leg work are we talking about? It is not like the Commissioners are out in the public seeking a conversation (rather, they have hidden from the public meetings).  And if leg work needs to be done, maybe the committee members better get on it. Not after the Greenlight vote.  Not after the New Year.  Now.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who was re-elected this year without opposition, brought up concerns over being able to sort out legal requirements.

“In a perfect world sooner is better,” Hagan said. “But I think there are some specific and critical issues, particularly legal ones, that require us to be methodical to ensure we get them right.”

That is true, so better get on that, too (though we are not sure exactly what those legal issues are).  Of course, in a perfect world the County commission would not have waited for years before getting back on an issue that never went away.

Both Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, neither who face election this year, spoke in favor of putting the tax question before voters as soon as possible, with 2016 being the goal.

“Life is about making an effort and not being afraid to fail,” said Sharpe, who is leaving the commission due to term limits. “I don’t think we’ve rushed. I think we’ve been a little slow in acting. … HART’s going to run out of money. And they may well run out of money while we talk and decide what we’re going to do.”

Yes, especially about the effort part.  No need to worry about failing because our transportation infrastructure is already failing.

We actually have concerns about whether this group can actually get a proper referendum plan ready for 2016.  That is not because there isn’t time but because a number of them do not seem serious about the project.  The staff seems serious.  Many people in the public seem serious.  Some decision makers are serious – but a number just seem scared, and not of failure but of having to make a decision (which is funny for people referred to as “decision makers.”)

As said in a Times editorial:

At least Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill has brought something from the ashes of the 2010 vote with virtually no help from his elected bosses. Now these same leaders want county staff and contractors to go out and read the tea leaves so they can write a proposal that is politically safe.

The leadership group needs to reclaim its mantle and start shaping a vision for the transit package that offers something new. Giving critics two months to pick this bloated plan apart while backtracking on proposals to energize HART is not moving forward in a smart fashion. There is plenty of time for Hillsborough to prepare a viable transit plan for voters by 2016, which would get a boost if Pinellas voters approve Greenlight. But Hillsborough leaders need to focus more on creating a robust vision for future transit and less on timid political calculations that are likely to bog down the effort than lift it up.

Exactly, except until they lead, they are just elected officials.

– Post Script

The Times had another interesting nugget from a County Commissioner who is running for a new seat and has been quite equivocal about the referendum:

An opponent of the 2010 referendum when he represented conservative east Hillsborough’s District 4, Higginbotham now says he will support whatever is proposed by a transportation policy group comprised of local elected officials.

We shall see if he true to his word.

– And Another Thing

Finally, there was an article in the Tribune regarding various transit agencies around the country and HART.  The article goes through a number of different systems and we are not going to get into them. (You can read it here)   One thing we will point out is this:

HART, the agency that runs Hillsborough County’s bus system, is on track this year to break its fifth straight ridership record.

That milestone hasn’t quieted mass transit advocates who say the agency is outmoded, underfunded and an inadequate transportation system for a major metropolitan area in the 21st century.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority covers a 1,000-square-mile county with 165 buses — a number that places HART 94th among 100 major metro areas in the United States. Fewer buses means fewer routes, less frequency and longer travel times from home to work, school or errands.

The system also has few of the smaller circulator buses that would improve links among the main routes. Because of those drawbacks, critics say, HART serves as largely a last resort for people who can’t afford cars or don’t drive.

And note remember that one HART Board member, representing the Tea Party on behalf of the County Commission, thinks that HART is one of the best run transit agencies in the country. See “Transportation – A Muddle”

That is all quite telling about both performance of HART and attitude to transit.

Transportation – Can the PTC Ever Really Change?

Three is more news from the PTC.

The agency that regulates cabs and limos in Hillsborough County made its first attempt Wednesday to compromise with ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber, which have been operating illegally for months as they expand here.

The Public Transportation Commission proposed two changes in hopes of accommodating the companies. But the changes still force Lyft and Uber to charge customers at least $30 and make them order the service at least a half-hour in advance.

It seems that the PTC just can’t give up being protectionist and price-fixing.

The ride-sharing companies were placed Wednesday under a new “non-luxury limousine” category. But since there is a minimum $60 fare for limousines, and a requirement that customers order the service at least an hour in advance, a second recommendation involved cutting those minimums in half.

How generous.  What it really shows is how stupid the limo rules are.

Anyway, what was the logic behind this offer?

The transportation commission is hoping the changes, which it says are the first in an ongoing series, will be viewed as a good-faith effort to find a common ground, PTC executive director Kyle Cockream said.

Hardly.  Anything else?

“We’re trying to make a model for these non-metered vehicles that are on the street where people call in with an app,” said Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who serves on the PTC. “We’re hoping to reach a compromise while at the same time protecting the public.”

Sure. Minimum pricing and making getting timely service impossible is definitely protecting the public, if by the “public” you mean cab company owners.  If you mean anyone else, pretty much not.

Sadly, the PTC just can’t seem to shake what seems to be its original purpose – protecting cartels.  If they want to reform and strike a deal – start with having background checks and maybe car checks, eliminate the minimum fees across the board, and see what happens.

– One Other Thing

It seems that Miami and Miami Beach now feature the electric free shuttles  that we briefly had that many years ago until the PTC killed it to protect taxi interests.  Consumers are surely thankful for the PTC’s protection.

Parks – What Is and What Should Be

In the last few weeks there has been a lot of news about parks around downtown Tampa.

– Waterworks Park

First, Waterworks Park opened.  We actually made multiple visits – to see what was there and to see if people were enjoying it. It is nice.

We could quibble about some of the layout, like how the view of the river from the splash pad is not very good, how some of the materials used looked good new but, given other projects we’ve seen, will probably need a lot of upkeep to keep looking good, and how the historical marker/bust is kind of off the main Riverwalk and does not have a sidewalk (ADA issue there), but we won’t. (Though we encourage the City to address some of the drainage issues of the main lawn that were obvious after a good rain.  It will not be good if the lawn does not drain well.)  It is nice, and kids seem to love the splash pad area, which is no surprise.

It is good that it is finally done.  It probably would have been done long ago if the recession had not killed plans for The Heights which now seem to be back on track, but so be it. (It certainly was in the plan. And see here )

“We created an anchor on that end of the river that will stimulate private development,” Buckhorn said. “The investment that we’ve made in this park will trigger tens of millions of dollars of private investment that will take place, that will add to the tax base, that will create jobs, that will create a destination.

“But it took the ability and vision to see what it could be,” he said, “and not just be content with what it was, which was nothing.”

In that the investment is good and that there was nothing there, the Mayor is right.  Many have worked to get something done there over the years, but it is finally done.

One thing we do wonder about is the “pavilion” (which blocks downtown views) and lawn.  While the splash pad was quite popular, the lawn seemed like a lot of space unused (and had the aforementioned drainage issue).  We understand the desire for a space for events, but, really does every park need a great lawn/show area?

We think that, if the Heights ever actually get developed and all the parking lots that now face the park as a result of the City’s previous policy of settling for poor designs ever get developed, it will really work.  (Right now it is a relatively isolated place.)  Of course, that is the key in any urban park – what will go around and frame the park – and that remains to be seen.  While Ulele looks nice (not sure about the different grass behind the restaurant and in the park, though), the area needs much more, and denser, development to really make the park the urban oasis it can be.  We shall see.

– Riverfront Park

There was also news about the proposed redo of Riverfront Park. Not surprisingly, it seems that was no consideration at all to leaving any of the mounds (we assume the designers were told they could not retain them), even though every the media continues to highlight mounds in all the pictures of the park – because they provide a real vista and unique experience.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

So what is planned for the park, according to reports?

The emerging plan for the makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park includes a two-story “river center” with something upstairs for neighbors and downstairs for rowing crews and dragon boat teams.

The top floor of the river center could include a community room, park planners told residents Tuesday night at Blake High School. Because the park generally slopes down to the river, visitors could park on the high ground near Laurel Street and walk right into the second floor.

A bit farther downhill, the bottom floor of the building could open to the river itself, giving rowers and paddlers easy access to a set of public, floating docks.

Planners say the boathouse would be big enough to store all 100 rowing shells now housed by the nonprofit Stewards Foundation at its current facility at the park, plus dragon boats now stored at Rick’s on the River, rental canoes, kayaks or paddleboards.

* * *

The draft concept plan presented Tuesday night also includes a history walk with gardens and markers highlighting the area, a neighborhood once known as Roberts City.

* * *

As expected, the draft plan calls for flattening the park’s large mounds to make way for a “great lawn” with views that look across the river toward downtown Tampa.

The Boys & Girls Club would stay, and the plan includes tennis and basketball courts, a large athletic field, playground, splash pad, a dog park and a realignment of Laurel Street to the north to make more room for parking.

This is a map of the preliminary plan (so probably the plan):

From link on InVision Tampa website – click on map for website

This is what the park looks like now.

There is good stuff there – the renovated sports facilities are nice.  We are sure the splash pad will be popular, if a bit formulaic.

We do not have a problem with a new boathouse/community building (the existing rowing facilities definitely need to be improved), though, as planned, it seems placed to block views of the River in many ways. And we are not sure the river really needs a little rowing practice area that takes away land from the park and pushes pedestrians away from the main part of the riverfront.  We suspect there will be far more people just walking around the park than using the little lagoon to learn how to row.  It is a cost/benefit issue.

And there is the question of connecting the park to the bridge at Cass Street to make it really part of the downtown park system (we would love a pedestrian bridge over the river but understand there are a number of issues with that – not even considering the cost – so good connections to the existing bridges and making them more pedestrian friendly is crucial to making the river central to the area).

Strangely, from the drawing, the view of the river from the street and neighborhood will be blocked entirely by trees, play area, tennis courts and boat house. If that is the plan, clearly at least the big mound, which sits essentially at the apex of the great lawn/play area, could be fixed, retained and integrated in the playground/splash pad area, making this splash pad different than all the other ones being built around town and providing even better vistas of downtown.  It also seems a lot of space it taken up for parking, which is odd for an urban park, and it is done inefficiently, wasting land.  We assume the parking is for the benefit of rowers, but it takes up a lot of space.

Then there is the “great lawn.” We have no problem with the open space (in fact we have advocated for it).  But aren’t Curtis Hixon Park and Water Works Park already set up for shows already.  What is the exact purpose of the specific way this lawn is laid out?  This leads us to wonder if park plans are a bit formulaic.  Yes, there are nice elements that can be repeated, and the boat house is nice – if possibly not in the optimal place (why not just put it where the boat house is now?), but just repeating the same steps in every park (lawn, splash pad, history walk, etc.) while removing what makes them interesting detracts from each of them.

In any event, it is a decent first attempt, but definitely can be improved.  As with many other parks, it has many things to recommend it, but it is a bit generic and does not even do the goal of opening the river to the neighborhood from Boulevard.

The point is this – we like the investment in parks, and we like much of what is being done.  But, while people should get amenities, the parks should not be like chain restaurants.  The things that make them special do not have to be removed to make them much better.  The old and the new can be integrated to improve but keep continuity – just like adaptive reuse of buildings – though that takes real vision. And it will also take sustained maintenance to make sure that what happened to Riverfront Park in the past – the neglect and decline – does not happen again. (Now, we can’t wait for the plans for Horizon and Rowlett Parks.)

– Post Script

And, speaking about the neighborhood, there is the constant question raised by this:

Community activist Walter Smith II, president of the West Tampa Community Council, said neighborhood residents want a park that serves their needs. They’ve asked the city to build a swimming pool, but so far that request has been rejected.

“We’re not building a pool,” Buckhorn said.

Instead, the Civitas proposal expands on the park’s current status as home to The Stewards Foundation’s rowing program. Plans call for a boat house with a community center on the second floor that could house artifacts from Roberts City, the mixed-race community that grew up around the old Roberts & Son cigar factory more than a century ago.

The new design also does away with the earthen mounds integrated into the park by its original designer, architect Richard Dattner. In their place, there could be a riverfront great lawn, new athletic fields, sand volleyball courts and a small manmade harbor where novice boaters can practice. Laurel Street would be pushed farther north to open the northern end of the park to users.

Smith said residents see some of those amenities as more for outsiders than for the neighborhood.

People worry the park renovation is the first step toward pushing the current residents out.

“There’s no other way to describe what’s happening than as gentrification,” Smith said.

That is always an issue and a hard thing to balance.  It is not clear that the City has really addressed it at all.

USF Medical School – Where to Go

It appears that USF Medical School is looking to expand and, as part of that, examining various locations.

University of South Florida’s health programs are, as the new medical school dean puts it, “bursting at the seams.”

So that leaves USF Health with a big decision: Will it expand on its current campus or move to downtown Tampa?

“We’re looking at all the options,” Dr. Charles Lockwood, USF’s medical school dean, said in a recent meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

USF got $5 million from the Legislature last session to plan for a new medical school. Lockwood emphasized that officials are in early stages of planning but confirmed that downtown is on the list of potential homes.

So what are the considerations?

Expanding on land near its current campus off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard would be the easier, and most likely the less expensive, option. Moving downtown would be “exciting,” he said, and attractive to young medical students seeking an urban environment.

Another key selling point for downtown: It would put the school within walking distance of Tampa General Hospital, its primary teaching hospital — something that could raise USF’s profile as an academic medical center.

* * *

If USF Health were to move all its programs — medical school education, plus nursing, public health and pharmacy — it would require a roughly 460,000-square-foot building. And that wouldn’t come cheap.

“Obviously, the constraints are financial,” Lockwood said. Besides seeking state construction money, the university would need to do heavy private fundraising for a new building.

In 2011, Frank and Carol Morsani donated $20 million toward the future construction of a new college of medicine. At that time, USF officials spoke of using that money to help build a $60 million, five- or six-story building that would include classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums and a full-time health clinic run by students.

Setting aside that any real location downtown is not really in walking distance to Tampa General, ok.  So is any location favored?

Lockwood said he’s neutral on location until the numbers come in, but Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn’t. He relishes the idea of having it in downtown Tampa.

“It would be the most singularly important relocation in downtown Tampa,” said Buckhorn, who’s been pushing that point to USF. “That changes the game, if that were to happen.

“It’s a huge economic driver, as all urban universities are, for jobs, for young professionals associated with the medical school, who’d want to live in the urban core.”

We all knew the Mayor would want a downtown location.  And, in fact, the idea of the Medical School downtown is intriguing, but there is a problem.  The Medical school is not new.  Yes, Tampa General is closer to a downtown location but for decades a whole ecosystem has grown up around the Medical School where it is – like Moffit and the Byrd Alzheimer Center (not to mention the VA which is physically connected to the Medical School).  Where are they going to go? Does it serve the area or the University to move the Medical School away from those facilities?  Does it help build a medical cluster? And there is another point – land.  Where ever the Medical School goes, it needs to have surplus land to expand – contiguous to the facility.  That is much more available on Campus than downtown.

So while it would be nice to have a facility downtown, just thinking about it, it would seem that leaving it on campus and building a medical cluster in that area seems more logical and beneficial (especially if you connect USF with rail).  And maybe the City and County should work together and focus more on revitalizing that area.

We are not opposed to having the Medical School downtown (like the rest of USF, it probably should have been built closer to downtown decades ago – but it wasn’t), but now it does not seem to be the more sensible plan.  That may change. We shall see.

Economic Development – Good

A local tech company is expanding:

Tribridge, a global technology services firm based in Tampa, plans to hire up to 200 more tech professionals over the next few years with the help of $1 million from the state and local governments.

Some of the jobs are already available, said Tribridge Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony DiBenedetto. Salaries for jobs at Tribridge average around $80,000, he said. “These are very high-paying jobs, well above the high-average salary.”

Recruiting and keeping young, tech-savvy professionals, not building more subdivisions, will move this area in the right direction, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, speaking during a press conference Wednesday.

That is all good.  What are the details?

To facilitate the expansion, the state is providing Tribridge with $800,000 in incentives, with another $200,000 coming from Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa.

The incentives are to be paid only after the creation of jobs with the promised salaries.

Tribridge committed to paying, on average, at least $48,813 a year, which is 115 percent of Florida’s average annual wage, but the company says the 200 new jobs are expected to pay well above that.

Forty of the new hires are expected this year, with 70 in 2015 and 90 in 2016, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The hiring is expected to drive a $1.8 million investment in IT hardware and facilities.

Hopefully, those expansion plans will pan out. That is a step forward.  It is only a step, but you have to start somewhere.

Economic Development – Too Bad

This week it was reported that a corporate HQ move to St. Pete is now off.

A “manufacturing business enterprise company” was considering moving its national headquarters to St. Petersburg, but the relocation depended on that company acquiring another firm, and the merger fell through at the last minute, said county economic development director Mike Meidel, who got word of the development Friday.

“They pulled themselves out based on the fact they didn’t have the merger they wanted to make the deal happen,” Meidel said. “Of course it’s disappointing when you’re trying to get additional jobs, but there’s a lot of deals in the pipeline, so it’s not devastating. We’ve got plenty to work on.”

The city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County were asked to each give $80,000 as a local match for tax refunds to the company. The state had committed $640,000. The County Commission was set to approve its share Tuesday, but the item was pulled from the agenda.

The company, whose identity will remain confidential for two years, planned a $1.8 million capital investment. Its roughly 80 new employees would have had annual salaries of about $85,000. The tax refunds would have been paid only after the company met performance measures in the agreement.

The company was also considering New York and Texas for its new home but had a keen interest in St. Petersburg, Meidel said. There is some hope that the company will come calling again if it finds another partner, he said. 

That is too bad.  Hopefully, it will work out eventually.

Rays – Carillon Going, Going . . .

There was an article in the Times regarding the proposal for a Rays stadium in Carillon.

Amid much fanfare two years ago, developer Darryl LeClair unveiled bold plans for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium at Carillon Business Park in the Gateway area.

It offered a St. Petersburg solution to the team’s pleas for a new stadium, and it was about 15 minutes closer to Tampa than Tropicana Field.

But no one from the Rays ever approached LeClair, who is close to giving up on his dream of building a mixed-use stadium, office and residential project on 16 acres he owns south of Ulmerton Road.

We don’t know how bold it was, but it was a St. Pete solution.

“We’d like to keep the window open, but we can’t afford to keep it open much longer,” LeClair told the Times. “We tried to help facilitate the baseball discussion and it played out the way it played out. We can’t sit around and wait for baseball to make a decision. We’re moving forward.”

And that is fine.  It is a business decision.

The real problem is that the then Mayor of St. Pete ignored the fact that the Rays wanted to look in the whole Bay area and forced this idea, so it never really was going anywhere.  This is just another example of how St. Pete’s approach to the Rays issue has been completely unconstructive.  We hope that changes with the new Mayor, but we haven’t seen anything yet.

Put It in the Arts District

We recently wrote about the City’s plan to put an artwork in the median of Bayshore Boulevard and suggested that it would be better placed on the Riverwalk – preferably in the “Arts District.”  Well, it turns out that some residents of the Bayshore area don’t want the art on Bayshore.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn had planned to place the statue on Bayshore Boulevard south of Bay to Bay Boulevard near The Academy of the Holy Names.

Nearby residents object.

“The size, illumination and placement of this artwork will be a distraction from the serenity and beauty of this area,” Bayshore Terrace resident Bree Fulcher wrote to City Councilman Harry Cohen on Tuesday. “The display would severely impact views from the building, especially for units like mine that face the bay.”

Fulcher is part of a letter-writing campaign urging City Hall to find another place for the statue.

Cohen, whose district includes Bayshore, said Wednesday he’s working on it – but the statue will likely stay on Bayshore.

“Bayshore is a long road,” Cohen said. “I’m sure we can find a place to put it that won’t interfere with anyone’s view corridor.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city sought for two years to find a new home for the statue. The Bayshore location, he said, raises the artwork’s visibility.

“Bayshore’s our most scenic boulevard,” Buckhorn said. “I think the exposure the Agam will get will be worth it.”

Yes, exposure to car exhaust.

Bayshore is scenic, which does not mean that it is a good location art, especially this art.  As we said before, this piece belongs downtown.

Frankly, we find the City’s approach to art quixotic.  It pushes for the Riverwalk and the Arts District.  It wants to scrub the seawall of a decades old tradition and put colored lights. It spends a bunch of money streetscaping Zach to make it the “Promenade of the Arts” even though there is basically nothing having to do with the arts actually on the road. Then, it wants to take (very colorful) art that is already in the Arts District – though in a bad location – and near the Riverwalk, and, instead of making it a useful part of the Arts District, it wants to put it where fewer people can really take the time to appreciate (just like putting the WTC steel in the Bayshore median instead of in a park dedicated to the military, like MacDill Park, or emergency workers).  Fortunately, there is still time to do the logical thing.

The good news: Bayshore is a long and winding road with enough median for everyone, says City Council member Harry Cohen. “The key with these things is finding the right spot,” he says. “In a city that is hundreds of square miles, we can find the right spot.”

And the right spot is on the Riverwalk downtown.

Meanwhile, Outside Florida

Citylab.com had two interesting articles about transit projects in Normal Suspect cities – Denver  and Austin.

The first article reports on how Denver went all in for transit and is transforming itself.  You should read the article for yourself, but here is a little nugget on how it got funding for its program:

Ten years ago, Denver’s new mayor (and current Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper began to ramp up a campaign to convince voters to approve an ambitious expansion of the region’s embryonic light rail network. A similar plan — fuzzy on such key details as routes and cost — had been defeated in a 1997 referendum. In 2004, the region’s voters approved $4.7 billion of new debt for the FasTracks program. The plan, to add 121 miles of new commuter and light-rail tracks to the region, 18 miles of bus rapid transit lanes, 57 new rapid transit stations, and 21,000 park-and-ride spots, was approved 58-to-42, precisely reversing the results of the ’97 referendum. (The pricetag has since risen to $7.8 billion.)

Sound familiar? Local officials should take note.

They should also take note, as should those who want improved transit, of the article on Austin that discusses the problems of how to plan proper lines and the risks of splitting transit advocates and hurting the overall effort.  It makes interesting reading.

List of the Week

Sorry, there is no list this week.

Roundup 8-15-2014

August 15, 2014

Due to unforeseen circumstances, there will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 8-8-2014

August 8, 2014

Riverwalk & Crew Art – the Right Decision, for Now

The City Council took up the Mayor’s request on crew art on Thursday.

A divided City Council on Thursday delayed a vote on erasing a stretch of graffiti, much of it representing visits by college rowing teams, painted on a Hillsborough River seawall.

Good, though how divided were they?

The council decided 6-to-1, with chairman Charlie Miranda voting no, to delay the discussion until 5 p.m. Aug. 21 so people have more of a chance to voice their opinions. The vote came after city officials emphasized that graffiti would be removed from only 650 of Tampa’s 10,600 feet of riverfront seawall.

So technically divided, but not really.  Anyway, the result is good.  There should be a discussion of these issues – too often they are just sprung on the City Council and no one really has a chance to think or discuss them.

As we noted in our special post earlier this week, a major problem is that it is hard to trust the administration when it gives assurances that the crew art will be allowed in other areas.  The administration’s case rested on basically this:

“The vast majority of the seawalls are not being touched,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic opportunity administrator. He also noted that while crew teams have painted their school colors, nicknames and slogans for years, photos from 2009 show that the section of the wall in question was mostly unpainted then. Most of what’s there now has been added since, and includes graffiti from fraternities and some offensive language.

So clean the foul language. . .

And the Mayor’s contention that somehow it the crew art detracted from the enjoyment of the river, which, one City Council person pointed out, is odd:

But Capin noted that Buckhorn hasn’t always seemed to have a problem with graffiti on the wall in question. She read part of a 2012 Tampa Tribune article that described Buckhorn pointing at a rowing team’s logo for Penn State — his alma mater — on the seawall near Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“The only problem?” Buckhorn said, according to the newspaper. “The Penn State logo isn’t big enough.”

This week, Buckhorn has said the idea is to make the Riverwalk active and engaging, as well as to “highlight Tampa’s best natural asset, the Hillsborough River.”

By using both natural and man-made backdrops, the new lighted art project will be “a signature for Tampa,” he said.

More from the referenced article:

It’s not often that city officials have anything good to say about graffiti, but standing along the west bank of the Hillsborough River on Saturday morning, Mayor Bob Buckhorn didn’t slam the guerilla art.

He praised it… At least the college logos painted on the seawalls along this stretch of the river by rowing crews that come here every winter to train.

“The only problem?” the mayor said, pointing to a particular graffito, across the Hillsborough, painted on the wall along the Riverwalk by Curtis Hixon Park. “The Penn State logo isn’t big enough.”

No worries.

Buckhorn said rowing wasn’t huge at his alma mater. But it has been in Tampa for more than a century, which is what brought the mayor, his entourage and scores of rowers, their families and friends, and curious onlookers to Plant Park at the University of Tampa.

* * *

“There has been a great tradition of rowing in Tampa,” he said as he attended to last-minute details such as signing time slips for three Tampa police officers on hand to keep the mellow crowd in line. “The University of Tampa used to have the President’s Cup and we wanted to bring a rowing event like this back downtown.”

* * *

“This is a great way to showcase the city, the waterfront and the great sport of rowing,” Buckhorn said, placing particular emphasis on the benefits to youth.

“Not only is rowing good exercise,” he said, “but if you get really good at it, it can be a good way to earn a scholarship.”

Apparently, the crew art did not detract from the enjoyment or focus on the river in 2012. So what is the reason for the change?  Because.

This all goes exactly to our point that, while the city says it wants to clear only a small amount of the crew art today, it has already removed a decent amount, wants to remove more, and there is no reason to think the administration will not have another excuse to remove even more later.  The area where crew art is acceptable should be rather large and should be specifically and clearly designated.

We have a good first step from the City Council.  Now, it should finish the job and make sure the crew art is protected, even as the Riverwalk and lights go in.  (And it should stow that rubber stamp more often)

Transportation – A Muddle

Part of the proposal for a proposal for a proposal for transportation in Hillsborough County is the restructuring of the HART board and expansion of HART responsibilities.  So what does the present HART board think of that?

At a meeting Monday, the directors of HART were unable to agree on how or even whether to change the board’s composition.

Instead, they voted to allow their chairman, CEO and attorney to meet with the county attorney, administrator and staff to create a consensus document about the board’s governance.

“We have to start showing a great deal of leadership,” said County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who serves on the HART board and made the motion. “And the message has got to be that we understand the big picture — the traffic problems, the transit problems in this community — and we’re willing to step back and work on a consensus document.”

The recommendation would eventually be brought back for discussion and possible approval. 

That is reasonable, though it is not clear why this issue has not been ironed out already.  So what is the TED plan for HART?

The HART board is made up of 13 members — seven appointed by the Hillsborough County Commission, three by Tampa, two by the governor and one by Temple Terrace. The county’s other city — Plant City — has no appointees to the board.

Under an idea proposed by a large group of local elected officials calling itself the Policy Leadership Group, the HART board would still include the two gubernatorial appointees. But every other member would be an elected official — all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities, for a total of 12. As it stands, fewer than half the HART board members currently are elected.

Under this iteration, the mayor of Tampa would be that city’s sole representative on the board, but would still be able to cast three votes. This means HART’s charter would have to be altered to allow for proportional voting. County Administrator Mike Merrill said interlocal agreements between the county and cities could accomplish the change.

Even if the HART board were to reject a reorganization, Merrill said rules already allow the county and cities to appoint all elected officials — rather than laypeople — if they choose.

“Each jurisdiction can appoint to the HART board whoever they chose,” Merrill said. “It’s not like it’s anything really new that’s needed. If the County Commission wanted to appoint all seven of themselves to the HART board right now, they could do that.”

Setting aside the oddness of the Mayor of Tampa having three votes, that is correct.  There is no reason that unelected people have to be appointed to the HART board.  In fact, the County Commission put another Commissioner on the board last week.  which brought this response from one of the Tea Party members of the HART board:

Karen Jaroch, whose term on the HART board ends Oct. 31, said she opposes converting its membership to mostly elected officials or enlarging the agency’s scope of responsibility. She said the board needs members with diverse skills and backgrounds such as Crino, a financier, and Steven Polzin, director of mobility research at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Jaroch, who chairs HART’s finance committee, said busy county commissioners and city council members won’t have the time to delve into complicated and data-heavy transit issues, especially if the agency’s work load expands significantly.

“I think this model has worked: HART is one of the best transit agencies in the country,” said Jaroch, who is an a [sic] engineer. “Expanding the scope, and putting all elected (members) on there that don’t have the time to commit to that, I think is a mistake.”

First, it should be noted that this board member is an engineer with ties to the road industry who was ironically appointed by the same County Commission that ostensibly now wants to change the HART board. (See “HART, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism, Part II”) Second, HART is hardly one of the best transit agencies in the country.  If it was so good, there would not be a need to fix transportation in Hillsborough County, which most people (though probably not a lot of Tea Party members) think is the case.

More directly, appointed board members may have some more time, though that is not clear.  On the other hand, they are not accountable to anyone, which is a major problem, especially when those appointees represent small interest groups.  More to the point:

“We’re talking about changing the (HART) board because we’re talking about creating an agency that has significantly more money to spend with greater responsibility,” said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who sits on the HART board. “So you want people serving on that board who are directly accountable to our citizens.”

Exactly. On the other hand, just because someone is elected does not mean they will not contribute to the muddle:

Also opposing the policy group’s plans is County Commissioner Victor Crist, the one no-vote on Miller’s nomination to the HART board. Crist said he didn’t know Commissioner Sandy Murman planned to put Miller’s name in the mix, so he countered by proposing Sharon Calvert, founder of the Tampa Tea Party, for the open board position. Calvert was one of the leaders of the opposition the last time a sales tax hike was proposed for transportation projects in 2010.

“I had to pull a rabbit out of my hat,” Crist said of his nominating Calvert. “She’s one person who has an interest and understands’’ transportation.

Crist, who has served on the transportation policy board with the other commissioners for the last 14 months, said he opposes the projects put forward by Merrill on Tuesday and is against holding a tax referendum in 2016. Crist noted that the price tag on the list of projects Merrill presented far exceeds the $3 billion the sales tax increase would generate over 30 years. Merrill said the list will be downsized by the policy board after it hears from the public in a series of meetings later this year.

“I look at these numbers and I’m not comfortable with them,” Crist said. “It’s too lofty, too broad, and based on too many uncertainties for the voters to support it.”

Crist, a Republican, denied that his sudden, vocal opposition to the transportation plan has anything to do with the election challenge he faces in November from Democrat Elizabeth Belcher.

If he says so, but his suggestion of one of the most anti-rail, Tea Party members (someone who he defeated in a primary) for the HART board is odd especially for someone who said this last year:

But Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has a different suggestion, one he said Wednesday would ensure the taxpayers — and not just the Rays — get a return on their investment: the former dog track in Sulphur Springs.

“I’m just saying this is an alternative that makes sense,” Crist said. “I think we should put it on the table and look at it.”

The former Tampa Greyhound Track, still home to poker at Lucky’s Card Room, is just a few miles north of downtown and served by three Interstate 275 exit ramps. It could provide a mass of riders for a north-south commuter rail line linking downtown to Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida.

Then again, he would not be the first County Commissioner to channel a former Presidential Candidate and support rail before he opposed it.  We just wonder where he was for the last 14 months (maybe writing tickets to Lyft and Uber drivers).  Anyway, what is his plan? What should be trimmed from the list?  We would love to know.

Once again, despite a lot of good work by the County staff to lay a foundation for decision making, this all goes back to what we said last week: the plan should have been fully worked out before there was a roll out because nothing has been resolved yet.  The failure is on the elected officials who, through lack of political will, are now going to make us endure another extended period of the same old arguments.

Maybe we will be surprised eventually, but right now this looks like a bit of a mess.  There is much work to be done.

Transportation – PTC and Possibly Some Progress

There was news about ride sharing.  It seems that the PTC discussions with Lyft are moving in a positive direction.

The situation remains especially fluid, but here’s where Cockream says things stand so far with Lyft:

♦ Lyft agreed to put its drivers through so-called Level 2 criminal background checks, and Cockream agreed to buy a $12,000 fingerprint scanner to keep in the commission office to make the process easier.

♦ Cockream said Lyft’s cars should go through official inspections, and they can be done at any accredited mechanic.

♦ Lyft agreed that drivers should go through supervised training, and Cockream said commission officials can help and observe that process.

♦ Cockream remains steadfast that drivers and car companies carry commercial insurance, so he’s asked state insurance regulators to review some proposed policies and issue a ruling. “Even if someone like MetLife came to Florida with a new policy, they’d have to go through the state anyway,” Cockream said.

♦ Lyft has asked for some flexibility with what kinds of cars drivers can use, and Cockream said they’re willing to be flexible on that issue.

Still, a few important sticking points remain:

♦ “Surge pricing.” Typically, Lyft and Uber can raise rates at peak times, partly to lure more off-work drivers to jump into the market. “We haven’t come to a common ground on that,” Cockream said. “They say the price a consumer pays should be what the market will bear, and I understand that. But what happens when there’s a hurricane? We have to have assurances that they’re not going to price gouge.”

♦ “Cherry picking.” Commission rules require taxi drivers to pick up any fare in any neighborhood, but Lyft and Uber systems allow drivers to designate specific neighborhoods and days when they want to work. Drivers can also filter their phone screens to show only passengers with a record of paying well. Likely, Cockream said, ride-share companies will fall more into the limo category than taxi category, because limo companies can accept or decline any customer depending on their business model.

We are not going to comment on this list except on the limo thing.  Because the PTC forces limos to charge ridiculous prices as part of its protectionist policy, it is totally unacceptable to categorize ride sharing as limos (It is unacceptable to have the protectionist minimum pricing for the limos, too). It just goes back to the entire problem with the PTC – its policies are protectionist and cartel promoting.  And if the PTC cares so much about consumers and price gouging, why does it have minimum prices for limos?

In any event, apparently, the discussions with Uber are not as advanced:

Cockream said there’s a “tremendous difference” in dealing with Lyft versus Uber. Sometimes he’s on the phone with Lyft officials daily. By contrast, Uber representatives have been far less responsive, he said.

We do not know whether that is because Uber is being stubborn or just sees no point discussing issues with the PTC as long as the PTC exists in its flawed form.

Another problem we have with how the PTC is handling this is:

But while the PTC is talking to the companies, it has referred an unspecified number of ride-sharing drivers to the county State Attorney’s Office for possible misdemeanor charges.

Hardly good faith, especially for an agency that has real problems with legitimacy.

If there is progress to an agreement, fine.  We have no problem with that, but we shall see if anything can get concluded.  We still have a problem with the PTC, which is an unnecessary agency that has been imposed on Hillsborough County for no apparent reason except to add to bureaucracy and protect special interests.

The County could just as easily negotiate a deal and, unlike the PTC, not interfered with the market.  So what is the point of having the PTC?

Greenlight – Clearing the Deck

In sharp contrast to the ongoing muddle in Hillsborough, in Pinellas, the PSTA keeps wisely removing distractions from the Greenlight issue – allowing people to focus on the real issues.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority repaid $354,000 to the federal government this week after facing questions over how it used grant money on an ad campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security informed PSTA staff in a conference call that the agency might have to return the money because the radio and television ads didn’t promote security awareness, PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller said in an email to his board of directors Friday.

“After I heard this, I immediately decided not to wait any further while DHS would likely delay a final decision, and we sent the grant funds back in a check on Wednesday,” Miller wrote.

If there was any question, the money should be repaid.  That was done.  We await the next distraction.

Economic Development – Confirming the Worst

This week, there was another report of VC funding that just reinforced Florida’s lack of performance.

An analysis by InternetCoast said there were 50 venture capital transactions valued at $422 million in Florida in the 12-month period ended June 30. That’s up from 45 transactions worth $256 million during the period ending in mid 2013.

Despite the growth, Florida’s share of U.S. venture capital funding was a mere 1.1 percent, up from 1 percent a year earlier.

It does not tell us anything we did not already know, but it does confirm the problem.

Riverfront Park – Yea, the Mounds Are Cool

There was an interesting item in the Times about Riverfront Park, going through the history and providing some observations from someone who actually used it.  You can read the whole thing here. We are not going to go over all of it, but just highlight some things:

The park is unkempt, no doubt. My wife calls it Condom Park because she found a used prophylactic near the slides the first time she visited. Our oldest daughter got stung by a hornet while playing there a few years ago. An entry on urbandictionary.com refers to a used-to-be sunken promenade there as the Hobo Death Arena, based on the claims of one rowing team in 2005 that said it witnessed several to-the-death bum fights.

True.  And the neglect is on the City over many administrations.

Nonetheless, we trekked to the top of the tallest mound, positioned the Spooner Board on the hot-as-hell slide and had a blast taking turns riding gravity toward the sand pit.

I sensed it then. Despite the neglect, there’s something special about Riverfront Park. Among the ubiquitous, boring, plastic playgrounds around the city, Riverfront stands out. You can tell, still, that someone had an interesting idea about park design. But it took Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s insults to get me really interested.

In the past few months, Buckhorn has taken every opportunity to deride the park. He calls those hills “alien space mounds” and talks about how they block the view of the river. He wants them gone, bulldozed to make way for a redeveloped public space. Maybe including a beach. Maybe including a boathouse. Maybe including some other boring idea.

Indeed. (Though a boathouse would be ok, just don’t think of having any paint)  Then the column discusses the park’s designer and the original design – and how Tampa messed it up:

Dattner’s original park was brilliant. It included an earthen amphitheater, a promenade with office space and classrooms inside an earthen mound, several other mounds connected to one another by wooden play gear and ropes courses, tree forts, tennis courts, handball courts, a shuffleboard court and a public swimming pool. The year it opened, thousands of people attended full-day events at the new civic jewel.

Now, few of the original features remain. The shuffleboard court is gone. The swimming pool is gone. One of the mounds was bulldozed. The geodesic domes are gone. The wooden forts built around bare climbing trees have been replaced by the boring plastic play equipment you see everywhere.

So he took his daughter and a friend to the park:

I showed them pictures of the park in its heyday, and they perked up. We’d play on that, they said. Both seemed to recognize something the mayor is missing. These hills are something. There’s significance here. There’s history.

“If they try to bulldoze them,” my daughter said, “we could just sit on top.”

Setting aside the logistical problem if sitting on top of a nonexistent mound, well said.  Kids love the mounds (and the idea of a vertical element) and can see the potential even with the City’s neglect.

It is just too bad that the Mayor seems determined to erase the little things that make Tampa different – the Bro Bowl, the crew art, the mounds – instead of embracing them while fixing the things that hold us back – like bad planning, bad design standards, poor transportation, and settling in all ways.

Yes, the park can be fixed up (the City should never have neglected it and it is good that the Mayor now wants to put some money into it), but leave what already makes it special.

Transportation and the Rays – An Illustration

As some of you may know, the Rays traded their ace pitcher last week.  That led to an interesting Times article about economics:

A day before Price was traded to the Tigers, Rays manager Joe Maddon set the stage with familiar team refrain: The Trop causes poor attendance, poor attendance lowers payroll, lower payrolls force the team to part ways with favorite players.

“You lose (James) Shields. You lose (Carl) Crawford. You lose B.J. (Upton). A lot of good guys. That’s what happens around here.” Maddon said. “Until we build a new ballpark, it’s going to continue to happen.”

So where are we with the Rays stadium issues?

The Rays want to explore potential stadium sites in Hillsborough as well as Pinellas counties, but St. Petersburg officials have blocked any cross-bay search, citing a Trop contract that extends to 2027.

Meanwhile, attendance that averaged 23,147 a game after the team’s 2008 World Series run dropped to 18,645 last year and is on pace this year for 17,389, the worst in baseball.

The Rays and city officials have met several times since Mayor Rick Kriseman took office this year, and both sides say they are working amicably toward a solution. They are scheduled to meet again this month.

So, as far as we can tell, we nothing has really changed except St. Pete has even less leverage than before and attendance is worse.

Last week, we wrote that Hillsborough County should focus on building its transportation system properly because, if done on the cheap, money saved now will likely be lost later.  We used the Trop as an example.

Think of all the good players the Rays could not keep as good jobs, companies, and talented workers and you can understand what the price of a half-assed transportation plan will be. (No pun intended)

Built Environment – What?

We saw an interesting article from the Tampa Bay Business Journal this week that tells one a lot about the mentality of this area – especially in Hillsborough County.

Premier is a 145,000-square-foot park — three one-story buildings and one four-story building on 12 acres — in the southeast quadrant of Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue with frontage on both roads. Kossoff’s group is planning to invest $1 million in the park, to demolish the four-story building and renovate the interiors of the remaining three. That will make way for more parking, which Meridian and Blue Vista are hoping will give them a competitive edge. The office trend nationwide is significantly reducing square footage per employee, putting as many people in as little space as possible. That dynamic creates need for more parking than most properties have.

What the article does not say is that the remaining buildings are all sprawling one story buildings. (You can see an aerial photo here) In other words, the four story building has to go to provide more parking for the one story buildings.  And note that this complex is right near Busch/Gunn Hwy and Dale Mabry – hardly an empty field.

Yes, we do not own the property and the owners can demolish a perfectly good four story building if they want.  Our point is that it shows the sprawl-centric mentality.  One story buildings take up more surface area, eliminating more parking spaces, than a four story building with the same square footage.  Yet, in a very high traffic area is becoming less dense is considered a better use of the land?

We wonder if the County Commission considers that economic development.

 A Little History

A reader made us aware of this website on the history of railroads in the Tampa Bay area which is made through the cooperation of the Friends of Tampa Union Station and the Times.  There is some stuff of interest, especially, in our opinion, this pdf, which appears to be a school curriculum.  (It apparently also had some help from Hillsborough County through a historic challenge grant. We find it strange that this area keeps destroying its history then honoring it, much like the old Hillsborough County Courthouse, which was demolished in the name of progress and now is the county seal.)  Anyway, for those interested in such things, it is worth a look.

List of the Week

This week’s list is realtytrac’s list of Most Affordable Housing Markets for Millennials.  There are actually two lists – most affordable to buy and most affordable to rent.  The lists are by county.  We put the metro area in parentheses. The methodology is here.

First, to buy.  Topping the list is Richmond Co. (Augusta, Ga) followed by Cumberland Co (Fayetteville, NC), DeKalb Co (Atlanta), Duval Co (Jax), Philadelphia Co (Philadelphia), Baltimore City (Baltimore), Faulkner Co (Little Rock), Franklin Co (Columbus, OH), Douglas Co (Omaha), Milwaukee Co (Milwaukee), Lancaster Co (Lincoln, NE), Rutherford Co (Nashville), Montgomery CO (Clarksville, TN), Pitt Co (Greenville, NC), and Prince George’s Co, MD (DC).

The top to rent is Bossier Parrish (Shreveport), followed by Arlington Co, VA (DC), Lancaster Co (Lincoln), Cass Co (Fargo), Mecklenburg Co (Charlotte), East Baton Rouge Parrish (Baton Rouge), New Hannover Co (Wilmington, NC), Faulkner Co (Little Rock), Dane Co (Madison, WI), Franklin Co (Columbus, OH), Douglas Co (Omaha), Montgomery Co (Clarksville, TN), Durham Co (Durham), Hennepin Co (Minneapolis-St. Paul), and Rutherford Co (Nashville).

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