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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).

Riverwalk & Crew Art – The Writing Is On the Wall

August 6, 2014

Because this item involves a City Council decision that will happen before our usual Roundup is posted, we decided to have a special post before the City Council meets.

This week, there was news that the Mayor of Tampa wants to remove some of the crew team painting along the Hillsborough River in downtown:

The graffiti painted along downtown’s Hillsborough River seawalls has become as much a feature of Tampa as the skyline above.

But some of those shout-outs left by visiting college rowing teams and fraternities will become a visual nuisance when the newest segment of the Tampa Riverwalk — the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza — opens in January.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has decided the growing collection on the garage below Kiley Gardens and Rivergate Tower has to go.

The seawall and the river below it will become a canvas for a different type of art: a new Lights on Tampa installation scheduled to be revealed in February.

Buckhorn has asked Tampa City Council to approve a agreement with Friends of the Riverwalk to hire a contractor to remove the graffiti. The council will consider that request when it meets Thursday.

First, none of the “shout-outs” will become a “visual nuisance” just because an elected official says so.  The “shout outs” (also known as “crew art”) have been there for decades and have not prevented anyone from enjoying the river (that honor belongs solely to the City of Tampa and its decades of poor planning and settling.)  The crew art has long been one of the charms of the riverfront.

Moreover, colored lights and the crew art are not mutually exclusive.  Why is lighting up a big blank wall preferable to having something interesting and changing to look at while you walk (Of course, it is possible that this particular part of the wall will be cut off from the river, so theoretically it is ok to clean, but the devil is in the details – see below).

So what is the extent of the removal?

The city has no plans to scrub the graffiti from other seawalls.

“That’s just one span,” said Donna Chen, director of marketing and communications for the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership. “You still have plenty of other graffiti art that’s still in place and still intact.”

That sounds acceptable until you consider this:

Crews painted over the graffiti on the Kennedy Boulevard, Brorein and Platt street bridges to provide a blank backdrop for “Agua Luces.”

Which was ok because there was still the seawall on which to paint crew art. (And note: we like the lighting on the bridges). But now that is being taken away – at least in part. Who knows how much more will be taken in the future?  And consider this:

“We want the Tampa Riverwalk to be active and engaging and highlight Tampa’s best natural asset, the Hillsborough River,” Buckhorn said in a statement.

* * *

As he did in 2012, Buckhorn promised on Monday to penalize anyone caught defacing the bridges or seawall after it has been cleared for the art project. Defacing public property is a misdemeanor.

That is quite causally dismissive of the crew art. The implication in that the crew art somehow detracts from the enjoyment of the river and focus on the river, which is actually the opposite of the case. No one avoided Curtis Hixon Park because of the crew art.  The Jose Gaspar did not stop landing on the riverfront because of the crew art.  People do stand at the riverfront and read the paintings though.

And then there is this:

Telling rowers to stow the paint brushes is nothing new, either. The nonprofit Stewards Foundation, which coordinates visits by more than 20 college teams a year, is warning the teams that the city will take legal action against anyone caught.

For the past two years, the Stewards Foundation has included a fine in its agreements with visiting teams: Get caught painting graffiti, and your organization will pay $2,500 or the costs of removal, whichever is greater.

Which, despite what the Downtown Partnership says, sure sounds like the City is cracking down on the crew art everywhere.  If not, where is it ok to paint?  Make it clear, and then don’t take that area away. (And there is always the possibility that the City will allow some art to be left but not allow new art. Then the old art will age and start to look bad, and the City will push to remove it all. Part of the cool thing of the tradition is that the art changes over time and gets renewed.)

The painting is a tradition – yes, to those who have not been around here long, a tradition – along the river in Tampa (and, as far as we know, nowhere else.)  In fact, apparently the Riverwalk even says so:

Known as “crew art,” the tradition among visiting rowers is appreciated by many Tampa residents. Some locals have embrace the artwork as part of the city’s heritage after crews began leaving “tags” alongside the waterway in the 1960s, according to a sign on Tampa Riverwalk.

(Funny that the Riverwalk celebrates something that is so detrimental to the Riverwalk. At least it did in 2013.) Even better, the crew art changes over time so there is something new to look at.  It is part of the appeal of Tampa’s riverfront.  And it was here when the first wooden planks of the proto-Riverwalk were installed decades ago. As explained the above quoted article from US Rowing way back in 2013, entitled “Tampa Offers a Lesson in Tradition”:

Over the years, the seawalls and several bridges in Tampa have been covered with the artwork of visiting teams. And to date, the smattering of the colorful paint blocks featuring various team mottos and mascots hold special significance.

* * *
 
Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which represents the local business community, reflected upon the markings.

“The artwork is a part of our heritage,” said Burdick. “Art is in the eye of the beholder and the artwork is part of the people who have visited and enjoyed Tampa.”

Somehow, crew art was great back in 2013 but now detracts from the enjoyment of the river?  Apparently, not for the rowers:

In addition to convenience, Carcich elaborated on the draw of Tampa.

“There is a lot of history in those markings and the tradition of tagging is a symbol of Tampa’s acceptance of rowing. I used to go down there when I was an undergraduate at UMass,“ said Carcich. “It’s a good opportunity to get my team down to a city that embraces rowing.”

Well, the City doesn’t seem to be embracing rowing quite as much as it used to.

There are two main points to be made.  First, as we have said, eliminating crew art on a small part of the riverfront is theoretically ok, but what we have is a creeping elimination of the crew art in more than one place.  There may be some open space left for it, but how much and for how long? It is not clearly delineated.  Given the trend and the City’s behavior in other areas, it is most likely that crew art in other parts of the riverfront will suddenly become somehow detrimental to the health of the City, and so on and so forth.  If the City really embraces this tradition, which predates most of the residents (and many of the people in the City government), it should say so.  It is this kind of quirky, harmless tradition that separates one place from the next.

The second point is this – lights on the river are nice.  The Riverwalk is nice.  But that does not mean that the traditions – especially harmless (in fact beneficial) traditions like this one – that make Tampa different are somehow problematic.  Lots of cities have Riverwalks.  Lots of Cities have lights on bridges and other parts of their waterfront.  Other cities color their rivers green for St. Patrick’s Day.  As far as we know, no other city has the tradition of winter training for college crew teams and the painting on the seawall connected to it (and which connects them to us and us to them). We don’t need to copy everyone else all the time.  We don’t need a McRiverwalk.  We need Tampa’s Riverwalk.

And one more thing – how does it attract young, educated people (like the Ivy Leaguers who paint the seawall) to have a City that is stuffy and boring and makes sure those young people no longer can have a physical connection to the City they can see every day as they walk along the river?

The City Council should not vote on the Mayor’s proposal.  It should make sure that the tradition of crew art is protected.

– And One More Thing

Even more interestingly, the Times columnist who is unusually reticent to say anything in opposed to the administration has a column today addressing this issue. (You can read it here.)   Sure, the columnist comes at the issue from a slightly different direction – but not that different since she also points out it is a cool Tampa tradition.

In an officially cool town in Texas, bumper stickers say: Keep Austin Weird. You get this if you have ever lamented changes that made parts of Key West or Coconut Grove look like pretty much everywhere else.

Another Tampa tradition is that we rarely do things the easy way. (Think of the park to properly honor the city’s black history, at odds with a beloved 1970s skateboard bowl in its midst.) Thursday, the City Council considers what was supposed to be a mundane yes-or-no on giving access to that part of the Riverwalk to get rid of “staining and defacement.” (Ouch.) But council member Yvonne Yolie Capin says given that such graffiti is a point of interest in cities like Boston, and the buzz from constituents already, a discussion is warranted.

So we can find more ways to keep Tampa — if not weird — at least, Tampa.

We don’t always agree with the columnist but on this (especially about the Bro Bowl, where the administration acted the same way as here), we can’t argue with her conclusion.  Discussion, not rubber stamping, is definitely warranted.

Roundup 8-1-2014

August 1, 2014

Transportation – TED Speaks, Sort Of

– The Ideas

This week there was the roll out of the Transportation for Economic Development committee’s ideas (with a caveat) for improving transportation in Hillsborough County.

If the Tampa area is to attract young professionals, families and businesses, transportation must be transformed, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Tuesday in announcing a plan to make that happen.

It starts with this: Hillsborough voters agreeing in 2016 to pay an extra 1 cent in sales tax to help finance roads, buses, walkways and rail.

Merrill predicted, under an optimistic scenario, that if voters adopt the referendum they’ll see light rail in downtown Tampa within seven years.

As you read along, you will realize why that is indeed quite optimistic.

Ok, what do they suggest?

Roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks ­— projects other than transit — would cost $4.3 billion.

Mass-transit projects could cost as much as $5.7 billion, though those costs are less definitive now.

The list also includes $745 million for repaving roads and $115 million for upgrades and replacement of bridges.

Some details from the Times:

Here are some of the ideas:

The entity that now manages the county’s bus system, the Hills­borough Area Regional Transit Authority, would be formed into a new agency to make decisions on mass transit, including construction and contracting with private companies.

And from the Tribune:

Projected costs for specific mass transit corridors included these projects:

♦ A rapid transit corridor connecting Westshore to downtown Tampa via Cypress Avenue, $250 million to $800 million for construction, depending on whether bus or rail is built. Operating costs would be $5.6 million to $9.2 million annually. Some of those costs could be offset by federal funding.

♦ A transit corridor linking downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida, starting as an express-type bus service with limited stops known as bus rapid transit — with development later into a light rail line. Capital costs $515 million to $1.5 billion; operating costs between $11.8 million and $19.4 million annually. The Florida Department of Transportation also plans to improve this corridor by putting express toll lanes on Interstate 275.

♦ Bus rapid transit on an expanded U.S. Highway 60 east to Brandon. Capital costs, $835 million to $1.5 billion; annual operating costs, $19 million. The state transportation department plans to expand capacity of Interstate 4 east northeast to Thonotosassa, Seffner and Plant City with express toll lanes.

♦ Service using what are described as “premium” buses on Dale Mabry Highway connecting Raymond James Stadium, Hillsborough Community College, George M. Steinbrenner Field, Carrollwood and Lutz. Capital costs, $630 million to $1.1 billion; operating costs, $14.4 million annually.

♦ A water ferry connecting Gibsonton and MacDill Air Force Base. Capital costs $25 million. A private company would handle operating costs. Ferry service could later be expanded to link Tampa and St. Petersburg.

First, that is a good outline of possibilities. The corridors identified have long been identified (Actually much of what is said appears to be like the 2010 referendum proposal but with even fewer specifics.)  Second, it covers the whole county. (Though NW Hillsborough does not seem to get much except “premium” bus service, and we have no idea why that would costs more than $630 million to $1.1 billion.)  Third, it addresses roads, bikes, and sidewalks (though how we build will also have to be changed to make it useful), with a list of such projects here.  And it has some ambitious ideas, even if they are only ideas and not a plan.  In all those ways it is generally good.

Unfortunately, it is quite vague because it does not actually tell us what will be built, just where. (Between downtown and Westshore, there could be rail or there could be BRT or they could just be express buses, or even pods, you really don’t know. That will be figured out later.) You can see the draft video explaining all this here:

The video just shows you how unfinished the work is.  While the video points to where “fixed guideways” may go, it does not tell you technology will be used and only discusses a range of option and costs. Despite the reporting, there really is not a level of detail, except for the non-transit items.

– The Caveat(s)

So what is the caveat? First:

A policy leadership group that includes Hillsborough county commissioners and the mayors of its three cities is set to review details of the transportation proposal at a public meeting Aug. 12.

So this is not the actual proposal but a proposal to present a proposal.  Anything else?

The sales tax would pay for the bulk of the work, but not all of it. The county is counting on state and federal grants to help with construction costs. Some operating costs would be covered by fares, and private companies may be invested in construction, operations or both, Merrill said.

So

Merrill unfurled the list, nearly 4 feet long, at the briefing. In the coming months, the projects will be winnowed by public comments at several meetings, said Luicia Garsays, the county’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure services.

In other words, it is a proposal to vote to create a proposal to take to the public to then whittle down into an actual proposal/plan. All the hard decisions remain to be made. As such, it runs the risk of 1) getting kicked down the road once again or 2) getting bogged down in all the politics that have dogged transportation in this area for decades. (Frankly, those politics are probably why this plan is so vague – far vaguer than Greenlight Pinellas.)

We understand that the TED group wants public input about their ideas, and that is admirable, but they could have had that long ago when the process started. (For instance, they had public workshops which none of the committee members attended. What was the point of that?) The result of the delay in public input is more delay in having a real plan and a more squeezed campaign should it go to referendum.

– Conclusion

We understand that the TED committee is trying to be balanced, both geographically and in the projects about which they are thinking, in their approach to transportation.  We commend them for that.  We also like a number of the ideas they have put forward.  We have nothing against that.  Our concern is that, if the last referendum showed anything, it showed that you need a real plan, not a series of proposals that can easily change.  Even the video on the ideas says that the “challenge is to determine the mode” of connecting the main economic centers of the area (video  @ 4:24)  That was what the TED committee was supposed to do.  Right now the whole debate over what to put in the transit portion of the plan, be it rail, buses or roads, is still there.  (Probably a fudge to see what happens in Greenlight before making a real proposal.)

All that is going to lead to the same unconstructive debate and misinformation we have seen for years, such as this from the head of Ax the Tax:

“This has to be the granddaddy of all boondoggles,” Guetzloe said. “That’s an extraordinary amount of money, especially for it to be directed at what they’ve outlined so far.”

Guetzloe said money intended for rail should go entirely toward improving bus systems, which he believes are the more efficient means of transportation.

While that seems like an attempt to appear reasonable, the same person, who is from Orlando, when talking about Greenlight and a poll he commissioned about it, said this (previously reported by the same paper):

Asked why the poll didn’t mention the 65 percent increase in bus service, Guetzloe called it “irrelevant to the vote.”

“The only people who ride buses are the people who need to ride the buses,” he said, “and they don’t constitute anything close to a majority of the population.”

So he clearly 1) does not really care about buses and their riders and 2) does not understand the idea behind modern transit.  And that debate (especially if we need modern transit or that of some small southern city circa 1975) is going to happen before there is even a plan on which to vote.

The bottom line is this: this week’s announcement is a first step – and not a bad one – but there is much work to be done before this becomes a real plan/proposal about which people can be reasonably expected to decide.

So when one commissioner said this:

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an avid transit advocate who was at the briefing, said he’s satisfied with the plan.

“I’ve been critical of the delay — I wanted it to move faster,” he said. “But what we have here is a very methodical plan and has a great chance of success.

“It’s as close to perfect as you can get,” he said.

We have to disagree.  It is a good start, but it is not a plan; it is a series of ideas.  We look forward to one day having a real plan.  Then can decide if it is worth supporting and, if so, maybe get enthusiastic.

– And One More Thing

And then there is this:

“The plan is not perfect, but I think it’s pretty close,” he said. “Ultimately, a culture is hard to change, but young people are moving fast, making decisions where they live and want to work. They’re capable of adjusting on the fly, adopting new technology without a sweat. They are looking to communities that are capable of delivering. If you can’t deliver, the future is going to pass you by.”

Indeed, it is true, at least the part about culture and people’s choices.  So ask yourself this when looking at “fixed guideway” projects – why should a young person who can live anywhere or a business which can go anywhere (the kind we are trying to attract) move to a place where they are promised bus service when they can go somewhere with bus, rail, roads, and a built environment that is walkable, where all that exists and is being expanded? What is the argument you make?  Are you really trying to compete or just give the veneer of competing?

In other words, cost is a concern, but it is not the only concern.  If you want to compete, you have to deliver something as good or better than what is in other places.  You need to have real quality – not just tell yourself it is quality (because, like we can with the airport which was definitely not the cheapest plan, other places can show quality transit and urban environment already in place).

Don’t just do something because it is the cheapest option, because you will pay later. (think the Trop)  Do it right.

Transportation – The Quality of the PTC

This week there was much news of a meeting on the hotel business in Hillsborough County and how that business is doing well. (see here)  That is fine.  There was one matter that surfaced in the comments of the most quoted local hotel expert:

“Have you taken a cab from your home or office to the airport recently?” asked Lou Plasencia, CEO of Tampa-based Independent Hotel Partners, addressing the audience. “Fun, huh?”

After a pause, he got going: “It’s deplorable, embarrassing. It’s the first experience our guests have when they come into my community, and they have to sit in that pigsty. There are dirty cabs; the drivers are in shorts. They try to talk you out of using your credit card ‘cause it costs them a fee. The cabs are our industry’s first line of contact. It’s inexcusable.”

Plasencia wasn’t done. “This is something we as an industry have talked about ad nauseum for five to 10 years, and we’ve done zilcho.”

The response was not so much stunned silence as quiet assent.

When asked what moves the hotel business could make to alleviate the problem, Plasencia replied, “Bring in outside oversight. And if you think the PTC (Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission) constitutes outside oversight, you’re sorely mistaken.”

The PTC tells us they exist for quality and safety control.  Apparently the expert disagrees. And there are knock-on effects of that failure.

Then there was this:

Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, took the microphone and added, “With [ridesharing] options entering the market, the competition has caused renewed interest by the cab companies and PTC to up their game.”

“By writing tickets,” came a response.

“If you start writing tickets,” he replied, “you better make sure the rest of your house is in order.”

Not good. Subsequently, the Times ran a story that basically contested his description which you can read here.   You can decide who you want to believe, but the feeling is out there.

Not only does the PTC inhibit competition, it seems the hospitality industry does not think it does its primary job (well, at least the job the PTC is supposed to do, not the job it has really chosen for itself – which is stifling competition) well.

Where is all that reform?

Transportation – Gateway Express

There was news about the Gateway Express project to build an expressway through central Pinellas.

With much fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott announced in February that the state would in 2017 start construction on a $337 million expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19, advancing the unfunded project forward by as much as 20 years.

Just five months later, Florida Department of Transportation officials say the new route, which will include elevated toll roads, will cost about $454 million, $116 million more than first announced. Most of the extra expense is from buying right-of-way along the route, a cost estimated at $93.5 million.

DOT officials said project costs have risen marginally and right-of-way costs were omitted from Scott’s announcement because they already were in DOT’s budget.

That’s understandable.  Transportation projects often cost more than projected – and not only rail (take note opponents of Greenlight and the TED committee).  And it is not cheap overall, either.  On the other hand, the road, if done right, will still help transportation in Pinellas quite a bit.

How much will it cost to use?

DOT officials revealed the cost of right-of-way purchases to the Pinellas County Commission at a workshop Tuesday. They also announced that the toll to drive elevated sections to avoid stoplights will be 75 cents, and that the five-year construction schedule also could make life complicated for the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

75 cents is a fair, possibly slightly low, toll.  But is that what it will actually cost?

State transportation officials are figuring 75 cents, and eventually more.

That is likely to be the cost of a one-way toll for the planned Gateway Express, an elevated expressway that is slated to open in 2021, state transportation officials told the County Commission this week.

At some point the toll will become “variable,” adjusted in real time based on congestion levels, said Debbie Hunt, planning director for the Florida Department of Transportation. The toll amount will be displayed on overhead electronic signs before each entrance so drivers have time to decide to use the express lanes or stay in the free local lanes.

No.  It will have variable pricing.  So let’s review the idea behind variable pricing:

The theory behind the so-called dynamic tolling: Charge more during rush hours so thriftier drivers stick to the surface streets, reducing the number of cars on the toll road to keep traffic flowing.

In other words, the prices are increased to make sure that people do not use the road enough to cause congestion – which means the amount of relief it brings to the surface roads is limited.  And by “thriftier” they mean both people who do not want to pay and people who cannot the excessive variable rate.  And the price will keep going up.

A variable tolling system — what some refer to as the “Lexus lane” — has been in place in Miami since 2008, when the Interstate 95 Express lanes opened. Officials were surprised by how many drivers were willing to pay a premium to use the 7-mile segment, so this year the DOT increased the maximum toll from $7 to $10.50.

At least in Miami, the “express” lanes are just part of the expressway – so other people can use the other lanes.  In Pinellas, you will be stuck on the surface roads unless you keep paying higher tolls.  The whole point of the pricing is to push people out of the “Lexus lanes,” which seems an odd strategy for relieving traffic.

We have nothing against the road or tolls, but the idea that the purpose of the tolls is to keep people off the road is a strange public policy, and definitely not one that serves the vast majority of people driving through that area.

Greenlight – Who Cares About Accuracy?

While the opponents of Greenlight have apparently spent most of their energy trying to investigate PSTA for things not directly related to the Greenlight Proposal (so far nothing has been dug up), it seems that some of the opponents themselves may have some issues.

An outside antitax group led by a controversial Central Florida consultant and activist is gunning to derail the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.

Ax the Tax, a political committee formed in 1982 by Doug Guetzloe of Orlando, made its first foray into the debate with a telephone poll this week that Guetzloe says shows overwhelming opposition to what he calls the “light rail tax.”

Guetzloe, 60, said his group will soon launch a campaign centered on direct mail pieces, phone calls and social media.

Setting aside that maybe it should focus on its home in Orlando that seems to have no problem getting rail, what have they done?

The call coincided with Orlando citizens group Ax the Tax release of a poll it said showed 55 percent of 764 residents who voted in 2010 and 2012 general elections planned to vote against Greenlight. The margin of error was 3.5 percent.

The poll, conducted by local firm StPetePolls, followed a script written by Ax the Tax. It made no mention of the plan’s expansion of bus service, but focused on the more controversial light-rail component of Greenlight, claiming that the 24-mile network would cost every household more than $4,000.

The survey differs sharply from an internal poll of 402 likely voters conducted in early June for Friends of Greenlight that showed 59 percent support for Greenlight. The poll was conducted by SGS, a political consultant based in Gainesville. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

Matt Florell, owner of StPetePolls, said the questions in the Ax the Tax Poll likely skewed the results.

“I don’t think it accurately shows what the final vote will be because those questions weren’t asked,” Florell said. “Never in the script once do they mention Greenlight; they only talk about rail.”

Ok, so they performed a poll that even the pollster who performed it said was skewed. (And note this is not the first poll commissioned by someone opposed to Greenlight that the pollster who performed it. See “Transportation – Why Polls Do Not Matter, Especially This Early”)  So, what did the person who commissioned the poll say (and here we quote what was also quoted in the first item.  Our apologies):

Asked why the poll didn’t mention the 65 percent increase in bus service, Guetzloe called it “irrelevant to the vote.”

“The only people who ride buses are the people who need to ride the buses,” he said, “and they don’t constitute anything close to a majority of the population.”

Yea, those people don’t count. . .

This indicates the entire problem with 1) our transit system as it is and 2) the opponents of fixing it.  The entire attitude of the present systems is that transit is for people with no choice and that they are not relevant.  That has shown in how it has been (and is) funded, planned, and executed right now.  That is why most people have no choices. The entire concept of having proper functioning services and improving the area has been foreign (Euro-socialist of course, like Texas and Utah). The reality is that this attitude is the basic attitude local government has taken towards transit for a long time, even though that seems to be changing.  Of course, most other metro areas in the US have a different attitude, but it is what it is – and it shows in our per capita gross metropolitan product.

Anyway, what did the local Greenlight opponents think of all that?

Haselden found Guetzloe’s survey to be fair. “The questions rang very true to me,” she said.

They don’t care if it is skewed. Shenanigan, yes, but just the usual stuff dealing with Greenlight.

So who is the guy behind Ax the Tax?

[Guetzloe] was indicted by an Orange County grand jury in 2007, accused of lying under oath about who paid for some controversial mailers and advertisements in Daytona Beach City Commission races. Prosecutors dropped the perjury charge after a key witness died. Guetzloe called the charge “bogus.”

He was convicted in 2010 on a misdemeanor charge of sending a political mailer that did not include the required disclaimer identifying it as a paid electioneering communication. An appellate court called the anonymous mailers about a Winter Park mayoral candidate a “quintessential smear campaign.” Guetzloe later admitted he used about $15,000 of his own money for the mailings. He served about 40 days of a 60-day jail sentence but points out that the statute he violated was found unconstitutional and has since been changed.

In 2012, Guetzloe was found guilty on misdemeanor charges of failing to file federal income tax returns and served about a year in a minimum security prison camp. He acknowledges the returns were late but said he paid the taxes in advance.

Guetzloe said his history is “interesting” but shouldn’t distract voters.

It should be noted that the local opponents are not clearly working with the Orlando group, but there is no indication they have any problem with his involvement.  Apparently, rules are just for other people, just like transit.

At least, now that is clear.

Downtown – Goings On

Last week there were a number of reports about projects downtown.  Some were basically summaries of what we already knew, while others provided some new information.

– Conflicting Info On the Martin

Those who follow such things know that the proposal for the Martin has been around for a while.  Moreover, there have been numerous rumors of when it will actually start and how the plan might be changing.  Last week was no different, per the Business Journal.

Mercury Advisors is moving forward with its latest Channelside development, finalizing a joint venture with an Atlanta group and planning a fourth-quarter groundbreaking.

Mercury will partner with Daniel Corp. on the apartment-and-retail development proposed on the block between East Twiggs and Madison streets, along Meridian Avenue, Principal Ken Stoltenberg said Friday.

Ok, well that is good.  But then there was this:

The project will be smaller than the original plans— nine or 10 stories, Stoltenberg said, which is considered a high rise by the City of Tampa’s code standards, but not by the capital markets, which should also help with the financing of the project. He said the building will be highly amenitized, with a heated saltwater pool and an eighth-floor clubhouse with 270-degree views of the city that includes a covered outdoor bar and entertainment area with big-screen TVs.

The original plan was 23 stories, so that would be disappointing.  The Channel District could use more density and preservation of some sight lines.  Building squat buildings will not accomplish that.  On the other hand, the Facebook page for the Grand Central, which was developed by the same group said this on July 27:

Would love to see this break ground this year!! Mistake by the TBBJ regarding the total height, still projected to be 23 stories.

So we have no idea what to think.

– Shortly Into the Heart of Downtown

There was news about a proposed complex in the heart of downtown:

A new apartment project in downtown Tampa appears to be moving forward.

An entity related to the Richman Group, a Connecticut-based apartment owner and developer, paid about $11 million to assemble roughly 4 acres of downtown Tampa land from two different sellers in a deal that closed Wednesday, according to Hillsborough County property records.

The site is just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, bordered by South Morgan Street to the west, East Whiting Street to the north and South Jefferson Street to the east.

Richman representatives are scheduled to meet with city officials Thursday to review structural renderings, said David Jennings, a construction technician supervisor with the city. Jennings said Richman’s infrastructure site plan, submitted earlier this year, shows a $35 million, five-story apartment complex with a seven-story parking garage planned for the site.

The apartments are named The Aurora on the site plan, Jennings said.

First, initial reports made it sound like the building would be seven stories, so we are not sure if that was a mistake in this report or something changed.

Second, as we said when this project first came to light, a seven story building is fine in many places on the outskirts of downtown, but really seems out of place in the middle of downtown.  It is hard to get too excited about it. (Hopefully the Lightning owner will not take his cues from this project when he develops all that land he has acquired.)

– Harbour Island

The Times had an article summarizing information that for the most part was already out there.

Two 21-story apartment towers are in the works for Harbour Island, with construction on each targeted to start by the end of this year.

Two different groups are developing the towers, which would flank the 20-story Plaza Harbour Island condominium on Knights Run Avenue.

On the west side of the Plaza, the Related Group from Miami is working on plans for a tower with 340 apartments.

* * *

On the east side of the Plaza, another partnership between three well-known Tampa developers — Robert Moreyra of Forge Capital Partners, Greg Minder of the Intown Group and Phillip Smith of the Framework Group — is working on plans for a second high-rise.

It would have 235 to 240 apartments, most of them two-bedroom units and two-bedrooms with dens, plus parking spread out on the first seven levels of the building, Minder said.

(For renderings see “Hiku” here and “Downtown Goings On.”)  Some of the Plaza residents might lose some of their views, because the original Plaza plan was for three buildings, so this is just following what was considered all along.  That does not mean they won’t try to hold it up over something. (Though it seems for now it is not working.)

Each group says a ground-breaking in late 2014 could mean an opening in early 2016.

We shall see.

– A Reality Check

The Business Journal article on the Martin also had this, which is interesting:

The financing has proven challenging, Stoltenberg said, because no high rise rental projects have been completed in five years, since The Element in Downtown Tampa was finished. Lenders and equity partners base their projections for a real estate developments on the performance of the newest comparable project, and having none as a basis for comparison makes a project more risky.

“I don’t consider Tampa a second-tier market, but the guys on Wall Street, they have a different opinion,” Stoltenberg said.

And there is another dose of reality that cuts through all the hype. (Maybe that is why we do not have a five star hotel yet.) Apparently, the money guys think Tampa is a “second-tier market.”  Maybe they shouldn’t and maybe at some point they won’t, but apparently they do.

Hopefully, with some more development, that will change.

Encore – One More Up, a Few to Go

Per 83 degrees media, the Trio building is now welcoming residents.

Even as construction continues on The Reed and The Tempo waits in the wings for its start date, the ENCORE! Tampa community is celebrating its first multifamily apartment complex — The Trio.

The Tampa Housing Authority will hold a grand opening today (July 15) at 2:30 p.m. at 1101 Ray Charles Blvd., with live jazz and tours of The Trio.

The 141-unit apartment building joins The Ella, 161 senior apartments that opened in 2012 and are fully occupied.  

While we think it could be better, we like Encore and are happy it keeps going.  It is definitely improving that area of downtown.  We are happy it is progressing.  We will be even happier when it is not even remarkable for this area to have a project like it – when it is expected.

Too bad the City decided it had to destroy the Bro Bowl, which takes up a pretty small part of Perry Harvey Park, to move forward with the project. (Especially embarrassing when St. Pete is doing this.)

List of the Week I

Our first list this week was featured in a Times article entitled “Tampa Bay: Better than most, still behind many for ‘best’ business metro area.”    It is Forbes list of The Best Places For Business And Careers 2014. You can get the methodology here.

In first place is Raleigh, followed by Des Moines, Provo, Denver, Ft. Collins (CO), Lincoln, OKC, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Nashville, Ogden, Charlotte, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco, Austin, and Greeley (CO).

Florida is shut out of the top 20.  The Times tells us:

Tampa Bay landed at No. 72 among the 200, based on the combined factors of the cost of doing business (ranking 136th), and its rank for job growth (100th) and education of the labor force (122nd).

72nd is nothing to be happy about, though the headline is accurate: we are above the halfway mark.

Even worse, as the Times article tells us, the Tampa Bay area not doing well is apparently not something new:

Tampa Bay economic developers used to compare this metro area against five competing cities (Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Dallas and Raleigh) in a semiannual economic “report card” but discontinued the comparison in the recession when Tampa Bay consistently ranked at or near the bottom.

That is quite telling about both our performance and our approach to economic development.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is another Forbes list: Best Cities for Job Growth 2014.  You can find the methodology here.

Coming in first is Naples (FL), followed by Austin, McAllen (TX), Greeley (CO), Dallas, Cape Coral, Raleigh, Port St. Lucie, Houston, and San Antonio.

So Florida showed up, but only smaller towns.

List of the Week III

Lest you think it is only Forbes bias that keeps the Tampa Bay area low on these lists, you can check out this list (we are not going to put the whole thing): wallethub.com’s most and least recession recovered cities.   Just looking at major Florida cities, Miami is 17th, Orlando is 62nd, St. Pete is 63rd, Ft. Lauderdale is 68th, Tampa is 82nd, and Jacksonville is 124th.

Roundup 7-25-2014

July 25, 2014

Channelside – Ending With a Whimper and a Payout

For those familiar with litigation, it should come as no surprise that the Channelside complex lease/ownership/bankruptcy/auction saga ended with a settlement before the judge ruled on the issues.  The basic outline:

♦  Port Tampa Bay will pay $1.9 million to purchase the mortgage on the complex.

♦  Vinik will still pay $7.1 million for the lease on the property. But he will pay more elsewhere. Though financial terms are not spelled out directly in the papers, Vinik was also “able to negotiate a settlement of pending litigation relating to the Lease Assets,” and he obtained “rights to certain plans” that Liberty had for the site. Obtaining that lease was largely the goal of the Liberty/Convergent pair of developers who sued in bankruptcy court, claiming they had a pre-existing deal with the Irish bank that held the lease on the property.

♦  All sides of the dispute agree to pay their own attorney’s fees.

So the Lightning owner gets his property, the Port gets their “owner,” and Liberty got their money.  How much that cost the Port (and thus the public) in legal fees is not clear from the reporting.  In any event, that is now over.  Let’s see what is proposed to fix the mess that is the complex itself.

And in more news, the Lightning owner closed on more land downtown.

We sure hope he knows what he is doing because with so much land he can really make or break downtown.

Economy – The Latest on VC

This week there was the latest report about venture capital funding, which should give a window on whether our economy is changing.

Venture capitalists are pouring money into companies at levels not seen in more than a decade, nearly hearkening back to the dot-com era.

But Florida continues to largely miss out on the party.

Nationwide, venture capitalists put $13 billion into 1,114 deals in the second quarter of 2014, according to the latest MoneyTree Report being released today by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The quarterly analysis, based on data from Thomson Reuters, marks the highest level of venture capital funding since investors put $13.1 billion into deals in the first quarter of 2001. For the first half of the year, total investment reached $22.7 billion, the highest first-half total since 2001.

Less than 1 percent of that money, however, is directed to companies in Florida, which is on track to becoming the third-biggest state in the country this year.

Florida investors closed on just 13 deals totaling less than $113 million in invested capital in the second quarter. That’s up 57 percent from the first quarter, but down 15 percent from year-ago levels.

That is less than 1% to Florida, which has about 6.2% of the US population (using figures here)  At least one local company did ok:

The biggest Florida deal was out of Orlando: $50 million going to software firm Kony Solutions. Second biggest was in the industrial energy sector with $26 million going to AquaVenture Holdings in Tampa.

The Orlando Sentinel tells us:

Statewide, Florida companies received $113 million from more than a dozen deals in the period, down 32.7 percent from the 2013 quarter, figures show. Nationwide, Florida ranked 14th in the second quarter, while California ($8 billion), Massachusetts ($1.15 billion) and New York ($1.05 billion) led the way.

Nationwide, venture-capital investment rose 34 percent in the quarter to $13 billion, the largest total since the first quarter of 2001, according to MoneyTree. The report is published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on Thomson Reuters data.

However, do not fret:

Mark McCaffrey, global software industry leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Florida shouldn’t be disheartened. To the contrary, he sees the state on the rise.

“I do hear Florida’s name coming up a lot,” said McCaffrey, who is based in San Jose, Calif. “You’re seeing some larger deals.” Among the state’s strengths is its diversity, as companies in software, media and entertainment, industrial energy and biotech are all drawing investors.

McCaffrey said the latest quarterly report was skewed in part because it included the biggest deal in MoneyTree’s tracking history, a $1.2 billion deal out of Silicon Valley. Moreover, he said, many of the California companies drawing investor interest have operations in Florida — so funding is flowing south whether or not that’s reflected in the MoneyTree report.

So California is drawing the big money (In fact, LA County drew 3 times as much as all of Florida).  Fine.  We are getting money tangentially, which leads to the question of how many of those California companies getting funding have facilities in the Tampa Bay area of any decent size?

Anyway, another appraisal:

Jamie M. Grooms, a venture-capital expert in Gainesville, said Florida’s investments often fluctuate because of the internal timing and funding cycles of the venture capital firms that do business here. Florida also has a way to go before it has a “critical mass” of investment-worthy companies similar to what’s found in San Francisco and Boston, he said.

“Our pipeline of companies isn’t deep enough yet to attract large numbers of the big venture-capital firms,” said Grooms, chief executive officer of the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which works with UCF and other state universities in creating startup companies.

“We’re definitely seeing more and more companies in the pipeline,” he said. “And as they develop and mature, they’ll attract more venture capital, which will help flatten out those fluctuations we see in the survey.”

The reality is that the trend pretty consistent.  Sure, a small number of companies here get VC funding and there is some increase in funding (sometimes), but it is hardly a real change in the structure of our economy, especially in the Tampa Bay area.  Maybe someday, but not today, hype about the economy notwithstanding.

Transportation –For It While Against It

The Tribune had an editorial about their endorsements for various primary races.   While the endorsements do not really concern us (we are more interested in actual policies) there was something in the editorial that shows why transportation progress in this area is so difficult.

The next commission also will need to respond thoughtfully to the transportation strategy to be proposed this year by a task force made up of leaders from the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Only two commission seats — District 4 and District 7 — are being contested in this year’s Aug. 26 primary election (early voting is Aug. 14 to 24).

So let’s look at the contested race involving an incumbent:

Higginbotham supports the multi-government transportation task force’s efforts, though he believes improving roads and the bus system should be the priorities.

He would support rail only if he thought the routes made sense and especially if private dollars were involved.

That strikes us as odd.

We are all for a rail plan that makes sense.  But remember that this Commissioner sits on the Transportation for Economic Development committee, and the Committee has not even issued its proposal yet.  Given that, one would assume that the Commissioner would make sure the proposal made sense and then support it.

If the Commissioners are just going to go through the motions of coming up with a plan then opposing it (notably, not the first time that would happen), is it any surprise that it is so hard to move forward?  Hopefully, he will refine his position.

Transportation – HART Gets It Right, Sort Of

Following our policy of pointing out when someone makes a good point or does something right, we give you the HART board:

The regional transit board gave a unanimous thumbs down Monday to a plan that would focus most early transit expansion in downtown Tampa. That plan, board members said, could leave people in the rest of the Hillsborough County standing on a corner waiting for a bus that won’t be coming.

Rich Clarendon, senior transportation planner for the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented a plan to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board outlining a study that calls for possible light rail and expanded modern street car service that might use existing freight tracks to operate. It also looked at connections to the planned transit station on Interstate 275 in the West Shore area. The study was a joint project of the MPO and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

So, what did HART do?

Instead of giving that plan the nod, the HART board voted to ask Hillsborough for funding to hire a specialized planner that can look at all transit needs throughout the county.

Clarendon was asking for a HART recommendation to include the downtown study in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.

It is imperative that county, state and federal officials all work together to plan transit’s future here, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the HART board. “How is this integrated into what the city and county are doing? We need to work on one plan. We can’t have every agency having its own little plan.”

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who also sits on the transit board, said he didn’t readily see how this downtown plan would “connect with everything else.”

And that is right (giving the benefit of the doubt to the two comments above) – while we have no problem with rail, there needs to be one, comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan for a real transportation system.  Even if some aspects of it may be good, why is the MPO even presenting a plan (especially a partial one) when the Transportation for Economic Development plan is going to come out in a month of so?  Why can’t the County entities just wait and properly coordinate?  Good for HART.

Why they got it “sort of,” and not “all,” right is this:

HART’S existing Transit Development Plan would double transit throughout Hillsborough County, said HART board member Karen Jaroch. This plan, she said, “would eat the entire apple of a 1-cent sales tax,” something that is being considered to fund expanded transit and roadway expansions in the county. The sales tax would require a referendum.

In other words, for the same reason they were right to not back the MPO right now, they should not be planning independently.   Yes, a plan to provide one aspect of transportation should not eat the whole proposed sales tax.  On the other hand, HART’s existing plan (and board) may soon become irrelevant so HART should put aside any plan for a few months and wait for the TED committee. The above quoted comment is not consistent with the reason for questioning the MPO in the first place.

So, yes, in this case, HART’s board is generally right.  For that they get credit.  But then they should also be consistent.

Transportation – The PTC Keeps Chugging

It seems that despite claims that reform was coming and it would try to work out some way to accommodate ride-sharing, the PTC really hasn’t done anything.

The sides in Tampa’s hired-car wars have largely kept to a cease-fire in their legal and public relations battles.

But hardly any progress has been made in allowing the entry of smartphone-app based car services like Lyft and Uber into the Tampa market.

Kyle Cockream, executive director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, has been in talks with representatives from both companies, first in March and again in May, he said.

“We’ve discussed variances to some of the rules,” Cockream said. Those discussions haven’t yet resulted in action.

Not that we are surprised.  Did you really think that Hillsborough County would move effectively?

Contrast all that with Miami which gave initial ok to letting ride-sharing happen there. (and check this opinion piece about how taxi companies treat the drivers and how the apps give options to taxi drivers, which may account for the opposition in the protectionist PTC) or Colorado, which just passed legislation to accommodate ride-sharing, though apparently not all law enforcement got the message.

The PTC could have worked quickly, or even preemptively, on this issue if they were really paying attention (these services have been around for a while) and were acting for the benefit of the public.  Instead, the PTC still has done nothing to get with the times, let alone be innovative, in dealing with this issue.

Innovation is not just a matter of technology.  It can come up in all areas, including governance.  If this area wants to be an innovation hub, then it would be helpful to actually innovate when given the opportunity.  Then again, this is the PTC we are talking about.

Port – The Great Cruise Conundrum

As noted previously, there has been a fresh spasm of discussion of the threat to the cruise business (a quarter of Port revenue) caused by bigger ships.  This week, there were a few more reports which you can read here and here.  We are not going to get into a detailed discussion about them because there is no point as the State is going to do another study.

Port Tampa Bay isn’t anywhere close to deciding how to handle its cruise ship business in the future, Port Director Paul Anderson told the Westshore Alliance Wednesday.

“No decision has been made. We haven’t studied the options,” he told the group of business leaders. “We are so far out from doing anything.”

* * *

Without further study, Anderson said, no one can make a decision. And, he said, the numbers in the report are speculation.

Nevertheless,

Meanwhile, Anderson told the Westshore Alliance, the port’s cruise ship business should continue to grow over the next five to eight years.

Which means now is the time to come up with a solution.  Hopefully, the discussions now turn out not to be just another short period of discussions with no further planning. We’ll see what the State says and see what happens.

TIA – Copa Likes Us

It seems that the Copa flights to Panama City, Panama are doing well.

Here’s a good indicator of the strength of Tampa International Airport’s Latin American travel market: Copa Airlines will fly daily over the holidays.

Copa started flying four times a week between Tampa and Panama City in December. But the airport announced Monday that the airline will increase its Tampa flights to seven times a week from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2.

That is a good deal and shows the potential for such flights was here even when the previous airport director said it wasn’t.

It seems the one place where this area’s DNA has really changed is at the airport, and that is due to the Director and his staff.  Once again, the people to thank are those who fought the local political complacency pushed for the change when it was not popular.  Sure, now almost everyone is on board (which is good), but it was the people who defied local political inertia who allowed the change.  Hopefully, that change will rub off on others.

MacDill – Steady

There were a couple of interesting items about MacDill this week.  First,

MacDill Air Force Base will likely receive about $32 million in upgrades to accommodate eight new KC-135 refueling jets scheduled to arrive here over the next few years, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Castor, who hosted a bipartisan meeting between Tampa’s Congressional delegation and a top Air Force official on Tuesday, said that the delegation was advised about the needed infrastructure improvements by Kathleen Ferguson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics.

Ferguson advised that $32 million in infrastructure upgrades to prepare for the additional aircraft likely will be programmed in the next couple of fiscal years, Castor said in the media release.

Which is great.  Potentially even better was this:

Castor, a Democrat, was joined in the meeting by Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, David Jolly, Richard Nugent and Dennis Ross.

Look at that, we actually have a Congressional delegation that can meet and work together.  We are glad they work together on MacDill, but we need that cooperation on far more issues (say transportation) – like other areas of Florida (and the country) get.

In further MacDill news:

MacDill Air Force Base, the only military installation in the world home to two U.S. combatant commands, may be loved in the Tampa area, but it was tied for sixth best in the Air Force Times’ ranking of 68 Air Force bases.

MacDill, home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the 927th Air Refueling Wing, the Joint Communications Support Element and other mission partners, was tied with Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio were tied for the top spot in the Air Force Times’ rankings.

Los Angeles Air Force Base was rated the worst.

To determine its rankings, the Air Force Times wrote that it used resources like GreatSchools.com, Zillow, Realtor.com, and Sperling’s Best Places to evaluate statistics in a dozen categories: school quality, cost of living, housing costs, commissary size, base exchange size, size of on-base health care facilities, crime rates, commute times, pollution levels, climate, unemployment rates and sales taxes. It then assigned each category a score on a 10-point scale. 

Even though it did not get the full write up in the Air Force Times article. Sixth out of 68 is fine with us.

Public Art – How To Be Seen . . . Really Briefly and Without Effect

As some of you may be aware, there was a work of art kind of sandwiched into a parking garage entrance downtown by previous efforts to revitalize Tampa’s waterfront.

But by the end of this year, it will be cleaned up and moved to a place of pride closer to the front door.

The City Council voted Thursday to approve a $38,515 upgrade for the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome.

Agam is an Israeli artist with a global reputation as the father of “kinetic art” — art that appears to move.

But for years, Visual Welcome has been all but hidden on a stub of Twiggs Street between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the ramp into an underground parking garage. Its closest neighbors are a row of crape myrtles with hot pink blossoms on one side and 20 large, Army green trash bins on another.

It looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article (please note the truck is not part of the artwork)

So what is special about this piece?

One side features checkerboard and color block patterns. The other has color blocks and circles. As the viewer passes by, the patterns shift.

“With an Agam, when you look at it, if you move 2 feet one way or 2 feet another way, the whole thing can completely change,” said Dennis Carhart, the fabricator who originally installed the piece and who will restore it. “That’s what’s so cool about it. It moves.”

Ok, so it is the perfect thing to put near the Riverwalk downtown so people walking by can appreciate the changes and contemplate the art. And it is just the kind of interactive art that can help draw people the Arts District.  Awesome.  So where is it going?

In November or December, he will reinstall the sculpture in the median of Bayshore Boulevard, just south of the Academy of the Holy Names.

It’s a good spot, said City Council member Mary Mulhern, who said the Agam piece has never received the prominence it deserves.

The sculpture is meant to be viewed as people pass by, she said, so Bayshore is ideal because of its constant stream of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

In the median of a road.

So it will either distract most of the people driving by (that’s a good idea) or be ignored by them (which is more likely).  Moreover, in the median, pedestrians and cyclists going along the waterfront are not going to be getting anywhere near the art or interacting with it.

Bayshore has natural beauty, no doubt.  But art like this sculpture belongs in the public space downtown where it was intended to go and people can and will interact with it.  If you want the Riverwalk to be special, downtown to be walkable, and the Art District to be the center of the arts in the area, why not put the art in a prominent place there?

Coming Out Watch – Sort Of

There was a good article in the New York Times this week about proposed new regulations on cigars and the potential effect on the last cigar factory in Tampa. Interestingly, the headline was “After 150 Years of Rolling Them, Tampa Is Close to No Cigars” – so score one for the RNC.  On the other hand, the dateline was “Tampa, Fla” – note the Fla., which is certainly not used in this article on Miami.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

– Of Brazil and Latin America

Brazilian tourists are the largest group of foreign tourists in Central Florida (meaning Orlando area) these days.

George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando, said the state and Central Florida are looking for ways to capitalize even more on a recent surge in Brazilian visitors.

Speaking at a luncheon at GrayRobinson on Monday, Aguel noted that international visitors are surging in Central Florida, and that Brazil recently passed the United Kingdom as the No. 2 foreign market for visitors here.

“As you know international visitors stay longer, and spend more,” Aguel said.

He said Brazilian soccer star Kaka’s arrival in Orlando should boost the foreign interest.

“We are talking about how we can leverage Kaka’s presence here, and increase our connections with Brazil,” Aguel said.

Mark Wylie, ‎president & CEO at Associated Builders and Contractors, asked about All Aboard Florida, the planned high-speed train, and its impact on tourism.

“Our opinion is that it’s great, for both South Florida and Orlando,” Aguel said. “They are already looking at how they can position with our tourists to get them down there. We just want to see more Brazilians to come to Orlando.”

Not sure how much of that is bleeding off to the Tampa Bay area, which is only an hour away, but we are sure it will not get here by train, since we will not be connected to the rest of the state that way.

Speaking of Brazil, it seems Ft. Lauderdale might be getting flights to Brazil to add to its Latin American flights and Orlando may get more.  (Miami and Orlando already have flights to Brazil.)

In other news, it seems from this article that the New York Times still thinks Miami is the gateway to Latin America. (No “Fla” in the dateline there either)

This all goes to show that while it may be a laudable goal to someday be THE Gateway to Latin America, that is very far off (if it ever happens).  The goal now should be to become A gateway to Latin America, which is doable though we are starting from a position quite far behind others.  That is reality, and it should be honestly acknowledged.

– SunRail

In more Orlando news, SunRail is apparently exceeding expectation, even with its limited hours:

SunRail ridership, he said, is a little fewer than 4,300 daily, the number that the system was supposed to hit by the end of its first year of operation. That has resulted in some rides running at or near capacity, especially during the afternoon Thursday and Friday, when more leisure passengers tend to board. Early in the week, the trains are not as crowded.

The solution, Olson said, has been to add a third car to the usual two-car, one-locomotive set. Typically the extra car goes on the 12:30 p.m. southbound train from DeBary, which tends to pick up more of the additional late-week passengers.

(Note how, unlike roads, capacity is added by simply adding a car to the train.)  In fact, SunRail is already looking at expanding service, as long as it can be funded – which is responsible. Being Orlando, we assume their various delegation will get that worked out.

– All Aboard Florida

Speaking of trains, All Aboard Florida released renderings for its planned West Palm Beach station here while the massive Miami station proposal got county approval with groundbreaking set for September.   And that does not include the state funded station near Orlando airport.

By contrast, a recent meeting in Tampa about the (vaguely) proposed multimodal center in Westshore drew worries from neighbors., which you can read about here.  Just so you know:

The proposed center, which would go up between the interstate and West Cypress Street, is not yet funded, but if it is constructed, it would be used as a hub for a people mover from Tampa International Airport, as a bus depot for those using Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and possibly as a future depot for light rail heading to Pinellas County. It could also include some commercial development.

Nothing is final yet, FDOT officials said. And the public still has time to comment on the project through July 28. Go to www.fdotd7studies.com or call Project Manager Elba Lopez at (813) 975-6403.

Feel free to send a comment.

It Could Be Worse, Cont.

As bad as the hype-tastic and other assorted comments from elected officials in this area can be, from time to time, it needs to be noted that it could be worse.  At least local officials stay generally on topic, which is not always the case everywhere. For instance, just read this  article about an Australian MP. (note: it is kind of adult content) [Note: after posting, it came to our attention that when you click on the link you get an error message that the story had been moved.  When you get that, just reload the page and the article should appear.  The URL is right.  We have no idea why the Telegraph's site is behaving that way.]

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ list of Most Creative Cities 2014. The methodology can be found here.

Coming in first is San Francisco, followed by Boston, Nashville, Austin, NYC, Portland (OR), LA, Seattle, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, DC, Richmond, Miami Beach, and Charlotte.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

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