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Roundup 1-10-2014

January 10, 2014

Jackson House – Enter the Sponge

There were developments in the Jackson House saga:

After yet another near-death experience, the historic Jackson Rooming House is getting a little more time.

Last month, Tampa officials were talking about issuing an order to demolish the ramshackle two-story building on Zack Street.

Now, with a potential buyer in the wings and details of a stabilization plan submitted to City Hall, officials are talking about an order to repair, not demolish.

Ok, so who wants to buy it?

Since then, Robinson’s lawyer, Ricardo Gilmore of Tampa, said an appraisal has been done, though he declined to discuss it, and negotiations about a possible sale are under way with Clem’s charitable foundation.

In fact, it seems like the foundation already has a contract for the sale.

“My long-term goal would be to purchase it and to restore it the way it’s supposed to be done so that Bob Buckhorn can’t screw with it,” said Clem, an outspoken critic of the mayor, who once referred to Clem as a “complete moron” in an email that later became public. “I don’t want to own it or manage it. I just want to buy it, fix it up and then return it to whomever can benefit the most from it.”

We are not interested in the personal feud (unless it gets in the way), but if the building gets fixed up and given to who can benefit most (Tampa Bay History Center, maybe) that is fine with us. Is there physical progress?

A 6-foot-high chain-link fence surrounds the rooming house, courtesy of Bracken Engineering, which has donated three years of work to studying what it would take to save the house. Gilmore said city officials have asked for a fence that’s a little bigger and sturdier. While Robinson doesn’t have the wherewithal to buy insurance, he is willing to sign the hold-harmless agreement the city wants.

“The city’s been more than accommodating and gracious considering how long the Jackson House has been in ill repair,” Gilmore said.

In a letter to Gilmore in December, City Attorney Julia Mandell said the work provided for in the stabilization plan must be properly permitted and completed within 60 days of the order to repair.

If Robinson and others don’t follow through, the city can go back and issue an order to demolish the house, Mandell said.

“They seem to be moving in a positive direction, and we’ve said from day one we’re willing to work with folks if they’re legitimate and if they have the resources to get it accomplished,” Buckhorn said. “We’ve given extensions — multiple extensions — and we will continue to as long as people are moving in the right direction. We’re not going to prolong this forever.

“It’s ultimately going to get down to money,” Buckhorn added, “and whether they have the resources to do what they say they would like to do. They either will get the money, or not.”

Well, money and time.  The City has not put in money (or apparently tried to get others to do so), but it has finally given some time, which is good.

The point is to save the building – keep your eyes on the prize.  Whatever the motivation, if it gets done, it gets done. 

Economic Development – Incentives Discussed

The Times ran an interesting article about economic incentives:

The poll commissioned by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay surveyed 625 registered voters from Dec. 12 to 17. Overall, 66 percent of respondents said they agreed with the practice of governments giving incentives such as tax breaks to attract businesses to move here.

Support was stronger in Hillsborough (69 percent in favor, versus 63 percent in Pinellas), where officials this year have announced planned arrivals or expansions by the likes of Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb and USAA.

We have no problem with business incentives as long as they are used in a good deal for the taxpayers/community as a whole.  To that end, take a look at the deals listed by the Times in the article:

Companies and incentives

Amazon

. Bringing: Up to 1,000 jobs at a 1 million-square-foot, $200 million fulfillment and distribution center in Ruskin.

. Getting: Hillsborough officials approved $6.4 million in property tax breaks over seven years and $225,000 for bringing 375 above-average paying jobs (with a state match, incentives for the higher-wage jobs would total $1.1 million).

Bass Pro Shops

. Bringing: 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro store, plus 240,000 square feet of retail, an 89,000-square-foot hotel and 60,000 square feet of entertainment space. Up to 250 jobs.

. Getting: A $6.25 million county subsidy to the project’s developer (not Bass Pro) for road work.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

. Bringing: 579 jobs at a new North America Capability Center northwest of Tampa International Airport.

. Getting: $6 million in state and local incentives to be paid over several years, including $2 million from Hillsborough County.

USAA

. Bringing: A $164.3 million, 420,000-square-foot complex to Brandon by late 2015, with up to 1,215 new jobs by 2019.

. Getting: $729,000 from Hillsborough County, plus $2.9 million from the state, over a period of nine years.

It is clear from the Times article itself that the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal was the worst of the bunch: the second highest cost (interestingly the Amazon deal was most expensive and also had low paying jobs), the fewest jobs, and likely the worst wages. (And, as we noted last week, Bass Pro Shops is probably getting a subsidy anyway. See Bass Pro – Not a subsidy?) It is definitely the kind of deal we do not need.

We are ok with incentives to bring something similar to Austin’s recently announced Apple Mac Pro production but not just to help the developer of a shopping center.

The County Commission and other elected officials – and economic development officials – should not misread the poll as carte blanche to keep giving away taxpayer money for anything.

Incentives are fine, but the deal better be worth it.

Transportation – The Only Commissioner Willing to Speak, Speaks Again

We have noted that most of the Hillsborough County Commissioners, regardless of their extended talking shop, fails to actually discuss what they support and what they think should happen regarding transportation.  There is one exception, and he has spoken again:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an unabashed believer in public transit, has an analogy for naysayers — the ones who think paying for rail and other transportation improvements is heresy.

* * *

Sharpe’s analogy, which really only works during meetings in tall buildings, goes like this:

“I just ask them: ‘How many walked the 15 flights of stairs, or did you use the people mover?’ ” (The people mover, of course, being the elevator.) “The people mover gets you up when it doesn’t make sense to walk,” he says.

We like that, though we doubt it will convince those who think that mass transit is somehow un-American.  We also like this:

As Sharpe puts it: “We run the bus system like we run public housing: You get what we give you.” For this to work for the people expected to pay for it, it has to be consumer-driven.

And HART does not give that much.

We may not agree with the Commissioner on everything, but at least he speaks publicly and clearly tries to think through the issues.  We could use much more of that.

Transportation – The I-4/Selmon Connector Opens, Finally

On Monday, the I-4/Selmon Connector finally opened. There is still work to be done, but at least it is open.

At a cost of more than $500 million, though, this road better be a lot more than SheiKra with a SunPass. As one of the largest public-works projects in the country, it better be something we look back upon as a landmark that changed everything for the better.

Planners say it will be, now that the ribbon is cut and it’s just about ready to open for car and truck traffic. It’s the truck traffic that has drawn the most interest.

They say about 10,000 daily truck trips from the Port of Tampa that used to clog the streets of Ybor and along Adamo Drive will take advantage of this spidery-looking road. If the number is even close to that, the impact on Ybor will be immense.

Diverting that many heavy trucks to the connector will save untold wear on Ybor streets. If you have tried to drive through there much, you understand what the rumble of trucks and tankers headed to and from the port does to the general feel of the place. Removing such a large number of trucks from the city streets can’t help but improve things.

All those things are good.

The connector has been considered essential by planners here for decades, as it pretty much could turn into a hub that connects to all parts of the area – including the airport, Gandy Bridge and Pinellas County. It could become a way for drivers to avoid the construction mess along Interstate 275 from downtown to the Howard Frankland Bridge.

The real question is, since it is has been deemed essential for so long, why did it take so long to get built (It’s a toll road after all)?  Why did it take the Great Recession and federal stimulus funding to fund it?  What has everyone been doing for all those decades?

There was an article in the Tribune this week about all the highway construction going on in the area, and there is a lot.  That is all good (though the expansion of I-275 is $215.4 million while one fancy exit/bridge in Miami is $600 million, see Transportation – Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida.  Considering the not illogical assumption that I-275 carries more traffic and is more critical, that seems a bit unbalanced.), but you have to wonder why everything took so long to do.

And is why fixing the bottleneck at the eastern end of the Howard Frankland Bridge not part of it?  It makes little sense to widen all the feeder roads and then leave a massive bottleneck right in the middle of the metro.

We are happy the Connector is done, but why has it been so hard?

– An Aside or Two

As an aside, we noticed this in one of the articles:

By midday Monday, 21st and 22nd streets through downtown Ybor City continued to handle big trucks, but seemingly not quite as many as before the Connector’s opening.

“Downtown Ybor City?” We have enough issues developing our real downtown.  Do we have to invent new ones?

Then we saw this picture in the Times:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Really? That sure looks like a picture taken from the driver side. We hope the photographer was not doing some hands-free driving.

Ybor City – Proposals Are In

We have previously discussed two RFP’s issued by the City for lots in Ybor City – one for a hotel and one for apartment. We noted that all the coverage had indicated each RFP really arose from the expressed interest of a specific developer and that the City seemed to think the RFP’s were a formality before just be approving those specific proposals.  Now the bids are in.  First, for the hotel:

One of the proposals came from YC Hospitality LLC, a joint venture between Volunteers of America and South Florida developer Arnold Gitten.

Last year, Gitten approached City Hall about buying its land, which is now used as a parking lot. Because Ybor City is a community redevelopment area, the city had to give other developers a chance to make an offer before it sold the land.

The other proposal came from the Tampa-based Liberty Group, which specializes in hotel investment, development and management. Nationwide, its assets total more than $300 million.

Liberty are the people suing the Port over Channelside, which makes their bid and how the City deals with them interesting.  Of course, until the City picks a bid, we likely will not get to see the bids so there is no way to judge any of this.

As for the other lot, there was one bid:

In response to a second request for proposals, the city received one response to develop multi-family housing on about half a block near Interstate 4 and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, along E 12th Avenue between N 16th and N 17th streets. It came from the Intown/Framework Group, a partnership between Tampa developers Greg Minder and Phillip A. Smith.

Together, Minder and Smith are developing a 36-story apartment tower near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The high-rise won city approval last August, but the start of construction will wait until after the completion of this year’s lucrative Broadway Series of performances at the Straz Center.

We like the Straz Tower proposal, so hopefully the developers’ Ybor idea is good.  Once again, though, there was an odd lack of interest in the RFP. (InTown/Framework also were the sole bidders for the surprise RFP for the land involved in the Straz Tower project).

We have nothing against good developments.  We also have nothing against not accepting any of the proposals and waiting for something better in the future.  Whatever is selected should be good – not just something to fill the space because officials want to attend a ribbon cutting.  We shall have to see.

Hillsborough County – Something Done Right

Hillsborough County recently provided information about the new garbage collection service.

In the two months since the county rolled out the automated service, residential recycling is up 70 percent more than average past monthly totals, as measured by overall tonnage.

* * *

Thanks to a new contract, the county is now getting a cut on what those bottles, cans and newspapers are being sold for in the recyclables market. That came out to $324,000 for October and $311,000 the next month.

County officials had predicted they would make some money, and the proceeds are one of many reasons they were able to lower rates slightly this year for collection. If the pace of recycling continues, the county’s “profit” will be more than double what was projected.

Imagine that.  Many of you may remember that there was decent opposition in the County Commission to opening up the garbage collection contracts back in late 2011. (See here and here)  Eventually, despite heavy lobbying from the vested companies, the County Commission did open up the bids.  We are glad they did, and the initial results are positive.

Of course, it is still early in the process.

“I think we have to get several months under our belt before we call it a trend,” said John Lyons, public works director for the county. “But things are looking good. We didn’t predict it would get to this level this quickly.”

Exactly.  Yet, though it is early, the system is better and helping the County.  So far, it has worked out in a fiscally responsible and environmentally favorable way.  If only the County took that approach most of the time.

A Bit of History – Tony Jannus

Around New Years Day there were a number of articles regarding a New Years Day attempt to reenact the truly game-changing flight of Tony Jannus from St. Pete to Tampa that kicked off commercial air travel.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first commercial flight: a 23-minute hop across Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line was subsidized by St. Petersburg officials who wanted more winter tourists in their city. The alternative: an 11-hour train ride from Tampa.

Setting aside the interesting fact that the new, efficient transportation was subsidized, the first commercial passenger flight is a big deal.

On Jan. 1, 1914, a wood-and-muslin Benoist XIV flying boat, powered by a noisy, six-cylinder, 75-horsepower engine, took off from St. Petersburg, Fla., with its pilot and one passenger sitting on a small wooden bench, exposed to the elements. The rickety seaplane traveled 18 miles as the crow flies, landing in the Hillsboro River off Tampa, a 23-minute journey at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Normally such a trip would take two hours on a steam ship across Tampa Bay.

The flight carried a former St. Petersburg mayor who paid $400—about $9,323 in current dollars—for the thrill. It was repeated many times over the next four months, during the short life of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Historians estimate that more than 1,200 passengers made the trip without mishap, paying $5 one-way, or $116.53 today.

Unfortunately, the commemorative flight by a replica of the Benoist did not happen, but another commemorative flight did take place, and was noted:

The flight re-creation also drew interest beyond the Tampa Bay area. The Tuesday edition of the Wall Street Journal included an article previewing the flight and President Barack Obama sent a letter, read at the pre-flight ceremony, recognizing the historic importance of Jannus and his flight.

(The Wall Street Journal article can be found here.)

There is a lot of talk these days regarding creating innovation and creative destruction.  The Tony Jannus flight was a perfect example of that, and that it could occur between two Florida towns in 1914 – our area – is quite remarkable. (Note: Hillsborough County’s population in 1910 which included what became Pinellas was 78374. Pinellas came into being in 1912 and the population of Hillsborough and Pinellas was 116522 in 1920. See here)   It shows what we could/can do and be.

Of course, just a decade and a half later:

Later in 1929 a great rhubarb was going on in Tampa.  It seems they wanted to dredge up an airport and a seaplane base from the bay.  The New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Airline (NYRBA), the predecessor of the Pan American Airways, made promises that inspired demands for a first-class facility, for both hydroplanes and land planes.  If they provided such an airport, NYRBA would make Tampa the base of operations for the company.  The Tampa voters approved the plan but the residents along Bayshore Boulevard, the cities most fashionable neighborhood, got up in arms.  The politicians and the business community fought.  Finally, with the plan shelved, Pan American in disgust, abandoned the idea of establishing its base in Tampa and moved to Miami.

And in an article in the Sunland Tribune about the episode we learn (article starts on page 11 of the magazine, 12 of the pdf):

By mid-October, something silenced the campaign for an island airport. Mayor McKay and the city aldermen decided to place selection of a site in the hands of a “non-partisan committee” which would include local people as well as representatives of the U.S. Commerce, Navy and War Departments.

Although nothing appeared in print at that point, it is apparent that powerful forces scuttled the island proposal. Writing years later, historian Karl Grismer said, “Many residents of the Bayshore district objected strenuously to the proposed island airport, saying that it would lower their property values.”

Since many of Tampa’s most prominent citizens resided in stately homes bordering the Bayshore, it is likely that Mayor McKay and the city aldermen heard heated protests from constituents they could not ignore.

* * *

By February of 1930 NYRBA was making regular flights to South America via Miami. The impasse held tight in Tampa.

(The exact story of Pan Am and NYRBA is a little more complicated than that. see here and here)

We are not going to opine about the exact details of an airport/seaplane base on/near Bayshore or get into elected officials handpicking a citizens advisory committee so that they could ignore the majority vote and favor friends and benefactors.  The bottom line is that issue was not worked out, we did not get the extensive connections to Latin America, and, that, as they say, is that.  The whole episode sounds to us like the present discussion of numerous issues like transportation and planning.

It is a reminder that this area has not lacked innovation and creativity in many fields. (We are not even going to try to list everything and everyone.)  However, too often we have been willing to let our innovations and innovators go somewhere else to succeed and thrive rather than giving them the needed help to grow here and benefit everyone.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

– Ports

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

Port projects

Because of an all-out push by Florida lawmakers, the state is in line to get more than $50 million for port projects in Jacksonville and on the Space Coast, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars for Everglades restoration.

The funding is part of a waterway construction bill now before Congress. Versions of the legislation have passed both the House and Senate, and the measure — if negotiators can reach a deal in 2014 — would benefit ports up and down the Florida coastline.

Port Canaveral is estimated to receive about $28.6 million so that the cruise hub can widen and deepen its waterways. Less straightforward, but just as important, are tweaks to government rules that would allow the state to take the lead on projects that have been delayed on the federal level, including Jacksonville Harbor, Port Everglades, Lake Worth Inlet and the Central Everglades Planning Project.

One member of the negotiating team, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, said he was optimistic about passage.

“We’re going to finish” the water bill, he said.

Maybe it was just an oversight in the story, but the Port of Tampa and Port Manatee do not seem to figure in any way.  (You can read more about the east coast ports here and here.)

– Transit

While we ponder our transportation future and PSTA and HART (mainly HART) squabble about who should be in charge, in South Florida, things move ahead regionally.  For instance, the South Florida Regional Transit Authority (operator of Tri-Rail) told us last week:

Tri-Rail carried more passengers in 2013 than during any other year in its 25-year history of operation. According to records, 4,350,782 trips were taken on the commuter rail line in 2013, up from approximately 4,300,000 in 2008 when gas prices were at their highest. The increased ridership is attributed to the recovering economy and employment numbers as well as increased service on weekends.

Not only that, but the region is now working on a new Tri-Rail line that will link the downtown areas in South Florida. (See here  There are maps in the overview section.) The entire commuter system links with Miami’s Metro Rail.  The new line would like with the Wave Streetcar to be built in Ft. Lauderdale.

You may notice that, much like in Orlando with SunRail and completely unlike the Tampa Bay Area, the counties are working with SFRTA.

Just another sign that regional solutions all government officials doing the right thing and working regionally.   Without that, we will stay behind.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week this week is the Associated General Contractors of America’s List of greatest construction employment increases between Nov 2012 and Nov 2013.

The list is in total numbers, not percentage. Coming in first was Atlanta, followed by LA, Santa Ana-Anaheim, the Tampa Bay area.  They only listed four in the press release.  You can see percentage change list here.

It is a good sign, probably boosted by all the road construction.  (It might also be a sign that we are behind on the construction boom in that other areas have already boosted their employment, but it is not entirely clear.)  In any event, we’ll take it, though it is another sign that developers do not need subsidies – they need companies to occupy the space they build.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is United Van Lines’ 37th Annual Migration Study. It is not exactly scientific, but this is how they do it:

United has tracked migration patterns annually on a state-by-state basis since 1977. For 2013, the study is based on household moves handled by United within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. United classifies states as “high inbound” if 55 percent or more of the moves are going into a state, “high outbound” if 55 percent or more moves were coming out of a state, or “balanced” if the difference of inbound and outbound is negligible.

Coming in first (more people coming in than leaving) is Oregon, followed by South Carolina, North Carolina, District of Columbia, South Dakota, Nevada, Texas, and Colorado.

It is notable that Oregon, North Carolina, DC, Texas, and Colorado have the main or multiple major cities that are the usual suspects on most of the good lists we feature.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    January 10, 2014 9:53 PM

    Fascinating information about Tampa’s history with Pan Am. I didn’t realize that the clubby, unwelcoming, calcified, small-thinking habits of Tampa political and business leadership went as far back as 1929. Sadly, they persist to this day.

  2. EJBelcher permalink
    January 13, 2014 1:44 PM

    I would like to know if Bass Pro paid any money to a real estate broker/company when they purchased the land from the developer. It would explain why one commissioner got off the bench and pleaded for the 6.25 million. Bass Pro’s own documents states that over 50% of their customer base comes from within 50 miles and less than 2% from over 200 miles. Bass Pro will siphon off business from Mom and Pop stores just as Wal Mart does. Bass Pro also states that the vast majority of jobs will pay $11 to $14 dollars per hour. Jobs that will need taxpayer subsidies for housing and food stamps to survive. Neither document was enclosed in the package presented at the BOCC when the vote was taken but it was included in the documents at the county. Bass Pro isn’t a bad deal it is a rip off for the taxpayers of Hillsborough County.

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