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Roundup 4-11-2014

April 11, 2014

Jackson House – Another Attempt to Fix It

There was news late last week that another group may enter the fray and attempt to save Jackson House.

The local chapter of the NAACP is stepping in where others have failed to save the historic Jackson House.

Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, told Tampa City Council members Thursday that her group will lead an effort to secure and restore the 113-year-old rooming house, which is in danger of collapsing. Other groups and individuals have championed the Jackson House in the past, but an organized plan and funding to save the structure have failed to materialize.

“We want to do it for the history of Tampa and to make sure we maintain not only the history of the city, but the African- American community,” Collins said after the meeting.

She said the project would cost between $2 million and $3 million, but did not elaborate on a source for the money.

The group will announce details of its plan to save the Jackson House in coming days, Collins said.

The executive board was set to take a final vote to approve it Thursday night, she said, and a community meeting will be held next week.

“We’re going to do this one right,” she said.

We hope so.  They would seem a good group to succeed where others have not, and it would be hard for the City to dismiss the NAACP as just seeking a publicity stunt.

We hope it works out.  Too much history has already been destroyed, and too much is still at risk.  While we should be looking to, and planning for, the future, it is good to remain grounded in our history and certain places, like Jackson House, are vital for such grounding.  And what better way to honor Central Avenue’s history than to actually preserve the last part of the old neighborhood.

Downtown – Good for Encore

We learned this week that we will still have to wait for a grocery store downtown, but, in this case, we have no problem with that.

A plan to build a 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Tampa’s Encore district evaporated this week after the Arkansas-based retail and grocery giant wouldn’t consider requests to adapt its prototype.

“We had to turn it down,” confirmed Leroy Moore, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s not the right fit for Encore.”

This is not your typical suburban store, Moore said.

“It did not engage [main thoroughfare]  Ray Charles Boulevard and that is an absolute must. They came to us. We asked they understand the nature of our urban village and be prepared to adapt to it or you can build your store elsewhere.”

No, it is not a suburban store. Good for the Housing Authority. What is Walmart’s issue?

“The notion that they only have one store they can drop in a location is ridiculous and it was insulting to hear that from a Walmart person,” Moore said. “I lived in a very urban boulevard in the middle of downtown Chicago and there was a Walmart and it was not the prototype Walmart – it was a very urban design.”

Walmart doesn’t see Tampa as an urban community, Moore said. “They want a suburban Walmart for us.”

Surface parking was about as much of a compromise as the Housing Authority wanted.

A surface parking lot at Encore is never something it never wanted to do but has had to consider to accommodate a grocer, especially if it had the right “aesthetics and landscaping to camouflage the parked cars.” To “turn the shoulder of the store to Ray Charles Boulevard” and not have any of that frontage of Ray Charles Boulevard “engaged” was insulting, Moore said.

Whether it is insulting or not, but it certainly is unacceptable. (Especially since they are building this in Miami.  Here is an article on urban Walmart’s.)  And we do not really care how Walmart views Tampa – what counts is how Tampa views Tampa.  A suburban Walmart grocery in Encore would be silly, especially one that is bigger than usual:

Walmart Neighborhood Market stores average about 38,000 square feet in size. This one was slated to be 42,000 square-feet, Moore said. The stores offer produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and deli items, household supplies, health and beauty aids, plus a pharmacy. Walmart’s giant Supercenters average about 182,000 square feet. The company has 45 Neighborhood Markets in Florida, compared to 204 Supercenters.

It is too bad there is no grocery store downtown yet, but one will come.  If Walmart does not want the market, that is their choice.

Thankfully, for once, there was no settling.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.

Transportation – Innovation Hillsborough Style

Disruptive innovation is coming to Hillsborough County.

TAMPA — Lyft is going rogue. The ride-sharing service, which uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal vehicles, began accepting passengers in Tampa on Friday evening.

That happened despite a letter sent last month to Lyft by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission that made it clear the San Francisco-based company does not meet the requirements to operate legally here.  

So what does the PTC, a majority of which are either Hillsborough County Commissioners or Tampa City Council members, object to?

On the other side of the issue, you have the Public Transportation Commission in Hillsborough County, established to regulate taxis, limos, tow truck drivers and others. Such agencies nationwide have staunchly fought against start-ups like Lyft, Uber and others, and the local PTC last year all but shut down Uber’s hopes of offering rides during the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012 — infuriating business-minded Republicans. Similarly, would-be electric car pickup services have also attracted the regulatory muscle of the PTC and been driven out of business.

“My understanding of Lyft and Uber’s model is not conducive to what’s in place in law,” said Kevin Jackson, interim executive director of the PTC, who added that his responsibility is to enforce the rules that Hillsborough County sets. “People may think it’s protectionism … Well at the same time we make taxi and limo companies do things that are not profitable at all,” he said, such as require taxis to accept any passenger, regardless of the neighborhood, their race, gender or even the distance they need to go — even if only one block.

In theory, Lyft drivers could face a $100 penalty for picking up passengers, and law enforcement officers could technically make an arrest, but Jackson said such instances are “highly unusual.” More likely, he said, his officers would make a written warning. He notes the county will likely take up the issue of Lyft and Uber and others at its next monthly meeting.

As for why make such a big deal, “The PTC has a legal obligation to protect the safety of transportation service customers through regulation of transportation service providers,” the PTC’s letter to Lyft read in part, noting drivers must have commercial licenses, background checks, training, and pass vehicle inspections. A ride from Tampa International Airport costs about $26 in a traditional taxi, and any limo ride has a minimum charge of $50.

(Note that Lyft is rich in investor capital and going to lower prices.) Nothing says innovation hub like government enforced price fixing. The PTC should be put in the first slide of every presentation on attracting innovators and young professionals to the area.  Hey, it is innovative – it is the only body like it in Florida,  even if its raison d’être is protectionism.

Nevertheless, changes still might be afoot.

But the PTC, which regulates all vehicles for hire, could soon lose much of its power if a bill moving through the Florida Legislature succeeds.

Refashioned Friday to take aim at the agency, the proposal initially sought to let technology-based transportation companies circumvent local municipalities and win approval directly from the state. It was nicknamed the “Uber Bill,” after the California-based digital booking service that has been rebuffed by government agencies in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

On Friday, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, gutted the bill and instead proposed new rules for the state’s 10 special transportation districts, including the PTC, which has more power than others.

Under Grant’s revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based commercially licensed driver services, such as town cars and limousines. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.

Not enough, but at least it is something.  What does the PTC say?

PTC chairman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said that while he is not against making some changes to allow new technology, any decisions should be made in Hillsborough instead of Tallahassee.

(Wonder if he would say that if he was still in Tallahassee? )

Regardless, if he wants to make changes, then make the changes.  No one is stopping him.  The PTC doesn’t need Tallahassee’s action to stop being an innovation killing, anti-competitive, cartel supporting, price fixing, extra layer of government bureaucracy.  The PTC/County Commission did all that on its own.  It can reverse it.

The question is why it hasn’t done it yet.

Transportation – The Lack of Alternatives in Action

This week, we got a lesson in what a lack of transportation alternatives causes:

It was supposed to be an overnight resurfacing job.

Work would begin late Saturday on two northbound lanes of Interstate 275, just east of the Howard Frankland Bridge, and be done early Sunday. Minimal traffic disruption.

At least, that was the plan.

The asphalt was late. Work went past schedule. When the road finally reopened, the new surface was torn up by traffic. The lanes were closed again.

The result has been monstrous traffic jams more resembling a natural disaster or evacuation than a lane closure.

Backups on the Howard Frankland have had a domino effect. In the middle of the day Sunday, eastbound Gandy Bridge traffic was bumper-to-bumper and moving at a snail’s pace as motorists tried to get around the mess on the Howard Frankland. Even the normally smooth Crosstown Expressway was jammed.

First, we realize that having alternatives to roads does not mean there will never be traffic jams and that such a mess is not an everyday event, but it is a clear example of what happens when you rely on only one system for your transportation.  It is worth noting that the other bridges and roads got jammed.  It is also worth noting that buses and automated cars would also be stuck in that traffic.  Finally, even if they were not also blocked (which is unlikely given the mess), variable toll lanes would end up being priced beyond belief because they are supposed to be priced so high that they do not get jammed or, if the tolls were temporarily lifted (or not raised enough to create a smooth flow) to ease the problem, just become part of the jam.

Just an object lesson for those who claim that roads are the be all and end all in transportation.

Transportation – HART Picks An Interim CEO

HART picked an interim CEO this week.

HART’s board on Monday named Chief Operating Officer Katharine Eagan, 40, as interim chief executive officer to replace Philip Hale, who is retiring by month’s end.

Transit board members said a search for a full-time director likely would not begin until autumn after a countywide transportation advisory group offers recommendations that could restructure HART’s board and dramatically alter the transit agency’s role, to possibly include an economic development focus.

Board members reasoned strong candidates from across the nation were unlikely to be interested in HART’s top position without knowing new expectations beyond fundamental transit operations and how HART’s board would be constituted.

Reasonable enough, except that part about “fundamental transit options” since right now HART does not really provide much in the way of options.  Nevertheless:

HART’s long-term direction and the board’s expectations of its next chief executive are expected to be affected by the outcome of the county advisory committee, which includes county commissioners and mayors of three cities who have met for nearly a year to discuss an ambitious new role for HART.

Some have said they hope a newly constituted HART board and vision would lead to innovative transit solutions, including more regional service.

However, what must be determined is how to alter HART’s financial bottom line to achieve transit improvements guided by a new vision and how to recruit and pay for new staff expertise capable of handling expanded roles beyond fundamentally operating a bus system.

That is more like it – fundamentally operating a bus system is what HART does.  Which is an issue.  So is this:

“A lot of people have a vision of what they would like to do with transportation in Tampa Bay,” Hale said. “But in my experience I haven’t met a lot with experience in transit.”

Maybe a lot of those people do not have experience in transit (but many have experience with transit, though usually somewhere else where transit works much better), but that is why you hire someone who does have experience and who is in line with the vision of how HART should operate.  You hire someone with drive and experience to execute the plan, even if it costs a little more.  (Kind of like flight development and the present the airport director.)

That is not the problem.  The problem is that right now there is no plan.

Transportation – More Election Year Money

The Governor was in the area again this week to hand out more election year road money.

Gov. Rick Scott returned to the Tampa Bay region Thursday for the third time in three months to promote transportation infrastructure funding, but his announcement repeated news more than a year and a half old— Interstate 75 would be widened in Pasco County.

* * *

One project will expand I-75 from four to six lanes from north of State Road 52 to Hernando County with construction beginning April 14 and completion expected by Spring 2016.

A second project will expand the Interstate from four to six lanes from north of County Road 54 to north of State Road 52. Construction begins May 27 and will be completed by Spring 2017.

Like the previous piles of cash announced this year for local road work, we are not going to complain about getting it, even if it is a result of the election year.  The roads need upgrades so it is fine with us.  It may not be the best way to plan, build, and pay for roads, but so be it.  Pasco also needs an east-west road (since it only has 2, which is horrible planning), but that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Channelside – On and On

This week, the bankruptcy judge in the Channelside saga had some rulings.

The bankruptcy judge overseeing Channelside Bay Plaza handed the Tampa Port Authority some wins but one notable loss in the ongoing court battle on Wednesday.

The judge dismissed the claims for damages made against the port by Liberty Channelside LLC, which is waging a tenacious legal campaign against the port for control of Channelside.

But the port also failed to get U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi to give up jurisdiction over Channelside, and the judge indicated during the hearing that he may continue to chip away at the port’s rights over the complex.

Frankly, it just seems like more to perpetuate the misery that is the Channelside story.  Other than that, we’ll just have to wait some more, comforted by the fact that we still have a black hole on the downtown waterfront.

Economic Development – Lights, Camera, Something

There was a lot of hubbub recently about the drive to have more film, TV, and commercial work in the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa Bay can lead the state in film and digital media projects and Film Tampa Bay’s relaunch on Friday is the first step on that ambitious goal.

“We want to become the state leader in this industry,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said at a relaunch event at Tampa Theatre for Film Tampa Bay, formerly the Tampa/Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

And

When movie makers train their lenses on Tampa Bay, the region’s tourism economy will feel it.

That was the theme of a ceremony held Friday in the lobby of the Tampa Theatre to mark the official relaunch of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

Standing on a stage amid a bright spotlight in the historic building’s lobby, business and political leaders touted film as a potential boon for the region.

“This is a segment of our economy we’ve been missing for a long time,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, noting that the film commission was an entity that has been dormant for several years.

Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan recalled their decision last year to set aside city and county funds to relaunch the commission. The goal, they said, is to make Tampa a magnet for the film industry in Florida.

As long as too much money is not spent on it, there is no problem there.  We are all for developing various industries. How much we will really get out of it is another question, which is why we are concerned about cost.

Dale Gordon, who was named executive director of the local film commission in July, showcased for attendees the commission’s website, filmtampabay.com, designed to attract filmmakers to the region. It features interactive information on potential filming locations and a rundown of the film permitting process.

Commission representatives have also visited film festivals and trade shows with the goal of putting the Tampa Bay film market on the map, Gordon said. And they have talked with state legislators, seeking support for pending bills in both the House and Senate that would provide financial incentives for the state’s film industry.

We are also fine with getting state money, though we have a feeling Miami and Orlando will get more of it and there is a question about whether incentives in this industry really have a good return on investment.

So how will we compete?

“I have an investor now who wants to build a soundstage [in Hillsborough County],” she said. She has advised the investor to be patient until the legislature makes a move on incentives.

An $11.5 million soundstage from EUE Screen Gems is in development now in South Florida.“They have a lot to lose,” if the state’s incentive package does not come through, Gordon said.

So Miami is already getting a soundstage – not to mention all the Spanish language media, while Orlando has a large number of production facilities. (and Atlanta is getting in the game. )

The point is this – we have no problem with the goal of developing this industry.  We do have an issue of spending a lot of local taxpayer money for it.  We also think that there needs to be a realistic plan for achieving the goal that has a step by step process with real benchmarks and not a lot of hype.  However, while we do support the goal, our real concern is that it is just another attempt to shortcut the long, hard process of developing our economy broadly and deeply.  In other words, that all this effort will create unrealistic expectations and limited results.

So, can we do better in this industry?  Surely.  Are there other areas far ahead of us? Yes.  Will this effort detract from the goal of developing a modern, high wage economy with a decent tech sector?  It better not.

Something Positive This Way Comes

This week, the Tribune had an article on new apps that Tampa and Hillsborough County are developing:

The city and county governments have new phone applications that allow you to ask for service with a few clicks on your mobile device.

The Tampa app even allows you to photograph a problem, such as a pothole, a downed tree or an illegal garbage dump. A global positioning satellite function then sends the location to the appropriate city department.

Hillsborough County will have the photo-GPS option by early May, according to communications director Lori Hudson.

The county application is available for Android phones, but iPhone and iPad users will have to wait a few weeks until Apple approves the app.

The city and county apps are free.

Good deal.  Keeping with our policy of giving credit where credit is due:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the app rollout in January. City information technology workers had started work on the project about six months earlier, said Russell Haupert, the city’s chief information officer.

* * *

The genesis of Hillsborough County’s app was a trip by County Commissioner Al Higginbotham to New York with his wife, Devon. Higginbotham noticed there were a number of free apps available for city services, walking tours and subway routes.

* * *

The new app is also a testament to County Administrator Mike Merrill’s twin passions for better customer service and cutting-edge technology.

Since Merrill became administrator, the county has joined Tampa in a $34.2 million software project to integrate administrative functions such as payroll, accounting, procurement and human resources.

All that is good.  We have not tried the apps, so there may be things that need tweaking of which we are unaware, but that is the nature of the beast.  If only such initiative was applied to so many other issues in this area.

Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Mayberry

This week, there was an interesting Times business story that really says a lot about this area.  It involved the opening of a Spanx store at International Plaza, which is really not very interesting, but it had this about the company’s founder (and our interest is not in the Spanx founder but what is written in the article):

Fourteen years after starting Spanx, Blakely is opening her sixth standalone store, this one at International Plaza in Tampa, near her old stomping grounds. For local fans, it’s like a homecoming for a small-town girl who went big. As in billionaire big. Last year, Blakely became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. In February, she appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine.

That’s right, just a “small town” (if the 3 million or so people of the Tampa Bay area can be viewed as “small town”) girl from Clearwater who went to Atlanta and made billions, providing jobs and capital in Atlanta.

We have nothing against people making their fortunes, but what exactly is there for Tampa Bay to celebrate?  Losing talent?  Having a headquarters in Atlanta?  That our largest local paper likes to refer to the talent in the area as “small town” folks who have to go to Atlanta to make it big?  So why exactly should young professionals and innovators come here instead of going directly to Atlanta or some other “big town”?

You may say we are making a mountain out of a molehill, and, probably, in some ways we are – though it is hardly a mountain – it is just an observation.  However, the fact remains, that, despite all the swag and hype, this is a very commonly demonstrated attitude of the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

– Of Gateways and Capitals

This week, we noticed two different articles about Miami.  First, the Miami Herald had an interesting article about the fortunes at Opa-Locka Executive airport.  The relevant portion:

“Private jet owners want to go to the nice, new, pretty buildings. They love that kind of stuff,” Blanchard said. “What we are seeing is a huge influx of South Americans: Venezuelans, Colombians, Brazilians … the guys who are coming in here and dumping money into the real estate market, those cash buyers.” Miami’s growing reputation as an adult playground also has added to private jet traffic at the Opa-locka airport. “You have things like Ultra, like Art Basel, the boat shows: Miami is such an event-driven town that you pull from everywhere,” he said.

Apparently, they are copying our event strategy.  In any event, then there was an article in the Economist about Miami real estate, the relevant portion of which is thus:

ICON BRICKELL, a three-tower complex in Miami’s financial district, was supposed to be a flagship project for the Related Group, the city’s top condominium developer. It would boast 1,646 luxury condos, a 91-metre-long pool, and a hundred 22-foot columns in its entryway. By 2010, however, it had become a symbol of the excesses of the city’s building boom, and Related was forced to hand two of the towers to its banks. Miami condo prices plunged to 60% below their peak. The vacancy rate jumped to 60%. Predictions flew that the market, the epicentre of America’s property crash, would take ten years to come back, or even longer.

The speed of the recovery has surprised everyone. Condo prices are already back near peak levels in Miami’s most desirable areas, and at 75-80% elsewhere. The available supply of units has fallen back to within the six-to-nine-months-of-sales range considered normal, from a stomach-churning 40 in 2008. Only 3% of condos are unoccupied. Sales of condos and single-family homes are above pre-crisis levels across Miami-Dade County. Commercial property, too, has rebounded, with demand outstripping supply. Developers are once again relaxed enough to crack jokes. “I call the current expansion the Viagra cycle,” jokes Carlos Rosso, Related’s president of condominium development. “We just want it to last a little longer.”

The recovery has been partly driven by low interest rates and bottom-fishing by private equity, which helped to clear excess inventory. But the biggest factor is that the city nicknamed the “Capital of Latin America” has attracted a flood of capital from Latin America. Rich people in turbulent spots such as Venezuela and Argentina are seeking a safe haven for their savings.

(Now we understand, we are the “Gateway” but Miami is the “Capital” of Latin America.  Our bad.  And how about the Related project, the columns of which are almost as tall as Pierhouse in the Channel District.)  Do you sense a theme?

Once again, we are all for pushing trade and transportation connection to Latin America, and we would be all for taking business from Miami (or anywhere else, really – that is nature of the beast). And Miami has its own issues – but Latin American connections are not among them.

On the other hand, we are not much for hype that is completely divorced from reality, like saying we will be THE Gateway to Latin America. (We are a long way from ever really being A gateway, so why don’t we just aim for that now?)  We’ll just leave it at that.

– And, Yes, Other People Get It Wrong Too

We often point out things done improperly in this area and say we are behind other areas (and we are).  Of course, that does not mean everyone else, even people ahead of us, are doing everything properly.  Thankfully, we can look at what others do and try to avoid their mistakes (though that seems rare).  This week, we noticed two items about Orlando that fall into that category.  First, there was a column in the Sentinel about the area around UCF.  You can read the whole thing yourself, but the main takeaway is this:

It’s the same old Florida growth story playing out at lightning speed. Build fast to meet market demand. Pay little mind to transportation. Fix problems later.

The planning geniuses can’t even muster up something as simple as shade trees along University Boulevard to make the walk a little less brutal.

“It’s the prototypical example of urban sprawl,” said Jim Sellen, a longtime Central Florida planner and principal with planning, design and engineering firm VHB. “There’s no attempt to soften that area. Cars live there. That’s what it’s about. It’s auto-centric.”

The reality is that if you look at the area around UCF, even with all its issues, it is quite a bit nicer than the area around USF.  Moreover, even with a few crosswalks being installed by the County near USF, crossing Bruce B Downs at Fowler or Fletcher is a ridiculous idea.  We can, and should, do better.  And all should note that palm trees, while iconic, are not shade trees.

The second item was about a new proposed restaurant/attraction in downtown Orlando.

Ace Cafe, a British hub for vintage-motorcycle and custom-car events, plans to open its first U.S. complex in downtown Orlando within a year.

Owners of the Ace brand, with its “petrol and speed” cult following, have signed a long-term lease for acreage and several industrial buildings facing Interstate 4 at Livingston Street, next to the downtown Lynx and SunRail stations.

* * *

The new cafe would provide a meeting place for car and motorcycle fans, with surface parking for fans to show up in their rides and garage parking nearby. Events could include everything from Old Ford Night and Mini Cooper meetups to gatherings for motorcycle clubs.

You can see renderings for the business at Sentinel website.  Frankly, we are surprised that Orlando has a proposal for a surface parking lot for hot rod car gatherings right next to its downtown rail/transit station.  It seems like quite a blunder.  Once again, something to note and never do.

What Is A Conservative?

Often in this area, there is a presumption that to be conservative one must oppose rail transit (and really most transit).  However, as we have pointed out often, that is not really the case nationwide.  Many conservative areas have rail transit (note the rail in Texas and Arizona, among others)  This week, we found an interesting item on the different strands of conservatism in Wisconsin and Utah.  You can explore it for yourself here.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Gallup/Healthway’s well-being survey of the highest and lowest cities by “well-being.”  To figure out what that means, look here.

The top ten best cities for well-being are Provo, Boulder, Ft. Collins (CO), Honolulu, San Jose, Ann Arbor, Naples (FL), San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, and Lincoln (NE).

The worst are Huntington (WV), Charleston (WV), Reading (CA), Spartanburg (SC), Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (NC), Beaumont (TX), Columbus (GA), Shreveport, Mobile, Evansville (IN), and Chattanooga.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    April 11, 2014 10:16 AM

    I am so tired of the “me too” thinking in Hillsborough County. Seattle is the computer development area. Hillsborough County: “me too”. Charleston is the medical hub. Hillsborough County: “me too”. Atlanta is becoming a movie hub. Hillsborough County: “me, too.” The only thing that happens is Hillsborough Commissioners give millions of our tax dollars away to businesses to tempt them to relocate here. Doesn’t any of our county commissioners have even one original thought?

  2. Marcus Motes permalink
    April 16, 2014 4:14 PM

    In DC area, Wal-Mart is building a store with apartments on top. http://gizmodo.com/walmart-is-downsizing-its-superstores-and-putting-apart-1563878838

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