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Roundup 6-22-2018

June 22, 2018

Contents

Transportation – A Petition for a Referendum

— One More Thing

Downtown – Still, No

Downtown/Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Transportation – Ferry Stories

— The Possible Transportation

— The Fun Cruise

Downtown – Riverwalk Plaza Sales

Airport – More

Westshore-ish – Tear it Down

Economy – Housing

Rays – Knowing

USF – A New Name

Economic Development – Pasco

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Not a Surprise

— Detroit

_________________________________________________________


Transportation – A Petition for a Referendum

Not long after the failure (for many reasons, some good, some not so good) of TED/TLC/Go Hillsborough mess of a process, some local activists started calling for a publicly submitted referendum.  And there is something to be said for that, especially if it is really a grassroots process.  Local officials and the consultants they have hired and relied upon have made a mess of a number of transportation processes.  Maybe a grassroots proposal would cover more people’s concerns and win more support.  While it is a bit late in the game for this year, there was news of a referendum proposal:

Now, a citizens group has put county commissioners on notice that a new effort is under way to get a sales tax hike on the November ballot — and this time, their approval won’t be necessary.

The group has its own heavy hitters. Commissioners learned of the plan from supporter Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the driving force behind a $3 billion entertainment district around Amalie Arena.

All for Transportation, as the group is called, must collect 49,000 signatures in the next six weeks to get an initiative on the ballot. The measure would ask voters to approve a one penny county sales tax hike, from seven cents on the dollar to eight cents, for a 30-year period beginning in 2019.

For now we will set aside the fact that the 8% sales tax will be the highest in the area.  As we often say, if you want stuff you have to pay for it.  The bigger question is what is the stuff?  From the coverage, that is not entirely clear.  From the initial article from the Times:

Forty-five percent of the money raised would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to improve bus service and pay for other mass transit. The remainder would go to Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for road and bridge improvements, pothole repair, sidewalks, bike lanes and projects to ease congestion.

If approved by voters, the tax would raise about $280 million per year.

But what exactly is the plan?  If you have to by-pass local officials to raise the money, you don’t really want to then hand them a big chunk of change to do with as they like.  You need a real plan with a real vision.  The Business Journal had pretty much the same.

Maybe a Times editorial will tell us:

Under the plan, the county sales tax would increase to eight cents on the dollar, beginning in 2019, for 30 years. Forty-five percent of the money would go to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to improve bus service and pay for other mass transit options. The remainder would be split between Hillsborough and its three cities for roads, bridges, sidewalks, intersections and other uses such as routine maintenance. The tax would generate about $280 million per year, and of that, about $126 million would go to HART, or more than three times what the agency currently receives in property tax, its single-biggest revenue source.

This is a substantial amount of money that could modernize the region’s transportation system. It could provide a funding base for rapid bus, light rail and other new services, while making roads safer and intersections more efficient. The set-asides for mass transit and roads would still give local governments the flexibility to set their own priorities — spending more for transit or pedestrian safety projects, for example —and the language is forward-looking enough even to accommodate autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies. More importantly, it seeks to bring a closer link between land use and transportation planning, a big gap in Hillsborough that has fueled the far-flung exurbs. The proposal would include an oversight committee to ensure the money was properly spent.

It could modernize the region’s transportation system (which is the upside) or, intentionally or not, it could serve as a cash grab for various interests and consultants.  Latitude to set priorities is a double-edged sword.

After the initial roll out, another Times article provided some detail:

The group, which has the backing of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, cleared a first hurdle Friday with the approval of its petition. It includes more details on how the tax, expected to raise about $280 million in its first year, might be spent.

Just over half of the money would go to Hillsborough’s four local governments — Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Hillsborough County — to spend on road projects.

Here’s a breakdown of how that share of the money would spent: at least 26 percent on projects to relieve rush-hour bottlenecks on existing county and city roads, 27 percent for projects to make roads safer, such as intersection improvements; 20 for repairs and maintenance of roads and bridges to fix problems such as potholes; and 12 percent for sidewalks, bike lanes and other measures to make roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority would get 45 percent of the tax proceeds. Most of HART’s share would go toward expanding bus service while 35 percent would be spent on transit systems that “utilize exclusive transit right of way.” That could be a bus rapid transit, light rail or traditional rail using existing CSX tracks.

The priorities are based on a long range transportation plan that was developed four years ago by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, based in part on responses to a survey of more than 6,000 people.

The plan includes more frequent resurfacing and repair of potholes, increased use of intelligent transportation systems like traffic signals that can change cycles to reduce congestion, and an expanded bus network. A transit system that connects downtown Tampa with West Shore and the University of South Florida is also listed but not what form it would take.

No money has been allocated to the MPO’s long-range transportation plan but that would change if All for Transportation succeeds in its campaign.

(You can find the 2014 Long Range Plan here. And, just so you know, the long range transportation plan includes/assumes what basically became TBX managed express lanes. How will that figure into the whole plan and what exactly is the language?)

The use of the money on “exclusive transit right of way” projects is good idea, but still potentially open to manipulation.  And since we do not have the petition language (we assume there will be a website soon, but why did they wait?), we wonder about the “expanding bus service” portion and if that can or cannot include the exclusive right of way projects.  And another problem with relying on past plans is that they have 1) not rally been that popular and 2) have some poor ideas. Unfortunately, while there seem to be general priorities, there is no clear list of projects or vision that has been publicized yet. Without detail, you may not get the projects you actually vote yes for. (We do not expect a binding list for 30 years, but you need a first phase list and basic plans for potential later phases.)

As for the governance:

The charter amendment would levy the one-penny surtax for 30 years with funds deposited into an audited trust fund with independent oversight by the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court’s office.

Voters would answer yes or no, and the tax would take effect Jan. 1 if enacted.

The agency overseeing transportation surtax revenue would have to approve by Sept. 30 of each year a project plan outlying uses for funds during the following calendar year. Those uses would require approval during a public hearing. Failing to approve a funding plan would not cancel the tax, but it would pause spending any of the revenue.

That agency would be comprised of Hillsborough County residents appointed by various elected boards. The Hillsborough County Commission would appoint four, two of which would have to be experts in either transportation, planning, sustainability, engineering or construction. Mayors of each of the three cities within Hillsborough County would appoint one member and another each from those municipal boards. HART would appoint two members while the clerk would appoint one attorney.

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser would appoint one land use or real estate expert and an accountant by the Hillsborough County Tax Collector.

If you think the PTC was messy, just imagine what is could happen with this board.  There is also the question of selection overlap.  For instance the HART board is composed of local government officials and their appointee, plus a few others.  Some of those officials would then have the opportunity to help choose oversight board members in more than one capacity.  That seems a bit odd.  Not to mention, with the latitude given it, the board will likely be dominated by crazy politics (seen and unseen) for the whole period. But we’ll set that aside for now.

We don’t mind the idea of a referendum or the general concept behind the priorities.  We have two big concerns.  First, as stated, we are concerned that there is not enough detail. We don’t mind paying for something but we want to know what it is for.  And we want less latitude when the money comes in.

The second issue has to do with where this came from.  This effort involves a petition drive in six, then a campaign for a contentious issue.  Getting it on the ballot and then selling it in an area that does not normally buy in to transit referendums will take a big effort.  Aside from the Lightning owner, where is this really coming from, who is really running it?

All for Transportation has not yet raised funds to aid in its petition drive, but the group will seek contributions to complement its grassroots campaign utilizing volunteers to collect signatures, according to Tyler Hudson, a local attorney and prominent Democratic operative heading the campaign. Hudson filed papers establishing All for Transportation on Thursday to raise money for the initiative. Conservative donor and strategist Nancy Watkins is the group’s treasurer.

Ok.  The Lightning owner and two politically connected people are involved.  Given how this area works, that leads us to believe there is more to the effort than is being presented.  In a way, it does not matter.  If someone can bring good transit, fine. (That is where the first concern – details and latitude – comes into play.)

On the other hand, even before you get to spending the money, any effort requires complete transparency (good for the Lightning owner for being up front) because, given the politics of transportation in this area, any hint of actual machinations, shenanigans or hidden hands (and hidden interests) could easily doom any referendum. (Hence the second concern)

While the Times editorial says this:

It’s early still, and there will be time to examine the details. But it says something about the state of Hillsborough’s transportation system and its elected leaders that private citizens would step up to fill the leadership void and lead an effort to address and the shortcoming that threatens to drag down the entire region. They certainly deserve public support at this formative stage.

There actually isn’t much time at all to examine (and fix) the details, which is also a problem.

We hope there is much more clarity in the near future.  We would like to be enthusiastically supportive of a solid effort to move forward on transportation.  We would like this to be it, but right now, while we like the general idea, we think there still is too much that is unknown/needs clarification.  Hopefully, starting with the meeting Thursday, that will be fixed.


— One More Thing

Of course, there are other things that might throw the referendum, if it happens, one way or another.  Like this:

Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.

The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum resolution to the state, a first step toward trying to place such a question on the Nov. 6 ballot — though other factors may render that a futile step.

Under a new state law, the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (or OPPAGA), must now commission a performance audit.

The audit, which will not cost the district anything, will likely take about six months. The results must to be posted for two months after that, making it unlikely that such a referendum could appear on the November ballot.

“This is specific to a sales tax,” Superintendent Jeff Eakins told the board.

Under state law, such a tax can be used only to fund capital expenses such as buildings and heavy equipment such as air conditioners. It cannot be used for salaries or other ongoing expenses.

And

Eakins also told the board he is researching options for another possible referendum — this one to raise property taxes, as is done in certain school districts such as Pinellas County.

Pitting transportation against schools could create quite a mess. It will be interesting.


Downtown – Still, No

As you may remember, the City asked for proposals for a “signature” project for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall. After the initial proposals, the City chose an average at best proposal from HRI.  Then, after HRI was chosen, HRI changed the plan for something even worse. That caused some complaints, so they revised it a little – very little.  That was not enough. (Throughout the whole period we have had the position that none of the proposals was worthy of the lot and that there is no hurry to develop the lot, especially with Water Street and other projects underway. See, for instance, here, here, and here)

Last week, new renderings of a revised (sort of) HRI proposal for the lot across Florida from City Hall surfaced.

Kennedy:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Jackson:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Florida:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

The renderings are shiny (and feature the standard distortions), but if you look closely (and look at the site plan) you see that Marion and Kennedy are essentially dead streetscapes (though there now is a very tiny corner store on Kennedy) and Florida is a mess.  That is not to mention the complete lack of anything interesting architecturally about this project.  It is a bland box (rendered twilight shadows notwithstanding).

For us, nothing has changed regarding this project.  The building is bland to ugly.  There are still vast stretches of dead streets.  There is nothing signature or remarkable about the proposal.  If it were on a private lot we would be disappointed and critical, but at least it would be private land. (There are a number of private surface parking lots where this proposal could go.)  There is nothing to justify building this proposal on valuable public land in the middle of a downtown.

Interestingly, while thinking about this issue, we ran across an article on Curbed.com about a private hotel proposal in Atlanta.  This is the original proposal:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

Clearly that developer should have gotten a better artist to draw a twilight drawing.  In any event,

Atlanta’s urbanists cringed when they first saw renderings for hotel slated to develop at a bustling intersection in Midtown.

Granted, the building, a 14-story Marriott installation being developed by Noble Investment Group, is expected to replace a parking lot at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue. But early designs didn’t look much more exciting than the slab of parking spaces.

But now, thanks to a collaboration among the city’s planning department, the Midtown Alliance, and Noble, the bummer of a building mockup—urbanist blog ThreadATL called it “bland” and “run-of-the-mill”—underwent some upgrades . . .

This is what they came up with:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

We don’t know all the details of each proposal, meaning we may think there are problems with the new version, but it is definitely far better than the first version (which is much more like the HRI proposal, once again rendered twilight notwithstanding).  The real point is the attitude:

“It is critically important that Atlanta expect more from its designers and more of its buildings,” said Tim Keane, commissioner of the planning department, according to a press release. “City Planning is focused on design at every scale, so we can make a more vibrant public realm in Atlanta. Buildings are essential to this.”

Likewise, it is critically important in Tampa do the same. And to stop selling valuable public land for substandard and/or unnecessary projects that can go on other land (or just go away). And it is time for the City to actually have and demonstrate real pride (not just talk about it) and stop settling.  It is not anti-Tampa to think we deserve and can do better.  On the contrary, it is those who settle that sell Tampa short.

The HRI proposal should be rejected and the land kept by the City.


Downtown/Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Given the horrible plan amendment regarding storage buildings inexplicably proposed by the City Council (See “Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?”), it was only a matter of time (and/or coordination) before we got a new storage proposal with “private recreation facility” for downtown.  This week, we got it, for 1307 North Jefferson Street, near Encore and even closer to Perry Harvey Park (in fact it would help frame the park, along with the snazzy new Burger King drive through).

Here:

 

Here are the elevations:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Nothing like 11 story stall blank walls with basically no street interaction. (And, no, neither a rooftop feature nor a storage business office on the street mitigate the awfulness of having this downtown.)  It is bad enough to have old phone switching buildings in an urban area, but at least they were needed.  This is not.  There is no reason for this proposal other than poor planning and a City that has historically not cared (particularly in areas with certain demographics).

To allow this proposal downtown would be an embarrassment to Tampa.  This belongs in a warehouse/industrial district, of which there is one conveniently not too far from downtown.  (But, then again, the City Council voted for the downtown, drive-through Burger King so . . .)  Tampa definitely deserves better than this.

So tell City Council.  Here is the info from URBN Tampa Bay:

We encourage everyone opposed to this bad idea to write emails to the city opposing the project. Here is the information to write an email:

You must include the Project Number in the title: DDR-18-0000018

Who you should write to:
Tracie Norton – Tracie.Norton@tampagov.net
Planning Permit Technician I

Please also be sure to include the Tampa city council in your email as well: tampacitycouncil@tampagov.net

Please be courteous and respectful, particularly in your email to the planning staff! Somebody else submits the project to them, this isn’t their design.

Indeed, be nice.  Hopefully, they will all do the right thing.


Transportation – Ferry Stories


— The Possible Transportation

There has finally been a sighting of the South County/MacDill Ferry concept.

The Hillsborough County Commission approved Wednesday the next step in creating ferry service between south county and MacDill Air Force Base. The move launches the next phase of the ferry that will create a timeline for completion, a budget schedule and identify at least two possible sites for a ferry terminal somewhere in south county.

What exactly is happening?

. . . the measure [] extend[s] the county’s contract with AECOM and HMS Ferries through Sept. 30, allowing for continued pre-construction and design services.

The public-private partnership allows “ongoing due diligence activities” associated with creating ferry service, including proposing pricing and a schedule for completion. The three-month contract extension would also give HMS Ferries, the proposed ferry operator for eventual service, to undertake a connectivity analysis along the water corridor as well as transit coordination with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and MacDill Air Force Base.

The contract would also include ridership surveys and projections, preliminary planning and conceptual design, regulatory consultation, environmental evaluation, an analysis of off-site impacts and a proposed business plan. HMS would also be required to examine two alternative sites for the eastern terminus of the project that could be anywhere around Apollo Beach and Riverview, among other possibilities in south Hillsborough.

The cost of the contract extension to the county is $170,000 from the existing budget.

This is one of many steps anticipated under the county’s plans to implement a ferry route for workers in south county and at MacDill Air Force Base, where commuters face staggering congestion. It could save workers up to a half-hour from morning and afternoon commutes, according to a previous analysis by HMS Ferries.

One would think much of that would already have been done, or at least be paid for by the private company.

There are still several questions that need to be answered before service can launch. Approval for an on-base dock would require federal approval from the Pentagon. MacDill leadership has tentatively offered its support, but official clearance hasn’t been requested.

The site for an off-base dock in south county also has to be identified and must be both financially and environmentally viable. Two sites so far have been floated including the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve just north of Apollo Beach and the Williams Park boat ramp near Gibsonton. Both sites present environmental challenges including possibly damaging sea grass or injuring manatees, which are prevalent in the area.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacey White said he would not support the Schultz site due to environmental concerns and urged planners to either find a financial path toward securing the Williams Park site or find an alternative.

One would think that would have been done, too.  That this process has gone on for four years but still does not have an actual route set is a says much about the effectiveness of the County’s transportation planning. (It would also be good to find out if the Pentagon will allow it.)

It’s the seventh modification to the original proposal approved in early 2014. HMS Ferries initially approached the county with an unsolicited proposal in May 2013. Since then, the contract has been extended several times to allow additional analysis on the project.

AECOM, who is contracted as the county’s agent in the partnership, expects an eighth modification sometime in late September that will further launch the county into planning by providing a schedule for complete pricing.

Well, at least someone is making money from the long, drawn-out process.


— The Fun Cruise

There was also news about the Cross Bay Ferry:

Hillsborough County is all in for its share of the Cross Bay Ferry 2.0. The board voted unanimously Wednesday to support a $150,000 expenditure for a second round of ferry service beginning this November.

* * *

“This is about really offering something to our citizens that’s not just in a car or an Uber,” Murman said. “It’s making use of our water. We don’t use our waterways.”

Setting aside that Uber generally involves cars, Pinellas and Tampa would still have to pony up to get the service back.  Our view on the Cross Bay Ferry has not changed.


Downtown – Riverwalk Plaza Sales

Riverwalk Plaza will begin sales soon.

Riverwalk Place, the mixed-use tower proposed on the downtown Tampa waterfront, has released pricing and floor plans for its condominiums.

* * *

Here’s a breakdown of the pricing:

The units priced from $600,000 are “live-work residences,” with one to two bedrooms ranging in size from 822 to 1,774 square feet. They are on levels four through eight, which would indicate they are on the same level as the parking deck. The luxury units began at the 22nd story; office space is planned between the parking deck and luxury condos.

The prices are on the top end of the market. We’ll see how it goes.


Airport – More

New airport passenger numbers are out, and May 2018 was up 9.14% over May 2017.  And, not surprisingly, freight is way up.

And, continuing a theme from last week, the airport is getting more Carolinas service, this time from Frontier.

The Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport will soon be stretching its footprint westward.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines announced plans Tuesday to begin direct service to Denver and Las Vegas beginning in September, giving the Greer airport direct access to those cities for the first time.

The discount-fare airline will also begin service from GSP to Orlando and Tampa. Introductory fares are available for $34 one way, and flights can be booked now, according to the Frontier website.

There was also news that Westjet’s planned ultra-low cost carrier Swoop has applied to fly to Tampa from its planned Hamilton hub.  The details are not clear and the effect on Westjet service is not clear.

In the meantime, Norwegian is expanding in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale.  Hopefully, we will get more Latin American and/or European service soon.


Westshore-ish – Tear it Down

The Midtown developer seems to want to get going.

Bromley Cos., based in New York, is planning to demolish the building at 3725 W Grace St. at 10 a.m. on June 24. The building will be brought down in 30 seconds, the company said, by two Komatsu-brand excavators with 200-foot cables.

The 12,000 tons of concrete left behind by the building will be crushed and repurposed within Midtown. Barr and Barr is the general contractor on Midtown; Cross Environmental Services is handling interior and exterior demolition.

Well, at least they are prepping the site.  We will be more interested when they start.


Economy – Housing

Let’s check in with housing.

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply.

In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. Prices, though, shot up 10 percent, to a median of $253,000.

In Hillsborough, the number of sales crept up less than 1 percent as prices rose 4.7 percent.

The bay area figures reflect a nationwide trend as sales remain surprisingly weak given the solid economy and job market.

“Closings were down in a majority of the country last month and declined on an annual basis in each major region,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. “Incredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales, but there’s no question the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates are pinching the budgets of prospective buyers, and ultimately keeping some from reaching the market.”

There was a similar story in Orlando.

It is often said that our housing prices are low, and they are in comparison to other large metro areas.  However, with our low wages and housing price inflation, our prices are not necessarily that affordable to local residents. From abcactionnews.com:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing to be affordable when a renter or homeowner does not have to devote more than 30% of their income to rent or a mortgage.

The new “Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds a renter in the Tampa Bay area would need to earn $41,800 a year to afford the rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment. The average renter locally only makes $35,380.

The two-bedroom apartment in the Tampa Bay area costs $1,118 per month.

You can get more information at the website here. Even if the prices are low, if incomes cannot cover the costs of living, there is an issue.

As this map from a different article regarding a Harvard housing study about housing cost issue shows, we are not really in one of the most affordable housing markets based on incomes.

From huffpost – click on map for article

It is definitely a complicated situation.


Rays – Knowing

There was an interesting comment from the Rays this week:

The Tampa Bay Rays have kept mum about what happens next if a financial deal isn’t sealed for a new Ybor City ballpark by the end of the year.

That’s the expiration date on their agreement with host St. Petersburg to look in Tampa for a new home.

But this week, Melanie Lenz, the team’s chief development officer, told Ybor City residents and development officials that the Rays would know within six to nine months if a new ballpark will work there.

That means the alarm may sound on the Rays’ Ybor dream as early as March.

Lenz made her comments at an informal brainstorming session with about 15 people Wednesday in Ybor City, said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Community Renewal Area.

While nothing is done until it is done, the comment does not surprise us either as a negotiating tactic or as a statement of fact.


USF – A New Name

The Sun Dome is getting a new name.

Six years after undergoing a massive renovation, the most prominent structure on USF’s campus is set for another radical change.

Effective July 1, the USF Sun Dome will be re-named the Yuengling Center.

The school and Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties, the Jeff Vinik-controlled group that manages and operates the facility, announced Tuesday they have reached a 10-year agreement with D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., for naming rights to the 10,500-seat arena.

* * *

Terms of the agreement weren’t immediately available, though USF is expected to receive an annual amount in the high six figures. TBEP receives 35 percent of USF’s annual naming rights licensing net profit, according to the contract it signed with the school in May 2017.

We are fine with naming rights idea.  We are not so cool with not having the terms of a naming rights deal involving a publicly owned building be public.

As for the beer aspect, we are sure the folks at Yuengling are fine people and we know college kids need no encouragement to get beer, but it still seems a bit odd for a college.


Economic Development – Pasco

There was manufacturing news.

TouchPoint Medical, an engineering and manufacturer of high-tech hospital equipment, plans to put its global headquarters into a 125,000-square-foot industrial and corporate office building in Pasco County.

Tuesday morning, county commissioners approved an incentive package of nearly $1.7 million to lure the privately-held company to a location at the northwest corner of State Road 54 and the Suncoast Parkway in Odessa. The deal includes $980,000 in property tax rebates, $464,000 for creating 116 new full-time jobs over eight years, $150,000 in permitting costs and $100,000 for worker training.

TouchPoint Medical plans to consolidate operations currently in Oldsmar, Atlanta and Connecticut into a new $23 million building. Its average annual wage for the news jobs is listed at $57,546, or nearly 60 percent higher than the countywide average, according Florida Enterprise data. The company expects to employ 228 people initially but acquired enough space for a future 100,000-square-foot expansion, said Brian McNeill, president and CEO of TouchPoint Inc., the parent company of TouchPoint Medical.

The company’s products include high-tech medication dispensing equipment, work stations and mobile monitor carts.

It is not that many jobs and some will not be relocating from very far, but we are all for HQ’s and manufacturing, so good.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

More news on Brightline:

After winning approval Tuesday from Orange County commissioners, the company planning a high-speed passenger train linking Orlando with Miami expects to start laying rail in Central Florida later this year, a project executive said.

The 235-mile rail service includes a 22-mile stretch through Orange County that runs parallel to State Road 528 beginning at the St. Johns River and running to Orlando International Airport, mostly through protected wetlands.

The plan to ease the direct impact on 106 acres of wetlands required a permit approved by commissioners.

Michael Cegelis, executive vice president of rail infrastructure at Brightline Trains, said the proposed rail route from the airport terminal isn’t the shortest or most direct through the county to the east coast but it is “the path of least disruption.”

Still no news on when they plan to connect Tampa to the system.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Not a Surprise

While many people interested in transportation issues already knew most of the information contained in a New York Times article on transit opposition groups, some did not.  Here’s a bit of the article:

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

“Stopping higher taxes is their rallying cry,” said Ashley Robbins, a researcher at Virginia Tech who follows transportation funding. “But at the end of the day, fuel consumption helps them.”

David Dziok, a Koch Industries spokesman, said the company did not control the activities of Americans for Prosperity in specific states and denied that the group’s anti-transit effort was linked to the company’s interests. That notion “runs counter to everything we stand for as a company,” he said.

If you have not seen the article, you can find it here.


— Detroit

At the nexus of cars and trains is Detroit Central Station, which is a classic for those interested in ruin porn.  However, not necessarily much longer:

For the past year, Ford Motor has been working on a plan to reinvigorate its operations and jump-start profit growth. Now, as that strategy is just being put into place, the automaker is taking on another big renovation project: the city of Detroit and the hulking remains of its dilapidated train station.

Ford has purchased the Michigan Central Station, the abandoned and graffiti-covered 18-story office tower and train station that looms over the Corktown neighborhood. With its smashed and darkened windows, the station had long stood as the most recognizable symbol of Detroit’s decades of decline.

Ford sees the move as part of the race for supremacy in the next automotive era.

“To me this is about inventing the future,” William C. Ford Jr., the company’s chairman and a great-grandson of the automaker’s founder, said in an interview.

You can see what the station looked like back in the day here.  Good for Detroit.

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Roundup 6-15-2018

June 15, 2018

Contents

Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Transportation

— Streets, Walking, et al

— About That County Thing

— Free Streetcar

— Mayors, The Editorial

— Suncoast 2 Suit

Economic Development

— Housing, Factoring the True Cost

— Tourism

— Talent

— About That Cluster

Airports – Growing

Westshore – Publix

Rays – The Trop Land

Downtown – Reality Check

— One More Thing

Interesting Read/View

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

_______________________________________________________________________


Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Last week, we discussed this (See “Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?” ):

On June 11th the Hillsborough Planning Commission will consider an amendment to the zoning code that would allow standalone storage facilities to be built in Downtown Tampa as well as Seminole Heights! The applicant is also requesting that parking requirements be reduced for storage facilities citywide. The planning commission’s staff has recommended the board reject the proposal in its entirety.

We included the staff opinion and explained why we opposed the proposal, and did not really understand why the City Council would propose such a thing.

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the consideration of the amendment has been pushed to August.

Originally, at 2PM today (June 11th), the Hillsborough County Planning Commission was set to consider a proposal to allow single-use storage unit projects in Downtown, Seminole Heights and other urban neighborhoods. That hearing has now been pushed back to August.

Whether in June or August, it is still a bad idea and should be rejected.  We are still wondering why the City Council proposed the change.  It should be dropped.


Transportation


— Streets, Walking, et al

Basically everyone knows about the tragic (in every aspect) incident on Bayshore a few weeks ago.  We have purposefully avoided discussing it until now because we do not think policy decisions should be made in the heat of the moment and discussions are better done after some consideration.  Even after consideration, views may not be changed, but at least there is the benefit of more time to deliberate.

In any event, after that incident, the City accelerated already planned changes to Bayshore:

Under the expedited plans, speed limit pavement markings that remind motorists of the limit will be installed by this August. The city will also install by August enhanced conspicuity plaques, signs that inform motorists of road rules like speed limits with added visibility, according to a release.

The city already reduced the speed limit along Bayshore from 45 mph to 35 mph and replaced signage.

Calming measures along Bayshore will also be installed by the end of October including road striping to reduce the lane width to 10 feet, add a buffered bike lane and additional lighted crosswalks at Rome Avenue.

The city is also fixing sidewalk gaps on the west side of Bayshore and adding bike lanes south to Gandy Boulevard, adding those to its phase 3 project construction. 

One may or may not support all of those changes, but we doubt that any of the planned changes would change the unfortunate decision of someone to drive over 100 mph while racing down the road.  If someone is going to go 55 mph over the limit, there is a good chance they would go 65 over too.

Nevertheless, changes are coming. We are not sure what the buffer on the bike lanes is but without a real, solid barrier it won’t really matter.  If that is not in place, the lanes will still feel/be unsafe.

And we are still not convinced by the flashing crosswalks (anywhere, really).  They are not intuitive for drivers – by which we mean, unlike traffic lights, drivers are not normally looking for them and their timing is nonexistent/arbitrary.  We would prefer the installation of a few of streetlights, creating predictability and where drivers get used to stopping and people get used to crossing. (We understand that might upset some South Tampa residents who love to speed on Bayshore, but we think it is better than crosswalks. You could have the streetcar on Bayshore, like there used to be.)

Others suggested making Bayshore one lane in each direction using the western/northern segment and expand the park area.  In theory that is fine, but there are many people who use that road who would be quite upset (even those who do not speed).  And all the Gasparilla events would likely have to be moved, among other things. (While it was elsewhere years ago, that might also not go down well).

However, Bayshore is a bit of an outlier.  It is iconic and has a well-connected group of advocates. And it is a focus for investment.  The walkability problem is much larger than Bayshore (like here and here).  Really, while unfortunate events do happen on Bayshore, other streets are more dangerous (though maybe less scenic and having fewer advocates).  Bayshore does not have a lot of curb cuts, the sidewalks tend to be away from traffic, drivers tend to be looking for/at pedestrians, it is not really sprawling, and only one side is built up.

Other streets in this area are much worse (and we are not just talking Bay to Bay).  They often have poor sidewalks (often right next to traffic), if they have them at all.  The buildings are designed to make walking harder not easier.  Drivers (including the County truck that ignored a walk signal and made a right turn almost running over one reader crossing a street this week) ignore bikes and pedestrians alike.  (And, it must be said, given the development pattern, pedestrians and bikes often ignore rules on using and crossing streets.  Often they have no alternative because there is no logical connection to where they are going.) While Bayshore provides a rallying point and a lot of political muscle, the problem is much larger and worse elsewhere.

It needs to be addressed in a much more comprehensive way.  And nothing will really change until we change not just how we build the streets but also how we build on those streets, which is what really determined the car-centric nature of our area.


— About That County Thing

Anyway, getting back to Bayshore:

Duncan said her department is gathering data and analyzing proposed locations for additional crossings between Rome Avenue and Gandy Boulevard. The effort will take six more weeks, she said, then a design must be produced.

“We will also be scrubbing our budget to see how these upgrades will be funded, as this work is not specifically budgeted now,” she said. “We will be reaching out to the county to see if they can offer some assistance.”

Why just Rome to Gandy?  Why not north of Rome?  The problems do not disappear there.

As for the County funding, maybe she should take note of this:

Rejected by the city of Tampa, road safety advocates this week turned to Hillsborough County commissioners in their campaign for more traffic calming measures and bike lanes on Bay to Bay Boulevard.

But while the county owns the road, it has virtually no say over it — nor over another 60 miles of county-owned roads that lie within the city.

That has commissioners suggesting it may be time to transfer them to the city.

“The bigger problem is we’re going to get caught in the middle on every county road project in the city that needs major changes to it like pedestrian crosswalks and safe streets,” said Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman. “Unfortunately, our hands are tied on this and legally tied on what we can do.”

But the idea may be dead on arrival: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city has no interest in taking ownership of county roads.

“They’ve been trying to sell us that broken-down car for a year,” Buckhorn said. “They can look at it all they want. Why would the city take over roads that are in disrepair?”

Classic Tampa/Hillsborough County.

The county came to own roads within the city when they were transferred from state ownership decades ago. They include major thoroughfares like West Shore Boulevard, Columbus Drive and a section of Waters Avenue.

Under the current deal, the county pays for major maintenance like resurfacing, which for future projects is projected to cost $125,000 per lane mile.

The city’s responsibility is to mow grass, fix sidewalks and potholes, and operate and enforce traffic signals. But the city also chips in when it wants additional safety features like pedestrian crosswalks added to maintenance projects.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill acknowledged that the county would have to bring its roads up to a certain standard before they could be transferred to the city.

But Buckhorn said even then it would be unlikely the city would want to take on a long-term commitment to pay for their upkeep. The county has budgeted about $25 million this year for major road maintenance projects.

While all this may be interesting to local officials, the bottom line is that the roads are not the way they should be and it is a comprehensive failure. There is enough blame to go around.


— Free Streetcar

In a move that should have happened long ago,

Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to take steps in boosting ridership and efficiency for the system, according to a news release.

* * *

This grant will help the streetcar increase frequency of service to every 15 minutes and extend service hours. Boarding time also will be expedited since fare will be eliminated, according to the release.

The streetcar day pass (or two rides) cost $5, which is as much as a Portland transit day pass (see their rail system map here) and more than a Phoenix day pass. That is not really competitive for the service it provides right now. Having it free, with extended hours and more frequency, will help make it more useful.  However, we should be realistic.  Given that the streetcar is still slow, does not yet run through all of downtown, and that Water Street is not yet developed, we do not expect a massive increase in ridership just from dropping the fares. (There may be one, but we do not expect it.)  Nevertheless, this is a very good, if short-term, first step to making the streetcar a far more useful part of our transportation infrastructure.  To be truly useful, it needs to be made a permanent feature.

And we’ll say it: while it is a small amount of money, good for FDOT. (FDOT press release here) We have to note though, that it is a short-term commitment of not much money and is curiously timed around the time of the MPO votes on projects, including the big highway expansions.  This changes nothing regarding the interstate plan, except to maybe point to a surprisingly low operating cost on the streetcar.


— Mayors, The Editorial

There was an interesting editorial in the Times last week about Mayors and transit.   It is worth reading the whole thing but we will just highlight three paragraphs.

The mayors of Tampa Bay’s three biggest cities have once again declared that the lack of a robust transit system is the region’s most serious deficiency as it competes for new jobs and businesses. Terrific. That’s like the star players sitting in the stands and complaining their team is being outplayed. A regional transit system that fuels a more diverse economy and a more attractive quality of life is never going to become a reality unless the mayors are more actively involved in making it happen.

Speaking at a Tampa luncheon last week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the inability to advance the ball on transportation is “the biggest regret of my eight years, when I leave office in May.” So much for anything happening over the next year. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the region is at “a competitive disadvantage.’’ But he did not make transit a key issue last year in his re-election campaign. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who worked for years in Washington, raved about the businesses along the Metro route in the nation’s capital. Yet the Tampa Bay area “can’t get two counties together to decide what to do and how to do it to benefit all of us,” he said. “That’s an embarrassment.”

Yes it is.

But none of the mayors have made regional transit their top priority. Hills-borough’s transit plan in 2016 was too skewed toward road projects. It envisioned only a rail connection between downtown and Tampa International Airport, for which it had no route, no technology and virtually no funding. There was no plan for expanding rail across Tampa Bay. The Legislature has shown no interest in allowing cities to hold transit referendums. And Buckhorn and Kriseman were too quick to settle in January after local planners abruptly switched gears and endorsed a system of rapid buses instead of rail as the next step for regional transit service.

All that is true, if a little late.


— Suncoast 2 Suit

We don’t really want to get into detail about the extension of the Suncoast Parkway, but:

As construction workers begin clearing the forest at the end of the original Suncoast Parkway to build a second toll road, historic preservation and environmental activists filed suit this week to stop it in its tracks.

The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, pits a group called the Friends of Etna Camp against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The suit challenges the permit the federal government granted for the construction of the controversial eight-lane highway known as Suncoast 2, which runs through Hernando and Citrus counties. Crews will bulldoze through the Etna Turpentine Camp — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — as well as wipe out habitat for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, both imperiled species.

We recently noted that beyond the extension, there is a proposal to turn northeast with the “Coastal Connector.” That has opposition from Marion County and at least one major candidate for Governor.

But more to the point:

Highways that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build shouldn’t feel empty. How empty? Turnpike officials expected to collect nearly $15 million in tolls the first year. Instead the Suncoast Parkway brought in $6.7 million. By 2014, the projection was $150 million a year. The reality: $22 million. And too little of the forecasted economic development ever materialized either.

Apparently mass transit isn’t the only transportation that is very expensive and can fail to meet expectations.  In any event, there is now a temporary restraining order on more work.

And, as regular readers know, we are not against all highways. We are not even against the present Suncoast (note: it’s a great place to introduce new drivers to highway driving), though it should be connected to an east west highway somewhere around Pasco County.  (We are not even opposed to an extension in theory, though not necessarily the exact alignment, if, at some point, unlike now, there is demand and it makes financial and planning sense.)

In any event, we shall see what happens to all of this.  In truth, we are much more focused on getting our local transportation issues worked out. (In fact, for the $250 million cost of the unneeded extension , much, if not all, of the proposed Pinellas BRT and express lines  – remember BRT is a legislative priority  – plus the Tampa streetcar extension, could be built.  You would even have money left over to run the streetcar for a while.)


Economic Development


– Housing, Factoring the True Cost

Recently there have been a number of articles on the relative cost of living of the Tampa Bay area.  Since most of those measures are subjective in the sense that they are based off the choices of what to include in the cost, we are not going to get into them right now.  One thing of interest is housing cost.  In pure numbers, our housing costs are still lower than many areas.  However, the true cost of housing also includes much that has long been subsidized by local taxpayers through the failure of local governments to properly enforce impact fees for the actual cost of the impact of new housing.  Recently, there have been some changes to the fees (mostly caused by the failure of local governments to be able to maintain and improve the infrastructure needed to sustain the population, especially with the sprawling models promoted by said governments.)  That has led to a seemingly constant refrain from home builders, which continued this week, this time in a Times article about the construction industry:

Sean Strickler, west Florida division president for PulteGroup, one of the nation’s largest home builders, said local subcontractors are all competing for the same group of workers, which has “definitely strained the labor pool.”

That’s not the only challenge, Strickler said. Land costs are rising, as are impact fees to help pay for schools and roads. And lumber prices soared to historic highs in the past year.

“While business is still really good, one of our biggest issues is the ability to hit a price point that appeals to first-time home buyers,” he said. “The lack of labor, along with those other components, makes it harder.”

Vitner said the workforce issues should not be underestimated.

“I think if contractors could get the workers they needed, we might add twice as many construction jobs as we added over the last year,” he said. “We wouldn’t get the same bump year after year after year. But we have a huge backlog of projects around the state.”

The point about impact fees echoes something we discussed a few weeks ago.  The reality is that home owners should not have to subsidize first time home buyers or the developers wanting to sell to them.  The money for the infrastructure for the new housing is either going to come from taxpayers or the people building and buying the houses that cause more burden to the infrastructure (and not just the infrastructure at the entrance to a development but along the way to shopping and work destinations as well. That is especially true for a place like South County where the land is cheaper for the developer but the impacts felt all the way to Tampa).

We often hear talk of letting the market decide.  Well, the real cost of the housing includes the cost of upgrading the infrastructure (including that cost in the price of a house is letting the market decide) and if the taxpayer is forced to subsidize it the market is being distorted.

We get that developers, like all businesses, want to lower their costs and maximize their profits as much as possible, but doing so is not the obligation of local taxpayers. Developers could always do more infill, build more densely, build smaller houses, and design more walkability.  That would lower infrastructure costs and, in a properly designed impact fee system, lower fees and costs.  (Though, given our incomes, the first time home buyer might still have issues with pricing in any decent economy.)

The bottom line is that if you want stuff, you have to pay for it.  The choice is who will pay.


– Tourism

Another area of economic development is tourism.  Given that the general trend is up, to wit:

Gov. Rick Scott announced . . . that Florida, once again, made history last year with the highest number of visitors the state has ever recorded.

Scott said during a press conference in Naples that 116.5 million people visited Florida in 2017. That’s a 3.6 percent increase from the year before.

“This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry,” Scott said in his prepared remarks. “We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

It is not surprising that

Hillsborough County generated more than $3 million in bed tax collections for May – a new benchmark for that month while hotel revenues hit over $66.5 million, according to Visit Tampa Bay.

The May report, which was based on hotel room nights in April, came in 10.3 percent higher than the same period in 2017.

* * *

Since the current budget year began on Oct. 1, seven of the last eight months have posted new records for the tourist development tax, commonly known as the bed tax, which is a five percent levy on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals countywide. So far this year, visitors have generated nearly $24 million in bed tax revenue.

It is time for Hillsborough County to add the last percentage point to the bed tax.


– Talent

There was some interesting news about the Tampa Bay Partnership.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is investing $300,000 in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s nonprofit arm, the company announced Tuesday. The money will be used to look at whether Tampa Bay is producing enough skilled workers to fuel its growth and figure out how to bridge any gaps.

Those are good questions but, at least the question of whether/if has been answered.

The initiative was spurred by a 2018 benchmark report produced by the Tampa Bay Partnership, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast. Tampa Bay, the report found, trailed other comparable metro areas in education levels of employees, and had a high percentage of people age 16 to 24 who were not participating in the workforce.

All that should have been well-known before the benchmarking (Like see “List of the Week I” from February 28, 2014 here). Nevertheless, trying to figure out how to fix the issue is worthwhile.

The effort, led by the partnership’s Regional Talent Working Group, will have three phases. First, the group will work to understand the programs that produce workers — such as education institutions and internship programs — and identify five of the most-affected industries. Then, one industry will be chosen and the group will work with employers to determine their needs. Finally, it will devise a strategy and performance metrics to build a more effective pipeline to the chosen industry and businesses.

It is worth a try. Though, as noted in another Times article about Florida and talent, it would also help to create an environment that provides the amenities desired by people who can live anywhere.

Wilson estimated that Florida will need to fill about 3.7 million jobs by 2030, 2 million to replace retirees and 1.7 million to keep up with the state’s growing population. He added that older generations often thought about their careers in terms of which companies they aspired to join. Millennials emphasize location, in particular vibrant cities that offer work-life balance such as Austin, Boston and Denver.

Florida needs some cities on that list, both to attract outside talent and to keep our native high-achievers. Too often we cultivate talent in our universities, colleges and trade schools only to see it flee to other states.

* * *

Florida has found it hard to shake some old perceptions. The state’s K-12 schools are no longer at the bottom of the rankings and the economy is more than just agriculture, tourism and an endless stream of retirees.

But sometimes perception is reality. Florida’s cities don’t pay as well for many of the coveted jobs in Boston, Atlanta or Seattle. Sometimes not even as well as Nashville or Charlotte. St. Petersburg doesn’t have the public transit of Portland and Tampa isn’t as walkable as Minneapolis, two priorities for young talent. And the state isn’t the bargain that it once was. Housing costs, especially including insurance and property taxes, have crept up.

As we have said many times, all these things are connected.


— About That Cluster

And, in a not completely unrelated point, from the Times regarding economic performance:

Tampa Bay is doing well, Orlando even better.

The city of Disney and amusement parks ranks below Tampa Bay in economic output, but has grained ground and is projected to close the gap further in coming years. In 2016, Orlando’s output totaled $127 billion. In 2019, the report estimated it will grow to almost $150 billion.

Orlando’s output is projected to grow at 3.3 percent in 2019/2020, compared to 3.1 percent for the Tampa Bay area.

The trend is the same for job growth …

Orlando: 2.5 percent.

Tampa: 2.1 percent.

Significantly more people in Orlando remain in the labor pool, too …

Orlando: 64.8 percent participation.

Tampa: 59.5 percent participation.

Orlando has been outpacing the Tampa area’s growth in employment, population and economic output for at least a couple decades, Kuykendall said.

“Orlando stands out because of its booming leisure and hospitality sector and its booming medical sectors,” he said. “Tampa has been growing fast. Orlando has just been growing faster.”

Just for perspective, the Tampa Bay area’s economic output was $148.6 billion last year.  And, like the article said, the Tampa Bay area’s economy is doing pretty well.

One interesting distinguishing factor noted above is that booming medical sector in Orlando.  Biomed has long been a targeted industry for the Tampa Bay area going back to at least 2000, see this Business Journal article from then. (For reference, UCF did not even have a medical school until 2006, and the facilities around it for the most part did not exist before then either.  Of course, we have CAMLS.) From that article:

Tampa is one of a few cities in the Southeast that boasts a major research university and cancer institute combined with a nucleus of active companies already in the area. But without more research and development outfits, it will be difficult to draw more companies here, said Daniel Lim, a professor in USF’s microbiology department.

“We have to remember that we’re not the only people with a university, hospitals and good weather,” Lim said. 

It is wise to remember the professor’s insight (and include low taxes). Competition is perpetual.


Airports – Growing

Given the tourist numbers, it is not surprising that:

Passenger traffic was 4.3 percent in April, Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, said at the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday.

“All the airlines were a little bit more full,” he said, citing an average load factor of 86.4 percent.

The key is to take advantage of the situation, which the airport is doing:

Minner also noted that Delta’s passenger traffic rose 10.8 percent in April based on its service to Los Angeles and Raleigh-Durham. The Los Angeles region is TIA’s 13th largest market with more than 870 passengers flying between Tampa and Los Angeles-area airports per day. Delta was the only airline offering nonstop service between Tampa and the Los Angeles market until recently when Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE) began nonstop flights to LAX in April. Another factor in Delta’s passenger surge was its flights to Salt Lake City, a new destination for TIA that began last December.

But, TIA’s largest carrier, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) saw its flights to Havana, Cuba jump by 15.1 percent in April, Minner noted. That growth comes on the heels of an 18 percent increase in March.

And, in addition to new Spirit flights to Greensboro/Winston-Salem, and Asheville, there is reason to think there will be more news soon (though that could be a misreading).

Additionally,

As it moves into the second phase of its master plan, Tampa International Airport approved a $25.2 million contract for the design of the expansion of its curbsides as well as other projects.

In its monthly meeting Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs TIA, approved the contract to design the four-lane curb expansion to Hensel Phelps Construction. 

The project design, which is expected to be completed by December 2022, includes planning, design and permitting for:

The bulk of the cost — $24.7 million — will be for curbside expansion, the new energy plant and related work. Another $504,000 will go toward replacing the curbside ceilings.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While not as interesting as phase 1, it is more progress.

Across the Bay, St. Pete-Clearwater is also growing:

With another new destination poised to begin next week, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw its May passenger traffic jump 11 percent year over year.

So far in 2018, the Pinellas County-based airport has seen an 11 percent increase in passenger traffic. In May, PIE saw more than 185,000 passengers pass through its gates. 

As we have noted before, the big problem at St. Pete-Clearwater is the reliance on one airline for the vast majority of their traffic. (see here)


Westshore – Publix

As we expected, the City Council has approved the Publix on the old Sports Authority site.

The Publix set for the old Sports Authority lot at 4900 Kennedy Blvd. in Westshore received final approval today from the Tampa City Council. We expect demolition of the old Sports Authority store to begin in the not-so-distant future. The vote in favor was 7-0.

While it is not a great design, it is better than the first proposal. At least the City held out for Publix to be accessible from Kennedy, though we doubt that many people will actually walk to it (except maybe some people from the neighborhood to the south).  Development around the site has just not really been developed with walkability in mind.


Rays – The Trop Land

St. Pete has already considered the Trop site with a new stadium.  Now, it is going to think about it without a stadium.

St. Petersburg is beginning to imagine the 85-acre Tropicana Field property without a ballpark.

The city on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement with HKS Architects Inc. to begin a conceptual master plan for the Trop site that doesn’t include a ballpark. The Tampa Bay Rays, whose lease on the existing stadium expires in 2027, are focused on a new ballpark in downtown Tampa, between Ybor City and the Channel district.

The master planning services are not to exceed $178,035. It is the second phase of the city’s contract with HKS; the firm was previously hired to create a master plan for the Trop site that included a ballpark. Removing the ballpark frees up 20 acres within the site, and the master planning process will determine the best uses for the property.

It is a complicated process, as the Times lays out in a pretty speculative article (speculative, namely because nothing has been decided).

It is a blank slate within a rising city in the densest county in Florida. It could transform a downtown of leisure into a center of business. It could cement the city’s reputation as an entertainment destination. It could finally spark the long-awaited urban retail boom that BayWalk (now Sundial St. Pete) failed to ignite 18 years ago.

It could add much-needed affordable housing, or fulfill decades-old promises to the African-American community, or even jump start downtown the way the Trop was supposed to three decades ago.

It could even keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Kriseman hopes to convince the team to stay in a new stadium built there. But whether the Rays stay or go to Tampa, St. Pete is eager to transform the area.

The Trop site “presents incredible opportunities for the city, county and region,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp. “When you have a parcel that size that is controlled by the city and is primed for development, it almost seems like the opportunities are endless.”

Because it is still so speculative, we are not going to get deeper into the article.  You can read it here.  Frankly, the general outlines of the plan will likely be similar to the plan with the stadium, just without the stadium.  What happens after that will be the interesting part.


Downtown – Reality Check

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Bank of America building.  We are not going to get into the entire argument, but there is an interesting point.

At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.

But good luck getting out of it.

Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson Street, traffic jams are forcing people who work in the Bank of America building to idle for up to an hour just to exit the tower’s garage building on Ashley Drive.

Then there’s the traffic jam on Ashley — up to five light changes before motorists can move toward a path out of downtown, Tampa City Council members heard at their June 7 meeting.

“It’s gridlock,” said Marilyn Healy, an attorney representing the building’s owners. “It’s a mess.”

Attorneys from Hill Ward Henderson and Trenam law firms told the council that congestion at the end of the work day is so bad it’s costing their companies billable hours. What’s more, they said, workers miss child care pick ups and family obligations, hurting morale and making it more difficult to recruit.

So, some of that is caused by dumping the cars out on Ashley into the Jackson/Kennedy light mess that has always existed at the end of the workday (and, really, much of the rest of the day).  Per the article, part of it is due to some road construction.  But this is what caught our eye:

Blame the problem on a lack of any improvements to the downtown grid and its busy intersections since the 1950s, said Jean Duncan, city transportation and stormwater services director.

“We are extremely limited in the options we can come up with,” Duncan said.

Moving from vehicle-based culture to one that makes room for streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians isn’t easy, she said.

“Those growing pains are very difficult.” 

We are all for walking and biking infrastructure, but that response does not really address the issue. First, the people in the garage are driving.  Many, if not most, of the people in the building do not – and will not – live downtown or within reasonable walking distance.  And while we are all for biking and walking, many are not going to bike or walk to work.  The streetcar does not serve most of these people either.  Even if they wanted an option to driving, there is no viable option from a large number – and there has been no real option (as opposed to vague rhetoric) even proposed by the City in a very long time. (Not to mention a number of City officials have been in and around City government for around half the period since the end of the 50’s, so they had time to address it.)

And congestion is only going to get worse when Water Street gets built. The City needs a plan for getting people in and out of the area efficiently (beyond dumping people from Wesley Chapel off buses under the interstate).


— One More Thing

Speaking of transitioning from a can oriented to walking, biking, streetcar, the Business Journal has another of their aerial photo compilations.  You can see it here. Included in that was the Related Manor project on the river.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Having the bland, blank garage be the largest feature and most prominent part of the building from the street is hardly focusing on walking, biking, and transit.


Interesting Read/View

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting, mostly graphic piece on Copenhagen and transportation.  Because it is graphic heavy so we are not going to go into it, but you can find it here. We will say that not everything in the piece is applicable to our circumstances.  However, it is worth learning about other places to see what solutions can be applied to our circumstances.  It makes no sense to constantly try to reinvent the wheel when the whole world is working on the same issues.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

SunTrust Bank, which has a large presence in downtown Orlando is moving to a new building.

A 28-story building under construction by Lincoln Property Co. at Garland Avenue and South Street will be called SunTrust Plaza at Church Street Station and become the new home of 90,000 square feet for SunTrust operations, the bank said in a news release Monday. For decades, its headquarters here have been spread across two office buildings on Orange Avenue, including the easily recognized 35-story SunTrust Center.

* * *

Located south of the Church Street Ballroom and alongside Interstate 4, the new tower had been called Church Street Plaza among other proposed names. The LEED Gold certified building will have 200,000 square feet of office space, an AC Hotel by Marriott, a SunRail station, meeting space and retail.

A large corporate presence in a mixed use building with transportation options.  Interesting. (And here are some aerials of downtown Orlando is you are interested. )

Roundup 6-8-2018

June 8, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Comme Ça

— Ferry Stories

— Priorities

— Money

— How to Kill Innovation

— Speak

Channel District – This is What Tampa Really Wants?

Downtown – Straz

Channel District – Elevé61

Westshore-ish – More Midtown

Downtown – Not Yet

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project

Hard Rock – Growing

Economy – Move

Temple Terrace – La Fin

Geographically Challenging

____________________________________________


Transportation – Comme Ça


— Ferry Stories

There was news about the Cross Bay Ferry.

The city of St. Petersburg selected HMS Ferries after a competitive bid process in which one other company submitted a proposal. . . .

* * *

HMS Ferries would charge $747,000 for another six-month service with routes seven days a week.  Of that, St. Pete would pay $150,000.  The proposal assumes an equal contribution from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as well as the City of Tampa.  Those boards would each have to approve funding.

Which, in due course, was approved.

The St. Petersburg City Council took the first step Thursday when it voted 6-1 to fund the Cross Bay Ferry for another six months, from November 2018 to April 2019.

It is all well and good for St. Pete to go through the process and choose for itself, but there is a slight problem:

. . . Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during the ferry pilot project that he would not support using public funding for the service to come back.  The four-government ask is less than it was in 2016 by $200,000, but Buckhorn is not currently on board.  Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, said due to budget constraints he will make a decision at the end of the budget planning process.

More specifically,

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is asking most of the city’s departments to take a 3 percent cut in order to bridge a $13.5 million deficit in what could be a nearly $1 billion 2019 fiscal year budget, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Buckhorn and Tampa Chief Financial Officer Sonya Little are still working on the budget, currently at $974 million, but a worksheet shared with all city departments lists targeted budget reductions totaling $7.6 million.

The largest proposed cut is to the Parks and Recreation Department, which is being asked to slash $1.2 million from its $41 million budget.

We are not sure exactly how the budget ended up like that. While there is a debt payment coming up, it did not sneak up on anyone. But, settling that aside, the City’s position almost does not matter because:

Hillsborough County confirmed it has not placed an item on the commission’s agenda to consider funding.  Pinellas County did not respond to a request for comment.

In other words, right now St. Pete is acting alone.

As we have said many times, the Ferry is a nice tourist/leisure service.  However, it is not a real transit service.  It could be a transit service, but there is no apparent interest in that.  So be it.  There are other, more important things to do.  Speaking of which, while the Cross Bay Ferry ran for a whole season with almost no run-up period, what is going on with the South County-MacDill Ferry?


— Priorities

There was an interesting article about transit in the Business Journal entitled “BRT is the priority in Tallahassee, lawmakers say

There’s a lot of debate over whether the Florida Department of Transportation and regional transit planners are heading in the right direction with planned improvements that center on bus rapid transit.  When faced with questions, those on planning boards and in position of authority point to the existing plan’s low cost, timely constructability and ability to attract local, state and federal funding.

In other words it is cheap and runs on FDOT’s favored expanded interstate plan.

Based on Tampa Bay Business Journal conversations with four local state legislators, there’s no mandate on favoring bus rapid transit over other modes like light rail, but there does seem to be a general consensus that it’s the most likely project.

As for a mandate, FDOT gets its mandates from its funders, namely the legislators and Governor (but, of course, the Legislature has to fund anything).  If they favor the “BRT” plan then that’s what we will get.   The article then discussed the views of local legislators.  One State Senator who would like something better than the “BRT” plan, others had different ideas.  For instance:

Others in the legislature back bus rapid transit because they genuinely think it’s a better idea.  “Rail is an outdated technology,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) “We need something that can be flexible and adapt to newer technologies.”

Actually rail is not outdated regardless of whether you want more “flexibility,” though that is a standard soundbite. (And note that real BRT is not so flexible.  It has dedicated lanes and real stations.  It is not even always less expensive than rail.)  More interestingly, her website tells us:

As a professional engineer and transportation advocate I look forward to working as hard as I can to provide my community with what it needs to finally fixing our transportation problems. We have to make strategic investments in our transportation network to make it easier to get goods to market and people to and from their workplace and home. It is time for Tallahassee to get serious about this issue and provide the necessary resources to our local governments.

Which is fine.  But we are having trouble figuring out how spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a bus system (seemingly with the idea that the system will probably be dismantled at some point) that does not serve the area’s biggest needs or promote good urban development and infill so people do not have to travel as far to get to where they want to be fits with proper planning and urban engineering or truly strategic investment.  And we don’t see how huge highway expansion and a weak bus system that can be dismantled is going to aid her interest in developing walking and biking in this area.  We hope to get an explanation of how that would work.

The thing that always comes up in debates on accommodating emerging tech gadgets is autonomous vehicle technology.  State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has been one of the state’s biggest champions for autonomous vehicle technology by pushing legislation loosening regulations to use equipped cars on public roads and by supporting funding for research efforts.

“These things will be here faster than you think and that’s what we need to be focused on,” Brandes previously told the TBBJ about driverless cars.

To some degree we agree. We are sure at some point autonomous vehicles will show up at some point (and will need to be properly regulated, especially regarding liability) but, as Elon Musk and others have noted (for instance see here and here), autonomous cars will probably mean more congestion not less, especially in already dense areas.  Roads will still be very expensive and land will still be in short supply. Therefore, we will still need ways to get cars off the roads and to move a lot of people quickly and efficiently in denser areas.

While “gold standard” BRT may do that in some places, the “BRT” plan will not do that.  (Nor will express lanes.)  And, in any event, the comments above do not really support transit at all.

The main point is that if there is a mandate against rail, it is not “Tallahassee’s” priority. Any mandate comes from this area’s own state and local officials.  And they are not even promoting real, “gold standard” BRT.  The “BRT” plan being promoted locally is not even real, “gold standard” BRT (and there is no provision for making local buses robust).  It is a shallow shell of BRT (just express buses) that does not serve the area’s needs.


— Money

Speaking of BRT and buses, last Roundup we discussed PSTA’s ambitious plans for BRT in Pinellas with connections to Tampa. We noted that they would cost less to implement than the “BRT” plan being pushed right now. Well,

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is expecting a big hit to its 2019 budget amid rising fuel costs and increased ridership on one of the agency’s services.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller told the board of directors Wednesday he’s preparing for a major hit. Budget discussions are preliminary, but Miller expects a significant increase in the agency’s 2019 fuel costs and paratransit service. This year the agency plans to pay $4.3 million for fuel and $7 million for the Demand Response Transportation (DART) program for disabled riders.

“We are seeing our highest rate ever on our DART paratransit service,” Miller said. “Every time someone rides it’s door to door service at $30 a trip.”

Miller said the DART budget is his No. 1 concern as he moves into the budget writing process.

The agency is also expecting a surge in diesel fuel spending. The average gas price in Pinellas County as of this week is nearly $3 a gallon, according to Gas Buddy. This time last year prices were at about $2.20 per gallon. Gas prices are expected to rise because of President Donald Trump’s reenacted sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Setting aside for now that the bus fleet should be running on more efficient and stably priced technology and that some of the biggest opponents of rail are sponsored by large players in the fossil fuel industry, it will be interesting to see if the local legislative delegation that supposedly favors BRT will help funnel money to PSTA to help with its services and to build out the BRT plans.


— How to Kill Innovation

As we have explained many times before, the Downtowner service presently provided by the Downtown Partnership (with some public money) has a predecessor – a free shuttle provided by a private company that was killed by the Public Transportation Commission (read: elected officials) at the behest of taxi companies.  Whether pretense or not, one of the taxi company complaints was that shuttle did not stick to strictly downtown.

Fast forward to now and the Downtowner, which by all accounts is very successful.  Indeed, it is apparently so successful that:

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is in talks with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to take over running the Downtowner free shuttle service.

The partnership started the service in 2016, putting a fleet of 12 electric cars known as GEMs on downtown streets. The smartphone-app service averages about 500 riders per day and notched just under 280,000 rides in its first 18 months.

But running a transit system, however small, is a strange fit for a nonprofit group whose other initiatives include throwing events, sweeping streets, providing tourist guides dressed in yellow shirts and helping businesses with marketing.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of HART running the Downtowner, it is worth noting two things.  First, the In-Towner is likely going away:

Talks are at an early stage, but HART could take over around the middle of 2019. The agency is already planning to scrap its In-Towner, a rubber-wheel trolley service that operates on many of the same streets as the Downtowner but has “extremely low ridership,” HART spokeswoman Vanessa Brooks said.

HART’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on scrapping the service at a meeting Monday.

Second, the Downtowner fleet is likely growing due to the demise of the much touted Tesla shuttles around USF:

At the least, the talks between HART and the partnership seem likely to result in an expansion of the Downtowner’s fleet this summer.

HART has offered to provide the nonprofit with four sleek Tesla cars to use for the service. The cars were leased for a pilot program known as Hyperlink, designed to give people rides to and from bus stops in the University area.

Hyperlink was lauded by HART as the first partnership between Tesla and a transit agency. Passengers, who hailed a ride using a smartphone app, were charged $3 a trip.

The decision to end the program was made after HART sought bids for a new vendor to run it.

“We found through the process that this business model is not sustainable,” Brooks said.

If that is confusing, URBN Tampa Bay has a nice summary:

Over the past couple of years, there have been three circulator type transit services started up in Tampa…

– The Downtowner, a fleet of oversized golf carts which circulate around Downtown Tampa. They’re hailed by smartphone app and are operated by the Tampa Downtown Partnership. It is free to ride.

– The In-Towner, small buses dressed up to look like trolleys, which operated on 2 set routes in Downtown Tampa. It is free to ride and operated by HART.

– and Hyperlink, an experiment that HART tried in the USF area which used rideshare in Tesla’s to try and get folks to and from distant bus stops. It was $3 on top of the bus fare.

Two of these have largely failed, and one did much better than expected. The good news is that the two that failed, Hyperlink and In-Towner, have been/are being cut by HART, with the vehicles from the failed Hyperlink experiment expected to be added to the Downtowner’s fleet to increase service. 

We’ll set aside the cause of the failures of the two services right now and focus on the Downtowner/HART issue.

The Downtowner covers an area from Harbour Island north to Interstate 275, and from the University of Tampa area east to the Channel District. The partnership also has received initial approval from the City Council to extend the area north to take in part of the Tampa Heights area.

The service costs about $1 million per year. Initial funding sources included a $560,000 award from downtown and Channel District community development funds, and $450,000 over three years from the state. Downtown commercial office towers and hotels also pitch in with contributions.

In other words, the Downtowner is outgrowing its limited scope, and extending beyond “downtown,” like the previous service.

It’s unclear whether the Downtowner would continue to be free under HART or what would happen to its drivers, who are employed by the Downtowner company.

“We want to take a thoughtful, methodical and holistic approach,” Brooks said in an email, “in developing a robust mobility solution for downtown Tampa that includes elements of the Downtowner, HART fixed-route bus service, the TECO streetcar and HART’s upcoming Autonomous Vehicle project all working together for a system for those that work, live and play in downtown.”

Having a coordinated system is good.  Of course, HART is already underfunded with no signs that the County Commission is going to fix that.  The service should stay free, but given HART’s issues, that will probably not happen.

This all could have been avoided if local officials just let the private company carry out its business model and keep the service free and not requiring taxpayer money.


— Speak

All the above brings us to the MPO. From Sunshine Citizens:

Don’t forget the annual Hillsborough MPO public TIP hearing is June 12th. This is a critical meeting where the MPO board will be voting on transportation projects for the upcoming year. Whatever your concerns are, safer streets, better transit systems, smarter transportation spending, this is the place where changes can be made. Help get the word out!

The meeting info:

Hillsborough MPO – TIP Public Hearing

JUN12 Tue 6:00 PM EDT · 601 E John F Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602

Let your voice be heard.


Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?

A while back, there was a short-lived proposal for public storage in the Channel District.  Thankfully, it disappeared.  That was likely because it was plainly not appropriate for the area.  Last week, a number of Facebook pages/Organizations posted about new storage moves.  We’ll just quote URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: On June 11th the Hillsborough Planning Commission will consider an amendment to the zoning code that would allow standalone storage facilities to be built in Downtown Tampa as well as Seminole Heights! The applicant is also requesting that parking requirements be reduced for storage facilities citywide. The planning commission’s staff has recommended the board reject the proposal in its entirety.

We believe the proposal is being lobbied for by the same entity which previously proposed to build a storage unit at 111 North Meridian Ave in the Channel District, before withdrawing that application. They have since resubmitted it. We have also heard that they are seeking to build a similar facility in Seminole Heights at an unknown location.

In both parts of the city, such standalone storage facilities are currently illegal, but if this code amendment is passed, it would become legal to build them throughout Downtown and Seminole Heights, regardless of the adverse impact it could have on neighbors and the community’s ongoing efforts to restore walkability in both parts of the city.

We of course oppose this amendment.

More interesting is this:

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

The “proposed City Council initiated” text amendment?  If you read the discussion, there is something about reducing parking requirements, which is fine.  However, as the discussion rightly notes, storage is not going to bring vitality to the streets.  Why is the City Council promoting dead streets and single uses?

Note that the discussion is by the same Planning Commission (the one that approved the Rocky Point fill project) and that the staff finds the amendment inconsistent for a variety of reasons.  And, in fact, it IS inconsistent with having a vibrant downtown/urban area (sure, we’ll build out Water Street and toss in a couple of Public Storage buildings for good measure).  There is a need for storage, but not in the middle of an urban area.  There are more industrial areas where this belongs.

We really have no idea why the City Council would be promoting this (though it inexplicably allowed a stand-alone Burger King downtown), but we definitely think that support for this type of thing is not what we’d like to see in a Mayor or Council member.

To speak out against this, please attend the Planning Commission’s upcoming hearing at 2pm on June 11th at the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd.

You can make your voice heard.


Downtown – Straz

We have already written about the Straz’s parking/Riverwalk plan.  Unfortunately, the more we learn, the less we like it. Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The city’s natural resource department has provided comments regarding the Staz’s proposal to replace a bunch of greenspace and trees with a parking garage along the riverwalk. As you might be able to imagine, it isn’t pretty:

Clearly, cutting trees along the Riverwalk to put up a parking garage and loading dock is quite questionable.

Once again, we get the Straz has a parking issue, but the plan presented is just not acceptable.  They really need to go back to the drawing board.


Channel District – Elevé61

Speaking of questionable ideas, per URBN Tampa Bay, Elevé61 has been approved by the City. While we are good with the height of the project, that is about the only good thing. As we have said before, the building is bland, the street interaction is bad, and here is little retail.   Or as URBN Tampa Bay said:

The tower itself appears to be blank stucco/concrete slab on three sides, with a row of balconies on the 4th side, facing downtown. We’re also not a big fan of streetscape, which leaves too much of Channelside Drive as an exposed parking garage. We would’ve liked significantly more ground floor commercial for such a prominent location on the streetcar line and across from the Port’s future developments.

Just more settling from the City which is completely inconsistent in its plans and the enforcement thereof. We can do much better.


Westshore-ish – More Midtown

There was more news about Midtown.

The developer of Midtown Tampa has paid $10.5 million for a property key to the massive, mixed-use project.

New York-based Bromley Cos. on Tuesday closed on the Circle K store property — just under 1 acre — at North Dale Mabry Highway and West Cypress Street, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Wednesday.

The Circle K property is the front door to Midtown, which is 22 acres near the Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway interchange. Midtown’s boundaries stretch from I-275 to the north; Himes Avenue to the east; Cypress Street to the south and Dale Mabry to the west.

It is an odd front door. Most if not all of the acre will be used for surface parking in front of Whole Foods.   It is not our money, but, given that use and the fact that Whole Foods is under a parking garage so the surface parking is completely superfluous, we think they might as well leave the gas station.


Downtown – Not Yet

The Tampa Housing Authority is still having trouble getting a grocery store at Encore.

TAMPA — Publix and Walmart have already passed on building a new store at the Encore public housing project.

Now, a third effort to bring a grocery store to the downtown Tampa urban renewal project has stalled.

St. Petersburg firm J Square Developers recently backed out of a $2.2 million contract with the Tampa Housing Authority to build a midsize grocery store on a two-acre lot at the northwest corner of Nebraska Avenue and E Harrison Street.

The deal was expected to bring a retailer that caters to lower-income shoppers, such as Lidl or Aldi. But J Square exercised a provision that allowed it to back out without penalty after a 120-day inspection period.

“The tenant we hoped to attract to the site simply didn’t believe there were enough households in the immediate vicinity yet to support their business model,” said Jay Miller, J Square president, who did not name the retailer because of confidentiality commitments.

It is unfortunate but not surprising.   The project is isolated from the rest of downtown and the development there.  The lot designated for the grocery store is at the eastern end of the project, not central to the Encore housing and away from the other apartments in the northern end of downtown.   And, while we don’t know exactly how the negotiations are going, the Housing Authority has had a number of issues in the last few years.

“It’s disappointing they didn’t proceed,” said Leroy Moore, the housing authority’s chief operating officer. “But we still have the land. The land is not getting cheaper.”

When complete, the community on the eastern edge of downtown near Ybor City will accommodate 2,030 residential units, 50,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 59,000 square feet of office space and a hotel.

Moore said there is still a lot of interest in the grocery store lot.

“We have never been in a hurry; we don’t have any debt so we’re patient,” he said.

Still, finding another retailer may be a challenge.

To keep Encore walkable, the Housing Authority doesn’t want a store that requires surface parking like a typical strip mall supermarket. That likely means the project will need to include a parking garage.

Parking led Walmart to back out in 2014 after Housing Authority officials balked at the retail giant’s request to fill a neighboring lot with parking spaces.

Publix also looked at buying two Encore lots in 2013 but decided against it.  

Publix is going in the Channel District.

The bottom line is we actually don’t care if Encore itself has a grocery store.  Eventually, if people keep moving in to downtown area housing, the north of downtown will get a grocery store.  More concerning is that Encore is not connected to downtown and is having trouble filling its retail.  While it is not that far from the downtown core, the design of the project left lots empty land for private development (like a hotel or office building) between Encore and downtown.  We understand why they did that, but it has created dead space and isolated the project (unless you want some Burger King).

And any problems with Encore make us concerned for the West River development process.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

There was an article on Water Street on Curbed.com (see here).  Because it is basically a rehash of all the other promo articles and their talking points, we are not going to get into detail about it.  Feel free to read it.  The article did have this new rendering:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

We like that very much, especially because it includes what appear to be awnings.  Though, one concern, of course, is how all those people are going to get into and out of the district.

And in related news, with absolutely no suspense,

The tallest building yet at the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development on Thursday won a key approval from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Authority board members unanimously voted to approve a 314-foot height for the buildings two towers — a 26-story tower with 196 condominiums and a 21-story tower with 222 apartments. Both will rise from a base building that includes a grocery store and parking on the 800 block of Old Water Street.

Like they would say “no.”


West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project

First, let us say we are all for developing the area now-marketed-as-North Hyde Park area (though it is really West Tampa as you can see here). In fact, a while back we suggested to the City that, given all the problems on South Howard, they plan ahead for all the coming development and take into account the fact that people will want entertainment.  That, of course, did not happen.  What has happened is that a lot of apartments have been built, most with limited to no retail and generic designs.

One of the big issues, as always, is parking.  Previously the City approved surface parking because of “market conditions.”  The argument was inaccurate and the approval was a mistake.  Conditions now are more oriented to parking garages but dealing with parking still an issue.  Another issue is street retail. They both can be seen in this proposal by the folks who gave you apartments with surface parking and no retail in the area (before flipping the project for a nice profit):

An Atlanta developer with a track record of building and cashing out on apartment properties in Tampa’s North Hyde Park is proposing another project in the nascent urban neighborhood.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group LLC is asking the city to rezone an assemblage of 2.8 acres at 514 N. Rome Ave. — the block bound by Rome Avenue to the east, North Fremont Avenue to the west, West Gray Street to the south and West Carmen Street to the North — to make way for 246 apartments.

NoHo Square, as the community is named in public filings, has a proposed unit mix of 127 one-bedroom units; 99 two-bedroom units; and 20 three-bedroom units.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While we are far happier with parking garages than surface parking, as with many Tampa projects, the parking garage in this rendering is the tallest, most prominent feature of the building.  It is not that developers do not know how to hide the garages.  There are a number of projects where that is done reasonably successfully.

Making matters worse is the lack of retail.  While according to URBN Tampa Bay, this proposal has a 696 square foot corner store on the SE corner, the main features are the parking garage and a very long, bland stretch of apartments. While we don’t like it, we can at least understand an argument that the longer facades in this project face side streets that are not good for retail (though they are getting lined with apartments).  However, there is frontage on Rome (near the developer’s previous, surface parking filled project) that is a very good location for retail in the growing neighborhood.

The City really needs to get on the ball in that emerging prime urban corridor.  The opportunity to guide development is still there (sort of) but will soon be lost.


Hard Rock – Growing

As has been obvious for a while from the cranes on the site, the Hard Rock is growing.  There will be more restaurants, gaming, pools, and

The centerpiece of the expansion is a new 15-story hotel tower with an additional 564 hotel rooms and suites. In total, the expanded Seminole Hard Rock Hotel will offer approximately 800 guest rooms, including 79 new hotel suites for a new total of 88 suites. The top floor of the new hotel tower will feature a private gaming parlor for VIP guests, with an exclusive check-in and private elevators to rock star suites.

That is all fine.  The only thing is the location.  Then again, most of the activity at the casino focuses on the casino, so it is not clear that even a more central location would do much other than make traffic that much worse.  At least the Hard Rock is something mildly attractive at what is essentially the eastern gateway to Tampa.


Economy – Move

There was interesting news from the financial sector, which has a lot of back office operations around here.

T. Rowe Price Group Inc. plans to close its Tampa operations center in June 2019, in a move that reflects consumer shifts away from using the telephone to going online for customer service.

About 400 employees currently work in the Tampa office, a leased location at 4211 W. Boy Scout Blvd. at Tampa’s International Plaza.

The company said about 30 of them with assigned client relationships will remain in the area and work remotely. Another 220 positions will be transferred to other T. Rowe Price sites in Maryland and Colorado, and Tampa workers are being encouraged to consider relocation, the company said.

About 150 jobs will not be replaced, a press release said.

The move is a blow for economic development efforts to build a strong financial services sector statewide and in Tampa.

First, any loss is bad, though there is good job growth in this area right now so hopefully absorption of the workers should not be that hard.  On the other hand, we wonder if this is a sign about the long-term future of customer service jobs which are plentiful here.

And, interestingly, T. Rowe Price has played around with having a Pasco County facility for years (though never built one), but the jobs are going to Maryland or Colorado.  And what are the advantages in Maryland and Colorado locations?  We wonder if the relocating employees will get a pay bump and relocation costs.


Temple Terrace – La Fin

The quest to build a downtown in Temple Terrace appears to be complete.

A round of applause from the audience followed the recent vote by the Temple Terrace City Council to negotiate a contract with a company that plans to build and manage luxury apartments in the long-idle downtown redevelopment area.

The residents, many of them council meeting regulars who have followed the ups and downs of this saga for 15 years, were celebrating what appears to be new hope in the effort to fill the empty acreage in the swath of land on the east side of 56th Street that stretches from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River.

“We made some monumental progress tonight,’’ said City Manager Charles Stephenson. “I will sleep good tonight.’’

If the deal goes through as expected, Richman Group will pay the city $3 million for 4.86 acres of land off Bullard, at the northeast corner of the development, and build about 200 high-end apartments. In July, the city will close on the sale of 2.56 acres on the northwest corner for $3.58 million. The Paragon Property Group plans to build a bank and retail stores there.

You can see some documentation from last year here.  While we do not know all the details and hope we are wrong, we doubt that the nature of the project will vary from the suburban apartment complex model.  (apparently the buildings will be four stories not three.)  The real issue is this:

Together, the two sales should reap more than $6.1 million for the city, which can use it to pay down a $10 million loan the city closed on this week with Republic Bank.

Without a pay-down, the loan would come with a whopping balloon payment of more than $10 million in 2023. It’s one of two loans totaling about $23.5 million, money the city originally borrowed last decade to buy and improve 29 acres in the downtown redevelopment area.

The city recently refinanced the loan through two banks. It took out a $14 million loan with the second bank, CenterState, to be paid off over 20 years. After the Republic loan is paid off, the city will have to pay about $1,041,000 a year in principal and interest, according to Finance Director Lyn Boswell, who noted that there is no penalty for paying it off early.

The bottom line is that this entire process has been a mess.


Geographically Challenging

We saw something in the Business Journal this week that really made us wonder.

A North Tampa Heights shopping centers has been sold for $6.075 million.

Northpointe Crossing, at the intersection of North Florida and East Fletcher avenues, sold to Florida-based AST Investors LLC, Tampa-based Plaza Advisors said Tuesday.

We get that sometimes in real estate geographic boundaries get a little bent for promotional purposes (like saying an office building in Town and Country is in Westshore), but saying Fletcher is “North Tampa Heights” (is there even a thing?) is really a bit too much. First, it is around six miles from MLK to Fletcher.  Second, to get from Tampa Heights to Fletcher, you have to go through a number of acknowledged neighborhoods, like Seminole Heights and, to some degree, Forest Hills.  It really is inexplicable.

Correction: While we still find the name inexplicable, apparently the area around Florida and Fletcher is called “North Tampa Heights” in some record somewhere because it showed up on a map we just looked at.  We have never heard that area referred to that way and it makes little sense, but that’s the way it is.  We stand corrected.

Roundup 5-25-2018

May 25, 2018

Please note there will be no Roundup next Friday.

Contents

Transportation – Stuff

— PSTA Plans

— Divergence

— Pasco Regionalism

Downtown – A Parking Lot By the River?

Downtown – Settled

Ybor City – Hotel

Economic Development – Another

Economic Development – International Trade

Economy/Planning – Jobs and Houses

— Jobs

— Houses

Sports – Moving the Bowl

Downtown – A Little History

____________________________________


Transportation – Stuff


— PSTA Plans

There was an interesting article in the Business Journal about PSTA’s future plans:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is taking early steps to launch several new bus routes that would better connect the county to the region.

This comes at a time when residents and businesses are demanding action on transit solutions and builds on a proposed “transit spine” that would connect St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

As far as we can tell, there is no groundswell of demands for the Interstate “BRT” plan.  Nevertheless, it is good that PSTA is at least thinking of the future.

In a presentation this week, the agency laid out how to pay for the proposed routes through revenue and gas taxes.  Among the proposals are routes along 49th Street and East Bay Boulevard, 34th Street, U.S. Highway 19, 4th Street and routes connecting the county’s beaches to Tampa International Airport, downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa and enhanced service from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs. . .

The proposals are spilt into local transit enhancements that would require gas tax funding and tourism transit project that could use tourist development taxes.

What are these projects?

There are four proposed projects that would require cities to forfeit their entire gas tax revenue in favor of increased transit mobility.

For the time being, we’ll set aside the issue of cities foregoing their gas tax money for bus service.  (We are not judging whether or not it is a good idea. We do not have enough details to decide.  We are just saying we think it highly unlikely.)  The gas tax based lines  are:

4th Street BRT

34th Street BRT

49th Street BRT

U.S. 19 “Rapid”

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

 

We have no idea how real the BRT mentioned actually is.  We also don’t really know what a U.S. 19 “Rapid” is.  Though, if they do real BRT it would be interesting.

PSTA is proposing another four routes that would benefit tourism. The Florida Legislature this year approved using bed tax dollars collected on hotel stays for transit as long as it provided a benefit for tourism.

Those lines are:

Clearwater Beach to TIA

Indian Rocks Beach to TIA

Jolley Trolley Enhancement

727x to Downtown Express (St. Pete to Tampa)

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Amusingly:

PSTA officials don’t expect to launch all of the programs in the near future.  PSTA CEO Brad Miller said the agency would likely have to proioritize one of the airport routes.  Right now he said the Clearwater Beach business community is pushing back against the route that would connect their area to the beaches.

That seems a bit odd.

“Some hotels only want the bus to go to their hotel and not the other hotels,” Miller said. “The Ulmerton Road [route] is sort of an alternative if Clearwater Beach just doesn’t want it.” 

Feel that sense of community.  Why would government invest in a bus to one hotel?  If private owners want that, let them start their own line.

The bottom line is that PSTA is being very aspirational.  Do not count on any of it soon.  On the other hand, we added up (admittedly done quickly while watching hockey playoffs, so we may have missed something) the total cost of build out of all the lines: $115.2 in capital costs.  In other words, for a quarter of the regional “BRT” plan, Pinellas could build three “BRT” lines, a “Rapid” line, multiple lines from Pinellas to the airport and downtown Tampa.  And if you put the money directly in (like the idea for the “BRT” plan), rather than dragging it out over years, you could likely build it out as fast or faster than the “BRT” line.

We also feel the need to point out that, even though they are mostly in Pinellas, these plans are of regional impact (some of them crossing county lines and others being useful for the region).  We do not understand why most of these proposals and any like them in Hillsborough should not be part of a regional plan.  Regional need not be limited to crossing all county lines (even while, as the “BRT” plan, not serving the primary needs of the region).  To do so would be counterproductive and absurd.

It all makes one wonder why a questionable “BRT” plan using express lanes that FDOT is determined to build anyway (and thus are not part of any bus system’s cost) and highway shoulders (how exactly is still open to question) is worth it.  Why not make the PSTA plan part of regional network (crossing the bay using the same express lanes that will be built with or without bus service) coordinated with Hillsborough? (Assuming HART and Hillsborough government cares to do so, which is a big if).  We do not have to settle for a feeble spine when we could get a network.


— Divergence

The diverging diamond interchange is coming to Hillsborough and Pasco.

Driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t just for the British any more under an innovative plan for moving traffic through three local Interstate 75 interchanges.

Sadly, really driving on the wrong side of the road seems all too common in this area, but that’s not really the point they were getting at.

Construction will soon begin on a $37 million, three-year project to turn I-75 and State Road 56 near Wesley Chapel into a “diverging diamond” interchange. The crisscross road design briefly diverts traffic in both directions onto the opposite side of the road as it passes under or over a freeway.

The Florida Department of Transportation has the same plan for I-75 and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa, a $78.6 million project. The new interchange design, originally dreamed up by French traffic engineers, will be added at other major Florida interchanges in the next five to 10 years.

The double-crossover design helps traffic flow and reduces accidents and congestion, road planners say. By switching traffic to the other side of the road, motorists turning left onto the freeway don’t have to cross oncoming traffic. The switch-over happens after the entrance ramp for drivers making right turns.

If that sounds too complicated, think of it this way:

Instead of as many as six different cycles of green lights, the intersection will need only two.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

Note that at SR56 it will be another reconstruction of the interchange that most likely will never be fixed (it has always been a mess and, amusingly, it was supposed to help fix the SR54 mess).  And also note the cost of the SR56 rebuild, which has doubled.

Theoretically, we are fine with a new interchange design if it works. (It’s not like the two interchanges discussed are not going not be sprawling messes.)  On the other hand, we are not sure this design will work much better for cars and probably will not work as well (which is already horrible) for people and bikes.  And the cost.

And, given the poor driving locally, we have some concerns.

But the complex design can mean construction takes longer and is more expensive, said Pei-Sung Lin, a program director at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

The project will also have to include a public education effort to explain the new road configuration so drivers know what to expect when it opens, he said.

“There is a learning time for drivers,” he said. “Education is very important.”

For University Parkway, FDOT’s driver education included videos posted on Youtube.

FDOT does not typically measure traffic flow after a project is completed provided the new road is performing as planned. That is the case at University Parkway, Carson said.

“Operationally, traffic is running smoothly through the DDI even through the peak periods of the day,” she said. “Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”

We hope so.

We also just wonder how it is that FDOT can find all these millions for changing interchanges here and there (over and over) but seems so hard-pressed to find money to complete transit initiatives like the St. Pete BRT (always waiting on the Federal government).


— Pasco Regionalism

Speaking of Pasco, there was more news on the K-Bar Ranch/Mansfield Blvd issue (you know, paving ten feet to connect two roads).

More than 400 people living along Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County signed a petition opposing plans to connect New Tampa and Wesley Chapel. 

Stephen Smith recently signed the petition because he’s worried about increased traffic along the area’s school zone. His son will have to walk to Wiregrass Elementary along Mansfield next year. 

“You’re going to have increased accidents, it’s just going to be,” said Smith.

Here is what we are talking about

 

The schools are at the top.  As you can see, there are no houses on the road.  In fact, as is the common practice in the most sprawling areas, the houses are behind walls.  The road has basically nothing on it, except a few schools, to which we suspect (though admittedly we have not done a study) most kids arrive at in cars.

So you can really see the absurdity of what we are talking about, this is a picture from the petition:

From change.org – click on picture for petition

You can read the entire petition here.

Let’s just say the substance of the petition is very local.  (Note that some of these residents are people who would be a “choice” target for the “BRT” plan.)

It will be interesting to see what Pasco County will do.


Downtown – A Parking Lot By the River?

The last few weeks, we have discussed a Straz proposal to build a garage by the river.  However, there is another Straz parking proposal from a while back.

The crunch looks likely to continue.

A Straz plan to expand parking at its arrival plaza off W Tyler Street was rejected Monday by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

Commissioners sided with staff planners who determined that any expansion of parking along the city’s waterfront — currently prohibited — would violate existing zoning regulations.

Tampa officials said riverfront surface parking would conflict with the city’s work in recent years to showcase the Hillsborough River. While acknowledging that the Straz’s parking options, including remote lots and the nearby Poe garage, are often inadequate, city planners stood firm.

* * *

Surface parking along the river was phased out in 2000 as part of a zoning reclassification called the “waterfront overlay,” said Cathy Coyle, the city’s manager of planning and urban design.

“They call it an arrival plaza. Valet is perfectly fine for events,” Coyle said. “It’s the storage of vehicles that is truly the issue here. … We do not believe it’s appropriate to add surface parking back into the waterfront overlay.”

First, that position is entirely reasonable.  Second, they should stand firm.

Straz officials said they just wanted the city’s zoning to reflect reality — “to clean up, we believe, some code language to match up with what we’re currently doing,” said Doug Dieck, a Straz board member.

The Straz has parked about 50 cars in the arrival plaza for years, chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard said Thursday.

The performing arts center wanted the commission to formally authorize that practice. The zoning change would also allow the center to continue its effort to expand the plaza, allowing it to park more cars. The exact number hasn’t been determined, Shepard said.

Sold-out shows stress parking. And the construction of a 30-story, 300-unit residential tower across the street from the entrance will only make things worse. For that reason, Straz officials wanted to get started by this summer on their proposed $375,000 project.

In February, Straz Center executives said their expansion plans would help them better manage valet services, which account for about 10 percent of parking needs. 

What the Straz is doing should match the code not the other way around.  Moreover, the request the Straz is making is not just to match the code to what the Straz is doing now, it is to expand what the Straz is doing.  Though frankly, a lot of this issue stems from this:

“We’re hoping to refine the language so it doesn’t open Pandora’s Box,” said Morris Massey, an attorney representing the Straz. “The center is, frankly, one of the most important cultural centers in the city of Tampa and the region. It’s important for us to maintain access and some level of vehicular use in that area.”

Coyle said the city couldn’t show “favoritism” by accommodating the Straz’s request at the exclusion of other waterfront property owners.

Really, the City shouldn’t show favoritism.

But Shepard said Thursday the Tampa Convention Center, operated by the city, “seems to be exempt from this.”

Of course, the Convention Center predates 2000.  Moreover, we are unaware of any recent expansion of parking on the waterfront at the Convention Center (though the loading docks are unfortunately located (but not as unfortunately as the Straz’s expansion proposals).  But we are not going to get into that.  If the City wanted to expand parking along the water at the Convention Center, we would oppose it.

So we are left with Straz parking issues.

Sold-out shows stress parking. And the construction of a 30-story, 300-unit residential tower across the street from the entrance will only make things worse. For that reason, Straz officials wanted to get started by this summer on their proposed $375,000 project.

The word is that the Straz chose not to make a deal with the developers of that project for dedicated spaces in its garage.  Whether that is the case or not, at this point it is irrelevant.  The spaces do not exist, and, as it stands, if/when they exist, the Straz will not be getting them.

We have an idea, which is not optimal, but could provide a solution: the land between the main library building and the proposed AER apartment building.    The City thought about development proposals for it or maybe a park.  Since it will be overshadowed by a parking garage in the apartment building and the land is not optimal for much else, put a garage there with some retail on the bottom and move on.  No need for parking on the river.  No need to move the loading dock to the Riverwalk.  Put valet parking in the garage. Put some green space on top. Let the Straz pay for it.  Let the Straz own it.

Sure, the library backers may complain.  It is not the most beautiful thing to see from Ashley (though the apartment garage won’t be either). Like we said, it is not necessarily the perfect solution, and we are open to other ideas (transit would be best, but we know the Straz will not accept that as an answer), but at least it is not parking on the riverfront.


Downtown – Settled

For a while momentum for Riverwalk Place has been building.  One possible holdup was a lawsuit filed by a former development partner.

A lawsuit over one of the most anticipated developments in downtown Tampa has been resolved.

Intown Group has withdrawn the lawsuit it filed against Feldman Equities LLC and Tower Realty over the 53-story Riverwalk Place, a mixed-use tower proposed at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street. The tower’s development costs are pegged at $350 million.

We do not know the details.  We just hope the settlement helps get the building get built faster.


Ybor City – Hotel

A long-awaited hotel project on Seventh Avenue broke ground this week.

A ceremony marking the start of construction on a four-story, $32 million boutique hotel at 1402 E Seventh Avenue has been set for Thursday.

The site is now a parking lot, but plans on file with the city of Tampa outline a hotel project with 176 rooms and a height of 78 feet.

The project team includes Ybor City investor Darryl Shaw, the CEO of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, as well as the Capitano, Garcia and Ellison families, Alex Walter, Alfonso Architects, Batson-Cook Construction and EWI Construction.

The hotel company is the Aparium Hotel Group, a Chicago-based company with a portfolio of independent hotels designed and built to reflect the character of the often-older neighborhoods where they are located. One of the company’s goals is to bring what it describes as a C-suite level of hotel service to under-served, albeit “distinct and important” cities.

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

(It is highly unlikely that the building is 78 feet tall.  It may be 78 feet above mean sea level but it is more likely about 50 feet tall above the street)

We are all for the proper rejuvenation of Ybor.  And note that this building has protection for pedestrians.  Yes, that is the historical norm that you basically have to copy in the Ybor district, but there is a reason that was the norm.  Designers of other walkable areas should learn from the past.


Economic Development – Another

Last week, we discussed that Mosaic was moving its HQ to Hillsborough County.  It appears another company is also moving to the area.

Custom battery-maker Resistacap Energy Products will move its headquarters from Huntsville, Ala., to its existing facility near Westchase, the company and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said Thursday.

The company plans to grow as well as move, Resistacap president Gary Bolohan said. If his name sounds familiar, it may be because Bolohan was the longtime president of Tampa-based Reptron Electronics.

Resistacap has 35 employees in Huntsville and last August opened a manufacturing operation with 10 people at the Tri-County Business Park, just east of the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line.

It plans to hire 100 workers for jobs in assembly, soldering, welding and accounting and to spend about $500,000 expanding its Hillsborough operations at 12180 Race Track Road from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet.

And, as with Mosaic:

Neither the state of Florida nor local officials agreed to any incentives, which typically come in the form of tax refunds after new jobs are created, to induce the company to move here. Bolohan said the company contacted the EDC in January and thanked the nonprofit organization for “connecting us to resources to help fulfill our workforce needs.”

Admittedly, it is not the biggest move, but we like any HQ move to the area. Even better, they were here already and liked it enough to move without incentives.  Hopefully, this becomes a trend.


Economic Development – International Trade

There was news-ish in the Times regarding efforts to grow international trade.

A decade ago, the Great Recession put Hillsborough and Pinellas counties’ efforts to grow their foreign exports on hold.

So what exactly were all the trade missions in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and more about? Not to mention that when times are bad is when you really need to be out drumming up business so we have no idea why the recession would have put anything on hold. Regardless, it makes for a good intro to this:

But since then those efforts have returned, gained support and momentum, expanded the range of their ambition and are now being organized under an initiative known as Global Tampa Bay.

Previously known as the Tampa Bay Export Alliance, Global Tampa Bay now consists of the economic development organizations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. It still aims to increase local companies’ overseas sales. But also has a second goal: To attract more direct foreign investment to the bay area.

* * *

Pinellas and Hillsborough launched the Tampa Bay Export Alliance in 2014, and soon thereafter the bay area joined Enterprise Florida on a trip to Panama. Later that year, the bay area organized its first joint trade mission and went to Chile. Trips to Canada and Costa Rica took place in 2015. In 2016, Pasco’s Economic Development Council got involved on an informal basis.

Global Tampa Bay last month returned from a trade mission to Mexico, and plans to return to Chile in September.

Setting aside why Polk, Manatee or other counties are not included, we are all for promoting the region as a region internationally (though we are not really sure this new thing is much better than previous new things.  Either you are cooperating or you aren’t).  Frankly, it should have been done much more long ago.

So five years ago, JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution launched a global cities initiative to help metro leaders become more internationally aware and savvy. The Tampa Bay area was one of 28 U.S. communities selected for the effort.

“One of the findings of that study that really caught our attention is if Tampa Bay could just become average in the percentage of our regional product that is devoted to exports, we could add $8 billion to our economy and 40,000 new jobs,” Pinellas County Economic Development director Mike Meidel told a crowd of about 200 at the University Club.

Note, that means we are below average.  But you don’t get better by not addressing deficiencies. (Like not having a Brazil flight to help the wheels of commerce.  See also here) What would really be odd is if it really took JP Morgan and Brookings to get people focused.  Globalization was a pretty well-known phenomenon in 2013.

Still, the region should be working as a region to develop international trade, and most everything else.


Economy/Planning – Jobs and Houses


— Jobs

It is time once again to check in with the employment and housing figures.  First employment:

The private sector has added 33,000 jobs over the past year in the Tampa metropolitan area, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Friday. That’s the second highest job growth in the state; Orlando has topped that statistic for 37 straight months.

The unemployment rate in the Tampa area is below the national average at 3.2 percent, which is down 0.6 percent from one year ago. 

And that is very good.  The distribution of jobs is interesting:

In Tampa Bay, the industries with the highest job growth over the past 12 months were leisure and hospitality with 9,300 new jobs; education and health services with 6,300 jobs; and finance with 6,200 new jobs.

Quite the service economy.


— Houses

In any event, that leads to housing where the Times had an article entitled “Surge of home starts in Hillsborough, Pasco still can’t meet demand” which is not exactly what the article said (it was a bit more nuanced than that).

Every weekend, scores of prospective buyers stream through the dazzling model homes at Waterset, admiring the high-end lighting, the glass-tile backsplashes, the plank-tile floors

For prices ranging from the $200s to the $800s, lookers can be owners in this huge master planned community, one of many in the Tampa Bay area in the throes of a construction boom.

Over the past 12 months, the number of new home starts jumped 16 percent compared to the previous 12-month span. In Waterset alone, 340 houses began construction as bulldozers and backhoes continued to transform one-time farm fields into what ultimately could be a community of 10,000.

The key to the article title is this:

Yet for all of the building in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, which together account for nearly 90 percent of home starts in Tampa Bay, the demand still remains greater than the supply — especially for moderately priced homes.

“We are still under-built because we can’t afford to build in the $180,000 to $200,000 price bank,” says Tony Polito, regional director of Metrostudy, which tracks housing starts. “I could easily make a case for a couple thousand more units (to satisfy) pent-up demand.”

Housing experts warn that this will be a tough year for buyers, particularly first-time and lower-income buyers. A shortage of existing homes has driven up bay area prices to a median of $230,000 although they can go much higher in popular neighborhoods close to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

In other words, there is an income/housing price issue, at least for some.  So why don’t the developers in the exurbs build lower priced housing?  According to the article, because of all the pesky attempts at planning:

That has prompted more buyers to look at new homes in semi-rural, planned communities where they traditionally could get much more house for the money. But several factors are putting even those beyond the reach of many in a metro area where the median household income is still only $51,100.

“The rule of thumb is three times income, so most people would prefer to buy a $180,000 home,” Polito says. “You just can’t produce that because of impact fees and land costs and construction costs.”

The average price of a new home with lot is now about $315,000, he says.

And

“It’s become increasingly difficult to produce a well-located single family home under $300,000,” Nunn says. Like Polito, he cites rising impact fees as a significant factor.

Counties charge the fees to cover the costs of adding roads, schools and utilities to accommodate the thousands of new residents. Fees in Hillsborough and Pasco add about $20,000 to the cost of each WestBay house, Nunn estimates.

The need for road improvements is particularly obvious in the Apollo Beach area, where residents of Waterset and nearby communities say it can take 30 minutes at rush hour to reach 1-75 just a half mile away. But from a builder’s standpoint, all of those new houses going up are assets, not liabilities.

“What frequently gets overlooked is that the typical $300,000 house is going to provide $4,500 in a perpetual real estate tax stream,” Nunn says. “That a perpetual amount that’s turned over to the county from day one. Growth does pay for itself, I believe.”

First, $20,000 in fees does not get you from $180,000 to $315,000. (Not to mention if you add $20,000 to $180,000 you are in the $200,000 range.) More likely, the developers want to make more money and not build smaller houses.  (We get that the developers want free reign to do whatever they want.  Deep down, most people probably do.)

Second, yes, there is a tax stream from built houses, but that does not pay for the impact, which can be seen every day all over the area (and in County Commission discussions/budgets going back many years). Though maybe he is suggesting raising taxes on all the residents in the county to pay for the impact.

And there is another point, the real cost of a “well-located” house is not the fees (under a mobility fee system – or any reasonable impact fee system – the fees would be lower at a better, closer in location with a well-developed infrastructure than distant, exurban south county, where the residents have to travel farther to get to everything).  Much of the cost of well-located is the land and simply because people can charge more for desirable locations.  Impact/mobility fees are so that everyone else does not have to pay for the impact of the distant house – otherwise known as a subsidizing sprawl.

But that’s not all:

According to Metrostudy, Hillsborough’s share of the new-home market in Tampa Bay has soared to almost 60 percent. So much of the construction is in south Hillsborough that 600 more homes were built in just that area than in all of Pasco County over the past year.

But while south Hillsborough seems to have vast swaths of land still available for development — too much development, critics say — appearances are somewhat deceiving. Much of the land is outside the urban services boundary while only about 20,000 lots are within the area served by county water and sewer. At a time when 3,500 new homes a year are going up south of the Alafia River, all those lots could be built out by 2025.

Maybe they could.

However, a lot of the problem goes back to bad planning by the County and by the developers. First, if developers would stop wasting land on sprawling developments and build in a more efficient way, they could fit more housing (and more profits).  If they and the County stopped pretending (especially when giving approvals) that there were unlimited funds for infrastructure and unlimited land for sprawl, some of the problems would be mitigated.  And if there were better transportation options, people might have more to spend on housing.  (Of course, that would take the Commission working on priorities.)

Not to mention the lingering the fact that incomes lag in this area relative to expenses and other areas.


Sports – Moving the Bowl

The Gasparilla Bowl is moving from St. Pete to Tampa.

The Gasparilla Bowl is moving to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa beginning this year, leaving its former site at Tropicana Field.

“We are excited about the continued growth of this bowl game,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, which operates the Gasparilla Bowl. “I want to thank those we have worked with in St. Petersburg and at Tropicana Field in helping us build this game into a quality, postseason experience.”

We’re not sure what, if anything, this means.


Downtown – A Little History

Having noted the Julian Lane history a few weeks ago, we wanted to note a few historical sites/markers that were news this week.  First, the bridge:

Born in 1825 in South Carolina, Taylor was owned by the Howell family, who later moved to Hernando County, bringing her and an enslaved man, Benjamin.

After their emancipation, Benjamin and Fortune married in 1866, one of the first legal ceremonies for an African-American couple in Hillsborough County. Eventually, Fortune Taylor secured the title to 33 acres of land in downtown Tampa along the east bank of the Hillsborough River, including land now occupied by the Barrymore.

In 1892, Taylor and lawyer Hugh McFarlane agreed to build a bridge spanning the river, connecting West Tampa to the rest of the area. The original bridge was replaced by the current one in 1927. It was known until the 1960s as the Fortune Street Bridge.

In 1967, construction to accommodate Tampa’s portion of Interstate 275 meant realigning a number of streets that included Fortune Street, and the bridge ended up along Laurel Street, for which it was renamed.

“Someone stole that from her,” Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said during an October meeting when the council voted to restore Fortune’s name to the bridge. The road will still be called Laurel Street, but a historic marker now stands on the bridge’s east side, reading “Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge.”

And, then there is Woolworth’s:

When 80-year-old Clarence Fort passes the corner of Franklin and Polk streets, he remembers the segregated F.W. Woolworth store where “you could spend $100 in the store but not sit at the lunch counter and order a Coke.”

So as a 21-year-old NAACP youth leader, he organized and participated in the Woolworth sit-in demonstration to desegregate lunch counters in Tampa.

While the store on 800 N Franklin St. is long closed, the building remains, and on Saturday the city memorialized the sit-in by unveiling a historic marker that names those 40 students who took part in the first protest on Feb. 29, 1960.

“These people helped transformed Tampa into the city it is today,” Fort said.

We hope the building will be put to good use soon and preserved.  As we have often said, we are all for explanatory markers (and these are long overdue) but preserving the actual locations is even better (like Jackson house).  And, really, neither gives the full context or story, but they are a start.

Roundup 5-18-2018

May 18, 2018

Contents

Downtown – Parking Down By the River, Cont

— One More Thing

Economic Development – Mosaic

Westshore-ish – More Midtown

Hyde Park – It Was Better

South Tampa – Approved

Transportation

— Pasco Tunnel?

— Coastal Connector

USF – What Is It, Cont

Port – Different Ships

Built Environment – Filling It In

St. Pete Downtown – A Lot

List of the Week

_______________________________________________________


Downtown – Parking Down By the River, Cont

If you read last week’s Roundup, you will noticed a large number of items involving the river or land right around the river, including some news about a proposal regarding the Straz.  This week we got more detail about the Straz’s plans for expansion.

Plans to redevelop the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts are evolving as new growth brings more visitors and residents to downtown Tampa.

The Straz Center first unveiled a conceptual plan for redeveloping its waterfront real estate in 2015; a master plan for a renovation that could cost up to $100 million was unveiled in 2016.

In early May, Ryan Cos., a Minneapolis-based real estate developer with a large presence in Tampa, filed a design review request with the city that shows the most detailed plan yet for the Straz property.

It is a bit odd for a developer to be central to a public building expansion, but anyway.

As we noted last week, the Straz folks want to build out towards the River and create a more active riverfront.  As a general concept, activating the relatively long stretch of riverfront of the Straz is fine.  The devil, as always is in the details.

This week we got some renderings, like this:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

and of the back/front (depending on how you want to think about it):

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We have mixed feeling about the above renderings.  First, the updated parts look ok, though we are not sure how they will look slapped on the old, brown building.  That leads to the question of whether the expansion will blend at all with the original building and are they going to paint the building white or eggshell? Moreover, there is a concern that the proposed generic bubbly screening may very well look quite dated in not too long.

Another issue with the expansion to the west is the apparent lack of pedestrian covering.  As you can see in the second rendering, there is some covered area, but much of what looks like it will be covered is actually open (with some decorative screening).  That is something that should be clarified.  There are some other things, but we will skip those for now.

But, by far the biggest issue is the parking garage. The Straz has long complained of parking problems so we get they feel the need to do something.  However, this is the key rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And here are the plans:

Ground Floor:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

Second Floor:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

You can see that the loading dock (now on the east side of the Straz) is right on the river.  While on the first floor there is a restaurant (or something) hiding the loading dock/garage from the river, on the upper floors, the garage extends to the Riverwalk.  From the rendering, you can see there is screening of a bit of the garage but the garage is exposed on the higher floors (you’ll get a really nice view of the loading dock and upper parking levels from the newly renovated Julian Lane Riverfront Park).  Moreover, the loading dock is basically right on the Riverwalk.  This setup is not acceptable.  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

First off, this is already an identified “restricted use” within the Tampa Comprehensive Plan:

“ENV Objective 1.14: In order to maintain or improve the character, retain the natural functions, and maximize the public benefits of the river corridor, the following principles will be applied to all development/ redevelopment projects proximate to the Hillsborough River during the land development review process…

ENV Policy 1.14.1: The following principles shall be applied by the City to all proposed development/redevelopment projects that have frontage along the Hillsborough River:

Strict environmental performance standards will be applied to:

Minimize adverse environmental and/or aesthetic impacts, provide technical standards and guidelines consistent with the unique character of the urban core, lower, middle and upper river for, or otherwise restrict, certain uses i.e., parking lots, parking structures, truck service roads, loading docks, warehouses, manufacturing plants, ship building and repair, dredging equipment operators, and heavy uses.”

Either the Riverwalk is very important and in need of activation (like the plans for the southwest side of the Straz and restaurant on the first floor) or it isn’t (like the plans for the loading dock and exposed parking garage).  And either we have comprehensive plans or we don’t.

And, even more interestingly, from the Straz statement we discussed last week:

The space between the Patel Conservatory and the expansion will become an enclosed Atrium offering a second entrance to the theaters from the north, a main entrance to the Event Center, and added activity space for the Patel Conservatory and the Straz Center.

Look again at the floor plans.  That atrium appears to be the yellow space just above the parking garage.  We get that it is a slightly odd shape for a garage.  However, why are they putting an atrium/entrance essentially in an alley and putting the parking garage/loading dock on the riverfront?   The plan as presented is definitely not a creative way to get parking.  It is clunky and, frankly, lazy.

The bottom line is that the plan as presented is not acceptable.  We are sympathetic to the Straz’s issues, but Tampa does not need more parking (or a loading dock) on the river.  And while we understand they sort of try to hide the garage, they do not succeed.  The Straz needs to go back to the drawing board.


— One More Thing

URBN Tampa Bay laid out something we have thought (and have said, if not written) for a long time:

We understand the Straz has a parking problem. Much of that is due to the lack of transit options in the Bay area. A lot of it is also due to the face the Straz decided to build on valuable and boxed-in waterfront land, instead of a more inland location where there are better expansion options and lower design standards. The Tampa Convention Center did the same thing.

Hopefully, Tampa has learned its lesson about placement of such facilities.


Economic Development – Mosaic

This week Mosaic announced that it would move its headquarters to Hillsborough County.

The Mosaic Company announced plans Monday to move its headquarters from a suburb of Minneapolis to Hillsborough County, making the phosphate mining giant the first Fortune 500 company to decide to relocate here.

Key details — when Mosaic will move and where it will land — are still under consideration.

So is how many employees will be relocated. Mosaic, No. 377 on Fortune 500’s ranking of companies by total revenue, currently has about 150 employees at its corporate office in Plymouth, Minn., company spokesman Benjamin Pratt said in an email.

First, it is great they are moving. Second, it seems that there are a number of unknowns.

The phosphate giant’s real estate search is in the preliminary stages, and office space across the county is in the running, Ben Pratt, Mosaic’s vice president of corporate public affairs, told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

“We are considering downtown Tampa as well as our existing office buildings in FishHawk and Highland Oaks,” Pratt wrote in an email.

Pratt said the size of Mosaic’s Florida headquarters is to be determined, though it’s rumored in commercial real estate circles to be looking for 30,000 square feet.  In Minnesota, Mosaic’s corporate headquarters is in a suburban office park, where 150 employees work in 73,987 square feet, Pratt confirmed to the Twin Cities Business Journal, a sister news organization.

If Mosaic knows, they aren’t saying publicly. So we have to wait and see.

Obviously, this has led to speculation they may be moving to Water Street.  From the Times:

Mosaic is not saying where it is likely to land, but it doesn’t sound like Water Street Tampa is off the list.

“We are considering downtown Tampa as well as some other locations,” Pratt said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “We haven’t specifically considered Water Street yet.”

Strategic Property Partners did not comment on whether it has had any contact from Mosaic or would pursue the company to join a planned $3 billion project with two new hotels, office buildings, residential towers, a grocery store, dozens of new stores, bars and restaurants and a new building for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

“Water Street Tampa will be a great place to do business for both retailers and for office tenants,” Strategic Property Partners spokeswoman Ali Glisson said in an email. “That having been said, it is our policy not comment on any potential tenant discussion or negotiation.”

Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson said the port would “definitely” talk to Mosaic about the possibility of moving onto port-owned land.

That would be nice, but they also may just build another building next to their office near FishHawk Ranch (which is on Mosaic Drive after all)  or use the present building.

Aside from the office location, there were a couple of interesting things about the decision.

Asked whether Mosaic considered other potential locations, Pratt said, “the choice really came down to Central Florida, or stay where we are.”

Which is not surprising given that

Mosaic already has its largest domestic presence in Florida, including in Tampa. The company employs 3,000 Floridians and another 3,000 contractors.

(And don’t forget the resort.) As their own website says:

Our largest centers of operation are in Central Florida and Brazil, where we mine and process phosphates, and in Saskatchewan, where we produce potash. Our headquarters are in Plymouth, Minnesota.

Which also may help explain this:

Unlike other corporate recruitment efforts, the discussions with Mosaic have not included offers of state and local tax abatements for creating new jobs, Richard said.

“There’s no incentives on the table at this time,” he said, nor was he “aware of any intention to apply for incentives.”

Moreover:

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. only had limited contact with the company, according to Pratt.  EDC President and CEO Craig Richard said he remembers talks with Mosaic about moving to Hillsborough dating back to about four years ago. “But I’m aware that sometimes a company has to be ready for those type of changes,” Richard said.

It appears the move it serves Mosaic’s interests, and that is great.  The fact that they just seemed to want to move here is the best kind of relocation.

The company does expect several benefits from a move to Hillsborough, including:

“This move will drive improved efficiency and good value,” Mosaic president and CEO Joc O’Rourke said in announcing the relocation.

Here is a map of their worldwide locations.

 

“We believe locating our corporate office there will give us opportunities to amplify Mosaic’s presence and engage more closely with communities where we operate. With the cost savings we expect to achieve and the closer proximity to our Mosaic Fertilizantes business in Brazil, this move will drive improved efficiency and good value,” Mosaic President and CEO Joc O’Rourke said in a statement.

We will speculate about something else: maybe, just maybe, this put us over the line to get us a flight to Brazil (and Saskatchewan, of course).  That would help their efficiency.

We would say welcome to Mosaic, but they have been here from the beginning of the company (and long before with the predecessor companies).  Nevertheless, welcome to the new people moving here and their new presence.


Westshore-ish – More Midtown

The Midtown developers, who had their rezoning approved this week, are wasting no time rolling out news.

Crescent Communities has built hundreds of high-end apartments around Tampa in recent years and will build 390 more above a base of ground-floor stores and restaurants as part of the $500 million Midtown Tampa project, developers announced Thursday.

Construction on the Novel Midtown Tampa apartments is scheduled to begin late this year, with completion expected in the second half of 2020.

Neither unit sizes nor rental rates have been determined yet, said Margie Martin, spokeswoman for The Bromley Companies, the New York-based master developer for Midtown Tampa.

The apartments will be part of Midtown Tampa’s 1.8 million square feet of office, residential, retail, entertainment and hospitality development on 22 acres at the southeastern corner of Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Well, that would be fast (at least for the newest iteration).

“Tampa has really evolved into an attractive market, with strong employment growth and an active, livable environment, making it ripe for the first truly-integrated, walkable, mixed-use development in this region,” Jay Curran, senior managing director for Crescent Communities, said in a statement.

Of course, Midtown is not necessarily the first project of that kind, but it is one of the few. More importantly, as we have previously said, the Midtown development has nice walkability internally.  We have no doubt these apartments will be nice, and the ground floor retail is good (though it would be nice if the retail had more practical protection for pedestrians, not just decorative awnings).

Nevertheless, even with all that, the real issue we have with Midtown remains its connection to the area around it and the surface parking lot.  The apartments could easily be just as nice while those issues are addressed.  We hope the apartments get built quickly and nicely and the retail gets filled with good stores. We also hope the developer tweaks the project to make it more connected to the city.


Hyde Park – It Was Better

The owners of Hyde Park Village have been renovating the complex for a while now.  Most of the renovations have actually been pretty successful.  This week, they released updated renderings of the old Jacobson’s portion of the complex.

First, here’s the previous rendering:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

It’s not awesome, but at least they try to cover some of the parking garage.  Here’s the latest:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

Needless to say, the newer renderings are not nearly as good, especially the first one, which is facing Swann.  (In our opinion, the contrasting colors of the present façade, while a bit old, looks better.) We get that it may be cheaper.  However, it is really not very good, and that is a shame.  Hopefully, they will rethink their ideas.


South Tampa – Approved

The Sanctuary was approved by City Council (7-0 no less).   We have nothing against condos on Bayshore, but it is too bad that the Council did not make sure the project was not utterly bland in the part that faced most of the City.


Transportation


— Pasco Tunnel?

Pasco, along with FDOT, has been trying to figure out how to solve the mess they have created at the SR54/US41 intersection.  They have seen all sorts of ideas.  This week we learned the fate of one idea:

Transportation planners are burying the idea of tunneling under U.S. 41 to ease traffic congestion at the road’s intersection with State Road 54 in central Pasco.

Even with the conceptual cost dropping $300 million, Pasco’s elected county and city officials, sitting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the tunnel was too pricey.

“Clearly, the option and the price is much higher … I think we should move past that,’’ said Commissioner Jack Mariano, who broached the tunnel idea in January and asked for the cost study.

A month ago, the planning board got sticker shock after it learned that building a 6,000-linear-foot tunnel, including approaches, to take SR 54 beneath U.S. 41 could cost $550 million.

* * *

Thursday, the planning board staff lowered the estimated price of the tunnel, now referred to as a underpass, to $250 million. The expense dropped because the length of the approaches and below-grade highway was reduced to just 2,500 linear feet, based on a design of an underpass in Broward County.

“This is just conceptual,’’ cautioned Ali Atefi, the planning board’s engineer.

It was a concept the board unanimously agreed was too rich.

“Unfortunately, it’s cost prohibitive,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore.

We suppose that is based on this:

[The higher estimate] is more than the $455 million projected cost of the proposed 41-mile Bus Rapid Transit system connecting Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg via buses in dedicated highway lanes. Likewise, a prior state Department of Transportation plan to build a fly-over at SR 54/U.S. 41 had a cost estimate of roughly $160 million.

We are not really sure what benefit a tunnel gives in that location, but, regardless, it does not seem likely to happen.  Of course,

Studying the proposed tunnel triggered a five-month delay in the board’s consideration of recommendations from a citizens task force on how to improve the bottleneck at the intersection.

The task force spent two years studying the intersection and the entire State Road 54/56 corridor to winnow 18 alternatives to four recommendations. They included: building elevated lanes; at-grade improvements; and its top choice of constructing a network of frontage roads known as a parallel-flow intersection. The task force did not consider the tunnel idea.

Thursday, the transportation board agreed to send the task force proposals to the state DOT for additional study. A time line on a final decision is not yet known, said Atefi, but the county plans a public outreach campaign to gauge public interest in the proposals.

That the top choice is to make the intersection even more sprawling is not surprising.  Pasco seems quite intent to double down on sprawl and poorly planned arterial roads.  Unfortunately, they have not learned from the counties around them.  And those counties, in turn, do not seem to have learned from the SR54/US41 fiasco.

Just remember the numbers being discussed are to “fix” one intersection.


— Coastal Connector

Last week, we discussed the “Coastal Connector” which is a northern stretch proposed for the Suncoast Parkway heading to I-75. You can find more information about it here.  Comment on routes is apparently supposed to have ended this week.  However, as we are learning, FDOT comment dates are necessarily not hard and fast.


USF – What Is It, Cont

A few months ago, we discussed USF’s latest effort to rebrand. (See “USF – What Is It”)  At the time we presented our views on USF’s branding problems.  This week, we learned this:

The University of South Florida has hired the Tampa and San Diego-based branding and advertising agency SPARK to boost the school’s stature nationwide.

The school announced last week that it signed a 12-month, $200,000 contract with the agency to create an advertising and marketing strategy that will better engage current and prospective students as well as faculty and the community.

* * *

Despite its success, Hice said locals still aren’t seeing USF for the “gem” it is, and nationwide, incoming students aren’t looking to USF as a top-tier research institution.

“We’ve got literally hundreds and hundreds of stories that we could be telling, but we have limited resources,” Hice said. “SPARK will help us with a creative approach to telling those.”

In the morning article the Business Journal told us were told that the strategy is due out in late summer/early fall. In an afternoon article, it told us this:

The University of South Florida’s latest marketing campaign will feature the slogan “Be Bullish,” highlighting the school’s brand personality as one that is bold, agile, quick thinking and innovative, with students and faculty who are united, loyal, impactful and high quality.

An early presentation created last month highlights the school’s marketing priorities as it works with Tampa ad agency SPARK on the initiative.  “Be Bullish” will be an ongoing tagline meant to show “relentless optimism for the future,” proving there’s nothing school leaders can’t achieve.  It plays on the school’s mascot Rocky the Bull and the Bulls football team.

We get the “Be Bullish” reference.  And it’s not bad for a slogan (though we’re pretty sure some students will quickly change it to the obvious play on words).  We don’t think it indicates anything that the marketing language says it indicated, especially that the school’s leaders can accomplish anything (and, really, is that a selling point to students?  Shouldn’t it be the students can accomplish anything?).  But it will be catchy enough on promotional materials.

The full campaign is still in development.  USF is definitely moving forward and is a great asset to this area (even if, as we have noted before, it seems a bit confused by its own identity).  We only wish it success.


Port – Different Ships

There was cruise news from the port:

Cuba is proving to be a boon to Port Tampa Bay’s cruise business with the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas on Monday.

The Majesty of the Seas, which carries 2,350 guests, is the larger vessel brought in by Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) to accommodate more than 500 additional passengers during the 2018 summer season. The ship will offer four- and five-night itineraries to Havana that include day and overnight stays through this October.

The new larger ship arrives after Port Tampa Bay made $1.7 million in improvements at Terminal 6, which is used by Royal Caribbean. Terminal 6 previously could only handle cruise ships with 1,800 passengers. Now it can handle ships with 2,500 passengers. The terminal underwent a 7,277-square-foot expansion of the ticketing area and had 32 new ticket counters and 28 new baggage tables installed. The terminal also saw an increase of parking west of the facility.

This is the second summer in a row that Royal Caribbean will offer cruises to Cuba out of Tampa. Last year, the cruise line sailed Empress of the Seas from Tampa to Cuba, which carries 1,602 guests.

Moreover,

The demand for cruises to Cuba continues to increase, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

That is interesting given news like this from the Washington Post about lowering numbers of US tourists going to Cuba.

In other news, Carnival will be switching out comparable ships in 2019.


Built Environment – Filling It In

There was an article in the Times about Rocky Point.

Many of Tampa Bay’s most scenic and pricey waterfront neighborhoods were built by pouring soil into the open water. Known as “dredge and fill,” the practice largely ended in the 1970s as lawsuits and state and federal laws designed to protect marine environments made it difficult.

Ended for good reason.

Now, officials in Tampa may be turning back the clock.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a proposal to fill in 3 acres of open water north of Rocky Point Drive, near the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

An Albany, N.Y., developer wants to build 16 townhomes there, each 3?½ stories high with a private dock. Residents would enjoy views of private Scarborough Park and what’s left of an 8.8 acre lagoon once part of it is filled to create the property.

The 6-3 vote followed more than 90 minutes of contentious discussion among planning commissioners, neighbors and businesses. Opponents call it a precedent-setting decision that would harm marine life, limit public access to the water, and encourage people to move into a coastal flood zone.

Here is the area.

Planning Commission staffers found the project consistent with the city of Tampa’s comprehensive land-use plan, meshing with the goal of promoting residential development in the West Shore district. The water has its own zoning designation and it’s compatible with nearby properties. What’s more, there’s no evidence of sea grass growing in the man-made lagoon, carved out during the dredge-and-fill operation that created Rocky Point decades ago.

A retention pond proposed for the development would also help clean polluted stormwater from Rocky Point Drive before it reaches Old Tampa Bay, the staff determined.

We don’t really buy any of that. Notably:

“The decision to change the future use of an underwater parcel located in a high-hazard area simply boggles the mind,” Kent Bailey, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Tampa Bay Group, said Tuesday. “Clearly, the Planning Commission isn’t taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously. That area is plagued by serious flooding now.”

* * *

Opposition came from the nearby Dana Shores neighborhood.

“It’s water that people use and boat in,” said Margaret Bowles. “We’re concerned that it’s just going to start a trend of development.”

Surrounding hotels like the Westin Hotel and Hilton’s Doubletree Suites also protested, saying the project would hurt their business because guests rank water views and sightings of dolphins and manatees as reasons to book rooms.

“Where does it stop?” asked Steve Michelini, a Westin consultant. “The fact that the city and the county staff can’t find policies to object doesn’t mean it should be approved. We should be going the other way. Where is it that it says you should fill water to provide development land?”

So who was for it?  Other than the developer and people who voted for it.  Of course, Tampa messed up planning on Rocky Point, which could have been/be really cool but is just a sprawling mess, so much that this would not really change anything, except the create a precedent of more fill land for not very important developments. But that would be a bad precedent.  We understand there may be limited time where more fill makes sense, but it needs to involve a compelling reason. (And, really, the whole situation arose from a weird planning mess involving zoning and planning categories for submerged land.)

In any event, now it is up to the City:

The Tampa City Council will consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation when it makes a decision on the project. Speaking at the Monday meeting, a Tampa representative said the city’s own planning staff objects to the proposal for eliminating open space, damaging the park and bringing more residents to a high-hazard flood zone.

Those are all good points.  And, importantly, there is no compelling reason to allow any of those things for this project.

City approval to fill in the lagoon is one stop on a regulatory road for Prime Cos. Separate permits would have to be acquired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the proposal is subject to a formal review by the county’s Environmental Protection Commission.

Let’s see if the City Council listens to staff this time.


St. Pete Downtown – A Lot

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding a church parking lot (really).

Christ United Methodist Church said it has signed a contract to sell its parking lot at First Avenue N and Fifth Street to Miles River Development for $5.65 million.

The developer could not be reached for comment, but church leaders say they believe there are plans to build a mixed-use tower on the little more than half-acre lot.

A half-acre right here.

In an area zoned for mixed-use, the property is in the city’s downtown core district, which allows the highest densities and building height. Elizabeth Abernethy, the city’s zoning official, said there is no height restriction, but buildings more than 158 feet above mean sea level require an airport obstruction permit to verify that there are no airspace safety hazards. Buildings more than 375 feet high require a public hearing, she said.

* * *

The church will get 150 parking spaces on Sundays and 30 Monday through Saturday in perpetuity, Jones-Smith said.

We do not know what the plans for the lot will be, though past history would indicate it will likely not be a short-ish stick construction apartment building. (see here)  St. Pete’s downtown has shown that smaller lots are getting filled in, often with nice, relatively dense projects like a mature urban environment.  Our hats are off to them for that.


List of the Week

Our list this week is ACSM’s American Fitness Index. (Summary report here)  The methodology can be found on pg 6 of the pdf here.

Here’s the top 40: coming in first is Arlington ( VA), followed by Minneapolis, Washington (DC), Madison (WI), Portland (OR), Seattle, Denver, St. Paul, San Jose, Boise, Oakland, Plano, Irvine, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Lincoln, Raleigh, Fremont, Atlanta, Anchorage, Aurora, (CO), St. Petersburg, Colorado Springs, Miami, Durham, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Virginia Beach, Dallas, Chicago, Omaha, Milwaukee, Chula Vista, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Long Beach, and Santa Ana.

Once again, the top of the list is populated by usual suspects.  St. Pete came in 23rd and Tampa 37th.   You can review the numbers here for what it is worth.

Roundup 5-11-2018

May 11, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Here and There

— The Survey

— The Way It Is

— Uptowner

— Regionalism In Action

— Suncoast Extension

Downtown – Parking Down By the River?

West Tampa/Downtown-ish – In a Park Down By the River

Westshore-ish – Midtown

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Downtown-ish – UT Riverfront

South Tampa – More Sanctuary

Channel District – New Name, Same Issues

Tourism – Pinellas

West Tampa – West River Starts

South Tampa – A Little More Clarity

Downtown/Public Art – It’s a Logo

Clearwater – Reuse

Rays – Money Talk, Cont

__________________________________________


Transportation – Here and There


— The Survey

As part of the Regional Transit Study, there is now an online survey about the “BRT” plan.  You can find it here.  We recommend you take the survey, but note that some of the questions are loaded.  There is space to comment regarding the “BRT” plan and the USF/downtown CSX idea.  On the other hand, where it asks about options for further or other transit ideas, the options are limits (and inadequate) and there no room for comment.  So, for instance, you cannot say that you favor arterial road BRT rather than (as opposed to along with) the “BRT” plan.  The most you can say is that you want it in addition to the “BRT” plan.

Nevertheless, let your voice be heard.


— The Way It Is

While the County Commission can mysteriously find hundreds of millions for road construction and claims to care about the East County, this week we learned:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is working with management of the Westfield Brandon to solve a growing parking problem that recently left several bus riders worried they would return from work to find their vehicles towed from the premises.

Warning tickets were placed on several vehicles that were parked at the mall by people catching HART buses into downtown Tampa or MacDill Air Force Base, according to Westfield’s marketing director Dawn Arvidson. However, Arvidson said mall management has no intentions of towing vehicles as they work with HART to come up with a solution.

“Obviously, we want it to be a safe environment for everyone in the system,” she said.

HART chief operations officer Ruthie Reyes Burckard said the transit authority was “disappointed” by Westfield Brandon’s decision to warn commuters that they were in danger of being towed, but “both organizations are working toward a solution that meets the needs of both parties.”

We get that the mall wants to make sure it has parking, though we doubt that parking is really a problem most of the time.  Nevertheless, a dedicated park and ride lot for commuters would be useful.  Well,

This isn’t the first time plans have been in the works to address commuter parking woes at the mall.

In 2012, HART abandoned plans to build a large park-and-ride station in Brandon on 4 acres off Falkenburg Road, just south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and west of I-75. The park-and-ride would have had space for 200 to 250 vehicles, as well as amenities such as restrooms. HART pulled the plug on the project because costs soared about $1.6 million above original estimates of $2.25 million.

In the greater scheme of hundreds of millions of dollars for roads (or even $15 million for playing fields ), a little less than $4 million is still not that much to create at least mediocre transit where riders are not afraid they will have their cars towed.  One Commissioner even considered trying to put the money toward transportation, but no. Welcome to Hillsborough County.

It is just another example of a key problem with the “BRT” plan: there is no reason to expect the local governments to fund proper local systems that would make the “BRT” plan work, let alone fund the “BRT” plan, especially given Pasco’s hostility to New Tampa.


— Uptowner

Meanwhile, around !p, the ineffable area near USF (the website of which has random pictures of other cities, we assume to indicate aspirations):

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved Monday a participation agreement paving the way for a circulator bus service in the University of South Florida area.

HART approved a joint participation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to contribute $270,000 for a 7-mile loop around USF and neighboring businesses including Moffitt Cancer Center, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and local bars and restaurants where people work and spend time.

Given that the owners of University Mall are trying to rebrand it as Uptown,

The Uptowner, as its being called, would serve some of Tampa’s poorest areas as well as the nearly 50,000 students attending USF, making it an ideal location for local transit service. The route could serve USF employees heading out for lunch or residents in the neighboring communities going to work. 

Setting aside that the whole “Uptown” thing is a bit premature, we assume the circulator will have riders, especially when it is free, though the number of choice riders is an open question.  Importantly, where does it actually go and how often (and how long the route will take)?

The route would include 20 or more stops and run ideally every 20 minutes. Hours of operation and other details are yet to be ironed out.

In other words, it is not entirely clear where it goes (though we have to assume USF, the Mall, the Florida Hospital, the VA), and how long it will take (and running every 20 minutes is not good for getting people to and from lunch in an hour or so, especially when each bus has 20 stops).  Nor is it entirely clear what kind of bus they will use, though previous reports have said they will be small.  At least it is a small amount of money put toward transit (though in a piecemeal fashion).

We are all for circulators, though most of the area is entirely unwalkable so it will have to deposit people at front doors of their destinations, which is not very efficient. If we see the City and County moving to change their codes and really build properly, maybe we would become more interested in the potential of transit for choice riders.

And there is another thing. The discussion of the circulator is constantly tied to the “BRT” plan with the circulator being one of the key local links connecting to the “BRT” plan.  While, as we said, we are fine with a circulators, a circulator picking up people next to the interstate and shuttling them to their main destination at USF and beyond is quite poor transit planning.  Done properly, the main transit line should run to the biggest destination, here USF, and smaller systems would circulate smaller groups from there (though the more miles of circulation you add, the less efficient it gets). Just another problem with a “BRT” plan that seems more focused with using the interstate than being useful.


— Regionalism In Action

There is a lot of talk about regionalism in transportation, but, as we have previously discussed, even the simplest coordination is lacking: K-Bar Ranch is a clear example.

The Tampa City Council decided Thursday to wait on Pasco County’s next move regarding connecting crucial roads between booming New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

Council members agreed to delay a final vote to June 28 on a proposal to place up to 700 new homes in K-Bar Ranch, the northernmost tip of New Tampa.

The nearly two-month wait is designed to see if Pasco County will change its stance on completing and opening the 30-foot stretch of no-man’s land between Kinnan Street in New Tampa and Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County.

Pasco and Tampa have been in a stand 0ff for at least a decade over the roads.

Years ago, Pasco residents traveled to New Tampa to shop and dine. Since the Shops at Wiregrass opened, however, Pasco County has been less interested in opening its housing developments on the Hillsborough County border to New Tampa traffic.

“We have a constant crisis in this area. Not just what we’ve heard here today. A crisis of government is not really working together and we’re all the victims here today,” said council member Luis Viera, who represents New Tampa.

This issue could not be simpler (connect the ten feet or so), but, yet, the roads are not connected.  At least the Tampa City Council sensibly slowed down the process of adding more congestion a little.  However, we doubt Pasco is going to rush to do the simple and right thing.

After the vote, a Pasco County Commissioner said his county’s study on the issue wouldn’t be ready for months and his county wasn’t going to step up  the pace for Tampa or K-Bar developers.

“We have our schedule to look at any possible connections and we’ll be sticking to our schedule here in Pasco County,” said Mike Moore.

Even this area’s road-centric plans cannot be executed properly, and there is no cooperation on even the smallest thing (and little sign of good will). Which may lead some to ask: why fund the “BRT” plan that focuses on Pasco commuters especially when the study found that transit needs in Hillsborough (and Pinellas) are more critical anyway? Not a good sales pitch, Pasco.


— Suncoast Extension

Right now the Suncoast Parkway has a northern terminus that is less than bustling (here).   FDOT is working on stage 2 of the road, which will move to the west close to US19.  After the planned move west, FDOT is now thinking of going east (and north).

Billed as the answer to ease the strain on existing major highways, the proposed Coastal Connector is causing some Marion County horse farm owners their own fits of stress after the state unveiled the proposed routes for the road.

* * *

The plan is in its earliest stages and the current study is only gathering public input. The highway would connect north Central Florida with the Tampa area and run through Citrus and Marion County. The new road, likely a toll road, would reduce the strain on Interstate 75 with the goal of keeping up with growth and improving transportation and future emergency evacuations.

The project is decades from fruition with no construction expected before 2045, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

The road would connect State Road 589 (Suncoast Parkway) — which is now set to end at State Road 44 in Citrus County — to Interstate 75 and U.S. 441 in Marion County.

 

From Ocala.com – click on map for article

We are in basic agreement with URBN Tampa Bay, with a few tweaks:

After much study, FDOT realized that connecting the Suncoast to I-75 might be useful (duh). Sounds reasonable enough, right? Except this is FDOT, so the proposed routes are all zig-zagging messes which needlessly head several miles west before doubling back east towards I-75. We’re not sure how making a highway several miles longer than it needs to be is good for anyone but FDOT and their cronies. This senseless zigzagging means more land must be acquired and more highway must be paved. It means trips on the road will take longer and the tolls will cost more. It also makes the highway less safe.

We hope that before FDOT goes any further with this, they simply step back and look at what they’re proposing through the eyes of the people expected to use it and live with it in the shadow of their community. There is definitely merit to this concept to get the Suncoast linked to the interstate instead of being a literal road to nowhere, but not this zig-zagging nonsense.

We think the Suncoast should be connected to I-75 further south, but up north would be fine, especially given how bad traffic can be on I-75 from Gainesville south. We are not sure why the path is not more direct, unless it is to avoid the land of some large landowners.  (The Ocala.com article from which the quote is taken is about landowners complaining about the road coming near their horse farms.)

Frankly, we would like the road project to be moved forward (2045 seems way to long from now).  But we would like it planned reasonably.


Downtown – Parking Down By the River?

When last we left the Straz they were 1) trying to figure out parking and 2) proposing all sorts of changes to the waterfront.  However, things have been kind of quiet, until now.  The Straz is looking to move forward with their expansion/rearranging project. From URBN Tampa Bay quoting the Straz statement:

An important component of the project is the integration and expansion of the Carol Morsani Hall and Louise Lykes Ferguson Hall Lobbies into one grand space that opens to a Grand Terrace and the Riverwalk. These expanded lobbies will provide space to relocate both the formal Maestro’s Restaurant and the casual Maestro’s Café to the riverfront so that they can serve the public year-round rather than just on show nights. The expanded lobbies will also provide additional vertical transportation, restroom and service facilities. The space above the new lobbies will provide a flexible-configuration 600 seat Event Center and a Rooftop Terrace. The space between the Patel Conservatory and the expansion will become an enclosed Atrium offering a second entrance to the theaters from the north, a main entrance to the Event Center, and added activity space for the Patel Conservatory and the Straz Center.

The greatest challenge facing the Straz Center and the entire Arts District, and now the Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Park, is parking. The Straz Center, in concert with the City, Hillsborough County and its neighbors have explored literally dozens of options for adding parking facilities in the Arts District. None of the off-site options proved feasible or possible. At this time all of the immediately adjacent potential sites are under development by the private sector. Thus, the only solution possible is construction of an on-site parking facility integrated into the new expansion project.

The first paragraph is conditionally fine (depending on the details).  The basic idea seems ok.

However, the second paragraph is going to require a lot more information because it definitely sounds like the Straz is proposing some sort of parking garage on their present property. Looking at that property, there is not much room for a garage anywhere but near the river, which is most likely a very bad idea.  We are not saying they haven’t worked out something more creative.  We simply don’t know.  However, it is bad enough that the Riverwalk tower has a big garage on the water (though it, at least, has some decorative screening) to add to the legacy parking garages you see walking on the Riverwalk.  We really don’t think that Tampa should get into the practice of putting more parking garages on the riverfront.

That being said, given the lack of information, we will withhold final judgment until we see more.


West Tampa/Downtown-ish – In a Park Down By the River

Julian Lane Riverfront Park will reopen this weekend (after the Mayor’s state of the city speech Friday), this weekend.  Or, as the Times put it:

On Monday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the signature public works project of his two-term administration was 99 percent ready to go for its Mother’s Day weekend debut, when concerts are scheduled by the Florida Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band and pop act Third Eye Blind, which the mayor referred to initially as “Third Blind Eye.”

Setting aside the lack of nearby parking (not that we think they should build more – but it not really a great event venue.  Curtis Hixon Park is much better), lack of transit and lack of a good connection to the Riverwalk on the east side of the river, the events should be fun.

We are sure people will use the park, and, really, it had to be fixed up.  We just don’t think the City should have spent the amount of money on it (and we disagree with some of the changes, but we are not going to get into the theories of proper park design now).  The point is, the money is spent; we need to make it as successful as possible.  And that is where the City is already failing.

The Times article headline was this: “Tampa’s version of Central Park gets its finishing touches before Friday’s debut.” We don’t know who came up with the Central Park line, but it is silly and not just because Tampa is not Manhattan (and all sorts of park design issues).  Central Park is surrounded by developed city.  Riverfront Park has a river on one side (obviously), a school on another, a highway on another, and underdeveloped land on the final side.  That means only one side of the park can be developed properly to take advantage of the park and give it an urban environment.  So, of course, the City, knowing this and wanting to maximize its investment has changed the code for the property fronting the park . . . or maybe not.

From URBN Tampa Bay:

The city should amend the zoning code/comp plan for any nearby parcels already zoned for urban density to be even denser, with a substantial minimum density that the city will not approve a project below that threshold. Moreover, the city should consider steps it can take to ensure that any redevelopment fronting N Blvd near the park features a walkable design with public facing ground floor commercial and an activated streetscape.

We can scarcely think of a more relevant time to amend development densities upwards, than after building high capacity public infrastructure such as this. This is a golden opportunity for Tampa to break out of its settling ways by being smarter on urban development than we have in the past. The park is built, let’s make maximum use of it to help shape Tampa’s urban core into the high quality, walkable community we all know it can be, and is becoming.

Exactly.  It is so basic that it should not even have to be said.

And one more thing, here is a Times story about Mayor Julian Lane, for whom the park is named.   Read it and maybe you’ll agree with this:

Historian Hearns hopes more is done to honor what Lane.

“In Tampa his name is very seldomly repeated for what he did for this city,” he said. “Mayor Lane needs a statue in the park. He is one of my heroes.”

Seems like that idea has some merit. (As does shortening the name of the park to just Julian Lane Park).


Westshore-ish – Midtown

In the last few weeks, we have discussed the proposed Midtown development.  We have noted that it appears to be internally quite good but does not connect well to the areas around it.  Regardless of that, the City Council has given its first support.  Now, presumably to bring some enthusiasm about the development, the developers have released the names of some of the future retail tenants.

Bromley appears to be targeting an eclectic mix of local and national names that is more in line with the lineup at Hyde Park Village than other retail properties that line North Dale Mabry Highway.

Restaurants on the site plan range from less than 3,000 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet. Outside of Ulta, Whole Foods and REI, the retail space is mostly small shops, in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet.

Fly Wheel, a cycling studio, and Solid Core, a fitness studio specializing in Pilates and boot camps, are listed on the site plan. Hopdoddy, a burger and beer restaurant, and Sixty Vines, a wine bar, are also allotted space, as is an unnamed concept from Tampa restaurant veteran Bob Basham, an Outback Steakhouse co-founder.

Some boutique retailers that are growing their brick-and-mortar footprints are also represented on the plan: Shinola, a Detroit-based leather and accessories store, and South Moon Under, a women’s lifestyle boutique, are both listed.

It’s unlikely that the final mix of tenants in Midtown lines up exactly with the names presented on the site plan. But Bromley’s vision — at least on paper — is one for the future, bringing together a mix of services and storefronts that aren’t easily replicated online.

And that’s all great.  We are all for it.  The thing we don’t quite get though is why they can get those retailers but they can’t figure out how to not put a surface parking lot next to a Whole Foods built under a garage.  The quality of the tentative retailers does not change the deficiency in the design.  Tampa should want (and expect) quality throughout.


Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Once again, there was news about Riverwalk Tower.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Feldman Equities, LLC uploaded numerous building documents today to Tampa’s Accela planning portal in pursuit of a permit to build their 52 story mixed-use tower at 103 South Ashley Dr.

According to these updated documents filed with the city, the tower is set to rise to 649 feet. The project includes 236 residential units, an increase from the 220 previously proposed. The office space has decreased down to 136k square feet, from the earlier proposal of 155k square feet. There is 49,500 square feet of retail space. There are 727 parking spaces provided. City code required 424 parking spaces.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Setting aside the extra parking, that’s all fine.  It appears that the height went back up, but we will just wait and see.


Downtown-ish – UT Riverfront

The University of Tampa has been building a lot for a while (some good, some unfortunately placed in view corridors).  Through all that the buildings facing the river have been the old, plain buildings.  Now:

The University of Tampa’s Riverside Center, which was built in 1962 on the Hillsborough River and has supported various administrative and academic functions over the years, will undergo a major renovation this summer and fall. The renovation will allow for significantly increased space for Career Services, classrooms, conference rooms and for a transformed post office.

The current building, which is a mix of single-story, story-and-a-half and two-story spaces, will become two-story throughout, but will remain approximately the same footprint. The renovation will add nearly 20,000 square feet for a total of 54,000 square feet. The project is expected to begin in early May, and to be fully completed for the Spring 2019 semester. However, the post office, language lab and some administrative spaces are expected to be complete by the Fall 2018 semester.

There are two renderings in this article.  This appears to be the one fronting the river, which is what we care more about:

 

From the University of Tampa – click on picture for article

It is a (modest) update to the look.  But this building is not the worst offender on campus. There are other buildings on along the river that definitely could use some (quite a bit) improvement (if not demolition and moving their function elsewhere).


South Tampa – More Sanctuary

Last week we noted the updated rendering of the front of the Sanctuary condo.  This week, the Business Journal had more renderings. There were a number of renderings of interiors and the pool area.  We will stipulate that they will be nice (especially if you like having a pool in a Central American jungle).  The only new rendering of the exterior was this:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

At least we know how we will look driving up in our white Bentley.  However, this does not give us any idea of how the building will interact with the area around it.  Nor does it tell us what the other sides of the building will look like (which from previous information, we assume will be bad).

Taub said the house will be demolished “in the next month or two” with construction of the condos due to start this fall. Completion is set for 2020.

Once again, we are sure the units will be very nice.  We have no problem with that.  What we do have a problem with is if the building sticks everyone else with ugliness, which seems to be the case.  That needs to change.


Channel District – New Name, Same Issues

It appears that Mercury Advisors have renamed their Del Villar project “Elevé61.”  Whatever.  There is more information at the project website, though it is quite generic and may be old.  They do say, “Rezoning approval has been obtained for this 36 story residential condominium tower in the Channel District.”  As far as we know, this building has not been finally approved, though it may technically have proper zoning.  Regardless, there are what appear to be updated renderings:

 

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

Nothing has really changed from our previous discussions. (see here, here, and here) There is still poor street interaction, lack of retail, and the poorly designed, ugly garage.  (While the latest Del Villar proposal had a very small retail space, it is not enough.)

As for the overall design, we are not fond of the blue stripe, but the real problem is the blank walls.  Just like with Sanctuary, that is what the most prominent feature, and that should not happen.  Tampa deserves better (and Mercury Advisors has done better).  So why this poor design now?


Tourism – Pinellas

Last week, we discussed Hillsborough County’s bed tax collections. This week, we discuss Pinellas:

VSPC reported tourist development tax or bed tax collection of $8.9 million for March, which is traditionally the county’s highest grossing month, in part because of spring break. “March is to tourism what December is to retail,” Downing said.

Bed tax collections for February 2018 were also strong. At $5.9 million, it represented a 14.09 percent jump year-over-year and reflected the highest non-March month of tourist development tax collections in the county’s history.

Interestingly,

The numbers are not driven by more travelers, Downing said. The Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) and Average Daily Rate (ADR) numbers outpace occupancy, Downing pointed out. Boosting those numbers is the tourism tax money being collected by Airbnb, Downing said. The online home-sharing platform delivered $1.87 million in bed taxes to the county in FY 2017.

“We’ve seen unparalleled growth in the destination, not so much in visitors, but in terms of economic impact,” Downing said.

In other words, hotel prices went up.  The article then discusses the various efforts to attract tourists with an air of success, which is a bit odd given that we are told the number of visitors hasn’t really gone up.  Given the higher prices, if we Pinellas could draw significantly more tourists, think what could be done.


West Tampa – West River Starts

The first building of the “West River” project, Renaissance, is breaking ground.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Renaissance at West River officially breaks ground Thursday at the corner of Main Street and Rome Avenue in West Tampa, the Tampa Housing Authority said. It is part of the $350 million West River redevelopment, a 120-acre area bound by Rome Avenue, Columbus Avenue, the Hillsborough River and Interstate 275.

To us, the building is a bit disappointing, especially regarding street activation.  What is not disappointing is this quote:

The redevelopment will “create a true center city designed to support a diverse, multi-generational mixed use, mixed-income community that will seamlessly integrate into the nearby West Tampa area and support the greater development needs of this community,” Jerome D. Ryans, the housing authority president and CEO, said in a statement.

If all the Housing Authority designs were as creative and smoothly flowing as that rhetoric, we would be huge fans.

Anyway,

. . . the Housing Authority expects in the next few weeks to announce a development partner for construction of a 70,000-square-foot office block.

* * *

Next up for West River is the rehabilitation of the 150-unit Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments. Built in 1966, the complex will cost an estimated $70,000 per unit to bring up to date.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for the end of the year on a 118-unit apartment block earmarked for families.

We’ll see about all that, and whether it matches the rhetoric or not.


South Tampa – A Little More Clarity

Developers of the office building proposed for Henderson near Dale Mabry released a new rendering.

The project, called Crown Tower, will include an eight-story, 102,355-square-foot building; a seven-story parking garage and a remodeling of the existing Crown Building at 3825 Henderson Boulevard.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a nice enough rendering though it does not add much, except to make it appear that there will not be any retail on the ground floor facing the street.  This project is definitely better than what is there now, but it would be nice if the retail faced out and the garage was not as prominent.


Downtown/Public Art – It’s a Logo

In an odd event this week,

Tampa Bay has a new attraction for the traveling crowd — especially those who are social media savvy.

A new sculpture unveiled Tuesday at Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa brings to life the keyhole and crossed keys logo of Visit Tampa Bay. The 8-by-8-foot structure created by artist Dominique Martinez, owner of Tampa Heights-based Rustic Steel Creations, is expected to attract vacationers in search of a memorable photo opportunity.

“This sculpture encapsulates the essence of this community — the welcoming spirit, the treasured past, and, yes, our love of pirates,” Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in a statement. “In this age of Instagram, we are giving all fans of Tampa Bay a way to show their love for our community with this eye-catching piece of public art.”

So why did they stick a logo in the middle of a plaza in downtown?

Tourism officials are hopeful the crossed keys will add Tampa Bay to a “short list of dynamic communities that boast landmark tourism art pieces,” said VTB’s Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Harrison.

* * *

Art already plays a huge role in downtown St. Pete where museums dot the landscape. There is the Dali Museum, with the largest collection outside of Spain of the work of the late surrealist Salvador Dali; the Museum of Fine Arts, which features classical and contemporary masters; The Chihuly Collection by glass artist Dale Chihuly adjacent to the Morean Arts Center; and the Florida Holocaust Museum.

However, the goal of this new landmark artwork at Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa is to have it join the ranks of iconic pieces in cities the world over such as:

This is the memorable, eye-catching art:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You decide if it fits in the same category as those other works.

Setting all that aside, really, we want to note this which was in the same article:

Leadership Tampa Bay raised its portion through donations by class of 2017 members. The unveiling included a $5,000 gift to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Chronic-Complex Clinic in memory of a classmate’s son.

That is by far the most important part of the article.


Clearwater – Reuse

The 1100 Cleveland Building, an office building that was going to get reused as apartments called the Strand, until the recession, is getting another chance:

The redevelopment of an aging office tower in downtown Clearwater is underway.

McShane Construction Co. said Wednesday that it is the general contractor on Apex 1100, which will convert the 15-story office tower at 1100 Cleveland St. into 134 luxury apartments with 4,300 square feet of retail in surrounding two-story storefronts on the property. Some of the units will be two-story townhouses; others will have single-floor floor plans.

The two-story parking deck will be able to accommodate more than 200 vehicles.

GSP Development is the developer behind the project. The tower was built as office space in the 1980s and has been vacant since 2009.

Setting aside that a quick check of the property appraiser website indicates the building was built in 1972 (not to mention  looking at the original façade, see here, it sure looks like a 70’s building), we are glad that the project might actually get finished.  While it is not really in downtown, it would be a shame to have it either sit there empty any longer or be torn down.  Clearwater has many needs to get where it should be.


Rays – Money Talk, Cont

In our continuing not so detailed coverage of the Rays stadium issue (we are just not going to delve into detail on too much speculation), there was something interesting this week:

The Tampa Bay Rays have said for a couple of years they want a new ballpark that’s not just for baseball, but that draws fans and non-fans alike year-round.

So, they’ve thought out loud, how about making the stadium a showcase for local food? Or using training facilities as a community wellness center? Or letting a culinary school use the ballpark’s kitchens? While we’re at it, how about a water slide?

Turns out, that goal — to create a multi-use destination that increases traffic — plays a significant role in how the potential public-private financing is being put together for the Ybor City site the Rays have said is their top choice.

Do tell.

Here’s a key principle:

“You want those who use it and go there to help pay for it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who is at the center of the Tampa-Hillsborough effort to study stadium financing options.

So what’s at the stadium counts. What’s around the stadium matters. And the design of the stadium, he said, should lead to “good fun but also to spending money.”

In an interview last week, Merrill also touched on a related goal.

“We’re aggressively looking for private capital, private developers, to build a stadium,” he said.

Which is fine, but the devil is in the details.  Like maybe this:

Another potential source of revenue for the stadium is tapping into economic activity that is attracted by and grows up around the stadium.

There is a variety of ways to do this, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently outlined one possible scenario. The city could create what’s been loosely described as an entertainment district around the stadium. Inside the district, a surcharge on sales of food, drinks and merchandise could generate revenue that would be used to help pay off stadium construction bonds.

And you can read more about possible plans in the article here.

In any event, while they’re figuring it out, just keep this in mind:

Check out this tweet from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi:

Rob Manfred said on @FOXSportsSD telecast that @MLB “would like to get to 32” teams, citing benefits to scheduling and playoff format. When asked about Montreal and Mexico, he said both are possible expansion locations. @MLBNetwork @LasMayores

— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 5, 2018

We’ll see.

Roundup 5-4-2018

May 3, 2018

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to post a little early this week.

Contents

Transportation – Back to the Mire

— Most?

— The Editorial

— Speaking of Express Lanes

Downtown/Channel District – A Run Down

Westhore-ish – Conflicted

Economy – TV

Tourism – Growth

Rays – Money Talk, Cont

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

____________________


Transportation – Back to the Mire

Starting with something other than transportation for a few weeks was nice, but you knew it couldn’t last.


— Most?

We knew that the “BRT” discussion would not stay quiet for long.  This week the Times had an article entitled “Most want BRT. Hillsborough’s pro-transit supporters don’t.

The region’s vision for a tri-county bus rapid transit line has a problem: Hillsborough’s die-hard transit advocates don’t support it.

Setting aside that the plan is not “BRT” (we are pretty sure that if a real, “gold standard” BRT plan was put forward, transit advocates would be for it), who is for it?

. . . Pasco and Pinellas politicians and the region’s business community have rallied behind the proposed $455 million BRT plan.

After years of failure, they believe it to be the most realistic transit option Tampa Bay has right now. They have touted it as cost effective, quick-to-build, and a “truly regional” plan.

Scott Pringle of Jacobs Engineering, the consultants who drew up the proposal, said this project also has the best chance to land federal dollars.

“This BRT plan gives us the best chance of success to bring regional transit,” Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans said. “We need to act now and make sure that we don’t miss our chance and watch another opportunity pass us by.”

First, that is not “most.”  That is “some.” (For reference, the 2017 Census Bureau population estimates list the county populations: Hillsborough 1,408,566, Pinellas 970,637, and Pasco 525,643.  Pinellas and Pasco together are 1,496,280, which is not much more than Hillsborough now, and Pinellas is not really growing much.  At present growth rates, it is entirely possible that soon – possibly before the “BRT” plan, if it is built, opens – Hillsborough will be over 50% of the three county population.) Second, if the “BRT” plan is so good, why are transit advocates against it?

Brian Willis, one of the region’s most vociferous transit supporters, said the 41-mile bus line connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg doesn’t solve any of Hillsborough’s transit problems. It benefits out-of-county commuters, he said, not county residents.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who also chairs the bus authority, is concerned that the project is tied to the interstate instead of extending transit options to local roads and neighborhoods.

And Commissioner Pat Kemp, a Democrat who campaigned on transit needs, has led the charge against the project. Her criticisms range from the number of stops (21 is too many to be effective, she said) to what she called a “predetermined” study was always going to pick BRT.

Hillsborough’s pro-transit forces stand alone in their opposition, leaving BRT without a key constituency.

“We have a crying need for local transit in Hillsborough County,” Kemp said. “And they want us to put our dollars into this very wasteful project that won’t move anybody. This does not make any sense at all.”

* * *

But longtime transit advocates in Tampa like Willis and transportation marketing consultant Kevin Thurman said the project does little to move people around. Instead, they said it is primarily aimed at serving commuters while ignoring transit pressing needs within each county.

“I don’t think using the shoulders of the interstate and then getting on and off the interstate every mile or so is a viable way to spend money,” Thurman said of the plan to add dedicated bus lanes to I-275.

“If we’re going to spend this extra money, we need to make sure we’re getting new riders and creating efficiency.”

Seeing aside the county-centric description, those are good points.  The “BRT” plan is really aimed at just distant commuters.  It is not a true transportation alternative that would be useful to people in the urban and close-in suburban areas.  As we have explained a number of times, it is really quite inefficient unless you are travelling quite far to get to and from work, and there are cheaper ways to provide that.

And it is not just transit advocates who aren’t sold:

It’s not just Hillsborough’s transit boosters who are resisting BRT. The county’s elected leadership greeted the project with minimal enthusiasm.

No major Hillsborough board — its transit agency, county commission or even the Metropolitan Planning Organization — has endorsed the project yet.

Instead, elected officials and transit advocates alike are divided over how to address the area’s growing transportation concerns.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Victor Crist called the BRT plan “a reasonable first step” and “a good starting point.” But both said projects like ferries, circulators and a streetcar should be added for the plan to succeed.

Both also voted against putting the 2016 Go Hillsborough transportation referendum on the ballot and letting voters decide whether to pay for transportation improvements.

Commissioners Ken Hagan, Al Higginbotham and Stacy White did not return calls for comment to discuss their views of the plan. Hagan and Higginbotham both voted to put Go Hillsborough on the ballot. White did not.

Of course, the Commission is probably not opposed to the plan for the same reason as transit advocates, since the majority of the Commission seems to just want to pave roads and force people to rely on their cars while subsidizing sprawl.  But politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows (though we would not say transit supporters and the County Commission are really bedfellows).  And, in any case, it makes one wonder about whether “most” support the “BRT” plan.

But let’s get back to the plan. According to the article:

The BRT project emerged from a two-year study that set out to identify the top 10 corridors for potential transit lines in Tampa Bay.

A majority of those were Hillsborough centric, using various combinations between West Shore, South Tampa, the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa.

The Wesley Chapel-Tampa-St. Pete BRT option ranked sixth.

But over the last year, options to improve transit within Hillsborough were eschewed for much broader projects that could earn regional buy-in.

So, what happened to the top 5?  It does not seem that the “BRT” plan really addresses the biggest transit needs. And:

A 2017 travel market memo from an early phase of the study showed 91 percent of home-to-work trips that started in Hillsborough ended there. Similarly, 86 percent of Pinellas’ trips start and end within its borders.

Pasco had the largest cross-county commuter numbers, with more than 40 percent of trips starting at Pasco homes connecting to jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“Why is Hillsborough going to contribute to a project that is primarily serving commuters elsewhere?” Willis asked. “They want to take our money to fund a commuter express bus service … when we have our own substantial transit needs to address.”

So the plan does not serve the needs of most Hillsborough commuters OR most Pinellas commuters.

Once again, we are down to the idea that the plan is cheap and regional.  Whether it serves the biggest need in the best way seems beside the point. And it may just be that regional and more important or effective are not the same thing, at least in the initial stages. (Though it is also pretty clear that the “BRT” plan supporters are not going to support a plan that focuses on Hillsborough right now, even if that is the biggest need. That may be a significant reason why transit planning in the area is so bad.)

A properly planned system would serve the core needs first and expand from there (much like Minneapolis-St. Paul has been building their system).  That does not mean that other areas do not get transit.  It means you serve the biggest needs first.  (And it also means setting priorities so that some of the billions set aside for the interstate go to needed transit instead.)

Which leads us back to what we concluded a while back.  The two biggest points of the plan are cheap and regional.  So keep the regional and make the plan cheaper. Set up a basic express bus service to serve distant commuters, save money, then put time and money focusing on the biggest needs with real transit.  The goal should be useful, effective transit in this area.  The “BRT” plan proposed is not it.


— The Editorial

The Times ran another editorial on the “BRT” system that ties into the above.

Critics are finding plenty not to like about a proposed bus rapid transit system connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg. But the cake’s not even in the oven; consultants are still toying with changes to make the system faster, more popular, more accommodating to various forms of transit and more competitive for federal funding. This is an opportunity to improve the concept, not prematurely kill it. The top priority should remain creating a regional transit spine that connects to local routes in each county, and a robust system needs both.

That is true to a degree.  However, it ignores whether the “spine” being created is a proper spine and is actually useful.  Just because it is some sort of spine does not mean that it is automatically a good proposal.  For instance, is the interstate the place to run a BRT system?  Is BRT the best spine?  Should a proper spine be built in segments, starting with the most important and radiating out?

Many of the criticisms are valid, to a point. There are still many questions to answer about a proposal to run express buses in the interstate shoulder. Early proposals to include 21 stations on the route seem ill suited for a rapid bus system. And the cost and ridership projections still need clarifying. Where will local bus agencies, which are already strapped, each find the $3.5 million or more every year to build and run the system — or the millions more it will take to expand existing bus service to get BRT passengers to their local destinations?

Poor stops.  Unknown real cost and ridership projection.  Unknown funding (plus no commitment to develop and fund robust local connecting service).  Given that, the real question is what exactly the enthusiastic supporters are supporting so enthusiastically. (Being open to the idea but needing more information seems a more logical choice.)  Maybe this:

But it’s essential to remember what this proposal is about and that it is still early in the planning process. The proposal hopes to build mass transit service along the existing regional spine of Interstate 275, capitalizing on the existing highway that already runs through the region’s major cities, employment centers and airports. This is not designed to serve one county or to take the place of local connectors and other service improvements that individual counties should be providing. Framing this decision as an either-or choice ignores the reality that the area needs both regional connections and better local bus service.

As noted in the first segment, we do not think a proposal should necessarily serve one county, but it should serve the biggest need.  But, setting that aside, we all know the proposal is intended to run in the interstate.  However, that does not mean the interstate is the best place to run it (it’s not).  And we know it is regional, but is this “spine” the biggest need and is this the best way to make a spine? That is the key. Maybe fixing the plan requires changing the nature of the proposal (like putting a large portion of it on dedicated lanes in arterial roads like real BRT). Which leads us to the last paragraph:

There will be spending choices to make and plenty of details to nail down, but Tampa Bay business leaders, politicians and transit advocates should be striving for both regional and local solutions. It would be a lost opportunity if leaders in Hillsborough brushed off any interest in BRT merely because it’s not the end-all to the county’s transportation problem. The early critics raise some legitimate issues, but they should be advocating for improvements rather than for scrapping the entire concept at this early stage. TBARTA and other advocates recently have demonstrated their willingness to enhance the BRT proposal, and there is time to push to make it even better before any final decisions are made.

We agree to this extent: we are not for scrapping the “BRT” plan entirely.  We are for rationalizing it – balancing its cost and its utility.  We are for stripping it down to its essence – an express bus for distant commuters without any of the real benefit of effective mass transit – and not spending more money on express buses than we need to. (Why enhance an inherently limited idea?) Then we can spend time, money, and political capital on the real transit needs of this area.


— Speaking of Express Lanes

FDOT was back talking about express lanes and Tampa Bay Next this week.

A plan for express toll lanes on Interstate 275 north through Bearss Avenue is officially dead.

* * *

Local DOT secretary David Gwynn confirmed to Hillsborough elected leaders Wednesday that the agency will not pursue toll lanes on I-275 between I-4 and Bearss. The move had been opposed for years by activists in Tampa Heights, V.M Ybor and other neighborhoods along the stretch. 

And that is a win for public input.  Of course, FDOT seems compelled to put express lanes somewhere else:

In its place, I-75 would become the main north-south option for moving commuters from suburbs north of Tampa as part of the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative. The department has begun a year-long state study to determine where along I-75 to charge the tolls.

This could include stretches around Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Wesley Chapel and other points north in Pasco County, Gwynn said. Areas as far as Sun City Center and South Hillsborough also are being considered.

The express lanes are needed, he said, to reduce journey times. He is not expecting the same level of opposition as the transportation department encountered when it proposed the I-275 tolls.

Express lanes don’t really reduce travel times (especially over time) for the people in the regular lanes. (And so much for FDOT not knowing if express lanes would be tolled or not.)  Variable rate express lanes are a way to say they are doing something about congestion while not really doing anything for most people. (If they insist on variable rate toll lanes, they should at least be HOT lanes to incentivize carpooling and maybe actually have some effect on congestion.)

But, in any event, even more interesting is the focus on Pasco (which won’t even pave a few feet to connect to a road in New Tampa. See here).  TB(n)X/”BRT” plan has never been about urban/close-suburban transit alternatives.  It is not about avoiding running cars going to Pinellas through the middle of Tampa.  On the other hand, if FDOT wants to imitate the Katy Freeway, better they do it out on I-75 than in the middle of Tampa.

And then there was this:

Gwynn also announced Wednesday that the transportation department has come up with new options to reduce the impact of a proposed redesign for the downtown interchange, often called “Malfunction Junction” by motorists.

The state’s original plan included an option to completely rebuild the intersection, requiring the purchase of almost 200 neighboring plots of land. Two new options would use existing roads and add an elevated express lane either to the south or north. That would reduce the number of parcels the state would need to buy to between and 30 and 80, FDOT documents show.

“We could be down to as few as 30 parcels,” he said “All of that came out of the input we received from the community.”

The state has yet to make a decision on what option it will pursue. The costs range from $775 million to $1.6 billion.

That is not really news. It came up in March, if not before. See Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . . — Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate” .   You can read our thoughts on it there.

And here is one more idea, express buses on express lanes on I-75 would be cheaper and just as useful for getting people from Wesley Chapel south (if the route is not effective, why build express lanes on I-75 from Wesley Chapel?) than the “BRT” plan.  Save money (and put the FDOT money for the cancelled I-275 shoulder enhancement towards buying and operating buses) and just run them there.  Then get to work on real transit in urban and close-in suburban areas.


Downtown/Channel District – A Run Down

This item is much more fun.

Now that Water Street has gotten going, local media has been putting out guides to the development process.  This week, the Business Journal had another one, which we thought might be helpful.  First, to review, the general overview:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

How it breaks down

Now that we have that:

What else to expect in 2018: The second building to break ground will be 815 Water Street, a retail-and-residential building with a ground-floor grocery store at Channelside Drive and Water Street. The grocer will serve as a podium for two residential towers — 26 stories of condos and 21 stories of apartments.

The rental tower is perpendicular to Channelside Drive while the condos will be built to maximize water views. The retail will line Channelside Drive.

The 157-key Edition Tampa, which includes condominium units, is also slated to break ground before the end of the year.

The first phase consists of 12 buildings (see conceptual design below). By early 2019, SPP says it will have 20 cranes in the air.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

There is more, but it is vaguer.  We’ll stick to the 12 buildings for now.  If those buildings actually all start this year, that alone will be unlike anything seen here before.

Finally, as part of preparing the ground (literally) for that construction,

Water Street Tampa’s next phase of road construction has begun, permanently closing a portion of one street and switching a one-way stretch of Channelside Drive into a two-lane street.

Brorein Street between Channelside Drive and South Nebraska Avenue closed at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, along with the northernmost, westbound lane on Channelside Drive between South Meridian Avenue and Old Water Street.

The Brorein closure is permanent. In the new grid, Old Water Street will be extended to the north by about three blocks, becoming the district’s signature, tree-lined boulevard. . .

Between South Nebraska Avenue and Old Water Street, Channelside Drive is now a two-way street. It was previously a one-way, eastbound street. South Nebraska Avenue, between Channelside Drive and East Brorein, will become a one-way northbound street.

You can see a gif explaining it here.

We get why they are rearranging the roads.  It will make the area more walkable and the grid more rational. However, given the lack of real transit, the rearranging of the roads it going to create some interesting traffic issues, especially when there are events at the arena.  Be prepared for some growing pains (and probably some pain thereafter).  Long term, getting people in and out of the area efficiently will need to be addressed more comprehensively.


Westhore-ish – Conflicted

Sticking with large projects, the Midtown project got initial approval last week.

Tampa City Council approved on first reading a vacation of certain property surrounding the proposed development — a routine step, but one necessary to move forward. The measure will come up again for final approval on May 17. As part of the filing, developers included new renderings not previously released.

You can see all the renderings at the Business Journal website here. We are going to focus on a few which show why we are a bit conflicted over this project.

Looking east from Dale Mabry:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking north from Cypress:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking at Whole Foods from Dale Mabry:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking at those pictures it should be clear why we are conflicted.  We like much about this project, at least internally.  It has nice internal walkability.  If you live and work in the project, you could easily spend much of your time there without driving.  There are many amenities and walking around inside the project will probably be a nice experience.  That is all good.

Like URBN Tampa Bay, we are not so fond of the project not lining up with the rest of the Tampa grid.  We also do not really like that there seems to be little connection to the surrounding area or enhancement of the external streets of the project (like Cypress and Himes).

And we are concerned about the parking, especially the surface parking lot on Dale Mabry.  We get Whole Foods (and the rest of the project) needs parking, but Whole Foods appears to be located immediately under a multi-story parking garage.  Does it really need a surface parking lot, especially one fronting a major road?  There also is a huge garage in the back (north side) which is not very good either, but at least it fronts 275 not an actual surface road.  And, while you might say that no one is going to walk on Dale Mabry, if you start replacing what is there now with properly designed projects you never know.

We also don’t like the large pond facing Dale Mabry but that is FDOT’s doing, just to make any transit connection at I-275 and Dale Mabry ungainly, even with this large, internally walkable project.

______

We had already written the above when, on Thursday, the Times had an article on the about the hearing, noting that the City staff raised a number of objections.

The city staff said the project damaged Tampa’s attempt to breathe life into pedestrian activity on Dale Mabry. The developer’s urban planner scoffed at the idea that anyone wanted to dine al fresco in exhaust fumes.

(People sit outside at Brickhouse across the Dale Mabry and the restaurant across Cypress, not to mention we are talking about a Whole Foods with a parking garage.) And

Another city gripe: The Midtown project would funnel visitors into the confines of a triangle-shaped parcel bounded by Cypress Street to the south, Dale Mabry to the west, Interstate 275 to the north and Himes Avenue to the east, isolating the parts of Westshore in need of more pedestrian traffic.

Midtown Tampa looks inward to itself, failing to draw the surrounding neighborhoods into his embrace, city staff argued.

None of that is wrong (good for the staff). In the end, Tampa did what it does:

Eventually, council members decided that a low wall and landscaping separating the parking lot from Dale Mabry could work, unanimously advancing the plan to a May 17 vote.

It won’t. (It is the essence of settling, whether you think it justified or not.  In this case, we think it was not.)  While we get some landscaping, we don’t see how putting a wall will make the project more connected or pedestrian friendly.

It just would be nice if a project like this, with all its positive internal attributes, was designed like it also wanted to really connect to the city around it. That is especially true since the issues we have did not have to exist and could be fixed to make the project much better.

In any event:

Bromley expects construction to break ground next year with construction complete in 2021.

We’ll see.


Economy – TV

There was an article in the Times this week highlighting the benefits of people filming commercials in the Bay area.

Hillsborough County interim film commissioner Tyler Martinolich has a unique approach to channel surfing.

He searches for two kinds of commercials: those made in his county and those he thinks should have been.

“Television commercials mean money,” Martinolich said.

With five months to go in the fiscal year, Hillsborough has already bagged more money off television commercial productions than all last fiscal year.

Yuengling beer, Home Depot and NAPA Auto Parts, for instance, have each had commercials produced in Hillsborough.

Since October, production companies have shot 108 commercials in Hillsborough, spending $4.64 million on payroll, purchases, rentals and about 4,600 hotel nights, according to Martinolich’s Film Tampa Bay office. The office operates under the umbrella of Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism bureau.

In the previous 12 months, 39 television commercials spent $3.15 million and booked about 3,800 room nights.

You get the gist of the article, and it is good.  (You can read the rest here) There is nothing wrong with developing an economic market segment.

However, one thing really caught our eye:

When Martinolich took the helm of Film Tampa Bay last year, he focused on luring commercials and not Hollywood films, which are difficult to get without the type of state incentive that places like Georgia offer.

“It’s just a different tactic,” he said. “I have made efforts to reach out to the local business community to shoot here and not somewhere else.”

For instance, a production company was planning to shoot a Tampa General Hospital commercial in Orlando, Martinolich said, but when he heard that a park they needed fell through, he offered Ballast Point and successfully brought nearly $100,000 in production money to the county.

Huh?  Tampa/Hillsborough keeps trying to develop its film and commercial segment and TGH hired a company that was going to shoot a commercial in a park in Orlando though there were obviously good locations in Tampa?  How exactly did that happen?  That is just bizarre.


Tourism – Growth

There was news about hotel tax receipts.

Hillsborough County has seen the collection of its tourist development tax or bed tax soar in the first three months of this year.

In the second quarter ended March 31 of fiscal year 2018, the county collected more than $9.27 million, or 8.67 percent more than the $8.53 million collected over the same period one year ago. That is a nearly 16 percent increase from the same period in FY 2016 when the amount collected was just over $8 million. In March alone, which reflect collections in February, a record $3.43 million was collected compared to $3.399 million for March 2017.

Interestingly,

Revenue for hotels in Hillsborough County rose 4.5 percent in the second quarter of FY 2018 (Jan. 1 through March 31) to more than $231 million, despite occupancy dropping slightly. In the month of March, hotel revenue was nearly $89.3 million, a 10 percent rise over March 2017.

That could mean a few things.  First, there are more hotel rooms, so you could have more rooms filled but lower occupancy.  Second, hotel prices might be higher.  Or a combination of the two.  In any event, it is good that Hillsborough County is getting its piece of the tourism (and business) upturn.

It is time for the County to add the extra percentage point to the bed tax.


Rays – Money Talk, Cont

Last week we discussed how the proposed Rays ballpark location was not accepted as one of 400+ (out of 1200 or so) statewide economic opportunity zones, which would have helped attract developer (and thus, theoretically, funding) interest. (See “Rays – Money Talk”)  This week:

Tampa’s ask of Gov. Rick Scott isn’t about the Tampa Bay Rays – not really, a city official says.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has emailed a letter to Scott and other state officials asking them to reconsider the city’s request to classify a .65 acre parcel near the proposed Ybor City site as an economic opportunity zone. It includes the property the Rays want as their new home.

Buckhorn proposes a swap for a parcel around Armenia and Hillsborough Avenues that was approved by Scott last month.

Tract 39 takes in the Rays’ desired ballpark spot, in an area bounded Adamo and Channelside Drives, East 4th Avenue and East 15th Street.

Asking again is fine, but

“[The Rays stadium is] not the primary reason we want it included,”  said Christina Barker, Buckhorn’s special assistant. “The fact that the Rays are looking at it shows how prime it is for economic development.” 

You can decide for yourself.

Another question. The City has a habit of neglecting the area around Armenia/Hillsborough so why swap out this specific parcel?

City and county officials agree the Ybor City site has more economic potential, generating a possible 9,633 jobs to 341 in the Armenia/Hillsborough area, according to estimates.

If true, that is a decent reason, though, if true, it makes one wonder why they are both on the same list.  It also makes one wonder how many proposed zones would have more employment and why it got rejected in the first place.

In any event, we’ll see what happens.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Time to check in with another transit project in the U.S., this time in the Southeast (and an area often touted as a competitor).

Transport agency GoTriangle has selected a Gannett Fleming/WSP joint venture as its construction management consultant for the planned light rail project in North Carolina’s Durham and Orange counties.

The joint venture is to provide a constructability review, estimating, contract packaging, design and specification review services under the first phase of the contract. It would then provide construction management services when work gets underway in 2020 with a view to opening in 2028.

The 28 km route with 18 stops would run from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to North Carolina Central University in Durham, connecting three universities and three medical facilities, including three of North Carolina’s 10 largest employers. 

The project is still waiting to hear if it has Federal funding ($1 billion or so).   The local funding is from ½ cent sale tax in three counties that will pay fund the rail and other transit improvements.   Interestingly, the first county passed the sales tax in 2011 and the third in 2016.  There is also a commuter rail project. (Interestingly, the Triangle Transit authority was apparently created in 1989.)

Three counties coordinating on transit improvements. And, they have local transit agencies that need to coordinate.  Assuming we build the proposed plan here and they build their plans, where will we both be in 10 years? Something to consider.