Skip to content

Roundup 8-18-2017

August 18, 2017

Contents

Transportation – The Wheel Keeps Turning

 – The Bottleneck

— The Right of Way

— The Study

— Selmon/ Gandy Connector

USF – Stadium Dreams

Hyde Park – Illogical

Downtown/Hyde Park – There’s More Than the River

South Tampa – South Westshore Movement

Downtown/Channel District – Happenings

— Downtowner Bolts

— Arena

— Channelside, the Complex

— D is for Cookie

Economic Development – Expansion

Port – Better Late Than Never

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State/Country

— The Competition Never Ends

— Time to Check Out Ft. Worth

— Seattle

— Redoing Suburbs

____________________________________________


Transportation – The Wheel Keeps Turning


 – The Bottleneck

For a long time we have been wondering why, instead of insisting on the whole TBX project, FDOT did not fix the obvious problem with the interstate.  A major one of those problems is the bottleneck at the east end of the Howard Frankland Bridge where the highway goes from 4 lanes on the bridge to 2 lanes under an overpass (there is another overpass but it is wide enough for more lanes).  That used to be the case on the west end but years ago FDOT fixed it.   Why not just fix the east end?

Well.

Motorists heading north on the Howard Frankland Bridge are all-too familiar with one of the worst bottlenecks in Tampa Bay: Interstate 275 splits in half before the Westshore interchange, leaving traffic backed up for miles on the bridge.

But now state officials say they have a solution.

The Florida Department of Transportation wants to add a third lane to both directions of I-275 approaching the bridge on the Tampa side, District 7 secretary David Gwynn told the Tampa Bay Times Friday.

“Our models are showing that would provide significant relief in that area,” Gwynn said.

Expanding that part of the interstate was part of the Tampa Bay Next project, formerly known as Tampa Bay Express. The old TBX plan called for adding 90 miles of toll roads to interstates 4, 75 and 275, but opposition led state officials to re-brand and re-think the $6 billion project.

But traffic entering Tampa from the Howard Frankland is so bad that the state plans to fast-track those improvements while the rest of Tampa Bay Next remains under review. Adding an extra lane to southbound I-275 will also help commuters taking the bridge to St. Petersburg. And neither of the new lanes will be tolled.

We are not going to get into the truthfulness of some of those descriptions (traffic was bad when they were insisting on TBX as the only fix).  We are just happy that they are adding a lane (which was part of TBX), though they should add two lanes.  (Just completely remove the bottleneck and be done with it.)  Anyway,

The new plan is in the preliminary stages and could cost at least $25 million — a relatively small number for a state agency with an annual $10 billion budget. Until now, fixing the chokepoint in the Westshore area was bundled together with all of the other projects previously planned for TBX.

The department wouldn’t move forward with one project until local leaders were willing to approve all of them.

“We had everything packaged up with TBX,” agency spokeswoman Kris Carson said. “Now that we’re taking a step back with the reset, it’s helped us work through some of this and find an interim solution.”

In other words, FDOT (or whoever) was holding fixing this obvious problem hostage to a larger, unpopular project (and, more specifically, the express lanes) – and local officials just went along with it.  Although,

The extra northbound lane into Tampa would likely continue all the way to N Dale Mabry Highway. Those short-term improvements, however, would not replace plans to consider completely rebuilding the Westshore Area Interchange. Instead, the third lane would be an intermediate step until the region can decide on a more robust plan.

We are not sure exactly what that means.  The third lane disappears at the SR-60/Kennedy exit and reappears at SR60. (The fourth lane disappears at the same place and returns at Westshore.) At Dale Mabry, I-275 north has more than three lanes already.

Regardless, while it is not a full fix, we are happy that FDOT is doing something about this obvious problem and not holding it hostage to TBX/express lanes anymore.  It shows that concerted pressure can achieve a positive result.  Unfortunately, we have wasted a lot of time because local officials were not willing to push for logical solutions and changes and relied on the public to organize and make some noise.  But at least something positive has happened.

And one more thing.

The expedited plan is welcome news to cross-bay commuters, particularly the business community, which has been clamoring for improvements to the Westshore interchange for years. The impetus behind this move is Gwynn, who was appointed to lead DOT’s local office in June.

“Whenever congestion and backups can be reduced… that’s reason to celebrate,” Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans said. “It’s a positive step, and I like the pragmatism and the fact that (Gwynn)’s stepping in and finding a quick win that’s meaningful to the community.”

Setting aside the odd reference to the amorphous “business community,” a while back the Partnership President said this regarding his support for turning a free Howard Frankland lane into an express lane:

Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Since in his opinion, even with one lane through the bottleneck fixes the congestion, logically, there is absolutely no reason to have express lanes on the bridge. Now, he can focus on putting real transit in the space those lanes would have taken.

We still think all local officials, and the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, as well as the community at large, including the business community, should be pushing FDOT to fully remove the bottleneck and keep the four lanes going from the bridge throughout the Westshore area.


– The Right of Way

In other news,

But the new district secretary didn’t stop there. Gwynn also announced Friday that the department will stop acquiring properties in the footprint of the old TBX plan, including those from willing sellers.

Opponents of the interstate project have asked DOT repeatedly to stop buying land, especially around the downtown Tampa interchange, until a new plan is approved. The department wasn’t taking land through eminent domain, but had previously refused to stop purchasing property from willing sellers — until Gwynn’s decision halted those acquisitions.

Which is also a good thing.  It shows that FDOT may actually be reconsidering TBX.


– The Study

There was also news about the transit study of studies:

Jacobs Engineering is launching the next step in its regional feasibility plan for the Tampa Bay region to help identify projects that could jump-start the area’s woeful public transit system.

The team is hosting a series of public meetings this month to present current findings, as part of the ongoing study to lay out priority corridors in the region. They will also gather input from residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties about what type of transit they think will work best along those corridors.

The corridors identified as prime spots for transit include routes connecting Westshore to Brandon, downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida, Wesley Chapel to USF and St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg to Clearwater via the Gateway business district and South Tampa to downtown Tampa.

That is all well and good, though it really does not present anything new or interesting (nor, in fact, was it intended to do so).

The meetings are Aug. 22 at the Residence Inn Tampa Suncoast Parkway in Lutz; Aug. 24 at the Tampa Bay History Center; and Aug. 29 at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Which is not particularly convenient for the vast majority of people in the area, but at least it is something (do they have a website for comments?).  However, one should remember that the study is not studying how to make a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system:

The feasibility plan was funded through the Florida Department of Transportation during the controversial Tampa Bay Express (TBX) plan discussions that were ultimately reset earlier this year. The department is calling its future transportation planning process Tampa Bay Next, but that is now separate from the feasibility plan.

We find this whole process far less interesting than an actual study of present conditions and what would serve best in them.  But, it is what it is, and it is all we have right now, though we really need much better.


– Selmon/ Gandy Connector

There was also news about the Selmon Connector:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Board of Directors on Monday approved a design-build contract worth $230 million to begin work on a two-mile toll lane running between Dale Mabry Boulevard to the Gandy Bridge along Gandy Boulevard.

* * *

Construction of the Selmon West Extension is expected to begin early next year with the extension opening in late 2020.

We have been all for the building of the Selmon/Gandy Connector (apparently officially the Selmon West Extension), though we would have preferred it be four lanes rather than what is essentially a very long exit ramp.  URBN Tampa Bay summarized all the issues with the present plan here.

Setting aside all the problems with the plan identified by URBN Tampa Bay and speaking just about the road connection (not the price, exposure), we think, in this case, something is better than nothing and the improvements to Gandy on the Pinellas side should be completed from the bridge to I-275.  But we wish it would be done right from the outset.

It’s also worth noting that the connector cost over $100 million per mile without an exit at Westshore and with limited capacity.  Keep that in mind when people talk about the cost of transit.


USF – Stadium Dreams

As some may know, when USF was founded, the lack of a football team was official policy, as, apparently, was making the campus sprawling and detached from the surrounding area.  Over time, both those ideas have been rethought.  Though USF is making progress on the sprawl/detachment issue, it obviously has come farther on the football team issue.  But one thing has always been lacking, an on-campus stadium.

We did not get to it last week, but a committee has conducted a study of possible stadium locations that was released last week. You can see the study here.

The University of South Florida is considering building an on-campus football stadium. School officials acknowledged they are still in the early stages of planning, but a preliminary feasibility study released Tuesday shows a stadium would set the school back about $200 million and hold 40,000 to 50,000 fans.

Several sites are up for consideration including the spot where the Museum of Science and Industry is currently located. That site is ideal in terms of size and location, but the land is owned by the county, which could pose a challenge. MOSI is expected to move to a location in Water Street Tampa in downtown by 2022.

In our opinion the MOSI site is not optimal.  It is not actually on campus, and it can used for other development like research, offices, residential that is connected to, but not directly part of, USF.  Notably, the report did not really focus on it.

Another possible spot is also along Fowler Avenue in the practice fields across from the Sun Dome. There’s also potential space at the corner of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler as well as near the USF Botanical Gardens on the west side of campus.

Those are the locations actually discussed in the report.

Both zones have unique characteristics; positives and negatives should be considered for optimum site selection.

Zone 1 has advantages in several categories. It offers the best connection to the heart of the campus and presents an opportunity to provide a memorable game day experience and tradition, utilizing the natural resources unique to the USF campus. Visibility and branding potential is strong, but not overwhelming. This zone also has access to the greatest number of existing parking spaces within a 15-minute walk. Connectivity to Bruce B. Downs and Fletcher from a variety of access points will help with game day congestion.

A portion of the proposed site resides on land that is currently delineated as USF Research Park. In addition to redefining the boundaries of the existing research park, the land use and zoning will need to be modified to allow construction of a stadium. Additionally, there are two occupied buildings on site that will need to be demolished and potentially relocated, both with substantial remaining lease terms. This site also impacts significant utilities serving the campus that must be rerouted. This infrastructure work can be seen in a positive light which will breathe new life into the southwest corner of the campus and serve as a catalyst for development of a higher density research park.

Zone 2 has a number of positive traits worth considering. This site offers great connection to the already established athletic zone on the main campus. It is possible that new improvements such as parking, road improvements, and public plazas could be utilized for games and events at the Sun Dome. The adjacency to the athletic infrastructure encourages an athletics village with practice facilities, gym, and athletic support offices all within a fairly compact footprint.

The visibility and branding opportunities for Zone 2 are significant, but also could dominate the street presence of the campus. The Zone 2 site is much smaller than Zone 1, resulting in less flexibility for building location, service, and public access. Significant campus utilities exist under the proposed site boundary and will likely need to be rerouted, but not to the same extent as Zone 1.

Pg 2 of the pdf

Here are a couple of conceptual renderings (we doubt a stadium would look like this or have seating so far from the field).

Zone 1

From USF – click on picture for report

Zone 2

From USF – click on picture for report

We think the above summary from the report is quite good.  The Zone 1 idea is an easier fit, though it would require more infrastructure.  The Zone 2 idea follows the campus lay out better by putting the stadium in the athletic area.  It would also share parking with the Sun Dome.  However, the site is smaller, which creates its own challenges.

It is still early in the process, but, if it can be done, we like Zone 2 more.  And we would definitely like USF to have their own stadium, like the other major state schools in Florida and most other major schools.  Of course, there is always the question of money:

The USF Board of Trustees will discuss the 41-page report during its meeting next week. That discussion is expected to address how the school would fund a new stadium. The school said no education or general state funds would be used, but student fees are still on the table.

We’ll see what happens.


Hyde Park – Illogical

There was news regarding the 9-story assisted living facility proposed for Hyde Park Avenue.

The Tampa City Council voted 4-2 late Thursday night to deny a rezoning for a 175-bed assisted living facility that developer Grady Pridgen proposed in Hyde Park near the bridge to Davis Islands.

During a lengthy public hearing, residents contended that the 9-story building at 509 S Hyde Park Ave., was out of scale with the neighborhood, would exacerbate an existing parking problem and could create traffic hazards on a route leading to Tampa General Hospital.

Can you say pretense?

Pridgen’s development team, however, said the project met all city codes, had more parking than the city required and — with no residents having cars of their own — would generate fewer traffic trips to and from the 1.2-acre site than the office building that’s there now.

In an effort to address neighborhood concerns, Pridgen offered to reduce the number of beds from the 215 he first requested to 175 and agreed to make a dozen changes to the plan to ease the project’s impact on the neighborhood.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Assisted living facilities are not huge traffic creators and Hyde Park Avenue is not particularly congested. (Nor is it full of single family homes)  And, as noted, the proposal has more parking than the City requires (which is already probably too much).  But let’s get to the point:

But that was still too much for opponents.

“A very huge building creating a barrier” within Hyde Park, said attorney Jim Porter, who represented two neighbors next to the proposed project, which is at the northwest corner of S Hyde Park and W De Leon Street.

In making the motion for denial, council member Mike Suarez cited several city land use policies requiring the need for new projects to be in context with the rest of the community, to encourage small- to medium-scale development and to be of a scale that’s compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

Voting along with Suarez against the rezoning were Harry Cohen, Guido Maniscalco and Charlie Miranda. Frank Reddick and Luis Viera voted in favor, and Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent.

Actually, that’s not the point.  It doesn’t create a barrier and fits in with the area as you can tell from a map.  You can see one here. Looking at it, you notice the lot is surrounded by businesses (with some multi-family) and multi-story buildings cutting off Bayshore from the neighborhood. (And, seriously, 345 Bayshore condos are a block away.  It is not small.) This building just lines up with the road.

The fact is that we don’t really care if this particular building is built. We do care that the City is so eager to not build things in built up, mixed-use areas.


Downtown/Hyde Park – There’s More Than the River

The Related project on the old Tribune site has two cranes and a name:

It’s official — Manor Riverwalk will be the name of Related Group’s apartment project on the former site of the Tampa Tribune.

Ground-breaking for the eight-story, 400 unit project is slated for Aug. 23. Miami-based Related bought the riverfront site two years ago for $17.75 million.

We’re not exactly sure why the project on Harbour Island was the Manor but now is not (it’s Icon) and this one was not the Manor but now is.  But regardless, looking at this rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The only thing that sticks out to us is that the parking garage on the left side is the tallest and biggest feature of the project and the street is dead except for that little plaza entrance next to the strangely flat highway. (We assume so that residents can theoretically walk downtown though presumably they would exit at the east end near the river.)  The river side may be nice (we’ll have to see) but the neighborhood side is really lacking.

It is truly disappointing.


South Tampa – South Westshore Movement

Continuing with the Related news,

Related Development LLC, a Miami-based company, was approved for a $52 million loan to build a luxury apartment tower in the Westshore Marina District.

That is on land south of Gandy on the waterfront.  It is a decent sized loan.  Whether it is luxury or not remains to be determined.  As for “tower,”

The building will be four stories and 396 units. Among the amenities are fitness studios, saunas and concierge services. It is one of four projects Related is building in the area.

Not so much. (You can see it here.)

Much more interesting and more tower-like, though not about Related, was this:

BTI Partners, master developer of the $600 million district, has started an “interest list” of potential buyers in the 16-story Marina Pointe tower overlooking Tampa Bay.

Prices for the seven townhomes and 112 condos in the boomerang-shaped tower will range from the $600,000s to more than $1.5 million. Among the features: a two-level lobby with concierge service; a Residents’ Pointe Club with bar; a massage, yoga and exercise studio; and locker rooms with steam rooms and showers. An elevated amenity deck is to include a pool, fireplace, bocce ball court and summer kitchen.  

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can’t really tell much from that rendering except how many floors it is, but it is more interesting.  As is this:

Daniel said “another large sale” is expected to close next month for an apartment project but he did not disclose the name of the prospective buyer.

“Beyond that we are going to develop everything ourselves,” he said. The marina district eventually could include a grocery, restaurants, shops, hotel and a 1.5 mile waterfront park.

It should be noted that this is part of the planned developments on Westshore south of Gandy that the Selmon Connector as planned will not help, nor are there any other clear plans to deal with.  We are all for development of this area (though we would like better development than this), but, if it is going to happen, the City should be planning to deal with it. 


Downtown/Channel District – Happenings

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of things happening downtown, none of which is huge but they deserve some mention.


– Downtowner Bolts

The Downtowner free shuttle service starting running their Chevy Bolts.

The Downtowner hit the 100,000-rider mark less than seven months after launching last October, and currently about 500 people a day use the service.

Wait times average 26 minutes, with the heaviest demand coming during morning and evening rush hours and at lunch. One of the program’s most popular pickup and drop-off locations is the Marion Transit Center, and a good portion of the demand is driven by commuters looking to cover the first and last miles of their trips between home and work.

The numbers are good but point to a use more out of need than choice.  Then again, you have to start somewhere.

And, regardless, they needed more vehicles and the Bolts have some advantages:

The addition of the Bolts is expected to reduce wait times, support the growth in demand and — blissfully — provide some air-conditioned rides. The Downtowner’s original vehicles, a five-passenger mini-shuttle known as a GEM, have their own charm, but their lack of air conditioning means that they often roll through downtown with windows open.

Another key difference between the Bolts and GEMs is the Bolts can go more than 200 miles on a single charge, allowing them to stay on the road all day.

In contrast, the 12 GEMs in the Downtowner’s fleet are limited to around 60 miles per charge, meaning that half of them are on the road and half are on a power cord at any one time.

How local officials paid for a service that lacks air-conditioned vehicles is beyond us, but the Bolts have air conditioning.  The range issue is self-evident.

On the other hand, while we were intrigued by the idea, we saw Bolts driving around and, frankly, if they had a/c like they should have, we’d rather get picked up by the taller, bigger doored old shuttles, especially when it is raining, than the short, small doored, cramped (see here) Bolts.

Since you are not travelling at high speed anyway, comfort and ease are the most important thing.  Both options on offer right now are lacking.


– Arena

Speaking of Bolts,

Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa is ranked among the top venues worldwide for concert, event and family show ticket sales through the first half of 2017.

Pollstar, a trade publication that covers the concert industry, has ranked the top 200 venues worldwide by ticket sales through June 30. At 322,828 tickets sold, Amalie Arena ranks No. 15 on the global list.

It is definitely good, especially in light of the other venues here and in Orlando against which it competes.  A busy arena can do nothing but help the Water Street project.


– Channelside, the Complex

And speaking of the Lightning owner’s holdings involving public land,

Restaurants in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza are shuttering as Strategic Property Partners preps to demolish that portion of the beleaguered waterfront mall.

Hablo Taco, a Tex-Mex restaurant by Guy Revelle that opened with great fanfare in early 2015, will close at the end of August. Thai Tani closed at the end of July.

Kimmins Contracting Corp. has filed for a demolition permit for the southwest wing of the plaza, a spokeswoman for SPP said Monday. Demolition is scheduled for mid-September.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is part of the recently announced rethinking of the Channelside complex to make it work with the Water Street project,

“Demolishing the southwest wing allows us to open Channelside up to the waterfront and create a new active plaza for the community so we’re eager to get work underway,” Ali Glisson, a spokeswoman for SPP, wrote in an email.

A waterfront park with programming will create a destination within the district before the majority of its buildings break ground (more than a dozen buildings are slated to begin vertical construction in early 2018).

We like the opening of the waterfront, which was a problem with the complex from the beginning.  We also like that we are starting to see real movement with the Lightning owner’s project, even if nothing is actually getting built yet.


– D is for Cookie

One of the great things about a blog is that sometimes you can just do a plug for something you like.  We like Metropolitan Ministries and we like Inside the Box, so we like this too:

. . .a new Metropolitan Ministries enterprise called Dough Nation (Get it? All proceeds from your purchases go directly to feed the hungry in Tampa Bay). This is the brainchild of Cliff Barsi, who is also the mastermind behind Inside the Box Cafe, which recently announced it would open another location in the lobby of the Tampa Bay Times building in Tampa.

The Dough Nation concept will debut in September in downtown Tampa, and will be set up like a scoop shop with flavors including dark chocolate, s’mores and even a vegan option (coconut macaroon). Dough Nation will serve as a training platform for the students of the Metropolitan Ministries culinary program transitioning out of homelessness.

Eating cookie dough for a good cause.  What could be better?  So have a treat and help those in need.


Economic Development – Expansion

USAA, which already has a substantial presence in the area, is expanding again:

USAA is expanding its campus in suburban Tampa, planning a new office building that’s nearly a quarter-million square feet.

The financial services giant said Wednesday that it is building a 240,000-square-foot new office building at Crosstown Center. The new building means room for up to 1,000 additional employees, bringing USAA’s capacity in Tampa to nearly 4,500 employees, the company said.

Crosstown Center in near the Brandon end of the Selmon.

While we may complain about subsidies or hype, we are not going to complain about getting more jobs.  As for the complex itself, it is a basic suburban office complex.


Port – Better Late Than Never

Last week, we discussed some interesting reports about spending at the port, including for golf club memberships.

Following fallout from media reports of excessive spending by its executives, Port Tampa Bay has revised its employee expense policies.

The changes to policies pertaining to expenses associated with employee travel, promotion and business development and the use of purchasing cards represent the latest chapter in the controversy surrounding spending by port executives.

Well, that’s good.

The revised policy, which went into effect Tuesday, forces port officials to forgo renewing golf memberships or Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets and will require detailed documentation of all business and travel-related expenses. Port employees will be required to attend a training session about the new policies and to fill out a new form to document every expense.

The Business Journal had a more detailed list here.

We said last week that we get the Port has to do some entertaining for business, and we do. But it should not take media reports to have reasonable controls on that spending.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State/Country


— The Competition Never Ends

In more examples of competition for international flights (which also sometimes shows how big the market really is), Orlando is getting more international service to Amsterdam on Delta and Brazil on Azul.

In addition, going outside Florida, Nashville is getting a British Airways flight to Heathrow, with all its connections (and more business travel reputation). We still only have Gatwick, which lacks the British Airway connections.

And, while we won’t get into the detail, the LA Times had a very interesting article on the growing numbers of flights to Mexico.


– Time to Check Out Ft. Worth

As we keep saying about theoretical transit using the CSX lines (especially in Hillsborough County), the use should not be “commuter rail” which is basically morning and evening service with little in between.  It should be regular local transit service.  We also keep saying that the best technology to use right now, assuming there is no electrification, would be DMUs.

Stadler has completed the first Flirt multiple-unit to be assembled in the USA at its plant at North Salt Lake in Utah. The DMU for the TEX Rail project will be officially unveiled at the ATPA Expo in Atlanta in October.

This Ft. Worth line will open in 2018.

Of course, we saw this technology in this area decades ago as a demonstration,

From HART – click on picture for Facebook page

From HART – click on picture for Facebook page

But, as with most things transit, nothing happened (though you may find this Business Journal editorial from the time an interesting window into why not much happened. ) 


– Seattle

Last week, we wrote extensively about road removals or burying.  One of the examples we discussed was the replacement of the Alaskan Way in Seattle with a tunnel.  Just to keep up to date,

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is in the process of laying out the plan, and are seeking public input through an online open house on issues like noise and demolition methods.

Through that open house, we’ve learned a few things about what’s to come for the aging viaduct—or at least, what’s left of it. (A mile of the viaduct was already demolished in 2011.)

The short answer: Right now, WSDOT is anticipating beginning demolition in early 2019, and the whole structure to be demolished by that fall.

Also, quite interesting, in light of discussion of the proposed boulevard to replace I-275 and other transportation, Seattle is a growing city.  The numbers of personal vehicles is growing at about the same rate as the popluation, while transit ridership is growing at the same rate or more (it is not entirely clear because some transit services aren’t counted).

Crunching census data from between 2010 and 2015, Balk found that Seattle’s population grew by 12 percent, the same increase as the number of personal vehicles owned by Seattle residents.

* * *

Still, as car ownership is rising, household car ownership is not. During that same time period, the rate of car ownership among city households fell 1 percent. It’s not a huge drop, but it’s a far cry from a 12 percent increase.

* * *

That’s growing at around the same rate, too. King County Metro ridership grew at about the same rate between 2010 and 2015: just over 11 percent for that agency alone, not including Sound Transit. (Sound Transit ridership has grown much faster, but that’s more likely because of an increase in options, like Link Light Rail.)

According to Commute Seattle data, solo car commutes downtown have fallen by 5 percent since 2010, and only make up 5 percent of new commutes during that time—looking at that side-by-side would imply that not many of those new cars are being used for downtown commutes.

That all implies that some people have cars for the weekend or to use when they feel like it.  It also indicates that in a growing area, we need a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-modal transportation system.


– Redoing Suburbs

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post  regarding how office parks are trying to reinvent themselves in a market where people want shorter commutes, more options, and some urbanism.

From the Washington and New York suburbs to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, traditional corporate campuses that have struggled since the Great Recession are trying to transform from sterile worksites into vibrant mini-towns. In addition to housing, they’re adding restaurants, grocery stores, playgrounds and outdoor concert spaces — anything to draw people in and make them want to stay.  

You can read it here for details.  We will say that the retrofits described are nowhere near as good as actually building properly planned developments and that some of the references to housing seem a tad high-priced.  On the other hand, the examples also point to some fixes that can happen to make office parks far better than they are now.

And, even more interesting, is what can happen to suburbs in growing areas than are properly connected by real transit.

While malls across the country struggle to attract customers who’ve been lured away by the convenience of online shopping, Perimeter Mall could soon find itself the heart of a bustling, urban-scaled community.

The Dunwoody City Council has given its stamp of approval to “Nexus Perimeter”—a two-tower development set to rise in the parking lot of the mall, adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA Station.

You can read the article here for details.  The point is that, with vision (and desire), things can change.

Roundup 8-11-2017

August 11, 2017

Contents

Transportation – On the Boulevard

— The Boulevard Idea

— Choices

— Starting Point

— Road Element

— The Highway Issue

— Transit

— Development

— Other Cities

— Hiding the Road

— The Spur

— Removing a Through Road

— Summary

— Conclusion

Transportation – Getting What You Paid For

Port – Odd

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

South Tampa – Fad Diet

________________________________


Transportation – On the Boulevard

Much of the loudest dissatisfaction with the TBX program has come from the Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights (and presumably Sulphur Springs, though not as loudly) area that were originally cut up by the construction of I-275 north of downtown.  The residents there were rightly upset by the idea of FDOT expanding the footprint of the interstate even further, especially as the neighborhoods have been revitalized and are doing quite nicely.  Moreover, many residents are quite protective, looking to limit the height and density of buildings along the two main roads (Florida and Nebraska) and even looking to narrow and slow them down – making them basically local roads.


— The Boulevard Idea

One idea that has been floating around is the idea of ripping out I-275 north of downtown (usually to Bearss) and building a boulevard.

“Tear it down!” said Joshua Frank, an urban planner who wrote his Master’s degree thesis on an alternative to the controversial highway expansion program called TBX (short for Tampa Bay Expressway).

Frank has been studying the issue for more than a year and is the vice president and president-elect of the Urban Charrette, a non-profit group that educates and collaborates with communities to educate them about urban design best practices.

His presentation, “Bifurcation to Boulevard”, showed how transforming the Interstate into a wide, landscaped boulevard, featuring bike and pedestrian paths and even light commuter rail, would transform the area north of Tampa’s downtown core.

Frank described the current north-south highway as primarily a local expressway for people living and working between the University of South Florida (USF) and downtown Tampa.

Less than 35 percent of the vehicles that traverse the roadway are from outside the area, according to Frank.

“It is expendable,” he said, arguing that over the past 50 years, I-275 has severely damaged neighborhoods, polluted their air, raised noise levels well beyond acceptable standards, and lowered property values.

“Reintegrating” the neighborhoods now split by the six-lane roadway would improve their quality of life and lead to a rapid and sustained increase in economic activity, according to Frank.

Calling his plan a “dream scenario”, Frank said turning I-275 into tree-lined boulevard similar to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or the Embarcadero in San Francisco would “make it better for all of us.”

While there is little to no possibility of such a boulevard actually being like the Embarcadero or Champs-Élysées (we will get to that a little later), it still could be a nice road and is still an interesting idea with obvious potential upside. We are all for nice, urban boulevards and good transit.

That being said, right now we are neither absolutely in favor nor opposed to the idea. We are (and have been) thinking about it, and, the more we think about it, the more questions arise about the details. Some of them are straightforward questions.  Some of them involve issues for the neighborhoods that do not seem to have been raised. We also wonder how to sell this idea to the large number of people not from the immediate neighborhoods who travel through the neighborhoods (on the interstate or otherwise) and who, initially at least, will not see how they would benefit from this proposal.  (And, like it or not, the proposal would need to be sold to those people to get anywhere).

As there has now been enough coverage of the idea and a presentation to the MPO, it seemed like a good time to put out our thoughts, questions and concerns in the hope to move the conversation from simply visions to the more practical. We are aware that some people may react negatively to our discussion and say we are attacking the plan. That would be unfortunate.  We are not attacking anything.  We are asking questions, raising issues, and making points that need addressing to have a proper plan.

Before we go further, one problem with discussing this proposal is that, as far as we can tell, the standard presentation by the planner who is the face of the proposal has not been put online.  That makes it hard to refer to some of the graphics and concepts.  Nevertheless, we will try.


— Choices

The first thing we will say is that the discussion about this particular segment of road (frankly all of the interstate) has been set up (like most of the present political discourse) as a false dichotomy between interstate expansion and interstate removal.  There is a spectrum of possibilities from the TBX-like expansion to fitting another lane in the present footprint to doing nothing to adding transit in the present footprint to removing the highway altogether.   That being said, the idea of removal should still be considered (as should doing nothing, at least until there is better infrastructure in other parts of the area to support changes).


— Starting Point

If the portion of I-275 north of downtown was not there now, we would not be for building it there (and maybe not at all).  That being said, it is there and has been there for quite a while.  We get that simply being there is not an argument for keeping it, but the fact that this area more than tripled in size while it was there and was built relying on it being there is an issue.  In fact, while often overlooked in importance in favor of I-4/I-275 to the Howard Frankland (as areas to the north are generally overlooked by both the City and the County) here are some traffic stats:

From Stpetersblog – click on chart for article

Some of the traffic north of Orange – which is downtown south of the interchange – (and other parts) comes from the I-275 stretch north of downtown.  Based on the presentation by the proposal planner to the MPO, the peak point of usage on the stretch of I-275 north of the interchange is about 160-165,000 cars/day (see chart below), which is about the same as the number for east of Westshore or between Dale Mabry and Armenia.  It is not clear what the growth will be on the northern stretch will be, but it is likely that the number is not insignificant.

All that being said, it is within the realm of possibility to remove that stretch of interstate (though there has been no explanation of why the planner decided to stop the interstate at Bearss and not closer, like Busch).  And it goes without saying that most people living right on the interstate would probably rather have it not right out their front or back door (especially with no sound barrier).  On the other hand, most people now living in those houses probably bought them when the interstate was already built, so its existence was not a surprise.  That does not mean their interests are irrelevant.  It also does not mean that their desires should govern the entire discussion. (And there is the question of what Pinellas might say to losing its way north, especially if Pasco does not want to build that east-west road.)


— Road Element

Last week, the proposal planner made a presentation to the MPO board.  For the most part, it was well done. He spoke of recreating the grid and made the case for the grand boulevard. (Somewhat incongruously he also discussed using Michigan turn lanes. A Michigan turn lane is an odd turn lane structure.  If you are making a walkable/bikeable, transit focused boulevard it makes no sense to include a number of bizarre turn lanes and additional cut-outs. There were a few other oddities, but all-in-all it was well done.)

Page 202 of the MPO Agenda for the Aug 1, 2017 meeting – click for full agenda

To break it down a little more, according to the presentation, some slides of which are included in the MPO agenda from that day (starting around pg 200 of this pdf), it appears that most of the people using I-275 north of the interchange are coming from Busch and points north and the drivers from exits in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights (though many probably coming from farther away) account for less than quarter of the traffic.  Basically half of the traffic is getting on/off between Bearss which is quite far out).  (See pg 202 of the pdf).  The planner, and others, says that those are people going to USF, which to some degree is true but there are many other places to go, including home.  He also said the traffic is getting off downtown, but his chart ends at I-4, which seems to indicate a precipitous drop as people go on I-4, meaning it may or may not be “local.”  But the specific point we see in the numbers is that most of the traffic on the stretch of road in question is from areas outside of Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and Sulphur Springs.  That outside traffic appears to be split about evenly between “local” and not “local” traffic.  Obviously all those people have to get around somehow.not be able to support the traffic now supported by the interstate.  Traffic will have to be carried by other roads, especially going downtown on Florida/Tampa (he actually just says Florida) and Nebraska. He gives the number of 70K cars for the boulevard, and 35K cars each for Florida and Nebraska (we are not sure how Nebraska with one lane in each direction can take half the traffic of a three lane boulevard), with light rail and commuter rail (read CSX) picking up the slack and maybe adding some capacity.  (We disagree that CSX should be commuter rail – at least not in Hillsborough. It seems clear that for most of Hillsborough it should be local service, but we will set that aside for this discussion)  It is not clear how much of the traffic for Florida and Nebraska would be new traffic, but, based on the planner’s numbers, it would have to be at least half.  Remember, based on the slides in the MPO agenda, I-275 has a peak between 160-165,000 cars/day.

 

Pg 207 of the MPO Agenda for the Aug 1, 2017 meeting – click for full agenda

Given the need to use them for overflow, in our opinion, there is no chance of a road diet for Florida down to one lane in each direction (though it could theoretically be two ways with two lanes in each direction).  Moreover, the Nebraska road diet should probably be reversed (not to mention Boulevard, which also had a diet).  The fact is that Tampa and the County have woefully few decent north-south roads that actually go from south of Kennedy to north of Busch with any consistent capacity, which may to some degree explain the interstate traffic numbers).  The simple fact is that if the boulevard option is chosen, you either do not put the other surface roads on a diet or you choke on traffic and choke downtown.

The reality is that, from the presentation on the boulevard plan, out of 165,000 trips running on I-275, at least 140,000, including trucks, would be put on local roads through those neighborhoods on local surface roads, especially if downtown actually thrives. We get that pushing that traffic through local roads is actually some people’s theory behind removing highways – the idea that highways connect cities but do not cut through them and local traffic should be on local roads.  However, we are not sure that is actually what those neighborhoods want.

— The Highway Issue

In addition to the local road element, the planner said that he would use a new connection of the Veterans to I-275, which together with I-75, would take traffic from north of Bearss and overflow traffic.  Setting aside objections to having to drive further (off-peak, downtown to Carrollwood can take as little as 20-25 minutes on the interstate) or potentially requiring the widening of I-275 between downtown and Westshore to take traffic pushed there by the highway removal, we have advocated for such a road to pull some through traffic out of Tampa among other reasons.  However, the Veterans idea was killed years ago to keep the area “rural” and has basically been foreclosed by new development where the connection should be made (see here and here).  A Pasco road option, which we actually favor, has never gotten anywhere.  Simply put, this condition cannot be counted on to exist.


— Transit

The plan also calls for transit running from downtown up the boulevard.  It is not entirely clear what form of transit it would be, though likely light-rail or BRT in dedicated lanes, but it could be done.  The biggest issue we see is who the will transit serve  Without real connections to neighborhoods beyond the boulevard, it will just be local service will a limited catchment area, especially given the limited density in the area now and the apparent desire for the neighborhood to keep limited density.  We understand that there will be hubs of development at major intersections where the interstate exits are now but will they be of sufficient density with sufficient opportunities for more development to support such a line?  Moreover, that is all new development, not the existing traffic from beyond the immediate area. Maybe the idea is to get transit to USF, but that is unclear and still ignores a large number of people who appear to be using the interstate now.

The presentation also included some references to “commuter rail” on the CSX lines.  Setting aside our view on using the CSX lines in Hillsborough for commuter rail as opposed to local transit, there is no plan right now to buy the CSX lines.  There is not even an offer or negotiations.  While we like the idea of using the CSX lines for transit, that is a condition that does not exist and may never exist.  And, assuming the idea is to run commuter rail from Pasco to take up some of the traffic, that would require Pasco approval, Pasco transit connections, Pasco planning, etc.  And to be useful, there would have to be a much wider range of transit in Tampa to get those commuters to the ultimate destination.

Any reader would know that we are all for real transit.  However, beyond building the something on the boulevard, the proposal seems to make a number of assumptions about transit that simply cannot be made.  It does not mean they can’t happen, but it does point out that the boulevard concept actually is just a small part of a much larger discussion that, Tampa Bay Next notwithstanding, is still really not being had.


— Development

Aside from what to do with all the people who use the interstate to avoid the roads through the neighborhoods, there is question to what becomes of the land where the interstate now is.  This is where the Champs-Élysées comes up.

The actual presentation had better slides than the MPO agenda pdf, but we will do with it what we can.

Josh Frank is the man behind the project. To him, it’s all about efficiency.

“You can have a train or a bus or autonomous vehicle in this center corridor in the median. In addition to that, there are six lanes of vehicular traffic,” he explained of the project.

His plans also include interior bike lanes.

First, some math.  Let’s assume the boulevard has narrow traffic lanes to slow down traffic and be pedestrian friendly: about 10 feet each.  Let’s assume the transit lane is 12 feet.  Street parking is 8 feet.  The median is 12 feet wide.  The sidewalk is also wide-ish (at least for Tampa), but excessive, so 10 feet.  And assume 5 foot bike lanes in each direction.  Just for the sake of argument, there are three traffic lanes, one transit lane, parking, a sidewalk, bike lane, and half a median in each direction.  That is 71 feet in each direction or a total of 142 feet.  That is a reasonable, if not narrow, size for a true, urban grand boulevard with transit and all the features. Note that the Champs-Élysées is 230 feet wide and, while 10 lanes across (like we said long ago, complaints about the pedestrians and the width of Ashley are totally overblown – it is the walkable environment that is lacking) with wide sidewalks, the metro is underground as is some parking. (And, did we mention, it is in the enter of Paris?) The Embarcadero, the road, is also pretty wide.

So how wide is the actual highway through Tampa now?  Well, it varies.  Obviously at exits, it is wider than other areas (some exits are quite wide).  However, in other places it is quite narrow.  Luckily we do not have to guess too much.  The planning commission has this handy mapping tool where you can measure such things (though we are rounding a little because we are not going to say our use of the tool is perfectly precise).

Looking at some major intersections/exits, where it is most likely there could be some decent development, you find the Busch exit is 970 or so feet from exit ramp to exit ramp.  The Bird Street exit is about 320-325 feet ramp to ramp.  Hillsborough (on the north side) is 640 or so feet ramp to ramp.  Those are the wide spots.

However, when you get into the neighborhoods and away from exits, there are many locations that are much narrower. At Clifton St north of Hillsborough, property line to property line (back yard to back yard) is about 220 feet.  At Idlewild it is about 240.  Farther north, between Central and Hunley at around Clinton it is about 310 feet.  And farther south at Emily and Elmore it is about 220.  Very rarely, it gets under 200 feet.

The point is that, with are assumed 142 foot Boulevard, you will have roughly 40 to 100 feet on either side for development.  That is not very much.  Yes, you can build something reasonably tall and/or dense if you do not need to buffer the neighborhood behind you or worry about shadows with 100 feet (and don’t need parking), but in much of this area you have houses – often time even backyards – fronting what would be the boulevard or development.  Unless some of those houses go (through private sales, of course) you will have no Champs-Élysées (which, of course, did not involve highway removal) or Embarcadero. (As noted, the Champs-Élysées is 230 feet wide and so would not even fit in places. Similarly, the Embarcadero is quite wide though hard to measure exactly because one side is waterfront. Frankly, we recommend dropping those as referenced to what might get built) You may have small, urban-ish development, but only at the large intersections is there even a chance of any density without messing with the very neighborhoods that are trying to be helped.

Moreover, to really make it an urban boulevard – a main city street – and support the transit work,  the neighborhood would have to buy into the density change and some of the housing is going to back up to parking lots, dumpsters, and businesses, which is already an issue for development on Florida.  Can you really have 6-10 story buildings right next houses? You can, but do the neighborhoods people want that?  They have not in the recent past. We don’t know about now.  That is a decision that will have to be made and that will have to be reflected in the City code and all its planning.


— Other Cities

Another interesting part of the discussion regarding the proposal is that other cities have removed highways or are thinking of removing highways.  There are a number of examples cited that fall in three general categories: burying the road, removing a spur, and removing a through road with other alternatives.  We draw examples from a number of sources (many of which overlap), focusing on, but not limited to, the Congress for New Urbanism’s (CNU) Highways to Boulevards website, including its January 2017 report Freeways without Futures 2017 (which we’ll refer to as FWF). and the rest of the Congress for New Urbanism’s website on the matter. (Note: we are not really looking at cities like Paris, Madrid or Seoul for a few reasons.  First, it is harder to get relevant information.  Second, they are much larger with full transit infrastructures.  Third, they are national capitals that draw massive investment from their governments. However, it is worth noting that Paris has an inner ring road surrounding its central city with about a 3 mile radius and Madrid buried a riverfront highway.)

— Hiding the Road

The first category is hiding the road which is self-explanatory, but it is important to note that the road is not removed, it is just hidden.  The best example is the Big Dig in Boston where a major highway in downtown Boston was buried using cut and cover techniques.

Other examples that fall into this category are the Alaskan Way in Seattle (see here and here); the Klyde Warren Park over the Woodall Freeway (SR 366)   in Dallas (see here and here); and I-70/44 in St. Louis where they are building a small connection over I-70/44 in downtown to connect a bit better to the Arch park (though they should cover more of the highway to really connect downtown to the river.  Some suggest they should just make the highway a boulevard but it is not clear why that would be better than just covering it more completely). There are also proposals to bury I-35 through central Austin . And there is a controversial proposal for I-70 in Denver (which would actually be expanded under the plan), though the Denver highway is also subject to a proposal for removal. (See here and here)

Of course, while it is theoretically possible to tunnel or cut and cover in Florida (and, assuming there were no cost issues, to us that would be the best option), it would be very expensive and complex to do, so we doubt it will be considered.  Therefore, while we like the model of covering the highway with green space/boulevards, it is not very useful for discussing the I-275 proposal.

— The Spur

The second category is removing a spur.  This involves removing a portion of highway that ends in what is usually a downtown or urban area (similar to 175 and 375 in St. Pete).  Removing such a spur has far less impact on the over-all transportation network than removing a through road, and, in most examples, the main highway is left alone.  That makes it much easier to remove.  For instance, while the waterfront Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco was removed, it was just a spur into the northern end of downtown and I-80 remains right along the south side of central San Francisco and connecting to the Bay Bridge.  The commonly cited Park East Expressway in Milwaukee is another example.

The CNU literature provides a number of other spurs that have either been removed or had proposals to remove them.  Among them were another road in San Francisco, I-280, (FWF  pg 22) that can be seen here;  I-710 in Pasadena, CA (FWF pg 18)    that can be seen here; Route 5/the Skyway in Buffalo to which we have no objection (in fact, most of the highway through downtown Buffalo was built in the wrong place) ; McGrath Highway in Sommerville, MA, see here and here (no problem removing that); I-395 through Overtown (not going to happen); Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls, NY (definitely should happen); the Oak Street Connector in New Haven, CT (fine with us); and Route 29 in Trenton which can be seen here (once again, fine with us).

The important thing to note is that spurs are the easiest roads to remove and replace with boulevards because they are not through roads.  However, because of that, they are also not examples that are very helpful shedding any light on the I-275 proposal.

— Removing a Through Road

The final category is actually removing a through road. While this has happen and is being proposed, there are a few conditions where it tends to happen, including the road often losing usefulness and/or traffic and there are readily available alternatives. The following are some examples of removals and proposed removals.

Portland. Harbor Drive ran through Portland on the west side of the Willamette River and was removed.  However, looking at a map, it is clear that there are a number of alternatives around downtown Portland to pick up the slack (in addition to transit) and, as noted in this report:

In the 1950s, the six lanes of Route 99 ran along the Willamette River as a major thoroughfare, but as other freeways were built, it became less popular with drivers, who could get across the city faster using one of the newer roads. In 1968 Oregon’s governor proposed transforming the highway into open space, and the freeway was closed for good in 1974. The ensuing open space stretches along a long portion of the riverfront.

In that case, the road was less favored and there were ample alternatives like I-5 just across the river and I-405 a bit to the west which was completed right before Route 99 closed.  If one looks at most examples of where a road is actually removed, especially in a growing area, one finds that there are ample nearby alternative highways.

Chattanooga. The Riverfront Expressway in Chattanooga was underused and not a key through road.  Rather, it was built to service industry along the riverfront.  As the industry departed, the use of the road declined. Its removal helped create a much more vibrant waterfront area.  On the other hand, there were/are still highways running through and to downtown Chattanooga.  In fact, if you look at Google maps satellite view, the present image shows one being expanded.

Dallas. The proposed removal of I-345 in Dallas is another case in point.  That stretch of road looks like it is part of I-45 going around the east side of downtown Dallas, which has a highway loop around it. (See here). Even with the removal of the I-345 segment, there are highways to and around downtown Dallas from all directions.  Yes, there would be fewer lanes in the immediate area, but there is still real highway access. Not to mention an ample transit network.

Detroit. Another proposed road removal is I-375 in Detroit, which is actually just a kind of strange loop around downtown (see here) that cuts off much of downtown from the surrounding area.  The removal of the loop would not really do anything to the overall transportation flow in Detroit but would open up parts of downtown and the river.  All the main through highways would be there.

Oakland. Another road removal proposal is I-980 in Oakland, which is another instance of an “underused” segment of a downtown loop. (See here).  As described:

The freeway is now an underused remnant connecting CA-24 and I-580 to I-880. While it carries only 73,000 cars a day and no freight traffic, it cuts an enormous 18-lane swath through the center of Oakland and isolates the West Oakland neighborhood. The design of the freeway was typical of large scale 20th century infrastructure projects, which disproportionately affected low-income communities of color in a quest to improve commutes for affluent white suburbs.

(FWF pg 17)    We have no doubt that removing I-980 would be beneficial to the neighborhoods nearby.  However, removing I-880 and its disruption of the connection between downtown and the waterfront would really help connect the grid in Oakland.  As far as we know, no one has proposed that, probably because removing I-880 would be a mess for transportation in the East Bay.  Removing I-980 on the other hand is relatively minor, though the other highways really do not have excess capacity.  Regardless, it is not removing a key component in the local transportation infrastructure. (In fact, many, if not most of the roads listed by the CNU for complete removal are described by them as “underutilized” which does not really describe the portion of I-275 under discussion.)

Rochester. Another example is the eastern part of the inner loop around downtown Rochester.  You can tell by our description of the stretch of road, that is not a critical through road. You can see it here.

Bronx. New York is seriously moving towards removing the Sheridan Expressway (I-895) which is a small stretch of highway connecting two other highways which are also connected a short distance away by another highway.

Hartford. The CNU also listed I-84 in Hartford (map here) as a possible road removal site, but looking at the CDOT website on the project, that does not seem to be among the alternatives actually under consideration. This article seems to indicate that while removing the I-84 viaduct where it is may be possible, the road may be rebuilt in another location relatively nearby and another interstate covered. The vagueness about what is actually happening in Hartford makes it less than useful for our consideration.

Syracuse. One of the closest examples we could find in the recent discussions was a proposal to remove a portion if I-81 through downtown Syracuse.   While the Syracuse area is much smaller and growth is much lower, I-81 is a through road and the alternative to using it is miles away. Moreover, much like Tampa, there is little to no existing transit.  On the other hand, the stretch to be removed seems to be much shorter that the proposal in Tampa.  Moreover, there has been no definitive decision about what to do.

Denver. As we discussed above, one of the proposals for I-70 through eastern Denver is to just remove it.  While, like the Tampa Bay area, Denver is a fast growing area, Denver has a mature transit system and more developed highway system to take the excess traffic.  And, importantly, the proposal has not been adopted or implemented.

— Summary

None of the through road removals we looked at are nearly as extensive as the one proposed in Tampa.  Most removals are relatively small stretches in and near the core of a city.  Moreover, none of the full removals proposed in the United States involved through roads of rapidly growing areas with growing traffic, except the proposal by a few to remove a small stretch of I-70 in Denver. But, as we noted, they have a more extensive highway system and a large transit system that already exists.

In other words, there are no really comparable examples of completed projects.  That does not foreclose doing removing I-275, it just makes it harder to learn lessons.


— Conclusion

Based on the presentation to the MPO and what we have seen, there remain a number of things that need to be worked out in this idea.  As we said in the beginning, we are not against it though we are not necessarily for it. There are details that need to be worked out and preconditions that need to be met. And without working those things out, it will not sell and probably will not work very well.  We have tried to lay out some of the issues in an effort to move the conversation along.

First, there are trade-offs, such as no road diets on Florida, opening up Nebraska and maybe Boulevard, zoning for density, dealing with shadows, noise, parking, and traffic on local roads.  There are also missing other preconditions to the plan as presented:  the Veterans does not connected to I-275/75 in the north.  There is no light rail or commuter rail, no is there a plan for any.  There is no money for transit at all – especially operating costs.  And there all the other matters we have discussed.

And, because it does not exist in a vacuum, to really get somewhere, and to help convince people who do not live in the immediate Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, and Sulphur Springs areas – people who are also stakeholders – the details need to be addressed.

We do not claim that this is a comprehensive study of the issue.  On the contrary, it is our initial thoughts. As we said, we are putting them out there in the hope of helping to focus the discussion.  However, one thing even the proposal presentation, with all its assumptions, shows is that everything is connected and what is really needed is plan for a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system for the whole area.


Transportation – Getting What You Paid For

For a number of weeks the chronically underfunded HART has been discussing rearranging their service to make it more efficient for the busiest routes and cutting less busy routes. There was news from HART this week:

Motivated by harsh financial realities, Hillsborough transit board members approved a plan Monday that will eliminate nearly 20 percent of bus routes despite emotional pleas from riders who rely on them.

The new system should improve service for about 80 percent of riders, giving them shorter, more direct routes that run more frequently, according to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority staff.

* * *

The HART board approved the new route system 12-1, with [County Commissioner] White dissenting.

HART staff held more than 40 public meetings this summer to solicit feedback on the changes. Some of those suggestions from riders were built into the new plan, including keeping the Brandon Flex route for another six months while HART improves its HyperLink service in that area. HyperLink is one HART solution for getting people to and from bus stops, for $3 a trip.

Other changes based on rider input include additional service north of Fletcher Avenue, extending Route 19 to the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, and alterations to routes serving north and south Dale Mabry Highway, Busch Boulevard, Progress Village and other areas.

It is definitely not the optimum solution, but there is logic (and business sense) to making sure the most used routes are done well rather than spreading resources too thin to provide good service anywhere.  Understandably, that does not sit well with the people who will lose service, and we are very sympathetic to them.

Starting Oct. 8, entire parts of the county, such as Town ‘N Country and Carrollwood, will be left with limited to no coverage. The hardest hit region of the county, with only one bus route in a more-than-300-mile region? South Hillsborough County.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it: they got hosed,” White said after Monday’s HART meeting. “It’s terrible for residents in unincorporated Hillsborough.”

Before HART voted, it heard from dozens of residents who ride the very routes that were being cut. That included older residents, those with disabilities and anyone who can’t afford their own car. All rely on HART’s buses and vans for their transportation.

White said his office fielded many phone calls and emails from people concerned about routes to MacDill Air Force Base and in the Sun City Center area.

Under the recently approved 2018 route plan, anywhere south of Boyette Road will be served by a single route that runs along U.S. 41 once every hour on weekdays.

And he is right, in a sense, but the hosing comes from the County Commissioners who refuse to fund HART decently (and we mean “decently,” like a bare minimum of rational service, not “properly” which would be much more than mere “decently”) and those officials and activists who work so hard to keep HART completely underfunded.

If the Commissioners don’t like not having service to their constituents we suggest they do what they do when they want other things for their constituents – allocate some money for it.


Port – Odd

There was recent news about the Port.

Gov. Rick Scott this week appointed Mike Griffin to the Tampa Port Authority following media reports of “excessive spending” by port executives.

“Recently, I was concerned to see media reports detailing wasteful spending by the executives at Port Tampa Bay,” Scott said in a statement. “The actions detailed in these reports should serve as a reminder of the importance of the oversight every appointee is charged with providing. I look forward to the Tampa Port Authority Governing Board reviewing policies to prevent wasteful spending by employees.

And what were those reports? From abcactionnews.com:

We looked at credit card statements from Anderson and 7 of his top aides at the port.

In the last 3 years, those port executives spent more than $870 thousand ($871,830.48) on their P-Cards.

Official             CC charges

Elliott————–$235,320.87
Alfonso———–$157,339.54
Miyagishima—–$132,936.26
Anderson———$109,408.79
Strauch————$92,675.06
Lovelace———-$88,776.32
Padron————$46,667.14
Ramsfield———$8,706.50

See a database of ALL of their charges and amounts here: http://wfts.tv/2tvvq7M

They charged more than $30 thousand in golf club memberships and outings at TPC Tampa Bay and Cheval Golf Club.

One of the executives with a Cheval Club membership happens to be living in the Cheval gated community.

And there is a bunch more.  So what is the logic to this spending?

“It’s part of what you do.. We roll out the red carpet” says Port Tampa Bay’s CEO Paul Anderson.

He’s makes no apologies when it comes to spending millions of your tax dollars.

“I was brought here to compete in the major leagues, not single A”, Anderson replies.

And we get that they have to do some entertaining.  Whether they need golf club memberships in their own neighborhood or they need to spend quite than much is not clear.  A more thorough accounting would be nice.  Hopefully, that will be forthcoming.  The Board, especially its elected officials, should have been checking that all along.


Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

As if to make the point about issues in development, a developer who had to give up one proposal in the Seminole Heights historic district on Florida due to neighborhood opposition about shadows and neighborhood character, found a lot outside the historic district with fewer restrictions and no need for architectural review:

Wesley Burdette, who opened the Warehouse Lofts in early 2016, is planning a mixed-use building with a parking garage at 5236 N. Florida Ave., on a .98-acre lot he paid around $500,000 for in 2015.

The Avenue Lofts will include 52 residential units in three stories over 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail fronting North Florida Avenue. It also includes a 100-space garage, which will be behind the main building.

Two tenants have already committed to the retail space: Anytime Fitness, which has around 5,000 square feet. The remainder of the space will be a food hall concept, Burdette said, with Tampa barista Ty Beddingfield’s Kofe concept as an anchor.

The top floor of the project will be a rooftop for residents.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

It is a nice looking project on a very deep lot with parking garage hidden somewhere in the back, where the rendering does not show it. It is also noteworthy that there are not many houses around it. (see map here)

The question on the boulevard is whether the neighborhood is will to accept such developments right next to people’s front and backyards.


South Tampa – Fad Diet

There was news this week about changes to Bay-to-Bay:

Tampa and Hillsborough County officials are working on plans to resurface and reconfigure Bay to Bay from Dale Mabry Highway to Bayshore Boulevard.

From Dale Mabry to Esperanza Avenue, which is a block west of MacDill Avenue, Bay to Bay could go from four to three lanes — one in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. Taking out one lane of traffic also would allow officials to put a bike lane protected by a 2-foot buffer on each side of the road.

From Esperanza east to Bayshore, there’s simply too much traffic — a lot of it making left turns at several closely spaced intersections — to allow for any reduction in lanes. So the recommendation is for Bay to Bay to remain four lanes. There Bay to Bay’s pavement could be painted to designate “sharrows” — shared lanes for both cars and bikes. And gaps in the sidewalks would be filled in.

We are all for protected bike lanes, but, frankly, the plan is just silly (and sharrows are absurd, especially at that intersection).  Creating bike lanes that connect to nothing and just melt away into car traffic is not particularly useful.  But it seems it has nothing to do with creating real bike infrastructure or logical planning:

Palma Ceia is a neighborhood where walking is enjoying something of a renaissance.

A home-grown group, the Sidewalk Stompers, consists of parents and students who promote walking by strolling to Roosevelt Elementary together. The PTA and merchants have given prizes to students and classes with lots of walkers. And in a year and a half, the number of students walking to school has more than doubled.

But for some parents and others, there’s a disincentive to walking: Bay to Bay Boulevard.

That would explain the plan.  However, if they can choke most of the traffic on Bay-to-Bay, they should choke traffic on that last stretch for the pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to Bayshore.  The City could easily have a left-turn lane and a right turn lane at Bay-to-Bay and Bayshore going east and one lane going west, leaving space for bike lanes connecting to Bayshore.  Cutting off the path between the neighborhood and the walking/biking spine that is Bayshore is a waste. If the City can’t do it right, the money should be spent making good bike infrastructure somewhere else.

 

Roundup 8-4-2017

August 3, 2017

Due to a project taking a little longer than we anticipated, there will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 7-28-2017

July 28, 2017

Please note that the contents have links to the corresponding items.

Contents

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

Downtown – Water Street Stuff

Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

Transportation – Cycle Stories

Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

Economic Development – Employment

Transportation – Airport Audit

Port – Tax Cuts

Channel District – A Hotel

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

— Flags

List of the Week

_______________________________________________

Transportation – If You Ride It, It May Change

The Times had a couple of articles in the last few weeks about transit board members and administrators and whether they sample their product.

While politicians hold the purse strings, it’s those on the transit agencies’ boards who dictate how the systems operate.

Board members for the two counties’ agencies — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority — are a mix of elected officials and community members.

None of them rely on the bus for work, errands or their personal life.

This isn’t unique to Tampa Bay, or transit. Many boards are composed of people who don’t use the service they help provide. But in a region roiled by transportation problems, it’s worth knowing who sits on these boards and what philosophies they bring to the conversation.

You can see who never rides the bus, who rides it sometimes, etc., here.

We would not expect them to use the bus to get to and from work.  First, some just need to be able to get to all manner of places quickly, which isn’t happening with the bus system.  Others can’t/won’t use the bus because our transit is so poor, goes too few places and/or takes too long.  It is not built by them for people like them – people with a choice.  It is only provided as a last resort for other people and is not efficient. (Yes, we know that the elected officials hold the purse strings, not the board specifically, though the boards have elected officials and are appointed by elected officials)

One thing though: As stated, we understand that for most board members it is not practical to ride the bus daily.  However, to never ride it is not really acceptable either.  It is not that hard to take a day every now and then and sample some routes to see what you are giving people.  You can say you know how bad it is, but do you really know until you ride it (or try and fail to actually get where you need to go)? (Just like local officials should try getting around by walking the sidewalks and riding in the bike lanes they provide to the public – not just a couple of photo ops, actually doing it routinely in various areas.) And then compare it to experiences in other cities.

Speaking of which, there was another Times article:

On a stifling Friday afternoon, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority stood, sweat-drenched, waiting for the bus.

When the Route 52 bus screeched into the station, Brad Miller, 47, squinted in the sunlight. The people around him reached for their bus tickets, while Miller tapped the PSTA app on his phone.

Welcome to day 16 of Miller’s monthlong experiment. He had abandoned his car to rely almost exclusively on his agency’s own buses.

He wanted to see for himself how the system he runs works on a daily basis.

“People tell me all the time, ‘Brad, it’s impossible to ride the buses,’ ” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not impossible.”

But it’s not easy, either. Already, Miller had learned how riders build their days around a transit system full of holes. The routes they rely on don’t get them near their destinations. The buses don’t come often enough. Too many layovers make them late to work or to pick up their kids.

This is an admirable effort, and you should read the article. (here)  However, in real terms, if it is not impossible to use the bus (at least HART), it is really quite hard and generally just not acceptable. That is not necessarily the fault of the CEO, but it still is the case.


Downtown – Water Street Stuff

It is pretty clear that the Water Street project is ramping up its media push, which is fine (they are in the business of selling or leasing their project after all).  As part of that there was a piece on HuffPost. While it basically rehashed what local coverage has already told us (and, in the headline, referred to “Tampa Bay” as a city), there were a few nuggets of interest:

SPP is also planning to implement the following smart technology into the development project.

We knew about some of that, but some is news. (We’ll have to see how that garage reservation idea works especially for someone spontaneously decides to come to the district.).

And this was also interesting:

Lastly, the project includes a great deal of resiliency planning, given the waterfront location. “Learning from the impacts of some of the recent natural disasters and understanding the effects of rising sea levels, we’re regrading the elevation of the land on many of the building sites as well placing the primary building systems infrastructure in protected areas of the new buildings,” Nozar said.

Most people would be surprised at how fast the land rises from the downtown waterfront (for instance, just north of the Amalie Arena, it is not even in evacuation zone A, unlike all of the nearby islands, and it rise up to zone C a couple of blocks later. see here).  However, especially where most of the Water Street project is, it is still low.  While we doubt they will raise it too high, it will be interesting to see just how high they try to raise it and if they integrate any elevation change into to plan (see Curtis Hixon Park).  Just get ready for the dirt trucks.

In addition to the HuffPost article, the Times had a profile of all the young people hired by the Lightning owner to do his project. It is an interesting read though more from a human interest standpoint than substantive about the project.


Downtown/Channel District/USF – More Renderings

USF released more renderings of the Med School that will start construction soon downtown.   As a reminder, this was the last rendering released:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which was pretty much what you expect from a contemporary office building.  This is the newest rendering:

From USF – click on picture for article

Which is a different angle and looks distinctly boxier to us (admittedly with a few pieces snipped off).  Then again, as we often note, renderings are notorious for making projects look more majestic/taller than they really are, so it is entirely possible that little has changed, aside from a bigger top, and maybe some slight changes in cladding.  (We are also curious about is what is to the left of the USF building in the new rendering.  It does not appear to be the medical office building, but it does not appear to be apartments, though you never know.  It could be a space filler drawing.  We’ll just have to wait and see.)

And, for fun, compare the ground floor views:

Old:

From USF – click on picture for article

New:

From USF – click on picture for article

Basically, it is fine. (Especially, the use of trees that might provide some shade instead of palm trees).  It will be new and we are sure there will be some nice spaces and some nice views. But what will make or break it as a building is the development around it and the ability of people to get to it efficiently.


Transportation – Cycle Stories

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted an item from Streetsblog regarding why Florida’s streets are so deadly for cyclists.   That item in turn referenced an FDOT sponsored study (that study is here)  that identified all sorts of things, like the conditions under which most accidents between cars and bikes occur, the demographics, and some particularly bad location around the state.

The first thing we wanted to point out was the accident distribution map:

FDOT Report pdf pg 70

Which is quite similar to this nighttime photo of Florida

From the National Park Service – click on picture for website

Showing us that, basically, anywhere there are people in the Florida, there are bike crashes.

We just wanted to point out a few things from the FDOT report.

From FDOT Report pdf pg 57

First, looking at the chart above, it is interesting to note that the fatality rate for accidents in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties is among the highest in the state.

Additionally, on pg 64 of the pdf, there is a list of characteristics of the crashes, including things like the average age of victims and that riding against traffic has a tendency to cause worse accidents.  It also had this:

Although bicyclists were frequently hit while cycling on the sidewalk, these crashes resulted in very few fatalities.

We could speculate about all the factors involved there, but clearly biking on a path somewhat separated from traffic and/or protected (unless you are on the numerous sidewalks in Hillsborough that are not separated at all) is useful.  And to make that point a little better, the report gives overhead shots of the highlighted trouble areas.  In Tampa, they highlight Nebraska and Busch (which is even bad driving).  They also highlight Floribraska and Nebraska (see a theme), with this shot indicating where the accidents were:

From FDOT Report pdf pg 111

You may notice that the road has been restriped for bike lanes.  You may also know that Nebraska was one of the first roads in Tampa put on a diet a number of years ago. In other words, what is often held out as a proper bike environment. You can also note that there are three accidents in the bike lanes, though the two fatalities occurred in other spots.

What is the point? The point is that just restriping a road (and even putting it on a diet) does not necessarily make for good bike infrastructure. (And just saying share the road definitely doesn’t)  Proper infrastructure, especially on major roads requires protected lanes, elevated lanes, or separate routes/trails. And having a built environment that creates an expectation that there may be pedestrians and cyclists around (which is not the case in the vast majority of the Tampa Bay area – but is much more likely in a place like Miami which actually has a lower fatality rate) is critical.

And that brings us to Jackson Street.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The project was awarded to a contractor in May, and a construction contract is now in place. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

From bikewalktampabay.org – click on picture for website

We will set aside the lingo and just say we are happy they are building a protected bike path.  We still have concerns about the west end of Jackson because it does not connect to the Riverwalk or a bridge and the only connection to those things, Ashley, is often not a particularly friendly road as people come off of the Kennedy Street Bridge.  And on the other end, Jackson ends at Meridian and does not continue into the Channel District or have a crossing, which makes it an odd choice for connector of the Channel District to the Riverwalk. We also have concerns about reduced street parking.  And we wonder if the plan predetermines any route the streetcar would take if it were extended north.

In any event,

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year. “We are planning to break ground in late October or early November,” says Johnston-Schultz. “We estimate 6-7 months of construction, and the cycle track should open next year in early summer.”

Aside from the concerns above, that’s all fine as long as FDOT doesn’t actually put all the street signs in the middle of the sidewalks as indicated in the renderings.

We’ll see what happens.


Of Taxes, Parks, and Things

The Mayor of Tampa made big news recently with his new budget proposing a tax increase in the City.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city’s property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges.

The Mayor has a number of reasons for proposing a tax increase, such as:

In the next few years, he expects the city to get squeezed by rising health care and pension costs, the burden of paying off tens of millions of dollars of city debt that was taken on in the mid-1990s but deferred until now and the prospect that voters next year will expand the homestead exemption.

The deferred debt includes a $6 million federal loan used to help develop Centro Ybor and nearly $24 million spent on the fire and police departments in 1996. Because the principal and interest payments on the public safety debt have been put off for 20 years, the city will soon begin making several years of debt payments of more than $13 million a year.

And because of the way that debt was structured, the bonds were not “callable,” Buckhorn said, meaning that they could not be refinanced at lower interest rates.

“If we had been able to refinance that debt, this would not be an issue,” he said.

Plus some stuff from Tallahassee.

Frankly, we are not going to get into the reasons specifically. We’ll just say some of them are solid, and some are possible but not necessarily now.  But at least trying to anticipate future challenges is good.  And you need to plan to pay for the things that you want.

However, something in the coverage did catch our eye:

The budget includes 3 percent raises negotiated with the unions for police, firefighters and general employees. It also would add 79 new positions to bring the city’s total payroll to 4,476 full-time positions.

Of those, 48 would go to Tampa Fire Rescue, which is looking to staff the new Fire Station 23 on Trout Creek Drive in New Tampa and provide emergency medical service under a contract with MacDill Air Force Base. Another 19 would go to staff new parks, mainly the $35.5 million Julian B. Lane Park now under construction on the western bank of the Hillsborough River.

And:

But with the additional funds from the tax increase, Buckhorn proposes to:

The cost of the list of park and road needs is $17.84 million.  When the Julian Lane ($35.5 million) project came up and kept growing we specifically said it would be better done in stages.  Setting aside that there are parts to the Julian Lane plan that we do not like, it is being done but, while we like getting projects over with, it did not all need to be done at once.  (And that does not even get into the well-known debt payments that still have to be made) When discussing the tax increase, even the Times editorialized that the spending on parks and the like is nice but should slow down.

We are not against raising taxes when needs require or the people decide to tax themselves for a specific purpose.  And there may be  good and unavoidable reasons for a tax increase.  However, we’re not sure that the City spending an inordinate sum at one time on one project while other parts of the City predictably do not have their relatively modest needs (that together cost half of the park cost) met is one of them.


Economic Development – Employment

There were new Florida employment numbers.

Unemployment in Florida hit a 10-year low in June, clocking in at 4.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent in May. The state added 19,400 jobs over the month, and saw growth in most industries. But there’s one glaring missing piece to the economic recovery puzzle: wage growth.

“Wage growth has been the Great Pumpkin of this economic recovery,” Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, said. “Like Linus, we keep waiting for it to show up, and it hasn’t really come in earnest.”

It’s the only factor standing in the way of full employment. All other indicators, however, show a healthy and recovering economy that outpaces national averages.

And, yes, the employment level is good (though there are better).  And, yes, the wages are still low.  In fact, the Times had a column about the numbers:

All good for Florida’s economy, so far. Let’s take a closer look at where Florida stands among its peer states. Here are five takeaways based on new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  1. Florida’s job market still has momentum. Florida was one of just 10 states with lower unemployment rates in June than in May. Two states saw their rates rise while jobless rates remained stable in 38 states and D.C.

  2. Compared to Florida, half of all states — 25 — have lower unemployment rates. That means this state hardly has a lock on a tight job market. Not even close. Colorado and North Dakota are tied with the lowest jobless rate of 2.3 percent in June.

  3. Florida, usually a leader in adding jobs month to month, did not quite make the cut in June. The largest increase in employment over the month versus May occurred in Texas (+40,200), followed by Georgia (+27,400) and New York (+26,000). Florida trailed with a still respectable gain of 19,400.

  4. Over the past year, though, Florida remained a top job generator even as it fell behind rival Texas. When this state outperforms Texas in sheer job growth, Florida Gov. Rick Scott loves to crow about it —and he has had ample opportunity to do so in recent years. Less so, now. In the past year ending in June, the largest job gains occurred in Texas (+319,300), California (+261,400) and Florida (+238,600). Keep in mind Texas and California are much bigger states in population. When measuring job growth by percentage, Florida’s annual gain rose 2.9 percent, beating Texas and California, and ranking third nationwide behind Nevada (+3.8 percent) and Utah (+3 percent).

  5. Hey, Florida isn’t Alaska or New Mexico, right? Alaska had June’s highest jobless rate, 6.8 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.4 percent. Even those “high” rates are hardly alarming, especially after the country’s last withering recession.

And the bottom line:

So what does this jobs snapshot mean for Florida? The state is doing well but could do better, based on the bulk of U.S. states with lower unemployment rates than here.

There remains the matter of boosting job pay and income. Florida paychecks still land close to the bottom third among states. To borrow the Guv’s phrase: Let’s get to work.

In other words, the same issue as always.


Transportation – Airport Audit

The audit of Tampa International’s construction project is apparently underway:

Airport CEO Joe Lopano confirmed Thursday that state audit is now underway.

“With respect to the senator, someone with his gravitas to say ‘corruption’ is unfortunate, but having an audit is not unfortunate, and I have no problem with that,” Lopano said on the WMNF 88.5 FM “MidPoint” program.

“We’re a very transparent group,” he added. “We try to do things right. We’re doing what we said we would do.”

It is still not clear why the audit is necessary, but as the director said, fine. As we said before, we just hope all sorts of other large FDOT projects around the state also get audited.


Port – Tax Cuts

There was interesting news from the Port:

Port officials said Tuesday that they plan to reduce the millage rate in fiscal year 2018 by more than 11 percent, according to a press release.

“This continues a trend and our goal is to eventually use no county taxpayer money at the port,” Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson said in a statement. “With strong growth in our lines of business and positive financial performance combined with our ongoing reduction in the millage rate, this will allow us to gradually reduce our ad valorem to zero.” 

That is a worthy goal.  It would be great if the Port was self-sustaining (at least operating costs). We also assume the Port administration would like to get away from the pressure of having them use taxpayer money (at least on operations).  And that is fine with us, as long as they focus on being and developing the port and not on real estate development.


Channel District – A Hotel

While it is not really a design we like (though it does have awnings, which is something a lot of other designs neglect):

Liberty Group’s proposal for a 10 story, 213 room Hampton Inn and Home2 hotel received approval from city staff yesterday. The project will likely go through the building permit process now and begin construction once that is complete.The project includes a 1,500 square foot Starbucks at the corner of Meridian and Kennedy.

Having a hotel is nice, but with the Lightning owner’s project, this building will look (and be) out of place.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We just wish it weren’t so bland but with both the developer and the City not particularly concerned with aesthetics, it is what it is.  Anyway, it will likely be built.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Incentives

We have discussed business incentives a number of times, and we have discussed Amazon warehouses a number of times.  This week, we go to an Orlando Sentinel editorial on the subject:

When Mayor Teresa Jacobs ruled out taxpayer-funded incentives from Orange County for a new Amazon warehouse near Orlando International Airport, she set an example worth following for other leaders across the region and throughout the state — especially the new head of Florida’s lead business recruiting agency.

“Listen, I like Amazon,” Jacobs recently told Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. “ … But we need to use tax incentives for high-wage jobs.”

Amazon confirmed last week that it would employ 1,500 workers at a new warehouse now under construction on Boggy Creek Road near Lake Nona. A developer, Seefried Industrial Properties, is building the warehouse; Amazon will have a 15-year lease on it.

While Amazon didn’t disclose the salaries workers at the warehouse will earn, most full-time employees at other company warehouses in the region reportedly make between $11 and $13 an hour. That’s a nice pay hike for someone earning minimum wage, and a lifeline for someone out of work, but it’s not a high-wage job. In fact, it falls far short of metro Orlando’s average wage, which was $20.70 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Low-wage workers often end up needing their own taxpayer subsidies for food, transportation, housing and health care.

Yet Amazon has been awarded more than $40 million in incentives for other warehouses in Florida, mostly from county and city governments. Nationwide, the company has reaped more than $1 billion this way.

Yup, and even more to the point:

State incentives in this case would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, and not just because the jobs aren’t high-wage. Amazon has built warehouses in other locations without incentives when the company calculates there’s sufficient demand for its products. Is there any reasonable doubt that metro Orlando meets that requirement?

Exactly.

We like Amazon, too (for the most part).  But they are building warehouses to get their goods to people as fast as possible.  And we have people (and are getting more).  The warehouse jobs are not the kind of jobs that limited taxpayer money should be spent on, and it definitely does not deserve hyperbole.  It is just the way business is changing.  (And Amazon was a good deal compared to Bass Pro Shops)

Orange County has it right. Hopefully, local officials are paying attention.

— Flags

A while back (and a while before that) we discussed city flags and how Tampa (and St. Pete’s) are a little a lacking.  Well, as things would have it, Orlando just approved a new flag.

From the Orlando Sentinel – click on picture for article

The flag appears to follow the rules that it should be simple, easy to identify, not have real writing on it, and all that.   But, to us it is just ok.  The thing in the middle is supposed to be the Lake Eola fountain but somehow keeps reminding us of a pineapple, which is not really Orlando.  Anyway, it is not worse than Tampa’s flag. (Though it is all better than Hillsborough County’s new logo featuring a silhouette of something that, while vaguely referencing Plant Hall or the old County Courthouse, is not a local historical landmark – as far as we can tell, it is actually the gazebo at Chillura Courthouse Square Park – rendered in pastels)

List of the Week

We haven’t done this in a while but this week we have Wallethub’s 2017 Most & Least Educated Cities. Here is the methodology.  Before we do the top 30, we’ll point out some major Florida metros: Brevard County (69th), Sarasota Bradenton (76th), Orlando (77th), Naples (82nd) Tampa Bay area (91st), Jacksonville (93rd), Miami-Ft Lauderdale (94th), so you get the idea.

Here is the top 30:

1 Ann Arbor, MI
2 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
3 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
4 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
5 Madison, WI
6 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
7 Provo-Orem, UT
8 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
9 Austin-Round Rock, TX
10 Tallahassee, FL
11 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
12 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
14 Lansing-East Lansing, MI
15 Raleigh, NC
16 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
17 Colorado Springs, CO
18 Trenton, NJ
19 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
20 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY
21 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA
22 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
23 Portland-South Portland, ME
24 Lexington-Fayette, KY
25 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
26 Eugene, OR
27 Huntsville, AL
28 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
29 New Haven-Milford, CT
30 Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA

As you can see, it is most of the usual suspects plus some college and/or research towns.  There are also some usual suspects floating around near the Florida cities.  And we are not saying that the list is dispositive of anything or completely accurate.  However, we think it is pretty clear that long-term economic success and educational attainment are most often related. And being 91st is not very good.

 

Roundup 7-21-2017

July 21, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Talking Trips

— One More Thing

Economic Development – VC

Is Selling Really the Goal?

Economic Development – Those Car Costs

Economic Development – Making Stuff

Transportation – SkyConnect Arrives

— Just a Little Historical Review

Economic Development – Tourist Tax

Port – Steel

Downtown – Larghissimo 

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

HART – In Search of Money

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________________

Transportation – Talking Trips

Over the decades, local officials and business people have been fond of going on fact-finding missions to other cities to see how they are doing things. Recently, the Lightning owner, and other business people, took a trip to Charlotte to look at transit.

Jeff Vinik said Friday that it’s local politicians, not the business community, who are holding Tampa Bay back when it comes to transit.

“Our business community is behind it,” said Vinik, a driving force in developing Tampa’s downtown, during a Friday meeting recapping a recent Charlotte visit to learn about transit. “The political community is mixed and not there yet.”

It’s up to the business community and the public to help politicians understand how critical an issue transit is for Tampa Bay, Vinik said.

We are sure the Lightning owner and other business people want transit. As for the last sentence, it is true.  Local officials tend to be followers not leaders.  But that raises the question of who they are (and who have they been) following and why.  In any event,

Vinik was one of about 20 business leaders who spent two days in Charlotte this week to learn how a similar-sized Southern city was able to build transit, including light rail, a streetcar and buses. Friday’s meeting focused on lessons learned and how to apply those tips here in Tampa Bay.

Rhea Law, chairwoman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which organized the Charlotte trip, said it’s essential that the partnership help politicians understand exactly what’s at stake when it comes to transit. That’s a lot easier to do, she said, when those politicians have the chance to experience rail or express buses or other transit themselves.

“Until you see it, until you touch it and ride it and understand what it is, it’s pretty hard to jump behind a concept that’s got a big dollar figure in front of it,” Law said.

That is also true to some degree, but many (probably most) people who live in this area (and certainly the vast majority of political officials) are from and/or have been to other cities where there is real transit.  And then the next sentence:

Local politicians have made similar trips to Charlotte and other cities over the past decade to evaluate those systems and how something similar can happen in Tampa Bay.

Politicians have seen it. They know what it is. Many probably even would like to have it.  But many just aren’t willing to push for it – or not willing to push enough.  Seeing it is not the issue.

Then there is the other factor – voters rejected proposals.  Part of that is on political officials, part of it is on the plans, and part of it is on the economy, political environment (including the media), and campaigns.

So what did the local officials say?  We heard from one Commissioner:

In response to Vinik’s comments, Crist told the Tampa Bay Times he didn’t think it was a fair assessment to say politicians are the ones who need to get on board for transit to move forward in Tampa Bay. Instead, he said, the business community needs to lead the effort to produce an actual plan — complete with engineering details, ridership projections, costs and revenue projections — before politicians sign off on it.

“Public officials have to answer to the taxpayer,” Crist said Friday. “I have to be able to look at the taxpayer and say, ‘I saw the plan and this is a reasonable expenditure for your tax dollar.’ A vision is not a plan.”  

Setting aside that the Commissioner is basically abdicating responsibility for transportation, yes and no.  We get why the Go Hillsborough concept went down, but that was on local officials for having a gutted plan and, even the part that had real transit (the City), there were no real details or even a clear vision.  And there was a lot of factional political stuff going on for the whole process, which had a lot to do with both the proposal and the collapse. That was also on officials.  They should have done better.  (Not to mention that they have the resources to develop a plan and that is their job.)

The part on the business community groups was to go along with Go Hillsborough (and basically every other plan) rather than push for something better. When you give the impression that you just want something, anything, rather than looking for a real, quality plan, then you are not providing any incentive for politicians to push themselves. Politicians tend to go toward the path of least resistance (and greatest reward).

Then, generally, there are decades of not planning better, not developing transit and transportation, and not delivering real solutions.  While much of that is on politicians, they have constituents and donors who tend to do business.

(And, as an aside, while we think the plan is really the responsibility of government, now that the “business community” has taken such a big piece of TBARTA, it can be argued that, indeed, it is up to them to bring the plan.)

Going back to the Lightning owner, there is this:

The group lauded Charlotte business and government leaders for their cohesion on creating a robust transit network and discussed strategies the Tampa Bay region could employ to establish better options here.

For example, Charlotte leaders used land use plans to encourage transit development, including building urban centers where transit is more successful and limits sprawl.

“When I look at it, I see transit having two purposes, equal purposes,” Vinik said. “One is land use planning and transit as a means of connecting people to jobs, people to the supermarket … people to the Tampa Bay Lightning Games — that was a joke,” he said.

We have long said that transportation and planning are intricately connected.  Not only does bad planning create bad transportation, good planning helps good transportation and draws investment, especially in growing areas. And we have no doubt the Lightning owner and some others want to do so (support for TBX notwithstanding).

So, we are all for the business community pushing for better standards of planning, better transportation, and overall better government.  But here’s the thing: you can’t speak of the business community as a singular thing. It is made of many parts and is quite amorphous.  Someone pushed the sprawl form of development.  And someone profited from it.  And someone focused office development and office leases in non-urban places with non-urban designs.  And without pointing out anyone in particular, many people other than local officials have profited mightily from the sprawl.  And local politics did not develop in a vacuum. Someone donated to (public records, by the way), voted for, and generally supported those same politicians who are being said to hold us back.

Let’s just say, while there are people who played basically no part, the mess was/is a group effort.  It will take a group effort to get out of it.

— One More Thing

Another thing that local politicians should note is the controversy in Charlotte over express lanes.  There was a large project planned.  Some of the work has been done, but there has been a large amount of opposition and now delays as it is reviewed.  For instance, there is even this claim:

DOT has created a new public comment link as part of the review, but North Mecklenburg residents have hardly been silent on the project. Their widespread objections contributed to the defeat in November of former Gov. Pat McCrory, who was Charlotte’s longtime mayor.

(See here and here).  There is even the possibility (though given how government works, probably not) of converting some of the express lanes that have been built to free lanes.

It would behoove FDOT, local politicians, and the business community to avoid the mess and have FDOT really follow through on its pledge to have real input on transportation in this area.

Economic Development – VC

Time to check in with the VC reports.

Nationally, investors deployed $21.78 billion to 1,958 venture-backed companies during the second quarter, marking a significant uptick from the first quarter in capital invested. The number of companies receiving investments held steady.

Eight Tampa Bay companies, including Teewinot, received a total of $24.04 million in venture funding in 2Q 2017, the Pitchbook-NVCA report said.

The number of deals and the total value of deals for Tampa Bay firms was down significantly from the first quarter of 2017, when 12 companies got $45 million in venture backing, but Tarhuni said fluctuations from quarter to quarter are expected.

That is .11% of the nationwide VC.  The Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metro area is approximately .9% of the US population.  And, just playing with the numbers, if you average the size of the deals, you get $11 million or so. 

Is Selling Really the Goal?

Speaking of VC and growing companies, in the last few weeks, there have been a number of local companies bought by companies from outside our area. Most prominent among them were Tribridge, and, of course, HSN (plus some other targets and Beef O’Bradys getting bought by private equity firm ).  Those deal were surely good for shareholders.  It remains to be seen if they hold any benefit for our area.  We assume that those events prompted a column in the Times:

Imagine a Florida startup that recorded an impressive $26 million in sales during its first full year in business in 2011, logged more than $900 million in sales by 2016, and this year expects to increase revenues to nearly $2 billion with 5,000 employees.

Oh yeah, this Florida startup last month was sold for $3.3 billion — that’s “billion” with a B — making it one of the biggest-ever deals in the Florida world of entrepreneurs.

That’s even bigger than last week’s deal by TV shopping retailer QVC to buy HSN of St. Petersburg.

The company that hit the jackpot is called Chewy, based in Dania Beach, just south of Fort Lauderdale. The buyer: Petsmart, the pet and pet food giant retailer that ranks roughly 50th among the country’s largest privately owned businesses.

Their growth was definitely impressive, and so is the deal.

There’s no reason that type of bonanza deal cannot happen one day in the Tampa Bay startup community.

Startups here just need to keep pushing —growing, raising theirs profile and showing solid results as young companies capable of raising money, building a customer base and boosting sales.

The column is entitled “One day, the Tampa Bay area will land its Chewy.”  We get that startup founders want to cash in on their work and that is it good to be able to show that this area can produce valuable companies that are desired elsewhere.  But, in all honesty, our hope is that the Tampa Bay area will be known more as the home the companies with the money to buy disruptors or home to the disruptors growing themselves to dominate a field.

Economic Development – Those Car Costs

A few weeks ago, we discussed the affordability of this area.  Well,

Hillsborough County ranks fourth for the most expensive car insurance premiums in Florida.

A new study from InsuranceQuotes.com shows Florida as the sixth most expensive state for insurance. Floridians are paying an average of $1,546 a year and depending on where you are, that could be higher or lower.

And the lower incomes, horrible transit, and little walkability does not help affordability. Speaking of which, URBN Tampa Bay had this:

A new report from Bankrate.com highlights an issue we bring attention to often, transportation affordability. We know the bay area has one of the worst ratios in America for income to transportation costs as whole. This report puts a finer point on that by comparing the average cost to buy a new car and insure it, versus the prevailing wage in the country’s 25 most populous metros. Tampa ranks 3rd worst, with Miami the worst and Orlando 4th worst.

The Bankrate article is here.

Economic Development – Making Stuff

And then there was this:

Florida’s manufacturing grades remained the same except for productivity and innovation, according to the latest report on manufacturing and logistics from Ball State University.

The state’s grades for productivity and innovation rose from “D+” to “C.” Remaining the same as last year were manufacturing “D,” logistics “C,” human capital “C,” benefits costs “B,” global positioning “D,” tax climate “A,” diversification “B” and expected fiscal liability gap “B.”

The full report is here. Let’s just say that the D is not a good score.  Sure, business taxes are low and workers don’t get a lot of benefits, but there is more to business success than low costs. (You may want to consider this Economist article about Germany.)  Of course, that does not mean we can’t have some manufacturing developments – see a few items below.

Transportation – SkyConnect Arrives

The new people mover cars for the airport have arrived.

Twelve train cars, which cost $1.9 million each, make up the SkyConnect people-mover shuttle system currently being built as part of the $1 billion phase one renovation at Tampa International Airport. The tram cars arrived at Port Tampa Bay from Mitsubishi’s plant in Japan Monday morning aboard an auto liner ship.

The cars were rolled off the ship and will be installed at the airport by its manufacturer, Mitsubishi, this week. The people-mover shuttle system will connect a new rental car facility and the economy parking garage to the main terminal and will be operational early next year, eliminating the need for passengers to catch a bus.

They were quickly taken to the airport and put on the tracks/guideway.

From Tampa International Airport – click on picture for Facebook page

(You can see a video here). We will be interested to see them go and whether they will eventually be extended to some multi-modal facility in Westshore (and theoretically beyond).

And there was news of new service:

Howard Diamond, general counsel for Frontier Airlines, announced 11 new destinations out of TIA on Tuesday, to bring the total number of routes to 18.

Those cities are:    Buffalo, Colorado Springs, Columbus, Indianapolis, Islip (NY), Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, Providence, and St. Louis.  That will set up an interesting competition with Southwest.

— Just a Little Historical Review

Finally, going back to the SkyConnect article in the Times, we just had to point this out:

The first phase one of the airport’s master plan renovation, which has been three years in the making, is coming to a close with the arrival of the SkyConnect train cars this year. It was the first major renovation to the airport since the terminal was built in 1971. The improvements — which include adding a slew of new retailers and restaurants to the terminals, building a new rental car facility that’s double in size and adding the new shuttle system — will help the airport accommodate 35 million passengers a year, or double the annual amount recorded in 2013. The project has been slightly delayed through the year, but remains under budget. TIA issued bonds, used passenger facility fee collections and $194 million from Florida Department of Transportation to finance the project.

Depending on what you define as a renovation and what you define as new construction, the present renovation is arguably the biggest in airport history, and its successful completion will be quite an accomplishment. But we are not sure that rebuilding/rearranging all the airsides (though done over time) was not a major renovation.  Plus there was adding short-term parking levels, the long-term garage, the economy garages, redoing the landside terminal interior before (not to mention that the Marriott was not actually built when the new airport opened).

One major reason the airport maintains its high rankings is that, while the original concept was very good, it has constantly been maintained, modernized, renovated, and upgraded.  The present administration is admirably following a long tradition there.

Economic Development – Tourist Tax

Time to check in with the tourist tax numbers.

Nonprofit tourism organization Visit Tampa Bay collected $23.75 million in tourist development tax revenues since Oct. 1, a Thursday release said. The sum exceeds the entirety of such taxes collected during all of the 2014 fiscal year, the Tampa-Hillsborough agency said.

Seven out of nine months for this fiscal reporting period set records for the organization’s bed-tax revenues, Visit Tampa Bay reported.

That’s good, though the 2014 number is a bit arbitrary.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Visit Tampa Bay reported a record $29.6 million in bed taxes. The destination marketing association is closing out its strongest ever calendar year and preparing for new out-of-state and international marketing campaigns to launch in January 2017.

The magic number for the extra percentage point being $30 million.  Doing some quick extrapolation on trends, there is a good chance this year will be over the $30 million mark.

Port – Steel

Checking back in with manufacturing, there was news from the Port:

Last month, Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors approved a 25-year lease with a South Florida company called Steelco Florida for a 35-acre site located at Port Redwing, a port property in southern Hillsborough County near Gibsonton. For the next two years or so, Steelco will be building a brand new facility on the parcel, where the company will import, export and manufacture steel products.

The timing seems right, said Wade Elliot, vice president of marketing and business development at Port Tampa Bay. Just this week, the port was awarded the title of 2017 American Metal Market’s Logistics/Transportation Provider of the Year at the American Metal Market Awards for Steel Excellence ceremony in New York City.

Port Tampa Bay is the state’s largest port for handling steel products, Elliott said. The port has been the host of the Tampa Steel Conference, which draws hundreds of industry professionals, for the past 28 years.

“Steel is our core business. We’ve been at it forever,” he said. “Steelco fits nicely into how we’re trying to develop the south county Redwing area, which is an important element in our strategic master plan.”

And that is cool.  You have to maintain the niches you have while you are trying to expand and diversify.

Steelco will import raw steel materials like scrap, do production at its own facility at the port and export those goods. The bulk of the business will be selling the steel products locally and exporting them, Rodriguez said.

“When you think of the steel industry, you think of big steel mills in Pittsburgh, in Ohio and Michigan. We’re going to be a ‘mini mill’ on a smaller scale,” he said.

Steelco will employ up to 1,000 during the construction of its facility in Tampa and will have up to several hundred employees working at the facility once it opens around 2020.

And manufacturing in the Port is good.  Welcome.

Downtown – Larghissimo 

There was news about Tempo.

Low-income families and renters should already be calling the Tempo at Encore home.

Instead, the troubled $26.5 million apartment tower scheduled to open last fall is still a construction site. And now it’s embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over unpaid work, missing workers and who is to blame for damage from water intrusion.

The dispute turned even uglier last week when the insurance company recently fired from the project asked a federal judge to award it $9.3 million for unpaid work and other expenses. Berkley Surety also filed a $1.6 million lien on the property, which is being developed by the Tampa Housing Authority along with Banc of America Community Development Corp., the development arm of Bank of America.

In its complaint, Berkley says that its construction firm was locked out of the project for five months while storms caused water damage inside the residential tower. It is accusing the developers of deliberately withholding payments and delaying the project, which Berkley says drove up its costs.

So let’s review:

Tempo is part of Encore, a $450 million mixed-income housing development and urban renewal project on the edge of downtown Tampa.

Problems first became apparent in June 2016 when Siltek was fired. At the time, the project was about three-quarters complete.

The building was behind schedule and there was concern about shoddy workmanship and poor management, Housing Authority officials said at the time. Another worry: Siltek founder Rene Sierra was working as project manager even after he had pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving affordable housing in South Florida.

The problems around the project only got more bizarre.

As underwriter, Berkley had the option to complete the project with its own contractor.

That turned out to be Tron Construction, a company established by Siltek owner Ana Silveira-Sierra less than one month after Siltek was terminated from the Tempo project and which operates out of the same Plantation office. Silveira-Sierra declined to comment.

Six months later, Housing Authority and Banc of America officials terminated their contract with Berkley, effectively firing Tron, too. The company had only 30 workers on-site when there should have been about 300, Housing Authority officials said at the time.

We are not going to get into the merits or lack thereof of the lawsuit.  However, this entire building has turned into a complete mess and someone needs to figure out why and how to make sure it does not happen on the North Boulevard Homes rebuild.  This continuing sore, as well as no clear analysis of the chain of events and decisions that led to the problem, do not help build confidence.  But this is one building. North Boulevard Homes is a much more substantial project.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

The first steps to setting the stage for construction of the Riverwalk Tower are beginning:

CapTrust Advisors, whose name adorns the CapTrust building at 102 W. Whiting St., has signed a lease for 10,500 square feet in Park Tower.

The ownership of CapTrust building and Park Tower have a mutual partner: Feldman Equities LLC, which owns a stake in both properties.

Feldman Equities is planning the 53-story, mixed-use Riverwalk Tower on the site of the CapTrust building and adjacent vacant lot. In late 2016, Feldman partnered with City Office REIT to buy Park Tower, Tampa’s first skyscraper, and has since unveiled a glitzy, multimillion-dollar renovation plan.

Relocating tenants out of CapTrust building is another sign that Riverwalk Tower — a highly anticipated, first-of-its-kind-in-Tampa project that will transform the city’s skyline — is moving forward.

Hyperbole aside, we are glad that it seems this project is moving forward for now.  We look forward to the promised renderings in a few months.

HART – In Search of Money

The board of the perennially cash-starved HART is taking some very preliminary steps to thinking about maybe raising the millage rate:

After dozens of studies, public meetings, forums, plans and votes, Hillsborough’s transit leaders still don’t know how they’ll raise money for the county’s struggling bus system.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board held a special meeting Monday to consider raising the millage rate that pays for the county’s bus system — something it hasn’t done since 2012. HART’s charter caps the millage rate at .5 mills, where it currently stands.

HART board chair and county commissioner Les Miller asked the board’s attorney to explain what steps would have to be taken place to raise the cap.

“I don’t want anyone falling out of your chairs or passing out,” Miller told the board, which includes at least three of its 13 members who have voted or spoken publicly against raising taxes for transit.

Any additional increase would have to be approved first by the HART board. Then the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa and Temple Terrace city councils would have to approve it. Only then would it go on the ballot as a county-wide referendum.

Unlikely to happen, but there is nothing wrong with looking at it.  One interesting item was from the Tea Party member of the board:

Commissioner and vice-chair Karen Jaroch asked HART staff to research whether individual cities can have individual millage rates that generate dedicated pots of money within HART. Staff is researching whether Lakeland or other municipalities do something similar.

“It’s so polarized,” Jaroch said. “You have people who really want transit, and you have the other side who, they’re not going to benefit from it and they’re not going to likely to want to see their taxes increased. That could be a solution to maybe meet everybody’s needs.”

Has the Tea Party adopted the City Tax?  Is that dedicated pot of money just going to run buses inside the City limits? Would that actually accomplish HART’s mission, anyway?  As we have pointed out, there are parts of the County much closer to the heart of Tampa than many parts of the City, which much more density than parts of the City (so much so, you probably do not know you are not in the City anymore).  What is HART going to do for them?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We noticed this interesting little graphic about “crane counts” in different metro areas as a (very) rough way to see what is booming.  It is exactly what  says it is – counting the number of tower cranes in a city.

From Curbed.com – click on map for article

We’re not sure what the deal is with Miami.  We would have assumed there were more cranes there.  For a while, we have a steady stream of cranes at a relatively low number (and Tampa and St. Pete are probably not counted as the same place). Of course, if we 18-20 cranes in the Lightning owner’s project next year (or so) we’ll be climbing up that list.

 

Roundup 7-14-2017

July 14, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

— The Study

— The Bridge

— And the Land

— Conclusion

— One More Thing

West Tampa – End of the Homes

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

— Show Us the Money

Downtown – AER lives

Downtown – Delay

Downtown – Why?

Downtown – Yes and No

— One More Thing

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

___________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X’n

As always, there was transportation news this week.

— The Study

There was an article in the Times on TB(n)X this week.  There was not much new, but it had a few noteworthy points.

In 2014, the state announced an ambitious road project called Tampa Bay Express. Known as TBX, the Florida Department of Transportation planned to add toll lanes to 90 miles of interstates.

That all changed in 2016 when public outcry forced the state to scrap its plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge, put the rest of the $6 billion plan in reset mode and come back with a new project name: Tampa Bay Next.

In January, officials opened a federal study that will re-evaluate parts of the project, including a controversial segment around downtown Tampa and its urban neighborhoods. The supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS, is expected to be completed in 2019.

According to federal regulations (In this case 23 CFR 771.130), this is when you do an SEIS:

(a) A draft EIS, final EIS, or supplemental EIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS shall be supplemented whenever the Administration determines that:

(1) Changes to the proposed action would result in significant environmental impacts that were not evaluated in the EIS; or

(2) New information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts would result in significant environmental impacts not evaluated in the EIS.

That does not sound like a reevaluation of the transportation plan based on the community’s desires looking at all options in a comprehensive way.  In fact, we are a bit unclear about how FDOT can do an environmental study on a yet to be decided plan. But we’ll just go with the explanation that is the bureaucratic way to say they might be looking at something new.

So, let’s look at the map of old TBX:

From the Times – click on map for article

Note the yellow part, which is Gateway Express:

Gateway

$545 million, construction begins late 2017

The Gateway Expressway will create two elevated roadways from Bayside Bridge and U.S. 19 to Interstate 275. This is the first place Tampa Bay drivers will see toll lanes, with construction starting later this year.

Setting aside that of all the segments of TBX we are least concerned with the Gateway Express part (aside from the express lane part), those two things (doing a study until 2019 and starting construction in 2017) seem contradictory, but, apparently, the SEIS has nothing to do with Pinellas which does not fit the idea of looking at all options for a comprehensive solutions for the region’s transportation.

And this about the main part through Tampa:

West Shore and downtown Tampa

$2.835 billion for all four segments, final design awaiting results of federal study

A big part of the former TBX plan is being reconsidered under a new federal study.

Four segments — the West Shore and downtown Tampa interchanges and spans of I-275 from West Shore through downtown north up to Bearrs [sic] Ave. — are part of the study, which is expected to wrap-up in 2019. That study will determine whether toll lanes will run through each of these parts or if the state will go with another option, such as light rail or reconstructing I-275 at street level. The study might also recommend a combination of these options.

This, or at least parts of it, is where the SEIS is apparently being done, per the TB(n)X website. Of course, if you read the explanation of the SEIS on that website, it is all about interstate:

FDOT is currently working with the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to determine the preferred alternative for improving our interstate system. In its planning phase, this process serves as a community conversation and planning effort on the future of our region’s interstate system and how it integrates with multimodal choices under development across our region.

But:

The SEIS will focus on the Downtown and Westshore Area interchanges and the section of I-275 between those areas.

Which is not the same thing as the already limited purpose of how the interstate system integrates with multimodal transportation and transit.  In fact, that is extremely narrow in focus – and does not include  the Howard Frankland, I-4 or anything in Pinellas – and it does not include Seminole Heights (and even parts of Tampa Heights).  That does not seem like a fresh look at the whole project.

— The Bridge

As if to emphasize the point about studies, input, looking at all options, and all that, the Times had this late this week:

A few years ago, local leaders had approved the state’s plan for a new bridge that would include toll lanes. But what many of those leaders didn’t know was that those toll lanes would replace existing lanes. So, drivers who didn’t want to pay would lose a free lane.

Those willing to pay to get across the bridge — the price would change price based on traffic — could use the fourth lane.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the lost free lane in September. More than a dozen elected officials told the Times they did not know that DOT’s plan included reducing the number of free lanes.

Setting aside that the Times actually reported it (maybe a little vaguely) in 2014 (as we noted at the time “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away”) and local officials could have known then (some did and did not really care), what about all the discussions and studies?  Nevermind.  Here is what the Times tells us:

A new, six-lane bridge will be built to the north of the existing bridges. It will carry traffic south, from Tampa to St. Petersburg. Two of those lanes will be tolled (one in each direction). A concrete barrier will separate them from each other and regular traffic.

Looks like this:

Present Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

New Bridge:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not only that but:

The state plans to start construction in 2020, and expects the entire process, including tearing down the old bridge, to take about five years.

Aside from the whole express lane concept (and the mess that will ensue if there is a crash somewhere in the walled off lanes – do you get a refund of your exorbitant fee if you get stuck?), at least keeping the four free lanes in each direction is better than the original plan.  However, it does leave an open question: what about transit, and not just express buses?  What about the whole regional transit study and integrating it with all transportation planning?  Is the bridge going to be built for transit?  (Not to mention: what about the bottleneck on the Tampa side which isn’t the whole problem but is a big problem?)  What about outreach for what people in this area actually want?

In sum, what is actually going on here?

— And the Land

And then there is this:

. . . the Florida Department of Transportation continues to buy land intended for the toll lanes and other aspects of the expansion that are supposed to be on hold.

Critics say those property buys make it hard to believe the state has any intention of considering alternatives to easing the interstate bottleneck from Ybor City through downtown Tampa and into the West Shore business district.

“You can’t in one moment tell us the project is in reset and that all other options are now on the table and in the next moment tell us you’re still acquiring properties secondary to the original plan,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “Those two things put together simply don’t make any intellectual sense to me.”

So why are they doing it?

Officials are considering everything from the previously proposed toll lanes to light rail to a relatively new concept known as a boulevard. That option involves tearing down I-275 north of downtown Tampa and rebuilding it at street level with more options for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians. Examples around the country include Canal Street in New Orleans and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, DOT officials say something still needs to be done to fix that part of the highway.

“The interchanges, no matter what option we choose, they need to be reconstructed,” Jones said. “We want to be in the best position possible to actually implement whatever option we choose, because Tampa Bay needs a solution as soon as we come to consensus.”

Which has some logic to it, but:

But that explanation doesn’t sit well with some of community members who have seen properties DOT already bought in historic neighborhoods become worn-down and grungy.

“You end up with a house or business that is boarded up and goes derelict in a relatively short period of time, and it winds up being a weight on the neighborhood,” Fernandez said. “There’s absolutely no telling how long that situation will continue. Until there’s a plan, we continue having FDOT-created blight.”

Without an identified footprint, Fernandez said, it doesn’t make sense to further damage neighborhoods. And he said it certainly doesn’t build trust with a community that has been skeptical of the DOT since the project was rolled out.

Which also is logical.  We get that with pretty much any plan, some land is going to be needed, but since we do not know (and FDOT says it does not know) what the plan might be and exactly what land might be needed (are they buying land for possible rail lines?) and buying up this land is hurting a neighborhood as opposed to just like buying some parking lots fronting strip malls, it makes one wonder.

It does so especially in the light of this FDOT document dated January 2017 (the URL implies it was posted in February) about the time there was supposed to be a TBX reset.  What is really interesting is section 6, stating at pg 46 of the pdf concerning public outreach, which is not about getting ideas, it is about selling ideas.  For instance, look at their audience section 6.1.1:

6.1.1 Audiences

The Draft Tampa Bay Express Master Plan defines key audiences for the initial planning phases. The initial outreach focused on elected  officials,  regional  leaders,  transportation  agencies  and  professionals, transportation  supporters,  and  the  media.  Following this initial outreach, outreach should include neighborhood groups, business associations, political, social and religious organizations and underrepresented communities.

As  the  projects move towards  implementation,  continued  outreach to  these  individuals  and  groups is  needed.    Additionally, outreach shall occur to identify and publicize success stories to the general public, as well as to understand and mitigate any consumer concerns with the TBX EL network. 

In sum, after everything is planned, then talk to the affected people.

Remember, this is Jan/Feb 2017 – after the reset. We don’t know if FDOT really open to changing the plan or just implementing the previous plan more slickly.

— Conclusion

The problem is that nothing is clear.  Information does not flow smoothly and clearly from FDOT and local oversight has not been very good.  The whole process is marked by confusion, which is a shame.  There could be a logical explanation of how this all fits together, but such an explanation is never forth-coming.

FDOT has the opportunity to really start doing things in a new, better way.  We still hope that is what they are trying to do, but it really is not clear.  And that does not create confidence.

— One More Thing

One final bit of FDOT news:

David Gwynn will take over District 7, which comprises Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, according to an email FDOT Secretary Mike Dew sent to employees. Gwynn currently serves as the director of transportation operations in District 1, which is based in Bartow.

We have no opinion about that other than we hope he gets that his new district has very different needs than his old one and that we hope he actually follows through with FDOT’s promised new approach.

West Tampa – End of the Homes

There was news about the “West River” project in West Tampa.

— Down To the Dirty Dirt

First, a start/finish:

Change was in the air.

Tampa’s oldest public housing complex is about to undergo a major change.

On Thursday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn kicked off the process by partially bulldozing one of the buildings at North Boulevard Homes. Residents actually started moving out two years ago. The project is a multi-million dollar community.

That has been a long time in coming.  So long, in fact, that what seems to be the first really public discussion (at least as far as we can tell) of what was in the dirt was a bit surprising:

But clearing away concrete may be easier than dealing with a mess that lies below the surface: a sludgy plume of toxic groundwater that has been spreading for decades, according to state records.

Located about 10 to 30 feet below ground, the water contains unsafe levels of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen known to increase the risk of cancer, especially in the liver. Pollutants leached into the ground from a long-closed chemical supply firm.

Tampa Housing Authority leaders remain confident that West River can still proceed. The agency is in talks with state environmental officials about how to work around the spill. But there is concern whether they will be able to build proposed residential towers or retention ponds directly above the plume.

Kind of odd that this issue was not really worked out (and publicly discussed) with the years of public discussion and master planning.  It should have been.

Housing Authority officials were not aware how far the pollution had spread until a 2014 study found pollutants in monitoring wells dug close to North Boulevard Homes and recommended a full site assessment be conducted. That report, published in March, shows the plume has spread northeast and lies beneath a sizable portion of the public housing complex.

The above paragraph seems to say the information was sat on for around 3 years, which is a bit odd.

In any event:

Buckhorn said the city often has to deal with contamination left behind from abandoned industrial sites. The city will look for grants and other funding if required to clean up the site, he said.

“We’ll collectively find a way to fix it,” he said. “It’s not insurmountable.”

No, it is not, but if there is a clean-up, it will cost money.  Will it be public money or private money (like from the chosen developers) or a little bit of both?  And there is this:

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials said the plume poses no health risk. The contamination is not in the soil. Homes and businesses in the area use city water.

Still, the Housing Authority may be required to sign a covenant with the environmental agency that it will not disturb the plume. Even retention ponds may be prohibited above the plume.

“Until we know what their redevelopment plan involves, such as where they plan to have green space versus roads, buildings, ponds, etc., we would not be able to determine which restrictions would apply to their construction project,” said Shannon Herbon, a DEP spokewoman.

That last part is interesting in that it points out something important – DEP apparently does not know the actual plan.  We know visions.  We know things have changed a bit.  But the actual plan to be built is still a bit vague.  It’s not that we don’t like the basic vision.  We do (with some caveats), but it would be nice to know what actually is going to happen.  And it would be useful to know, in light of the fact that how much the whole thing will cost is contingent on it and there is public money involved.  And it would be nice if all the facts were just put out there now, so there are no more surprises.

— Show Us the Money

And, speaking of public money, there is more complication:

Now, the Tampa Housing Authority and a developer backed by the Hillsborough County Commission are in direct competition for a similar award, a situation that strained relations between the two government agencies.

The Housing Authority won the award for the Boulevard at West River, a $50 million apartment complex that would create 200 affordable housing units as part of its West Tampa revitalization project.

But Blue Sky Communities, the developer backed by the county, is asking an administrative judge to disqualify the Housing Authority because of “errors” in its application. It wants the tax credits for a $25 million, 144-unit affordable housing complex it planned for Williams Road in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

If the challenge is successful, it would likely delay construction of the Boulevard for at least a year, said Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority’s chief operating officer.

A year delay is not a huge thing in the greater scheme of things.  But this is important:

The Boulevard, planned for the northwest corner of Main Street and Willow Avenue, was the choice of both the Housing Authority and the city of Tampa.

Records show that the county also planned to support it with the understanding that the Williams Road project, which would be built just north of Broadway Avenue, would get the recommendation the following year.

But at a December meeting where commissioners were scheduled to approve that decision, Assistant County Administrator Eric Johnson told commissioners to ignore the recommendation in front of them. Instead, he urged them to make the Preserve at Sabal Park the county’s recommendation.

When questioned by commissioners, Johnson said there was concern that the Housing Authority was already facing a legal challenge over the choice of the Boulevard, and that the Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommended the county support a project outside the city of Tampa.

Either project would benefit the county, he said during the meeting.

Actually, the redeveloping North Boulevard Homes and West Tampa would benefit the entire area much more, but we’ll set that aside for now.  What is the legal challenge?

Blue Sky’s legal challenge against the Housing Authority states that it failed on its application to list all of the development officers from its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp. It also overstated how much experience Banc of America development officer Eileen Pope has with affordable housing development, the complaint states.

Officials from Blue Sky did not return a phone call seeking comment.

A hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled on Tuesday in Tallahassee. The judge is likely to then issue an order on the case in the next 60 days.

So the legal challenge is by the developer that stands to benefit from the County choice, which is based on the legal challenge.  Let’s just say, on its face, that seems like odd reasoning.

Downtown – AER lives

After quite a bit of inaction, there was news about the AER project next to the Straz:

Miami-based American Land Ventures has submitted its design plans for a residential tower near the David J. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts to the city of Tampa. That approval will ensure the tower — named AER in the Arts District — complies with city guidelines on items like the proposed elevations, green space and setbacks.

AER was originally proposed in January 2013. One reason for the project’s delay is that roadwork construction must be scheduled around the Straz’s Broadway series, giving it a narrow window in which to break ground.

Those design plans detail a 33-story tower with 271 residential units and 7,335 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, fronting West Tyler Street and a portion of Doyle Carlton Drive. A 5,335-square-foot amenities lounge will also be on the ground floor.

It’s difficult to peg exactly when construction will begin. The site for the tower where the tower will be built does not yet exist — Cass and Tyler streets must be reconfigured to create the 1-acre footprint for the building.

Let’s just say we are not going to hold our breath for this project.  More interesting than the news that nothing is happening soon is the rendering dump:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Given its location, this building will be prominent for a while (like decades) so where to start?  We like the basic art deco idea.  We think the overall size is fine, as is the height.  We never have liked the revision that had the odd shape that looks like a shorter, boxy building was stuck onto side (and back) of the larger one.  We are also not fond of the bland back (east side) and parking garage.  Yes, we know you need a garage and we understand why it is in the back, but the bland back of the building and parking garage will be very visible (the garage screens will probably be ok but the tower is very bland in back) – including from the interstate.

Other than that, here is a first floor plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While we would have liked more retail frontage, there are real uses along the part facing the river and the Straz.  As URBN Tampa Bay noted, with other developments along Tyler, it could make it a nice little activity center.

So, right now we give it an “ok.” In any event, according to the Business Journal, not even the road realignment is finalized, so there likely will be more changes (though probably not anything substantial).  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – Delay

There is a new delay in the City’s attempt to sell off land next to City Hall.

The New Orleans developer selected by the city to develop a publicly owned vacant lot in downtown Tampa needs more time before it can close on the site.

Tampa City Council on Thursday will consider an amendment to the sales agreement between the city and HRI Investments, which was entered into in December 2016, extending the close date until Dec. 29, 2017.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we are not fans of this deal (See “Downtown – Block Letter Project” and “Downtown – Mixed Feelings”), especially with all the other buildings proposed for downtown, what is the problem?

The environmental inspection period is taking longer than expected, according to the proposed amendment. The sales agreement has already been extended once, from May 17 to July 20.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official, said Monday that HRI isn’t able to complete the inspection because a portion of the lot is being used as a staging area for materials in the renovation of old city hall.

A spokeswoman for HRI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The lot was previously how to two gas stations, and inspections so far have turned up six underground gas tanks, McDonaugh said.

How did no one know about that?

Downtown – Why?

In more City oddness, from URBN Tampa Bay:

We’re upset to learn that the city is insisting on $3 million fee on the developer of 220 Madison in Downtown Tampa due to the fact the micro-apartment project would not include on-site parking, and would lease units touting this as a feature, not a shortcoming. The developer still plans to close on the purchase of the land and appeal to the Tampa City Council, but this approach from the city is upsetting nonetheless. We think there’s a problem with the city telling residents who don’t want a car, too bad, every residence in Tampa comes with parking, or pays as if it did anyways.  

If the city insists on the parking fee, the developer plans to keep the building as office space.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

If the City is truly insisting on the $3 million, it is unfortunate and ill-considered (whatever the validity of the reasoning – which we do not know – it looks more like a cash-grab and/or backward thinking).  We find it hard to see the logic of making a building that has been there for decades without dedicated parking pay for parking now.  (And, if the City insists, we totally get why the new owners would just sit on the building until the administration changes). And if people want to live downtown in that building it without parking, let them. Why punish the idea?

Downtown – Yes and No

The City announced the winner of the RFP for a restaurant in the little building in Curtis Hixon Park.

City officials announced Wednesday that Four Green Fields has won the bid to build a restaurant in Curtis Hixon.

With its thatched roof, white-washed walls and Irish memorabilia, the pub on W Platt Street has long been a popular watering hole for downtown drinkers.

A rendering of the proposed new pub shows an equally Gaelic looking venue. It will include a raw bar with inside and outside seating and will cost an estimated $680,000 to build. Construction is scheduled to start in mid August and is expected to take just 16 weeks.

Here is a rendering of the exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And here is one reason (there are other possibilities we won’t get into) for the City’s choice:

City Hall received seven proposals in response to its invitation to put a restaurant next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and the company it picked — Irish pub Four Green Fields — offered the most money.

* * *

“I’m happy with the selection we got at Curtis Hixon,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had indicated before this week’s announcement that price would probably drive the city’s choice. “They were creative. Some financially were better for the city than others. … There were some legitimate, credible and serious folks who bid.”

Setting aside that it would be nice for the City to consider aesthetics in its signature park, we said earlier that putting a restaurant in this space was not a major issue for us.  The park is fine without it. It will be ok with it.  That being said, Four Green Fields is a fine establishment.  We are not sure about the Irish Pub cum Raw Bar concept, but that is a private investment.  We’re sure people will drink in the park (there needs to be a little planning for that if people will be drinking all the time instead of special events) and a bunch of them probably would like a raw bar.

The one thing we don’t like is the exterior.  We get what they are trying to do.  And we have no problem with the Irish-theme pub interior – you see that by choice.  However, the rustic Ireland exterior motif does not go with anything in or around the park (we like diverse looks but even with that, it does not really go).  Maybe it will be ok, but there are questions.  (The other proposals that have been revealed are not really much better in our view, but still.)

— One More Thing

There was also this:

The Tampa Convention Center awarded Smuggler’s Enterprises Inc., with its Harpoon Harry’s Crab House concept, the contract for the Tampa Bay Convention Center retail space.

The Punta Gorda company is investing $3.6 million to convert a 10,000-square-foot storage space into a family friendly restaurant that will open in six to eight months.

We don’t know anything about the restaurant, but fine with us.  It is good to fill that retail space, and we’ll find out if it is any good in a few months.

West Tampa – Will They Settle Some More?

When NoHo Flats and its surface parking was approved, we said this:

In other words, this project is not urban and it has no shops. (So much for the ULI and changing DNA.) It is a suburban apartment complex with some urban veneer.  Once that surface parking lot goes in, it will be decades, if ever, before it disappears.  Once the grid is disturbed, it likely will not come back in your lifetime.  However, the developer tossed out the usual warning – to which the City, to its discredit, usually caves:

“It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking,” he said.

We can wait. It should be developed properly, but it appears that the City does not care.

(See “Tampa – the Same DNA” ) It is worth noting that a project with a parking garage is across the street from NoHo Flats.

The NoHo Flats developer was wrong about market conditions, which we knew then. What is more annoying is this, from URBN Tampa Bay:

NoHo Flats, which is already a suburban-style development in what should be an urban neighborhood, wants to make itself even worse. The owner has put in a substantial change determination request to demolish the project’s dog park in order to put in more surface parking.

It is worth noting that the owner of the complex is not the same as the developer.  The project was sold in 2014, probably for quite a nice profit.

Looking at the documents on the City’s swell Accela database, the request says it should be granted because a building was previously proposed for the dog park location.  It appears that it was, but so what?  A building built along the street and a dog park are potentially urban (and desirable) uses.  10 parking spaces facing the street is not.

The City Council should not compound its original settling by allowing NoHo Flats to get rid of the dog park in favor of more surface parking, even though it is a small amount.  It is on the street and has a good use now.  This is a test on whether the City Council will maintain even the lowest standards of sort of urban design that it claims it wants or just cave like Councils of the past.

Transportation – Airport Traffic

Just a little airport update:

Tampa International Airport had a busy Fourth of July holiday with the number of passengers increasing by 5.2 percent over the same period last year.

A total of 378,457 travelers passed through the airport for the Independence Day weekend, up from 359,723 in 2016. The passenger rate for the holiday was up 15 percent from 2014 when 328,768 visitors came through TIA. There were 356,368 passengers for the holiday in 2015.

It is a small snapshot, but it is good snapshot.

Also worth noting that the airport came in third for domestic airports in a Travel & Leisure ranking. For whatever reason, it still comes behind Portland and Indianapolis.

And, just as a reminder that the competition never ends, read this and this.

Economic Development – Hit the Beach 

Pinellas is making a stronger play to be the beach associated with Orlando:

For years, Florida’s east coast has been known as Orlando’s beach.

With the shorelines of New Smyrna, Cocoa and Daytona all one-to-two hours away from the nation’s theme park capital, it makes sense. But tourism officials in Pinellas County are making a targeted push to snag the title.

For the second year in a row, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is funneling more marketing dollars into the Orlando area this summer to try to entice travelers who visit Disney World and Universal Studios to head West — not East — for a few days at the beach. It plans to spend $1 million this summer alone on a marketing pitch that also includes Jacksonville and Miami, as well as the Greater Tampa Bay market.

“We’ve always been marketing in Orlando, but we’ve noticed lately that there’s a higher volume of people coming to our beaches than we thought previously,” said David Downing, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County’s tourism marketing agency. “Travelers always looked east of Orlando for the beach. We want to convince them to look west, where we have two of America’s best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater) according to TripAdvisor.”

* * *

Television, radio and print advertisements are circling through the Orlando metro market this summer and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater staff bought the website BeachesOfOrlando.com, which automatically takes users back to VisitStPeteClearwater.com for more information about visiting Pinellas County. In addition to year-round television/digital marketing, the local tourism group also is launching its first-ever summer/fall/winter specific campaigns in the Orlando area.

We especially like the domain name purchase (though they needs some SEO work), but to be honest, the article is a bit vague on whether the target is tourists or people living in Orlando, or both. (Both are worthy but they are different targets and have different needs)  Of course:

Despite an infusion of marketing dollars from Visit-St. Pete Clearwater, it won’t be easy to upend the longstanding relationship with Florida’s east coast. Brevard County’s tourism office has pushed the link between Orlando and its beaches for years.

Still, Downing says he doesn’t see this as a competition.

“If anything we compliment each other. We see this as our next evolution in Orlando,” Downing said. “We want to continue to build our relationship there.”

No, it is a competition, and for more than just one night stays.  And it all means that we need better connections to Disney to cut the time between the beaches and the theme parks (and, frankly, from the beaches to Tampa).

Speaking of beaches, it’s Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches for 2017:

  1. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

  2. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

  3. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina

  4. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida panhandle

  5. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

  6. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

  7. Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

  8. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii

  9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

  10. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina

That is two in the Top 10 in our general area, plus the all of our other beaches.

Roundup 7-7-2017

July 6, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.