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Roundup 8-28-2015

August 28, 2015

Contents

Downtown – We’ve Seen This Before

Channel District/Ybor – Stifling Development, Just Because

Economic Development – Well, That Is Something

Transportation/Planning – Past As Prologue and Possibly Present

PTC – They Reiterate They Do Not Care What the Community Wants

International Trade/Latin America/Economic Development – A Mayor Goes to Cuba

TIA – The Director Speaks

Downtown – Art Is Good, Usually

Port –Maritime Business

Transportation/Built Environment – Road Diets & Bike Lanes

List of the Week

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Downtown – We’ve Seen This Before

The Tribune ran one of the articles that appear from time to time hyping downtown development. (The Times also had one about the Port master plan – here – though, because there are no actual proposals involved in that, we do not find it worth really discussing).  To the Tribune:

It’s a well-worn chestnut that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has trotted out on the campaign trail, in front of civic boosters and, well, anyone who will listen.

When he left the city council in 2003, only 600 people lived in downtown Tampa. “And 300 of those were in the Morgan Street jail,” he quips.

Now, more than 8,000 people live in the heart of the city. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is planning $1 billion in mixed-use construction. Port Tampa Bay has an even more ambitious $1.7 billion proposal.

This is true.  Notably, the vast majority of residences and the groundwork for what is being built now came before the recession.

And there are plans for as many as 16 more high-rise or mid-rise residential complexes in the downtown vicinity, which could more than double the number of housing units to nearly 12,000.

And that would be cool.  We are all for it provided the projects are actually quality projects devoid of settling.

The Tribune provided a helpful visual.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Setting aside that some of the buildings listed (like Skyhouse) are already built and that the graphic is completely out of scale, fine.  However, what is not pointed out is that some of the “projects” do not even have developers attached to them (like the Port).  They are just thoughts.  Others – most – are just proposals.  Anyway,

“The demand is there,” Buckhorn insists. “It’s all building off each other. All the pieces are connected and linked. It’s a different world now. Tampa’s become the place to be in the state of Florida, particularly for young college graduates.”

Buckhorn and revitalization advocates have been focused on building a residential base in what had been the land of banks and law firms, where the sidewalks were once deserted by 5:30 p.m.

A planning team was brought in by the city to develop the InVision Tampa Center City Plan, which was approved as a blueprint for the downtown area in 2013. It called for liveable places, connected people and the proverbial live-work-play community.

The city reconfigured its permitting processes to make it more welcoming to developers.

We are not sure about that “place to be” claim, but we do believe there is (and has been for a while) demand. As we have noted before, the InVision Tampa plan basically reiterated old ideas and really had nothing to do with the previous growth (See “InVision Tampa – Of Will, DNA, and Familiar Pictures”) nor the rebirth of old proposals (housing on the Trump Tower site, Kress & Grant blocks, anything in the Channel District really, etc.).  Nevertheless, there is demand for urban living – just how much demand for apartments with the relatively high rents that are planned, we are not sure. Thus, despite the drawings and announcements, when discussing all the proposals, this is the key:

But a noted Florida real estate observer isn’t as enthusiastic about the residential construction boom as the Tampa home team.

“It hasn’t worked out well in the past. All we have to do is look back seven to 10 years to see how devastating an oversaturation of product, along with a change in the economy, can affect construction,” said Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting of Deerfield Beach and an independent housing analyst.

McCabe is among those who expect a 2017 recession — maybe sooner — and said developments recently completed or coming out of the ground stand a chance to succeed. But he predicted that just a third of the myriad Tampa residential projects on the drawing board actually will get built.

“I would just be very cautionary about the timing right now,” McCabe said. “In real estate, ‘location, location, location’ is always the big thing. Here in Florida in this decade, I would argue it’s ‘timing, timing, timing.’ It’s really a crucial and important factor in the success of these developments.”

Anyone who follows these things knows there have been a multitude of proposals for downtown over the years, including just before the recession. (For a discussion of unbuilt projects, have a gander here.)   What usually happens is that there is a boom elsewhere.  Then it eventually reaches here.  Because of our economy and the lower value a developer can get for a project, we are usually late to the game. When it gets here, there is an amazing amount of hype. Old ideas are repackaged as innovations. Some projects get built, and there is a rush of other proposals.  Then a downturn comes to the economy.  Because of our lack of a solid, diversified economic base and reliance on real estate, it hits us quite hard and many, if not most, of the projects go away.  Then, when the economy improves, the whole thing repeats.  That is likely to happen again, because little has changed.

The article mentions that the quest for corporate HQ’s is important, and it is.  It would strengthen the economy and add to demand, but one HQ would not insulate us from what has been created over decades.

So, enjoy the pretty pictures.  Enjoy what actually gets built even more – it will add to the improvement that has been happening (though far too slowly) over the decades.  Hope that most of it comes out of the ground (we do) – hopefully, even better than initially advertised.  But don’t get carried away.  All this hype has happened here for decades.  We are making, and have made, progress, but if everything that had been proposed and hyped had already been built, none of this would even be a discussion – and other areas would not have passed us.

Just understand that this is the typical Tampa cycle.

Channel District/Ybor – Stifling Development, Just Because

As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, the very ambitious Gas Worx proposal for two 29 story residential towers between the Channel District and Ybor   has apparently been downsized.   This is a new rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click for Facebook page

The new proposal is for two 11 story buildings with a corresponding decrease in the number of units.  That is better than nothing, but why the City was so cool to the original proposal is unclear.  (And see here) This is a downtown area.  Large development is good and will bring more of those residents the Mayor wants.  And Ybor did not really care:

But that’s okay, said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association. Cities like Boston and Chicago and those in Europe often have taller buildings near their historic neighborhoods, he said.

One thing that makes this project intriguing, LaColla said, is that it would fill in what is essentially “dead space.” There’s not much there to hold your attention, he said, and a less-than-reassuring landscape for anyone trying to walk from Ybor City to downtown.

“It’ll be a great way to connect the two neighborhoods together,” LaColla said. “At this point in time, most of our board members are supportive of the project, basically because of the amount of people it could bring to Ybor City to shop and to eat and to use the services there.”

Which makes sense because the best thing for Ybor would be to have dense development around it within walking distance or a short streetcar or bike ride.  That does not mean Ybor itself is overrun, but there is no reason the historic district cannot be preserved but surrounded by dense, walkable development.

The bottom line is that if the developer could make it work, why not?  Getting in their way really makes no sense, but that is how Tampa rolls.

Economic Development – Well, That Is Something

It seems that Johnson & Johnson will bring its North American shared service center to Tampa.

Johnson & Johnson will locate its North American shared services headquarters in Tampa.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. on Thursday said the company (NYSE: JNJ) will create 500 jobs over the next three years and invest $23.5 million in the facility.

The jobs will pay a minimum average annual salary of $75,000.

The facility will handle work for Johnson & Johnson’s operating companies in the areas of finance, human resources, information technology and procurement, according to a news release.

First, this is not an HQ.  It is a shared services center.  Now that we have gotten that out of the way, great.  That is a good number of jobs and good salaries. (We just see no reason to say it is something it isn’t.) So, of course, they will be going to Westshore or downtown.

The company has signed a lease for 111,000 square feet of space on the first five floors of 100 Hidden River Corporate Center One in Tampa. 

Nope.  And frankly, it was always unlikely that they would choose an “urban” area for support services.

That location would be good for USF but Hidden River is not really part of the university area – it is a sprawled office park.  In any event, it is good that we have graduated from call centers to “shared services.” And it is overall good news to get the jobs, but it is not the HQ, which is still in New Jersey (right next to a train station).

Transportation/Planning – Past As Prologue and Possibly Present

Going to the nexus of transportation, planning, development, and hype/vision, it is good to occasionally have a little history lesson to see how we got where we are, whether people saw it coming, and what they did.  This helps see through the hype and understand what is going on today.

In that vein, URBN Tampa Bay pointed to an article on Citylab.com about the quest to bring mobility fees in Florida, specifically Hillsborough County.   (You can read the whole thing here.)  One key point is this:

In facing a massive infrastructure crisis, America is learning the hard way that the cost of highways doesn’t end with their construction. Roads must be maintained for years and years—a ceaseless strain on local budgets. As chief of development and infrastructure for Florida’s Hillsborough County, home to metro Tampa, Lucia Garsys knows this lesson all too well.

“As we add more roads and don’t have the money to keep the roads resurfaced, I know what the impact of that is,” she says. 

We all know what the impact of that is because we are all forced to drive on those roads, and it is constantly mentioned in the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

That also leads to how none of this is new, and it is mostly the responsibility of bad government decisions.  We start with this from the Citylab article:

Hillsborough and Tampa have struggled with sprawl for years. “There is no limit to how far our area can sprawl,” one county planning official said back in 1998. That forecast has held painfully true. Tampa ranked 124 out of 221 U.S. metros on a recent sprawl index, with residents spending more than half their income on transportation and housing combined. Writing in Salon in 2012, Will Doig summed up the bleak situation best:

In 2010, Forbes ranked Tampa dead last out of 60 metro areas for commuting. Transportation for America declared it the second-most-dangerous city for pedestrians. And a 2007 survey of 30 metropolitan areas found exactly one with no walkable destinations: Tampa, Fla. “Tampa is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly city,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently admitted.

Despite some improvement in very isolated areas (namely parts of downtown Tampa – and downtown St Pete, of course – though apparently density is a no-no for Gas Worx and other central areas), this really has not changed much, especially outside of the immediate vicinity of downtown Tampa.  Most of the rest of Tampa and Hillsborough County is still being built in a car-centric way, a few bike lanes notwithstanding.

In any event, this gave us a nice pointer back to a 1998 article from the Business Journal.

The main debate in the Bay area is whether sprawl has gotten out of control, or whether there is a proper balance between meeting market demand for suburban housing and reinvesting in our cities. Different local experts offer varying views.

For years, developers and urban planners, struggling to meet the demand for city expansion, have gone head to head with environmentalists desperate to protect the country’s dwindling natural resources. Planning and green space advocates have long lamented the sprawling development that transforms tracts of prime farmland and forests into dawn-to-dusk traffic congestion.

* * *

Are the Bay area’s cities destined to follow in the footsteps of our nation’s crumbling urban cores? According to Bob Hunter, executive director of the Hillsborough County-City County Planning Commission, the answer is yes.

“There is no limit to how far our area can sprawl,” said Hunter, a staunch proponent of the curbing of urban sprawl. “Hillsborough County is 1,000 square miles in size, and we can certainly sprawl to 2,000 or 3,000 square miles, just like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, or any other city that has really lost its character.”

The Tampa Bay area is certainly not alone in its battle to curb urban sprawl. Cities across the nation are trying bold and creative strategies for transforming their downtowns into renewed, vibrant centers of community life. Among the strategies: private and public partnerships; cooperation between suburban and city governments; and construction projects that mix urban entertainment with innovative housing.

Post Properties’ new mixed-use “urban waterfront village,” on Harbour Island, is one example. Combine such developments with “downtown playgrounds” like sports stadiums and arenas, and you end up with the type of critical mass that attracts new restaurants and other businesses to the downtown, while also providing support to existing retail complexes. 

So, anyone who wanted to look could see the problem back in 1998 (and much earlier). And the whole idea of “live-work-play” was pretty much clear 20 years ago – it has just taken 20 years to get anywhere in this area. So what are the causes of the problem?

According to Hunter, the factors perpetuating the continued sprawl in the Tampa Bay area include the abundance of inexpensive land on the outskirts of the urban areas; the lack of adequate government control to manage growth; and a general lack of adequate guiding ordinances. The solution? Curb the sprawl and revitalize urban cores by sticking to an ultimate goal of keeping business and industry close together, in the center of a metropolitan area.

In other words, it comes down to government choices.  (And note that the chief planner is basically saying that his elected bosses are messing up.)  And, while the article does not address this, bad choices apply to not just suburban sprawl but also in how urban areas are built, including downtown, Westshore, and the areas in between. Back to the 1998 article:

To do this, some areas have instituted “urban growth boundaries,” designed to do just that. For example, Portland, Ore., has become a model for managing growth by allowing land to be developed for housing, businesses or industry only inside a 362-square-mile area. Outside the boundary, land must remain farms and woodland.

Right here in the Bay area, officials have also recently adopted an urban service area, which allows for 3 1/2 times the amount of growth that is expected in Hillsborough County in the next 20 years.

“The ordinance is very generous about where growth can occur, but it’s a first step in the right direction,” said Hunter. “We also need the ordinances that will cause growth to be phased and tiered inward toward the inner cities. All of the applications we’re seeing go out to the edge of the urban service boundary.” 

Of course, our urban service area, much like our impact fee schemes, has to a large degree been meaningless.  Once again, blame bad government choices.  Even more interesting was this little nugget:

Local housing market tracking expert Marvin Rose, president of Tarpon Springs-based Rose Residential Reports, takes the position that the much-maligned trend of urban sprawl may actually be beneficial, and that the Bay area’s sprawl has definitive boundaries: Bradenton to the south, Lakeland on the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Hernando County to the north.

“Urban sprawl has both positive and negative effects on cities,” Rose said. “I think we’d have a lot more crime and problems if people lived on top of each other; spreading out and getting elbow room is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“I don’t think we’re turning into another Los Angeles or Atlanta, unless (you’re looking at) those cities 20 years ago,” Rose continued. “We’re not nearly the size of those cities, and I don’t think our state or local governments will ever build the roads that can handle that type of growth.”

Setting aside the odd crime argument, neither the state nor local government did build roads that can handle the growth.  They just allowed the growth (and often subsidized it) without building proper infrastructure or alternative transportation.  And what they did build is inadequate and needs to be expanded because of poor planning.  Hence, Go Hillsborough.

The point of all this is simple: there is nothing new under the Florida sun.  Redevelopment efforts have long been the goal of a number of people in this area.  The transportation problems have been known and obvious for decades – and have been ignored.  The sprawl issue has been there for decades – and has been made worse.  And, as we have noted numerous times, there have been super hyped plans for urban redevelopment for decades.  What the 1998 article makes clear is that, even with all the talk of fixing things over the decades, the reality is that the problems have not gotten fixed.  The reason is that the much-touted plans were not really followed and decisions were dominated by settling and short-term thinking.

It is good that people are now more concerned and looking for some solutions, but it needs to be noted that many of the present decision makers were in government when good advice was ignored and the problems were created (or were made worse) in the first place.   The past does not need to be the future (in fact, it shouldn’t be) and we are all for people changing when they see they were mistaken, but the history needs to be acknowledged (our situation did not just magically appear) to understand the what needs to be done to fix it and to avoid past mistakes. (And it should be remembered when positive rhetoric is followed up with more of the same or plans that obviously will not fix the problems.)

Once again, we may be making progress but we have let things fester for so long and settled so much that even, with some progress, we are well behind many other areas.  None of this happened in a vacuum or without knowing what was going on.  And it is still going on.

PTC – They Reiterate They Do Not Care What the Community Wants

There was an article this week in the Times about what we had previously noted – how Uber is partnering in the community despite the PTC’s insistence on protectionism.

A government agency is still trying to shut down Uber. But that hasn’t prevented the rideshare company from extending its tentacles into the community and forging partnerships with hotels and bars — and, potentially, another government agency.

Uber has clashed with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, since launching in Tampa Bay in April 2014. But while the PTC maintains Uber is unresponsive, uncooperative and a “bully,” other local businesses and community events have ignored the regulatory battle.

Instead, they’ve agreed to partner with — and promote — the rideshare company.

And what does the chair of the PTC – who is an elected County Commissioner – think of the fact that the people want ridesharing?

PTC Chairman Victor Crist said he isn’t worried about the partnerships Uber is creating in the community because he is confident the regulatory agency will win its appeal to have a judge issue an injunction to shut down the company.

That’s right.  Even if the community wants ridesharing, the government will protect us from ourselves, which conveniently also protects cab companies and fixes prices to eliminate their competition. (As opposed to LA, which is coming closer to dealing with ridesharing rationally.)

Speaking of the PTC, there was an interesting development downtown.

You know that trip that is too short for a taxi ride but too far to walk?

The Tampa Downtown Partnership thinks it has just what you need.

The agency is considering launching a small pool of electric cars to ferry residents and visitors on short hops around downtown Tampa. Rides on the cars would be free with passengers “hailing” one via a smart phone app or a dispatcher.

The six-seat electric cars, known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, are legal on streets where the posted speed limit is below 40 mph. Orlando and Key West are among communities that already use them.

“The vehicles are cool; they’re nimble, kind of unique and fun to ride,” said Christine Burdick, partnership president. 

You can read the whole article here.

The interesting thing is that these type of vehicles were cool, nimble, and fun to ride when they were first introduced to downtown by a private company, from a 2009 article:

“It improves the experience of downtown,” said Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

So, why didn’t they last?

But cabdrivers have grown irritated, saying the “neighborhood electric vehicles” are taking away business.

“The only big thing I have is the unfairness of how they operate. If an Americab is sitting first out at the Marriott and all of a sudden one of these cars whips in front of him to take that fare, it isn’t right,” said Lou Minardi, owner of Yellow Cab. “My drivers get a little bit frustrated.”

Some cabbies don’t like short trips, so the vehicles — operated by companies called Hop Tampa, Green-Go, Mulligan Shuttle and Joy Ride — are no problem in a confined area.

But Minardi said the cars are venturing outside downtown to South Howard Avenue and as far away as International Plaza.

“They’re starting to stretch out all over the place,” he said.

The cabdrivers have asked Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, which oversees cabs, limousines, towing companies and some ambulances, to step in and regulate the cars.

Which the PTC did, though it did not limit the business to short trips.  It basically eliminated the innovative services, giving over the business to existing cab companies, which promptly did away with it.

Given all that, what does the PTC think of the new proposal?

Kyle Cockream, the commission’s executive director, is working with the downtown partnership on its plan. Cockream said it would have the support of most taxi drivers because they prefer longer fares.

“It frees up a lot of the real short two to three block rides that are much easier to do with these vehicles,” he said. “Everyone is in concert; they’re trying to make it happen.”

That’s fine but it raises a couple of questions. 1) Why did the PTC kill business for private companies, kill innovation, and leave Tampa without the (popular) service for years; and 2) why does what the cab companies think matter?  Whether a service competes with the cab companies or whether they like it or not is irrelevant.  And none of that involves public safety, it is all business manipulation by a government agency. And can the PTC be trusted to not interfere in the future?

That, in a nutshell, is why the PTC has to go.

International Trade/Latin America/Economic Development – A Mayor Goes to Cuba

This week, an area mayor travelled to Cuba, looking to land a consulate for his city.  Of course, the logical location for a consulate is Tampa, where the Cuban-American population is centered.  So,

Mayor Rick Kriseman heads to Cuba this morning in hopes of establishing economic and cultural ties with the island nation.

The three-day trip comes nearly two months after President Barack Obama announced the United States was re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba after 54 years. Kriseman said he will make a pitch that Cuba should pass over rival Florida cities Tampa and Miami and open a consulate office in St. Petersburg.

Oops.  At least if there is a consulate in St. Pete, it will be in the Tampa Bay area, though it would be odd.

As we have said before, everyone wants freedom in Cuba, but, as it stands, the rest of the world is already investing there and areas from all of the US are looking at it.   Miami is sure to jump in on any opening.  As will New Orleans, Houston, New York, etc.  The fact is that there is an opening, there will be a consulate, and there will be business.  If the goal is to promote the area and show that we are open to Latin America (which dislikes the embargo), it makes no sense to sit back while everyone else rushes in.

But Kriseman said the benefits outweigh the negatives.

“I think this is the right thing for the city of St. Petersburg,” he said.

Exactly.

TIA – The Director Speaks

There was a good interview of the airport director on WUSF. (You can, and should, hear it here.)  There is much good stuff on customer service, where they are looking for flights, and the master plan.  It just reinforces why we like the airport director, especially where he discussed how, before he got here, TIA ceded any competition for international flights to Orlando, which really hurt us unnecessarily.

Also of note is the amount of money being spent to fix up the airport ($900 million), which is about as much as the Lightning owner’s project, give or take 100 million, but is already underway.

One thing that was missing was, while the flight development efforts have been really good, there was no discussion of domestic targets.  We know that a major target is San Francisco, but, for whatever, reason, we have not gotten it yet.  Interestingly, we did notice that United just announced a nonstop between San Francisco and Fayetteville, AR.  Yes, the distances are different and can be covered by smaller planes.  But still, we need that SFO flight.

Downtown – Art Is Good, Usually

There was an announcement this week about some public art in downtown.

Starting in October, Leon “Tes One” Bedore of Tampa and Ales “Bask” Hostomsky of St. Petersburg will spend eight weeks covering the outside of the 932-space garage with murals — some fluid with motion, some child-like in their whimsy, all in colors that pop and all with the theme “Stay Curious.”

* * *

The city had needed to seal and paint the garage anyway, Buckhorn said, and as officials got into the plans, he thought, “that is a canvas that needs to represent what’s going on in Tampa.”

The paintings will be big enough to be seen by drivers coming into downtown from Interstate 275. Each is meant to nod to the culture and recreation nearby: Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Riverwalk, John F. Germany Public Library, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Florida Museum for Photographic Arts, Glazer Children’s Museum, and Tampa Museum of Art.

Here is one:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the rest of the art here.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the idea emerged after he learned that the garage was in need of being resealed and repainted.

“This is an opportunity to really change and liven up what is a boring, unattractive parking garage and really create a point of entry into downtown,” Buckhorn said. “Public art in all its forms is part of a great downtown.”

We are all for public art (and we’re fine with this piece going on Bayshore – especially because it is not a memorial, like the WTC steel, which is not art and should not be treated as such.  This piece is just a flash of color that really does not need that much contemplation.)  The only thing about art is that it is subjective.  In other words, not all art is great to everyone.  These murals are not really our style, which is not to say we necessarily oppose them, just that they do not really do anything for us.  Nevertheless, some people will like them and they are not messing anything else up, so that is good enough, as long as they are well maintained and do not just fade and get dirty.

Port –Maritime Business

Yes, there is actually Port business going on at the Port.

A $14.6 million refrigerated warehouse designed to draw more ships to Port Tampa Bay and build more business locally should be operational within 16 months.

The 130,000 square-foot storage area for bananas, grapes, chicken and other fresh fruits, vegetables and meats will likely be under construction before the end of this year. For now, the port marketing staff is working to sell this new alternative to foreign growers, ships heading this way and to U.S. brokers looking to reduce shipping costs and move fresh goods to end users at a faster pace.

The Tampa Port Authority Board on Tuesday approved a 27-year lease with Port Logistics Tampa Bay to develop the warehouse near the port’s container berth on Hookers Point. The port received a matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation and is also using money from private investors to build the warehouse.

* * *

Adding a refrigerated warehouse to the port’s offerings could actually be a game changer for Port Tampa Bay, said Raul Alfonso, port executive vice president and chief commercial officer. Right now, the port has no facilities for refrigerating goods and most fresh products bypass Florida altogether. They are shipped to more northern ports, then trucked back to this state.

This is the building that was connected to the argument with Port Manatee about getting fruit imports.  In any event, if it increases business, great.

Transportation/Built Environment – Road Diets & Bike Lanes

There was an article in Citylab.com about a presentation by the Lighting owner’s urban planner regarding road diets, which is an idea we have mixed feelings about.  In some places, road diets are fine, but the idea of having road diets without providing real alternatives is a serious problem.  Nevertheless, you can read the article here.

One thing of note that goes to how Tampa is doing bike lanes on roads like Platt and Cleveland – which appear to be more about just putting in lanes to say they are put in rather than really thinking it through.

First, a drawing of bike lanes, which is much more like the lanes on Platt and Cleveland:

From Citylaw – click on picture for article

Now, what the urban planner thinks:

“Bike lanes are good; a cycle track is better, and requires no more roadway,” says Speck in the road diet’s voiceover. Take the road that we ended up with after the 4-to-3 diet, for instance. In this design, bike lanes run beside car traffic on either side of the street, increasing the potential for collision. But by sliding one parking lane off the curb, this diet makes room for a two-way cycle track protected from moving traffic by a buffer strip as well as a lane of street parking.

Like this:

From Citylab – click on picture for article

We get that on many roads, there is no room for a two-way bike track, but what really makes sense is having the parking serve to buffer bike riders from traffic, with bike lanes outside the parking and away from the road.  We really wish Tampa and Hillsborough County would really think about doing that.  Simply restriping a road to say some part of the road right next to traffic or with cars weaving in and out of the bike lane to park and/or turn is asking for trouble, and for the lanes not to get nearly as much use as they could (and should) otherwise get.

List of the Week

Following a week where Tampa was named the best big city in the southeast (now that is has stopped bragging about Ben T. Davis beach), this week it got another good ranking. Wallethub named it as the best place to retire (to be fair, it seems like Wallethub really just likes retiring all over Florida).

Tampa is the best place in the United States to retire, according to a recent study by WalletHub, which found the city to be affordable for seniors while also offering a lot to do.

St. Petersburg came in at No. 11 in the study, which looked at 24 metrics across four categories: health care, affordability, recreational activities and quality of life. Tampa outranked 150 of the largest U.S. cities, the personal finance website found.

Other Florida cities in the Top 10 are Cape Coral, Orlando and Port St. Lucie. Scottsdale, Ariz., was No. 2 on the list.

* * *

“Affordability is what really pushed Tampa to the No. 1 slot,” said Jill Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for WalletHub.

Finances, however, aren’t all that matter during retirement. Tampa also has a lot of things to do, ranking No. 4 for “recreational activities,” WalletHub found.

Tampa also ranked No. 26 for health care and No. 21 for quality of life, which included metrics such as crime rates, weather and number of retirees, the study found.

St. Petersburg, while ranked as just as affordable as Tampa, was far lower on the list in terms of activities, quality of life and health care.

We are not much interested in this list, but it is good to be ranked highly.

More interesting to us is a list of America’s best high schools (and yes, it is just one list), where only two Pinellas schools placed in the top 300+,  and Hillsborough failed to show.  Sure, retirees provide income and everyone is welcome, but our focus is much more on moving the economy by increasing talent – including for people to serve the retiree community.  Without excellent schools, that is going to be hard.

Roundup 8-21-2015

August 21, 2015

Contents

Economic Development – It’s Not Horseshoes

Transportation – More Muddle

USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype

Downtown – Goings On

Downtown/West River/Hyde Park – Moving Forward

Channel District – A New Building

PTC – If At First You Don’t Succeed

West Tampa – CRA

Cue St. Pete

Port Master Plan – Adventures in Silliness

List of the Week

_________________________________________

Economic Development – It’s Not Horseshoes

There was news, sort of, from the Hillsborough EDC this week:

Five brand-name companies are potential candidates to relocate their corporate headquarters to Tampa or Hillsborough County.

Setting aside that we have no idea what a “brand name” company is, great. (And, of course, any HQ jobs we get are good.) So where are we in the process?

These kind of relocation decisions are almost always cloaked in secrecy, and Homans declined to give specifics, including whether any of the five companies in the EDC’s pipeline also are working with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who has said he is recruiting a corporate headquarters to his $1 billion project on land he owns between Amalie Arena and downtown Tampa.

Homans did say there are “an abundance of sites” each with its own character. “The waterfront district may be right for one, Westshore for another, Plant City right for yet another,” he said. That offers lots of opportunities for companies to create their own strong identity.

That is true, but there is no telling whether anything will come of any of these prospects. We just care about result. In any event,

“To me, the most significant thing is we are beginning to show up on the radar for these kind of headquarters locations,” Homans told Tampa Bay Business Journal after his quarterly update to the county commission. “The word is getting out about Tampa and Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area. We’re seeing with greater frequency that companies are taking a look at our community, especially at this higher level of a corporate headquarters, which indicates a great deal of confidence in this market to produce talent.”

And having companies look is good – you have to start somewhere (were they not looking before, and, if so, why not?). But close does not really count. What really counts is if they choose us. And note that it was reported that GE is seriously looking at Atlanta for its corporate HQ (see here)  and maybe Dallas.

“We don’t comment on specific recruitment projects, but I can guarantee you that if a company comes right out and says it wants to move its headquarters, we’re in touch with them,” Rick Homans, said in a previous statement.

Which is fine, but not important if they are not seriously considering us.  It is good to have prospects, but we are about actual results.  Being consistently close but not making the deal does not amount to anything. And that is not necessarily the fault of economic development officials.  We have consistent and persistent deficiencies – transportation (especially transit), planning, walkable neighborhoods, etc. – that are not within their ambit. They are much more the responsibility of elected officials.  If we really these stories to be about true accomplishments, not just how many secret prospects we might have,  we (especially elected officials) have to get truly serious about fixing those deficiencies.

Transportation – More Muddle

Speaking of transportation, first the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group considered a referendum for a one cent sales tax increase.  Then, after wasting years and then hiring consultants to do public outreach, the elected officials rolled that back to a half cent.  Now, after deciding that the public outreach they paid for was not enough and paying some more, there will be a consideration of both a half cent and a full cent.  How did this new twist come about?

Hillsborough County leaders are taking a fresh look at asking voters to approve a full penny-per-dollar sales tax increase instead of a half-cent to finance transportation projects.

The idea came out of weekend meetings that included County Administrator Mike Merrill, other county officials and public relations contractor Beth Leytham. Managers with the county’s transportation consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, also were consulted by phone during the meetings, Leytham said.

Merrill said he and the others were compiling a list of projects that could be funded by a half-cent sales tax increase, which was approved last month by the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group. During the weekend discussions, Merrill said they realized many projects the public says it wants won’t be possible without the higher, 1-cent-per-dollar tax hike.

That is odd.  What happened to the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group? Where were the elected officials?

Some county commissioners, caught off-guard by the staff and consultant’s decision, were not happy. Commissioner Al Higginbotham for one, called the move a “public relations disaster,” and said it confirmed Americans’ distrust of government at all levels.

Another commissioner, Victor Crist, said he wanted to know why Leytham sent out a press release Monday announcing the change without commission approval.

“It’s causing confusion among our constituents,” Crist said. “We’re getting phone calls asking why I’m embracing a 1 cent sales tax and I’m not.”

Apparently, the Policy Leadership Committee is not actually leading, though they haven’t really been leading for a while.  In any event, why the change?

Merrill took full responsibility Tuesday for the news release.

He said the release did not change the recommendation from the county staff and Parsons Brinckerhoff last month to go for a half-cent tax increase.

He also acknowledged that the change in direction was driven in part by criticism from pro-transit forces and some newspaper editorials who argued a half-cent was a weak response to the county’s transportation needs.

“There have been some voices in the community that said we should be bolder, we should have done more for transit, and we should have done a better job, in their opinion, of assessing support for 1 cent,” Merrill said.

We are all for a more global transportation solution, though, based on all that has gone before, it is not at all clear that even a one cent increase would include that. That is more a function of the political will to build a proper plan.  In any event, there is an argument that once cent is better than a half cent, namely,

The move to re-examine the 1 cent proposal was welcomed by pro-transit forces, including Kevin Thurman, executive director of Connect Tampa Bay. Thurman noted that in polling conducted by Go Hillsborough, a one-cent sales tax was the second most popular option for funding transportation improvements after a half-cent increase. Other options included a gas tax increase.

“What they didn’t realize was there are a significant number of people who support the one cent but they don’t want to settle for a half cent,” Thurman said. “That’s the feedback they’re getting. If we’re going to do this, let’s solve our problems as opposed to doing this halfway.”

Thurman said that a half-cent sales tax would raise $504 million for mass transit, or 43 percent of the $1.17 billion the tax would generate over 10 years. Bike and walking trails would get $3.9 million, bringing the total amount of money not designated for roads to 47 percent. 

Discussion of the one cent is generally fine, though, in the present circumstances, it is a very late in the game (that should have happened before they decided to go with a half cent) and creates even more confusion in an already confused process.

And there is an argument that a half cent is preferable because it is actually doable.

Others, however, doubted that a one cent increase would stand a chance with tax-averse voters. Commissioner Ken Hagan, while supporting a discussion of what the full cent increase would pay for, predicted it would be “DOA,” or dead on arrival, at the ballot box.

“I could be wrong, but I think a half cent, while needed, is going to be a challenge and I believe passage of a full cent is a long shot,” Hagan said. 

And

Commissioner Stacy White, the only member of the transportation leadership group to vote against sending a half-penny tax to voters, said he doesn’t oppose holding the conversation.

“But I think the proponents of the half-cent sales tax have their hands full at this point,” White said. “I don’t really see where a one-cent sales tax will get any traction.”

In our opinion, it would be better to have a full cent and really make the needed changes (though, as we said, whether that would happen even with a cent is unclear).  On the other hand, if a full cent cannot pass, a half cent is better, provided that it does not go to a big mess of unrelated projects that do not actually fix anything.

The real problem is not talking about a full cent versus a half cent.  That is fine.  The problem is that the entire process is (and has been for while) a muddle and is apparently led by consultants rather than the elected officials who are going to have to make the decisions on spending the money.

The fact is that, at some point, real decisions are going to have to be made, and the elected officials are going to have to make them.  The persistent lack of clarity and apparent lack of leadership in no way helps the cause of fixing transportation.  It fuels suspicion among those who already skeptical of local government.  It creates confusion among the people (probably the majority) who are not fully engaged in the process.  It harms the ability to sell anything that comes from the process.  And it makes one wonder if there will be proper implementation if the referendum were to pass.

We cannot have another referendum where there is confusion about where the money is going.  And we cannot have another referendum where the Commission is running away from the proposal they put on the ballot.  That is just a recipe for another failure.

USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype

There was an article about the USF Med School this week that was very interesting.  First the good:

More students are clamoring to enroll in the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, lured by the promise of its move to a state-of-the-art campus in downtown Tampa, USF officials say.

The students applying are smarter, too.

USF students’ MCAT scores — the equivalent of the SAT for medical students — averaged about 32.59 out of 45 possible points for the 2014-15 school year, meaning their scores were in the 90th percentile. In the 2013-14 school year, the average score was 31, and the previous school year the average score was 30.

In a presentation to the university’s board of trustees Thursday, USF President Judy Genshaft said the MCAT scores placed USF above all other Florida colleges for the category in the closely watched annual rankings of U.S. News and World Report. The state school closest to USF’s scores was the University of Florida, with an average MCAT score of 32.2.

The rising test scores were attributed to a growing applicant pool, allowing the university to be more selective last school year, said Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani college.

Plans for relocating downtown the Morsani college, as well as the USF Health Heart Institute, helped the university draw medical school applicants who did undergraduate work at top schools nationwide, Lockwood said.

Among last year’s applicants, 16 percent are from top 30 schools, he said.

Setting aside the downtown campus for a minute, that is great. It is quite an achievement that USF is drawing from such a good pool of applicants.  USF (and the area) should be proud of this development. It is also good that over the years, the applicant pool has been getting stronger and stronger.  It should be celebrated and trumpeted.

But now, the problem with how such things are treated in this area.  The article’s emphasis is on the move downtown as the reason for the surge.  This emphasis is encouraged by USF comments.

In the 2013-14 school year, the number of applications only grew by 5 percent and in the 2012-13 school year they grew by 10 percent. The surge in application exceeded national trends for the period.

“I don’t have any real explanation for it, but I’m sure happy to have it,” Lockwood said. “I have suspicions that the downtown project may have created a big lunge, and these students applied from across the country.”

Huh? The applicant pool has been improving for years and USF is not sure why.  Therefore, they say it was the downtown campus?  That does not make sense.  First, as we said, the applicant pool was already improving and just kept improving at about the same rate.

Second, if last year was anything like this year, applications were due sometime in November.  The USF Board of Trustees did not even endorse the downtown idea until December. See here and here.  The Board of Governors did not approve the first funding until February.  The building design is not done, the move is not fully funded, and there is no clear timeline for the downtown building yet.  In other words, the downtown plan was not approved when applications were due and there is no way to know whether entering first year students will even have a downtown campus to go to. (It is supposed to be finished in 2017, but who knows.)  And:

Over the next year, USF Health will determine exactly what programs and student services will go in the new $157 million, 11-story Morsani college in the heart of downtown Tampa, which will replace its 40-year-old complex on the USF’s main campus in Tampa.

So no one knows exactly what will be going on there.

And the downtown school does not explain why applicants were improving when they thought they were just going to the on campus location. (Apparently, the school is doing fine where it is.)

In other words, the downtown campus likely had nothing to do with the applicant pool.  It is a disservice to the actual achievements of the school to say that it does.  To bring the downtown campus into the discussion is just part of the usual hype of this area.

As noted by the Tribune in an editorial:

The relocation of the medical school downtown is going to give USF Health an even higher profile, but it is useful to recognize that, regardless of location, the university’s health care colleges are an invaluable asset to our region.

The downtown campus may or may not be a draw in the future, but, for the numbers discussed, it is not relevant.  What is relevant I that the med school is making its mark and helping this area.  And that is great.

Downtown – Goings On

There was news this week about a few projects in the main part of downtown.  First, the on again, now off Kress block:

Brokers in Tampa and Miami will join forces to market downtown’s historic Kress building.

Jeannette Jason, who owns the building with her father, Miami-based Doran Jason, said she and her father signed a co-listing agreement for the Kress on Monday.

Jeannette Jason, who joined Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc.’s Tampa office in June, will market the property with John Crotty and Michael Fay, principals in Avison Young’s Miami office.

* * *

“There are quite a few groups that are looking at it and in various stages of performing due diligence,” Jeannette Jason said.

The last proposal was actually quite intriguing – one of the few truly elegant looking (we never got real details) proposals for Tampa.  Sadly, it stalled.  Hopefully, if there is new interest, it can be similarly elegant.   We have enough clunky, ordinary projects.

Speaking of which, the Grant block (and a rendering that downplays clunkiness)

From Business Journal – click on picture for article

Plans to build a 23-story residential apartment tower on downtown Tampa’s Grant block are behind schedule, but they are still in the works.

Atlanta-based Carter told Tampa Bay Business Journal earlier this year that it had intended to close and break ground on the tower this summer. The group is under contract to buy the block of North Franklin Street known as the Grant block and demolish a strip of abandoned storefronts to make way for the tower.

“We are still working full steam ahead on this project and fully intend to close and move forward,” Conor McNally, chief development officer, wrote in an email Monday. “Closing should happen in the next 45 days, with demolition and construction start coming shortly thereafter.”

If will be nice to have something going up in the main part of downtown, though this is not a very interesting project, especially how it leaves Florida Avenue an essentially dead space right around the Floridan,  Federal Courthouse, and Kress block.  It could be done much better.

Interestingly,

McNally said there were “no concerns or issues” holding up the project. Some developers have expressed concern that the market was becoming too heated, with too many units in the works and land prices getting too expensive. The combination of those forces means more competition for the highest rents the city has ever seen — and no one can be sure of the depth of the pool of high-end renters.

Of course, getting out of the ground first is an advantage.  There is no knowing how many proposals will never get built (as always happens).

Downtown/West River/Hyde Park – Moving Forward

There was more news about the Altis Grand Central project near the Oxford Exchange:

If all goes according to plan, the first residents will move into an apartment building across the street from Oxford Exchange in about two years.

Altman Development Corp., based in Boca Raton, said Tuesday that it is planning to break ground on Altis Grand Central in spring 2016 and deliver the first units in summer 2017.

Ok.  So what is the latest on what the building will be like?

At 504 Grand Central Ave., across the street from Oxford Exchange, Altis Grand Central has evolved significantly since the company first filed plans with the city in April. After feedback from the surrounding neighborhood and City of Tampa, the development will now include 296 units and close to 5,000 square feet of retail space fronting Grand Central.

The building fronting Grand Central will be six stories; the building that abuts Cleveland Avenue will be five stories. Between the two will be an eight-story parking garage.

As long as the garage is not just a big, ugly wall, fine. They included this rendering:

From Business Journal – click on picture for article

This rendering is exactly why we do not put that much stock in renderings.  The immediate façade looks ok.  But if you notice the angle is such that you cannot see the parking garage, which is clearly talker than the rest of the building in the elevations, like this (thanks URBN Tampa Bay):

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The elevations somehow scrub the parking garage, too.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are ok with having something of this nature built on this lot and we are all for making this area denser and more walkable.  We also note positively that the developer has worked with its neighbors to improve the original proposal, but it still needs a little work.  We understand the need for parking.  However, like the Related proposal nearby, the garage here is hulking and not dealt with well at all, which is probably why it is scrubbed from elevations and renderings.

We are at the point that there is enough demand that the City has no excuses in allowing hulking garages in what should become a really nice, walkable area – really part of downtown.  There are so many apartments proposed for the downtown area that there is really no excuse.  Remember, these projects will be with us for decades.  Is that really what we want the city to look like?

Channel District – A New Building

This week, the formerly-referred-to-as-Atlantico (it seems that may not be the name after all) broke ground.

On a block south of E Kennedy Boulevard between 11th and 12th streets, FCI Residential is spending $60 million to replace an unused warehouse that once served the shipping industry with an Art Deco-inspired apartment house teeming with young professionals.

* * *

 

Part of the 2.25-acre site once housed the former Amazon Hose and Rubber Co., which had been at the port since 1951 but has been vacant for nearly a decade.

The new project will have 300 units in eight stories, plus a six-and-a-half story parking garage and ground-floor retail near its entrance on Kennedy. Rent is expected to average just under $2,000 a month.

We are not sure about teeming, but yea, basically.  This is a rendering.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Nothing exciting, but it is fine filler.

(There is a concern, especially with the very narrow streets of the Channel District, that filling the area with lower, squat buildings rather than taller, more slender buildings is not necessarily the best idea when it comes to sunlight on the streets and into people’s windows and views, but so be it.  We see no inclination on the part of the City to consider anything like that.)

In any event, we are happy something is getting built, and it is not PierHouse-like.

PTC – If At First You Don’t Succeed

There may be more efforts to dismantle the PTC:

Jeff Brandes says he’s mad as hell, and doesn’t want to take it anymore.

The St. Petersburg-based Republican state senator wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday that he will propose legislation next year that will attempt to eliminate the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

His statement comes a day after the controversial agency announced that despite the fact that a Hillsborough judge had denied its request for a preliminary injunction against Uber last week, it would continue to write tickets citing Uber and Lyft drivers in Hillsborough County.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

He tried last year, but failed.  We applaud his determination to try again (as does this Tribune editorial).

The Chairman of the PTC seemingly had a response, but, from the coverage, it appears very odd. First, from the Tribune:

Victor Crist, chairman of the transportation commission and a Hillsborough County commissioner, said he will propose creating a new regulatory category called ride-share for transportation networking companies. Crist said if Uber and Lyft accept three provisions for the new category, they will be able to operate legally in the county and their drivers won’t be ticketed.

But those provisions are the same requirements that Uber and Lyft have so far refused to abide by: making drivers submit to level 2 background checks, which include fingerprinting; having the drivers’ vehicles inspected annually; and making drivers get insurance that will cover them and their passengers.

“The irony is we’re not asking them to do anything more than they already agreed to do in the markets where they are legal, like New York and Chicago,” Crist said.

But Crist concedes that one of the provisions, mandatory liability and personal injury insurance that will cover passengers and drivers, will require action by the state Legislature. Currently, insurance companies in Florida will not offer commercial insurance to Uber drivers who use their own vehicles.

Crist said state lawmakers would have to force insurance companies to offer the insurance to drivers, most of whom use their own vehicles to transport passengers and usually work part-time.

Given that the plan needs legislative action, it is not a solution now.  Just as simple a solution is for the legislature to abolish the PTC, which leads to the second half of his response, from the Times:

County Commissioner Victor Crist, who also serves as the chairman of Hillsborough’s taxi-regulating Public Transportation Commission, railed against the company during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“Uber has refused over and over and over again to come to the table and talk to us,” Crist told commissioners.

He also defended the PTC, which regulates the county’s for-hire vehicles.

“Rest assured that the PTC has remained open-minded and objective, and we have been trying to sit down and work with the … ridesharing companies,” Crist said. “To date, the only one that has been willing to sit down and talk with us is Lyft.”

Of course, the PTC is nowhere near open-minded or objective on this issue (see the persistent requirements in the Tribune portion).  And the PTC has not been able (or willing) to reach an agreement with Lyft, either, so that is largely irrelevant.  And then there is the really odd part:

He also lashed out at Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has spent years calling for the dissolution of the PTC, and did so once again on Facebook last week.

“(Uber’s) attitude is they’ll just take care of business at the state level,” Crist said, “and it’s quite annoying because every year just before session, some state legislator without thinking with their brain runs their mouth and makes statements that are false and misleading.”

For someone with a plan that depends on legislative action, it is very odd to rip legislators.  It is probably the result of the frustration of supporting an untenable policy.  It also does not help justify the existence of the PTC, which was created by meddling, unthinking legislators in the first place.

The PTC’s failure to serve the area got further emphasis this week:

The board overseeing Hillsborough County’s bus system is preparing to jump into the fray over whether the Public Transportation Commission should be regulating Uber and Lyft.

Those ride-booking companies, they say, are an economical way to connect customers to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus system by getting them to bus stops or from stops to their jobs. And partnering with those companies could save HART money, they said Monday.

Members of HART’s Major Projects and Legislative Committee said they will make PTC reform one of their top legislative priorities for fiscal year 2016, along with funding for a regional fare box. The PTC should not have the authority to push such companies out of town by over-regulating them, HART board members said.

The transit agency is about to launch a pilot project this fall that will address the issue of connecting customers with buses, commonly called First Mile/Last Mile, which could include contracting with ride-booking companies such as Uber and Lyft. But the pilot project is only for its para-transit, or severely disabled riders. The board wants the ability to eventually expand their use to all bus riders who need that short connection.

The bus wants to partner with ridesharing.  The Epicurean wants to partner with ridesharing.  The Young Republicans are for ridesharing. People want to use ridesharing.  We really don’t need the PTC to save us from ourselves.

West Tampa – CRA

The Tampa City Council has designated a West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area.

But with Tampa City Council’s designation of West Tampa as a “community redevelopment area,” the historic enclave may be in for a renaissance, re-energizing Main Street.

* * *

That’s the hope at the heart of the City Council’s move, which dedicates money generated from rising tax values in the area to improving the neighborhood. It opens the way for grants to refurbish storefronts, landscape thoroughfares and even spruce up homes in the specially designated district. 

The Times has a relatively long article on what some would like to see, especially on Main Street.  You can read the article here.  The fact is that Main Street is one of the few streets in Tampa that has a decent number of old buildings in a walkable environment.  It also happens to be right next to an interstate exit (which is good in many ways, but also has some downsides).  It is, and has been, a prime area for redevelopment.  Hopefully, it will reach its potential.

Cue St. Pete

In a week in which St. Pete announced the location for another museum, it also pointed out how Tampa is willing to give away some of the assets it already has.

With Tampa’s famed Bro Bowl now history, St. Petersburg is aiming to become the region’s skating destination by building a 32,000-square-foot skate park across Interstate 175 from Tropicana Field.

The City Council recently approved $1.6 million in Weeki Wachee Fund money, earmarked for parks and recreation uses. Parks officials hope to have a state-of-the-art facility open by winter 2016 in Campbell Park.

* * *

Cue Campbell Park. A large park at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue S, it has restrooms, a large parking lot and easy interstate access.

Most important? A hill that makes Nicks and other skaters shiver in anticipation of the possibilities.

The design of the park is still a work in progress, but Parks and Recreation director Michael Jefferis is confident skaters will be happy.

“I don’t know how many bowls yet or how many jumps, but the topography of that location will just enhance the interest of that location,” Jefferis said.

A skate park (though not historical, which would be much better) and a park with a hill in a thriving downtown. Imagine that.

Port Master Plan – Adventures in Silliness

There was an article this week in the Times that really shows how discussions about plans and proposals can really get out of hand, and, in this area, usually do.  Just to review – the vision plan for the Port property in the Channel District had, for whatever reason (probably because they would look cool in renderings), two 75-story buildings.  No one really knows whether they were apartments or condos because it is not a real plan, it is just a pretty picture that shows what, in theory, could go there.  But let’s set aside the speculative nature for a minute and get to the article.

A rendering of the $1.5 billion project released last week shows two 75-story towers soaring above the waterfront area that the port hopes to redevelop over 15 years.

Towers that tall would vault Tampa into the ranks of such sky-scraping cities as Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. 

That is really exciting, if completely false.  And,

Towers that tall would have more floors than half of the world’s 100 tallest buildings.

Towers that tall would have as many floors as Manhattan’s second tallest residential tower, One57, where a condo sold in January for $100 million — 15 times more than any condo has ever brought in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Ranked by the number of floors, the Tampa towers would be taller than eight of the tallest buildings in the United States and 49 of the tallest worldwide. 

Technically true, and wholly irrelevant because no one who knows anything about buildings ranks them by stories.  Equally irrelevant is this:

Is one 75-floor tower, let alone two, realistic for Tampa, population 350,000?

The population listed here is the city population which is completely irrelevant when discussing a real estate market. We are not going to get into whether the market could support such buildings because there is no actual proposal.

Rather, we want to discuss, briefly, a simple rule of thumb – office building are 13 feet per floor and apartment/condo/hotels are 10 feet per floor.  Of course, that can vary based on a number of things, including, but not limited to, height of lobby and other specific use floors, any spire or ornamentation, and some design of the floors themselves.  Nevertheless, one can assume that a flat-topped apartment building with 75 floor in a not big money market will probably come in around 800 feet, give or take a few feet. (For example, see Miami’s 80-story Panorama Tower coming in at 822 feet  and Marquis Residences is 67 floors and 700 feet)   That would make it shorter than buildings built or under construction in Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta.  Sure, they would be tall, but nothing anywhere near anything in Hong Kong, Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur. (One57 is an outlier and one of the most expensive buildings in the world.  Our market likely would not justify anything like that.)

So, yea, 75 story buildings would be cool, if they were proposed, if the FAA approved them, and if they got built.  But maybe we should wait until something is actually proposed before we toss out all the crazy hyperbole.  It is fine to look at possibilities and get ambitious (frankly, Tampa’s problem is that it is very ambitious on paper but not so much in practice), but let’s keep ourselves in check.  Remember – the Lighting owner hasn’t even built the relatively short office building next to the unbuilt USF med school, yet. (And no one has built a 40 story apartment building in Tampa.)

List of the Week

Our list this week is actually multiple lists and has been well covered – Money Magazines Best Places to Live.    The actual list of best places to live involves only incorporated areas with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.  The only Florida location on that list is Dr. Phillips (26th), the suburb of Orlando.  That did not get much coverage.

What did get a lot of local coverage is the portion of the list that has the 5 best “big” cities.  Tampa (the city) was listed as the best big city in the Southeast. Other regional winners were Pittsburgh, Denver, Omaha, and Mesa (arguably not a big city but rather a suburb of Phoenix).  It is always better to be ranked highly than not.  So, it is fine to be happy that we got a good ranking on this list.

Of course, it is interesting to see how they arrived at this ranking:

That’s why this year, in addition to our list of top towns, MONEY crunched the numbers on urban centers with more than 300,000 residents—63 in all. As with our Best Places list, our city rankings put a premium on a robust job market, affordable housing, and ­factors such as accessibility to health care, culture, and open space. We also gave extra points to places with low crime and strong public schools and selected the top city in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West.

It is important to keep in mind that there are only 3 cities in Florida that have a city population over 300,000 – Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.  The cities arguably in the southeast (if you include Texas and Oklahoma, which are both arguably in the Southwest, but the website is unclear) with populations over 300,000 are: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Jacksonville, Ft. Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Memphis, Nashville, OKC, Louisville, Atlanta, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Miami, Tulsa, New Orleans, Arlington, Tampa, Corpus Christi, and Lexington. (without Texas and Oklahoma, a total of 12 cities).

Also worth noting, but not dwelling upon, are the few oddities in the write up:

Still, there are a few references in the article that will have locals scratching their heads, such as its mention of Tampa bragging about its beaches and how the city attracted 1,000 jobs at Amazon’s new distribution plant. The facility is actually in Ruskin, almost 30 miles south to the south.

So the writers may have never been here.  Nevertheless, we’ll take the ranking.

Now, if only we can fix those things that make our appearance on a list like this notable instead of routine (like Denver, Omaha, and Pittsburgh – yes, Pittsburgh) – like transportation, planning, proper development, etc.  There is still much work to be done.  (For instance, we may be better than Atlanta in this ranking, but they are getting North American Porsche, North American Mercedes, and maybe GE.  We would trade Money magazine rankings for that.)

It is great to rank highly on this list, and good press is always good.  But we will celebrate when it is so common that it is expected. Then we will be where we should be – among the usual suspects.  We are nowhere near there, yet.

Roundup 2015-8-14

August 14, 2015

Contents

Port/Channel District/Downtown – The Big Reveal

Transportation – More on TBX

Transportation – Waffles

Transportation – PTC Stands Firm . . . Against Almost Everyone

Economy – Housing Prices

Economy – Millennials Beware

Built Environment – How to Redevelop a Mall

What Ever Happened to Streetcars?

List of the Week

__________________________________________________

Port/Channel District/Downtown – The Big Reveal

This week the port revealed its master plan (the result of a completely transparent and open process) for the land it owns in the Channel District.

Port Tampa Bay today unveiled an elaborate $1.5 billion plan for 45 acres of land in the Channel District — much of it on the waterfront — including hotels, residential towers, a major park and marina.

* * *

The port’s Channelside plan, which could get underway within a year, also is an acknowledgement that the port has no plans to move its cruise ship terminals toward Pinellas County to accommodate new and much larger cruise ships currently hindered by the Skyway.

It could also mean either a move or an exit for much of the port’s ship-repair business.

In the works for about a year now, port officials, along with city and county elected representatives, have kept their plans close to the vest, waiting for the big announcement.

Oh, wait.  It was not open or transparent at all, as per traditional Tampa DNA.  (And who needs ship repair in a port?) In any event, what did the Port say?

Maximizing the potential for 45 port owned acres of land along Channelside Drive and the Ybor Channel, The Channel District Vision Plan dramatically builds upon the area’s current revitalization. It calls for the development of more than $9 million square feet of mixed-use space and $1.5 billion in private investment over the next decade or so.

Here is the site plan-ish graphic:

From the Port Authority website – click for website

Getting to the Port’s release, there are a lot of other pretty pictures of potential buildings, too. We especially like this one which we saw in the Times because it shows the very bold plan to build mountains somewhere in Pinellas County and the Gulf of Mexico.

From the Times – click on picture for article

But those pictures are largely irrelevant, as we will explain below.

First, we are happy the cruise terminals stay (for now), though that does not deal with the future of the cruise industry in Tampa.  We also like the concept of the park in the middle of the extensive property.  It is not quite waterfront, but with the cruise ships there, it will not really be waterfront.  We are also not sure why we need an amphitheater there (or whether the residents of the towers in the renderings will really appreciate the noise and crowds), but whatever.  Every park needs a performance space and (splash pad – maybe a history walk, too)

We are not overly excited that the plan seems to do little to make Channelside Drive a really walkable street unless you are going to the park – particularly on the north (left) end where the main feature on Channelside is a number a driveways and no pedestrian connection.  With the skywalk fetish (see all the renderings), you would think they could have put an access road and kept the street pedestrian friendly. But, as there is not actual project, that bad Tampa-style planning and lack of attention to detail is not set in stone, so hopefully it can be changed.

We are also not sure how there is going to be $1.5 billion in private development on this property while just across the street, basically, the Lightning owner is putting in $1 billion on basically the same stuff.  There may be $3 billion of development downtown in the next 10 years.  That would be great, but we are not going to assume it. As explained by the Related CEO:

“We love Tampa as a rental market,” he said. “There’s a strong rental demand there, like in Atlanta.”

Currently, he added, condo development is less attractive because “Tampa is pretty much a local market” and does not attract foreign buyers like those fueling Miami’s current condo boom.

So, if it is not investors snapping up all these units, that is a very large number of people to fill all these units.  It could happen, but  . . .

The downtown real estate market will ultimately decide whether the port’s vision ever becomes reality, as it plans to work with private developers to bring the commercial space to fruition. The vision includes two “landmark towers,” up to 75 stories, that the port says “will be among the tallest and most notable on Florida’s West Coast.”

The port, the city and Channel District Community Redevelopment Agency will fund infrastructure costs.

Anderson said that at this point, the port anticipates working with developers on a ground-lease basis, similar to its arrangement with SPP on Channelside Bay Plaza.

He said the port may be open to selling some parcels but will “never” sell anything on the waterfront.

Setting aside that 75 stories would obviously be notable in Tampa (and probably not allowed by the FAA), this leads us to why the renderings are not particularly relevant.  The plan relies entirely on developers. (Maybe the Lighting owner is in line to develop this land, too.) Thus, everything in the pretty pictures is entirely speculative (except maybe the park idea generally).  There have been decades of these kind of pretty pictures of downtown tossed around in Tampa. (check out these models from the early 1980s here, here, and here)   If all the pretty pictures and plans had come to fruition, there would have been no press conference at the Port today.

“The potential, if this comes to fruition, could be really exciting for the port and for the Channel District and also will help to connect Ybor City to downtown in pretty significant ways,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who is scheduled to discuss the plan’s impact on the city at a 10:30 a.m. news conference.

Kind of big “if.”  (It may also explain the City’s lack of enthusiasm to the GasWorx proposal a little north of this property).

Moreover, given the poor record the Port board has with partnering with private developers (and building things like the awful parking garage across from the Aquarium) as well as the City and area’s well known proclivity to settle then claim victory, we are not going to take the drawings that seriously.

While the Channelside Vision is still in its infancy, it would not take much to get construction underway, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. He said most of the land use changes are fairly minor.

Construction would likely begin in front of the Florida Aquarium, where the port would make a land swap, moving parking for the popular attraction into a nearby parking garage, then converting the existing lot into a hotel with an open-air market, or mercado, underneath.

The project would slowly continue north, with creation of two thin residential towers up to 75 stories, demolition of Cruise Ship Terminal 6, then expansion of Terminal 3, a 7-acre park, roughly the size of Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa, as well as various retail and office spots.

Is there something we should know?   When is the first RFP? Have contracts been signed?

It may come or it may not. (Of course, there could be a back room agreement on some of this development.  We’ll just have to see.) For now, it is all just pretty pictures and hidden discussions.

When an actual project is announced, we will discuss it.

Transportation – More on TBX

There was an editorial in the Tribune this week which endorsed TBX, express lanes and all.  We won’t cover the whole thing (you can read it here).  However, there was something of note:

The expansion project has been in the state transportation plan since 1996, and the DOT has been purchasing right-of-way in preparation for the widening for years. But the recent fast-tracking of the project has sparked opposition in the affected neighborhoods, and understandably so. All totaled, the construction will claim 100 house and 30 businesses along the way, as well as a community center and public gardens.

To its credit, the DOT has already been meeting with residents in the neighborhoods and is prepared to offer a number of ways to minimize the impact. Paul Steinman, the DOT’s district secretary for this area, told the Tribune Editorial Board this week that space for a community gardens could be included in the plans and that the areas under and around the overpasses can be designed as spaces for recreation or other community activities. They can be made aesthetically pleasing with lighting, landscaping and artwork.

The efforts signal the DOT’s willingness to work with the neighborhoods. We hope opponents will work with the DOT because the widening project is essential for moving commuters, freight and tourists though our area. With more than 800 people moving to Florida every day, and nearly 100 million tourists visiting annually, the congestion will only get worse and negatively affect our commerce and quality of life.

There is no question that a major setback to the recovery of the Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights neighborhoods would be devastating. But the widening project is critical for Tampa’s transportation future. The MPO’s decision Tuesday addresses both of those realities and establishes a framework for moving forward responsibly

There is a lot to digest here.  First, it is highly unlikely that this particular project – with variable rate toll lanes – has been on the books since 1996 because dynamic pricing seems to have originated in 1998 and was unknown in Florida for years after that.  It is true that there was proposal to widen the roads, and that is needed. How exactly to do it is the question.

Second, a couple of community gardens under the overpass is not really working with a neighborhood or addressing the greater concerns of no real transit, the problems of variable rate toll lanes, etc.  But local officials are not going to really argue with FDOT.

Third, as pointed out in this interesting graphic

From Skycrapercity – click on picture for website

25% of the lanes on the expanded Veterans will only handle up to 8% of the traffic, and there will be no more expansion.  It is hard to make the argument that using 25% of a road for even 10% of traffic is a logical and efficient system. (Of course, variable rate lanes are designed to NOT carry as much traffic as other lanes because if you don’t pay extra you do not deserve to have good roads.)  As we have said, it seems like a strange transportation strategy, especially for a policy that will be the main transportation strategy for the area and cost $6-9 BILLION – far more than anything Go Hillsborough will invest.

Now consider this, from a Texas A&M document on variable rate tolling:

Variable pricing works best by encouraging motorists to shift their travel time, alter their route, or use alternative transportation options, so this strategy is best applied on roadways that have readily available alternatives to travelling on the congested corridor, either by using transit or a parallel route. They can be useful when the trips occurring in a corridor are discretionary and motorists could easily choose to drive at an alternative time or eliminate the trip entirely.

None of the conditions to make variable pricing work the best are present in Hillsborough County/Tampa.  There is not a transit alternative (nor is there likely to be one for most people in the foreseeable future).  There are no good alternate roads (on the contrary, the whole county is built to force people to drive, shove them onto already overcrowded arterial roads, and have them sit there – much like the purpose of variable rate lanes), and we need a way to relieve congestion at all times – not just trips that can be avoided).  But, the express lane policy is ideological, not practical.  It is not a response to a specific need based on specific facts, it is a response to every need, regardless of facts.

So, as we have said – yes, the roads need to be expanded but this is not the way to do it.  In fact, all transportation planning in this area is a mess.  In an interesting interview with Honolulu’s now transportation planner about how Honolulu became a traffic mess (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay), we found a very interesting comment:

In spite of tremendous opportunities, resources and efforts, transportation planning in Honolulu has been an abysmal failure. Instead of taking a systems approach, integrating land-use development, new technologies and innovative ideas, we suffer from being “behind the curve,” implementing decades-old ideas and trying to ram a square peg into a round hole. [As in the case of the] Superferry and TMT, there has been poor leadership, pathetic engagement of stakeholders, and a winner-takes-all approach to complex planning problems. These are huge public investments that demand rigorous and innovative approaches to joint planning, development, and true shared governance. Otherwise, there will be winners and losers and the community as a whole suffers.

The devil truly is in the details. Many of the details are being managed by faceless outside consultants rather than in a transparent, open, community learning process. We need to debunk the myth of the outside expert. One of the first things I learned about transportation planning is that everyone is an expert. Local knowledge about road conditions, peak travel times, congestion, speed, etc. is not just in the Departments of Transportations and their consulting firms, but it is known and used by people who drive and commute and rush to and from work and school and manage getting to their activities. As an island community, we have an opportunity to truly understand and model and develop traffic solutions. This would require a much greater emphasis not just on data collection, but also building local capacity to understand problems, to design solutions and to work toward continuous learning, engagement and design. There are stunning new technologies in mapping, visualization and monitoring of movements through smartphones, GPS, remote sensing, real-time delivery of information that could be used collectively to optimize our travel decision-making. So we could first and foremost use our existing resources much more effectively. We don’t invest enough in science and technology and integrate it with public policies and decision-making.  

We could have not said it better ourselves to describe the deficiencies in local and state planning. There is no real consideration of a system – as you can see from all the separate agencies engaging in separate plans while the TPC/Go Hillsborough thing was dragging along.  There is no comprehensive vision.  And there is no political will to really tackle the challenges.

And then there was this from an editorial in the Times:

Now, the bad news. Steinman said the state still doesn’t have in its long-range plans the $1 billion needed to remake the Tampa interchange. Those improvements are years away. A lack of state money also means that any new highway lanes are likely to be tolled. And Steinman was frank in calling out the region’s long failure to support its mass transit system. Even a measure Hillsborough is preparing for the 2016 ballot falls short of building up the bus system, much less laying a foundation for rail.

In the ideal situation, the state would not resort to using toll lanes to address its congestion problems. That will only create a two-tiered highway system — a speedier one for those who can afford it — when the government should be acknowledging that highways are an essential part of society and the economy. But the fault for failing to adequately fund transportation rests with the governor and the Florida Legislature, not DOT. And Tampa Bay cannot wait for more progressive tax policy in Tallahassee to address its choking traffic.

The sad reality is Tampa Bay is years away from creating a modern transit system. Steinman said the DOT has quit pursuing plans for a multi-modal station on the site of a hotel in Tampa’s West Shore business district because the cost went through the roof. The state is playing catch-up in an urban commercial center across from a growing international airport — with no clear plans for a transit hub or a mass transit system for moving people across the bay.

This is the state of the road network and transit policy in the region. The DOT’s assurances are more community-minded and more enlightened toward transit. But until bay area officials get serious about mass transit, the only choice is wider highways and working on the margins with the DOT to enhance the look, sound and feel of highway underpasses. That’s not the fault of the state agency but of elected leaders.

Setting aside that FDOT’s plans for TBX will not really solve anything, that is all true. Remember that the real blame is the failure of local government to properly plan and advocate on behalf of the area.  If we had a real regional plan with real political support, FDOT would go along with it.

Transportation – Waffles

Speaking of local officials and on transportation:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is going on the road to campaign for “undecided” on the proposal for a half-cent sales tax for transportation needs.

Higginbotham said he’s got about two-dozen appearances scheduled at civic clubs and homeowners’ associations to talk about the proposal, but still hasn’t made up his mind whether he’s for or against it.

“I want to see what the referendum proposal looks like,” he said. “I want to see what the feel of the citizens is … I’m not keen on a tax, but the feedback that I’m getting in the field is people are supportive of this.”

Higginbotham said he’ll speak on “the problems we’re faced with and the available resources.”

No one wants to pay more taxes.  Yet, at some point, you just have to decide whether we need more money to fix transportation or not, regardless of whether other people favor it or not.  That is leadership.  Even though it is the policy of the County Commission, perpetual waffling is useless. (As is failure to deal openly, honestly, with clear proposals rather than just vague rhetoric, which is the practice of other elected officials.) It all helps explain why we lag other areas.

Transportation – PTC Stands Firm . . . Against Almost Everyone

Speaking of local transportation issues:

A circuit judge on Friday denied a motion from regulators asking for an injunction that could have forced the rideshare company to stop serving the county.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Paul Huey sided with Uber against the Public Transportation Commission, the regulatory agency that argued the rideshare company lacks appropriate background checks, insurance, safety and vehicle inspections required of taxis.

Of course, that does not mean anything in the long run because the case is not over, but

“We thought it was going to be easy-peasy, slam dunk,” said PTC Chairman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist. “Frankly, we’re absolutely shocked.”

Well, litigation is a funny thing.  In any event, maybe this will motivate the PTC to stop being the vanguard of local luddites and actually deal with ridesharing rationally, though we doubt it (note that the PTC will appeal the ruling and keep ticketing Uber drivers). Nevermind that it seems pretty clear that almost no one (other than  taxi companies the PTC protects) supports the PTC position, including the Young Republicans. Add another to the list,

The Epicurean Hotel in South Tampa will now summon an Uber driver for guests who don’t have the ridesharing app on their smartphones.

“It’s what people want,” said Tom Haines, general manager.

The concierge will use an iPad to request an Uber car, and the charge will be billed to the guest’s room, Haines said. Uber, he said, does not charge the hotel a fee for offering the service to its guests.

Yes, it is what people want, but the elected officials on the PTC have demonstrated that they do not care.

Economy – Housing Prices

There was a column in the Times regarding how local housing prices compare to other areas.

Tampa Bay’s median home price enjoyed a bump to $175,000, a brisk 12.2 percent annual gain in the second quarter, but those figures reveal a housing market that remains sharply cheaper than many of its peer metro areas in Florida and the Southeast.

* * *

Within the state, Orlando’s median price hit $198,000 and Jacksonville cracked the $200,000 marker at $204,500, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro topping the larger Florida markets at $289,900 — all up from a year ago but at slower growth rates than in Tampa Bay.

A strip of Florida’s east coast enjoyed some of the faster leaps in housing prices in the country. According to the National Association of Realtors, home prices rose rapidly in the stretch of small cities between Port St. Lucie and Titusville, with the median sales price in those areas rising about 20 percent from a year earlier.

Among major metros in the Southeast, Atlanta’s median home price rose 9.2 percent to $181,500. That’s $6,500 more than Tampa Bay’s median price after a period of years when this Florida housing market was consistently more expensive than Atlanta.

In North Carolina, Charlotte’s median price was up 11.3 percent to $211,400, while Raleigh enjoyed a 17.2 percent spurt to $247,900 — reflecting the state capital’s ongoing reputation as a go-to place for technology companies, millennials and well-educated workers.

Like Raleigh, some other markets that Tampa Bay likes to compare itself to are getting expensive. In Texas, Austin’s median home price hit $271,900, up almost 10 percent on the year. And Nashville homes rose 12.8 percent to $208,500, more than $33,000 above Tampa Bay’s comparable price.

So what does this all mean?

The lower price yet higher growth in Tampa Bay marks it as a more affordable market that’s still appreciating faster than many similar metros in the state and southern region. That’s not only a promising opportunity for home buyers but a marketing message for Tampa Bay economic development leaders to businesses considering relocation or expansion here: There’s good bang for the investment buck, especially with mortgage rates still extremely low.

That is definitely one way to look at it.  Another way to look at it is that there is still an overall weakness in the market – either, even with increased demand, overall demand relative to other areas is still lower, as is available income to pay for housing. Or there is still over-supply.  Regardless, for now, low prices can be used as a marketing tool (if you have it, use it).  However, it should not be overly celebrated because it indicates that we are still lagging behind in the amount of money people have to spend – or are willing to spend – to live in this area. And our relative weakness is emphasized in fact that we a consistently high on the list of foreclosures, even as the overall number comes down.  Once again, we are improving in something, but others are doing better.

Economy – Millennials Beware

Speaking of our local economic performance, or lack thereof, there was another column in the Times regarding areas that are good for people with student loans to pay off.

A new study examining how state economies help or hurt residents coping with student debt finds Florida ranks among the least friendly states.

The Sunshine State ranks 40th among states and the District of Columbia based on factors ranging from the average size of student debt and the proportion of students with debt to the share of students with loans in default and the jobless rate for residents ages 25 to 34.

Put simply, Florida falls into the lowest ranks because its residents with student loans tend to have higher levels of such debt and higher default rates. They also face a job market in Florida with below-average wages in a state that is an increasingly expensive place to live.

Burdened over time, debt-laden residents are forced to hold off on larger purchases, such as homes, and appear to marry and start families later — effectively delaying their contributions to growing the economy. Florida’s rising real estate and rental costs also require residents to devote a higher percentage of their wages to cover housing costs.

Given that our incomes/GMP tend to be on the lower end of major Florida metros, this is magnified for our area.  And the fact is that subsidizing sprawl, pursuing pet projects (like the bizarre push to bring Jai alai to the USF area ), and focusing on low paying jobs rather than focusing on what we really need – higher paying jobs and the better transportation, education, planning, etc., that help draw them will not help.

Built Environment – How to Redevelop a Mall

Over at URBN Tampa Bay they noted an article on redeveloping malls that featured Belmar in Colorado. (See the article here)  We had previously mentioned this particular development in discussing adaptive reuse. (See “Built Environment – Real Adaptive Reuse” )  Given all the talk about rebuilding University Mall and revitalizing that area, it is definitely an article worth reading and understanding.

The key takeaway is that, as is mentioned for University Mall, simply rearranging the blocks of buildings in a sea of parking (whether you take the roof off or not) will not really change the nature of the beast. However, real changes can be made and be successful.  What would be really nice is if there was real effort to transform that very important property.

What Ever Happened to Streetcars?

As many will know, streetcars (and other transit) were far more common in the United States many years ago.  There are many theories about why it faded.  This week we noticed an article in Vox media about another analysis of what caused the demise of streetcars.

Back in the 1920s, most American city-dwellers took public transportation to work every day.

There were 17,000 miles of streetcar lines across the country, running through virtually every major American city. That included cities we don’t think of as hubs for mass transit today: Atlanta, Raleigh, and Los Angeles.

Nowadays, by contrast, just 5 percent or so of workers commute via public transit, and they’re disproportionately clustered in a handful of dense cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Just a handful of cities still have extensive streetcar systems — and several others are now spending millions trying to build new, smaller ones.

That is quite a drop.  What happened?

“There’s this widespread conspiracy theory that the streetcars were bought up by a company National City Lines, which was effectively controlled by GM, so that they could be torn up and converted into bus lines,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

But that’s not actually the full story, he says. “By the time National City Lines was buying up these streetcar companies, they were already in bankruptcy.”

Surprisingly, though, streetcars didn’t solely go bankrupt because people chose cars over rail. The real reasons for the streetcar’s demise are much less nefarious than a GM-driven conspiracy — they include gridlock and city rules that kept fares artificially low — but they’re fascinating in their own right, and if you’re a transit fan, they’re even more frustrating.

You can read the whole article but, essentially, streetcars (as opposed to light rail) run in traffic and, as traffic grew, they became less useful.

In some places, like Chicago, streetcars retained dedicated rights of way, and they survived. Pretty much anywhere else, they were doomed. “With 160,000 cars cramming onto Los Angeles streets in the 1920s, mass-transit riders complained of massive traffic jams and hourlong delays,” writes Cecilia Rasmussen at the Los Angeles Times.

What’s more, in many cities the streetcars’ contracts required them to keep the pavement on the roads surrounding the tracks in good shape. This meant that the companies were effectively subsidizing automobile travel even as it cannibalized their business.

And paying for this maintenance got more and more difficult for one key reason: many contracts had permanently locked companies into a 5-cent fare, which wasn’t indexed to inflation.

In other words, not having dedicated right of way for the train/streetcar and having to subsidize roads (especially with changed planning rules) while keeping fares low caused all sorts of problems.  One of the lessons is that transit needs to be separate from traffic to be truly useful – which is one reason Metro Rapid is not really the answer to transportation issues.  You also need proper planning and development in more than just a downtown area.

That leads us to another Vox media article on why US transit is, for the most part, substandard compared to the rest of the world.  You can read the whole article here, but the key is this:

Although history and geography are partly to blame, there’s a deeper reason why American public transportation is so terrible. European, Asian, and Canadian cities treat it as a vital public utility. Most American policymakers — and voters — see transit as a social welfare program.

Sounds familiar.  One of the reasons transit in this area is so bad is that is it thought of as something for someone other than those planning it. (As made clear by the variable rate lane concept, the entire attitude of the transportation is to stratify users rather than provide comprehensively good service regardless of means.) Until transit is considered a real priority for moving all manner of people around, it will lag.  It is worth a read.

List of the Week

We do not have a list this week other than to say this is the rainiest summer we have ever seen, and that has taken some of our attention recently.  Thankfully, our local governments have spent the last few decades fixing the storm water system County-wide instead of subsidizing private developments and pet projects.

TBX Meeting Tomorrow

August 3, 2015

There will be no Roundup this Friday. We will return next week.

In the mean time, you can head over to the MPO Board meeting on TBX to say what you think.

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page.

Roundup 7-31-2015

July 31, 2015

Contents

Built Environment/Planning/Transportation – Bucharest on Hillsborough?

— The Realtors Talk Walkability

— Mobility Fees: A Step

— Is This Economic Development?

— Conclusion

Transportation – Express Mess

Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – More on the Tribune Site

Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – Altis

Tampa Heights – More Action

Rays – More Silliness

Jackson House – Some Movement

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

____________________________________________________________

Built Environment/Planning/Transportation – Bucharest on Hillsborough?

— The Realtors Talk Walkability

URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to an article from the National Association of Realtors about walkability. You can read the whole article here. There was one thing in particular we wanted to point out:

Residential walkable communities generate four times the tax revenue compared to regional and business malls, bringing more value to the area, according to panelists.

“Walkable urban regions in the U.S. have a 41 percent higher Gross Domestic Product over non-walkable regions,” said Christopher Leinberger, professor at George Washington University School of Business and president of Locus, a national coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable urban development in metropolitan areas. “That’s the difference between countries like Germany and Romania.”

Given the low gross metropolitan product (and really low per capita gross metropolitan product) in this area, this is a very interesting point.

Our area has very little walkability.  That is the result of choices made over decades.  Now we are paying the price, and in some very isolated areas trying to get better (in most areas, like in the Pasco County article we highlighted last week, nothing is being done). Of course, the correlation between walkability and economic performance may not be completely direct.  It may indicate more of a mentality – areas that decide to be walkable may be more interested in investing in their community in things like transit, education, proper planning, etc., and more interested in real economic development (not settling).  Those areas may attract higher paying jobs and more talent that creates higher paying jobs. Nevertheless, it is a correlation.  Moreover, regardless of whether it is direct correlation or result of attitude, we are lacking on both counts.

And there is more from the Realtors:

The days of suburban cul de sacs are numbered: Millennials prefer walking over driving by 12 percentage points, according to a new poll conducted for the National Association of Realtors.

That’s the largest margin in favor of walking for any generation. Millennials want to live within walking distance to shops and restaurants, and have a short commute to work. They also favor expanding public transportation and alternatives such as biking.

The housing market must change to meet these preferences. Millennial disinterest in traditional single-family homes may be one reason why the home ownership rate in the U.S. fell to 63.4 percent in the second quarter, its lowest level since 1967.

“While there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all community, more and more homebuyers are expressing interest in living in mixed-use, transit-accessible communities,” said NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark.

Looking at the Go Hillsborough discussion as it is, it will not go very far in changing our deficiencies.  It does not really have a real transit feature.  Yes, it expands buses a bit and there is a theoretical idea that someday after the streetcar is moderately expanded there may be a starter light rail line in a small portion of Tampa within 30 years with nothing else contemplated.  That is not really in line with what the Realtors are telling us Millennials want. (And remember, Millennials are making decisions now.  All this should have been done decades ago to lay the ground work for a modern and thriving economy.)

And, of course, it is questionable whether Go Hillsborough will actually do anything directly about walkability. Yes, there is talk of new sidewalks but there are sidewalks around the county – just many of them really serve no purpose.  Sidewalks on massive arterial roads or where you have to walk miles through a subdivision to get to even a convenience store is not walkability.  The planning has to change (it should have changed years ago).

And, just to be clear, this, the plan for the renovated Seminole Mall in Pinellas County is not urban, walkable, or really anything other than sprawl, regardless of how it is held out by government or developer.

From Bay News 9 – click on picture for article

This fact is that nothing in the articles is a revelation.  We knew all this years ago and still little has changed.

Moreover, this is not just about walkability.  It touches basically all the issues we discuss – economic development, planning, transportation, good governance, and built environment. (Walkability correlates with economic development and requires real transit, proper planning, good building, and jobs one can get to on foot.  Moreover, it all requires the proper attitude.)  All this highlights our local failings and what it will take to really move forward. (And the local failures probably explain why business leaders seem ready to support Go Hillsborough even though there is no plan and no one knows what might be in it.   They know the facts and just want something done.)

The one upside is that, if there is the will to really change, it can still be done.

— Mobility Fees: A Step

Going back to Go Hillsborough, there is a proposal to change planning and bring in mobility fees.  We, and others, have advocated the County making that move quickly and regardless of whether there is a referendum and/or whether it passes or not.  This week the County Commission took some action in that area:

Hillsborough commissioners on Wednesday gave the county planning staff the okay to explore a change to “mobility fees” as part of a larger comprehensive plan for future growth.

Mobility fees charge builders more for the roads and transit needed to support new development, especially if they build outside the urban core. A final proposal is expected in December.

Ok, that is something.

Many residents want to see developers pay for sprawl and a plan for smarter growth before the county raises taxes. In theory, a shift toward mobility fees would accomplish that.

That could make mobility fees an important piece in persuading the public to support the half-cent sales tax increase in a 2016 referendum.

“I do think we need to solve that mobility fee option irrespective of what happens with Go Hillsborough,” Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. “Yes, we can tie it some to Go Hillsborough, but we need to get that figured out, I think, really, before we go into a full referendum.”

And we agree with that, but we do not understand why it should take until December.  This idea has been out there for years.  Moreover, how the money is used is also important.

Commissioner Sandy Murman stressed that the fees need to be used “as a tool in the toolbox for economic development” and “not just raising fees to help fund our transportation needs.”

“We collect these fees, they go right back into economic development areas to really support the infrastructure and all that needs to take place,” Murman said. 

That would be theoretically ok if 1) “economic development areas” are really economic development areas and not supporting retail and sprawl (see Bass Pro Shops) and 2) it is understood that failing to address the needs all around the county that have been neglected inhibits economic development as  much as anything.  In other words, talking mobility fees is fine if they really mean it (and change planning completely), but there is a big question about what they really mean to do – whether this is just cosmetic or a real change of mentality.

However, throwing in a caveat about “economic development” makes the definition of that term exceedingly important, and, so far, the County has had a very strange definition.  It makes one wonder if any real change is contemplated.

— Is This Economic Development?

The relevance of the County’s strange definition was in focus this week because the County subsidized Bass Pro Shop opened.  The store was sold as being the height of economic development with “destination retail” that will bring all manners of tourists.  We did not buy the argument then, and we do not buy it now.  The Times had an interesting column about it:

A much anticipated Bass Pro Shops store opens Wednesday in Brandon – a 130,000-square-foot, 300-employee reminder that the outdoor recreation company has pegged Florida big enough to handle at least 15 such stores – far more, so far, than any other state.

Quite the unique destination. (If you read the articles like this,  you note that, while a large number of people went to the opening, the people interviewed are all local.) There are only 17 Trader Joe’s in Florida, and they did not get a big subsidy.  Yet, the economic development argument is still being made, such as in this article from Thursday:

In an interview before Wednesday’s event, Hagan said the county’s contribution was a “no brainer.”

“This was an unprecedented economic development opportunity,” Hagan said. “I’d say in my time in office, we’ve never experienced an economic development project that has such an immediate return on investment.”

He said hotels, entertainment venues and theme restaurants are “in the pipeline” for the area and that in addition to Bass’ 300 jobs, the area could see 3,000 new jobs by the time the dust clears.

“The ink wasn’t dry on the Bass deal and Top Golf signed on,” he said, referring to the futuristic golf entertainment complex that opened in December on Palm River Road. “This is going to be a one-of-a-kind entertainment destination that really was a lifetime opportunity for Hillsborough County.”

Hardly. Everything mentioned is low wage retail/hospitality.  And, as noted above, it is not “destination” at all.  Moreover, there are already a number of hotels nearby. And, frankly, the fact that many people want to go to Bass Pro Shop or Top Golf is a reason not to subsidize them.  They have a market here (the fact that so many people went to the opening is an argument for making them pay their fair share, not subsidizing them.) and will come anyway to exploit it – and, if they don’t, their competitors will.  Bass Pro Shops does not have a plan for 15 Florida stores for the health of Hillsborough County – it is looking out for its business and trying to preempt competitors.

Moreover, the subsidy Bass Pro Shops received is exactly the kind deal that has caused the County to be far behind in meeting transportation needs.  It is the County giving tax payer money to private companies to create low wage jobs and to relieve those companies of paying what they should for their developments.

Maintaining the Bass Pro Shops is the height of economic development leads us to wonder if mobility fees are just going to be another way to subsidize sprawl rather than really help the County’s transportation needs?  Frankly, given the County’s poor track record on such things, we would not be surprised.

The Times column concludes with this:

Hillsborough County commissioners debated whether to spend $6.25 million on road improvements to attract a Bass Pro Shops store to Brandon. They approved the deal in early 2013, despite complaints by small businesses that a larger competitor was being subsidized by the government.

Small business was right. But as is often the case, all seems forgiven soon after the grand openings.

Sure, it is nice to have Bass Pro Shops, but we only want to give them money if they have a product we want to buy. And, frankly, we think that people will remember (the Commissioner’s argument from Wednesday is a sign of that).  Many taxpayers are do not want their tax money handed to developers in the name of economic development, especially when the County then comes and tells them there just isn’t any money to do things that are actually needed.

We do not think everyone accepts the County choosing the Romania option.

— Conclusion

The bottom line is that the County (and other local governments) needs to change 1) the fees system, 2) planning, and, most importantly, 3) its mentality.  If those things do not change, nothing will change and we will still lag.

Now, decades after we should have made major changes, decisions have to be made.  The step to mobility fees is something, but the overall Go Hillsborough proposal is questionable, as is the continuing insistence that sprawling retail (or playing fields) is real economic development.

So we put it to the County Commission (and all local officials): Do you want to be more economically like Germany or Romania?

Transportation – Express Mess

Looking at transportation, there were a couple of meetings this week regarding the Tampa Bay Express proposal.  First, FDOT:

For the first time Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation indicated it may be willing to help pay for expanding express bus service that would run on proposed toll lanes along Interstates 4 and 275.

Huzzah. But there is more.

And with a strong enough commitment from Hillsborough County and its cities, the state also may be willing to help fund more elaborate transit options on the interstates, possibly including light rail, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the transportation department’s District 7.

First – “may?” FDOT spends money everywhere else on rail.  It should be axiomatic that they will also spend money on rail here.  The same goes for express buses.  It is the department of transportation, after all.

Second, don’t get too excited yet. There is the caveat of a “strong enough commitment.”  Right now the County has no commitment, so the FDOT statement has no application.  And, of course, like we said, the state should be helping (in fact pushing) for full transit in its cities rather than just pushing express toll lanes and saying maybe it might consider helping with other things.  But that is what we have.

The second meeting involved opponents of Tampa Bay Express.  We have mixed feelings about this opposition.  We understand they want to preserve their neighborhoods, but we also know the roads are inadequate.  There needs to be a middle ground on that aspect of the discussion.

On the other hand:

Opponents of the plan stressed the economic dangers the new lane presented. Ricky Peterika and Taryn Sabia of the Urban Charrette, an organization focused on the importance of urban design, said the lanes would limit public access to downtown Tampa.

The plan, Peterika said, would make the I-275 downtown east exit “express access only,” and would close the I-275 Floribraska exit.

“This is for all commuters,” Peterika said. “Only two entrances to downtown, and one of them is tolled.”

If that is the case, it is ridiculous.  How does having limited access (remember, express lanes have a limited amount of traffic by design) help downtown or commuters? How is making service worse for normal drivers in favor of express lane drivers really helping anything?  It would be one more example of the questionable nature of the variable rate toll lane concept.

Of course, all this goes back to the real problem – the complete lack of proper planning and transit in this area. If there was strong local support for transit and proper roads, FDOT would come along rather than dictating everything.  There is no escaping that, even with FDOT’s flawed plans, the real blame (and still the problem) remains local.

Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – More on the Tribune Site

The Related Group filed more documents with the City regarding their proposal for the Tribune site on the west side of the river.  Included in the packet were renderings and a site plan.  (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting them and cutting down our work load.)  Let’s take a look:

From URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click for post

From URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page – click for post

From URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page – click for post

You can read URBN Tampa Bay’s opinion here.  We agree with most of it, but want to emphasize a few things.

Arquitectonica is the architect.  However, just because they are famous does not mean that everything they do is good.  And it looks like they mailed this one in.

First, we find the design to be quite uninspiring.  Yes, it is not med revival, which is good, but it is really not much else either.  Notably, the developer wants to move forward quickly (that would help if they sell it like Pierhouse).

Second, the tallest feature of this project is the parking garage, which is not really a trend we think Tampa should allow.  Moreover, the garage is in the northwest corner and features what appears to be a 9-10 story blank wall, which cuts off the surrounding area (which is yet to be developed) from the project and, to some degree, the river (which is odd since the river is supposed to be the center of all our development).  Interestingly, the site plan indicates that there will be riverfront restaurant space in the north-east corner, which is fine, except the only way to walk to that is to walk by the rather uninviting parking lot.  (And, even if the garage is to be used for some future project as well, it can be done much more elegantly and without destroying the street level.)

Third, strangely, the project seems to feature apartments that will look straight into the side of the Selmon Expressway – and pretty much nothing else.  Moreover, the side of the building that looks right at the Selmon actually is quite short (about half of it is only four or five stories).  They are not our apartments to rent, but that seems odd.  If anything, the giant blank wall of the parking garage should face the highway (though we are not really in favor of that either).

Finally, our biggest concern is the public space.  This lot is a key connection to any future western riverwalk and from that riverwalk to the area behind the lot towards Hyde Park Ave.  However, looking at the site plan and renderings, it does not appear that there is a riverwalk portion in the plan.  Yes, there is open space by the river, but it looks primarily private space (especially with the pool right on the river).  That would be a major mistake that would push back the formation of any western riverwalk for many years (like the poor designs on the east side did for that project).  Moreover, it seems contrary to stated City plans (see #19 in this pdf).  On the other hand, if the space is going to be part of a riverwalk, it does not appear to connect to the Brorein bridge, which makes it not that useful in connecting to downtown.

In sum, yes, this project is wrapped in an Arquitectonica façade, but that does not make it a quality project.  Sadly, the more that comes out about this project, the less excited we get.  This is a great site that could spin off much more development. We know that Arquitectonica can do better.  We know that Related can do much better.  The City should push them to do so.

Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – Altis

Meanwhile, the first project proposed for this area has changed again.

The northern building, fronting Grand Central Avenue, will be six stories, with 5,000 square feet of storefronts lining Grand Central. The parking garage will be eight stories, with an eighth-floor amenity deck that includes a pool, a two-lane bowling alley and a covered lounge area. On the roof of the lounge area will be a dog park and a demonstration kitchen, where the developer will host cooking events.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is better.  We are still not sure about the big parking garage, though.

The Business Journal article on the changes also included this:

Tampa has been slower to embrace mixed-use development than other cities, with ground-floor retail in residential buildings slower to lease than freestanding retail, but the concept appears to be gaining traction. The retail portion of Post Properties Inc.’s SoHo Square in South Tampa leased up quickly, and the retail spaces for the Pierhouse in Channelside are fully leased, too. 

Actually, Old Hyde Park Village is mixed use and was very popular for a while.  It was the City that kept settling (and keeps) for plans that do not promote walkability (say 10 story parking garages on the main street corner, having large surface parking lots like NoHo Flats or basically anything in Westshore).  That made (and still make) people less likely to get out of their cars.  That, in turn, makes it harder to rent walking based retail the space.  If the City had pushed for walkable development, it would be much further along as walkable areas now.  The same goes for other areas.

So when you say “Tampa has been slower to embrace” make sure to be clear that you mean the government.  Change the planning, stop settling, and see what happens.

Tampa Heights – More Action

There was more news from the Heights.

The developers of The Heights have picked up more land for their mixed-use project.

An affiliate of SoHo Capital paid $3.5 million for 6.3 acres of land on the eastern fringe of what’s known as The Heights, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Thursday.

The Heights is an undeveloped parcel of land on the Hillsborough River, just north of downtown Tampa. It is entitled for 1,600 residential units, 400,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of retail space.

That is interesting. But

The first phase of The Heights, an apartment development named The Pearl, was to break ground in the first quarter of 2015, though that is yet to happen.

Plans for The Pearl call for a 317-unit apartment building on a parcel north of Palm Avenue, with a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units and 17,000 square feet of retail space.

(You can see renderings of the Pearl here.)

We are not clear on the reason for the delay, but it is disappointing.  This is an important area of Tampa to get redeveloped, and it has been a very long time in coming (and apparently some more to go).  The only thing we can hope is that the delay is the result of a redesign to make the parking garages less dominating that in previous renderings. (See “Tampa Heights – A Little More On the Heights Project”)

Rays – More Silliness

Last week, St. Pete decided to do something about the Rays.  No, they did not agree to let the Rays look around the area for a proper site for a potential stadium.

City council members will ask Mayor Rick Kriseman to approve a study assessing the value of the Tropicana Field site — with and without the existing baseball stadium.

The request for a study was approved by the council Thursday night. The request next goes to the mayor for his consideration.

The study would calculate the value of the site with various uses. The assessment’s $125,000 cost would be shared equally between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays, the domed stadium’s primary tenant, said council member Jim Kennedy.

“We have an opportunity to show the Rays what advantages exist within Tropicana Field,” Kennedy said.

The study could be done by Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group highly regarded for its expertise in planning and land-use matters, or a similar organization, Kennedy said.

It could show the advantages of the site, though

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes, the only board member who voted against the proposal, called such a study a waste of taxpayer money.

“If there’s one site in the world that the Rays know about, it’s the Trop site,” Gerdes said. “They know how many people come to it, when they come to it, what price they come to it for,” Gerdes said.

The city and the Rays both know the property, about 85-acres, would be successful if developed, Gerdes said.

“We’re going to get this report that’s going to tell us a bunch of things we already know,” he said.

Pretty much.  And there is another problem:

Jim Cloar, the leader of the Tampa-based Urban Land Institute, said the institute is not eager to get involved in the stalemate between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays over the team’s desire to look elsewhere for a new stadium.

“This has been a somewhat contentious situation with respect to the Rays and the city,” Cloar said.

On Thursday, the city council voted to ask Kriseman to hire a company to calculate the value of the 85-acre site with various uses, both with and without the stadium. The assessment’s $125,000 cost would be shared equally between the city and the Rays, said council member Jim Kennedy.

If the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group highly regarded for its expertise in planning and land-use matters, was hired for the study, eight or nine people would have to be brought in from out of town to work on the job. Even then, Cloar said, he’s not sure the institute could give the city the detailed type of information city leaders say they want about the site.

“Our concern when we read this was that it’s a little more specific than ULI is able to do in that short period of time,” he said.

In other words, St Pete’s plan is to hire people who do not want the job.  That would be consistent with St. Pete’s entire handle of the Rays stadium issue.

What St. Pete should really do is actually address the situation seriously and let the Rays look.  They know the Trop site.  If it is not appealing, a report will not make it more appealing.  If nowhere else is better, so be it. Everything else is just noise.

Jackson House – Some Movement

While the City is tearing down history (the Bro Bowl) to build monuments to history, there is still one building in downtown Tampa that actually part of local African-American history: Jackson House.  This week, there was news that efforts to save it (it is in a bad way) might be moving forward.

Over the past year and a half, owner Willie Robinson Jr. has deeded the storied rooming house to a nonprofit group, the Jackson House Foundation.

A local firm, Bracken Engineering, has donated the time and expertise to design a plan to shore up the ramshackle, wood-frame house. That, supporters hope, can buy enough time for them to raise money for a larger renovation and repair job. A contractor, R.W. Tymewell, has signed on to do the stabilization.

And the Tampa Bay Lightning have given $50,000 to help save the two-story building on E Zack Street.

“We were hoping that we would be able to say to you tonight that (work had) started,” Carolyn Collins, chairwoman of the foundation’s board of directors and past president of the Hillsborough NAACP, told the City Council on Thursday night.

It hasn’t, but Collins said efforts continue to raise matching funds and donations of supplies from private donors, local or state governments, building supply companies, contractors and others. She hoped the $63,685 job to shore up the historic boarding house could start as soon as next week.

While, over the years, the City has done essentially nothing to help save the actually historic structure, there are some donations.

“That phase we have funding for, we are very fortunate,” Collins said. Jeff Vinik donated $50,000 to the Jackson family. That money will go towards the $64,000 stabalization bill.

And thank you to the Lightning owner for that.  The efforts of private citizens might be pushing the City to finally be constructive.

When prospects looked bleak, the NAACP stepped in to try to rally support for the house. City officials have met with the NAACP, Robinson and others to work on the plans to seek grants.

Once supporters get to the point where they are ready to move forward with stabilizing the building, City Attorney Julia Mandell said Tampa officials will be in a position to resolve some of the outstanding code enforcement violations and fines that have been assessed against the property.

Good.  History walks and monuments are fine, but actual history is much better.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

We have been critical of the City’s obsession with removing the mounds in Riverfront Park rather than rebuilding them to look more organic and provide a vertical element that affords unique views of downtown in what is basically a flat area.

Recently a reader pointed us in the direction of Sarasota County where landfills have been transformed into a somewhat unique park – Celery Fields.  While the park is a bit isolated, there is a relatively large hill with trails that overlooks a wetland area and provides unique views. We were curious if there were reviews of the park, and, low and behold, there are reviews on TripAdvisor.  And they are almost all good.  We suspect that is because you cannot get a hill anywhere in Sarasota, and the park is really cool. (There is another park built on a landfill with a major hill and a trail further east.)

There are also precious few hills in Tampa (and those that do exist are not treated very well). We understand that downtown Tampa is a little different but some creativity and vision would see that the idea of providing the public a unique vista would be a very positive thing.  We don’t need every park to be essentially the same.

And, completely coincidentally, this week the County started talking about how to spend the BP settlement money.

That assessment is shared by two Hillsborough County commissioners who want to spend a $22.8 million settlement from a county lawsuit against oil company BP on environmental protection.

“This is money from an environmental disaster that had far-reaching effects, not only on our environment but our economy as well,” said Commissioner Stacy White, who floated his proposal late last week. “It only makes sense to spend this on environmental projects.”

On Tuesday, Commissioner Les Miller rolled out a proposal that mirrors White’s. Both would give the bulk of the money, $15 million, to the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, commonly known as ELAPP. The money could be used to buy conservation land andto maintain land already under ELAPP protection.

* * *

In addition to funding ELAPP, White wants to spend $5 million on greenways and on blueways, coastal areas that can be explored by canoe and kayak. The remaining money would go to coastal restoration, $2 million; boat ramp enhancements, $700,000; ecotourism, $50,000; and native plants for county parks, $50,000.

In a departure from White’s plan, Miller would spend just $2.5 million on greenways and blueways and $2.5 million on the Environmental Protection Commission, the county’s regulatory agency. 

As a general concept, that makes sense to us.  We need more green and blue ways. We need creative recreation areas, like those in Sarasota.  This is a quality of life issue that, addressed properly and creatively, helps draw talent by giving a greater variety of recreation and lifestyle.  Unless the County is going to put all the money to transportation, green and blue ways seem a logical focus.  It certainly should not go into some discretionary fund to help subsidize more sprawl in the name of “economic development.”

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There is a lot of talk about a boom in Tampa, especially downtown.  We thought it might be interesting to see a real boom graphically represented.  Seattle’s city government has created an interactive map showing just that.  Click here and scroll out a bit to see a full on boom.

Now that is a boom, but they are Germany to our Romania.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 7-24-2015

July 24, 2015

Contents

  • Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?
  • Downtown – A New Tallest?
  • Bayshore – Cashing In
  • Economy – VC Watch
  • Economy – Housing
  • Surprise, The Rays Have Fans
  • Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect
  • Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?
  • Better Elections?
  • List of the Week

Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the USF area innovation district idea.

After decades of growing out, Hillsborough County now wants to grow from within.

To get there, the county is jumping onto the latest trend in urban planning: building an innovation district.

Hillsborough’s proposed 2016 budget includes $2 million to create a master plan for redeveloping the area around University of South Florida. The so-called innovation district would link the economic engines in that region — like USF, Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center, among others — to try to resurrect nearby transient, high-crime neighborhoods.

The county is moving forward with the plan even though Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million matching grant. Hills­borough’s budget won’t be finalized until September.

We are not sure why the money was vetoed, but credit where credit is due.  At least the County realizes that they still need to move forward.  That is good.  But what are they doing?

While still in its infancy, the innovation district represents a significant shift toward redeveloping established communities instead of building office parks and corporate campuses along the spacious Interstate 75 corridor, near the expanding suburbs.

“We can take an area that is dangerous to walk, dangerous to ride a bike and, in some cases, dangerous to drive and drop people off, and improve and enhance the community through the attraction of companies and businesses,” said former county Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who leads the push to create the district as director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

Sharpe estimates the idea could attract up to $1 billion in development.

As a very general idea, that is fine.

But what exactly is an innovation district — a term that sounds as visionary as it does vague — and how would it help the county achieve that goal?

Innovation districts have sprouted up in urban hubs throughout the country as younger workers have gravitated toward cities.

The districts are often located around existing economic anchors, like hospitals and universities, that were built away from downtown where there’s more space. These large employers have good-paying jobs and significant research capacity, but also realized they need to better position themselves to attract well-educated millennials, who tend to be single and want to live and play near where they work.

As it is, innovation districts are a mix of new business space with housing, retail, parks, restaurants and bars. It’s a departure from the once in-vogue business parks of the past 20 years, which sprawled out into large suburban spaces and were vacated after the workday.

And that is fine, too.  However, it has to be said that the area around USF is not really prime for such a transformation.  To start with, USF is built for cars.  The core of USF is very far from the surrounding neighborhood and the campus is car oriented.  And the roads around USF are not built for walking – nor is anything built around USF – and cut it off from the surrounding area.  It would be quite a task to really change the area, though that does not mean it should not be tried.

But there are challenges as well, including the region’s transportation woes. The county is weighing a half-cent sales tax increase to help alleviate gridlock.

Sharpe and county officials hope the new revenue could also eventually bring new transit systems to link the innovation district to downtown, West Shore and Tampa International Airport — particularly for millennials that increasingly eschew cars.

Not to mention linking USF to the surrounding area.

The county must also finally address the nearby low-income neighborhoods, said Commissioner Victor Crist.

“If you don’t stabilize the neighborhood and educate the area, you won’t have a viable workforce and you’ll continue to have high crime and people won’t want to move there no matter what you do,” Crist said.

In a report last year, the Brookings Institution noted that many of these districts have sprung up in underutilized or economically depressed areas. But lifting up the people in those communities must be baked into the mission of the innovation district for it to succeed, Lower said. Cortex, for example, offers coding classes for women and minorities.

We would not hold our breath for real transit connections.  As for economically depressed areas, many depressed areas that get revitalized are old parts of town with a dilapidated but traditional, urban building stock on a normal grid where buildings are ready for rehab and empty lots are easily filled with urban developments.  They are often ready made for fixing up.  The USF area is not.  It has to be completely rebuilt, which will not really help the people there now and is extremely expensive.

Of course, there is another issue.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion redevelopment aims to create that kind of millennial-friendly space in downtown Tampa. That could create regional competition for the USF-area district, but Sharpe believes the two developments would work in harmony.

“There’s a desire to bring a large company downtown, but they couldn’t manufacture there,” Sharpe said. “So they could bring their headquarters downtown and manufacturing comes toward the university area.”

They could do that, but then it would not really be an attractive, walkable area.  The reality is that the two concepts do compete.  And moving the med school downtown will not enhance the attractiveness of the USF area.  In fact, it runs counter to the description of innovation districts in the quotes above.  But, so be it.  Part of the argument for moving the med school is to draw people to a cool neighborhood where they can “live, work, and play,” which is interesting regarding the innovation district.

Dennis Lower, president and CEO of the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, put it this way:

“In the technology sector, people of credentials have a passport to go anywhere, and they will go to the coolest places they can find,” he said. “So if you’re not creating cool, you will have a problem.”

And we have said that for a while now.  They can go anywhere – including not in this area.

We are all for trying to fix up the area around UF.  We are all for innovation.  We like the Lightning owner’s proposal.  However, we are also cognizant that many of these ideas are inconsistent.  And none of them will fully succeed without real transit for more than a very small area and real planning changes.  We are still waiting for that to be truly addressed.  Until it is, nothing will have really changed.

Of course, maybe we still need the innovations and money to grow and keep them here.

Downtown – A New Tallest?

There was some news about the former Trump Tower site this week.

The city’s tallest skyscraper would rise on the former site of the ill-fated Trump Tower along the Hillsborough River under plans filed this week with the city.

Feldman Equities, a St. Petersburg-based developer headed by Larry Feldman, filed plans for a 52-story, mixed-use building at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

* * *

It is labeled only as “Future Riverside Residences” in city paperwork, but would conform to much of the site plan approvals granted for the Trump project, which had also been envisioned as a 52-story structure.

It would stand just under 627 feet tall, supplanting the 579-foot Regions tower as the Tampa Bay area’s tallest building.

The first floor would feature retail and restaurant space fronting the Hillsborough River. The next seven levels would be parking, with 630 spaces.

The structure follows with 14 stories of office space and 30 floors featuring 203 luxury residences.

URBN Tampa Bay posted a copy of the diagram from the Accela website (which also has a site plan).

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click on picture for posting

The first thing to note is that the proposal is very preliminary.  There is no full plan.  In fact, it is not even clear if this is a proposal for an actual building or if it is just a move to position the property for sale to another developer.

That being said, cool.  It would be nice to have a new tallest building and to break the 600 foot mark.  We like the idea of a mixed use building – a true mixed use building.  And we really like that the idea seems to be to build the building to face the Riverwalk, which would be a first.   It would also have some very good views (though it would block views from other buildings, but that is the nature of downtowns.)

Because it is so preliminary, it is difficult to say much more. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up here.  That also includes some modelling to show how the building might look.)  It would be interesting to see how this office space competes with the Lightning owner’s plan.

One thing to always keep in mind is that in the cyclical economy of this area, there are always bursts of proposals, many (if not most) of which never get built.  The developer here has a track record, but past performance is not a guarantee of future returns.  We shall just have to wait and see.

Bayshore – Cashing In

There is also another proposal from Crescent to build on the few remaining lots they have near their 8 story complex (which sold for quite a bit of profit).  While the location would be great for a substantial building, the proposal is for more of the same – including no retail.   Once again, URBN Tampa Bay has a rendering from the Accela website.

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page – click for post

We completely understand the desire to build more of the same and cash in.  However, we think it is a shame that they are not making better use of the property.

Economy – VC Watch

There was an article in the Business Journal about venture capital.

Six companies in the Bay area received a total of about $40 million in venture capital funding in the second quarter of 2015, according to the The Money Tree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

The bulk of the VC investment went to AquaVenture Holdings LLC,a Tampa company that provides filtered drinking water to businessses and water management to municipal and industrial clients. AquaVenture received $30 million, as Tampa Bay Business Journal reported in May.

That’s a big amount for this area.  Can we compare it?

The six local firms were among 17 Florida firms that pulled in a total of $153.7 million in the three months ended June 30. The largest VC investment in the state in the just-ended quarter was $50 million to Mdlive Inc., a Sunrise company that provides telehealth services and software. 

So we got a decent percentage of Florida.

Nationally, venture capitalists invested $17.5 billion in 1,189 deals in Q2. Quarterly venture capital investment increased 30 percent in terms of dollars and 13 percent in the number of deals, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Doing the math, we are about .9% of the national population and got about .2% of the venture capital last quarter, which was a good quarter.  Just a little bit of perspective.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look in on the housing market.

Year-over-year sales of single-family homes — which make up the bulk of the residential real estate market — soared 31.7 percent in Pasco County, 29.5 percent in Pinellas and 27.4 percent in Hillsborough.

Prices in all three counties also rose, though less dramatically, while the median number of days homes sat on the market shrank — evidence that buyers are snapping up realistically priced homes.

“Overall, it’s been a very solid market for pending sales month after month, and June was a strong closing month,” Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker in Tampa, said Wednesday.

But, he added, “it’s still a value-driven market. If you overprice a property, it’s just not going to sell today. Because of the Internet, buyers have a lot more information available to them, and they have a very strong understanding of what the value should be.” 

That is good.  How does it compare to the rest of the state and country?

Nationally, sales of existing (as opposed to newly built) homes rose 3.2 percent in June, with sales now at the highest pace since February 2007. Throughout Florida, year-over-year single-family home sales shot up 19.6 percent, while median prices increased for the 43rd consecutive month.

That is also good.  AS regular readers know, these stats seem to be on a roller coaster.  We hope the upward motion continues.

Surprise, The Rays Have Fans

There was a column in the Times about the existence of Rays fans.

The average attendance at Tropicana Field remains below 15,000, putting the Rays in danger of being Major League Baseball’s lowest-drawing team since the 2006 Marlins.

In many ways, it has become part of the franchise’s identity. The Rays are known for pitching, a shrewd front office and a lack of fans in the seats.

And, yet, there are some other figures that should be included in this never-ending debate. Last week, the folks at Nielsen released TV ratings for all U.S. markets for the first half of the season, and the numbers in Tampa Bay are intriguing.

The Rays may be chasing the Yankees in the American League East, but they have beaten up on sitcoms, cop shows and reality TV.

Rays games are the No. 2-watched programming in Tampa Bay whenever they air in prime time on Sun Sports. Let that sink in. No. 2.

That means, on average, more people are watching Rays games than whatever NBC, ABC or Fox is showing in Tampa Bay. Only CBS affiliate WTSP has higher average prime-time ratings than Sun Sports, and the gap (4.56 to 4.29) is not terribly large.

The Rays are getting a higher percentage of TV viewers than the Yankees or Dodgers do in New York and Los Angeles. They get more total viewers than the White Sox in Chicago or the Braves in Atlanta.

This means the community that is routinely ridiculed nationally for a lack of fan support is actually getting more enviable TV numbers than bigger or more historic markets.

So how is low attendance explained?

Perhaps it’s not an issue of whether Tampa Bay cares about the Rays, but rather a question of whether Tampa Bay can afford the Rays.

When you combine a community on the low end of the household income scale with a sport that typically needs to sell 2 million tickets a year, you have a challenge.

And this is how you end up with a lot of fans watching, but not so many attending.

Perhaps, but that does not explain how the Lightning draw more fans per game in a smaller building (admittedly with fewer games, but also fewer cheap seats).

The fact remains that the location of the Trop is a problem.  It is not central in the metro or to baseball fans.  We are not saying the Rays would sell out every game by moving, but the demographics for the Trop are not good and will only get worse as Hillsborough and Pasco – not to mention all those places east on I-4 – grow while Pinellas does not.  Even if downtown St. Pete gets a large number of residents, the fact remains that the fans are concentrated elsewhere.  Ignoring that obvious point is silly.

Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect

There was an article on the front page of the Tribune this past weekend about the boom times in Pasco County.

What is fueling such growth in the area? Is it the economic recovery in Hillsborough and Tampa, with the urban area spreading north over the county line? Is it affordability as Tampa land prices skyrocket and Pinellas County remains largely built out? Is it the attraction of a roomy new family home with a big yard versus urban living?

“It’s probably a combination of all those things,” said Marvin Rose, longtime Tampa Bay area housing market tracker. But he and other real estate analysts are watching for the south Pasco area to emerge from its reputation as Tampa’s “bedroom community” to become a self-sustaining, jobs-providing, live-work-play center of its own.

Ah, the clichés.  If everywhere is “live-work-play” then it stops being a selling point – or any point.

“I think you’ll find, for example, that on the eastern end of (State Road) 56, there’s an opportunity to live, work and play with (The Shops at Wiregrass’) success,” Eshenbaugh said. “It’s such a great location; there’s so much development around it. It’s a million-square-foot mall — life is perfect. Starbucks has arrived. McDonald’s is there, and now the hospital shows up. A community college campus. You can ride your bike from your apartment or town house, and if Raymond James (a long-planned financial center) goes in there, they have reached nirvana.

Getting McDonalds and Starbucks is certainly front page news in a top 20 metro.  And here is that bike friendly community college campus.  Perfect.

But there is more.

Richard Gehring, Pasco County’s strategic policy administrator, said the county’s southern corridor already has a population of about 125,000 people. In 15 years, that number is expected to be 320,000.

“This is our urban corridor,” he said. And where you have rooftops, retail follows. “There is dirt flying all the way from Little Road to U.S. 301.”

Wesley Chapel and the S.R. 56 interchange has become the economic engine for the county. The new Tampa Premium Outlets is racing toward its opening Oct. 29.

Anyone who has actually driven in Wesley Chapel/SR 54/SR 56 – because walking is completely out of the question, as is biking or taking any form of transit – would have a very hard time understand what definition of “urban” is being used here.  The SR 54 and SR 56 interchanges could not be closer to the very quintessence of suburban (or even exurban) sprawl.  In that area multiple intersections have three left turn lanes in each direction (see here, here  and here – though the last two do not show the present buildout .  Perfect.

(Granted, we will likely go to the outlet mall – though we are not sure how often because the access is destined to be a mess.)

The fact is that Pasco is just doing what everyone else has done (though you think they would have learned from all the mistakes Hillsborough/Tampa – and Pinellas – made, especially down the road in New Tampa), even with mobility fees.  The roads are clogged and poorly laid out.  Transit is nonexistent.  Walking is impossible.  Even the highway system (if you can call it that) is weak.  Pasco could still fix most (not all) of this, but they seem determined to go the other way.

In any event, it is just another example of the small town, “don’t miss the land rush” hype that has been (probably all the way back to the 1920’s or more, but we haven’t checked) and is standard fare in this area.  Maybe one day we will grow out of it.

Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?

Speaking of the river, some Riverwalk art was revealed this week.

Friends of the Riverwalk unveiled designs Friday for three new monuments showcasing important events in Tampa’s history. If enough money can be raised, the monuments will be placed along the Historic Monument Trail on Tampa’s Riverwalk.

They depict events that “altered the course of the city and the county,” Tampa Bay History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell said during a news conference.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn sees the monuments as a way to show everyone Tampa’s history and culture.

“I think it’s one of the most transformative projects we’ve embarked on as a city,” Buckhorn said. “We want this Riverwalk to be a learning experience.”

The monuments will honor Tampa’s cigar industry, the expansion of railroads to Tampa’s port, and the impact of World War II on Tampa’s economy. 

The idea of being educational all seems fine.  The real question is execution.  These are the renderings:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We understand that art is subjective and that renderings do not really tell you what the reality will be and we know that the materials will make a difference.  However, based on these renderings, we are not so fond of these proposals (some are better than others).  Just like with some of the artwork slated for the Perry Harvey Park, they may tell a story that people want to be told, but we are not sure they will really stand the test of time.  The biggest problem in our eyes is that they try to do too much and gets very cluttered.  They do not have to tell the whole story – that is what museums are for, and, conveniently, there is a history museum nearby on the Riverwalk.

And this all raises the question of why the World Trade Center steel was not put in MacDill Park where it would be a learning experience and monument made from the real thing for everyone walking by rather than stuck in the Bayshore median where it is mostly ignored.

Better Elections?

Way back in 2011, we had a piece about open primaries.  Our idea was in no way original – just our opinion.   Open primaries exists in many states.  Nevertheless, this is what we said:

The Florida legislature has wrapped up for this session, which was extremely partisan.  Tampasphere has no party affiliation – it is issue based.  There is no monopoly on good ideas.  The concern is that politics and government – national, state, and local – seems inexorably to become more partisan and less effective every year.

One reason for this, we believe, is the closed primary system, which leads to a tendency to have “the base” – the most partisan voters – pick candidates.  It is well-known that many candidates play to “the base” in primaries and then try to move to the center for the general election.  To us, this seems like a recipe for les [sic] effective government – as elected officials always have to worry about “the base” rather than the entire population they represent.

Though imperfect, open primaries would force candidates to speak to the entire electorate from the beginning.  Obviously, there is a risk of voters trying to sabotage the other party by picking the most extreme candidate in the other party.  Frankly, that does not seem to be that big a risk – there are not too many examples (though this was really odd.)  The present system already has a tendency to pick very partisan candidates. (The Economist had an interesting discussion of California.).  It seems more logical that open primaries would generally represent to will of the electorate better.  Just a thought – we are open to other suggestions.

This week, the Times had an article on (thankfully) a move to get open primaries in Florida.

Armed with data that shows that the fastest growing segment of Florida’s electorate is choosing no party affiliation, a bipartisan group of activists is pushing for a constitutional amendment to open Florida’s closed primary system to all voters.

The All Voters Vote amendment will be delivered today to the Florida Division of Elections with the hope of getting enough signatures to place it on the 2016 ballot.

Miami lawyer Gene Stearns, who is leading the effort, said the goal is to encourage elected officials to listen to a broader swath of voters by giving voice to the growing number of Floridians who are written out of the state’s primary election system because they choose not to register with any political party.

“The two parties are becoming increasingly extreme and increasingly shrill because the people who control the outcomes dictate what you have to do to be nominated to a particular party,” said Stearns, who served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Dick Pettigrew and campaign manager to former Gov. Reubin Askew, both Democrats.

“The result of this is more and more people are becoming unwilling to identify with either of them. The consequence of their collective decision is making politics worse and governments more damaged than they have already become.”

Under current law, only when a candidate has no opposition from outside their party can all voters cast a vote in that race in the primary.

The proposed amendment, if passed, would allow all registered voters to vote in primaries for congressional and state partisan offices regardless of the party affiliation of the voters or candidates.

The candidate who receives the most votes and the runner-up would advance to the general election. In state elections, the candidate who gets more than 50 percent of votes in the primary wins the election.

You can read the whole article here.   We still think it is a good idea.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 7-17-2015

July 17, 2015

Economic Development – And?

Last week, we highlighted a Times column on what drives (or does not drive) the Tampa Bay economy. (See “Economic Development – If You Build It Will They Will Come?”)  We noted that we cannot rely, as we have for so long, on the weather, the water, etc.  A few days later, the Tribune ran a long article on the work of the EDC.  It really did not add much to the conversation, but we will highlight a few parts.

Sleuths are at work in Hillsborough County, digging up information on out-of-state executives and their businesses.

Their goal: To entice top-paying companies to the shores of Tampa Bay.

Economic development guru Rick Homans leads the charge. Since 2012, Homans’ organization, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., has attracted more than 10,100 new jobs to the county and more than $816.7 million in capital investment for new and existing businesses.

“The key is to keep that pipeline of jobs and capital investment flowing into our community,” said Homans, president and CEO of the EDC. 

That’s all good, but it does not answer the question of why no one can say what drives the Tampa Bay economy or why our wages and per capital GMP are so low.

When corporations such as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Amazon roll into town, tax revenue increases, landscape companies prosper and other local businesses can even get a piece of the action, said Larry Richey, senior managing director and Florida market leader for Cushman & Wakefield commercial brokers.

“Winning those projects doesn’t just happen because we have nice weather, we live on the water and don’t have state income tax,” Richey said. “You’ve got to go out and win those projects by selling the Tampa Bay area.” 

First, setting aside that we agree with (and have discussed) how getting more jobs (especially higher paying jobs) create business other than just the jobs themselves, much of that sales pitch is weather, water and low taxes (and real estate costs and wages). For instance this.  To say otherwise is disingenuous. Second, Amazon is here because they need warehouses near big population.  They are all over the country.   (and they got incentives in the local counties).  Third, most of the banking in the area is backoffice, the focus on which is really one of the main issues of the economic development discussion.  We have nothing against all those jobs.  They are all welcome, but real success is HQ jobs, higher paying jobs, real tech jobs – and we need local businesses to stay and grow here.  That will grow the whole economy.

Everyone knows that (and there is no reason to act otherwise).

These days, at least part of Homans’ focus is on finding and luring a Fortune 500 headquarters here, lining up with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion plan for downtown redevelopment.

* * *

In the early stages of recruiting a company, it’s all very hush-hush. But once the deals are done, when offices get furnished and new employees pour in, the trickle-down to the community can be huge.

* * *

Finding a company that is the right fit for this area is the daunting part.

In its quest to lure a corporate headquarters here, Homans and his staff started with a list of 2,000 corporations.

“We started to look at which ones had any level of operations here in Tampa Bay and started to look at certain criteria like, has there been a merger or acquisition, has there been a change in executive leadership, has there been something that’s happened in their market that would prompt discussion about relocation.”

An example of that is the recent failed move by the Connecticut Legislature to increase business taxes by $1.2 billion over two years, prompting a major backlash from large businesses there. Aetna, Inc., General Electric Co. and Travelers Companies, Inc, all threatened to leave the state, which has one of the highest corporate income taxes in the country.

The EDC also looks at the top executives of a company and seeks out any possible connection — friendships, military service, family — they might have to this area. Did they attend college in Florida? Do any of them own a second home here?

The EDC’s list of 2,000 corporations narrowed to 350, mostly from the northeast, some from the Midwest, that match one or more criteria, which may include access to direct flights from their existing market to Tampa.

“We don’t want to waste time on a company that is rock solid with deep community roots,” said Homans, who gets a salary and bonuses totaling $275,000. “We look at whether there’s a high level of pain or a higher level of loyalty” to where they currently have a headquarters.

For downtown Tampa, it needs to be the right company, one that will become the signature brand for the area and lure other businesses in. Once that headquarters comes, Homans said, others will likely follow.

(Note the importance of taxes and do you think they would have a second home if not for the water and weather). And that’s all fine as far as it goes, but let’s be real – for downtown Tampa, any decent sized company HQ would be a coup.  (as opposed to potentially losing an HQ, like TECO.) While the EDC might be selective in choosing targets based on possibility of success (a perfectly rational approach), is it really going to be that selective (and should it be?) in terms of companies moving here (and are local governments going to balk at incentives when they give money for warehouses and retail establishments)?  And, of course, there is this:

Sometimes, it is the company that finds Hillsborough County. In all cases, confidentiality plays a major role in the process.

In one instance recently, a site selection consultant — the person responsible for scouting new business locations — called to announce that a Fortune 500 company wanted to come for a visit.

So, to some degree this is all chance. (Like Hertz in Ft. Myers)

The article then goes on to tout how the EDC partners with local educational institutions, etc.  And that is all good, too.

In all, it is a nice article, but it does not get to the main point: we are behind and we are not a clear draw like other cities.

We all know transportation is an issue.  We know the built environment is an issue. We know there is a lingering impression on education.  As we noted last week, even our major universities are still not as prominent or as powerful a draw as in other cities. Though we have assets, we are not a tech hub.  We are not a transportation hub (much as we love the airport and the port has potential).  Despite some good cultural assets, we are not known for our cultural achievements.  And we lack venture capital.

Those are facts.  All the articles in the world in local papers will not change that. (Nor will they change the fact that for decades there have been innumerable things touted as great successes, game-changers, bringing us into the big leagues, etc., that, while often ok, have not done the trick – hence the continuing discussion.)

We are happy the EDC is doing all that work.  We hope they succeed.  What would really help the EDC in their job would be if the other issues were fully and effectively addressed.

Transportation – Move and Punt

Speaking of one of those lingering issues, transportation, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough/Whatever group voted this week on whether to move forward with the Go Hillsborough process. Not surprisingly, they voted to move forward.  Flawed as it is, we think it should move forward.  So does the Times, which features this editorial that echoes many of our comments:

By moving ahead to create a work plan, the county would be forced to examine the lopsided focus on road work. The city of Tampa would have to explain how it could fund a rail system, what type of rail that would be and where it would go and when. Hillsborough’s mass transit agency would have to show how it could achieve the goal of doubling the bus system and creating new express routes even as county commissioners are looking to siphon much of that money away for expanded bus service in the suburbs.

There is a big gap between the promises local officials made in rolling out the plan last month and the numbers that make up the spending plan. If a half-penny won’t pay for road needs already on the books today, how will it make this community a more appealing, convenient and marketable destination for the next three decades — along with vastly expanding the bus system and laying a foundation for rail?

Moving this plan to the next stage will force local leaders to put real details on the table. The voters need a better sense of what they would be buying and some picture of the options that commuters would have that they don’t have today. The county also would have time to show good faith by reversing the wasteful land development policies that created these problems with the sprawling road network in the first place. Supporters should use the next several months to strengthen and publicly air the work plan. It should be clear by the fall whether something that at this stage looks too little, too late can be improved to make it worth the effort to pursue in 2016.

Pretty much.

And not only did they approve moving forward,

Hillsborough leaders said Thursday that they won’t put the proposed half-cent transportation sales tax on the 2016 ballot without getting more public input on what kind of roadway and transit projects voters actually want.

Does 100 public meetings over two months sound like enough voter input?

The policy leadership group, a collection of county and city officials, has already spent two years trying to craft a transportation plan that they hope will entice voters. They’ve spent $1 million on consultants and conducted 36 public meetings this spring, in addition to a poll and online outreach.

They still do not know what to do.  And how much will it cost for the elected officials to actually know what their constituents want?

Parsons Brinckerhoff will be paid $350,000 for the work in addition to the $1 million the firm already netted from previous outreach. The county will pay the lion’s share of that, chipping in about $250,000. The rest will come from the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City in addition to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.

Consultants will present a detailed list of projects to county commissioners at their Nov. 5 meeting. If the commissioners approve the list, they will set a Dec. 2 public hearing where commissioners will vote on whether to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot.

Nothing like charging the taxpayers again.  And what is the purpose this time?

The next round of meetings will focus on identifying a specific list of road and transit projects that would be completed in the first decade of the proposed 30-year tax.

In other words, to do what the last round of the Go Hillsborough meetings was supposed to do. No surprise there.  They do not really want to have to make any decisions.

There was one Commissioner opposed to moving forward.

Commissioner Stacy White said the county needs to provide more details and implement better land use policies and mobility fees before he can support the plan. He was the only member of the policy group to not vote in approval of moving forward with developing the plan.

There is a decent amount of sense in that, though the process should move forward.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Sadly, this muddle is what we have come to expect of the elected officials in Hillsborough County.  It is one of the major reasons we lag other areas.

Transportation – Never Enough

And now that the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group had public meetings, then outsourced public outreach to consultants so as to create a proposal for a possible plan, HART now wants to have more public meetings.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has arranged for a series of open house meetings beginning July 23 to get public input on its Transit Development Plan Update, which reflects that possible surge of new money. The agency is required by the Florida Department of Transportation to update the 10-year plan annually.

HART officials attended all 36 Go Hillsborough meetings between February and May at which the public provided input on how to solve the gridlock on the county’s roadways. The Go Hillsborough transportation committee, made up of all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, recently agreed that if a half-cent sales tax is approved by voters, HART will get a quarter of the revenue, or $30 million a year. The committee is expected to decide Thursday when the measure will appear on the ballot.

The HART board will get its first look at the transit plan update Monday during its regular meeting, ahead of the public open houses.

“These meetings we are planning are an opportunity for HART to go out to the public as part of its annual update process and ask the question, ‘Have we heard you right?’ ” said Marco Sandusky, senior manager of equal employment opportunities and community programs for HART.

Huh?  Getting public output is fine but at some point people actually have to make decisions.  If the entire public meeting plus Go Hillsborough process was not enough to tell officials what people want, why have they spent all this time and money?

Transportation – City Working the Taxes

It seems the first step to the City pushing some money to transit is under way.

With the millennial generation inching away from America’s car culture, building new homes no longer necessarily means more cars on the road.

That is especially true in revitalized urban areas favored by young professionals who seek a home within walking distance of offices, stores, bars and restaurants.

Yet Tampa regulations state that impact fees developers are charged when they build new homes and office blocks can only be spent on projects to help squeeze extra cars onto city streets. 

Setting aside that the impact fee system is broken, most of Tampa’s planning decisions also focus on cars – to this day.  In any event,

That could end Wednesday with the city council set to consider a change allowing the fees to go toward other forms of transportation, including mass transit, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

“It gives you more flexibility certainly in the downtown where we’re not going to be widening roadways to add more capacity,” said Jean Duncan, city director of transportation and stormwater services. “It’s going to be a great tool for that downtown area for sure.”

(ed. note that the agenda said this was a first reading.) That’s fine, except for the obsession with just downtown to the neglect of most of the rest of the city.  Helping downtown is fine, but there is much more to the city (say, Westshore and the space between the two, not to mention everywhere else)

But the move would give the city another resource for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s goal of making Tampa a more walkable, less car-centric city. If approved by council members, beginning Aug. 1, the city could use the money for new bike lanes or trails, improved bus shelters or to contribute toward the potential expansion of Tampa’s downtown streetcar system.

* * *

Buckhorn has proposed that the city take over operation of the streetcar and transform it from a tourist attraction into a mass transit option for residents of Tampa’s downtown. The project has taken on increased importance with plans by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for $1 billion of redevelopment around Amalie Arena. 

We are in favor of expanding the streetcar, but we know that, on its own, the streetcar is not mass transit.  To be mass transit, it has to go outside downtown and bring people in and out of the area (and we do not mean a couple of blocks). And, for most of the run, it has to have dedicated paths or it will be too slow to be effective.  That is the whole point of mass transit in a city.

Moreover, there is no official plan to do anything other than stretch the streetcar a bit, no real plan to get to the airport and Westshore.  Sure, it is mentioned, but what is the actual plan?  And, of course, there is no explanation of how the city running trains would integrate with the county – where most of the people live – and expand to really make downtown the thriving heart of the area. Narrowing the roads in and around downtown and not having transit into downtown is not really a recipe for making it really accessible and thriving.  The reality is that, even if more people live in and around downtown, it will always be a fraction of the people in the county, let alone the area.  You need a way to get those people in and out of downtown for it to be really successful.

So, yes, putting money to things other than roads is good.  But how, when, where, and what are all big questions.

“North Hyde Park” – Building, but What?

There was an article in the Tribune regarding “North Hyde Park” (which is name that is pure marketing), the area north of Kennedy near downtown.

The legend of Kennedy Boulevard being the great dividing line between Cool Tampa and the rest of the city may be fading.

The latest evidence? A residential boom appears imminent in North Hyde Park, a neighborhood of former warehouses and light industry just north of Kennedy that has been targeted for several new apartment, town home and mixed-use projects.

“There’s just a buzz of activity in the North Hyde Park area that we hope is continuing,” said Stefan McSweeney, a director with St. Petersburg-based Cardinal Point Management, which is proposing a mixed-use project at 301 N. Rome Ave. “For us, it’s a mix of the demographic of people that want to be in an infill location. It’s close to the highway (Interstate 275), close to downtown, close to South Tampa. We see that as good long-term potential for our project and a lot of other ones in the immediate area.”

The Cardinal Point project would have 23 town homes along North B and Fig streets and light retail facing Rome between those two streets. It joins a series of proposed and recently completed projects in the same strip.

Southport Financial Services has filed paperwork for a 90-unit apartment complex at 707 N. Rome Ave.

Construction continues on Lennar at West End Townhomes, with 39 units ultimately for sale along Oregon Avenue and Lemon Street.

Phase II of the recently completed NoHo Flats apartment complex between Gray and Fig streets will get underway this summer, with the 274-unit Havana Square apartments rising across Rome Avenue from NoHo Flats.

Those complexes join Vintage Lofts at West End, a seven-story complex with 528 units at Rome and Cypress Street that was built before the recession.

It is true there is a lot of development going on in that area.  One can look at different reasons why.

The city’s InVision plan, a 20-year blueprint for making downtown Tampa and its surrounding neighborhoods a community of livable places, describes the North Hyde Park area as “emerging as a new opportunity for significant transformation.”

“I think the real estate community was paying attention,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I think they realized that this was an opportunity to create a livable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with retail and residential. It’s an established neighborhood, it’s within walking distance of downtown, and it’s got great view corridors. I think the market was following the city in this case and realizing this was a neighborhood that offered a lot of potential.”

Let’s review: the area was targeted for development before the recession but a lot of it got caught in the recession, like NoHo Flats, which is actually not on Howard, but whatever. (See here, how it was part of Vintage Lofts.  Also notice the routine “this area is booming” article.)  Moreover, almost none of the developments have retail. (There is this, but that is about all.) Phase One of NoHo Flats has a big surface parking lot, which is in no way pedestrian friendly, and the area in general is not walkable.  Nevertheless, in theory the area could be walkable it does not get the same treatment from the City that Spruce Street got, as highlighted in last week’s Roundup.

Of course, there is another reason developers may have moved north of Kennedy:

Anthony Everett, director for central Florida for Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, said Kennedy Boulevard no longer is the symbolic barrier it once was. The original Hyde Park and south-of-Howard Avenue, or “SoHo,” neighborhoods remain among the city’s elite addresses, but skyrocketing home and land costs are pushing development north, he said.

“I think that line has now moved to (Interstate) 275,” said Everett, whose Atlanta-based company breaks ground this summer on the Havana Square project. “I think that barrier has now been broken, and I think the natural path of development and just the need for housing broke that.”

It is cheaper to develop there.  And that is fine as long as what is developed is good, walkable, and promotes it as an urban area.  Thankfully, some people recognize that.

The city may have acknowledged the potential of North Hyde Park, but neighborhood groups say the area needs more than just words in a master plan.

Ben Buckley, head of the North Hyde Park Civic Association, said city codes adopted in automobile-centric post-World War II Tampa are an impediment to creating a live-work-play environment.

He and Rob Dubsky, past president of the New Hyde Park Alliance business group, point out the lack of sidewalks and streetlights and severe flooding issues along Cass Street, which has been identified as a key segment of the city’s “Green Spine” car-bike-pedestrian route from the Glazer Family JCC to Cuscaden Park.

Buckley and Dubsky are pushing for a city planner to assume a role similar to that of Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner hired by Vinik to marshal the Tampa Bay Lightning owner’s plan to develop the downtown core.

“We need an orchestra leader, if you will. We need somebody to work with all the different departments in the city, all the neighborhood associations, the city council, all the codes. Everything has to be re-thought, and there needs to be one person that understands this new concept.”

Dubsky said he was thwarted from opening a North Hyde Park retail shop because of antiquated parking requirements. His target customer base would have been pedestrians in the bustling Rome Avenue residential stretch.

He remains sold on the area and holds three properties within North Hyde Park.

Everything in that last quote is true. The area has great potential.  Everyone sees that.  It could be a really cool area or just an urban-ish muddle that never really reaches its potential. It is not very hard to get from ok to really good or excellent. The real question is whether the City will do what it should or just settle.

Channel District – Is Publix Coming?

There have been a number of public rumors (like this) that Publix has inked a deal to come to the one story building next to the tower in the Martin project in the Channel District.   We do not have confirmation, but we would just like to point something out.  Why are all the plans for grocery stores in downtown Tampa one story buildings?  It is not as if Publix does not know how to do an urban store – and we do not mean the store planned for St. Pete.   We mean a real urban store for a dense residential area, like the one in downtown Orlando around Lake Eola.  You can see it here. It is apparently “[a] new urban prototype for Publix, the 29,431-square-foot upscale grocery.”

That is typical of what we are talking about regarding planning and settling (just like the completely un-walkable Publix on Platt.) Sure, it would be good to have a grocery store in the Channel District, but it would be really nice to have an urban store done properly.  If you want to really compete, you have to do things right.

Kennedy – TGH Complex

It appears from the Accela database that construction permits are being pulled for the first phase of the TGH complex on Kennedy. (Search for “1307 W Kennedy” in the database).  URBN Tampa Bay posted a rendering of the building.  (It is apparently being called the Kennedy Healthplex, which is consistent with the general culture of hype in the area.)

From URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click page

(edit: URBN Tampa Bay directed us to a better version of the rendering here.  We thank them for the update.)

They also have the site plan here. We are not going to discuss the big parking lot in the back because we consider that a land bank (at least we hope).  On the other hand, it seems the buildings will really be facing the parking lot in the back, with the circle as the focus of the complex. (Maybe we’re wrong, but that is how it looks and that is what designs have been trying to do from the beginning).

Moreover, it seems that, while the buildings are going to be in the general vicinity sidewalk on Kennedy, they do not seem to interact with it at all.   In fact, they seem to be basically cut off from the street in the typical office park design that kills any vitality.

While it is good to build in that area, it will not really create a true urban area unless it is built to be an urban area.  If the reality is as the drawing appears to show, it will be a(nother) lost opportunity on a large plot of land.

International Trade/Latin America – Cuba

There was also an article in the Tribune (which was busy on Sunday) about Cuba trade.

Tampa leaders have offered up the city as host for the first Cuban consulate in the United States in more than five decades. But even if it goes elsewhere, people here will keep the Cuban government busy.

Tampa has the third largest Cuban population in the United States, a growing number of flights to the island nation and people who want to do business there.

What’s more, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Havana are expected to announce a partnership soon on coral reef research, cultural exchanges are becoming routine, and universities are eager to conduct studies there.

“I think the initial importance of a Cuban consulate is to provide convenience to Cuban Americans based in Tampa and central Florida,” said Bill Carlson, president of TuckerHall, a public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

The only question, then, as the two nations work to normalize relations, is whether people in Tampa will deal with the Cuban government here or somewhere else.

* * *

Winning a consular office would provide people in Tampa faster services from Havana and establish the city as a gateway to Cuba. It also would mean a visit whenever a top Cuban diplomat comes to Florida, paving the way for closer connections with leaders from the island nation.

In the long run, Carlson said, a Cuban consulate would tell the world that Tampa is a growing commercial hub and likely attract business from other Latin American destinations.

Pretty much, which is why it makes no sense for any local official to equivocate over the issue.  If there is going to be a consulate, why should it go somewhere else?

Critics of a consulate in Tampa say it would become a center for protesters. Strong opposition remains to normalizing relations with Cuba as long it is ruled by the communist Castro regime.

That is a reason we should be ok with it going elsewhere?  And how does that serve our economic development or international profile in any way?

Going back to when Pan Am’s predecessor wanted to make Tampa a hub for South America and the locals rejected it (so it went to Miami, as the rest is history.  See “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”), Tampa has made some odd decisions.  If we are going to be a gateway to Latin America, we need to act like it.  Either we are serious or we aren’t.  The times are changing.  If China or Vietnam wanted to put a consulate here, would there be an issue?

If there is going to be a Cuban consulate in the US, it should be here.

And just to emphasize the point that if we do not push for our place, Miami will push us out of the way, there was this nice article on Cuba trade prep in South Florida.

University Mall – Could Be

There was an article in the Times about the possible renovations at University Square Mall.  Most of the article is about how the mall could help revitalize the area, which is true.  But this is the key:

Adding to the challenge is that malls across the nation have struggled to reinvent themselves in recent years.

“Shopping malls in general, across the U.S., as a property type, have been suffering,” USF real estate professor Greg Smersh said. “People want more convenience. You have more couples who both work and spend less time at home, so they don’t mind paying more for convenience. They would rather pull into a Walgreens than go to a shopping center. The same trend has affected shopping malls.”

Smersh added, however, that a mixed-use approach involving office space and residential has helped some malls rebound. That’s the exact plan at University Mall. For the renovation, RD Management is partnering with New York’s S9, an architectural firm that specializes in the planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.

Except, it’s not mixed use in that way, at least not from the released plans.  There is no residential.  We are not sure about offices.  In fact, as the article tells us:

The biggest change, however, may come with the latest renovation of the venerable University Mall. Mall owner RD Management LLC recently announced plans for a multiphase project that will begin in early 2016 with the transformation of the mall’s western wing, including the addition of three new tenants and two freestanding restaurants.

One of the most significant changes will be the addition of an outdoor lifestyle area, which will replace the indoor mall corridor near the shuttered JCPenney.

Similar improvements will follow for other parts of the 41-year-old mall, which contains more than 125 tenants, including Macy’s, Sears, Burlington Coat Factory and a Dillard’s closeout store.

In other words, none of the helpful elements mentioned are involved.  The mall property is key to fixing the general area.  It is quite large and could really be transformative.  Unfortunately, so far the plans are not going to do that.  There is still time, and there is still hope.  We shall see.

The PTC Finds That the PTC Is Right

There was more from the PTC this week:

An attorney for rideshare company Lyft said he plans to appeal a decision that says the company functions like a taxi service and is subject to local cab regulations.

The ruling Tuesday was part of an ongoing appeals process for tickets that Hillsborough inspectors issued to the company for operating a for-hire service without proper permitting. A hearing officer ruled in May that Lyft is a taxi company and was violating Hillsborough County rules by operating without proper permits.

* * *

After a brief discussion and a series of questions from County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the board voted unanimously to affirm the hearing officer’s findings.  

In other words, the PTC’s hearing officer ruled for the PTC.  Then the PTC board affirmed the hearing officer and said that of course it was always right.  Now it will actually go to court.  The article tells us what some of the lawyers said, but as we reported before, the PTC lawyer has already basically admitted in court that the whole point of their policy is to be protectionist – which is not necessarily illegal but it is silly.

The real issue is that the PTC has bad, protectionist, anticompetitive, market distorting, and anti-innovation policies. (Even its “compromises” are aimed at using government threats to keep people from competing with the legacy companies. )   And don’t forget their complete disregard for the consumer.  Same old DNA.

List of the Week

We could not find a good list this week, but we did see in a piece from 83 degrees media that

Hillsborough County takes the honor for its #10 ranking for ‘best counties to raise a family in Florida’ 

That seems a little overly specific for a list (and really not much to celebrate, especially when you consider that apparently they did not include other local counties in the top 10).

 

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