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Roundup 11-22-2019

November 21, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— St. Pete BRT

— Those Flashing Crosswalks

— Ferry Survey

Davis Islands – HCC Land

South Tampa – Uninspiring, Cont

Built Environment/Channel District – Missed Opportunities

— And One More Thing

Ybor City – A Plan

Downtown – Jackson House

Built Environment – Speck in St. Pete

Economy/Economic Development – Maybe This Time

Economy/Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_________________________


Transportation


— St. Pete BRT

There was news about the St. Pete BRT plan:

Last week, City Council unanimously passed the final components of the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Interlocal Agreement, bringing the Central Avenue BRT project one step closer to its projected opening to riders in late 2020/early 2021. Council also approved a Participation Agreement with PSTA and Forward Pinellas for the development of a federally-funded transit-oriented development (TOD) strategic plan for the Central Avenue Corridor.

* * *

The Central Avenue BRT project has found strong support from the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, as well as the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. But it has been formally opposed by the City of South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach, two cities integral to the BRT route.

* * *

The project is estimated to cost $43.9 million dollars to complete. Funds will come from a mix of sources, including $10.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), $7.6 million from the PSTA, and $4 million from the city of St. Pete. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is expected to approve the final funding piece, a $21.8 million Capital Investment Grant, later this year.

We are in favor of this project (and FDOT should pay whatever the Federal government won’t.).  Aside from some objections to running it to Pass-a-Grille, which we understand and have been addressed, in our opinion, the objections from St. Pete Beach and Pasadena have not been well made (though the process could have been smoother on St. Pete and PSTA’s part, and there are other options they could have pursued once the opposition arose). And while we do not think the project will “form the bedrock for future Tampa Bay transit improvements, eventually connecting St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to Downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport” as the St. Pete Catalyst article and proponents portray it, we think it is a good idea and will be useful.

 

From St. Pete Catalyst – click on picture for article

And note that some of St. Pete Beach’s concerns have been addressed.  From another St. Pete Catalyst article:

Plans submitted to the Southwest Florida Water Management System by H.W. Lochner, Inc. show that PSTA plans to move forward as planned with the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) despite formal opposition from the City of South Pasadena and the City of St. Pete Beach. The BRT route is expected to open to riders in late 2020/early 2021.

H.W. Lochner submitted plans for 30 stations along a 10.3 mile route, and has removed the proposed Station 1, which would have terminated the route at the Don CeSar. PSTA agreed to terminate service at the county’s public beach access, just north of 46th avenue, combining Stations 2 and 3, in order to alleviate concerns by the City of St. Pete Beach. PSTA also agreed to use smaller buses on the route, reducing the size from 60-foot buses (the default standard for BRT projects across the nation) to 40-foot buses.

The first St. Pete Catalyst article had one other component which is relevant not just to this project but more broadly:

According to a study commissioned by the National Association of Realtors and the American Public Transportation Association, the value of both residential and commercial properties located within a half mile of public transit service outperformed those further away.

Conducted in seven metropolitan areas including Boston, Mass.; Eugene, Ore.; Hartford, Conn; Los Angeles, Calif.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Phoenix, Ariz; and Seattle, Wash; the study showed that between 2012 and 2016, residential properties near transit increased in median sale price between 4 to 24 percentage points above properties further from transit. Commercial properties saw gains between 5 and 42 percentage points.

In that same time across the seven regions, more than 43,500 residential units were added in close proximity to transit. The study also showed that households located in transit-oriented neighborhoods experienced lower transportation costs – saving between $2,500 and $4,400 annually – and 25 percent of those households did not own a vehicle. 

You can find the study here.

While this is often discussed and logical, it is useful to have reminders. Proper transit is not only useful to get around and provides people with options.  It is an investment in an area which has tangible financial returns for public and private investors.  Moreover, in a growing and developing area, those benefits stand to keep growing. (Of course, as in the “BRT” plan, if you invest in transit on the interstate, you limit the ability to take advantage of the transit and, consequently, limit amount of return.)


— Those Flashing Crosswalks

We have often said that the flashing yellow-light crosswalks are not really the best idea because there is too much ambiguity and confusion over how they function.  This week, we got an example.

First, a video came out of a guy biking on the Pinellas Trail, crossing at 666 49th Street South, and getting hit by a car that did not stop.  This is the video:

You can see the intersection here. It appears to be a standard flashing-yellow crosswalk.

Interestingly, a lot of the comments on the Facebook pages (here and here) where we initially saw the video blamed the cyclist for not stopping at the stop sign.  Then the Times had an article on the episode:

The bicyclist hit by a car while pedaling inside a crosswalk along the Pinellas Trail earlier this month had the right of way, according to a clarification issued Monday by the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Meanwhile, officers continue to look for the driver of the white sedan that struck Steven Weldon in the area of 666 49th Street S on Nov. 1.

Why is it the cyclist’s right of way?

Shortly before Weldon enters the crosswalk, one of two cyclists crossing from the opposite side of the street presses the button to activate the flashing lights signaling traffic to stop. Weldon crosses half of 49th St. S before he is hit by the sedan, sending him sprawling over the hood of the car and crushing his bike.

* * *

By law, drivers must stop if there is anyone in a crosswalk. . .

Although Weldon, 42, could have exercised more caution, according to police, he had the right of way and won’t face any charges.

We are fine with that explanation.  However, if that is the case then why is there a stop sign and why is it so far from the street where it is harder for drivers to see?  And where is the cyclist in the street relative to the car’s distance to the crosswalk?

The point is not that the car should not have stopped.  The car should have stopped.  The cyclist probably should have stopped, too, if just for self-preservation.  But that shows the problem. The whole yellow-flashing system creates an ambiguity and causes confusion.  If that had been a red light at the crosswalk, there would be no ambiguity. The car would have known to stop.   Maybe cars would have to wait at the light for a minute or two.  Maybe cyclists would have to wait a minute or two for the light to go red.  That is OK.  At least it is unambiguous.  We would rather people wait a minute and know what they are supposed to do than have people get hit.


— Ferry Survey

The ferry promoters have put up a survey called the “Cross-Bay Ferry Permanent Service Survey.” While the name does not roll off the tongue, the survey asks somewhat relevant questions, albeit in a stilted, limited, somewhat leading, and not wholly useful way.  If you want to fill it out, you can do so here.


Davis Islands – HCC Land

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding some HCC land on Davis Islands.

If the market is right, and the offers prove adequately alluring, Hillsborough Community College is poised to put its Davis Islands office building on the market, records show.

The college began quietly gauging interest in the prime waterfront parcel this fall, soliciting “non-binding letters of interest or intent” from potential buyers from September 27 to October 31. The 3.7 acre property netted three offers — one with a $12 million purchase price and two others offering $15 million, records show.

But now it’s up to HCC’s Board of Trustees to decide whether those proposals portend a market that’s ripe for selling the college’s flagship property, located at 39 Columbia Drive in a coveted corner of Davis Islands real estate.

* * *

It’s an attractive offer for developers. The college’s compound is nestled in a residential area of Davis Islands at the southeast corner of Columbia Drive and Arbor place and boasts more than 300 feet of prime waterfront property overlooking the west side of Seddon Channel opposite Harbour Island. To the south, the parcel is bordered by the City of Tampa’s Sandra W. Freeman Tennis Complex at Marjorie Park.

This is the property:

Three developers answered the college’s call: the Palm-Beach based Kolter Group Acquisitions, Cushman & Wakefield on behalf of Tampa General Hospital, and Accardi Real Estate Co., owned by the twin brothers behind Seven One Seven Parking Services, Jason and John Accardi.

While the Accardis declined to outline a proposed use for the property in their submissions, the Kolter Group envisioned the space holding an 8-story, 99-unit luxury condominium building and parking garage, while Tampa General hoped to expand the existing hospital facilities that abut the north end of the property.

We are not opposed to the concept of selling the land, but to gauge any offer, we would have to know what the plan for the land is.  We do not know what the Accardis’ plan is, and, owning a parking company, they have a tendency to put surface parking and land bank.  We do not find that attractive, especially for waterfront Davis Islands property.

An eight-story condo building is ok, but without more information, we cannot assess it.

Tampa General could always use more land, but, as we have noted before, we are more inclined to have it expand where there is less flood/hurricane risk.

There is no set deadline for when HCC has to reach a decision, Carl said. The trustees hope to review the three submissions at an upcoming meeting Dec. 4 or Jan. 22.

As we said, we are not opposed to the idea of selling, but without more, we are not sure any of these ideas is attractive enough.  HCC should be in no rush to sell.  The waterfront property is not going to become less valuable or less attractive.  Time is on HCC’s side, even if it has to wait out a recession at some point.  And why did was it quietly soliciting offers?  If selling is real possibility, do an open and advertised RFP.  See what real interest there is.


South Tampa – Uninspiring, Cont

A few months ago, we wrote about a proposal for 5105 Tyson right next to the Westshore Marina District development. (see here)  We quoted URBN Tampa Bay saying:

The project is being developed roughly adjacent to Westshore Marina District. Despite this, the project is walled off from the surrounding area and is single use. The developer is clearly trying to piggyback off of Westshore Marina District without actually contributing to the mixed-use community being created. This would be a huge missed opportunity to have such a walled-off and single-use development built next to the mixed-use Westshore Marina District.

The project goes before the Tampa City Council for rezoning on September 12th.

And we added:

We agree that it is a missed opportunity, especially along the waterfront (where, while there will be a 10 ft walkway along the water, it appears to be fenced off from the project.  We assume there will be some gate access to that, but it is not entirely clear).  Unfortunately, while not walled, the Westshore Marina District contains similar developments even along the water . . . That is one of the problems with settling.  Once you settle, you tend to get more of the same, and it becomes harder to not approve it.

On the other hand, setting aside disappointment at the overall design, if done well, this project would essentially become part of the Westshore Marina District.  Hopefully, the developer will make some changes to make it better relate to its neighbors, at least.

Well, it did not go before the City Council until last week and apparently the developer did not make many (if any) changes.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The apartment proposal at 5105 W Tyson Ave was denied by Tampa City Council, 5-2, on a motion by Councilman Dingfelder, based on issues with addressing Coastal High Hazard Area impacts and hurricane evacuation clearance times. Councilmen Viera and Miranda voted no on the denial.

We are not sure the details for the denial, but it gives the developer a chance to improve the proposal.  We are not against having a development on that land, but it should connect with and enhance the development already occurring.


Built Environment/Channel District – Missed Opportunities

Last weekend, we were walking around downtown and the Channel District looking at all the Water Street development.  We wandered to Sparkman Wharf and then up to the streetcar station.  We marveled at the people and activity.  Then we looked at the Port parking garage, especially the second stage that faces Sparkman Wharf along Channelside but completely fails to activate the street.  We thought about how, when it was built, we knew the design was a mistake and how it was the classic example of a lost opportunity resulting from a lack of vision and settling.  Then we let the thought slide for a few days. . . until Monday, when URBN Tampa Bay posted this:

With Water Street Tampa and Sparkman Wharf coming in, something really needs to be done to activate the ground floor of this garage. The ground floor should be converted into some retail space fronting Channelside Drive.

It leaves a huge dead zone in an otherwise revitalizing area.

We also wish 12th Street had been allowed to punch straight through this garage to Channelside Drive. This garage cuts off the Channel District from WST and Sparkman. The Channel District misses out on the positive windfall of the nearby redevelopment due to this physical isolation, and walking between the two is unnecessarily difficult.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And they are completely right.

This is why you do not settle.  When the garage expansion was planned and built (in 2010, here and here), no one knew Water Street was coming, including the Lightning owner.  But anyone who knows about urban design and development could see that the street level frontage across from Channelside (now Sparkman Wharf) would be better used as retail and offices than for a parking garage.  And the Channel District had gotten going and was clearly area with a future.  You could see that having a messed up grid was not good for it.  These are all basic things.

While it could be done, it will be much harder to go back and retrofit it now.  It should have been done properly in the first place.


— And One More Thing

URBN Tampa Bay also posted a couple of aerial photos (here) including this one:

From Jeff Zampitella via URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It shows just how much land relatively low-rise projects like Pierhouse use up with relatively little return.  Not to mention this 12th Street   streetscape, which is comically bad, especially when it could be like this a block north. Sure, the developer made money, but the city lost out.  The obligation is on the City, not the developer, to care.


Ybor City – A Plan

The Ybor City Community Plan is being updated.  A proposed revision was presented last week:

On Thursday at 9 a.m., representatives from a planning firm will present the final update of the Ybor City Vision 2020 Master Plan.

ABC Action News spoke to the senior planner on the project that’s been going since February. When asked if the possibility of the Rays stadium played a part in their analysis, we were told no. We also asked about the future plans for the Muvico that recently shut down. We were told the announcement for the company taking that space should be released soon.

The presentation took inventory on what makes up the main part of the entertainment district on 7th and 8th avenue. 20% of the space is occupied by offices, bars make up 15%, restaurants take up 13% and 14% of that space remains vacant. There’s also only 1% of space that account for grocery stores, which aren’t really even grocery stores at all. The tenant examples listed are the Ybor City Food Mart and a 7-Eleven. With the prospect and trend of growing the residential sector, that will be a need that has to be fulfilled.

At the end of the presentation is a list of strategies the planning firm created. Each item is listed as high or medium priority. None were listed as low priority. In the infrastructure category, more than half were stamped high priority.

You can find a small version of the presentation at the ABCactionnews article here. The draft plan documents can be found here and the draft pdf here. The chart of recommendations starts on page 111 of the draft plan pdf (102 of the document). There are a lot of recommendations, though most are pretty straightforward ideas.  Interestingly, the idea of increasing density and increasing the allowed height comes up in a number of them. It is also discussed in the land use section beginning on page 28 of the pdf (19 of the document).  For instance:

As change has occurred, development and redevelopment have shaped the current conditions into a variety of multiple-use sub-areas that relate most directly to these physical corridors. One area where land-use transition is anticipated to occur in the District is in the southern portions of CRA 2 along the Adamo Drive / SR60 corridor. South of N. 6th Avenue to Adamo Drive / SR60 is an area where a transition to higher density/intensity mixed-use development is anticipated to occur. Larger parcels with industrial/heavy commercial use occur inside and immediately adjacent to the Ybor City CRA limits. While portions of this area are outside the Ybor City CRA limits, it is anticipated that future redevelopment of these larger parcels and replacement of the light industrial or vacant uses with higher density/intensity mixed-use developments will dramatically affect Ybor City. Portions of these areas are railroad adjacent which also provides the potential for future transit-oriented development if proposed high-speed rail is realized using the existing CSX railroad line.

Community stakeholders identified their general level of support for higher levels of intensity/density redevelopment in these transitioning locations. Portions of this area are also affected by increased floodplain base flood elevation and finished floor elevation requirements. Overall building height standards in the Ybor City CRA were also identified as a redevelopment issue of concern by community stakeholders. It is recognized that the overall building heights in the District are lowest (45-feet) along the E. 7th Avenue corridor in the YC-1 zoning district in support of preservation of the business corridors historic contributing structures context and that building height standards increase (up to 60-feet) along the perimeter of the District, see Figure 21.

Figures 22 – 24 depict a base parcel condition with historic and non-contributory parcels with two through five-story development near the historic structure. The figures depict redevelopment yields increasing when new development is permitted to meet existing Future Land Use standards in close proximity to the historic structures. Architectural design techniques, such as second-floor building step back along public rights-of-way, help to retain a street-level context with adjacent historic structures at the pedestrian level. Higher density/intensity buildings typically permit the inclusion of private parking spaces within structure or on other portions of the development parcel.

We understand that increasing density and height might be controversial with some.  And we are not for just allowing anything to be built anywhere.  However, some reasonable steps to allow slightly taller buildings and some increased density in Ybor City, particularly away from the historic core of the area, while maintaining Ybor’s character and historic designation, could be a good thing for the City generally and for Ybor in particular.  It will require care and the maintenance of standards, but it can be done.


Downtown – Jackson House

As regular readers will know, we have long advocated for doing something to save Jackson House, the historical building from the thriving African-American community around Central Avenue.  It has long been in disrepair and has needed help.  This week, there was good news.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, have committed $1 million to restore the Jackson Rooming House, a historic crumbling structure in downtown Tampa.

The city announced the Viniks’ donation Monday. The Jackson House was built in 1901 by Moses and Sarah Jackson and operated as a boarding house for African Americans during racial segregation. It closed in 1989 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole were hosted at the Jackson House as they passed through Central Avenue, which was a thriving black business district leading up to the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Jackson House in 1961.

* * *

“As Tampa continues to grow and change, it is critical that we invest in preserving the unique and valuable history of those who laid the foundation for our progress,” Jeff Vinik said in a statement. “Tampa’s diversity is our most valuable asset.”

It isn’t the first donation the Viniks have made toward saving the property: In 2017, through a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero award, the Jackson House Foundation worked with local engineers to stabilize the house, but the condition of the structure has since worsened.

Just last week we said:

. . . we are in no way opposed to people from elsewhere investing in this area (especially if they move here, like the Lightning owner). 

Now they go and do this.  We just want to say “Thank you.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the deteriorated state of the building, originally a private home built around the turn of the 20th century, means it will likely have to be largely rebuilt.

“It’s in such a stage of disrepair that it’s more than likely we’re just going to be able to take as much of the original structure as we can. And then just rebuild,” Castor said Monday about the two-story house at 851 E Zack St. near the county courthouses and Union Station.

Whether the house will move from its current location, which is wedged between parking lots, is a decision for the nonprofit foundation that has worked to save it, Castor said.

The first observation is understandable.  The building is in bad shape, and much will have to be replaced.  However, we would very much like it to stay where it is – where belongs. Moving it would detract from its historical significance.

State Rep. Dianne Hart and State Sen. Darryl Rouson are seeking state aid and Castor said the city will seek grants to help cover whatever costs remain.

“Our history is imperative. Future generations need to understand how this city was built and who built it,” Castor said.

The State should contribute to save it.  The history is important, especially given how much of the history of that area has been destroyed and why (which is also why we would like to see it stay where it is).  And thanks to the Lightning owner’s generosity, there is a chance.


Built Environment – Speck in St. Pete

St. Pete Catalyst had an article on planner Jeff Speck:

Renowned new urbanist and author of Walkable City Jeff Speck shared his insights on walkability with a crowd of hundreds Wednesday, in an event hosted by Preserve the ‘Burg and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Open Partnership Education Network. But before his lecture, this reporter had the privilege of accompanying Speck and Preserve the ‘Burg’s Monica Kile on a walk through St. Petersburg.

Speck, who has consulted with cities and developers across the county, including Water Street Tampa, gave a thoughtful overview of the importance of walkability in terms of economic development, epidemiology, climate and more. But his most thought-provoking insights came as he applied his “Theory of Walkability” – that a walk should be simultaneously useful, comfortable, safe and interesting – as it relates to St. Petersburg, using examples from cities across the country.

It is actually kind of a long piece, so we will not detail it all.  You can read it here. However, we wanted to point out a few things.  The article has six takeaways for making St. Pete more walkable.

The first is Revert Interstates 175 and 375 to surface boulevards.  We are fine with that, especially 175, which we think would be easier to do.

Then there were other items that are clearly true, such as:

Invest in safe biking infrastructure. Speck argues that bicycling culture follows investment in bicycle infrastructure.

* * *

Many of the bike lanes and “sharrows” (shared bike and vehicle lanes) currently utilized in St. Petersburg are now considered unsafe, Speck said. Bike lanes on 1st Avenue North, in which the bike line is sandwiched between the traffic lane and parking lane, puts cyclists squarely in “the door zone,” where they are most likely to be hit by car doors or sideswiped by traffic.

Yes and yes.  And this is true of Tampa as well.  As we have noted many times, far too often the bike infrastructure in this area involves form over function.  If you ride a bike on the simply painted streets, you would figure the issue out very quickly.  We need to build real, useful infrastructure.  It can start with simply not sandwiching bikes between parking spaces and traffic lanes (which involves the same amount of paint), and move on from there.

Next:

Invest in transit. The St. Pete Catalyst reported Wednesday that the Central Avenue BRT project is moving forward as planned, despite opposition from the City of South Pasadena and the City of St. Pete Beach. In a conversation with the Catalyst, Speck said that true BRT, with dedicated bus travel lanes, are a step in the right direction. “You can have a perfectly walkable neighborhood with no transit. But a walkable city requires transit,” he said. “Because if we can’t easily connect the walkable areas to each other conveniently, then of course those who have the choice will buy cars and the city will be shaped around their demands and become less walkable.” Speck also argued that Bike Share should be considered a form of transit and, if necessary, subsidized like transit. In the long-term, he said, it will ultimately pay off. “It’s taking people out of cars and allowing them to participate in cities in a much more social way.”

The point about being able to have a walkable neighborhood without transit but needing transit for a walkable city is very well-said.  And it is a concern we have raised about Water Street, especially after they are done constricting traffic in a naturally constricted area.  Water Street has to be connected to the outside, which the streetcar does in a limited way but not enough.

We even agree with the bike share point, with one caveat.  We think that, if this formulation is used, there are many opponents of real transit who will use it as an excuse to shortchange larger transit. We do not think that is what the planner meant, but they still will.  They already do.

Next:

Eliminate parking requirements.

That speaks for itself. And:

Density and height, responsibly. Speck argues that from an environmental perspective, an economic perspective and a walkability perspective, the more density, the better in the downtown core. “Here’s the caveat,” he said. “Density of people is great, density of cars is not great. The city should provide the largest density it can without requiring vehicles that come with it.”

We are fine with that.  That is why you have transit and a walkable area.

However, there was one we have mixed feelings about:

Design downtown streets to curb speeding above 25mph. Changing street design is about changing driver behavior.

We do not really disagree with slowing traffic down (though we are not sold on 25 mph for a downtown area, as opposed to possibly a neighborhood shopping district).  However, in the absence of comprehensive transit and the ability for people to get around, we are still concerned about slowing the roads that much.  We have been in many cities where large numbers of people walk and traffic is not limited to that speed.  So, we agree that cars should slow down, and we agree that the other transportation infrastructure and built environment should provide ample alternatives for getting around. But we are not sure the conditions are there for this policy, at least to the level proposed.

That being said, it is a very good overall piece that has equal application in St. Pete, Tampa or elsewhere.


Economy/Economic Development – Maybe This Time

There was an interesting article in the Times last week regarding Water Street.

James Nozar gave an update Friday on progress being made on the biggest real estate project in the city’s history.

The Strategic Property Partners chief executive officer listed the ways the Water Street project — a joint venture of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates — will be a big deal when completed in 2026 or 2027.

And Water Street will be a big deal.  You can go downtown now and get an idea of the extent of the change it will make.

But a big crowd at Café con Tampa, a weekly civic gathering that features prominent speakers and topics, also pressed Nozar for more details on how affordable the 3,500 residential units will be.

In his brief presentation before a Q&A session, Nozar had said it bothered him when he heard people referring to Water Street as a luxury project.

“It’s not,” Nozar said.

Strategic Property Partners is committed to providing housing at different “price points,” he said, with an aim to satisfy the lower-end demand as well as high-end clients.

“We think we’ll have some of the most affordable units downtown on the market side,” Nozar said.

The first 1,350 units will be market rate housing, Nozar said, although the company is exploring ways to widen affordability opportunities in its second and third phases.

Which drew this response:

Former state chief financial officer and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink questioned that approach.

“I’m not sure that’s really a good message for the community and would encourage you to rethink that,” she said.

Nozar responded that by market rate he meant the company isn’t using any public subsidies to build it.

“The housing that we’re providing is in the range of 50 to 80 percent of median area income. Typically developers require an incentive to build that,” Nozar said.

There is more and you can read it here. (You can also read more about an opportunity zone controversy here.  We are not going to get into that right now.)

While they have said from the beginning that there would be a range of prices for various residential products in the project, we have never expected Water Street to fit in the “affordable housing” category as the speaker defined it.  There is nothing in the economics or how the project has been promoted that would indicate that it would.  You can make your own judgment about that. But the discussion does point out once again that affordable housing – and not just subsidized housing – is a major issue (and not just here).

Which brings us to an article from Florida Politics this week. Florida has a fund that is supposed to be set aside for affordable housing, the Sadowski fund.

The Sadowski Coalition has looked over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget request, and it likes what it sees.

The nonpartisan group comprised of 32 statewide organizations praised the $91.4 billion spending plan for its inclusion of state and local housing programs.

“On behalf of the Sadowski Coalition, I want to thank Governor DeSantis for again distinguishing himself as a leader for recommending that all of the funds set aside for affordable housing be appropriated and used to create affordable housing in the State of Florida,” said Jaimie Ross, facilitator of the Sadowski Coalition and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition.

The problem is that:

Sadowski funds are supposed to be used housing projects, though they are often directed toward other projects. Over the past decade, lawmakers have swept more than $2 billion from the state’s affordable housing trust fund into general revenue.

Despite calls from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to leave the fund untapped in his 2019-20 budget, lawmakers sent $125 million of the $332 million available into the general fund.

While we do not expect it to go to Water Street and it will not solve the problem (especially when you consider the next item), hopefully this year the Legislature will actually spend the money on what it is supposed to be spent on.


Economy/Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Bloomberg had an article on the metro areas with the fastest growing salaries in the country. (here)  We can just use their graphic for the top 20:

From Yahoo.com – click on picture for article

As you can see, there are number of oil regions and some of the usual suspects make up most of the rest.  It is interesting that Miami made the list (though at number 21).

For the fifth year in a row, metropolitan areas in the U.S. outpaced rural and small towns in per capita personal income — total pay divided by population.

Metro areas increased 4.9% in 2018, up from 4.1% in 2017. In non-metro areas, per capita personal income increased 4.7%, up from 3.3%. The five year streak is the longest in records going back 50 years.

Per capita personal income last year averaged $56,527 for Americans living in metropolitan areas and $41,552 for those in smaller regions.

Looking at the full set of numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the Commerce Department the Tampa Bay area average was $47,240 and growth in 2018 was 4.3% (ranking 243 out of 384 metros) up from 3.5% in 2017. You can see the whole data set excel file here.

Among all the talk of growth and booms, it is useful to look at the actual numbers.  Once again, we are doing better than we were, but the question is how are we doing compared to our competition.  These numbers give us an idea.  Do with that information what you will.

Roundup 11-15-2019

November 14, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— The Outline of a Plan, a Note

— Roads to Nowhere

Downtown – Parks and Restaurants

— Gaslight

And One More Thing

— On the Outskirts

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Niche

Westshore-ish – Alta Westshore(-ish)

Airport – Finally

Built Environment – Another Sale

Economy – Another?

And Again the Trees

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

_______________________________________


Transportation


— The Outline of a Plan, a Note

Last week, we discussed the Mayor’s transportation committee report (here).  Among other things, we discussed the recommendation regarding the CSX tracks. URBN Tampa Bay had a comment about that:

We of course vigorously support the move to explore acquiring the CSX tracks for high quality and high frequency urban rail service. Preferably with electrification, not fossil fuel burning diesel locomotion.

However, it is important to note that we do not support acquiring the CSX tracks to waste a bunch of money implementing peak hour and limited stop, suburban commuter rail like the state did with TriRail and SunRail in Miami and Orlando respectively. There are better things to spend limited taxpayer dollars on than that sort of high cost, low yield transit service.

We have said similar things in the past, but we did not say it last week.  When we read their comment, we wished we had reiterated our view.

The CSX rails should be bought to run real urban rail service.  We would prefer that service to be electrified (though, if it used hydrogen, we’d be OK with that).  We also think the service should be real, urban transit, not commuter rail in the SunRail/TriRail mold. And, of course, the system should connect as seamlessly as possible to the airport/Westshore-downtown connection, preferably that connection just being an extension of the CSX tracks (if you have to make two or three connections to get from USF to the airport, people will just drive).

And as we said last week:

We need real transit.  But, if we are going to spend the money, we should build it properly from the beginning.  Building a bad idea will accomplish little and still leave us with all the needs – and they will be even more expensive to address later.

That is true for rail and BRT (and even highways).


— Roads to Nowhere

We recently discussed the Roads to Nowhere (aka M-CORES) plan noting that, unlike most road plans, there has been no showing of need or potential usage/revenue which, especially dealing with toll roads, is kind of important.  This week the Times reported:

State transportation officials announced additional meetings and resources for the task forces studying three new proposed toll roads.

After outcry from task force members, the Department of Transportation said Friday that it was adding two more public meetings and getting data on the potential projects to members sooner than previously scheduled.

“The department certainly heard the feedback,” department spokeswoman Beth Frady said in a statement Friday.

During last month’s meeting, task force members complained that they were not getting enough time or information to properly scrutinize the potential projects, which would be Florida’s largest expansion of toll roads in decades.

That is a positive development,

The justification and projections for the roads was not even going to be considered until next year.

Now the task forces will be talking about them in December, and the department will be data about those topics ahead of that meeting. The department also added two more meetings, in February and April, to their agendas.

“By facilitating additional meetings, I am confident the department is providing the support task force members need so they may complete the required assessments, which are so paramount to this process,” Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said in a statement.

We agree.  Assessments are paramount to the process.  However, they usually work better when done before committing to a project than after the fact.  And having a review does no guarantee proper vetting, especially when the whole thing went forward without any vetting in the first place.  There still could be more of this:

Other task force members asked for additional meetings to study the justification for the projects. Their questions prompted one department secretary to tell them to stop asking questions about why the roads were needed.

As we have said from the beginning, there may be a time when these roads (or some of them) are needed in some form.  However, as FDOT and various Governors have determined, they are not needed now.  We have bigger, more important needs for scarce transportation money than these roads.  (And, even if the state focuses on our actual needs, the road builders will still make money.)


Downtown – Parks and Restaurants


— Gaslight

Last week, there was news about Gaslight Park:

Eight months after the benches disappeared from Lykes Gaslight Square Park, a new plan has emerged: lending some of the park to the Tampa Downtown Partnership to open a cafe with outdoor seating.

That plan seemed to come out of nowhere.  But did it?  You may remember the benches were removed by the last administration without much warning or a publicly discussed plan.  Many thought it not coincidental that the homeless often used those benches, especially given other policies of that administration. When asked about the removal of the Gaslight Park benches earlier this year,

City spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said the city still plans to return benches to the park and those outside City Hall that also were removed. In all, some 43 benches are being renovated, some for the first time in 30 years, she said.

“We live in a city with a lot of green space and a lot of parks, which all require maintenance so people can enjoy these amenities for years to come,” she said.

She said the planters were installed as a temporary measure and that claims that the benches won’t return are inaccurate although she could not provide an estimate of when the seats will be returned.

When asked why the city didn’t stagger the work to leave some benches in place, Bauman said, “It’s just how we operate; we are refurbishing all of them at the same time.”

Apparently not.  They were not returned and now we have this proposal.  (It would be interesting to see the City records on all that refurbishment.)  Whether the old administration planned to refurbish any or not (and whether it was forthright about it) is made more of a question because, in a report about the presentation of the cafe proposal to City Council this week, we were told:

The partnership, which levies an assessment on many downtown property owners to provide services like the Clean Teams and downtown guides, has been talking to officials for several years about the idea. But it was unveiled Thursday for the first time in a public forum.

It is also worth noting that the plan presented this week does not appear to include returning any benches to the park.  While it may all be as advertised, given how the City government has worked over the years, we would not be surprised to find that none of this was coincidental.

But, setting that aside for now, let us get to the actual proposal:

The Tampa Downtown Partnership, which already helps keep nearby sidewalks tidy, wants to open a cafe on the eastern edge of the park with tables and seats for diners. Castor supports it as part of her effort to “activate” the city’s parks into destination spots.

Sal Ruggiero, the city’s interim administrator of neighborhood enhancement, said the idea is to regenerate the park, which was a popular spot for the homeless to congregate and occasionally get fed before the changes earlier this year.

“With Tampa developing into a world-class city, this is going to be a world-class amenity,” Ruggiero said, pointing to parks in New York City with similar partnerships between cities and private interests.

No, it will be a café in a small park.  That does not make it a good or bad idea, but the hyperbole is unnecessary.  And, while we are open to considering the idea of a café in the park contingent on a number of factors, not every park needs an establishment in it.

In any event, the proposal got a rocky reception.

More than a half-dozen speakers said the cafe would compete with existing restaurants around the square-block radius of the park. They complained that it would only offer paying customers places to sit.

Those are two obvious issues.

Why should the City provide a competitor to downtown establishments rent-free?  And why is the partnership, which gets money from local landowners (so directly or indirectly from local establishments) seeking to compete with those same local establishments?  And should anything be built in the park?  It is not that big as it is.  Why not put some place to sit for people not going to the café?  Is it a public park or not? (And while it may not be popular, homeless people, like other people, have a right to sit in a public park as long as they obey the law.)

While we are also not definitively opposed to a café, we are not excited by the proposal either.  If there is a café, rent should be charged at a market rate.  And we think there should be places in the park for the public to sit.

Council member John Dingfelder offered a possible compromise.

“I think we can have benches and we can have a restaurant with proper seating,” he said.

Yes, possibly – though not subsidized.

The other question is: do we need it?  Just this week there was this, per URBN Tampa Bay:

CW’s Gin Joint is planning an outdoor restaurant and bar area along Franklin Street, at their current location. The expansion would replace part of the greenspace which currently occupies the northwest corner of that block.

We like how the design opens up the north side of this building, which is currently a blank wall, and allows the building to directly interact with the park.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We like this idea, though, to be honest, we do not love this design.  It looks a bit too 1990’s for us, but so be it.  It would activate the space, and it is private business on private land.  Why should the City or Downtown Partnership be competing with them when they are working hard and investing downtown?  Gaslight Park is not the Riverwalk.  It does not need activation or designation of specific spaces for retail.  It is in the middle of downtown surrounded by businesses.

Sometimes a park is just a park.  And if the City wants a café/restaurant in the park, the least that can be done is do a non-wired RFP.

And One More Thing

There was other news from the Downtown Partnership this week:

[CEO of The Tampa Downtown Partnership Lynda] Remund says, there are over 14,000 residents living in the area, and expect those numbers to double in less than four years.

The partnership reported the number of downtown residential units jumped from 5,709 in 2016, to 7,546 in 2018.

So far, there are 2,000 units already under construction, and more than 4,000 new residential units proposed.

“Downtown has turned into everyones neighborhood,” says Remund.

Plus:

And with more than 140 restaurants and hundreds of activities, organizers say the area continues to grow. 

Given the numbers of people living, working, and visiting downtown, there is no reason to just give away space in a public park.


— On the Outskirts

Somewhat coincidentally, there was another article about another downtown park and another restaurant.

For two years, city planners and residents have collaborated on a redesign of Herman Massey Park, a half-acre of troubled parkland bordering North Franklin and East Tyler streets. The plans were nearly complete and featured two dog parks, a high priority for many residents on the northern end of downtown.

But those plans hadn’t included Malka Isaak, 83, who owns the three-story building, at 214 E. Tyler St, bordering the park. Isaak has owned the former site of Cutro’s Music store for more than twenty years, waiting for the neighborhood to improve.

With high-rise apartment towers and condos shooting up all around it (and more planned), Isaak decided to partner with Rick Calderoni, who owns The Retreat, Hula Bay and The Green Iguana, to open an affordable cafe on her property, which dates to 1901.

That’s when the trouble began. City planners were hesitant to tear up their nearly complete plans to incorporate her desire to relocate two planned dog parks away from her building to the northern edge of the park. She wants to use the space next to the building for dozens of outdoor seating spots.

(Here and here are a couple of articles about the early redesign process and the troubles.  Notice the park was closed because of the homeless a couple of mayors ago.)  Now someone wants to put restaurant seating in a public park that had a homeless issue at one point (though they do not want to remove all other seating) and, notably:

To do that, she’ll have to negotiate a lease with the city to use part of the park for her customers.

It does not sound like she expects it to be free.  In any event,

The disagreement reached City Council, which sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, asked both sides to work something out.

On Tuesday evening, they did. The Downtown Redevelopment Area’s citizen advisory board voted to support Isaak’s plan, which she said could bring up to $3 million in investment and jobs to the neighborhood.

Several members said they weren’t happy with additional delays to a process underway since 2017 at a cost of about $100,000. But they responded favorably to Isaak’s offer to pay any additional planning costs and to her argument that keeping the dog parks just a few feet from her building would damage its value.

That seems reasonable enough.

We are all for dog parks, but a small space like Massey Park does not really need two, and if an apartment building really needs more dog park space than the City has provided, they can put it on their amenity deck.  But even more, why should this landowner have to lease space from City for a restaurant in a small park that is begging for activation but in the middle of downtown we are not sure if a café owner will have to pay anything?


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Niche

URBN Tampa Bay had some more news regarding the project at 1116 West Carmen, now named Niche:

We have three new renders of Niche, which we have formerly referred to as 1116 West Carmen. This is a project that was first proposed as an “apartment fortress.” That is, the ground floor units facing the sidewalk had no access out to the sidewalk. Instead, each of these ground floor, outward facing units had a fenced off patio along the sidewalk. After the developer worked with us, walk-up units were added along with a dog park, a rail platform along the CSX tracks, and a re-worked parking garage.

The project is 6 stories and features 264 residential units.

Our remaining recommendations for this project are two-fold:

  1. We would like for the palm trees along the sidewalk to be shade trees. This is for pedestrian shade.
  2. We would like to see the front entryway of the walk-up units be accented so they really scream “front door.” Perhaps with some trim around the entryway.

But overall, we are pleased with the improvements.

We are only going to post one, you can go here for the others.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Our opinion has not changed.  We like this project now, for the most part, though we do agree the tree should be shade trees, not palm trees.  And we would still like a little retail space on the corner (but that is not fatal in this case).  That being said, kudos to the developer for working with others to make the project better.


Westshore-ish – Alta Westshore(-ish)

There is now a proposal for the old TigerDirect/CompUSA lot on Dale Mabry south of Midtown.

Atlanta-based Wood Partners is seeking to rezone the Tiger Direct property at 701 N. Dale Mabry Highway to make way for the 285-unit Alta Westshore at the intersection of Dale Mabry and West Cass Street.

Setting aside that it is not in Westshore, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The project is 7 stories and features 285 units. The code requires a (far excessive) 479 parking spaces, and the developer is proposing 386 parking spaces, so a waiver is sought for that.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post and bigger renderings

 

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post and bigger renderings

The Business Journal tells us:

The proposed development seeks eight waivers from city requirements. One waiver is needed to reduce the amount of required green space for multifamily projects; several of the waivers are related to tree requirements.

These are URBN Tampa Bay’s comments:

The project features no retail space. It should be fairly obvious that any project of this size lining Dale Mabry Highway should have retail space on the ground floor facing that side. We would like to see that incorporated.

One thing we do like, however, is the project is brought all the way up to Dale Mabry Highway. That is something Midtown Tampa failed to do, when they decided to put (and the city council regrettably approved) a surface lot between their under construction Whole Foods store and Dale Mabry. Also, we like that shade trees are incorporated as opposed to palm trees.

The outward facing units on the ground floor appear to be walk-up units.

First, we think the size is good.  We too like that the building is brought up to the street (as noted, Midtown failed to do that).  We like the walk-up units.  However, we are not sure how many people will want ground floor units (walk up or otherwise) on Dale Mabry, which is another reason they should have put some retail there (the value is in the exposure).

In any event,

The rezoning hearing for this project is set for April 9, 2020.

Hopefully they will make some tweak before then.  With a few changes, this could be a very nice addition.

There is one more point: this is exactly why Midtown should have been planned in a way that is more open to the surrounding neighborhood.  People living in this building should not feel the need to drive to Midtown.  Midtown should be seeking to invite people from a project like this into its space.  That would only encourage more developments like this on that corridor, which would be a positive thing.  Too bad the City did address it.


Airport – Finally

The Wall Street Journal ranked airports with separate categories for large and medium.  Tampa International is in the medium category.

Tampa International Airport ranked slightly higher than Portland International Airport in Oregon. Both have strong followings among frequent travelers for their ease of use and amenities.

Yes, we beat that pesky Portland airport and their specialized donuts. (We have beaten them before, but they seem to keep coming up).

You can read more here.


Built Environment – Another Sale

There was another apartment project sale this week:

In yet another sign of Tampa Bay’s torrid apartment market, a Texas-based company has bought the 340-unit ICON Harbour Island for a record $131.5 million.

The sale by Miami’s Related Group to Olympus Property is the most ever paid for a bay area apartment community and the second highest price per unit, $387,000. Newmark Knight Franklin Multifamily, which represented Related, said the quality and location of the 21-story building make it “one of the premier assets” in the southeastern United States.

“The Related Group’s brand is associated with iconic, ultra-luxury developments, and Harbour Island is a prestigious, affluent, walkable urban location in the emerging downtown Tampa market,” Patrick Dufour, Newmark’s vice chairman, said in a release.

It is true that this is a Harbour Island project and is quite nice, but it is also close to a record.

Also notable:

Known in South Florida for its luxury condo projects, Related has become a prominent apartment developer in the Tampa Bay area. Earlier this year, it opened the 15-story, 368-unit ICON Central in downtown St. Petersburg; the three penthouses rented quickly at nearly $6,000 a month.

In Tampa, Related built Pierhouse Channelside in 2013 and recently completed Manor Riverwalk downtown and Town Westshore in the Westshore Marina District.

They flipped Pierhouse for quite a good price as well.  And then there is this market note:

Dufour noted that Tampa ranks third among the nation’s top 20 metro areas in rent growth — the rate at which rents are rising— and has the sixth fastest growing population.

The fact is that there is no excuse for local government to settle and approve poor projects.  Even building good projects, the developers will get their money.  We should get insist on good projects, especially since they will be with us for decades.


Economy – Another?

One of the issues this area has had over the years is that companies are founded and grow here and then get bought by out-of-town companies or funds.  Sometimes, most of the day-to-day control and high paying jobs stay in the area.  Sometimes they don’t.  This year has seen a number of such deals and potential deals.  This week saw another.  And there was news of potentially more.   We are not sure how those will play out in terms of local effects but this, from a Times columnist, sums up a concern:

The Tampa Bay area has struggled over the years to hang on to some of its largest companies.

We’ve lured a few. But we’ve lost more. Outsiders buy them up and move the headquarters elsewhere. Even when most of the jobs stick around, the clout leaks away. The area loses a bit of its business mojo.

That is also true, though not as much, when an out-of-town fund buys a local business and ultimate control goes elsewhere.

We understand why companies get sold. And we understand the people who work hard to build companies and who invest in them want a return.  We do not begrudge them that. And we are in no way opposed to people from elsewhere investing in this area (especially if they move here, like the Lightning owner).

Without speaking about any specific company or deal (each of which has its own dynamics), we just would like to have this area collecting more companies and having strong local ownership presence.  Just as with people, economic development is not just about attracting talent or businesses.  Retaining what is homegrown is also important.


And Again the Trees

Last year, an MIT study ranked Tampa’s tree canopy as the best.

Tampa is known for many things: Beads, Bayshore, Bucs and Bolts. You can now add “branches” and “bark” to that list.

Tampa beat 26 other large cities worldwide to become the top city in the “Treepedia.” Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab used Google Street View data to measure urban ‘green canopy’ which they call the “aboveground portion of trees and vegetation.”

“By using [Google Street View] rather than satellite imagery, we represent human perception of the environment from the street level,” the Treepedia site states.

Factoring in Tampa’s population density, the city earned a 36.1% green view index, beating other large cities around the world, including notoriously tree-friendly Vancouver (25.9%), Sacramento (23.6%), and Oslo (28.8%).

(The study has a cool website here)  This week, it got more love from a more global publication, the Guardian (and even better, this does not seem to be a “placed” article):

The Florida city of Tampa claims a number of firsts: the world’s largest pirate festival; America’s longest continuous sidewalk (at 4.5 miles); and Babe Ruth’s longest ever home run (587 feet).

And now the city has another accolade to its name – it’s a world leader for trees. According to calculations by the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), more than one third (36.1%) of the city is given over to tree cover.

The arboreal city tops MIT’s Treepedia list, which measures canopy cover in cities, closely followed by Singapore (29.3%), Oslo (28.8%), and Sydney and Vancouver (both 25.9%). MIT’s home city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, meanwhile, scores 25.3%.

Though it is worth noting:

Tampa won’t be entering the Guinness Book of Records quite yet however. The Treepedia study is not designed to be comprehensive – it only features 27 cities that MIT researchers selected out of curiosity to see how very different places compare (it has since made its code freely available online so others can calculate their own city’s tree coverage).

Regardless, it is nice to get the exposure, and it is nice to have the canopy.  Over the years, much work has been done to protect it. Unfortunately, the Legislature passed a law making it much harder to protect the canopy.  We will just have to see what effect that has over time.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Recently, we saw this news from Jacksonville:

Today, FIS Chairman, President & CEO Gary Norcross and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans for growth and expansion of the Jacksonville-based international financial technology services firm. Known as Project Sharp, the announcement called for the Fortune 500 company to create 500 new high-wage jobs and $150 million in capital investment with the construction of a new 300,000-square-foot headquarters along downtown Jacksonville’s riverfront.

Hiring for the 500 new jobs will begin next year and all will be in place by 2029. The jobs will add to the more than 1,200 Jacksonville-based FIS employees, and the more than 55,000 employees worldwide serving more than 20,000 clients in 130 countries.

The incentives are quite large and you can get more detail here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We often refer to articles about driverless cars.  This week, we have another, though with a slightly different angle:

Waymo, an autonomous vehicle company owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., said it is closing down its Austin operations.

* * *

“Waymo is growing our investment and teams in both the Detroit and Phoenix areas, and we want to bring our operations teams together in these locations to best support our riders and our ride-hailing service,” a Waymo spokesperson wrote in a statement to Austin Inno. “As a result we’ve decided to relocate all Austin positions to Detroit and Phoenix. We are working closely with employees, offering them the opportunity to transfer, as well as with our staffing partners to ensure everyone receives transition pay and relocation assistance.”

* * *

Meanwhile, in April, Waymo said it was planning to put final assembly off its self-driving cars in Detroit — adding 100-400 workers in the area.

At the same time, a couple of weeks ago the Business Journal had an article on SunTrax (here)

TBBJ: So the oval track has been built. What’s happening in the infield?

Liquori: It’s about a $140 million project. We’ll start that construction in January. What that will do is take this 200 or so acres of the infield and we’ll build out these different test scenarios, different areas, a technology pad, an area that can be used to simulate multi-modal connection or a downtown urban core. That construction will start in 2020.

TBBJ: Original equipment manufacturers dominate places like Michigan and California. So why is this here in Florida?

Liquori: We recognize Michigan as the premier place, but what we’re finding is technology is advancing so quickly, there’s just an overwhelming need and demand for places to test. And there really isn’t a place in the southeastern United States, a large-scale facility like what we’re envisioning. So it just really offers more opportunities to an ever-expanding part of the transportation industry.

Setting aside questions about the high cost of the project, while we are skeptical of letting self-driving car companies do whatever they want on our roads, we have no problem with a test track (though, once again, we are not sure about the cost), even if we do not necessarily believe it will make us a center of the industry.


Because We Can

FDOT doing something right, this time for Veterans Day:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Roundup 11-8-2019

November 7, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— The Outline of a Plan

— Transportation and the Built Environment

— Ferry

— HART

— Westshore Interchange

— Meanwhile, at the MPO

Downtown – Seasons

Airport–ish – SkyCenter One

Tourism – No Surprise

— One More Thing

Economic Development/Economy – Rent

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

Because We Can

________________________________


Transportation


— The Outline of a Plan

The Mayor released the recommendations of her transportation panel (report here). It is worth reading the entire document.  It is too long to put it all here, but it is not too long to read in a relatively short time.  We will just discuss some highlights.  First, there is this:

Expanding transit service and implementing new, dedicated right-of-way transit options are the most critical actions the Mayor and City can take to maintain a good quality of life for residents and ensure continued prosperity for people and businesses in Tampa. The City must resolve the disconnect between the City’s Comprehensive Plan and development patterns, continue coordination between transportation agencies, integrate and allow for new technology, and develop a citywide mobility plan to establish how to use the right-of-way to maximize mobility now and in the future. With the new ‘All for Transportation’ surtax funding, the City is positioned to achieve unprecedented development of a multimodal transit system and should immediately begin the work of building a multimodal transit network.

(pg. 4 of the report) Setting aside the All for Transportation portion (which we will get to in a bit), that is a pretty solid statement. We especially like both the emphasis on dedicated right-of-way (as long as it is truly dedicated) and touching on the disconnect between plans and development patterns. Having transit that is free from traffic and fixing development patterns to maximize the usefulness of any transit investments are key to a proper transportation system.

Now to some of the suggestions (Again, we are not going to quote everything.  You should read the document):

2. Focus on implementing the following strategic transit initiatives:

a. Modernize and Expand Streetcar Service. The City should a) commit to an aggressive implementation of the existing plan to modernize the streetcar by increasing capacity and speed to extend into Tampa Heights, b) begin planning for the extension beyond Tampa Heights (Phase 4), and c) work with HART to develop a long-term funding approach for streetcar system operations, focusing on maintaining high quality levels of service and free and/or reduced fares.

b. Leverage CSX Rail Lines. HART has proposed an Initial Assessment of the CSX rail lines which is targeted to begin in 2020 and be funded by surtax revenue. The Initial Assessment will determine the viability of the rail lines for future passenger service. Public engagement and technical analysis are needed to determine the type of service (local, inter-city, regional, etc.), necessary land use changes, and appropriate redevelopment opportunities around future stations.

As a HART Board Member, the Mayor and City staff should be integrally involved in the Initial Assessment. Depending on the outcome of the Initial Assessment, the City should work with HART and Hillsborough County to perform a comprehensive corridor study to determine the most appropriate and feasible type of service to be deployed on the CSX corridor. It is important that the City work to ensure that the transit service selected will be the most appropriate to serve the City’s transportation needs, and most importantly, that there is broad-based community engagement and community land use planning incorporated as an integral part of the project.

c. Connect Westshore, Downtown, and USF. Begin planning and project development for major projects along key transit corridors starting with the connection from Downtown to Westshore and Downtown to USF.

For the Downtown to USF route, HART has begun a BRT study for this connection. As a HART Board Member, the Mayor should be actively involved in the outcome and in advancing the project forward. At the same time, the City can begin to evaluate ‘transit-oriented development’ options along the corridor that would maximize the amount of walkable residential, business, and leisure space nearby. For the Downtown to Westshore link, the City should work with HART to begin a feasibility study. In connection with these identified priorities, the City can identify additional connection corridors and help to facilitate a pilot demonstration project in coordination with HART and other agencies.

(pg 5 of report) These elements have already been touched on by the Mayor, and we generally agree with them (though any BRT has to be real BRT, not the “BRT” plan).

As we have pointed out previously, we believe that the downtown to Westshore connection is best served rail that connects to and continues the CSX lines, which already go from downtown to USF (and beyond).  Moreover, looking beyond the city limits, the CSX tracks connect to important parts of the County and beyond and would join much of the near County to the City (and could be expanded to go north of the airport from Westshore).  That would make it more effective and useful.  Given how this area is built and the jurisdictional lines, any real transit would not be a City only project.  While we understand this is a City report and, thus, focuses on the City, any large investment in transit should serve the larger area.  That should be reflected in the City’s ideas.  Tampa does not stand or thrive alone.  And if will not have tax money without support in the County.  And, probably more importantly, it will not be able to build many of the ideas in the report by itself without County support. (Focusing transit ideas exclusively on the City will lead to repetition of the mistakes of the past which focused all transit within the city limits and went nowhere.)

Continuing on the report notes that bus service needs to be improved, which is important to say but does not need more comment.  It has been known for quite a long time (and that is something where the City needs the County).  They also note the need for multi-modal centers in Westshore, downtown, and the USF area.  That is fine to say as a general idea but does not need comment until the modes are known.

After dealing with transit, the report discusses greenways and trails.  Needless to say, the report is for them. One element we particularly like is this:

Ensure that the planning of greenways and trails is performed with an eye to providing a viable transportation option, not simply a recreational function, and is consistent with the guiding principles of the Citywide Mobility Plan.

(pg 7 of report)  As we have said a number of times, we are all for greenways and trails, and exercise is important, but greenways and trails should go somewhere.  If they do, they will get much more use and truly enhance the area. We are happy they made that intent clear.  (As part of that, we wish that they had noted that simply painting a sharrow or line on a road does not make a bike lane, greenway or a trail.) And, once again, given how the area is laid out (for instance, some of the most efficient connections of various areas might cross jurisdictional boundaries a few times), this should be coordinated with the County.

Not surprisingly, the report urges active adoption and implementation of Vision Zero ideas.  We generally support that, though we have a slight issue with one thing:

f. Transportation and land use development policies, standards, programs, and design decisions should be reviewed and updated to prioritize preserving lives and implementing supporting infrastructure such as sidewalks, street lighting, and mid-block crossings

(pg 8 of report)  Most of that is fine.  The one issue we have is with mid-block crossings.  We are not opposed to all mid-block crossings. Sometimes, due to poor planning, there is an excessive distance between traffic lights and no logical place to cross a street safely. There a mid-block crossing might make sense. However, in a number of places mid-block crossings are being installed in a bizarre way. And it needs to be remembered that there is an amount of responsibility for pedestrians to behave safely and walk a few feet to cross the street, which is essentially acknowledged in the next line of the report.  When there is no real burden to using existing crossings, new crossings should be avoided.

Finally, the report touches on parking:

3. Develop a program to modernize the City’s off-street parking requirements. The City’s off-street parking requirements should promote shared parking opportunities based on a dynamic parking plan which incorporates the City’s expanding transit and multimodal facilities networks, land use, parking demand, and parking costs. Specific recommendations include:

a. Evaluate current minimum parking requirements for affordable housing developments in an effort to reduce housing costs.

b. Establish maximum parking requirements and consider eliminating parking requirements for redevelopment projects in downtown.

c. Deploy shared parking programs to improve availability and maximize usage of current public and private parking resources.

(pg 11 of report)  While this is quite general, we support reducing or eliminating parking requirements, at least in urban areas like downtown.  We still think most developers will build parking, but the rules now are excessive.

Overall, we like the report.  Of course, it is all just ideas at the moments.  Hopefully, it will be implemented, with a few select tweaks. (And the specifics of any project and route will matter.)  But of course, that takes money, which brings us back to what the Mayor said about All For Transportation:

She delivered that assessment at an event to promote the findings of a transportation advisory board she appointed in June. But its vision of an interlinked pattern of rail, bus, streetcar and pedestrian and bike paths appears contingent on the fate of the 1-cent transit tax approved by voters last year that remains in legal limbo.

Castor is undaunted, saying the city doesn’t have time to wait for a judicial resolution. The voters’ will is clear, she said, vowing to find other sources of money if Tampa’s annual share of more than $30 million in tax revenue doesn’t materialize.

“I would have to take a few moments if that was struck down, then we would stand back up and look for other ways to fund these transportation initiatives,” she said, adding later that pushing for another vote in 2020 would be an “obvious” strategy.

We like the attitude, though it remains true that, while there are things in the plan that can get done without AFT money, there are others that would be much harder. The bottom line is that one way or another transportation needs to be funded (and real transit needs to be built) or this area will fall further behind the competition. The report essentially acknowledges that and, though we think it needs to be tweaked, is definitely something we can work with.


— Transportation and the Built Environment

That brings us to a piece in the Business Journal involving a conversation with an urban design expert from USF.  You can find the whole thing here. It all fits in with what we said above: having transit that is free from traffic and fixing development patterns to maximize the usefulness of any transit investments are key to a proper transportation system.

First, a few numbers that point out the cost of not having decent transit and transportation alternatives.

TBBJ: What’s missing from the discussion about that economic opportunity?

Sabia: It’s important that we set a series of performance-based goals for that, because that’s how we’re going to be able to measure the need that the community has and where we want to get to and how we fill the gap. When we look at Hillsborough and what households are spending on housing and transportation combined, we exceed the national average. The national average is 51 percent, and we float between 56 and 57 percent of household income spent on housing and transportation. Our transportation allotment of that is significantly higher – 25, 26 percent of household income on transportation alone. The national average is 19 percent. If you are in a community near transit and transit use, you’re spending about 14 to 16 percent of your income on transportation. That’s a huge difference, right? If everyone could gain anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of their household income back because of all these different transit options, then all of the sudden we’re looking at a very different economic model in our community. And that’s not even addressing the affordable housing issue yet. That’s just transportation.

Once again, our cost of living relative to our incomes is high.  And the cost of transportation, and the lack of alternatives, is a good part of that. (Needless to say, paying for express lane tolls while driving will probably not lower someone’s transportation spending.)

Then, there was an exchange in parts that really touches on the “BRT” plans failings, especially regarding transit-oriented development and the potential for the “BRT” plan to promote development and economic activity.

TBBJ: What is misunderstood when it comes to the potential for economic impact around transit and transit-oriented development?

Sabia: There’s a few things. One is, what does it mean and what does it incorporate? We’re looking at how we can create dense, compact, mixed-use development around transit and near transit. When we say “near,” it’s really within that first quarter mile or half mile of the station location. It’s the best opportunity to create really walkable vibrant places that connect people to transit and to all of the amenities, and access to jobs and education and all of those things that help us not only with local economic issues, but also regional economic issues. Then the other piece is the value capture component. When we look at economic development, transit-oriented development, the development itself around the transit system gives us opportunities to really capture the value that transit confers. If we can figure out exactly which mechanisms we want to be able to utilize, we can not only fund specific components of the development, like better infrastructure for walking and biking, and affordable housing, but we can also help to fund maintenance and expansion of transit lines in the long term, too.

* * *

TBBJ: Talk about the study you just recently wrapped up looking at TOD and value capture in Tampa Bay, and looking at the regional system as a component of that.

Sabia: One of the things that we connected to was those local systems. Because in order to really attain the most in terms of economic development is that you need to have that quarter mile and a half mile, and even up to the full mile in a transit supportive zone. If you’re right up against an interstate or freeway, you’re going to lose out on your most valuable development. So we moved it off of those and said that we thought a regional system should connect to the local system in order to benefit the most from the development potential. Because the interstate itself takes up the footprint of your most valuable land.

That pretty much sums it up, (though you could add that the interstate gets in the way of people getting to and engaging with, and, therefore, development on, both sides, and, therefore, development on, of the transit line).  Simply put, the interstate is not where good transit goes, especially a core system and in an urban area.  TBARTA may want the core to run on the expanded interstate, but it is suboptimal for an actual system and the area it serves, to say the least.

Remember, the “BRT” plan was chosen mostly because it was cheap, not because it was good. We need real transit.  But, if we are going to spend the money, we should build it properly from the beginning.  Building a bad idea will accomplish little and still leave us with all the needs – and they will be even more expensive to address later.


— Ferry

The Cross-Bay Ferry started its new season last week for its limited service:

It will run Wednesday through Sunday, with no service on Monday or Tuesday, Nov. 1 through April 30, 2020. . .

The ferry will operate for all Tampa Bay Lightning home games, even on days it is not normally scheduled to operate, and will remain in Tampa for 30 minutes after the end of each game.

And we were provided with the comments from local officials. Like this, which is true:

“We have got to look at all forms and all modes of transportation,” Castor said. “We may be one of the last areas to discover our waterways as a form of transportation, but we have discovered them … The ridership has increased every single year. The favorability is off the charts. And it connects our communities together. It connects St. Petersburg with Tampa and it allows all of our residents and all of our visitors to see the wonderful and unique characteristics of both cities.”

There is no doubt that an hour fun cruise on the bay can be an enjoyable thing and has some appeal.

Then there were comments like this:

Ming Gao, Florida Department of Transportation District Seven modal development administrator, said HMS has been a great private partner. FDOT committed to three years of funding the service as a demonstration project and “the return on investment has been a strong one,” Gao said in a statement.

And

“The return on investment is incredible,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said recently, echoing other local officials, as she voted to contribute $150,000 toward the popular new service. “This is a small amount of money for the number of riders.”

We get that return on investment is a buzzword/talking point, but does the Cross-Bay ferry really provide a good return on investment?  We have noted that relative to making the streetcar free, it was not. (see here)  And the Times had a whole article looking at the costs (here) that included nuggets like this:

Taxpayers spent $34.27 to cover each ride a person took on the ferry during its six-month pilot season in 2016-17. That number dropped to $14.23 per boarding during its second season, but it was still much higher than the subsidies local governments pay for other modes of public transportation.

Hillsborough county’s buses operate at just over $6 per passenger trip, while the operating cost for Pinellas buses and Tampa’s TECO Line Streetcar are about $5 per boarding.

* * *

Tampa Bay’s first potential foray into dedicated transit service lies with the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, which would connect downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches. Estimates submitted to the Federal Transit Authority project a per-person operating cost of about $3.15 per trip.

Even if the transit authority’s ridership estimate of 1.3 million passenger trips a year is inflated and the new route only sees a quarter of those, the proposed project would still receive a lower subsidy per ride than the ferry.

Or, as a Times editorial on the subject noted:

Tampa Bay’s bus systems are less than robust and too often viewed as a last resort for low-income residents. While the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority stands to benefit from the county’s recent 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is starving for cash. Yet while taxpayers paid $14.23 per ferry boarding last year, the similar cost per passenger was $6.17 for HART and $4.94 for PSTA. Are public officials really more interested in spending public money on pleasure cruises than to help commuters get to work?

At this point, Tampa Bay does not have one viable bus rapid transit line. The proposed line that would connect downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches still awaits federal funding, and there are legitimate concerns about its potential success. Yet even it projects a per boarding cost of just $3.16. It could wind up being four times the cost and still not match the subsidy for the ferry.

Getting a serious conversation started about light rail that could link Tampa and St. Petersburg is even more difficult. The scars remain from failed referendums for county rail systems in both Hillsborough and Pinellas over the last decade, even as traffic has gotten worse. The state also isn’t any help. The Department of Transportation is determined to move forward with express toll lanes on Interstate 275 in Hillsborough and Pinellas, and state lawmakers are focused on toll roads to nowhere. Yet the cost per boarding for light rail systems in Denver, Charlotte and other metro areas that are Tampa Bay’s competitors is significantly less than the $14.23 per ferry boarding. Where is the long-term vision?

A ferry ride may be enjoyable and bring out your inner Jimmy Buffett, but it does not seem to be a good return on investment.

Then there is this view:

“In order to make this a permanent service, we’ve got to be able to have some data to show that people like it and that they’ll use it,” Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said.

Unfortunately, an extremely limited, fun cruise schedule run only during tourist season does not really provide useful data for whether people would use year-round, real transit service.  The fact that the ferry operator proposal for a full-time ferry does not have daytime St. Pete-Tampa service would seem to be indicative of what they think, though.

None of this is to say that we oppose the Cross-Bay Ferry.  We don’t.  We just know it is not transit. No matter how many times local officials say that the ferry is a real transportation alternative, it is a fun cruise. It is not a real alternative except for fun trips.  And that is fine, but we oppose subsidizing it out into the future.  (Frankly, the best thing that can be said about the government involvement in the Cross-Bay ferry is that it has been regional, which is not nothing, but it also is not transit.)

Additionally, we do not necessarily oppose a South County-MacDill ferry, which is the only transit ferry service so far proposed.  However, we think that deal needs to be vetted properly, and we would like it to be accessible to others in South Tampa.  Moreover, if, as proposed by the ferry company, there is St. Pete service on off hours, we see no reason that Hillsborough should pay for all the infrastructure and boats. (see that regionalism thing)

The bottom line is this: as nice as the trip may be, we have bigger priorities than fun cruises.


— HART

Notably, the whole ferry issue is now with HART. And this week, there were some surprising developments at HART.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board voted unanimously Monday to place its new CEO Ben Limmer on paid leave, citing allegations from a whistleblower about a purchasing issue.

Limmer has been with the agency for seven months. He was appointed after a national search to select a new leader following the departure of former CEO Katharine Eagan.

“The board received a letter Friday evening that can only be characterized as a whistleblower alleging improper conduct on behalf of the CEO in respect to procurement processes, vendor relations and related matters,” agency attorney David Smith said during Monday’s board meeting.

There are no details of the complaint, and we are not going to speculate.

The agency released a statement Monday saying Carolyn House Stewart, the agency’s director of risk and legal services, will serve as interim CEO.

Smith said he recommended Stewart for the role because she is an attorney and the whistleblower process is “fraught with legal risk.” He also cited her integrity and said she is well-regarded within the agency.

We shall see what happens.


— Westshore Interchange

The Business Journal had an article on the I-275/SR60 interchange (here).  While we are not going to get into the whole thing, there was this about the cost increase we (and others) noted last week:

Gwynn addressed the concerns commenters have with the rise in the price tag for the project as well as not spending the money on mass transit. The plan, which has been worked on for years, had a cost of roughly $600 million for construction, but it did not consider the design, express lanes and how express lanes will split in some areas. When it comes to right of way acquisition, Gwynn said businesses largely on the I-275/SR 60 area will be impacted but FDOT is currently speaking with them on relocating.

“By state law, we have to spend a certain part of strategic intermodal system money for roadways, ports, airports that move people and/or freight. The money is allocated statewide and is based on needs so we have to compete to get that money,” Gwynn said, stating it can’t simply be put toward another project like rail.

“We know we aren’t going to solve the problem by adding more lanes, but the express lanes will help create a reliable commute time for buses and cars,” Gwynn said. 

In other words, the express lanes are the reason for the more than doubling of the cost. The idea that express lanes fix congestion is questionable, but, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that express lanes will create reliable commute times.  They work by limiting the number of people who can use them by jacking up the cost when traffic is bad.  The entire purpose of the lanes is to not provide good service to the vast majority of drivers or eliminate congestion.  In fact, the purpose is to leave most drivers in more congestion (and the financial incentives of operating the express lanes also lean toward having more congestion in the free lanes).

Additionally, FDOT did not see fit to spend some extra money to make sure there was no more bottleneck at the end of the bridge in the free lanes.

Finally, the last line of the quote is the comment acknowledgement that a road focus will not fix our transportation issues.  And, of course, after this is built and gets too congested, then what?


— Meanwhile, at the MPO

Speaking of express lanes, the MPO had a meeting this week.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization has adopted its long range transportation plan with major changes.

On Tuesday evening, the transportation policy-making board heard from a handful of public speakers on its latest draft of the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, which is meant to help determine and prioritize funding certain projects over the next 20 years.

Among other things that happened,

Board members also debated having additional tolls on interstates. However, Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary David Gwynn said the board should keep tolls in regard to the Westshore Interchange project in the plan for:

He cautioned the members not to change the language for that area as the state awarded $1.4 billion for that project and if the language is changed for that project, the board would jeopardize that funding.

“My concern is if we go in with something different, it introduces risks to us. To change it at this point … I don’t know what would happen. I’d feel more comfortable if we have the $1.4 billion in our hands. Changing the MPO’s direction at this point of time is not the right time to do it,” Gwynn said. He said the toll lanes are meant to help the flow of traffic and it’s possible to change the lanes in the future if needed.

Not that we expected the MPO to change those plans, but isn’t the argument against changing the plans always that the money for doing needed fixes will be jeopardized with any changes?  Isn’t the essence of the plan, as explained above, the express lanes?  Aside from a few ramp changes, what else is there but express lanes?  Given that, we are curious: what are the possible future changes and when exactly is the right time to make them?

In any event, there was something else that was very interesting:

Talk of needing connections and reducing congestion led the commissioners into discussing use of the CSX lines. Overman said she would like the board to formally support the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority entering a competitive process of negotiations with CSX to obtain rights to use lines for commuter rail. The MPO would also make this a top priority.

Overman gave the example of how the region came together to say that the Westshore Interchange was its top priority and it now will be funded through a $1.4 billion award from the state.

Kemp also chimed in stating how SunRail and Orlando worked together to use the CSX line and South Florida’s Tri-Rail and how it’s a cost-effective option.

The motion passed unanimously to add it to the plan.

Needless to say, we view that move very favorably.  That extra $800 million for express lanes could have gone a decent way to getting the CSX lines.


Downtown – Seasons

Last week, we discussed the Seasons two building proposal.  This week:

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority signed off Thursday on two proposed apartment towers that would rise 41 and 27 stories above downtown Tampa.

* * *

The towers, at 476 feet and 323 feet tall, have been proposed near the intersection of E Whiting and N Morgan streets by Tampa Downtown Invest LTD, a subsidiary of the German real estate development company Dr. Schrobsdorff & Dr. Herrmann, with design work by Jahn Architecture of Chicago. No construction schedule has been announced. 

There was also a new rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

That is not quite as yellow as previous renderings.  As we noted last week, for the most part we like this project.  Our biggest concern is whether the shorter building has 27 floors of panels or windows on the south and east side.  The rendering is not clear, but it still appears that there is a good chance they are 323 feet of panels, which would not be the best look.

This project has been mostly flying under the radar.  We will be interested to see if it gets built.


Airport–ish – SkyCenter One

The airport office building has begun construction.

Construction is officially underway on SkyCenter One, a nine-story office tower at Tampa International Airport.

The 270,000-square-foot office building is part of the airport’s new SkyCenter development, a mixed-use project on airport property that also includes a new hotel, an atrium with a roof terrace and pedestrian bridge connecting the rental car center to SkyCenter One and potentially another office tower.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It looks nice enough, though, in all honesty, we are really looking forward to new service and the new airside being built.


Tourism – No Surprise

In tourism news, this was entirely expected:

Hillsborough County’s tourism industry had another solid year, bringing in record-breaking bed tax revenue once again.

Visit Tampa Bay, the agency charged with promoting the county to tourists, collected $35.4 million through its tourism tax on overnight stays during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That beat last year’s record by nearly $1.5 million. The Tampa Bay region’s active tourism industry and growing number of hotels have contributed to steady climb in visitors over the last several years.

It is not surprising because, as we have documented previously, tourism is up generally.  Though it still is good.

And there is this:

During the previous fiscal year, the county added more than 1,000 new hotel rooms, according to STR, a company that analyzes tourism numbers. Visit Tampa Bay expects up to 2,000 to be added by 2022.

That is not a bad thing, either.  Meanwhile,

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater says its on track to beat its record, collecting more than $60 million in bed tax revenue this fiscal year, but September’s numbers are still being finalized.

We are glad there are record numbers.  Clearly, like elsewhere (see here and here), the sector remains strong.


— One More Thing

The Aquarium is also performing relatively well:

Attendance at the Florida Aquarium rose 5 percent over the past 12 months, topping 841,000, the most in more than two decades.

And the expectations are that is should do even better because:

Meanwhile, the neighborhood around the aquarium is growing up, too, with the maturation of the Channel District, the rise of Water Street Tampa and the growth of Port Tampa Bay’s cruise ship business, which now tops 1 million passengers a year.

We shall see.


Economic Development/Economy – Rent

There was an interesting report from Apartment List (here) regarding the rent burden in various metro areas.

In spite of a low unemployment rate and increasing wages, virtually half of American renter households struggle with their housing costs. According to the most commonly accepted measure of housing affordability, a household is considered to be “cost-burdened” if housing costs eat up more than 30 percent of household income. By that metric, 49.7 percent of American renter households were cost-burdened in 2018, according to newly-released data from the Census American Community Survey. This represents a slight increase in the cost burden rate over the previous year.  

Although the rate is still well below its 2011 peak, that improvement has been primarily driven by compositional changes in the rental market, namely, an influx of high-income renter households. Housing costs have amplified growing economic inequality in recent years — those at the low-end of the income distribution have seen their housing costs grow disproportionately fast, while the highest earners have actually seen their housing costs fall. In this report, we explore what the most recent data is telling us about the current state of the housing affordability crisis.

We are not going to get into all the details, but you can probably guess where this is going.  Among the many graphics was this:

From ApartmentList.com – click on picture for website

As we keep saying, while, yes, our housing costs are relatively low, so are our incomes.  You can say that for all of Florida, and the graphic makes the outcome pretty clear.  There is a good amount of housing cost stress.

And, even with increasing incomes, there was this showing the change in rent relative to the change in income:

Metro:                Tampa, FL

Change in Cost Burden Rate ’08-’18:                   -2%

Median Rent Growth ’08-’18:                                8%

Median Renter Income Growth ’08-’18:                4%

We suspect that the difference is, to some degree, the effect of all the building that has gone one in more urban parts of the area.  However, it is what it is.

We understand that someone moving from a northeast metro to this area finds a good deal.  However, for the people from here, the deal is not necessarily that good. Often times, they get a better deal by leaving and going to a more expensive place where they can make even more money (and have more opportunities).  That has long been the case.  It seems that it still is.  And it needs to be addressed.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

There was more news about Quayside, Google’s proposed redevelopment project in Toronto. (here, here, and here).

The Google sister company Sidewalk Labs has agreed to scale back and refine its approach to a controversial hi-tech neighbourhood it has proposed for a swath of Toronto’s prime waterfront land.

Instead of developing 190 acres of property, as it pitched in June, Sidewalk agreed on Thursday to scale back its plan to the 12 acres it first envisioned in its response to a request for proposals two years ago.

Should the 12-acre project be successful, Sidewalk could seek to expand its smart city, but it will need to go through a formal process again.

Sidewalk has also agreed to store and process data collected in the project on Canadian soil, pay fair market value for the land at the time of sale, team up with one or more real estate partners and allow Canadian companies to use Sidewalk’s hardware and software patents.

You can read the whole article here, as well as a couple of more here and here.

Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, had proposed rebuilding a chunk of land east of downtown in exchange for using Toronto as a beta test. In pushing back against that plan, Toronto reached a compromise that lets Sidewalk go ahead, but firmly under public control — setting a precedent for how governments around the world can harness the potential for “smart cities” without letting Big Tech dictate the terms.

After winning a competition in 2017 to build a smart city development on a 12-acre plot of derelict publicly owned land called Quayside, Sidewalk offered a dazzling array of innovations intended not just to push Toronto into the future, but also to act as a test bed and a model for similar developments worldwide.

Consider the difference in approach to how this area and Florida generally deal with tech companies (and things like autonomous vehicles).


Because We Can

Here is a nice picture for Water Street:

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

Pretty impressive.

Roundup 11-1-2019

October 31, 2019

We are posting a little early this week.  Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween.

Contents

Transportation

— Lots of Money

— Anything But What Makes Sense, Cont.

— Streetcar

— Roads to Nowhere

— Virgin Trains

— Continuous Flow

Downtown/Channel District – 1010 Water Street

West Tampa aka North Hyde Park – Revised

USF Area – Hooray, Beer . . . Sort Of, Cont

USF Area – Uptown

Downtown – Quietly

Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

Pasco – RJ, Finally

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________


Transportation


— Lots of Money

The big news last week was that the State has found the money to pay for the rebuild of the I-275/SR60 interchange in Westshore.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation announced today $1.4 billion in funding will be used for the reconstruction of the Interstate 275/State Road 60 Westshore area interchange in Tampa.

This project will connect the Howard Frankland Bridge, the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Veterans Expressway and Tampa International Airport with additional general purpose and express lanes.

It will also reconnect local streets beneath the interstate to relieve traffic congestion on Westshore Boulevard and improve community access, according to the Thursday afternoon announcement.

While it is technically true that there will be some additional free (the “general purpose” lanes) that is not really reflective of the project.  For the most part, the project is to build variable rate toll (express) lanes.  In a few places, free lanes will be added for a stretch, but they are not the focus.  The focus is on tolls.  For instance, there is this about free lanes:

Those vehicles on I-275 will have additional lanes as they drive through the interchange. The two lanes that go north to downtown Tampa from the Howard Frankland Bridge will expand to three. The same is true of the southbound lanes in that area.

That third lane is being done now and still will not fix the bottleneck for the free lanes at the east end of the Howard Frankland where it will go from 4 lanes (with a short period of 5 lanes, with two exiting before Westshore) to 3 lanes. (Note that not all free lanes are “general purpose”.  Some are designated “auxiliary” lanes, like the fourth lane on the bridge which will still form a bottleneck at the Westshore end.)  The key new lanes will be two tolled lanes. (see here)

You can see it in the video:

In any event, we like the reconnection of the surface roads.  That is definitely a positive.  And changing the ramp from SR60 to northbound I-275 is a good idea, though there will still be messy merges.

Overall, we have no expectation that this project will actually fix the interstate.  If anything, it will make it better for a short period and then it will get overcrowded again (and then what?).  And there will likely be almost no effect for the free lanes.  And then there is this noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

This was touted by FDOT as a $600 million project 3 years ago. Now it’s $1.4 billion?

(See page 162 of this TBX pdf from 2015, which is marked as Figure 8-1).  Even if you account for some inflation, that seems like quite the increase. One could do a lot with the additional money other than build express lanes.

In short, we are not opposed to fixing the bottleneck that should never have existed at the end of the bridge, connecting the surface streets that should never have been cut, and adding some capacity (though it will soon be filled).  Unfortunately, while the surface streets will be connected, the bottleneck will still not really be fixed and the capacity that is added is mostly variable rate toll capacity that does not serve most of the people using the roads – or paying taxes (when they can afford it, they won’t need it, and, when they need it, they won’t be able to afford it).

And then there is this: after all that money is spent and it gets congested again, then what?


— Anything But What Makes Sense, Cont.

After coming up with a “BRT” plan, as we have discussed before, TBARTA is branching out.

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority is looking ahead when it comes to putting Tampa on the map for futuristic transit technologies.

The TBARTA staff unanimously approved a transit innovations task order on Friday morning as the state has allocated $1 million for the study of innovative technology.

The board coordinated with its consultant WSP USA Inc. to develop a scope of work and project schedule for a high-level feasibility study called the Transit Technologies Feasibility Study that would evaluate three innovative transit technologies — hyperloop, aerial gondolas and air taxis. The work would be performed as a task work order under WSP’s contract.

The feasibility study will cover route types, corridor profiles and connections, travel demand, environmental considerations, safety considerations, regulatory considerations, an overview of the technologies alongside comparable technologies and innovations, costs, and sector financing opportunities, according to TBARTA’s document. The study is expected to be completed in 12 months.

Good thing they are paying a consultant $1 million for that. They could have used that money to run the streetcar for another year plus. (They even could have subsidized most of a year of the Cross-Bay Ferry, though they shouldn’t).

The portion of the study related to hyperloop will focus on its applicability to the state as a whole, while the portion of the study related to air taxis and aerial gondolas will focus only on Tampa Bay.

Probably because hyperloop has basically no application as transit (and statewide it would compete with Virgin Trains, which seems an odd choice.)

The consultant may look at companies in the hyperloop industry such as Virgin Hyperloop One, TransPod and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which HTT has said it has interest in providing a connection from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

For air taxis, the document lists companies such as Uber Air, Bell Helicopter, Volocoptor and Lilium.

In respect to aerial gondolas, the consultant may evaluate the Doppelmayr (manufacturer of the Portland Aerial Tram and the London Emirates Air Line) and Poma (manufacturer of the Roosevelt Island Tramway).

Even if you provide a connection from Tampa to St. Pete, then what?  How do you get around?  You still need real transit, which is what TBARTA should be looking at.  (Same with sky taxis, which have all sorts of practical issues as we touched on last week.)

This effort appears far more like people trying to find anything other than tested and proven technology (rail and real BRT) to provide real transit than a quest for real solutions.  Meanwhile, there are requests in for more TBARTA funding in the Legislature.

We are not opposed to funding TBARTA if it is going to do serious work on our existing local transportation issues, but we are still waiting for that.


— Streetcar

Meanwhile, over where something more serious is going on:

HART has plans for a new generation of sleeker, faster, and larger streetcars, some of them more than 70 feet long.

* * *

Last November, Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation. Planners say when it clears the courts the funds will help build streetcar tracks in more of downtown along with new streetcar lines stretching from Whitiing Street to Palm Avenue.

* * *

The new trains will run on the same kind of tracks. Limmer said he expects Tampa will have new streetcars by 2024 or 2025 and there is no cost estimate yet. He anticipates federal and state funding, transportation tax revenue, and sponsorships will pay for the streetcars. 

We are all for the modernization, though we will wait and see about the funding.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Times had another in an ongoing series of articles about the roads to nowhere project.  This one included things like this:

A contractor hired by the department won’t even start exploring where the roads would go until January. Financial projections would presumably follow.

It leaves little to no time for task force members to thoroughly evaluate the need, if any, for the projects. Their recommendations to DeSantis and the Legislature are due in one year. Construction is supposed to start in 2022, with the roads built by 2030.

On Wednesday, task force member Thomas Hawkins, a land planner and University of Florida program director, noted that their agenda over the next year doesn’t include anything about road costs, which would be in the billions.

“We need to talk about the demand for people to pay tolls, right? What is projected revenue and what are projected costs?” Hawkins asked. “I don’t see it anywhere on this sheet. That’s a problem.”

Yes, not knowing anything about routes, demand, possible use, and financial information is a problem, especially when you are talking billions of dollars.  Of course:

Transportation officials are usually the ones who pitch new roads after years of studies that demonstrate a tangible need for them. Yet in the cases of the three new toll roads, department officials had not identified them in Florida’s long-term plans, where roads of necessity are typically found.

We are not going to go over the whole article (you can read it here)  We have said a number of times that there may be a need for some (or all of these roads someday) but, aside from a connection from I-275 to the Veterans/Suncoast which should be much farther south than the Turnpike, today is not that day.  Right now, money needs to be spent on real transportation alternatives in areas that are already built up. That is not really happening.

Even if these roads were to not happen, weep not for the road builders, there are enough road projects getting funded to keep them making money for a long time.


— Virgin Trains

In news tangentially related to the Tampa Bay area (and by that we mean the Tampa Bay area, not Hillsborough County quazi-governmental or largely government subsidized agencies):

Virgin Trains could be nearing an agreement soon on a location near the theme parks in Orlando.

The Miami-based intercity train, which is working on a $4 billion expansion from Orlando International Airport to West Palm Beach, revealed in report on September that it would target reaching an agreement to develop a station in fourth-quarter of this year. Virgin Trains now is evaluating station sites in the area that may serve one or more theme parks in the area.

A station for the theme parks is something Virgin Trains has proposed as part of its $1.7 billion Orlando-to-Tampa route, and area resorts have voiced support for it. A Walt Disney World Resort representative spoke in favor of the rail expansion project during an April 5 Florida Development Finance Corp. meeting and Universal Parks & Resorts CEO Tom Williams has said he will lobby hard for the train to have a station near Universal’s proposed Epic Universe theme park.

Virgin Trains did not reveal the locations of the station sites it was looking at in the report. Virgin Trains representatives couldn’t be reached for comment.

They are still negotiating about the Orlando Airport to Tampa route, so this may or may not mean something for us.  In additional news,

Brightline said Tuesday it will build a station at PortMiami by 2020. The rail will ultimately connect a crucial 170-mile (275-kilometer) stretch from West Palm Beach to Orlando and its theme parks. It’s scheduled to open in 2022. From Orlando, the company hopes to eventually expand to Tampa and Jacksonville.

Needless to say, a connection to downtown Tampa would also connect to cruises out of Tampa.  The waiting continues.


— Continuous Flow

In the quest to make traffic flow (which it won’t) FDOT is now looking at continuous flow intersections.

FDOT is considering using continuous-flow intersections at four very busy and congested Tampa Bay area intersections.

A continuous-flow intersection, sometimes referred to as a displaced left turn intersection, is an innovative design to help improve safety and mobility by redirecting some or all left hand turns at a major signalized intersection.

You can see it better in this video:

You may notice that this makes the intersections even bigger and harder to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists. Of course, some intersections in this area are functionally uncrossable at the moment, but we are not sure why FDOT, which says it wants to address those issues, wants to make them worse.  In any event, here is where they are looking:

FDOT completed an Innovative Intersections Feasibility Review for US 19 from Tampa Rd to Alt 19. The state found several designs, not just continuous-flow intersections, that provide better level of service at signalized intersections.

Now, FDOT said they have been tasked to take this US 19 review forward with conceptual designs and traffic simulation.

FDOT also finished an earlier review of Dale Mabry Hwy from Van Dyke just south of SR 54. This review has also been taken forward as above and is underway, according to the state.

The state is also on track to perform a similar review for Fowler Ave. between the I-275 and I-75 interchanges.

Finally, FDOT is looking at US 41 at State Road 54 in Pasco County.

We suspect the announcement of the one or more of these projects is just a matter of time. Remember, when you are in a hole, the best thing to do is to keep digging.


Downtown/Channel District – 1010 Water Street

There was more Water Street news. From URBN Tampa Bay:

Water Street Tampa has received zoning approval for 1010 Water Street, a 22 story, 511 unit apartment tower. The project also features 32,000 square feet of retail space.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We previously discussed this building here and here (where there are more renderings).  We like all the retail (though there will be one relatively dead street).  On the other hand, it is quite a boxy building, but it has some design to it.  While it is not our favorite Water Street building, overall it is not bad, and it seems to have awnings.

URBN Tampa Bay says it should start soon.  We are not sure if that is official or if that is just based on the fact that Water Street is moving at a very impressive pace, but it is likely.


West Tampa aka North Hyde Park – Revised

The project proposed for 1116 West Carmen Street has been revised.  We previously discussed the older version here. From URBN Tampa Bay:

The project is a 6-story building with 264 units. The code requires 398 parking space, and the developer plans to build 348 parking spaces, so a waiver is sought for that.

Originally, the first-floor outward facing units had closed-off patios lining the sidewalk, basically the equivalent of a balcony on the ground. Under our advice, the developer has modified these units to be walk-up units. As you can see in these renders, the ground floor units facing the sidewalk now have front doors for each unit leading out to the sidewalk.

* * *

The developer redesigned the parking garage to make it more aesthetically pleasing. The parking garage will have a rooftop amenity deck, with great views of Downtown.

Also, the developer is providing a dog park on the project’s northern end – and get this – a rail platform along the CSX tracks for a possible future light rail stop.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Setting aside the façade, which is still a bit generic, those are all solid changes to the project. But there is still this, which we noted previously:

The other striking feature is the lack of retail.  We get that this lot is a bit off the beaten track, but only a bit.  We also think this area is undergoing rather rapid redevelopment so that what seems a bit isolated now will not necessarily be so later.   We do not think this building, which is not on a large through road needs to have a huge amount of retail.  However, retail space for in the northwest corner for a corner store/coffee shop type establishment would be good.  Moreover, in the future, when the lots around it are developed, if they also have retail on the corner, it will become a small neighborhood hub like a proper urban neighborhood.

The project is definitely better with the revision (and for that and its interest in working with the community, the developer should be commended), but with some small tweaks it could be better still.


USF Area – Hooray, Beer . . . Sort Of, Cont

A while back we discussed a proposal by Yuengling to develop some open space at their brewery. (See here) To recap, this is what they were seeking approval for:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is what we said previously:

We have mixed feelings about this.  First, it is a large piece of unused land in an area that could use some good development, and this seems like an interesting idea.  Hotel, restaurant, microbrewery, beer garden, etc.  That is all good.  On the other hand, it is completely car oriented (including a very large retention pond on the street and a driveway cutting the project off from 30th Street and the area around it, which we tend to be against.   Then again, the entire area around it is basically a sprawling mess (though there is housing and other retail nearby) and it is a brewery.  Then again, it is near the CSX lines and could be part of a circulator system.  And, done better, it could also help jump start a remaking of the area into something better than a sprawling mess.

To summarize, we applaud the effort and the general idea.  We would definitely like the concept (if not this exact plan) to go forward.  However, we wish it were done better with at least an attempt to relate to the area around it.

Nothing has changed.  We still like the thought, but it could be executed much better and in a way that would do much more for the neighborhood (and increase the likelihood that spur more development in the area).  Moreover, the present design would not connect effectively to any potential transit (including any rational bus system).  In any event, last week:

Tampa City Council on Thursday unanimously approved Yuengling’s plans for a mixed-use redevelopment on its 43-acre property at 11111 N. 30th St., said Carlos Alfonso, a Tampa architect involved in the project.

Construction is slated to begin in May, Alfonso said. Yuengling is in the process of choosing a food and beverage operator.

(Choose a beverage operator?) We hope for the best, but still think this could have been better.  This area is likely to undergo a decent amount of change in the near and mid-range future.  The City needs to get ahead of the process to shape it in a way that will have enduring quality.


USF Area – Uptown

Speaking of the USF area, we happened along a presentation to the County Commission by the (ineffable) !p group. (here)  Included in the presentation was a rendering of sorts of the plans for Uptown a/k/a University Mall property.  It may or may not be the real plan, but it is what we have, so we will go with it.

From County Commission 10-16-2019 meeting presentation pdf, page 8 – click on picture for pdf

Since these plans began, we have said we like the concept that has been laid out but that the execution has been a bit off.  Looking at the picture, there is much to commend it.  There is a good mix of uses.  There is decent density. We cannot see any real designs, but the concept looks pretty good. . . except one thing, which has been a major issue all along.

Look at the surface parking and outparcels along Fowler.  Whenever there are discussions about fixing up the USF area, there are discussions about making Fowler much more friendly to pedestrians, cyclists, transit, etc., and making it more attractive.  As shown in this rendering, none of that is accomplished by the plan.  It focuses development almost completely on the back of the land and leaves the front door a sprawling mess.

Even more, just south of Fowler run CSX tracks (something a Commissioner noted a number of times during the Commission meeting).  However, the pictured layout does nothing to make the entire Uptown development, which contemplates what appears to be decent internal pedestrian circulation, accessible to any future transit.  And it does nothing to encourage redevelopment of the south side of Flower.  It just mirrors the sprawl there now.

Of course, the plan can change, and the land facing Fowler can be addressed.  We hope that happens.  There is a great opportunity to change the nature of the arterial roads that would help have a knock-on effect of the area.  And, as we said, we like much of the general concept behind Uptown.  We just hope they execute those ideas better.  It is an opportunity that should not be missed.


Downtown – Quietly

The two building Seasons apartment proposal has been moving along without much hubbub.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Seasons Apartments and Suites, a multi-tower residential project planned for 601 and 602 Whiting Street, has received approval.

The project features a 41 story tower and a 27 story tower with a combined 541 residential units, two restaurant spaces, and a single retail slip.

If built, the yellow tower would become the 5th tallest building in Tampa, ahead of both Rivergate and Park Tower.

The project is designed by famed architect Helmut Jahn.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We discussed this when first proposed here.  (There are more pictures and site plans there.)

At the time we said:

While we are still lacking details, including about the development team (we know who filed the application, but is that the development team?), looking at the project overall, it is quite large and tall and would definitely stick out, especially if built with the colors in the renderings.  We are all for variety of facades, but we are not sure (really, we are not sure) about those colors (though they very well may grow on us) and we are not sure about having 27 stories of blank metal panels.   Additionally, the narrowness of the Seasons Suites tower will definitely be interesting to see.  Given the size of the project and the size of the lot, the street activity is decent.  As for the business plan, we leave that to the developers.

While we would still like to see more and think about it, our initial impression of the Seasons Apartments building is good, though we are not sure about the colors.  However, we have a real concerns about the Seasons Suites 27 stories of metal panels.  We hope they do something to address that.  We shall have to see much about this proposal.

We still like the overall idea and are not sure about the colors, and we hope they have changed those panels on the shorter building.


Governance/Economic Development – CRA’s

A while back, we discussed efforts by some on the Tampa City Council to change how community redevelopment agencies (CRA’s) are run, including potentially having a CRA director who reports directly to the City Council rather than being a City employee overseen by the Mayor (though the City Council oversees the CRA’s generally).  When last we left this issue, City staff was going to report back to the Council regarding possible organizational changes.  Now, they have:

Tampa will hire an executive whose focus will be managing the city’s community redevelopment districts, created over the last fifteen years to revive blighted neighborhoods.

Everyone agrees that’s a good thing. But, in a major change from their earlier position, the executive likely won’t report to council members.

If Mayor Jane Castor gets her way, the director ultimately will be hired by her administration and report to her. At least that was the plan presented by Chief of Staff John Bennett Monday to little dissent from council members.

* * *

Since taking office in May, a majority of council members had voiced support for having the director report to them because the City Council also sits as the Community Redevelopment Agency board and has final responsibility for the $33 million in revenue generated by property taxes within each area’s boundaries.

After Bennett’s presentation, that consensus melted away. By the end of Monday’s workshop, only council member Bill Carlson was still making the case that a director needed to report to council members.

Afterward, Carlson said he was okay with how things turned out, noting the administration’s willingness to separate the redevelopment area job from that of the economic development director.

* * *

Carlson said the same thing, but also noted that council members still have the power to cancel the agency’s contract with the city if they were unhappy with the director’s performance.

We think the splitting of the jobs, which actually have two different mandates, is a significant step.  While they sound the same, at the City, economic development tends to be real estate development and tends to be targeted towards larger projects. The community redevelopment areas are just that, for the community.  There are times where the two overlap, but there are times when they do not.  Having the same person in charge and reporting to the Mayor can muddle the distinction, especially in Tampa’s system.  (Of course, it will not make any difference if the City Council does no exercise real oversight.)

The final decision will be made at next month’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

We will see how it works out.


Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

There was more news on the “Tampa Bay” front.  First, the Mayor of St. Pete sent a letter to the head of the Hillsborough EDC.

Kriseman has proposed an “Economic Development Mutual Aid Agreement,” in which those involved in business recruitment would formally agree to provide each other with assistance and cooperation as it relates to economic development. He emailed a letter Thursday to local leaders outlining the plan, and said if there is consensus to move forward with the concept, he would direct the city attorney to work on a draft agreement for review and input.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement to the St. Pete Catalyst that she backs regional collaboration. (See Castor’s full statement below.) Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton also indicated support for the plan during an interview with the Catalyst, as did the chairs of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater St. Petersburg Economic Development Corp.

Kriseman’s proposal was prompted, at least in part, by news that the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. are changing their names to the Tampa Bay Chamber and the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. The EDC said it will begin using its new name Oct. 29 at its annual meeting.

Moreover:

He said the name change “only hurts our collective efforts and reverses the progress that has been made to date, unless those two organizations intend to focus on all cities and counties throughout the Tampa Bay area. I don’t believe that to be the case,” Kriseman wrote.

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, called the name change “a violation of trust.”

“Our biggest concern is people will go their website, Tampa Bay EDC, and think they’re getting information on all the counties in the area, when in reality they’re only seeing sites available in Hillsborough County,” Meidel said at the Pinellas County Economic Development Council meeting Thursday.

All of that is entirely obvious and probably why the name change is happening. (The justification for the name change cannot still officially be that people cannot figure out that “Tampa” is in the “Tampa Bay” area.  To put is very generously, that is a really weak reason.)

The head of the Hillsborough EDC responded:

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. will go ahead with an announced name change.

The organization will be known as the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council as of Oct. 29, Craig Richard, president and CEO, said in an Oct. 25 letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“Our name will change but our service area will not,” Richard said.

* * *

Kriseman last week asked the group to reconsider the move, and to enter into a regional “economic development mutual aid agreement.” Richard said the EDC would be “delighted” to sign such an agreement.

But Richard would not back down on the name change announced earlier this month, around the same time the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce said it would be known as the Tampa Bay Chamber.

Which is about the tone we expected.

We think the best summation of the issue came from a Business Journal opinion piece from the Pinellas EDC head (here).

The current rebranding announced by the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to become the “Tampa Bay Economic Development Council” would dilute our regional brand and could damage future cooperative efforts. This rebranding is inherently confusing, as businesses seeking relocation information will believe they are contacting a regional organization, when in fact, they will only receive information about locations in Hillsborough County. If the THEDC does not aspire to serve multiple counties, as they claim, then this new name does not accurately represent the organization. This does a disservice to their intended audience and harms true regional efforts.

Despite THEDC’s arguments, this name change is not on a par with the Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Bureau’s rebranding as Visit Tampa Bay and its subsidiaries as Film Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Pinellas County’s CVB has never done significant marketing using the Tampa Bay brand, while all of the economic development organizations in the region have been building campaigns and promotional efforts around the Tampa Bay brand for over a quarter-century. 

To quote Craig Richard, CEO of the THEDC, in his interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal in 2016, “Regional collaboration is important. When I was in Texas, we coined a term called ‘coopetition.’ You had hundreds of economic development organizations all competing, but on a regional basis you have to cooperate to market the region successfully. … Regionalism is critical.”

I strongly urge all the economic development organizations of Tampa Bay to help complete the effort to build a new regional organization — the Tampa Bay Alliance. The seven counties of Tampa Bay need to fund and implement the recommendations of the Avalanche study. Together, we can become one of the strongest destinations in the nation for business expansions and for the attraction of quality workers.

There should be a regional organization, and the Hillsborough EDC should drop the name change.  Any benefit the EDC gets from adding “Bay” to “Tampa” is far less than the damage to regional relations.

It is a completely unforced error.


Pasco – RJ, Finally

It has been many years since Raymond James started considering a satellite campus in Pasco County.  It seems that it might be going forward.

Raymond James Financial is advancing plans for a new satellite campus in Wiregrass Ranch, eight years after announcing the expansion.

The St. Petersburg-based financial services company filed a preliminary site plan with Pasco County last week and simultaneously requested a meeting with county planners, the typical precursor to initiating new development.

The site plan shows five separate office buildings, two parking garages and surface parking lots on the 65-acre site at State Road 56 and Mansfield Boulevard, east of the Shops at Wiregrass mall.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Understandably, Pasco officials are excited by the idea.  There is no doubt that having a large corporates office is a coup.  And, it is staying in the area, which is great.

On the other hand, it is quite the sprawling campus. (It would take quite a long time just to go to lunch off campus and come back.) Yes, it fits Pasco County development patterns, but it is another lost opportunity.

And it is also another example of why not much money should be spent on transit to Pasco.  The county shows no signs of really wanting development that could make transit effective. Their planning is essentially Hillsborough circa 1995.  That is their choice, and, until the change, we think Hillsborough should respect it and not spend transit money on Pasco related projects.


Rays

Your Rays news, here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was news from Phoenix:

Valley Metro last week began construction on the 5.5-mile South Central light-rail extension in downtown Phoenix.

Crews began identifying underground utilities to prepare for extensive improvements, Valley Metro officials said in a press release.

You can get more details here and here.  Somehow they manage to develop and expand light rail and test autonomous vehicles at the same time.

Roundup 10-25-2019

October 24, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum

— Cross Bay Ferry

Downtown – Encore

Planning – South County?

— Is This What You Want?

Downtown – The Arts

— Another Screen

— The Museum

Sulphur Springs – This is Part of Tampa, Too

USF – Still Working On It

Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

Tourism – A Limit

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Denver

— Something to Discuss

— Self Driving Cars

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

________________________________


Transportation


— Referendum

While waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to decide about the AFT referendum, the allocation process is still moving forward (as it should).

The Independent Oversight Committee met on Monday night to hear from agencies that drafted plans for use of proceeds from the Hillsborough County transportation surtax.

The committee will determine if pitched plans comply with the law of the relevant statute, the amended charter and the county ordinance.

So far the clerk has received transportation surtax proceeds of $143.8 million; funds have been distributed but the entities have not spent the money.

Here’s how the one-cent sales tax money has been distributed so far:

The charter intended 45 percent of proceeds for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority; 54 percent was to go to the county and municipalities for general purpose; and the remaining 1 percent was to go to the Metropolitan Planning Organization. 

For the county and cities, 27 percent was to be spent on safety improvements, 26 percent on intersections, 20 percent on maintenance, 12 percent on bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure and the remainder to a general transportation fund.

You can find the actual project lists if you go to the plan Hillsborough website (here). The lists are on the pages for the “improvement partners.” And for those who want the money to go to roads, as we have noted before, there are a number of categories where it can for specific purposes, and

Board members Manuel Menendez and Ray Chiaramonte agreed, asking attorneys to provide more clarity.

Duncan and Chief Assistant County Attorney Sam Hamilton told board members that 15 percent of the sales tax revenue could be spent on additional traffic lanes.

Meanwhile, in the lawsuit:

Tampa’s three leading economic development groups on Tuesday filed an amicus brief in the Florida Supreme Court opposing efforts to overturn the All for Transportation one-cent sales tax that 57 percent of Hillsborough County voters approved last November.

The brief was filed by the Tampa Bay Partnership, a nonprofit multi-county organization that brings top local chief executive officers together to focus on big issues like developing workforce talent, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., a government-supported non-profit that works to recruit new businesses and help existing ones grow.

You can read more here and get the docket here.  (You can search case SC19-1343 if the link changes)

Once again, we are all for moving forward with planning in the event the Florida Supreme Court upholds the tax.

. . . the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in February.

We shall see.


— Cross Bay Ferry

It is almost that time of year again.

Tickets went on sale Thursday for the third season of Cross-Bay Ferry service between the Tampa Convention Center and the Vinoy Yacht Basin in St. Petersburg.

The ferry is scheduled to run Nov. 1 through April 30, 2020. Tickets are $8 each way for adults, with discounts for passengers 65 and older, active or retired members of the military, college students and minors.

There are a couple of changes this year:

Service will run Wednesday through Sunday. Ridership on Mondays and Tuesdays during the second season of ferry service that concluded this spring was too low to support regular service in the third season. However, the ferry will run for Tampa Bay Lightning games if they are played on a Monday or Tuesday as more people are expected to use the service for a special event.

The ferry had originally been staged near the St. Petersburg History Museum, but had to move because of ongoing construction on the new pier.

The ferry will dock in Tampa at the Tampa Convention Center, where it docked during the first season.

Once again, just so we are clear: we are fine with the ferry as the fun cruise attraction it is.  We think it is a nice feature.  However, we think it should be privately funded.  And we object to people calling it transit.  It is an attraction.


Downtown – Encore

There was news about Encore.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

On Tuesday, Encore’s proposal for 1025 East Harrison Street called The Independent received approval. The project features 295 units and 2,500 square feet of retail space in a 5-story building. The project also includes an 8-story parking garage with 418 parking spaces. The code required 298 parking spaces.

We discussed it a few months ago here, saying:

In other words, basically there are no parts of this proposal that are good (and there is no excuse for the garage). Some, though not many, aspects may be OK, but nothing is good.

* * *

That is an absurd amount of parking, and it is arranged in a foolish way.

URBN Tampa Bay agrees, and has more:

This project definitely has a few key problems:

For one, the retail space is woefully insufficient. As you can see from the site plan, only 1 corner of the project is activated by retail space. The total building square footage (not including the garage) is 273,400 square feet. That means we have another 1-percenter – that is, a project in which retail space makes up less than 1% of the building’s square footage. That is not enough to qualify as a mixed-use project or provide sufficient commercial space that the several hundred new residents could patronize.

Also, as you can see in the elevations posted below, the garage is the tallest portion of the project. This of course is aesthetically unpleasing, but it should demonstrate that the extra 120 spots they are building above code is out of scale with the project. Building excess parking artificially raises unit prices and is an inefficient use of land, all for a transportation mode we should not actively be encouraging in this area.

Also, due to the positioning of the garage on the lot, it will tower over Cass Street, since there are only a few small 1-story buildings between the planned garage and the street.

We see nothing to disagree with there.  And we will say this again:

They are right.  Encore is a wasted opportunity to truly activate this part of downtown.  Then again, there is a drive thru Burger King pretty much next door.  That should tell you all you need to know about the lack of vision and quality in these proposals as well as the earlier buildings.

The acceptance of that lack of quality at Encore is also a warning about what may be coming in the West River redevelopment.  The City government needs to raise its game and get this fixed before it squanders acres and acres of redevelopment opportunities in the urban core and locks in a pattern of poor, uninviting development for decades.

We can do better.


Planning – South County?

The County Commission is working on a nine-month moratorium on development in South County.

Earlier this month, county commissioners tentatively set a nine-month moratorium on rezoning applications for parts of south county. But there are fears that won’t stop the sprawl, only delay it.

There is another public hearing for that re-zoning moratorium scheduled on Nov. 6th. That will be followed by a final vote by the commissioners. 

What is the purpose? From a Times editorial:

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed nine month moratorium that would freeze new rezoning applications under the so-called Residential Planned-2 land use category. As envisioned in the 1990s, that category was intended to promote self-sustaining developments—town center and village-style clusters in rural areas. But that hope never materialized; the category’s requirements lacked teeth and utility, frustrating residents, planners and developers. The commissioners’ recent approval of a 1,000-home development near Wimauma in rural south Hillsborough prompted them to vote unanimously to schedule Wednesday’s moratorium debate. While revisiting the land use category opens the door for both good changes and bad, it’s hard to imagine the existing framework could be worse. And it’s a welcome sign that both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the commission recognize the current rules only invite costly sprawl.

Who knows where this discussion leads. Commissioners could tinker around the edges, focusing on design standards, such as trails and sidewalks or architectural features, that might make new suburban developments more attractive. More likely, the debate will call attention to the lack of roads, mass transit, utilities, schools and other infrastructure in the rural areas, and the county’s need to manage growth more proactively. Stronger regulations could make for more efficient land use, improve connectivity throughout the area and help preserve natural habitat and resources.

We do not have a problem with calling a time out to rethink what is going on. (In fact, a rethink should have happened a long time ago.)  We are not sure why it is limited to South County.  The planning everywhere is pretty bad.  And we also agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

We hope that the BOCC and those stakeholders in the community involved with this process really look at this with a wider eye towards the big picture. Slowing growth down only to resume it in the same form it has now will change nothing. The goal needs not to be to halt growth, but to shape it into something the county can manage and serve more efficiently than the haphazard sprawl that’s been built can be served. New growth needs to look a lot less like car dependent sprawl flung across the county’s fringes, and a lot more like like urban infill closer in to town which brings life’s daily needs and residents closer to one another, and provides connectivity good enough that driving isn’t the only practical way to access them. Any new development not doing that, regardless of where it is in the county, should not be built.

Exactly.

We do not know what they will come up with, but we do know symbolic actions and nice words will not solve the problem.  And simply tweaking the sprawl model will not either.  Unlike so many plans in the past that were just tossed aside, there needs to be actual changes. They can start with fully enforcing the urban service boundary (plus having proper impact/mobility fees and no more subsidizing sprawl).


— Is This What You Want?

Which brings us to an interesting piece in the Times, which was sort of an editorial, sort of about commuting:

The best thing Tampa Bay leaders can do to fight climate change is simply get more cars off the road. But that’s a hollow hope in a region that still lacks meaningful mass transit, and where building more toll roads is seen as progress. A sense of urgency in solving the transportation problem is no longer just about convenience and economic competitiveness — it’s also now about global warming. Tampa Bay is particularly vulnerable to every aspect of climate change, from sea level rise to more powerful hurricanes. That’s something to ponder while stuck in another gridlock on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

In the last 30 years, tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, have risen by more than half in the Tampa Bay area, according to an analysis from the New York Times based on data collected by Boston University. And according to new Census data, 117,000 Tampa Bay workers spend at least an hour getting to work and another hour getting home, polluting all the way — our air and even our water, when nitrogen settles out. This is lose-lose, for productivity and for the planet.

They then list a number of statistics about increased emissions.  You can read it here. They conclude with this:

Until Tampa Bay leaders embrace real mass transit, this problem will only get worse.

There is a climate change discussion to be had, but even setting aside the climate change issue for a minute, do we really want all that pollution?  Do we want to sit in traffic inhaling car exhaust? Does that really help the quality of life? Shouldn’t there be real alternatives?


Downtown – The Arts


– Another Screen

We have been fans of Tampa Theatre for a long time – since we were kids, in fact (though we will spare you the reminiscing).  We also lament the lack of specialized/art film/indy film screenings in this area. Therefore, we were happy to read this:

The 1926 historic Tampa Theatre will break ground next year on an addition to create a new cinematic experience.

The theater will build a microcinema on Franklin Street. The small screening room will seat 40 to 50 guests and will occupy the storefront under Tampa Theatre’s marquee that currently houses The Nature Shop. Construction is expected to begin as early as spring 2020, and the new space staff nicknamed “T2” will open by early 2021, according to the theater’s announcement.

* * *

The microcinema is expected to cost roughly $1.3 million to build, which is funded in part by a $650,000 grant through the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners’ Capital Asset Preservation program. It’s also being funded through private dollars.

It is not clear what it will look like, though

Bell said the design of the new screening room will complement the existing Tampa Theatre aesthetics.

We do not expect it to be just like the main theater, but that is fine.  We think it is a great idea.


— The Museum

The Lightning owner has struck again.

The Tampa Museum of Art announced Thursday that the Vinik Family Foundation will make a $5 million gift to the museum’s endowment. The Vinik Family Foundation is a private foundation created and managed by Jeff and Penny Vinik.

Jeff Vinik owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and is the developer behind Tampa’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project that includes Sparkman Wharf. The Vinik Family Foundation is known for bringing free immersive art experiences to the public, as it did with the Beach Tampa and the Art of the Brick.

The gift was made to support the position of executive director, with a title that will be known as the Penny and Jeff Vinik executive director.

You can read the whole article here.  We are just happy that they are supporting local institutions. Sure, one could argue there is certain amount of self-interest in making downtown a cooler place to support the Water Street development, but that is fine.  It is a nice chunk of change, and it makes the city better for everyone.  So, thanks.


Sulphur Springs – This is Part of Tampa, Too

The Times had an interesting article on the Water Tower is Sulphur Springs:

One day, Keith Malson was boating on the Hillsborough River with his friend, Seminole Heights resident Debi Johnson, when the two decided to raise funds to renovate the tower by holding a music festival to bring the community together to do it.

The 214-foot tall water tower was built in 1927 by Grover Poole for developer Joseph Richardson, to pump water to the adjacent hotel property and Sulphur Springs Arcade he had developed into a tourist destination.

In the 1960s, nearby construction of the interstate isolated the area surrounding the tower. The city’s water department took over the water tower in 1971, and the arcade, once a beautiful landmark, was demolished in 1976 to create more parking for the adjacent Tampa Greyhound Track.

This is the arcade:

From TampaPix – click on picture for website

Good thing that got torn down.  Back to the tower:

The last time the tower was painted was 1989, when Sherwin Williams donated the paint, and the city’s Park and Recreation department took over the site around the park in the early 2000s.

This is the water tower:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the location here.  You may notice it is surrounded by public land.  That land is riverfront property.  The tower was cleaned up a bit a few mayors ago and lighting was added, but then not much has happened at the park (even though the City has spent quite a bit of money on other parks).  No splash pad.  No history walk.  Not much attention at all.

Thorpe said a renovated tower could see a similar effect as to what a refurbished Armature Works did for the Heights District. He said he sees the potential for several community activities around the tower, including revamping the park from which kayaks could launch and bringing a series similar to Lights on Tampa to create a light show that could be seen from the highway.

“Something similar could easily happen around this water tower because it’s such an iconic structure,” he said. “Imagine the Sulphur Springs Water Tower District or just the Tower District. It would certainly help bring up the rest of the neighborhood with it. It’s really about identity.”

The fact that it’s starting as a community-led initiative, he said, gives residents all the more credibility while they’ve seen the city pour attention into revitalizing neighboring districts.

To that end:

They created a committee to plan the River Tower Festival, which will take place Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and feature 10 bands, seven DJs, fire performers, food trucks and vendors. They plan to light up the boardwalk from the pool to the interstate.

The group contacted Sherwin Williams, who offered 50 percent off the paint this time, and architect Patrick Thorpe, who has been involved with other restoration projects. Though he has yet to inspect the tower closely, he thinks most of the renovation will be cosmetic.

The group estimates they will need to raise $80,000 to $100,000 to repaint the tower, but plan to do it over time.

“We’re not trying to rebuild the tower with one festival,” Malson said. “Right now we’re shooting small: get the crown painted or get a marker.”

So far they’ve raised about $35,000 to put on the festival, Johnson said, including a $9,500 grant from Hillsborough County’s Cultural Assets Commission, which they are eligible to receive again for five years.

We are all for getting the tower cleaned up and fixing up the park.  It is time to recover and revitalize this part of the urban riverfront. It is part of Tampa, after all.

You can get more information about the event here.


USF – Still Working On It

USF had revised it consolidation plan.

In a major shift from the first proposal, presented last month by USF’s new president Steve Currall, the new framework promises that the regional chancellors leading campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota will retain authority over academics, budgets and hiring.

* * *

Under the new plan, Tadlock and Holbrook will have direct reporting lines to Currall as members of his executive cabinet. And Sprowls is praising the university for a proposal that “reflects the will of the Legislature.”

* * *

The new proposal, shared with students and faculty via email Thursday, falls in line with those comments. It calls for investment in strong, existing programs — like marine science and journalism in St. Petersburg, and aging studies in Sarasota — to establish “centers of excellence” that might grow to be nationally recognized.

At the same time, it quiets fears that programs would be taken away from St. Petersburg and Sarasota and instead describes a more equal distribution of academic offerings across all USF campuses through “multi-campus colleges,” which will share curriculum and faculty.

Students could, for example, earn a degree in finance from any campus, and oversight of that program would be shared. The plan suggests new options for nursing, architecture and engineering students on the smaller campuses, too.

“I think what the students will actually see in it is that there’s going to be a lot more opportunity for them, no matter what campus they’re on,” Holbrook said. “The opportunities are much, much greater.”

The new plan will make boundaries between the campuses “more permeable,” Currall said, allowing for collaboration between students and faculty. That is a big plus for Sarasota, Holbrook said, where there are only a few professors for each academic discipline.

More communication lines will open up between USF educators, she added, and that will help those interested in research to share resources and gain access to bigger grants. The setup is sure to help USF recruit talented faculty, Currall said, because candidates will have more options and opportunity.

Tadlock and Holbrook will continue working as the university’s “eyes and ears” in St. Petersburg and Sarasota by keeping tabs on local workforce and research needs, according to the plan. Each year, they will use that information to build a campus-based budget, which will first go before their campus advisory boards, then on to Currall, who will build them into USF’s master budget.

The regional chancellors also will manage recruitment and hiring, as well as evaluations of faculty and student support services, like academic advising, mental health counseling and financial aid. They will report directly to the president on all administrative matters, the plan says.

It all sounds like a reasonable structure, even if it is not really consolidation.  Then again, we were never beholden to consolidation.

As we have said all along, the only thing we care about is that it works for the students and that it should have all been worked out before there was a law.  The whole process has created friction that was entirely unnecessary.


Tampa Bay – What is It, Cont

Speaking of entirely unnecessary friction, last week we reported about the EDC changing its name to Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.  Not surprisingly, that move has drawn complaints, as exemplified by three different pieces in the Times (an editorial here, an opinion piece here, and a column here) We are not going to get into them in depth.  You can read them for yourself.  However, we wanted to note a few things. From the column:

After the news broke last week, I heard from 10 local business and political leaders, all of whom thought it was a bad idea. Even the ones who live and work in Tampa said it was a step backward. One said it showcased everything that is wrong with the way some of our organizations work — Balkanized and a little underhanded. Another called it an “obvious power play” designed to poach business from other counties.

The economic development corporation is funded by private businesses and government, including the city of Tampa, one of its biggest investors. City council member Bill Carlson said at a recent meeting that the name change “sends a very aggressive negative signal to the region.” He then persuaded his fellow council members to agree to send a letter to the organization’s leaders asking them to reconsider.

* * *

Craig Richard runs the economic development corporation. He’s smart and earnest and seems like a good advocate for business. But he said last week that he didn’t know why anybody would think his organization was trying to horn in on other local economic development groups. That seemed naive — or cunning.

Last week, we said we will just assume that the EDC head was just naïve. For the time being, we will stick with that. Regardless, the reaction to the name change should have been entirely predictable and the City Councilman was correct: the name change sends a negative signal to the rest of the area. Moreover, the Times editorial board was correct (for the most part) when it said this:

Political, business and civic leaders throughout Tampa Bay have spent years promoting collaboration and building a regional identity. That necessary progression from the unproductive petty parochialism didn’t happen overnight, and the benefits are undeniable. The successes range from a surge in business and tourism to greater regional understanding to a common mission in areas such as transportation, the environment and higher education. Tampa Bay is a brand, and with that regional brand comes an obligation to have a regional vision.

* * *

It would be counter-productive for organizations that help companies navigate the local landscape to foster confusion in the marketplace — or to unintentionally rekindle outdated rivalries. The Tampa Bay brand carries a unique mission and certain expectations for those who embrace it. There is nothing that prevents civic and business groups in any corner of the region from contributing to the larger civic good. That contribution, after all, is what prompted a regional spirit across Tampa Bay that has delivered on a range of fronts. If they don’t have it already, organizations that call themselves “Tampa Bay’’ should quickly build a regional vision and mission that earns the broader name.

First, political officials may have been promoting regional identity but they have been uneven in promoting regional action and cooperation. But setting that aside, the EDC name change was unproductive, if not destructive, and, even worse, it was completely unnecessary (and completely avoidable). Though, sadly, given this area’s history, we cannot say it is surprising.


Tourism – A Limit

We all know about the AFT referendum lawsuits. There is another tax in Tampa that was in court:

A circuit court judge has ruled that a hotel room surcharge — collected by the City of Tampa on top of its existing maxed-out bed tax — is an “illegal tax,” according to a spokesperson for the Florida House, which sued the city over the $1.50-per-night fee two years ago.

The House Speaker at the time, Republican Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes set out to stop the city from collecting a special “marketing fee” on each room night after a WTSP-TV report spotlighted the controversial charges, created by Tampa in 2017 to generate new revenue for tourism marketing. State law prohibits a city or county from taxing hotel guests more than five or six cents on the dollar, depending on the county’s annual tourism figures.

* * *

Judge Rex Barb[a]s announced the state’s motion for summary judgment would be approved last Thursday, according to the House spokesperson. The state successfully argued that a per-night fee on hotel stays was a charge on an activity that varies over time, and therefore, a tax that was never authorized by the legislature.

We do not comment on ongoing litigation and this could still be appealed.  It is interesting though. (And, meanwhile, in Orange County this)


Rays

Your Rays news here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Denver

Last week, we discussed a TBARTA featured an article on Utah BRT which basically pointed out problems with its “BRT” plan.  This week, TBARTA had another featured article on BRT, this time involving Denver.

RTD is putting the finishing touches on a study of busy arterial roads that are good candidates for bus rapid transit. Those lines would use rubber on pavement and have other premium characteristics that are more typical of rail. The most important are dedicated lanes so buses run independently of traffic and service as frequent as every five minutes.

* * *

RTD’s feasibility study started with 30 or so corridors from Longmont in the north to Parker in the south. That’s since been winnowed down to eight: I-25 north of Denver, Park Avenue/38th Avenue, Speer Boulevard/Leetsdale Drive/Parker Road, Broadway/Lincoln Street, Colorado Boulevard, Alameda Avenue, Havana Street/Hampden Avenue, and Federal Boulevard.

You can see more on the proposed corridors here. One thing you notice right away, seven of the eight proposed corridors are on arterial roads, not the interstate. (And, oddly, the one interstate corridor seems to roughly parallel a rail line under construction.)  Moreover,

Billings cautioned that the city will need to do a variety of studies on each corridor before any major changes are made, though he said Denver is generally supportive of RTD’s plan for faster buses. It’s also moving forward on its own plan for BRT along Colfax Avenue. There’s a need now, he said, and it’s only going to get more pressing over time. 

That plan is also on an arterial road (you can see more here).

And, it also needs to be remembered that there is a core of rail throughout the Denver area.  It is not a system built around BRT.

So, once again, we are not opposed to BRT, but it should be done properly, on arterial roads.  As for TBARTA’s “BRT” Plan, scrap it should be scrapped. There should be a relatively inexpensive express bus to Wesley Chapel, then there can be a focus on real, proper transit.


— Something to Discuss

The Washington Post had an interesting piece by one of its regular columnists about attitudes regarding roads and transit.

Imagine a transit system that kills more than 260 people every year in one metropolitan area, maims and seriously injures another 2,600 or more, and forces those who survive to waste more than two hours every week in unscheduled delays.

We would demand an immediate shutdown, of course, followed by a radical change in culture and ­oversight.

Except … we have such a system, and we demand no such thing. It’s the system of roads and highways in and around the nation’s capital. And it’s not all that different from the system of roads and highways in any other metropolitan area.

Why are we so much more forgiving of their punishing costs than we are of the transgressions of Metrorail and other rapid transit systems?

It is a good question.  You can read more here.


— Self Driving Cars

The PBS show Nova had an episode on self-driving cars.  You can find it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

We have our doubts about the usefulness of the air taxi idea to have a real impact on congestion. URBN Tampa Bay had a very interesting post about the subject:

Oh? You thought that flying cars would save space and relieve congestion? Not really… The graphic shows how much right of way each mode of travel needs to move 10,000 people. Note how flying cars dwarf everything else while moving the same number of people. And then in the rendering from Uber, check out how the landing pad for just a handful of flying cars utterly dwarfs the highway underneath it.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook pageSetting aside the issues of traffic in the air, noise, risk of injury or death, cost, etc., of large-scale use of air taxis, if the representation is accurate, it is a poor use of space.

And Finally

FDOT has started decorative (and practical) lighting on the Skyway.  Here is a video from the Times (article here):

 

They are still working on it but plan to make it permanent.

Roundup 10-18-2019

October 17, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum

— Some Day

— Streetcar

— Virgin Trains

— This is Why

Tampa Heights – They Have Moxy

Westshore-ish – Admission

Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

East Tampa – Nah

Channel District – Sale

Airport – More

Economy – Nexus

Economic Development – What Is It?

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_____________________________


Transportation


— Referendum

There was news of sorts about the referendum lawsuit from Florida Politics:

The legal team representing All For Transportation in its ongoing legal battle against two complainants filed its response Thursday to an appeal seeking to overturn the 1% sales tax Hillsborough voters approved last year.

In their “answer brief,” the group makes two main arguments — that the voter-approved sales tax is constitutionally valid even if portions of it are stricken down and that the entire amendment is constitutional.

Because we are not getting into the legal arguments, we will leave it at that.  You can read more about AFT’s position here.


— Some Day

There is some more self-driving car money for Florida Poly.

Florida Polytechnic University is revving up its autonomous vehicle efforts, this time with the help of a grant from the National Science Institute.

The Lakeland-based university received a $350,000 grant from the institute earlier this month, which will help the school increase research on autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Arman Sargolzaei, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, was the lead researcher for the grant and believes this will be the first step to becoming one of the leading institutions on autonomous vehicles not only in the state, but the nation.

“This project and this funding is going to help us and as an institute — especially a new institute,” Sargolzaei said. “It will help with working and testing autonomous vehicles to be successful in the future.”

While the grant was intended for creating a facility, the research area will instead be in the electrical engineering lab until it is hopefully moved to the eventual Applied Research Center. That center, also known as the ARC, is slated to open in roughly 2021.

Which is fine.  We do not buy into the predictions that self-driving cars (aka “autonomous vehicles” or “avs”) will fix our transportation woes, but have no problem with research. Interestingly, the Economist had a couple of articles regarding self-driving cars this week.  The first (here) explained:

Jim Hackett, the boss of Ford, acknowledges that the industry “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles”. Chris Urmson, a linchpin in Alphabet’s self-driving efforts (he left in 2016), used to hope his young son would never need a driving licence. Mr Urmson now talks of self-driving cars appearing gradually over the next 30 to 50 years. Firms are increasingly switching to a more incremental approach, building on technologies such as lane-keeping or automatic parking. A string of fatalities involving self-driving cars have scotched the idea that a zero-crash world is anywhere close. Markets are starting to catch on. In September Morgan Stanley, a bank, cut its valuation of Waymo by 40%, to $105bn, citing delays in its technology.

The future, in other words, is stuck in traffic. Partly that reflects the tech industry’s predilection for grandiose promises. But self-driving cars were also meant to be a flagship for the power of AI. Their struggles offer valuable lessons in the limits of the world’s trendiest technology.

While the second (here) focuses on China and tells us:

For years Western carmakers have promised a world awash with AVs by now, making roads safer and less congested (see table). That it is not shows just how tough a computational and regulatory nut self-driving is to crack. It increasingly seems that if AVs are to become widespread, it may happen first not in the West but in China. A fleet of Chinese firms hope to profit handsomely in the process.

* * *

Yet in the absence of driving software which can handle chaotic city streets, some Chinese firms are adopting an alternative strategy. They are turning the streets themselves into something that software can handle. The approach involves installing sensors to guide cars, writing and enforcing rules about how humans move around, designing (or redesigning) urban landscapes to be AV-friendly and, critically, limiting AV firms’ legal liability in the event of inevitable accidents. All this is easier in authoritarian China than in the West’s unruly, litigious democracies.

There is a lot to unpack in that last paragraph.  First, it indicates that making a system that focuses on the car is difficult, so maybe change the roads.  How much it may cost to retrofit all the roads in the U.S. with enough sensors to make self-driving cars a truly viable means of every-day transportation is not revealed, but probably is a ridiculously large amount (especially if we cannot even afford resurfacing).  Then there is designing all the roads for cars and restricting pedestrians.  Designing for cars and not people is obviously not good planning and really would not make any improvement to the built environment.  Finally, by limiting liability, there is the tacit acknowledgement that self-driving cars may not be quite as safe as advertised (and it is unlikely to happen).

Once again, we are fine with research, but if our elected officials think that we should wait for self-driving cars to fix our transportation problems, they are basically saying that they are not going to fix our transportation problems for at least a generation.  Who knows how far behind we will be relative to our competitors by then?


— Streetcar

Ever since streetcar rides became free, ridership has exploded.  How much?

The FY19 streetcar ridership numbers are in – over 850k trips were taken on the TECO Line Streetcar this year! That is an increase of 181% over FY18 (303k trips)

Quite a bit.  And, giving credit where credit is due, FDOT’s very low-cost three-year grant is the reason.  It was clearly effective and should be renewed. FDOT should also take note that good transit planning in this area will work.


— Virgin Trains

While you are waiting to see if Virgin Trains can, in fact, strike a deal with the State to connect to Tampa, you might want to read a Florida Politics article on construction progress on the South Florida to Orlando line here.


— This is Why

We often say that Hillsborough should not lower its transit aspirations to the level of Pasco or Pinellas (though Pinellas is considering another referendum).  It should move forward and let them catch up.  We also believe that the “BRT” plan wastes too much money trying to get to Pasco when Pasco has shown no interest in making actual transit work.  Well,

Pasco County’s long-range transportation plan still imagines the area as autocentric in 2045 with fewer future dollars earmarked for mass transit.

That is different from an earlier version of the plan previewed four months ago for the Metropolitan Planning Organization — elected county and city officials sitting as transportation planners.

Why the change?

The more recent version no longer includes the idea of a new sales tax specifically for transportation. Commissioners objected in June when presented with a long-term transportation plan that included the option of adding a separate one-half or 1 percent surtax in 2028 or later, to pay for roads and mass transit.

* * *

To balance the ledgers, the long-term plan now calls for allocating just 25 percent of future revenue for mass transit instead of 75 percent. That means the plan no longer includes three central Pasco stations for a proposed commuter rail corridor paralleling U.S. 41 or bus rapid transit service near Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

The overwhelming majority of spending remains on adding vehicle capacity through new or expanded roads, said consultant Wally Blain of the Tindale Oliver.

If they do not want transit, that is their choice.  But it also indicates there are completely different visions between counties for how this area should look and function. That is a reason to now worry too much about transit to Pasco (or to merge MPO’s).  Just another reason to set up an express bus to Pasco and focus on the real transit needs elsewhere.


Tampa Heights – They Have Moxy

We now know what the hotel for the proposed hotel/apartment building just south of the Heights Union office buildings (where is seems some construction, likely the parking garage, is already underway) will be.

The developers of The Heights District in downtown Tampa are planning a new 25-story mixed-use tower — and it will include Tampa Bay’s first Moxy Hotel.

The Heights District said Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with Marriott International Inc. to bring its tech-forward Moxy flag to 153 hotel rooms on the first seven floors of the new tower. The new tower will be between West Oak Avenue and West 7th Avenue and North Highlands and North Tampa Street, on the block south of where Heights Union, an office development anchored by coworking giant WeWork, is under construction.

The remaining floors of the Moxy tower will be developed as apartments, and the tower will also include 5,000 square feet of retail space. A 1,500-space parking garage, with 9,000 square feet of retail space, will be built next to the tower.

* * *

Another 30,000 square feet of retail space is planned for the same block as the Moxy tower within The Heights. Documents previously filed with the city show the developers are aiming for a grocery store — possibly Sprouts Farmers Market Inc., which is named on one site plan — for the district.

We also have better quality renderings:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We previously said we like this part of the Heights project with a few caveats. (see here)  We like the apartment and hotel mix.  We like the retail. We are not sure why there are no balconies on a building that will overlook the river and have nice sunset views.  While that is a developer choice, we are just surprised. Additionally, the parking garage should be screened better (it will be the first thing many people see of the Heights.  It should not be so plain), and they could change the access on Tampa Street which will make Tampa Street less pedestrian friendly.  In any event,

Construction is slated to begin in early 2020, with the hotel opening in 2022.

Moreover,

The 1,500-space parking garage is slated to open first in late 2020 to support the Heights Union buildings. The parking garage will also include 9,000 square feet of retail space. Development of an additional 30,000 square feet of retail space on the same block will be announced at a later date. The full development of the entire block will be completed in 2022.

We like the Heights Union office buildings and look forward to seeing how this all plays out when built (though it could really use a couple of strategic tweaks).


Westshore-ish – Admission

We have long said that we like the Midtown idea internally.  It is urban and walkable. The big problem is that those qualities do not extend to its interaction with the surrounding neighborhood, which it basically walls off while focusing on people getting to the development in cars (hence the huge parking garage and completely unnecessary surface parking at Whole Foods).  URBN Tampa Bay featured a Facebook post by the Midtown developers:

If you take a peek, you’ll see a large parking structure going up! No need to worry about parking, with convenient covered spots next to your new favorite office and social destination.

With this picture:

From Midtown Tampa – click on picture for Facebook page

And that post was edited from this:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

In a sense, neither post is really wrong.  As URBN Tampa Bay notes (based on the first post, but really applicable to the second as well):

The caption from Midtown Tampa’s post here is the perfect example of how car dependency breeds more car dependency. It is a cycle that must be broken out of.

It’s in essence saying, “This area is car dependent so we’re going to design our project and build a ton of infrastructure so that it encourages more driving.”

The only way to “take traffic seriously” is by creating alternative modes of transportation and to decrease the amount of drivers on the road.

We completely agree.  Sure, they are going to have parking, especially for the grocery store.  But making parking a defining feature, having such a large garage (pictured is only a small portion of the garage), and having the garage face the retention pond (Midtown Lake) which is supposed to be a central feature of the development, is not really the best plan.

Once again, there is a lot to like about the Midtown project.  The two biggest flaws are its lack of connection to the surrounding area and the car-centric nature of its connection to the rest of Tampa. They really had the chance to fix those and make it so much better.  Apparently, that is not in the cards (and the City Council that approved it did not seem to care).  And that is Tampa’s loss.


Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

The TGH proposal for Kennedy (722 West Kennedy Blvd.) next door to Altis Grand Central went before City Council last week.  Per URBN Tampa Bay;

TGH is planning to build two new mixed-use buildings and a parking garage on the property directly west of Altis Grand Central. The current TGH office building there will be demo’d.

The site plan has already been approved by a previous rezoning. The purpose of this request is TGH is seeking to add more allowable uses to the project. We have no problem with the uses being added but we would like the city to take this opportunity to exact a better site plan and building design in exchange for the additional uses.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We had commented on this proposal previously (there are more graphics here):

As you can see, the building facing Kennedy has some potential retail space facing Kennedy.  The other office building (Magnolia building) has some very small space that looks more like a lobby facing Kennedy/Grand Central. Both buildings also have parking on the ground floor.  The part of the Magnolia building actually facing Magnolia is mostly parking, even facing the street.  From the renderings, it appears to be hidden parking, but it is parking and not an activated street – even though it is across the street from Altis Grand.

We are for having a busy activity center in the Grand Central area. We do not really have a problem with the massing of the office buildings or facing Kennedy and Magnolia with office buildings, but the street activation ranges from a bit weak to non-existent. We also get the need for parking, but putting parking right along Magnolia is weak, especially with so much parking and a free-standing garage. (It is also unfortunate that Cleveland will again be left dead for another block.)

At the time we said we did not have enough information on the facades. We do not have more information (we were giving them the benefit of the doubt), but the facades in the rendering look pretty questionable.  Surely, TGH could come up with something a bit more attractive. Plus, as URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Specifically, the buildings should be set farther back from Snow Park. Also, the general architectural style of the buildings are not really compatible with Snow Park or Altis Grand Central. We also think the loading entrance/exit on Magnolia is too close to Grand Central and could cause traffic to be backed up onto Grand Central and potentially onto Kennedy. Bad layout for a corner that may get substantial pedestrian traffic as well. The loading zone just needs moved away from the corner, or better yet, flipped to the other side of the building where internal driveways can provide access.

There is nothing to disagree with there.

We are not against TGH’s idea, we are against some aspects of the execution.  Surely, this prominent part of Tampa deserves better.

Unfortunately,

Tampa General Hospital’s new mixed-use campus proposed for 722 West Kennedy Blvd. was approved by a margin of 6-0.

That is a shame.  We did not expect that TGH would be denied the opportunity to develop their lot, but it is a lost opportunity to, with jsut a little work, do something really good that will be with us for decades.


East Tampa – Nah

As reported by URBN Tampa Bay, a public storage proposal was up for approval last week:

The second project of note on tonight’s Tampa City Council agenda is an A/C self storage project proposed for 1101 East Hillsborough Avenue in Seminole Heights.

We oppose this project.

We do, too.  As URBN Tampa Bay noted in their post, and we have said many times, self-storage is basically a warehouse that people drive to.  It is not proper in an urban or urbanizing area.  It is not really proper in a commercial area, and definitely not one that abuts a residential area.  Such projects are car driven and lack anything positive on the street level.  They create dead space where there should be activity.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

People typically don’t walk to these things no matter where they are put, so why put them in precious walking areas? Industrial areas are present just a 5 minute drive to the east. That would be an appropriate area for something like this. This particular parcel is only 1 block from Giddens Park, and once built will overlook the park with it basically functioning as this development’s back yard. It would be counterproductive to waste the public investment into Giddens Park by having a warehouse looming over it.

Moreover, this site has a bus stop on it and a crosswalk across Hillsborough Ave. Substantial public investments have already been made in this neighborhood’s walkable vision laid out in the Seminole Heights Vision Plan, and this request for PD zoning to allow this storage facility to be built does not contribute to that vision in any meaningful way. The proposal instead would hamper the community’s vision for itself.

In the end, (ed. The quote below has been changed from our original post to properly reflect the vote. Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for letting us know. Our apologies):

2. The self storage facility proposed for 1101 East Hillsborough Avenue was issued a continuance with a vote of 6-1, with Maniscalco voting no (he seemed ready to deny to project). There was dispute over several aspects of the project, including the storage building’s proximity to nearby residences, the location of an egress/ingress on a local street, and whether the use is appropriate for the location. While approval of this project is ultimately all but perfunctory under the current code, we oppose this project because self-storage is in functional terms a warehouse, which is an industrial use involving truck traffic. In this case on streets next to a park frequented by the neighborhood. We want to note that it is not the property owner’s or developer’s fault this use is allowed in this location, land use is the city’s responsibility. By all indications, they have worked with the neighborhood above and beyond what the city requires of them.

The next hearing for the project will be December 12th.

Perhaps most importantly, towards the end of last night’s hearing, Councilman Guido Maniscalco suggested the city have a moratorium on the self-storage use so the code can be re-evaluated, and so that is being looked into now. We support this. Self-storage is allowed in too many parts of our city where it is inappropriate. We will have more information on that upcoming process as it becomes available from the city.

With the rapid proliferation of self-storage projects, the City (and County) need to get a handle on the issue.  Such projects should be in industrial areas.  We are not opposed to self-storage.  We are opposed to them where they are detrimental and does not belong.

And, UBRN Tampa Bay is correct.  It is not he property owners’ fault.  It is government’s fault. It needs to be fixed.


Channel District – Sale

There was news about a land sale by the Port for a project in the Channel District.

Port Tampa Bay’s board voted Tuesday to sell a half-acre it owns near the Florida Aquarium for $4.7 million to an investor looking at building a 33-story condominium and hotel tower.

* * *

The land consists of a 0.45-acre parking lot on the west side of Channelside Drive, just north of the port’s parking garages. Currently, the port uses the land to park recreational vehicles belonging to cruise ship passengers.

The proposed purchase price of $4.7 million works out to nearly $240 a square foot, or more than $10.4 million an acre.

* * *

But it’s too soon, Hampton said, to discuss the project’s potential development partners, schedule or construction budget.

Streams has until the end of 2020 to complete its due diligence on the sale. Port officials expect a closing in early 2021. Under the terms of the agreement, Streams will need the port’s permission if it wants to assign a controlling interest in the property to anyone else.

You can see the lot here.  And more details starting page 257 of this pdf.

Given the location of the property and the obvious lack of useful maritime purposes on it (or likely in the future), we have no problem with the Port selling this land for a nice residential/hotel project with a nice design.  It would fit well into the area.  One the other hand, such land is not going to go down in value over time. We are not for selling public land for mediocre projects.

However, since there are no details of any project, we have no real opinion except maybe the Port should have waited until they had some idea what was going to go there.


Airport – More

The airport broke more records last year:

Tampa International Airport continues to break records, serving 22,166,049 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2019 – a 5.5 percent increase over the previous year.

* * *

TPA’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 thorough the end of September.

Domestic passengers were up 4.8 percent, while international passenger traffic jumped 19.3 percent.

Since 2011, TPA’s international passenger traffic has increased 185.1 percent.

There is not much to say other than great.  It shows what can happen if you try.

In more sign of strong international growth, Norwegian announced that it is adding a weekly flight from Tampa to London, for a total of three a week, for the summer 2020 season.


Economy – Nexus

Last week, we discussed rent and income.  This week, the Business Journal had an article on a study that dealt with how they interact:

A recent study from Business.org found Florida ranks as one of the worst states for pay.

To compile the rankings, the study calculated the number of hours someone would need to work at the median wage to afford the median rent for a one bedroom apartment in each state. . .

* * *

Florida was the fourth worst state for pay with 84.5 hours of work needed to afford a one bedroom apartment. The only states that ranked worst were New York, Massachusetts and California.

Given that our wages are rents are quite low relative to those states, it says quite a bit about wages.


Economic Development – What Is It?

A few years ago, the Tampa-Hillsborough County’s tourism agency renamed itself Visit Tampa Bay (after flirting with some other names to get away from the admittedly unwieldy name Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitor Association) even though it is an exclusively Hillsborough County organization. And the Port of Tampa changed to Port Tampa Bay, even though there is another decent sized cargo port on Tampa Bay.  Now comes news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is changing its name to Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, even though, as the old name suggests, it is just about Hillsborough County.

Moreover, but a bit differently, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is changing its name to Tampa Bay Chamber.

So, what gives?

First, it is worth noting that the Chamber of Commerce is a business organization.  And, even though from time to time there are rumors floating around that a mayor might get involved in some of the leadership decisions, it is not a governmental organization and has no specific boundaries.  Anyone could join though the name change will obviously annoy some other chambers.  The parties will have to work it out.

On the other hand, the economic development organization gets a lot of public funding and focuses on just Hillsborough County.  So why the change?

The EDC is rebranding based on feedback from its investors who urged the organization to adopt a “fresh, more contemporary brand,” its CEO Craig Richard said in an email to investors Wednesday. As the EDC celebrates its 10th anniversary, the timing is right, in parallel to the launch of a new, multiyear strategic plan.

Another motivating factor for the name change is market understanding beyond Central Florida.

“Tampa Hillsborough” causes confusion outside of the area, the EDC said, especially when other organizations marketing Hillsborough County are using “Tampa Bay” including Visit Tampa Bay, Film Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and Port Tampa Bay. The change means the EDC will now “belong to the existing Hillsborough County family of brands that market and serve this area,” Richard said in the letter. 

* * *

Despite the regional name, the EDC will not become a regional marketing organization and will remain focused on Hillsborough County only.

We doubt that it creates that much confusion when they say they are from the Tampa economic development corporation, but anyway.  As you can guess, some people are a bit miffed.

“This isn’t the right way to do things,” said Mike Meidel, Pinellas County economic development director. “Businesses looking to relocate will think they are getting Tampa Bay when they are only getting Hillsborough County.”

Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said he was disappointed that the Hillsborough group didn’t consult the other development corporations in the region. He also didn’t like that he had to hear it from the Tampa Bay Times, which found a copy of the name change documents in state records.

“My eyebrow is raised,” he said. “I don’t think that any one of us should claim ownership of that name because none of us represent the whole area.”

* * *

The Tampa Bay moniker is what economic development groups from the region have used to pitch area-wide projects. Now that one group has taken it, Meidel said it will be harder to find a label to rally around. If they still use “Tampa Bay” for regional projects, the business leads and web traffic will flow mostly to the Hillsborough group, he said.

“The name change will undermine the powerful Tampa Bay brand that we have developed over the last 25 years,” he said. “I don’t see how that helps any of us.”

* * *

In some circles, the name changes are seen as a power grab, the bigger players stamping their footprint on a region that has struggled for decades to get along. The critics see this as doubling down on division, which could push everyone back into their silos, just as they were starting to play nice.

To which, the EDC head says:

“I’m not sure why anybody would think that we’re trying to elbow anyone out,” he said. “We’ve proven ourselves to be a really good regional partner.”

Richard didn’t think the name would cause confusion. He pointed to several other Hillsborough organizations that have changed their name to include Tampa Bay, including Film Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and Visit Tampa Bay, which promotes tourism. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is in the process of changing its name to the Tampa Bay Chamber.

“We’re just joining a family of brands,” he said.

We’ll be generous and presume he said that because he is not from this area.  The move would not be worth making if it did not bring more attention, and it is obvious that the move will not go down well with people not in Hillsborough County. (Though it is ironic that the “Tampa Bay” name was opposed by St. Pete interests when it first was suggested regarding the Bucs because it emphasized Tampa too much. We had a link to the story from the 70’s but can’t seem to find it, though if you google Bucs history, you can find some information on the opposition.) The real question is whether the positives of the move outweigh the possible negative reaction.  At the best, it is unclear.

The [Tampa Bay P]artnership’s chairman, David Pizzo, said in a statement that this is an opportunity for community leaders to have a “meaningful conversation about what a regional approach could look like.”

“A regional brand suggests a regional approach — one that encompasses more than a single county — and if we’re going to say it, we need to do it,” said Pizzo, the West Florida president of Florida Blue. “We hope that this is a step in that direction.”

It does not look like a step in the right direction, though you never know what might happen.


Rays

First, we congratulate the Rays on a fine season.  Here is the Rays news.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A reader forwarded us the weekly TBARTA email blast again this week.  It contained a link to an interesting article on Utah. (here ) The developed parts of Utah – Salt Lake City, Provo, etc. – have a generally successful transit system, including light rail.  That also includes a BRT line, which was the feature of the article:

The Utah Valley Express (UVX), a bus rapid transit line in Orem and Provo that serves both Utah Valley and Brigham Young universities, now averages about 14,600 boardings daily. On some days, like the football game between BYU and the University of Utah, it had more than 16,000.

In comparison, ridership on the Green Line TRAX averaged about 15,400 boardings a day in August. Its lowest monthly average so far this year was in May, with 13,284, according to UTA data.

Light-rail lines such as TRAX — which offer service every 15 minutes on trains with many long cars — usually carry far more passengers than bus routes. UTA funnels most of its bus lines to trains because of their capacity for more people and swifter travel.

But the UVX is not a typical bus line. Officials have called it a sort of TRAX on rubber wheels.

It offers service every six minutes at peak times, and every 10 minutes off-peak. About half its 10.5-mile route is in exclusive travel lanes for buses not shared with other vehicles. Buses have extra doors and limited stops. Buses are longer than normal — 60 feet instead of 40.

Clearly, TBARTA is providing this link to say that BRT is better than rail to support its flawed “BRT” plan.  In some situations, on some corridors, BRT is better than rail.  But the article does not present exactly a straight up comparison.  Here are some other items in the article.

But Mary De La Mare-Schaefer, regional manager for UTA, sees an even bigger reason for high ridership on UVX.

“It’s the free fares,” she says.

UTA received a federal grant to allow free ridership on UVX for three years, and two years are left.

Free bus.  Makes a difference.  (We were unaware that the “BRT” plan was going to be free to ride.)

Moreover, the Green Line does not run where the bus is running. Train map here.  Google map here.  You can see the Green Line does not run anywhere near Provo, where the BRT line is.

And there is one more important fact about the Utah BRT that is quite different from TBARTA’s “BRT” plan: the Utah BRT runs on surface roads, not the interstate.  (and it is not the spine of the Utah system.) We have said many times that any proper BRT should run on surface streets, as both the HealthLine in Cleveland and this line in Utah do.  (And, of course, being free will boost ridership, like the streetcar in Tampa.) The TBARTA “BRT” plan will run on the interstate, which is a completely different circumstance.

This article shows once again the flaw in the TBARTA concept.  As we keep saying, just run an express bus to/from Wesley Chapel, and then focus on real, proper transit.

Roundup 10-11-2019

October 10, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

— At the Other End of I-275

— Roads to Nowhere

— Another Referendum?

— Virgin Trains

— 275LX

— On an Island?

Downtown – X Factor

Tampa Heights – Like This

South Tampa – Moving Forward

Economy

— The Rent’s Too . . . High

— So Is the House Price

— About that Income Thing

Airport – Interesting

Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Because We Can

_______________________________


Transportation


— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

For years, FDOT has been discussing Malfunction Junction.  After the latest rebuild (which was did not really fix much), there was TBX, then TB(n)X and options A, B, C, and D. All involved some express (toll) lanes and eating up a decent number of properties. Now, there is something new:

Transportation officials, who have been studying a rebuild of the interchange for years, previously focused on four options that would take anywhere from 40 to 200 parcels. Then the state developed a fifth plan this year that would take seven parcels, and it quickly gained favor within the agency.

The plan would cost about $175 million and be built in stages over the next five or so years as money becomes available, spokeswoman Kris Carson said. It consists of three main parts:

This is the FDOT video:

We have to say, we are surprised, for the most part pleasantly.  Public action can have an effect.

While we do not think this plan is without some issues (like still having some bottlenecks and merges), it is better than previous plans.  It will not damage central Tampa as much.  And, while we do not expect it to solve all the traffic issues in the junction, we do not think any of the plans would.  The reality is that we need other alternatives to roads.

As for the toll lanes:

Previous plans for the interchange involved adding toll lanes that would change in cost based on traffic and demand. These toll lanes, initially proposed as a multi-billion dollar plan known as Tampa Bay Express, are still planned for Pinellas County, the Howard Frankland Bridge, a rebuilt West Shore interchange and I-275 west of downtown Tampa.

* * *

The state has decided to end all express lanes on I-275 near Ashley Drive in Tampa. Drivers who enter the interstate at Himes Avenue will be able to take the toll lanes west, but not east.

Better, but still too much.


— At the Other End of I-275

Meanwhile, even the small work being done at the Westshore end of I-275 is causing issues.  See here and here.  If FDOT was going to cause all this hassle, the least they could have done was actually fully eliminate the bottleneck at the east end of the bridge.  But that is not going to happen.  Instead, they will make it a bit better, but keep a bottleneck, then add variable rate toll lanes.  You can decide for yourself why that is but remember that variable rate toll lanes charge (and presumably make) more money when the free lanes are more congested.


— Roads to Nowhere

In what should not be a surprise to anyone:

The controversial idea this year to expand Florida’s toll system by 300 miles was first pitched by road builders.

Now, months after lawmakers signed off on the expansion, it appears road builders are the only members of the public voicing support for the idea.

Out of hundreds of public comments solicited by the Florida Department of Transportation in August about the largest toll system expansion in 60 years, only two dozen came from people in favor of building the three roads.

Of those, nearly all came from road builders, contractors and engineers who sent their endorsements via personal email addresses without disclosing their employers.

About half of favorable comments came from employees of one of the transportation agency’s biggest contractors: HNTB, which has won nearly $1 billion in engineering and construction work since 2002 and is likely to win millions more if the roads are built. (Some of HNTB’s work included overseeing the hiring of Conduent State & Local Solutions to overhaul the state’s SunPass system six years ago, a job Conduent botched.)

Moreover,

Johnson did not write in from his HNTB account or disclose that he was an HNTB employee, choosing instead to identify himself as the president of a gun store he appears to own.

Nearly every other HNTB employee who wrote in repeated identical talking points, and all sent their comments in within a few hours of each other. Most commented from their personal email addresses, but one identified herself as a University of South Florida student.

And you may remember:

The idea to build the roads was rejected by three previous Republican governors until January, when Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, announced he wanted the state to build an entirely new toll road from Polk to Collier counties, extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and extend Florida’s Turnpike to meet the Suncoast.

Galvano said he heard about the roads idea during a pitch by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Transportation Builders Association. The roads are expected to cost billions of dollars if they’re built.

The president of the road builders group is Ananth Prasad, who worked for HNTB before being named by Gov. Rick Scott to be Department of Transportation Secretary in 2011. Prasad left the state job in 2015, then spent two more years with HNTB before leading the road builders association.

But it’s the Department of Transportation, not bills passed by lawmakers, that typically chooses where new roads are built, usually after intense studies and needs assessments. The three new toll roads weren’t in the department’s long-term plans.

The fact is that there never was a no ground-swell of public support for these roads.  And, while we have not done polling, we also think that is you asked most people if they would rather the State spend billions on highways that do not serve them or spend the money on transportation and services they need, they would choose the latter.

As we have said over and over, there may be a time when these roads make sense.  This is not the time.  Florida has bigger needs.


— Another Referendum?

Even with the referendum stuck in the courts, Hillsborough has now made a clear choice that is different from Pinellas or Pasco regarding transportation.  Maybe that will change:

The Pinellas County Commission is inching closer to choosing a way to pay for more than $400 million worth of transportation projects, with three of the seven commissioners saying they are leaning toward a 2020 sales tax referendum as the preferred approach.

Officials this year have taken part in numerous meetings and discussions that explored the county’s transportation needs and evaluated options to pay for them. They are expected to make a decision in the coming months, following additional briefings from county administrator Barry Burton.

Commissioners Ken Welch, Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard told the Tampa Bay Times they believe a sales tax is emerging as the best option to pay for the county’s needs. Their colleagues Charlie Justice, Janet Long, Kathleen Peters and Karen Seel said all options are on the table and they need more information before they decide.

The question is what would it be for.

Local transportation leaders warned that the county’s transportation trust fund will hit zero in fiscal year 2022. Additional revenue sources would be needed to maintain existing services. Even more would be needed to pursue new projects.

But in order to decide what funding option is the best for Pinellas, commissioners said it was important to first identify the county’s needs.

Burton has put together a presentation for the public and local officials that focuses on reducing congestion, improving safety and enhancing transit. His proposed project list includes:

“It’s a broader based, bigger picture look at congestion management and traffic issues,” Eggers said.

The cost to build those projects, and others that address only unincorporated Pinellas County, is estimated at nearly $400 million. Annual operating costs were more than $31 million. County staff warned that not all the projects listed would receive money, depending on what path commissioners choose.

That is a start, but it is quite lacking in ambition, especially in transit.  Rather than really moving Pinellas forward, it is more like just not falling behind as fast. We will see what the Pinellas cities say, but we would not be surprised if they did not include a proper transit idea. Like we said, it is a start, but there is a long way to go. We will see what they come up with.

In the meantime, Hillsborough should not hold back its ambitions. Just like with the idea of a referendum, better to move forward and let the neighbors catch up.


— Virgin Trains

The Virgin Trains Tampa-Orlando Route negotiation deadline has been extended again.

A proposed high-speed train route between Orlando and Tampa anticipated to commence in 2021 had another deadline extended for right-of-way negotiations.

Miami-based Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, received more time for its negotiations to use the Interstate 4 corridor to connect Orlando to Tampa. Virgin Trains, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation had an Oct. 3 deadline to enter an agreement, but as of today no agreements have been reached regarding the Orlando to Tampa route, a Central Florida Expressway Authority spokesperson told the Orlando Business Journal, a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Negotiations now have a Jan. 1, 2020, deadline, buying Virgin Trains, CFX and FDOT another 90 days to reach an agreement. Virgin Trains was the sole bidder to submit a proposal to build an intercity rail line along I-4, which has been designated for federally funded high-speed rail.

The original deadline was September and was extended. We are not sure what the hold-up is.  One could argue that giving multiple extensions is a sign that the State wants to get a deal done, but it would be nice if the deal was actually concluded.


— 275LX

We saw a tweet on the Airport Twitter page that caught our attention.

From Pasco County to TPA with just three stops in between?? We’re all for this route!

Tampa Intl Airport

✈️ added,

[picture omitted]

HART @GoHART

Riding our @GoHART 275 lx bus from @FlyTPA to Downtown Tampa… zip zip zip… and we are there!! #FDOT

7:34 AM – 2 Oct 2019 

To which URBN Tampa Bay replied:

Yes, because nothing says better transportation like a 20+ mile long bus route that doesn’t serve any of the neighborhoods it passes through, even though their money was used to fund it.

(You can find information on the route here.) And to a large degree, URBN Tampa Bay is right.  And we are not completely sure why this is a HART responsibility, especially the Wesley Chapel leg.  Pasco should pay for that, if it does not already.

But there is another angle.  We keep saying that we oppose the “BRT” plan and that there be an express bus to Pasco and then focus on real transit in Hillsborough. That could be something like 275LX with limited stops downtown, near USF, and at the airport if proper local transit is created to get riders around Hillsborough (rather than spending time and money on the poor “BRT” plan).  We would be fine with that (as long as Pasco pays for its share).


— On an Island?

We have written about St. Pete Beach’s strange and not so coherent objections to the St. Pete- St. Pete Beach BRT line.  We have also noted that St. Pete Beach works hard to not really be part of PSTA.  Now they are working harder.

People looking to take the trolly from St. Pete Beach to Pass-A-Grille Beach will soon get a free ride thanks to St. Pete Beach’s new Micro-transit bus service.

The city has decided not to renew it’s contract with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) for that route. Instead, St. Pete Beach has signed a contract with BeeFree. It’s a company based in Miami, and it will operate the micro bus.

City manager Alex Rey said, PSTA will still provide services for people on the north side of the city, but will no longer go past the Don Cesar Hotel. The micro buses will run from the Don Cesar to the south end of the city. 

Sounds like a useful circulator for riders of the BRT when it stops at the Don CeSar.  In truth, we are not sure why a large bus would run south of the Don CeSar anyway.


Downtown – X Factor

A new project was announced for the lot with the Presbyterian Church just south of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.

X Social Communities, a division of Property Markets Group, has filed plans with the city for a tower on more than an acre at the northeast corner of North Florida Avenue and East Zack Street. The existing historic church on the property will be kept on the site and incorporated into the design.

* * *.

Here’s what the tower will include:

* * *

If X Tampa comes to fruition, it will be a marked departure from the other multifamily towers built in downtown Tampa this real estate cycle. The other towers and mid-rise apartments in and around the urban core are pursuing renters by choice with high household incomes.

* * *

Residents can “rent by bedroom for the lowest rent,” the developer says on the website for its project in downtown Miami, known as X Miami. That tower opened in 2018; PMG is already pursuing a second tower — 49 stories and 646 apartments — in Miami. A bedroom with a personal bathroom in the existing X Miami tower starts at more than $1,300.

Here are some renderings and a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We are not going to get into the business model.  Whether they can get that price for that product is an issue for the developer.  However, acknowledging that aesthetics are subjective, looking at the renderings, we find no angle that this building looks good.  The parking garage is hulking.  The tower portion extremely bland.

Moreover, URBN Tampa Bay reports this break down:

The project includes 306 units, 17,138 square feet of co-work office space, and 13,126 square feet of retail space. The church building will be kept and is set to be converted into a private club for the residents. 356 parking spaces are required by the code, and the developer plans to provide 409 parking spaces. The tower is 326 feet tall.

Looking at the site plan, we are having a hard time identifying clear retail space, except maybe the large space on the bottom left that looks like a cafeteria without walls or a kitchen. (Though we are open to the possibility we missed something.)

On the good side, there is pedestrian protection from the elements through an overhang (though the Polk Street façade is exceptionally devoid of any life). And they do seem inclined to have oak or other shade trees, not useless Palm trees.

We are all for redeveloping lots (preferably the multiple surface parking lots remaining downtown first) and mixed use, but there need to be active streets, especially along streets with a cycle track and on the way to the park. And mixed use needs to really be mixed use. Furthermore, the garage is just bad. Hopefully, they will do something to make it a bit more attractive. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up about parking garages and how you can contact the City regarding this project’s garage here)

We know that not every building will be a work of art, but there are minimum standards that should apply.  Based on the renderings, this proposal is still not there.


Tampa Heights – Like This

While architectural style is subjective, basic building concepts are often not.  There are things that work in certain circumstances and help accomplish a goal and things that do not.  That is why there are building standards.

URBN Tampa Bay had an example from Tampa Heights:

On Monday, this 15-unit Victorian-style townhome project was approved for the northeast corner of 7th Ave. and Morgan Street in Tampa Heights by the Architectural Review Commission. The vote was 4-0.

The developer had originally proposed townhomes with no direct “walk-up” entrance. Instead, the exterior boundary of the property was a series of patios and porches and the front door of each unit simply led out onto the porch. After coming back with this redesign featuring classic “walk-up” units/brownstone-style entrances, the project easily won ARC’s approval.

This project will have a city council hearing, to resolve an underlying zoning issue. We will post that information when it’s out.

They linked to some documents from the developer, which you can find here.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And then provided their opinion:

We like the look of this, and this is a good demonstration of how walk-up units can make a project feel like it is organically part of a neighborhood. In other parts of town we often see mass-produced apartment fortresses proposed, where the ground floor units don’t have direct ingress/egress out to the sidewalk. Or if they do, the ingress/egress looks like a back entrance, not a front door. This project has its front doors right on the sidewalk, giving it a traditional home and neighborhood feel.

To be honest, we are not that fond of the (neo-)Victorian thing, but that’s ok.  That is a subjective element.  What we do like is the townhouse design and the real front doors (and the patios on upper floors).  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, if you want to create a real neighborhood feel, it helps quite a bit to have people have real front doors opening to the street. (We are not as sure about the front doors that exit to the walkway at the back of the lot.)  That is a basic concept that would not be too burdensome to enforce.

Hopefully, there will be much more of that.


South Tampa – Moving Forward

There was news about the Hyde Park House project.

Kolter Group has officially opened a sales gallery for the 22-story Hyde Park House, a luxury condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard.

The new sales gallery is at 142 W. Platt St., offering a scale model, a designer kitchen fitted with the appliances and finishes buyers can choose and an interactive presentation.

South Florida-based Kolter already has $30 million in condos reserved, the developer said; presales began in May, months before the sales gallery opened.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As we said when this was announced, there are things to like about this project, but we have a few issues with it.  In any event, it seems like it is going to get built, it is just not clear exactly when.  We shall see.


Economy


— The Rent’s Too . . . High

We are all for nice developments and fancy amenities, but there is a problem:

Those are among the findings of the “2019 Rental Market Study,” done by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. Commissioned by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which helps fund affordable and low-income rental projects, the study found that:

“This is the seventh one we’ve done,” said Anne Ray, an author of the study, “and each time the housing needs go up. That’s because more people are renting and also the affordability gap grows because rents are rising faster than incomes.”

As of last year, the most recent for which figures are available, the median household income in the Tampa Bay region was nearly $55,000. To avoid being “cost-burdened,” renters could pay no more than $1,750 a month at a time when many new apartments have prices starting at that amount.

(You can read more in the Times article here.) First, we understand that developers want to make money.  We also understand market forces.  And we are not really laying blame anywhere.  However, it still should be noted that housing costs are outpacing many people’s ability to pay for it, and that is a problem.  Even with relatively low rents (compared to other metros), our relatively low incomes still make it a problem.

We do not have a comprehensive solution, especially given the large number of people spending too much on housing.


— So Is the House Price

So, maybe you want to buy.

ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of the nation’s premier property database and first property data provider of Data-as-a-Service (DaaS), today released its Q3 2019 U.S. Home Affordability Report, which shows that median home prices in the third quarter of 2019 were not affordable for average wage earners in 371 of 498 U.S. counties analyzed in the report (74 percent).

There is a lot of data to sift through, but you can see a nice interactive map here. On it, you will find that Hillsborough requires 30.4% of its income to buy a house, which is close to the “affordability” line.  Pinellas and Pasco were at 33.3%. However, Hillsborough’s house prices were rising by 7.5% and income by only 2.9% (Pasco is 11.1% and 3.4%, while Pinellas is 4.7% and 3.0%), so the percentage of monthly income needed to buy a house should be increasing, lowering affordability. And, as usual, none of that includes transportation costs. (And none of that discusses the different margins on building different sizes of homes.)

Then there are the challenges of building affordable housing, which the Times featured, sort of, in this article. The interesting thing about the article is that is discusses single family homes when it says things like this:

The economics of home building work against affordable housing. While there are some incentives, costs like permits are the same — about $13,000 in Tampa — no matter the price of the home, Robles said. And low-cost housing is most needed in urban areas, where land is most expensive.

“To produce the most inexpensive house you can, you’re starting with the most expensive element: that’s the lot of land itself,” he said.

While there is room to discuss having an offset for fees on designated and qualified affordable housing, more importantly, the use of the land is key.  If you want it to be more affordable, let there be more units on a lot.


— About that Income Thing

At the core of much of the housing issue is income. The Times had a column that sifted through some Census Bureau information.  One thing it said was:

Median household incomes in the Tampa Bay area reached $54,912 last year, which means half made more than that and half made less. That’s a significant $2,700 jump from a year earlier, but the area remains well behind the nation and many of its peer cities, even those with a similar cost of living.

Low pay remains a challenge in attracting and keeping talented workers, though it has helped lure companies looking for a low-wage workforce.

First, a we have often said, we have improved over our previous performance.  The question is how much have we improved relative to our competitors. Apparently, not that much.

Second, yes, low wages help lure companies looking to pay low wages.  However, that also perpetuates a low wage economy, especially since those who can often will leave to earn more elsewhere.  Another issue that does not appear in those numbers is that there quite an inequality gap that exacerbates many of the problems discussed above. We are not saying there are easy solutions to any of this, but it needs to be acknowledged and addressed.


Airport – Interesting

Delta is adding a nonstop flight from Tampa to Seattle.

Delta Air Lines will connect Seattle/Tacoma and Tampa next year, its first new domestic route from Seattle for next year.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer a daily flight between the cities with Boeing 737-800 aircraft that seat 160 passengers, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. Tampa (TPA) will be Delta’s second nonstop flight to Florida from Seattle (SEA), joining Orlando (MCO).

* * *

Delta established its Seattle hub in 2014 to support its growing Pacific gateway at the airport. The airline will operate up to 180 peak-day flights from the airport by next June, Diio schedules show.

It will be another connection to Delta’s trans-Pacific network. And, obviously, it will compete with the Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle.

Tampa is an interesting airport because, unlike many other major airports, it does not have a dominant airline.  It will be interesting to see how the competition develops as the area grows.

Meanwhile:

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving forward with a project to rehabilitate its main runway.

Pinellas County commissioners approved a bid award to Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC that specializes in concrete and asphalt manufacturing for the Runway 18-36 rehabilitation project.

This project involves removing the asphalt and other expenses as well as extending Runway 4-22.

As we said a few weeks ago, this is good, especially given the Coast Guard station.


Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl

The Times had an article about how much the Pasco County government wants more office space in Pasco, so:

Later this month, Pasco County commissioners will consider a $2.9 million incentive for Colwell Avenue Properties, which is under contract to acquire nearly 22 acres from the LeDantec family at 17905 SR 54 in Lutz. The undeveloped site abuts the Ballantrae subdivision and sits between a Pasco County fire station on the east and a strip of retail stores to the west.

Colwell Avenue Properties, an affiliate of the Rizzetta & Co. property management firm, plans to build a pair of three-story office buildings that will each total 60,000 square feet. If approved, as expected, it will mark the third time since 2017 that the county has agreed to help finance Class A office space on speculation.

Setting aside the questionable nature of subsidizing regular office development (market forces, anyone?), the Times article contained renderings and an overview of the development (here).  It is completely standard, low-rise development with a large surface parking, and oddly placed retention ponds, lot off of SR54.

In other words, Pasco not only approves of, but actively wants to fund, sprawling development along a corridor that is already a mess.  It really is sad that they have no learned from all of Hillsborough’s mistakes.


Rays

You can find your Rays news here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and, tangentially related, there is this).

Though we decided to note one paragraph in one Times commentary regarding low attendance:

For two decades, we have sought answers and pointed fingers. And yet nothing has changed.

Actually, much has changed.  But a few things have not changed much: the location of the Trop (and real transit access to the Trop from across the Bay), and the population of St. Pete and Pinellas County.  In the meantime, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, and almost every other local county keep growing quickly, among other things making the Trop even less central.  (And, in that vein, there was this.)

None of that is really new.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There have been discussions recently about air taxis in the Tampa Bay area. While there have been no tests, the New York Post recently had a comparison of Uber helicopter, which is a bit different, with transit.

The Post put Uber’s new helicopter shuttle to JFK to the test, racing the car-sharing company and its chopper from Midtown to the hub against old-fashioned New York City Transit — which proved three minutes swifter at a sliver of the price.

You can read the article here.  Reuters did their own test here.

Additionally, the Atlantic had an article about the Uber service, to a degree, though it touched on a broader idea:

Even before Uber announced its helicopter service from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport for $200 to $225 a ride, transportation in major U.S. cities already reflected the growing inequality within them. Buses creep through streets choked with cars. Major subway systems are in disrepair. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley companies are selling the idea of escape to those who can afford it—often at the direct expense of those who can’t. Big cities are suffering from a mobility crisis. The delusion that the wealthiest American urbanites can buy their way past that crisis helps explain why it isn’t being fixed.

That sounds very much like express lanes. In any event, you can read the article here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Previously, we have discussed the predictions that self-driving cars will actually increase congestion and traffic.  This week, there is more:

An increase in driverless cars that some in Europe anticipate will occur between now and the year 2050 could result in what one research group likens to “rush hour that lasts all day.”

The report, released last month from Europe’s Transport & Environment, calls the potential “Wild West” unregulated increase in driverless cars a threat to commute times and stress levels that could make Europe’s climate goals “all but impossible to achieve.”

You can see the article here. See also here. You can find the study here.


Because We Can

We noticed something interesting over at Water Street recently.  You can see it from this still shot from the USF Med School construction webcam (here).

From the USF Med School webcam – click on picture for website

If you notice, the tower cranes are not the usual tower cranes (a-frame tower cranes) you see in this area.  They are the kind (luffing/luffing jib cranes) used in areas where normal tower cranes cannot rotate without hitting something.   We are not sure, but that might be a first for this area.