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Roundup 1-17-2020

January 16, 2020

Contents

Transportation

— Roads to Nowhere

— Streetcar

Economy/Economic Development

— The Competitiveness Report

— Housing

— Venture Capital

Westshore – Interesting

Downtown/Channel District – Cool

Tourism – Growing

Airport(s) – Odds and Ends

Ports – The Other Port

Pasco – Various and Sundry

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Olympia

— Louisville

____________________________


Transportation


— Roads to Nowhere

The legislative session is upon us and, with it, more discussion of the MCORES (aka roads to nowhere) project.  In all honesty, we find the discussion a bit tedious because the points are straightforward, but it is not going to go away, so . . .

The Business Journal had a mildly interesting article that included some attitudes in north Florida regarding the proposal:

At the north end, at least some leaders in Jefferson County are lambasting the prospects of the road.

Monticello Vice Mayor Troy Avera, whose family runs a bed and breakfast, said a fear in the community is that the extended Suncoast Parkway would bypass the downtown area.

“Intuition and experience tell me that a bypass of a small town will suck the life out of it,” Avera said. “All our businesses in Monticello depend upon traffic.”

Avera, who is concerned the city budget would suffer a drop in revenue, suggests the corridor should end at Interstate 10 until traffic warrants more northern work. Interstate 10 is several miles south of downtown Monticello.

Michele Arceneaux, a Monticello-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce board member, said Madison County and others that envision the road as an economic panacea should be careful about what they want, as no matter how close to a downtown the corridor is located, motorists will favor franchised businesses at interchanges.

“Limited access roads do not bring meaningful jobs, unless you think fast food and gas stations are quality economic development,” Arceneaux said. “And I-10 is the perfect example of this. The minimum-wage jobs associated with I-10 were at the expense of local business in our downtown.”

In other words, the roads that are held out as bringing business opportunities to these areas very well may actually hurt existing business.  Nevertheless, some are for it:

Less than 20 miles to the east, in Madison County, Greenville Town Manager Edward Walker Dean said his impoverished community would take the road if its neighbors in Jefferson County don’t want it.

“I’m looking at this toll road as being something that will change the plight of this community, bring some new energy in here,” Dean said. “I don’t think the rank and file of these communities really, really know and understand, and there is a natural inclination — anytime (you are) talking about something that is big, is robust, you have to be a visionary. Greenville is the kind of place that could benefit tremendously. Get a Busy Bee’s (convenience store) or something like that in here. You can work to build something sustainable over time.”

Setting aside that building a road is not really visionary, we get that some areas are looking for relatively humble investments, but, for hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, the state could build and operate a convenience store for quite a while.  When we hear bringing real opportunity to these areas, for that investment, we assume they are talking about more.  And that brings us to this:

Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who made the corridors a priority during the 2019 session, said the roads are “planning for reality,” because Florida continues to attract new residents and tourists.

“We cannot continue to plan infrastructure in reverse,” Galvano said.

In isolation, it is true. We should not be planning infrastructure in reverse. We should get ahead of the game with infrastructure and planning.  We would support a plan to really do that, especially where people now live.

However, the comment does not exist in a vacuum, and there are a few problems in the context of Florida today. First, we have limited funds. Second, we are not even caught up with existing infrastructure needs. (And the Legislature also is actively opposed to the AFT referendum where people actually chose to tax themselves to get funds to build the infrastructure they want.  It could have stayed neutral.)

Second, though we have no doubt that cheap (arguably subsidized) sprawl will draw people, there is no evidence that people are flocking to live in the areas where the roads are planned.  If those places were where people were looking to go, they would not have the stated economic issues in the first place.  With limited funds, we think the money should be spent on present needs.

“The population is going to continue to grow,” Galvano said. “The need will continue to be there. And if we’re forward-thinking, we’ll actually have a net benefit to the environment, whether it’s focusing some of our mitigation opportunities on conservation and even coastal resilience, looking for innovative components to these infrastructure programs, autonomous and other type of mass transit opportunities. It’s a planning for reality and not just throwing up opposition, because folks are coming.”

As with the previous quote, in isolation, there is nothing wrong with this quote.  People are still going to come, and we need the infrastructure to deal. We should also be forward-thinking.  But there is a context.  Right now there are all manner of issues with mass transit, proper planning, mitigation, etc., where people live now, let alone may live in the future.  Additionally, the over the years the Legislature has made proper planning harder not easier and, every year seems to take more and more powers away from local governments.

Like we said, the ideas in isolation are fine . . . positive, even.  And, as we said, we would support a plan to really achieve them.  However, they are not in isolation, and we have limited funds.  Before we can get ahead, we need to focus on the unmet needs today that already exist.

Once again, some day in the future there may be a need for some of these roads.  But today is not that day.

(Finally, we also thought it would be helpful to some to review a little history about the Heartland Expressway idea, which is essentially the southern leg of the MCORES idea, so we have some links to past articles about it: here, here, here, and here.)


— Streetcar

There was a big ridership number for the streetcar in December:

STREETCAR RIDERSHIP: Despite trackwork and a bus shuttle in place, the TECO Line Streetcar carried almost 90,000 trips in Dec. 2019!

That is pretty impressive and shows the demand for transit does exist.  It also shows what a quite modest investment to make it free can do.  And, for a little context, the well-publicized, subsidized Cross-Bay Ferry carried 53,500 all of last year’s run.

The Legislature should make sure that the free streetcar service continues after the initial grant expires.


Economy/Economic Development


— The Competitiveness Report

Last week, we mentioned the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Competitiveness Report.  This week, we are going to get into some of the numbers.

Before we discuss numbers, a few notes.  You can find the report here. When we reference page numbers, it will be the page numbers listed in the report at the bottom of the pages. We have decided against doing screenshots because we cite a number of pages and putting screenshots would get unwieldy. Additionally, it is worth looking at the actual report and checking out other numbers.  Finally, as was noted last week, the quality of life numbers are generally not bad. We will not discuss (un)employment because it is so variable and reported monthly. To the report.

First, it is important to understand what area the report discusses, which can be seen on pg 6.  The numbers for the region start on pgs 4-5 with some demographics.  You will note that the regional population used is quite large (4,820,174) because, as shown on pg 6, the report includes Sarasota-Bradenton, Polk County, and Citrus County in our region (none of which are in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA, the census delineated metropolitan area) as well as the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater MSA (pop. 3,142,663 at last estimate).  Nevertheless, as shown on pg 5, even with those added counties, our gross regional product barely beats places like Austin or Charlotte using their census designated metro area populations (that becomes clearer in the per capita GRP below).  Additionally, we have the highest median age by more than 3 years (pg 5), and we are 14th in Millennial in-migration (pg 72).  Last year we were 13th in Millennial in-migration.

As those interested will already know, our regional incomes are quite low.  The report quantifies that again. Our average wages are 19th, just above Orlando (pg 17).  Moreover, we are last in median household income (pg 20). People who are interested will also know that we are low in our per capita Gross Regional Product.  In fact, we are last by almost $5000 at $41142 (pg 74).  For reference, the US Avg is $58686.  On a slightly better note, our GRP growth rate is 12th (same as last year) at 3.6% (pg 73).  The US average is 2.96%.  However, as always with growth rates, when you start from a very low level, even a decent growth rate means it will likely take a while to make real progress (and we doubt our competition will sit on their hands).

We are in the middle on “advanced industry” jobs, though it is not clear exactly what the specific jobs within those industries are (pg 22).  On the other hand, we are 16th in the growth in the value of “advanced industries” goods and services, though that is an improvement over last year when we were last (pg 23).  We are also 11th in university licensing (pg 31), though, for context, it should be noted that we are at $2.06 million, while at the top Raleigh-Durham is $53.56 million and number 8 Nashville is $8.4 million. We are also behind South Florida at 8th and Orlando at 10th.  Additionally, we are 16th in patents per 10000 residents (up from 17th last year) with 3.04 versus US avg of 9.67 (pg 32).  For context, the top 3 areas are around 20.

The column we discussed last week focused on talent.  It has long been an issue and remains so.  For instance, we come in 19th (just like last year) in percentage of the population with 1) associates degrees, 2) bachelor degrees, and 3) post graduate degrees (pg 48-49).  We are also 19th in the number of 25-34 year olds with a bachelor degree or higher, just like last year (pg 50).  And, even more telling, we come in last or second to last among Florida areas in the study in all manner of high school achievement other than, oddly, composite SAT scores (pg 54-55).  While we are gaining a large number of people, they do not seem to be changing the talent demographics much.

The report really makes it clear that, while we are getting better relative to ourselves, we are not improving nearly fast enough relative to our competition.  There are certainly pockets of stronger growth and development in the area (and not just central Tampa and St. Pete).  However, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, overall we are just not making the progress we need to be.  Simply recycling what has been done before in the hopes that the results will change is not sufficient.  The path to getting where we should be is long and complicated, and settling will not get us there. As we said last week, we should constantly strive for being exceptional.

Once again, thanks to the Tampa Bay Partnership for this product.  The truth may sometimes hurt, but without it, progress cannot be made.


— Housing

There was more news about housing this week.

A recent report from Realtor.com found Tampa Bay’s active listings dropped over 15 percent between 2018 and 2019, while the area’s median home prices and days on market rose.

The report evaluated the nation’s 50 largest metros on their active listing count, median home prices and median days on market from December 2018 to December 2019. In that span, Tampa’s active listings dropped 16.5 percent, while its median listing price rose 4 percent and the median days on the market for homes rose by four days. 

Obviously, fewer houses at a higher price presents an issue.

“The market is struggling with a large housing undersupply just as 4.8 million millennials are reaching 30 years of age in 2020, a prime age for many to purchase their first home,” George Ratiu, senior economist for Realtor.com, said in a statement. “The significant inventory drop we saw in December is a harbinger of the continuing imbalance expected to plague this year’s markets, as the number of homes for sale are poised to reach historically low levels.”

And the problem is nationwide, but we are concerned with this area, which makes this story about Millennial home buyers more interesting:

The allure of Silicon Valley lives even among the younger generation, as millennials take over pricey San Jose real estate. After Minneapolis and Buffalo, N.Y., San Jose was the third most popular location for millennial homebuyers. Some 55.8% of the city’s home loan applications came from applicants ages 23 to 38, according to a LendingTree study of purchase mortgage requests in the U.S.’s top 50 metro areas from January 2019 to November 2019. 

Study here.  The story included this graphic:

From Yahoo Finance – click on picture for article

There are a number of reasons this might be the case, including our relatively low number of Millennials.  But it likely also has to do with the increase in house prices and low incomes.  But, given that many expensive tech-heavy areas are popular, it also goes to the amenities and career opportunities on offer in this area.  In any event, it points to a problem with the market and Millennials that is relevant to attracting talent.  Everything is connected.


— Venture Capital

It has been a while, but let’s check in with VC.  From St. Pete catalyst:

Venture capital activity in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area dropped dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2019.

There were eight deals totaling $15.4 million, according to Pitchbook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That was the fewest deals and the lowest total funding raised in any other quarter in 2019.

Still, 2019 was a strong year for venture funding in Tampa-St. Pete, with a total of 45 deals and $150.2 million in total funding, the Venture Monitor report said. In 2018, there were 39 local deals with $111.2 million in total funding.

From St. Pete Catalyst – click on picture for article

The article (here) provides more detail and reference to other reports and is worth reading.

While we are still behind other areas relative to size, overall 2019 was a better year.  Hopefully, the fourth quarter is an aberration.


Westshore – Interesting

There was an interesting article on MetWest in the Business Journal:

MetWest’s vacant 2.5-acre parcel at North Lois Avenue and West Boy Scout Boulevard was moved between corporations controlled by MetLife in late December, according to Hillsborough County property records. At the same time, MetLife also secured a $143 million loan from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

That type of paperwork — intra-company deed transfers and large loans — typically foreshadow new construction. Neither MetLife’s corporate spokesman nor its local leasing representatives would answer questions about the deed transfer, loan or potential new development.

What will it be?

One possibility for that prime corner: A new apartment tower.

In early 2019, MetLife sought approval from the city to modify its original plans for that property and increase the number of apartments from 254 units to 424 units and increase the building height from 10 stories to 12 stories. The justification for the change, MetLife told the city, was that the 175-room AC Hotel within MetWest is 90 rooms smaller than the plan originally approved. Under the city’s equivalency matrix, that left room to add 170 apartments to the property.

This phase of development will also include a 12-story, 746-parking garage. The city signed off on MetLife’s plans in May 2019. If this iteration moves forward, MetLife is to construct an interim, 75-space parking lot for use during construction, according to the city’s approval letter.

While the MetWest development is not exactly urban, it is not exactly fully suburban.  It exists in the odd middle area that is not really a walkable, connected area, but you can get around some specific developments (though the garage indicates the central focus of the design).  Nevertheless,

A high-rise apartment tower would be a big endorsement of Westshore as a residential market. Though the business district has seen an influx of multifamily development in the last real estate cycle, the vast majority of those units are in stick-frame, midrise buildings. Developing a 12-story high rise means that MetLife is confident that it can attract top-of-market rents in Westshore.

While a 12-story building is really not that tall, it is more expensive to build than a 6-story stick building.  Then again, the units could be smaller.  It is not really clear.  Regardless, at least it would show that denser construction is possible in the market.

We would be happy if Westshore would become more walkable and urban, but at this point, the way Columbus/Boy Scout/Spruce has been developed, it would be hard to do on the north side.  And given that Austin Center is not going to be redeveloped soon, our hope is much more with the Westshore Mall redevelopment.


Downtown/Channel District – Cool

There is something new at Water Street:

Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street, on Wednesday unveiled the district’s centralized cooling plant, which produces and distributes chilled water to air condition the majority of buildings in the neighborhood via 8,500 linear feet of insulated underground pipes.

The brick-facade cooling plant is currently an island within Water Street, surrounded by a sea of surface parking and construction near the district’s western boundary at East Cumberland and South Nebraska avenues, not far from where the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway separates the central business district from the rest of downtown Tampa. But its nondescript exterior belies its importance.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The plant saves space, increases efficiency, and allows for other features in the buildings themselves.  And its opening is a major sign of progress in the project as a whole.


Tourism – Growing

There was tourism news:

Hillsborough County continues to gain more tourism dollars with its strongest December ever on record.

The county reported more than $3 million in tourist development funds in December, an increase of more than 27 percent over the previous December, according to Visit Tampa Bay.

Revenues for the month came to more than $54.8 million. Hotel revenues make up about 20 percent of overall visitor spending.

* * *

Hillsborough County’s hotel occupancy outpaced neighbors Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale in November, according to the report.

November occupancy grew strongest in downtown by 6 percent as well as the Tampa North area near Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida by 4.5 percent.

Once again, growth is good.  We are particularly pleased at the occupancy rates, which gives more of an indication of relative performance during a tourism boom.


Airport(s) – Odds and Ends

There is various airport related news.  First,

The Trump administration rolled back another Obama-era Cuba initiative last week, this time banning most charter flights to the island nation.

Only charters to Havana remain legal. Charter flights to all other Cuban cities are now banned.

Tampa International Airport currently hosts charter flights to Holguin and Santa Clara through Havana Air. The company has until mid-March to end the operations.

You can see the State Department notice here.

In other news, it is not the news we usually write about the airport but they tweeted this and we are all for tower cranes:

Additionally,

Tampa International Airport said Monday that it’s expanding its TPA All Access program that allows non-flying visitors to go through security to eat at the restaurants, shop or visit spas at the airsides.

Starting Saturday, the program will go from Saturdays only to seven days a week. Since its launch last May, more than 1,700 people have taken advantage of the program, which entails signing up at least 24 hours in advance to get a pass.

* * *

Participants are subject to the same security screening regulations as passengers boarding a flight. Passes are available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are capped at 25 people per airside. Visitors can go to one airside per visit. Participants younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult. To sign up, visit TPAallaccess.com.

Which is very cool.  As is the airport’s bike-friendly designation.

Meanwhile, over at St. Pete-Clearwater:

For the fifth consecutive year, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport set an all-time passenger record with with 2,288,692 passengers in 2019, an increase of 2 percent over 2018.

That airport has seen some impressive growth during the tourism boom.  The problem, however, remains the same: relying on one carrier.


Ports – The Other Port

There was news from Port Manatee:

Tucked away in Manatee County, the port and its tenant World Direct Shipping have inked a longer term lease as the shipping container line business plans to grow.

WDS has extended its agreement to run through 2026. The original lease was set to expire in 2021, a port spokeswoman said.

WDS operates between Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, and Port Manatee. The company, which started Gulf of Mexico service at the port in 2014, extended the agreement due to increase in demand and has added a third vessel to its rapidly growing weekly services across the Gulf of Mexico.

Setting aside that it is not really “tucked away,” that is good news for Port Manatee.

WDS’s cargo volume rose 90 percent in 2019 from 2018, with total throughput reaching nearly 50,000 20-foot-equivalent container units, commonly referred to as TEU.

* * *

In 2019, Port Manatee topped more than 10 million tons of cargo for the first time in its 50-year history. Buqueras said he wants to diversify the port’s offerings and will progressively evaluate ferry or cruise operations.

We are not sure if the above listed number if correct but, by way of reference, Port Tampa Bay had around 100,000 TEU’s in the last reported fiscal year (both ports are far behind east coast ports), though that business is growing and Port Tampa Bay  handles much more other cargo than Port Manatee.

More business is generally good for the area.  We just wish our ports worked together to maximize their utility for the regional economy.


Pasco – Various and Sundry

It is time to check in with Pasco County.  First, the long-discussed Ridge Road extension is getting under way:

“This thing” is the extension of Ridge Road that will connect west Pasco to the Suncoast Parkway and on to U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes. On Monday morning, approximately 100 people gathered at a dead-end street in the River Ridge neighborhood to share congratulations and watch the shovels of dirt go flying in a ground-breaking ceremony.

Where exactly is it going? When all is said and done:

The 4.2-mile leg from from Moon Lake Road to the parkway will be limited access and elevated through the [Serenova] preserve via 18 bridges. Projected construction costs are listed at just less than $68 million. The county says it already has spent more than $16 million on permitting, right of way, lobbyists, wetland mitigation and other expenses that will push the total price to just less than $90 million.

The second portion, 3.4 miles from the parkway east to U.S. 41 would be built at-grade, with developers picking up the cost. The Florida Turnpike Authority is responsible for the $15 million interchange with the parkway.

The route is right through here where there is very little development now.  (Though there will be. see below).  Since they are starting with a limited access road, why they did not take this opportunity to do the much needed limited access road across the county is a mystery, but Ridge Road will get congested soon enough, especially because Pasco keeps planning development in a way that indicates they have not learned any lessons from mistakes in other counties.

Take this for instance:

Angeline, Lennar’s massive development planned for a former central Pasco ranch, is paying homage to its agricultural roots.

The company is proposing the area’s first agricultural neighborhood development or “agrihood” on a 63-acre parcel, according to preliminary plans filed with Pasco County.

The agricultural site, at the southwest corner of State Road 52 and the planned extension of Sunlake Boulevard, could potentially include a restaurant, playground, demonstration garden, a cattle barn and pasture, a community garden, a high-yield organic farm, a barn and pavilion for community use and parking for 75 cars, according to conceptual drawings.

Or, if they really want to focus on agriculture, they could just keep the land a ranch, but, obviously, that is not going to happen.  In any event, this is the map:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Also interesting that this mega development flanks the CSX line that’s been discussed for years for conversion to commuter rail, but their site plan doesn’t seem to account for that future use, which at this point in the real world, is a lost opportunity for the developer to add value to their project, for the cost of drawing some lines on paper. Instead, they orient the development towards a toll road. To each his own.

We get why they are orienting the development, especially the business area, along the toll road. That is how Pasco is laid out, and there is little likelihood that those CSX tracks will be used in the near to medium term (who knows about the long term).  Pasco just shows few signs of going in a transit focused direction.

Lennar’s Angeline, formerly known as Project Arthur, is a planned 7,000-acre project that originally proposed as many as 11,495 homes, 5.4 million square feet of non-residential uses and an 800-acre corporate business park, in which an expanded H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute has been identified as the lead entity.

Of course, good luck getting from the main Moffitt campus in Tampa to this location quickly without decent east-west roads (and no connection using the CSX tracks, though, interestingly, the CSX tracks do pull up pretty close to the large Moffitt facility near Busch Gardens. See here. Oh well.), especially after there is more development with no alternative transportation.

Pasco’s approach becomes even clearer when you consider that it is coming out with its long-range transportation plan. First, apparently the plan is missing some things, like the Collier Parkway extension.

Not including the Collier Parkway extension in the long-range plan has a simple explanation. There is no money for it in the $8.125 billion transportation blueprint. The route exists on paper, but it is considered unfunded for the next 25 years, said Wally Blain, of Tindale-Oliver, the consultant who helped assemble the long-range plan

That wasn’t the only road not to make the cut. Paring the county’s needs plan to the so-called cost-affordable plan meant only about 60 percent of the future road projects are included in the plan’s final version approved in December. The federally mandated plan must be updated every five years and can be amended in the future. Essentially, it’s a planning exercise to try to balance expected population growth, future transportation needs and projected revenues.

Remember, if you want something, you have to pay for it. A sprawling development pattern does not help. That is a lesson they could have learned from Hillsborough.

In addition to some issues with walking/biking infrastructure,

Overall, the plan calls for nearly $5.8 billion, or 71 percent of the transportation spending through 2045, on new roads. Mass transit will get $768 million or less than 10 percent of the planned spending. The previous plan, through 2040, included significantly more transit spending — almost $1.9 billion — because it presumed a new sales tax increase would generate hundreds of millions of dollars.

In June, the transportation panel balked at projecting a sale tax increase in the 2045 plan.

In other words, just when TBARTA is touting a plan for transit from Wesley Chapel to Tampa and beyond (the “BRT” plan) that does not serve the needs of Hillsborough County, Pasco is balking at trying to fund more transit (and is building more transit-unfriendly sprawl).  Just one more reason that Hillsborough (and Pinellas, really) should not spend money on the “BRT” plan.

If Pasco wants to go its own way, that is fine.  We just see no reason Hillsborough (or Pinellas) should feel the need or be forced to go the same way, too.  Hillsborough has clearly expressed a desire to go in another direction.  It should do it.  Hopefully Pasco will realize that they are on an unsustainable path and change as well.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

We thought we would check into some air service news from around the state. (See Regional Competitiveness Report, pg 42. Looking at non-stop destinations is a good idea, but we think they should add a specifically international component, too.) First, Orlando continues to grow:

Officials with Orlando International Airport said this week that more than 50 million passengers had passed through the airport during the previous 12 months in October.

It is the first time a Florida airport has had that many passengers in one year.

Overall, passenger traffic increased by 9.2% for October, with domestic traffic up 11.2% and international traffic down about 3%, airport officials said.

Airport officials said the drop in international traffic was due partially to the closure of Thomas Cook Airlines at the end of September.

Note that Orlando is busier than Miami.  In further news:

Frontier Airlines will be expanding in the Magic City next year. The Denver-based carrier will be making Miami International Airport a hub next year, basing crew, aircraft, and opening new routes. The city will become the airline’s sixth hub, along with Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The expansion will bring the airline to 22 cities served from Miami.

The new hub will see approximately 100 flight attendants and 30 pilots based in Miami, starting in March 2020. In addition to the based crews, Frontier will add eight new routes to the city. Domestically the airline will add flights to Trenton, Islip, Ontario, Calif., Baltimore, and Austin. The airline will be the only carrier flying between Miami and Trenton, Islip and Ontario.

Internationally Frontier is adding flights to Santo Domingo, El Salvador, and Guatemala City. The latter two will be the carrier’s first flights to Central America. The first of these new flights will begin in April, with the rest coming in over the course of the summer. Flights to Ontario, Baltimore, Santo Domingo, and Islip will be daily, while the remainder will operate 3-4 times a week. 

Additionally,

Azul, Brazil’s third-largest airline, started this week a year-round service connecting its hub in Belo Horizonte/Confins Airport to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as announced in August. The flights are set to operate three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

This service is Azul’s second route between Confins and the United States, following Orlando, started in 2017, and will be operated by the airline’s Airbus A330-200s, with 20 seats in Business Xtra, 100 in Economy Xtra and 152 in Economy class.

It is not surprising that Frontier would pick Miami, especially for Latin American service (though other low-cost airlines have picked Fort Lauderdale and Orlando) or that Azul would go to Ft. Lauderdale. It would be nice if we could finally expand our Latin American service.  Copa is great, but we cannot imagine that there is not enough demand for a couple more daily flights to various locations, especially on single-aisle planes that routinely fly between Florida and Latin America.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Olympia

Another transit system has eliminated fares:

As of the New Year, no bus fare is needed to ride the Olympia area’s Intercity Transit. On Jan. 1, the transit agency became the largest in the Pacific Northwest to eliminate fare collection, leapfrogging Corvallis and Missoula which did so earlier.

Intercity Transit leadership looked at the cost of replacing its obsolete fare boxes with new electronic fare card readers and decided it wasn’t worth it, especially given the potential to increase ridership and speed up boarding by not charging fares at all.

“It costs a lot of money to collect money, which is surprising to a lot of people,” General Manager Ann Freeman-Manzanares said in an interview Thursday. “Looking at the broad list of things the community wanted us to address – in terms of access, equity, speed, reliability, addressing the environment, making sure that we’re as efficient as possible – the combination of those things actually led us to zero-fare.”

* * *

Other medium-sized transit agencies have pioneered the fareless route. Corvallis Transit System was previously the largest transit agency in the Pacific Northwest to eliminate fare collection systemwide when it made the change in 2011. In its first year of fareless operation, Corvallis bus system ridership increased nearly 38%, according to the city government.

The buses in Missoula, Bozeman and on Whidbey and Camano Islands, Washington, are also fareless. Island Transit relies on a dedicated county sales tax to pay for fare-free bus service. In Corvallis, the city council approved a monthly surcharge on all utility bills to pay for fareless bus service.

Mason Transit is fare-free within Mason County, but charges fares for out-of-county routes to places such as Brinnon, Bremerton and Olympia. North Idaho is home to a trio of small transit systems where all fixed routes are free to ride, namely Coeur d’Alene-based Citylink, SPOT Transit in Sandpoint and McCall Transit.

The trend has even caught the eye of the New York Times, which had an article here.  It also gets into some of the challenges, especially for larger systems.

It will be interesting to see what happens.


— Louisville

We thought we would help TBARTA out with this one:

The first “bus rapid transit” line in Louisville is launching in January and will aim to quickly take commuters between downtown and Dixie Highway.

Construction on the new line began in December 2017 and is part of the New Dixie Highway Project, a $35 million plan from Louisville Metro and Transit Authority of River City to improve safety, mobility and livability along one of the the city’s busiest, widest and most dangerous corridors.

* * *

The rapid transit line will give buses priority at stoplights and includes special lanes to enter traffic.

The Louisville service is more akin to Metro-Rapid than real BRT especially because it does not have dedicated lanes.

Because We Can

More pictures for Eagle 8’s twitter feed:

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

It also makes clear the inefficiency of the use of land of the Manor Riverwalk (bottom right).

Roundup 1-10-2020

January 9, 2020

Contents

Transportation

— North Tampa BRT

— HART

— “BRT” Plan

— Virgin Trains

— Streetcar

— Flexi Lanes, Cont.

Economy – What’s Happening

— Known Knowns

— Looking In

Downtown – Encore Keeps Being Encore

Bayshore – We Will See

Downtown – X

Downtown/Channel District/USF – It Opens

Moffitt – What Gives?

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

____________________________


Transportation


— North Tampa BRT

As we discussed recently, HART is beginning to develop a plan for BRT from USF to downtown (here and here). Just after New Year, the Times had a good editorial the line (here):

As envisioned, the line would run north on Florida Avenue from downtown, jog east to Nebraska Avenue and then north to Fowler Avenue. An exclusive bus lane would run down the median of Fowler east to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, on the campus’s western edge, before turning north. The bus would make 20 stops along the way, each about half a mile apart. Eight of the route’s 12 miles would use exclusive transit lanes, enabling the buses to bypass traffic. The goal is to shave the existing travel time of local bus service by one-third, to about 30 minutes, slightly longer than existing express service.

The concept marks a welcome change of thinking in two distinct ways. First, it recognizes that premium service requires dedicated lanes. These are the building blocks of any mass transit spine, especially in a crowded urban core, and in a city like Tampa so inhospitably planned for bus traffic. Second, it looks to bring rapid service to urban streets, alongside where people live and work, which should attract more riders than interstate-level bus service.

HART, though, needs to decide: Does it want bus-rapid transit, known as BRT, or merely improved service at the local level? Twenty stops? That’s not BRT; it’s not even express. If this service is meant for short-hauls, why not improve existing local service, rather than engage in a branding exercise that falls short of expectations?

Setting aside that we do not think it will form a “spine,” those are all reasonable points which have been discussed before but deserve reiteration and that were elaborated on by URBN Tampa Bay:

The second point is a point we make on here a lot that tends to get some pushback: that transit needs to be on the surface grid and not on an elevated highway like I-275. As the Times points out, BRT on the street grid will attract more riders, as opposed to FDOT’s I-275 #fakeBRT, which, while focus tested with the consultants who have no vested interest in the results, will fail to attract riders. Putting BRT on the street grid also allows the positive windfall of transit to radiate into the neighborhoods via redevelopment along the line. Lastly, by putting the line on the urban street grid and making it urban-focused, the line is designed to serve those most likely to use transit: those who have already self-sorted themselves into an urban neighborhood. The idea that a bus line on an interstate will convert Wesley Chapel residents into transit users is ludicrous.

The last point we’d like to make is that 20 stops seems a bit high for BRT on this route, but that’s a consequence of our land use patterns: when we don’t have dense nodes and instead have a thinner, more even urban fabric, transit has to make more stops to serve the same number of people. This makes transit less efficient. We need denser nodes of the development throughout the city to compliment the single-family home areas. Land use reform is an integral part of building transit, because land use and transportation are completely interconnected.

Those points often get ignored (see “BRT” plan below), and they are connected. It is much harder to have active nodes when you run on the interstate because, in fact, the interstate impedes it.

Getting back to the HART idea, right now speed is the main reason the biggest concern we have with the plan is the part where there is no dedicated lane. We understand that they are still developing the plan.  We also understand that Florida Ave. has a bottleneck. That needs to be worked on, and it is all the more reason to focus on speed in other parts of the plan.  In addition to going where people are and want to get to, to be really useful transit the service needs to be rapid and frequent.  We look forward to hearing what they come up with and hope that they are open to suggestions to making that even better.  And, of course, we will see what happens with the AFT referendum.


— HART

There was a bit of news on the slightly mysterious investigation into the head of HART:

An investigation into the Hillsborough transit authority’s chief executive officer is expected to wrap up this month, the agency’s attorney told the board Monday.

Ben Limmer, who took the helm of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in March, was placed on paid leave on Nov. 4 days after a whistleblower letter was sent to board members.

Agency attorney David Smith has said the complaint involves procurement processes, vendor relations and related matters, but the agency has refused to provide any other details.

Nothing to do but wait.


— “BRT” Plan

Speaking of running on the interstate, the Business Journal had an article/interview on the head of TBARTA:

Can you talk about the 41-mile bus rapid transit project and how the recent public workshop went? We are doing three workshops throughout the counties. I first want to mention the difference between our project and ones Hillsborough and the Pinellas authority are working on. They are working on arterial BRT, which could be a substitute for light rail. It goes through neighborhoods, it has stops every half mile or so not as many as a local bus route but frequent enough for locals. Our project is highway BRT, which is a substitute for commuter rail. It’s going 41 miles from Wesley Chapel to St. Pete and will operate on Interstate 275. It might dip off the interstate to go to certain stations but it will go back onto the interstate. We will have 12 to 13 stations. The initial feasibility study was about 21 stations, but that’s too many for a highway BRT project. We met with land use folks, transit operators in the three counties and talked through all station locations and trimmed it down to 12 to 13, with the 13th one potentially being in the Heights area.

What’s the feedback you’ve received on the BRT? Some at the Hillsborough meeting said it’s unnecessary, we should focus on the CSX tracks. People don’t understand that need for regional BRT on I-275. A lot of people gravitate toward the CSX tracks without fully understanding the cost associated with doing that project and the time. You can buy the tracks, but then you have to spend money to upgrade tracks because they aren’t passenger ready. We aren’t going to preclude it. BRT is the one we are moving forward with right now.

For the BRT, what type of right of way alignments are you evaluating? We’ve identified five alignment alternatives. The entire corridor could accommodate dedicated lanes. But the higher the cost becomes, for projects like this, there is a local match required. The federal government will typically put up 50 percent, the state will put up 25 percent but then the remaining 25 percent has to be shared among local jurisdictions. The higher the total cost, the higher the 25 percent will be. We need to come up with cost projections and get feedback. It would have all of the BRT features. We are doing as much of a gold standard as we can — ticket vending machines, traffic signal priority equipment, on-level boarding, etc. Five of the stations will be multimodal stations.

First, while some may not, we, and many others, do know the difference between the plans, the costs, and what running a bus on the interstate is like.  And we still do not favor the plan. We also note the change of approach from calling the “BRT” plan THE transit spine of the area to calling it a substitute for commuter rail (we are not even going to bother with the “gold standard” thing).  It is interesting, though not that relevant, except that it makes the plan even less ambitious than already was. (And the 100 million or so in local matching money would be far better spent on building some of the arterial BRT routes or rail that we actually need.)

Second, as far as has been reported even if the route has “dedicated lanes” those lanes will largely be made up of uses running on shoulders and in express lanes.  We are not going to belabor the point but, as we have noted many times, the normal bus on shoulder usage is when normal traffic speeds are lower than 35 mph (and the guidelines usually have a top speed on the shoulders of about 10 mph faster than traffic).  That is not a dedicated lane and is not really BRT.  (And, by definition, express lanes with other traffic are not dedicated lanes.)

The plan is still of limited utility, especially for the cost.  Once again, just run express buses as a cheaper and easier connection.  Then focus on real issues like BRT on arterial roads and rail.  That is the real need now.


— Virgin Trains

While the South Florida to Orlando leg is under construction, we are still waiting for a deal between Virgin Trains and FDOT for the Orlando Airport to Tampa leg.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) have agreed to Virgin Trains’ numerous previous requests for extensions and will agree once more to extend the January deadline for another 90 days, extending the due date to March 2020, according to a Dec. 23 letter to Virgin Trains USA CEO Patrick Goddard.

The original deadline prior to the extensions was February 2019. The new extension request is meant to give the company more time for due diligence.

“The Department needs to understand exactly what property Virgin Trains [formerly Brightline] desires to lease. The Department cannot indefinitely offer a lease opportunity in the Interstate 4 corridor, one of the busiest corridors in the state, for a project with uncertain and unspecified plans and impacts on Department projects,” the letterfrom FDOT Assistant Secretary Tom Byron reads.

* * *

The requested additional 90-day extension of negotiations is for Virgin to explore the potential for leasing Interstate 4 right-of-way to link to Tampa that includes finalizing its environmental planning and identifying the location and size of specific property it desires to lease, Byron stated, adding it was discussed between representatives of Virgin, CFX and FDOT that there are matters that will need attention before lease negotiations conclude.

The letter states that any interests in the Central Florida Rail Corridor, which is owned by FDOT, will need to separately obtain any necessary rights in the CFRC and the property owned by Orlando Utility Commission and the Orlando airport.

The proposal also did not include the ability to lease right-of-way along State Road 536, which runs between the State Road 417 and the International Drive intersection in Orlando and Intestate 4 adjacent to Disney World.

“These, and other, matters will all need to be resolved before lease negotiations can be successfully concluded,” the letter read.

We do not know why this is taking so long and why, apparently, so many issues have not been addressed.  Regardless, all we can do is wait.


— Streetcar

While we are waiting for the full plans for the streetcar extension/modernization and the AFT court decision, there is other news:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board members will consider approving an item on Jan. 6 for a contractor to rebuild four of the city’s nine streetcars.

Out of the four, two have not been in service and the other two have “extensive damage.”

The original manufacturer Gomaco Trolley Co.,a division of Iowa-based Gomaco Corp., would lead the rebuild for a contract of exceeding $2.7 million.

The cars need work. They were originally placed in service 17 years ago, and now require both interior and exterior rehabilitation, as well as upgrades to the major systems on the vehicles, according to HART documents.

Funding for the contract is provided byState of Good Repair Grants awarded through the Federal Transportation Administration. The grant does not require a match from HART.

Clearly, maintenance has to be done on occasion and if there is a program for Federal money to pay for it, all the better.


— Flexi Lanes, Cont.

Before the holidays, we discussed the City’s installation of flexible poles to separate painted bike lanes from traffic (here):

That sounds very good to us.  While we prefer raised curb barriers, we understand they cannot go everywhere, especially all at once.  We are glad the City is moving to a more functional bike lane model.  If only the County would as well and if the two entities’ efforts were fully coordinated, we could really be getting somewhere.

Later on, URBN Tampa Bay had a post in which they said this:

Perhaps someday soon, Tampa officials will learn the difference between visual barriers and physical barriers. Plastic delineator poles do not form a physically protected bike lane, as a wandering car will still kill a cyclist just as easily as if there were no flimsy plastic poles. Making a bike lane more visible doesn’t really reduce collision rates, since drivers who wander into bike lanes tend to not be paying attention when they do so. However, a curb or other barrier physically stopping the car from entering the bike lane does… Like we’ve been telling the city for almost 5 years now.

We do not really disagree with their main point.  True physical barriers are definitely preferable and far safer than just flexible poles.  On the other hand, we favor any increased separation of bikes from traffic, and think that the flexible poles, while ugly, are better than just paint.  They will not physically stop a car, but at least they are something that makes clear that cars should not be going into those lanes.  In other words, while the painted lanes are pretty much completely form over substance, the flexible poles have some, though limited, substance.

In short, we view flexible poles as an intermediate step to getting proper bike infrastructure. The goal should be a true network, connected with the County, of trails and protected bike lanes.

In other bike news:

There are now four stations providing bicycle repair and air in the Downtown Tampa area, creating safer spaces for bicyclists.

* * *

The New North Transportation Alliance (NNTA), and the Tampa Downtown Partnership, with funding from the Florida Department of Transportation District 7, provided several bike repair stations around the area, according to Bike Walk Tampa.

The stations include heavy duty air pumps and tools for making small adjustments.

We are all for that.


Economy – What’s Happening


— Known Knowns

The Tampa Bay Partnership’s annual benchmarking report is set to be released this week.   However, a Times columnist apparently got a preview and, in a column entitled “Tampa Bay lags behind peer cities in too many ways” (sound familiar?), says this:

Competition can be humbling. Just when you think you’re getting good at something, a better player reveals your flaws. You go from feeling like the bee’s knees to feeling gut-punched.

I felt a little like that reading the 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report compiled by the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the United Way Suncoast.

The Tampa Bay area has record low unemployment, a vibrant restaurant scene and a widening tax base. Construction cranes populate our downtowns. The University of South Florida is on the rise. Tourism keeps setting records.

Still, the area didn’t stack up well against 19 similar-sized metro areas. We’re getting better in some ways. But so are Minneapolis, Denver, Austin and Raleigh-Durham. That’s the thing about competing with other cities. It’s nonstop. None of the players rest, let alone retire.

We are not sure why he would feel gut-punched.  For years, we have discussed how our area is improving compared to itself while not improving that much (or falling further behind) our competition.  One reason we like the Competitiveness Report is that, contrary to so much of the hype, it documents those facts.

For instance, the column’s author focuses on talent, which has been an issue for a long time. (See from a year ago here)  Over the last few years, some of the hype has been that we are now a magnet for Millennials, etc.  However,

Companies follow talent, especially young, well-educated workers. They open new offices or relocate to areas where they know they can find quality employees. While we enjoy a steady stream of new residents, we aren’t luring our share of millennials, “a key input to regional economic performance,” the report found. We ranked 14th for the number of 25- to 34-year-olds moving to the area, attracting them at half the rate of Portland, Oregon.

Our transit woes don’t help persuade well-educated young workers to move here. Nor do low wages — we ranked last among the 20 metro areas for median household income. The report found that only residents in Houston and Miami spent a higher percentage of their incomes on housing and transportation, dealing another blow to the Tampa Bay area’s tired pitch of being a cheap place to live.

While this should sound familiar to regular readers, this is not the norm for local officials:

“We either want to be exceptional, or we want to be average,” said [president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership Rick] Homans, who has helped publish a similar annual state of the region report since 2017. “And if we want to be exceptional, we need to pay attention to these numbers because they compare us to peer communities that have set the bar a little higher.”

First, by the terms of the report as represented in the column, we are presently below average.   Setting that aside, we do not want to settle for being average (though you have to get to average before you get to exceptional), and we agree with the comment (and we are glad he said it), with the caveat that some areas have set the bar much higher, especially regarding things like transportation and development patterns.

“Good transit allows people to access jobs throughout the market,” [Homans] said. “The data shows that when you don’t have the transit options that most other communities have, you’ve really limited yourself in terms of how far you can go as a community.”

And that is definitely true.  It is one of the reasons we do not support focusing on a commuter bus with limited utility, especially in the main urban areas (aka “BRT” plan).  While it may give a slight uptick in the transit spending category, it is not going to be much a draw and will not make much difference.  Such a plan is being average or worse, not exceptional. We need proper transit.

That is not to say there are not positives,

“We continue to have very favorable trends around migration, population growth, business growth, and quality of life,” Homans said. “Those things moving in the right direction create a real opportunity to solve the other problems.”

In other words, people move here and it is sunny and near the beach.  And those are good things and a place to start (though we started there a long time ago).  But, clearly, they are nowhere near enough.

Once again, we really like the benchmarking report.  While our challenges have been evident for a while, we think it helps get people on the same page, at least with what the challenges are, and provides a corrective to the common hype.  The biggest problem is that far too often this area has settled for either half solutions or no solution while, at the same time, hyping them as a real accomplishment.

We should always aim for being exceptional.  We may come up a little short, but, even then, we will still be very good.


— Looking In

It is also time to check in with some economic numbers, again.

Metro Tampa home prices rose 4.9 percent in the past year, the second-highest among major U.S. cities, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index reported.

(Report here). That is good news if you have a homesteaded house and do not need to move. Though:

A recent report from Zillow predicted how housing markets in 25 large cities would underperform, overperform or stay about the same in regard to housing value, and Tampa is expected to stay about the same.

To compile the report, Zillow (NASDAQ: Z) asked 100 economists and real estate experts to predict how home values in 25 large cities would fare in 2020.

In Tampa, over half, 53 percent, of panelists expect home values to stay about the same, while 38 percent expect the market to outperform the national average, leaving 9 percent who expect it to underperform.

And just keep this in mind:

Without a doubt, Tampa is a booming rental market. A recent report from apartment search website [RentCafe] looked at a decade’s worth of rental data from the Tampa metro area and found that a whopping 47% of residents are now renters.

The same report also found that from 2010 to 2019, the average rent has grown from $852 a month to $1,347, which is a rate increase of 58%, a jump that vastly outpaces the national average of 36%.

While it’s already bad enough that national wage averages haven’t stayed on pace with housing costs, the average apartment size in Tampa is actually shrinking. The report shows that over the last decade, Tampa’s apartments have actually shrunk by 10%, going from an average of 1,074 square-feet in 2010, to 969 square-feet in 2019. 

(Report here) But, at the same time:

Tampa’s hourly earnings grew 1.19 percent in 2019 — the lowest gain among the nation’s 20 biggest metro areas and lower than the state average in Florida, according to the Paychex | IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch.

Nationwide, a competitive job market drove an increase in wages of just over 3 percent.

Statewide, Florida workers saw a 2.18 percent increase in hourly earnings last year. Miami saw growth of 2.88 percent.

Do with that what you will.


Downtown – Encore Keeps Being Encore

A few weeks ago, the City Council approved a poor design for another Encore lot (see here).  Then this, about a proposal named Independent:

A Houston developer has closed on a parcel of land in downtown Tampa’s Encore, with plans to build a market-rate apartment building on the property.

Transwestern Development paid $4.66 million for the 2.14-acre Lot 9, which fronts East Cass Street . . .

We discussed this project here and here. The retail is minimal and the parking garage is huge (so people have a place to eat in their cars after going through the nearby Burger King drive-thru, no doubt).

Encore continues to be marked more by its lack of ambition than its quality.  It makes us quite concerned about what might be coming for the “West River” project.


Bayshore – We Will See

Before the holidays, there was some news from the Related Group:

The Related Group plans to transform an aging Bayshore Boulevard complex into the “most iconic looking” condo towers in Tampa Bay — a structure that CEO Jorge Perez says will call to mind a “glass sculpture.”

“Without a doubt, it will be the premier residential building,” Perez said Wednesday. “If you can afford it, you will not live anywhere else.”

In June, Related paid $25.26 million for Bay Oaks, an apartment complex with frontage on Bayshore Boulevard that spans from the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to Bayshore. It’s almost 5 acres — huge by urban development standards — but Related is still looking to buy some of the neighboring properties, Perez said. Besides the condo towers, the site will also be home to several townhouse units.

The condos will represent the very top of the Tampa condo market. Perez said the type of product he plans to build would sell for $3,000 per square foot in Miami, but Related is still penciling out how much a building of that class would sell for here, maybe $700 to $800 per square foot. Its height would be in line with other Bayshore condo towers, possibly around 24 stories. Presales won’t begin until plans are filed with the city, which is still a few months out.

We know that the Related Group is certainly capable of buildings very nice buildings.  In this area, they have generally refrained from doing so, though the Icon Harbour Island is rather nice.  Given the anticipated lower price point, we are not sure the Bayshore project will really be like the product in other cities, but we are willing to reserve judgment.


Downtown – X

Also before the holidays, there were new renderings for the X project proposed for downtown. From URBN Tampa Bay:

We have new renders for X Tampa, a 29 story mixed-use project proposed for 412 East Zack Street. The project features 306 units total, some of which will be short term stay units. The project also features 17,138 square feet of office co-working space and a single large 13,126 square foot restaurant space at the corner of Florida and Zack St.

The historic Presbyterian Church on the block will be preserved, and become an amenity building for the apartment tower.

The code requires 342 parking spaces and 409 parking spaces are provided.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Ok, there are other renderings, but ask yourself: why would anyone release that as a rendering for a new project in an urban area (or anywhere)?

 

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

First, the parking garage is huge and un-screened.  Second, the building looks very institutional and has nothing really to recommend it other than its size.  Third, there is quite a bit of dead streetscape.  URBN Tampa Bay gives more detail:

Our position on this hasn’t changed. While we like the density, this is a relatively unattractive non-descript design, on the verge of being an eyesore from certain angles. The parking garage is also not covered up well. It’s also a shame the historic church building will be surrounded by parking garage.

Two sides of the project are complete dead zones with no street activation. The application packet itself notes that both the Marion and Polk frontage fall short of the code’s facade transparency requirement (a requirement which states that ground floor walls can’t just be blank walls for x.xx% of the linear facade) so we’ll see what happens there:

“-N. Marion Street (East Elevation) – Garage Frontage: Wall Transparency
Required: 70%
Provided: 7%

– E. Polk Street (North Elevation) – Garage Frontage: Wall Transparency
Required: 70%
Provided: 0%”

Nothing to argue with in that.  We are not opposed to building a relatively large building on this lot.  We just think it could, and should, be done much better.  And the code should be enforced.

This is just not good enough.


Downtown/Channel District/USF – It Opens

The first building in Water Street is now open.

The University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute is officially open.

The institute, a 13-floor building settled on an acre of land on the corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue in Water Street Tampa, held its ribbon cutting on Wednesday. The project was approved in 2015 and broke ground August 2017, on land donated by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

You can see pictures here. To be honest, while we are sure it will be nice for those using it, the building design is not really our favorite (beyond some odd sign design choices, especially for a building that is as prominent and cost as much as this, here and here), but aesthetics are subjective.

At least now one Water Street (-ish) building is open.  We look forward to all the others.


Moffitt – What Gives?

Just before the holidays, something odd went down at one of this area’s points of pride, the Moffitt Cancer Center:

Dr. Alan List, the CEO and president of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, resigned under pressure Wednesday amid a controversy that linked him and others at the hospital to possible exploitation of American-funded research by China.

List was joined by Thomas Sellers, a vice president and director at Moffitt, and four of the cancer center’s researchers, who also resigned abruptly. The departures come during a time of heightened scrutiny by federal agencies of foreign attempts to take advantage of American-backed medical research. Among the investigating agencies is the National Institutes of Health, one of the largest funding sources for medical research in the world.

Timothy Adams, Moffitt’s board chairman, will assume responsibilities for operating the center while a national CEO search is underway.

Needless to say, on the surface, this did not make the facility look good.  On the other hand:

The compliance office at Moffitt had initiated a review of the center’s activities involved with China’s Thousand Talents Program, which the federal government says incentivizes scientists to illegally take information and property developed in the U.S. to China.

A Moffitt spokesman said the launch of the internal investigation was proactive.

Moffitt said it is also reviewing its 12-year partnership with China’s Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital. The relationship between Moffitt and Tianjin was formed prior to the Trump administration. The duo have conducted joint research projects together since 2008. Graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, physician-scientists and research nurses from Tianjin would travel to Moffitt for training, according to Moffitt’s website.

“Unlike other institutions, Moffitt first launched its own investigation then found problems and took serious actions and is working with NIH [National Institutes of Health],” a Moffitt spokesman said.

While having compliance issues, especially at the top, is never a good thing, being proactive and coming clean is.  There is an investigation ongoing, and we are not going to say more about this now.

Moffitt does good and important work that needs to continue apace.  We are glad they caught the problem and hope they get the leadership issue sorted out quickly.  Too many people are depending on them.


Rays

Rays news here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

How much does FDOT charge when both the free lanes and the express lanes are blocked?  Do people get refunds?  Don’t think it happens? See here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

CBS This Morning had a report on the state of airports in the U.S. Even though we did not get mentioned (though neither did Portland), it is a decent report.  You can see it here.


Because We Can

Another nice shot from the Eagle 8 Twitter feed (here https://twitter.com/8_plamison):

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Twitter account

 

January 2, 2020

We decided to extend our holidays a little bit more, so there will be no Roundup this week.

December 26, 2019

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 12-20-2019

December 19, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— HART BRT

— Flexi Lanes

— Roads to Nowhere

— Virgin Trains

— Lakeland

Westshore – How to Redevelop Mall Parking

Westshore – 4600 W. Cypress

Westshore – Austin Center

Downtown – Not a Fitting Encore

East Tampa – Really, No.

USF Area – MOSI and More

Governance/Economic Development

— CRA’s

— Water

Governance/South County/Planning/Politics — Big Bend

Regionalism – Obviously

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

____________________________


Transportation


— HART BRT

As noted last week, HART revealed the first information of a downtown arterial road BRT study/plan. We are in favor of BRT on arterial roads.  Later on in the week, the Times had a longer article on the subject (here).

Hillsborough’s transit agency is refining plans for dedicated bus lanes that would allow riders to travel from downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida area without getting backed up in traffic.

The lanes, which would separate buses from other traffic, are a major component of bus rapid transit — a transit option that usually comes with other amenities like special stations and street-level level boarding.

This is the third bus rapid transit project planned for the region. St. Petersburg is pursuing federal grant money for lanes connecting downtown with the beaches and a regional transportation group is studying a 41-mile route that would link Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties using the interstates.

The bus rapid transit line in Tampa would provide connections with the regional route and with a planned extension of the Tampa streetcar that would reach north to Palm Avenue.

Planners with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority said the goal is to have these premium transit options connect with existing bus routes, bike shares and scooters to build a larger network. Premium transit is service that moves a higher number of riders quicker and farther than other forms of transit.

We are for connecting any such BRT system to other transit (obviously), though we oppose spending any Hillsborough money on the TBARTA “BRT” plan (which the article incorrectly identifies as BRT) in the first place.  And, while we understand some of the limitation of the roads along the route, we also think the article should be clearer that there will not be dedicated lanes along the entire route.  HART needs to be completely up front about what this will and will not be.  Where it is not in dedicated lanes, it is not BRT.  (Though they need to try to find a way around that.)

If you want to see more information, you can visit HART’s study page here with many maps and charts, including the preliminary route concept map here.


— Flexi Lanes

There was news about bike lanes in Tampa:

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s office has announced the addition of protected bike lanes in the city.

We are all for that.

Locations that are currently being studied for protected bike lanes with flexible delineators include:

The lanes will be developed over the coming years, the city stated.

That is a bit limited, but it is a start.  Something is better than nothing, provided the something is done well.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Protected bike lanes are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic via a barrier. In some areas, protection is provided by installing a raised curb such as on Cass Street and Jackson Street in downtown. In areas where a raised curb cannot be constructed, flexible delineators are an option, the city’s announcement stated.

That sounds very good to us.  While we prefer raised curb barriers, we understand they cannot go everywhere, especially all at once.  We are glad the City is moving to a more functional bike lane model.  If only the County would as well and if the two entities’ efforts were fully coordinated, we could really be getting somewhere.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Times had an article on some of the problems with the MCORES (aka Roads to Nowhere) concept.

One of the controversial toll roads approved by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis this year would be a “disaster” for the Florida panther and potentially render the species extinct, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist wrote this year in a candid email to his supervisor.

The road, which is proposed to run from Polk to Collier counties and has been referred to as the Heartland Parkway, would run through the heart of some of the last remaining panther habitat and cause more of the big cats to be killed by cars, the biologist wrote.

Compounding the disaster, he wrote, is that the project’s suburban sprawl would swallow even more of the panther’s dwindling habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has serious, serious concerns about the heartland expressway and likely the two other corridors should this legislative proposal go forward,” wrote John Wrublik, a biologist and transportation specialist in the agency’s Vero Beach office, in March. “This project would have very serious impacts on the Florida panther (basically a disaster for the panther).”

Wrublik also wrote that the road, which would run from Collier to Polk counties, would “potentially jeopardize the species.”

That is not the last word, but it is not good.

Wrublik’s email was not necessarily the official position of the federal agency, which has a mission to preserve and protect endangered wildlife. The agency is expected to do a formal assessment of the project when more details about the proposed roads are known.

“Eventually you guys will get to see us reviewing and evaluating those plans,” Wrublik’s boss, Mark Cantrell, told the road’s task force members on Monday.

But if the agency determines the road poses an existential threat to the panther, it would create a potential legal fight that could doom the entire project, or at the least, dramatically change it, experts said.

Of course, the environmental issues are were predicted, and those concerns are being dismissed. That is logical since MCORES is a political project not a transportation project.  It was not proposed and passed because it is needed or it would have made it through the normal road project vetting process.  Nevertheless, as of now, it still is there:

Galvano expects critics to “definitely understand” why these roads needed to be built by the time they finally are in 2030.

“Do the math. If you’re gaining 900 new residents a day, calculate what that is by 2030 and what that means for roads,” Galvano said, adding that “supporters” of the proposal exist, but don’t get the press opponents do.

“What’s lost on [critics] is that these are forward-thinking corridors,” Galvano added. “The transportation components are focused on innovation and how we operate, how we move people, electric or autonomous vehicles.”

Water-sewer connectivity and fixed broadband access, Galvano added, completes the picture, an “infrastructure skeleton throughout the state that will allow access, help us to manage our natural resources, and relieve some density along our coastline.”

Of course, if so many people are coming to Florida that they cannot be handled in the places where people already live, where people want to live, and which are already being developed, roads in the interior will just fill with those people and provide no density relief on the coastline.  Moreover, we have a hard time reconciling the need to subsidize development in these interior/rural counties if the large numbers of people moving to the state already want to live there.  If the demand is so high, why are they not being developed now and building sewer and water systems using the impact fees and increased tax revenues from all that development? Why does the State need to get intervene and subsidize (especially when it is not doing so for large cities)? And if this is about moving people in developed areas around, why isn’t the state working on alternatives to driving in those areas?

As noted in this MarketWatch piece on sprawl and financing:

Most cities and towns in North America are functionally insolvent. This is not hyperbole. It comes down to a simple question: Is new development producing enough wealth to fund the long-term maintenance of its own infrastructure—let alone public safety and all the other services that we expect government to provide? When we examine these costs and revenue streams, we often find the answer is no.

(You can read more here)  That is true now for the heavily suburban counties and is what MCORES offers our rural counties.

Though, we agree with this:

“We have to be very fiscally conservative in our approach,” Galvano said, “and that includes all aspects of the budget.”

Which is why we think the Legislature should stop spending money on roads that are not needed and were not asked for and stop subsidizing development.  It’s not about liberal or conservative. It is about using limited state funds where the needs presently exist and are not being addressed.

As we have said many times, with the possible exception of connecting I-75 and the Suncoast which could be useful now (though not really where proposed), one day these roads may be needed, but today is not that day.  And there is no indication that they will be needed anytime soon.


— Virgin Trains

There was news about Virgin Trains (formerly Brightline):

“We are continuing to explore the possibility of building a station on Walt Disney World Resort property, which we believe will help transform the region,” Brightline-Virgin Trains senior vice president Ben Porritt said in a statement on Tuesday.

“A proposed station would provide a direct rail connection to Orlando International Airport and serve as the initial segment for Virgin Trains’ future extension to Tampa,” Porritt said. “A Disney station would offer the 126 million visitors and 21 million residents of Florida a car-free option to the state’s most-visited attraction and one of the world’s greatest destinations.”

We assumed they would have such a stop.  The real question is when/if they will finalize a deal to actually come to Tampa.  As the quote says, the Disney stop would be the “initial” segment, implying it would be built first with the rest of the route to Tampa to follow at some later point. We shall see.


— Lakeland

We do not talk much about Lakeland, but this week something caught our eye.

As Lakeland’s downtown grows with more development, so does the need for modes of transit.

The city council voted on Monday to move forward with creating a new intermodal transit center. The new center would replace the 30-year-old Citrus Connection center at 200 North Florida Ave. It would be built to handle the Citrus Connection bus fleet, bicycle and pedestrian paths, future bus rapid transit as well as Virgin Trains and Central Florida commuter rail SunRail if the system were to extend to Lakeland, said Chuck Barmby, Lakeland’s transportation and development review manager.

A possible Lakeland connection for SunRail has been discussed and Virgin Trains is currently in negotiations to use the Interstate 4 envelope to connect Orlando to Tampa via rail; the team considered adding stations along the route.

SunRail maybe all the way to Lakeland, connecting Orlando across Polk County? We see a number of obstacles in the way of completing that, but this area is still fiddling with “BRT” plans chosen because they are cheapest and that do little while Orlando looks to expand its regional footprint.


Westshore – How to Redevelop Mall Parking

We did not have time to full digest this information, but URBN Tampa Bay reported:

BREAKING: New plans have been revealed for the redevelopment of Westshore Plaza Mall.

As we previously speculated, the development is largely similar to the previous proposal, but now features the bank building lot at the northwest corner of Westshore and Kennedy that the developer acquired back in April.

The project features multiple mixed-use buildings topping out at 13 stories and includes the following uses:

– 1,765 residential units
– 240 hotel rooms
– 75,482 net gain of restaurant space
– 91,916 square feet of new retail space*
– 45,000 square foot of grocery store
– 120,000 square feet of medical office
– 363,480 square feet of office space

*The auto center will be demolished and there will be a net loss of 62,084 total square feet of retail space from Westshore Plaza. However, that is due to 154,000 square feet of retail being removed from the mall, and 91,916 square feet of retail space being in the new buildings. 

Here are some renderings:

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

Just as with the original proposal, we like this for the most part.   And we like that it now would extend to Kennedy.  It is difficult to get into details with such a general presentation, but we hope there is protection for pedestrians from the elements.  As for the overall concept, this is how you redevelop a surface parking lot for a mall and is how you make a project that looks out to and connects with the surrounding area.

The rezoning hearing is set for May 14th.

Hopefully, we will get more detail soon.


Westshore – 4600 W. Cypress

The office project at 4600 W. Cypress which we discussed previously (here)  was approved, per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The 10-story mixed-use project planned for 4600 West Cypress Street was APPROVED by the Tampa City Council. The vote was 7-0.

The project includes the following uses:

– 230,000 square feet of office space
– 5,000 square feet of a bank branch
– 15,000 square feet of restaurant
– 10,000 square feet of school
– 10,000 square feet of retail space

When we discussed the proposal previously, we thought it was ok and said:

First, the good.  The building is built to the street and seems to want to activate the sidewalk. Moreover, there are a mix of uses (though we are not sure adult education is really that different from office), and we are not sure about the mixed-use space over the garage.  It also appears that there may be retail space at the base of the garage along the Trask side.

However, we also noted that a few things, especially dealing with the garage, could be made better.  It does not appear anything was changed. That is a shame, though the project is still OK.


Westshore – Austin Center

There was news about Austin Center this week.

Ally Capital acquired the 300,000-square-foot property in early 2019 for $28.9 million. Developed by late Westshore pioneer Al Austin, the office buildings date back to the late 1960s and have been eyed for decades as a large-scale redevelopment — the type of project that would raze all of the buildings and create a mixed-use district on 10.5 acres.

That redevelopment will have to wait, because:

A redevelopment like that will occur at some point in the distant future, Wright told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. But with new office space in the works at Water Street Tampa, The Heights, Midtown Tampa, Tampa International Airport and WestShore Plaza — all at rents that represent a new top-of-market threshold for Tampa Bay — Wright said he thinks an office renovation is the right move for the current market.

So:

Ally Capital Group — the private equity group controlled by Franklin Street founder and CEO Andrew Wright — will spend more than $10 million modernizing the Austin Center’s office space, facades and common areas. The renovation will add a sidewalk that connects all five buildings in the park and improve the traffic flow and arrival experience. A large mural from Tampa artists Illsol will be painted on the side of one of the buildings.

It will be rebranded Westshore City Center. Two new restaurant spaces will be added to the property, in the annex buildings on the southern end of the park. Those buildings could be torn down to make way for new ones, Wright said, or renovated for restaurants, depending on the city’s approval process.

In any event, this is the plan:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While they may be renovating the interiors, as it relates to the area, the plan does not amount to much other than some landscaping changing the name of the complex.

We understand the reasoning for a limited project, but find it disappointing nonetheless.


Downtown – Not a Fitting Encore

There are some updated plans for one of the Encore buildings, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Here’s some updated plans for the next lot to be developed at Encore, located at 1251 Ray Charles Blvd. The project appears to be called Legacy. The project is 5 stories and features 223 residential units. 223 parking spaces a required by code and that is what the plans provide for.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We think it could be bigger, but given the height of the buildings around it, the height makes a certain amount of sense.  However, URBN Tampa Bay had a point:

We oppose the design because there is no retail space. A project of this size should have no issue fitting retail space along Ray Charles Blvd., to match The Reed and Ella across the street to the north. It’s hard to create a vibrant live/work/play area when a block in the middle of the development is single use like this. Apparently standards have dropped since Encore first started building out.

We cannot argue with that.  We understand that maybe not every road in Encore will be a bustling retail avenue, but Ray Charles Blvd., should have retail. (But at least the residents can drive over to Burger King.)


East Tampa – Really, No.

There was also news regarding a self-storage project on East Hillsborough we previously discussed here.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The A/C self-storage project proposed for 1101 East Hillsborough Ave. was APPROVED by the Tampa City Council by a vote of 4-3.

Viera, Gudes, and Maniscalco voted against the project. Hats off to them.

We opposed this project because A/C self-storage facilities are warehouses which are not appropriate in non-industrial zones. These projects are empty husks which do not supply jobs and do not contribute to the local economy, meaning it is a waste of a prime corridor. This particular project also borders Giddens Park to the south, so this will be a warehouse lining a park.

The project was found inconsistent with the code/comp plan by the Planning Commission, urban design department, and the transportation departments…

We would like to note that there will be a 2nd day-time hearing for the project. Usually the 2nd hearing is a rubber stamp, but it appears the neighborhood could still kill this project if they have the will.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This project is out of place.  It was noted that this project added a “community room”, which you can see in the building on the right of the site plan.  That is nice, but does not save the project from being out of place and poor.  Hopefully, the proposal will be stopped in the second hearing.

We have said this previously:

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 do[] 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.

Nothing has changed.


USF Area – MOSI and More

A few months ago we discussed a presentation before the County Commission regarding the MOSI property. (see here).  We went over some conceptual drawings and concluded:

The conceptual drawing is basically a 1990’s suburban office park with MOSI on one side.  It has no imagination and none of the elements in the vision board images.  And it fails to achieve the stated objectives.  If this is a serious idea, they need to go back to the drawing board and try again.

This week the Business Journal reported:

Commissioners on Wednesday will consider two items critical to the district, which has been in the works since 2014: a memorandum of understanding between several key private and public entities to fund the development of the business plan for the district as well as a request for proposals for a master developer to oversee the repositioning of the 74-acre Museum of Science and Industry property.

The MOU is an agreement between the county, city of Tampa, the Tampa Innovation Alliance, USF Board of Trustees, Moffitt, AdventHealth, the University Area Community Development Corp. and New York-based RD Management LLC, which owns the 1 million-square-foot former University Mall. The county’s share of the funding is not to exceed $666,668, or one-third of the allotted $2 million for the business plan.

As you can see in the actual document (here) the money is for a bit more than that.  In any event, there is a major opportunity to at least reimagine this area.  Of course, getting from that conceptual reimagining to actually changing the area (including getting away from the car-centric vision that even new proposals maintain to a large degree) is a very long road.

The second part is this:

MOSI’s 74 acres are in the heart of the district. The RFP will look for proposals that can transform the property into a site that can attract high-wage jobs and technology companies able to partner with USF on research initiatives as well as complementary retail and commercial space.

With its proximity to USF, the MOSI property has been floated as a potential site for a collegiate football stadium.

“It was never formally evaluated for that purpose,” Merrill said of a football stadium. “It’s [the RFP] really to attract major research companies and allow them to have a place to work, live and play that connects with the rest of the district and provides mobility.”

That is all talk unless the County completely reverses form and considers something actually urban.  There is also this issue:

The proposals should also consider MOSI’s ongoing and future operations. A new MOSI facility has been discussed for several years — including with the developer of Water Street Tampa. One conceptual rendering depicted MOSI near Amalie Arena.

MOSI, Merrill said, is working with a science museum consultant on a strategic plan, including what its real estate looks like going forward.

“Part of that would be where are they best suited to locate, and it may be on the site,” he said.

The !P MOU (Try saying that. Really. Try) says the County understands the importance of this:

5. Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Property. County’s commitment to evaluate and consider transforming its MOSI property into a community catalyst site to aid the success of the Uptown Innovation District in attracting (i) technology companies that can partner with USF in commercializing research, (ii) other complementary commercial and retail businesses, (iii) related high-wage jobs, (iv) on-site market-rate and attainable residential housing, and (v) multi-modal transit assets.

That sounds good.  We maintain a very cautious hope, because, while there is a new County Commission, the County has a long history of settling. And, so far, nothing we have seen regarding the MOSI property (or most of the area) has led us to believe that the County administration is really looking in the right direction (though some Commissioners have spoken more in that direction).  We would like to see real vision and ambition that truly addresses the features of the property, including the nearby CSX tracks. We do not need more sprawl and disjointed conglomerations of buildings.  We would rather the land stay empty (or be used as part time soundstages) and be redeveloped later, when the infrastructure is improved  and demand clearer, than build something second rate now. There is a great opportunity with the land, but to settle would be to waste it.

We shall see.


Governance/Economic Development


– CRA’s

When last we left the City and the CRA’s, the Mayor had proposed picking the director of the CRA’s.

What started as a compromise forged of good will and trust Thursday ended back in the familiar grounds of a municipal power struggle as the City Council and Mayor Jane Castor’s office disputed the details.

At issue was Castor’s request to proceed with hiring a high-level director to run the day-to-day operations of the city’s eight community redevelopment areas.

Council members unanimously approved that request — with caveats.

Council member Bill Carlson added a stipulation that the extent of the city council’s power over the director be spelled out in an updated version of the agreement between the city and its community redevelopment agency.

And council member John Dingfelder inserted a provision that a super-majority of council members — five out of seven — would be able to fire the director on six months notice.

This has nothing to do with the present Mayor, but, as a general rule, we are not that fond of having the mayor, with already imperial powers, control the CRA director.  (Without speaking about the present Mayor who just happens to be mayor when this discussion is going on, we generally think less should depend on the specific personality of specific mayors.  More power should be vested in the collective institutions of the city.)  In any event,

But after the vote, a dispute emerged over the hiring process.

Carlson, taking issue with an online Tampa Bay Times report Thursday, said the mayor had agreed to allow council members to select the new director. He also asserted that the council would exercise “joint authority” over the position.

At the end of the meeting several hours after their initial vote, when Carlson summarized the Times article, several of his colleagues appeared to agree with his assessment.

That’s not how the mayor’s office sees it.

The mayor will make the final call on the hire, although she’ll accept input from council members. And the director will report to her, although ultimately council members could fire her pick if they can muster five votes.

And, as has traditionally been the case, the director would make monthly reports to council members sitting as the redevelopment board, said Castor spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

That description sounds like the setup is as it was before.

Legally, council members have the right to hire their own director to run the city’s eight redevelopment areas. These cover some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, but also prized real estate including downtown and the Channel District. But traditionally, the mayor has controlled the management and spending of about $30 million in property tax revenues within their boundaries.

In other words, should the Council choose to exercise completely take over, they can.  But they can do that with many things. It is more a matter of political will and whether this is a fight worth having.  Right now, we are not so sure.  The point has been made.


— Water

There was also news, of sorts, about the toilet to tap proposal that was pulled by the Mayor .

On the campaign trail and in her first months as mayor, Castor talked up the merits of the $300 million project championed by former mayor Bob Buckhorn to convert highly treated reclaimed water into drinking water.

But as a City Council vote approached in early September, the mayor pulled it, out of concern it might sink her overall $2.9 billion infrastructure plan.

Her decision cheered opponents like some environmentalists and the city of St. Petersburg, which saw Tampa’s attempt to become self-sufficient with its potable water supply as a threat to regional cooperation.

But has Castor given up on using up to 60 million gallons of highly treated wastewater it dumps into Tampa Bay each day to slake the thirst of a growing city?

She has avoided taking a definitive position so far. Instead, she has emphasized the need for Florida’s third-largest city to expand its water supply.

You can read the whole article here.

A safe and steady water supply is definitely important.  Whether the toilet to tap program was the most economical and safe way to do it has always been an open question.  As always, we are open to the idea provided it is safe and economical. For whatever reason, the City never presented a real case with real evidence and studies showing that it was.  Until they can do that, the idea should remain dormant.


Governance/South County/Planning/Politics — Big Bend

There was some news about Big Bend Road.

Hillsborough County has two projects to help fix the backups every morning and afternoon for traffic entering and exiting Interstate 75.

One will widen Big Bend Road (County Road 672) and improve the I-75 interchange from west of Covington Garden Drive to east of Simmons Loop.

The other widens Big Bend Road from U.S. 41 to Covington Gardens Drive and Simmons Loop to U.S. Hwy 301.

Both projects are in the initial planning phase, which is expected to be complete in early 2020. Then it moves to the design phase, which typically lasts about nine months before residents begin seeing construction in 2022.

The combined projects have an estimated cost of $76,276,000.

For the first project, the county has teamed up with the Florida Department of Transportation, which will contribute an $20 million to the already $40.5 million dollar project and will be responsible primarily for designing and building the I-75 interchange improvements.

Big Bend Road will go from a four-lane divided road to a six-lane divided road with enhanced bike, pedestrian and bus facilities. Crews will replace the existing bridge on Old Big Bend Road over Bullfrog Creek, enhance crosswalks and signals, reconfiguring the interchange ramps at I-75 and realign Old Big Bend Road.

That’s all well and good (and approved), but it won’t help much for long.  It will open in four years and, based on present trends, be overburdened soon thereafter.  The core problem is the poorness of the planning of the area and, not to mention trying to shove increasing numbers of cars onto the interstate at one point, because that is the only real alternative for getting to things.

Which brings us to an article in the Times last week (here).

A group of Hillsborough county business people has formed a political committee aimed at recruiting and supporting candidates for local offices who will foster a “business-friendly environment” in the county, in the words of its chairman, homebuilder Willy Nunn.

The move appears to be in part a reaction to what some business people view as anti-growth leanings by the new Democratic majority on the board of county commissioners.

The Tampa Bay Business Coalition formed in November, starting with a contribution of $10,000 from Nunn’s Riverview-based company, Homes by WestBay.

Most of those involved in the group’s startup are Republicans, but Nunn said it is a strictly non-partisan organization and will support sympathetic candidates of either party.

It’s too early to say whom the group will support or whom it’s trying to recruit for what races, he said.

Nunn said those involved “are concerned that the parties are not recruiting and generating candidates who understand the context of how the local economy works. We will support candidates that are either Democrat or Republican and probably some of both.”

First, people are entitled to organize politically and advocate for their position.

Second, we do not view the present Commission as anti-growth.  Trying to find a proper way to grow that does not create a transportation mess and burden all the taxpayers is not anti-growth.  We as a County cannot afford more of the past Commissions’ policies in South County or elsewhere.  By the admission of Commissioners who made many of those choices, those policies have left us with billions in needs. (For instance, see here and scroll down to “Another transportation plan shows divisions in Hillsborough leaders” here) If those policies reflect how the local economy works, that economy needs to change. And, as the all the usual suspects show us every year, real economic development goes much farther that “how the local economy works.”  That is what we need.

We could go on, but there is no need.  You can read the article for yourself.


Regionalism – Obviously

There was more on the Tampa/Hillsborough EDC’s decision to offend the other counties in the region while attempting to be super crafty:

The Pinellas County Commission is joining calls for the newly renamed Tampa Bay Economic Development Council to either come up with a more appropriate name or go back to its old one — the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

The EDC assumed the new regionally-focused name earlier this year, but under its rebranding plan did not intend to expand its scope of advocacy to the entire region and will continue working on behalf of economic development interests in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

“Years of effort and expense have established ‘Tampa Bay’ as a regional brand for all economic development interests in our area,” Pinellas County Commission Board Chair Karen Seel wrote in a letter to the EDC on behalf of the commission. “We feel strongly your action undermines that investment and does great harm to the progress we have made on regional collaboration.”

* * *

“The decision to assume the global ‘Tampa Bay’ brand puts these and other collaborative programs in jeopardy,” Seel wrote.

And

Another initiative, known as Team Tampa Bay, brought together economic development organizations from seven counties to market the region to corporate site selection consultants, Seel said.

But she said the Tampa organization’s “decision to assume the global ‘Tampa Bay’ brand puts these and other collaborative programs in jeopardy. We respectfully request the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. reconsider the recent name change in order to eliminate confusion in our regional marketing efforts and restore trust among all local partners.”

However, as expected:

“Our name was changed on Oct. 29 per the approval of our board,” [EDC CEO] Richard said. “We look forward to continuing the positive collaboration we’ve always had with our partners in Pinellas as we work toward mutual economic growth and more inclusive prosperity for our region.”

Like most of the CEO’s responses on the issue, this response was somewhat nonresponsive. What is clear is that he thinks he got one over on all the other entities in the area.  Even if he did, at what cost and for what gain?  We remain amazed at the silliness of the unforced error.


Rays

Rays news here, here, and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We just thought we’d point out another new BRT line that uses arterial roads and not the interstate: the Indianapolis Red Line.  You can check out details here.   And the planned Purple and Blue BRT lines in Indianapolis (see here) do not run on the interstate either. Hopefully, they will be featured in an upcoming TBARTA email newsletter.


Because We Can

Water Street had set up a nice website feature with a scrolling view of the build out here. However, it soon became password protected. There was also a nice video with a big reveal at the end here.  Put it became password protected, too.

Nevertheless, people at SkycraperCity got a screen shot of the big reveal:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Click on the picture to see a much bigger version.

Roundup 12-13-2019

December 12, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— HART BRT

— Ferry

— Roads to Nowhere

— Talking to Developers

Economic Development – Job Posted

— One More Thing

Economy/Economic Development – Tech Town?

Economy – Update

— House Prices

— Rent

— Income

— Finally

Channel District – 111 Meridian

West Tampa/Hyde Park/Downtown – UT Parking Garage

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Downtown – AER

Ybor City – Centro Coworking

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Because We Can

__________________________


Transportation


— HART BRT

While TBARTA has started their outreach informing the public of its flawed “BRT” plan that was not requested by anyone, HART has begun looking in a BRT plan that people have actually been pushing (more information of the study here).

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is in the midst of first phase plans for a bus rapid transit system for the busy Nebraska-Florida corridor.

HART held its first-ever Tampa arterial BRT study public workshop on Monday night at the Seminole Heights Garden Center, where more than 40 guests attended, including HART representatives, commissioners Patricia Kemp and Kimberly Overman and representatives with the project planning firm Tindale Oliver.

HART has been studying a connector to help link some of its busiest corridors for roughly six months. The linkage would be between the Florida, Nebraska and Fowler avenues to connect downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida campus.

HART’s busiest and most popular local bus routes are Route 1 located on Florida Avenue and the MetroRapid on Nebraska Avenue.

“Think about the corridors we are looking at, Florida and Nebraska are parallel on either side, cover a lot of same ground and have similar characteristics. Fowler is our only east-west one … it was just a matter of what we would do with it,” said Joel Rey, principal, vice president and director of transportation and transit solutions at Tindale Oliver. He explained that HART would also look at biking and walking areas in that corridor.

HART officials believe the bustling area needs transit service that is timely and reliable to improve connectivity for east-west routes that cross the USF to downtown Tampa corridor.

Here is a map posted by an URBN Tampa Bay commenter:

From comment on URBN Tampa Bay by Shane Michael Ragiel – click on picture for Facebook post

With that pivot, it is a slightly odd map, which is explained by:

Commissioners at the meeting voiced concerns on why it appears the Florida-Fowler area is being ignored when it presents an opportunity for economic development.

“Back when we did this presentation to HART staff, when we first came up with what the alignment was looking like, staff said, ‘Why aren’t you going up Florida to Fowler?’ That’s a great question because that’s what the ultimate desire is, but there’s three key issues,” Rey explained. One being redevelopment obstacles in that area and not having a transit-supported environment, another being the interchange at 275 and Fowler. That interchange has significant delays.

The third is that there’s a proposed transit station at the southeast corner of Nebraska and Fowler for potential future rail and could make it hard for the BRT system to maneuver around.

Our initial view is that we like the basic idea.  We would like it to run in fully dedicated lanes, though we understand there is a lack of space on parts of Florida (but not necessarily on Nebraska which was rearranged a couple of Mayors ago) for dedicated lanes the whole way.  The lack of dedicated lanes from Violet to Waters (where Florida is two-way without a median) could really slow the system down.  We understand, but do not love the Linebaugh connection.  That is another choke point.

Of course, there are a lot of other details yet to be determined that could affect our opinion one way or another.  But at least there is a real discussion of some, if partial, BRT on arterial roads.  We would much rather put effort and money into this and trying to maximize the BRT portion than an obviously flawed “BRT” plan that ignores the needs of the biggest county in the area and has almost no chance of spurring transit oriented development.


— Ferry

A few weeks back, there was news about the Cross-Bay Ferry:

The Cross Bay Ferry that links St. Petersburg and Tampa is outpacing last year’s ridership numbers.

The ferry carried 11,622 passengers during the month of November, a 25 percent increase over 9,268 passengers during the previous November.

The first thing we thought on reading that was “great, now they can drop the subsidies.”  Then we saw URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

That’s good news. The bad news is that the ferry’s ridership keeps rising the more the schedule is tilted to serving leisure riders on the weekends. Which when it’s costing over $30 dollars per ride in taxpayer subsidies on top of the $8 one way fare riders pay, one has to ask if it’s really an economic win for taxpayers.

On the plus side, with this ridership growth, it only helps make the case for permanent full time ferry service that’s funded with appropriate revenue sources, not money from the county’s general fund or by taking money from HART that would otherwise fund other transit projects.

The ridership also makes an argument for not using the same boats that would be bought by Hillsborough for the South County-MacDill route for the St. Pete service.

More to the point: to us it does not matter how well the Cross-Bay Ferry does. We have always thought a fun cruise on the bay would attract people, especially when most of the cost is being paid for by the government. And, with its schedule, the Cross-Bay Ferry is going to always be a fun cruise, and fun cruises should not be subsidized.

If someone wants to run ferry from Tampa to St. Pete as real transit (which the present operator/company that proposed the ferry plan notably does not want to do), it will need a whole different proof of concept and business plan with a different cost/risk burden distribution.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Times had another article on opposition to the MCORES plan here.  They also had an opinion piece against the plan here. We are not going to get into either of them (even though the comments by the FDOT head in the article are tempting). We will just say that, as of yet, no one has actually presented a reason why these plans are needed now or should be prioritized over actually doing something to address the needs of where people actually live.


— Talking to Developers

The Business Journal had an article about an apartment developer panel discussion.  There were some interesting comments.  We will highlight two.  While we know that this is in the transportation section, if you want to know why local government should not settle:

In September, Crescent sold off Novel Riverwalk for $123 million or $312,000 per apartment. The average income in those apartments is around $125,000, Curran said.

“The median home price in the U.S. is $237,000,” Curran said. “We just sold 830 square foot wood-frame apartments for $312,000 a door.”

But what we really wanted to highlight is this:

Transit-oriented development: Charlotte, North Carolina — one of the Tampa Bay region’s top competitor markets for jobs and talent — is seeing a big movement of development built around transit access, Curran said. . .

“Charlotte’s blowing up from an office perspective and residential perspective along those [rail] lines,” Curran said. “Orlando has been a little less successful, but Tampa’s just devoid of that option, and it’s a shame because there’s a lot of success that’s come to this market. We’ve had a huge amount of success here, but it would be fantastic if there were more success and more focus on a long-term strategy for light rail.”

* * *

Milhaus, Wilson said, is closely following initiatives for a bus rapid transit system in St. Petersburg.

Setting aside that the developers are not discussing building right up against the interstate (see TBARTA “BRT” plan), that all makes sense.  Charlotte’s light rail is far more useful than Orlando’s system, which, as we have noted many times (like most recently, we think, here), is more of a commuter system that has limited frequency.  (And even with that, there is some development in Orlando around some of the stations.)

This is just another example of the message that transit done properly, on arterial roads or with rail, and not in the interstate, will do more than move people.  It drives development.

Moreover:

Curran also criticized Tampa’s parking requirements for apartment development, saying the city has some of the “most onerous, non-environmentally friendly parking requirements. … more and more municipalities are giving you the option of having no parking and let the market drive that demand.”

Especially in the inner core, Tampa really has to address the parking issue.  The idea that buildings are going to have no parking at all is highly improbable. People have cars.  But do we need so much parking and the associated costs?


Economic Development – Job Posted

We did not get to this last week, but there was some major news in Tampa with the selection of a new economic development director.

Mayor Jane Castor filled a crucial post in her administration Thursday with the official who has been in charge of her mayoral transition.

Carole Post, who joined Castor’s team in May to help the mayor assemble key posts, was named administrator of development and economic opportunity. The post formerly held by Bob McDonaugh had been vacant since McDonaugh’s August retirement.

Post, a top aide to New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, will wrap up her current duties as a University of South Florida administrator heading up the Morsani Medical School, which is nearly ready to open on the south edge of downtown.

* * *

“It’s really about unlocking Tampa, unlocking opportunity and doing that all over the city,” Post said.

After the event, she told the Times that she considers affordable housing and workforce development to be as important as attracting major projects like Midtown Tampa, the $500 million development at West Cypress Street and North Himes Avenue where Castor made her announcement.

* * *

“Philosophically, I think you see economic development as not just about buildings. The notion (is) that we want to drive opportunity and vitality through the economic engine across the city in all communities and all areas. Some of them are big high-rises and others are small neighborhoods,” she said  

That last point is a good one with which we agree, and it brought a positive response.

City Council member Bill Carlson, who has been critical of past downtown-heavy development efforts, welcomed Post’s hire.

“Carole Post is the kind of world class talent that the people of Tampa deserve. She will make sure that the city focuses on economic development, not just real estate,” Carlson wrote in a text.

And then there was this from the new director:

“If you create an engine that brings businesses, retains businesses, the byproduct is going to raise all boats,” she said.

That all sounds good, and, if that is where this is going, we are all for it.

Given all that, we are not sure how this fits in:

Making Post’s job easier, Castor said, will be a raft of reforms to the development process ranging from faster inspections and using private inspections to quicken the pace for projects. The city will also launch a pilot program allowing private certified arborists to sign off on development-related tree issues so that the city won’t have to inspect each tree before it’s impacted.

Castor said she inherited a good foundation from mayoral predecessor Bob Buckhorn, but wanted to cut more red tape and make the city more attractive to developers.

She wanted her task force “to focus on immediate ways to cut the red tape and improve efficiencies in dealing with the city.”

She said development fees, some unchanged since 2006, would be evaluated for possible increases or decreases, probably by the end of the year. Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, said any changes would be in line with neighboring jurisdictions and weren’t opposed by builders.

It is not that we think that the City should make things hard for developers (while we think the City should not settle, the actual process should not be overly difficult or bureaucratic.  You can have efficiency and standards at the same time).  We just find it a bit odd that every new mayor seems to feel the need to cut more red tape for developers soon after entering office.  How is it that the red tape is never cut enough?

For instance, the last mayor came in an immediately did this:

The Economic Competitiveness Committee, which Mayor Bob Buckhorn appointed, was made up of 17 lawyers, engineers, developers and builders, plus a City Council member and a neighborhood representative. It began meeting in early July and recommended changes with an eye on repairing the city’s damaged reputation in the business community.

“Over time,” the group said at the start of a 26-page report, “Tampa’s development review and permitting process has become confusing, unpredictable, time-consuming, costly, and in some cases onerous for anyone trying to do business in the city.”

(The member list of that committee can be found here.)  Note that that “economic competitiveness committee” was all about developers and making development easy.  However, if this recent report from the Business Journal is to be believed, the last Mayor’s efforts did not really succeed:

Tampa’s permitting review process poses “significant challenges” to commercial construction, CBRE Inc. says in a new report — but the lack of state income tax and demand for commercial space still leave it well-positioned.

* * *

In Tampa, CBRE highlights both the timeframe for approving building permits as well as the lack of available subcontractors. Tampa’s construction cost index has risen 6 percent since 2014, to 193.6, according to CBRE. That’s still below the U.S. construction cost index of 229.6.

* * *

The report comes just as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor unveiled a plan to streamline the permitting process. The first steps, already underway, include additional staff in the planning and development department as well as making the online permitting process more clear and user friendly. The report doesn’t break down the cost of regulatory approvals by market, but says the approvals process makes up 32 percent of a project’s total cost, citing data from National Association of Home Builders and the National Multifamily Housing Council.

If the present review process poses “significant challenges,” how did previous reform efforts get it so wrong?  And if they did indeed get it so wrong, how come no one mentioned it until now?

In any event:

At the recommendation of an advisory committee . . , the city has also started overhauling parts of its development process to be more transparent and user friendly. Castor on Thursday unveiled short-, medium- and long-term goals for the overhaul.

The city isn’t cutting steps from its development approval process, Post said. Already, the city has added staff to its planning and development services departments and has made the city’s website more user friendly. There are also workshops on how to navigate the online permitting process.

A big focus is on transparency, Post said, and making expectations for construction and development clear from the get-go. A common complaint among restaurant and small business owners is inconsistency in the city’s inspection process. Unexpected issues during the inspection process can cause costly delays in opening.

“A recurring theme was that providing clear and transparent guidance could resolve many common process issues,” the committee’s report says. “For example, if applicants consistently make the same filing errors, provide better instructions to resolve the common point of failure.”

You can see the list of committee members here.

Once again, how is it that the process is never streamlined enough?  Was it not transparent before?  If not, why not?  (What would help make the process really transparent is if the code got a nice upgrade to reflect what the City really wants to be now so everyone could see it up front.)

As we said, we are not against a streamlined and transparent process (providing it still enforces proper rules and is not a free-for-all of poor development), but, and this is not about this Mayor – or any mayor – specifically, we do wonder why the process always needs to be streamlined and made transparent at the beginning of each administration. It just seems very odd.

More broadly, we all know that real estate development is a major function of the City government and that property taxes are a major source of revenue. However, that this is an early focus risks giving the impression that real estate development is still the main focus of economic development efforts.  We are all for good development.  In fact, as any reader will quickly realize, we love good development.  But, as we have pointed out many times and new economic development official basically said above, economic development is not just about buildings.  It is about having businesses that can fill and customers that can frequent business in (not to mention workers who can live nearby and work in) those buildings. That is really where much more energy needs to go.  If you have the demand, the buildings will come.  And without tenants, even the easiest, most transparent system will not be used.

From her statements and some of her other actions, it seems that the Mayor understands that. (And, if anyone at needs a reminder, just look at the County Center building and its history.)  We hope this is just something that was easy to do (though, once again, and this has nothing to do with the present or any other mayor specifically, one has to ask why each mayor does it but the job never seems done) and that the City will focus on the other valid issues she has previously discussed.  We are better than we were, but we are still not where we need to be relative to the competition.


— One More Thing

The Times had an article about Tampa’s resiliency effort, sort of (here).

The Tampa Bay area had a visit from a resiliency and sustainability guru named Henk Ovink and he met with the mayor. Through that, the Netherlands (consulate) down in Miami put together a government-sponsored opportunity for communities to come over there and see what the Netherlands had done. The South Florida area was contacted, the Tampa Bay area, Houston and New Orleans.

You can read the article to see some of what was learned, but we will highlight this:

The big lesson they shared was that you need natural defense systems like sand and mangroves and you don’t want to build a ‘hardscape.’ It’s not going to survive. You just can’t build a wall around everything is what they said. You can use non-natural barriers in certain locations, dams and dikes, but what you can’t do is just ring with hard surfaces. They showed evidence of hundreds of years ago where they tried to do things like that and the unintended consequences — the salt water intrusion, those kinds of things.

In other words, while it goes against Florida’s historical (and some present) tendencies (see MCORES), developing every last square foot of land is not really a good idea.


Economy/Economic Development – Tech Town?

There was some interesting and contrasting news about the local tech scene recently.  First,

A recent report by CompTIA, a nonprofit technology trade association, ranked Tampa among the top 20 best cities for information technology jobs in the U.S. 

To compile the rankings, CompTIA looked at the cities with populations over 250,000 that had the most job postings for tech jobs between August 2018 and July 2019. From there, the top cities were ranked by their cost of living, number of postings for open IT positions and projected job growth over the next year and next five years. 

Tampa ranked as the 19th best tech city, one spot behind Jacksonville, the only other Florida city to make the top 20. The Big Guava ranked high because of its 6 percent projected job growth over the next five years. The city also had 43,151 tech openings in the last year, which affirms a recent report by Burning Glass, which found Tampa was among the top markets looking for tech talent.

As we all know, our cost of living in absolute numbers is low relative to other places (though not relative to our salaries).  We are a bit dubious that the 43,000 “tech” openings (not jobs, openings) are all what most people think of as tech jobs: programmer, engineer, etc.  Other surveys of the tech job scene have included customer service jobs and other jobs at “tech” companies, which we do not consider tech jobs. (Also of note is that the report deals with metro areas, not the City of Tampa. “ . . . CompTIA Tech Town Index takes a deep dive into metropolitan areas . . .”)

This is the blurb Tampa got in the press release (here, where you can also get the report):

. . .Tampa (no. 19) has been hard at work putting attractive tax structures in place and developing innovative research centers to entice tech businesses.

Do with it what you will.

In any event, being a tech town sounds great, especially if you get to replace Trenton, NJ; Madison, WI; Des Moines, IA; and Lansing, MI (yes, Trenton was on the list last year, probably because of Princeton and all the tech around it, which is in the Trenton metro area).

So, there is that. But there is also this from a Times columnist:

Cities covet high-tech jobs. Economic development professionals talk about them like they are the holy grail of the modern employment landscape. They pay well, attract young people and are perceived to be less vulnerable to automation.

Creating a flood of tech jobs in any given city isn’t easy. In fact, it’s so hard that only a handful of metro areas have pulled it off, leaving places like the Tampa Bay area to fight for scraps.

How bad is the imbalance? From 2005 to 2017, the country created 256,063 jobs in what the authors of a new study called the innovation sector — 13 of the highest-tech industries, including satellite telecommunications and semi-conductor and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Five metro areas — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego — accounted for more than 90 percent of the job growth. Another 35 metro areas posted minuscule gains. The rest of the 382 metro areas broke even or saw their slice of the pie shrink, according to the study released Monday from the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

(You can find the report here.) Needless to say, that sounds quite a bit different. (It is worth noting that, while Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach is listed on page 18 as a “superstar metro area” where these jobs are concentrated, the Tampa Bay area is only mentioned on the list of metro area job increases in an appendix).  As does this:

The Tampa Bay area has picked up 1,789 innovation sector jobs since 2005, the study found. Still, we didn’t increase our share of the total. We remain a blip, though we have lots of other blips around the country to keep us company.

(The very definition of improving relative to our past but not relative to others)

So which report to believe?  Well, we assume there are more jobs in the Tampa Bay area than there were before.  However, truth be told, that does not mean that the jobs really involving tech/innovation – where the money is – have really grown that much.  This is how the report defines those jobs:

The “innovation sector” as discussed here is an especially high-tech subsector of the “advanced industries” sector, an earlier delineation of America’s highest-value industries by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

Innovation industries” encompass America’s 13 highest-tech, highest-R&D industries. Selected from among the 50 advanced industries, the 13 innovation industries represent a cohort whose R&D expenditures exceed $20,000 per worker and have a STEM-worker share of 45%. The 13 innovation industries include:

(pg. 18 of the pdf) That is not to say that people are not working to build those sectors (and there are some successes like this seems to be.), but, as the report notes, they are clustered in a limited number of metro areas.

Too many college-educated workers are flowing to a small handful of cities, they said, leaving other metro areas to make do with a thinner talent reservoir. The cost of living and doing business in the five tech hubs is also skyrocketing, they said.

“The result is that investments flow to places such as Bangalore, Shanghai, Taipei, or Vancouver, rather than Indianapolis, Detroit, or Kansas City,” they said.

To remain competitive, the authors suggested a massive federal effort to transform 8 to 10 metro areas into vibrant, low-cost innovation hubs. The move would include $100 billion in federal spending over 10 years on research, tax benefits, workforce training, transportation improvements and other programs.

They identified 35 metro areas that have the right mix of size, educated workforce and established track record for innovation to warrant the investment. Madison, Wis., Minneapolis, Minn., and Albany, N.Y., ranked highest.

The Tampa Bay area didn’t make the cut. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, with its aerospace industry, was the only Florida metro area to make the list.

The first sentence goes once again to the talent issue in this area.

All we will say about the targeted investment concept is that the politics of choosing champions would get very messy.  Major Florida metros may not be listed as potential spots, but, for a variety of reasons, they would be hard to ignore, though the in-state fighting would also be a bit crazy.  For that reason alone, it is problematic.

But, for us, the real point is that, for all the rhetoric, the Tampa Bay area is just not relevant to this report.  But the report is relevant to us, especially things like this:

Agglomeration economies refer to the external benefits that accrue to firms when they locate in urban areas. There are two kinds of agglomeration benefits, as we have seen: urbanization effects and localization ones. The former refers to effects that benefit all firms in a region, including good transportation systems, broad and deep labor markets, high-quality health care, an enjoyable quality of place, and other livability factors. For example, in a more globalized economy, having an international airport with an array of reasonably priced international flights is much more important than it was 40 or 50 years ago. And these urbanization advantages build upon themselves: A metropolitan region with a more robust international air hub, for example, attracts more companies whose workers travel internationally. That, in turn, leads airlines to provide even more flights, including nonstop flights, which draw in more companies valuing this factor, and so on.

Localization economies, in contrast, refer to factors that provide value for a particular industry. These include a specialized labor force, the ability to share machinery, access to specialized suppliers, regional research institutes, venture capitalists, and professionals (e.g. law firms) with specific industry knowledge, and the ability to learn from competitors through “knowledge spillovers.” These industry-specific localization benefits are what people usually think about when they refer to the special vibrancy of tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, Boston, and Seattle.

(Pg. 37 of the pdf). Unfortunately, in the past, this area has neglected things like good transportation and international flights while call centers were one of the larger focuses of the local labor force.  Yes, people have learned that was a mistake, but it put us at a disadvantage that still has to be fixed.  And, as can be seen in much transportation planning, not all lessons have been adequately learned.  The columnist goes on:

The report is another reminder that Florida and the Tampa Bay area must keep making strides when it comes to education and innovation or they risk losing the slice of high-tech jobs they have now.

True, but the report is also a reminder that everything (including transportation) is connected and those interested in really developing the Florida economy have to ask themselves:

if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Because that is what we are really talking about.  And every report like this provides another answer.  Doing things on the cheap and ignoring the factors that really attract such businesses and the talent that builds, brings, and supports them is a recipe for further underperformance and marginalization in the discussion.


Economy – Update


— House Prices

It is time to check in with a few economic indicators.  First, a little housing.

Growth in home values for Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranked among the top of the nation’s 35 largest markets in October, according to a report from residential real estate website Zillow Group Inc. (NASDAQ: Z).

Home values in Tampa metro area grew at the sixth highest pace in October, according to Zillow’s market report. The median value of a local home increased to $221,100 — up 5.3 percent from a year ago. Orlando also saw the 10th highest growth, up 4.5 percent from last year.

Or you could choose this report:

Tampa Bay ranks sixth among U.S. metro areas in the increase in single-family home prices. Between the third quarter of 2018 and the quarter ended in September, house prices rose 8.1 percent, according to a new report by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The only areas with higher rates of increase were Boise City, Idaho; Tucson; Honolulu; Grand Rapids, Mich., and Memphis, Tenn. The Miami area was the only other Florida metro area in the top 20, ranking 13th.

Either way, house prices growth is outpacing wage growth anywhere from “by a bit” to “quite a bit.”


— Rent

So how about rent?

According to a new report from online rental site Apartment List, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Tampa Bay is now $1,287, which is significantly more than the national average of $1,191.

This jump in local rental rates represents a 2.3% spike over the past year, placing Tampa Bay’s rental increase as the 10th fastest growth rate among the 100 largest cities in the country, says the study.

Though Tampa Bay rental prices stayed relatively flat in November, it’s worth noting that this jump in rates isn’t exclusive to just the last 12 months, it’s been happening for nearly 5 years. According to the same study, rental rates in Tampa have grown by 24% since 2014, which outpaces the national average of 11.3%.

Which leads into this:

Nearly 800,000 Florida renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 40 percent of their income for rent. In the Tampa Bay area, cost-burdened renters make up nearly a third of all renters.

While we like all the development around urban centers, those units are usually on the higher end. There is still a problem.


— Income

That brings us to the other major housing factor – income.

The typical worker in the Tampa metro area earned $33,248 last year, according to the one-year version of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, which was released this fall.

That puts Tampa Bay in 44th place for median worker earnings among the nation’s 53 major metropolitan areas. Orlando and Miami ranked behind Tampa at Nos. 52 and 50. Jacksonville ranked the best of Florida’s cities at No. 42.

Needless to say, that is bad.  Or you could put it this way:

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. The salary data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the rent prices are from Zillow. All data is from May 2018, the most recent available.

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.

Or maybe this:

While Tampa is often touted as one of the nation’s most affordable metropolitan areas, a new list shows that might not be true for the state of Florida as a whole.

The Sunshine State is No. 45 on planning website Theseniorlist.com’s ranking of where paychecks stretch the farthest.

According to the list, which was created using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Floridians spend 87.9 percent of their average income per capita on things like housing, utilities, food, clothing, health care, transportation and insurance.

In any event, that is nothing new, even if it gets lost in the sales pitches.  It has been a persistent issue.


— Finally

That all makes one wonder about affordable housing (and when we say affordable, we mean affordable, not just subsidized).  There was a decent editorial from the Times about affordable housing which you can read here.

How do we solve this?

There’s no clear solution, but there are a number of small ways local governments can help. Streamline a better process so people can more easily go through the public housing system. Create more public housing opportunities that are actually desirable for tenants. Make affordable housing a priority in city and county governments, like the Clearwater City Council, which recently sold city-owned land near downtown Clearwater to a developer who will turn the property into 81 units for renters making between 30 and 80 percent of the median area income. Enact local ordinances that ban discrimination by “lawful source of income,” which includes vouchers. And create housing opportunities that serve those in the middle-class. For too many Tampa Bay families, affordable housing remains out of reach.

Contingent on various circumstances, that is all relatively sound (if focused mostly on subsidized), but there are other things that can be done as well, like lower or eliminate parking minimums, at least in urban areas. There could also be higher allowed density (at least for workforce housing) so that developers have a reason to build more units.  URBN Tampa Bay had a few more ideas:

Just to throw some more fodder out there for the discussion… How about higher wages? How about reducing build requirements that raise housing costs, like on-site parking? How about by-right upzoning of lots zoned for single family housing, which can be developed with a slate of pre-approved plans for duplexes and triplexes with minimal red tape? How about incentivizing the repurposing of overbuilt suburban retail into workforce housing?

There are all kinds of ways to increase the supply of housing at prices the local workforce can afford. Does the community have the political will to follow through, that is the question.

Of course, it does not have to be (and probably should not be) every idea in every neighborhood or on every block.  There is no silver bullet.  We need to try a number of ideas and focus on the ones that work best in this area.  (And we need the Legislature to put the money designated for affordable housing towards affordable housing.)  However, we need much more than we have now.

And it all works better with decent transit in sufficient quantities that people can get around without needing to spend so much on cars.


Channel District – 111 Meridian

There was news about the 111 Meridian apartment/storage project which we have discussed and opposed (see for example here and here).

Lee Partners of New England Managing Partner and commercial broker Bruce Lee, working on behalf of Kurian Limited Partnership, has brokered the sale of 101 N. Meridian Avenue a one- acre parcel in the Channelside District of downtown Tampa Florida for $6,075,000.

* * *

The 101 N Meridian site was combined with 111 N Meridian Avenue and the City of Tampa approved  a mixed-use development project consisting of a total of 460,000 sq ft of retail, multifamily, and self-storage components for the project.  Construction is projected to commence in 2020 with completion scheduled for 2021-2022.

We still believe that the Channel District is not the place for self-storage, but we also don’t think people should be welcomed to downtown Tampa with a Burger King drive-thru, either.


West Tampa/Hyde Park/Downtown – UT Parking Garage

URBN Tampa Bay reports that UT is looking to build a parking garage next to the lacrosse field.

The University of Tampa wants to construct a new standalone parking garage on campus.

We don’t think UT (or anyone) should be allowed to build a single-use parking garage that doesn’t allow for uses on top and/or the ground floor of the structure.

The garage would replace Gilchrist Avenue, some surface parking, and some green space.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We have mixed feelings about this garage.  As a general principle, we support URBN Tampa Bay’s position on it.  This is a wasted opportunity to have roof or ground floor usage (or both). It is just a bland garage.  What mitigates that objection somewhat is the actual location: squeezed between the CSX tracks and the lacrosse field.  In other words, the lot is cut off from most of the surrounding area, especially Kennedy.

The truth is that, while development on UT’s campus is definitely impressive, they have a strange tendency to cut the campus off from the surrounding area.  For an urban campus, it has surprisingly little effect on the immediately surrounding area (while the housing built for UT students downtown is definitely having an effect, that is not a UT project.)  We would love to see a real, vibrant university district grow around the campus.


Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Speaking of vibrant urban areas and a university, the Times had a sneak peak of the USF Med School in downtown.

About 1,800 students, faculty and staff will fill the 13-story tower when the next semester begins Jan. 13. With 395,000 square feet of space, it has been billed as a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility connecting the medical school with nearby Tampa General Hospital and other downtown destinations.

While it does not actually connect with TGH, it is closer, and we are sure it will be a nice building with some nice views (at least for now).

From the Times – click on picture for article

USF’s Heart Institute will move into the building in February, and will have dedicated labs and collaborative space focused on cardiovascular research. USF’s physician assistant program will move into the building in May 2021. The university’s Taneja College of Pharmacy will occupy the 12th floor and will start classes there in the fall of 2021.

Tampa General Hospital signed a $20 million lease to operate an urgent care clinic and an imaging center on the first floor of the building. The clinic will open in April and the imaging center in July. The hospital also will have some space on the unfinished floors of the building to develop as clinical and office space at a later date.

Also of note:

The building will cost $189 million. University officials originally earmarked $152 million for construction and design in 2015. The USF board of trustees board revised the budget to $172.9 million in 2017, when the school decided to add two floors. Three floors will not be open when the building welcomes students and faculty next month.

More important to us is that it is first building in Water Street to open.  We will not know how well it really works until others open.


Downtown – AER

There was news about the AER (aka Straz Tower) project:

In September, the project reached a critical milestone: The city transferred ownership of that parcel to ALV, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed in mid-October. The local developers who were originally part of the team behind AER assigned their rights to ALV years ago, Tracy said.

The demolition of the Cass Street bridge — currently underway — is the first step in the construction process. After that, the roadway reconfiguration will take four to five months, and Tracy said he hopes to begin vertical construction by June. It’s a 24-month construction process, and the tower could wrap up construction by mid-2022.

On Oct. 7, ALV took out a $4.25 million loan from City National Bank of Florida, according to Hillsborough property records. In September, the city approved an agreement with ALV for improvements to the Tampa Riverwalk to be made concurrent with the construction necessary to carve out a parcel for the 33-story apartment tower.

ALV is still finalizing the design of the tower, Tracy said, so it hasn’t yet sought bids for general contractors. The larger units will be specifically marketed to downsizing baby boomers, with floor plans as large as 1,335 square feet. ALV is projecting rents of $2.70 per square foot.

As we have noted before, we are not enamored with the large, freestanding parking garage (which was not in the original) facing the Riverwalk (though at least it has decent screening), the narrow alley, and the funny hat of the latest redesign.  We hope they fix those things (though it is unlikely at this point).  If you are going to have a building on the Riverwalk on what was City land, it needs to be very attractive, not just OK.


Ybor City – Centro Coworking

Centro Ybor is going through some changes.

Centro Ybor’s former movie theater will become the second in-town Industrious coworking space, the company announced Tuesday.

Industrious, which has 90 locations nationwide, and investment firm Third Lake Capital’s advisory arm — Third Lake Partners — will together convert the former AMC theater into a 45,000-square-feet flexible working space.

Industrious opened its first Tampa office at the SunTrust Financial Center in 2017.

* * *

Kelmer said even after expanding to a second floor in the SunTrust building, it has continued to have a long waiting list. Small startups, other businesses and individual workers use coworking spaces to fill office needs without having to sign rental agreements with landlords or worry about office upkeep.

All that coworking space will be in addition to the troubled We Work’s new local space, more space at Midtown, and

Nearby in the Channel District, another former movie theater is going through similar renovations. The new offices, likely to be coworking spaces at Sparkman Wharf will take over the former movie theaters at what was previously called Channelside Bay Plaza. Both projects require construction teams to punch holes in the walls to create windows.

We have no strong opinion one way or the other regarding coworking space (though we are not so fond of the hype surrounding some providers).  If it fills underused buildings with good business and creates activity, that is fine with us. We assume there is local demand for coworking space, though we are not sure there is demand for all that space.  Time will tell.


Rays

This week’s Rays news is here, here, here,  and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was news about Kansas City transit:

Kansas City is poised to become the largest city in the country to eliminate bus fares.

The Kansas City Council on Thursday enthusiastically endorsed the idea, voting unanimously to direct the city manager to identify up to $8 million from the city budget to fund free bus service.

Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the measure along with Mayor Quinton Lucas, acknowledged the importance of the change.

“I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city,” Bunch said.

The Kansas City streetcar, which has two proposed expansions, is already free.  You can read more here.  Interestingly:

The zero-fare option would only apply to Kansas City, Missouri busses, even though Ride KC serves the entire metro area, which is split across seven counties in two states.

We know that the free streetcar in Tampa caused a boom in ridership.  We will see what happens across all of KC’s buses.


Because We Can

A few more nice shots from Eagle 8’s Twitter feed (here):

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

 

Roundup 12-6-2019

December 5, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— HART

— Scooters

— St. Pete Downtown Trolley

— TBARTA

— One More Thing

Governance/Infrastructure – RFQ

Westshore – On Hold

Westshore-ish – Loft at Midtown

Downtown – The Little Church Amongst the Development

Ybor City – Hotel Update

West Tampa – For Sale

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Jade

Economy – Healthcare

Port – Cruising

Built Environment – And More About the Trees

St. Pete – 400 Central

Pasco – A Little Global Exposure

Bucs – A Modest Proposal

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Memphis

— About Those Air Taxis

Because We Can

___________________


Transportation


— HART

As previously noted, an investigation of a whistleblower report regarding the HART CEO is underway. (see here)

An investigation stemming from a whistleblower complaint against the CEO of Hillsborough’s transit agency is expected to stretch into the new year.

Agency attorney David Smith had hoped the investigation of Ben Limmer would be completed by Monday’s board meeting but he told the Tampa Bay Times this week that January is “the best we could hope for.” February’s board meeting is also a possibility, Smith said.

Smith has said the complaint involves procurement processes, vendor relations and related matters but the agency has refused to provide any other details.

We have no details on the complaint, but there are articles here, here, and here.


— Scooters

There was a slew of scooter news.  We are not going to get into all of it, but some was of interest.

People have used smartphone apps to unlock about 600,000 trips on the newest transportation fad to hit Tampa Bay. Riders have traveled nearly 700,000 miles through Tampa’s downtown.

Four companies — Bird, Jump, Lime and Spin — launched service in May, agreeing to a set of guidelines and restrictions drafted by city of Tampa staff. Scooters must start each day in designated corrals. Each company can deploy a maximum of 600 a day. And people are banned from riding them on some of Tampa’s most popular walkways — Bayshore Boulevard, the Riverwalk and Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.

But compliance with the no-ride zones has varied among the four providers.

In all, people rode scooters in prohibited areas more than 1,150 times in September and October, according to data provided by the city. That’s less than 1 percent of the total rides during those two months.

That is not bad.

The Riverwalk saw the greatest number of offenses, accounting for two-thirds of them during the two-month period.

We are not surprised about the Riverwalk.  We have also seen scooters in some odd places, like just sitting on the side of the road in Robles Park.  But still, the number is relatively low.  That does not account for people on sidewalks where they are allowed, though, ideally, they should not be.  That brings us to URBN Tampa Bay’s take on these stats:

We have two diverging points to make here...

One, imagine if electeds of the past would’ve cared to listen to planners and transportation advocates when we told them to get serious about the issue of ped/bike infrastructure several years ago, because a personal mobility revolution was coming thanks to new technology (and here it is). Leaders of the past were so useless on transportation that the community had to go out and pass its own charter amendment to make it happen. If we had high quality sidewalks and bike facilities already in place, the issue of conflicts between travel modes would be reduced.

A solid take.  If we had proper infrastructure for bikes, the scooters could go there, where they would make much more sense than competing with pedestrians for space on sidewalks (and dealing with unevenness in sidewalks, power/light poles, street signs, and tree planters.)  Of course, there is provision for more bike infrastructure in AFT but that is in the courts.

And the second issue we want to mention… According to the data, out of roughly 600,000 total trips taken by e-scooter since Tampa’s pilot program started, 1150 of them violated geofencing rules. Or in other words, 99.8% of the time, scooter users ride where they’re supposed to.

Meanwhile, studies show that about 15% of drivers break the law on any given trip they take. In fact, drivers are so persistent in refusing to drive safely, that traffic engineers design roads with this assumption of law breaking built in, costing society billions in extra expense just on roadway design alone. Maybe the Times should write about that, instead of trying to vilify scooter users who are riding where they’re supposed to over 99% of the time?

We think both scooters and cars are valid concerns though the routine ignoring of driving rules gets proportionally less coverage.

Which brings us to an article from Smithsonian:

But the kudzu-like growth of scooters has also tangled urban life. City officials complain the firms don’t manage the behavior of riders, who are generally not supposed to ride on sidewalks but frequently do, enraging pedestrians (and sometimes plowing into them). Riders are also supposed to park scooters neatly upright, but when some are inevitably strewn about on sidewalks, they become an obstacle. And on America’s badly maintained roads, fast-moving scooters aren’t terribly stable, and the companies don’t provide helmets with each ride. Hitting a bump or pothole can send riders flying, knocking out teeth or even causing traumatic head injuries.

The sidewalk issue is an issue, no doubt (we have had to dodge scooter riders on the sidewalks innumerable times, though, as noted, in Tampa scooters are allowed on the sidewalks).  The article goes on to discuss the development of bicycles and the issues that arose with them (article here) Circling back to scooters:

City officials can be dubious, though, given the chaos that has accompanied the arrival of scooters. For example, Nashville allowed the firms to set up shop in 2018, but a year later, after seeing scooters strewn about and accidents, Mayor David Briley “believes that scooters have been a failed experiment,” a City Hall spokesman told me in an email. Briley proposed banning them; the city council voted to halve the number instead—from 4,000 to 2,000—and asked the scooter firms to manage their customers better. Atlanta banned them at night. Public opinion seems bimodal: People either cherish or despise them. A few riders told me they started as fans, only to change their minds after experiencing terrible accidents—including one woman I emailed who spent months recovering from brain damage.

Are these just growing pains, like those that accompanied the rise of the bicycle? Possibly: It took years for protocols and regulations on bike-riding to emerge—though one difference today is the on-demand scooters are deployed not by individual owners, but by huge, high-tech firms seeking to blanket the city and grow rapidly. When people actually own their scooters, they worry about carefully storing and riding them. On-demand users don’t, and the firms seem willing to tolerate the resulting equipment damage. As Carlton Reid—author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars—points out, the fight for bicyclists’ rights was a genuinely grass-roots movement. “The difference now is the companies are doing this—it’s Uber, it’s these companies that own this, the Limes and the Birds,” he notes. On the other hand, having scooters distributed all around town is part of what helps them become widely used, rapidly.

Some argue that cars are the problem: We give them so much space there’s little left. Given the emissions of automobiles, and how routinely cars kill people, they shouldn’t enjoy such largess, argues Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, a think tank in New York City. He’s in favor of scooters, and thinks cities should build more bike lanes—to give scooters a non-sidewalk place to ride safely—and reallocate one curbside car-parking space per block for micromobility parking and charging. Scooters do reduce car use, he argues: When Portland, Oregon, studied how residents used the scooters, it found 34 percent of the trips replaced a car trip.

In sum, we are not opposed to scooters at all.  We are opposed to inconsiderate scooter usage.  But we are opposed to people in cars who completely ignore people on bikes or walking, too.  The real point is that the infrastructure needs to be built to accommodate choices.  Other cities (often in other countries) show that multi-modal systems can be built and work, but there has to be the political will and vision.  And it cannot be the form over function that has plagued this area.  It is not that hard to do it right, but you have to want to.


— St. Pete Downtown Trolley

We would not normally discuss a rubber wheeled “trolley,” but this week it has application to broader transit planning.  ABCactionnews had an article about the St. Pete Downtown Looper “Trolley.”

Ridership for St. Petersburg’s Downtown Looper Trolley has doubled in ridership, from last year to this year, according to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

In recent months, it’s actually tripled in ridership, according to Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA.

Downtown St. Pete is doing well, but that level of increase still seems odd.  What is going on?

“What we did to make the ridership double was we made the service so much better and easier for people and tourists to use,” Miller said.

The Looper’s 15-minute service runs around downtown St. Petersburg seven days a week, and is always free of charge.

Miller said PSTA increased the frequency, or how fast the trolleys come, making it more attractive to all sorts of riders.

“We added many more destinations so that not only tourists ride it, but also workers and residents who live here in downtown St. Pete,” Miller said.

As URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Frequency matters a lot when it comes to transit viability, by actually making it practical to use . . .

* * *

As you can see, the article also mentions more stops were added catering to residents (as opposed to placing the stops for tourists). When transit is designed for residents, those are recurring users who can work it into their routine, and take cars off the road. This is the gold mine for any sort of transit’s ridership numbers and the best value that can be had from investments in transit.

It does not hurt that it is free.

But aside from that, if it goes where people want to go and they do not have to wait long for it, there is a much better chance they will use it.  And if it goes to AND from where residents want to go over and over, they will use it more than a few times.  That is what transit should do.  It is not about tourists, though tourists can use it.  Real transit is much more about residents.


— TBARTA

TBARTA recently had a press release about, well, TBARTA.

In a special workshop session, the governing board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority met to discuss TBARTA’s purpose and vision in developing regional transit across Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Those decisions are an important part of the Regional Transit Development Plan that TBARTA will deliver to state transportation officials next year.

We have an opportunity to transform TBARTA into an authority with meaningful regional transit leadership and clear responsibility for regional transit services,” said David Green, TBARTA’s Executive Director. “It certainly would be easier to do nothing, but there are many reasons we have to change. This is an opportunity to set a new course.”

The meeting provided TBARTA’s board an opportunity to provide high-level direction in a multitude of areas, including regional transit planning, funding, operations and branding. Questions such as “What defines regional transit in Tampa Bay?”, “How should TBARTA coordinate services with local transit agencies?”, and “How should regional transit service across the entire five county area be funded?” came up for discussion.

We are all for regional transit planning, provided that the planning produces good plans that meet the needs of the region (which the “BRT” plan proposed by TBARTA is/does not).  But we are not going to get into all that now.  You can read about it in the article here.  There was one interesting thing in the article:

How to fund and financially sustain regional transit was a central topic for much of the conversation. TBARTA has studied regional transit operations in six peer cities, including Atlanta, San Diego, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Phoenix, to see how they make it work. In each instance, local funding sources are dedicated for regional transportation development and operation. Board members agreed there is a similar need for TBARTA.

“Down the road, I’d like to discuss the possibility of independent taxing authority for TBARTA, for regional transit projects,” Holton said. “Other regions have followed that model, and we could benefit from their experience.”

“We’ve got to start thinking about a transit tax, or a source of funding,” said Manuel. “I’m sure Atlanta did, I’m sure Orlando did, I’m sure Miami did, they’ve all found their way to a continuing source of funding, and then they moved their transit projects along. It’s not going to work any other way.”

“It seems if we could ever get there, if TBARTA had taxing authority, it would be simpler,” said Kathryn Starkey, TBARTA Board Member and Pasco County Commissioner.

First, of all the counties in the region, Hillsborough did pass a tax in part to fund transit, and now it is stuck in the courts and is opposed by the very Legislature (sort of) that would have to give TBARTA authority to tax. (We admit we may have missed it, but we could not find the TBARTA position on the lawsuits.) Second, until TABRTA comes up with real plans that actually serve the needs of the region, including the most populous and central county in the region, why should they be able to tax anyone?  The metro areas listed in the quote all had real plans that served real populations and dealt with real needs. We are not opposed to paying taxes if we know what we are getting, but why should Hillsborough tax payers tax themselves more to get nothing? Regional is fine, but it is not regional if it ignores the needs and desires of the biggest, most central county.

If TBARTA wants authority, it needs to earn it. Come up with a real plan that serves real needs, then we can talk.

— One More Thing

Speaking of TBARTA, you can give your opinion regarding its “BRT” plan at workshops coming up (we are too late for the Pasco/Hernando one held on Dec. 5):

Tuesday, December 10, 4:30-6:30pm – Tampa
International Plaza – Corporate Center 3
4221 West Boy Scout Road, Tampa 33607

Wednesday, December 11, 4:30-6:30pm – St. Petersburg
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
3201 Scherer Drive, St. Petersburg 33716

Finally, the ABCactionnews article linked above has this talking point from TBARTA:

Cities in the U.S. now operating bus rapid transit include Eugene, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. Cities operating freeway-based bus rapid transit service include Minneapolis, Seattle, Cincinnati and San Diego. New service is being planned in Miami, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Kansas City and Albuquerque, among others.

We will just address the “freeway-based” bus rapid transit service listed because that is what TBARTA proposes. First, if it does not have a dedicated lane it is not BRT.  Second, of all those cities listed, only Cincinnati does not have an rail system forming the spine of its transit.  Seattle and Minneapolis are expanding their rail right now.  TBARTA justifies its “BRT” plan as the future spine of a regional transit system, but the examples just do not support that idea (and see also Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country below).

That is just one more reason we maintain that Hillsborough should not give any money towards TBARTA’s poorly conceived idea.  We are all for building transit, but we are against bad ideas that, like the “BRT” plan, are picked just because they are cheap and that do not serve the real needs of the area. (BTW, an express bus is cheaper and would accomplish the same.) Just doing something to be seen to be doing something is a great way to waste money now and cost even more when we have to address the real needs later.

TBARTA’s “BRT” plan is a bad plan chosen simply because it is cheap.  It is settling, and this area deserves better.


Governance/Infrastructure – RFQ

There was news about a big RFQ from the City:

New infrastructure projects are slated for Tampa neighborhoods and the city has issued its first advertisement for a design-build firm to work on what it’s calling the Comprehensive Infrastructure Project.

This is the first of approximately 10 neighborhood infrastructure projects expected over the next 20 years, the city’s release states.

The proposed budget is estimated at $200 million, according to the request for qualifications.

The city has identified East Tampa, Forest Hills, MacFarland Park and Virginia Park as the neighborhoods where the projects will take place. The selection was made based on infrastructure needs for those areas.

The historic effort will coordinate four major programs

The project includes design and construction, performing public relations, improvements for water, wastewater, stormwater and transportation infrastructure, which will all be performed at the same time for the selected locations, the release said.

The RFQ is here.  (We could not find any mention of the streetcar in the RFQ.  It may be there, but we did not see it.)  There is some needed work involved, from the water/sewer system to road maintenance to upgrading streets to more complete street standards.  Of course, if AFT does not make it through the courts, there will be less money even if the needs remain.


Westshore – On Hold

You may remember plans proposed to fill the Westshore Plaza parking lot along Westshore Blvd with a large, mixed use project (see here and here) that looked something like this:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

URBN Tampa Bay had some news:

The developer of the proposed Westshore Mall redevelopment plan has put the project on hold, but we may not have to wait long for it to be re-proposed. The developer filed this statement with the city earlier today:

“This letter formally withdraws the above-referenced zoning application. We intend to re-file in the near future.”

It is unclear why, but URBN Tampa Bay suggests this:

In April, the developer acquired the bank building lot at the northwest corner of Westshore and Kennedy. The cancelling of this iteration of the project and intention to re-propose soon may be to incorporate this extra lot.

We are a bit disappointed that the project was put on hold.  We generally like this proposal and hope they really do come back soon with the new plans and that they do not retreat from the ambition of the original.


Westshore-ish – Loft at Midtown

The Midtown developer released some more information about one of the buildings at the project.

Midtown Tampa has unveiled plans for The Loft at Midtown, a boutique office building with street-level retail space.

The Loft at Midtown will total 70,000 square feet in three stories, with the first floor devoted to storefronts. The second and third floors will be “creative” office space, Bromley Cos., the New York-based developer of Midtown, said Monday.

* * *

The Loft will feature 15-foot ceilings, skylights and an outdoor terrace. The interior will be built to encourage collaboration and creativity.

“The Loft has flexible floor plates, providing opportunities for a wide variety of tenants to locate their business in this highly-desirable central location,” Robin Bishop, senior director with Cushman & Wakefield and Midtown Tampa’s office leasing agent, said in a statement. “The space is designed for flexibility as a multi-use building and could also suit a single tenant in need of both office and retail space.”

Setting aside that, while it may be flexible, whether the space is indeed “creative” will depend on how the tenants use it, here are some renderings:

East side

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

West side

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a nice enough looking three story building.  We like that there is retail on the ground floor (and what appear to be awnings and shade trees). It also appears to be reasonably open to the surrounding area, which is the biggest issue for Midtown.

In other news

Midtown One, the first of three conventional office towers planned in the district, is already under construction. It broke ground speculatively, without signing any tenants, and is slated to open in 2021.

We assume they are trying to get it built for the Super Bowl (though we are sure they would rather lease it completely before it is finished).  Of course, the risk is the developer’s to take.


Downtown – The Little Church Amongst the Development

There was news from Encore:

St. James Episcopal Church once was a hub for the African-American community known as the Scrub.

Besides regular services, St. James hosted picnics, holiday events and other gatherings for the community located between downtown and Ybor City.

Then, the Scrub was razed, the congregation moved, and the original brick St. James building fell into disrepair.

The Tampa Housing Authority began restoring the century-old St. James structure three years ago and the the work is nearly complete.

It has taken a while, but we are happy they are restoring it.

The housing authority hopes the building at 1202 Governor St. resumes its role as epicenter of the community, this time the community known as Encore — the authority’s $425 million redevelopment of property known earlier as the Central Park Village public housing project.

The old church will reopen in mid-2020 as a community center for Encore residents. In the next two to three years, it will take on another role — as home to a local African-American history museum.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

What can you say?  It looks good and will, in a way, serve many of the purposes it previously served.  And it is saving a historical building, even if it is repurposed. We just wish more of the Scrub was saved. Encore has had some issues in its construction, and we have some issues with the designs, but this is a good idea.


Ybor City – Hotel Update

As many readers are aware,

The four-story hotel on the 1400 block of E. Seventh Avenue broke ground last year. Now its developers, Chicago’s Aparium Hotel Group, have announced it will open in the spring of 2020.

It now has a name:

Ybor City’s long-awaited $52 million boutique hotel now has a historic name to match its positioning on a historic block: Hotel Haya.

The name pays homage to one of Ybor’s founding fathers, Ignacio Haya.

You can read the article here for more details.


West Tampa – For Sale

A while back we discussed how the developer renovating the Santaella Cigar factory decided to paint it white and that

In January, the city temporarily shut down construction at the Santaella building after finding a number of code violations. At that time, tenants credited Hettrich with stabilizing and improving the interior of the factory.

(See here and here)  Well,

Preservationists questioned whether he’d also ignore historic precedent in redeveloping the 109-year-old Y. Pendes & Alvarez Cigar Factory nearby, best known for its signature clock tower.

Work continues on the Santaella building. But now, Hettrich has signaled he is willing to part with the Pendes & Alvarez building. The 60,000-square-foot structure at 2301 N. Albany Ave. is on the market for $4.5 million.

Hettrich bought the building in January for $3.3 million, according to Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s records. Hettrich could not be reached for comment.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

That is a nice mark up if they can get it. In any event,

Only 23 remain of the 200 or so factories that operated in Tampa’s heyday as a cigar capital, the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. Of those, just 11 are protected by a local preservation ordinance that prevents owners from altering the original historic look of the buildings’ exterior, according to the city of Tampa.

* * *

Missy Martin, president of the Macfarlane Neighborhood Association in West Tampa, hopes the next owner of the Pendes y Alavarez “respects the history of the building and just restores it rather than changes it.

“I know it is lot to ask but I hope they also seek” historic status for the building.

We hope those things, too.  But even if they do not seek historical status, we would just like whoever renovates the building, including the present owner, to at least respect some of the history of the building and its look.  And we would like the City to be more active in protecting it.  It is really not that much to ask.


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Jade

There was news about another apartment project in the “North Hyde Park” area.

An Illinois developer has paid $3 million for the Greater Tampa Showmen’s Association property in North Hyde Park.

Wingspan Development Group now owns the 1.83-acre parcel at North Willow Avenue and West Cass Street. The developer is planning Jade at North Hyde Park, a five-story, 192-unit apartment building with a six-story parking garage on the site. The building will include a 3,100-square-foot storefront for a restaurant or retailer.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Here is a map of the location.

We cannot tell much from the rendering except that there will be some walk up units, which is good.  The retail is small, but positive (though we think there should be more on any Cass frontage).  Other than that, it appears to be another generic apartment project.

More generally, we wish that the City had gotten out front on the development in “North Hyde Park” and come up with real design standards and a development plan. That it was going to be developed was obvious. It is truly a lost opportunity.


Economy – Healthcare

We often point to the cost of housing and transportation (including insurance) are issues for this area, particularly with our low incomes.  But there is another: healthcare.

It’s no secret that health care costs continue to rise, and new research from the Commonwealth Fund (TCF) indicates that Americans are paying more for their premiums and deductibles than ever before. 

The study found that in 2018, employee premiums and deductibles for both single-person and family policies rose to an average of $7,388. In nine states, the total exceeded $8,000, while the lowest rate as $5,815 in D.C.

* * *

The total cost of premiums and deductibles came out to 11.5% of median income in 2018, which is up from 7.8% in 2008. This varies by state across the country.

 

From Yahoo – click on picture for article

You can find the study here. Looking at it, you notice that Florida is on the upper half of average annual employee contributions (11th highest for family coverage).  When you combine the cost of insurance and deductibles, Florida seems to come out 3rd highest health care cost as a percentage of income. (We were doing it off the map here but we think we got it right.  In any event, it is very high.)

Since we think the “cost of living” should actually include the cost of staying alive, healthcare should be included.


Port – Cruising

The Port has had good cruise numbers again this year:

Port Tampa Bay welcomed more than one million cruise ship passengers for the second year in a row.

This fiscal year the port saw nearly 1.15 million cruise passengers, a 10 percent increase from the following year, according to the port’s November announcement.

That is definitely a good thing, especially given how large a portion of port revenue is provided by cruises.


Built Environment – And More About the Trees

We have long expressed a preference for using trees that provide shade (like oaks) to landscape projects, especially along the sidewalks, over palm trees, which have marketing appeal, but do little else.  Last week, the Times had an interesting article (originally from the Palm Beach Post) discussing the differences. (Times article here)

South Florida’s palm trees are postcard promises of sighing sea breezes and sandy beaches, but the icon of the tropics may be an impractical adornment in an era of climate change.

From the regal royal palm to the sometimes shabby cabbage, the perennial symbol of the Sunshine State offers little shade to baking urban heat islands and captures minimal amounts of carbon — a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

* * *

Live oaks can absorb and store 92 pounds of carbon a year with a mature tree’s canopy spanning more than 100 feet. That’s compared to less than one pound of carbon for a royal palm and its compact crown of 15 to 20 fronds.

“People coming from up north or other parts of the country are expecting to see palm trees, so I don’t see them disappearing entirely from the landscape,” said Charles Marcus, a certified arborist who wrote an urban tree management plan for West Palm Beach. “But it would benefit most communities if they increased the percentage of hardwoods and I think it’s something cities will have to consider.”

* * *

Trees cool the air two ways. The matrix of leaves in the canopy reduces the amount of sunlight absorbed by the ground, which limits how much warmth is radiated back into the air. Trees also cool the air through transpiration — a process where water vapor is emitted by a tree’s leaves.

Large, fast-growing trees capture the most carbon. Mahogany and gumbo limbo trees with 20-inch diameter trunks at chest height remove about 80 pounds of carbon per year. The sabal palm captures less than a pound, according to Marcus’ tree management plan.

There are some challenges for growing hardwood trees which are discussed in the article.

The point is that hardwood trees 1) are literally coolers and 2) suck up more carbon.  By make areas cooler and providing shade, they make the pedestrian environment more inviting while being more useful for the actual environment. Aside from use as some ornamentation, palm trees are just not as good a choice.


St. Pete – 400 Central

The big development at 400 Central went before the City Council.  Per St Pete Rising:

400 Central went before St Petersburg’s Development Review Commission (DRC) earlier today seeking approval of the site plan, floor area ratio (FAR) bonuses and additional building height. It was approved unanimously.

* * *

Located in the heart of Downtown St. Pete at 400 Central Avenue, the proposed development will include the following:

400 Central is being developed by New York City-based Red Apple Group and designed by the world-renowned, Florida-based architectural firm Arquitectonica. . .

 

From StPeteRising.com – click on picture for article

 

From StPeteRising.com – click on picture for article

We definitely like the idea of this project (and the pedestrian covering).  Looking at the renderings, which are new, we are undecided on some aspects of the look (and there are too many palm, as opposed to shade, trees). However, aside from the trees, that is just a matter of taste and it is very likely that those aspects will grow on us as it goes forward.  Overall, it is a nice project of St. Pete.


Pasco – A Little Global Exposure

We are not going to get into this article, but the Guardian (UK) had a long article about Pasco’s County’s most famous facilities, its nudist resorts.  You can read it here.


Bucs – A Modest Proposal

The Times had another in a series of articles about the Bucs (almost universally panned) uniforms (here).

Buccaneers fans, in Tampa Bay and across the country, have suffered enough. The team doesn’t look good and hasn’t in a long time. It needs to make sweeping changes immediately.

Starting with the uniforms.

* * *

This is not a Tampa Bay Times initiative. This is a Tampa Bay initiative. Over the next few weeks, my colleagues and I will roll out several proposals for a redesign, but we need your help. Join us, won’t you?

Then, they ask for proposals for new uniforms (and later gave theirs here and some more ideas here), so here is ours:

From JoeBucsFan.com – click on picture for article

From the Pro Football Hall of Fame – click on picture for website

No color rush.  No alternate jersey. They should never have changed the uniforms from the Super Bowl version.  Those uniforms were never a problem. (BTW, who’s your favorite player?)


Rays

Rays news is here, here, here, here, and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

While our legislative delegation backs express lanes, elsewhere some are not so excited. From Florida Politics:

A pair of measures from Sen. Manny Diaz and Rep. Bryan Avila would remove newly opened express lanes on the Palmetto Expressway and bar drivers from being charged a toll while using the road.

Both Diaz and Avila are Republicans who represent parts of Miami-Dade County, where the Palmetto Expressway is located.

Here is what they had to say:

“Transportation and infrastructure are critical issues disproportionately affecting residents in District 36,” Diaz said in a statement on his legislation.

“By taking population growth, economic development, safety and quality of life into consideration, SB 1090 seeks to provide drivers with relief to the congestion on our roadways and the excessive tolls they are being subjected to.”

* * *

“Our residents need and deserve transportation solutions, not additional impediments,” Avila said.

“The express lanes on the Palmetto Expressway have led to significant delays in commute times and more congestion on this vital roadway. Senator Diaz Jr. and I remain steadfast in our commitment to remove policies that negatively impact our community.”

Tampa Bay residents deserve the same.  We will see what happens.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Memphis

Where would we be without TBARTA’s weekly email?  Probably spending more time searching for all the examples of BRT that show why the TBARTA “BRT” plan is a bad idea.  Luckily, they have highlighted another BRT plan, this one in Memphis, that makes the point for us.  This is the article they link to (which oddly uses what appears to be a HART MetroRapid stop on Nebraska for its picture).

A major improvement to mass transit to Memphis is on its way.

That improvement will be called rapid transit. Under the new plan bus riders could get from DOWNTOWN Memphis to the University of Memphis in just 10 minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio’s system, electric vehicles provide high frequent service every 10 minutes; and the same system is scheduled to come to Memphis.

* * *

The planned “M-Connect” route is an 8-mile stretch connecting Downtown Memphis to the medical district and the University of Memphis.

Those millions of dollars will go towards constructing 30 shelters along the route, creating dedicated bus lanes and new technology to keep buses running on the tight 10 minute interval schedule.

Sounds promising.  Where exactly does it go?

From Memphisflyer.com – click on picture for article

The change would create a designated bus lane in the right lane of Second Street and BB King between Union and A.W. Willis.

A non-exclusive bus lane would be found on Poplar and Union Avenue.

(Here is a quick link to a Memphis map)

Notably, this system is only real BRT in part of the line, mostly downtown. The rest and majority of the line is non-dedicated lanes, and so not real BRT.

The second thing to note is that, once again, the plan is on arterial roads, not the interstate.  So, even if you think it is real BRT (which it isn’t), it is not like TBARTA’s “BRT” plan.


— About Those Air Taxis

Forbes had an interesting article on Kitty Hawk, a company involving one of the Google founders that wants to make flying cars, including flying taxis.  The article goes into the challenges the company is facing.  It is an interesting read, and you can find it here.  We will just highlight this point:

Kitty Hawk got off to an earlier start than many of the scores of startups now attempting to build electric urban air taxis, and the deep pockets of Page, who has a nearly $60 billion fortune, have been a huge advantage, enabling the company to hire hundreds of engineers, machinists and designers to create cutting-edge aircraft. However, the company faces the same problems as any aspirant in the field: the poor energy density of the current generation of batteries severely limits the flight times and carrying capacity of electric aircraft, and building a functioning prototype is faster and easier than turning it into a reliable product that satisfies aviation regulators’ safety requirements. In the case of urban air mobility, many of the requirements don’t yet exist.

At some point, someone will make one that works.  Whether they will be reliable, safe, practical (including air traffic control), and wanted (including by people who would have them buzz over their heads in relatively large numbers) is an open question.


Because We Can

The Business Journal had another in their series of complications of aerial construction photos (here).  While there is always a slight time delay on the pictures, they are interesting.  We particularly like this view when you consider that all that parking in the background is set to be filled with buildings.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We hope the Business Journal keeps these features coming.