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Roundup 5-20-2016

May 20, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Spasms

— Flogging Half a Dead Horse

— What Is It?

Economy – Are We Going to Get Caught in the Cycle?

— Stating the Obvious

Politics – So Obvious You Will Be Shocked

Transportation – Obviously, We Want SFO

Rays – Ignoring the Obvious

Downtown – A Spoonful of Sugar May Be In Order, Obviously

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Broward Express Lanes

— Port Canaveral

Just In Case

List of the Week

___________________________________

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Spasms

— Flogging Half a Dead Horse

There was an odd column in the Times regarding the Go Hillsborough mess:

Amazingly, against all odds, the chance that voters could get to decide for themselves on a sales tax to pay for our transportation needs — killed last month in a late-night 4-3 Hillsborough County Commission vote — has risen for a last, feeble gasp. 

Except it really would not address our needs, but never mind that. As we noted last week, some version of the plan for 15 years may be tentatively alive – but is that something to hope for?  In any event, how does the column describe the strange resurrection?

So the show looked to be over with that big no vote last month. But we do like our political theater around here.

At a meeting this week, Commissioner Ken Hagan went through some not-particularly-doable alternative options to pay for transit improvements. One by one, those “options” fell away and you sensed something afoot. Anti-tax Commissioner Sandy Murman saw it coming but, pardon the pun, could not stop the train bearing down. Suddenly, they were back to the idea of a referendum whose death they had already witnessed — this time, for a 15-year half-cent tax potentially more politically palatable than the previous 30- and 20-year options.

It is interesting to note that two previously no-voting commissioners —Victor Crist, who flirted with the idea of progress before his swing vote killed it, and Al Higginbotham, who once indicated he’d support it and later didn’t — both voted to let the new 15-year version go to at least a public hearing.

It is life support, I know. But it’s something.

Yes, it is keeping something that is not very good and making it even worse, instead of trying to do something right.  That may be something, but it is nothing desirable.

And what about a gas tax is not doable? It is easily doable with less theater and a little more will and vision. What of the other taxes?  Quite an assumption made with no evidence whatsoever.

Finally, columnists, lobbyist and politicians like political theater.  Most people want decent transportation, good schools, public safety, good amenities, and high paying jobs and do not care about or for the silly machinations of a self-absorbed political class that says/promises much more than it accomplishes.  We thought maybe people should get to vote on the original plan, but now people are just playing games.  Everyone knows Go Hillsborough is questionable at best – though fixing it wouldn’t be that hard.  Instead of trying to revive half of a half-baked plan, the Commissioners should actually fix the plan.

Nevertheless, the Commissioners will now discuss the 15 year idea (and presumably other ideas) at a public hearing on June 9.  They would be better served to seriously address transportation in a comprehensive way.  Maybe they will finally realize that at their hearing.

— What Is It?

But don’t let that lack of substance or reasoning get you because, having failed to develop a good plan and having failed to convince enough Commissioners to get the plan to a referendum, even if the 15 year option falls away (which it probably should), there is another option:

There’s already chatter about a petition drive to collect signatures for a referendum that would ask Hillsborough voters to raise the sales tax by a half cent for transportation projects.

The effort won’t go forward if commissioners approve the latest iteration of the Go Hills-borough transportation initiative: a half-cent sales tax hike for a duration of 15 years. A vote is tentatively scheduled for June 9.

But people are watching closely and keeping open the option to amend the county charter by petition, said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay.

It is an interesting idea (it would be more interesting if Go Hillsborough was a better plan) though we are not sure what kind of constituency there really is for it.

It will also take a lot of money. An undertaking like a petition drive typically requires a private canvassing company that charges by the signature. Costs can escalate well into six figures.

Thurman thinks it’s doable.

“We’ve built a large network and a progressive business community. We’ve built that alliance over time,” Thurman said. “We have zero doubt that we can mobilize enough people and the resources to be able to get the signatures in time.”

Tampa lawyer Ron Weaver, who has actively lobbied for the commission to approve a ballot referendum, said a petition drive continues to be discussed.

“It’s one of the five ways home,” he said.

First, if we are talking Go Hillsborough, it is nowhere near getting us home – particularly because Go Hillsborough’s plan has nothing to do with getting most people home – or anywhere else.  Its flaws have been documented.  Rather than spend time on a petition for Go Hillsborough, we would rather fix the plan. (And that does not even get into the question of where all that money for a petition drive would come from.)

That being said, we are not against the general idea of a petition drive to get a referendum.  But if you are going to go through the trouble of a petition drive, we think the plan should be better than Go Hillsborough – which really is not that hard or disruptive to do.

Interestingly, in some comments on URBN Tampa Bay, it seems that there may be a possibility that the referendum by petition might be a little different than Go Hillsborough – with more transit (a more defined rail plan).  Of course, the devil is in the details, like what goes away, what exactly is added, and timing.

Whether by petition or through the Commission, this is the time to fix the plan.  If it is just approving Go Hillsborough, we are not too inclined to sign a petition (though we could change our mind) – if there is one.  If plain old Go Hillsborough gets on the ballot, we may or may not vote for it – though without more detail about the City rail idea, we would have a hard time voting for it.

If the petition is something else, something better – that may change our opinion.  But we would have to see it. The fact is that, as of today, there is just not enough information to form a full opinion about the petition idea.

Economy – Are We Going to Get Caught in the Cycle?

We have often said that Tampa is a boom and bust kind of town.  Making it worse, for various reasons, Tampa’s booms (especially in large construction) tend to lag recoveries in the rest of the country, leading to busts cutting us off (especially in real estate) just when we get revved up. (Not that anyone wants that to be the case, but, nevertheless, historically that has been the case.) This week, there were two items that made us wonder if we are going to get caught in that again.

First, URBN Tampa Bay had a small item highlighting the tower cranes popping up in the city.  There is Nine15, Aquatica, and one on Harbour Island which will likely come down soon, though two others for the Manor are on tap.  All that is good.  Tower cranes give a sense of vibrancy and optimism.  We like them – and having multiple cranes (other than at the airport) has been a long time coming. And we like posting pictures, like these (thanks to the webcams):

From Truelook webcam – click on picture for website

From DPR Construction webcam – click on picture for website

But then the Times had a column, the basic thrust of which was thus:

The last national recession smacked Florida so hard in so many ways, it’s hard to believe that wrenching downturn officially ended way back in June 2009.

Seven years ago, almost. That’s a long time between economic downswings. So long, in fact, that business chatter is rising fast over how soon the next recession will arrive, and how bad it might be.

A Wall Street Journal survey, unveiled Thursday, finds most economists think the country has a 20 percent chance of falling into recession in the next year. While 1-in-5 odds are far from a sure thing, the Journal says they are twice the odds quoted last September.

Here’s a harder-edged forecast.

By 2017, this will be the third-longest (and one of the weakest) recovery without a recession since the Great Depression. At some point, it will run out of steam.

Yes, it will.  The question is when and will we, by that point, have sufficiently changed our economy so that we do not suffer the oversized busts that we usually suffer.  We do not know when it will happen, but there is no real evidence that our economy has changed enough structurally to avoid the boom-bust cycle.  Yes, there may be some cushion with some things like the Lightning owner’s project (if he chooses to build during a recession) and some public projects (like, potentially, some at the airport).  And yes, even if there is a downturn, eventually many projects being built will still get filled (as happened with many projects in the Channel District that were completed close to or after the end of the last boom but form the basis of what is going on now).  Nevertheless, we still have much work to do to really get our economy where it should be.

— Stating the Obvious

Which brings us to another column in the Times by the same author.

In an in-depth ranking of the nation’s 25 best cities to find jobs and satisfaction by doing so, not one city in Florida makes the cut.

Silicon Valley and San Francisco, despite their stratospheric costs of living, made it. So did such diverse cities as Detroit, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Atlanta.

But Florida, for all its self-promotion about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” comes up with a goose egg, zilch, on this top 25-city list analyzed by the jobs website Glassdoor.

Not just Florida – more specifically, the Tampa Bay area where officials are constantly over-hyping.

What gives?

Glassdoor looked at four factors in picking the best jobs cities in 2016. First: How easy is it to get a job? Second: How affordable is it to live there? Third: How satisfied are employees working there? And fourth: How’s the pay?

The top six cities in the Glassdoor rankings (Silicon Valley/San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas) are longtime standouts as technology leaders. Glassdoor and other workplace surveys have long found tech employees tend to have higher job satisfaction (including pay), even if they live in high-priced cities. Silicon Valley/San Jose got the highest job score from Glassdoor with a median base salary of $112,000 and despite a median home value of $965,500.

(Guess where Glassdoor is based? Marin County, on the water near the Golden Gate Bridge)  Anyway,

Yet the 25-city ranking also includes lower-cost places, especially in the Midwest, that include Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Pittsburgh. In fact, of the 25 best cities for jobs, nearly half are Midwestern cities. The others are concentrated in California and the west, and in the Northeast.

Only two of the 25 cities are in the Southeast. Raleigh, N.C., a standout for its highly educated population, was ranked No. 8 of the 25 by Glassdoor’s metrics after ranking No. 1 in the country in 2015. Atlanta also made this year’s cut at No. 24, down from 17 in 2015. Three other southeastern cities to make last year’s top 25 rankings — Memphis, Nashville and Richmond, Va. — did not make this year’s list.

From Bloomberg via Yahoo! – click on chart for article

That is interesting.  One would assume that Nashville or Richmond might be more of a draw than Detroit or St. Louis.  Of course, it depends on what you are looking for (like, what job can you get that is actually satisfying) and at what you are looking.

So, Florida and Tampa Bay, what’s the bottom line?

As a state, we remain fixated on job quantity over job quality. We celebrate, rightfully, year after year of record tourism. But we fail too often to admit that industry runs largely on low-wage, low-opportunity jobs. And while technology jobs are clearly growing in Florida and Tampa Bay, just remember that tech jobs are growing fast in many U.S. (and global) metropolitan areas. Alone, tech growth is no guarantee of success.

To become a real player on the national “best jobs” scene, Florida’s cities, universities, economic development leaders and business communities are on the right track. But clearly they need to step it up — if, in fact, the Sunshine State really wants to be a 21st century competitor.

So this is the thing.  It serves politicians of all stripes (the Times is a bit obsessed with the Governor to the exclusion of other politicians who do the exact same thing) and EDC officials to tout low unemployment numbers.  And there are people who make a lot of money off the low wage industries in Florida. That can easily mask the reality that we are laggards.

The fact is that we need a lot less of the normal Tampa Bay discourse about swagger and fluff, and we need a lot more of this kind of column.  There is a lot of work to do.

Politics – So Obvious You Will Be Shocked

We don’t even know how to introduce this, so we’ll just start.

The Tampa Bay Partnership wants to form a Tampa Bay Area Congressional Delegation consisting of members of Congress who represent the region.

Leaders with the Partnership, along with several high-profile business heads, took the task to Washington, D.C. where they had face-to-face meetings with Representatives to discuss the value of regionalism in growing Tampa Bay economies.

Huh?  They do not already have an organization for the delegation? How can that be?

Though it would explain a lot about our lack of influence.  Is leveraging the biggest swing area in the biggest swing state in a coordinated fashion really something that has to be advocated for by local business?

Transportation – Obviously, We Want SFO

The airport is pushing the Tampa-San Francisco flight:

Tampa International Airport started a Facebook page Thursday morning in an effort to drum up support for getting direct flights to San Francisco.

The page, #TPA2SF, is part of an overall social media push that TIA is using to urge airlines to start flying from Tampa to the popular West Coast city.

“It’s the first time we tried a campaign like this,” airport spokesman, Danny Valentine, said. “We’re just trying to start some conversations about a San Francisco to Tampa Bay route. It’s our priority to get a nonstop flight to that region and not only from people traveling for leisure but our business community is asking for that route as well.” 

We are for anything that gets us that flight.  You can check the Facebook page here.

Rays – Ignoring the Obvious

There was a column in the Times about the Rays attendance woes.

Let’s face it, this was never love at first sight.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Tampa Bay has taken its sweet time getting cozy with its first Major League Baseball franchise. When it comes to devotion, the market and its team still haven’t gone all the way 18 years into their relationship. 

Actually, we know lots of Rays fans.  They just are not that fond of the Trop – the building or the location (Which everyone, except a select few in St. Pete, knows).

The column then goes on to detail moves by the Rays try to get more people into the stadium – which you can read in the for yourself.  And then we get to this:

The idea is not radical. The Tampa Bay Lightning have used a similar strategy for years to great benefit. Using comp tickets to fill empty seats creates a more vibrant atmosphere in an arena, and helps forge a greater bond between a community and a team.

But it’s easier done in a 15,000-seat hockey arena 41 nights a year, as opposed to a 30,000-seat baseball stadium 81 nights a year.

First, the Lightning arena is over 19,000 seats.  Second, the Lightning average crowd (admittedly for half the number of games) is higher than the Rays (See Lightning here and Rays – this year and last year).   What the column fails to mention is the location of the games.  Until that is addressed, nothing will change.  Downtown St. Pete has its high points, but centrality to the population and ease of access for about 2 to 2 1/5 million of the three million people in the area (as well as the big metro area to the east) are not among of them.  And that is only going to get less so moving forward.

We hope they get some better attendance, but, long-term, downtown St. Pete is not a solution.

Downtown – A Spoonful of Sugar May Be In Order, Obviously

There was an interesting article about Cass Street in the Times:

Downtown modernization is coming to E Cass Street. For some businesses there, that is not good news.

Some customers have stopped coming to businesses between N Tampa and N Franklin streets.

For those businesses, some of which have been there for nearly a half-century, the combined road construction, redevelopment and loss of parking spaces is spelling financial disaster.

One massive project, the $90-million, 23-story Nine15 residential tower on the corner of N Franklin and E Cass, will expand the area’s potential customer base by 362 rental one- and two-bedroom apartments, offer 8,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, and provide a 460-space parking garage — by 2017.

But for now, the biggest problem for existing businesses is the lack of parking, according to Dan Mouniemne, owner of John Rolfe Lounge, which describes itself as “Downtown Tampa’s premiere cigar bar and lounge.”

“I am down 91 percent from this time last year,” says Mouniemne. “My overhead is $11,900 a month and now I’m only taking in about $160 a day.”

He says he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep his 3-year-old business open.

Construction always causes some issues.  So we are sure that the City worked with the business owners to mitigate the effects.

Kevin Craft, who opened City Bike Tampa on E Cass almost seven years ago, reports losses in the “six figures” just since last August.

He is considering filing a financial claim against the city, and, like some other business owners, doesn’t understand why the city did not warn them of the planned elimination of parking spaces.

“We used to have over 100 parking spaces on both sides either on E Cass or around the block on Franklin and Tyler. Now most are gone,” says Mouniemne .

(Odd, how the bike lanes can alienate the bike store.) Or maybe not.

As part of the city’s Invision plan to convert the downtown core to a more accessible pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city, parking on the south side of E Cass was replaced with a wide bicycle lane and one-way traffic was converted to two-way.

Now there are about eight long-term metered parking spaces on the north side of E Cass, but they must be shared by all the businesses. Other parking spaces on side streets are largely restricted to 15 minutes, an inadequate time, the business owners say, for most of their customers.

“Our customers are having trouble getting to us. A lot are very sick and can’t walk very far,” says Paramount Hair manager Drew Kim. “They call in and say they can’t find parking.”

The store, which began selling wigs on E Cass Street in 1970, has seen a 30 percent drop in business.

Many of Kim’s customers used to park on N Franklin, but those spaces are now short term and often filled with Nine15 construction worker vehicles.

Mike Chucran, the city’s director of Contract Administration, said once roadway construction is completed in August the number of parking spaces in the E Cass area will be almost identical to those available before construction began last summer.

As for notification to the businesses, Chucran said aside from the contractors keeping businesses updated during actual road construction, there was no need for specific notification before the project was approved since the number of parking spaces was not ultimately unchanged

Whether or not the City had to work with the businesses is not the same as whether it should have worked with the businesses.  We know construction causes unavoidable disruptions.  But there should be mitigation (maybe make sure the construction workers have another place to park).  We are also curious how the City will manage to get the same number of parking spaces onto streets when they are eating up whole lanes with bike paths and other features (not putting more spaces somewhere else) – and we are for protected bike paths.  It’s not like it wasn’t entirely predictable – especially with the lack of alternatives to parking.

Together with the mess a few weeks ago when multiple events were being held downtown, it makes one wonder about the level of preparations at the City.  The increased activity downtown is really good.  But it requires increased work by the City to make sure things function properly.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Broward Express Lanes

Let’s check in with the South Florida Express Lanes that FDOT and the Tampa Bay Partnership are touting.

The plastic poles are still going up and tolls are not yet being charged, but many drivers say the new express lanes on Interstate 95 in southern Broward County have already made the road more crowded and more dangerous.

The new lanes, two in each direction, run 13 miles from the Golden Glades interchange to just south of Broward Boulevard, occupying space cleared by narrowing existing lanes and eliminating the lane for high-occupancy vehicles.

* * *

Hollywood City Commissioner Richard Blattner, who chairs the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, which decides how to spend federal transportation money, said the response to the new lanes has been overwhelmingly negative.

“People hate them,” he said. “The general consensus is they’re a pain in the butt.”

Oh yea, take out that HOV lanes and replace it with a toll road. That should definitely be popular.  (Of course, we haven’t even tried HOV, or HOT, lanes.  Why?  Because.) Aside from that:

The number of crashes has gone up since the poles went up. Last year, from January to April, there were 16 crashes between Stirling Road and I-595, according to Florida Department of Transportation records. This year there were 30. Tish Burgher, spokeswoman for the project, said “there is no indication that these are directly resulting from the new traffic pattern in this area, so it is impossible to speculate that this is directly related.”

The department said traffic should improve as drivers learn the new configuration and the entire express lane system comes on line over the next few years. It said the express lanes were an attempt to accommodate the growing number of drivers on I-95 as quickly as possible, without resorting to the more costly and time-consuming option of widening the interstate. 

Of course. Double the crashes.  Clearly there cannot be any causal relationship.

Why FDOT did not go just convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes is beyond us.  It would have made sense, encouraged more people to use the lanes (rather than discourage everyone) and even raised some revenue (though not as much).  If you want to actually move people, that would make sense.  Hmmm.

— Port Canaveral

This week we learned that business at Port Tampa Bay was down.   Some of it is based on a weakness in the global container market, where we were very small players in the first place.  There is also weakness in bulk cargo and in cruises from Tampa.  As such, it would be good to develop some more markets and lines of business.  We know the Port has some plans in this direction.  We thought we’d check in on some competition, namely the port across the state from us – Port Canaveral.

The cargo shipping industry is tackling trade with Cuba, climate change and environmental issues starting Sunday in Cocoa Beach.

The event for the Caribbean Shipping Association features experts on global goals for limiting greenhouse gases, disaster response and insurance issues throughout the two-day schedule.

One of the sessions on integrating Cuba into Caribbean trade features two speakers from Havana: Ricardo Torres, economist from University of Havana; and Charles Baker, director general of the shipping container terminal at Port of Mariel in Cuba.

Two speakers will address how to handle disasters and climate change: Rick Murrell, chairman and president of shipping giant Tropical Shipping; and Charles Serrano, director of Cuba Trade for the Antilles Strategy Group.

For times and dates, see the association’s website at caribbeanshipping.org. Port Canaveral is hosting the conference, at the Hilton Oceanfront Cocoa Beach.

The conference will be addressing concerns over a recent maritime study on greenhouse gas emissions, conducted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which estimated that for the period 2007 – 2012, shipping accounted for, on average, 2.7% of annual global carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. That amount is also growing, according to the study.

Even though it stands ready to trade with Cuba, maybe the Port here should consider such a conference to boost its profile (though it may not make sense too soon after its competition).  Maybe a little motion might be a good thing.  Oh, and there is the car thing, where the Port is working to get business:

A Delaware-based company has signed a lease to operate a 16-acre auto import/export facility at Port Canaveral.

It’s part of ongoing expansion of the port, particularly in cargo operations. Port Canaveral will become the first southeast location for AutoPort Inc. when it opens in January to process and modify vehicles for U.S.-based automotive manufacturers.

AutoPort handles U.S.-based manufacturing for Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, American Honda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Toyota.

The new facility will start small, eventually adding about 50 jobs, according to port spokeswoman Rosalind Harvey.

Port CEO John E. Walsh said the company will export from to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and the Honduras. An announcement said AutoPort would create new jobs, but no number was given.

* * *

The AutoPort announcement follows news in September that the Port signed a  one-year trial agreement with Japanese car transport giant NYK, or Nippon Yusen Kaisha. NYK will load up one ship per month with cars at the Port, which will tap into Central Florida huge rental car resale market.

It would seem that most of those countries are closer (at least equidistant) to Tampa than Port Canaveral.  But you can’t win them all.  In any event, the Florida Port’s Council is very optimistic about container business, where Port Canaveral is just getting going:

The Florida Ports Council is projecting major TEU growth for all of its major ports: By the fiscal year 2018-2019, Jacksonville will increase from 1.1 million container TEUs in fiscal year 2013-2014 to 1.8 million. (The council includes TEUs from public and private terminals.) Miami will increase from 876,708 to 1.2 million TEUs. Tampa will increase from just less than 50,000 TEUs to 200,000.

And the council predicts that Canaveral’s big move will pay off. After seeing just 388 TEUs in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, it is projected that the Central Florida port will move a volume of more than 100,000 TEUs, a 266 percent increase over five years.

That would be good.  We shall see.

Just In Case

We also saw a piece on this handy tool:

While traditional disaster risk management meant the city was well prepared in terms of strict building codes, limiting damage and loss of life, what was not foreseen was the total breakdown of communications networks. With critical services like water, electricity and sewerage networks severely disrupted, officials were unable to communicate with each other, coordinate help from the government in Santiago or keep the public up-to-date with what was happening. Reports of food shortages and theft escalated into looting and panic, until the military were brought in to restore order.

What traditional risk management missed became clear, though, when Concepción used the City Resilience Index (CRI), a new tool developed and launched today by engineering consultancy Arup for the Rockefeller Foundation.

* * *

The CRI measures a city’s resilience. Participants (usually municipal governments) answer 156 questions covering issues from health and wellbeing to economy and society, infrastructure and ecosystems to leadership and strategy. How affordable is transport? How robust is planning? How much green space is there?

Answers to these questions – both qualitative and quantitative – give the city a holistic ‘resilience profile’. It is not a single aggregate score, but what da Silva at Arup likes to explain as a representation of the city’s immune system.

So if you are a hybrid urbanist/disaster prepper, someone who cares about their city or someone in government that thinks emergency prep is important – check out the resilience profile website here.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2016 American Fitness Index.  Their methodology is here.

The Top 30: the fittest city is Washington, DC; followed by Minneapolis; Denver; Portland (OR); San Francisco; Seattle; Boston; Salt Lake City; Hartford; San Diego; San Jose; Chicago; Sacramento; Atlanta; a tie between Austin and Raleigh; Baltimore; Richmond; Virginia Beach; Milwaukee; Providence; NYC; Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Tampa; Pittsburgh; St. Louis, LA; and Kansas City.  (Ok, so Jacksonville is 31st and Miami is 32nd.)

Interestingly, the top of the list is dominated by the usual suspects. (And in the top 10 all but 1 has local rail – and we don’t mean just a small streetcar line.)  Conclude what you like.

Roundup 5-13-2016

May 13, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Visions and ?

— Public Stage

— It Begins Now

— Wishing

— Hole in the Scene

— Strange Wine

— Caring Line

International Trade/Economic Development – World You and I

Economy – Reflection

Rays – Fun and Games

Parks – Plain to See

List of the Week

__________________________

Transportation – Visions and ?

As one would expect, there were a number of articles on transportation this week.

— Public Stage

First, there was a piece on a Times blog about why the tie-breaking commissioner voted against Go Hillsborough.  The headline uses the word “blame,” but we prefer to just think of it as his reasoning.

Commissioner Victor Crist told the Tampa Bay Times that Buckhorn’s demand for a 30-year tax sealed the fate of Go Hillsborough, the county transportation initiative three years in the making. Commissioners voted 4-3 on April 27 to kill a proposed referendum that would have asked voters to support a half-cent sales tax increase to fund $117.5 million a year in road construction and new transit.

Crist cast the last no vote.

“I walked into that room ready and prepared to make a tough decision, and when he said, ‘Give me 30 years or nothing,’ that ended it for me,” Crist said. “I couldn’t make a 30-year commitment.”

Buckhorn addressed commissioners before the public hearing and implored them not to pass anything less than a 30-year funding plan.

In the days leading up to the vote Buckhorn said he wouldn’t waste “our time and political capital” campaigning for less than a longterm solution.

* * *

The insistence on a 30-year plan stems from the city’s desire to build a light rail line from its downtown to Tampa International Airport. A long-term funding source was the only way to get the bonding that made it affordable, Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn sent commissioners a letter outlining how Tampa intended to spend its share of the tax revenue, though the city council had yet to approve the list of projects.

The letter allocated $36 million for design and construction of what was expected to be a $480 million light rail line. It assumed significant contributions from the state and federal government. But Crist said beyond that he didn’t see enough details about it like what it would cost to operate, how many riders were expected, where it would stop and where it would run.

“It was give me a check and I’ll give you a rail system,” Crist said.

There is some merit to that.  While we understand there needs to be an official study for Federal money, the City has not provided really any information about its rail plan. (Unlike what has happened on the streetcar which is not a full blown study but does provide some information.  See study here)  We get the funding issue, but, as we have said many times, if the City is serious, it had five years to provide some information.  As far as we can tell either nothing has been done or whatever has been done has not been released.

On the other hand,

It’s not as though a 30-year tax came from Buckhorn or out of nowhere. The county spent several years developing a plan with a 30-year funding stream in mind. The Policy Leadership Group, a consort[i]um of local leaders from the cities and county, voted to recommend the a half-cent, 30-year tax hike back in November, which was first laid out in detail by County Administrator Mike Merrill proposed last summer. 

It also had the backing of the business community.

Crist said he cast doubts at the onstart of the Go Hillsborough initiative that residents had the stomach to raise taxes for three decades so soon after a recession. But he also voted along with the majority of PLG members in November to advance the 30-year plan. 

Moving the 30 year idea forward knowing you did not like it is hard to explain.  Details could have been requested years ago.  Other funding could have been looked at years ago. And there is the simple fact that the Commission was unwilling to even entertain a plan with a vision for proper transit in the future, leaving it only to the City’s vague concept. (We are not going to get into the other details and weaknesses of Go Hillsborough.)

The article uses the term “blame.” There is plenty of blame to go around.  At this point, the thing to do is learn from the mistakes and move on.

— It Begins Now

There was an editorial piece in the Business Journal that echoed most of what we said last week.

“Go Hillsborough” never really had a true champion and was always pitched as a “best we can do” plan that seemed accompanied with an air of resignation. It ended up a smelly process that included personal attacks, a corruption investigation and allegations of cronyism.

That has to stop. This is urgent. Despite the hours of effort and public hearings that amounted to dust, it’s time for a new level of collaboration. Here are five points to consider:

Ensure that all sides are at the table: Ultra progressives, Tea Partiers, Democrats, Independents, ultra conservatives. Hire independent pollsters without skin in the game and build real consensus.

You are not going to get everyone to agree, but that does not mean you should not talk to everyone.  At least give them the choice.  If they choose not to participate or bring useful ideas, that is on them.

And, yes, do not repeat the consultant error.  We think the County should use its own resources, but if you use someone outside either get someone who will do it for free or get someone who has no connection to the area.

 

Abandon a sales tax as the crux of any financing effort, at least not right away. They are a now proven deal killer and have an abysmal track record here. They might make a lot more sense to voters once there’s a system underway — once there’s a tangible investment to see.

We agree – at least wait until you have a real vision and a plan (not necessarily a fully fleshed out plan, but something people can understand and that provides some answers going forward).

Dig deeper to explore a buffet of funding sources. Start with city options. Tampa and St. Petersburg must find ways to pass their own initiatives. Further effort is imperative to explore public-private partnerships, or “P3,” around transit-oriented development. Explore the 18 transit financing options cited in a March 2016 Victoria Transit Agency analysis, including vehicle registration surcharges, parking fees, tollway revenues, cigarette taxes, transportation development districts and lottery and casino revenues.

Why not?  It is only responsible to examine alternatives.

 

Pass a gas tax now. Oil prices are suppressed. Generate $27 million a year.

Certainly worth considering.

A lack of vision and lame marketing doomed Go Hillsborough. Presentation skills didn’t help, wrote Tampa author Topher Morrison, a presentations consultant. He saw Commissioner Sandy Murman and County Administrator Mike Merrill speak recently about Go Hillsborough and by the end, was left with just two options: “A turd sandwich or a crap cake,” he told me via email. “I honestly couldn’t tell if they were for or against the plan.” Obtuse terms thrown around by government leaders, like the “2030 plan” or “Go Hillsborough” mean little to average citizens.

He probably could not tell if they were for or against because they were ambivalent themselves.  It is not like they did not know that what they were selling was a less than inspiring compromise.  And we have often pointed out that the language used (like “fixed guideway,” “premium transit,” and a completely confusing array of terms for different forms of rail) does not help.  (On the other hand, we have heard the County Administrator be quite eloquent about transit, though that was before the most interesting ideas were definitely excluded from the plan.)

However, it should also be pointed out that even the most eloquent speaker can use many words and not say so much.  What would really help would be better material to sell and to free the process from the destructive factions in local politics.  And the vision needs to be a real vision for the County and region.

— Wishing

Which brings us to a Business Journal article about what Millennials want.

On an average day, Brian Willis, a young Tampa lawyer trying to get elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, says he might take a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus to work, bike to a midday meeting and then call Uber for a car home at the end of the day. “I do have a car but I don’t always use it,” Willis said.

On the other hand, Cynthia Plunkett, a 26-year-old community outreach specialist at Socius Marketing, drives every day to her job in South Tampa. She would rather have more commuting and general transportation options like the subway she used when she lived in Toronto. “I didn’t need to bring a car up there. I could get to any location and I was new to the city and dependent on public transit and was happy to be reliant on it.”

Plunkett and Willis are part of the millennial movement that isn’t looking to be stuck in traffic on their way to work or home in Tampa. They are demanding transportation modes that go beyond cars and roads. They want light rail and more frequent bus service. For this generation, seemingly always tethered to smartphones and laptops, a quick and productive commute is their vision of the future — and they want it now.

But that won’t be happening in Tampa anytime soon, following the defeat more than a week ago of the controversial Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax plan. It allowed the city of Tampa the discretion to use part of the funding to start building a light rail system. At the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners meeting, the gravity of the transportation issue was acknowledged, but what the next steps will be remain uncertain.

Actually, that wouldn’t have happened anytime soon even with Go Hillsborough, except, after many years, in a very narrow corridor between Westshore and downtown with no hope for anywhere else (including into South Tampa), except some dressed up buses, at any time in the foreseeable future.  (We’ll say it again: that was a major problem with Go Hillsborough.)  We are all for the Westshore to downtown rail, but then what?  And why do we still have to wait for studies?  And where will it go?  Will it be in the highway median making it much less attractive and much less likely to have transit oriented development?  What is the idea?

A study by University of South Florida Professor Steven Polzin on millennial travel behavior shows “economic constraints” such as high unemployment, substantial college debt, limited assets, and uncertainty about job security and upward mobility are all “substantial factors in moderating travel demand for young adults.”

Another study by the American Public Transportation Association found that “millennials are multimodal,” and “communities that attract millennials have a multitude of transportation choices.”

“Millennials are attracted to light rail and it’s not because they like riding on a train,” said Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance. They want “the freedom to work on their laptops.”

Sharpe insisted that Tampa Bay needs a transportation system that goes beyond cars and roads if the region is to continue to grow. “If we’re going to be a competitive region and draw and attract the jobs we want and the talent we want, there are certain things we must do,” he said. “We need more buses and rail — we need rail. Taxes are an element of paying for infrastructure.”

First, do not believe that they do not like riding light rail over buses.  They may ride buses if they have to, but anyone who has routinely used both knows there is a difference.  Second, yes, we need to move into the future.  Third, we need a plan that actually gets us (or at least shows he way) there beyond a first line that basically runs the distance from the Georgia Capitol to the northern end of midtown Atlanta.

There is now a blank slate (except for people who want to stew over Go Hillsborough) and work to be done.  Frankly, the work on a plan for the CSX lines (with needed connections) should already be underway.  It has always been the most obvious plan. (There have already been ideas floated of running rails around the airport property to get near HCC and the stadium on to Westshore.  That would leave the connection to downtown, which is needed. And note that County areas, like Town N Country, Westchase, and Carrollwood are closer to Westshore (and many parts closer to downtown) than New Tampa is – though the transportation connections are not very good.)

And a little context to Millennials from the article.  There was a chart that showed the percentage of 18-35 year olds in the city and county: Tampa 28.1% Hillsborough 24.5%.  That is a difference, but not a huge difference, especially given that the County has far more people.  In other words, there are still more Millennials in the County than the City.  They need to be served as well.  Go Hillsborough did little to nothing for them.

The another chart showed that the Tampa Bay area takes one of the largest shares of income for transportation.  That is basically all car oriented and won’t change with the present car oriented plan and TBX. In other words, the present proposals do nothing to help with the economic issues.

We get the frustration about not having real transportation solutions.  But the frustration should be properly directed.  There is a much broader failure than just the four who voted against Go Hillsborough.

— Hole in the Scene

Which brings us to an interesting article about one Commissioner who actually is far more aggressive in addressing some issues that the other commissioners.

Since he was elected in 2014, Stacy White has been a consistent conservative voice on the Hillsborough County Commission. That was especially true during the transportation debate of the past year, when he strongly advocated against a half-cent sales tax hike to pay for much-needed road repairs and other upgrades. That plan failed 4-3 in a vote late last month. White, 43, said he agrees transportation is a major issue in the county, and the east Hillsborough representative recently sat down with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Steve Contorno to explain how he would fix that problem. 

So what did he have to say?

While the rest of the county commission has focused on how to pay for road construction and transit, you’ve instead talked about changing land use policies to encourage dense urban development and prevent more sprawl. Why?

It can’t be ignored. If we don’t get land use right, we’re going to continue to spin our wheels. We’re going to have this funding problem in perpetuity.

How does that go hand-in-hand with the transportation conversation?

If we continue this model of sprawl, we take it to all edges of the county, from Tampa Bay to the Manatee (County) line to the Polk line to the Pasco line, you can’t provide enough transit options to a county that has a land mass over 1,000 square miles. It’s just not economically feasible. That’s where the planning piece comes into place.

Trying to come up with that carrot and stick model so you find a way to incentivize developers to engage in more dense urban development near that urban core, to try to have a paradigm shift away from that sprawl model.

That is totally reasonable.  We agree with that – especially since transit should be focused on more built up areas of the county.

What are you willing to consider as far as revenue, short of a sales tax increase?

I don’t know the answer to that yet. I’m very much in favor of taking a microscopic view of our current budget. This county has a budget of around $4 billion. I know the county administrator and others say that a lot of that gets skimmed off the top by constitutional officers and others.

Nevertheless, I think we can scratch up a few more nickels out of that big budget of ours. Once we accomplish that, I would like to see where we stand. We have mobility fees in place, we’ve already made a policy to direct 50 percent of our year-over-year surplus to transportation. Now I think if we slice and dice the budget as the next step, from there I think that tells us what we need to look at in respect to revenues that are lacking.

Where would those cuts come from?

It could mean cuts to other services. I very much agree with Ronald Reagan when he said the best social program is a job. We have a strong economic development department in Hillsborough County. Perhaps if we continue to foster that department, nurture that department, continue to bring high-quality jobs to Hillsborough County, maybe we can realistically get to a place where we can make cuts to some of those entitlement programs.

Such as?

Particularly on the social services side of the budget. I think we need to take a look at how we can free up some unrestricted funds that can easily be diverted to transportation.

We are all for cutting fat but what services exactly are going to be cut?  He gets the sprawl part.  He gets that money is needed.  Then he seems to forget that there are a lot of people in the County who need services.  The first thing to cut is not needed services.

Do you think east Hillsborough, your district, would ever support light rail or transit line that services the downtown corridor and connects to West Shore or St. Petersburg?

I don’t think so. Not in the near future. Not in the next decade. Maybe 50 years from now.

Why?

My constituents are very savvy when it comes to things like smart growth. And if they see just a continuation of the sprawl model, and they see you’re going to have to lay many, many miles of rail that would be difficult to operate efficiently, I just don’t think you’re going to get the buy in.

We are all for getting rid of the sprawl model and making transit more efficient.  Transit oriented development is a great thing.

But there is a problem. How are people going to get around?  You can get rid of the sprawl model of buildings, but if do not provide an alternative to driving, you still need to expand roads and have a place to park – which leads, inevitably, to the sprawl model. If you just create density without a way to move people around, you just get more congestion.  Reducing sprawl and having transit are intimately connected.  (And cuts just do not produce enough money to really address transportation.  On the other hand, that does not mean there is no fat and it does not mean there aren’t places other than a sales tax that you can get some money.)

We think he is honestly trying to work this all out, but if you do not account for how to get people around, you will not accomplish anything.  If you reject real transit while trying to reduce sprawl you just get trapped in a cycle of contradictory policies that negate each other.

— Strange Wine

Which brings us to the oddest development of the week.

In a 5-2 decision Wednesday, commissioners voted to hold a public hearing in the near future where they will vote on the 15-year option. If it passes, it will go to residents in a ballot referendum this November.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Stacy White were the two “no” votes. The date of the public hearing is to be determined.

During the meeting, commissioners also said they would not tap into reserves or cut from the budgets of the constitutional officers, like the Sheriff’s Office and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, or fire and rescue department to pay for transportation. They also took a 5-cent gas tax increase off the table.

On April 27, commissioners voted 4-3 against measures that would raise the sales tax a half cent for 30 years and then 20 years. A 30-year tax was the recommendation of County Administrator Mike Merrill and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce endorsed a tax of at least 20 years.

We get why some do not want to lock in a 30 year tax, but the 15 year tax idea has not really be fleshed out.  It leaves a number of questions. Once again, what is going to get done?  What happens after 15 years?  Go Hillsborough is a 10 year project plan.  Then what?  What of the extra 5 years – what is that money for? What of a possible regional approach? That all needs to be answered.

And, even more to the point, what is the vision?  That was a major flaw with Go Hillsborough – how does this fix it? How does this not become even more of a lame road plan?  Maybe they have an idea of how it will work.  If so, they need to clearly tell everyone.  And if they can’t explain it, they should not do it.

And what of other funding?

Hagan went one-by-one through some of the options and asked his colleagues to vote whether they should be on or off the table.

First, the commission voted 7-0 against dipping into $968 million in reserves, fearing it would hurt the county’s bond rating. That included leaving intact $22.7 million from the BP oil spill settlement.

Next, they unanimously decided not to touch the budget for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and followed it up with a 6-1 vote to leave the rest of the constitutional officers, like the clerk of the circuit court and the property appraiser, unscathed as well. Crist, who had previously called for a 2.5 percent across-the-board budget cut, voted no.

Then, they said they wouldn’t touch the fire and rescue budget.

Finally, Hagan brought up the fuel tax, a key pillar of a November proposal from Murman. At the time, Murman suggested the county could fund transportation by raising the gas tax from 7 cents for every dollar spent at the pump to 12 cents.

At this point, Murman sensed a set up. “I think what’s happening here,” she said, “is we take things off the table, we’re going to get backed into a corner and back to the referendum, and I don’t want to go there.”

But that’s exactly what happened.

After the commission voted 5-2 against a gas tax hike and 7-0 not to consider raising the utility tax, Commissioner Kevin Beckner reintroduced a referendum to raise the sales tax.

Beckner said it was the “only viable funding source” that could pay for infrastructure and transit. Raising the sales tax by a half cent would generate $117.5 million a year.

Murman contended the commission still hadn’t exhausted all of its options. “It’s premature,” Murman said. “I thought we agreed to go back into our budget.”

Good theater. Crappy governance.  But you have to have your priorities.

While we understand the lack of desire to cut sheriff or fire funding (and oppose cutting them), it is quite early, and irresponsible, to take every possible revenue source (other than a sales tax) off the table even if they do not fund every need.  Such rash moves contribute to the mess rather than fix it.

Frankly, none of this move makes sense to us.  Why not consider funding alternatives, even if you need a sales tax at some point? And still, what is the vision?  The whole event smacks of the black box of local politics.  Whatever it is, it is definitely not calculated to get us closer to having a proper, integrated, coordinated, modern transportation system.

There are a lot of questions about all this. We shall see if we get (real) answers.

— Caring Line

And the last thing we think needs to be remembered is that the actual important thing is to actually get transportation fixed.  If that is done, there will be credit to go around.  It should not be about getting credit or avoiding blame.  It should be about doing the right thing.

Right now the political establishment, collectively, is holding us back.  They still have the opportunity to quickly and obviously change that.  But it will take work, not halving half solutions.

International Trade/Economic Development – World You and I

There was an article in the Business Journal on the Tampa Bay Export Alliance’s International Town Hall.  As you may remember, the alliance was a number of groups getting together to develop international trade, which is a good idea.  So what did we learn?

The Alliance showed how collaboration between leaders of various Tampa entities led to economic progress — from more international flights at Tampa International Airport to the effect of the Panama Canal on Port Tampa Bay to attracting more tourists via Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

Details?

At TIA, Edelweiss Air is celebrating four years in this market, with flights between Zurich and Tampa.

“We started with a small group of visionary people,” said Michael Trestl, head of corporate development for Edelweiss. “We sat together and worked out a plan,” he said referring to the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and representatives from the airport.

In the first two years of operations, there were doubts that Edelweiss would stay in Tampa once its initial incentive program expired, Trestl said.

“Many voices in the general public said well Edelweiss, they are coming to grab the money. They are going to say thanks and bye.” But four years later, Trestl noted, Edelweiss is still flying in and out of TIA.

Edelweiss has gone from two flights per week seasonally in 2013 to three weekly flights year round and in 2016, the airline has gone up to four weekly seasonal flights. Edelweiss is part of Lufthansa Airlines, the German airline that began service between Frankfurt and Germany last fall.

Definitely a fine achievement.

Chris Minner, TIA’s vice president of marketing, said not only is the airport celebrating the fourth anniversary of Edelweiss coming to the area, TIA has also hit another milestone — a 100 percent increase in international passengers.

“We now have one-stop access to Bahrain because of Lufthansa,” he said.

The Latin American market continues to grow for TIA in part because of additional flights in the last two years by Copa Airlines, Minner said. Recruiting new airlines has not stopped and TIA is also trying to get direct flights to San Francisco, Minner said in response to a question.

“It has been uniquely frustrating,” he said. “Even though we don’t have nonstop flights, we’re talking to all the airlines that serve that market.”

Creating a link between California and Tampa is also on the mind of the official tourism marketing groups for the area. David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, has placed sales representatives in California. “There should be air service to San Francisco,” he said.

And growth is great, too. (Despite San Francisco not being international, it is definitely needed.) But that is all airport. Other than the airport, what did meeting address?

Downing also said China is being targeted with a mission next Tuesday to Shenzhen, one of China’s largest industrial centers. Meanwhile Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay said, “Mexico is super important. We think there’s a lot of travel potential.”

And, more than just travel potential (though, of course, his job is tourism not exports), there is trade potential with Mexico.  But, yes, there should be a flight to Mexico City, especially given the fact that there are low cost carriers in Mexico and regional jets can make the trip. (And Tampa used to have non-stop flights in the early 1980’s).  Anything else?

Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay, said the port is “looking to build upon Mexico” and other countries in Latin America. He noted that Port Tampa Bay is 10 times as large as PortMiami and even though Miami will lead Tampa when it comes to cruises, he predicted that his port will hit new records in the cruise and container business. 

We are not quite sure how he is measuring port sizes (maybe land area?), but Miami definitely has a dominant position in cruises and containers.

Despite those very visible big new cranes (which are cool), we are still very small in terms of containers – where much of the shipping money is.  But, at least, there is movement to improve that a bit.

More than 2,000 Tampa area companies engage in exporting goods, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development. “If you are not exporting now, you’re leaving money on the table,” he said.

As any regular reader knows, we are all for the airport expanding service (like, very much for it) and having those connections certainly helps develop business, but, if the article was anything like the actual meeting, the focus seems to be very airport heavy for an “export” group.  Maybe they should look a little more at developing manufacturing, which is where you get things to export in the first place.

Economy – Reflection

There was an article in the Business Journal regarding economic performance in Florida.

The Tampa metro area is a star among Florida communities when it comes to a handful of economic measures.

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater was a clear standout in population growth, life science employment, tourism spending and apartment completions, according to a new report from Wells Fargo Securities.

You can get the report here.

Here’s a look at the metrics in which the Tampa metro performed well:

Population growth has ramped back up, as job seekers flock to Florida’s stronger employment markets and retirees move south. “Among Florida’s largest metropolitan areas, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg were the clear standouts this past year. Population gains in Florida’s largest metro areas tend to be more driven by employment conditions rather than retiree inflows.”

Life science is a notable bright spot. Florida’s life sciences industry employs 63,000 workers across the state. The Tampa metro area has the second-highest number of life science workers, more than 10,000.

Tourism spending, as measured by sales tax receipts, rose 8.8 percent in 2015, with the bulk of the increase coming from Orlando, Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

The housing market statewide has slowly and steadily improved since the it went bust in 2006-2007, but home sales have slowed in recent months, the report said. Apartment construction, however, has been “robust,” across Florida’s major markets. The report said there were 426 apartment units completed in the Tampa metro in Q1 2016.

First, population growth:  The report does not clearly give numbers, but Orlando and the Tampa Bay area are growing.

Second, life sciences:  After a paragraph on the growing aerospace industry in the Orlando/Melbourne area, which we may benefit from slightly through some imports of parts through the Port, there is a discussion of life sciences.

The life science sector is another notable bright spot. While pockets of pharmaceutical companies, medical instrument manufacturers and medical products companies have long operated in the state, Florida’s healthcare industry has primarily been driven by the state’s large and growing elderly population. Concerted efforts began about a decade ago to bring more higher-value-added jobs to the Sunshine State, including life sciences companies and well-established marquee healthcare providers that would keep more patients in the state that had previously left to seek specialized treatment elsewhere. A great deal of effort has also been put in place to recruit life science companies. Scripps Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience both set up operations in Palm Beach County, and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies set up shop in Port St. Lucie during the past decade. Separate efforts in the Orlando area helped attract MD Anderson Cancer Research Center and the Burnham Medical Discovery Institute to Orlando, forming the hub of what is now known as Medical City. Florida’s life sciences industry has grown steadily over the past couple of decades and now employs 63,000 workers across the state (Figure 5). Healthcare, which has long been a key employer in Florida, now employs more than 900,000 workers in the state.

(pdf pg 4).  Note the lack of mention of the Tampa Bay area.  That may change as the Lightning owner’s project moves along (though it is also notable that other areas are not standing still, such as Jacksonville’s proposed MD Anderson complex).

In terms of actual employment, there is a chart on page 3 (figure 6) which shows “life sciences” employment by metro area.  It is not entirely clear but Miami looks to be about 18,000 jobs, the Tampa Bay area around 11,000, and Orlando about 10,000.  Those numbers make sense in terms of population distribution.  Given that we are the second biggest metro, we should be second.  The Tampa Bay area employment might be slightly high relative to Miami and Orlando is high compared to both Tampa and Miami. And the biggest growth is Orlando.

Next is tourism spending:  The report says most tourism money is spent in Orlando, Miami, and the Tampa Bay area, which, given populations, once again makes sense.  It also says that Orlando is out front (obviously).

Finally, the housing market: The report does not provide much detail on actual houses.  Regarding apartments, the Business Journal says that 400+ rental units were built in our area in Q1, which is taken from there is a chart (figure 15 on page 6).  Of course, Orlando had 1886 and Miami over 1000 (not to mention West Palm Beach having 807 and Ft. Lauderdale 224).  On the other hand, in some quarters before 2016, the Tampa Bay area outperformed other areas.  The chart is not entirely clear (especially since the Miami-FLL-WPB metro is broken down), but it appears to be a wash over time between major metros.

The point is not that the economy is doing badly.  However, relative to other major Florida metros, it is not a “clear standout” either. Yes, there are good employment numbers but bad income numbers (a Florida constant, apparently).

As with so many things, are doing better, but it is nowhere near where it should be.  And hype is not productive.

Rays – Fun and Games

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding a possible funding source for a Rays stadium in Hillsborough.

Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada told Hillsborough commissioners Wednesday that the county is on pace to collect $30 million in tourism taxes by the end of the year, the first time passing that threshold.

It’s not just a symbolic goal. State law allows counties that surpass $30 million a year in room taxes to raise the fee collected from 5 cents on every dollar spent to 6 cents.

And that extra cent could go toward financing a portion of a Hillsborough County stadium that would be the future home of a Tampa-based Rays team, advocates of a move say.

“It’s a big deal,” Commissioner Ken Hagan. “It’s huge.”

Tourism taxes, collected on every dollar spent on hotel rooms, rentals, RV parks and campgrounds, have restricted uses. They can be used for promoting tourism to the county or for financing projects like museums, convention centers and stadiums.

* * *
It will take a super majority of Hillsborough commissioners, five of seven, to vote to raise the levy.

* * *

The sixth cent is expected to bring in another $6 million a year, but how much the tax will generate in the future and how much it could finance for a stadium could be capped. While Hillsborough has gone far on its convention crowds and marquee events like the NCAA National Championship game, it doesn’t have the beaches or attractions of Florida’s other high-profile tourist destinations. 

And that is something, as long as the economy holds.  There are also other ideas:

It likely won’t be the only piece, though. Local leaders expect that an incentive package for the Rays will likely include a creative mix of other sources, like revenue generated through Community Redevelopment Area funds. Less likely is a direct tax on residents, like the Community Investment Tax used to build Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Of course, none of that money is just sitting there.  Other people want access to it as well.  And there is the question of what the Rays will bring to the table.  Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Parks – Plain to See

Last week, we noted that San Francisco is building a celebrated park over a freeway that will afford really nice views.  At the same time, in Julian Lane Riverfront Park, the City is determined to flatten the landscape.  We urged them to reconsider.  Now, you might say to yourself, the landscape in San Francisco is very different from Tampa (which is a reason to maintain the vertical element, but anyway).  The mounds in Riverfront Park are artificial to the landscape.  Well,

A park consisting of towering hills designed by Dutch landscape firm West 8 will open this summer on Governors Island, offering sweeping views of the New York Harbor and the city skyline.

The Hills, as the project is called, consists of four mounds ranging in height from 25 to 70 feet (seven to 21 metres). The undulating park is made of construction debris and clean-fill material.

The project adds 10 acres of green space (four hectares), 43,000 shrubs and more than 860 trees to the island, along with pedestrian pathways and playground slides.

Apparently, New York City is ok with artificial mounds.

From Curbed.com – click on picture for website

You can see some more photos here. (You can Google it for a number of articles celebrating it.) They are all man-made. And note that, like Riverfront Park now, one of the mounds will have slides (Riverfront Park only has one slide).  The Hills in New York are designed to look more organic, which is good (and something we have previously mentioned).

Once again, people like real views, vertical elements, and things to do.  Like we said last week:

You make parks special by responding to their special circumstances.  And you open up the river to parts of the city more by giving people an elevated, unobstructed view of it with downtown as a background they can get nowhere else.  If the photographers can see it, surely the planners can, too. 

And if New York and San Francisco can see it, we are not sure why Tampa can’t.  There is still time to fix it.

List of the Week

This week, we have Money magazine’s best domestic travel destinations.  This is how they describe the list, which is plainly subjective (like most of these lists):

For MONEY’s first Best in Travel Awards, we identified the seven domestic destinations that offer the best travel experiences at the best prices in 2016.

Coming in first is San Diego followed by NYC; Memphis; Ft. Lauderdale; Las Vegas; Austin; and Santa Fe.

Do with it what you will.

Roundup 5-6-2016

May 6, 2016

Contents

Goodbye, Tribune

Transportation – Time to Move On

— Some Ideas

— What Do We Have?

— What Do They Want?

— Searching for That Vision Thing

— City Tax: Not Sold

— One Possible Future Foretold

— An Idea Worth Exploring

— Conclusion

Transportation – TBX: Enter the Tampa Bay Partnership

— Welcome to Your Future

TIA – Breaking Records and Moving Forward

Transportation – Blowback

Built Environment – What We Do Not Need

South Tampa – Odd

Thoughts on a Park

List of the Week

________________________________________

Goodbye, Tribune

As most probably already know, the Times bought the Tribune this week.  For us, this is sad in a number of ways.  First, it is sad to lose a longtime institution and sad for the employees.  Second, it is sad to lose another news source that, at least potentially, offered a different view and different reporting (hopefully the old article links will be maintained). While the Tribune’s wasn’t always the most eloquent voice and we did not always agree with it, the fewer the news outlets, regardless of their survivors’ good intentions, the more the risk that the news and commentary will be a monologue that will simply reflect one political faction.

Nevertheless, business is business and times change.  We shall see what happens.

Transportation – Time to Move On

Last week, Go Hillsborough died. We were always ambivalent about it – actually we very much disliked the process; we were ambivalent about the proposal.  It lacked a full plan (even the city’s rail lacked any details), it was too road-centric, and, as the County Commission pretty much admitted by adding a provision late in the game, it was not coordinated with the other transportation planning and studies going on.  So, while we thought people should get to vote, they didn’t. Now, it’s dead. (Frankly, we are not mourning that mess.) Time to move on.

The first thing to note is that the streetcar study, the transit study, and a few other studies still have to be done (another reason Go Hillsborough was not a very good idea), though not highway study.  Therefore, there is a little time.  What to do with that time?

Another community leader opposed to the [Go Hillsborough] plan, Bill Carlson, said “our community must move forward from here to develop a comprehensive plan. It has to be more than a list; it has to be specific and show how these projects tie into the region in a real plan.” He added that the “process has to build consensus in a transparent way.”

Sounds about right.

— Some Ideas

Not surprisingly, we have a few suggestions.

— What Do We Have?

First, identify all possible means of funding other than a sales tax.  That is what Orlando did.  We suggested doing so a long time ago to no avail. (See, from 2011, here and here.)  Now, it is time to do it.  What do we have?  What can we use? What will we need?

Here are some possible funding sources (we are sure there are more):

In order to fund the projects commissioners just last week said are necessary, they need about $91 million a year. So where will the money come from?

Here are some options:

If all those options are approved — and that’s a big “if” — together those measures could raise $47 million annually.

But the county would still be $44 million short of the $91 million commissioners agree they need for transportation every year for the next decade.

We understand this does not cover the whole wish list from Go Hillsborough (though much of that list was questionable anyway).  On the other hand, it may cover half, which is something. (We get that there will be peaks and valleys in growth – but that goes with sales tax, too.)  You have to start somewhere.  And if other areas can find the money, we can, too.  And that does not foreclose going back for a sales tax at some point (even relatively soon) if there is a real, full vision.

Finally, don’t backtrack on the one thing you have already done:

Meanwhile, Commissioner Sandy Murman, who also voted against the plan, said developers are getting uneasy with the new mobility fees commissioners approved last week that charges more for construction and growth. That ordinance made the fees considerably higher if the county failed to pass a sales tax hike.

Cutting what funding there is will only make the problem even worse and dump all the costs on the taxpayer. (And also makes us question even more what is going on with that sales tax discount in the mobility fee plan.)

— What Do They Want?

Second, find out what people really want, because, aside from lacking a vision, there was also a feeling of this:

Like other opponents, Calvert complained the Go Hillsborough process was flawed, with county leaders pushing the half-cent sales tax without regard for other measures. Commissioners instead should look at the county budget and prioritize transportation spending, Calvert said — a policy Murman and Crist have supported.

Public relations Bill Carlson, a Democrat who lobbied against Go Hillsborough, echoed Calvert in faulting the county administration for pushing a sales tax as the only solution to the transportation backlog.

“The feeling from many of the people who attended the meetings was the process was more about selling than listening,” Carlson said. “It can’t be a sales job; it’s got to be based on a consensus and community input.”

There is something to the comments (though we see no evidence that the Tea Party really wants actual transportation solutions.  We are open to being convinced they do.).  There will always be opponents to any plan.  We get that.  But what constituency did Go Hillsborough really appeal to?  It was not appealing to transit supporters.  It was not appealing to transit opponents.  It did not appeal to the Sierra Club.  It did not appeal to the Tea Party. You could argue that by appealing to no one it showed it balance.  Or you could find that it just really was a mish-mash of ideas with no vision, no connecting concept, and no real base of support other than people just wanting something done – which is what it did.  But just doing something is not really good enough. If you are going to do it, do it right.

It seems the people may agree. As we noted a few weeks ago, one recent poll had a very interesting finding:

When asked if the plan goes too far or not far enough in solving the area’s traffic crisis, 54 percent said it did not go far enough, whereas 24 percent said it did goes too far.

Apparently, the quite expensive, outside consultants that were the source of much controversy may have missed the mark.

As noted by the Tribune’s homespun columnist (we wonder what will happen to him now):

We’ve done some good things … I mean, not just hockey in Tampa, but a shot at still another Stanley Cup. Who could have imagined?

❖ ❖ ❖

Now the county is considering a move that might make all this come together and work, something called “Go Hillsborough” — basically a half-cent transportation tax.

I don’t like it. In the end it only would be an extension of road improvements and better buses. It’s not in the same ball park as some of our larger dreams and it leaves Tampa and Hillsborough stagnated, still poorly connected to the rest of our widely dispersed region.

It’s not too late to go back to the drawing board, drag out some of that imagination that has brought us this far, and create a smart, connected plan for moving people around this special place.

He’s right.  Go big.  But do it while addressing the needs and the public’s lack of faith that the government will do what it says.  Get rid of the faith-based approach.  There needs to be a real plan with both details and an over-arching vision.  And it needs to be coordinated, not just have people hope it is coordinated.

And while you are finding out what people want, ditch the idea of expensive consultants doing it.  Eliminate that self-inflicted wound (we still cannot figure out why anyone thought it was a good idea).  It was a massive error that we do not need to repeat.  The less public money handed out to consultants, (aside from being cheaper) the less it seems like a backroom process and the more it looks like honestly trying to develop a real vision and a real plan.

The County should be able to find out what people want using its own means.  That, after all, is their job.  Do it. (See “Transportation – The County Channels Ray Guy”)   We do not need to outsource everything.

And the process needs to be transparent, because, and here is a newsflash (apparently), people in the County (and probably a lot of people in Tampa itself), even people inclined to support transportation, do not trust what they view as the (south) Tampa political establishment.  Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.  Ignore it at your peril.

Finally, outside of government, maybe those interested in the subject from all sides should sit down and see if they can hash out some consensus. (Maybe they can’t but there is no harm in trying.)

— Searching for That Vision Thing

Third, now that we have some time, let’s hear what various elected officials actually are contemplating.  For instance, the Mayor has been talking about rail for 5 years in office.

Crist said Buckhorn’s insistence that only a 30-year tax would suffice helped kill support on the commission for a 10- or 20-year tax. The Republican commissioner said the Democratic mayor did not supply enough details about where the rail line would go, how it would be operated, and what the ridership would be.

“I’m not saying I don’t like his ideas; I share his vision,” Crist said. “I’m just saying I want more comfort and more security that you would find in a well-thought-out master plan that we haven’t seen provided yet.”

Planning for mass transit as Tampa leaders envision it takes six to eight years, Buckhorn said, and couldn’t be completed in time for a November referendum. In any case, Buckhorn said, the absence of a master plan should not have been grounds for denying voters the chance to vote on the Go Hillsborough tax.

It may be that a full master plan could not be created yet though it is well past time we get some details of the vision (not necessarily full blown details but at least what is contemplated, where – you know those maps with a really fat highlighter line on them – some basic ideas for alignment.  Is it down the interstate or a normal street? And at least who is he thinks is going to run it. At least what he would like to see, contingent on the studies.)  So far, the people who are supposed to pay for it have seen nothing.  Vagueness kills. Surprises do not help. Let’s see what is being contemplated.

And Commissioners should say what they really think.  Be leaders.  If you like rail, say so.  If you don’t, say so.  If you think a plan in stages makes sense, say so. But stop equivocating. Yes, you may catch some flack, but that is what leaders do.  No idea is universally acclaimed. And, once again, that is your job.

It is also worth remembering that no one has a monopoly on good ideas.  Let’s see what people can come up with.

— City Tax: Not Sold

Last week, we said we may have to reconsider our opposition to the city tax.  But, the more we think about it, the less we are sold on the city tax.  Now that there is delay, CSX can be studied.  As we have said many times, there are many people living in the county far closer to the urban core than parts of the city.  Coincidentally, the CSX rails run through a number of those neighborhoods. And not everything should have to go through downtown (and wouldn’t with some ideas for connecting from the CSX line around the airport to Westshore.) Why should any system be exclusively for the City?  A good plan can pass, especially if there is creative financing and a transparent process.

And, even if you build a starter line, what then?  What are you starting?

Everything needs to be coordinated – Go Hillsborough did not have any coordination – not even a clear transit station for bus to rail.

— One Possible Future Foretold

And there was an example of why this matters, though admittedly a unique combination of events. Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Yesterday downtown Tampa was an unbelievable place to be. Between the numerous large events like the Riverfest, Lightning game, the musical at the Straz, the Prince event at Tampa Theater, and a cheerleader competition at the convention center, downtown was alive with a sea of people enjoying a beautiful Saturday. It’s the beginning of the sort of exciting urban lifestyle that so many have dreamed of seeing in Tampa for so long.

…Except for one big, big shortcoming.

When Riverfest kicked into high gear for the Balloon Glow after sunset, traffic became virtually gridlocked. With no mass transit alternatives to move people in, out and around downtown that doesn’t count on the same gridlocked streets, the movement of cars came to a virtual standstill.

Our Achilles’ Heel as Jeff Vinik has so aptly put it, is unquestionably our lack of alternatives to driving, especially alternatives that don’t use the same roads cars already do.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

You can read the comments in that posting to see some of the mess that was created (and the apparent lack of crowd/traffic control by the City).

The Tribune also mentioned the crowds in an editorial (one of its last):

Tampa would not be enjoying this renaissance if leaders had not had the courage to invest in the future, often enduring attacks by the naysayers who railed about the waste of tax dollars.

If Buckhorn and past community leaders had been cowed by such criticism, little would have been done, and downtown Tampa would have continued its decline.

Instead, these leaders — in stark contrast to county Commissioners Sandy Murman, Victor Crist, Al Higginbotham and Stacy White — resolved to look toward the future and continually invested in improvements. They worried more about the community’s welfare than political reprisal.

Now, Tampa is seen throughout the nation as a city on the move, one attracting young workers and new enterprises.

This dazzling outlook is endangered by the inaction of Murman, Crist, Higginbotham and White.

Their failure to put before voters the Go Hillsborough plan to raise the sales tax by a half-cent for transportation improvements means that local gridlock will remain acute.

The commissioners’ neglect not only hurts the county, but handcuffs Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City as well.

Indeed, what that dazzling photograph doesn’t show is the traffic congestion that followed the festivities. Such traffic jams may be unavoidable after major gatherings, but in Hillsborough they’ve become part of the daily routine for far too many residents.

Go Hillsborough would have funded a major expansion of bus service, a rail line from the airport to downtown, and fixed clogged intersections throughout the county. All of which would have made life better for residents in the cities and the county.

First, we agree that Hillsborough County has to keep investing to build the future.  However, the Tribune is off on the details of Go Hillsborough.  It would have done little to nothing to alleviate this particular congestion.  That was a big flaw with the plan, and the reason we were ambivalent about it.  Go Hillsborough was really just a compilation of local plans without coordination and not vision of how to really get people around the county.  It certainly did not get people in and out of downtown. (And, if you like last week’s mess, just wait for the redesigned grid and slowed down traffic in the Lightning owner’s project.  We like the project, but, as we have said for a while, road diets need to be very well thought out or you will choke an area.)

As for the rail in the city, it would have been better if the Tribune pushed for details rather than just counting on rhetoric for the last five years. All those people downtown did not come from just the Westshore to Downtown corridor.  Having real transit there would be good.  We are all for it, but there has to be more.  Especially if the population of the county does approach 2 million in the next few decades, this is just going to get worse – even without so many events. People want to have a city. The demand for an urban experience is there (and has been for years).  There has to be a plan to really serve that demand – which Go Hillsborough and the city rail was not.  You need a true system.

And, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

If one thing is clear, it’s that FDOT’s solution to build TBX will only result in more cars being funneled into the same limited space. Congestion will not go down with more cars on our roads, it will only go up.

It is a statement of the obvious (and does not even include that TBX won’t do anything moving people from areas closer in to downtown and Westshore).

— An Idea Worth Exploring

There was also news about another idea, though still involving a sales tax:

Maybe it’s time to try something together, Pinellas County administrator Mark Woodard said Tuesday.

In a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Woodard said he’s already had conversations about it with his counterpart in Hillsborough, county administrator Mike Merrill.

The idea is the two county governments would ask their respective voters in the same election year to approve a half cent sales tax increase that would finance a transportation plan that improves services and infrastructure locally and also spans Tampa Bay, finally linking Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

That kind of campaign, Woodard said, could finally lead to a breakthrough.

“The solution to transportation in this area is a regional approach,” he said. “A regional plan that could be brought forward to the voters on both sides of the bay at the same time that shows that partnership, that shows that regional approach to this regional problem, and has common branding and … (a) marketing campaign paid for by the private sector, I think that’s the solution.”

A regional transportation approach makes sense.  Of course, without knowing what the plan is, it is hard to say anything more about it except that it should not be a substitute for looking at other sources of funding or presenting a vision.  This is a start:

But one of the key “no” votes last week, Commissioner Victor Crist, said Woodard’s vision is the kind of approach he could get behind. The next initiative could also incorporate the feasibility assessment of converting CSX rail lines into a regional commuter train service and other transit options that will be studied in the coming years, he said.

“To be able to connect our rail station downtown to the airport, to downtown Clearwater and downtown St. Pete and to the beach is where we need to go in the future,” Crist said. “If we’ve got a plan where Hillsborough and Pinellas are on board, now we take that to the feds, we take that to the state, we take to our local voters, and you start to build grass roots momentum to the bigger picture.”

While it needs to be fleshed out to be a real vision, it is actually more of a vision than anything in the Go Hillsborough plan – which is saying a lot about the whole Go Hillsborough process.  Now run with it.

— Conclusion

Go Hillsborough is dead.  It died from a number of wounds – from vacillating, to lacking real vision, to poor decisions (like the consultant contracts), to politics – both behind the scenes and in the open.  It does not change the need for action, but the mistakes do not need to be repeated.

As we have noted before: If you want people to pay, you not only have to give them a list of projects (though that is good).  You have to give them a vision they can support.  Now is the time to develop that vision.  It is an opportunity for elected officials to put away the silliness and mistakes of the past and show what they are capable of.

We have always said, for us, it is about the policy not the people. (We’ll support a good idea regardless of the source.)  The County Commission still have a chance to create something better from the ashes of the mess that was TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough.  They just need the political will to do so.

Get to it.

Transportation – TBX: Enter the Tampa Bay Partnership

The Tampa Bay Partnership (which is partially publicly funded) has set up a website and Facebook page in support of TBX.  (This is an opposition site.) That is not surprising because we already knew that elected officials and business leaders have lined up behind it.  Whether they truly believe in it or not or are just afraid that FDOT will cut all the funding for every project, we have no idea.  Just remember, as the Partnership’s TBX site tells us:

If the MPO votes to remove or delay any portion of TBX from its Transportation Improvement Plan, FDOT will spend the TBX money elsewhere in the state. Orlando and Jacksonville have road construction projects in the design/build phase, just waiting on funding from FDOT.

That is a choice by FDOT (and a failure by local leadership and the legislative delegation).  There is nothing inevitable about their plan. FDOT could have planned differently, and the legislature could have forced the issue.  Nevertheless, that is what is going on.

And then there is this from the Partnership’s advocacy site:

FDOT does invest in transit, but this money is specifically targeted to alleviate road congestion, in accordance with state and federal law. HART is currently administering a Premium Transit Feasibility Study, funded by FDOT, to determine the most cost-effective and efficient means of transit for the Tampa Bay region. However, FDOT and the federal government will only expend money on transit construction if local governments have a feasible plan for maintenance and operation of the system. To ensure a regional transit system in Tampa Bay, our local government officials must work together to develop a viable plan for maintaining and operating forward-thinking transit options. For example, TBX will rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge with a foundation strong enough to support rail. However, the Pinellas and Hillsborough local leaders must agree on a transit plan using a common platform for FDOT to feasibly construct the system connecting the two counties.

There is that choice thing again – the Howard Frankland could be rebuilt without TBX.  It’s just that FDOT does not want to.

Regardless, it is a bit ironic for an organization that is partially funded by local tax dollars to openly admit the failure of the local bodies funding it to actually have any influence or properly plan.  But there it is.

— Welcome to Your Future

Miami is often held up as a (questionable) example of the greatness of express lanes.  Well,

Some South Florida lawmakers are calling for the Florida Department of Transportation to make immediate changes to the Interstate 95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County, including removing the plastic poles.

“You have to take the poles out,” state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said. “I think the flexible poles create a dangerous condition. They create a false sense of security, and they just don’t work.”

* * *

“How much loss does it take before you fix something that needs to be fixed?” Trooper Bill Smith said. “Does it take one life? Ten lives? Twenty lives? The life of a police officer or trooper? What does it take to address the problem?”

Smith has been a trooper for 32 years and is president of the Police Benevolent Association’s FHP chapter.

Records show troopers have been called to more than 12,000 crashes in the express lanes in Miami-Dade County in the past three years.

* * *

State Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, was told by the FDOT that a two-year study needs to be done before any changes are made. After that, she said, plans would need to be drawn up and approved.

“That could take from seven to 10 years,” she said. “I don’t see it being acceptable.”

Diaz de la Portilla said something needs to be done sooner rather than later.

* * *

The FDOT sees things differently.

“They are working well,” FDOT spokeswoman Tish Burgher said. “The goal is to get people to drive 45 mph, and we are achieving that goal.”

Burgher said there are no plans to remove the poles.

“If people obey the law and drive the speed limit, it is perfectly safe,” she said.

Apparently, FDOT doesn’t care about any legislator.

A level of service to look forward to.

TIA – Breaking Records and Moving Forward

Now to proper levels of service. There were some details about the airport’s great March.

Tampa International Airport had its busiest month on record in March.

* * *

From March 4 to April 11, the airport served more than 2.4 million passengers. Southwest Airlines increased its flights by 32 percent and was a major contributor to the surge in service. On March 26, the airport set a record for the number of checked bags passing from terminal to airlines at 27,774, according to a presentation by the airport staff at Monday morning’s Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting.

* * *

For the first half of the fiscal year, October through March, TIA served more than 9.7 million passengers, which is 5.7 percent more than in the first half of fiscal year 2015. Southwest, one of the airport’s dominant carriers for domestic flights, saw a 4.6 percent jump in passenger growth compared to the same time last year. Spirit Airlines saw the largest spike in passenger growth from October to March this year at 54.5 percent. Air Canada saw a 10.6 percent increase.

That’s great.  It would be nice to break 20 million.

One thing to note about the airport is that it is already building for future growth.  It is not playing catch-up.  That is a lesson in how to operate that the entire region (which is so proud of the airport) should consider.

Transportation – Blowback

The mess that is the PTC reached new heights this week.

Taxi companies are moving to thwart a possible settlement that Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist said his agency is close to reaching with its longtime nemeses, rideshare companies Uber and Lyft.

Shocking.  Given their track record, of course they are.  What is the tactic?

But on the same day that the PTC met with Uber and Lyft, the cab companies submitted a motion asking the agency’s board to disqualify its chair, Crist, from the ridesharing issue altogether.

The taxi companies believe Crist, according to the motion, has “demonstrably shown and stated his bias and prejudice” against certain cab companies “as well as the entire taxicab and limousine industries lawfully operating in Hillsborough County.”

Attorney Seth Mills, who represents the taxi companies, also said Crist has exhibited “bizarre” behavior on this issue, including getting into a shouting watch with a taxi industry lobbyist after last week’s PTC meeting.

We are not much for yelling (particularly because it is totally unnecessary), but the motion is just silly – otherwise the entire PTC, which has been clearly biased in favor of cab companies for years, should not be allowed to deal with ridesharing . . Oh, wait a minute.

Even the cab companies’ logic supports getting rid of the PTC.

Built Environment – What We Do Not Need

There was news about an apartment project south of Gandy.

An Atlanta developer is moving forward with plans to build affordable apartments near South Tampa.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group has closed on the 12.3-acre site between Lois and Manhattan avenues, just south of the Walmart Supercenter on Gandy Boulevard. It will build M South, which will consist of 288 units — an average of 1,065 square feet — at projected average rents of $1,390.

It is notable that this developer has built/proposed projects closer to downtown that have (some) urban-ness. What do they propose in the south of Gandy area where a lot of projects are proposed?

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is not clear where all those people are walking to, but it is clearly not the apartments in the rendering because there is a big fence and no apparent sidewalk into the complex.  We understand this is not Hyde Park, but surely they could do better than propose most suburban, car focused project.  The south of Gandy area is poised for some serious growth.  If the City is not careful, it will become quite a mess. Tampa really needs to change the code.

South Tampa – Odd

As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, documents have been filed with the city regarding a proposed condo near Bay to Bay.  We really have no problem with the idea of a condo building on this lot – nor, given the location, do we mind there not being retail.  But there is something odd.  These are the filed drawings:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

A bit bulky, but of course the developer would want to make use of the location to get the maximum number of water view units.  Who wouldn’t?  The wider rendering is labelled “south elevation” but the lot is not exactly lined up north-south-east-west. Ok, so this is the location map:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Look closely at both of those.  You’ll notice that the parking entrances on the map correspond to the parking entrances on the “south elevation,” as does the part of the building sticking out.  It sure looks like most of the units will be facing not the Bay but Bay to Bay.  If so, this is what will face the bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Maybe we are missing something.  It’s not our money and does not affect any views or any urban issues, but it sure seems strange.

Thoughts on a Park

In a recent Atlantic magazine article on covering the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge with a park (see here) there was this:

The top of the now-covered road and the surrounding area will be landscaped by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape-architecture and urban-design firm behind New York City’s High Line. In the end, the Presidio will gain 14 acres of newly developed park space.

* * *

Corner’s design features a terraced landscape that climbs from marshlands along the shore up to gently crowned tunnel tops, where a series of lawns, meadows, and sweeping pathways are interspersed with small gardens and nooks that block the breezes off the water. The new ground over the tunnels will be about 30 feet higher than most of its surroundings, offering heretofore unavailable views.

“When you step out on the tunnel tops, you really get a 360-degree, geographical sort of centering vantage point where you can take in every landmark and every place that’s significant in San Francisco and the bay,” Corner told me, ticking off the city’s skyline, Alcatraz and Angel Island, Marin, the grounds of the Presidio, and, most prominently, the Golden Gate Bridge. “A large part of the design, in addition to connectivity, is really celebrating views,” he said.

Yea, those views will be special.  Of course, San Francisco is renowned for its hills – and the views they afford.  But, still, the views are treasured.  Tampa, on the other hand, is basically flat.  There are not that many elevated locations where you can get a view of anything.

As most readers know, the City has plans to rebuild Julian Lane Park on the west side of the river.  Prominent in the park are the mounds which afford views of downtown and the river and are favorite sites for news photographers taking pictures for article about the park and how the City is determined to remove the mounds.  While we understand the mounds are too symmetrical (and maybe too numerous), as we have said for years, a more organic vertical element would really be a good thing (as evidenced by all the news reports which feature pictures of the park from mounds – we would use a recent Tribune photo but the links are now dead).

You make parks special by responding to their special circumstances.  And you open up the river to parts of the city more by giving people an elevated, unobstructed view of it with downtown as a background they can get nowhere else.  If the photographers can see it, surely the planners can, too.  There is still time to fix it.

List of the Week

This week, we return to Walkscore’s ranking of walkable cities.  The methodology is here.   The list is by city so there may be multiple cities in the same metro area listed.

Coming in first, not surprisingly, is New York, followed by Jersey City, San Francisco, Boston, Newark, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington (D.C.), Seattle, Oakland, Long Beach, Hialeah, Baltimore, Arlington (VA), Minneapolis, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Rochester, St. Louis, Portland, Honolulu, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland, St. Paul, New Orleans, Detroit, Anaheim, Richmond, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Jose, and Tampa.

Tampa is 36th.  St. Pete is 52nd. At least Tampa comes in before Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.  And we are not so sure we’d walk around Detroit.  You can also get “bike score” and “transit score.”  Tampa seems to come in somewhere in the middle on all the lists.  On the other hand, most of the usual suspects do better.  We can do better.  We should do better.

Roundup 4-29-2016

April 29, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

— Moving Money

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

— One More Thing

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Economy – Housing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

____________________________________________

Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

There were two major developments regarding Go Hillsborough this week, so we’ll take them in order.

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

First, the County Commission passed a mobility fee ordinance.

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a mobility fees ordinance to help fund the area’s transportation needs; but not without a few changes.

The mobility fees for new construction won passage Tuesday night at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, setting the stage for a vote on the controversial Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax initiative tomorrow night.

* * *

Under the ordinance, the mobility fees will be collected from five districts in the county. The majority of the fee money will be spent in the district from which it is collected. The ordinance also includes a hearing officer and appeals process for those seeking to request an adjustment of the fee level.

It is amusing that the mobility fee hearing was at East Bay High School at 6pm.  That is not really near the majority of the population.  And, given what the Commissioners acknowledge is a poor transportation system, it is not particularly convenient or easy to get to.  Moreover, it shows where they are really focused.  Nevertheless, they passed an ordinance.  That is the good part.  As for the changes:

If commissioners — and then the county’s voters — approve a sales tax hike, the amount of money developers would be required to pay decreases. The idea behind that fee range is that those developers would also be paying for transportation through the new sales tax.

“There is a benefit to having a sales tax in place to identify lower fees,” said Deputy County Administrator Lucia Garsys, who oversees infrastructure and development. “That doesn’t mean someone’s not paying their full share. They’re paying it through a different revenue, and that would be the sales tax.”

Interesting approach.

The percentage of the mobility fee assessed based on the date of initial assessment will be:

40 percent (January 1, 2017)

50 percent (January 1, 2018)

70 percent (January 1, 2019)

80 percent (January 1, 2020)

90 percent (January 1, 2021)

From the article, it is not clear if the 90 percent amount is the max fee (which makes no sense) or if it is a discount contingent on the Go Hillsborough referendum passing.

Though following the stated logic, does the ordinance provide for the non-developer taxpayers getting discounts on their gas taxes or HART taxes on the off-chance there is a sales tax increase?  If not, why not?

And, if the top amount is 90%, why is that?  In any event, the old ideas are still in play:

At the hearing, Commissioner Sandra Murman insisted that the fee levels be reviewed every year for the first five years because she felt they were “exorbitant.” She expressed concern about the effect of the fees on small businesses. “We do not want to hamper small business development in Hillsborough County,” she said.

Why is making the taxpayers subsidize development not exorbitant to them?  Don’t they need money to support those small businesses? If someone chooses to build a sprawling development in a rural area, why should the taxpayers pay for it? But such is the County Commission’s policy making.

And, even more to the point, remember that when the impact fee system was put in place there was the same hype about addressing transportation fairly, but the County Commission, in its various incarnations, let the impact fee system stagnate for decades.  They routinely under-collected and pushed the burden to the taxpayer.

It is good that now there are mobility fees, but the old philosophical tendency is still there.  Past performance may not be an indication of future returns, but past history has proven a pretty good indication of the Commission’s behavior. For the system, even a watered down version, to function properly, there will have to be strict oversight of the Commissioners to make sure they do not backtrack as soon as they can.

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Speaking of Commissioners backtracking, there was also news about the Go Hillsborough sales tax referendum.  As regular readers will know, we were distinctly undecided on it.  We thought the plan was not nearly as strong as it should be (in fact, the Commission had been watering it down as they dragged out the process), but it seemed to be the best plan that this group of Commissioners could come up with, especially with their collective lack of will and vision.  We needn’t have been concerned.  They couldn’t even move that plan forward.

A three-hour hearing Wednesday night (ed: which we endured in whole) ended in disappointment for transit advocates as Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-3 against putting a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax for transportation before voters on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Commissioners Sandy Murman, Victor Crist, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham, all Republicans, voted against both a 30-year and a 20-year tax, leaving the county’s transportation future in limbo. Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner were joined by Republican Ken Hagan in voting for the referendum.

In other words, the Commissioners could not even agree on their own plan, created by a process they created to solve an issue they all acknowledges, and, it has to be said, they have had a part in creating.

We feel bad for the one republican Commissioner who voted “yes.” He gave a long, coherent, and accurate assessment of the problem the plan was supposed to solve and why the shorter time periods proposed for the tax would not get the job done. It was by far the best comment of the night by an elected official (and we were not even decidedly for the plan). To no avail. And we feel bad for the staff that did a significant amount of work. Too bad it was irrelevant.

We could go on and on about various things, but, we’ll keep it (relatively) brief.  Of the Commissioners who voted against their own plan, one Commissioner said he opposed a plan to fix transportation (really, any plan), then said he would support it during the election, then went back to his opposition – that’s all you need to know about that. (see “Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County”)  Another Commissioner talked about solving problems, did everything possible to promote outreach, consultants, creating a plan, dragging out the process and making it more expensive, then decided not to vote for it. (“Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans”)  Yet, another Commissioner has been opposed from the beginning (at least he was honest), though he made some good comments about fixing planning, which still needs to be done, but is unlikely.  Then there was the swing vote:

As expected, Crist was the swing vote, saying he made his decision during the three-hour meeting.

“Frankly, the decision I made tonight was not based on data, it was not based on one thing I heard,” Crist said. “It was just old-fashioned intuition.”

He said he counted 31 speakers for the tax, 31 against it.

Maybe, or it could have been made by placing his perception of his political self-interest in the form of fear of a primary challenge over the needs of the area and basic principle that, if at all practicable, people should get to decide whether they want to tax themselves for a specific purpose. You can decide for yourselves.

“Sadly tonight a majority of the County Commission has refused to give the citizens of Hillsborough County an opportunity to decide for themselves whether their future includes a better transportation system,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in an email to the Tampa Bay Times after the vote. ” For over a million of our neighbors and businesses the chance to vote for a better future was denied.

“Rather than a profile in courage this vote was a profile in cowardice.”

That’s about right.  We may or may not have voted for it, but we should have been allowed to vote.  And if you are happy because you think it should have been a stronger plan, remember that is not  why they killed it. Quite the opposite.  They thought it was too much.

That leaves the issue of what to do going forward:

“We should not be rejoicing because we need to go back and keep working on this,” Murman said. “Back to the drawing board.”

Yes, the transportation problem still remains to be fixed.  But, at this point, who can trust this Commission to actually do anything to really fix it? They already dragged out the process every way possible, watered down the proposal, ran from real transit, added pork for the South County (there is no way the ferry should happen before ALL the transportation studies are done to see if it has a place on this new drawing board), and still didn’t vote for their own plan.  What exactly can they draw up that will be more palatable to both those who will never accept anything as well as the people who actually want to improve the area and make it competitive?

Sure, one can still hope for a fix, one can hope that alternative funding is identified; one can hope that real transit is part of a plan; but the history of this Commission does not feed that hope.  They could surprise us, but we will not hold our breath.  And, frankly, there are already rumblings of the Commission getting to work on a plan, but how is that different than everything that has gone on the last few years?

Which brings us to another issue. While we still think the City Tax idea is problematic and are not ready to support it, given the epic uselessness of the County Commission collectively (remember, some Commissioners were making a good faith effort) has displayed to this point in addressing transportation (and economic development, planning, and pretty much anything else other than subsidizing sprawl), we may have to reconsider.  The County Commission as presently formulated has proven itself simply incapable of dealing with our main challenges.  They appear to be just riding a national economic recovery while ignoring the structural weakness of their own creation.  It is not inevitable that they do that, but it is the Hillsborough County way.

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

That leads to what will likely be the “solution” the Commissioners settle upon: TBX. There was an article in the Tribune regarding some pre-TBX demolitions.

Tampa Presbyterian Village, the angular public housing development that formed a pink stucco mountain range between Blake High School and Interstate 275, is gone.

The complex, vacant since Dec. 30, was reduced to a dirt plot late last week to make way for the first phase of the planned Tampa Bay Express project, adding express toll lanes through downtown and rebuilding the Interstate 4/275 interchange.

The Florida Department of Transportation bought the 42-year-old housing complex for $8.4 million in October 2014, and will maintain the grounds until the interchange project begins. The Metropolitan Planning Organization board will hold a public hearing in June to give final approval.

If the project is approved, Tampa Presbyterian Village will provide space for a roadway expansion, which may include the most southern end of a ramp from downtown to I-275 South, and a stormwater pond.

Transportation department officials didn’t have a strict timeline to relocate residents, said Zenia Gallo, project manager and senior right of way agent.

In other words, rather than replace the “mountain range” (hardly) with a park connected to a Riverwalk or an urban development that can help make the West River more attached to the actual river, it will be replaced with paving (plus a nice new retention pond) that makes the interstate divide the neighborhood and separate it even more from UT and downtown.  Oh, and the highway will abut a high school. Excellent urban planning.

Just so you get it, this is the complex:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

And another, really nice, angle (at least downtown looks good):

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

That is not a small piece of land for a couple of lanes (something we could understand). That is basically doubling the width of the interstate through the heart of the city, right near downtown and in an area the City says it wants to totally redevelop into an urban neighborhood.  It is also right next to where the City wants to spend $35 million on a park that will be even more cut off from the area north of it.  And a good chunk of the Riverwalk going to Tampa Heights being built right now will be under that highway (because what is more inviting than walking under a superwide highway on your daily stroll? Though we guess some might welcome some shade).

We have said many times that we think that the highway system in this area needs to be fully developed, but TBX is a mess and its reality needs to be fully understood.  We still have a hard time reconciling the rhetoric (and spending) by the City on the area in and around downtown with the archaic plan that is TBX.  So when you hear discussions about it, just understand the massive barrier that TBX will create right through the middle of the “InTown Tampa.”

— Moving Money

Which brings us to an interesting development, maybe.

The Florida Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on buying up land around the Tampa downtown interchange, but the state said its plan to expand the highway is still going forward.

FDOT reduced the money budgeted for voluntary property acquisition downtown in fiscal year 2017 from nearly $25 million to about $500,000,  Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden told an MPO committee Tuesday morning.

Those opposed to Tampa Bay Express — the state’s plan to widen the areas interstates and add toll lanes — celebrated the news on social media. Tampa City Councilmember Lisa Montelione called it a “huge win.”

“The Community Redevelopment Agency had been pushing for the acquisition phase to be delayed until all the impact studies could be completed,” Montelione wrote on Facebook. “Thank you to our citizens and to my fellow board members for your perseverance.”

But Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the local FDOT district, said “nothing about TBX has changed” and the project is still going forward as planned.

The money that was originally budgeted for the downtown interchange for 2017 will instead be used to buy the land where Charley’s Steakhouse and the Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport currently stand. That’s where FDOT plans to build a future transit hub for buses and trains.

And that is fine because the Westshore transit concept is, theoretically (though, in reality, it probably is not relevant in the near to middle future), much more useful an idea than TBX.

But, if you don’t like TBX, don’t get too excited.

The change in the budget — moving millions of dollars planned for the downtown interchange to the [W]estshore area — is a shift in the timing of when the department will buy up land, not a nixing of that part of the project.

“It doesn’t change the total that will go toward right of way acquisition,” Hunt said, “It just changes what got purchased when. We always said right of way will occur over many years.”

But Alden said the shift in the timeline does buy more time before the state can purchase the land it needs downtown. Many opposed to TBX have asked that the state hold off on buying that land until the project can be further evaluated.

“I think that will help give some extra time to wrap up that (project development and environment) reevaluation, so that’s all for the good,” Alden said.

Of course, that does not mean the actual TBX project will be reevaluated. Probably, that just means that they will look at putting some more precast images on the side of the overpass to gussy it up. And, even if the delay did allow for a reconsideration of the project, that only matters if the MPO is open to discussing anything (doubtful) and if FDOT is open to discussing anything (more doubtful).  Remember, FDOT has said that TBX is all or nothing because you do not have a choice, other than rubber stamping what you are told you should have.

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

There were two columns in the Times that seem to us to encapsulate the confused approach our region takes to economic development recruiting efforts.  We’ll take them chronologically.

The aging images and outdated perceptions of St. Petersburg are so pathetically passe that they are practically banned in conversation among economic development and business leaders in the city.

After all, this is 21st century downtown St. Pete, a vibrant and hip melange of waterfront living and public parks, creative artists and innovative museums, rising entrepreneurial activity, university learning and Johns Hopkins-branded medical research. This is a city energized by diverse nighttime entertainment, foodie fare and craft beer, multiple sports teams, high-end condos and frenzied apartment building, and the fresh possibilities of an 80-plus-acre swath around Tropicana Field about to get an urban redo with a big emphasis on urban innovation.

Such is the buzz driving city and business leaders about to launch St. Petersburg’s own Economic Development Corp. The EDC’s mission:

First, to sell St. Pete’s current mojo beyond the city and Florida borders.

Second, to recruit talented folks who city leaders think can be persuaded to live here — once they sample it.

And third, to pitch — selectively — companies with specific skills such as marine science, specialized manufacturing and data analytics on expanding or relocating here, and adding their capabilities to the city’s business core and key neighborhoods.

The column goes into some details, but we will stick with the macro view.  Ok, St. Pete wants to do economic development on its own.  We can understand that, to some degree.  They want to bring in talent and use their mojo (almost as overused a term as “game changer” and “swagger,” but what would mojo be without being trendy).  As for the selective recruitment, we get having some target industries, but it is clear that the modern innovative economy requires multidisciplinary cross-pollination. You really have no idea from where innovation might spring. It really makes no sense to limit yourself.  Why would they do that?

I sat down recently to discuss the soon-to-launch EDC with Steinocher and Mike Vivio, president of St. Petersburg-based Cox Target Media/Valpak. Vivio currently heads the chamber group focused on honing the EDC’s goals.

The two executives used the analogy of the Tampa Bay area as a huge shopping mall full of stores of all kinds.

Vivio points out St. Pete is a specialty store. The new EDC can’t go shopping for a big corporate relocation that wants a big campus setting on lots of land.

“We’re not Macy’s,” Vivio says, a store more fitting of Tampa’s way of pitching its many assets to a broader base of business.

“We’re the Apple Store in the mall,” Steinocher chimes in. “We’re the store that draws people to the mall and lifts the anchor stores, just as the other stores lift Apple.”

* * *

Vivio, former publisher of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, sees in St. Petersburg’s bones many of the qualities that made Austin a vibrant go-to town. Both cities attract creative talent, which in turn and with the EDC’s marketing help, should help draw the kind and scale of companies that can prosper in St. Petersburg.

Um, ok.  Setting aside the whole mall thing, considering yourself the Apple store may be a bit of an overestimation, but being ambitious is ok. We even get going after small companies because there is less land.  (We won’t even get into the “having the same bones as Austin” thing.)

Will it work?

An EDC certainly can’t hurt. St. Petersburg’s far behind in actively recruiting specific businesses. An EDC run by the right person may change that. Major momentum is palpable in St. Pete. It would be disastrous to waste that energy by doing nothing.

Just remember. If Tampa Bay is one great shopping mall with many different shops, even the much-touted Apple Store must keep reinventing itself to keep the crowds flocking to its doors.

So, having a number of EDC’s is good.

That was one column.  But then came this:

Two major Florida chambers of commerce said Monday they may merge, explaining they can solve more regional issues at lower costs if they operate as one organization.

Not to worry, Tampa Bay. That level of cooperation and strategic thinking? It’s not happening here.

The two chambers talking merger are the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. Both chambers issued releases Monday explaining their reasons to explore combining their resources.

“There are many issues that are more effectively addressed with a regional approach,” stated Christine Barney, chair of Miami’s chamber and CEO of Rbb Communications.

“By consolidating our power bases we increase our ability to shape key issues regionally while continuing to address the matters that impact our local businesses and economy,” added Heiko Dobrikow, chair of Fort Lauderdale’s chamber and general manager of the Riverside Hotel.

Could Tampa Bay ever seriously consider a single chamber of commerce for the entire metro area? After 25 years of watching this issue grow and shrink with interest, I see little on the horizon to change this area’s entrenched and balkanized behavior. Separate chambers of commerce exist for each of Tampa Bay’s major cities (Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater). Another dozen or more represent everything from the beaches to Pasco and Hernando counties to South Tampa and Temple Terrace, to name only a few.

Lately even the economic development corporation, or EDCs, have begun multiplying with St. Petersburg and Plant City adding their own job recruiting organizations to the EDCs already operating for Pinellas County, Tampa/Hillsborough and Pasco.

Note that they “may” merge. It is not definite, but if you are a regular reader, you get where this is going.

Sure, there’s been plenty of talk of greater cooperation — if not consolidation — of economic development groups in the Tampa Bay market. Relations between counties, chambers and even mayors are better now than they have been in decades. But they remain separately driven organizations, separately funded with their own economic and political agendas.

The climate between Hillsborough and Pinellas business groups wavers between cooperation and testy competition depending on topic and time of day.

Here’s a recent example. This month, six prominent national corporate site selectors toured the Tampa and Hillsborough market on a multiday visit, then gathered in downtown Tampa to discuss what they saw. They praised much of the economic progress. But several expressed some frustration that they did not see what Tampa Bay has to offer but only what Tampa and Hillsborough County could deliver. Companies — site selectors’ customers who want to know the best places for expansion — could care less about city limits and county borders.

“Frankly, you are diminished when you limit the tour to Tampa and Hillsborough,” said one site selector, Andrew Shapiro of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co. “What about Pasco, Polk and Pinellas and,” he added, “spectacular St. Petersburg?”

St. Petersburg Area chamber CEO Chris Steinocher, in a recent interview, acknowledged that St. Pete had missed an opportunity to coordinate with the visiting site selectors and hopes to make it happen next time. At the same time, St. Petersburg is about to launch its own EDC.

Right about there. So, St. Pete’s EDC is good, but having separate EDC’s is bad?

Is there a lesson in the making here for Tampa Bay? You know how the old saying goes.

When Florida’s economy is growing, everybody starts to prosper and feels little inclination to change the status quo. It’s only in the economic downturns that the need to share resources gains brief credibility.

If the Miami and Fort Lauderdale chambers do merge and their combined economy starts pulling away, we may learn the hard way how more cooperation can go a long way.

Actually, the fact is that in this area, when things are good, people do not feel the need to cooperate.  When they are bad, they bring up excuses, like funding or separate needs, to not cooperate.  There is a lot of talk of cooperation, but the cooperation is definitely limited.  (Maybe, St. Pete should have been pushing to get in on the site selection game with Tampa more rather than trying to create an EDC.  Maybe, Tampa should have been more open to it.)

The reality is that there is still a self-destructive rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete (despite Mayoral rhetoric).  People not from here don’t care at all whether something is Tampa or St. Pete, Hillsborough or Pinellas.  And, frankly, for most people here, it doesn’t really matter.

Going back to the mall analogy, why don’t you market the whole mall and let the prospective tenant choose the space that’s right for them? (A specific location could close the deal after a decision is made.) We suppose that is where the Tampa Bay Partnership is supposed to fit in.

Just know this: when you have numerous bureaucracies that have to justify their budgets, salaries, and existence, the likelihood they will actually work at cross purposes is pretty high.

And, probably more importantly, both Hillsborough and Pinellas are still decades behind our competitors in terms of transportation, with no sign of an ability to deal with it.

And we’ll ask again the threshold question for all those trying to attract all those high paying jobs: why should someone who can go anywhere come here with the faint hope that someday we will be a real urban area (not just a neighborhood) when they can go to places that provide the lifestyle they want already?  If you want to succeed, you better have a very good answer.

— One More Thing

The second column noted this little fact:

The GDP of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area stood at $300 billion in 2014, ranking 12th among metro areas in the country. The Tampa Bay metro market generated a GDP in that same year of $128 billion, ranked 25th nationwide.

It is noteworthy that the figures mean that both areas underperform based on their population.  Times may be “good,” but they are not that good.

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

The PTC/ridesharing story just keeps going.

The chairman of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission said he’s ready to make concessions that will allow ride-share companies Uber and Lyft to operate here much like they do in other U.S. metro areas.

Commission Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a county commissioner, said only a few safety issues have to be resolved before Uber and Lyft can operate in the county legally.

Up to now, the companies have refused to obtain county permits and operate under regulations meant for taxicabs. As a result, lawsuits have been filed and the county has ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers.

Crist, who has been involved in private negotiations with the companies, said he wants the impasse to end. To do so, he’s willing to agree to more flexibility on issues that have bogged down negotiations in the past, such as insurance and background checks.

“They’ll be responsible for policing themselves,” Crist said. “Basically, what we’re asking them to do is update their safety standards. It will allow them to do things the same way they’re doing it now.”

Like a recently struck deal in Palm Beach County, Hillsborough would not require Uber drivers to get background checks that include fingerprints, Crist said. Uber has been steadfast in its refusal to require fingerprinting and the company agreed to pay Palm Beach County a yearly permit fee to avoid doing so.

Under a vote taken last week by the Palm Beach County Commission, the fee would be reduced by half if Uber agreed to more extensive background checks that include fingerprinting.

“We’re saying if it’s good enough to do down in Palm Beach County, it’s good enough for us,” Crist said.

Exactly, if Palm Beach County does not need a PTC, neither does Hillsborough.  As for the deal,

Hillsborough also would refrain from imposing any additional insurance regulations beyond what the state of Florida requires, said Kyle Cockream, executive director of the Public Transportation Commission.

“Whatever the state mandates, that’s what we’re going to enforce,” Cockream said.

The county will continue to require that vehicles driven by Uber and Lyft contractors undergo yearly mechanical inspections, Cockream said. But the drivers will be allowed to take the cars to their own professionally certified mechanics rather than working through the commission.

On the other hand,

The negotiations have no commission members other than Crist. Cockream said the talks are at a “starting point” and not ready for the commission board as a whole.

We tend to think the other PTC members probably want this issue behind them, though they have made it more of an issue that it needs to be.  The Palm Beach ideas have been floated in various forms for a while.  The problem has been the PTC.  Which makes this interesting:

Crist said he has dealt with mounting threats and bullying from the cab companies, whom he described as [] operating “like a cartel in this market,” for years. On Tuesday, Crist said, the insults and aggression continued. Enough, he decided.

His solution: Help Tallahassee revoke the PTC’s state charter and remake it into a county agency with an appointed board with the power to regulate taxis and rideshare companies, which he hopes would remove legislative gridlock from the equation. 

If he knew it was a cartel, why has he defended the status quo for so long?  Why has he championed the cartel and its policies?

It has been obvious for years that the PTC should go.  As for an appointed board – that does not necessarily change anything.  Though, given its collective inability to solve problems, one wonders if the County Commission as presently constituted can handle the job either.

We’ll see what happens.

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Speaking of the PTC, years ago, the PTC, acting as the cartel’s enforcer, killed free, private, electric shuttles in downtown Tampa.  Last week:

Free electric shuttles will begin whisking downtown employees from remote parking lots and the Marion Transit Center to businesses throughout the city’s core within a couple of months.

The Tampa City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Area board, voted Thursday to give the Tampa Downtown Partnership $550,000 toward the $1 million it will take to offer rides from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.

The app-based shuttle program, coupled with another new initiative to bring the car-sharing program Zipcar to the city, should “put a real dent” in the issue of finding a parking space downtown, said Karen Kress, the partnership’s director of transportation and planning. She has been working on this shuttle project for about two years.

The money approved Thursday comes from two different CRA districts — the Channel District and the downtown district. It’s an 80-20 split, since most of the use will be in downtown. The remainder of the funding comes from federal, state and local entities as well as private sector donations.

The on-demand shuttle service will begin operations with 12 vehicles, each able to hold six passengers. Called an on-demand “micro-transit” service, the shuttles will help solve the last-mile puzzle — getting people from transit or parking areas to their final destination and vice versa.

In other words, we used to have a private shuttle service, but government killed it.  Now, we have public shuttle service.  We are all for having the new shuttles, but it is hardly a triumph for conservative, market-based principles (see County Commissioners on the PTC).  And it is hardly a sign of our openness to innovation to kill what was obviously a good idea only to bring it back years later using public money (even if it is CRA money).

It also was announced that Zipcar is coming downtown.  Given that Zipcar has been around for a while, it is about time.

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

There was interesting, though not necessarily important, news about a project in/near Westshore originally proposed long ago:

A New York developer is laying the groundwork to be ready to move forward with one of the most anticipated developments in Tampa’s history.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will consider a height variance for Tampa Bay One, a long-awaited development just off of Interstate 275, near the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and West Cypress Street.

The owner of the site has requested a variance to build four mixed-use towers with a maximum height of 260 feet or more than 20 stories, according to the authority’s May 2 agenda.

Bromley Cos., based in New York, has owned the 17-acre site for almost two decades. It assembled the parcels in the late 1990s. It could hold 1.2 million to 1.5 million square feet of development, depending on the tenant mix and range of uses — retail, residential, office and hotel — that Bromley is able to land.

The variance request doesn’t mean a groundbreaking is imminent, said William Haines, Bromley chairman. But his team is increasingly fielding more interest in the site.

* * *

Bromley’s original clearance from the aviation authority expired. The group has unveiled mixed-use proposals for the site in the past but those were ultimately stymied by the real estate market.

This is for property between Dale Mabry, Himes, Cypress and 275.  Nothing is imminent.  Nothing may happen at all.  It would not be the first time a major project never happens.  On the other hand, it could be nice, especially if any rail line does go between the airport and downtown (some day), it is truly walkable and bikeable, with street retail – not just a mall – and does not have surface parking. So maybe they have to go back to the design board a little if this is the plan:

From the Westshore Alliance website – click on picture for website

From Bromley – click on picture for website

That is about as unconnected from the surrounding area as possible (and it has surface parking lots?) and does nothing to promote a walkable, urban environment.  They need to update that 1990’s design.

One funny thing in the article:

The site is close to the Westshore business district, where the retail vacancy rate is 3 percent and rental rates are the highest in the Bay region.

It’s funny how marketing lines are drawn.  If a building at Waters and the Veterans can be in Westshore (which it isn’t), how is it that a building at Dale Mabry and 275 is not?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Because of time and space (though not space-time), we did not get to this last week, but the County Commission approved renovations to Steinbrenner Field.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a $40 million renovation of George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, greenlighting an agreement that will keep the New York Yankees here for spring training through 2046.

The deal commits more than $13 million in Hillsborough County tourism tax dollars to the project and is contingent on Florida matching those dollars through a spring training retention fund. The Yankees will pay the remaining $13 million.

There are a number of things here.  First, the Yankees spring training does bring a decent amount of business and exposure to the area and the deal includes them staying here until 2046.  It does promote tourism.  Second, the money comes from tourism taxes, which by statute are limited in the ways they can be spent.  They cannot be used for transportation.  They can be used for stadiums.  Finally, the Rays do not seem to care.  So we do not have that much of an issue with the spending.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look at the housing market.

Tampa Bay home prices shot up nearly 11 percent in March, the third consecutive month to show healthy gains.

The volume of single-family home sales also rose — up 4.2 percent over the same month a year ago — although the slower pace reflects a continued shortage of moderately priced homes.

That would seem to be a vicious cycle (as prices go up, the number of houses that are moderately priced will keep going down).  Then again, the situation may support the rental market. (And, then again, the price increases may not continue in that manner. )

The bottom line is that housing seems good for now.  The real issue is whether people will end up paying beyond their means creating and eventually bursting a bubble – and whether our economy is sufficiently developed to withstand the inevitable housing downturn.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Last week, we noted that Orlando had begun the first expansion of SunRail.  This week, we look at Denver:

Local authorities on Friday launched a new Denver-DIA train service aimed at whisking people from the airport to Denver’s Union Station in just 37 minutes for $9. The train leaves the airport starting around 4 am weekdays, and runs every 15 minutes until nearly 1:30 am. DIA is the country’s fifth-busiest airport, with 53 million passengers a year, and the train is a long-missing transportation option.

“This is a major element for our growing up as a global city,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

The airport, although technically in Denver, is actually 23 miles from downtown, and the drive often takes far longer than the usual 35 minutes due to heavy traffic on Interstate 70. The train makes six stops between downtown and the airport, carrying up to 180 passengers at a time. The cars were designed to accommodate travelers with luggage, and have power outlets to charge cellphones.

* * *

Even before it opened, the train began spurring new growth in the area, including an under-construction 400-acre transit-oriented development adjacent to one of the train line’s stops. A key part of that project is offices for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, which plans to create 300 additional jobs in the company’s audio-video and eco-solutions business.

From Denver RTD – click on map for website

It is the product of vision and political will.  Something sorely lacking in certain places around here.

List of the Week

Some like to say this is Tampa’s time.  Well, we found one area where Tampa runs with the big boys: lawyer ad spending.  According to Bloomberg, this was the breakdown of spending on legal services ads last year:

From Bloomberg – click on graphic for article

In fact, if you add Tampa and Orlando, which is still not as big a population as LA (and certainly not New York), they blow away the competition ($12 million more than LA).  Who needs transportation improvements?

Special: Go Hillsborough – A Proponent Has His Say

April 25, 2016

Two Roundups ago, we quoted some comments from a reader in favor of Go Hillsborough. (See “Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough“)  Because we used his comments out of context and so they were a bit disjointed, we offered to post a more prepared statement if he wanted to make it.  He did.  So, without further ado, his comments (we have only edited them for a little and without deleting any points or changing the substance).

This is the best plan one can expect with these elected officials and this electorate.

It is better than most thought could get done and I personally believe it’s a good plan. But, even if you disagree, it is, at minimum, the best plan we can get right now with these elected officials and this electorate.

This is very true and the essence of the debate over Go Hillsborough. The truth is the plan isn’t what I would design. It’s obviously not what advocates against Go Hillsborough would design either. However, for the first time since I have been involved, the “do nothing” crowd does not exist. The tea party, the left, the business community, the urbanists, and the politicians agree *something* has to be done.

So the choices are do something like 2010 and try and spend most on transit and lose with the electorate, do something like 2007 and spend almost all on roads and set us even further behind, or try shift our spending towards smarter growth now.

This plan does that [the last one]. 57% of the money goes to transit, buses, sidewalks or complete streets. Of the money that’s left, only half goes to new roads and widening. The rest goes to signals, intersections, and safety measures. In fact let me note [] the county voted to do take on part of the suggestion that you posted of mine to offload the resurfacing to the budget and shift that money to other projects — and none went to widen or new roads.

This is how this whole process has been. It started at 40% for alternatives and now it is at 57%. But there is another reason it’s a good plan — because of what it does not do. It is not a road tax to fund mostly building new roads like the CIT ended up being. Most of the money isn’t for cars, but not just that **less money than any other plan in the history of Hillsborough goes to new and widened roads**.

It focuses on smarter ways to deal with traffic. Computerized signals, redone intersections, and the 2010 referendum would have had us spend more than twice as much money on new and widened roads than this proposal in the first ten years. Sure, we would have spent tons on transit but the tradeoff then was a half-billion dollar road expansion.

Some argue not enough goes to this or that. Some hate they didn’t write it and others will demand monorails. We won’t get what we each want — it’s part of living in a community. This plan isn’t just a result of this process; every project but one is part of the long-range transportation plan. The system is actually working in this case — and that is what many don’t want to know.

In 2012, no one wanted to talk about transportation. But about 3 years ago in March of 2013 hundreds of citizens showed up at County Center to ask the Commission to start the process that became Go Hillsborough. This is the end result of citizens working with their government. It’s resulted in mobility fees that will collect far more from developers; it’s resulted in taking care of a massive resurfacing backlog; and it’s resulted in a plan forward for the next ten years.

And the plan is a concrete step forward. It may not have been pretty or exactly what any individual wants. I believe it will get better and be the foundation for a future where transportation choices become a part of our lives and allow us to change direction on transportation.

We are also willing consider posting a response, if someone is wants to submit one, provided it sticks to the subject matter, is polite, makes relevant points, and comports with our editorial policy. In keeping with out view that the policy is the important thing, not the person, we will also not list the name of the author. Finally, please note that we reserve the right, for any reason, to edit and/or not post any submissions.

Roundup 4-22-2016

April 22, 2016

Contents

Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

— Phoenix

— LA

— Tampa Bay

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

TIA – A New Record

Economy – Employment

— And One More Thing

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

Rays – Oldsmar?

— And One More Thing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Cool Website

_______________________________________

Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

Go Hillsborough moved to its next stage.

Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved projects that are part of the controversial Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax plan, one that would span 30 years to fund the region’s transportation needs.

The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners approved the list of projects for the unincorporated county that would be presented at a public hearing for further comment and changes on April 27.

Mike Merrill, the county administrator who developed the plan, told the board that the list of projects will be part of the referendum if it makes it to the November ballot. He added that the [sic] other jurisdictions that are part of the plan — the city of Tampa, the city of Temple Terrace, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority — have all approved their project lists.

This came as there was news that some local Democrats are organizing against the plan because it lacks sufficient mass transit. You can read the whole Tribune article on their opposition here, but the Business Journal had a some give and take that summarizes the argument.

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comments came from Ed Turanchik, a former county commissioner and an attorney with the Akerman law firm, and transit advocate[e], Kevin Thurman, among others.

“This is not a transit plan, this is a status quo plan,” Turanchik told the board as he criticized the plan. “CSX is not in the mix. There is a way forward for premium transit congestion relief,” he said. “If you want real congestion relief, move people from where they live to where they work.”

Following the meeting, Merrill said of Turanchik’s criticism: “I think the beef is simply he’s not getting a train. That doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Well, really a plan should be like this:

The board also approved a motion by Commissioner Kev[i]n Beckner to make sure the transportation plan is an integrated one, coordinated with the county, HART and all the other transportation agencies involved in the various projects. 

Given that the motion passed unanimously, it is a real question why such an integrated, coordinated plan wasn’t done in the first place. The fact that it had to be brought up at the meeting this week where the Commissioners approved the list of projects makes one wonder again about the overall plan.

Moreover, the very fact of voting for a coordinated plan supports the criticism above.  The plan does not take into account all the studies that are to take place and all the changes will happen.  Without changes in planning and mobility fees, it merely hardens in place a lot of poor planning.

And, no, it does not have a train or even the vision for a train in the future.  For anyone who really wants proper transit, Go Hillsborough is a faith-based plan – hoping that after ten years, after another big argument, maybe there will be a real plan for real transit (as opposed to just funding HART’s old wish list). That may be the window to transit in the plan, but asking people to just have faith has also always been a problem.

Also of concern was when, at about 11:37 am on the meeting on Wednesday (we noted the time), the Commissioner for the South County (as well as South Tampa and Town N Country/Westchase, though you may never notice) told everyone this little nugget about the County’s share of the money: half the money and one-third of the projects are going to the South County.   Huh? While South County may be poorly planned and there may be future growth there, it is hardly the most congested area in the county. And it is not the part where the majority of through traffic from other counties goes, burdening our transportation system. Why does so much money go there?  What is with the lack of balance? And, given that South County is all sprawl based developments, how does that fit with changing planning priorities and patterns of development?

Nevertheless, the business community finally spoke:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber in Hillsborough, on Thursday endorsed the plan to raises the county’s sales tax by a half-cent to fund growing transportation needs.

“The cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of investing in our transportation options,” said chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack. “We cannot continue to ignore this. It’s impact(ing) workers getting to work, our quality of life.

“It’s impact(ing) our ability to function and we’ve got to do something here.”

The question, really the prudential question if you care about having a proper transportation system, is whether you think Go Hillsborough is really investing in transportation options enough and properly or whether is it basically just trying to make the status quo a little better.  (And part of that is the as yet unaddressed mobility fees and changes to planning.)  We are sure that many are putting their faith in building a rail line from downtown to Westshore.  But, as with many other real transit elements, that is a matter of having faith.  The FDOT study has not even started.

Whether you support Go Hillsborough or not depends on where you come down on that issue. (It would be a lot easier to decide if there was at least a vision for years 10-20.  But that was deliberately left vague.)

As we said last week, we are undecided, more because we doubt that local officials can come up with something better than the merits of the plan.  What we do know is that the plan could easily be made much better, and that is not likely to happen.

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

As we said, major factors in whether the plan has any merit are whether planning will change and there will be mobility fees to cover the costs of new development.

On any number of occasions, Hillsborough County commissioners have proclaimed that developers need to start paying their fair share for new roads to service their new commercial and residential projects.

But on Wednesday, commissioners were instead arguing that a complex mobility fee system, developed after more than a year’s worth of study, had put transportation impact fees too high.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed shock at how high new transportation fees would be for developers of smaller businesses, such as drive-through restaurants.

A 4,000-square-foot, drive-through restaurant would pay an $84,990 in the first year the mobility fees are implemented, probably fiscal year 2017. The fee would top out at $283,300 in the fifth year under the county’s proposed phase-in program.

First, the cost of the mobility fee above is meaningless.  The whole idea of mobility fees is that you pay more when you require more infrastructure.  Fees change based on location and usage.  The example above does not give location.  It does not tell us if the business is in a fully built up area or in what is now a farm in Ruskin.  (Under a proper mobility fee system, a restaurant in a built up area should be significantly lower than one built on the edge of a much more sprawling area.) It is not a fixed number, as implied in the quote above. (Nevertheless, if the County had pushed to have walkability and real transit, the fees would be lower.  But it didn’t.)

Second, what did the Commissioners think was going to happen?  Even if that number is accurate, now we know how much they have been making taxpayers subsidize development.  (The fact is that mobility fees are much more market oriented – you pay for what you use and profit from, you pay for the actual cost of your business.) Some people understood this even if the Commissioners did not.

We are not for pricing business out of the county, but:

The fees proposed by the county staff were developed through research done by Tampa transportation planning firm Tindale Oliver. They are based on the number of vehicle trips generated by a home or business, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads or other transportation improvements to handle the additional traffic.

Steve Tindale, CEO of the firm, said he used methodology common to counties around Florida. The fee levels in those counties are very similar, Tindale said, and are based on interviews with drivers to establish how far they traveled to and from a business.

Those counties where the fees are dramatically different don’t have the documentation to show how they arrived at the final fee rate, Tindale said.

“Two-thirds of the counties were consistent, but a third, it’s going to be difficult to know how they plugged the number in and where the information came from,” Tindale said. “There is no variation where you see the collection information has been collected and consistently applied.”

So, it is not clear that will be the case.  Additionally, it would be nice to know which counties have cut their fees below cost.  One county was talked about a lot: Pasco (which apparently exempts many types of development from any fees).  But,

Ron Barton, assistant county administrator for economic development, advised the commissioners not to use Pasco County as a model when it comes to setting mobility fees. Hillsborough County is three times larger than Pasco in population, Barton said, and workers here earn salaries that are 33 percent higher than the county to the north. And, with 641,000 workers, Hillsborough has six times as much employment as Pasco.

“The fact is, we’re a valuable market and we should be pricing ourselves accordingly with everything we do,” Barton said.

So even the economic development people at the County think the Commissioners are overreacting. (And, yes, they should stop acting like Hillsborough is a desperate small town. That led to the subsidies and low standards that created the mess in the first place.)  The fact is that for decades the County Commission has been giving away taxpayer money either directly or by not charging the fees they should.  That is one of the main reasons we have Go Hillsborough, and that it is such a road plan, in the first place.

The fact is we need a new fee system.  We need new planning (which is completely unaddressed).  It may be expensive, but so is making the taxpayer subsidize drive-through, fast food establishments and sprawling subdivisions.  The question really is not the cost.  It is who is going to have to pay?

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

There was news about a change to the proposed Gandy Connector:

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority unveiled a new rendering Monday, showing that the extension will be 30 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, allowing for continued access and visibility to businesses on both sides of Gandy Boulevard. Most bridges in the United States are 15 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, THEA said.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is a bit odd.  First, there is the fact that if you make it taller, it will be even more obvious and not necessarily that attractive. Second, there is what URBN Tampa Bay pointed out:

Yes, making the road deck really high off of the ground makes visibility underneath somewhat better for business interests along Gandy Blvd. But it also raises the road deck up above the tree line, allowing a whole new level of sound transmission to occur deep into residential neighborhoods flanking both sides of Gandy Blvd.

In other words, raising the road that high makes it more intrusive visually and sonically to the residents nearby.  That seems an odd step to take.

There are a couple of possible solutions.  First, raise it but just not that high.  You can lift if to 20 feet and still improve visibility.  It’s not like most people are driving higher than 5 or six feet above the ground.  Nor are most of the buildings on Gandy very all in the first place.  Most are one story buildings.

Not only that.  It seems to us it would be cheaper (and better visually) to just help local businesses lower their signs.  Then you don’t need to have such a high roadway, and you don’t need such ugly signs (yes, we know that businesses love to have the biggest, tallest signs they can, but there should be better sign laws in Tampa anyway.  Tall, big signs are ugly).

Either way (or a combination of both) seems better than visually and sonically polluting the surrounding area.

There was also news about the timeline:

The planning, traffic and economic studies are expected to be completed by September, with a request for proposal for construction issued two months later. THEA anticipates the construction contract will be awarded next January and construction to begin by the end of 2017. The project is scheduled to open by 2020.

If that holds, it would be very interesting given how long so many projects take to get off the ground.  Apparently, things can get done quite quickly when there is the will to just do them.

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

It is good that the Gandy Connector is tentatively moving forward, though who knows if it will actually be built?  Even if it is built, there will still be a large gap between limited access roads in Tampa and Pinellas in the Gandy corridor.  And even if the Gandy corridor is all made a highway, it will leave a large gap in the northern part of the area, where there is no east-west highway at all.  As we have said many times, that forces people coming from the north and going to Pinellas to drive through Tampa, which adds congestion in Tampa.

— Phoenix

That being said, there is TBX, which will supposedly relieve congestion in Tampa, though for a variety reasons that is a questionable assumption.  Regardless, the push for TBX continues.  This week, the Tribune had an opinion piece by the head of TBARTA.

I recently returned from Phoenix, where I attended a national conference on transportation and urban planning, and Los Angeles for a family vacation that followed the conference. The best part of the trip is knowing that living in the Tampa Bay area is so awesome that I would not trade it for either place when considering all the things we have here. However, there is one thing that we have that, while adequate at times in the past, is clearly not yet ready for prime time. After hearing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s inspirational State of the City speech on April 12, it is easy to see that our biggest challenge is our existing transportation system, which is not yet mature enough to play the role it needs to in a region approaching 4 million people.

Phoenix has worked on transportation infrastructure for a long time. It took Phoenix four referendums, over two decades, to finally get the financial resources in place to build a robust roadway, bus and rail system to serve its population. The investment has resulted in a transformed city compared to the one I visited just seven years ago.

Development along the light-rail line is very impressive, with new residential developments near rail stops, new downtown hotels and a new convention center. Even more impressive is the use of the system. The light rail was completely full every time I used it, even on a Sunday. All kinds of people were on it: college students, business people, tourists and retirees. Our hotel was 3 miles from the convention center, but a block from the light-rail stop. It was easy for me to go back and forth, to meet my family for lunch at restaurants along the line and easily get around without a car.

Waiting for the train to take us back to the hotel following an evening baseball game was very telling. I got into a conversation with a retired couple who talked about the train. They live in the suburbs and thought before it was built they would never use it. Now they love it. They told me they drove to a park-and-ride lot and jumped on the train to the ballpark downtown, all the while avoiding expensive parking costs, traffic jams and all the other issues you have to deal with when you drive.

Transit has changed the whole feel of Phoenix so much — from a relatively suburban model downtown to an active, exciting city.

But transit is not all Phoenix has. As part of the referendum that passed, there also were roadway improvements. Their expressways include express lanes that connect many of the suburban areas to the city.

Are they crowded? Yes. But they basically function in a reasonable, fairly predictable way and appear adequate to the size of Phoenix’s metro area.

On its face, that sounds like a strong argument, so we looked a little closer at Phoenix’s investment in express lanes.  While we found ample articles on Phoenix’s HOV lanes (something the Tampa Bay area has never had) (see here, here, here, here, and here), we did not find any mention of express lanes (defined as variable rate toll lanes).  In fact, we did not really find mention of highways in articles on what was in the 2000 or 2015 referenda plans. (See here , here, here,  and the summary of the 2000 plan here.  The closest we found was this from January 2016:

Arizona Department of Transportation is placing a big weight on the shoulders of Mike Kies, the agency’s director of transportation planning. He has to find a solution to moving traffic that the state can afford.

That’s no easy task. The cumulative total of money needed to preserve the existing transportation system and handle a 1.5 million-person Valley population increase is around $100 billion over the next 20 years

* * *

In Arizona where ADOT studies say that 24/7 traffic volume is too low to support a toll road, peak traffic flows are high enough to support HOT — high occupancy toll — lanes where drivers are demand-charged for using a higher-speed lane on the freeway while others remain in conventional, more clogged, free lanes.

“Managed lanes, which are being tested in some states, assess congestion charges for drivers based on how much traffic wants to use the lane,” Kies explained. “In a HOT lane, pricing goes up to keep lane traffic volume down so that someone paying to use the lane has a generally free traffic flow.”

Which is looking at something in the future.  Moreover, it involves HOT lanes, which are not exactly the same thing as Florida’s variable rate toll/express lanes.  HOT lanes function like this:

Car owners who have transponders are automatically charged as they pass under each toll reader. Carpoolers don’t pay. Photo-enforcement cameras deter cheaters. HOT lanes are usually separated by a concrete barrier to keep cheaters from weaving in and out to avoid detection.

In other words, they are a hybrid between HOV and variable rate lanes.  If you are driving by yourself, you pay.  If you are carpooling, you do not.  At least, HOT lanes car arguably help with congestion by supporting taking cars off the road by carpooling, as do HOV lanes.  HOT lanes also allow people to lower their costs by sharing a ride. (And carpooling lessens the parking requirements in urban areas – another benefit.)  In that way, they are not simply a means to make people pay more while pushing most people into already congested lanes.

But, once again, that is not under discussion here because, well, nothing is actually under discussion here.  We have just been presented with what we are going to get and everyone has been told to get behind it. You don’t believe us?

Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden also urged the audience to back both the express toll lane project called Tampa Bay Express and Go Hillsborough. The MPO, which oversees transportation planning for the county, is holding a public hearing June 22 to determine whether it will formally back TBX by keeping it in the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program.

Without the MPO’s backing, the project dies, [Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary] Steinman said, and the money for interstate improvements is spread between Orlando, Miami and other metro areas. He said all the interstate improvements FDOT is planning for this area, including the rebuilding of the downtown interchange commuters call Malfunction Junction and the rebuilding of the I-275/SR 60 interchange are contingent on the MPO approving TBX. It’s all or nothing for this area, he said.

Just think about that for a minute.  The Howard Frankland bridge replacement, the bottleneck at 275 and SR60, malfunction junction – none of those would be fixed unless we approve the whole thing? Why?  Because that’s just the way it is. How’s that for an indication of the apparent weakness of our legislative delegation and local officials. They don’t even get a choice to pick which projects they want. Either do what FDOT tells you or you are screwed. (Next time someone tells you “local is always better” – See “HART, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism, Part II,” you’ll know that is just rhetoric.)

But we digress.

Getting back to Phoenix, while we find it odd that there is no mention of variable rate toll lanes actually being in Phoenix, maybe they are there.  If they are, please let us know.  And even if they are, note that Phoenix built alternatives (which is necessary for express lane theory) rather than building express lanes and maybe contemplating something else sometime, maybe.

In sum, Phoenix has nothing to do with TBX other than to disprove the arguments for it.

— LA

Next, the opinion piece discussed LA:

Los Angeles, a city completely dedicated to the automobile, started addressing transit 20 or so years ago — and it is helping. They have a fully mature expressway system, with express buses running in dedicated express lanes, light rail in the expressway medians and adequate lanes to reasonably function with the massive amount of traffic that exists there.

In other words, like Phoenix, Los Angeles has addressed all forms of transportation in the last decade.

In other words, LA went hog wild for freeways, then realized that it was a bad model and started changing track.  Setting aside the question of scale for LA versus the Tampa Bay area, how does that support building highways first?

— Tampa Bay

Back to the opinion piece:

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay region?

Here are facts that exist now:

There is no silver bullet — there is not one answer. We have the least number of expressway miles per 100,000 residents of any region our size, and small but efficient transit systems undersized for our regional needs, especially when you consider our commuting patterns. The city of Tampa itself has the fourth-highest percentage of daily population increase of any central city of a metro area in the country — after Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Miami. The reality is we need all our transportation systems improved to match the size of our ever-growing region.

We need to finish upgrading our interstate/expressway system to a functional level with express lanes for express buses, redesigned interchanges and better regional connections between our communities.

While we are working on that roadway task and building our existing transit systems to a more robust level, we need to plan for what comes next, which needs to be some form of premium transit system. The completed expressway system will provide the envelope for transit options so that once construction is complete, we will be able to move to the next level that Phoenix and Los Angeles have already accomplished.

That is not really the lesson to be learned.  The lesson to be learned is that transit, roads, and other transportation matters should be studied together, planned together, and built to function together.  TBX is based on 25 year old plan.  The real comprehensive highway needs of the area have not been studied for a while, if ever. (Does it make sense to keep expanding a few highways to try to keep jamming more cars into the same space or should there be alternatives? How does a potential east-west road in the north fit in to all this?  Will the Gandy Connector ever really connect all the way to 275 in Pinellas and US 19? Will there ever be an east-west road in Pinellas, too?)  The FDOT transit study hasn’t even started.  Have HOV or HOT lanes been studied or must we have the full “Lexus lane” concept? (And, of course, DC, Atlanta, and Miami all have heavy rail, and some have commuter rail).

And part of the reason Tampa has such a daily increase in population (and notice it is percentage) is because so many people live in the unincorporated county so close to the city limits (and things like Westshore and USF) – those people will derive pretty much no benefit from TBX express lanes because the access points are not made for them or there is no good highway near them.  That takes us back to the coordinated study of roads and transit.

We get the basic idea in the opinion piece of a multimodal system.  We are not opposed to all roads.  We are just opposed to a piecemeal approach that is destructive, wasteful, illogical, and fails to have real transit. (And, note, that Phoenix’s rail does not run down the median of the highway)  If the writer really wants to reach his goal of a multi-modal system, he should seek a fully coordinated, comprehensive study of the transportation issue that leads to a comprehensive, non-politicized, non-ideological plan, plus proper planning.  That is not TBX.  Frankly, that is not Go Hillsborough.  Frankly, this area just doesn’t have it.

(And if that is not enough analysis of the opinion piece for you, URBN Tampa Bay posted another analysis that is similar in theme but slightly different here.)

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

We do not know if the opinion piece was part of an organized push for TBX.  We will assume it was not.  However, there was an interesting little piece pointed to by URBN Tampa Bay that discussed San Diego that does deserve to be considered.

How far will transportation agencies go to spin public perception of their highway expansion plans? San Diego’s KPBS has produced a brilliant case study in this video and the accompanying report — a deep dive into the media operation mounted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to defend its slate of highway expansion projects.

In late 2011, SANDAG passed a long-term transportation plan with a slew of highway expansions guaranteed to increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the agency hailed its work as an environmental victory, the first such plan in California to meet the state’s supposedly stringent new sustainability goals.

Environmental groups weren’t fooled. They sued SANDAG on the basis that the agency failed to account for the increased traffic generated by highways, and they were soon joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

You can read the rest of the story yourselves.  The interesting thing was the content of the public relations campaign SANDAG tried.

Here are a few of the highlights from Trageser’s review of SANDAG’s media operation:

Just keep that in mind when you see local officials pumping TBX.

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

The Port board, comprised of political appointees and elected officials, have had their say on TBX, and it is what you thought it would be:

The Port Tampa Bay board of commissioners is sending a letter urging the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization to approve the Tampa Bay Express project and avoid losing the state funds to other regions.

“The proposed Tampa Bay Express project will be a critical link to both the continued enhancement of the region’s transportation network and the ability of Port Tampa Bay’s stakeholders and customers to move cargo efficiently to market,” said the letter dated April 19 and adopted at Port Tampa’s board meeting Tuesday.

In fact, it is wholly irrelevant.  Trucks cannot use the express lanes.  In rush hour, the express lanes will push more traffic into the free lanes, which will block traffic.  Over time, those lanes will get even more crowded and nothing will really help.  More free lanes would be much better for the Port, though there would still be congestion.  And, if the Port ever wants to develop its land downtown, real transit is what they need.

But that is probably not why they sent their support for TBX.  It is far more likely that they sent their support because 1) the Board members are politically connected, so they have to, and 2) they want state money for the port, so they have to.

According to URBN Tampa Bay (and they put the link), the Port’s letter idea was the Mayor’s.   Think of that what you will.

TIA – A New Record

The airport reported that it broke its March passenger record:

WE JUST SET a new record for March! Nearly 1.97 million passengers used Tampa International Airport last month, beating the previous record set in March 2008. 

That is great.

Economy – Employment

There is no doubt that employment numbers have recovered in this area.  Recent news has just reconfirmed that:

Employment in the Tampa metropolitan area has grown by 24 percent since December 2009, making it the fourth-fastest growing job market in the nation and the best in Florida over that period, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

In the same period, the region’s unemployment rate has fallen from 11.9 to 4.6 percent.

Only San Jose, Austin and Charlotte have grown jobs at a faster rate than Tampa Bay since the recession, the study shows. The Orlando metropolitan area placed fifth and Miami 11th in the study, a positive indicator of Florida’s economic health.

And

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA was first among state metro areas in job demand in March with 47,790 job openings and led the way in demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions, with 14,950 openings in March. All 24 metro areas in Florida had year-over-year jobs gains in March 2016. Orlando-Kissi[m]mee-Sanford led the growth story with 49,000 jobs; a 4.3 percent gain. The Tampa region was second; up 3.4 percent as was third-ranked Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach with 27,300 jobs.

And that is all good, though, as we have shown previously, most of our STEM jobs are in lower wage customer service jobs, not the actual production, programing, research, and engineering fields that support high wages and establish real clusters. (See “Economic Development – Searching for STEM”)  Nevertheless it is something.  But it is not this:

“We have changed Tampa’s economic DNA,” he said. “Literally and figuratively, we are leading the state of Florida out of the recession.”

There may be better employment numbers, but there have been in the past, too. (see 1985,  1998, 1998, 2000, excerpt from 2006. We probably missed a cycle in there somewhere.)  It does not follow that our economy has structurally changed, even if incomes have improved a bit.  It is still far too dependent on customer service and other service jobs (like tourism) and real estate.  Yes, we have added some other elements, but, welcome as they are, they are still relatively small.

Changing our economic DNA is an admirable, worthy, and, in all truth, imperative goal and may happen at some point, but we are not there yet.  Right now, it is in no way clear that the present situation is not just another cyclical boom to be followed by another cyclical bust.

— And One More Thing

Somewhat tangentially, the Times had an interesting piece with photos of the Channel District from 2007 and now showing the changes (you can see it here).  The differences are clear.  However, what the piece fails to point out is that all but one of the buildings that the pictures showed was already under construction in the 2007 photo.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  As we go through our cycles, we are adding to our area.  Eventually, hopefully, that will lead to a critical mass.  That we have improved is not the issue.  The issue is whether we are keeping pace with other areas – and not just keeping pace but overtaking them in quantity and quality in our economy (and remember, we start from quite far behind so our growth must consistently outstrip other areas for a long period of time to catch up).  As we always say, we are making progress, but that gap needs to be closed much faster.

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

It seems that the developer that bought Austin Center is moving forward with redeveloping the property.

Besides leasing and property management, though, Redstone has started to think about the future of the 10-acre site in the heart of Westshore. On Tuesday, Fogarty presented preliminary redevelopment plans at the Westshore Alliance’s annual development forum.

While it’s very early in the process, Redstone is envisioning a miniature city of sorts on the site, with retail, office, hotel and residential space. An urban mixed-use development fits in with plans that have been buzzed about since Redstone was under contract to buy it in late 2014.

Setting aside the hyping of a mixed use development not a “miniature city,” we would welcome such a development, depending on the specifics.  It is time for Westshore to grow up (and for the City to pay more attention to helping it really grow up). So, what are they considering?

Conceptual plans include two office buildings — one 200,000 square feet and one 300,000 square feet — with ground-floor retail fronting Westshore Boulevard. There’s also a 50,000-square-foot retail building, 15,000 of which fronts Westshore Boulevard.

The site plan calls for grocery signage, though a grocer isn’t identified on the plan.

The preliminary plans are based on current market demand in Westshore, Fogarty said. There are a number of restaurants and retailers who want to be in the district, he said, but they have nowhere to go. There’s also significant demand for office space, though office rents aren’t quite high enough to justify new construction.

“The retail side — the rents are there,” he said. “On the office side you’ve gotta go out and prove you can do it.”

Fogarty said there’s also significant interest from multifamily developers, which Redstone expected, as well as from hotels, which was a bit of a surprise.

“We’re trying to advance the ball on a multifamily deal,” he said.

It’s soon to name any potential development partners, Fogarty said, but the residential vision for the property would be new to Westshore.

“It’s a higher density project than what’s been seen in Westshore so far,” he said. “Instead of traditional stick frame, it’s moving into concrete structure, which gets you higher density in a smaller footprint.”

Finally, something other than stick construction.  So do they have any conceptual drawings?

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a bit strange to release a rendering of a parking garage first.  Sure, it is a nice, vegetation covered (we think) parking garage, but still. Anyway, the Business Journal has a photo of a possible site plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It would have been helpful if the picture was taken straight on rather than from the floor, but, nevertheless, the layout seems ok (though it is not great having the residential shoved in the back, and we are not sure if there is anything going above the retail or if it will just be a squat building).  In any event, it is early days.  We are sue things will change.  We look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

In what can be described as completely inevitable:

The Museum of Science and Industry, located in north Tampa since 1982, is moving downtown in an effort to modernize what has become a stagnant and unprofitable operation.

The MOSI board voted today to beginning planning for the move by assembling a study team of community partners, land use experts, museum planners and philanthropists. The process should take a year, according to MOSI spokesman Grayson Kamm.

The task force will be led by Mike Schultz, chairman of the museum’s board and president and CEO of Florida Hospital’s West Florida Region.

We do not really have much of an opinion on this because there are no details.  On the other hand, maybe they should have done all the studying first.  But that’s not how most things around here go.

The board, whose meetings are not open to the public, made the decision to move based on a relocation study by Museum Management Consultants and Consult Econ. The study found that a downtown location would allow the museum to “reinvent” exhibits and programs to attract younger adults and seniors. Now, the bulk of MOSI visitors are families with children.

Adding dynamic, constantly updated exhibits could boost attendance by 34 percent, the consultants said.

The decisions may have been based on the studies, but it was more likely other factors.  Obviously, MOSI has no money, the County wants to give the MOSI land away (given their track record, that is a big question mark), and the Lightning owner wants MOSI in his project. That would seem to do it. (Even with the lawsuit that may be coming.)

Now, we’ll have to see what they come up with.

Rays – Oldsmar?

There was an article in the Times regarding the Rays’ stadium search:

When the Tampa Bay Rays announced their dream list of ingredients for a new stadium site in February, regional connectivity was high on the list.

That was music to Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis’ ears. For several years, he had kicked around the idea of luring the Rays to this city of 14,000.

After all, the northern Pinellas County city that hugs the Hills-borough border is practically middle ground in Rays country. In fact, 120 acres of undeveloped land owned by Tampa Bay Downs lies just to the west of Race Track Road, the actual county line.

“When we started this conversation 2 1/2 years ago it was kind of tongue in cheek, but the more we talked to people, the more it made sense,” Bevis said.

And, despite the theoretical possibility of getting funding from Pinellas and Hillsborough, unless someone is going to fix Memorial Highway, build an east-west expressway, and start running rail transit on the CSX tracks through the area anytime soon, it should stay tongue-in-cheek.

— And One More Thing

A Times columnist discussing the Rays said this:

A 40-minute drive north is no different from a 40-minute drive south. Or east. Or west. And that’s what you get in a market with no mass transportation and no dominant center.

Except, like it or not, there is a center to West Central Florida, and it is in Tampa.  What that means for the Rays remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While this area keeps debating what sort of transportation system we will have, others are actually acting.  For instance Orlando:

The southern expansion of SunRail into Osceola County began earlier this month and is set to be completed in a little under two years, adding an additional 17 miles and four stations to the commuter rail system.

The expansion would extend from the Sand Lake station in south Orange and have four stops: the Meadow Woods community in south Orange, near the Tupperware business campus, downtown Kissimmee and Poinciana.

The extension will cost $186 million and is expected to be finished by early 2018. Construction isn’t expected to cause any traffic problems.

They are also working on getting funding for a northern expansion, though they did not get Federal money this year.

While we are in favor of using DMU units on CSX rails rather than having a more commuter rail system like SunRail, the big take away is that the Orlando region, as a region, is working together to move into the future while we have plans that, even if they were to pass, lack compelling vision.  And Orlando is about 15 years ahead of us (and that does not count the delay 10 years in the Go Hillsborough plan).

Cool Website

Citylabs highlighted a very cool website:

As the social and economic benefits of transit become clearer and clearer, a parade of data-driven maps and websites have tried to evaluate transit access in major American cities: where buses and trains go, who they serve, how effectively, and how often.

Tuesday marks the launch of AllTransit, the most exhaustive and accessible such resource yet. A joint project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter, it assembles the largest collection of transit data anywhere—543,000 transit stops, 800 transit agencies, and 15,000 routes nationwide, according to the site. That in itself is a major public service, since agencies aren’t (as of yet) required by the DOT to open up their data about connectivity, access, and frequency. AllTransit doesn’t offer that data raw (not for free, at least), but it does offer a number of useful ways to explore it.

You can access it here.

Roundup 4-15-2016

April 15, 2016

Contents

Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

— The Editorial

— The Polls

— Conclusion-ish

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

— One More Thing

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

— Meanwhile, to the West

— Conclusion

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

— And a Little Service Sort of News

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

Latin America – Cuba Developments

— A Slow Boat to Havana

— The Consulate Search

This is Not Good

________________________________________________

Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

We were really hoping to avoid saying anything about Go Hillsborough this week.  But it was hard, especially with the news that came out.

— The Editorial

First the Times ran an editorial, which is echoed many of our criticism of Go Hillsborough (we apologize for the big quote):

Of course, revenue is only half of the equation. The spending plan also falls flat, as it continues to pour more money into the same old road system instead of investing strategically in more efficient transit options. Of the $1.2 billion committed for the first 10 years, 58 percent would go to roads and 42 percent to mass transit. That split should be reversed. This plan won’t give commuters convenient and reliable options for leaving the car at home, and it guarantees that the road network will absorb the lion’s share of transportation spending for decades.

The plan for mass transit is less than meets the eye. Of the $505 million in spending in the first decade, one-fifth would go for an express bus line in the southeast suburbs, one of the worst areas for bus use in the county. Another $21 million would go for ferries to take south county residents assigned to MacDill Air Force Base onto their restricted work site. Running empty buses in the suburbs is not a wise use of these precious dollars or a good visual advertisement for mass transit. As a recipient of federal transit aid, the county could also be courting an equity issue by funding a bus to nowhere in the suburbs at the expense of service to inner-city residents. And taking employees on a closed route to and from a restricted military installation is a nice addition but of limited public benefit.

Take away the suburban express and the ferry, and the spending plan becomes more upside-down, with one-third for transit and two-thirds for other pet projects. For the much-touted Tampa rail project from downtown to the airport, there is no route, no train technology, no finance schedule and no idea how the city would cover 93 percent of the project’s $480 million cost. A study to answer those questions wouldn’t even begin for at least two years. Same for the express bus in the suburbs — no route and no spending plan. The Legislature put $100,000 in the budget this year to study an alignment, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.

With its lack of specifics, the Go Hillsborough plan is not a coherent long-term plan but a list of projects the county and its three cities could fund with a new revenue source. There is no overarching vision for bringing together the road and mass transit projects, no discussion of how and when the many moving parts fall into place, no explanation of how projects fit into larger plans by the area ports or airports, and no sign of how Go Hillsborough would make the county more competitive.

Even after two years of study, officials have failed to get ahead of the problem by addressing land development policies that drive new growth to the far-flung exurbs. If anything, this measure promotes sprawl by forestalling any effort to address growth and transportation in a single policy. County commissioners and staff went to some lengths during a meeting last week to underscore that there is no plan for introducing rail across the county, much less across the Howard Frankland Bridge. And the spending plan doesn’t extend beyond the first 10 years, leaving two-thirds of a 30-year tax proposal still in the conceptual stage.

* * *

But it’s long been clear that county commissioners have no stomach for making the hard decisions that would make Go Hillsborough stronger. The result is an underfunded, poorly designed plan that seeks to appease antitax conservatives in the suburbs at the expense of urban residents and puts off questions about rail, growth and regional connectivity until further down the road.

The Times concludes that the plan either needs to be fixed or tossed so as to not lock in this plan.  There is something to be said for that position.

And yet . . . we keep coming back to this: this basically that this is the best plan one can expect with these elected officials and this electorate.  Frankly, the best argument for Go Hillsborough was made by a reader who also sees the warts on the plan in a Facebook discussion (he is the one who first brought up the fixes we have posted previously).  Because it was not really written for this purpose, his comment is short and may seem a bit disjointed (and we apologize for putting his words out there like this.  If he wants to write some and send it to us that lays out his position more clearly, we will be happy to post it).  Still, it makes the point:

Buses are the critical need for transit. Period. [T]he long term for the county is [undetermined]. That is a valid question for everyone to ask . . .  It’s an opportunity to try and convince the county to say what they are going to do with $1.6 Billion or more from 2027 to 2047.

. . .in fact [the Go Hillsborough plan]’s significantly better in the first 10 year than anything anyone has proposed in a decade. More detailed, more realistic, and more tied to what people want.

That is true (though maybe not enough of what the people want).  Despite its problems, this plan is better than anything in the last ten years.  And that is a reason to support it.

Either way, people should get a chance to vote.

— The Polls

There were a couple of polls released this week regarding public support for the plan. They did not provide any clarity.

A poll released Thursday by the Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce says as many as 54 percent of respondents would support a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements.

That rate of support slips to 47 percent, however, when the question is put in different contexts, according to chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack.

There are two ways to look at the result:

Rohrlack downplayed the level of support shown for the transportation tax, saying more work needs to be done educating the public about how the new tax proceeds will be spent before a majority might support the levy.

“There is some support but there is still some education that needs to go on,” he said

Proponents of the tax were more upbeat.

“The long and short of it is, it’s a very positive thing that the majority of residents are willing to raise their taxes to fix transportation problems,” said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay. “Everything else is just conjecture. If people want to say (the numbers) aren’t positive, they’re wrong.”

Maybe.  One thing is clear:

Many voters who don’t support the tax still agree something should done about the county’s gridlocked highways, pot-holed neighborhood streets and limited mass transit options.

A huge majority of those polled — 88 percent — thought improving the county’s transportation system is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” priority.

And even more interestingly from the Chamber of Commerce poll:

When asked if the plan goes too far or not far enough in solving the area’s traffic crisis, 54 percent said it did not go far enough, whereas 24 percent said it did goes too far.

Which is an interesting circle to square with the County Commission’s timid approach.  Maybe boldness would bring greater support, even if those who are already opposed would yell a little louder.  On the other hand, given that, for political reasons, the Commission’s approach has been defined more by the opponents of any transit than the proponents, boldness is unlikely.

A second poll had quite a different result:

A new poll indicates a majority of Hillsborough County voters would support a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for transportation improvements if a vote were held today.

The poll, conducted by the Tampa-based Mercury firm and financed by unidentified business interests, indicates the strongest support yet for the proposed tax. A total of 66 percent of those surveyed said they would either “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax.

Given polls from previous referenda, we have our doubts about those results.  Regardless, a few things are clear.  Transportation is a, if not the, major issue for this area.  It definitely is an issue for people who live here now and have to get around. As has been discussed previously, it is a major issue for companies looking to relocate. It is an economic issue.  It is a lifestyle issue.  It is like a health issue.  And for many, especially some of the biggest opponents of transit, it is an ideological issue.  And, finally, it is an issue that has been handled badly by local officials.

— Conclusion-ish

We are really of two minds about the issue.  The plan is in not inspiring.  Regular readers will know that we agree with basically every criticism in the Times editorial.  (And note that even if you are good with the city rail components and even if you think the present Mayor is a can-do, big vision, big project mayor, he will be out of office before anything regarding the downtown-Westshore rail line will really be done.  There is no guarantee about the next administration.  Even something as obvious and supported like the Riverwalk took 40 years.) And, to a large degree we agree with this from URBN Tampa Bay:

Even if we concede, ok this is just a half cent sales tax, it’s a limited pool of money… And ok, a sales tax is the only significant funding mechanism we can hope to get from the existing political establishment… Even if we reduce expectations for Go Hillsborough to near zero, Go Hillsborough still doesn’t check the first box any transportation plan should check, which is to offer a compelling vision that the community can rally behind.

And yet . . . and yet, we know that the present County Commission is not going to provide a compelling vision. And, given local politics, it is questionable whether any group of elected leaders in the foreseeable future will either. Go Hillsborough probably is the best we can get right now, especially given the present County Commission and the electorate. And people who have been here a while will know that Hillsborough County (Tampa included) has a hard time taking big leaps forward, which is why we lag behind other areas. There is an argument that, while uninspiring and still too road centric (and including spending money on pork for Commissioners – like the South County Express Bus – rather than really being a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan), you are just not going to get much better with the government you have. Given that, there is reason to support it.

To be honest, we are still undecided.

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

This week, there was news of the Gateway Express portion of TBX in Pinellas.

The Florida Department of Transportation reached out to contractors Thursday, unveiling its latest plans for the Gateway Expressway.

The project “will take Tampa Bay into the future for many years,” Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development at the Florida Department of Transportation, told an audience that packed a hotel ballroom near the campus of the University of South Florida.

The Gateway Expressway is six separate, multifaceted projects intended to make driving into and around Pinellas County easier and safer. It has been in the planning stages for 16 years.

The overall project includes building a new four-lane elevated expressway from the Bayside Bridge and U.S. Highway 19 to Interstate 275. There will also be express lanes along the median of I-275 from south of Gandy Boulevard to the Howard Frankland Bridge. A toll-free option will remain.

Heading south from the Bayside Bridge, there will be a new flyover ramp to access the new tolled road. At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), the access road will be reconfigured and shifted south toward the new overpass at Terminal Boulevard.

Traveling south along U.S. 19, there will be new flyover ramps and a new viaduct bridge at 49th Street. Interchange ramps will be reconstructed with express lanes to I-275.

The express lanes will continue north along I-275 across the Howard Frankland Bridge to connect with future express planes throughout the Tampa Bay region.

First, we have no problem with the basic idea of Gateway Express – except that there is no real transit to go with it in Pinellas County.  Pinellas is plainly underserved in the highway department.  The basic idea of the connections in Gateway Express make sense (though there should be a full connection to the Gandy Bridge and the plan is not a substitute for real transit).  We don’t even have a problem with it being a toll road.  Toll roads make sense in many circumstances. (Did we mention that Pinellas needs real transit, especially if it wants to grow at all, which will require redeveloping areas more densely?)

On the other hand, we do have an issue with toll roads that have variable rate toll lanes.  If people are already paying to use a road, why should they have to pay more to get proper service? (And what alternatives do they have – which is a prudential question for the express/variable rate/congestion pricing theory? None, because there is no real transit in Pinellas County).

Nevertheless, the overall idea, sans express lanes is ok.

— One More Thing

In the Business Journal article about Gateway Express, there was a schmancy video from FDOT, which is this:

Towards the end of the video, the video shows the variable rate toll lanes, otherwise known as “express lanes.”  Around 6:26 of the video, the video goes towards the Howard Frankland Bridge.  It shows 4 free lanes and an express lane on 275.  Then it gets to the approach to the Howard Frankland where all of a sudden you get three free lanes and one express lane.  As everyone knows, the Howard Frankland now has four free lanes.  In other words, the plan, as presented by FDOT this week, appears to take away a free lane from the Howard Frankland (which was the previously announced plan, though it is unclear if it still is), or, at best, create new bottle necks at the end of the bridge until the bridge is widened in the “future.” Especially given FDOT’s propensity for widening roads before fixing bottlenecks (see Malfunction Junction and Howard Frankland/SR60), that plan needs clarification.

And then there was this:

The project is also leaving open an option for a future light rail corridor on the south side of Ulmerton Road.

Which is all well and good, but who says that is the best path for any possible rail?  We are still waiting for FDOT’s own transit study (and will be waiting for a while).  Will any other path’s be closed off?  If so, why?  Shouldn’t there be a full study first.

It all goes to the uncoordinated planning or transportation in this area and plans that are slavishly accepted by most local officials without much (or any) discussion.  Like we said, the basic idea of building these connections is fine (overdue, even).  But there are still a lot of questions.

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

We only rarely venture deeply into subjects regarding Pasco County and usually they involve issues that have a wider significance. This week, however, there were a number of items regarding Pasco that merit a more comprehensive look.  Before we get there though, we have to point out that Pasco has done some good things, like institute mobility fees.  However, even with those, Pasco has seemed to completely ignore proper planning and has failed to learn the lessons of nearby counties.  Frankly, it is a sprawling mess, especially around SR 54/56.  We can think of few places in the area that are more car-centric.  And it is only going to get worse with all the sprawling development planned for that area.

Now, to the issues.

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

First, it is often said that sprawl has hidden costs.  Now, Pasco is making those costs known.

Faced with a growing number of aging neighborhood roads, many of which suffered further deterioration during last summer’s floods, the county commission realized it could not afford to use property taxes to pave the thousands of miles of subdivision roads in Pasco County. Following the practice of many rural counties around the country, the county commission adopted a special assessment ordinance that charges residents the cost of paving neighborhood roads.

Unfortunately, word of the ordinance didn’t reach all of the residents. Waving assessment bills they said they never saw coming, they flocked to commission meetings to protest.

Leventis expressed the concerns voiced by many of the residents.

“We’re not a gated community. All our roads are public. It’s not just us using them, so why do we have to pay to have them paved?” she asked. 

That is the cost of sprawl.  In a sprawling area, land is not used efficiently or productively.  You have more road surface than necessary to move people around and the land facing that road is not as productive (or as taxable).  Logically, you have more road surface to maintain and less revenue to cover maintaining it than more urban/walkable planning.  That is the idea behind mobility fees and promoting infill: the roads, and other utilities, are already there, make them productive. (Though sadly, many sprawling areas are almost impossible to really have infill without just ripping down what is there and starting over.)

County Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey repeated the refrain from other commission meetings in the past two months.

“Your property taxes do not go to road maintenance,” she said. “And Pennies for Pasco (gas tax fund) has a long list of projects approved by voters for safety, operational improvements at intersections, maintenance of traffic signals, signage and road and bridge operations.”

The paving assessment spreads the cost of paving roads throughout the neighborhood, she said. Residents can pay the assessments in a lump sum or over 10 years. For qualifying low-income residents, the cost may be offset with state or federal grant funds.

Most of the assessments approved by the commission to date have ranged from $250 to $350 a year for 10 years.

When you keep pushing the sprawl over more and more areas, costs go up and revenues do not rise at the same level.  You get a deficit and someone has to pay.  Services cost money.

Public Works Director Mike Garrett said many neighborhood roads have not been repaved since the 1970s.

Ok, that is just embarrassing.  What kind of management is that?  And how do you keep planning the same way when you know you can’t even maintain what you have?

In sum, the sprawl model is easier to do and what many developers are set up to do.  It makes money for large land owners who can sell their holdings, so local officials, who are often supported by the big landowners, are in favor of it.  And the elected officials at the time can trumpet growth and their great leadership.  Then, a decade or so later, it is time to pay the bill, many of the elected officials have already moved on, and the homeowners are left to pay.  That is what Hillsborough is dealing with and that is what Pasco is dealing with.  (And, frankly, that cost is not much different from a ½ cent sales tax increase and does not seem to include repaving other roads or providing any transit or other alternatives, like you could really walk or bike from a subdivision to SR 54/56 locations).

The sad thing is that it is entirely predictable.

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

Another not so hidden cost of sprawl is embodied by SR54/56, and the mess that they have become.  As we have often said, SR54/56 is built in such a way that, even if there was transit, no one in their right mind would use it because the distances one would have to walk, especially to cross streets and vast parking lots, is so great that it makes no sense (and is actually quite dangerous).  SR54/56, with its intersections with three left turn lanes in addition to the regular lanes, huge setbacks, drainage ditches, and huge parking lots is such a place.  But something needs to be done because the traffic is a mess and will only get worse.  The logical thing to do would have been to build the east/west road planned for Pasco long ago to at least get through traffic off SR54.  That did not happen.

Then there was the relatively recent proposal for an elevated toll road down the middle of SR54. That would have at least allowed traffic to move (at least better than what is there now).  But that was nixed because of financial issues, though there was loud public opposition. (see here and here)

But Pasco has not given up on solving SR54/56.

It’s now up to the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization to choose a remedy for predicted traffic congestion along the corridor of State Roads 54 and 56.

For the past seven months, two task forces made up of concerned residents, landowners and business owners have studied ways to head off what traffic experts believe will become a gridlocked transportation corridor by the year 2040.

Although the widening of State Road 54 and State Road 56 to six lanes has provided some relief for drivers, the reprieve won’t last long, according to the MPO. In the next 25 years, the population of Pasco County will triple with most of the growth — 135,000 new residents — settling in large-scale community developments along the 54/56 corridor.

“They’re building hundreds of new homes along that corridor that will dump a ton of more trips onto 54/56,” MPO senior planner Manny Lajmiri said. “If we’re going to be ready for it, we have to act now.”

Note that pretty much all of that growth will be sprawling, car-centric growth, which makes sense, because, what else can you really do, especially when most of the developments already are sprawling, car-centric developments? (For instance see here and here and just remember there is no way you are walking any of that.)

Last year the MPO formed two task forces, one to represent the corridor from U.S. 19 to U.S. 41 and the other to represent the corridor from U.S. 41 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The members have met monthly to discuss possible solutions and recommendations.

The task forces held their final meetings March 28 and 31 and will present their recommendations to the MPO on Thursday.

“Each task force came up with their own recommendations, but many of them overlap,” said Sandy Graves, chairwoman of the “east” task force.

We are not sure what an express lane for buses even is, so it is not really traditional.  Setting that aside, there was a bit of surprise.

Included is a recommendation by both task forces to build elevated express lanes to include a dedicated guideway for bus or rail transit.

At a joint meeting in February, the task force members opposed a suggestion by Florida’s Department of Transportation to build elevated lanes over U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes because of the effect on the business district at that intersection.

Since then, task force members have decided to keep the idea of elevated lanes under consideration — provided local traffic can continue using at-grade roads, and pedestrian bridges are included.

Let’s look a little closer at the recommendations (you can see drawings of the ideas if you click on the lists and look at the associated pdfs).  First, from the east task force:

-Alternative B: Grade Separation @ Major Intersections and At Grade Rail or Exclusive BRT and Uses Same Grade Separated Overpasses

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections):At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes And At Grade Exclusive Transit In Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus

Now from the west task force:

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative C: Elevated Express Lanes and Local Buses Remain At Grade and No Transit in Elevated Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes and At Grade Exclusive Transit in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus 

So the highest ranked common idea is and elevated highway (we are not sure if they mean variable rate toll lanes or just a limited access road, maybe normal tolls) and rail or BRT.  Setting aside the issue of getting an elevated road through opposition and whether it will be a normal toll road or some variable rate thing, Pasco needs an east-west road.

On the other hand, usually we are all for transit.  However, because SR54/56 in most places is so sprawling, we actually think that without some radical change in planning and building patterns (and in some places even with it), transit on SR54 very well might be a waste of money.

Nevertheless, it shows that Pasco may know that it made mistakes in planning (though “do nothing” was on both lists, too).  Whether it will actually do anything about it is another question.  We tend to think they will just add some lanes or maybe some more buses, declare victory and move on until the next time.  This is Tampa Bay, after all.

— Meanwhile, to the West

So what if nothing changes?  Well, just look to the west, to US19 in Pasco County.

About 650 people have suggested new names for U.S. 19, west Pasco County’s main north-south artery.

The contest entries kick off an effort to improve the safety, aesthetics and image of the roadway stretching between Holiday and Hudson near the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Why the contest?

Local leaders in recent months have hit the road to boost support for an image makeover of the much-maligned section of U.S. 19 through Pasco. For years, the section of U.S. 19 in Hernando County has been called Commercial Way.

The local chamber and board of Realtors formed a partnership to handle landscaping maintenance along about 20 miles of the six-lane highway and also pushed for the name change.

The maintenance group will coordinate with the city of New Port Richey, which plans to spruce up U.S. 19 within the city’s limits.

The Port Richey Bayou Business Association wants to focus on embellishing the U.S. 19 bridge over the Pithlachascotee River, said Kristin Tonkin of Sunset Landing Marina.

“We’ve got to make it a place people want to go instead of to avoid,” Armstrong said about enhancing U.S. 19. The corridor remains the “single biggest economic engine” in the county, he said.

While we are not sure if it is the biggest economic engine in the county, we are sure it needs a makeover.  As bad as SR54/56 is traffic-wise, it is definitely nicer looking than US19, even though US19 is near the water.  US19 now is what SR54/56 will become without a change in approach.  US19 was the first modern focus of growth in Pasco.  However, eventually, the land got used up and the sprawl developers moved on to build newer sprawl elsewhere, like farther east on SR54. That left much of west Pasco behind, especially without good highway access (back to the east/west road) to the major population centers.

— Conclusion

None of this is inevitable, but it is predictable.  It is all the result of choices made over a long period of time, mostly made based on short term interests rather than long term vision.  Pasco should have learned from the counties around it and done better, but, so far, it hasn’t.  Now other counties can learn from it.  For instance, mobility fees are good.  However, they are not enough.  You need to change planning, too.  You need to have proper infrastructure.  You need to change your mentality and not settle for just a little nicer version of the same thing that caused you a problem in the first place.  And you have to take a longer view – not just the length of your term in office.  The lessons are there to be learned.  Whether they will be learned is an open question.

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

(c) 2015 All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of a Reader.

This week, once again, the airport gave us a lesson how things can be done right in the Tampa Bay area (if only they would hold a seminar for the County Commission).  First,

Which airports leave fliers the most satisfied?

Tampa International scored the highest rating among big airports in the United States. Omaha’s Eppley Airfield and Washington state’s Bellingham International were the top-rated medium and small airports, respectively.

That’s according to feedback from more than 170,000 passengers who’ve flown through U.S. airports between November 2015 and February 2016. The data was collected by the AirportXP, a mobile platform from Phoenix Marketing International that collects real-time feedback from fliers.

Among large airports, Tampa performed best with  82% of respondents scoring the airport with a “6” or “7” on a 7-point scale via AirportXP. A “7” means a flier was “very satisfied” with their experience while a “1” means “very dissatisfied.”

Tampa edged out Salt Lake City (81%) for the top rating among “large” airports. Charlotte (79%), Chicago Midway (78%) and Atlanta (76%) round out the top five. h

Setting aside that we are not sure who would vote for either Atlanta or Charlotte’s airport, that is great.  Yes, a one time ranking on such a list is no big deal, but the airport is a usual suspect on airport rankings.  It is great, and we all know it.

Aside from the innovative and excellent original plan, one thing that makes it great is that it constantly updates that plan and stays ahead of the game (unlike, say, the Hillsborough County Commission on transportation and planning).  That trend continues:

With passenger growth in 2015 exceeding projections, Tampa International Airport officials are re-evaluating plans for future upgrades.

The $1 billion initial phase of the airport’s master plan appears to be on target for a smooth landing over the next year, so it’s time to determine if the plan to move forward is solid, airport CEO Joe Lopano said.

That re-evaluation will take place over the next four months with the help of two consulting firms: one considering physical renovations and expansion; the other looking at whether the airport is targeting the right geographic regions to attract new nonstop flights to Tampa.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board voted recently to extend the consulting contracts, one by $110,000 on top of the $2.2 million the airport initially shelled out to develop the long-term plan, and one by $200,000 to evaluate future targets for new flights.

“We’re taking a look at all of the assumptions and making sure we still have confidence on where that is leading us and that we’ve done our due diligence in going on to the next phase,” Lopano said.

Exactly.  Before the first phase of a master plan is done, they are looking to see if the next phases make sense (as opposed to FDOT which uses a 25 year old study to justify something which did not even exist in that plan: variable rate toll lanes).  And that all makes sense, because things change:

Already, the airport is seeing growth rates that far exceeded its projections going into phase one of the master plan, which includes a new consolidated rental car facility, a new people-mover train, 65 new restaurants and more space in the main terminal.

Airport executives had predicted 2 percent growth last year and saw 7 percent growth, said Chris Minner, the airport’s vice president of marketing.

Good deal.  So what is going to be examined?

As written now, the second phase of the master plan, expected to get underway sometime between 2018 and 2023, calls for construction of a new hotel and service building replacement and demolition, relocating the air traffic control tower and creating new employee parking at a cost of approximately $400 million. The third phase, scheduled for between 2020 and 2028, calls for expanding the main terminal to handle 34.7 million passengers annually — about double what it handles now. The airport, under the current plan, would have a new airside with international and domestic gates, an international curbside at the main terminal, new security checkpoints and increased concession space, all at an estimated cost of about $1.2 billion.

Consultants will consider whether those plans should stay as is or get tweaked, based on accelerated passenger growth and other economic factors, Lopano said.

Fine with us.  And:

At the same time the master plan is being reviewed, Minner is working with a consulting firm on determining the best markets to target for new nonstop flights.

Already, of the six areas targeted to date — Mexico City, Panama City, the Bahamas, Europe, Sao Paulo and Bogata — three are on board, he said. Tampa International now has flights to Frankfurt, Germany, Zurich, Switzerland, London, England, and two islands in the Bahamas. Minner and his team will review the others and decide whether to keep them or target six completely new destinations.

And that is all based on actual metrics, which is nice (as opposed to just tossing out vague notions of economic development for things like, say Bass Pro Shops or playing fields, and throwing money at them).  But that does not mean that the airport does not invest.  Aside from all the building projects, they also have properly targeted incentives (sorry for the long quote):

“There is an economic impact assessment where we closely examine how much revenue does the airport derive and how much new revenue does that generate for the entire region,” Minner said. When the airport lands a new nonstop flight to Europe, for example, that is worth $154 million a year to the airport, including the job creation that comes with it.

The airport offers incentives to get airlines to come here, Minner said, such as waiving certain fees the airlines would otherwise pay to do business at Tampa International. There are business partners in the community that pitch in to make that possible, including Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete Clearwater, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. All have a stake in the airport’s success, Minner said.

When the Tampa airport first began offering incentives to airlines to fly from Tampa, Lopano said, some in the community scoffed, saying the airlines would stay only as long as the incentives lasted.

That’s not what happened. Edelweiss, which flies to Zurich, and Copa, which flies to Panama City, have both stayed well past the end of incentives, which included the waiving of gate fees by the airport. And they’ve added more flights.

“I think we are on the right track to move on to the next phase” of the master plan, Lopano said. “We’re tweaking. We’re going back into the weeds again and making sure the basis of the forecast is sound and that we all buy into it.

“We’ve always said this is one big hairy beast and we need to be very thoughtful on how we move forward,” Lopano said. “The first phase was a financial no-brainer because it was funded mostly with rental car fees. They wanted a building and were willing to pay. The next phase is sort of on us.”

Note, that incentives were very controversial under the old airport director.  It took much work by a small dedicated group to push for that change.  The same is true for pushing for international service.  Most of the local political class just went along with the old airport director to get along, like they do on TBX.

Investment in infrastructure, especially well done infrastructure brings returns.  And incentives for new business can bring returns if your analysis is proper and you only use it to buy quality that is sustainable.  There is nothing wrong with either of those things if properly done. They are not without any risk, but risks can be minimized with intelligent planning and analysis – as well as a proper vision. (Once again, is the Hillsborough County commission paying attention?). And note that the airport is already working on the financial issues for getting the next phase done before the first is completed. It is nice to have an adult approach.

We just wish that more local officials would function like the airport. (But, please, don’t wrap the new people moved in pictures of birds).

— And a Little Service Sort of News

There was news of a possible new service:

Silver Airways will offer a nonstop flight from Tampa to Nassau starting next month. And Bahamasair also has proposed a new flight from Nassau to Tampa, according to the website airlineroute.net.

Tampa International officials declined to comment on the Bahamasair report, but airlineroute.net reports that flights to and from Nassau and Tampa could begin on Jan. 6 next year and would be offered twice weekly on a ATR42-600 twin-turboprop aircraft, which seats about 40 to 50 passengers. 

Ok, it is not Singapore Airlines, but we are happy with any new service and with more airlines.  We have never understood the dearth of flights to the Bahamas from Tampa.

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

In contrast to the airport, we have the PTC, which shouldn’t even exist.  But it does.  Here is what has been going on.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission refuses to give up its fight against ride-hailing company Uber, and now drivers are in the middle.

PTC Vice Chair David Pogorilich says his group will continue to ticket drivers who agree to work illegally for Uber. They’re setting up stings and issuing $700 tickets. Pogorilich said the PTC wants Uber to put drivers through background checks and finger printing. It also wants the company to agree to other rules.

So, nothing productive.  But then there was this:

There has been a major shake-up at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

It happened after 8 On Your Side started asking tough questions about a trip taken recently by Kyle Cockream who is the executive director of the Hillsborough PTC.

Cockream traveled to the Palm Beach County Commission last week to speak on a ridesharing ordinance being considered there.

Cockream also met with county commissioners the day before the meeting and was there with a man named Lou Minardi, who is the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Cockream maintains he was on vacation and just happened to go to the meeting because he’s interested in the issue.

However, when he introduced himself in the public meeting before the county commission, he gave his name and title with the Hillsborough PTC and never said he was there as a private citizen.

* * *

However, his remarks were directed against ridesharing companies. He held up two examples of drivers arrested in Hillsborough County for offenses and told commissioners they were driving for ridesharing companies. He told commissioners the insurance carried by Uber and Lyft drivers is an area that can have fraud.

Maybe, maybe not.  But why is he crusading (coincidentally with a local cab company owner) against ridesharing if the PTC has no problem with ridesharing, just getting fingerprints and background checks?  Anyway:

Not long after a WFLA TV interview with Cockream on Monday, the general counsel of the PTC sent an email to board members advising them that Cockream had resigned.

At 8:50 p.m. on Monday, Cockream sent an email to WFLA TV stating:

“This afternoon the General Counsel Attorney for the PTC sent an official notification to all of the PTC Board Members that I submitted a “resignation”. My retirement paperwork (not resignation) was submitted January 21, 2016 to Commissioner Crist. This is in no way related to our conversation earlier today,” said Cockream’s email.

So he is no longer at the PTC. That does not change the questions that the episode raises about what the PTC is really all about.

State Senator Jeff Brandes has a different view. “I think it’s incredibly inappropriate and frankly it really calls into question his impartiality on the whole issue of taxi cab versus Uber and Lyft and I think it puts another black eye on the PTC,” said Brandes.

Yup, and it has long since run out of eyes to have blackened.  OF course, if it was disbanded, it would not have that problem.

Latin America – Cuba Developments

There were two interesting developments this week on Cuba.

— A Slow Boat to Havana

First was an article in the Tribune on ferries to Cuba.

Discussions are under way about carrying cargo and passengers to Havana from ports in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But the maritime link appears even closer to reality through another local landing — Port Manatee.

Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale met with government officials in Cuba earlier this month and is optimistic it will be granted porting rights there in time to set sail as early as June, said CEO, Jorge Fernandez, a part-time Manatee County resident.

Port Manatee, an estimated eight hours to Havana by ferry, is on his short list of preferred U.S. landings.

Oh, that pesky Port Manatee.

Ferries are expected to be a popular way to travel and take cargo to Cuba.

Passengers can enjoy the maritime journey for an estimated $290 per ticket, said Phil Richards, president of Havana Ferry Partners. They can carry baggage cheaper than on airlines and more of it, a plus for those bringing bulk goods to family or friends in Cuba. The first 40 to 60 pounds of baggage could be free with a small fee per pound after that, Richards said.

Importers may also prefer ferries to freighters. On a ferry, they can accompany their cargo to the Cuban port, there is less bureaucracy, and the cost may be cheaper for those shipping smaller weights.

* * *

The Tampa area could indeed use such a service, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall, a public relations agency that supports humanitarian and business missions in Cuba.

The area has no regularly scheduled cargo lines serving Cuba even though it is home to the third largest Cuban American population in the U.S. and to business and political leaders who want to create a gateway for commerce to the island nation. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the Port of Jacksonville do have regular cargo service to Cuba. The Port of Miami does not.

Indeed.  For political reasons (the same reasons that not all elected officials are openly championing the Tampa Bay area as a hub of Cuban trade), Tampa has been giving up business with Cuba to other areas, despite our natural connection.

In the article, it says that Tampa and St. Pete are also negotiating for ferries to Cuba.  We doubt there will be service from all three.  According to the article, Port Manatee has the advantage of being closer to the Gulf and thus a bit cheaper to run a ferry.  That is likely true.  It also has the advantage of not having the politics.

Frankly, while we think Tampa is the logical choice, we do not really care if the service is from Port Manatee.  It is a short drive and in the area. The Tampa Bay area will have the service.  It is just that Port Tampa Bay will have lost out – and Tampa proper will not be quite the gateway to Latin America.  It would not be the first time that local fickleness would have cost Hillsborough County/Tampa. (See, for instance, “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”)

— The Consulate Search

Which brings us to the quest for a consulate.  While the business community, and many others, in Tampa want a Cuban consulate here (and one makes sense), not all political officials are on board (those pesky political considerations).  St. Pete is also pushing for a consulate.  Miami has said it does not want one.  Apparently, that may be technically correct, but the real story is a little more complicated.

During a trip to Cuba in late March, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola met with the island nation’s Foreign Relations Ministry. The two Beach officials said they would welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

Well, that is interesting.  Of course, there is opposition.

Members of the community spoke passionately Monday night at Miami Beach City Hall in reaction to the suggestion that Miami Beach could host a Cuban consulate.

The city’s citizen Hispanic Affairs Committee hosted a public discussion on the topic, which has become a political lightning rod. A majority of speakers, some from Miami Beach and many from around Miami-Dade, decried the idea that a consulate could open in the seaside city. Not all opposed. A smaller group of residents favored a consulate.

We don’t know what will happen (aside from Miami/Dade eventually getting a consulate because it only makes sense).  This area may get a consulate, whether it be Tampa, St. Pete, Kenneth City, who knows.  But, once again, we need a concerted effort with everyone on board.  We are not going to be a Gateway to Latin America if we ignore our longest, closest, tightest connection.

This is Not Good

There was one news report that really caught our eye.  We are not sure how to categorize it or even what exactly it says, other than it is not good.

“Overall, when you look at the country as a whole, the gains in life expectancy have been much larger for the rich than for the poor,” Chetty said. On average, people in the top income quartile “have gained something like three years of life expectancy over the 2000s, whereas people in the bottom five percent of the income distribution have experienced no gain at all on average.”

“But,” Chetty added, “it turns out that this national story has a great deal of local variation to it. There are some places, like Birmingham, Ala., and Cincinnati, Ohio, where the poor gained almost as much in life expectancy as the rich. In contrast there are other places, like Tampa, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn., where the poor actually had declining life expectancy over the 2000s.”

* * *

In Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, the life expectancy of the region’s poorest residents dropped by 2.2 years from 2001 to 2014.

No one is sure why this is the case, but it is problematic, to say the least.

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