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Roundup 5-29-2015

May 29, 2015

Tampa Heights – A Little More On the Heights Project

There was an article in Creative Loafing that gives us a little more insight in to the Heights project.

An ambitious makeover is underway for the 70,000-square-foot red-brick streetcar barn, located in Tampa Heights adjacent to the Waterfront Park. After the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) blessed their plans on May 4, SoHo Capital developers are moving full speed ahead to create an adaptive reuse of the historic Armature Works Building as a mixed-use event, entertainment and market hall.

Working with Mesh Architecture, Adam Harden and Chas Bruck of SoHo Capital are reimagining the space. They purchased this building as well as 45 adjacent acres, declaring that the hall would be the centerpiece of the Heights development, which will also include 2.2 million square feet of residential and office uses (including the recently announced tenant SofWorX, an “idea lab” for U.S. Special Forces).

* * *

The Heights Market Hall plans include a 10,000-square-foot interior courtyard (The Gathering) which can be used for special events. During the public hearing, the developers said that markets in Washington D.C. and Milwaukee inspired their creation of a food hall, with seven established local businesses already lined up as anchor tenants.

Ron Vila, an ARC staff member, complimented the extensive rehab which has already taken place at this local landmark, including repointing the bricks, restoring the windows and repairing the period skylights and roof.

Dramatic water views to the south, facing the bend in the Hillsborough River, will be framed by the massive iron bays which provide a vista of downtown. “Glass windows will be recessed 10 feet, so that the facade will maintain its historic feeling,” architect Tim Clemmons explained. “We’ll also keep the original interior trusses and crane.”

The historic eastern side will have a new staircase and elevator, slightly detached from the structure and modern, in order to identify it clearly as not part of the original building, but deftly scaled to fit into the facade.

Plans include extending 7th Avenue around the building to Palm Avenue, creating a new “Main Street” along the western elevation. Careful restoration of the north, east and south facades will be augmented on the west by a two-story market and the covered courtyard venue.

And that is all interesting.  More interesting to us was a rendering included in the article because it goes beyond the Armature Works to what the actual project might be, which still remains a bit of a mystery:

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

Of course, it is just a rendering and it all might change, but at least it shows that the contemplated project has some decent density.  Whether that will come to pass is an open question.  We also ran across a few other graphics on a forum, including this “illustrative masterplan”

From skycrapercity.com  – click on picture for website

Looking at the construction plans on the Accela database (search address 1910 N Ola Ave, 33602), this looks about accurate.  From the apparent site plan (and public documents) the project looks promising.  However, we have a couple of questions: why is there going to be a road that runs along the river?  We thought the whole point was to open up the river.  Surely that could be better done.  And even more, looking at this, which appears to comport with the site plan and construction documents:

From skycrapercity.com – click on picture for website

Why are there such massive parking garages and how are they going to be handled on the street level?  That could make or break the whole project.  If done clumsily, they will destroy any potential walkability.  We like the density generally, but some of those garages are truly immense and could block the connection to the rest of Tampa Heights.  We hope that is not the case, but from these illustrations, which seem to comport with the Accela database, we see reason to be concerned.

Transportation – What Do You Call a Bus in a Costume?

From the same Creative Loafing article, we learn this:

Newsflash! The rubber-wheeled trolleys which have provided 25-cent trips weekdays from 6-8:30 a.m. and 3:30-6 p.m. connecting downtown and the Channel District are being rebranded and relaunched by July 1. Shedding their yellow exteriors for vibrant colorful decals, the trolleys are considering expanding new routes while remaining affordable, running every 15 minutes at lunch downtown. 

This is what they will look like:

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

Who wouldn’t want to ride that?

“Trolleys are the gateway experience for transit users,” explained Katharine Eagan, executive director of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, who rolled out this initiative at the May 18 meeting of HART’s marketing and finance committee. The committee is supporting this innovative program, hoping that trolley users will move on to try other forms of transit.

We doubt these buses will be a gateway to anything except getting people getting into their cars or just walking.  If you want to put people off from using transit, offer them a bus in costume, call it a trolley and pretend that it is transit.  At least the article is pretty straightforward about this bus-trolley:

Clearly a HART vehicle, the trolley is being rebranded to appear more modern, a non-bus bus — a bus that’s dressed up like a streetcar. Since HART is committed to using this vehicle until 2019, they’ve decided to redefine its use and appearance.

Well, if HART is stuck using them it was a poor decision in the first place, but so be it. At least drop the newspeak.  This is the definition of a trolley:

1 dial English :  a cart of any of various kinds

2 a :  a device that carries electric current from an overhead wire to an electrically driven vehicle

b :  a streetcar powered electrically through a trolley —called also trolley car

3 :  a wheeled carriage running on an overhead rail or track

4 chiefly British :  a cart or wheeled stand used for conveying something (as food or books)

The bus falls into none of those categories.  HART’s vehicle is a dressed up bus, period.  Just like MetroRapid is just decent bus service, not BRT.  By misstating what it is actually offering to the public, HART just muddles the discussion about real transit alternatives.  That is something we really do not need.

In the same vein, there was a column in the Tribune regarding Go Hillsborough entitled “Maybe buses really are the transit answer (for now, anyway)” , which pretty much made that point.  The column pointed out that bus ridership is up (as is the streetcar) and noted that there are people who oppose rail.  It noted that there are people who will never ride buses.  Fine.  The reality is that buses are only the transportation answer if the question is how to not really solve our transportation problem – or if the question is what is the feeder system for a real transit system.  As the columnist noted:

I’m not completely sold. Thousands of people are moving into the area and more are on the way. Maybe I’m thinking 10 to 15 years down the tracks, so to speak, but one of these days we’re going to need a rail system.

The reality is that it will take that long to get rail even if we start tomorrow – to think otherwise is just deluding yourself.  The fact is that other areas are building themselves properly.  Either we compete or we don’t.  Waiting only makes things more expensive and puts us further behind.  We cannot afford that.

In any event, we’ll know how serious any Hillsborough transportation proposal might be on June 11, when the consultants hired by the County to find out what they people they are supposed to represent might want.   The Times article gives an idea:

The tension felt within that group is indicative of conflicts within the county. According to research gathered from previous meetings, those in the northeast and northwest agree resources need to be spent on both roads and transit. But things are more polarizing for central and south Hillsborough: those in the center of the county want the focus on transit only, while those in south county clamor for the roads to be fixed first before anything else.

Frankly, we just do not think it is that hard.  Build more roads in the south County and put more into real transit around Tampa and its immediate suburbs.  But, then again, it was not that hard before either.  The big problem is the political culture and the confused discussion and lack of leadership it creates. And that failure to seriously address the transportation issue while other areas move ahead leaves us at a competitive disadvantage now and for the foreseeable future.

Downtown/Channel District – Moving Dirt?

It seems that the first infrastructure improvements for the Lightning owner’s project are scheduled for this summer:

Organizers hope to begin work on roads, utility pipes and other infrastructure for the project in August, said Jim Shimberg, executive vice president and general counsel for the Lightning. Construction of the first buildings could begin in 2016.

That’s fine, though it would be nice to get buildings out of the ground sooner than 2016.

Vinik’s staff is tweaking the plans after consulting with Jeff Speck and David Dixon, the urban-planning stars hired to help make the project welcoming and walkable.

“We want to make sure we do this right,” Shimberg said between meetings on the project last week. “We’re getting close to being able to come back to (City Hall) with some refined plans.”

Vinik’s development team has been meeting with Tampa officials weekly, and Shimberg said everyone understands City Hall is eager to see the launch of the project, which is getting private financing from an investment fund controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

We are sure that the City is anxious to get the project moving, especially considering that it involves about half of downtown and the City does not really have much control over it.

Still to be determined: how much state funding will be available for a key piece of Vinik’s project, the University of South Florida’s planned new 12-story Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute.

Vinik is donating land at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue for the USF project, and the university is seeking nearly $33 million from the Legislature this year for the medical school building ($17 million) and heart institute ($15.75 million). USF hopes to see the Legislature appropriate another $40 million for the medical school building over the next two years.

Meanwhile, the Legislature ended its regular session early without coming up with a budget, and the House and Senate plans include different amounts of money, levels of detail and funding strategies for university construction projects. A three-week special session to complete the budget is scheduled to start next week.

Despite uncertainty over the state budget as a whole — a controversy driven by the debate over whether to expand Medicaid — several Hillsborough legislators say local lawmakers are on the same page about the importance of supporting USF’s request.

“Our No. 1 priority,” House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said of House members from Hillsborough.

“We will hopefully be able to work through the financial aspects of it and get it done,” she told a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce lunch last week.

We are not sure it should be the #1 priority of the legislative delegation, but, then again, what else local is there other than the transportation, which is still a mess?

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our community,” state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at the same event. “Bob Buckhorn’s probably the luckiest mayor in America right now.”

Indeed, to have a large development with good funding (during a recovery) fall into your lap (not to mention people like the Airport Director and a new, aggressive strategy that was put in place before he took office) is very lucky.  In any event, the timing of the USF Med School construction is thus:

A key question, USF assistant vice president for government relations Mark Walsh said, will be what can legislators afford to do, and what funding mechanism will they use. The size of the appropriation could affect the construction schedule.

If the Legislature approves USF’s full request or something close to it, construction on the medical school project could be targeted to start in the fall, he said. But if the appropriation is only a small fraction of the ask, the project might be delayed by a year.

We shall See. (And what about the proposed hotel next to the arena?)

And in news about a potential MOSI move to the project, not surprisingly:

The more than two dozen board members tasked the smaller executive committee with officially exploring the concept of relocating the museum from E Fowler Avenue next to the University of South Florida to somewhere in downtown Tampa.

Which is the proper move.  They should examine the idea to see if it makes sense.  Of course, it should not be prejudged, but looking at it is appropriate.

The bottom line is that we like the Lightning owner’s overall project and his desire to do it right.  The City is lucky to have such a proposal. Whether it happens as stated or quickly really depends on the economy and the willingness of companies to take up space in the projects.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

International Trade/Port – The Cuba Equivocation

There was an article in the Tribune that seemed to be a Port of its approach – or lack thereof – to Cuba trade:

Community leaders, excited over the prospect that Cuba and Tampa will reconnect through business, are concerned that officials running the region’s biggest economic engine are idling instead of jetting to Cuba to lay the groundwork for future trade.

Port Tampa Bay should be actively courting the island nation ahead of its competitors or risk getting left in the dust, they say.

With President Barack Obama working to knock down the wall of sanctions built against Cuba when Communist dictator Fidel Castro took control more than 50 years ago, now is the time to move, they say.

Some claim it’s all about politics, that port President and CEO Paul Anderson isn’t making any direct moves for fear of backlash from political allies who oppose fully opening up trade with Cuba.

Who could that be?

Former Tampa Councilwoman Mary Mulhern recalled a conversation she had with Anderson in 2010, shortly after he came to Port Tampa Bay, when she broached the topic of Cuba with him. “Anderson immediately said something like, ‘I know all about Cuba; I’m good friends with Diaz-Balart.” She was referring to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida congressman who has been working to keep trade restrictions in place between the U.S. and Cuba and stop ferries and cruises from going to the island.

“He said this as a positive, and it was an indication to me that he would not be doing anything about Cuba.”

There may be other reasons. (see here, here, and here)  In any event,

Port officials have been invited on all three trips the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has made to Cuba in recent years, including one that just took place. They have declined each invitation.

Those trips are more about culture and education than about establishing business relations, Miyagishima said.

On the recent chamber trip, delegates met with the director of the Port of Mariel, which is being rebuilt as a high-tech port, a hub for global trade and commerce. The port director showed the Tampa delegation a map with arrows pointing from Cuba to the Florida ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville. Port Tampa Bay was conspicuously absent.

“It raised concerns with our group when we saw that map,” said Tampa chamber President Bob Rohrlack. “We realized we need to step up our efforts on telling them why Tampa is a great location to do business. They are very open to working with our port. They definitely want to engage.”

Rohrlack said the chamber is all for having Port Tampa Bay in the mix when the Port of Mariel becomes part of a network of Gulf ports where enormous post-Panamax ships — ships designed to traverse an expanded Panama Canal — will offload onto smaller ships bound for berths in Florida and elsewhere.

So why is the Port not going? What happened to planting the flag with natural trading partners?

“We are keeping our cards close to our chest,” Anderson said. “We are not out there telling the world our business strategy. I understand that it might have been sexy and appealing to go on a trip to Cuba with the chamber, but we want to make sure when we do go down there we can have a constructive, structured dialog with the right people.”

In fact, he said, he thinks he already has done that by meeting in Tampa on Jan. 30, 2014, with Cuba’s highest-ranking diplomat, Cuban Interests Section Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez. Jesus Perez, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor were also at the meeting, he said. They laid out all that the port has to offer, Anderson said.

Much of the work to establish business between Cuba’s port and here will be up to private shipping companies, not Port Tampa Bay, Miyagishima said. “The port’s responsibility as the largest economic engine in central Florida is to create an environment so the private sector can flourish. We look to the private sector” to lay the groundwork that will make that happen.

A string of emails sent back and forth between port officials and various private businesses, publications and government officials during the past year shows that the port has been seeking business topics related to Cuba and attending seminars across the state. They also show the port’s interest in accommodating a ferry service between Tampa and Cuba.

Setting aside that going to a bunch of seminars and seeking information contradicts keeping your cards close to your chest, the real point is that others are actively marketing and seeking to establish trade (including much of the Miami business community, see here and here), including Port Manatee actively courting business (of course, we don’t really care if business goes there as long as it comes to the area, but the Port director should.) If you really want the business, you have to go get it and can’t equivocate.  There is no entitlement to it.

One Port Board member had this to say:

After returning from a personal humanitarian trip to Cuba in 2009, Lindell was very vocal about the need for the port to get to Cuba and establish a relationship. He since has tweaked his message.

“The port is doing a lot of things behind the scenes,” he said. “We are prepared.”

Which is fine but being prepared for business is not necessarily the same as seeking business. The world is competitive. We need to be out front.  Private companies are going to invest in places that they feel they will not have any issues over places where support is lukewarm or politics may get in the way.

If we want to take our place in the coming trade, there has to be unity of purpose.  Doing things behind the scenes is fine, but it seems that the Port and the business community are not on the same page, which does not create confidence that we will take advantage of this opportunity.

Frankly, this all reminds us of the former airport director who constantly said he was ready for international service but did very little to actively promote it claiming there was not enough demand.    Not surprisingly, the airport lagged in international service as other airports took the business. (The present airport director has proven that the demand is there and actively pursued it with success.)

We cannot make the same mistake.

Economy – Housing

Let’s check in on the housing market.  There have been a number of articles about the housing market with information like this:

In Pinellas County, year-over-year sales of single-family homes rose 21.3 percent while sales of condos and townhomes jumped 17.5 percent.

In Hillsborough, sales of single-family homes increased 20.2 percent while sales of condos and townhomes soared 27.4 percent.

“It’s a fabulous market, absolutely,” said veteran agent Mary Pond of Smith & Associates in Tampa. “It’s been tremendous.”

Especially buoyant are condo sales in downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg as more and more buyers, many with cash in hand, seek that urban vibe.

* * *

In Hillsborough, the average price for a single-family home shot up to $242,246 in April — $26,000 higher than in February — while the average condo price hit almost $153,000, a year-over year increase of 12.7 percent.

In Pinellas, average prices were $250,368 for single-family homes and $196,034 for condos, year-over-year gains of 9.1 percent and 14.3 percent respectively.

Statewide, sales of single-family homes jumped 17.9 percent while condo sales rose 8.1 percent.

Well, much of that is positive.  Notably, the high prices are for places where people do not want to have to drive much anyway.

And notably, the same reporter also had an article on whether there is a real estate bubble. And then one that said that Tampa Bay houses are still a good value.

But more important that whether you can get a lot of house for the money is whether most people can afford one:

A recent ranking from the financial website NerdWallet puts Tampa at No. 84 on a list of “Most Affordable Places.”

To find the most affordable places, NerdWallet looked at price variations to assess where a dollar stretches the furthest in the U.S.

“Not surprisingly, data on median income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey revealed that many of the cheapest places in the U.S. are also where residents earn the least,” the study said. “In our study, we make a distinction between ‘cheap’ and ‘affordable’ by comparing a place’s median income with its cost of living to find truly affordable places.”

In other words, the prices may be lower, but the incomes may be relatively lower still. (When you are 84th, is there really any point listing who is above you? You can look at it here.) If you have a lot of cash, you are fine (just like on variable rate express lanes).  Everyone else is not so fortunate.

Channel District – The Martin, And More

As we noted last month, the Martin, which has long been rumored to include a grocery store (those rumors growing recently), has submitted a revised plan. (See “Channel District – The Martin”) The Accela database had some renderings:

From the public records

From the public records

Note the low building (1-story?), which we assume to be a grocery store. We are not really sure why there does not seem to be more retail and why the grocery store has to be in a squat separate building (with associated blank walls on the street) but at least it has roof-top parking. And that garage is quite prominent.  In any event, we will wait to see if this project actually gets built.

Speaking of grocery stores, there are documents for the proposed project on the old Gas Works property (1400 Channelside for those looking on Accela).  Here is a rendering looking from the southeast:

From the public records

First, you will notice that the proposal is quite large – two buildings at 29 stories with 1432 units, plus a 40,000 sq ft grocery store and some other retail facing Channelside with parking under the Selmon (which does not bother us quite as much as most surface lots, though it would be nice if they fixed the grid).  We are not completely sold on not having the main buildings not on Channelside Drive with a one story building there.  Then again, the towers could potentially really change the traffic circle going into Ybor.  We would really have to see more to get a full opinion.  Right now, we are just surprised they are that big (and wonder if they can be filled with all the other buildings) – but we are not displeased at the size at all.  At least it is ambitious.

We are not sure if we now have a race for who can get built first and get the grocery store.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— What Does a Billion Dollars Get You?

As part of our regular feature about mega-projects, we bring you (once again) Doral, in south Florida.  Not only is Doral, a suburb of Miami, the subject of a large project called Downtown Doral, it also has a midtown.  In other words, basically a walkable city is being built out of a sprawled suburb.  If only Hillsborough County would take note.

But more interesting is another megaproject proposed for the Miami area:

Developers are digging deep into their own pockets to pull off megaprojects in South Florida.

In the latest example, two prominent families, the LeFraks of New York and the Soffers of South Florida, are teaming up on a $4 billion, 183-acre development on a former landfill and Superfund site in North Miami.

Over the next two decades, the builders plan to create 4,390 apartments, more than 1 million square feet of commercial space and two swimmable 10-acre lagoons as part of the project they have named SoLeMia. They started work on infrastructure in April, and are planning to break ground on the first two rental towers and 500,000 square feet of retail space in about 15 months.

You can read all about it and see a rendering in the Wall Street Journal article.

— Transit Oriented Development

We are told that MetroRapid is BRT, and BRT is the cheaper alternative to rail.  So, logically, MetroRapid would have spawned transit oriented developments. (It hasn’t).  You can see such developments all over Miami, but Miami’s rail has been around for decades.  This week, the Orlando Sentinel had an article about SunRail.

In its maiden year, SunRail hasn’t sparked the kind of sprawling development that emerges at highway interchanges, but it has spurred more than 1,000 apartment units with other development on the way.

In addition to the four SunRail-related apartments underway or completed in downtown Orlando, Longwood and Lake Mary, new projects have been approved recently for Maitland and Altamonte Springs. DeBary officials have considered allowing gambling near their station. And investors are eyeing opportunities near the newly proposed Meadow Woods station in south Orange County.

Well, we would hope it would not spark sprawling development.  Anyway, you can read the article here.

— Mexico Flights

We know that the airport staff is working hard and obtaining success in recruiting international flights.  We are also told that Tampa seeks to be THE gateway to Latin America.  In Florida, when discussing Latin America, the second largest Latin American country is often overlooked – Mexico.  If we are to be the/a gateway to Latin America, we need to build our connections.  Well,

Subject to Governmmnt [sic] Approval, JetBlue Airways plans to commence Mexico City service from 01OCT15, on board Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline will operate 1 daily service each from Ft.Lauderdale and Orlando.

South Florida and Orlando already have Mexican flights – and by Mexican flights we mean flights that connect to somewhere other than a resort area.  Now, they have more.  We have none.  We really could use that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Tech Hubs

We all know that the Tampa Bay area aspires to be a tech hub.  We saw this little blurb this week regarding southern tech hubs.

Atlanta’s reputation as a “tech hub” is muy caliente, in the opinion of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis. According to WABE, Solis visited Atlanta this week on a tour of U.S. cities, seeking to strengthen relationships and build investment opportunities in tech-rich cities. In addition to Atlanta, the trip included Chicago, Austin and Charlotte; gracias Costa Rica, we’ll take the compliment.

Maybe he came here too, but we did not see any reports.

— Can Stadiums Spur Development?

There was a column in the Tribune about whether stadiums spur development or not.

When I think of Major League Baseball ballparks being centers of economic activity, only two come to mind: Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. They are rare gems not only because they happen to be the oldest facilities in the National and American leagues, respectively, and were built with private money and are privately owned. Those stadiums also are smack in the middle of heavily populated urban areas and have spawned the creation of many businesses in the surrounding areas. They also are popular residential spots for young professionals.

The same can’t be said, however, for most new stadiums. Many are surrounded by acres of parking and little else. And when taxpayer money is involved in the construction and operations of these new facilities, you can’t blame elected officials for being skeptical about claims of economic development and jobs.

It is true that a stadium’s utility in spawning business and development depends on its location and whether it is surrounded by parking (like the Trop which is built as far from downtown as possible on its lot and buffered by big parking lots – and even that has helped some development on Main Street).  On the other hand, anyone who has been to the areas around places like Camden Yards, Petco Park or ATT Park knows that those stadiums have spawned a lot of development – especially given proper infrastructure, zoning, and a decent economy.  In that vein, we ran across a list of projects being built near the Washington Nationals stadium.  Because it has a Google map, we will just provide the link here.

The fact is that not all stadiums spur development but a properly done stadium in a proper area will.

In related news, there was an article in the Times this week wondering if the Lighting’s run was hurting Rays attendance.  A USF professor, after explaining that it may have some effect, noted:

“It’s just difficult to get people to go to St. Pete to watch the Rays, and that’s not going to change,” Sutton said.

No, it is not.  Location counts.  Moreover,

In another attempt to end the deadlock over Tropicana Field, city leaders and the Tampa Bay Rays want to partner in a study on how the Trop site could be redeveloped without a baseball stadium.

The study would be conducted by the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use. Councilman Karl Nurse, one of those pushing the proposal, said it would highlight how redevelopment of the 85-acre site could dovetail with downtown’s expansion. Mayor Rick Kriseman and Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, have also been involved in the discussions, Nurse said. Rays officials have indicated the team would pay part of the cost.

“The intent is to show people this really could be a dramatic redevelopment project for the city but either way you’ve got to start the conversation,” Nurse said. “You can put virtually a billion dollars of redevelopment on there.” 

You can, but if the St. Pete City Council does not start looking at the cold reality (the threat of which does not seem great), their terms will all be over before anything can happen. (And the Rays will still be gone)

— Texas Loves Rail

One of the usual suspects, Houston (in that bastion of crazy socialism, Texas) just opened two new rail lines.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the 2015 Park Score.  You can check the methodology here. For reasons that will become obvious, we present the Top 35.

Coming in first this year is Minneapolis tied with St. Paul; followed by DC; San Francisco; New York tied with Portland (OR); Cincinnati; Boston; San Diego tied with Seattle; Oakland; Chicago; a three-way tie of Albuquerque, Aurora (CO), and Sacramento; Denver; Plano; Long Beach; a three-way tie between Henderson (NV), Omaha, and Philadelphia; Honolulu tied with Milwaukee; a five-way tie of Anchorage, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach; Kansas City tied with San Jose; a three-way tie of Austin, Jersey City, and New Orleans; Tampa; and Las Vegas tied with St. Louis.

Last year, Tampa was tied for 28th. (See “List of the Week”) Admittedly, the ranking is not really scientific (can there be a scientific park score?), but we do not like dropping, especially when so many of the usual suspects are still ahead of us.

Roundup 5-22-2015

May 21, 2015

Due to the Memorial Day weekend (Please take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about), the Roundup is a little early this week.

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Calls Home

Some people we know received automated calls from Go Hillsborough about telephone town hall meetings.  These calls provided phone numbers to call and codes to access the town hall.  Unfortunately, the messages did not say that they were going to provide that information it could be written down nor did the messages repeat the information. That meant that someone who picked up the phone after a message started was pretty much screwed.  (Yes, you can find the info on the website but not everyone is going to be able (or willing) to find it and why call people and not give them the information?)

In any event, the town hall questions/comments by citizens were not bad (save a few rambling calls).  However, the officials’ answers, while polite, were generally bureaucratic restatements of existing plans or policies (and, note, no matter how many times you call MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit, it still isn’t), which is not really taking citizen input nor much of a dialogue.  Of course, such answers are not really the fault of those officials answering.  If elected officials – the TED PLC – are not going to take a lead (and, really, they haven’t) and actually come up with real ideas and proposals (rhetoric notwithstanding, those are definitely lacking), there is no reason an employee or anyone else would – nor can employees say anything negative about their bosses – the elected officials on the TED PLC.  Basically, it was just another run of the mill Hillsborough public meeting, like innumerable meetings over the decades.

We are so glad that the County paid consultants for that.  We don’t expect much from the process, though we would be happy to be surprised.

Economic Development/Tampa Heights – Enter SOCOM

There was some very interesting news about SOCOM this week (especially given that it is Memorial Day weekend)

— First, the concept:

SOCom officials, economic development and business leaders will unveil plans today to create a research and development accelerator in Tampa Heights. Its goal: to design and expedite advanced technology and military goods for special operations forces.

Those advances range from the current “Iron Man” project to develop the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, body armor to syringes designed to inject life-saving, cotton antibiotic pellets into larger battlefield wounds.

The concept is pure SOCom, finding a lean, mean and quicker way to conjure up military advances for their special ops forces — outside of the massive bureaucracy of Defense Department contracting — by recruiting entrepreneurs, academics and private sector specialists to help make it happen beyond the physical confines of MacDill.

“SOCom is presenting this community with a big opportunity,” says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which is developing a business plan for the accelerator with SOCOM. “What SOCom is doing is creating a new procurement process.”

That is intriguing.  Obviously, all the installations at MacDill have a huge impact on this area and we are very lucky to have them here, but this is the first instance we can think of where a MacDill command is basically becoming the sponsor of a startup community.  That is all good.

It is all part of a concept right now called Thunderdome.

Imagine a Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa every single day of the year. Imagine U.S. Special Operations Command reaching out to inventors, industry and academia with needs, and a place to bring them all together to figure out how to rapidly turn ideas into prototypes.

* * *

If all goes as hoped, the Thunderdome concept would piggyback on something called SOFWORX, which is set up at the Armature Works building in Tampa Heights. SOFWORX is a Socom effort to get outside the wire, so to speak, of MacDill Air Force Base to interact with industry, academia and others to more rapidly get needed products into the hands of commandos in the field. . .

* * *

The desired end state, says Homans, “is to create the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the brass ring for economic development, from incubation to acceleration to prototype manufacturing to full-scale manufacturing and creating new products and services faster and better than any place in the country.”

That all sounds good.

The trick is making it all work.

Mark Swanson, a West Point graduate, former Army Apache helicopter pilot, computer engineering graduate, internet innovator, technology management guru and serial entrepreneur, has been tabbed to put together the Thunderdome business plan.

As chairman of the Tampa Bay WaVE, whose mission is to “help entrepreneurs turn ideas into growing tech businesses in Tampa Bay,” Swanson “gets” the Thunderdome concept. And he sees its value as an “accelerator” that attracts and maintains high-tech startups.

“We lost three really solid startups in the Tampa Bay to accelerators like Wufoo,” says Swanson. “They left and never came back and what we need is a way to attract great startups from all over the United States.”

And that is one of the key reasons this area struggles with high paying jobs.  Having an established customer to build an industry around is definitely a plus in trying to avoid that issue.  That is what makes the concept so intriguing: it provides a potential anchor for a real hub.

— The Location

So where are they establishing it?

Initially, SOCom’s accelerator will operate under the name SOFWORX from the Armature Works building near the end of Tampa’s Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River. But space in that building is destined for retail and entertainment purposes, so SOFWORX is expected to relocate nearby in the near future.

Well, that is an odd location because, as noted above, that building is supposed to be retail and entertainment space.

It’s an expansive project, and rehabbing the Armature Works factory space alone could easily top $10 million, developers said. But once done, the Armature space will have at least three restaurants, several bars, a cafe/bakery called Ola Cafe, an open-air entertainment stage called “The Gathering” and the 14,000-square-foot “Heights Public Market” in the style of East End in Orlando or Eastern Market in Washington.

All we about that is that we hope the choice of preliminary location does not indicate that there is something amiss in the development plan for the Heights.

Maybe foreshadowing a plan to where the SOCOM facility might move:

A Tampa defense contractor is planning a new office development in Tampa Heights that its CEO envisions as a hub for defense and technology companies.

Celestar Corp. CEO Gregory Celestan said Tuesday that he is planning a 60,000-square-foot office building on the corner of West Seventh and North Highland avenues in Tampa Heights — across West Seventh Avenue from Ulele, the restaurant and microbrewery that Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart opened last year. 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The contractor is Beck.  Notably, the building will only be a go when about 75% of it is preleased.  In any event, it is something and looks better than many of the buildings planned for this area.

So we are happy with all that, too.  Good SOCOM concept and good potential final location – though the building is really not very big – it is a start.  There is promise here – but right now it is just promise.

— That One Thing

But, then, there is this:

Beyond office space, the project’s supporters hope the development can be a catalyst for better connecting the Tampa business community with MacDill Air Force Base. Creating an ecosystem for businesses that support MacDill could create the kind of dynamic seen in Northern Virginia’s Dulles Technology Corridor or Research Triangle in North Carolina.

Those places have become magnets for technology companies and young talent — which can drive the rest of the city’s economy, spurring residential and commercial development.

And that is a solid long-term desire, though the Dulles Technology Corridor and Research Triangle are far bigger and to reach such a goal is very long-term. And Northern Virginia is near ALL the military, not just SOCOM and ALL the lobbying in Congress.  And the Research Triangle has a number of very well regarded institutions and universities.  Maybe we should start with a small company first and save the overinflated comparisons for later.

Sadly, as good as some announcements are, it seems that every announcement gets sold as the catalyst for the City’s economy.  We know that every little bit helps, but, let us be clear, the announced building is just an announcement of a possible development (though it looks nice).  The SOCOM announcement is much more interesting, though that is also in an embryonic stage. Nothing has actually really been done yet.

We are all for the SOCOM idea (and the office building), but portraying these ideas out as one more magic bullet to create a truly urban city with high paying jobs – is just an indicator of our local insecurities and how far we still have to go.  If we had a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub, we’d have a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub – but we do not.   There is no one silver bullet to getting there.  We still need proper planning, changing the code, and getting real transportation fixes.  In other words, setting the stage for those companies and talent to really want to be here and to help them thrive when they are.

Somewhere in the future, the SOCOM idea may form part of an overall economic ecosystem, but right now it is just a concept (a good concept, but just a concept) – one that locals have to take and develop.

So, by all means, support the SOCOM effort (we do) and Tampa Heights development, but remember that, as of now, nothing has actually been accomplished.

Economic Development/Ybor City – A Win

There was one clear win this week:

After a six-state competition, Ybor City will become the e-commerce headquarters of Ashley Furniture.

At a formal unveiling with Tampa political and economic development leaders this morning, the giant Wisconsin-based furniture company – which bills itself as the world’s largest furniture manufacturer and top selling brand of furniture in North America – said its subsidiary, Ashcomm LLC, will operate its U.S. e-commerce operations from 70,000 square feet of space in Centro Ybor. The site, at 1600 E Eighth Ave., is in the heart of Tampa’s historic business and entertainment district.

The business will eventually house more than 100 employees in executive, administrative, marketing, design, and information technology positions for both the e-commerce business as well as other Ashley corporate operations.

Here is a rendering of the new exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

That is significant not for the number of jobs, which is not that big, but because they do not seem to be back office jobs.  That is good for Ybor and good for the area.  On the other hand, we are not sure what it says about Ybor that the movie theaters are being turned into offices rather than being used for their original purpose.  We are all for business in Ybor, but it would be nice if business and entertainment (and residential) could all thrive at once.

Transportation – Yea, And . . .

There was a completely unsurprising report in the Tribune about HART ridership this week:

Rarely, if ever, do the government leaders pushing for more buses and more routes to encourage more riders on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit ride a bus themselves, pointing up the challenge the county faces as it crafts a transportation plan likely to rely heavily on mass transit.

The Tampa Tribune surveyed 30 current and former leaders by email and found that their reasons for skipping mass transit mirror those of a public reluctant to shed the convenience of the car.

Like everyone, they perform many far-flung duties each day, driving kids to school or picking up laundry. Their busy schedules don’t fit neatly into bus schedules.

First, as pointed out in the article, most elected officials have schedules that do not lend themselves to riding the bus. (Though a few do it on occasion)  Second, as pointed out in the article, riding the bus is inefficient.  The fact is that HART is not a real transit system – it is a low level bus system designed primarily for use by other people, unlike other cities where transit is designed for a broad group of users – and even then some jobs will not lend themselves to transit use.  Third, our area still is built so that transit use is unpleasant.  Until we change our mentality, we will remain behind.

— One Other Thing

The article did have one oddity:

A study by Michael Manville, an urban planner at Cornell University, found that increased spending on transit in the early 2000s had no discernible effect on levels of ridership a decade later.

We are not sure if that is a reference to HART specifically or other transit, but it is odd because transit ridership is generally up and breaking records across the country.

Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide were located in the following cities: Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Canton, OH; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Indianapolis, IN; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Olympia, WA; Orlando, FL; St. Petersburg, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Spokane, WA; Tampa, FL; and Wenatchee, WA.

So we are not sure what that comment is about.  But there is also this interesting note:

2014 Ridership Breakdown
Light rail (modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 3.6 percent in 2014 with 16 out of 28 public transit systems reporting increases. Light rail in Minneapolis, MN showed a significant increases of 57.4 percent due to the opening of the METRO Green Line in Minneapolis. Light rail ridership in Oceanside, CA increased by 36.0 percent due to the system being shut down for several months in 2013. Four light rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Houston, TX (17.9%); San Diego, CA (15.3%); Denver, CO (12.0%); and Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (11.7%). Light rail ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: San Francisco, CA (7.2%); Salt Lake City, UT (6.0%); Hampton, VA (5.4%); New Orleans, LA (5.3%); San Jose, CA (4.4%); Newark, NJ (3.4%); Dallas, TX (3.2%); and Charlotte, NC (3.1%).

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership increased by 3.3 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 public transit systems reported increases. Heavy rail systems with increases in ridership for 2014 were in the following cities: San Francisco, CA (6.1%); Boston, MA (4.9%); Chicago, IL (4.1%); New York, NY-MTA NYC Transit (4.0%); New York, NY-MTA Staten Island Railway (3.5%); Atlanta, GA (2.3%); and Miami, FL (2.1%).

Nationally, commuter rail ridership increased by 2.9 percent in 2014 as 22 out of 28 public transit systems reported increases. Four commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Salt Lake City, UT (16.2%); Stockton, CA (15.7%); Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (10.4%); and San Carlos, CA (10.1%). Ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: Lewisville, TX (9.3%); Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (6.9%); Newark, NJ (5.4%); Anchorage, AK (5.4%); Portland, OR (4.7%); Nashville, TN (4.4%); Boston, MA (3.5%); Oceanside, CA (3.5%); Oakland, CA (2.5%); and Baltimore, MD (2.2%).

Bus ridership decreased nationally by 1.1 percent. However, in small and medium size population groups, bus ridership saw percentage increases of 2.0 and 0.5 respectively. The following cities showed the highest large bus ridership increases in 2014: Baltimore, MD (6.8%); Portland, OR (5.3%); Oakland, CA (4.2%); San Francisco, CA (3.9%); Columbus, OH (3.0%); Atlanta, GA (2.8%); San Diego, CA (2.4%); and Seattle, WA-King County DOT (2.0%).

Do with that what you will.

Built Environment – Should the Focus Be So Much on Downtown?

While we are big proponents of fixing downtown – and always have been, we are always concerned that there is too much focus on downtown at the expense of the rest of the city.  While urban-ish projects are happening downtown and a few isolated areas, there is far too much of the usual, suburban style development, even near downtown on Kennedy and in places like Westshore.  Much of the focus on downtown is sold as being to attract Millennials (and to some degree it does) but to build a real city that really attracts Millennials, in our opinion there has to be more.

Now comes an article in Citylab.com on where Millennials are actually living:

Recently, Millennials have started to move back to cities, reversing the decades-old trend of suburbanization. But within the city, they’re not exactly making a beeline for downtown, according to new research released by the Urban Land Institute.  

According to a ULI press release quoted in the article:

Contrary to popular belief, most Millennials are not living the high life in the downtowns of large cities, but rather are living in less centrally located but more affordable neighborhoods, making ends meet with jobs for which many feel overqualified, and living with parents or roommates to save money.

Here is a graph of where Millennials live:

From CityLab – click on diagram for article

The reason for this trend is that while Millennials greatly value walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, public transportation, and retail and entertainment options, only some of them can afford expensive housing in central business districts. So they settle for neighborhoods outside bustling urban hotspots. Millennials living in Washington, D.C., for example, might choose to live in Shaw or Bloomingdale over the downtown Pennsylvania Avenue area.

It’s well-known that millennials have financial constraints. Roughly 29 percent of ULI respondents with full-time jobs earned less than $35,000 a year, and more than half made less than $50,000 (below, right). These economic realities require certain compromises. Living in a cheaper neighborhood is one; renting instead of buying is another. Half of the respondents rented (below, left), and they payed [sic] a median rent of $925. Two-thirds lived in cheaper, low-rise garden style houses instead of high-rise apartments with more amenities; and 27 percent of these renters had roommates to divvy up the costs.

The reality is that our incomes are even lower. And our neighborhoods are not very walkable or mixed use.

In other words, just building expensive, urban-ish developments downtown, good as that is, is not really going to do the trick. Just having a vision for downtown and a couple of neighborhoods around it is not enough. The fact is that to attract Millennials, Tampa needs to stop settling outside of “InTown” and really change the way the city is actually built and planned. And we need real public transportation options.  It will not happen immediately but every day we delay is a day we fall further behind places that have already learned this lesson. It requires a true change in mentality – a true change in DNA.

And one more thing to note – the Census bureau released its latest population estimates for incorporated cities this week, which tells us about how much cities (where the Millennials want to live) are growing.  The figures show that Tampa’s population grew from 335,709 in 2010 to 358,699 in summer 2014 or 22,990.  St. Petersburg grew by 8,924.  Below is a comparison of growth numbers with some of the usual suspects.

Austin 122,401
Charlotte 78,534
Denver 63,704
Columbus(OH) 48,924
Nashville 42,792
OKC 40,603
New Orleans 40,491
Raleigh 36,004
Portland(OR) 35,584
Minneapolis 24,629
Orlando 24,072
Tampa 22,990
St. Pete 8,924

Admittedly, some of the these cities have larger populations and areas than Tampa or St. Pete, but if you are talking growth of the city, as opposed to the suburbs, those numbers tell you something.

International Trade – Why Are We Behind?

There were a number of articles about a recent Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce trips to Cuba that raised an interesting question:

At the same time, a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce delegation of 35 business and civic leaders visited Cuba’s capital city to learn more about trade opportunities through talks with officials from the island nation’s biggest port.

And the Tampa accounting firm Prida Guida & Co. sent a three-person group on behalf of its clients from the U.S. agricultural industry to meet with the president of Alimport — the Cuban government agency that handles all trade.

The question now, 13 years after Mayor Dick Greco led the first Castro-era delegation to Cuba and as other Florida communities are now getting on the bandwagon, is what Tampa has to show for it.

Greco dined with Fidel Castro during that 2002 visit.

Other trips followed.

Mary Mulhern, who then served on the Tampa City Council, traveled to Cuba in 2009 to discuss trade possibilities with government officials The Tampa chamber has made three trips and a number of other visits have included elected officials and private businesses.

Still, Tampa has no substantial trade with Cuba as some other U.S. cities do.

“When I was there in 2009 they wanted to do business with Tampa,” said former councilwoman Mulhern. “Now six years later, we are no further along. We’re at the bottom of the list of cities that do business with Cuba.”

Tampa does not have much to show from it mainly because of local politics.  When the Mayor is silent and the Port is MIA from meetings on trade while other areas are in a full court press (See “International Trade – Cuba Competition”), it is not much of a surprise.

The bay area group visited three cities, Havana, Cojimar and the resort town of Varadero, met with the head of the U.S. interest section in Cuba, toured a national oncology and radiology institute and talked with officials about the enterprise zone that Cuba is building around the port at Mariel.

They also saw lots of signs that other U.S. cities (New Orleans, Charlotte) and states (New York), are making connections in Cuba and that foreign investors are already on the ground. They saw the Canadian flag at Cuban commercial buildings and arrived the day after a visit by French President François Hollande.

“Florida and the Tampa Bay region cannot afford to stand flat-footed while the rest of the world positions itself to take advantage of this economic opportunity,” Christaldi said. “We, as a country, are a little bit behind. … The foreign investment has already begun.”

Indeed.  While, as noted in the articles, the Cuban economy is not very big, if there is an opening, it stands to grow and there are opportunities anyway – as noted by the sponsor of the Arena:

“We consider a 12 million-population country as a pretty big deal,” said Richard Barkett, chief operating officer of Amalie Oil, which exports to about 100 countries.

Many politicians and the business community are on board.  It is time for real unity of purpose.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Creative Village

With all the talk regarding the Lightning owner’s project, it is worth checking in with some other major projects around the state. This week it is Creative Village in Orlando.

When the shovels dug into the 68 acres of dirt slated to become home to Creative Village Thursday afternoon, the ceremony’s attendees’ attention focused on the buildings that will rise vertically from the earth — college campuses, spaces designed to foster creativity and innovation, apartments and offices.  

But before any building foundation is poured, Balfour Beatty Construction is installing underground veins that will deliver a lifeblood for creativity into the development – simple pipes that will eventually hold high-tech communications cables internally connecting the development’s buildings and externally to the world. Balfour’s portion of the budget is $12 million.

* * *

In addition to the underground work, Balfour Beatty is also putting in roadways, including a lane dedicated to the LYNX bus rapid transit line connecting the project and Parramore to the LYNX Central Station downtown. New signalization for the bus rapid transit lane is also planned along with bus benches themed to the community.

A $10 million federal grant to LYNX is paying for the infrastructure work. As the groundbreaking occurred, The University of Central Florida/Valencia College’s request for state money to build a joint-venture downtown campus building remains in limbo until June when the Florida Legislature meets in a special session to create its budget.

We’ll see when something comes out of the ground.  Just remember that pretty much everybody is working for a downtown tech/residential/innovation center – and everyone hypes them the same way.

— All Aboard Florida

Next, given that this area cannot get anything organized on transportation, we check in on All Aboard Florida.

All Aboard Florida has selected a contractor to upgrade the 66-mile rail corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach, which is planned to eventually connect to Orlando.

In court documents released yesterday, the company said that it will move forward with the project regardless of the outcome of a legal challenge by residents and government officials on the Treasure Coast. Should the lawsuit succeed in blocking AAF from using tax-free bonds, the company will issue taxable bonds instead.

As we have said for a while, it is strange how silent local officials are about this project and our not being connected to it or even clearly in the future plans.

— Mega Development

Finally, without getting into much detail, there is talk of another planned mega development for Miami, the Miami Innovation District which, in theory, would include:

We have no idea how likely this development is, but just add it to your list.

Lists of the Week I

Our first list of the week is Glassdoor.com’s 25 Best Cities for Jobs which is actually taken from a list of 50 cities.

Coming in first is Raleigh, followed by Kansas City, OKC, Austin, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Louisville, San Antonio, DC, St. Louis, San Francisco, Columbus (OH), Dallas-Ft. Worth, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.  So, some usual suspects and a few surprises (like Memphis). Some surprises are Charlotte (36th), San Diego (38th), Denver (39th), and Portland (OR) (46th)

How did Florida fare? Orlando (27th), the Tampa Bay area (28th), Jacksonville (30th), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (44th).  Well, not very good, but at least we beat some of the usual suspects.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Marketwatch’s Most Business Friendly Cities.  You can read the details of the rankings here.

The Top 20: coming in first is Dallas, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Des Moines, Raleigh, San Jose, Houston, Provo, OKC, Denver, Boston, Austin, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Antonio, Omaha, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, and Charlotte.

Strange how business friendly the high tax, high wage locations can be.  We are always told that Florida/Tampa Bay’s low wage costs and low taxes are our great advantage.

So how did we do – the Times tells us:

Dallas landed at No. 1. And Florida metros – the same our Florida governor travels the country touting as the best for biz? Well, Miami ranked No. 37 with Tampa Bay and Orlando trailing at No. 46 and 47, respectively. Poor Lakeland scraped by near the very bottom at No. 98.

So what makes Dallas so friendly?

MarketWatch analyzed a range of 23 categories related to business environment, company performance and economic outcome. In 22 cases, the best possible score was 100, while in the 23rd it was 150. A perfect score in all metrics would yield 2,350 points. Then MarketWatch crunched the numbers. “Ultimately Dallas-Fort Worth won with a score of 1,687. San Francisco wasn’t far behind, at 1,665, and Seattle took the bronze with 1,651,” MarketWatch reported.

What’s holding Tampa Bay back at No. 46 with 1,222 points? The “business climate” here ranked low at No. 72. The “company performance” — businesses on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq markets — here did better at No. 31. And the “economic outcome” measure put Tampa Bay at No. 57.

So, unless you love being average, bad business climate and bad economic outcome.   As the Times notes:

No single survey captures the economic essence of any metro area. But this analysis is just the latest reminder that being “business friendly” goes far beyond simply boasting about no state income tax and cheap wages. That’s a losing sales strategy.

It is also a reminder that despite all the talk of it being our time and our new boom (and all our natural assets), we are consistently average in most rankings.  As we have said innumerable times, yes, we are getting better but we are playing catch up slowly to others who are moving more quickly.  At least, Bass Pro Shops is hiring.

Roundup 5-15-2015

May 15, 2015

Economic Development/International Trade – A Region?

It seems that regional officials may have finally decided that the area needs to market itself as an area:

Comparing the merits of Tampa to St. Petersburg may be endlessly fascinating to baseball fans, but it makes a lot less sense to foreign corporations sizing up the economy of one of the top 20 metro areas in the nation.

As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it at an International Town Hall held Friday at St. Petersburg’s Hilton Carillon Park hotel, “The days of us marketing our respective cities at the expense of someone else are over – over.”

Buckhorn stood on a stage next to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to kick off a now annual event highlighting the Tampa Bay region’s strides toward becoming a major player in international trade.

An alliance of business leaders, tourism promoters and government officials on both sides of the bay scored a big win two years ago with the announcement of new air service on Panama’s Copa Airlines, Latin America’s leading carrier that has linked the Tampa region to dozens of cities in Central and South America.

The newly-dubbed Tampa Bay Export Alliance then made an unprecedented joint trade mission to Chile in December, which yielded about $9 million new trade deals between foreign businesses and 14 local companies which attended.

On Friday, the group hailed the promise of new trade in Europe this fall with the start of non-stop flights from Tampa International Airport to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airlines, connecting travelers to destinations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

* * *

At an event held earlier this week at the Tampa Club, Hillsborough County development officials didn’t stick to talking points about downtown Tampa, the port or the new Riverwalk when describing the area to a business delegation from Panama.

“It was all about Hillsborough and Pinellas County, about downtown Tampa and St. Pete and Clearwater; it was the whole region as one – seamless – and it makes a huge impression on people,” said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

(Funny how the airport is in many ways driving the initiative.) And that is positive because:

A major impetus for forming the export alliance a year ago was the recognition that Tampa Bay area businesses actually lag way behind similar sized metros in export sales.

A study by the Brookings Institute ranked Tampa 88 out of the 100 top metro areas in the country for exports and local leaders hope the new partnership will bring the local market closer to the average.

“A lot of our companies are small, they’re 20 to 30 employees, and they’re happy. They’re making great sales and all of that. So, this is helping to find those few that say, ‘Okay, I’m doing well, but I want to double it,” Meidel said.

Well, we understand that you have to be average before you can be good, but we are a top 20 metro so we should be a top 20 export region.  To be blunt, 88th is awful.  It is well past time that the region markets itself as one region – but why is it limited to Hillsborough and Pinellas (as is indicated on the Alliance website)?  Why not market the whole region (including Sarasota and Manatee)?

And that regionalism is an accomplishment well into the age of globalization shows just how much work our local political culture really needs.  On the other hand, no matter how late in the game and not comprehensive, it is a start.

Now, if only we could have regional transportation policy.

International Trade – Cuba Competition

Speaking of international trade:

Leaders in business and government across the Tampa Bay area are scrambling to cash in the coming normalization of relations with once-taboo Cuba.

On Tuesday, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sends a 38-member delegation to the island nation for its third meeting there with government officials. In January, a delegation of leaders from Pinellas County’s private sector travelled to Cuba to meet with officials, as well.

The trip comes on the heels of resolutions adopted by the Tampa City Council — one offering the city as the site for a Cuban consulate and the other offering to host the signing of an accord restoring diplomatic relations.

What’s more, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, has emerged as a leading voice in Washington and adviser to President Barack Obama on normalizing relations with Cuba.

Well, leaders in Tampa except the Mayor.

Still, Tampa by no means stands alone. Other Florida cities are working quietly to improve their own relations with Cuba.

As the Tampa delegation heads to Cuba today, the island nation’s top diplomat in the U.S. — Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. — will be in Florida to meet with leaders from neighboring Manatee and Sarasota counties.

* * *

A ferry operator now licensed by the U.S. to operate between here and Cuba says he’d prefer Port Manatee yo [sic] Port Tampa Bay

“Manatee’s port is a gem,” said the operator, Jorge Fernandez, CEO of Havana Ferry Partners. “And it is three hours closer to Cuba than Tampa’s.”

That’s fine with us.  If the Port in Tampa can’t or won’t get the service, we are fine with Port Manatee getting it.  It is the same bay, even if, the previous item notwithstanding, some cannot seem to see that.  But there are others who also want the business:

Pensacola is another city Tampa may want to keep an eye on.

The group from the Panhandle city that visited Cuba this spring “was the best delegation I have been part of and I have been on over 100 in 17 years of working to normalize relations,” said Albert Fox, president of the Tampa-based Alliance For Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Cuba was very impressed with Pensacola.”

* * *

Already, ports in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale have regular cargo lines that travel to Cuba. Tampa does not.

But:

The Tampa chamber delegation heading out today will tour Mariel but doesn’t include a representative from Port Tampa Bay.

No one at the port could be reached from comment Monday about why.

That is bizarre, especially given the Port Director used to be the director in Jacksonville which has service with Cuba (and the inaction does not seem to comport with the Times editorial that says the Port has expressed interest in the ferries to Cuba.)  Why should Jacksonville get the business not Tampa?  At least we have flights.

This summer, Orlando’s airport will begin competing in the Cuban charter flight business when it launches a weekly flight to Havana that may expand with demand.

So get ready for competition (for this and everything else).  We are glad that local business and political officials (with a notable exception) are championing this area and understand that the business will not just come here on its own.

The business is going to be there for someone, why should it go somewhere else?

Economic Development/USF – What to do with the MOSI land?

Now that the seal has been broken on the idea of moving MOSI to the Lightning owner’s project, there is already speculation about what to do with the present MOSI site.  Initial reports had speculation that the site could be used for a corporate HQ or innovation center.  Setting aside that the such uses would compete directly with the Lightning owner’s project, now there are other ideas.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan on Wednesday admonished those salivating at potential uses for the county land that’s home to MOSI. In the middle of his cross hairs was the University of South Florida, which Hagan believes covets the location for a long-desired football stadium.

Hagan said the university shouldn’t begin looking for a stadium until it proves its football team can better fill Raymond James Stadium, its current home.

“I know how special it is to have a stadium on campus, and I fully support looking for ways to have that occur, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, their performance and attendance must drastically improve before we can seriously talk about a stadium.”

That drew scorn from Commissioner Victor Crist, who said Hagan’s ongoing efforts to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Hillsborough County undermined his argument.

“As far as athletics, well, that’s not my venue, but one thing I do know is Mr. Hagan, you’ve been pushing for baseball, and frankly they haven’t filled their seats, either,” said Crist, a USF alumnus. “So the argument that USF football has empty seats I think is an unfounded one.”

Hagan retorted that Crist was right: “Athletics is not your purview.”

There are a couple of things going on here.  First, USF now plays at Raymond James, which gives money to the Sports Authority. Moving would remove that income stream, which may explain some of the opposition from the Commissioner on the Sport Authority board.    However, we think it is optimal to have a campus stadium for USF.

Another thing going on here is that a USF alum is trying to use county land for a USF stadium (while a UF alumnus  questions it).  While, as we said, we think USF should probably have a stadium on campus, we think it actually should be on the present campus. (You can see here that the athletic facilities use of land can be made more efficient like at UCF )  Why use a large plot of land with major frontage on Fletcher for a stadium that will be used a few times a year when there is a land on USF’s campus – yes, it might be a squeeze, but that’s how universities do it.  Make USF’s campus more campus like – which it needs to be.

Third, why should the County give up this large plot of land for something that will not make money for the County?  USF is a valuable asset for this area, but it should not govern this area.  This land has better uses that could provide economic stimulus throughout the year, rather than for just a few days. (Assuming the County does not just settle for some crappy development).  If MOSI moves, the land should be saved for a good use.

Going back to the potential move of MOSI generally, the Times had a good editorial about the concept.

The prospects are exciting, as a move could make Vinik’s development and MOSI more attractive and durable. But there also are implications for residents, taxpayers, schoolchildren, the university and the region’s economic base that need much more vetting.

First, how would moving help MOSI financially and further its mission? Its current 80 acres is twice the size of Vinik’s entire footprint. Visitors are familiar with MOSI’s central location, and its proximity to USF and a nearby industrial park creates all sorts of opportunities for MOSI to play a lead role in attracting new jobs and sponsored research. What about the A-rated, on-site elementary school that serves hundreds of students from the surrounding low-income areas? A move would require MOSI to rethink its mission and priorities. That’s not a bad exercise, but this involves more than packing up and moving.

Second, how would MOSI help downtown, and vice versa? A downtown facility could bring another “wow” factor, jobs and investment to the city center. Having MOSI next to the other downtown museums also would add critical mass as a cultural destination. But would MOSI gain or lose an audience? It drew more visitors last year (525,387) than three downtown venues combined: the Glazer Children’s Museum (200,000), the Tampa Museum of Art (85,000) and the Tampa Bay History Center (81,369).

Finally, if MOSI moved downtown, what use could Hillsborough make of the county-owned property? That has to be a factor in the discussion. Rather than earmark the land for a USF football stadium or other specific use, the county needs to examine the void it would create by relocating MOSI. Taking one step forward by moving the museum downtown should not come at the expense of taking two steps back in north Tampa. The last thing north Tampa needs is more underutilized property.

In other words, like with the USF medical school, if there is a move, there needs to be a real plan (and that, in our opinion, should not include a stadium on that particular lot).

Adventures in Planning

There was an odd article in the Times this week:

For the first time, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission might ask local governments to consider the effects of climate change when strategizing for future growth and development.

The shift in approach would not be seismic. It’s just one proposed line in the massive comprehensive land-use plans for Hillsborough, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City that are up for review this year.

And it wouldn’t reference “climate change,” but rather the less politically charged phrase “climate adaptation.”

Here’s what the Planing [sic] Commission’s draft language for the section on coastal management in local comprehensive plans says: “Develop strategies to identify and address issues related to climate adaptation in cooperation with the (Environmental Protection Commission), the Planning Commission and other agencies.”

And what is the purpose of this proposed change:

The commission on Monday listened to a presentation from Charles Paxton of the National Weather Service on the potential affects [sic] of climate change on the region. While sea levels rise and fall constantly, the peaks are higher and levels are more frequently above where they were even 50 years ago.

As a result, “systems engineered in the ’70s may not accommodate events in the 2000s,” Paxton told commissioners.

Still unknown, however, is how high sea levels might rise. Projections vary, and the proposed language would simply provide an opportunity for local jurisdictions to review the science together and determine a prudent response, said Shawn College, environmental planning leader for the Planning Commission.

“That’s something that can and should be debated because the different level of response is going to have different costs and benefits,” College said. 

Reasonable enough, though, as noted in the article, what the Planning Commission does is not binding (which is pretty obvious in Hillsborough County).  The Mayor of Tampa said that was fine. Were there other reactions?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, one of five Republicans on the county board, said he was not necessarily comfortable with the proposal referencing climate change or adaptation. But he would consider a comprehensive plan that acknowledged the potential affects [sic] of rising sea levels when building critical county infrastructure.

“I believe that we can have a reasonable conversation about sea-level rise in a context such that it’s not highly politicized,” White said. “And there’s no reason that conversation must happen in the framework of talking about global climate change.”

For the purposes of this discussion, we don’t care if people think sea rise is caused by Poseidon waving his trident, as long as they plan properly for sea rise.

And along those lines, note that most of the rest of the world (including Texas, Utah, and Arizona – and even Oklahoma City) also understands that real mass transit (not just glorified bus service) is effective, useful, and desirable.  How you get to that conclusion is not important to us.  Just do the right thing.

Economy – Employment

Let’s look in to the employment market:

Florida’s briefly resurgent job creation has tumbled to the lowest point of the year.

The state added just 13,800 private-sector jobs last month, according to a report released Wednesday by payroll processing firm ADP.

That’s not only the Sunshine State’s weakest month so far this year, but far off 2014, when it enjoyed multiple months churning out 20,000 new jobs or more.

* * *

Seven of the 29 states tracked by ADP grew at a faster percentage pace than Florida in April, but since Florida is the third-largest state in the country, most of their gains are not as noticeable.

Continuing a pattern that has held up throughout the slow economic recovery, more than half of Florida’s new jobs are in the lower-paying service-producing sector.

Hopefully, just a blip (though the income level is still an issue).  At least we passed Texas.

Channel District – The Madison

There was more news on the Madison

Tampa-based Mercury Advisors has filed a substantial change request with the city that would remove two stories from the tower, add seven apartments and about 1,400 square feet of space. It would lower the building from 275 feet to 261 feet.

The current proposal would have 323 units in 21 stories and 38,233 square feet of retail space as well as 613 parking spaces. The retail space has long been speculated as a potential site for Publix Super Markets Inc., though the grocer has never confirmed that.

At more than 38,000 square feet, the retail space would be large for an urban Publix, though the figure could include a grocery anchor and some small-shop space. Most of Publix’s urban stores are around 30,000 to 32,000 square feet.

So maybe they have finally gotten financing and these changes are conditions thereof.  Maybe not.  This project has been around for a while without getting built, so we will just wait and see.

US19 – Clearwater Thinks Bigger

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding new planning rules for US19 in Clearwater.

The 7-mile stretch of U.S. 19 that runs through Clearwater has changed dramatically in recent years as the road has been reshaped into an elevated highway.

It only makes sense that the business districts alongside the road will have to change with the times, too.

To push that process forward, Clearwater is unveiling new zoning rules for its entire U.S. 19 corridor. Among other things, those rules will allow taller buildings alongside much of the highway.

The other big change: Along parts of the roadside that aren’t near major interchanges and are no longer easily accessible, more flexible rules will allow the construction of mid-rise office buildings, multistory apartment and condo complexes, and light industrial sites. The goal is to eventually replace strip malls and standalone businesses that are no longer an ideal fit for their particular location.

Setting aside that little strip malls are never an ideal fit for anything, good for Clearwater to try to think differently about what they want their city to be like. (Though we are not going to get carried away with their vision, it still seems car centric.)  In any event, what are the changes?

The new zoning rules are still being tweaked, and Clearwater’s City Council will vote on the final versions later this year. Developers who follow the city’s blueprint will be allowed more density per acre, leading to taller buildings. The new rules will set up three kinds of zones along the road:

Regional centers: These are major commerce hubs like State Road 580, where Westfield Countryside mall is located, and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, where Clearwater Mall is.

Here the city hopes to foster an urban redevelopment pattern characterized by taller buildings along pedestrian-friendly streets. The maximum height for buildings is to be 150 feet — perhaps 14 floors — unless the building is next to a residential area.

Neighborhood centers: These are second-tier U.S. 19 crossroads such as Curlew, Sunset Point and Belleair roads. The city views these as local shopping and employment destinations. Buildings here will be allowed to be up to 70 feet tall.

Corridor areas: These are places along the road without direct access to interchanges. Here, the city hopes to foster a wide range of job-creating development — including office parks and light industry — instead of some of the small-scale retail sites that currently exist. Buildings here can up to 130 feet tall.

“About the only thing you can’t do in the corridor is heavy, dirty industry,” Delk said. “We’re going to give you lot more latitude with your piece of property out there.”

Frankly, most of that makes sense (though we are not completely sold on height limits.  We doubt many projects will push them and we don’t really see why they are needed).  At least Clearwater is moving away from the flawed idea that Pinellas is “built out.”  While most of Pinellas’s land may have something built on it, very little of it is the best (or even an efficient) use of the land.  There is no reason Pinellas cannot be built more logically and densely (of course, real transit would have helped that).  While there may be some issues with the Clearwater plan, at least it is thinking.

Once again, there is no reason to be wedded to the flawed and silly development patterns of the past.  We can, and should change.  Watching all the sprawl centric development being built on Dale Mabry and so many other locations in Tampa and Hillsborough, we hope they take note.

Transportation – If You Really Want Good Bike Lanes

There has been a lot of news about bike lanes in Tampa recently (Hillsborough has them on some roads, like Dale Mabry, but they are pretty much a joke).  The Tampa lanes are a start – though the way the roads are striped (like Platt) is quixotic.  Additionally, when you are driving, it is difficult to tell the parking spaces from the no parking areas because the stripes are not sufficiently distinguishable (the no parking stripes should either be in a different color or slant towards traffic rather than away to make the difference clear – or Tampa could learn from other cities and paint the curbs to indicate where there is parking and no parking).  However, if you really want to encourage biking:

This fall, San Francisco will become one of the elite few cities in the United States to build a raised bike lane.

The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency will oversee the construction of an elevated pathway on Valencia Street in the southern Mission District. The curb-hugging lane will be raised about 2 inches above the road surface, and will measure 6-feet wide with an additional 5-foot “buffer zone.” The city will follow up with a handful of other raised lanes next year, all planned for areas with high rates of bicycle injuries.

Since the entire Tampa Bay area has high rates of bike injuries, we think this would a great idea and set us apart in really encouraging biking.  Yes, it would cost money, but think of it as an investment – and doing something very well.  Something to consider.

And once protected lanes are built and start intersecting, maybe Tampa can learn from Salt Lake City:

Salt Lake, as I reported last year, has steadily been upgrading its non-automobile transportation system across the board. Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration has introduced a veritable buffet of new options, including a robust light rail network and a growing bike-share system, as well as a low-cost multimodal transit pass for city residents. Now, Salt Lake will be the first city in the United States to implement a protected intersection for bicycles (h/t to Streetsblog USA for highlighting this story). The innovative design will keep cyclists on two intersecting protected bike lanes safe and separated from motor traffic as they move across one of the city’s notoriously wide junctions. It is due to be completed this fall.

I looks something like this:

From CityLab.com – click on picture for article

If biking is actually going to be a priority, we should develop and implement the best practices available.

Rays – Nothing Happening

A while ago, it seemed like something would happen regarding the Rays stadium search.  Then the St. Pete City Council stopped that, with some City Council members waxing about how the Rays should stay in St. Pete, etc.  Then last weekend, the Rays played the Texas Rangers

The attendance this evening was listed as 8,701. That has to be among the worst since the new ownership took over, possibly the worst since the Rays changed jerseys and dropped the devil. That’s very bad, Thursdays against the Rangers be damned.

Then there was this:

The Yankees won 11-5 in front of an announced crowd of 10,619, the smallest to ever see the Yanks play at the Trop.

Do with that what you will because we are pretty sure St. Pete will not do anything useful.

List of the Week

Our list this week is really a study: FDI Intelligence’s American Cities of the Future.  The report looks at various categories and has overall scores.  This is compiled in Top 10 lists.

The Top 10 Overall North American Cities of the future are: San Francisco, Houston, Boston, Sunnyvale (CA), Toronto, Atlanta, Vancouver, Miami, and Seattle.

The report also has categories by city size (Major, Large, etc).  Looking at the document, it appears that the Tampa Bay area would be in the “large” category. The Top 10 Large American Cities of the Future (overall) are: Seattle, San Joes, Austin, Minneapolis, Calgary, Portland, Cincinnati, and Mississauga.

While Miami and Orlando get big kudos. Tampa does show up in one category: Top 10 Large America Cities of the Future – Connectivity.  Well, at least that is something.

Roundup 5-8-2015

May 8, 2015

Transportation – Coordination, Anyone?

HART is considering actually coordinating with the TED PLC/Go Hillsborough/Whatever group:

The county’s transit agency must sync its vision for future bus rapid transit service with a larger transportation plan now in the works — or risk getting pushed to the curb, officials said Monday.

“The bottom line is if we don’t have the money, nothing is going to happen,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman, who sits on the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

Murman said HART needs to line up its plans with the Policy Leadership Group, which is working on a way to pay for road and transit improvements over the next 30 years. Other board members agreed.

Coordination.  What a novel concept.

Board members and county commissioners Kevin Beckner, Les Miller and Stacy White echoed Murman’s suggestion that HART staff work more closely with Parsons Brinckerhoff.

If county commissioners vote to put a 1-cent sales tax for transportation on the ballot in 2016, it would be the second time officials asked residents to approve a tax in order to fund transit and road improvements.

“We cannot go down this road again where we are throwing out and comparing two different plans,” Beckner said. “That’s part of the reason why things got derailed in 2010, because we had competing plans out there that confused the public.”

Yes (except there was no need to hire outside consultants).  Why the board members who are already part of the TED PLC, etc., have no pushed HART coordination with that group before now is a mystery, though at least they see the issue now.

Regarding the actual service discussed in the article, HART has no plans for real BRT.  (MetroRapid is not BRT and, if a drive on Nebraska and Fletcher is any indication, does not spur much development, urban or otherwise.  Moreover, those who persist in saying it is are just being misleading).

Bus rapid transit routes are designed to get patrons to their destination faster by using longer routes with fewer stops.

* * *

Murman coined the phrase Metro Not So Rapid, saying that a light-changing system can only move so much traffic when it’s on roadways often jammed such as Nebraska and Hillsborough avenues.

Right. But let’s set aside the MetroRapid is not BRT for a moment.  What are HART’s utterly uncoordinated plans for MetroRapid?

Now, HART has one north-south MetroRapid route and is designing an east-west route. Plans call for adding MetroRapid on Kennedy Boulevard to Tampa International Airport, a New Tampa route, a Brandon route and added rapid service on Dale Mabry and Gunn Highway.

(No one has defined “rapid service?” How is it different from MetroRapid? What distinguishes it from “BRT?”)  And:

Murman and HART Board member Eddie Vance, a Temple Terrace councilman, said the agency should also revisit the idea of adding routes in south Hillsborough, where the county’s population is growing the fastest.

And that’s fine.  There is a place for MetroRapid, a/k/a proper bus service, in a proper transit system.  Of course, it should be coordinated.

Now, back to the fact that MetroRapid is not BRT.  As noted, it is not so rapid, plus:

If HART adds the six MetroRapid routes it now has in its plans, it would cost $1.2 million to $2.1 million per mile. Begley said the money would go toward right of way, station construction and land for future stations or park-and-ride lots.

One of the scenarios the Policy Leadership Group rolled out to county residents this year at a series of meetings outlines a state-of-the-art bus rapid transit plan that calls for dedicated road lanes with fixed guideways at a cost of about $54 million per mile, which would include right of way.

That $54 million per mile of real BRT is actually a bit lower than the CTFastrack BRT in Connecticut that just opened ($567 million for 9.4 miles, and remember costs usually rise over time.)  To sum up:

“Full fledged BRT has a different price point,” Eagan told the board. She said she will speak with her staff and upgrade HART’s transit development plan before meeting with the Policy Leadership Group in June.

If you actually want real BRT, say goodbye to $2 million a mile and get ready to pay.  There is no way to do it right and still be cheap.

As we have noted previously, actual BRT (not repackaged bus service) can be as expensive, if not more, than rail depending on what you count. (see “Transportation – Bring on the Bus” and “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths”  and “Transportation – More Muddle”)

There are a few points: 1) all the transportation planning should be coordinated (why would taxpayers agree to pay for something that is not coordinated?); 2) there is a place for MetroRapid, but it is not BRT and is not the spine or core of a transit system; 3) those who tell you that BRT is the low cost transit solution are not actually talking about real BRT in most cases; 4) if you look at the linked items above, you will see that the long term benefits of having BRT versus rail are questionable; and 5) if we are going to spend the money to make a transit system, we should do it right, and, so far, that does not seem to be on offer.

Going cheap will just mean having to do it all again for much more in the not too distant future while falling further behind those areas that actually did it right in the first place.  That may serve some short-term political interests, but it is a disservice to the area and the people who live here.

Transportation – The Airport is Thriving

There was good news out of the airport.

Halfway through the fiscal year, passenger numbers are significantly outpacing projections due to strong holiday travel, more spring break traffic and a general strengthening of the overall U.S. travel market, airport officials said.

The airport experienced a 6.4 percent year-over-year increase in passenger traffic in the first six months of fiscal year 2015, which began in October. Tampa’s domestic and international markets both experienced significant increases. January and February were especially strong, posting 8.6 percent and 8.3 percent year-over-year growth, respectively.

April could be even stronger with a projected 10.9 percent growth over the same month last year, or nearly 178,000 more passengers.

* * *

The airport originally forecast 18 million passengers in 2015. Officials are now expected to end the year serving over 18.5 million passengers.

That’s all good. (Could be even better, but it is very good).  And international traffic is climbing rapidly:

The heavy passenger growth is partly due to a 15.8 percent increase in international travel with more frequent flights to Panama City on Copa Airlines and more Cuba passengers after U.S. travel restrictions were loosened in January. Tampa’s nonstop services to Zurich, Canada and London also increased, as did the airport’s domestic markets, which saw a 6.1 percent increase in passenger traffic.

That will get even better with Lufthansa at the end of summer. Once again, the airport administration is showing how to do things.

And, in other news, the aviation authority approved a very large construction contract for the rental car move and people mover.  (You can see animations and renderings here.)

Now, if we could only get that San Francisco nonstop.

International Trade/Transportation – A Boat to Cuba

For years there have been proposals for ferry service from Tampa to Mexico, Key West, and, eventually, Cuba.  Not much ever came of these. This week, the Federal government approved the concept of ferries to Cuba.  One of the possible locations for ferry service is Tampa  (or Port Manatee):

First, Tampa would be a natural home port for ferry service to Cuba once that nation agrees to receive U.S. ferries. The city has a large Cuban-American population and strong ties to the island nation. Many see it as the future center of U.S. relations with Cuba.

* * *

Second, it would introduce a brand new transportation industry to the bay area. Passenger ferries are used widely around the world, and some believe the ferry business could one day take off in the United States — and especially in Tampa.

Which would make sense, given the push – now publicized with some Tampa history in the New York Times  – to make Tampa a center of any new trade with Cuba (Miami will always be a center).

Decades before Miami danced to a Cuban rhythm, Tampa’s Ybor City grew up and got rich to the sounds of Cuban-inflected Spanish as thousands of workers rolled cigars by day and plotted the island’s independence from Spain by night.

The city was America’s first touchstone for Cubans from the island. José Martí, the poet and the hero of Cuban independence, visited often during the 1890s to plan insurrection and to raise money from the successful cigar barons and their employees. A young Fidel Castro retraced Martí’s steps in the 1950s, hoping for a similar infusion of money and inspiration to boost his own revolution. Later on, exiles and former Cuban political prisoners streamed in, escaping Mr. Castro’s Communist grip.

Today, Tampa sees itself as pivotal to Cuba once again: The city is taking the lead in the Obama administration’s effort to rekindle diplomatic ties to Cuba, a move that runs counter to the anti-engagement orthodoxy of Miami and Florida’s state government.

In fostering closer ties to Cuba — a stance some here embraced long before President Obama’s December announcement — Tampa is positioning itself to one day reap the economic benefits of helping rebuild the crumbling country. Tampa’s port allows for a straight shot to Havana’s, giving it a major advantage if the United States lifts its economic embargo. Beyond that, city officials want to begin mending the historical kinship and once-powerful economic links between Cuba and Tampa that reach back more than six generations.

Well, some Tampa officials. The administration and Mayor are notably silent.

But in any event, the push is there – and there is some free publicity about the area in the New York Times with a sister article in the Miami Herald.  The fact is that the policy is changing (even if slowly).  This is an area that can distinguish Tampa in the eyes of Latin America (which generally opposed the embargo).  While any policy is still up to the Federal government, why should we ask for permission from Miami regarding our economy and our future?  The business and connections will eventually be there, why shouldn’t we get them?

Downtown – River Fest Thoughts

Last week was the first RiverFest.  We attended and thought we would not a few things.

  1. It was very well attended.  So well attended that it shows that there is such a market for urbanness that there are no excuses for the City settling for poorly designed projects.
  1. The area of the Riverwalk from just south of Curtis Hixon Park to past the Convention Center is nice, but there is nothing there for anyone to do.  Basically, on the land side you are staring into parking lots (with the exception of MacDill Park, though there is nothing on Ashley across from the park).  That just shows what all that settling has done.  Even with a nice Riverwalk and big crowds, an area that could be truly thriving with activity is dead in terms of retail, restaurants, etc.  (And it still needs more shade.) One more reason that there should be no settling.
  1. The City needs to do something about the complete lack of grass in Curtis Hixon Park.  With success come issues – because it is used so much, the grass is trampled and it is not looking so good.  (And also we heard complaints about the organization of some events and lines.  That needs to be looked into.)
  1. Given the crowds, it makes clear that transit that people will use is necessary and, given proper development, would work.  Parking was hard to come by and clearly not everyone was from downtown.  There needs to be a good way to get people into and out of the area.
  1. We really need a Riverwalk on the west side of the river – this time created with activities fronting the river and without settling.
  1. Why did it take so long to actually finish?

Channelside – Changes Coming

There was a hint at changes coming to the Channelside complex.

The preliminary redevelopment plans for Channelside Bay Plaza will be unveiled to a national audience in Las Vegas later this month.

Franklin Street, which Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik hired to oversee the leasing and management of the plaza, will market the property at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ national convention May 18-20.

“We are planning on going there with a renovation plan that’s inspiring. People aren’t going to believe what we’ve been able to plan there,” Franklin Street CEO Andrew Wright said Tuesday. “It won’t look like a remodel. It’ll look like a totally new building.”

That is not hard to imagine (see Baywalk).  In any event, what is the plan?

Wright said that 40,000 to 50,000 people — retailers, restaurants, entertainment concepts, brokers and developers — are expected to attend the national ICSC convention. The renovation plans will include more public space and better connectivity to the port authority parking garage — a “total redesign of the look and feel of the property,” he said.

So there will likely be a skywalk to the parking garage, which was proposed before. (We would rather the parking garage it made more conducive to pedestrian activity on Channelside Drive  – the present design is a mistake).  As for more public space, apparently some part of the complex will be demolished – hopefully opening the complex up to more water views/access.

Any changes to the property are subject to approval by Port Tampa Bay, which owns the land the plaza is built on. Wright said the port is being kept informed of the plans, but the board won’t have time to formally approve the plans before ICSC.

We doubt the Port board will do anything other than rubber stamp what the Lightning owner proposes – do they really have much choice? We will just have to wait for details.

Seminole Heights – A Change and a Question

A new development in Seminole Heights is making a change.

There’s such an overwhelming demand for apartments in Seminole Heights that the developer of the Warehouse Lofts is ditching his plans for a storefront in the building and using all of the available square footage for residential space.

The redevelopment of an old warehouse at 4513 Florida Ave. began in February and is still slated for an Oct. 1 completion. But with 182 people interested in 48 units, developer Wesley Burdette has decided against a 3,300-square-foot retail space and instead will add six studio units to the project.

We understand the reasoning.  We are not even completely against the change, though storefronts on Florida in a residential building would make the project much better – it would then really contribute to making the street more urban (and encourage more urban development on Florida).

The question we have arises more from how this change was made.  Why does the process of approving developments not require that when changes of use are made, there does not have to be a new approval?  Sure, we think this change would be rubberstamped because the City Council rubberstamps most things anyway (and this development is pioneering anyway), but requiring new approval could help with some quality control should the City ever decide to exercise any control (though we are sure developers will complain).  And it would stop the occasions of bait and switch which definitely happen.

Economic Development – Staying Down

A week after we pointed out that the City’s plans for West Tampa seem to lack an element to actually help the low income people living there now, there was an article in the New York Times this week about a new, very large study on upward mobility  which was also covered in the Tribune.

Hillsborough County is among the worst places in the country in terms of poor children’s ability to climb out of poverty, researchers from Harvard University have concluded.

A  study on upward mobility highlighted on the front page of Monday’s New York Times ranks Hillsborough 98th out of the nation’s biggest 100 counties in terms of potential earning power for low-income people. Every extra year spent in Hillsborough reduces a child’s earnings by 0.67 percent, the study found.

That would equal a loss of $3,510 in income for someone who spends 20 years in Hillsborough compared with someone who lived in a state with average upward mobility. That’s about 13.5 percent less than the U.S. average level of household income at age 26 of $26,000.

Well, that is pretty horrible (and barely better than Baltimore) though not that surprising. (You can see the New York Times info on Hillsborough County here.)  Is anything being done about it?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said his city is addressing the issue, in part through its relationship with the Tampa Housing Authority, which has been relocating residents and rebuilding public housing. The latest example is the city’s plans for the North Boulevard Homes project, which is scheduled to be demolished for a $300 million commercial and residential development.

We are in no way opposed to breaking up the large housing projects and letting people move to different locations, but that is only a small part of the issue; it is important to note that letting people move already happened with the Encore site with apparently limited results (apparently because our we are still 98th years after it was done) – so it cannot be the only policy.  And, regardless, there are a few caveats to that strategy. As the Tribune article tells us:

The authors of the study, Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, concluded that offering low-income families housing vouchers and assistance in moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods has substantial benefits for the families themselves and for taxpayers. They said it also appears important to target such housing programs to families with young children, perhaps even at birth, to maximize the benefits.

“More broadly, our findings suggest that efforts to integrate disadvantaged families into mixed-income communities are likely to reduce the persistence of poverty across generations,” Chetty and Hendren wrote.

The researchers found five factors across the country associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime and a larger share of two-parent households.

That is partially accurate, but ignores this:

The places most conducive to upward mobility include large cities — San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I. — and major suburban counties, such as Fairfax, Va.; Bergen, N.J.; Bucks, Pa.; Macomb, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; and Contra Costa, Calif.

These places tend to share several traits, Mr. Hendren said. They have elementary schools with higher test scores, a higher share of two-parent families, greater levels of involvement in civic and religious groups and more residential integration of affluent, middle-class and poor families.

* * *

Although most places with better odds of escaping poverty have higher rent, the researchers did identify some counties as “upward-mobility bargains.” These include Putnam County, N.Y.; parts of the Pittsburgh and Altoona areas in Pennsylvania; and, if only relative to surrounding areas, Contra Costa.

In other words, just moving people to another low income neighborhood with the same kind of schools does not really accomplish anything. (And note that upward mobility is still ridiculously low even though some Hillsborough Schools – mostly IB schools – are well regarded.)  It is not clear the Housing Authority plan will provide for anything else.  Mixing people is good, though the West Tampa/North Boulevard Homes plan is not clear about creating a mixed neighborhood or allowing people of limited means to move to better areas rather than just moving the people who are there and building a more expensive neighborhood.  And then there is transportation, which was found to be as important, if not more, than the other factors.  That has to be taken into account in any plan to move people. And, of course, the jobs with better pay are key.

As we noted last week, this is a complicated problem.  Part of it is social, part is economic, part has to do with where people live. Fixing up West Tampa is a good thing, but there needs to be a more comprehensive plan. What is clear is that Hillsborough is failing badly in upward mobility and needs to get on the ball.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Miami On the (Cutting) Edge

There were a couple of interesting articles about Miami last week. The first discussed eMerge Americas, a tech conference:

All eyes will be on Miami as more than 10,000 entrepreneurs descend on our city to take part in the global tech conference, eMerge Americas, beginning this weekend.  Now in its second year, it is a stark reminder of Miami’s continued maturation as a global city – one that is no longer simply a place where the affluent come to play – but rather a true urban metropolis where real money is being put to work in the form of new business ventures, new development and new ideas.

Rather than look to compete with more established cities like New York and San Francisco, Miami is leveraging its proximity to Latin America, relatively low barrier to entry, influx of young millennials and thriving urban core to set itself apart for startups looking to break into global markets.

* * *

In the last 18 months, Miami has established and cemented many of the key components critical to creating a healthy tech ecosystem.  These include the formation of collaborative workspaces such as Pipeline; entrepreneurship incubators such as Endeavor Miami and Venture Hive; and venture capital firms such as Richmond Global, XP Securities and Scout Ventures that have relocated and expanded into Miami to tap into our growing technology sector.

Yes, this was a column and probably had some hype, but the numbers tell the story – 10,000 entrepreneurs and also some Venture Capital firms in Miami.  Yes, the Tampa Bay area is developing, but it needs more exposure and more local money – which seem to be present in Miami.

The second article on Miami was about design culture:

Thanks in part to the sophisticated international crowd that regularly attends Art Basel in Miami Beach, the demand for residences and hotels commensurate with their tastes have upped the ante on Miami’s architecture scene. Savvy developers such as The Related Group, Swire Properties, and Terra Group, who understood the value of name-brand designers as marketing tools for their new developments, began enlisting top names to create their buildings. Now, not only are there arguably more world-class architects designing luxury hotels, signature condominiums, high-profile cultural institutions, and even landmark garages here than anywhere else in the US, but flocks of wealthy North and Latin Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese have been arriving in droves to partake of the first-class city Miami is becoming, partly as a result of their influence.

To sate this sophisticated crowd’s appetite for high design, new waves of furniture, product, and fashion designers from all over the globe are setting up shop in the rarefied Miami Design District as well as in the edgier and more affordable Wynwood and Ironside enclaves nearby, expanding the nexus of the design community north and south along Biscayne Boulevard. Solidifying Miami’s ascendance in the global design firmament is the arrival of Maison & Objet Americas, the preeminent French decorative arts trade show, which launches in Miami Beach this month.

Once again, there is some hype in the article, but there is no question that Miami is far more developed in terms of design than the Tampa Bay area, which has very little in the way of design.  The reality is that design, urban vitality, and innovation go together.  Almost all truly thriving innovation hubs have a developed design scene (and music scene). It is part of being cutting edge and also contributes to cross-pollination between various disciplines, which helps innovation. As we have said, design matters (and not just in architecture).

— Checking In On SunRail

This week marks the year anniversary of SunRail service in Orlando.

SunRail, the first fixed-rail mass-transit system in Central Florida history, has yet to transform the way most people get around the region as it marks its one-year anniversary Friday.

Some 200,000 people still drive on Interstate 4 every workday.

But with heavy construction now starting a six-year occupation of I-4 through downtown Orlando, many of those drivers could make the switch to SunRail, which in March carried a daily average of nearly 4,100 fare-paying riders — just below the first-year goal of 4,300.

People who get on regularly are enthusiastic.

So, yes, ridership is a little under projections, but not much.  And there are plans to expand the service. (It actually got a Federal grant for expansion last week.)

Before SunRail, people argued no one would ride a train to work, he recalled. Now, Dyer said, the biggest criticism he hears is about the restricted hours of the 31.5-mile system. It runs Monday through Friday every half-hour during the morning and evening rush hours, then every couple of hours until about 10 p.m.

“Why doesn’t it run on weekends?'” he said he is often asked.

That is one of the SunRail complaints made by Janet Scott, a Realtor who lives in the Dr. Phillips area.

She said she would love to take the train to downtown Orlando or Winter Park from the Sand Lake station in south Orange County, but it does not run often enough during the evening or on weekends, when she would like to use it.

“It’s so limited in scope,” she said, adding that the train should be promoted more heavily to let would-be riders know its route and hours.

SunRail has experimented with some free, weekend and specialty service, and it ferried an estimated 26,000 people to and from the Winter Park sidewalk art festival in March. Sponsors covered the $32,000 operating costs.

So, why doesn’t it add service?

The issue with expanding is money. There does not appear to be enough of it.

Opening up on weekends could cost as much as $19 million for more trains and equipment and an additional $10 million in annual operating and maintenance expenses. The annual budget for five days a week is $35 million.

Right now, the state covers the cost of SunRail’s 34 daily runs but turns everything over to Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Volusia counties in 2021.

And there are plans for a link to the airport.

One thing to remember about SunRail is that it is commuter rail. (which is not what we think Hillsborough County should build)  That is different from local transit. (which is what Hillsborough should build)  Nevertheless, as the weekend service shows, there are definitely people who want to use SunRail.  It remains to be seen how successful it will be in the long run. One thing is for sure, it should be studied so that whatever mistakes it made are not repeated here.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Does a Billion Dollars Buy?

As part of our regular review of billion dollar projects (matching the advertised price of the Lightning owner’s project) to keep things in perspective, we bring you a few more.  First, is a project that is actually being held up in the courts in Hollywood (CA).  That should not be confused with this billion dollar project in downtown LA.  Then there is one in Boston.  Finally, there is a billion dollar proposed expansion/redevelopment of a major hospital in Indianapolis.

— Portland Does Not Have the PTC

Portland (OR) is a wacky place but, without question, it is prominent in the usual suspects that score highly on most important lists and attracts high paying jobs (and has a billion dollar investment featured previously).  It also does not have the PTC:

It’s been dubbed “Taxis Gone Wild,” and for the next 120 days Oregon’s largest city will see a big shakeup in an old-school industry.

The Portland City Council late Tuesday narrowly approved a four-month experiment allowing ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate legally while deregulating the existing cab industry.

Uber allows prospective customers to use a phone app to hail and pay a driver who uses his own car. It launched Portland service in December, but suspended operations after the city took legal action. A city task force then spent months developing recommendations for Uber to operate legally, and that led to the 3-2 vote.

It’s a strange world indeed when left-wing, wacky Portland is experimenting in deregulation and the Republican dominated Hillsborough PTC is working very hard to maintain its protectionist, price-fixing, market manipulating  ways.  But that is Tampa Bay.

— Denver is Way Ahead

Finally, the rail link between Denver’s airport and downtown is almost open (while Hillsborough County is still dithering).

The long-planned rail link between Denver International Airport and Union Station in downtown Denver passed a milestone last week when rail cars pulled into the airport station for the first time.

The Regional Transportation District’s electric-powered East Rail Line will now undergo an extended series of tests before the trains start carrying passengers in 2016.

Inbound passengers who take the train downtown will be able to connect at the newly refurbished Union Station to local light-rail lines, Amtrak trains and regional bus lines.

Once again, we are improving, but others are ahead and doing even more.

List of the Week

Our list this week is thrillist.com’s The 16 Best Beer Cities in America.  This is their methodology:

Every day, some metropolis tries to lay claim to the title of “Beer City, USA.” Here at Thrillist, we have the argument regularly, which is why we’ve decided to tap our nationwide group of editors, experts, and lushes to definitively crown the best beer city in the year of our (Dark) Lord, 2015. We factored in influence, breweries, history, impact, culture, and maybe — just maybe — some personal bias. Here, for our beer money, are the 16 best beer cities in the US.

Topping the list is Portland (OR) – probably making Uber more popular, followed by San Diego, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, NYC, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Burlington (VT), Portland (ME), Boston, and Asheville.

There are no Florida cities.  And, just in case you think this is a Travel & Leisure situation where they do not even know we exists, perusing the site, we discovered they do know we exist, as noted in the 28 must eat sandwiches item:

Medianoche, Cuba
What’s in it:
You’ve gotta love any food specifically designed for post-bar consumption: Medianoche literally translates to “midnight”, and it’s a late-night staple originally served in Havana’s clubs around that time. Interestingly, it was also a go-to for workers in the sugar and cigar factories burning the midnight oil. Made on a soft egg roll, it’s like a grilled-cheese-ham-and-more-cheese-hybrid made of roast pork, Swiss, ham, pickles, and mustard, all warmed on a press.

Fun fact: In April 2012, a version of the Medianoche was named the “signature sandwich” of the city of Tampa, Florida. Look at you, Tampa, all hip and cool with your own signature sammie.

Do with that what you will.

Roundup 5-1-2015

May 1, 2015

Transportation – What You Are Likely to Really Get

There was an editorial in the Tribune regarding the Go Hillsborough process that provided some insight into what are likely the real thoughts among officials regarding the possible referendum and what you might get for your money.

Citizens in Tampa are, understandably, far more interested in mass transit than those in South Hillsborough, who want better roads.

In 2010, the transportation plan included a major rail proposal. It passed in Tampa but failed because of opposition in the unincorporated county. This time, there will be greater focus on county needs and on quick, economical ways of improving traffic, such as synchronizing lights.

Improving transit options still must be a priority. But it is unlikely rail will be the centerpiece. The initial focus is more likely to be on bus rapid transit and other economical means to serve people who don’t want to be dependent on a car. Using CSX lines or modern streetcars may prove to be more effective and smarter economical strategies than a new rail line.

We still believe rail should be part of the community’s future, but citizens have shown their wariness. Better to start with a less ambitious plan and build support.

First, we are not clear why the County can’t start synchronizing lights now. (Just like why it could not plan or budget properly.)

Second, the above portion shows the confusion that still exists regarding what might be in the referendum.  First, it says a new rail line will likely not be involved.  It mentions BRT, but there is no real BRT in Tampa right now and Metro Rapid, while nice, has not spawned any urban development. Where will the BRT go?  Will anyone ride it?  Will it spur any development?  How will it connect to anything else?

Then it discusses using CSX rails (presumable for rail transit), which would be a new rail line (though not a newly laid rail line) but still not connect downtown and Westshore and the airport. (And will CSX actually agree?  And will the state provide the insurance or indemnity like it does for other areas?)  And while changing the rolling stock on the streetcar is a good idea, if the problem is support in the County, it is not clear how even having a decent streetcar downtown will build support in the South County or Northwest County (which generally gets nothing in these plans) for rail since a streetcar will never get to them anyway – only full rail transit might.

Third, it is not clear that the reason the referendum failed was specifically the rail element.  It was certainly a factor for some, but others just did not want to pay.  Others did not trust local officials to deliver (because they haven’t delivered before). And HART and County Commissioners’ equivocation was not a source of confidence.

The fact is that if you read the editorial you get the distinct impression that basically the plan will be pave the county, add some buses, expand the streetcar a little, declare victory and go home (or to the next political position).  That may provide some localized fixes to some localized issues, but it is not going to do anything regarding competition with a Charlotte, Denver, Phoenix or Portland (or even Orlando).  Maybe that is the best that can be had given the political culture (and low wage economy) we have, but, if that is it, it really is not even a half measure.

Economic Development – Another Mystery?

The Business Journal is reporting the following:

A mystery company is looking for sites in Tampa Bay that could accommodate half a million square feet of office space and potentially bring thousands of jobs to the region.

Real estate sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal, said an economic development consultant representing the company has been in touch with brokers and developers throughout Tampa Bay. The consultant has visited the region and has engaged with the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Tampa Bay is one of several markets in the running for the deal, sources say, and the company is looking to make a decision within the next few months. The identity of the company and its industry aren’t known.

So, no word on if, where (though sounds like they are looking at Hillsborough), what, who, etc. In other words, just wait and see.

Downtown/Channel District – Wither MOSI

As part of their aggressive push for their development, the Lightning owner’s team has brought up moving MOSI:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s development team has begun exploring the idea of moving the Museum of Science and Industry to Vinik’s $1 billion development near Amalie Arena downtown.

“We’re really at the very beginning of the conversation,” MOSI interim president and CEO Molly Demeulenaere said Monday. “There are some very exciting things that could take place if MOSI had the opportunity to relocate to a more urban area, but you don’t just pick up a $120 million infrastructure and move it.”

There’s no definite or decided plan to leave the museum’s home near the University of South Florida on E Fowler Avenue.

Still, both parties are intrigued by the prospect that a move — facilitated by financial help from Vinik — could benefit everyone.

“This will be a vibrant district,” said the Lightning’s Tod Leiweke so, “Can we help them attract more visitors and more donors and give them a chance to dream?”

Yes, said Leiweke, who is CEO both of Vinik’s hockey team and his downtown development company, Strategic Property Partners.

A downtown MOSI has been suggested by many of the experts SPP has consulted with, especially David Dixon and Jeff Speck, the well-known urban planners hired by Vinik to design a pedestrian-friendly, business, entertainment and residential district along downtown Tampa’s waterfront.

Those planners talk about the need to attract families, kids and grandparents to the downtown project, not just millennials.

“Great districts feature great institutions,” Leiweke said. “We’ve got two of those now in the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center, and folks outside our group have said that it would be fantastic if you can make something like (MOSI) happen.

“All we’ve done is raise our hand and say ‘MOSI, this would be a great discussion for us to have,’ ” he said.

It is an interesting idea.  MOSI’s location has always struck us as oddly out of the way, especially as it creates no spin-off effect and that all the other museum type institutions were downtown.  On the other hand, there is a question of how much it would cost to move, who would pay (we do not think the taxpayers should, though, in theory, if the present land can be sold to finance a move, we would be ok with that) and what exactly would be in the new location (IMAX?).  Because none of that is clear, it is hard to say anything other than it is an interesting idea.

One odd thing in the coverage is this:

MOSI sits on 80 acres owned by the county that could be repurposed for a mix of commercial, residential and university uses. Maybe a corporate headquarters could anchor the new development or serve as “the center of a new innovation district,” as County Administrator Mike Merrill put it. 

This is a strange idea.  The Lightning owner’s development is trying to attract a headquarters and become an innovation district.  It seems odd to move MOSI so that its old Fowler location would compete with the new downtown location.  Not that there need be only one HQ location or innovation area, but still.

West Tampa – A CRA?

There has been news of ongoing public meetings regarding a West Tampa Community Redevelopment Areas.

In the 930-acre area north of Kennedy Boulevard and west of Armenia Avenue, almost half of the roughly 9,300 people living there make at or below the federal poverty level. The average family income in the area is $18,000, way below the $43,000 city average. The average home value of $121,000 lags well below home prices in other parts of the city.

Indeed.  Which leads to the question of whether any plan will help those people or just gentrify the area. (Fixing up the area is fine, but those people also need help.)

The city’s long-term plan to bring jobs and economic development to the area includes designating it as a community redevelopment area. It would also establish a tax increment financing district so it can set aside a portion of property taxes for street improvements, lighting and other projects in the area.

That plan advanced Monday as officials unveiled a draft redevelopment plan for the area. Highlights include more parks, plazas, bike trails and public art and the addition of sidewalks. It also raises the possibility of a west river trail along the Hillsborough River from Columbus Drive to Bayshore Boulevard.

To spur economic development, incentives would be offered for developers who build on vacant or polluted parcels. Incentives also could be introduced for homeowners who rehab their properties.

City officials also hope to lure employers back to Armenia and Howard avenues and bring more restaurants into the area.

“Main Street at one time was an important commercial spine,” said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic development administrator. “Over time, many of those businesses left. It would be nice to re-establish that and have community-based businesses there.”

And all that is fine (especially the trail/riverwalk along the river) – we have no problem with it.  The real questions are about actual implementation (will the City fix a few things then just settle?) and whether there is anything to help the people with the very low incomes, because this:

Some redevelopment is underway in the area, including the Jewish Community Center and Federation’s $26 million project to convert the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory into a new campus. The city also has approved a plan to renovate Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Also underway is the Tampa Housing Authority’s relocation of residents from public housing projects North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune Towers. In their place, a mix of commercial and residential buildings is planned that includes affordable and workforce housing.

That demolition will open up parts of the west bank of the Hillsborough River, land expected to be coveted by developers.

Does not seem to (maybe they could work at the restaurants). A park with a history walk is not a substitute for good incomes. And average income can be raised by replacing the present residents with people who make more money, but that does not really solve the problem. (And, as the Mayor has said, as goes West Tampa so goes South Tampa)

Moreover, fixing a few things is not a replacement for having a good plan and code and sticking to them.  If the land is so desirable, there should be strong rules to make sure whatever is built it built properly for the long term interest of Tampa rather than just to have a ribbon cutting.

We get that lifting a community is a complicated task.  Some of the ideas are good.  Nothing wrong with them, but they do not really address the low income issues at all.

We will just have to see what the full plans are.

Port – Building

The Port is moving forward with some projects:

The Tampa Port Authority board voted Tuesday to move forward with the second phase of an $18 million project meant to lure back ships carrying fresh food to the port.

* * *

The container project will provide the newest and best way to get goods from this country to ports of call to the south and to bring in fresh food and get it shipped by rail or truck to the southeast and the Midwest, said Raul Alfonso, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for the port.

Eventually, this project will include a new refrigerated warehouse to hold goods until they are shipped out to various destinations across the country.

The work getting under way includes site work on 19 acres, building 17,500 linear feet of railroad to connect with CSX and relocating a road.

The project is funded by Port Tampa Bay with a matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Food coming into Port Tampa Bay was once a lucrative part of the business there. The port even had its own banana docks. But the last major importer of bananas weighed anchor and moved its operations to Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1997.

Combine the new rail loop with expansion of the Panama Canal and two new gantry cranes coming to the port to off-load containers and it could mean a lot more business for the port, Alfonso said.

“This project is not just about fruit,” he said. “It is part of our container strategy to attract new business for the port. It will provide better solutions for importers and exporters.” Eventually, he said, the port hopes to have the capability to move containers from a ship right on to rail cars, but that is something that will come as the port builds up more client ships bringing goods into Tampa.

More facilities are good, and we think building the infrastructure is a positive step.  (Though the history of the fruit facility seems a little different in this article from 2009.) We also thought the Port was going to wait until it already had contracts in place.

In any event, just how much the facilities will increase business is not clear .

Downtown/The West Shore – Another Potential Project

Following news that the Tribune building may be sold to the Related group, there was news of another proposal for a nearby lot:

Altman Development of Boca Raton proposes to put the project just south of the triangular block that’s home to Mise en Place and the Oxford Exchange.

The site is bordered by Grand Central Avenue on the north, W Cleveland Street on the south and S Magnolia and S Cedar avenues on the west and east. Currently, most of it is covered by parking and three small office buildings.

Developers say in plans filed at City Hall this week that the project’s location will fill a need for multifamily housing near the university and downtown. As proposed, the project would include 236 one- or two-bedroom apartments and 36 efficiencies, which would need an estimated 458 parking spaces. Exterior drawings show stucco-finished buildings ranging from five to about seven floors.

Altman also proposes to build a 526-space garage — big enough to allow for agreements with other businesses to use some of the additional spaces. Entrances to the garage would be along Magnolia and Cedar avenues.

A public hearing on the proposal is expected to be scheduled for mid-August.

(Specifically, it is at 504 Grand Central.) Based on the article, nothing is going to happen for a while.   In any event, from the handy Accela database, this is the site plan:

From public records – click for bigger version

And these are the elevations:

From public records – click for bigger version

(Note that the height is listed as 72 or so feet)

Nothing special, but we are fine with this kind of development (though it would be good if there were some retail, and it could be a little denser allowing for further development.  Also, we are a bit concerned about all the proposed projects being able to find buyers/tenants, but so be it.  Overall, it appears to be ok for the location.).  One thing this clearly does show is that the City should not be settling for one story, sprawling development on Kennedy or anywhere nearby (nor should it allow large projects to have large surface parking lots).  Clearly the market it supports better than that.

One other thing is that unfortunately, the University of Tampa has chosen to make the north side of Kennedy relatively isolated from the rest of the city by erecting a large wall with almost no gates.  While it may make the campus more “campus like” it really isolates the University and does not help enliven that part of the City generally.  It is an urban campus.  It can and should be better integrated.

Downtown/Ybor – Selmon Greenway

The Selmon Greenway is about to open, from 83 degrees media:

A new paved path running below the elevated east-west toll road between the Tampa Riverwalk and 19th Street promises to be the beginning of the city’s next exciting mobility project. The Selmon Greenway provides foot commuters a shaded path through the heart of downtown Tampa and will serve as a vital link between the downtown and Ybor City.

Locals can get their first official look at the Selmon Greenway in early May during Tampa’s annual Jane’s Walk event. Celebrated internationally in recognition of urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk will be held on May 2 and coincide with the Tampa RiverFest. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. at Joseph Frye Park, where the Tampa Riverwalk and Selmon Greenway intersect. 

We are not sure how much is actually green because this is one of the pictures included in the article:

From 83 Degrees Media – click on picture for website

In any event, it is a fine idea to have a shaded path for people to get around.  The only thing is we wish the Riverwalk (and any future Riverwalk and streetscaping) keeps in mind that this area is hot (and wet) and areas need shade much more than they need palm trees to make anything truly walkable.

Ybor City/Channel District – A Connection?

We have long wanted Ybor City and the Channel District to be connected.  It is logical and it is necessary.  Now:

A Tampa developer is laying the groundwork for a multifamily development between the Channel district and Ybor City.

Phillips Development & Realty LLC is seeking to rezone 1400 Channelside Drive, a 7.64-acre site owned by TECO Peoples Gas, for multifamily development.

You can see the lot here.

It is an intriguing location. The first thing you can see is that it is right between the streetcar (with a stop) and the CSX/Amtrak rail, near Union Station. The lot does not exactly connect to developments in Ybor or the Channel District, but it is close.  There is a lot of potential for the any project on the lot if 1) it is built as a truly urban space and 2) it has roads going through it and interacts with its surroundings rather than being an isolated development.  In other words, if it is a real urban development rather than a suburban development, even one masquerading as being urban, it could be cool.  Notably: the developer’s website shows a number of projects (here and here) that show that it has the ability to do go projects but also has many that are not so good.  So they know how to do it right if they want to – the question is do they want to?

At this point, we cannot know what they want to do, but with the City’s track record of settling, we are only cautiously optimistic.

Downtown – An Easy Answer

From 83 degrees media:

As plans for the final phase of the Tampa Riverwalk project and a park move forward, the City of Tampa is looking to install a couple of new public art pieces designed to attract local residents and visitors to enjoy the beautiful waterfront walkway along the Hillsborough River.
 
The first piece would grace the final segment of the Tampa Riverwalk itself; and the other is for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park located at 1001 N. Boulevard. The Riverwalk project has a projected budget of up to $200,000 and the park $400,000. The City of Tampa is open to all ideas and artists.

* * *

“I do not think there is any preconceived notion about what the art should be,” Nigh says.  “From the technical and practical side, it needs to be safe and appropriate for the environmental conditions. Conceptually, the art needs to be impactful, contribute to the overall space and place, as well as provide an engaging experience where residents and visitors want to be, return to, and recommend to others.”

And that is all fine.  On the other hand, the City could have put the World Trade Center steel that now graces the Bayshore median (where very few people appreciate – or even notice – it) in MacDill Park – which would be meaningful, “impactful,” and contribute to the space and place.  It is not art – it is a memorial – but it would be fitting and people would actually see and be able to contemplate it and MacDill’s role in responding to the events which it memorializes.  It is not too late. It should be moved.

Pasco – Same Old

When it was built, the Wiregrass shopping center was held out to be a modern walkable shopping area.  It wasn’t – it was a mall without a roof (or a/c or ever awnings in most places).  It has a huge parking lot and no connection to anything around it (not to mention that outparcels were developed in the standard sprawling style.)  This week, there was news that there will be more development around the center.

County planners already have met with officials from Forest City Enterprises to discuss the expansion. Preliminary plans call for another 200,000 square feet of retail fronting on State Road 56 with a 248-unit apartment complex behind the shopping center.

Abbas Hasan, planning director for Forest City, said the shopping center would likely be smaller because of the amount of wetlands on the property. It could include a specialty grocery store or movie theater, in addition to the shops and cafes already on the drawing board.

Well, it makes sense that the shopping center would get urbanized eventually – especially after people saw how nice the walkability of the original was absorbed. And then there is Pasco’s much touted revised planning to develop in a new way base on lessons learned by from the sprawling, messy development that has come before.

“We’re in the conceptual planning phase now,” Kehoe said. “Our meeting with the county went really well. In the big picture, we hope to submit an overall site plan mid-year and hopefully start construction sometime next year.”

Kehoe said the residential uses won’t be mixed in with the retail, but it will be within walking distance.

“We have all these connectivity requirements,” he said. “We’re looking at doing a three or four-story suburban project. We feel like it’s a submarket that needs luxury rental product.”

Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Orlando Maglev

The Orlando maglev is apparently moving forward.

A few details have emerged about the planned $400 million Maglev passenger rail line connecting Orlando International Airport with the Orange County Convention Center.

EMMI LLC, the entity building the privately funded magnetic-levitation train system, is targeting July of this year to start construction along the 13.7-mile corridor between the airport and Orlando’s International Drive corridor.

Though environmental and construction permits would first have to be secured, the company still expects to begin limited operations in 2016 with full operations beginning in 2017 — contingent on the completion of the airport’s $215 million Intermodal Transportation Facility, which would house a Maglev platform.

* * *

Here’s a look at some of the details included in those meeting minutes:

We are not sure that is the best plan, but whatever.  Orlando is moving forward (at least it seems so – the maglev idea has been around a while and never gotten done) with more “fixed guideway” (real fixed guideway) while we are still having talking shops about whether we should expand not even real BRT.  And note the multimodal center at the airport.

— What A Billion Buys You

A billion dollar development proposed for Ft. Lauderdale has been scaled back because of local complaints.

After hearing concerns from residents, the developers of a $1 billion complex around the Galleria mall have scaled back their plans.

The original plan presented last fall by Galleria owner Keystone-Florida Property Holding Corp. outlined seven buildings with room for 1,600 luxury apartments or condos, 150 hotel rooms, retail and restaurant space. The tallest building was projected to rise 45 stories, the tallest in Fort Lauderdale.

* * *

Developers now have lowered the height and location of some proposed buildings — so that future occupants are not looking directly into houses’ back yards and so buildings are not blocking neighbors’ skyline views. The tallest building under the new proposal would be 38 stories high.

The number of residential units was reduced, too. Instead of 1,600 units, there would just be 1,250 to reduce density, according to the developer. The number of hotel rooms jumped from 150 to 163 rooms, and another commercial building was added to the blueprint.

The new price tag for the project: $750 million.

Developers are still emphasizing tree-lined streets, walkways and bike lanes that would transform the region into a community that’s more walkable, safe and easy to get around.

Of course, the Lightning owner’s project does not have similar opposition.  However, it should be noted that, once again, as much as we like his plan, there are other major development proposals all over the country.

— Looks Like This Might Be Designed Right

And in the category of completely out of left field or Ocoee, whichever is a stranger place for it:

The Ocoee City Commission passed the preliminary site and subdivision plan for the City Center West Orange project at its regular meeting April 21.

This project involves a 54.74-acre plot that is along Maine Street, east of South Bluford Avenue, north of West Colonial Drive and partially adjoins Lake Bennet.

In the one parcel on the lake among four parcels on the property, 15.84-acre Parcel 2, developers from Park Development Corporation proposed a 2.4 million-square-foot mixed-use commercial, office and multi-family development accessible by Richmond Avenue and Ocoee Town Center Boulevard extending from South Bluford Avenue from the southwest. The other three parcels will be reserved for right-of-way, open space, stormwater abatement and potential future development on the northern side of Maine Street.

Development is scheduled for three phases, City Planner Mike Rumer said, with the City Center built around a six-floor parking garage.

“Phase 1 will consist of a parking garage wrapped with retail on the bottom floor, a hotel, office space, restaurant, commercial, retail,” Rumer said. “Then above it will be a condominium apartment. There is a green roof atop the parking garage, which would be an amenity for the condominiums and hotel.”

That green space includes plans for a pool and perhaps tennis courts, according to renderings. Office space, restaurants and possibly other commercial space will be on the second and third floors and connect to an office building. The condominiums and hotels would extend from floor four to floor nine, with restricted access to parking and elevator levels for permanent residents in particular, and the top three floors would overlook the green space, said Jean Amm, Park Development Corporation senior vice president.

The rendering looks like this:

From WOTimes.com – click on picture for article

We have no idea if this will actually be built or built like laid out in the article, but it is Ocoee.  Tampa should take note.  If it really wants to be walkable it should look at projects like this one. (Are you listening Westshore?)

Roundup 4-24-2015

April 24, 2015

Transportation – Slow Hillsborough: The Results Are In, Partially

After much time and money has been spent to determine the way forward on transportation in Hillsborough (with more of both to be spent), and even though the process is not over, there are some results.

— A Firm Grasp of the Obvious

In an article which at one point was listed on the Tribune landing page as “Hillsborough residents: Fix existing roads first” we learned:

Some Hillsborough County commissioners are still unconvinced the gridlock gripping county roads requires a sales tax referendum to fix the problem.

But even as they wrestle with that question, they have new data that indicates how voters might spend additional money for transportation projects if it were available.

The 1,000-plus people who participated in county-led transportation meetings this year gave a narrow edge to paving and maintaining existing roads over new or expanded mass transit and building new roads. 

Actually, the big surprise is that it was not really a victory:

County Administrator Mike Merrill, who attended nearly all the 16 meetings in the first phase, said the results are what he expected.

“What was interesting after halfway through this process is that countywide, the consensus is the same: maintenance of roads; either expanding or building new roads; and mass transit — those three got the most votes. They were very close,” Merrill said.

Right, so why has it taken years to get to the obvious.  Most people have to deal with roads – that is all they are given here (and the most used transportation in most places).  Many want better transit. We knew that.  So now that we have confirmed that, where does the process go?

The next phase of the process, which runs through May 21, involves asking participants what they are willing to pay for, Merrill said. They will be asked to fill out a comment form that first asks them to circle revenue options, such as increasing the sales tax or raising gas taxes by 5 cents — the most allowed by the state.

The bottom part of the form asks what share of any new tax revenues should go toward each of the top four priorities decided in the first phase of meetings: repaving and road maintenance, new and expanded roads, mass transit, and intersection improvements.

The participants can choose to give all the money to one priority, or split it up among some or all four, as long as the total is 100 percent.

“We’re forcing a choice,” Merrill said.

Well, someone has to make a choice since the elected officials won’t. (Actually, we have no problem with the basic question.  Though just using “transit” is problematic because it could be anything and will be the source of all sorts of future debates.  We also have a problem with the fact that this survey is at the tail end of the process.)

— There Is no Money

There is also this:

In the category that Go Hillsborough participants said mattered most, repaving roads, the county is spending just $8 million year. Merrill said it should be spending $24 million annually to keep the repaving program from getting behind.

It would be interesting to have a detailed explanation of how the failure to fund all that came to pass, but nevermind.

Not everyone is convinced on the need for new revenue.

County Commissioner Victor Crist said that before citizens are asked to increase their taxes, the county should look at cutting 10 percent from the budget and putting the money toward roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“For me personally, I think we should go back to the well and see what we can draw out before we ask for more,” Crist said. “But I’m not opposed to letting citizens make their own choices.”

Commissioner Al Higginbotham told The Tampa Tribune last week that he is working on a plan to find $80 million to $100 million for repaving and other road maintenance without raising taxes. He wouldn’t give details but said the plan might meet some resistance because it would require cutbacks to other programs.

“I feel like we can fund a lot of our concerns, especially road issues, within our means,” Higginbotham said. “We’re working on a proposal … that will make a major dent in road repair, (traffic) light synchronization and intersection improvements.”

We have nothing against efficient government (we are for it, actually), but there is no evidence that there is so much fat and overspending in the County budget (that the Commissioners routinely pass) that there is no need to find new money to fill all the needs that have been previously ignored – as well as future needs.  Question: if there is so much fat, why was this trimming not done in all the years the present Commissioners had a vote on the budget?  Nevermind.

And don’t forget the real picture:

. . .  said Commissioner Ken Hagan. “Do the math: There’s somewhere around $8 billion in unfunded needs with no possible way or revenue source to fund our needs. Any other possible remedy would only be kicking the can down the road.”

There is no way to cut the budget fat and get $ 8 billion dollars.  And kicking the can down the road will only lead to us falling further behind.

— Let’s Do Nothing Some More

Now, some are complaining that Go Hillsborough has not been enough of an outreach.

Some local leaders expressed concerns Wednesday that consultants haven’t reached enough people after two months of meetings to build the consensus needed for a countywide transportation plan.

About 1,400 people attended 26 meetings since February to weigh in on the future of transportation in Hillsborough County, Bob Clifford of consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff told a group of county and city leaders who have been discussing transportation for the past two years. The consulting firm will conduct 10 more meetings before composing a draft of a community transportation plan by May 26.

Despite having about 50 people at each meeting, on average, some members of the group wondered whether enough was being done to draw in all demographics and engage the community.

Frankly, it appears that some of the Transportation for Economic Development group (now referred to as the PLG), simply want to wait for someone to tell them what to do (or to do nothing) rather than decide anything.  There is never going to be a full consensus (though from the article above it seems there is some consensus) in a county of over a million people.  That is why the plan has to have more than one element.  But, to those complaining, enough already:

As far as attendance, Hillsborough Commissioners Ken Hagan and Les Miller said there is only so much to be done.

“We cannot force the public to attend these meetings,” Hagan said. “I do not believe we have the luxury to delay. If we wait any longer, we’ll only exacerbate the problem.”

Exactly.

— After the Talking Shops

So after the outreach, where should the process go?

County Commissioner Ken Hagan told other members of the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group that he wants the group to make a final recommendation on projects and financing in June. The county commission could then begin taking steps for a referendum to be held in November 2016, he said.

“I’ve consistently advocated over the past two years that we’ve had these PLG meetings that we have a measured and methodical approach,” Hagan told the group. “But I’ve got to tell you, I feel it’s time to bring this in for a landing.”

* * *

Hagan said he foresees the county commission taking a final vote in September or October to put a sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot. That will give business groups more than a year to plan and carry out a campaign to promote passage of the sales tax. No public money can be spent to promote a referendum.

* * *

Hagan noted that in 2010, when the last transportation sales tax referendum was placed on a county ballot, commissioners passed an ordinance in May for an election five months later. The proposal for a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax hike failed at the polls. So did a similar ballot measure in Pinellas County last year.

First, commissioners will vote to have the county attorney draw up an ordinance calling for a referendum. That could happen soon after County Administrator Mike Merrill presents his fiscal 2016 budget on June 17.

The ordinance would include ballot language and a statement of the economic impact of the tax. Commissioners would also have to hold a public hearing before a final vote on a referendum ordinance.

Perhaps most importantly, Hagan said, the commission will also pass a resolution that will list all the projects to be funded if the tax is approved. That list and a recommended source of money will be presented at the policy group’s June 11 meeting by the county’s paid consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff. 

Ok, though we still are not sure why the group outsourced all the planning.  And while it might not be as much of a rush as some others, it is still a rush because the “PLG” did not do its job in the first place.  And there is no guarantee there will be a referendum.

Putting a sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot is a highly political choice. Though voters will make the final decision, the county commission’s five Republicans will face fierce headwinds from the more conservative members of their own party.

Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who strongly supports a referendum next year, said the vote would probably fail if held today. Too many county residents have yet to fully recover from the great recession, Buckhorn said, and are not ready for higher taxes.

Still, proponents of a referendum say they think the votes are there to get the issue on the ballot. They give credit to the Go Hillsborough process for educating thousands of voters about the budget constraints that prevent the county from dealing with traffic gridlock now.

“I firmly believe we will have a referendum. That’s just the reality,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan. . .

* * *

But the vote may be close.

The commission’s newest member, Republican Stacy White, ran on a strong anti-tax platform. White said he’s keeping an open mind on the referendum.

“At this point, I’m just moving forward in such a way that I’m listening and analyzing,” White said. “But I am far from reaching a decision on what I can support with respect to the plan and a revenue source.”

Merrill said he hopes some kind of substantial transportation plan is passed. But even if a referendum fails, as it did in 2010, Merrill said the Go Hillsborough process has been a good thing for the county and democratic government.

The process is only as good as what it produces.  If it fails to produce something that can pass AND actually fixes (or goes a good way to fixing) the problems, then what was the point?

As for a referendum and taxes, let us be clear: we have needs that are unfunded.  It is irresponsible to continually kick the can down the road.  The bill will only get bigger.  Just as deficit spending is irresponsible because it burdens our children, so is constantly not addressing needs.  The cost of any improvements just keeps rising.  And the failure to keep up with other areas will leave our children with the choice of living in an area with lower salaries and fewer opportunities or leaving.  Moreover, if you have to build something, you should have the money to pay for it.

There is a caveat – any money raised for specific transportation uses should be used for that specific transportation.  There can be no bait and switch.  As was indicated in surveys after the 2010 effort, the lack of trust in local government is one of the biggest problems with getting any referendum passed.

— And One More Thing

And here is another thing – the system of development in this area is bad for the middle class.

Over at Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund breaks down how the rich and poor really spend their money, using a great new dataset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that splits Americans into income deciles (ten equal-sized groupings). But the stats also show how the middle-class spend their money, and when it comes to annual transportation expenditures, the results are pretty alarming.

* * *

But as Ehrenfreund notes, something screwy is going on with transportation. In this case, the numbers show that middle-class Americans spend a much higher share of their total household annual expenditures on getting around, compared with the poorest and richest groups. Instead of gentle downward slopes, the transportation shares are closer to a bell curve (with the sixth decile added in for emphasis) . . .

You can click on the quote to read the whole article, but the basic point is this – this is an area with lower average incomes that is based almost exclusively on sprawling development and roads. That is economically for the middle class.  In fact, it makes their life harder and more expensive and then fails to provide the needed services (like paving the roads) to maintain that way of living. (Which may be why Millennials – and others – are looking for other choices, whether downtown or in the suburbs). And the never-ending transportation review process (and accompanying lack of leadership and vacillation from the elected officials) will only leave us further behind other areas.

Transportation – FDOT and the Streetcar

There was news about the streetcar.

The long beleaguered TECO Line Streetcar is getting a $1 million boost from the state Department of Transportation.

The city said Wednesday that FDOT will provide the money for a feasibility study on extending the streetcar throughout downtown Tampa and into Tampa Heights. The study will evaluate “potential ridership, environmental impacts and economic development opportunities as well as refine capital and operational costs,” the city said in a statement.

* * *

FDOT’s funding will be available in July, at the start of fiscal 2016. The city will provide $250,000 in matching funds. Once the study and planning process is complete, the city will evaluate pursuing additional state and federal dollars to assist in construction.

That’s fine.  It should be studied and FDOT giving the bulk of the money is a bit of a surprise.  Of course, it is more time passing by when it all should have been done a while ago.

As the Business Journal article pointed out:

The streetcar is crucial to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans to build a billion-dollar, mixed-use district on the southern fringe of downtown Tampa. Between Vinik’s plans and other developers’ projects, thousands of new residents will be added to the urban core in the next five years — and there’s no efficient mode of transportation in and around downtown Tampa.

Transit is key to revitalization and economic development, say champions of urban renewal. A vibrant downtown requires more people than cars, and an efficient transit system creates the kind of city in which young, educated workers are clamoring to live.

That is true, but, as we have noted before, real transit includes going to areas really outside of downtown, which even an expanded streetcar will not provide – especially if the rolling stock is not changed.  The present cars are just not efficient enough for expansion outside of downtown/Ybor.  They are really not even good enough to make what is there now efficient.  To really get be useful, transit has to be effectively connected with other areas of residential and businesses hubs, like Westshore and the airport.

But, at least, it is a start.

Economic Development – A Loss

We often note that the culture of this area involves much hype which is not met by actual accomplishments.  This week, we had another example involving the quest to make a medical hub in this area suffered a loss this week:

Draper Lab, an MIT spinoff lured with much fanfare to expand to both Tampa and St. Petersburg in 2009, is shutting down most of its operations here, saying its initial plans to grow in Florida aren’t working.

Draper’s arrival in Florida six years ago coincided with a burst of premier medical and high tech research firms that included the likes of Scripps Research in Jupiter and SRI International in St. Petersburg. Their recruitments seemed to herald a new era both for Florida’s high-tech image and for higher-wage jobs.

Now the pullback of highly regarded Draper is considered a blow to the prestige of the University of South Florida, which had partnered for years with a Draper bioengineering facility on its Tampa campus. For USF to attract an enterprise started at MIT was a signal to many that the university had become capable of playing in the big leagues of science and technology.

USF officials declined to talk about Draper’s retreat on Monday because they hadn’t received any formal notice from the company.

Draper officials told the Tampa Bay Times that the company will leave by June 30, though the “precise future” of the facility has yet to be determined.

Setting aside that other areas of Florida were much more successful in recruiting facilities and that not everyone was buying that satellite facilities of organizations was really turning Florida into a high tech hub, why are they leaving?

In Tampa, Draper employed a few dozen, with a similar number in St. Petersburg who, for now, remain on the Draper payroll while potential buyers are sought for the specialized manufacturing building. The company initially had hoped to grow its local work force to 165, but that effort fizzled.

“To date, Draper has been unable to recover its investments in the Tampa area related to the Draper Bioengineering Center at USF,” said company spokesman Eric T. Mazzacone. “Moving forward we will continue to seek opportunities to work with USF on biomedical related efforts.”

Note that they never got to even 165 employees even though they have constantly been mentioned as part of our tech future:

Unable to reach even half of its goal for creating high-paying jobs in the Tampa Bay area, New England-based Draper Laboratory, after seven years, says it is pulling most of its operations out of the area.

And

After the company’s arrival in Tampa Bay, Draper’s CEO, James Shields, and marketing executive Len Polizzotto visited frequently to reinforce their support for their Florida expansion. But when both men turned 65, company policy required their retirement. Shields was replaced by a new CEO who ordered Draper to consolidate many of its distant operations back to the home office in Massachusetts.

Those are both good reasons for pulling out. It should be noted that, in addition to great fanfare, it cost a lot to bring Draper to the area:

Draper initially was drawn here with an incentive package of up to $30 million that included money from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the city of St. Petersburg, USF’s Research Foundation and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council as well as matching funds from the state. Some of those funds will likely be returned by Draper depending in part on whether it lays off its St. Petersburg employees or is able to find a buyer of its semiconductor operation that will also continue to employ Draper’s workers.

That is quite the incentive package, which invariably leads to a question regarding incentives to lure companies and facilities to the area.  On the other hand, that is the game that has to be played (though not necessarily that much money).   In any event,

That retreat worries some local leaders that somehow Florida has failed to live up to expectations. Others tried to best spin on it.

Rick Baker, St. Petersburg’s mayor in 2009, had celebrated the grand opening of Draper’s manufacturing site with area leaders. Told of Draper’s exit plans on Monday, he said he was disappointed but urged the area not to be discouraged.

Indeed, while disappointing, it is not a tragedy.  We are not discouraged specifically by Draper leaving.  Such are the ways of business.  And we do not put all our hopes in a project for 165 jobs nor do we listen to the hyperbolic statements of elected and economic development officials.  We do not buy that small investments (no matter how prominent the investor) are a panacea. And we are well aware that neither Silicon Valley nor the Texas Medical Center (or much smaller clusters for that matter) were built in a few years.

Frankly, we are more discouraged by this area’s inability to solve its transportation issues and comprehensively change its planning and economic development strategies. We are discouraged by the fact that while we are drawing more Millennials and some higher paying jobs, other areas our outpacing us. (See List of the Week I) And we are discouraged that rhetoric still passes for achievement.

And, for local companies, there is always this:

St. Petersburg startup SavvyCard has managed to raise $3.7 million, mostly from local “angel” investors — often family and friends. “This has been very difficult and time consuming because Florida is in a difficult early-stage capital market,” concedes CEO David Etheredge, whose startup wants businesses to adopt its sophisticated online business card system. “But we’re succeeding despite this.”

The latest numbers show how tough local funding can be.

Venture capitalists invested $13.4 billion in 1,020 deals nationwide in the first quarter of 2015, according to Friday’s MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. How much of that showed up in all of Florida in that quarter? Less than $90 million — less than 1 percent — spread over 19 deals.

Yes, funding remains scarce for area startups. But the reality is that Tampa Bay’s startup scene is getting stronger now that several years worth of — let’s call it entrepreneurial infrastructure — has been put in place and the depth of startup activity dramatically increased.

It is great that there are startups, but they need access to money and talent – both of which are far more accessible in other areas.  And what we really need are not just startups, but actual successes going beyond startup status, staying local, and building a bigger economy.  Of course, everything is connected – a place like Draper Labs was supposed to help spinoff new companies (startups) and draw talent.

So, the idea of having startups and bringing in outside companies and institutions is ok, but has not really panned out yet.  Hopefully, it will.  But remember, we are not alone.  Every other area in the country is trying to do the same thing – and pushing forward with transportation plans (most far ahead of anything here) and development (many far more advanced than here). They are all trying to attract Millennials and high paying jobs.  Are we really in the best position we can be to compete?

And finally, Draper Labs is another cautionary tale: just because there is a lot of hype when something is announced does not mean it will actually lead to anything.  We don’t need pep rallies.  We need achievements.

— One More Thing

Tangentially, yet in a way not, at the intersection of med-tech and international trade, we came across this:

Roswell Park Cancer Institute has signed a deal with a Cuban cancer center to develop a new lung cancer vaccine.

Though hospital officials back in Buffalo were unable to confirm the deal, Reuters is reporting Roswell Park CEO Candace Johnson signed an agreement Tuesday with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) to develop a lung cancer vaccine with a clinical trial in the United States.

Johnson was Havana this week with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a two-day trade mission.

Do with that what you will, but isn’t Moffitt a lot closer?

Downtown – The Tribune Property

There was news this week that the Tribune property on the west side of the Hillsborough River is under contract for sale.

The Tampa Tribune’s building in downtown Tampa is said to be under contract to a developer who plans to redevelop the property.

The Tribune’s building at 202 S. Parker St. will be sold to a developer who is planning a residential project there that could possibly include commercial uses, according to multiple sources who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal.

Under contract is the 4.4-acre riverfront site that is home to a nearly 60,000-square-foot building occupied by the Tribune and its printing presses. (See map below.) The sales price is believed to be $19 million — close to the $18 million Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik paid for the 4-acre Southgate site in downtown Tampa in December.

That is an intriguing prospect.  It is definitely a good lot – on the river, near bridges to the main buildings downtown, close to Bayshore and Publix (and a good spot to start a riverwalk on the west shore of the river). So who is the mystery buyer?

The developer rumored to be pursuing the project is The Related Group, a South Florida residential developer that has been active in Tampa in recent years. Related is planning a tower on Harbour Island and built and sold off the Pierhouse in the Channel district.

Hopefully, anything they plan will be far better than PierHouse, though we would assume it is given the location, the price, and the ability to build a relatively tall building in that location.

In any event, the sale is not finalized.  Even if it is, it may take a while to get anything built there because the Tribune would have to move and Related has another project on Harbour Island to do.  Nonetheless, assuming Related builds something more akin to their normal projects than PierHouse, and starts a western riverwalk, this is all good.

And, at least Tampa has moved on from what used to be there:

From Tampa Pix – click on picture for webpage

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Ybor City – A Private Development Moves Forward

We have noted that the City seems determined to sell public property in Ybor despite the fact that there are many moves for private development projects.  This week, a hotel project moved forward:

Plans for a sleek four-star hotel in Ybor City cleared a major hurdle Tuesday as the city’s historic preservation authority in Ybor City approved a design plan for the project.

The as-yet unnamed hotel would redevelop a block-size parcel in Ybor City on the northwest corner of East Seventh Avenue and North 15th Street, potentially adding a 180-room property with a budget that could top $50 million. The sensitivity of building something to that scale in a neighborhood known for its colorful history was not lost on the project backers.

* * *

After a few months of back-and-forth between developers and city planners, the Barrio Latino authority that oversees projects in the historic district gave unanimous approval to the plans on Tuesday.

If all goes well from here, a ground-breaking could come this summer, Walter said.

That’s great.  And another reason the City should wait to sell property.

Meanwhile, In St. Pete

While Tampa keeps up its quest for a downtown grocery store,

ARC Group is planning a 50,000-square-foot retail center with a 32,000-square-foot grocery store for 700 Central Ave. There will be three levels of parking above, according to plans submitted to the city.

The location is three blocks from Tropicana Field and six blocks from the 29,000-square-foot Publix at 250 Third St. S. It’s across the street from the Hermitage apartments now under construction.

Whole Foods has been considering sites in St. Petersburg for about two years. Publix is on a major expansion kick. But nobody is saying what store will go there.

At least the grocery stores in St. Pete are a proof of concept for Tampa (including putting parking above stores).

More on St. Pete – The News That Isn’t News

This week, we learned that a former Mayor of Tampa is moving to downtown St. Pete.

First, he is still working in Tampa.  Second, so what?

Note: at one point he shocked people by moving to New Tampa, but (from a 2000 article):

Less than a year after moving into the Reserve, a gated community in Tampa Palms, Greco decided to return closer to downtown. The 20-mile commute, loathed by many in New Tampa, simply became too much for his hectic schedule of meetings and appearances.

The real news is that downtown St. Pete probably has better transportation connections with much of South Tampa than New Tampa does.  The former Mayor’s interest in a change of scenery is nothing new.  Nor is Tampa/Hillsborough County’s failure to develop a proper transportation infrastructure.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is CBRE’s  Top 50 Tech Talent list.  What is tech talent? The press releases tells us:

“Though highly concentrated within the high-tech services industry, tech talent is not limited to any one type of company and can be found across all industry sectors. In fact, more than 60 percent of tech talent jobs are located outside of the core high-tech industry and these workers help generate innovation and advances that can boost the whole economy, including the commercial real estate market,” said Yasukochi. 

So they do not mean just what is normally thought of as tech jobs.  In any event, the top 15: Silicon Valley; D.C.; San Francisco; San Francisco Peninsula; New York; Seattle; Boston; Baltimore; Austin; Atlanta; Dallas; Orange County; Chicago; Raleigh-Durham; and Oakland. Some other notable cities: Salt Lake City (25); Portland (26); Kansas City (30); Charlotte (31)

Florida cities include Tampa at 36th, Orlando at 47th, Ft Lauderdale at 48th, and Miami at 50th.  While 36 is better than other Florida cities, it is really just below average (and not very good).

The report also has two more lists: Top 15 of Where is the Talent and Top 15 Top Talent Momentum Markets.

The Where is the Talent top 15 are thus: DC, NYC, Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Seattle, LA, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Francisco Peninsula, Phoenix, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

The Top 15 Momentum Markets are thus: San Francisco, San Francisco Peninsula, Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, Orange County, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Oakland.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is tied to the first, the Consumer Electronics Association Innovation Scorecard.  Actually, it does not really have a list.  It ranks states in terms of their innovation qualities.  While you might think that has something to do with technology, it doesn’t:

The scorecard evaluates all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., according to the conduciveness of their legal, regulatory and overall business environments to welcome and encourage innovation in 2014.

The scorecard was based on 10 criteria, including: right-to-work laws; policies that support new business models; tax friendliness; Internet speed; and size of the tech workforce.

Based on that, Florida is an Innovation Leader.  Of course:

The Sunshine State scored highest for its right-to-work laws and its tax friendliness, while it scored lowest on its tech workforce, attracting investments and grants for STEM degrees.

In other words, Florida is a leader because it is cheap.  On the other hand, it got C-‘s in all the major categories for high tech: tech workforce, attracts investment, and grants STEM degrees.

To tell you how much this ranking has nothing to do with high tech, Alabama was an Innovation Leader, as were Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Dakota.  While Massachusetts was an Innovation Champion, California was an Innovation Adopter. . . because Lord knows there are no innovations there.

Roundup 4-17-2015

April 17, 2015

Transportation – Where Is the Station?

In 2013, there was news about a proposed multimodal station in the Westshore area.  The station would be near the interstate to take advantage of the use of the median for transit and to have a connection to the airport. (See “TIA Transit Link – Forward Planning?”  and “How Many Things Can You Jam Into a Highway Median – Part II”) At the time, the favored location was the old Charlie’s steakhouse property on Cypress.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Last week, that seemed to change:

For a time, state transportation officials considered a spot at Cypress Street and Manhattan Avenue a perfect location for a futuristic mass transit hub.

Now, that deal to purchase the Charley’s Steakhouse and Doubletree hotel property is very much “off the table,” and the state will look elsewhere, said Paul Steinman, the District Seven Secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation.

The proposed center, which would have gone up between the interstate and West Cypress Street, is not yet funded, but if it is constructed, it would be used as a hub for a people-mover from Tampa International Airport, as a bus depot for those using Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and possibly as a future depot for light rail heading to Pinellas County. It could also include some commercial development.

But those plans have changed now.

Steinman spoke early Friday morning to a forum of development and construction executives, and said his office thought they were close to a deal for the Cypress Street site, which he said might be worth $40 million. Then the current landowners caught wind of the state’s preference.

“They doubled their request,” Steinman said, “and there is no way the State of Florida is going to pay for something way out of line like that. I basically told them ‘I appreciate your time, but we will be looking at other locations.’”

The landowners could not be reached for comment.

Even if they did not hear from other sources, they probably got wind from the news articles.  In any event, setting aside the issue of using eminent domain and the fair value for the land, where does that leave the multimodal center?

As for where those other locations may be, Steinman declined after the forum to give specifics. But at least one other potential site is also off the table: Jefferson High School directly across Cypress Street from Charley’s and the Doubletree.

Steinman said he met with Hillsborough County School District officials, and said they demanded the state pay for a complete relocation of the school, which he said was not feasible either. Whether or not the state would use eminent domain to force the school district to sell the site, Steinman declined to say, but instead said the state is looking elsewhere.

Um, ok. So why doesn’t the state use its power to get the Charlie’s property?  Or it could coordinate with the new owners of the Austin Center (though the Charlie’s property is better in terms of access to the highway median.)  In any event, nothing is imminent.

The state is in something of a holding pattern about mass transit because Pinellas County and Hillsborough County have not come to a decision or consensus about whether to use so-called “Bus Rapid Transit” or some other method like light rail.

No surprise there.  Nothing is actually planned in terms of transit anyway (though the airport, the local outlier in terms of planning, has plans).

Really, the real problem is the inability of local officials to get any sort of useful transit plan.  Yes, we know there is the Go Hillsborough process, but that is the result of the failure of the TED committee to actually do its work in a timely fashion (and lack of political will).  There is no guarantee Go Hillsborough will accomplish anything useful either.

Miami just opened another connection to its multimodal station.  Orlando is working on one.  Aside from the airport, we are watching others move forward.

Transportation – Who Needs the PTC?

Speaking of transportation, a while back, the PTC board members were talking about reform.  Of course, nothing happened.  Now, it seems that maybe the state will reform the PTC, an organization it created.

Nestled in this year’s 99-page omnibus transportation bill is a single paragraph that would give the governor power over Hillsborough County’s taxi and limo regulators.

If passed, the provision could ease the way for Uber and Lyft, ride-booking services hailed through a smartphone app that want to operate freely in Florida.

Language in the bill (SB 1554) would allow the governor to appoint a majority of the Public Transportation Commission, four of its seven members. The city of Tampa would get one pick and the county two. The board currently has no members appointed by the governor.

The bill does not mention the board by name, but the way the provision is written, it would affect only Hillsborough County, county commissioner Victor Crist said Friday. 

Whether that change would make a difference is contingent on who is appointed, but it is something – which you can tell from the reaction from the PTC.

The Public Transportation Commission current includes three county commissioners, two Tampa city council members and representatives from Temple Terrace and Plant City. Each member serves a 2-year term.

If Brandes’ language is approved, Crist worries that the governor’s future appointees to the commission will be “major donors, which will happen to be, guess who? Lyft and Uber.”

Really?  That is the argument?  Because the PTC does not presently favor any specific companies?  As noted in this Tribune editorial:

There may be room for an argument about whether Uber and Lyft, the popular ride-sharing services, should be defined as traditional taxi companies or as technology companies that use smartphone apps to connect drivers with customers.

But there is no denying that the companies are far more popular with the public than the traditional taxi services, which have operated under the same rules for generations.

For that reason alone, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission should rethink its determined effort to force Uber and Lyft to operate like the traditional taxi companies and limousine services it regulates. The free market votes every day, and time and again the public is choosing Uber and Lyft over traditional taxis.

* * *

It’s understandable that the county’s legislatively created PTC, which regulates taxis, tow trucks and ambulances and approves fare rates, is disoriented by the new companies. But rather than conspire against them, the PTC needs to adapt its 20th-century rules to the 21st-century technology behind the phenomenal growth of these companies.

Yet, there are no signs that the PTC has any intention of entering the present century.  In fact, it behaves – and, as we have noted many times, essentially argues in court – as though its purpose is simply to protect the taxi industry.

As we said, the efficacy of any change depends on who is appointed.  The present system clearly does not serve the consumers, it serves specific companies.  To argue that changes would only serve specific companies is a bit funny.  Here is the board chairman in 2013 on the problems with the PTC:

To hear him describe it, Crist quickly learned that the inner workings of the agency were a mess. “Over time it’s become very exclusive, staff-driven, short-sighted and unreceptive to the consumer, and a little too close to the industry it serves.”

As has always been the case, the problem with the PTC has been created by the PTC.  It can always fix it.  It just does not want to.  If there are changes that weaken the power of present members, they have only themselves to blame.

International Trade – Building a Gateway

Despite the reticence of some (for various reasons – some noble, some cynical) regarding the developments between the US and Cuba and Tampa’s part in them:

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to volunteer Tampa to be the place where history is made.

More on the idea:

Tampa’s leaders are expected to extend an invitation to host any signing of agreements between the United States and Cuba as official relations continue to warm between the two nations.

On Thursday, within a week of Saturday’s historic meeting in Panama City between President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the Tampa City Council will vote on a resolution urging Obama to choose Tampa as the site of any signing ceremony.

The resolution also calls for the agreement to be named “The Tampa Accord.”

“If and when that accord is signed, Tampa is the right place for it,” said City Councilwoman Yvonne Capin, who introduced the resolution. “It has been well established that no city in the U.S. has stronger historic ties to Cuba than our city.”

Capin said she is confident the resolution will pass, noting that earlier this month the city council unanimously passed another resolution supporting the establishment of a Cuban consulate in Tampa.

She is also confident an accord between the two nations is in the making. One roadblock was removed Tuesday with Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.

“It seems like the next step, now that the two presidents met in Panama,” Capin said.

The Obama administration is already aware of Tampa’s desire to host such a meeting — and seems to have some interest, said Bob Rohrlack, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack brought the idea to the attention of U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker when she was here as keynote speaker for the March 30 forum, “Tampa at the Forefront of Historic Change.”

Well, not all of Tampa’s leaders.  (The Mayor is noticeably absent.)  In any event, as anyone who knows Tampa’s history knows, Tampa has a long connection with Cuba:

Tampa was Cuba’s first major U.S. trading partner, exporting livestock such as cattle to the island nation in the mid-1800s.

Tampa later hosted the first major wave of Cuban immigrants in the late-1800s and early 1900s. They came for work in Tampa’s cigar rolling industry, then the largest in the world. Tobacco used in those cigars came from Cuba.

Tampa was also a supporter of the Cuba’s successful fight for independence against its colonial ruler Spain in the late-1800s. Tampa residents fought alongside Cubans and raised money for the cause.

And when Cuba’s beloved freedom fighter and poet Jose Marti wrote the order for the war to begin, he did so from Tampa and had the message smuggled onto the island inside a cigar rolled in Tampa.

Of course, whether there is an agreement or not, and the terms thereof, is up to the Federal government. However, if there is an agreement, why not sign it in Tampa? (It is certainly more fitting than New Orleans, which is also seeking a consulate and now has flights. And note Atlanta and Houston want consulates, too.  Why should they have the connection over Tampa?)  There is no more logical place – including Miami.

“The Tampa accord would provide an opportunity for Tampa to gain free media exposure worldwide,” Carlson said. “It would be the most high profile and important event to occur here in decades.”

Not to mention a great opportunity to show that there are other Florida cities in Florida with long-standing ties to Latin America. And, while the legislature may be making noises against a consulate, that does not represent the future interests of Tampa and the Tampa Bay area.   It is in our interest that, if relations are reestablished, there is a consulate here.

Finally, it needs to be said that there is also a connection between the Cuba issue and connections to Latin America:

Mr Obama’s staff doubtless thought that their boss would be greeted as a hero at the latest summit in Panama, to be held on April 10th and 11th. At Latin America’s insistence, this is the first such get-together (they started in 1994) attended by Cuba. Partly with an eye to that, in December Mr Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic and some business ties with Cuba. This is a huge step towards lifting America’s 54-year-old economic embargo against the island. And while many Latin Americans dislike Cuba’s Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl, the country’s current president, they dislike the embargo even more.

We often hear that we must show we are an inclusive area to attract high paying jobs.  In the same way, showing that we are future-focused area can do nothing but help push efforts to connect to Latin America.  Those who are looking out for this area’s economic development would clearly see that.  If there is going to be business between the US and Cuba, Tampa should be firmly involved.

Downtown – Food Talk

Over the years there has been much discussion about the need for a grocery store downtown.  Despite many rumors, nothing has happened.  This week, the Lightning owner addressed the issue:

If a big grocery store chain won’t commit to building a store in the Channel District, then Jeff Vinik has a plan: Build his own.

After all his research into residential and office development, Vinik said he’s found a common theme of chicken-and-egg. Residents want to have a grocery store nearby before they’ll move into a neighborhood, and grocery stores want to have residents nearby before they commit to building a store. And if there’s one thing that Vinik said he’s heard loud and clear from all his surveys and research, it’s that residents want a grocery store right there in the new district that will soon have dozens of new offices, restaurants and residential units.

“If necessary, I’ll read a book on the grocery business, and we’ll go into the grocery business ourselves,” Vinik told a breakfast forum of development officials gathered by the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “You must have the amenities to attract people.”

Indeed, you need amenities to attract people.  (Transit comes to mind, though that is not for him to do.) It is not clear whether his comments are an attempt to motivate grocery store chains to get on the ball or he really means to go into the business.  Either way, good for him. (It is also worth noting that Duckweed is apparently planning a Channel District location – See here, the April 11th entry. We wish them well.)

Additionally, there was an update on the schedule for the Lightning owner’s project:

During Friday’s meeting, Vinik also gave updates on his schedule for construction.

By this Thanksgiving, he hopes to begin “turning dirt” for infrastructure both underground, and above ground to start re-arranging some of the streets between the Crosstown Expressway and the water. Then, assuming the state Legislature gives final approval for funding, the University of South Florida medical school can begin work to move into the new district and Vinik can begin work building an adjacent medical office tower.

Time will tell.

Harbour Island – The Manor Lives

The long saga of the Manor project on Harbour Island reached a new stage.

A judge has ruled that the city did not break the law by approving an apartment tower on Harbour Island but also criticized the city for failing to give neighboring residents enough chance to weigh in on the project.

The Manor at Harbour Island, a 21-story tower with 340 apartments, was initially approved by city planners without a public hearing because it did not require a zoning change. That decision was upheld by a hearing officer, prompting a group of about 30 neighbors to sue the city in February seeking to overturn the decision.

Their chief concern was that the tower will not have its own parking, instead relying on a proposed “sky bridge” for access to an existing parking garage across the street. That unconventional arrangement is not covered under city land regulations, the lawsuit claims, and should have been treated as a “substantial change” subject to a public hearing.

❖ ❖ ❖

But in a recent ruling, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Claudia Rickert Isom said the decisions by the city staff and the hearing officer were in keeping with the law and within city procedures.

So far, so good for the developer.

But the judge also questioned whether the city’s review process was fair to people who had no chance to air their concerns about traffic and parking before the tower was initially approved.

Those concerns include whether the 560 parking spaces needed for the new tower will overwhelm the parking garage and whether daytime workers in the area will use it in the evening.

“The process denies access by impacted residents to either City Council or the Mayor to address legitimate concerns about traffic congestion and pedestrian safety,” Isom wrote. “Perhaps this case highlights the need for a change to the review and permitting process.”

Perhaps, but we doubt much will change.

In any event, the plaintiffs can still appeal.  We shall see what happens.

Port – A Win

There was news about imports at the port.

In 2013, Brazilian aerospace company Embraer S.A. shipped a limited run of components for its Phenom 300 light business jet through Port Tampa Bay to be assembled in its Melbourne facility.

It took a while, but that experiment has finally paid off for Tampa: Embraer is now sending monthly shipments of aircraft parts through the port.

The company is sending parts for two kinds of planes now, according to port officials, and in 2016 plans to send components for two additional models.

Embraer is one of the world’s top business jet manufacturers. Last month it sent the first shipment of this new cargo line to Tampa from its headquarters in São José dos Campos, Brazil.

* * *

Now Embraer has restarted that service and expanded it: The company has already started delivering segments of its Phenom 100E and Phenom 300 aircraft.

In 2016, the company will start delivering segments of its new Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 aircraft.

The plane components are being delivered by NYK RoRo of Tokyo, one of the world’s largest auto shipping companies. RoRo is shorthand for “roll-on, roll-off,” for the kind of ships that can quickly roll vehicles down a ramp and onto the docks.

Last month’s Embraer shipment to Tampa was the inaugural call for the new NYK RoRo shipping route, which also travels through ports in Brazil, Mexico, Aruba, Venezuela, Curacao and Argentina.

That’s important to the Tampa Port Authority for another reason: It shows future customers that the port can handle other roll-on, roll-off cargoes such as Mexican-made cars and trucks.

That is definitely a reason it is good.  Additional service is always good, as is showing that the service can work well.  There is another point, as well: these imports show that the port can get business from companies closer to other ports (in this case Port Canaveral).  That is definitely a win.  Now we need many more – and some of the actual manufacturing, as well.

Downtown – 20 Years of the Aquarium

There was a piece in the Times regarding the 20th anniversary of the Florida Aquarium (of which we are fans).   The article was fine, but what caught our eye was a picture of the Aquarium under construction.

From the Times – click on picture for article

The desolation around the Aquarium under construction is amazing.  Thankfully, that has changed.  It shows how far we have come (and how far behind we were 20 years ago when other cities were already starting to work on their downtowns and transit).  That is clear progress. And, even better, expectations are much higher – at least among many.

One other thing the picture shows is how much a blank canvas the southern end of downtown was at the time and how mistakes like the poor design of the Port Authority garage and Channelside Plaza wasted opportunities to build a truly urban area on the first try and need to be redone.  Even with the positive developments, those mistakes hold back even more development.  Hopefully, that will not happen again.

Downtown – The Tale of Kiley Gardens

Those who have been around for a while know that when first built Kiley Gardens, the once park-like space between Curtis Hixon Park and the office tower, was a rather renown space.  Then it was turned into this exceptionally inviting (especially in the hotter months) space:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Now, with the City spending so much time and money on parks and focusing on the river, some are pushing to rehabilitate it.

It has been 15 years since the bubbling fountains of Kiley Garden were shut off and almost a decade since its hundreds of trees were removed, turning the urban oasis into a flat checkerboard of grass and concrete.

Still, the park’s former glory continues to draw attention.

Photos of it as it looked in its prime are part of a travelling exhibit on display at the Center for Architecture in New York, honoring its namesake and designer — the late Dan Kiley, considered one of the most influential Modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. The exhibit runs through June 20 then moves on to Dallas.

And later this year, a European architectural journal will name the original Kiley Garden one of three premiere landscape designs of the 1980s. The article appears in the winter edition of the Journal of Landscape Architecture, published by the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools.

This new international recognition, coupled with the popularity of the new Tampa Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Park, have emboldened local fans of Kiley Garden to renew their push to restore its former glory.

“People around the world want to remember Kiley Garden but in Tampa we want to ignore what it used to look like,” said Chris Vela, an architect and head of the volunteer organization Friends of the Kiley Garden.

“If the city wants our Riverwalk to stand out among others in the country, bring back what most experts consider to be one of the most beautiful landscapes ever designed.”

So why was the park basically ruined?

One reason the park was stripped down was to preserve the parking garage beneath it. The park’s floor doubles as the garage roof but drainage and waterproofing was faulty. Water leaked in, raising fears of a collapse.

So the flowing water was turned off and the trees removed to repair the damage.

That makes sense. There were leaks and repairs should have been done.  However, there is more to the story.

It opened in 1988.

“It was gorgeous” said Vela with Friends of Kiley Garden. “I remember running under the overhead canal as a kid and thinking it was amazing.”

But by the early 1990s, the water damage emerged. What’s more, Kiley’s design called for dwarf crepe myrtles but the city planted full sized ones.

The city could not keep up with the trimming, Vela said, so his organization formed to take care of maintenance there.

“We then found a tree broker would buy back the trees and with the money we could purchase the right ones,” Vela said. “Things were moving forward.”

In 2006, in preparation for the drainage work and waterproofing of the underground parking structure, the trees were removed.

Vela said he was given no warning. The trees were never handed over to his organization.

“The city knew we were moving forward,” he said. “I don’t why they did that.”

He asked permission to find other ways to raise money and replant trees but was denied.

(That City tree policy seem like it might be well established.)  So how much would it cost to fix?

Linda Saul-Sena, a former Tampa city councilwoman, said landscape architects have estimated a restoration project would cost $1.5 million. Saul-Sena speaks with some authority: Her film “City Visions,” about urban public spaces, won a merit award from the American Institute of Architects.

“That is such a minimal amount of money to bring an internationally recognized treasure back to life,” Saul-Sena said.

Vela with Friends of Kiley Garden has been given a higher estimate, around $3 million to $5 million.

Both projections include replanting trees and turning on the fountains and runnels. Neither includes bringing back the reflecting pools or overhead canals, which many agree would cost too much.

That is not excessive and includes some compromises. (Of course, you have to have the money.) Yet:

In a statement emailed to the Tribune, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman Ali Glisson said the city budget does not allow for any restoration work on Kiley Garden.

“Kiley presents some serious maintenance challenges,” according to the statement. “It’s not just restoration. It’s also ongoing maintenance costs. The city hasn’t done a formal review of what it would take to restore the fountains, irrigation, and landscaping in years.”

Given how little notable architecture/design this area has, it is surprising that the gardens have been basically left to desolate.  Then again, maybe that lack of interest in good architecture/design is why there are so few projects of note in the area. Of course money is an issue, but, if the river is so important and downtown is the heart of the city (and the area), surely revival of one of the only architecturally notable projects in the area, that also happens to be downtown and be on the riverfront, deserves to at least be studied.

List of the Week/Economic Development

This week’s list is also connected to the question of whether the area can support all of the local apartment developments with our low local incomes – Marcus & Millichap’s projected rent increases.

As noted in the Tribune article on the issue:

A rebounding economy and new apartments going up in the pricey urban core will contribute to a projected 5.3 percent increase in the average Tampa area apartment rent this year, according to commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap. That would be the 13th highest percentage increase in the nation and the largest in Florida.

The increase was even higher in 2014, at 5.8 percent.

Tampa renters will pay average monthly rent of $995, according to Marcus & Millichap’s Tampa Apartment Research Report for the first quarter of 2015. And while that’s a jump in price, it doesn’t even come close to some other major metropolitan area rents. In Denver, rent is expected to be $1,335 in 2015, up 9 percent over 2014. In San Francisco, apartment dwellers will pay about $3,040, an 8.5 percent yearly increase. And in Orlando, the average rent will be $1,030, a 5.2 percent increase over 2014.

* * *

Not everyone in the Tampa Bay area will see such an increase.

“Millennials with jobs, money and looking to move to the urban core will pay more,” said Kevin Schwartz, government affairs director for the Bay Area Apartment Association, which tracks rents each quarter. And millennials — 18 to 34 years old — prefer to rent. Land costs more in the urban areas, so rents in those areas will be higher.

Here are the projected rent increases:

Denver: $1,335/9.0
San Francisco: $3,040/8.5
San Jose, Calif.: $2,486/8.5
Oakland, Calif.: $1,962/8.1
Atlanta: $1,005/7.6
Portland, Ore.: $1,114/6.6
Seattle: $1,336/6.0
Riverside/San Bernardino, Calif.: $1,231/5.6
Phoenix: $868/5.5
Sacramento, Calif.: $1,087/5.4
Orange County, Calif.: $1,813/5.3
San Diego: $1,630/5.3
Tampa: $995/5.3
Los Angeles: $1,878/5.2
Orlando: $1,030/5.2
Fort Lauderdale: $1,384/4.9
Miami: $1,322/4.6
Nashville: $999/4.6
Jacksonville: $870/4.3
Louisville: $790/4.2
U.S. average: $1,219/3.4

While the average rents in this area are still relatively low, so are the incomes.  The growth in incomes is also much slower (say 1.3%) than the rent growth. That may very well lead to this area overall joining Hernando County on the least affordable rental market list.

While we love all the development, we have to keep in mind that long time policies in this area have kept incomes low.  Yes, people are working on changing that and hopefully it will bear fruit, but, once again, we need to know where we are to know where we need to go.

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