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Roundup 8-23-2019

August 22, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— HART AFT

— Roads to Nowhere

— Some Ferry

— More Ferry-ish

West Tampa – That Cigar Factory

Ybor City – German Club

Governance – Adventures in Planning

Politics/Regionalism – Water

Economy – Employment

USF/Downtown/Channel District – Moving

Because We Can

Meanwhile, Around Town

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

_________________________


Transportation


— HART AFT

We are still waiting for the Courts to finally decide all the issues surrounding the referendum.  Meanwhile:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is moving forward with a $253 million spending plan for new revenue resulting from the voter-approved All For Transportation tax referendum.

Included in the proposed spending plan is $82 million for reserves and extensive new funding for things like new buses, corridor studies, facility improvements and broad service enhancements.

Next, the plan will head to the Independent Oversight Committee, which was assembled as part of the All For Transportation charter amendment. The plan is due by the end of September.

Despite ongoing appeals to a lawsuit challenging the new tax, the spending plan will move forward.

And so it should be.  We have enough needs (hence the referendum in the first place).  If the referendum is upheld, no time should be wasted addressing them.


— Roads to Nowhere

We have discussed the Legislature’s toll road plan many times and we are not going to go over the whole thing again.  However, the Times had an opinion piece by the head of the Florida Chamber of Commerce that said something we thought was worth a brief comment.

Florida is growing fast. Florida Chamber Foundation research shows we can expect another 4.5 million new residents by 2030, and 3 million more drivers on Florida’s roadways by the same time period. On top of that, 50 million more annual visitors.

* * *

While Florida’s economy is stronger, our public budgets are healthier, and Florida is home to fresh perspectives that will continue to make us more competitive, there are challenges that come with 900 net new people moving here each day. Mainly, maintaining the safety and efficiency of our transportation system.

I understand there are some who will always oppose smart growth and economic opportunities, believing that a thriving economy cannot co-exist with responsible environmentalism or that our roadways are already adequate for the future. These are the same. And some will call these “roads to nowhere,” even though I highly doubt that cities like Lakeland, Ocala, Naples and others would consider themselves “nowhere.”

First, we agree that the population will grow.  Second, Lakeland, Naples, and Ocala already have interstate (and more) connections.  Third, the toll road that would have gone to Ocala was rejected by Ocala.   (The new plan does not appear to go to Ocala.)  And, as we have noted before, the road from near Naples to near Lakeland has been rejected numerous times and shown to be driven by large land owners in between.

But more to the point for us, some may oppose any growth, but that is not us.  We do not even oppose all roads.  However, there are two things to keep in mind.  First, we favor fixing problems that already exist before moving on to problems that may exist in the future.  We need transit alternatives where people are living now.

Second, while the people may be coming, where they will live is yet to be determined.  That is largely a question of planning and choices, in other words growth management.  Implicit in the highway plan is a sprawling pattern of growth that develops far more land that is now farms or open areas.  That does not have to be the choice.  Growth can be directed to already built up areas and money spent on improving the infrastructure there. It is not that we do not need infrastructure spending, and even some improved highways.  It is a question of where the money is spent and why.  We can have rational growth and protect the environment or we can have a model that promotes more and more sprawl throughout the state.

For us, it is all about choices and priorities.  The state has limited supply of money. (see, for instance, here) With this plan, it is choosing to create (not address) future needs rather than address the needs of the residents it already has.  As we have said many times, maybe at some point in the future these roads will be needed, but, now, with the money we have, is not the time.


— Some Ferry

Hillsborough County has decided to fund the Cross-Bay Ferry again.

Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to contribute nearly $300,000 over the next two years to help operate the Cross-Bay Ferry through 2021. St. Petersburg and Pinellas politicians have already approved their shares. Tampa City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday.

We have been clear that we think that ferry is fine, but it really should be a private venture. (Tampa approved the money, too.)  One thing it is not is this, From Florida Politics:

“The return on investment is incredible,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman. “I think that’s a point that needs to be made to the public, too.”

As we explained last week (albeit it took us two tries) is that the money invested in the ferry could be used more effectively on other things.  (see here)  Moreover,

The interlocal agreement also includes a revenue sharing provision. The city of St. Pete would receive half of any revenue exceeding $400,000 and split that revenue equally with Pinellas and Hillsborough and the city of Tampa.

However, revenues in the most recent season did not reach the $400,000 threshold and the city does not expect the next to seasons to reach it either, meaning it’s unlikely the local governments would recoup any funds.

Not to mention:

The ferry continues to see most of its success on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. More than 18,500 tickets were sold on weekends in November, December and January last season. Weekdays were much slower, with the boat sometimes sailing with a handful of people or less.

Trips with just 15 passengers or less accounted for about a quarter of the departures during the first half of the season. That’s 10 percent or less of capacity, and happened most often on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A handful of times, it sailed with just one or two passengers on board.

Data from the pilot year showed people weren’t interested in taking the boat to and from work. The updated schedule caters to weekend events, sports games, date nights and other entertainment options.

We have seen nothing to change our opinion that the Cross-Bay Ferry, as nice as it may be, is a fun cruise and fun cruises should be privately run.  So fund it for now, but there has to be a plan to stop public support and sooner rather than later.


— More Ferry-ish

We are not going to get into this very much but it may have an effect on the ferry issue, so we will throw it out there.  The Times had an article this week regarding the main agent for the ferry companies and two County Commissioners with this introductory description:

Ed Turanchik, who represents companies hoping to operate a proposed MacDill Air Force Base ferry, denies any unprofessionalism. But both Sandy Murman and Les Miller have given sharply different accounts of their interactions with him following an Aug. 7 county commission vote.

As we said, we are not going to get into it, but you can read it here and draw your own conclusions.


West Tampa – That Cigar Factory

There is more news about the proposal to renovate and repurpose the cigar factory at 1202 North Howard Avenue.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans to renovate the vacant cigar factory at 1202 North Howard Avenue are moving forward again. Originally, the developer was proposing to turn the project into a hotel, then they changed the proposal to an office building, and now they are back at hotel.

The hotel would have 70 rooms total. The city code requires 75 off-street parking spaces. The developer is looking to provide 61 off-street parking spaces, so a waiver is requested. (possibly a sign that the parking minimums are too high?)

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, the renderings look nice. (Though maybe they should paint it white. . . just kidding) We have no knowledge of all the buildings indicated around the factory in the drawings, but the factory looks nice. However, as before, the pool is in an odd location as it will be shaded quite a bit.  And there is quite a bit of parking.  As URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Even with this waiver, you can tell from the attached site plan that parking takes up just as much if not more land than the hotel itself.

It’s an inefficient use of land, and at some point you have to figure that if you are going to surround your historic buildings with surface lots when you try to “save” them, then perhaps the surface parking is taking the structure so far out of its historic context that it loses its historic-ness altogether.

We’ll be interested to see if the developer has anything in mind for the land they are leaving vacant, lot “B” in the site plan.

Of course, we would be happy to see the factory renovated.

We understand that a hotel needs parking. However, as noted, there is an issue having so much surface parking around the building.  Right now, it will not be nestled in an urban area of similarly sized buildings.  It will be surrounded by surface parking and short buildings.  Moreover, some of that surface parking will front Howard. And the plan for lot B is relevant for a few reasons beyond simply being interesting in-and-of-itself. First, what will surround the surface lot that fronts Howard?  Second, will it use the parking in the surface lot or will there be even more surface parking?

We are all for repurposing the factory. And we understand the need for parking.  However, as noted, this much surface parking, especially the part fronting Howard is an inefficient and unattractive use of land. Since the developer has been going back and forth with designs, we hope they go back one more time and make it a cleaner, more attractive overall plan.  The building looks nice enough in the drawings.  It would be good if the surroundings did, too.


Ybor City – German Club

The German Club is being renovated and repurposed with an expansion:

Restoration has officially begun on the historic German American Club in Ybor City. The building, constructed in 1909, will soon serve as a new state-of-the-art facility for Metro Inclusive Health (METRO), and CAN Community Health.

* * *

The updates are all about preserving The German American Club’s history. The Grand Hall will be fully restored and is set to serve as a new gathering place for METRO’s community programs.

Of course, there will be some updates. METRO is building out a 3-story, 15,000 square foot addition to the historic building.

 

From Thatssotampa.com – click on picture for website

 

From Thatssotampa.com – click on picture for website

Repurposing and adding to a historic building is always tricky. The project looks good, at least in the renderings. (And we don’t mind if they paint this building white.) Hopefully, the final product will, too.


Governance – Adventures in Planning

The last two week have seen a bit of oddness from the County Commission.  From Florida Politics:

Hillsborough County Commission rejected an attempt to rescind a previous board action implementing guidelines for future development.

In a move initiated by Commissioner Mariella Smith, the board walked back a vote at a workshop last Thursday approving a guiding document for creating “a balanced approach to community building.”

The vote to rescind the approval fell along the same lines as the initial workshop vote with Smith and Pat Kemp voting to overturn the vote and Commissioners Kimberly Overman, Ken Hagan, Stacy White, Sandy Murman and Les Miller voting against.

Smith asked that the vote be rescinded because she felt “ambushed” by its introduction. The three-page document was not distributed to commissioners until the meeting, there was no opportunity for public input and taking action at workshops is against the board’s own rules.

Let’s look at what happened to cause this:

Smith, as well as the rest of the board, did not receive the document in advance of the meeting, which meant they had little to no time to review it or ask questions of staff before taking it to a public forum. 

* * *

“It’s as if [Mike Merrill] scribbled this out over lunch and then just handed it to us,” Smith said.

She has reason to feel that way. Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure, told commissioners angry they didn’t have more time to consider the document that it had not been ready the day before Thursday’s meeting.

In fact, when pressed further by Kemp, Garsys said the document had not even been ready at 11 a.m. the day of the meeting. The meeting started at 1:30.

That is far from ideal for anything dealing with planning (or really anything), even just setting guidelines.

Further, Hillsborough County Commissioners aren’t supposed to take action during workshop meetings where no public comment is taken.

However, board members can ask their colleagues to waive the rules to make a motion, a request that is often obliged as a professional courtesy. That’s what happened Thursday when White moved to approve the three-page document.

What exactly was in the document:

The document in question is vague, but it covers a sweeping variety of issues the county is and will continue to face in the future.

It’s aimed at ensuring long-term financial sustainability, growing responsibly, meeting essential service needs for residents and delivering “an agreed-upon quality of life.”

To do that the document calls for the county to include agricultural preservation but also provide choice to property owners to have the ability to transfer development rights of their property.

It also recommends preserving heritage lands, creating urban scale development that attracts innovation, creating economic development zones in natural “nodes” like the Interstate 4 and Highway 60 corridors, requiring developers to cover the cost of all infrastructure and service needs in areas outside the urban service area and encouraging workforce housing and transit choices.

* * *

The document also mentions “sector planning.” County staff described such a tool as a way to manage growth and development based on an area’s needs in a data-driven approach that’s specific community-to-community.

However, Smith argues it’s more commonly used by developers to create large-scale projects on rural lands that encourage urban sprawl.

(If you want to read a little about sector planning you can look here.)

You can see the document, a PowerPoint, in an agenda item here. According to the linked agenda item linked above, there is a lot of background material, but the PowerPoint does not represent that (and it does not seem the information was presented with the document).  In fact, the above quote is probably longer and more informative than the PowerPoint.  We are not clear why Commissioners felt the need to vote so quickly and without real discussion on a rushed and unsupported document, even if it had some good ideas.

Going back to the meeting this week:

In the spirit of compromise, both White and Miller said they would support at a future meeting an amendment to the document that provided alternatives to sector planning. 

In a related move, Overman made a motion to set a Development and Mobility Workshop for as soon as possible and require any back up documents for that meeting to be provided at least 48-hours in advance. She also asked to waive board rules blocking public comment during workshops so members of the public could weigh in.

Her motion passed unanimously.

We are glad that they are acknowledging that there are issues with the document.  The compromise process seems tolerable (especially given the votes), if not optimal, as long as it actually addresses the real issues.  However, we still are not clear why there was a rush (or why sector planning was even mentioned in such a vague document).

The fact is that planning is fraught with issues.  And, in this area, it has been very poorly done (and costly to residents).  Even setting guidelines in such a rushed and not well-considered way is problematic.  (Even more so given the long history of poor planning and failure to adhere to any plans.)  And, more to the point, even if there were some good things in the document (and there were) what would have been the harm in not rushing and actually considering it properly and publicly? The Commission could have saved itself some hassle (and bad optics) and increased public confidence by just taking a little time and being more open.

And whatever guidelines they come up with, we need to be done with subsidizing sprawl.


Politics/Regionalism – Water

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Tampa’s Toilet to Tap proposal and said this:

And that is all interesting.  However, the bottom line is that if the idea is good – meaning the science makes sense and the cost-benefit analysis is favorable – it should be pursued (especially if Tampa Bay Water is the organization that does it).

But that caveat is important.  The coverage of this issue has focused much more on arguments between politicians rather than the actual idea, more specifically the science and the cost-benefit analysis.  That lack of serious information about this project plus the aggressive push for it over time has made us wonder more and more. . .

* * *

Well, why aren’t the questions answered?  And why did Tampa push the project so hard if they did not have the science proven and the cost-benefit analysis done? If there is a risk to the environment, is it worth taking for the benefit?  Is there a better/safer way to do it? And how is this project going to be paid for? Who is in line to benefit from the $350 million?  Is that even a reasonable number or is it going to be bigger (we suspect it will be)?  How much will it really cost the City after loans/bonds are accounted for?  How much of a burden on the City budget will that be?  What is the actual projected need for the new water?  What is the hurry? And why can’t/won’t Tampa Bay Water do it instead?

There are more questions, but that will do for now.   We need actual answers based in actual facts.  Institutional inertia (at City Hall) is not justification for a project, especially one this expensive.  If it wants this, the City should make the case (not just to Tampa Bay Water but to the people of the Tampa, who will likely have to pay some way or the other).

This week, there was another Tampa Bay Water meeting and the report in the Times (here) was once again full of arguments like this:

Rice said Tampa withdrew its proposal rather than provide more details earlier this summer, squelching an option to get $1.6 million in funding from the agency for the project the city dubs the “Tampa Augmentation Project” or TAP. And she decried Tampa’s objection to using Nickerson for additional analysis.

“There’s a pattern here. When Tampa didn’t like the way things were going with the $1.6 million that we offered, they took it off the table when we asked for more transparency. And, now, alas, that Mr. Nickerson gave us an opinion that Tampa didn’t like now they’re using a legal technicality to block us from asking the same attorney any more questions,” she said.

That got Miranda’s dander up. The Tampa council member, who has been involved in water issues for decades, suggested St. Petersburg was lawyer shopping for an opinion backing its position. He also predicted another water war and reminded the other member governments, which includes Pasco County and New Port Richey, that Tampa is largely self-sufficient in its water supply.

But that is not the point.  The point is that there should be a comprehensive study and the whole process should be under Tampa Bay Water, which is supposed to handle water issues in this area.  The more Tampa fights against acting in a cooperative way, the more it seems like there is something to hide.  We do not know if there is or not, but why not allay everyone’s concerns?

We will say it again: if the science and cost-benefit analysis make sense, there is no reason not to do this.  However, there are many questions to be answered to determine if the science works and the cost-benefit analysis makes sense.  So, the City answer them.  Then, if there is a good case to make, make it.

And while we are on the subject of water and the aquifer:

ST. PETERSBURG — Days after Subtropical Storm Alberto dumped heavy rain on this city in May 2018, officials gave themselves a glowing report card on progress made repairing its leaky sewage system.

“The city’s infrastructure handled the inundation from the storm’s rainfall completely and without incident,” read a May 29 posting on the city’s website.

But the city didn’t tell the public that a few weeks earlier, it had pumped nearly 19 million gallons of wastewater into the Floridan aquifer that didn’t meet state or federal standards.

Since the beginning of 2018, the city has violated its wastewater permit at least six times by pumping more than 21 million gallons of wastewater downs its wells, state records show. A probable seventh violation occurred this past weekend. Its size is still unknown.

We understand emergencies, but this all seems a bit excessive.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials say St. Petersburg is the only wastewater permit holder in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to violate state law by putting less than reclaimed water quality effluent down its wells between Jan. 1, 2018 and Monday, the period covered by a Times public records request for all sewage systems in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The city had higher than allowed amounts of total suspended solids, a measure of pollution, in the wastewater it sent down its wells. But state officials said elevated amounts of fecal coliform, a dangerous bacteria, were not present. They also said the state didn’t take corrective action because St. Pete’s pumping didn’t meet the criteria for “significant non-compliance,” meaning that the city’s six documented violations didn’t occur often enough or were sufficiently serious within six consecutive months.

That may be so, but not bad enough does not mean that it is not bad. And then there is this:

After rain pummeled the Tampa Bay area last week, Mayor Rick Kriseman on Sunday tweeted a laudatory note about the way the city’s sewage system handled the inundation.

“Really proud of our Public Works & Water Resources for guiding our improved wastewater system through the past few weeks,” the mayor tweeted, “& esp yesterday.”

Yet the day before, his sewage system pumped 6.6 million more gallons of illegal dirty water into the Florida Aquifer through an injection well.

St. Pete needs to get a handle on this situation.


Economy – Employment

There is a lot of talk about a looming recession (in all honesty a recession is always coming eventually), so let’s check in with the employment numbers.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s unemployment rate inched down last month to 3.3 percent from June’s 3.4 percent. That’s down from 3.5 percent in July of last year. The state added 22,900 jobs over the month, up less than 1 percent from the same month in 2018.

Education and health services have led the state in job growth, adding 65,900 jobs over the year (up 3 percent), followed by business and professional services (41,900 jobs, up 3 percent) and leisure and hospitality (25,900 jobs, up 2 percent).

* * *

Tampa Bay added the third-largest number of jobs of any Florida metro from July 2018 to last month (31,500 jobs, up 2.4 percent). It trailed Orlando (49,000 jobs, up almost 4 percent) and Miami (31,700 jobs, up 2.7 percent).

* * *

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in July from June’s 3.5 percent.

Hillsborough County’s unemployment rate stayed at 3.4 over the month, Hernando County’s dropped to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent, Pasco County dipped to 3.8 percent from June’s 3.9 percent and Pinellas County slid to 3.1 percent from June’s 3.2 percent.

Overall, those numbers are good.  We are not sure why we seem to trail Orlando most of the time (Miami is a little easier to understand, at least in raw numbers).  We are also not sure why Hillsborough trails Pinellas and did not move.  But for now, the numbers are good.

However, we did notice an interesting tidbit in the Times this week:

According to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half, about 40 percent of Tampa professionals expect to begin a job search within the next year.

The driving reasons, the survey found, were to increase their wages (32 percent), seek a promotion (32 percent), get additional time off (12 percent) and find a new manager (12 percent). In a separate survey also conducted by Robert Half, 77 percent of Tampa senior managers surveyed were concerned about whether their companies would be able to keep valued employees.

That does not mean that they are going to leave this area.  But for those working on our talent issues, it does indicate that is not just about education.


USF/Downtown/Channel District – Moving

It seems that the new USF Med School building in Water Street will be getting another tenant.

The University of South Florida’s College of Pharmacy has received the largest donation ever made to a pharmacy school in Florida, USF officials announced Friday.

The $10 million gift came from the Taneja Family Foundation, according to a news release, and will result in a name change. The school will be known as the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy.

The money will allow the college to move into in the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute facility, currently under construction in downtown Tampa. The building is scheduled to open later this year with pharmacy students expected to start classes there in fall 2021.

First, thank you for the generous gift.

Second, it will be interesting to see how they are going to fit the med school, the pharmacy school and the heart institute into that building.


Because We Can

Some nice pictures for Eagle 8 WFLA which posts many good aerials on its Twitter page, where you can also get bigger versions of the picture below.

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Twitter page

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Twitter page


Meanwhile, Around Town

For those who don’t know, The Points Guy is a travel website (the “Points” is a reference to bonus/frequent flyer programs).  They cover a range of topics (and recently did not rank Tampa’s airport as one of the nation’s best. Shame) Well, this week we ran across an interesting article that starts like this:

For 2019, I set a goal of flying at least 30 different airlines and staying in at least 30 major hotel brands. Although I’ve logged over one million miles on 75 different airlines, I’d never flown Spirit Airlines. So, when I planned to take a trip to Tampa from Atlanta, it seemed like an obvious choice to try out the ultralow cost airline for the first time.

Little did I know that it’d end up being both cheaper and faster to take a bus home from my destination after my original Spirit flight was canceled, and I was rebooked on a flight 11 hours later.

He spent 11 hours in the airport.  It is an interesting perspective for anyone who is curious. (You can read it here.)


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

This area is constantly working on its startup infrastructure and to develop local companies.  But that is happening in many places.  For instance, Miami:

Miami is famous for beach parties, gators that wander onto golf courses and iguanas that tumble out of palm trees.

But now the city of “Scarface” and “Miami Vice” is vying to become a new powerhouse of tech startups that some in the business hope will spawn a novel phenomenon — the “iguanacorn.”

The word is meant to represent the tropical answer to the Silicon Valley “unicorns,” start-ups that are worth more than $1 billion.

While still lagging behind San Francisco and New York, the Florida city is trying to position itself as a tech hub, and already has its first “unicorns” under its belt. They include ParkJockey, which has disrupted the car parking sector, and Magic Leap, which takes users into the world of augmented reality.

We are not going to get into details, but there is a story emphasis on being an international city. (An aside: international cities need international connections, like flights) You can read the article here.

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Roundup 8-16-2019

August 15, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Keep on Growing

— The Fun Cruise Ferry

Correction Note

— Roads to Nowhere

— Scooter

— Interesting

Downtown/Channel District – New Edition

Tampa Heights – Approved

Hyde Park – Renovation

Airport – Addition by Subtraction

Port – More

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Free in SLC?

— About That Drive-Thru

_______________________


Transportation


— Keep on Growing

The free streetcar is still doing well.

Another VERY strong month for @TampaStreetcar ridership with 76,043 trips in July 2019, compared with 26,112 in July 2018. Downtown/#Ybor residents and visitors are showing great demand for public transportation! Thanks again, @MyFDOT.

Indeed, thank FDOT.  The grant was a very good idea that is showing its usefulness and is helping serve as a proof of concept.  Hopefully, FDOT (and local transportation planners) will learn from it.


— The Fun Cruise Ferry

Last week we discussed the real transit ferry proposal (aka South County-MacDill ferry).  This week, the other ferry, the Cross Bay fun cruise ferry, is back in the news.

Armed with an array of facts and figures, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has begun a tour of local governments to rally support for the Cross-Bay Ferry.

The mayor is asking participating local governments — St. Petersburg, Tampa, Pinellas County and Hillsborough County — for $286,000 apiece to keep the popular program afloat for the next two years. The project is expected to cost $149,000 this year and $136,000 next year, when the money would have to be reapproved.

That is roughly $572,000 from Hillsborough County entities for the two years.

Kriseman started his campaign at Tuesday’s Pinellas County Commission meeting. According to statistics cited by the mayor, ridership increased from about 40,000 riders during season one of the program, 2016-2017, to about 52,000 during season two, 2018-2019. (No ferry service was offered in 2017-2018.)

* * *

The service, which is operated by HMS Ferries, runs seasonally, from November to April. The ship carries up to 149 people. It costs $8 for a 50-minute one way trip across the bay; discounts are offered to seniors, active military, college students and kids.

Going back to the streetcar for comparison, the July streetcar ridership was 76,043 trips, and that is not the busiest tourist season (though it does include July 4).  Also keep in mind that the streetcar rides are free because of the FDOT grant of $2.67 million for three years, or $890,000 a year.

Doing some quick math, the same amount of money that subsidizes 52,000 fun cruise trips in six months (don’t forget the ticket prices) amounts to about 1/3 (4 months) of the yearly subsidy from FDOT to make the streetcar run more frequently and for free. Using the July streetcar ridership as a monthly base and rounding down, the same amount of money would subsidize around 280,000 streetcar rides. Yes, that is FDOT money, but it could be Hillsborough money if FDOT does not continue to pay.  It is not an absolute calculation, but it provides context for what you get for the money.

We are not against the Cross Bay Ferry, however, as we have said before, there needs to be a plan to phase out public funding for it (other than having Hillsborough County pay for all the infrastructure and St. Pete/Pinellas contribute nothing as in the South County-MacDill Plus ferry plan.  It is not a transit service).  It is a tourist fun cruise that should be private. Hillsborough has other, bigger needs.

Correction Note:

The italicized paragraph above originally read:

Doing some quick math using those numbers, the ferry funding from Hillsborough entities pays $5.50 dollars a passenger (286,000/52,000) not counting the ticket prices.  Using the July streetcar ridership as a monthly base, the same amount of money would pay for a little over two months of grants for free streetcar ridership (890,000/[70,000×2]=5.85) – and that is daily, all day service.  Yes, that is FDOT money, but it could be Hillsborough money if FDOT does not continue to pay.  And it is not an absolute calculation, but it provides context for what you get for the money.

As noted by a reader in a Facebook comment on URBN Tampa Bay:

 I don’t know if it’s typos or late night math but the streetcar sections math is wrong:

$282,000 is equal to about *4* months streetcar additional and free service ($296k)

That would come out to 292,000/(72,000×4)= $1.08 per rider. Which is less than 1/5th. But this is a strange stat (better just to use the reduction in cost per rider with increased spending)

It most fair just compare it to the cost per additional rider:

292,000/(50,000×4)= $1.46 for every new rider.

That means for every $1 spent on the streetcar or similar service in Hillsborough Tampa you can move nearly 4 times the riders.

(Also don’t forget Tampa+Hillsborough is 2/3rds of the service increase/free costs and could have been done years ago).

He is correct.  We failed to make our point properly, and it has been corrected above.  Our apologies. The original author has been sacked.


— Roads to Nowhere

The Times had an article on the new board that are supposed to provide recommendations on the paths of the three new/extended toll roads per the law passed by the Legislature last session (road ideas which the article also noted had been previously killed more than once as unneeded and unwanted when previously proposed).

When state lawmakers earlier this year approved the largest expansion of Florida’s toll roads in decades, they were sold on the premise that the new roads had several public benefits.

* * *

All along, however, it was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a large consortium of private business interests, that was one of the loudest champion of the toll roads.

Now that the massive project is in the early public planning stages, it’s becoming evident just how big a role private interests will play in determining where and how these roads will get built.

Three task forces meet for the first time later this month to advise state officials. All three, one for each proposed road, will include members of the Florida chamber.

But the task forces will also include representatives from industry groups like the Florida Trucking Association, where haulers will benefit from better routes, and the Florida Internet & Television Association, where members could get easier access to customers to offer them broadband internet, a requirement of the project.

Unlike the other members on the three boards, members drawn from industry could or will financially benefit from the project.

That is hardly surprising, and we are not going to get into the details.  You can read the article here. The one thing we will quote is from representative of agriculture:

Farmers are represented by members of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Charles Shinn, its director of government and community affairs, is on the Suncoast extension task force. He said the governor’s office reached out to the organization.

Shinn said farmers are mixed about the projects. On the one hand, he said, agriculture depends on shipping products in and out of the state, and some farmers might welcome some of the growth rural areas could see from the projects.

On the other hand, some farmers fear the effects on the environment and the potential that the growth could take over farmland.

He said for the farmer with land along the routes looking to retire and cash out, the roads could be a blessing.

“They’re probably thinking, Thank goodness I have a way out, and that’s their way out,” Shinn said. “But I think that’s an exception to the rule and not the norm.”

The standard formula for Florida sprawl.

As we have said all along.  Certainly, at some point there may be a need for these or similar roads.  But that time is not now.  Now we need real alternatives where most people actually live.


— Scooter

There is a lot of coverage about the scooters (including St. Pete looking into them).  We are not going to get into the weeds about them.  However, the Times had a good article about the person in Tampa who has reported the most issues about them:

Rob Iles doesn’t seem the cranky, get-off-my-lawn type, more like the kind of downtown dweller a city wants. Ten years ago, Iles, managing director of a brand and communications research firm, and his partner purchased a five-story townhouse on Franklin Street. Iles enthused about life in the urban core in a newspaper story: proximity to work, things to do, diverse population, energy, vitality. (He also said in a five-level home, you make sure you have your keys, wallet and phone with you when you come downstairs.)

“I am decidedly not anti-scooter,” Iles tells me. “I am decidedly pro-proper scooter deployment and operation. And right now that doesn’t look like that’s what’s happening.”

That is essentially our position.  You can read more about his completely reasonable position here.

The Times also had an editorial which is worth reading (here):

Council members are rightly still supportive of the experiment, which ends in April. But city officials need to hold the four scooter companies more accountable. They need to better educate riders on safety, traffic regulations and operating etiquette. Tampa police already have plenty to do, but they should crack down on reckless drivers who put themselves and the public at risk.

Personal responsibility also plays a part. Riders should be aware of traffic regulations and follow the requirement that they yield to pedestrians. St. Petersburg’s proposed one-year experiment would put 750 to 1,500 scooters on the streets by late fall or early winter. If approved, St. Petersburg — unlike Tampa — would ban scooters from sidewalks. Parents must realize that these motorized vehicles, which travel at up to 15 mph, are not children’s toys; operators in Tampa must be at least 16 years old and have a valid driver’s license or permit. Some riders in Tampa appear far younger.

Scooters are, for many, an ideal “first-mile, last-mile” solution — providing a shared vehicle and a quick, cheap commuting option for short distances. They could be a critical link between bus and rail lines in Florida’s humid weather, and a tool for reducing downtown congestion and the region’s carbon footprint. Riders in Tampa like the experience, and the scooters add to the city’s lively image. But this is still an experiment, and it’s time to better marry fun and convenience with public safety.

That is all very reasonable.  We have no problem with the scooters, as long as they are used properly in a rational system.  If so, they can be a great benefit.  If not, they will a pain, and a potentially dangerous one.  Government has a role to play by creating a proper environment and rules for their use, but the real deciders will be the riders themselves.


— Interesting

Tampa is performing an interesting experiment.

The City of Tampa is testing out a type of intersection aimed at keeping pedestrians safer.

It is called a “pedestrian scramble” or an “all-pedestrian phase.”

All pedestrians will have the light to walk at the same time at the intersection of Rome Avenue and Main Street, located just a few blocks from Just Elementary and Stewart Middle Magnet Schools.

* * *

City officials tell us the all-pedestrian phase will only happening during school times for now as they continue to monitor its effectiveness.

To be honest, we are not sure how well this will work, but it is used elsewhere.  There is no reason not to at least try it here and see what happens.


Downtown/Channel District – New Edition

We had a feeling that in what was shaping up to be a pretty quiet week we would get something like this, and get it we did.

Construction has commenced on The Tampa EDITION Hotel & Residences within the heart of Water Street Tampa.

Created through a pioneering partnership between hospitality innovator Ian Schrager and Marriott International, the The Tampa EDITION will span 27 stories, including 172 guest rooms and suites and 37 exclusive for-sale, hotel-branded residences.

 

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for Facebook page

Good and exiting stuff.


Tampa Heights – Approved

Recently we discussed the amended proposal for the second block of the Heights Union portion of the Heights project.  (See “Tampa Heights –That’s a Surprise”)  The first block has the two office buildings that are now under construction.  The second block proposal has a hotel/apartment building and various retail plus a parking garage.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The Heights District received approval today for revised plans for the block bound by Tampa Street, 7th Avenue, Highlands Avenue, and Oak Avenue.

The proposal for this block was originally 8 stories of hotel, grocery store, retail, and parking. Now, the plans for this block include a 25-story apartment and hotel tower, along with retail space, a Sprouts grocery store, and parking.

Specifically, this approved block has 291 apartments, 153 hotel rooms, 13,694 square feet of retail, a 30,000 square foot Sprouts, and 1,433 parking spaces which will serve a large portion of The Heights master planned development.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Our view has not changed:

First, the good.  Of course we like the increase in hotel rooms and the addition of apartments.  We like having a 25 story building.  We like that that building faces Highland.  We like the grocery store and other retail.  We also like the decreased parking.

On the other hand, we hope that the hotel/apartment building has a little more design that the initial drawings.  Needless to say the drawing of that building is quite bland and we are not sure Tampa is the best place for apartments without balconies.  We are also not sure the garage entrance on Tampa is the best idea.  We understand they have loading docks on Oak and the garage entrance on Tampa but we would rather have the part of the building facing Tampa be fully activated without curb cuts (especially if Tampa is going to have streetcar or BRT).

Based on the drawing, this project will likely add more to the bottom (the street) than it will to the top (the monumental aspects of the tower). We are all for the density and street retail.  We just hope they do a little work on the tower and some aspects of the garage.  And we really think balconies facing the river would be in order.


Hyde Park – Renovation

There is news that there are planned renovations for the old Hugo’s building at Howard and Morrison. From URBN Tampa Bay:

The building at 927 South Howard Ave. in SoHo will be renovated into SoHo Square. The renovation features 16 apartments along with retail space on the ground floor.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is their take:

Though we like the proposal, we sorta wish the current structure from 1920 got to keep its historic character in some way.

We sort of agree.  You can see the building here. We see the argument for updating it, but we also see the argument for retaining the historic look.

As of the update itself, it is OK, though we are not really sure what the purpose of the faux awning on the second floor is.  Designers seem to like them, but we have never seen the point of a feature that provides no protection from the sun or rain while simultaneously giving birds a perch to hang out over your head.


Airport – Addition by Subtraction

It is not service news but:

At 2 a.m. on Aug. 20, the remaining elements of the building will be demolished, completing a months-long process to remove the old structure. This milestone marks the culmination of thousands of hours of careful planning by the Airport team, TPA’s tenants and contractors.

To ensure the safe implosion of the garage, TPA will close to all guests, tenants and employees between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 20. All inbound traffic will be blocked and any unauthorized individuals on site during this time may be trespassed.

The demolition of the old rental car garage is a key part of Phase 2 of TPA’s Master Plan and makes room for new express curbsides, designed for passengers with no checked bags, as well as upcoming facility improvements, including a new guideway to the future Airside D.

The airside is the aspect of the Master Plan we are most excited about, and the garage has to go before it can get built.


Port – More

Celebrity Cruise Lines is coming back to Tampa.

After it completes a modernization in May 2020, Celebrity Cruises’ Constellation ship will sail from Tampa for the winter 2020-2021 season. This is the first time the cruise line is returning to Tampa since 2007.

* * *

The service will operate three different alternating 10- and 11-night round-trip sailings to the southern and eastern Caribbean, with one touching the Panama Canal.

* * *

The new ship, which can hold more than 2,000 passengers, will benefit the port by diversifying its level of cruise lines.

We are glad they are coming back.  More is better in this case.


Rays

You can find your Rays news here. There was also an interesting article in USA Today regarding baseball attendance and future stadium plans generally (here):

For more than a decade, from coast to coast, they rose from urban cores and suburban sprawl alike, feats of architectural perfection that defined the fan experience in Major League Baseball – in perpetuity, it seemed.

The great ballpark building boom that spanned the 1990s and into the millennium’s first decade was a welcome correction from the multi-purpose mausoleums that dotted the landscape in the 1970s. And the billions and billions of dollars expended – much of it coming from taxpayers – to create a more intimate setting felt like a permanent fix.

Yet as the industry discovers the appetite for live baseball may be shrinking, a third wave of stadiums are gradually coming online, revealing franchises’ desire to further shrink the ballpark – be it new or already existing.

Something to keep in mind when thinking about this subject.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Free in SLC?

As has been well reported, when rides on the streetcar became free, ridership skyrocketed.  What if an entire transit system were free?

Jim Dabakis, a candidate for the mayoralty of Salt Lake City, is currently leading the polls – thanks in no small part to his promise to do away with fees for public transport. A recent poll by the Salt Lake City tribune found that residents of the city favour the idea by a ratio of three to one.

* * *

The city has already trialled free transit days, a move which saw a footfall increase of 16% on those days.

You can find that poll here.

Salt Lake City just had its mayoral primary to choose the top two candidates to face-off in the general election.

In an unexpected turn, Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall topped former state Sen. Jim Dabakis in unofficial primary election results for Salt Lake City mayor.

If the numbers hold, Mendenhall and Dabakis will face off in the November general election to succeed Jackie Biskupski, according to the last numbers posted about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Mendenhall nabbed the most votes — 6,924 — in the crowded eight-candidate field, giving her nearly 24% of the vote. Dabakis squeezed into second place with 21.56%, preventing five of the other six candidates from advancing to this fall’s contest. But the margin between Dabakis and third place’s Sen. Luz Escamilla — 109 votes at 6,300 to 6,191 — is so narrow, more election results could tighten or even flip the race, so Escamilla isn’t considered out of the running.

The final primary results were not known at the time of posting. It will be interesting to see how it turns out if the policy is ever implemented.


— About That Drive-Thru

We often complain about the Burger King with a drive thru that was built near Encore because, well, it is exactly what not to build in an urban area, especially one you want to redevelop.  Minneapolis seems to get it:

Local planners say Minneapolis is the first city of its size in the country to ban new drive-through windows.

The City Council voted Thursday to ban new construction of drive-through facilities. The existing ones are grandfathered.

And note:

New drive-through windows have already been prohibited in 17 of the city’s 23 zoning districts. The Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan approved by the council last year directs the city to outlaw new drive-through facilities and gas stations.

But

The proposal would prohibit any new drive-through facility involving a business transaction at restaurants, banks, ATMs and more. The city would still allow businesses to designate a parking space for dropping off or picking up goods.

(Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for the update)

 

Roundup 8-9-2019

August 8, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— On and On

— HART

— Ferry Land

— Downtowner

— Pinellas, Maybe

Downtown – More Disappointing Encores

West Tampa – This One, Too

TGH – Hardening

Politics/Regionalism – Water

St. Pete – Development Developments

— Albert Whitted

— A Big Deal

Pasco – Um, Yes It Is

When the Lights Go On in Our City

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Cash Flow

— Same As It Ever Was-ish

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________


Transportation


— On and On

The referendum lawsuits keep going.

Attorney and All for Transportation chairman Tyler Hudson filed his cross appeals in the bond validation case that is now pending before the Florida Supreme Court concerning the sales tax.

All for Transportation also filed cross appeals in the declaratory judgment action that is pending before the Second District Court of Appeal.

* * *

The legal actions are in response to separate appeals initiated by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and Apollo Beach resident Robert Emerson.

Emerson is asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider the All For Transportation tax bond validation, which would allow the county to have a revenue source. He’s fighting the validation in the capacity as an affected resident.

Emerson’s request follows White’s decision to appeal a judge’s ruling upholding legality of the passed transportation surtax. His appeal is separate from White’s.

As usual, we are not commenting on the substance of the lawsuits.  And, in our opinion, nothing has changed regarding what the County Commission should do.


— HART

It seems HART is doing what the County should be (is) doing – planning like they will have the referendum money under the formula.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has made a priority list to prepare for the $120 million it’s expected to see with the passed surtax.

The authority reviewed the draft plan of its project for the Independent Oversight Committee, as it must submit the list to the group by Sept. 30.

So what made the list?

The recommendations include restoring three shuttered routes. Those are Route 46 serving the Palmetto Beach area, Route 4 in South Tampa and MacDill Air Force Base and Route 41 on Sligh Avenue. Those routes were eliminated after HART had to cut service to balance its budget.

The restored service will cost the agency $4.4 million.

The recommendations also call for 97,000 additional hours of operation including more weekend service with 30-minute bus frequency and expanded weekday service. Those enhancements would cost $2.1 million for weekend service and $3.9 million for weekday service.

The plan also calls for 16 new buses by the end of 2020, which would be needed to expand and restore service.

The HART board on Monday also expressed ongoing commitment to the agency’s downtown and Ybor City Streetcar partnership with the city of Tampa that’s currently under consideration for expansion. They also expressed support for a bus rapid transit study along the Florida and Nebraska Avenue corridors.

Discussions will also continue about the future of light rail in Hillsborough County,

Making a list is the responsible thing to do, and this list seems generally fine, though they just need to make sure they include figuring out how to connect the CSX line to a downtown-Westshore/airport line.


— Ferry Land

As you may remember, way back when the whole South County to MacDill ferry thing began six or so years ago, the proposed South County stop/terminal was to be around Port Redwing – more specifically the Schultz Preserve.  That was OK until environmental groups complained (with some basis) and then the Port, without much elaboration, said that the location was unsafe for maritime traffic. (See, from 2015, “Transportation – The Bizarreness of the Ferry”). Given that, the proponents of the ferry looked to Williams Park on the Alafia River.  But they needed some land owned by Mosaic which Mosaic has no interest in selling.  That brings us to the last few weeks:

Mosaic Fertilizer has offered to donate a portion of its Big Bend Marine Terminal site to the county at “little to no cost” for a Gibsonton-based ferry terminal.

In a letter sent to Merrill on Tuesday, the fertilizer and phosphate mining giant said it has earmarked a portion of land for the project in the southwest corner of its Big Bend plant, which receives, warehouses and ships out finished fertilizer products.

The site, located just south of Port Redwing and west of U.S. 41, already has the waterfront land needed to build the parking and docking structures for a ferry terminal, as well as access to Big Bend Road, the area’s main thoroughfare, the letter said.

Here is the exact location:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

There are a few things to consider.  First, we are not going to speak to the proposal by the operating company a few months ago with the St Pete-Tampa service, etc.  We are only considering the South County-MacDill service, because everything else is a fun-cruise that has nothing to do with transit.

Second, here is a comparison of the sites from a presentation to the County Commission from an August 7, 2019 BOCC agenda:

 

From County Commission 8-7-2019 Meeting Agenda – click on chart for pdf

As you can see (and URBN Tampa Bay also points out here) the Williams Park site serves more existing residents more easily.  It also seems that, even while saying that the road connections are more complicated at Williams Park, the road development cost is higher at Mosaic.  And, as URBN Tampa Bay points out:

The 25 acre (mol) Mosaic site at Port Redwing also offers the opportunity for plenty of parking, a bus terminal, and perhaps even some complimentary development, though we wonder how traffic would be routed to the terminal. As a port facility, there are numerous rail crossings and truck traffic. We wonder if there would be any issues with conflicts there as slow moving trains and trucks maneuver in and out of port facilities. Something like a new roadway in from US41, or viaduct, or reworking of the tracks might be needed to maintain timely access to the ferry terminal. We’re sure all of that will be figured out and factored in before anyone makes a decision.

We are not so sure all that will be worked out (in this process nothing seems to rally get worked out – see a few paragraphs below) but it needs to be worked out and is factored in, especially since the proposers of the ferry want the County to pay for all of the infrastructure.  Of course, if Williams Park is not workable, then it is not workable.  Big Bend is what we have.

Third, that brings us back to the Port.  Is Big Bend workable or are there the mysterious port operations safety issues?

Assuming Big Bend is workable, at least now there is a land that could be used (provided there is money and there are no safety issues).  Whether that means the actual terms of the proposed deal between the operators and the County are actually good is another issue.  The Times does not think so:

This would be an enormous commitment of county resources for what would be largely a closed transit system for MacDill employees. Spending millions to ferry workers to a restricted military base has no broad public benefit. While the ferry would be open to the general public on weekends, offering trips between Tampa and St. Petersburg, the selling point has always been MacDill. That’s why the plan should be funded with federal or private dollars, not an already over-extended county budget.

The latest modification to the deal underscores how many questions are still unanswered after all these years. While the county set aside $22 million to pay for the project through money it obtained from the BP oil spill settlement, the estimate cost rose to $30 million last year. Now it stands at almost $37 million. That figure could even rise at Mosaic’s site, according to material prepared for Wednesday’s commission meeting, because of the need to build access roads at Big Bend.

While we think the MacDill service does have a public benefit, it is not as large a benefit as a system open to other South Tampa users.  Nevertheless, it is a fair point.  The costs for this project keep rising – at least for the County, not for the companies that will operate the ferries and profit off the fun cruises. At some point, the idea fails to make sense.

We are not opposed to the ferry in theory, but we are not sure we buy this particular deal.  We would like all the question we have asked (See for instance “Transportation – Surf and Turf— Ferry”) previously to be answered, especially regarding sharing risk and profit.  And we think the operators need significant skin in the game, especially given the state of the budget the present Commission was left.

In addition to all that, the County Commission did this:

The agency that runs Hillsborough County’s buses should also run its ferries, the county commission decided Wednesday.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 to “transfer” the proposed passenger ferry service connecting MacDill Air Force Base to the southern portion of the county to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

* * *

The four votes in favor of the idea have in the past all expressed doubts about the ferry project. Hagan, Murman and White make up the commission’s Republican bloc. Miller, a Democrat, questions whether ferry service would benefit all county residents.

After the meeting, Murman said transit authority officials did not know in advance that she would make the proposal Wednesday. “But I mean, obviously, they probably felt it was coming,” she said.

Transit authority CEO Benjamin Limmer, who took over in February, said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that he “welcomes” the move.

Basically, nothing has changed except HART has even less money than the County government and more transportation professionals to convince that this proposal makes sense.  And the key issues are the same.


— Downtowner

The Downtowner is still with us.

As of July, funding for the service has run out other than a Florida Department of Transportation grant of $360,000 that must be matched by a local source — such as HART.

“If we don’t make a decision today, it shuts down,” board member Marvin Knight said during a Monday meeting, supporting a move to fund the service. Commissioner Mariella Smith suggested the board reach out to get financial support from various sources before agreeing that HART accept paying the full bill.

HART members agreed to move the item forward during the meeting to execute a memorandum of understanding between HART and the Tampa Downtown Partnership to assist with operating the Tampa Downtown on-demand transportation service through March 31, 2020 in an amount not to exceed $568,000. Although HART will be paying $568,000, it will be reimbursed for a portion and will be able to use the funds for another circulator service in downtown Tampa.

The financial commitment does not include the use of the Tesla vehicles that HART will provide for through 2020.

While we don’t really care about the Teslas, we are happy the Downtowner is still with us, but it needs a long term funding solution.  As URBN Tampa Bay put it:

So what is functionally a free taxi service for Downtown Tampa, paid for by Downtown Tampa property owners, is now being paid for by countywide taxpayers via HART.

Our first thought is the same as every other time we hear about the Downtowner: Too bad the PTC killed the local, private initiative way back when. (See “PTC – They Reiterate They Do Not Care What the Community Wants”) Second, even when the Downtown Partnership paid a good amount, taxpayers were paying.  But it needs to be understood that even if the referendum is upheld, HART will not have money to pay for every idea.  (It is worth noting that the FDOT grant to run the streetcar for free for three years was $2.6 million, or less than a million a year, and it is now carrying many more people.)

We are actually of two minds on the Downtowner.  On the one hand, it is not that expensive and serves a useful purpose.  On the other hand, there is a decent argument that the government/HART should focus on extending the streetcar and buses around downtown and let the small, local rides be left to a private shuttle, Uber, scooters, bikes or, God-forbid, walking.  Honestly, we have not decided yet, but it seems odd that the taxpayers would foot most of the cost of this service when its coverage is so limited.


— Pinellas, Maybe

It seems that Pinellas is thinking again a referendum. From Florida Politics:

Pinellas County residents could know as soon as January whether or not another transit sales tax referendum might land on the ballot.

The Pinellas County Commission is facing a major funding deficit for transportation and transit projects countywide if nothing is done.

A sales tax increase isn’t the only option on the table.

“We haven’t taken a position on that yet on the County Commission,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long. But it remains in question.

Given the last Pinellas referendum, we get them being a little hesitant.  Then again, Hillsborough . . .

So, what are the issues?

The county is facing a more than $130 million backlog of transit enhancements it can’t currently afford and a $392 million in unfunded needs for overall transportation.

That’s not counting the $31.5 million such transit and transportation enhancements would cost annually to operate and maintain.

The county commission is ramping up discussions about how best to fund transportation needs in the county as the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is facing a major budget challenge in the coming years.

* * *

The transit problem runs deep. PSTA is one of the lowest funded transit agencies of its size nationwide. Its annual budget is about $80 million. Other agencies like PSTA run on about $120 million, according to Long. 

It is all in the talking shop stage now, but just remember, even though we are sure there will be people who will claim otherwise, if you want something, you have to pay for it. We’ll see what happens.


Downtown – More Disappointing Encores

There was more news about parcels the Housing Authority wants to sell to private developers. As you may remember, these parcels were held out as being for dense market rate development.  As we have already seen, block 9 is disappointing.  But now we know how disappointing, from URBN Tampa Bay:

We now know the project is 5 stories (with loft on the 5th floor), and features 296 residential units. The parking garage is 8 stories and features 418 parking spaces. Lastly, there is 2,200 square feet of retail space.

They give a nice analysis of the problem:

When considering what makes a complete urban neighborhood, this project is underwhelming at best.

For one, 2,200 square feet of retails space is waaay too little for a project of this size. The project features 273,400 square feet of residential space, meaning retail space is less then 1% the size of the residential portion. This is not a mixed-use project. Encore should not be single-use buildings, they should be mixed-use buildings. That means at least two PRIMARY uses.

In addition, the project is over-parked. Featuring 418 parking spaces for 296 units and a single storefront will probably lead to many unused parking spaces.

The parking garage is also taller then the residential portion of the building (see the southern elevation), which is aesthetically unpleasing.

Lastly, the ground floor of the project does not interact well with the sidewalk. The units have those fenced off patios, instead of being walk-up units.

You can see what they are talking about at renderings here:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

In other words, basically there are no parts of this proposal that are good (and there is no excuse for the garage). Some, though not many, aspects may be OK, but nothing is good.  Not to mention this is the map from the Encore website (just so you can keep track of parcels):

From Encore – click on map for website

That project is hardly high-rise.  It is just very disappointing.

Which brings us to Block 11 (which was planned for hotel/office):

The project is 5 stories and features 223 residential units. There is no retail space in the project.

The project is required to provide 223 parking spaces, and is providing 385 parking spaces. 

Here are some renderings:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

That is an absurd amount of parking, and it is arranged in a foolish way. But there is more. Here is URBN Tampa Bay’s take on this proposal:

Encore has become a big missed opportunity. The density of the development isn’t high enough to make any impact, and the lack of commercial space makes it a single-use no-man’s land. This proposal is woefully insufficient.

If there’s no mixed-use, what’s the point of the Tampa Housing Authority pursuing the development? It’s not making a city, it’s not making Tampa better, it’s just putting another apartment building with the stats of a suburban apartment complex in Downtown. That’s not an accomplishment, much less one which anyone should be proud of.

All of the excess parking simply makes the units more expensive. Another example of cars taking precedence over people in regards to Downtown planning.

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

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


West Tampa – This One, Too

Guida House, the historical residence of George Guida in/next to MacFarlane Park (see here) is in the news.

The Guida House is also on the National Register of Historic Places — for its unique mid-20th century architecture and a namesake who was known as Mr. West Tampa.

Like the Jackson House, the Guida House has been vacant for decades, raising concerns about the future of the structure.

* * *

Fans of the Guida House, at 1516 N. Renfrew Ave. inside MacFarlane Park, say there should be more preservation options available than for the Jackson House. One reason is that the Guida House is owned by the city of Tampa.

“What good is it doing vacant?” said Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco, whose represents the West Tampa district where the Guida House is located. “We need to find a use for it.”

Tampa tried to help once before, issuing a request for proposals 10 years ago. Nothing came of it.

* * *

The city estimates it would cost $1 million to bring the building back to code, Maniscalco said.

“If you had to build this house today it would cost more than that.”

Perhaps, Maniscalco said, the city should seek grants or find a non-profit that can restore and use it.

He would like to see the 5,000-square-foot, two-story structure used as a community center or a West Tampa museum.

We are all for this effort.  The house is quite cool. (You can learn more about it here)  And since the City has it already, there is no reason not to make it useful.  The fact that the City could not get any takers in during/just as we were starting to come out of the recession is not relevant. Much has changed since then.

That is not to say that we are just for speculatively spending money, but searching for a good use is definitely a worthy idea.  Once again, plaques are nice, but real history is nicer.


TGH – Hardening

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding TGH:

Two years ago, the island-bound Tampa General Hospital prepared for the worst as Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Tampa Bay.

Luckily, the Category 5 storm weakened and veered away from the hospital, which serves as the region’s only Level 1 trauma center. It never lost power.

But the storm served as a wake-up call, said Cheryl Egan, the senior vice president of support services at Tampa General.

The hospital’s board of directors approved a $53 million project to upgrade and expand its central energy plant, and equip it with enough power to keep the entire hospital running like usual, even in the event of a disaster.

Frankly, we are not sure why they would need Irma to point out the vulnerability of the hospital.  It is pretty obvious just driving down Bayshore. In any event,

“We installed temporary provisions for generators that can be plugged in and brought to campus to provide 100 percent energy. We rent those generators for about half the year, when we might need them,” he said. “In the event of a hurricane, we store generators at our corporate center, and have them on stand by. If something happens to the bridges to get to Davis Island, we’ve made plans to fly them to the hospital. It’s a fairly thought-out plan, but a boot-strap plan.”

The new 7,300-square foot energy plant will change that. To avoid flooding, Pasteur said, it will be built on the eastern side of the hospital, 35 feet above sea level. It also will house a new fleet of generators and a new set of boilers.

“Even in Irma, we turned the boilers off,” Pasteur said. “They can explode.”

The hospital’s current boilers are located in the basement.

* * *

Construction is expected to start in 2020 and be complete before hurricane season in 2021. In addition, Tampa General is working with Tampa Electric Co. on a multi-phase project to move electrical and gas lines that serve the hospital underground. Recently-passed state legislation calls for public utilities to move much of their distribution lines, the wires that deliver power to homes and businesses, underground to better protect them from powerful storms.

We think that is all pretty reasonable, though we would put the generator clearly above category 5 surge/wave levels rather than just 35 feet.

But there is a bigger issue that goes undiscussed in the article (though we have mentioned it before).  As we are often reminded, TGH is the only level 1 trauma center in the area.   It is on a low island.  The above-mentioned helicopter resupply plan tells you exactly what the problem is.  In the event of a major storm, the hospital may just be cut off from the mainland – for a while.  There is no guarantee the bridges will survive a large storm.

We are not sure what to do about it now that so much money has been invested in the hospital and the cost of rebuilding it somewhere else would be enormous (though they have a lot of land on Kennedy, even if they have plans for some of it), but it is clearly risky to have it where it is.  We get that it is not high on anyone’s list and there is a lot of politics involved (and hopefully the worst case scenario will never come), but it needs to be considered.


Politics/Regionalism – Water

There was a development in the “toilet-to-tap” water supply issue.  From the Times:

A controversial plan by the city of Tampa to produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water by pumping treated wastewater into the Floridan aquifer may have run into an insurmountable legal problem.

A memo from one of the attorneys who oversaw the formation of the Tampa Bay Water regional utility says only Tampa Bay Water can use treated wastewater for anything other than watering lawns. That means Tampa could not legally go forward with using reclaimed water for any other purpose, according to the memo.

“It seems clear that the parties intended to limit the use of reclaimed water by the member governments to irrigation and other non-potable purposes and for Tampa Bay Water to have the exclusive right to utilize reclaimed water for potable purposes,” attorney George Nickerson wrote in the Aug. 5 memo to Tampa Bay Water officials.

And then there was the standard reported discussion:

“This should be the nail in the coffin” for Tampa’s reclaimed water project, said St. Petersburg Councilwoman Darden Rice, a Tampa Bay Water board member who has repeatedly raised questions about Tampa’s plans.

“In a common-sense world,” she said, no one would want to spend another dime pursuing it.

She also predicted the memo would also save Tampa Bay Water from being torn apart by Tampa trying to launch a water supply venture on its own.

However the most vocal proponent of what the city calls the Tampa Augmentation Project, Tampa Councilman Charlie Miranda, pooh-poohed those comments.

“Attorneys are like tires,” he said. “Once in a while one of them will go flat.”

Multiple attorneys have looked at Tampa’s proposal, he pointed out, but this is the first one to say Tampa is legally prevented from attempting it. He said he didn’t understand why his Tampa Bay Water board members seem so deadset against even exploring the project — although he did have a theory.

“I think the taste of our water is going to be so great that it’s going to embarrass everybody over there,” Miranda said.

And that is all interesting.  However, the bottom line is that if the idea is good – meaning the science makes sense and the cost-benefit analysis is favorable – it should be pursued (especially if Tampa Bay Water is the organization that does it).

But that caveat is important.  The coverage of this issue has focused much more on arguments between politicians rather than the actual idea, more specifically the science and the cost-benefit analysis.  That lack of serious information about this project plus the aggressive push for it over time has made us wonder more and more.  Now, the Times tells us:

Critics have dubbed the $350 million project — expected to come online in 2027 — “toilet to tap.” It has faced a string of delays over unanswered questions about whether it would work and whether it would cause harm to the environment.

Well, why aren’t the questions answered?  And why did Tampa push the project so hard if they did not have the science proven and the cost-benefit analysis done? If there is a risk to the environment, is it worth taking for the benefit?  Is there a better/safer way to do it? And how is this project going to be paid for? Who is in line to benefit from the $350 million?  Is that even a reasonable number or is it going to be bigger (we suspect it will be)?  How much will it really cost the City after loans/bonds are accounted for?  How much of a burden on the City budget will that be?  What is the actual projected need for the new water?  What is the hurry? And why can’t/won’t Tampa Bay Water do it instead?

There are more questions, but that will do for now.   We need actual answers based in actual facts.  Institutional inertia (at City Hall) is not justification for a project, especially one this expensive.  If it wants this, the City should make the case (not just to Tampa Bay Water but to the people of the Tampa, who will likely have to pay some way or the other).

We still have no problem with the idea if the science works and the cost-benefit analysis makes sense, but the focus should be on that. (If it does not make sense now, maybe it will a decade or two in the future.  That is OK, too.)  But let’s have some real answers.


St. Pete – Development Developments


— Albert Whitted

There was some interesting news regarding Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Pete.

Historically, a lot of conversations about the future of Albert Whitted Airport have jumped off from the idea of closing the airport and building something else on its prime waterfront property.

“Same old story: It’s an ideal location,” says Jack Tunstill, a longtime Albert Whitted pilot, flight instructor and chairman of the airport’s advisory committee. He hears this less than he used to, thanks to a 2003 referendum in which St. Petersburg voters affirmed the airport’s future as, well, an airport. Still, the idea comes up once in a while. Mayor Rick Kriseman himself floated it in 2014.

Soon, however, the talk will be less about what else could be developed at Albert Whitted and more about what might be developed nearby. The city-owned and -operated airport is putting together its first master plan since 2005. Two topics are expected to get a lot of attention: extending and shifting the main runway and finding space for more hangars.

These are the ideas:

The runway in question is known as Runway 7-25, which goes roughly from southwest, near First Street S, to northeast, out over Tampa Bay. It’s 3,677 feet long and is used for about 70 percent of the takeoffs and landings at Whitted. Most planes that use it are small, carrying fewer than 10 passengers. But planes that need to use the full length of the runway can be required to reduce their weight — either by carrying less fuel, fewer passengers or both.

Adding 263 feet to the runway would help alleviate that problem, according to a feasibility study that American Infrastructure Development of Tampa did for the city in 2016.

Lengthening the runway, however, is only one possible change. Airport officials also are looking at shifting the runway to the east by 1,257 feet, or nearly a quarter mile. That would entail dredging and filling an area of Tampa Bay beyond the current eastern end of the runway at an estimated cost of $13.25 million to $15 million.

The shift has an obvious upside that development enthusiasts have long talked about:

That’s because shifting the runway eastward would allow the airport to move its “runway protection zone,” a cone-shaped area that stretches beyond the end of the runway, onto the airport’s property.

Currently, that protection zone is largely over the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and it limits how tall USF can build. Moving the zone onto airport property, airport manager Richard Lesniak says, could create new development potential to the west.

Sound like a lot? It’s a long-range projection. It’s also one that assumes the maximum amount of potential new or re-development and a huge influx of lucrative professional jobs. The consultants broke it down like this:

Like the Times (see editorial here), we are all for examining the idea.  That does not mean we are sold on it (there are all the usual issues, plus planning for rising seas and the environmental issues with dredging).  But it is worth considering because it would unlock the development potential for a sizeable chunk of land in a part of downtown and St. Pete that could use more development.  If it gets further along, there will be more to say.


— A Big Deal

Which brings us to the second big St. Pete story last week – the mysterious potential development:

A Miami developer is planning what could be a $2 billion project that would transform a now-sleepy area south of downtown St. Petersburg.

The project by Royal Palm Companies would include both affordable and high-end housing on roughly 50 acres bordered by Fourth Street S and Bay Street, and 14th and 18th avenues SE, according to property owners who have been approached about selling. The area just south of Bayboro Harbor and bisected by Salt Creek is currently home to some ’50s-era houses, a few commercial businesses and the Salvation Army’s administrative headquarters for southern Pinellas County.

This is roughly the area .  Note that it is south of Albert Whitted Airport.  It is not clear how any changes in the runways would affect this land.

There is not much public information about this project.  In fact:

City Council member Gina Driscoll, whose district includes the Bayboro area, said she did not know much about the project. She said her main concerns would be its location in a “vulnerable” part of the city and its environmental impact on Salt Creek.

Driscoll noted that many properties near the creek had been neglected over the years. “In general, that’s an area that could be put to better use,” she said. “Whether this (development) is a better use remains to be seen.”

However, in addition to how it interacts with the airport

The city has been trying with mixed success to revitalize neighborhoods south of its booming downtown. However, the low-lying area east of Fourth Street S where the Royal Palm project would go is in a coastal high-hazard zone at risk of extensive flooding. The St. Petersburg City Council is about to consider changes that would allow for increased density in high hazard areas with the caveat that new construction be flood resistant and environmentally friendly.

Hawk said he had attended recent meetings on the proposed changes where Royal Palm representatives also were present.

All these issues – airport, flood areas, redevelopment – seem to be related in this proposal.  Frankly, it is an open question if it makes sense to develop more density in high-hazard zones. (See here)   While we are generally for more density in urban areas (and this is an urban area), unless they raise the buildings and infrastructure, adding more density to such areas seems to fly in the face of warnings about sea level rise and other climate change.  Just look at what happened at the Vinoy and other parts of town last week. That does not mean what it cannot be done, but it is not just buildings but also infrastructure that needs to be hardened.

We have no specific information about the $2 billion potential development.  The fact is that we just do not know.  A $2 billion development is definitely interesting.  We just think St. Pete (and other cities) needs to approach knowingly building more in vulnerable areas with caution. And we look forward to hearing more about the project.


Pasco – Um, Yes It Is

We know Pasco is growing.  We also know it is poorly planned and seems to have learned no lessons from mistakes made in neighboring counties.  Last week, we saw a report about Trinity from abcactionnews (here).  A key point in the story is this:

Business leaders say this isn’t urban sprawl but intentional development in Trinity they hope will entice more people to live and work in this area.

“We have CEO level housing where the leadership of companies and can reside. We have workforce housing and everything in between,” said Bill Cronin, President of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

Even more development is coming to this former cattle ranch previously owned by the Mitchell family, with hundreds of new homes being built too.

Of course, they are talking about the “massive Village at Mitchell Ranch plaza at the corner of State Road 54 and Little Road.”  Which looks like this:

From Welcome to Trinity – click on picture for website

And you can see the surrounding area here.

It may have mixed levels of housing, but the only way to describe that is sprawl, though it is suburban (not urban) sprawl.  It is also another reason why we do not think Hillsborough County, where at least a good number of people (if not everyone) have learned from the mistakes of the past, should settle for the lowest common denominator in transportation planning with surrounding counties.


When the Lights Go On in Our City

In one of the better ideas FDOT has had in while:

The Florida Department of Transportation is in the process of installing about 1,800 colored LED light fixtures on the Sunshine Skyway bridge, FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson said in an email Friday. The Skyway lighting project has been in progress “for many years,” Carson said, and should be completed in about a month.

* * *

Although the lights are mainly an interesting addition to the bridge’s aesthetic, they also will help with safety and security in lighting the underside of the bridge, which “is very dark now,” Carson said.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

We look forward to it.


Rays

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


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State


— Cash Flow

If you like big projects and look forward to seeing them built, you should be aware of this, from the Orlando Sentinel:

Orlando area developers will be scrambling over the next four months to raise capital from international investors before new Trump Administration regulations for the EB-5 visa program take effect Nov. 21, according to a report in GrowthSpotter.

The new guidelines published last week nearly double the investment threshold for EB-5 projects from $1 million to $1.8 million. Projects located within qualified Targeted Employment Areas would require foreign nationals to invest $900,000, up from $500,000.

“There’s going to be a big push to get as many investors filed as possible in the next 120 days,” Orlando immigration attorney Edward Beshara told GrowthSpotter. “So the developers have to get a whole team of EB-5 professionals and lay out a plan of action.”

Beshara estimates that about 40 percent of existing or future EB-5 investors could get priced out of the system.

(Article here.) It may or may not be relevant to your favorite project.


— Same As It Ever Was-ish

And then there is an article from Curbed (admittedly from April) about growth in Central Florida.  You can read the whole thing here), but this is the conclusion:

While the future does look bright for this part of Florida, the narrative is pretty consistent with what we’ve seen in the past: a housing boom built on cheap land and car-centric planning—and an influx of retirees. The region’s transportation infrastructure will groan under the weight of tens of thousands of new drivers entering the workforce each year, and the dearth of dense, transit-friendly, affordable apartments will strain the regional housing market with new demand (per the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Orlando metro area currently has only 13 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households).

The central Florida boom has been predicted before (thankfully, the attempt to coin “Tamplando” and “Orlampa” didn’t take hold). The new jobs and affordable homes offer a welcome antidote to the nation’s concentration of opportunity—and rising housing costs. But the story of growth, though with different characters in a different setting, tends to be the same as it ever was. And that’s cause for concern.

It is an interesting take. You can read it (and look out the window) and decide for yourselves what you think.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Now that scooters are all around us, it is worth asking if they are a net positive or negative for the environment.  The MIT Technology Review had an interesting piece about that:

The study concludes that dockless scooters generally produce more greenhouse-gas emissions per passenger mile than a standard diesel bus with high ridership, an electric moped, an electric bicycle, a bicycle—or, of course, a walk.

The paper found that scooters do produce about half the emissions of a standard automobile, at around 200 grams of carbon dioxide per mile compared with nearly 415. But, crucially, the researchers found in a survey of e-scooter riders in Raleigh, North Carolina, that only 34% would have otherwise used a personal car or ride-sharing service. Nearly half would have biked or walked, 11% would have taken the bus, and 7% would have simply skipped the trip.

The bottom line: roughly two-thirds of the time, scooter rides generate more greenhouse-gas emissions than the alternative. And those increased emissions were greater than the gains from the car rides not taken, says Jeremiah Johnson, an engineering professor and one of the authors of the paper.

Read the rest of the article here (study is here) and draw your own conclusions.

Roundup 8-2-2019

August 1, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Taxing

— Anything But What Makes Sense

Hyde Park/Downtown – UT

Downtown – Like Old Times

Built Environment/Westshore-ish  – How Not To Do It

West Tampa/Built Environment – History

Airports

— That’s Cheap

— UPS

Economic Development – Incubator Money

Tourism – How About the New Tampa

Rays

Because We Can

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Self-Driving Cars

— That Other Obvious Thing

— Sydney Trams

______________________________


Transportation


— Taxing

With the referendum lawsuits still out there and the loudly announced news that the County does not have the money for the past county Commission’s $800 million road plan, the present County Commission is looking for ways to pay for transportation.

Commissioners voted 6-0 to suspend the transportation surtax from the county budget. The tax is estimated to generate millions of dollars for certain transportation-related needs.

Even with the limited way the surtax could be spent, there will still be a shortfall, Public Works Director John Lyons said during the Thursday workshop meeting discussing the county budget.

So what are the ideas?

The likelihood of the Florida Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the county’s one-cent transportation tax by the final budget hearing is slim at best, Lyons said. And until that happens, the county can’t take a gamble on a favorable ruling.

Lyons presented the board with four options for funding the transportation shortfall. Increasing the county’s fuel tax by 5 cents would bring in an estimated $29.8 million in revenue for the county each year, Lyons said. Increasing the county’s communication services tax from 4 percent in the unincorporated areas to the maximum 5.22 percent would generate an additional $5.9 million each year, Lyons said, and levying a 10 percent public service tax on county services such as water and electricity would bring in up to $80 million each year.

Commissioners balked at the idea of increasing the countywide millage, voting instead to keep rates no higher than the current levels next fiscal year.

The county will continue to fund its existing transportation projects, but it will not embark on any new initiatives that rely on property taxes for funding.

Those are all ideas.  And if you want stuff you have to pay for them.  But let us remember how we got here:

The area’s current comprehensive transportation needs total $2.58 billion for safety, maintenance and congestion relief, according to the presentation. Out of the $2.58 billion, $249 million has been spent to date.

And

The county is facing a shortfall when it comes to funding the laundry list of transportation projects that have gone neglected despite years of urban sprawl and exploding population growth, said Public Works Director John Lyons said.

County Administrator Mike Merrill had hoped the commission would use some of the new transportation tax revenue to pay for previously-scheduled road projects that are now funded by the county’s dwindling reserve of property taxes. Merrill said the county should do that every year to reduce the budget deficit and free funds to address a backlog of other needs, such as expanding fire service.

In other words, promises were made that could not be kept and needs were ignored while money was spent on other things (like to subsidize sprawling developments that brought us things like TopGolf, which is now opening in St. Pete without any subsidy.)   Now the Administrator wants to use the referendum, which was passed for specific purposes, to pay for the things that previous County Commissions did not provide.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the surtax identified exact percentages for projects, being driven by revenue rather than actual need.

“It flies in the face of good financial planning,” Merrill said, stating it is frustrating because it doesn’t weigh in priorities of projects, and created deficits where the county doesn’t want them.

We are sympathetic to the Administrator’s problem of trying to provide things that his previous bosses promised without being given the money by his previous bosses to pay for them, but we think he has it a bit wrong.  First, the referendum exists because previous Commissions would not pay for things the voters considered priorities.  The referendum money was intended to pay for those priorities.  He does not have to agree with them, but that is clearly the case.

Second, the entire purpose of having categories in the referendum is to make sure the things promised are paid for.  One can speculate what the voters wanted but the only facts are that 1) the referendum with the formula passed by a decent margin and 2) in the same election the voters chose a quite different County commission that supported the referendum with that formula (and 3) there was no referendum endorsing the $800 million plan). It is fair to assume that the formula amounts are the voter priorities, at least for that money.  And those priorities include road money already.

Third, it flies in the face of good financial planning to promise what you cannot pay for and to take money from needed services to subsidize sprawl, pay for pet projects, and do all manners of things the County Commission did for years.  It also flies in the face of good financial planning to develop with the most expensive development pattern when you do not have the money to pay for the needs created by that pattern.  We understand that responsibility for that rest with past Commissions, but that does not change the fact that the situation was untenable.

It will take a lot of time, energy, and, yes, money, to fix the poor decisions (and buck passing) of past Commissions.  The referendum is part of that, but only part – and is to fix very specific things.  Much more will have to be done.  Thankfully, the Commissioners collectively seem to understand that.


— Anything But What Makes Sense

When last we checked in with TBARTA it was going to study hyperloop’s application to transit in this area (hint: extremely questionable).  In certain people’s never-ending quest to not study the most obvious and tried and true solutions for moving large number of people (hint: rail and real BRT on arterial roads) we now have this:

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long told members during a Friday TBARTA committee meeting that there are two opportunities that she wants the board to further discuss, one being the idea of a cable-propelled transit system, also considered gondolas — a concept that has been brought up before and now may be on a future TBARTA agenda to discuss as well as sky taxis.

Long didn’t mention details on the sky taxi system, but said she’s had conversations with Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano about the possibilities.

Sky taxis can go from the rooftop of the Tampa airport to downtown St. Petersburg in six minutes, Long said to the other TBARTA members.

In other words, sky taxis are basically like taking helicopters across the bay.  That does not really sound like mass transportation (nor are we sure about the idea of having a large number of passenger carrying drones flying around the airport).

She said the Tampa Bay area is attractive for sky taxi testing as the companies could take off Tampa and land in St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport going over water, making it safer.

“The problems they are having at Dallas-Fort Worth is where they [would] take off and fly over a very congested area,” Starkey said. “That route, Tampa-St.Pete is a good test route,” she said, stating that’s what Bell Helicopter told her.

Tampa to St. Pete-Clearwater Intl. may be a good test route for technical issues but it is a test route of almost zero utility to the vast majority of the population.  Maybe Raymond James and Franklin Templeton could sponsor it. (We do wonder how these drones will fare in our summer weather.)

How likely is this?

A Tampa airport spokesperson confirmed that Long did speak with Lopano about the concept of sky taxis, but the airport does not currently have an upcoming meeting with any sky taxi companies.

It’s an area a lot of companies working in this space are looking at for vertical takeoff and landing, the airport spokeswoman said, stating it’s an area the airport is watching but there isn’t anything imminent at this time.

Who knows and who really cares?  It is a private initiative.  If they can get it to work and make money from flying people around, great.  But it is not mass transit. (And mass, long distance gondolas which we also mentioned seems a bit ridiculous).

It would be nice if TBARTA would actually look at the real needs of the area and try to come up with solutions for them.  It seems that all the “reform” of TBARTA accomplished was making TBARTA even less relevant to real transportation planning and solutions.

All this silliness is just another reason Hillsborough should not be tied to the lowest common denominator with regional transit idea.


Hyde Park/Downtown – UT

There was news about more building at UT.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The University of Tampa is proposing a new one-story research building at 909 West Kennedy Blvd. where a surface lot is currently located.

Specifically, the project would get rid of the current 1-story structure connected to the larger brick building in the back. The new structure would be built on that current structure’s parking along Kennedy, while the new structure’s parking would go in the back where the current structure sits.

This appears to be on the lot in front of the old Verizon building here.

Here is a rendering and site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

We like the fact that the building is being brought up to Kennedy, and this project does address Kennedy a bit better than other UT structures, but we wish the density was higher for such a prime piece of land.

We agree about the density. However, to our eyes, this proposal, like many other UT buildings on Kennedy, seems to have no actual door onto Kennedy (near Kennedy, but not on Kennedy).  Its Kennedy frontage is mostly fenced, like most of UT.

UT has really improved the school and their campus in the 2000’s. But if we had one complaint it would be that sometimes it seems that UT is determined to not really interact with its immediate surroundings.   We get the idea that a campus should be a sanctuary and learning and study, but there is a nice middle ground between being an island and being completely open.


Downtown – Like Old Times

URBN Tampa Bay had some news of a small project downtown right next to Jackson House (see map here and some pictures of how close here):

An Enterprise Rent-A-Car proposed for Downtown Tampa will go before the Tampa City Council on Thursday:

As you may know, Downtown Tampa has what is called a form-based code. In simple terms, this means that land use is primarily regulated by design as opposed to use. Downtown Tampa’s form-based code does not typically require a hearing before the Tampa City Council. However, when a project proposed within Downtown Tampa is rejected by city staff, the applicant has a chance to appeal before the Tampa City Council to override the staff decision.

This Thursday we have one of those rare appeals. The structure and some surface parking at 608 North Nebraska, owned by the Accardi Brothers, is proposed to be turned into an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Staff has rejected the proposal for a few reasons. First, the “auto rental” use has 4 performance standards that must be met for approval:

“(1) Auto rental shall be limited to noncommercial automobiles, SUV’s, and vans;
(2) No more than twenty (20) rental vehicles shall be stored on the property at one (1) time;
(3) Storage areas for rental vehicles shall be located within an enclosed building or on the second (2nd) level or higher of a multi-story structural parking garage; and
(4) Accessory uses may include car wash, cleaning, and preparation and minor vehicle repairs for rental vehicles only, and such activities shall only occur within an enclosed building or on the second (2nd) level or higher of a multi-story structural parking garage.”

Sec. 27-184.1.

The staff comments note that these standards have not been met by the proposal. From looking at the site plan, it appears as though Enterprise wants to store vehicles outside.

There also appears to be an issue regarding the lot’s former use. It appears the land had been used previously for car rental/storage. It appears as though Enterprise is making an argument that this proposal is a mere renovation, and therefore they shouldn’t have to come in compliance with the 4 special code requirements listed above, which were created after the last car business on the property came into being. However, city staff has noted that the previous car business on the property was acting illegally without proper approvals. Therefore, the city is arguing that this is not a renovation of a past approval, but instead a brand-new project that must conform with today’s code requirements.

The project is also seeking a waiver for narrower drive aisles in their parking lot, and the vacation of the existing alley.

Here are some renderings:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, setting aside any thoughts about the use of the land, the design, if you can call it that, is terrible.  The walls are mostly blank and uninviting with actually fewer features than the existing structure. There is no pedestrian protection.  Basically it is a nothing box – classic old, cheap Tampa.  We get that the existing building is no work of art, but renovations should make it better not worse, though in past history Tampa had a number of downtown “renovations” that did just that.

Second, as UBRN Tampa Bay points out:

As you can see from the site plan, most of the project’s land area is surface parking, which is inappropriate for Downtown. Also, the surface parking comes all the way up to the historic (and collapsing) Jackson House. What’s the point of keeping historic structures around if we are just going to take them out of their historic context by surrounding them with surface lots?

We also don’t see how a car rental lot with a surface lot contributes to good live, work, play environment. As you will see from the renderings, the proposal does an awful job of interacting with the street. Most of it is just blank wall.

Not only is this project really bad, the fact that it could have, in theory, sneaked through without a vote in downtown is ridiculous.  Of course, it does not matter when this happens:

BREAKING: The Tampa City Council APPROVED the Enterprise Rent-A-Car for 608 Nebraska Avenue in Downtown Tampa. The vote was 6-0. Carlson was absent.

URBN Tampa Bay is right about this:

It’s rather disappointing the council is willing to waive development standards in order to approve a sub-standard project, regardless if it’s a existing building or not.

Some mention was also made that this lot, despite falling within the CBD zone, is in a part of of the CBD which is somehow “different” then the rest of Downtown, and that the standards should be lower.

Just because this part of the CBD isn’t as developed as other parts of the CBD, doesn’t mean it should have lower design standards. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to lower development standards due to an area not being as nice. That’s all you’ll ever get.

Pretty much.

The low standards and low expectations so many of our elected officials really have for our area as evidenced in the votes always kind of amaze us (especially to undermine staff’s working to maintain rules).  There is so much hype and then we get things like this.  Really poor, Tampa.  Really poor.


Built Environment/Westshore-ish  – How Not To Do It

While this building has actually been under construction for a while, URBN Tampa Bay gave us some details:

Men’s Warehouse in Westshore will relocate to make way for Midtown Tampa. The store currently along Dale Mabry just south of I-275 will move just a block away to a new building under construction at the southwest corner of Dale Mabry and Cypress. The site plan is attached.

Here is the site plan

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

You can click on the picture to see a much larger site plan. The plan is not that clear but it appears that the store will face the parking lot in the back, not the street. This was URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

While we like how the new buildings are being brought up to Dale Mabry, though it may not matter if it is only the back of the building.

They are right, and this is not the first time this faux urban design has happened in Tampa. A few years ago, there were some developments on Westshore just south of Spruce that were planned close to the street. (Here)  However, they faced back into the parking lot.  Before that there were a number of office buildings built around town up to the sidewalk with no door facing the street.  We thought Tampa had learned. But maybe not.

Moreover, why is there a curb cut in that plan?  The lot is bounded by two side streets.  There is no need to break up the sidewalk.

It is just not that hard to plan something this straightforward properly and make it work.  All it takes is the caring and not being lazy.  Then again, when the Midtown plan was approved with a large and unnecessary surface lot right on Dale Mabry, we should not be surprised.  Just remember that if the City does not care, neither will developers.


West Tampa/Built Environment – History

Last week, we discussed the goings on at the Santaella Cigar Factory and issues with the renovation.  We said this:

Tampa is not the same place it was in 2006.  It is all well and good to go on and on about our cigar making past and call ourselves “Cigar City,” but we have already demolished so much of our history.  Instead of just having lectures at the History Center, it would be far better to protect at least the exterior appearance of the few remaining factories that were the key infrastructure in that history.  Just another thing on the City Council’s plate.

This week:

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder said he will ask at Thursday’s council meeting to have the city’s legal department investigate options for historical preservation of all Tampa’s cigar factories.

Two of his colleagues on the council agree a discussion is needed — Guido Maniscalco, who represents West Tampa, and Charlie Miranda, who lives there.

We do not know what they will come up with, but we are all for that effort.  While there should be limits on just how much is declared historical and worthy of preservation, something are quite obvious.  In Tampa the cigar factories are high on the list (especially when we have to deal with situations like this, which are further discussed in the Times article here).


Airports


— That’s Cheap

It turns out that:

Looking for cheap flights? Domestic airfares at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport average $126.14, the eighth least expensive among U.S. 416 airports during the first quarter of 2019.

Nationally, the average fare was $352.06, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The averages are based on round-trip airfares or one-way flights where no return trip was booked. Domestic airfares at Tampa International Airport averaged $311.32.

Of course, if you look at the list from the government (here) it becomes fairly obvious fairly fast (and fairly unsurprisingly) that small airports served by only one or two ultra-low cost carriers have the lowest average prices. (Not surprisingly Orlando-Sanford and Punta Gorda, both with a big Allegiant presence like St. Pete-Clearwater were also very cheap)  And that is fine for St. Pete-Clearwater, except it leaves them vulnerable to problems with that one airline.

More interestingly, the average fare at Tampa (311.32) seemed a good bit higher than the average at Orlando (260.89) or Ft. Lauderdale (265.01). (You can see a list of Florida airports in a Business Journal article here)  While they are both hubs/focus cities for low cost carriers, that still seems a big difference, as there also seems to be with a number of international flights.


— UPS

In more regular airport news, which we kind of knew:

United Parcel Services will be in a new and larger space at Tampa International Airport.

The new UPS warehouse building will be more than double the current space at 41,000 square feet. UPS’s current 17,640-square-foot warehouse space is in Suite S at the North Cargo Building. However, that will become Airside D, a 16-gate international airside in Phase 3 of the airport’s $2.6 billion master plan expansion.

As a result, cargo operations are being relocated to 70 acres east of the main terminal.

Airport officials will discuss a new ground lease for UPS during the Aug. 1 meeting as its current lease ends June 18, 2020. The initial term for the new ground lease is for 20 years. There are two, five-year renewals. If approved, the agreement will have a termination date of Aug. 1, 2049.

While Amazon is moving to Lakeland, this is good news for the cargo business. We look forward to all these changes and the new airside that should be built where the cargo planes are parked now.


Economic Development – Incubator Money

There was news about the Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator in St. Pete:

The Trump administration on Monday awarded Pinellas County $7.5 million to help build the planned $12 million Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator just south of downtown.

* * *

Pinellas County commissioners have agreed to put up the remaining $4.5 million for the project, a 45,000-square-foot facility to be built on 2.5 acres currently owned by the city. The site is at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and 11th Avenue S in the Brookside Park neighborhood.

The proposed location is here.  The area is primed for redevelopment so, aside for the incubator aspect, this facility could be very useful.

“There’s just so many opportunities that a facility like this can bring,” said Tonya Elmore, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nonprofit organization that has a county contract to provide incubator services to startups and growing companies. The new facility will be big enough for the center and its incubator program and should have space for public gatherings, too. Elmore also is looking to bring in a 3D printing prototype lab and advanced manufacturing capabilities so that tech companies can show prospective investors and clients examples of their products.

* * *

Local officials have estimated the 2-story building will take 12 to 16 months to design and another 20 months to build. Within its first nine years, the incubator is expected to work with three cycles of new firms, creating or growing an estimated 150 companies along the way. Greenwood Consulting Group has estimated that the incubator should be supporting 1,265 jobs and generating $127 million annually by its fourth year. Local officials have projected those jobs will pay average salaries of about $54,000 a year.

While that would be nice, we do not necessarily buy into those projections.  Nevertheless, having a dedicated facility for an incubator will be a good thing and having the federal government pay for the majority of it is even better.

There is one thing.  This is the rendering included in the article:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The building looks ok, but given that they still have to design it, the rendering is more conceptual.  However, as URBN Tampa Bay notes:

. . . we can’t help but point out that the asphalt surface parking lot which dominates this rendering is anything but innovative.

Since they still have to do the 12-16 month design phase, they may want to address the parking and also make sure they treat any frontage on Booker Creek, which already has some very cool segments and should become a central and connecting feature of Central St. Pete once the Trop land is redeveloped, properly.  There is still time.  Be innovative and do it right.


Tourism – How About the New Tampa

The Times ran an odd little article entitled “Is Tampa the new Miami for tourists?

As tourism analyst Chris Klauda was on her way from Tennessee to Tampa, she chatted with a fellow traveler: “a classic millennial.”

“She told me Tampa was the new Miami,” Klauda said during a Thursday morning presentation to a group of Hillsborough County hoteliers.

That one comment notwithstanding, the simple answer to the question is “No.”  Mayor’s media team which forwarded the story in an email take note, Tampa is Tampa and Miami is Miami. (When an internationally known figure says they are “taking their talents to South Howard” or something similar and everyone knows what they mean, then maybe they’ll be the same.) They may have some things in common, but they are very different, especially tourism/reputation-wise.  And that’s OK, though we would like more international flights and tourists and a higher profile.

The rest of the article is devoted to how the tourism industry in this area is doing fine, along with most of the state, though there is the possibility of rough patches. You can read it here.


Rays

This week’s Rays article is here.


Because We Can

The Business Journal had another of their aerial construction photo collections.  We decided to post two.  The first is an example of lost opportunities at the Westshore Marina District:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Yes, other parts of that development will be better, but the large section pictures is not an urban, walkable design at all.

The other picture is the JW Marriot, because, well, it is not a waste of perfectly good land near the waterfront.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As some may know, TBARTA has a twitter account and a weekly email newsletter with links to various articles of apparent interest to TBARTA.  This week they had a link to an article about Pittsburgh’s new BRT line (here).

As some of you may remember, Pittsburgh has a bus transitway that has been held out as a (flawed) model for some local bus service.   But, as we have noted before, the new Pittsburgh BRT line is not in the transitway.  In fact, it is along surface, arterial roads. We are not going to get into all the details about how the Pittsburgh line is nothing like TBARTA’s “BRT” plan, but it is nothing like that plan. The Pittsburgh plan makes sense.  You can read more about it here, here, and here.

Now we know that TBARTA knows what real BRT looks like.  They have even less excuse for the “BRT” plan.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— Self-Driving Cars

There is more news about the issues facing self-driving cars (autonomous vehicles) like this:

Ford Motor Co. Opens a New Window. , General Motors Opens a New Window. and other carmakers Opens a New Window.  are pouring billions of dollars into developing autonomous technology Opens a New Window. as companies come to the realization that launching the self-driving vehicles will be much more difficult than previously envisioned.

* * *

The fear is that the offering will be too difficult to develop and the firms will be forced to license software from Google or Apple, effectively giving those companies ownership of the customer interface and, subsequently, all the data that is collected. While companies may make some profits off of providing mobility services like ride-sharing, the major revenue stream for self-driving cars will be in the user information they gather.  

In other words, self-driving cars will be another means to get and profit from your information.

Or this, this or this.

The fact is that the more you read about it, the more you realize that wide-spread self-driving cars for everyday driving are a long way off. As we have often said, we are fine with testing, especially on a closed track.  However, real transportation solutions for today and the foreseeable future should not be dependent on a technology that does not exist and probably will not exist for a long time.


— That Other Obvious Thing

And at the nexus of drone-taxis and self-driving cars is this:

Cybersecurity has quickly become a priority for large corporations, businesses, and individuals alike in recent years. It seems like another major data breach is being reported every other week, and personal online accounts are often compromised by malicious actors. Now, a new study out of the Georgia Institute of Technology has found that hackers may soon be able to cause major traffic problems in the real world by hacking and stranding internet-connected cars.

The study’s authors theorize that hackers would only have to shut down a portion of cars on the road in a busy city like Manhattan during rush hour to completely shut down traffic and gridlock the city. Researchers hope that their findings will spark a more detailed analysis of automotive cybersecurity, especially moving forward as cars become more and more high tech.

(Full article here) And this

The Department of Homeland Security issued a security alert Tuesday for small planes, warning that modern flight systems are vulnerable to hacking if someone manages to gain physical access to the aircraft.

(Full article here) And that hacking will only get easier if aerial vehicles are remotely controlled.

This is just one more major reason to be a little cautious about autonomous vehicles.


— Sydney Trams

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting story (here) of how Sydney, Australia, got rid of its tram network in the 1950’s.   We are not going to get into the details, but it sounds strangely familiar.

Roundup 7-26-2019

July 25, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Appealing

— HART

Channel District – Storage

Downtown – Moving Forward-ish

South Tampa – More Altura

West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Another

Palmetto Beach – Something New

Hyde Park/South Tampa – Berns

Economy – A Looksee

— Employment

— Housing

West Tampa – This Could/Should Be Better

Rays

Because We Can

__________________________


Transportation


— Appealing

As anticipated, the referendum lawsuit(s) are going to the appeal stage.

A lawsuit challenging Hillsborough County’s one-cent transportation tax is going to the Florida Supreme Court.

Bob Emerson, 65, of Apollo Beach, filed an appeal Thursday regarding the tax’s bond validation, a process in which a judge decides whether the county can borrow against the new revenue source. Its purpose is to reassure potential lenders that the tax money used to repay bond holders won’t be challenged in the future.

Commissioner Stacy White followed with an appeal of his own Friday morning in a separate lawsuit. White’s case challenged the constitutionality of the tax, arguing it usurped power from county commissioners.

The two suits, which each asked a court to decide whether the tax was legal, were linked and heard by the same judge in May.

* * *

Appeals in bond validations skip the district court of appeals and go directly to the state Supreme Court. White’s case would go next to the second district court of appeals, but the commissioner said he is asking that his appeal bypass the district court so it can travel through the legal system alongside the bond validation.

Once again, we are not going to get into the substance of the legal actions.

However, interestingly, events last week revealed that if the appeal wins, the County lacks the money to pay for all the road improvements the previous County Commission promised. (Funny how that works) So all those people who really want road improvements may want to think hard about what they really want to happen.

We anticipated the appeals, so they change nothing in our view. The County Commission should continue its process of adopting the formula in the referendum.  If the referendum is upheld on the appeal, they will be set to move forward.  We have ideas of what to do if the referendum is stuck down, but we will get to that if we need to.


— HART

Let’s assume for a minute that the referendum is upheld and the County Commission endorses the referendum formula.  The Business Journal recently had an interview (here) with the new HART chief that covered a number of things, but we will focus on priorities if HART has the money from the referendum.

What’s a sneak peek at your wish list? It’s everything people have been clamoring for over the years. First and foremost, expanded bus service. That’s going to be a balance of investing in the current bus routes and where are the highest amount of ridership is, as well as balancing that with providing expanded bus service to the entire county. But a few years ago, bus service was reduced. So we’re going to first take a look at what bus routes were cut, and which ones of those are the most feasible to bring back. To support all the bus service, we are also going to launch a bus shelter expansion program. We are going to be looking at modernizing our transit centers as well as building new ones. We are also going to start the development process for some of the projects that take a little longer. We are most excited about both modernizing the downtown street car and expanding it to the Heights. It’s something we are partnering with the city of Tampa on. We’re also going to evaluate the feasibility of putting rail on the CSX line. And then we are looking at other high quality Bus Rapid Transit Systems.

This community has done plan after plan after plan. But now, we can plan with intent and purpose. We have money. We understand there are a lot of great ideas. A lot of people have told me, don’t do another study. We’ve studied everything. My response has been, well I need to study what has been studied because we can’t do it all in year one. We need to identify what’s most important and what transportation challenges we’re trying to solve, and then, let’s go do it. I’ll provide you what the community thinks, how feasible it is, and where we go from here. And I really want to do that on the CSX line so we are going to dig into it, evaluate it, find out what kind of operation we could have, what kind of train. What type of improvements do we need to make to the tracks to make it an efficient option. So that particular evaluation is going to be part of the program of products that we submit to the independent oversight committee. Gandy. Downtown. USF, is the primary trunk line that we are going to look at. 

Not surprisingly, this is similar to much of what the Mayor has said. And it is fine as far as it goes.  However, as we have said a number of times before, one thing that we really think needs to be included in any CSX plan is figuring out how to connect the Gandy to USF “trunk” line (more likely Hyde Park to USF, but we won’t quibble) to the airport/Westshore.  The connection between the airport/Westshore to downtown and on is key to any true transit system in Tampa/Hillsborough County.  He needs to add it to his list of things to work on.


Channel District – Storage

As you may remember, there was a proposal for 111 North Meridian that included a 15 story apartment building and a self-storage facility.  It was rejected.  The developer sought permission to reapply with a proposal that did not need any waivers.  That was recently approved. (see here)  Because in the reapplication the project will not need waivers, it will probably sail through.  We find that unfortunate.  As we have stated before, self-storage is not really a good use of this land, even if the developer tries to dress it up a bit, which this developer admittedly did.  Sure, the design could be worse, but the use should be better.

Interestingly, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The current code allows self-storage projects in the Channel District, with certain conditions. The main condition is self-storage can only be built in the Channel District if it is part of a mixed-use project and that the storage use makes up 40% or less of the project’s floor area.

A motion was made today by Councilman John Dingfelder to revise the code to possibly ban self-storage in the Channel District and revisit the Channel District code in general. We support such a code change.

In general, we oppose storage outside of industrial and rural areas. Self storage is a warehouse, and warehouses belong in industrial areas. Self storage does not contribute to the vibrancy of live/work/play urban environments. They are pedestrian dead zones, unsightly, and encourage hoarding and over-consumption among the population.

People also only typically drive to self storage uses, so it is not a major inconvenience to have someone drive 5 minutes to industrial areas to the east for their storage needs.

We completely agree (especially since there are industrial areas very close to the Channel District).  Self-storage does not really belong downtown or in the Channel District and other urban areas.  The code should have been changed long ago.  We are happy they are going to look at it now.


Downtown – Moving Forward-ish

There was news about the large apartment building proposed 102 E. Tyler.

Development Ventures Group, or Deven, paid $7.3 million for the nearly 1-acre surface parking lot at 102 E. Tyler St. in late June, according to Hillsborough County property records. The developer has also secured a $64.8 million mortgage from Fifth Third Bank.

The seller was McKibbon Hospitality, which filed the original plans for apartments on that property earlier this year. McKibbon had owned the land since 1999.

As you may remember, this was the proposal on the odd lot in between the 275 ramp and Tampa Street and had dorm style apartments.

The apartments will be on the larger side for downtown Tampa. Plans filed with the city show that Deven is planning to build only 188 apartments with a total of 537 bedrooms and 425 bathrooms. By comparison, the 23-story Nine15, which is about two blocks from this site, has 362 units.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While the design is not the highest architecture, but it is decent filler on a complicated lot.   It is way better than a Burger King with a driver thru, the future possibility for which the City Council should remove from the Code while it is looking at self-storage.


South Tampa – More Altura

Last week, we discussed the Altura condo project proposed near Bayshore and Bay to Bay.  The original rendering was quite generic.  Now we have some more drawings.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

First, while the new rendering is not super exciting, it is better than what was initially released.  It still has a couple of issues. First, it is odd that the entrance is on a side street (Barcelona) and the frontage for the more traveled street (Ysabella) is just a landscaped parking garage wall. We are not sure why that choice was made.  While we do not necessarily think a building in this location is going to have a fully activated streetscape, there is enough activity on this street that just having a parking garage with no entrance is not the best.

Another interesting thing is that the parking of the building itself is under the building.  On the lower levels it appears fully covered but the screening gets a little thin higher up.  There is also a garage in the back for the office building next door that appears to be close to the condo building but free standing.

In short, the newer information is better than the initial release.  While not exciting, the monumental aspect of the tower is ok, but there are some things that still should be fixed.


West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park) – Another

There is another proposal for “North Hyde Park.”  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A new residential project has been proposed for North Hyde Park called The Crossing at North Hyde Park. The project features a 6-story, 264-unit apartment building at 1102 West Carmen Street. The proposal provides 348 parking space, while an obscene 397 parking spaces are required by the code (meaning a waiver is sought).

The project features no retail space. The project will vacate the end of Fig Street as it dead-ends into CSX railroad tracks.

The developer also reached out to URBN Tampa Bay to explain their ideas (a summary of which are in the comment section of the URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page):

. . . These preliminary renderings and site plan are simply to kick off the development process and should in no way be taken as “final” designs.

The developer is targeting a more attainable price point with this project then what is currently available in the neighborhood, at least among the new construction multi-family projects recently built in the area. Also, the lot is a difficult one, due to its obtuse shape and the CSX tracks to the east. These two points – the targeted price point and the lot – make the design process a bit tougher than other projects. The developer plans to work with URBN and others in the neighborhood to get the project to a point where everyone can be proud of it.

Here are some renderings and a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You can see the area here.

This is a slightly tricky project on an oddly shaped lot that abuts train tracks.  Our initial reaction is that the design is pretty generic.  In fact, almost all the “North Hyde Park” projects look basically the same.   It would be nice to have some variation.

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

We appreciate that they do not want to have so much parking and have little problem with that aspect of their request.

We are not sure whether the lower price point is for students or to make the area more accessible to others.  However, it is good to have some offerings at a lower price point, as long as a certain level of quality is maintained.  We also do not think that changes the need for a little retail.

In short, a few tweaks should make this project acceptable.  It is not going to be a landmark, but not all projects are.  However, it can be made better for the good of the project and a rapidly redeveloping neighborhood.

A final note: we hope the City Council will finally address a vision and design standards for this area.


Palmetto Beach – Something New

For those who do not know, Palmetto Beach is an old neighborhood south of Ybor City and Adamo on the north end of the Hookers Point peninsula. (See map here)  While it is close to a number of developing areas, it has not been particularly active.  Now there is a new proposal.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A developer is proposing a 4-story mixed use project at 2020 Oakwood Avenue in Palmetto Beach. The project features 31 apartments and 6,500 square feet of restaurant and retail space.

82 parking spaces are required according to code and 62 spaces are provided (meaning a waiver is sought).

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for

As URBN Tampa Bay says:

Palmetto Beach has been described in some circles recently as a new frontier in Tampa’s urban redevelopment. We like this project. We like how the buildings with ground floor retail are brought up to 22nd Street, Oakwood Avenue, and Maple Avenue. We like the mix of uses. Hopefully this project will serve as a model when developers in other parts of the city say they can’t incorporate retail. (like the project recently denied along Gandy).

There are a series of waivers being sought, but none of them look concerning to us. The necessity of these waivers is more a product of the suburban-style code in this part of the city, then it is a bad project design.

Frankly, we wish more projects looked like this. We recommend approval.

We like this proposal, too. It is not large, but it is well thought out and fits the neighborhood. While there is surface parking, it is screened by retail/office on the street. The design is not earth-shattering but it has clean lines and is not in the North Hyde Park generic apartment style. And it can serve as a catalyst for Palmetto Beach’s redevelopment.

And it was approved.


Hyde Park/South Tampa – Berns

There are new renderings of the proposed small hotel by Berns.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

As we have previously reported, the 4-story hotel is proposed for 1234 South Howard Avenue, directly across the street from The Epicurean. There will be 43 hotel rooms in the 4-story structure, along with 8 suites which will be built inside the apartment buildings which currently sit on the front portion site.

The project’s next ARC hearing is August 5th.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture to post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture to

Really, there is nothing new but the color (and mural). While we are not really enamored with having two curb cuts and car openings in the Howard frontage, overall it looks fine.


Economy – A Looksee

Time to check in with the economy again.


— Employment

The new unemployment numbers are out.

Florida’s unemployment rate stayed at 3.4 percent from May to June, and the state added 16,100 jobs over the month (up less than 1 percent). It has gained and 218,800 jobs since last June (up 2.5 percent).

Business and professional services, which includes the financial service sector, added the second-most jobs between June 2018 and last month (40,500 jobs), following education and health services (54,700 jobs).

The growth in jobs for the sector is because of a strong talent pipeline from as early as high school, PNC economist Abbey Omodunbi said. He said that’s especially true for Tampa Bay, the “financial services capital” of the state.

Of course whether those services are lower pay back-off (the traditional strength in Tampa) and call center services or the higher pay jobs is a question.  In any event, growth is good, but

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate rose to 3.5 percent in June from May’s 3.1 percent. Hillsborough County’s unemployment rate jumped to 3.4 percent from 3 percent, Pinellas County increased to 3.2 percent from 2.9 percent, Hernando County jumped to 4.7 percent from 4.1 percent and Pasco County increased to 3.8 percent from 3.4 percent.

The bay area lost 7,500 jobs over the month (down half a percent) but has added 29,300 jobs over the year (up 2.2 percent), the second-highest annual job gain of any Florida metro after Orlando (48,600 jobs). 

We are not sure for the latest job losses, but hopefully that is just a blip. Also of note:

Tampa’s job growth numbers are the second-highest in the state among metropolitan areas. 

Industries with the highest growth include professional and business services, which added 7,200 new jobs, education and health services with 5,700 new jobs and construction with 5,000 new jobs. 

Tampa had the highest job demand of all state metro areas with nearly 60,000 posted job openings, according to the state’s data.

That would seem to indicate that the talent pipeline is not where it needs to be (as would the Tampa Bay Partnership’s scorecard). Moreover,

Of those, nearly 20,000 were for high-skill, high-wage jobs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. That’s also the highest job demand rate in the state. Tampa Bay area leaders and its various economic development boards target STEM jobs through things like tax credit incentives and job training initiatives. 

Once again, there are STEM jobs that are high-skill, high-pay.  But there are other things that often get lumped into the STEM category that are not so much – like tech company customer service jobs.  It is unclear what mix makes up the 20,000.  It is also unclear why, if population growth is so high and the area is such a draw, there are so many openings rather than having them filled with transplants if the locals do not have the needed skills (though it should be remembered that what might be higher pay here may be lower pay elsewhere and the opportunity for advancement may be more limited here than elsewhere).


— Housing

Then there is this:

According to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions, average earnings in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties fall considerably short of the annual income required to buy a house, based on a 28 percent front end debt-to-income ratio and 3 percent down.

The average resident in Hillsborough County earns slightly more than $54,000, compared to a required annual income (for a house) of $58,258. In Pinellas County, the average income is $49,000, less than the $60,284 required to buy a house. In Pasco County, the average income of $39,000 falls short of the required annual income of $44,877.

Housing has become less affordable within the past year. Median home price has grown by 6.8 percent year-over-year in Pinellas County. Pasco County has had 2.1 percent year-over-year growth in the same category, while the median home price in Hillsborough County increased by only 0.6 percent.

The report is here.  And there are mixed new numbers on sales:

According to figures released Tuesday by Florida Realtors, Pasco had the biggest decline in house sales in June, down nearly 8 percent from the same month a year ago. Prices rose 3.8 percent, to a median of $230,000.

Here’s how other bay area counties fared:

Pinellas — Sales down 7.4 percent, prices up 3.2 percent to a median of $275,000.

Hillsbrough — Sales up 3.2 percent, prices down about 1 percent.

Hernando — Sales up 11.3 percent, prices up 5.8 percent to a median of $179,900.

And this:

As a result, Bay area home shoppers are looking away from Tampa and St. Petersburg, turning their attention instead toward the more affordable suburbs. Data from the Opendoor app shows that the most buyer interest and activity occur in ZIP codes in Riverview, Brandon, Carrollwood/Northdale and Valrico. Homes are selling quickest in Largo, Town ‘n’ Country, Bloomingdale and Lutz.

Transportation is already a big cost in the area.  The farther away from jobs people have to move, the more expensive it becomes, especially with few alternatives and with FDOT (and some others) committed to variable rate toll lanes as the main means of improving to transportation infrastructure. When addressing talent, these are also issues that need to be discussed.


West Tampa – This Could/Should Be Better

A while back a development company (see here) bought the Santaella Cigar Factory at 1906 N. Armenia (map here). From 83 Degrees Media in September 2018:

Mike Hettrich isn’t a big believer in fate but he’s pretty sure fate has something to with his recent acquisition of the historic Santaella Cigar factory on Armenia Avenue just north of Interstate 275 in West Tampa.

The Chicagoan and his partner, Phil Farley, purchased the century-old building about six months ago, immediately after year-long negotiations on an Ybor City cigar factory fell through. 

* * *

Hettrich, who is a carpenter by trade, has been overseeing the roughly $2.7 million worth of construction and renovations on the property. Additions include new windows, a paved parking lot, and a steel and glass entryway that flows into the old brick building. “We’re trying to create the juxtaposition of clean and modern with the old,” Hettrich says. 

* * *

“Anything we’re pulling out we’re reusing,” Hettrich says. “Our insurance company made us take down the block wall around the building because it was falling into the sidewalk. We took it down surgically and then cleaned all the stones and piled them up where the walls are to rebuild with the same stone.”

Santaellla has also built a reputation as an artist’s commune, where creatives can find affordable rent. Perhaps most importantly, the new owners say they won’t raise rents on any existing tenants.  

Rebuilding the wall with the original materials is good, but it seems the overall plan has not turned out exactly as portrayed.  From the Times back in January:

Despite repeated warnings, Hettrich failed to obtain permits for the work or to certify that new electrical work is safe, according to city authorities. On Friday, artists who rent space in the Santaella building were ordered to vacate and power was shut off.

It marked the third time the city ordered construction on the project stopped.

Hettrich said he thought he had all the proper permits and sees the delays as a part of doing business. He said the work now under way will restore each factory to its former glory.  

* * *

This includes rebuilding shaky walls, he said, and adding a new events center.

City officials remain skeptical.

“We don’t know the extent of their work or the potential risk,” said Dryden, with construction services. “It is impossible to know if it is safe.”

Said Tampa Fire Marshal John Reed, “There were conditions inside that met the definition of being immediately dangerous to life and health.”

Fire sprinklers were covered, stairways had no rails, and electrical modifications were never inspected by the city, Dryden said.

Hettrich’s record in construction also has the cigar factory advocates worried.

He is still facing a felony charge in Pinellas County from October 2017 that he did contracting work without a license. In 2015, his Artisan Group in Cook County, Illinois, was ordered to pay a client nearly $424,000 over fraudulent construction services. And last February, his business partner Phil Farley pleaded guilty to negligently causing the release of asbestos in the development of St. Petersburg’s Urban Style Flats apartments.

We do not know the details of any of that so we are not going to get into it.  But, this week, URBN Tampa Bay re-posted a Facebook post protesting the painting of the brick exterior of the building white. You can see the post here.  This is one of the pictures included:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Also note the first floor window replacements. As you might guess, most of the comments were against the repainting. That drew a number of responses from the developer, including this:

Good thing it’s our building, our money, and our decision. The building has been in Tampa since 1902. Plenty of time for anyone who thinks they have the right to dictate design choices, to buy it themselves. For that matter, if these buildings are so treasured by the city and its residents, why doesn’t the city step up and rehabilitate them. Looks like we’re the only ones willing to take the risk. While everyone tries to give input from the sidelines. Reminds me of my favorite quote…

First, we are sympathetic to not making things exceptionally difficult for developers who want to invest money and improve an area, though they should not have carte blanche. And we are cognizant of the property rights. Though we are also cognizant of community interest in certain buildings and the general environment of their area.

And everyone is entitled to their opinion.  However, let’s just say sometimes the expression of that opinion lacks some nuance.

But more to the point, this is a complete failing of the City to deal with historical buildings. First, how do they not really know what is going on inside the building?  Second, why are there no protections for the cigar factories?

In 2006, the City Council considered declaring all of Tampa’s cigar factories historic landmarks but a group of owners argued successfully that the move would infringe upon property rights.

Linda Saul-Sena, a member of the City Council at the time and a backer of landmark designation, said it is time to reconsider that decision.

“Instead of looking at the greater good of the community, the city administration was afraid of making property owners angry,” she said. “When you buy a cigar factory you have a responsibility to protect it.”

Which is why we agree with this:

“We have to do anything and everything within our power and the limits of the law,” said Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who represents West Tampa. “They are the castles of our neighborhood.”

One option, he said: Have the city declare all cigar factories historic landmarks, providing some level of government oversight. Neither the Santaella nor Pendas factories carry this designation.

Typically, it is property owners who seek out landmark status, but it comes with a burden: Changes to the exterior must follow city guidelines meant to preserve its original appearance. Owners do have access to preservation grants.

Historic designation does not preclude modernizing the interior, but Maniscalco said landmark status might scare owners from cutting corners that could endanger the buildings.

Tampa is not the same place it was in 2006.  It is all well and good to go on and on about our cigar making past and call ourselves “Cigar City,” but we have already demolished so much of our history.  Instead of just having lectures at the History Center, it would be far better to protect at least the exterior appearance of the few remaining factories that were the key infrastructure in that history.  Just another thing on the City Council’s plate.


Rays

Here are this week’s Rays links. Here, here, here, here, and here.


Because We Can

Finally, a couple of update pictures of Water Street from the Accountant at SkyscraperCity.

Here’s a closer-up of 815 Water Street:

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for

And the big view:

From the Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Roundup 7-19-2019 – ish

July 17, 2019

Due to circumstances beyond our control we are posting early this week, too.  But, hey, it’s still summer.

Contents

Governance/Transportation – About that Tax

Downtown – Interesting

Downtown – Mid

Downtown/Channel District – A Publix That’s Not a Publix

South Tampa – Another

Channel District – Park and Planning

Planning/Transportation – Bottlenecks

Governance – Garbage

Transportation – Future World

And, Once Again, the Trees

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

________________________________________________________


Governance/Transportation – About that Tax

Now that the Court has ruled on the AFT referendum (though there is still the possibility of some more legal activity), the County Commission is addressing where the money from the referendum goes.  On Wednesday,

The Hillsborough County Commission approved a measure today to draft an ordinance for public hearing to implement All For Transportation’s language. The vote was 4-3.

While the intent of the majority of Commissioners may be clear, that means there will be more debate about it.  That means it is worthwhile discussing the argument for keeping the formulas, specifically in the context of a budget issue raised by the County Administrator for Wednesday’s hearing.

Following the [formula] vote, County Administrator Mike Merrill will present the Fiscal Year 2020 County Administrator’s Recommended Budget. The proposed budget mentions the 1 percent transportation surtax, as the administrator is recommending that the adopted budget include an appropriation of transportation surtax dollars to fund $31 million in transportation projects that otherwise would be funded with ad valorem revenue.

Why?

The move, Merrill said, would help balance the budget and tackle a growing deficit. “I have been telling the board this for two years now that we were reaching a point in the unincorporated general fund where it wouldn’t be sustainable,” he said.

First, we are all for a balanced budget (and we also get balancing the budget is a tough job when, like previous County Commission, your bosses do not pay for what they want and keep kicking things down the road.)  Additionally, it should be noted that the past two years had a different County Commission that maintained a policy of cutting taxes (see here), subsidizing sprawl, not collecting proper impact fees, and generally ignoring problems while promising things that were not adequately funded.  The $31 million budget hole was left by said actions by the previous Commission.  (It is not the Administrator’s fault.)

If the board agrees to reinstate the percentages, there could be issues with Merrill’s plans to use the sales tax money to help pay for the $812 million of road projects.

The plan would work in the short term. The 2020 budget proposes that only $31 million of the sales tax be spent on that existing project list, which includes resurfacing, safety and intersection projects.

But if commissioners continued to use sales tax dollars to pay for those projects down the line, as Merrill suggests, the county would run into an issue with predetermined spending allocations. Those percentages only allow for up to 15 percent to be spent on road widenings, Merrill said, which would leave about $500 million of road projects unfunded.

“We would have a lot of underfunded transportation projects,” Merrill said. “The board would either have to find a new funding source, raise millage or cut services.”

And that is fine for this year, if, as it seems, the items fit in the formula. However, there is the bigger issue of spending over time.

A little history is instructive:

Long before the sales tax campaign was launched, commissioners in 2017 approved a 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that would be paid for with property taxes and existing county revenue. It was a compromise agreed to after the commission rejected a 30-year, half-penny sales tax surcharge the year before.

But Merrill said the policy always allowed for those projects to be paid for with other sources, not just existing county dollars. “At the time of discussion,” he said, “the board anticipated if a transportation sales tax were passed, that would be an eligible funding source.” 

But recall, from 2017:

A majority of Hillsborough County commissioners agree the day is coming when the county will have to make a sizeable investment in buses and other forms of mass transit.

But Wednesday was not that day.

Instead, commissioners voted 6-1 for a 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that is heavily focused on road work. First-year Commissioner Pat Kemp, whose top issue during the 2016 campaign was transit, was the lone dissenter.

The outcome was largely expected. The decision last year to set aside hundreds of millions from existing county revenue was billed as a stopgap measure meant to fill potholes and pour concrete. It was a compromise agreed to after the commission rejected a 30-year, half-penny sales tax surcharge.

“What we have here for today is by design a roads plan,” commission Chairman Stacy White said.

With the vote, the county will over the next decade spend $276 million on road and bridge maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as building and widening new roads and improving traffic signal systems.

That sounds like they had the money designated and were not relying on some future transportation tax.  But, apparently, they did not have the money, and the whole plan was another can the Commission kicked down the road:

The county used property tax money primarily. That drained money from the police, fire, and public safety areas that Merrill referenced.

“It was supposed to be a stopgap,” he said.

So how exactly were those Commissioners going to pay for the $800 million if there was never a referendum or the referendum failed?  At the Wednesday Commission meeting, while discussing the budget, numerous people said the $800 million road plan was based on assumptions about the growth in property tax revenue – one Commissioner said “enormous growth assumptions.”  They did not have a firm funding source. Unfortunately, the revenue growth does not seem to have matched projections and the deferred investment in other things is coming due.  Needless to say, that is a very poor way to plan a 10 year program, especially when you are also failing to fund needed services.  Even worse, it was done when we recently had one of the worst recessions in our history.  (What was funded was apparently funded by robbing Peter (public safety) to pay Paul (roads))

(An aside: It is completely disingenuous to claim that using the referendum money consistent with the formula is holding up projects on the $800 million plan list.  If there was money to pay for those items before the referendum, it should still be there.  And if there wasn’t any money, then those items were not going to happen and are not being held up.)

Then there is the referendum itself.  Let’s look at the language:

Section 11.05. Distribution of Surtax Proceeds. The Surtax Proceeds shall be deposited in a dedicated trust fund (the “Trust Fund”) maintained by the Clerk and distributed in accordance with the following formula:

* * *

Section 11.07. Uses of General Purpose Portion. For any Agency that the Clerk reasonably estimates will receive five percent (5%) or more of the Surtax Proceeds in a given calendar year, such Agency’s share of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended by the Agencies for the planning, development, construction, operation, and maintenance of roads, bridges, sidewalks, intersections, and public transportation (which, for purposes of this Section, may include any technological innovations such as autonomous vehicles and related infrastructure), to the extent permitted by F.S. § 212.055(1), and include expenditures in the following categories:

(1) Maintenance and Vulnerability Reduction. At least twenty percent (20%) of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended on projects that: (i) improve, repair and maintain existing streets, roads, and bridges, including fixing potholes, or (ii) reduce congestion and transportation vulnerabilities.

(2) Congestion Reduction. At least twenty-six (26%) of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended to relieve rush hour bottlenecks and improve the flow of traffic on existing roads and streets and through intersections. Expenditures in the category described in this Section 11.07(2) may include projects that improve intersection capacity through the use of technology, the construction of new intersections, the redevelopment of existing intersections, and may include related infrastructure such as roundabouts and turn lanes. Projects described in the foregoing sentence do not constitute New Automobile Lane Capacity, as defined in Section 11.07(8) below.

(3) Transportation Safety Improvements. At least twenty-seven (27%) of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended to promote transportation safety improvements on existing streets, roads and bridges.

* * *

(5) Remaining Funds. Any remaining portions of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended on any project to improve transportation in the applicable Agency’s jurisdiction to the extent permitted by F.S § 212.055(1) and this Article.

* * *

(8) Limits on New Automobile Lane Capacity. Agencies are prohibited from expending any funds from the categories mandated by Section 11.07(1), (2) and (3) above on New Automobile Lane Capacity. For purposes of this Section 11.07(8), “New Automobile Lane Capacity” means projects that consist of (i) adding additional lanes for automobile traffic to existing roads or streets that are not related to intersection capacity improvement, or (ii) constructing new roads or streets.

It is not true that the referendum does not have a large amount of road money already. Under the formula, about 39.4% of the revenue (54% General Purpose x 73% from subsections 2, 3, and 5) from the surtax is specifically for roads, though not necessarily all the kinds of road projects included in the $800 million plan.

And it is also not true that sticking to the formula will stop road expansion in the County.  The formula restrictions only mean the money raised by the referendum will not be used for general road expansion. While poor planning and poor policies have left many needs, the referendum as written covers some.  There are still all the other County revenue sources that are now used for roads to cover other road needs.

If a road project fits is in the referendum formula’s road money, fine.  Spend it.  Otherwise, no.  Just stick to the formula.  Then find money elsewhere for the items in the $800 million that cannot be funded under the formula.

That leaves other needs, but those needs were going to be there anyway.  Funding them will require creativity and discipline.  It may also require deferring some things, including some road projects we want until later.  No one said fixing all the problems that have built up over years (if not decades) of poor policies would be quick or easy.

Finally, regarding the will of the voters, the referendum was passed based on a formula.  Whatever plans may have existed in the past, that is the only referendum that was passed.  Some may not like it, but that is a fact.  The County Commission should make that formula stick as much as possible, and the money should go for what was intended (including road projects, if they fit into the formula).  We know that is just the first step to fixing the mess the previous Commission(s) left us in.  But it is the proper first step.


Downtown – Interesting

Fresh after getting people excited because of the CapTrust demolition, there was some odd news from Riverwalk Place:

The developers of Riverwalk Place have stopped taking reservations for condos in the 50-plus story tower planned for the downtown riverfront.

A statement Friday attributed only to “Riverwalk Place” indicated the halt was temporary and did not stem from any major problems with the project.

“Now that the tower will be all residential, the designers are updating floorplans,” the statement said. “Once complete, buyers can reserve those updated plans. We continue to market the project, and potential buyers have always been welcome to visit the sales center to learn all they wish.”

Meanwhile,

“A developer’s job is to fill demand,” Feldman said at the time, “and the demand tells us people want condos.” He said prospective buyers already had reserved nearly $70 million worth of units with required deposits of $25,000.

Frankly, we do not know if that is the full story or there is something else going on. While not unprecedented, it is a bit odd.  On the one hand, if they are coming up with better product that will make them more money, it would be a wise thing to do. On the other hand, it could be cover for pulling back on the project (though it would be unusual to do the demolition while pulling back on the project.)

As we often say with this project: we shall see.


Downtown – Mid

The long proposed (and partially redesigned) Modera project got a key approval.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Modera Tampa, an 8-story, 375-unit apartment project proposed for 1000 North Ashley Drive (the Times Building parking lot), received a tree removal variance last week in order to move forward.

The project was first proposed 2.5 years ago. The project has been delayed multiple times but was never killed off. With this variance acquired the project should be ready to move forward and break ground sooner rather then later.

We are a bit disappointed with the development in this part of downtown generally, though this proposal is better than some others that have been built.  As we said back in February:

We did not like the first iteration.  While not excellent, this one is better.  It has more units and more retail (laid out in a rational way along Tyler). It still has a relatively dead wall on the north end (the picture where the garage doors are), but every project with a garage is going to have some dead street space.  The key is to minimize it.

In short, the revisions are ok.

Nothing has really changed.  This is better than much of what got built before, but is not quite where we would like things to be.


Downtown/Channel District – A Publix That’s Not a Publix

While we really do not get that excited about following every retail announcement, we know some do, so:

Publix, which owns the GreenWise Market brand, has signed a lease for 26,000 square feet of space on the ground-floor of 815 Water Street, a twin-tower residential project now under construction.

We knew they were getting a grocery store.  now we know what it is. If you are interested in more information, you can read more here and here.

In further Water Street news:

Three weeks ahead of schedule, Coastal Construction paused Wednesday to mark the topping off of the 26-story JW Marriott hotel in Water Street Tampa and serve the 400 construction workers on the job a lunch of barbecued pork and chicken.

The structure topped out at 291 feet above sea level, according to Strategic Property Partners, the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment development company for Water Street Tampa. It’s been about 15 months since developers broke ground on the $200 million-plus hotel, which is scheduled to be done next summer and to be ready to host NFL executives for Super Bowl LV in February 2021.

From the Times – click on picture for article


South Tampa – Another

Another condo proposal was announced for South Tampa.

A Naples-based developer today unveiled plans for Altura Bayshore, a 22-story tower at Bayshore and Bay to Bay boulevards. That brings to four the number of condo towers announced in the past few years for one of the city’s prime waterfront areas.

* * *

Solomon said his company’s project will be “a little different” from other new towers in size and price. Units will average around 2,500 square feet and range from the “low millions” to $2.9 million. That compares to larger units and top prices of around $5 million at Virage Bayshore, which is nearing completion, and the Sanctuary at Alexandra Place, where construction recently began.

* * *

“It’s almost like what people find in a gated community in the ‘burbs but we’ll offer that downtown with a view,” Solomon said. All 73 units will have front-to-back floor plans so residents can watch sunrises over Hillsborough Bay and sunsets over South Tampa.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

We are fine with more development in this area. This lot has had proposals before, and there is a condo tower under development nearby. This is nothing out of the ordinary.

However, we really hope that rendering is a placeholder.  While we can’t say anything about the amenities or interior (which very well may be great), the building in the rendering is about as generic a condo building as we could imagine.  We hope they do something to make it better.


Channel District – Park and Planning

Work has started on a new City park in the Channel District. From URBN Tampa Bay:

The city of Tampa is beginning construction on a new city park along Madison Street, directly next to The Channel Club.

While the park will be a good addition, it was a huge missed opportunity to not put retail space in The Channel Club facing the park (left side of the photo). It would have made for some nice outdoor restaurant/cafe space directly on the park. Instead, it’s parking garage dead space.

You can see their point from a picture they included:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It could not be more obvious.  The park will be bounded by a cement wall and parking garage.

When we say do not settle now because buildings will be with us for decades, this is exactly what we mean.  We are all for more parks, but a little foresight and you can make it a truly special.


Planning/Transportation – Bottlenecks

The Times had an interesting article on bottlenecks in Hillsborough County.

Recently, a story circulated of Tampa’s 50 most congested roadways. That data was from 2010. So we asked the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization for more updated information.

This ranking was calculated by comparing actual traffic counts on the roads over the last three years with the amount of cars a given road can withstand for average travel times. Roads that scored above a 1.5 make for “unreliable travel times,” said Beth Alden, the Hillsborough MPO’s executive director.

The list highlights shorter sections of road so officials can “flag bottlenecks,” Alden said, or sections of road that may be poorly designed to accommodate the amount of traffic they generally have.

This is the list:

  1. County Line Road from Dale Mabry Highway to U.S. 41
  2. Boyette Road from Balm Riverview Road to Bell Shoals Road
  3. I-275 from Armenia Avenue to Ashley Drive
  4. Westshore Boulevard from Gandy Boulevard to Swann Avenue
  5. Interstate 275 from Dale Mabry Highway to Armenia Avenue
  6. Van Dyke Road from Dale Mabry Highway to Simmons Road
  7. Gunn Highway from Van Dyke Road and S Mobley Road
  8. Hutchinson Road from Ehrlich Road to N Mobley Road
  9. Lithia Pinecrest Road from Bloomingdale Avenue to Boyette Road
  10. Courtney Campbell Causeway from Eisenhower Boulevard to Memorial Highway

The article includes maps here.  Four of the items (including #10) are highways or exits.  They are no surprise. One, Westshore, is in the City of Tampa and sort of on a grid, but not fully.

The other five are in the County and are built using the arterial road in a swirling mess of subdivisions model.  Not surprisingly, they are congested.  This is just another example of arterial roads and lack of grid failing to provide proper circulation.  If you shove all the cars on a few roads with just as few connections to alternative routes, you get congestion.  It is not rocket science, but it is a failure of planning and governance. (And it is part of the reason we have the problems listed in the first section above.)

It is just another past practice the County government needs to change.


Governance – Garbage

Speaking of failures at the County:

Hillsborough County will soon sign a new contract with its garbage collection vendors and there could be some changes coming in how often residents’ garbage will get picked up:

It could go from twice a week down to once a week.

There’s a good financial reason to make that change, county officials said. But that deal doesn’t smell good to some residents.

* * *

Why make a change? Going to once-a-week collection could lighten the burden on waste disposal companies and cut costs anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, said Hillsborough County solid waste director Kim Byer.

“It’s the same trash, the same volume,” she said. “It’s just condensed into one day.”

On the other hand, garbage would accumulate over a week instead of two or three days.

If anyone has been the unfortunate recipient of the missed pick-ups (see here), they know once a week pick-up is a bad idea.

Garbage collection is a pretty basic service.  Doing it twice a week is really not that big a burden.  You can read the full Times article here for the whole discussion, but it seems to us that the change is not worth the savings, especially when you consider garbage sitting for a week in Florida heat and humidity.


Transportation – Future World

As you may remember, the Legislature gave TBARTA some money to do some research, like this:

Planes, high speed trains and autonomous automobiles are just the beginning for Florida transportation.

But a slow and steady effort has been building for over three years in the Tampa Bay area to bring a new kind of transit tech to the scene: hyperloop.

There may be some government officials sitting around thinking it might be cool – unless of course it springs a leak and everyone in the tube dies or other assorted catastrophes (see here and here), but we know of no building effort or groundswell of interest.

If hyperloop may not be the future, maybe we are better off planning for all those automated cars.  Well, you should probably check out an article featured by URBN Tampa Bay here from Fast Company (article here). The basic gist is this:

Just before Uber’s IPO in May, court documents were unsealed relating to a lawsuit filed against the ride-sharing company in 2017 by Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit. In these documents and in testimony during the case, which was settled in 2018, a rare candid view into what auto and tech industry insiders actually believe about autonomous vehicle (AV) development emerged.

Simply put, Uber—and, as it turns out, many other automobile manufacturers—have been wildly overpromising.

Starting around May 2016, Uber projected in public and private presentations that it would manufacture 13,000 autonomous vehicles by 2019, only to change that forecast four months later to over 75,000 units. The company also said that human safety drivers, who take over the wheel when an AV needs help, would not be required on its cars by 2020. And in 2022, the company declared, tens of thousands of fully self-driving Uber taxis would be in 13 of the largest cities.

As it turns out, even Uber didn’t have any faith in these claims. According to the released court files, nobody at Uber vetted its AV deployment figures, which Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, described as nothing but “hypothetical scenarios.” He added, “They are assumptions and estimates. I don’t think anything in this document would be described as accurate. It’s a set of knobs you turn to try to understand parameters that you need to try to meet.” Perhaps more damning, the Uber employee responsible for the forecasts said that while she was designing them, executives had asked her “to think about a way” to show accelerated Uber AV development.

Regular readers know we had little faith in any similar claims.  We are sure that, at some point, automated vehicles will have a role in transportation (some day), but there is no reason to think that the need for real transit is going to be replaced.  By all means, do research, but don’t believe the hype.


And, Once Again, the Trees

Recently we discussed trees in the context of climate change and a new state law.  URBN Tampa Bay then posted a nice graphic about the usefulness of urban trees.   We liked it so much, we figured we would post it, too.  And note, this is about shade trees, not palm trees no matter how pretty they may be.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

A lot of it is obvious, but, for whatever reason, people seem to forget it.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

The New York Times had a very interesting, though not at all surprising, article about the impediments to solar energy in Florida.

Florida calls itself the Sunshine State. But when it comes to the use of solar power, it trails 19 states, including not-so-sunny Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

Solar experts and environmentalists blame the state’s utilities.

The utilities have hindered potential rivals seeking to offer residential solar power. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying, ad campaigns and political contributions. And when homeowners purchase solar equipment, the utilities have delayed connecting the systems for months.

You can read it here.

The Times riffed of the New York Times article with an editorial (here) which noted:

Consumer advocates are pushing a constitutional amendment proposed for the 2020 ballot that would allow Floridians to pick their electricity providers from a competitive market or give them more options to produce solar energy themselves. As of Wednesday, the proposal had almost 340,000 signatures of the 766,200 it needs to make the ballot. The ballot language still must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for Aug. 28.

Policy choices are best left to the political arena. But the constitutional amendment effort shows hundreds of thousands of Floridians want more energy choices. Solar is a natural, promising resource for Florida that should shape the state’s energy future.

Indeed, it should be a law, not a constitutional amendment.  This issue is crying out for a law giving people choice and freeing the market while helping Florida create a more sustainable, innovative, and economical electrical system. It would be very odd if risking explosive decompression in a hyperloop tube is fine, but widespread homeowner-driven solar energy is just too much.

Roundup 7-12-2019 – ish

July 10, 2019

No, you are not mistaken.  For a variety of reasons, Roundup has been posted a bit early this week.  It is summer, after all.

Contents

Tampa Heights –That’s a Surprise

Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

Downtown – Addition by Subtraction

Transportation

— St Pete BRT

— About Those CSX Tracks

— Gandy

Airport – A Little More

Port – Another

Economy/Economic Development – Spread the Wealth

And Again the Trees

Parks and Recreation

— Outside of Downtown

— Inside of Downtown

Economic Development/Ybor City – Cool

Economy – How Dynamic?

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

___________________________________


Tampa Heights –That’s a Surprise

You may remember that the developers of the Heights proposed an 8-story parking garage/hotel/retail block south of the block on Tampa Street where they are building two office buildings.  Well, they have revised that plan.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: Sprouts Farmer’s Market has been announced for The Heights District in Tampa Heights and the development is also adding a 25-story hotel/apartment tower to their plans.

The block, bound by Oak, Tampa, 7th Avenue, and Highland Avenue, was originally proposed (and approved) with a hotel, retail space, a parking garage which would serve a large portion of The Heights, and a grocery store topping out at 8 stories.

Now, the developer has revised those plans to include a 25-story tower, which would include the hotel portion and a new residential portion of the project. Specifically, here is how the block’s plans are being revised:

“a. Added Apartment Use- 273 Units
b. Hotel Rooms increased from 150 to 153
c. Retail increased from 7,400 sf to 8,664 sf
d. No revision to 30,000 sf grocery
e. Parking Spaces in Garage decreased from 1,572 to 1,433″

The lot is here. The apartment/hotel tower’s height is listed as 260 ft., which may seem to some a little tall for the area but there actually is a building two blocks away on Oak not that far from around 200 feet tall.  There is no reason this area should not have some density, especially if the streetcar is going to be extended.  We have no concerns about the height.

Also note:

Sprouts’ banner is shown on the elevations included in the new site plan. The inclusion of a specific grocery banner doesn’t necessarily mean that the developer has an official deal with that grocer; it could mean that negotiations are underway. It could also be conceptual, meaning that the grocers are targeting a specialty grocer similar to Sprouts.

On the other hand, making such a representation in a public document without any basis would be a bit odd.

Here are filed drawings and a site plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

First, the good.  Of course we like the increase in hotel rooms and the addition of apartments.  We like having a 25 story building.  We like that that building faces Highland.  We like the grocery store and other retail.  We also like the decreased parking.

On the other hand, we hope that the hotel/apartment building has a little more design that the initial drawings.  Needless to say the drawing of that building is quite bland and we are not sure Tampa is the best place for apartments without balconies.  We are also not sure the garage entrance on Tampa is the best idea.  We understand they have loading docks on Oak and the garage entrance on Tampa but we would rather have the part of the building facing Tampa be fully activated without curb cuts (especially if Tampa is going to have streetcar or BRT).

That is about as much as we can say right now.  We think the idea has a lot of promise and with a little work can be a very nice addition.


Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

1001 Water Street has broken ground.

Water Street Tampa has started construction on downtown Tampa’s first new “trophy” office tower in more than a quarter of a century, developers said Tuesday.

The project, a 20-story building at 1001 Water Street, will rise next to the new 13-story building nearing completion for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. It is expected to be complete in late 2021 and will have about 380,000 square feet of office space and retail, a green plaza shared with the USF medical school and a rooftop terrace.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This building fits very nicely into the overall development (and notice actual shade trees). We look forward to seeing it rise (and are curious who the tenants will be).

Plus

A massive overhaul of Sparkman Wharf is underway, and SPP also anticipates several other groundbreakings this year, including boutique hotel Edition Tampa and residential towers 1010 Water Street (475 units with ground floor retail) and 1077 Water Street (378 units with ground floor retail). A parking garage for both of those residential towers as well as the medical school will begin construction along with those towers.

They are definitely keeping busy (though we wonder about the size of that garage).


Downtown – Addition by Subtraction

The Riverwalk Place is progressing, sort of.

The developers of the 53-story Riverwalk Place will begin external demolition of the CapTrust building, a process expected to take more than a month and affect traffic patterns in downtown Tampa.

The developers — a partnership of Tampa’s Feldman Equities and West Palm Beach-based Two Roads Development — said on July 2 that they will begin external demolition on July 8. Internal demolition of the building has been under way since at least early May.

On July 5, the developers said via a spokesman that the demolition would not begin July 8.

Even with a small delay on external demolition, demolition is progressing.  However,

The developers did not say when vertical construction of the tower, which is set to include 288 high-end condominiums on top of parking and retail space, might begin. The tower has $90 million worth of condos reserved, the development team said in a May 2 Instagram post. The units are priced from the $600,000s to $2 million.

Hopefully, construction will closely follow demolition.


Transportation


— St Pete BRT

The St Pete BRT plan keeps moving along:

On Wednesday, PSTA unanimously approved a contract amendment of the preliminary engineering and final design services contract with H.W. Lochner by an additional $1.85 million, increasing the design part of the project to $3.55 million.

The original $1.7 million was projected due to the study during that time. There have been changes to the original plan and the board passed an amendment to increase the contract due to multiple factors such as making changes to the newly proposed terminus, moving nine stations, and proposed changes to traffic signals.

PSTA is addressing concerns from local residents and made a change to use 40-foot buses rather than 60-foot buses, and instead of the proposed Don CeSar location as the end-of-the-line stop, PSTA said it will move it to the county parking beach access on St. Pete Beach.

However, the contract only covers the first two phases and does not include unforeseen costs that could take place during construction.

* * *

St. Petersburg City Council members recently voted to approve $4 million in funding.

PSTA also unanimously approved the interlocal agreement and accepting the $4 million during the June 26 meeting. The local contribution is a step toward being eligible for receiving federal dollars.

So where are they?

The project is currently in 30 percent of design and it is expected to be at the 60 percent mark in fall. The entire project is estimated to cost $43.9 million.

Nothing has really changed.  We think this is a good project.  We also wish St. Pete Beach would work with PSTA, though we think other options could have been chosen when St. Pete Beach clearly expressed its opposition (even if the stated reasons for opposition are not very good).

We shall see what happens.


— About Those CSX Tracks

Sticking with St. Pete,

Land around rusty, broken railroad tracks near Tropicana Field forms a makeshift walking path toward the Pinellas Trail, and the City of St. Petersburg wants to connect it.

But the city is battling to block the owner of the half-mile railroad land, CSX, from selling it. Late last month, St. Petersburg filed a complaint in federal district court asserting that the city has the right to the land, which is next to municipal property.

* * *

The segment in question begins from the south side of 5th Avenue N and goes to Dr. Martin Luther King St. N. The segment provides a straight shot from 16th Street N near 5th Avenue to Central Avenue, right next to Ferg’s Sports Bar. From there, a short underpass connects users to the Pinellas Trail right by Tropicana Field.

* * *

“A piece of what they were talking about selling we already own,” Mayor Rick Kriseman told the Tampa Bay Times. “That was kind of problematic. That’s like you selling my house and collecting the money for it. It’s like, ‘Well, wait a minute. I own that.'”

The question is whether St. Pete does own it.  St. Pete’s claim appears to be based on this:

St. Petersburg says it has “continuously maintained and repaired portions of the Railroad Segment, without interruption” for longer than four years, which the city argues makes it entitled to the property under Florida law.

* * *

The city says in the event of “abandonment” of a rail line, “title to the Railroad Segment must necessarily vest in the City of St. Petersburg,” and is requesting a ruling saying so.

It also is requesting a judgement saying that CSX can’t sell the land without permission from the Surface Transportation Board, a federal regulator.

As usual, we are not going to comment on the legal aspects of the issue.  But there is a policy/political aspect:

In the short term, Kriseman said the city wants to use it as a bike and walking path and green space around it. In the long term, it could be a “great spot” for light rail that could go to the Tropicana Field site, he said.

Without saying anything about the legal claim, it is not clear why St. Pete did not make the claim before.  If you have ever walked around the area and/or looked at a map it is pretty clear that unused/remnant tracks run right up to and along the Trop parking lot. It is also obvious that the path would be good for a trail and even better for a rail line headed north.  Again, without saying anything about the validity of St. Pete’s claim, it would be a shame if this path were shut off because someone wasn’t paying attention or trying to be too crafty by half.

As it stands, we will have to see what the courts say.


— Gandy

Continuing with the Pinellas theme:

The state is seeking consultants to learn how the Gandy Boulevard-to-Westshore corridor could be improved.

The Florida Department of Transportation will be advertising a procurement to solicit bids for a project called the Statewide Accelerated Transformation Project Development & Environmental (PD&E) and Design for US 92/State Road 600/Gandy Boulevard from east of 4th Street to Westshore Boulevard. 

The contracted work is estimated to cost $8.2 million, the PD&E segment is estimated to cost $2.5 million and design is estimated at roughly $5.7 million.

So just what are they looking at?  From the description document (here):

2.0 PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES

The purpose of this project is to reduce traffic congestion and improve bicycle and pedestrian accommodations along US 92/SR 600/Gandy Boulevard from 4th Street North in Pinellas County to WestShore Boulevard in Hillsborough County including the US 92/SR 600/Gandy Boulevard bridges ID #300 and ID #585, a distance of approximately 7 miles. US 92/SR 600/Gandy Boulevard is currently a four-lane divided facility throughout the entire study area. This portion of US 92/SR 600/Gandy Boulevard is functionally classified by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as an urban principal arterial and is part of FDOT’s Strategic Intermodal System (SIS). The improvements will consider grade separations at major intersections along the corridor and widening up to six lanes. Bridge widening and/or replacement will be evaluated as part of this project. Up to three alternatives will be developed.Managed lanes will be an optional service.

And regarding the “managed lanes”

The CONSULTANT shall consider the need for managed lanes (i.e., tolled or non-tolled express lanes, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and truck/transit-only lanes, or special use multimodal lanes) when evaluating the impacts of widening Gandy Boulevard and the Gandy Boulevard bridges over Tampa Bay. The proposed improvements to extend the existing controlled access facility on Gandy Boulevard from 4thStreet North to the West Shore Boulevard including the Gandy Boulevard bridges over Tampa Bay and to provide for pedestrian and bicycle accommodations across Tampa Bay are identified in the Forward Pinellas 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and in the 2018 Forward Pinellas Multimodal Transportation Project Priorities, respectively. The widening of the Gandy Boulevard bridges over Tampa Bay is identified in the SIS 2045 Multimodal Unfunded Needs Plan.

Somehow, “managed lanes: always turn into variable rate toll lanes, but they do not have to.  And they should not.

We have been for fixing this segment of Gandy for a long time.  What really needs to be done is finishing the limited access (not toll) connection between the bridge and I-275 in Pinellas (That is highway infrastructure improvement for where people actual live.)  The need is there.  The land is there.  Whether the will or political support is there remains to be seen.


Airport – A Little More

Airport construction projects are moving forward.

Tampa International Airport officially broke ground Tuesday on the second phase of its Master Plan expansion, including 16 new express curbsides tailored to passengers without checked luggage.

* * *

Curbsides nationwide have become more congested as air travel continues to increase along with the popularity of ridesharing.

Tampa International Airport is taking the issue head-on with innovative new express curbsides that will make the airport more efficient by allowing guests to bypass the ticketing level or baggage claim areas via a new vertical circulation building. The 16 new lanes include eight on the blue side and eight on the red side.

Departing guests will take an escalator or elevator straight to the transfer level, then hop on a shuttle to the airsides. Those without a boarding pass will be able to print one out along the way at conveniently located kiosks. Arriving travelers will be able to quickly access ground transportation without interacting with baggage claim activity.

The blue side curbsides are scheduled to be done in 2022. The red side curbs, which will begin once the airport’s current administration building is demolished, are scheduled for completion in 2024.

By way of review:

The airport’s Phase 2 Master Plan projects also includes a state-of-the-art Central Utility Plant that will help the airport run more efficiently and sustainably, a concessions loading dock, and the demolition of the airport’s old administration building. Also part of Phase 2 is the SkyCenter development area. This 35-acre site located near the Rental Car Center will be home to a new nine story office building, hotel, and new retail space. The area will also feature a connection to Tampa Bay’s regional trail system

The third and final phase of TPA’s expansion calls for the construction of a new Airside D.

The second phase is fine and needed, but, truthfully, we look forward to the third phase.

In other airport news, the airport worked hard for a long time to get west coast flights. Eventually it got them and the service is still growing. Recently United announced doubling its San Francisco service. Now, Alaska Airlines is adding another Seattle flight.

Alaska Airlines is offering another direct flight between Seattle and Tampa beginning in December. The flight, which begins Dec. 19, will be the second daily flight between the two cities and is part of a larger expansion of the airline’s Florida destinations.

Southwest has temporarily cut its nonstop to LAX because of the 737 MAX issues, but we expect that flight to come back.   Regardless, the growth is a good sign (and it should always be remembered that other areas are working to grow their service. See here and here)


Port – Another

There was good news from the Port, too:

Port Tampa Bay said Monday it is getting another weekly container ship from Asia, its third since December.

The new service will start toward the end of this summer and consist of a rotation of 10 ships carrying about 4,500 containers each, though only a fraction of those will be unloaded in Tampa.

* * *

. . . The newest service comes via a parternship between three shipping companies: Israel-based ZIM Integrated Shipping Services and Mediterranean Shipping Co. of Switzerland, which have shipped goods between Tampa and Caribbean for years, plus a newcomer to the port, Maersk, headquartered in Denmark.

* * *

The first ship in the new service is scheduled to leave Xiamen in southeastern China on Aug. 16, and call at Yantian in China, Busan in South Korea, then cross the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal on its way to Houston, Mobile, Ala., and Tampa before heading back west.

That is good stuff.  We are pleased with the growth and hope that service and demand increase in a virtuous cycle.

Between the three new ships, the port is targeting the delivery of 1,500 to 2,000 shipping containers per week, or 500 or more per ship.

“We know our market is large enough and this is going to be in demand,” port executive vice president and chief commercial officer Raul Alfonso said. For the 12 months ending in June, the port saw 97,000 containers, a 25 percent increase over the same period a year ago, so adding another thousand or more containers per week would represent another significant increase.

Just keep the positive news coming.


Economy/Economic Development – Spread the Wealth

Tampa’s new administration is starting an interesting new program.  From Florida Politics:

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is launching a new program aimed at making it easier and more convenient for local business owners to work with the city.

Castor on Monday announced a new “Bridges to Business” program that will send city officials out into the community to certify or register businesses with the city. 

The “vendor certification tour” includes staff from the city’s Purchasing Department and Minority and Small Business Development Office.

The goal is to meet entrepreneurs in the communities they serve in order to connect them to information about opportunities to earn city contracts, which could be a boost for local business owners. 

* * *

The first stop on the tour will take place July 13 at the Cyrus Greene Community Center in East Tampa from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

At that event, business owners or their representatives can learn how to do business with the city.  Staff will be on-site to walk firms through the application process for minority, woman-owned, or small business certification. Prime contractors and nonprofit organizations will also be on hand to provide information on current projects.   

The event is free to city business owners or their representatives, but space for one-on-one certification is limited. Businesses can register at the city’s Bridges to Business Tour webpage to better ensure space. 

The City website is here.

While we still have to see how it works out, we really like this idea.  Done right, it can help any business gain access to potential contracts.  Hopefully, other local governments will do something similar.


And Again the Trees

There was news about tree ordinances:

The governor signed a new law that bans cities from regulating the removal, replanting, pruning or trimming of a tree on private property if a licensed arborist determines the tree poses a danger. Tampa city attorneys said the legislation removes the city’s arborists from the role of verifying dangerous trees and being involved in the pruning of trees through the permitting process.

They also fear that trees will be allowed to be cut down without any recourse from the city.

We understand that there are some things that require or are better served by some level of statewide rules because they implicate issues that cross jurisdictions (ridesharing or minimum environmental regulations, for instance).  On the other hand, some things are really of local concern.  Preserving and protecting the tree canopy is one of those.  Sure, there are things in the new Tampa ordinance to which someone might reasonable object.  But that is a local concern (remember when people said “local is better”)  It has nothing to do with Miami or Pensacola (or Polk).  Hopefully, this ill-advised statute will not do too much damage to Tampa’s canopy.

Which brings us to an article in the Guardian regarding the benefits of planting trees (see here).

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.

If true, that is relatively easy to do if your government does not prioritize sprawling development.  As the Governor said at his inauguration:

For Florida, the quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state — it doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life. The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA. Protecting it is the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do.

We agree, with the caveat that, of course, all the environmental issues are connected – water, trees, pollution, etc.  That’s why we should also protect (and increase) the trees.


Parks and Recreation


— Outside Downtown

Speaking of trees,

According to a recent study from WalletHub, Tampa is the fifth-best city in the country for recreation.

The study rated cities according to 48 metrics of recreational value, such as basic living costs, recreational facilities, access to entertainment and the quality of the parks.

You can see the study generally here and methodology here.

Tampa scored 53.73 in this study, merely five points behind the top-scoring city, San Diego, which scored a 58.27. Las Vegas, Orlando and Honolulu are the other cities ahead of Tampa.

Tampa has the 13th-best weather and the 14th-best entertainment and recreational facilities. It only has the 36th-best “cost ranking” and the 74th-best quality of parks.

First, we need to point out that Tampa’s weather ranked 13th while Orlando’s ranked 28th.  We understand the two places do not have identical weather, but they are not that different.  Setting that aside, we get that we have outdoor activities.

According to the study, “neighborhood parks…are instrumental to building a sense of community, boosting property values, improving public health and reducing pollution.”

The city of Tampa’s Parks and Recreation director, Paul Dial, underscored the sense of community that the city’s parks foster.

“Parks are something that is there for all of us, regardless of age, regardless of backgrounds,” he said. “It’s something that’s there that is there for every resident to enjoy. With that, it pulls those communities together.”

The low ranking for quality of parks thing is interesting though, especially with so much money recently spent mostly on a few parks (which are, no doubt, nice but not really community parks).  We are not against having larger, central parks, but we think that both the City and the County could do a better job addressing having better facilities in neighborhoods.  That is not to say there are not some very nice neighborhood parks (and even large parks away from central Tampa).  There are.  But more need to be better.


— Inside Downtown

And speaking of parks:

City officials insisted that they removed the benches from Lykes Gaslight Square Park as a temporary measure to refurbish them and not to drive off the homeless people who rested there.

Whatever the intent, though, that’s been the effect, say homeless advocates and some of the neighboring business owners.

The number of people showing up for a free meal served twice a week at the park across from City Hall has dropped from as many as 60 to just 20 since the benches were removed in March, said Jen Derless, a volunteer with the Tampa chapter of Food not Bombs.

The City has another story:

As for the refurbishing the benches, that idea has been scrapped in favor of replacing them with cafe-style seating — small tables and chairs, said city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman. There’s no timeline for the work, though, Bauman said.

The city is working on the project with the Downtown Tampa Partnership.

“We’re excited about the potential because it is a pretty great space,” said Kelsy Long, partnership spokeswoman.

* * *

The trash cans and ping pong tables also are gone from Lykes Gaslight Square and the power is now shut off at city parks. People who used outlets there to charge a cell phone or wheel chair now have to turn elsewhere, Derless said.

The park is undergoing a facelift, Bauman said.

The ping pong tables have outlived their usefulness and the electrical outlets, installed to power public events, often were vandalized, she said.

The benches, Bauman said, are beyond repair.

We pretty much agree with the substance of what URBN Tampa Bay said on the subject:

. . . if you want to address the homeless problem, then by all means please do so. Just stop messing with us all by purposefully diminishing the allure of our urban parks to scare off the homeless. And stop installing hostile public furnishings that are uncomfortable for everyone to use. It is counterproductive, and to at least some residents, offensive to see their tax dollars spent in such ways.

The day these benches and other furnishings were removed from Lykes Square, the city should have had the replacements already on hand and ready to be installed. Every day that passes without this “renovation” of the park being completed only amplifies the city’s failure on this issue.

Whatever is going on at the park has been done poorly.  The fact that there was no stated plan and that it is taking so long without any substantive information gives the impression that either the City is not telling the full story and/or is disorganized.  While we understand that whatever is going on began under the previous administration, it is now the job of the new administration.  They need to get it worked out.


Economic Development/Ybor City – Cool

There was an article from the Business Journal regarding a cybersecurity incubator in Ybor City.  After an odd introduction, it tells us this:

“We like the history, the feel,” Sheffield, the founder of Undercroft, said. “It matches the culture of the computer community. It’s more behind the scenes.”

Undercroft is looking to follow in those historic footsteps by serving as a cybersecurity incubator, allowing companies to work in the 1320 E 9th Ave space while providing help as needed.

“I focused on workforce development with tech and entrepreneurs and with everything going on in Tampa Bay, we see the tech community booming,” he said. “And I think it will continue to boom and as it continues to grow, we need to keep pace by providing talent for the product they’re looking to bring to market.”

The bootstrapped organization will be helping a slew of cybersecurity professionals, from those running their own companies to others who want access to specialized equipment. The offerings range from helping “apprentices” who could be students or self-teaching build a portfolio of work, to those who have been in the industry for over a decade. Interested members can get their own dedicated offices or, similar to coworking spaces, have a shared area.

“To my knowledge we’re the only ones doing this [concept] nationally,” Sheffield said.

We actually like the concept and think it has a good bit of potential. (And we like the history and feel of Ybor, too) The cybersecurity field is not going likely to go away anytime soon and it seems that a cluster is starting to develop here.

“This is the kind of business we want to see here,” Travis Horn said at the grand opening and ribbon cutting Friday. “I want to commend everyone for coming together and creating something unique. [Ybor City] was a sprawling urban metropolis when places like Miami were just backwater. So we’re taking Tampa Bay back on the uptick, and innovation starts right here in Ybor City.”

Setting aside that being a sprawling metropolis is not necessarily a good thing, while certainly more developed than Miami in the early days and has more history than most urban areas of Florida, Ybor’s was hardly a sprawling metropolis. (It was not even its own city after 1887.)  And, for business purposes, is that even relevant?  We prefer a simple, memorable (and more accurate) sales pitch like “Ybor’s cool.  Cybersecurity is cool.  Let’s be cool together.”  When it comes down to it, that is what everyone is really trying to say anyway.


Economy – How Dynamic?

We ran across an interesting report regarding the economy: the “Most Dynamic Metropolitans 2019” from the Walton Family Foundation/Moving Heartland Forward (report here)

On page 4 of the pdf we are told:

Our Most Dynamic Metropolitan Index, and the analysis contained in this report provides objective insight into the communities providing economic opportunity for their residents, separating high performers from the low. Most Dynamic Metropolitans provides fact-based metrics on near-term and medium-term performance and prospects for long-term growth. The index allows economic development officials the ability to monitor their metro’s vivacity relative to others on a national basis or within their region and state. We also look through the lens of the Heartland—the 20 states in the middle of the nation—to discern its performance and understand practices that can boost economic prospects.

While international and national economic and geopolitical factors can influence growth patterns, the index provides an objective measure of whether local development strategies have the desired effect. Additionally, Most Dynamic Metropolitans aids public-policy groups, elected officials, academics, businesses and other researchers in monitoring and assessing metropolitan dynamism across the nation.

The Most Dynamic Metropolitan rankings are generated using performance-based metrics such as job growth, average annual earnings and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) gains and a new metric, the proportion of total jobs at young firms. The young firm employment ratio influences economic growth as new firms develop new products, services and advance innovation. It encapsulates information on the capability of entrepreneurs to start businesses and scale them—critical for future job and wage gains. For example, just four metros out of the top 30 and 12 out of the top 100 have a young-firm share below the mean of all metropolitan areas.

We include new data on regional price parities from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). These regional price parities are indexes indicating whether goods and services are generally more or less expensive than the national average. We use the indexes to adjust income measures for varying inflation rates and differences in purchasing power across metropolitan areas. Per-capita personal income reflects these adjustments and can be viewed as a measure of longer-term economic development because it is the stock of all prior welfare improvements.

Like many reports that include all metros and try to adjust for the cost of living, there are a few surprises – generally small metros in places you would not expect ranked higher than you would expect.  However, the Top 30 also includes many of the usual suspects (and a number of the smaller towns are relatively close to usual suspects):

Midland, TX; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA; Midland, MI; Elkhart-Goshen, IN; Bend-Redmond, OR; St. George, UT; Austin-Round Rock, TX; Greeley, CO; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; Reno, NV; Provo-Orem, UT; Lake Charles, LA; Fort Collins, CO; Gainesville, GA; Wenatchee, WA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO; Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL; Boise City, ID; Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA; Boulder, CO; North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL; Coeur d’Alene, ID; The Villages, FL; Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN; Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX; Raleigh, NC; Redding, CA; and Charlottesville, VA

So, where are the big Florida metros?

Orlando is 39th; Miami-Ft Lauderdale-West Palm Beach is 59th; Jacksonville is 72nd; the Tampa Bay area is 113th. These are the Tampa Bay area’s rankings out of the 379 metros in the various categories  (pg 85 of pdf) with Orlando’s rankings in parentheses for comparison:

2016 Young Firm Emp. Ratio Rank: 97 (114)

2016 Per-Capita Personal Income Rank: 233 (332)

2013-2018 Job Growth Rank: 55 (7)

2017-2018 Job Growth Rank:  85 (12)

Dec. 2017-Dec. 2018 Job Growth Rank: 191 (19)

2013-2017 Avg. Annual Pay Growth Rank: 178 (111)

2016-2017 Avg. Annual Pay Growth Rank: 277 (205)

2012-2017 GDP Growth Rank: 95 (64)

2016-2017 GDP Growth Rank: 176 (161)

Do with it what you will.


Rays

Even the during All-Star break there were a lot of Rays articles, if not much news.  You can see a selection here, here, here, here, here, here, and  here. (And, if you are into baseball generally, you might be interested in this.)

One of the more interesting things we saw was actually a 2016 piece on demographics and the Rays.  We are not going to go over it here, but it is very interesting, especially when you consider that Hillsborough and Pasco have been growing at a good clip faster than Pinellas since the piece was written.  You can read it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

People like to argue that our car-centric development pattern is simply the result of the market at work.  Certainly some people prefer it and some people benefit from it.  But is it really just the market at work or is it pushed by regulation?  Recently, the Atlantic had an interesting article about how the law pushes a car-centric environment.  The law leans in that direction and support the interests that profit from it.

It’s no secret that American public policy throughout the 20th century endorsed the car—for instance, by building a massive network of urban and interstate highways at public expense. Less well understood is how the legal framework governing American life enforces dependency on the automobile. To begin with, mundane road regulations embed automobile supremacy into federal, state, and local law. But inequities in traffic regulation are only the beginning. Land-use law, criminal law, torts, insurance, vehicle safety regulations, even the tax code—all these sources of law provide rewards to cooperate with what has become the dominant transport mode, and punishment for those who defy it.

It is an interesting read, and you can find it here.