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Roundup 4-24-2015

April 24, 2015

Transportation – Slow Hillsborough: The Results Are In, Partially

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

— A Firm Grasp of the Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— There Is no Money

There is also this:

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

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

Not everyone is convinced on the need for new revenue.

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t forget the real picture:

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

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

— Let’s Do Nothing Some More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

— After the Talking Shops

So after the outreach, where should the process go?

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

But the vote may be close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— And One More Thing

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

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

* * *

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

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

Transportation – FDOT and the Streetcar

There was news about the streetcar.

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

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

* * *

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

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

As the Business Journal article pointed out:

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

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

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

But, at least, it is a start.

Economic Development – A Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, for local companies, there is always this:

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

The latest numbers show how tough local funding can be.

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

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

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

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

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

— One More Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – The Tribune Property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Tampa Pix – click on picture for webpage

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Ybor City – A Private Development Moves Forward

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Meanwhile, In St. Pete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the Week I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the Week II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup 4-17-2015

April 17, 2015

Transportation – Where Is the Station?

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

Last week, that seemed to change:

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

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

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

But those plans have changed now.

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

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

The landowners could not be reached for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – Who Needs the PTC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

International Trade – Building a Gateway

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

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

More on the idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – Food Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time will tell.

Harbour Island – The Manor Lives

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

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

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

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

❖ ❖ ❖

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

So far, so good for the developer.

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

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

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

Perhaps, but we doubt much will change.

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

Port – A Win

There was news about imports at the port.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – 20 Years of the Aquarium

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

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

Downtown – The Tale of Kiley Gardens

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

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why was the park basically ruined?

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

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

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

It opened in 1988.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the Week/Economic Development

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

As noted in the Tribune article on the issue:

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Here are the projected rent increases:

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

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

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

Roundup 4-10-2015

April 10, 2015

How Many Mega-Developments Can We Support?

Regular readers and casual observer both will likely have heard of the Lightning owner’s well publicized intention to build a big development in downtown Tampa.  This week, it was revealed that the owners of land in Carillon (in Pinellas County) that was previously put forward for a Rays stadium are considering buildings a quite large development there.

LeClair, chairman of Echelon LLC, in 2012 proposed land in St. Petersburg’s Carillon Park as a site for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. The Rays never engaged with Echelon, and the developer is now planning to build Echelon City Center on the site: 2.8 million square feet that will include office space, apartments, retail and a boutique hotel.

The plans are for a dense, urban development, to maximize the usable land. The developers are able to build towers on the site because they have already received a variance approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build up to 250 feet. Major League Baseball requires stadiums with retractable roofs to allow at least 200 feet above second base for pop-up balls.

“That was a game changer for me,” said Chris Eastman, chief development officer with Echelon. “What that allowed me to do was plan smaller footprints and taller buildings. It increased the density.”

Those taller, denser buildings also allowed for a park in the heart of the project — green space for future workers and residents.

“It’s that town center development, but with a real city feel,” Eastman said.

Eastman is projecting a five- to seven-year buildout and development costs between $600 million and $700 million. Each piece will be market-driven, which is why the project will begin with a 14-story apartment tower slated to break ground this fall. Demand for apartments — and therefore, available financing — remains strong.

That tower will include 16,000 square feet of retail space, which Eastman is marketing. The tenants that fill that space will likely be service-oriented retail. The remaining 156,000 square feet planned throughout Echelon City Center, mostly on the ground floor of the proposed residential buildings, will be destination retail and include upscale bars and restaurants.

Mike Talmadge, an executive vice president with Echelon, is marketing 500,000 square feet of office space for lease. Those towers, at 20 and 22 stories, won’t break ground until a company signs a lease for at least 125,000 square feet of that. Lenders and investors won’t back an office development that’s purely speculative in Tampa Bay.

And here are some renderings:

1. Apartment building

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

2. Office Building

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

3. Site Plan

From Business Journal – click on map for article

4. 3d site plan

From Loopnet – click on diagram for listing

What is there to say about something that is still merely a concept? The layout within the project itself appears nice (assuming what is presented is actually built), though it is still within an office park which is not very urban and the road network around the office park is a bit of a mess (we do not think the Pinellas Express will fully fix that either).  It would be a much nicer if Pinellas was actually building transit and this development could become a true, centrally located, urban-ish hub, but alas that is not to be (at least not yet).  So we like the idea behind the project but wonder about it being a small island of urban-ish development in an already built up area of sprawl.

The other question is how will this project and the Lightning owner’s project do together?  Can they coexist as presented?  Are they going to draw the same crowd or something totally different?  Do both plans indicate that this area has really changed its mentality on how to plan and build and what is desired and acceptable? Or are they just isolated?  It will be interesting to see.

Economic Development – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Again

There was an article in the Times regarding sports tourism – a very vaguely defined term that appears to include basically anything regarding sports – that caught our attention.

Sports tourism — whether it’s hosting Super Bowls or Final Fours or youth tournaments — is big business. Amateur sports drove 20 percent of the 760,400 room nights booked in Hillsborough County last year — and that doesn’t include the pro teams.

* * *

“We host everything from amateur motocross to all-star games and combines to the NCAA events to Super Bowls,” said Hills­borough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, “and everything in between.”

Great.  So can we move on to something more important now?

In 2011, Hillsborough hosted 114 amateur events that resulted in 89,764 room nights sold. In 2014, the county hosted 119 amateur events that accounted for 150,419 room night sales.

That’s a jump of 68 percent in the past four years — yet the number of events has remained steady. Higgins attributed that success to his agency being more selective in what events it pursues.

Hagan actually thinks the county is losing ground in terms of sports tourism to other counties with bigger and better venues, like Manatee’s Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch. It has 22 athletic fields on more than 140 acres.

In 2012 alone, Hillsborough lost two soccer tournaments that cost the county more than 15,000 room nights. So Hagan spearheaded a proposal to build a $15 million amateur multisport complex with 16 to 20 fields. His fellow county commissioners approved it in January, and the county is waiting for proposals and looking for a private partner.

This appears to be an article to make the case for paying $15 million for soccer fields.  As we have often said, we do not care if a tournament is in Pasco, Manatee or Hillsborough.  It is pretty much the same to us.  Even more importantly, it is silly to cannibalize the market between local counties.  If Manatee has a great soccer complex, fine.  Hillsborough should focus on something else – which brings us to this:

The long-delayed demolition of the 58-year-old Friendship TrailBridge is back on track and could occur this year.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a budget amendment Wednesday that includes $6 million for demolition of the former Gandy Bridge span connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Added to money previously appropriated, the county will have up to $10 million to spend on the demolition.

Which is funny, because:

The old Gandy Bridge was converted to a recreational trail in December 1999. More than 500,000 joggers, cyclists and fishermen used the trail annually. But in 2008, engineers discovered some of the bridge’s structural steel and the concrete around it were eroding. Fearing someone would get hurt, authorities closed the bridge.

(That is a whole lot of people using the bridge).  The estimates to fix it in 2008 were thus:

Preliminary estimates of the cost of repairing the partially closed Friendship Trail bridge range from $11 million to fix both ends of the structure to $82 million to knock down the bridge and build a new one.

So, of course, the County Commission decided to demolish it, because who could find $11 million between two counties, and maybe FDOT, to have a nice trail that 500,000 people use when you could spend about as much to knock it down and have nothing?

And who would ever consider that if you connected the bridge by trails to both ends of the Courtney Campbell Causeway trail (and maybe to Bayshore), you would have a quite unique trail system – especially if you wanted to have marathons and other events – not to mention providing a really nice amenity for the actual residents that would really make the water central to our area. (We wouldn’t even complain if you put really cheap plastic planters on it)

But that would be innovative, forward-looking, and regional – three things with which local government is not well acquainted.

Downtown – Riverwalk

Last week we discussed the Riverwalk tentatively.  This week, we made a more detailed examination. First, as we noted last week, overall, the Riverwalk is nice – if a bit hot.  The canopies are great but there are not enough.  Furthermore, when one is walking in the segments on land, there are not enough shade trees.  Sadly, this is a common occurrence and makes us wonder if the designers of projects never actually visit Florida or only do so in January or February.

We hope the experts brought in by the Lightning owner hang out in Tampa in June and July before they complete their plan so they can understand that this is not California.  It rains, is very humid, and gets very hot.  We need shade and awnings. They need to plan for people walking and sitting in Florida – and not just tourists.  Otherwise, whatever they plan will not be the success it could be.

The second thing we noticed was that the garbage can-like bases for the canopy arches are not, as we originally thought, that weird, cheap, 1980’s cement box.  In fact, they are really cheap plastic boxes that have already gotten strange marks all over them (like someone through a very sugary drink).  And that is not on one box, but basically all of the planters and bases (all cheap plastic).  That is very disappointing.

We do not think that perfect should be the enemy of good in this case – if there would be no Riverwalk without the crappy plastic boxes, we would take the Riverwalk and deal with the boxes – but we doubt that is the case. (Look at riverwalks in San Antonio or Jacksonville  In fact, it is almost never the case – at least not here.  And it is definitely not the case on the canopy bases.

We need to learn from that mistake.

Transportation – Contemplating HART

This week HART was thinking:

The county’s transit agency began a three-month process Monday of reshaping its goals and budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including placing more emphasis on collaboration with other agencies.

Board members for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority discussed its vision and core values as part of crafting a new strategic plan. While CEO Katharine Eagan presented a comprehensive view of the organization’s current objectives — continuing to be an employer of choice, transportation agency of choice, and change agent for the area — board members chimed in with other objectives they’d like to see highlighted.

County Commissioner Sandra Murman wants more emphasis placed on collaboration with other agencies, such as the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. Not only is this necessary for improving efficiency and effectiveness, but also for attaining essential funding for the agency, she said.

“The agency doesn’t operate in isolation anymore,” she said. “We need to strengthen our partnerships so we are also getting a piece of the pie.”

Reasonable enough, though the HART Board has not played well with others in the past.  Moreover, it has not operated in isolation for a while now, even though it acted as though it stood alone.  In any event, cooperation is good – if they can pull it off.

Board member Kathleen Shanahan said she would like to see priorities rearranged, with the efforts to be the leading transportation agency of choice receiving the most attention.

That’s fine, though we are not clear what that means.

Much discussion centered around the agency’s limited bus availability outside the city, especially around south county. Feedback from a series of public meetings held by Hillsborough County staff show that residents in those areas are requesting more bus service, Murman said. However, providing that has proven difficult due to the size of the county.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where we can serve every square inch of the county,” board member Karen Jaroch said.

It is true that it is difficult to serve every square inch of the County, though providing better service, especially to underserved areas with potential for ridership growth, may be a something to examine (unless you are philosophically opposed to transit). And, if you are not going to serve “every square inch” of the County or those areas with tens of thousands of people, where is the focus?  Then again:

As for the budget, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Seward said the goal is to maintain the current level of service and provide limited enhancements.

In other words: There is no money. Don’t expect much.

Built Environment/Westshore – What Sells

We have discussed Westshore and how, despite some talk of making it walkable, it is not anywhere near a walkable neighborhood.  We have also discussed some of the newer apartment developments in that area.  Finally, we have often lamented the utter lack of real transit in Hillsborough County.  We recently ran across an item that seems to highlight all three of those things:

Ground has broken for a new 374-unit luxury apartment community on 5.3 acres in Tampa’s Westshore area.

Crescent Communities is bringing Crescent Westshore to the thriving business and retail district currently lacking a distinctive living option.

* * *

The design of the property provides residents with top-notch amenities including two resort-style saltwater pools, an outdoor grilling area and a sports courtyard with a full-sized bocce ball court. The community will feature studios as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment homes.

“Crescent Westshore will have an urban feel, with a mix of on-site amenities and neighborhood conveniences that reflect the way people live today,” Curran said. “We’re excited about the potential of Crescent Westshore to raise the bar for luxury apartment homes in the Westshore District.”

So far, so good (for the most part).

“Westshore is an exceptional part of the City of Tampa,” said Crescent Communities Senior Vice President Jay Curran. “In addition to being one of Florida’s top employment centers, Westshore provides fantastic amenities for its residents, including restaurants, shopping, sports and easy access to the major roadways and bridges that take you to other areas in the city.”

More than 4,000 businesses reside in Tampa’s Westshore district, with nearly 100,000 employees and 12 million square feet of office space. Crescent Westshore, located at the intersection of West Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue, will provide residents with easy access to Westshore’s International Plaza and Bay Street mall, containing destination retailers and restaurants such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Apple, Burberry, Crate & Barrel, Fleming’s, Brio and Capital Grille.

* * *

Residents of Crescent Westshore are just minutes from Tampa International Airport and less than a mile north of the I-275 exit to Lois Avenue, with convenience to downtown Tampa, its workplaces, and cultural and entertainment venues.

Not one word about walking, trails, etc. Just driving.  Just another sign that fixing Westshore will take a lot of work.

One intriguing development is the sale of the Austin Center complex on the east side of Westshore.

Redstone Investments has closed on the Austin Center in Tampa’s Westshore district.

The Austin Center is five office buildings on North West Shore Boulevard totaling 300,000 square feet. They were developed in phases, beginning in the late 1960s, by Tampa civic leader and Republican fundraiser Al Austin, who died in May 2014.

It is a central location with much potential, but:

Fogarty said it was too soon to comment on any future plans for the property — in real estate circles, the site is looked at as a prime redevelopment play. For the foreseeable future, he said, it will remain an office park. Redstone will take over the leasing and property management. There’s about 60,000 square feet available, though it isn’t contiguous. Lease rates range from the high teens to the mid $20s, depending on the location within the park.

We assume they have an idea of what they would like to do, though it is not clear from the reporting. Whether they do something transformative or not (and whether the City will just settle for anything proposed by the developer) remains to be seen.

Built Environment – Paying for Ugly

We also noticed something interesting in the Tribune:

But one thing Tampa Premium Outlets won’t have is a towering sign at the highway interchange.

Simon Property Group executives withdrew their request for a 90-foot pylon sign after Pasco County’s Development Review Commission rejected it. The county’s Board of Commissioners approved the mall’s overall signage plan Wednesday — minus the pylon sign.

A pylon sign typically lists a group of shops in a plaza or is mounted high above a store, so it can be seen from a distance.

Pasco’s sign ordinance prohibits signs taller than 30 feet, and county staffers said the proposed pylon sign was “essentially a 90-foot billboard.”

The situation isn’t unique to Pasco. In 2010, the Tampa City Council shot down a request from Ikea for a 125-foot pole sign on I-4. But Hillsborough County granted variances to Bass Pro Shops and TopGolf.

And though a project the size and magnitude of Tampa Premium Outlets might warrant a height variance, the unique configuration of the interchange makes it a moot point. In 2011, the Florida Department of Transportation extended the exit ramps for I-275 and I-75 a good two miles south of the interchange. The exits are actually located in Hillsborough County.

The county’s DRC said the drivers wouldn’t be able to see the 90-foot sign until after they had passed the exit. They agreed with staff members, who feared the sign could cause accidents.

The denial presents a marketing problem for the shopping center, especially since outlet malls tend to attract shoppers who travel from outside the area.

So, for whatever reason, Pasco said “no” to a huge, ugly sign – though we are not so concerned about that.  Tampa previously had said no to Ikea and people still get to Ikea somehow.

Yet Hillsborough County, which is  subsidizing the relevant development, said that big, ugly signs are ok.  If Bass Pro and TopGolf are such destinations, anyone going to them should already know where they are – they do not need a giant sign.  And the County does not need more visual pollution – too much has been approved already – and the taxpayers should not be subsidizing it.

Economic Development/Transportation – Another Way the PTC is Anti-Business

We ran across this interesting nugget from AP:

Business travelers are bypassing the taxi queue with greater frequency, choosing instead ride-hailing services like Uber Technologies.

A new report by expense management system provider Certify shows that 47 percent of the ground transportation rides by its users in March were through Uber. That’s more than tripled from the 14 percent of rides that Uber had just over a year ago in January 2014. In a few cities, Uber now tops taxi rides for business travelers.

* * *

In a few cities, Uber beats out taxis by a wide margin for business travelers. In its home town of San Francisco, 71 percent of rides expensed through Certify during the first quarter were for Uber; 29 percent used taxis. Uber also beat out all other forms of ground transportation in Dallas, accounting for 56 percent of the rides.

In Los Angeles and Washington D.C., Uber represented 49 percent of business travel rides. Taxis, limousines and airport shuttles still reigned in New York, Miami and Chicago where they took 79 percent, 77 percent and 75 percent of rides expensed, respectively.

Just focus on the trend that business travelers are tending to using ride-sharing services over cabs and limos.  (The article notes that some businesses have concerns about insurance and Uber – which is an issue the legislature is attempting to address, so let’s set that aside.)  Apparently, the politicians on the PTC board do not care about the preferences of business travelers.  Then again, the PTC’s manifest failure to do anything other than protect the taxi companies even when the trend is toward ride-sharing shows clearly that it is not for the interest of the consumers, the residents or the visitors to this area.

Hopefully, the legislature will render it irrelevant once and for all (though that is a big ask from the body that authorized it in the first place).

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

Just a few things of note: Orlando is getting Cuba flights.  Also, Miami opened a Tri-Rail station at their airport/Miami Central Station/Miami Intermodal Center project.

Finally, a few weeks ago there was some ambiguity regarding a tourism official’s claim that Hillsborough was #1 in some category  – the ambiguity being what category –  in tourism (see “Economic Development – Tourism is Good, But  . . .”).  Because of that we thought we would just toss this out for your consideration:

Orlando welcomed 62 million visitors in 2014, surpassing the previous of 59 million visitors set in 2013, according to Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism association.

* * *

In another record set during 2014, bed-tax collections hit more than $200 million for the first time in Orange County, Visit Orlando officials said — with 32 million room nights sold.

Contrast that with Hillsborough collecting a record breaking 1/10 of that amount.   Once again, we are improving but let’s keep everything in proper perspective.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is really just from the Gallup well-being report discussed in the Times. (You can get the report here.)  The report ranks metro areas based on the following criteria:

Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals. Apparently most Floridians have a plan. State ranking: No. 18.

Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life. Well done, Florida. State ranking: No. 10.

Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community. Florida could do better here. State ranking: No. 32.

Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. Who’s up for a walk on the beach? State ranking: No. 21.

Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security. Not so good, Florida. State ranking: No. 40.

The top 10 were as follows: Sarasota-Bradenton, Honolulu, Raleigh, Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura (CA), El Paso, Austin, Provo, San Jose, DC, and Winston-Salem.

There are a couple of surprises in the top 10 – including Sarasota’s high rank (and El Paso), but other than that, not much.

Here’s how Florida cities ranked: Sarasota-Bradenton #1, Ft. Myers #14, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-WPB #35, Orlando #41, Jax #53, Lakeland #80, the Tampa Bay area #81, Daytona Beach #95.

The Times noted this:

It is this last and lowest-ranked factor that is so troubling. Financial insecurity in Florida remains too high even as unemployment rates have dropped dramatically.

And that is true, but ranking so low cannot be chalked up to only one factor. Whatever, the reason, #81 is unacceptable.

Roundup 4-3-2015

April 3, 2015

Downtown/Channel District/Built Environment – Some Perspective

There were a few articles on downtown last week.

— Progress, But How much?

First, the Business Journal had a look at downtown residential projects.

There are roughly 6,800 people living in about 4,980 residential units in downtown Tampa and the neighborhoods that ring the urban core — the Channel district, Harbour Island — at the end of 2014. There are 1,389 units under construction and another 2,900 in various stages of planning, according to data from the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

The partnership data includes 500 units in Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar, mixed-use district on the southern fringe of downtown, which is subject to change as his real estate team finalizes a master plan for the development. Projects in the works in Harbour Island, the Channel district, North Hyde Park and Tampa Heights are also counted.

But Tampa is behind its competitor cities in urban residential units. Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, had 24,300 residents as of the end of 2014, according to the Downtown Memphis Commission. A 2014 study commissioned by the Nashville Downtown Partnership of mid-tier cities projects downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, to have 15,894 residents by the end of 2015.

Austin, Texas, another chief competitor for jobs and talent, is projected to have 13,536 residents in its downtown. Nashville, Tennessee, according to that same data, is slated to have more than 8,100 residents by the end of 2015.

Even if all of the units planned come to fruition, Tampa still will be behind those cities — they have thousands of units under construction and proposed, too.

That is an unusually straight-forward look at what is going on.  Here is a nice little graphic (without Encore or Harbour Island) from the article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Of course, having projects built is better than not having them built, but, as we have long said, we are still playing catch-up and other areas are not just resting on their laurels. Be happy for what is going on, but keep it in perspective.

— Design Matters

One thing the article did not address was the quality of the projects and how projects must interact to create a truly attractive, vibrant urban area, which is important because,

Companies looking to move or expand their operations tend to choose cities with a steady supply of young, educated workers — many of whom want to live in a walkable, urban environment.

“If we aren’t able to attract the best and brightest, we have no future,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has made attracting downtown residential development a priority of his administration. “It’s not the shiny, glittery part of downtown that drives me. I know if we can’t create the environment the next generation wants to come to and raise families, we have no future.”

It is not just quantity, but quality, that matters. Last week we discussed proposed projects downtown and noted:

You can see that the retail [in the Grant block project] is basically all on Franklin (with a little store on the southeast corner with a few feet of frontage on Florida).  The frontage on Florida (facing the Floridan) will be essentially dead space.  We understand that it is hard to put retail along the entirety of all frontage, but other projects, like Skypoint and Element, have done a better job trying to address more streets, so it can be – and should be – done (not necessarily exactly like those two projects, but something better).  We are not clear why that is ok with that, but, hopefully, the Lightning owner’s team will take note and not repeat the mistake.

So, yes, it is good to have projects being built.  However, without some care and attention to detail, the City is going to end up with projects that it will partially rue in coming years.

* * *

On the other hand, past waves of development in downtown have shown that the City should be very careful about what gets built. (Just go to Tampa Street south of Jackson and see how vibrant – or, rather, not vibrant – the street is even with the large office towers.)  We do not just want buildings; we want good buildings that serve to truly develop the downtown area.  Walk by Element or Skypoint and you can see they do that. (Are they perfect? No, but they still help not just add residents but to enliven most of the streets around them.)

See “Downtown/Built Environment – Developments

Over the weekend, there was an article in the Times regarding an interview with the Lightning owner’s urban designers.  What they said was very interesting:

Your job is to design the ground floor — the sidewalks, public spaces, benches, foliage, store fronts and other pedestrian amenities — for Vinik’s project. What does that entail?

Jeff Speck: We need to give the architects that will be (designing) the individual buildings in the project a firm understanding of what their urban obligations are. Where they put their buildings and how those buildings meet the street.

The way we like to say it is we’re trying to create documentation that will ensure that the construction of the private realm creates an ideal public realm, that everything that’s done as a private building makes building the public spaces a better experience.

David Dixon: When you build a new urban district every building has to help each other create that public realm.

That is true, and not just for new districts.  It applies to other areas, as well.

So how do you go about designing a “great district” that will also be pedestrian-friendly and encourage people to walk?

JS: We’ll be designing the public infrastructure. The trees. The lighting. The benches. A simple example is retail. Retail only works (to encourage walking) when it’s continuous. You can’t have retail and then an office and then retail and then somebody’s house.

The vision plan envisioned certain retail locations, but it didn’t lay out the rules that if you’re on the north side of street X, you have to be retail. So our plan will have rules in place like that.

Even down to the square footage that a store can use?

JS: I don’t think it will say what every square footage needs to be. But for example, if you’re going to interrupt retail with something else, like a lobby, the lobby can only be so long or else people won’t shop across from it.

So don’t just believe us, believe the experts (and believe your eyes because if you have walked around many cities this all becomes clear quite quickly).  Design matters and having entire blocks be essentially dead on the street (like he proposal for the Grant block) is no way to build a vibrant area – whether that area is all new or an old area you are trying to transform.  (By way of example, the Aurora project just north of the Selmon Expressway being built right now on a lot that connects the Lightning owner’s land to the traditional part of downtown has no street interaction at all. See “Downtown/Built Environment – One Building Rising”  Nor does this recently announced proposal.  Why?  How will that help downtown become a vibrant, walkable place?)

As we said last week,

If built, these buildings are going to be with us for decades.  It is great to have development and by all means build, but design matters.

We are glad the Lighting owner’s project will address these issues.  The question is whether the City will get other developers to do so.  If we are serious about creating a City that is truly vibrant and that attracts the best and the brightest, we have to address these issues downtown and elsewhere.

Transportation – Not Going Anywhere Fast

There was news about regional transportation this week.

— The Problem Restated

First, there was an article in the Tribune about new rankings regarding congestion:

During afternoon rush hour, 53 percent of commuters in the Tampa metro area are mired in gridlock. In the mornings, 34 percent sit in traffic. This region ranks 11th in the nation for congestion, according to the 2014 TomTom Traffic Index released Tuesday.

That is not particularly surprising given the relative lack of highway miles in the region (even with lanes opening on 275), the lack of good planning, the ridiculous policy of trying to force everyone onto a few, overburdened arterial roads, and the lack of real transit.  So, other than being really annoying to the people who already live here, why does this matter?

“Congestion costs us time, money and quality of life,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “And when corporations look to the Tampa Bay area as a potential site for relocation, they go through an extensive metrics system of the strengths and weaknesses of a community from schools to tax structure, to quality of life. Tampa always falls short in an otherwise pretty competitive report card in the area of transportation.

“We can stick our head in the sand and pretend it is going to fix itself, magically. It’s not,” Buckhorn said. “Transportation hasn’t been funded adequately for decades and it has caught up to us.”

So we all know how Hillsborough is going about trying to deal with this, given the utter lack of money:

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group, made up of all seven Hillsborough County Commissioners and the mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, is marketing a plan to maintain and expand roadways and bridges, build a more robust county bus system that could include express bus service and maybe even add light rail, including an upgraded downtown streetcar system.

And trying to get a referendum on the sales tax increase.  But:

Trust is a huge issue in determining the fate of future transportation here, said community activist Terry Flott, who lives in Seffner and often travels downtown through rush-hour traffic to get to government meetings.

“A lot of people are openly supporting the plan, but I don’t think people trust the government enough at this point to say what they will do,” when they go to the polls, Flott said.

“It’s all going to boil down to a vote of trust,” she said, “but people don’t trust government to do the right thing, to have a plan and stick to it.”

So how do you overcome those issues?

Doing nothing is not an option, Buckhorn said. “We can address the trust issue by laying out how the money is going to be spent, where it is going to be spent and the conditions upon which it will be spent. People need to recognize we’re all in this together. Even if you aren’t getting the sidewalk fixed in front of your house, you are getting the intersection a mile away fixed and that is going to impact your life.”

It is true that results do matter, yet doing nothing while talking a lot has been the preferred option for decades – probably part of the reason there is a lack of trust. It is not clear anything has changed.

In any event, that leaves us with really having to do something and needing money (probably in a referendum) to do it.

— Then Again, Not Now

But then there was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Mayor’s views on a transportation referendum in 2016.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the region’s biggest cheerleaders, is not optimistic about the chances of a successful Hillsborough transit referendum next year.

“If the election were held today in Hillsborough, it would lose and it would be, I think, defeated just as badly as the Pinellas referendum was,” Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Monday. “That’s sort of the reality with which we’re working. Can we change that dynamic over the next year and a half?”

He answered his own question a few moments later: “My sense is even if we went in 2016 we’d lose, so do we have a fallback position for a project, particularly on the transit side? Because for me as mayor, I’ve got to have those mobility options because I can’t build more roads to get myself out of this ditch.”

First, we do not really know anyone’s position on transportation except that there is no money for it.  That is the point of the referendum.

Why is Buckhorn so pessimistic about Hillsborough’s chances?

“My sense is when (voters) walk into that polling booth, they are not yet secure in their economic existence, that it’s still for the average person a rather fragile environment,” Buckhorn said. “I just don’t think they’re comfortable enough yet forking over more money to a government or governments that they’re not sure can deliver on what they say they’re going to do.”

So much for the economic boom times (how do like that low wage economy now?).  It may be true that people are not feeling financially secure, but probably more important is the second part – they do not think they will get what they pay for.  That is more an issue of leadership and governance.

Of course, if 2016 is no good, when would a good time be?  Remember, there is no money.  And how does that all square with the comments above about having to do something?

In any event, going back to that fall back plan idea:

Buckhorn said a good example of a “fallback project” would be a system connecting downtown Tampa, the city’s West Shore area and Tampa International Airport. That, he said, would give voters a tangible example of mass transit at work.

We agree that that should be the first connection of real transit (though it does nothing for the inadequate roads and planning).  However, where exactly would it go, what would be the technology used (buses/rail/something else), and, most importantly, how would it be funded.  Even a fall back needs a full plan.

“If history is any indication in Denver and Phoenix and some other places, once that happens they start clamoring for it to come to their neighborhood,” he said. “That may be more attainable.”

Indeed they did start clamoring, but there are a few missing details.  Phoenix had multiple failed referenda before they got one passed to fund their rail.   Denver’s history is a little more ambiguous with a referendum on transit passing in the 1970’s setting the stage of growth in the system and eventual rail and a referendum on expansion was first defeated before eventually being approved. The fact is that it usually takes a number of bites at the apple to get a referendum passed.

The point is this: there needs to be funding and a real plan.  If you can build real transit from the airport to downtown without raising taxes, we are all for it.  That should be a big part of the discussion.  However, given our traditional dysfunction regarding transportation and that we still are dealing with generalities not details, we are not going to get to excited.

– Not Here

Just to emphasize the problem, there was also news about the proposed ferry that seemed to emphasize the government paralysis on transportation:

A new analysis of potential locations for a high-speed ferry terminal in south Hillsborough County shows that most of the sites pose environmental challenges such as sea grasses or heavy manatee traffic

The sites that would cause the least environmental damage are owned by Port Tampa Bay, phosphate giant the Mosaic Co. or TECO Energy Co. — all of whom have declined requests to allow a ferry terminal to be built on their lands.

The study’s conclusions could present more problems for Hillsborough County’s plans to launch ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base. The project got off to a fast start with enthusiastic support from county commissioners and MacDill employees who stand to save time and money by taking a ferry straight to work over the bay instead of winding around it in their own cars.

It is not unusual for proposals here to bring much enthusiasm only to fade away, but, as you read along, remember that the County Commission gave this proposal enthusiastic support.  (Unlike their firm determination to tear down the Gandy rather than spend the money to fix it and make it part of a trail system. )

So what did the study say?

The Scheda study concluded that the Schultz Preserve had the fewest potential environmental impacts, except for two sites at Port Redwing in Port Tampa Bay, the Mosaic property and land owned by TECO near the Big Bend power plant. According to the report, the preserve has no wetlands, just a few, narrow patches of sea grasses, and no record of manatee mortalities caused by boats in the vicinity.

Charles Lee, vice president of Audubon, said the report ignores $2.5 million in grants from the state and from the Southwest Florida Water Management District that were used to restore the preserve to native habitat. The land was purchased for $370,000 in 1995 by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Hillsborough County’s land conservation program, known as ELAPP.

Audubon is joined in its opposition by Port Tampa Bay officials, who say ferries using the Schultz Preserve would interfere with marine traffic from adjacent Port Redwing.

It is still not clear why the Port, which originally was for the ferry, changed its position.  In any event, any other sites?

Lee said the ferry project partners should concentrate on sites with the lowest environmental rating — those owned by TECO, Mosaic or Port Tampa Bay. But the three agencies reiterated Monday they aren’t interested.

Other sites in the study would likely draw opposition from environmental groups and scrutiny from the federal government because of potential environmental damage and proximity to manatee protection zones. For example, 13 manatee deaths related to watercraft have been documented in a channel adjacent to Williams Park, one of the sites studied. The park is adjacent to a manatee protection zone that requires slow boat speeds all year.

Another site studied, Alafia River Marina, has had 13 watercraft-related manatee deaths in a nearby channel. Also a concern at the marina is the effect waves from the high-speed ferry boats would have on the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bird Sanctuary, the report said.

Other sites in the report are probably too small.

Well, that is a mess. So what now?

The Scheda study will be part of a larger project development and environmental study that will take about a year to complete, said County Engineer Mike Williams. The county will hire a consultant in April to handle the study, which is required under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. The study will determine which site is used for the ferry terminal. 

Of course, there remains the possibility that there are no sites that will be found acceptable – which seems odd given how big the coastline is.  Really, other cities with active ports seem capable of handling having a ferries (Seattle and New York being just a few).  It seems completely bizarre that we have no possible location for a ferry stop.

We are not saying we are actually for the project – we are undecided for a number of reasons not relevant to this particular item.  But this is a transportation project the County embraced, that does not require extra taxes, that is a public-private partnership, and the fills an unserved need.  It is everything we are told transportation projects should be, and, yet, it is getting hung up (and it is not even clear why).  Is this the best that can be done, even when the government wants it?

And we still want to know why the Port changed its mind.  It looks like just another mysterious local government decision.  We hope there is a real reason and not just some backroom, local political reason.  However, until the change is fully explained, we cannot be sure.

— Conclusion

The bottom line is that, even with the public outreach, it is clear that we have not really made any progress in dealing with any of these issues.  There is much talking but little real progress.

Economic Development – Leaving for Success

This week, we were told about local startups headed to Jacksonville:

Inventing new products is only the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey. Getting those products in front of investors and potential customers is a huge next step.

Nearly two dozen Tampa-area entrepreneurs are heading to Jacksonville next week to take part in what is being billed as the world’s largest crowd-funding festival. One Spark Festival is a week long event pitting 555 startups against each other for crowd votes, crowd-sourcing and venture capital.

And while it’s almost always about the money for startup companies, the event, which takes place over 20 city blocks, both inside and outside of businesses, is also that big opportunity to get new gadgets and ideas in front of the public.

* * *

What Palmer could use and what he hopes to get at One Spark is face time with investors. “One Spark kind of kicked off our launching into trying to find extra capital,” Palmer said. “We’ve spent a couple of months improving our demonstration and getting a business model together. We’re using One Spark to reach out to other investment groups.”

Last year, 265,000 people showed up for the event. One Spark cofounder Elton Rivas had opened a shared working space in Jacksonville and had a successful consulting company for marketing products and services. He and two other entrepreneurs came up with the idea for the festival, he said.

“People invest in people first and foremost,” Rivas said. “We started our own crowd-funding campaign and raised $100,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter to have the first festival.” It started a groundswell and the event has grown, going into its third year, he said.

For all the talk of startup culture and developing our local economy, it still seems odd that companies have to go to a giant event in Jacksonville to get good facetime with investors and exposure.  It just goes to show that we still are not where we need to be locally.  As noted in a comment from local tech entrepreneurs to our Roundup last week notes:

If you look at every successful tech hub, one thing is consistent. The person advocating and leading the efforts isn’t a traditional economic development leader but a technology entrepreneur who has built multiple successful ventures, one who has a massive rolodex, street cred and who understands the economics of tech from startup to public company. This isn’t the normal EDC game and it changes daily. The traditional approach does not work and if we want to succeed disruption is required.

One Spark was founded by some local guys in Jacksonville, not government officials.   As noted, it is a festival – all at one time – with presentations, music, parties, etc.    A far cry from local efforts.

Rays – Whatever

The Rays stadium issue remains stuck.

Tampa Bay’s five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman decided Monday he doesn’t have enough City Council votes to forge an agreement that would allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore potential new stadium sites on both sides of the bay.

That keeps the team playing at Tropicana Field into an indefinite future, Kriseman said, and prevents the city from developing the Trop’s 85 acres.

“We are at a standstill,” he said.

On Friday, Kriseman had released a new proposal to allow a regionwide stadium search. It revised a version the council had rejected 5-3 in December, and Kriseman said he had hoped it would persuade at least two of the five negative votes to switch sides.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes had signaled that he was prepared to call for a vote at Thursday’s council meeting.

But after consulting with three key council members Monday, Kriseman threw in the towel, saying the proposal lacked enough support to pass.

“Unless the council changes its mind and is willing to move forward with this, the Rays do not have permission to look outside the city limits,” Kriseman said. “And for the purposes of (the Trop acreage), the really big piece of this, the city is really stuck. We either don’t do redevelopment until the Rays leave in 2027 or we have to turn over half the proceeds.”

So what do the opponents think?

Kornell and Dudley told the Tampa Bay Times they agree with Kennedy — that the Rays should negotiate exclusively for a while with St. Petersburg.

“I would do back flips to let them look in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County,” Kornell said. “But not in other places yet. Maybe we phase that in after a period of time.”

Except, that is totally unrealistic. Here’s why:

The average value of a major-league baseball team jumped nearly 50 percent in just the past year — to $1.5 billion. That’s the biggest year-over-year increase since Forbes, which values pro sports teams annually, began tracking MLB team values in 1998.

On the eve of a new season, the good news is the Tampa Bay Rays saw its small-market franchise value rise in 2014 to $625 million. That’s a respectable 29 percent bump in value in one year. Owner Stu Sternberg can’t help but be happy that the team he bought 10 years ago for $200 million and subsequently improved dramatically has more than tripled in value.

The bad news is the Rays’ pace of appreciation still trails that of most teams. The Rays’ $625 million valuation is less than half the league’s team average. And the Rays’ franchise value is the lowest of all 30 major-league teams, behind the No. 29 Miami Marlins at $650 million and No. 28 Kansas City Royals at $700 million.

In other words, from a business perspective, the City has almost no leverage. It makes more sense to sell the team and just take the money than to remain in a location that shows no promise for twelve more years.  Moreover, every day that goes by, the lease gets shorter, so there is no reason for the Rays to limit themselves. (See also this Times editorial.) And potential sites will get eaten up by other projects.

It may make for good politics to be stubborn, but it is bad for the area – and bad for St. Pete, unless the City Council want another decade of stories about how the Trop is empty then have the team leave.  But then again, it is just another example of the fear some St. Pete City Council members have that they cannot compete.

Downtown – The Riverwalk Grows

Last Friday, the latest section of the Riverwalk (the part under the Kennedy Street Bridge) opened, which is great. (And even better was the weather over the weekend so people could enjoy it.)

The city’s first Riverwalk was a modest wooden-plank boardwalk built in the area where Curtis Hixon Park now lies to mark the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

But then Mayor William Poe’s decision to carve out a small recreation spot on the riverbank dominated by railroads and warehouses laid the foundation for the city to, piece by piece, reclaim the river for its residents.

It took 40 years, six mayors and $33 million, but now Tampa can finally boast a walkable scenic waterfront that serves as a focal point for downtown and even, perhaps, an adornment to rival St. Petersburg’s famed waterfront parks. 

Setting aside that that is not exactly how it went down (The original planks were in front of the USS Requin submarine behind the Curtis Hixon Convention Center, said submarine coming to Tampa in 1972-you can see a picture of the waterfront in hte early 80’s here. It is hardly industrial. Much of the waterfront closer to the present convention center site and on the Garrison Channel was more warehouse/industrial.), it is an accomplishment.

“Forever more, Tampa will be a city that people view from the vantage point of the waterfront, and the Riverwalk has made that possible,” Iorio said. “That has changed the whole way we look at the city.”

Poe died in May. His widow, Betty Poe, and family members attended the opening.

Son William Poe Jr., said his father lived to see most of the project completed and that Riverwalk had helped repopulate the city’s downtown, a goal his father hoped to kickstart with that original wooden-plank boardwalk.

“He always talked about people living downtown because back then no one did,” he said. “He was so happy. He was grateful the funding was there and that mayors kept it going, especially Mayor Pam Iorio.”

It is also notable how long the quest for downtown residential and a focus on the river has been going on (so people have been looking to the river for a while).  In any event, it is nice that the Riverwalk has gotten so far.  It is a very nice amenity for the area.  And it is very nice to be able to walk down the river and around downtown, opening up the waterfront that the City has long allowed to be blocked off.  It really enhances the possible downtown experience.

Additionally, for the most part, the Riverwalk is quite attractive as built, and we think it will be quite heavily used.

— Just One Thing

We just have one thing to point out, putting on our “design matters” hat. (We are aware that some will say we are nit-picking, but so be it.  We will still say it in the hopes that the same thing does not keep happening.)

If you look at this picture of one of the gateways to the over the river portions of the Riverwalk, you see the arches.

From wslupecki’s photobucket – click on picture for account

The arches, which are attractive enough, naturally draw your eyes to their base and what look like some of the old 1970’s-80’s era mall ashtrays/garbage cans filled with rocks (and that beige, boxy theme recurs all along the new section).

The City spent all this time and money to create a really nice amenity and spent money designing and building these attractive arches and canopies and then put those things at the entrance of the most scenic part of the Riverwalk?  Why go cheap there – especially in the arts district, where the lights, railing, and most other elements of Curtis Hixon Park show a good amount of attention to detail? And while they are new now; what will those things be like in five years? It is like putting Pinto hubcaps on a Ferrari.  Sure, the car can still perform just as well, but why would you do it and what does it say?

We often say that only a small amount of effort can get you from ok or good to excellent.  It is the details that determine the difference.  And that attention to detail and difference it makes, over time and over the whole of a City cumulatively makes a big difference to your self-image and to the image others have of you (it is why the Lightning owner hired his urban planning experts.)  If you are going to do it, do it right.

The Riverwalk is great.  It really is, and we are sure people will use it. But certainly the arch bases could have been done more elegantly, to say the least (they were in other parts of the Riverwalk).  We can and should do better. Design matters.  If you want the best and the brightest, you have to pay attention to the details.

Channel District – The Martin

There was news about the Martin.

A long-awaited mixed-use tower in downtown Tampa’s Channel District is getting closer to breaking ground.

Daniel Corp., the Atlanta developer that was in talks with Mercury Advisors to pursue a joint venture on the Martin at Meridian, is out of the deal, according to real estate sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation.

However, another group is in talks with Mercury Advisors, sources said. Sources did not know the identity of the new group but say a deal is on track to close in the coming weeks.

We shall see.

List of the Week/Economic Development – What Millennials Want

Our list of the week comes from a Washington Post article about a Goldman Sachs report on what Millennials want. Why do we care?  Because they are the future.  So let’s go to the list:

Things Millennials Want:

Cheap Stuff

To Be Healthy

Athletic Gear

Social Media

Things They Don’t Want:

A House

A TV

A Car

A Luxury Bag

So what does that, especially what they don’t want, say about our economy, how our area is built, and our poor transportation?  And if we fail to change how things are done here, what does it say about the future?

Roundup 3-27-2015

March 27, 2015

Downtown/Built Environment – Developments

This past week or so has seen much news about developments, pretty much all residential, in the Downtown area.  Because they all affect that area, we thought it might be useful to look at them together.

— Straz Tower

We begin with new information about the apartment tower near the Straz:

The new apartment tower next to the Straz Center may not have a giant Shamrock atop, but among several changes made recently to the planned 30-plus story tower will be a new, Irish-themed name.

Developers of the tower have dropped the preliminary name of “Residences at Riverwalk,” and instead picked “AER in the Arts District.” (AER stands for “Arts & Entertainment Residences). Some City of Tampa officials joke that few people may guess that “AER” is also the Gaelic word for “Air,” and the name will have the pronunciation “air.” If all goes well, the city officials expect developers to begin work this June or July.

Setting aside that the residents of this area are not all a bunch of rubes (the Irish airline is named “Aer Lingus” after all), it would be nice if the project started this summer.  But more importantly, there have been some changes:

The latest architectural design will keep the overall 350-unit count that developers originally envisioned, and the tower will still take up the same block-sized parcel of downtown real estate, but nearly everything else has evolved over time.

The preliminary plan for a boxy tower with a “doughnut” of parking levels at the base is out. Instead, developers hired architect Rachel Cardello of ADD Inc. in Miami (now part of Stantec Inc.) who drafted a more subtle, almost curved profile with a few key changes.

The large parking deck for residents is moved out from under the building and is now placed adjacent to the tower on the east side. That frees up the lower segment of the tower to have residential units that face the riverfront. “Those will be fantastic units with really cool views,” Smith said. The tower will now have an “intermediate” terrace at about the 25th level that faces south. That will likely be an entertainment terrace for residents that includes one of two swimming pools. Another pool will sit atop the very top level of the tower for 360-degree city views.

Smith said those plans are still in the works, but he likes the idea of terraces mid-way up the tower, with outdoor fireplaces and trellises to provide some shade from the sun. That middle terrace would also give both a sense of height above the ground, but also loftiness with the rest of the tower looming above.

Such elevated pools are increasingly popular among tower developers. The new Skyhouse tower in the Channel district has a pool in its rooftop entertainment terrace. Though somewhat at ground level, the newly renovated Aloft hotel has a pool deck overlooking the Hillsborough River. Several of the new apartment towers going up in downtown St. Petersburg have pools atop their towers.

This rendering was provided by with the article (and note that renderings tend to make everything look taller and slimmer):

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The first thing one might notice is that the building, which was not really boxy in the last round of renderings (it was symmetrical), is no longer symmetrical.  We understand that the aesthetics are subjective, but we are not particularly excited by the rendering.  We think it looks a bit lopsided and the lower level looks like a smaller, boxier building was just stuck on to the taller part rather than actually integrated smoothly.  If they want two roof-top pools, we understand, but it can be done better.

Moreover, the parking garage is a point of concern.  Because we do not really have underground parking, dealing with garages is always an issue.   The rendering does not really show it (trees conveniently blocking any real view of the street level in the above rendering) so it is hard to judge, but it seems that it will be very visible to everyone from the north, south or east.  We prefer integrated parking.  It is just better overall urban design.

The street level in the front looks ok (we can’t tell about anything else).  Overall, we do not see a real improvement in the design changes (we think the older concept was more interesting).  Hopefully, it will be better in reality.

— Grant Block

Next up is news about the Grant Block (to view the location, see here):

The 23-story tower Atlanta-based Carter proposed last fall in downtown Tampa is moving forward, with plans to start construction in the summer.

Conor McNally, Carter chief development officer, said Friday that the group is “highly confident” in its plans, which include 360 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space. The site is referred to as the Grant block and is one block north of the historic Kress building on North Franklin Street.

Once again, it is good that it might start this summer (could be an interesting summer). However, let’s look at the rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is one big building (even taking into account the tendency of renderings to make buildings look taller than they actually will be).  As we said a few months ago:

We understand that not every building is going to be an architectural masterpiece and that the building plan has street interaction (which is good), but it seems a bit of a hulking building.  Tampa should take care that what gets built now does not make it significantly harder to build other buildings nearby.  That does not mean getting into every item of every proposal, but attentiveness, at least to some degree, to view corridors is a good idea.

(See “Downtown – First Glimpse at the Grant Block Concept”)

That rendering does not change anything in that analysis.  Moreover, looking at the plan for the first floor (from the City’s handy Accela system):

You can see that the retail is basically all on Franklin (with a little store on the southeast corner with a few feet of frontage on Florida).  The frontage on Florida (facing the Floridan) will be essentially dead space.  We understand that it is hard to put retail along the entirety of all frontage, but other projects, like Skypoint and Element, have done a better job trying to address more streets, so it can be – and should be – done (not necessarily exactly like those two projects, but something better).  We are not clear why that is ok with that, but, hopefully, the Lightning owner’s team will take note and not repeat the mistake.

So, yes, it is good to have projects being built.  However, without some care and attention to detail, the City is going to end up with projects that it will partially rue in coming years.

— Aspire

Finally, there was an announcement of new plans for an area north of the Straz (see location here)

Lincoln Property Co. is in talks with the city to build a 408-unit, five-story apartment building north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts, on a surface parking lot adjacent to the Barrymore Hotel. The land is owned by New Jersey-based Denholtz Associates, according to county property records.

Named the Aspire, the complex would have six stories of parking with 866 spaces, according to plans Michael Callahan, the city’s urban design coordinator, presented to Tampa Bay Real Estate Investment Council Inc. on Wednesday.

It would also include a 9,000-square-foot clubhouse and 3,600 square feet of retail space, according to the plans. Lincoln has been building Aspire-branded communities around the Southeast, including a 279-unit project in Nashville and a property in Orlando.

This is the rendering included with the Business Journal article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That does not tell us much. Just for reference, here is an article and rendering of the Nashville project and here is the Orlando project.  Clearly, the proposed project in Tampa is more like the Nashville project – if not even more suburban with a “clubhouse.”  We would not be surprised if it were something more akin to the Pier House project, though given the lack of detail, it is actually hard to know what the project would be like.

— Conclusion

So what are we to think of all this?  First, nothing has come out of the ground yet.  Still, it is nice that this part of downtown is drawing projects.  We are happy about that, and we would like buildings to come out of the ground.  The added residents will surely help develop amenities in downtown and add vibrancy.  That is without question.

On the other hand, past waves of development in downtown have shown that the City should be very careful about what gets built. (Just go to Tampa Street south of Jackson and see how vibrant – or, rather, not vibrant – the street is even with the large office towers.)  We do not just want buildings; we want good buildings that serve to truly develop the downtown area.  Walk by Element or Skypoint and you can see they do that. (Are they perfect? No, but they still help not just add residents but to enliven most of the streets around them.)

If built, these buildings are going to be with us for decades.  It is great to have development and by all means build, but design matters.

Economic Development – A Good Column

There was a column in the Times entitled “Trigaux: 10 Tampa Bay projects we can’t afford to screw up”  that, predictably, lists ten major issues that we cannot afford to screw up and gives grades to how they are being handled.  Things like this:

  1. Pinellas lacks land management. Pinellas is in an economic pickle. It’s so built out that there is little available land of significant size left to develop. Compounding the problem, the county is awash in outdated housing and strip malls. Bottom line: Here’s a county that is often unattractive to larger businesses and to younger workers that want to live in new and affordable housing. That’s why population forecasts have Pinellas flatlining for decades to come. Not a good economic formula for the future. Grade: C- 

So true.

We are not going to recount the entire column (we discuss most of the items in our regular Roundups), but we will list the 10 issues and give the grades: Transportation that works (D); A viable next home for the Rays (C); A new Pier (C); the Lightning owner’s project (A-); the efforts of the Tampa Innovation Alliance around Suitcase City and USF (B-); Education (B-); Citrus greening (B) – ok, we don’t really write about this; Pinellas land management (C-); Energy policy (F) – and we don’t really write about this; Regional cooperation (C-).

For the most part, that is about right, except the Rays and Pier should get D’s in our estimation.  (And to the list we would add poor planning and design generally because while downtown St. Pete and Tampa show promise, most of the area is still very poorly planned and designed.)

We recommend that you read the column.

Economic Development – An Interesting Article

We also ran across an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on the quest of various areas to become the hubs of cybersecurity.

While California’s Silicon Valley is the US technology capital, cities and states across the country are vying to dominate the booming market for actually securing that technology and information. “What’s the next Silicon Valley for cybersecurity?” asks Peter Singer, a strategist who focuses on cybersecurity at the New America think tank in Washington. “This is one of the fastest growing industries – not just in the tech sector, but in the world.”

The global cybersecurity market was $67 billion in 2011 and is projected to grow as high as $156 billion by 2019, according to premium market research firm Markets and Markets. It will expand as more giants such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target, and Home Depot are hacked, consumers demand more and better security, and businesses grow more aware of the potential cost to their sales and reputation if they do not provide it.

Seeing a window of opportunity, state governments and pro-business groups from California to Texas and Florida are positioning themselves to win federal contracts and score venture capital investment. Some are going to extraordinary lengths to build what they call “a cybersecurity ecosystem.” They are commissioning economic impact studies, developing tax incentives to attract companies to their regions and even hiring PR firms to devise branding strategies. They are competing over government contracts, even investing in startups with money from state coffers. With as many as 300,000 cybersecurity jobs across the country unfilled last year, according to security company Symantec, they are crafting academic programs for public universities to win research grants and generate the next crop of highly skilled workers poised to make six figures– and stay local. 

What made this article interesting is that it profiles various areas in the quest, including this, which we quote at length:

Florida: From ‘sunshine state to ‘cyber state’

Forget the Sunshine State. Sri Sridharan’s goal is to make Florida “the cyber state.”

Yes, he bolded, italicized and underlined that prefix for special emphasis, in the title of a report asking for $16.1 million every year from Florida’s board of governors to establish a center for cybersecurity. “One of a handful of states will emerge as the leader in cybersecurity and become the magnet that attracts the billions of dollars of private-sector and military spending that will be invested in this emerging field,” Mr. Sridharan wrote in the pitch, submitted to the board in December 2013. “Florida can become this leader.”

The sales pitch worked. With an initial investment $5 million investment from the state, Sridharan now directs the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, up and running since June. Headquartered at the University of South Florida, the center connects the state’s 12 public universities and its experts under one umbrella to expand academic curricula and score government grants in cybersecurity. The center will offer the state’s best resources – people and locations – when they submit proposals for contracts, instead of competing one against the other for the pot of cybersecurity grant money.

According to Sridharan at least, the NSA and DHS were into the idea: “They phrased it, ‘That’s a winning model.’ ”

Sridharan is well aware of the Greater Washington region’s squabbles over contracts and installations – and hopes it will work to his advantage. Government officials told Sridharan, in meetings to discuss collaborating with Florida on cybersecurity initiatives, that “there is this struggle and tug-of-war taking place” in the nation’s capital, he said.  “That is one of the reasons why, when we presented our business model to them, it really resonated with them,” Sridharan says.

Already, the new center hosted a big workshop – loaded with Washington types – to discuss the NIST roadmap for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity in October. The university hosted 400 guests after it was selected by the White House as one of the locations to stream President Obama’s speech at Stanford University in February. Shuttling between Tampa and Washington, Sridharan is using these conferences and exercises led by the government to build relationships with various agencies with the expectation he will earn contracts in the future.

Companies can’t hire cybersecurity grads fast enough to fill the job deficit, and Sridharan wants them to pluck employees from Florida. Dubbed a center for academic excellence in cybersecurity, program enrollment has doubled from the first semester to the second. With thousands more certificates in cybersecurity predicted across the state under the new initiative, these Florida graduates, Sridharan expects, will enter the workforce prepared for six-figure-salary jobs – and the state predicts return on its investment through federal and industry R&D expenditures, patents and licensing revenues, and startup companies.

This is just the beginning for the Florida center’s state-of-the-art facility, replete with a screen that shows cyber attacks in real time. Sridharan is asking for a phased-in investment of $36.6 million to build it, complete with a government-approved secure facility to protect classified military or intelligence information and labs and its own data center. After all, Sridharan wants to collaborate with the military’s Special Operations Command and Central Command and other local military hubs.

Florida, at the outset, seems an unlikely contender to dominate the cybersecurity market; nine of the top 10 cities in the country known as hotbeds for identity theft are in Florida. Government officials often note, Sridharan acknowledges, “we have largest number of crooks in the entire country.” But he insists the fraud actually helps his case. “We really need [the Florida center] to address this problem in a big way.” 

We are all for most of what is said in the profile and really like the idea of developing expertise based on assets already here.  Yet, one thing we would point out is this: “Companies can’t hire cybersecurity grads fast enough to fill the job deficit, and Sridharan wants them to pluck employees from Florida.”  While we understand that there is a desire to build the program so that it becomes the place to find talent nationwide. On the other hand, we don’t really want companies to pluck talent from Florida, we want companies to establish themselves in this area to take advantage of all the talent being developed here. (In all truth, we think the speaker probably thinks that, too, but it was ambiguous in the article.)  Anyway, that is positive coverage.

One other thing we would point out, though, is that, as the article makes clear, there is a lot of competition from other areas.  We are all for the effort, though, as made clear by all the other aspirants, it should be remembered that really becoming a hub will be difficult (and an accomplishment of note).

Transportation – The PTC Wins a Case

This week a judge ruled that the PTC can be protectionist.

A judge has upheld Hillsborough County’s right to impose a $50 minimum fare for limousines, a small victory for the county’s Public Transportation Commission in its ongoing battle to maintain regulating authority over commercial vehicles.

Indeed, we have not argued that the PTC couldn’t be protectionist. (It was arguably created for just that purpose.) The question is whether it serves the consumers – the people for whom its members actually work – to be protectionist.  In other words, the PTC can but should it?

Bike Sharing is Good

There was an article in the Tribune regarding the City’s bike sharing program.

Numbers are one way Coast Bike Shares measures success: 100 days into Tampa’s new, downtown bike-sharing operation, ridership has exceeded expectations with 3,000 participants and 20,000 miles pedaled.

And that is great.  We are all for it.  It should have happened long ago.

But another measure of success for the city is the way the program is creating a bicycle-friendly atmosphere, said Ali Glisson, the city’s public affairs director.

“Bike share does something important for the city by just putting cyclists out on the road,” Glisson said.

And that is true.  What is also true is that, as we noted last week, biking and walking go hand in hand (See “List of the Week I”):

Each Coastal Bike Share cycle has a GPS system that allows Cyclehop to track a rider’s trip. This has shown that hubs popular with pedestrian traffic, such as Hyde Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, are also popular with cyclists.

And, as we also said, none of this is that complicated.  You do not need a GPS tracker to know that biking and walking are connected and will have similar destinations.  You just have to get on a bike or start walking and see what the experience is like.  You need to go to places where you can easily walk or easily bike and see what that experience is like.  It is elementary human living all around the world.

If the City really wants to encourage biking, it needs to create more walkable areas – and not just downtown.  It needs to have really walkable areas all over the City.  To really have the investment pay off, it needs to change the code and stop settling.

Ybor City – City Land Proposal

There was more news about the City’s continuing attempt to sell its land in Ybor City.

A man working on one major Ybor City project, the old Oliva Cigar Factory, has his eye on another.

Developer Darryl Shaw has bid to buy and develop a parcel close to the Ybor City Arch. His Ybor City Holdings firm was the only one to submit a bid for the city-owned land on the northeast corner of Nuccio Parkway by Friday’s deadline.

City officials will conduct new appraisals of the site and review in depth the proposal for a residential and retail building before entering into negotiations with Shaw over the next few weeks, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development administrator. The low number of bids was to be expected for such a small parcel, about a third of a block, and one constrained by a neighboring building.

* * *

The city would not release ahead of negotiations any details of what Shaw is planning for the property nor his proposed purchase price.

But Shaw and his business partner Ariel Quintela, owner of Ariel Homes, recently met with Marti-Maceo Club President Sharon Gomez to discuss their proposal.

They presented plans for 100 apartments and a street-level retail store, Gomez said. The development would include the Volunteers of America building, which Shaw also owns. 

The proposal was presented by someone who is investing heavily in Ybor, which is good.  On the other hand, as noted by the City, the parcel is small and constrained, limiting the proposals.  Moreover, it is a gateway to Ybor, which makes one wonder whether residential (as much as we want more residential in Ybor) is really the best use for the land.

This is the second try in the last couple of years for the City to get rid of this land, and we still do not understand the hurry, especially as the demand for the land appears low.  There is private development going on in Ybor.  There is no need to get rid of City land which could have future uses.

Parks – Where Is The Money?

There was an article in the Tribune that got us thinking about spending.

Then, last year DeMare and other Carrollwood leaders learned Hillsborough County’s utility department plans to close and demolish the 40-year-old Dale Mabry Wastewater Treatment Plant. If the leaders could get approval from the county commission, Carrollwood Village would have more than 50 acres at the plant site for a dog park and more.

A committee was created called Friends of the Northwest Regional Park with John Miley as chairman. Miley said he and Tom Rawls, manager of plant operations with the department, had talked about putting a regional park on the site if the plant was shuttered.

* * *

The committee invited commissioners Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Kevin Beckner to meetings to present their idea. They visualized a passive park with walking trails, a small lake and fishing pier, a butterfly garden, an amphitheater and, of course, a dog park.

DeMare said the committee wanted to use the model of the Carrollwood Cultural Center, which is run by a private committee of residents with support from the county.

* * *

It will take about two years to close and demolish the plant, clear the site and build new pipes to take raw sewage to a newer plant and bring reclaimed water back to Carrollwood, said utilities director George Cassady. Two storage tanks and a pumping station for reclaimed water will remain and a new pumping station for raw wastewater will be built on the site, Cassady said.

On Wednesday, Hagan got unanimous commission support to have county managers plan how the park could be designed and construction begun while the wastewater plant is being demolished.

“I just don’t want to wait another year and a half to design and build the park,” Hagan said. “I was looking for a way to expedite that process.”

One of many questions still to be answered is where the money will come from for the park. County Administrator Mike Merrill has already told commissioners that the fiscal 2016 budget will be a tight one with $44 million in disposable revenue but billions of dollars in needs.

Because the utilities department is run like a separate business, it cannot give the land to the county for the park. Hagan estimated the county will have to pay the department around $1.7 million or $1.8 million for the 54 acres.

That doesn’t take into account the costs for construction and maintaining the park after it’s built. Those figures are as yet unknown, but sure to be significant.

Commissioner Beckner said he wants to see suggestions from county administrators and Carrollwood civic leaders on possible public-private partnerships that could defray some of the costs.

The park sounds like a great idea for reuse of County land.  It would be a unique asset in the area and help enhance a suburban area with an at least partially urban amenity.  It would also create a community focus.

Of course, a major problem is money.  As explained above, the budget is tight.  What is not mentioned is the $15 million dollars set aside to pursue soccer fields somewhere for tournaments. (Why not just allow a private concern to build on County land if the terms were right but put up no money?)  Do we really need to spend $15 million of taxpayer money for a tournament complex when there are other, better uses?

Meanwhile

— In the Rest of the Country

We hear a lot about the economic development successes of the Tampa Bay area.  And there are some successes, but how do they compare to other places?  This week, we look at a couple of items from Austin (yes, we know, we are not Austin)

First, looking at tech jobs, news about Visa’s expansion in Austin:

Visa Inc. plans to hire 500 engineers in Austin by the end of the year, according to company CMO Antonio Lucio.

Visa’s plans were disclosed in an Ad Age article this week that focused on the company’s push to develop a mobile payment system and rebrand itself as a destination for talented tech workers.

That is 500 engineers THIS YEAR, not a number of back office jobs over a number of years.

Then there is this:

Search engine giant Google Inc. is set to establish a major presence in downtown Austin, with plans to lease more than 200,000 square feet of a 29-story office tower being built as part of the redevelopment of the site that once housed the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant.

* * *

Google currently has three Austin locations, on North Mopac Boulevard (Loop 1), at University Park just north of downtown, and its Google Fiber space in what was formerly the Austin Children’s Museum downtown. The new space will consolidate the employees on North Mopac and University Park, while Google Fiber will remain at the Children’s Museum location three blocks from the new site, Interiano said.

So, it is not clear if there are new jobs involved, but 200,000 sq ft in downtown.  What do you thing think Tampa (or St. Pete) might give for that?

— In the Rest of Florida

We know very well, and support, the airport’s efforts to get new flights.  It is notable that whenever new flights are announced the excessive hype seems to come from people other than the airport staff (which is always pleased but rarely over the top – they are business-like), probably because they know the business.  We thought it might be useful to look at what has been going on recently at some other airports in the state.

First, Miami:

There are now 100 airlines operating at Miami International Airport – a number which surpasses all other U.S. airports.

Last week alone, the airport added two new carriers. On Tuesday, Finnair landed at MIA with a nonstop flight from Helsinki, becoming the 99th airline at the airport. Finnair’s A340 service to Helsinki will be seasonal, but will be extended to begin in October next year.

On Saturday, Frontier Airlines began operating at MIA for the first time, becoming the 100th carrier. The airline flies to Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Chicago O’Hare from MIA.

That is in addition to:

Miami International Airport will get two additional daily A380 flights next year.

British Airways will launch the service starting in October, replacing two daily 747 flights. A three-weekly 777 flight will be dropped, but overall seat capacity will increase significantly.

And

New air service between Miami and Argentina is coming this summer.

Miami International Airport announced Friday that Aerolíneas Argentinas will kick off twice-weekly nonstop flights between Miami and Córdoba, northwest of Buenos Aires, on July 4.

In other words, Miami has flights to second and third level cities in Latin America (we have one flight to Latin America – not really a gateway, yet).  And

Austrian Airlines will begin nonstop flights from Miami to Vienna this fall.

And

Qatar Airways is once again increasing capacity on the popular Miami-Doha route.

Starting on May 2, all five weekly Qatar flights to Miami will be operated by B777-300ER aircraft. Previously, most flights were operated by a smaller B777-200LR.

Even closer to home

Orlando International Airport announced Tuesday that it will offer daily nonstop service to Dubai for the first time.

Emirates will begin the flights Sept.1. Orlando becomes the Dubai-based airline’s 10th U.S. destination, said Matthias Schmid, Emirates’ vice president of sales in the United States.

The airline serves 145 cities. Dubai International Airport, reportedly the world’s busiest, is Emirates’ hub.

That is quite the get for Orlando and truly:

“The opening that this brings us, to that region of the world, [is something] we really didn’t have,” said Aguel.

Given MacDill’s connection to the Middle East and the connections to India that were to be made by the IIFA (Emirates has big connections to South Asia), it would have been nice to have that here.

Now, don’t get us wrong – we think the airport administration is doing a great job.  We know they are pushing as hard as they can for new service, and they have had a string of successes and have had to deal with neglect by the previous airport administration and its supporters.  Our point is simply this: this area has to be realistic in what is really going on around here.

Things are improving – really, they are.  But, as an area, we have been hamstrung by our past (and some present) choices, inflation of achievements, and complacency – especially in past airport administrations, in politics, and in the economy, which definitely has repercussions at the airport.  Now is not a time for hype and swagger (just see the 10 things not to screw up list above) – it is a time for hard decisions, hard work, and to catch up (at least they realize that at the airport, where they are setting the example).

List of the Week

Our list this week is the census bureau’s population estimates for July 2014 (released this week). Here and here.

We will not get into all the stats but we will point out this:

Florida contained seven of the nation’s top 50 numerically gaining metro areas between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014, and these areas accounted for more than three-quarters of the state’s population gain over the period:

The biggest growth in pure numbers was in Houston (156,371)

And note the actual estimate for the top areas in Florida:

Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 5,929,819
Tampa-St. Pete- Clearwater 2,915,582
Orlando 2,321,418
Jacksonville 1,419,127
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton 748,708
Cape Coral-Ft. Myers 679,513
Lakeland-Winter Haven 634,638
Deltona-Dayton Beach 609,939
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville 556,885
Penasacola 474,081
Port St. Lucie 444,420
Tallahassee 375,751
Naples 348,777

Roundup 3-20-2015

March 19, 2015

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week’s Roundup is being posted a little early.

Downtown – The Boom – a Look Back

There was an article in the Business Journal regarding the Lightning owner’s plans (which we support) and whether they are for real (which is a bit odd, but whatever):

When developer Bob Abberger took the stage at the Tampa Downtown Partnership annual development forum, it was to answer one question: “Are you guys for real?”

As managing director of Strategic Property Partners, Abberger is on the front lines of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar development plans. He said after his speech that he isn’t surprised to be asked that question routinely.

“We’ll continue to get it until we go vertical,” said Abberger, who was previously the Florida managing director of Trammell Crow. “I think there’s always ultimately a question of whether the market supports the vision, and I lived that real time with Trammell Crow, trying for seven years to do an office development. And I was as close to real as real could be for Tampa, but I never got us there. Mr. Vinik will get us there.”

Given the resources available to the Lightning owner, he certainly has the best shot of getting his project built.  Of course, we assume he is not going to build it for charity and the demand has to be there.  On the other hand, at least for urbanism, we have long believed that there is pent up demand that has simply not been adequately met by developers in this area.  There have been fits and starts – usually interrupted by recessions – but there has also been too much settling.

— The Hires

Regarding the Lightning owner’s project, we are encouraged by this news:

Vinik has hired two men considered among the best in the business: “new urbanists” Jeff Speck and David Dixon are city planners at the forefront of the movement to build walkable urban spaces for people to live and work in.

Speck’s hiring leaked out last week and Dixon’s was announced on Tuesday, when the mission for both also was made public. They will create the guidelines that builders will use to fulfill Vinik’s “vision plan” of creating a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly space to unite the district and connect it to the water.

In short, they will design the ground floor of Vinik’s urban redevelopment project.

“When a developer is trying to build a vision plan, you’re still left with a lot of questions,” Speck said. “A vision plan embodies peoples’ hopes and aspirations for the project but doesn’t give you the specificity you need in terms of:

“How many lanes on every street? How wide are the lanes? Where does the parking go? How tall are the buildings? Where exactly will people sit?”

Dixon and Speck will lead a team of architectural designers, residential and retail planners, and transportation and traffic engineers who will answer those questions.

* * *

Dixon, 67, will lead the master plan team. He’s also the senior principal and urban design group leader for the urban design arm of Stantec, an international engineering firm. Dixon was named to Residential Architect magazine’s hall of fame in 2012.

Speck, 51, will serve as consulting design leader. He has his own Washington D.C. firm, Speck & Associates LLC. He’s also a vocal proponent of new urbanism — creating neighborhoods that are hospitable to pedestrians and offer a variety of employment and living options — as well as a vociferous critic of suburban sprawl and auto-dependency.

Vinik brought Speck on board after reading his book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Vinik liked the book so much he bought copies for his entire staff.

* * *

They have four months to come up with a plan.

* * *

Speck said that, taken together, the established properties and the empty lots are ripe with possibility:

“To find 40 acres of principally surface parking this close to downtown that already has anchors in place in the form of an arena, a museum, a convention center, an aquarium, a marketplace, and you still have all this empty space and the waterfront. What could have greater potential?”

The simple hiring of walkability experts is not what is encouraging (and note that Stantec is already active in this area).  Frankly, we do not think creating a walkable area is actually that complicated – it has been done all around the world and the features are quite well-known. (We would have far more walkable areas if so much had not been bulldozed for strip stores and parking lots.) We are, however, encouraged, that the Lightning owner shows every sign of wanting to do things right.  The reality is that the final product, not who creates it, will be the key to the project. In any event, what do they want to do?

In their quest to build a walkable district in downtown Tampa, the urban planning consultants Jeff Vinik has hired recognize they’re up against a street grid that makes the existing neighborhood a scary place for pedestrians.

“It’s dangerous because the streets look and feel like they’re designed for going high speeds, because they are designed for going high speeds,” said Jeff Speck, the Washington, D.C.-based author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” “So one of our key charges is creating street configurations that encourage driving the posted speed limit.”

* * *

“The Channel district is a place that clearly is walkable when you’re in it, without much to walk to,” said Dave Dixon of Stantec’s Urban Places Group and another of Vinik’s consultants. “It’s basically as if you’ve created something and branded it walkable and then created a whole bunch of roads to drive to it. It’s not a walkable district. It’s a place where you can get out of your condominium building or loft and walk to the corner store, but that’s not a walkable life.”

To some degree that is true (though the grid is really not that scary – witness all the people who go to the arena and walk to and from their parking without much trouble), though there has to be a good way to get to the area (see transit) and some flow to traffic (we are not sure about 4-way stops on downtown streets.  This is downtown after all – not a subdivision or small neighborhood.)  And the Channel District is not walkable because it is not truly a mixed use area and is not connected to the business part of downtown (like this and this) in any real way.  The reality is that more than roads that are just not that wide there has to be something to do and properly designed development connecting it – which is not the case now. Maybe that will change.

Then the reporter tells us:

But as a resident of the Channel district, I can say being a pedestrian seems especially treacherous there — it’s an urban neighborhood with the expectation of walkability, combined with driving patterns more suitable for the interstate. I love walking to the Riverwalk, but crossing Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue is typically a stressful experience. You’re constantly craning your neck around, watching for drivers turning into the intersection — because they are almost assuredly going too fast to watch for you.

We would point out a more important point – very little built on Meridian or Channelside actually interacts with the street (PierHouse and the Port Parking garage – here and here – certainly do not. Nor does the garage next to the arena.)  The area is just not built to be walkable because the City settled.  And generally, free-standing parking garages do not add to walkability (though there are ways to mitigate like this, though not like this.) Hopefully, the Lightning owners plans will change that.

“What we’re actually talking about now is, how do you really connect it to the Channel neighborhood so that what you have is a continuous ring of urban, mixed-use, lively, cool neighborhoods that basically edge downtown,” Dixon said, “and frankly make it much more likely that [residents] would walk downtown to work because it’s an interesting walk that’s been thought through.”

And that is the key – thinking it through – which rarely has been done here. That is why we are encouraged – getting knowledgeable people is a sign of seriousness and is welcome.  And, while business interests are important, they actually wanting to think thing through. It is also good to see that they want to move forward quickly.

— The Past

Given the present situation and the coverage thereof, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back to 2002, from this Florida Trend blurb:

“We believe Tampa is one of the cities that has the best shot” at revitalizing its downtown, says Bob Abberger, managing director of Trammell Crow’s Florida development services.

Both developers expect to attract residents from the ranks of suburban commuters frustrated at spending an average of 40 minutes in their cars twice a day. “There’s more people on the road, and everybody has the same 24 hours on the clock,” says Ray Sandelli, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Tampa. “The ability for people to live, work and play in proximity to each other is very attractive.”

Also helping the prospects for residential development are city investments in cultural and transportation infrastructure.

A new $32-million streetcar system connects Channelside to Ybor City, with stops on the fringes of downtown and a plan to expand. The new, $52-million Tampa Museum of Art is under construction, and the city’s marketing arm is touting the “cultural district” around the museum to attract shops, restaurants and bars.

“Philosophically, a downtown is really thought of as the personality of a city,” says Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which is charged with marketing the area. “Tampa needs to have, wants to have, a lively downtown.”

It does – and it has for decades, though it often did not act like it. (And note the “live, work, play formulation in use in 2002.) Though the streetcar clearly has not yet worked as advertised.  The museum and the park around it have done reasonably well as a catalyst.

The really interesting thing is that, as indicated in the article, nothing happening now has not been contemplated for decades.  It has been known for decades, really; it was just not done for a variety of reasons – some business, most involved settling. What is different now is that 1) over time, a reasonable mass has grown, 2) the pioneers of some urbanness showed that a market existed for something that few were willing to risk, 3) the market has grown both because of rise in population and because the Millennials (and others, really) are more drawn to urban living and amenities, and 4) other cities have taken advantage of our delays and showed us that we need to move faster.  Add to that the fortunate circumstance of people like the Lightning owner entering our market and good things can happen – as long as the City does not settle.  And the streetcar still needs to be made a real transportation system.

— Conclusion

The bottom line is that the Lightning owner shows all signs of wanting to do this right, and that is key.  It is refreshing that the developer is actually pushing the envelope (because the local government has never shown signs of doing so).  While there have been improvements, there has been talk of fixing downtown for decades – but there is always settling for developers’ desires (for instance the 40 year quest for a Riverwalk still did not lead to buildings that face the river, with a few exceptions) and, consequently, disappointment. Maybe, just maybe, the Lightning owner, with an apparent desire to do it right, can get it done this time.

Economy – Unemployment

There were new unemployment numbers this week:

The January unemployment rate in the Tampa metro area stood at 5.7 percent in January, the same as the state rate and a touch higher than the national average. The metropolitan statistical area includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco counties.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties each had a 5.5 percent jobless rate, according to a report released Tuesday by the governor’s office.

Hernando County had the poorest showing in the region with a 7.5 percent jobless rate, up from 7 percent in December 2014. It was followed by Polk County with 6.6 percent, up from 6.2 percent in December, and Pasco County with 6.4 percent unemployed in January, up from 5.9 percent in December.

The state unemployment rate for January was 5.7 percent, the same rate as in December and down nearly a percentage point over 2014.

Nationwide, employers added 3.3 million jobs over the past year and the 5.5 percent unemployment in February, a drop from 6.7 percent in February 2014.

Looking just at the Hillsborough/Pinellas rate, we are basically average, though better than last year:

The Tampa metro area rate in January was up compared with a rate of 5.3 percent in December 2014, but dropped from 6.5 percent in the same month a year ago. Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties unemployment rates ticked up from December 2014 when both showed a 5.1 percent jobless rate. But the January figure is down from 6.2 percent in Hillsborough a year earlier and down from 6.3 percent a year ago in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

And, though the numbers were worse than December, we’ll just assume that is due to Christmas season (even if it might not be).

Overall, the numbers are good (though not for the northern counties), but we do not think being average is excellent or a local boom.  And there is always the question of wages.

Economy – The Rent Issue

Speaking of wages, another thing that makes us wonder about many of the development plans in this area is this:

Rent in the Tampa metropolitan statistical area hasn’t increased as much as the national average over the past three years, but it is growing at twice the rate of income, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors.

As much as we love urban development plans, with this area’s low incomes and apparently rapidly rising rents, we wonder how deep the market for relatively expensive rentals really is right now.  Hopefully, it will grow and sustain the developments, but it is definitely an issue (especially with the poor transit infrastructure forcing people to pay for the costs of car ownership).

Transportation – Here Come the Bike Lanes

The City has been busy putting in bike lanes on Platt and Cleveland.

Lenny Sain rides his bike to and from work at the Fly Bar every day— along Platt Street on the way into downtown and Cleveland Street on the way out.

He has been one of the first bicyclists to test ride the newly installed, buffered bike lane along Platt. The first such design in the city, it was added as part of a larger, $2.4 million repaving and traffic-calming project in that area. A similar buffered lane soon will be added on Cleveland Street.

* * *

City officials are pleased bikers have started using the new lane, but they aren’t so happy about the drivers who have also been using it, said Jean Duncan, the city’s director for transportation and stormwater services.

As part of the traffic-calming project, workers are reducing the speed limit on Platt and Cleveland from 40 mph to 35 and reducing the three-lane roads to just two, which is why there was enough room to create the bike lanes, buffers and on-street parking, Duncan said.

* * *

The Platt Street project stretches from Audubon Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard, and the Cleveland Street project will stretch from the Hillsborough River west to South Armenia Avenue.

Once the projects are finished, the city will paint swatches of the bike lanes green near intersections where drivers will need to pay extra close attention to cyclists when they turn, Duncan said. At some point, her department will look into doing the same thing on existing bike lanes in other parts of the city.

We have no objection to putting in bike lanes, especially if they are buffered from traffic. (They are.  See the picture below.)  Our biggest concern is that cutting the lanes and slowing the speed limit may choke access to downtown – while having residents downtown is great, the reality is that for downtown to thrive, people from outside downtown have to be able to get there relatively easily.

And look at the picture of Platt from the article:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

First, that is way better than the completely absurd (and basically unused) bike lane on Dale Mabry. (See here and then try to figure out why you wouldn’t use the sidewalk there so as to preserve your life.)

We are told:

Her department closely studied the changes to the roads before making them so it wouldn’t disrupt the flow of traffic on those major thoroughfares in and out of downtown, Duncan said. And the new designs provided for “desperately needed” free parking spots in South Tampa, she said.

Which is fine. One thing we notice, other than that swerving of the bike lanes (who could be confused by that?) – which is odd but probably has some logic to it – is the lack of parking spaces.  In the picture, there is one bus only space (presumably in front of a bus stop) and another lined area that seems perfect for a parking space.  Why not work to add more?

Putting in bike lanes is great (far better than the “share the road” concept where streets are just designated also bike paths).  We just hope that as the process continues 1) traffic is not completely choked and 2) the outcome is logical, intuitive, and really makes the best use of the right of way to add as much parking as possible.  Now, if only the County would get on board and coordinate with the City so everyone could benefit.

TIA – Surely, Something Can Be Done

The airport fact sheet for 2014 came out recently.  Aside from telling us annual passenger numbers (17,552,707 (+3.74% from CY 2013))    It has this interesting nugget:

Top 10 Markets for Tampa: 1. New York 2. Chicago 3. Washington D.C. 4. Atlanta 5. Detroit 6. Boston 7. Baltimore 8. Philadelphia 9. San Francisco 10. Dallas

So, San Francisco is the 9th largest market.  We know the airport is trying, but surely that can be used to sell a nonstop flight to some airline.

Economic Development – How Many Playing Fields You Need, Again

The County is moving forward with its quest for playing fields.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to seek landowners and developers in order to build a multi-sports complex with 16 to 20 fields. Two different requests for proposals will be put out concurrently — one for land, the other for a firm or firms that can design and build the complex.

Commissioner Ken Hagan, who secured $15 million in county funds for the complex more than two years ago, said this type of center is sorely needed if Hillsborough wants to compete with other counties for amateur sports tournaments. Though the complex is unlikely to pay for itself, at least in the early years, the visitors it attracts will boost the local economy, Hagan said.

“A complex of this magnitude will be a revenue-producing asset that boosts our economy through hotel room nights and consumer spending that occurs as a result of hosting these tournaments,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, our goal should be to offer an ideal blend of economic and social development in our community.”

Top county administrators have been working since December on structuring the requests for proposals to attract as wide a range of options for the county as possible, Hagan said. The hope is that by separating the proposals for land, design and construction, and — after the center is built — operations and maintenance, the county will save money.

The question is whether the County should be spending any money on a complex built specifically for this purpose.  Is there no private interest in building and operating such a complex with subsidy?  Do we really care if a competition is held in an adjacent county?  Is this the best use of $15 million (which is much more – about 7 ½ times as much – than the incentive proposed for a back office Johnson & Johnson project which is supposed to produce 700 high wage jobs.  Will the playing fields investment bring 4900 high wage jobs)?

Then again, did you think anything else would happen?

The only opposition to the plan came from Commissioner Victor Crist, who said no one had come to talk to him about the project. Crist said before the commission moved forward, needs and impact assessments should be done.

Money for the sports complex could be used for existing county parks, Crist said, many of which are in need of renovations.

Such studies are reasonable.

In December, Crist offered to vote for Hagan’s motion to seek bids on the sports complex in return for Hagan’s support for an arts and cultural center in New Tampa, where Crist lives. 

Nevermind.

And, of course, the County paid a consultant to tell it that it should do what it wanted to do anyway.

The question remains: in a county without money for transportation and trying to transform its economy to a higher wage economy is this the best use of $15 million?

Economic Development – Tourism is Good, But  . . .

Tourism numbers are out, and are good.

Room occupancy in February was at about 86 percent, 7 percent from the same month in 2014. The room rate was up 10 percent from 2014 at $119.48 and the revenue per available room was up 18 percent at $108.

* * *

Hillsborough County collected about $2.5 million in Tourism Development Taxes in February. That number is up more than 16 percent from last year. This year’s fiscal calendar for Visit Tampa Bay – which began Oct. 1 – is running more than 15 percent over last year at this point and almost 9 percent over 2007’s numbers, the previous record. 

And that is all good.  However, the same report tells us this:

“Every month we’re showing double digit growth over last year,” Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in a statement. “It’s nice to be No. 1 against our competitive set and it’s overwhelming the amount of business we’re driving here.”

Room occupancy in February was at about 86 percent, 7 percent from the same month in 2014. The room rate was up 10 percent from 2014 at $119.48 and the revenue per available room was up 18 percent at $108.

The Tampa metro’s room revenue numbers are usually in the top three of its competitive set. The other cities in the set include Ft. Lauderdale; Orlando; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Baltimore, Md.; Milwaukee; Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; and Long Beach, Calif., according to Visit Tampa Bay.

Number one in what exactly?  Occupancy? Room rates? Growth? Tax revenue?  Definitely not the last one because:

Corrada has set a goal of reaching a three-year total of $30 million in bed taxes by Dec. 31, 2017. This achievement would bump Hillsborough County onto Florida’s list of “high-impact tourism” counties. Then, the county commission could potentially raise the bed tax by a penny. Eight Florida counties now qualify — Duval, Volusia, Orange, Osceola, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Pinellas.

(Note: we agree with that goal.)  If we are beating Ft. Lauderdale (Broward) or Orlando (not a chance) in tax revenue, how is it that they qualify for the extra tax while we do not.  And growth is good but does not tell us if we are still way behind and playing catch up or moving ahead. (And, much as we like tourism, we’d trade our tourism #1 with some of those places if we could get their income levels.)

Once again, the numbers look good.  The hype is not.

List of the Week I

In line with our first item above, our first list this week is brought to us courtesy of a reader who forwarded a link last week: smartgrowthamerica.org’s walkable urbanism of the 30 biggest metro areas.  You can read the whole report here.  Just note that the report is based far more on how things are constructed rather than road grids.

Because it is just 30 metro areas, we will put the whole list here.  Coming in most walkable is DC, followed by NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa, Phoenix, and Orlando.

Here is what the report says about our level of urbanism:

LOW WALKABLE URBANISM

Sacramento, San Diego, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa, and Orlando have low percentages of walkable urban office and retail development over-all, and nearly all of it is in the central city. While Sacramento and San Diego have invested in light rail, outside of their revitalized downtowns and downtown adjacent areas there is little evidence of this investment resulting in walkable urban development.

Historically, drivable sub-urban development has characterized metro Detroit, Miami, and Phoenix. However, in contrast to their popular reputations and low rankings at present, all three metros are experiencing revitalization of their downtowns—and even some urbanizing suburbs—with several outstanding examples of WalkUPs in them

(@ pg 13) So Tampa and Orlando do not really earn a mention.

One thing that should be remembered is that biking and walking go hand in hand.  As with so many things, we are making progress but are quite far behind.  We need an accelerated plan to catch up – as an area – to even become average.  And it should be noted that the Lightning owner’s plans, while very welcome, are still relatively small in relation to the overall area and will not really bring us to the level of the usual suspects.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week shows that we have made progress because Travel & Leisure finally is really noting that we exist: its “So You’re a Little Weird: the 20 Quirkiest Cities in America.”

Coming is as quirkiest, not surprisingly, is New Orleans, followed by Austin,  Portland (OR), Providence, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, NYC, Tampa, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Portland (ME), Houston, Nashville, LA, Philadelphia, Louisville, and Atlanta.

Here’s what they say about us:

  1. Tampa, Florida

The NFL’s Buccaneer mascot is no joke in this Florida city, new to the survey this year. Gasparilla season—parades and festivals celebrating the city’s centuries-old pirate history—lasts throughout the winter, but year round, you can embrace the swashbuckling spirit at Gaspar’s Grotto, offering a $25 “bucket of grog” (read: a huge margarita) to share with friends. To explore one colorful chapter in the city’s history, go to Ybor City—once known as the cigar capital of the world—and visit the two remaining stogie factories, J.C. Newman and Tampa Sweethearts. Showing the diversity of taste here, readers were equally impressed by Tampa’s luxury shopping and its flea markets; one local favorite for budget finds is the Wagon Wheel Flea Market, which ups the ante with live music and a beer garden.

So they like drinking, though we never thought the Wagon Wheel Flea Market would make Travel & Leisure. Fine with us.

 

Roundup 3-13-2015

March 13, 2015

Economic Development – More on Tech Hubs

The Times had a column this week regarding an article in the New York Times about Orlando’s attempts to sell itself as a tech center.   The Times column was really a follow-up on a previous column about the Tampa Bay Tech Forum which we discussed last week. (See “Economic Development – The Tech Forum” )  To this week’s column:

Many metro areas beyond Silicon Valley and Seattle seek recognition as a technology hub. Tampa Bay is one of them. My column Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times was headlined At the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, it’s time to stake a claim as a tech hub. It focused on the tech group’s growing confidence that this metro area needs to tell the story that the depth of tech activity here deserves more respect and awareness.

The region’s tech feedback I’ve received so far seems to boil down to this: Before we talk the talk, let’s walk the walk. We need a breakthrough tech company started here to achieve enough size and innovation to spark questions like “What’s up in Tampa Bay?”

“Painting the tech community with one big brush not only diminishes the efforts of those actually developing new products and organically generating high-skilled jobs, but it also perpetuates the notion that all we need is better PR to draw attention to our region,” Ken Evans, an area technology executive, said in an email.

Then there is the geography game. Grow all the startups you like. But if they move to California for the venture capital or get bought and moved elsewhere by a bigger company, does that help build the local startup community?

All of that is perfectly reasonable and essentially what we have been saying for a while. PR is good but it has to be based on actual achievement. So let’s look at that New York Times article and what it says about areas that have done ok in developing into tech centers:

But let’s look at the place that scored fourth on P.P.I.’s list: Utah County, Utah, whose largest city is Provo. In February, The New Yorker proclaimed that Utah is “the next Silicon Valley.” That’s hyperbole, but Provo (population: 116,288) does punch far above its weight; of 73 private venture-funded companies in the world with valuations over $2 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, Provo is home to two. A large, new National Security Agency facility in the area is adding to the concentration of tech jobs and workers.

Provo provides an example of one of two models for competing with Silicon Valley. “There’s a group of people who really want to live there and there’s a really good research university,” says the urban theorist Richard Florida. He’s referring to Brigham Young University and the opportunity to live among a large Mormon community. But approximately the same formula describes the success of Boulder, Colo., which has the University of Colorado, proximity to great mountain sports and a disproportionate concentration of tech jobs and venture capital funding.

* * *

What New York and Provo have in common is they provide not just the resources necessary to start a high-tech business, but also the impetus to keep it there once it succeeds. In the Provo (or Boulder) example, the businesses stay local because the owners and the workers really want to live there. (This is something else Silicon Valley has always had going for it.) In the New York example, they stay local because the location provides an irreplaceable business advantage.

In other words, you need talent, money, and lifestyle. (In case you are interested, here is the New Yorker article on Provo, here is the Wall Street Journal chart on valuations, and here is the 2010 New York Times article on Boulder.  New York City is just New York City and does not need any articles to explain the appeal.)  And

Mr. Florida pointed to Pittsburgh as a cautionary example. He used to teach at Carnegie Mellon, a top research university that produces a lot of graduates capable of starting and staffing great technology companies. But start-ups that spin out of Carnegie Mellon have neither a strong lifestyle reason nor a strong economic reason to stay in Pittsburgh once they succeed. “If there was a successful start-up, eventually it got sucked into the Silicon Valley vortex,” he said. 

So, maybe Pittsburgh is not the example that people in this area should be looking to (like here) – of course, you have to get to Pittsburgh levels before you can move past it.  And maybe we can learn from its issues.

So, what lessons does this provide for someplace like Orlando, if it wants to shift its economy toward high tech?

“I think what Orlando has is a combination of the space stuff and the Disney stuff,” Mr. Florida said. “It’s not trivial, those things taken together, but it’s hard to see how you put them together.”

Local officials point to one way they might. Orlando is a center for modeling and simulation technology, because flight simulators and theme park rides can rely on a lot of the same technology. Tourism isn’t generally thought of as a tech-intensive field, but Disney recently developed its MyMagic Plus system (waterproof wristbands with RFID chips that give visitors access to rides and unlock their hotel room doors) in-house in Orlando.

Still, tourism is heavily dispersed geographically, and while there are a lot of tourism dollars in Orlando, even Disney is not headquartered there. Companies that produce technology for the hospitality industry do not need to cluster in Orlando.

So Orlando has tourism/media/simulation as a draw (though it has weaknesses there) What is our strength?  Diversity is fine, but what is the draw?

What we are getting at is this: as we said last week, we have some tech companies.  We have some lifestyle – especially the beach (though our development pattern, relative lack of urban amenities, and poor transit, as well as a deep-seated and long-standing tendency to favor the generic over the idiosyncratic and just copy other areas are not big draws).  We do not have much in terms of funding yet.  If a young techie with no connection to this area has a choice about where to live, set up accompany, and run it long into the future, what is the draw?  And more to the point – what is the draw over other cities?

— An Aside

And in a related note there is this:

President Obama kicked off an initiative on Monday intended to train more people for higher-paying jobs in high-technology services as he seeks to counter wage stagnation in an economy that has otherwise been improving.

Even as unemployment has fallen to 5.5 percent, few American workers are seeing more money in their pockets. The president announced that his administration had enlisted 21 cities or regions and about 300 private-sector employers to expand training programs and would chip in $100 million in federal money for grants to encourage innovative approaches.

“We are going to more effectively capture what is the boundless energy and talent of Americans who have the will but sometimes need a little help clearing out the way,” Mr. Obama told an audience of mayors and other municipal leaders attending a conference of the National League of Cities in Washington. “Help them get on a path to fill the new jobs of this century. And that’s what middle-class economics looks like.”

Of about five million unfilled jobs in the United States, the White House said, about 500,000 are in high-technology areas like software development, network administration and computer security. The average job requiring technology skills pays about 50 percent more than the average private-sector job, according to the White House.

The president’s initiative, called TechHire, will focus on regions of the country with more than 120,000 open technology jobs. The participating municipalities and employers will explore new ways to recruit and train workers. Among the cities participating will be New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Louisville, Ky.; St. Louis; San Antonio; Portland, Ore.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

That is very interesting, especially given 500 tech jobs that need to be filled here.  So, what areas are getting in on the programs?

Louisville;  New York City; Philadelphia; Delaware; City of Kearney and Buffalo County, NE; Colorado; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Memphis; Rural Eastern Kentucky; Nashville; Rochester; Detroit; San Francisco; Albuquerque; Chattanooga; Portland

Well, that is an odd list, though in one respect it is quite normal: we are not on it.  Just like we are not in the Google fiber plans. (Here is a report on Kansas City’s superfast internet.)  The question is why?  If we are serious about changing the economic DNA, why aren’t we really pushing for these things. And if we are pushing, why are we not getting them? (Surely our importance in elections should be able to get us on federal programs.)

 – Conclusion

The fact remains that we are a consumer of ideas, not a producer – not just tech, but development, governance, transportation, arts, food, pretty much everything.  We are consistently behind other areas that push the envelope.  While there may be isolated incidents of cutting edge achievements, as an area, we are not cutting edge. Arguably, for a big metro, we are not even average. (And no amount of cheerleading will change that.) And until that changes, while we improve and have great potential, we will still be playing catch up and have to work extra hard to attract the high-tech and other knowledge based jobs to transform the economy.

Westshore – More Residents

There was an article in the Times about how the Westshore area is getting more residents.

Since Brooks moved into her Villa Sonoma condo on Spruce Street a decade ago, five upscale apartment complexes with 1,640 units have opened in nearby areas of West Shore. Five more complexes, with 1,440 units in toto, are either planned or under construction.

“We’ve had the work and play, and now we’re getting the live,” said Ann Kulig, deputy director of the Westshore Alliance, a nonprofit organization of area businesses.

Located near a major airport and just a 25-minute drive from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, West Shore has long been Tampa Bay’s premier business district and one of the largest in Florida. It has 37 hotels, two shopping malls, more than 200 restaurants and bars (plus a few strip joints) and 4,000 businesses, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, LabCorp and Bloomin’ Brands.

Within this relatively compact area, you can catch a movie, buy groceries, watch a football game, even hit the beach at the little-known but lovely Cypress Point Park on Tampa Bay. Yet while almost 94,000 people work there and thousands more come to shop and eat, fewer than 15,000 call West Shore home.

First, Cypress Point Park, being on the water with some sand, may be a “beach” if you are using a Waverunner or parasurfing or doing some plane spotting, is not a beach of the sort this area is used to and is really quite hidden away – here  – (if you drive across the Howard Frankland and ever look around you would know it was there).

Nevertheless, yes, Westshore is getting more residents.  And that is good.  Moreover, the residential projects are not bad – they have some urban-ish design (but no street interaction or retail or good walking spaces) and some density. But

West Shore has one big disadvantage, though, compared with more traditional urban cores.

As the resurgence of downtown St. Petersburg has shown, being pedestrian-friendly is a big plus in luring new residents. Shoppers and restaurant-goers like to stroll without fear of being mowed down by cars roaring past at 60 mph.

So far, the words “walkability” and “West Shore” have not been widely used together. The business district is criss-crossed by numerous six-lane highways that at times take on the feel of NASCAR speedways.

“It’s better than it used to be,” said Kulig of the Westshore Alliance, “but there’s certainly room for improvement.”

Well, it is hard to be worse than Westshore used to be and the room for improvement is gargantuan.  The City could easily have made walkable/urban the areas like Spruce between Lois and Boy Scout/Westshore or around new projects on Lois if it really cared to.  The failure to do so was a choice, and par for the course.  In any event,

As part of a repaving project on busy Boy Scout Boulevard, which skirts International Plaza, the Florida Department of Transportation is adding sidewalks and widening ones already there. Crosswalks have appeared along Boy Scout, Lois, West Shore and Kennedy Boulevard.

Brooks, who saw West Shore’s residential promise earlier than most, likes her condo in Villa Sonoma because it’s right behind three popular restaurants — Lee Roy Selmon’s, Roy’s and Fleming’s — that she can easily walk to. It’s also possible, if a bit dicier, to get to International Plaza and WestShore Plaza on foot.

But as a city planner with AECOM (formerly URS Corp.), an engineering firm that has worked with the Westshore Alliance, Brooks wants to see the business district become far more pedestrian-friendly.

Much of the focus is on West Shore Boulevard, which already serves as a Main Street of sorts because it links the malls, several hotels and scores of businesses. One idea is planting more trees along the street to provide greater shade and thus encourage people to walk from, say, hotel to mall.

Brooks also envisions a “transit circulator,” perhaps a rubber-wheeled trolley, that could run up and down West Shore at lunchtime and ferry office workers to the malls and restaurants.

Those small improvements are fine as far as they go. However, while the distances are not that far, the obstacles are great because for decades the entire area has been built for cars alone, and remains so. (Like putting the Chrome sculpture – ok it’s not exactly the Chrome logo – in a location that makes it for viewing almost exclusively by drivers who are blowing by.)  And some of the biggest obstacles can be seen in the Times’ teaser picture for the article:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Who wouldn’t want to take that walk by the scenic historic water pipes and dried up drainage ditch/retention pond nowhere near anything interesting? (Which also raises the question about why this area is so obsessed with putting all utilities connections in highly visible locations and retention ponds on the street, but that is for another day.) And when you get to wherever you are going, you still have to negotiate all that parking.

We understand that retro-fitting the Westshore area will take some time (if not major reconstruction).  Our bigger concern is that, despite some small measures to improve walkability, the City still is approving projects that are distinctly more pedestrian friendly, like the restaurants near the Container store that, while built to the sidewalk, do not have a front door on the street – they face their parking lots.  Shade trees are nice – good even – but if you walk under shade until you have to cross giant parking lots or cross extremely inhospitable streets, you are still going to drive.

Even as West Shore becomes more residential, though, it lacks the sense of place that characterizes older, leafier areas like Hyde Park and St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast.

That is true in the sense that Westshore has no focus and no outstanding locations for pedestrians.  Really, the sense of place in Westshore is of being in a 1980’s office park and the corresponding sea of parking.

Once again, we think the development of residential in Westshore is great – it is well past time.  And we understand that fixing some of the issues will take a while.  However, if the City is serious about doing something about Westshore, it can start by not allowing poorly designed developments.  It really does not cost any more to have a proper front door – it is time to require it.

Downtown – The Straz Thinks Big

The Straz announced ideas for a new master plan:

A master plan calls for creating an outdoor event plaza overlooking the river; a waterfront restaurant; and a grassy amphitheater that slopes down to the water.

In addition to creating new view corridors to the river, the center’s leadership also envisions giving arriving patrons something to look at: an oval-shaped pavilion set in the water, near shore, maybe something topped by an eye-catching and statement-making piece of sculpture.

And

Under the plan, the area between the venue and the Hillsborough River would be transformed with a new entry plaza, a riverfront restaurant and café with terrace seating, retail stores, an amphitheater and an events center for weddings and parties. A new underground parking garage with spaces for 100 cars is planned for the south side of the Straz.

Grandest of all perhaps, would be the addition of a small over-the-water pavilion housing a tall avant-garde sculpture intended to serve as a visual cue of the venue’s presence downtown.

There are a number of renderings in the articles, but we will highlight two: first, an overall shot:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the actual lot here (it seems that the rendering, as renderings often do, makes the lot look a bit longer than it actually is).  The second rendering is what appears to be the outdoor pavilion.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside the cost of the expansion and where the money will come from (though if we had to pick priorities, we’d pick the streetcar extension first), we have decidedly mixed feelings about these plans.  We like the terraces.  We think the pavilion is architecturally interesting (if, in fact, something like that actually gets built rather than just being a rendering).  We have no problem with the feature in the river.  Putting a restaurant overlooking the river is fine.

However, looking at the overall vision, one thing we note is that the plan partially cuts downtown off from access to the river (far more than the apartment building to which many objected does.)  The pavilion, while interesting, is squeezed next to the bridge and blocks the view corridor. Its apparent screen wall is not set back from the river very far and walls in the space quite a bit (and will wall in views from the south even more than the bridges already do.)

People objected to the apartment building because it was too close to the river and walled it off from downtown, which the Mayor, rightly, pointed out was not really the case.

“Let me tell you, this is not going to block the waterfront,” Buckhorn said. “This building (the Straz) sits 67 feet from the waterfront. The Tampa Museum of Art 127 feet from the waterfront. The proposed Residences at the closest is over 200 feet from the waterfront.”

So how close to the river is the pavilion? And how much will it cut downtown off from the river?

And there is a canopy of unknown material and height that may or may not also block view corridors. And we are not sure about the walkway under the bridges which were originally said to be too low (especially the CSX bridge) to have a walkway under them.

Frankly, we do not know enough to really decide definitively if it is the best thing. What did the Mayor say?

“It’s bold,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was briefed last week. “It is in keeping with everything that we’ve tried to do in terms of focusing activity on the waterfront. I think it is very complementary of the Riverwalk and the development that will occur along the Riverwalk.”

Maybe or maybe not.  That remains to be seen, because

Buckhorn also said he recognized that the plan is still being made, but that the city stands ready to expedite permitting once construction plans are ready.

Wouldn’t it be good to see the full plan planned before deciding anything?

Transportation – That Pesky Gandy Connector

The Gandy connector, which should have been built long ago, has reared its head again.

Gandy is a state road, which means the Florida Department of Transportation controls it. An average of 34,000 cars travel on it each day, said Kristen Carson, the department’s spokeswoman. And during peak times, traffic swells by about 1,500 cars per hour.

It’s a vital link between Pinellas and Hillsborough, and it’s the only major part of Tampa Bay’s extensive hurricane evacuation route that is not a limited-access highway.

Across the bay, construction to improve the flow of Gandy Boulevard traffic is under way. The $83 million Pinellas plan to build an elevated road should be done in about two years and will run east of Interstate 275 to east of Fourth Street.

But Tampa’s Gandy corridor remains sluggish. Without incident, it takes about 30 minutes to get from the Selmon Expressway to the other side of the bay or vice versa each morning and afternoon.

That is by choice.

The mile-long stretch of Gandy Boulevard between the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and the bridge has been a commuting nightmare for years, raising the question: When is it going to be fixed?

The answer: No time soon.

Proposals to solve the problem have been tossed around for years, the most recent a 2010 plan for an elevated expressway 30 feet above the road. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority did studies and drew plans that included paying for the road with expected toll revenue, said Joe Waggoner, the authority’s executive director. But it never worked out.

“There just wasn’t the (momentum) to take the next step,” Waggoner said.

To be exact, there was no political leadership or foresight to overcome overblown opposition.

Though the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization reported that 54 percent of the community supported the elevated expressway project in a poll, Waggoner said it didn’t seem like most residents did — another reason the project never got off the ground.

Alan Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, agreed.

“There’s people in the community that support this concept, but the majority are probably still against it,” Steenson said, including himself.

Steenson, 80, worked in construction for about 30 years. He admitted the traffic is bad, even more so in the past few years. But he still doesn’t like the expressway idea.

“Let’s put it this way: They tried,” he said. “They tried very hard. And in my point of view, they’re going to keep at it. But I suspect most people would be opposed to a 30-foot-high structure down the middle of their street.”

Except it is not running down their street, and it is not just a local road.  The fact is that there needs to be a connector or some sort, but that is not going to happen any time soon.

Jean Duncan, who heads Tampa’s transportation department, said the elevated expressway idea could be revisited.

“It’s not like it’s being completely ignored,” she said. “It’s just this type of project is quite a major undertaking.”

In the meantime, Duncan said she’s doing what she can. The city doesn’t have jurisdiction of the road, but it can manage the flow of traffic, she said. That’s why the lights at three intersections — Lois, Manhattan and West Shore — were retimed last summer in cooperation with the FDOT.

In other words, not much is going to happen while development continues and the problem festers.

The article then gets into the idea that people might like a connector but do not want the construction.  We get that.  Construction is a pain.  Then again, sometimes it just needs to be done.  A connector is a vital connection in our local transportation infrastructure. (Like an east-west road in the north)

As we noted a while back, the connector saga is a microcosm of the greater transportation failure in the area. (See “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” )   If Tampa (and the Tampa Bay area) really wants to get to the next level, it needs to deal with its problems.  Transportation is high on the list and includes both transit AND roads.  Deal with it.

Not Only Downtown Is Important

There was a nice article in the Times regarding a growing food scene in Seminole Heights.

Seminole Heights has become the “it” spot in Tampa, with dozens of existing restaurants, bars and food businesses crowded along N Florida and N Nebraska avenues, and a big handful on the horizon, poised to debut this spring.

What’s going on?

Tigi Taylor, who will open Hampton Station, a neighborhood pizza-wings-burgers spot at 5921 N Nebraska, at the end of March, thinks it’s only natural that Seminole Heights’ time in the limelight is nigh.

“It’s about 15 years overdue. The real estate collapse stalled things. Residential always rebounds first, and commercial comes next. People are moving back in from the suburbs because they are sick of traveling. And now that the businesses are opening, you’re getting younger couples who are moving here, people who are used to living in a city.”

What is going on is that clusters tend to grow organically.  Space in Seminole Heights is less expensive than space in South Tampa or downtown.  People taking a chance tend to not want to spend money they do not have to.  Once you get some successes, others are drawn to the area and you get a cluster.  That is what is happening with Seminole Heights.  In the meantime, the City has not really done much to support the area (just drive down Florida and look at most of the buildings 20 years old or less or the parks in the area and you will know what we mean), focusing much more on South Tampa and downtown.

The growing food scene in Seminole Heights should be a lesson that government can only engineer so much.  The question is whether the City will be agile enough to take advantage of the work of private citizens and help it flourish.  There is a whole city out there.

International Trade – Cuba

A few weeks ago, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce endorsed the idea of having a Cuban consulate in Tampa should relations between the US and Cuba improve.

A resolution passed unanimously by the chamber’s board said the consulate should be secure, and that business leaders believe “Tampa should return to its rightful and historical place as an economic engine” for facilitating trade with Cuba as relations between the two countries open back up again. Cuba’s history with the Tampa Bay area goes back to the 1500s, the chamber said.

(You can read what they actually said here.)

Around the same time

A delegation of 75 top U.S. agriculture leaders organized by Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc. will arrive in Cuba this weekend on a trade mission to explore the potential for increased business between the two countries.

* * *

“If the embargo did not exist, and the financing restrictions didn’t exist, we’d be shipping more there,” Vorwerk said. “Why are the Brazilian companies getting the benefit instead of our ag groups?”

More about Midwestern farmers’ views on Cuba here.

Also at the same time, the State legislature began looking at a resolution to oppose normalizing ties.

So what do local officials have to say about the possibility of having a consulate here?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been open to the idea, also endorsed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, but he’s not seeking it out.

“If the decision is made to locate it here we will do everything we are obligated to do by law, protect the diplomats and make sure the rules are abided by,” he said in January. “Clearly the mayor of Miami has indicated that they are not interested. If the powers that be at the federal level decide, then we will live with it.”

Of course, the decision starts with the Federal government.  However, if there are relations (a big if still), it is logical to have a consulate here given our longstanding ties to Cuba.  And, if we are trying to be a gateway to Latin America and Federal policy allows it, it makes sense to reconnect with our longest standing relationship with it, Cuba. (The rest of the country will connect, anyway.)

As for Miami, what they want does not concern us.  We do not have to ask their permission.

USF – More Money

There was news of another big donation to USF.

Since he met a proverbial Ad Man on his paper route growing up in New Jersey, Jordan Zimmerman always wanted to be one himself.

The University of South Florida helped him achieve that goal, and now the Fort Lauderdale agency owner is showing his gratitude. On Monday, USF announced it had received a $10 million donation to the school of mass communications, which will be renamed the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

USF is proving that it can bring in the big donations, which is great.  And once again, thanks to the donor for his generosity.

List of the Week

Given all the recent discussions about economic development, our list this week is quite relevant: Site Selection’s 2014 Top Ten Metro’s by Number of Projects.  It focuses on all those relocations and economic development projects that are constantly touted. You can read the article for their criteria (which is basically the number of projects).  We will focus on larger metros.

Coming in first was Chicago, followed by Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas, NYC, Columbus (OH), Detroit, Louisville, and Kansas City.

Of note, even in the smaller metro categories, there were no Florida cities in the top 10 (there were a number of Ohio and Texas cities).  So, yes, we are making progress, but let’s not get carried away.

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