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Roundup 7-13-2018

July 12, 2018

Contents

Rays/Ybor City – Stadium Reveal

Transportation – More Havana?

Ferry Stories – Maybe

Port – Something Cool, Maybe

Transportation – Suncoast 2 Lives

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Spanish Cycling

— Not So Fast

List of the Week

_______________________________


Rays/Ybor City – Stadium Reveal

Some weeks, especially in the summer, are relatively quiet.  This week was one of those, except, of course, the big news: the Rays’ reveal of their stadium concept.  From the Business Journal:

The Tampa Bay Rays have unveiled their vision for a Major League Baseball presence in Tampa’s historic Ybor City: a neighborhood ballpark with a fixed, translucent roof to ensure fan comfort and game certainty during the Florida summers.

* * *

It will have 28,216 fixed seats and a total capacity of 30,842. The Rays billed it the “most intimate ballpark in MLB.”

From the Times – click on picture for article

Actually, by quite a bit, it will be the smallest stadium.  If you consider small intimate, then it will be the most intimate.  (We are not sure if there is provision to add more seats if they are eventually needed.)  Or, as the Times put it:

The Rays on Tuesday unveiled the team’s plans for an Ybor City stadium: It will have see-through sliding glass walls, a fixed translucent roof, an artificial turf playing field and will be integrated into the historic Latin neighborhood with an evolving design.

* * *

The estimated cost of the stadium and surrounding infrastructure is $892 million. The stadium itself is projected to cost $809 million, and the roof will cost about $240 million of that.

We are not sure why they specified the cost of the roof, but the cost is quite high.  It is definitely above most press estimates.  Here is a screenshot of a more exact cost breakdown from the Rays presentation (courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay):

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

However,

The team did not reveal its expectation for a public contribution to the project.

But

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday he expects the team to contribute more than the $150 million he mentioned last year to a proposed $892 million ballpark unveiled this week.

“I absolutely know it will grow from there, but I also know it’s not going to be multiples,” Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

So, Sternberg was asked, the team’s share likely wouldn’t be half the project cost?

“I don’t envision it,” he said, immediately adding, “could things change as markets change?”

That, he suggested, would depend on what the team gets for naming rights on the ballpark, how many businesses or individuals sign up as founding sponsors for a $1 million a year or more, how much the new ballpark drives additional sales of season tickets and whether and how much corporate support promises to grow.

“We have a number in mind for all these things,” he said, though not saying what that number is, and if the total exceeds that threshold, then that could affect the team’s contribution.

While money is clearly going to be the biggest issue, there are not going to be answers this week, so, for now, we will focus on the proposed design:

The architect on the project, Kansas City-based Populous, designed many of the ballparks that have been built in the last decade and a half — Yankees Stadium in New York, Marlins Park in Miami, Target Field in Minneapolis and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., are among them.

Which is interesting but not really relevant, as some of Related’s local projects  compared to what they do elsewhere make clear.  In any event,

Sternberg stressed that the stadium, which covers about 900,000 square feet, will be available for use year-round and “will be of, by and for the people of Tampa Bay.”

How would that work? There’s been discussions of closing part of an adjacent street to create pre- and post- game festival areas. Food and beverage outlets there could operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week, year-round at the stadium.

The field itself could also be opened to kids to play on during the off-season, the concourses could be opened to the public and the flexible-design areas could make be made available for meetings and other events.

Even if it is a good idea, closing the streets for games is not a year round use of the stadium by the people. Opening the field and building to other uses like meetings and organizations is a potentially year round use, and we are fine with that, but it is not critical.  We are not as concerned with the sales pitch as we are with the product. Here are the rest of the renderings that we are sure most of you have seen (caveat: the description of the views are ours so we may have gotten something wrong):

Channelside and Adamo, looking north:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Looking west:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Inside, looking northeast:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Looking south-southwest:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Looking west down 4th:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Corner of 4th and 15th, looking southwest:

From the Times – click on picture for article

First, the things we like:

– We like the large sidewalks surrounding the stadium (esp. on 4th) and the storefronts facing the sidewalks. We like that there are awnings (very Ybor), though we are not sure how continuous they are. The plan seems to have made a real attempt to have activated streets (at least 4th and, to some degree, Channelside.  The renderings are not clear regarding the treatment and activity on Adamo and 15th though, from the view looking west – second picture in this cluster – they seem to be kind of dead, which would not be good.)

– We also like the idea of closing off a street before and after games to create a congregation space.  We have seen that done successfully in a number of cities.  It can be very effective.

– We like the large glass walls that can open and that there is a view of downtown (though not from the main stands, but more on that below). At least they allow some fresh air in on nice weather days.

– We like this about the actual game watching experience:

The plans for the new stadium include the shortest “nose to field” distance of any park built since the 1940s, which would put it third in baseball behind Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

That is definitely a nice feature (as long as you pay attention for fouls).

We are neutral regarding all the special features like the picnic suite area.  We see some appeal in them but are more concerned with the overall experience than the gimmicks.

There are a number of things we do not like.  (For a number of these, we understand why they were the choice but we are still going to point them out.)

– We do not like the use of palm trees instead of shade trees.  (Maybe Populous and SPP should exchange notes about trees and awnings.)

– While we like the glass walls that can open, we are not sure why they are so small.  If the roof is fixed, there is no real reason the glass walls can’t be taller, letting in more air and more light and allowing people to clearly see more outside the stadium, especially in the outfield.

– There is also the question of the views.  In this plan, the main stands would have a view of Ybor City out the outfield window, not downtown. This is the orientation:

From the Times – click on picture for article

We sort of understand. Usually baseball fields are set up so the batter would not be looking into the sun in the afternoon/early evening.  So, looking southwest from home plate (which would give the larger stands a view of downtown through the glass).  With a fully enclosed stadium, that would not matter (the batter can’t see the sun).  We are assuming that the possibility of the sun getting through the glass wall/translucent roof is the reason this stadium is oriented so the best skyline view is not the main view.  Regardless the reason, it is too bad (and it also means that, like the Trop, the most obvious way to get into the stadium is into the outfield, which not the most efficient design for crowd flow).  And, if the glass walls are causing the orientation of the building to lose views, then at least make the glass walls bigger to make it feel open. (We will say that at least they created a feature that provides some skyline views, but the dynamics are not completely clear)

– We do not really like the translucent roof.

The roof: The translucent section of the roof, which will cover the outfield, will be made from a synthetic fluoropolymer known as Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Architects looked at using other transparent material that admits enough ultraviolet light to grow a grass field. But even with extensive use of grow lamps, the team would have faced replacing the field four or more times a season, said Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz. That’s why the new stadium will have artificial turf.

While it would be really nice to have baseball on grass, we get the cost/benefit economics of not having a retractable roof.  We get that having a completely clear roof would make cooling costs very high. And we think the glass walls somewhat mitigate any lack of clarity of the roof or lack of open roof (namely because they will let there be some fresh air on occasion), but, as we noted, the glass walls are too small.

We also think the roof as portrayed is not really aesthetically pleasing. Maybe it will look better in real life, but, to us, the curve really has a 70’s (and not in a cool, retro way) feel to it.

– We also understand the big Ray/wing reference for the solid roof element covering of the main stands.  We think covering the main stands is completely rational.  We think the idea of the ray shape is an interesting idea.  But, like the translucent roof, we also think it is the execution could be much better.

– Then there is the overall look. While we like (with some reservations) the storefronts and such on the street, we think the core stadium portion of the building has more than a passing resemblance to Marlins’ Park, just without the retractable roof (as noted above, not surprisingly both stadiums are designed by the same company)  and that stadium is neither iconic nor particularly attractive (though at least there is no indication the Rays plan includes an ugly green wall surrounding the filed or a hideous home run celebration contraption in the outfield).

And, oddly, the one rendering with the proposed stadium and the skyline makes it look quite a bit like the Trop, also not in a good way.

Populous designed a few of the best stadiums in baseball, why copy the Marlins/Trop? We get that architecture is subjective, but if they are going to copy a stadium, we would much rather they copied a classic baseball stadium.

Once again, we get that aesthetics are subjective, and some people will really like the look.  Maybe it will grow on us.  We don’t know. But the comments above are our initial impression.

That being said, it is better than the Trop (it better be for the money).  We’ll see what a final plan looks like. (We would not be surprised if some of the features get removed to lower the cost)  As for parking and transit to get to and from the stadium, we are not going to get into that now.

Regarding a theoretical timetable:

Building a new stadium is expected to take four to five years. The Rays are signed to play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg through 2027 but have an agreement in place to negotiate an early departure for a new stadium elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area.

In sum, we like many elements of the design, though the big egg/spaceship motif does not do much for us.  Setting aside the aesthetics, we would love the Rays to play in Ybor with a nice urban area developed around the stadium, but, at this point, that is not the big question.  The real question is how or if anyone will pay for the plan.

“The appetite for an additional burden on the average citizen is nonexistent,’’ said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “But if we can craft this so the burden is shifted to the tourists, to the developers, to those who benefit from the construction around the stadium, potentially a rental car surcharge, then I think it becomes more palatable to the average citizen and the (politicians).’’

News on the money is what we are really interested in and, not surprisingly, was lacking at the reveal. We shall see.


Transportation – More Havana?

There is a chance we could get an additional flight a week to Havana.

Southwest Airlines, which has provided one daily flight between Tampa International Airport and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport since December 2016, is among three commercial airlines competing for an additional Saturday route to Cuba’s capital city.

The other two are JetBlue Airways, which would fly the Saturday route to Havana via Fort Lauderdale, and American Airlines, which would do so from Miami.

The Department of Transportation, which will decide which airline gets this route, made the announcement on July 6.

You can read the article to see that the demand should be there.  South Florida has enough flights.  They can let us have one more.


Ferry Stories – Maybe

There was more news about the Cross Bay Ferry.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Monday that he’s still considering supporting the return of a ferry linking Tampa and St. Petersburg, but hasn’t made a final decision on whether to commit $150,000 toward the cost during a tight budget year.

“We’re open to it. The price is a lot lower than the last time,” Buckhorn said, referencing the $350,000 subsidy that the city, along with St. Petersburg and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties contributed for the ferry’s initial 2016-2017 trial run.

St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County have already committed to funding the ferry for the coming November-April season, but Buckhorn said he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

A decision is unlikely before he presents the city’s nearly $1 billion budget to City Council on July 19. That budget is still being finalized as officials find ways to pare a $5 million deficit.

* * *

Buckhorn said he thought the city would be ready to make a final call within “the next couple of weeks.”

If he decides to move forward, he’ll present the idea to City Council members meeting as the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area.

Our view on this ferry remains the same.  It is essentially a tourist cruise and not real transit.  If there is (non-deficit creating/increasing) money somewhere to pay for it (like a community development area) as a tourist cruise, fine.  While we’re sure it’s fun, it is not a priority of ours, and it should not be oversold as real transit. (That is not to say that one could theoretically run a ferry between St. Pete and Tampa that was transit.  It is just that the Cross Bay Ferry isn’t it.)

Last Minute Update:

Just before posting, we saw a Times blog post:

. . . Thursday, Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said the mayor has recommended that City Council approve the city’s contribution at its July 26 meeting.

St. Petersburg City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission have already signed off. The Pinellas County Commission will consider the proposal on July 17.

Our view remains the same.


Port – Something Cool, Maybe

There was some interesting news regarding the port.

A New Orleans-based company plans to bring as many as 3,500 jobs to Tampa if it wins a contract from the United States Coast Guard.

Bollinger Shipyards is soliciting a contract to build up to three heavy polar icebreakers and three medium-sized breakers, which are ships used in icy water.

Bollinger Shipyards announced Monday it would establish its manufacturing base for the icebreaker program in Tampa if its bid is selected. The company anticipates hiring 1,000 skilled, full-time shipyard workers as early as 2020. The program would take at least ten years, the company said.

* * *

The company did not specify where in Tampa it would locate.

We’ll just assume they will locate somewhere around port land. Is there a timeline?

The bidding process is an open competition. Interested vendors must submit technical proposals by Aug. 24 and price proposals by Sept. 14. The Coast Guard plans to award a contract for the project next year.

No budget is specified, but Defense Daily reported the three heavy polar icebreakers would cost $9.2 billion.

So far only Bollinger has responded to the proposal, but the U.S. Coast Guard targeted five vendors when the proposal was released in March, according to Defense News.

While it is kind of funny to have a New Orleans company build icebreakers in Florida, we would be all for adding more port business to the port (rather than real estate development).  We hope they succeed.


Transportation – Suncoast 2 Lives

After a brief hiatus, the Suncoast Parkway extension is back on.

A federal judge’s ruling has cleared the way for reviving construction of the controversial Suncoast 2 toll road in Citrus County, even though the road that would connect it to Interstate 75 has been put on the back burner.

Work on the road had been halted last month because of a temporary injunction from a federal judge. Thanks to the new court ruling, a spokeswoman for a consultant working on the road for the Florida Department of Transportation said Tuesday that construction on the Suncoast 2 “will resume by the end of the week.”

The case dealt with preserving an old turpentine camp for historical purposes.  While that is not necessarily the best argument for not building the road, that is not the point for us.  As we have said before, it is possible that at some point the extension will make sense.  However, this is not that time. The road is just not needed now (or in the near or mid-range future). And, as we noted before, for the cost of the extension, FDOT could fund all of Pinellas’s BRT and express bus plan, extend the streetcar, and have money left over. (See “TransportationSuncoast 2 Suit“)

So, why is it going forward? We’ll leave that to you to decide.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— Spanish Cycling

URBN Tampa Bay featured a video on the creation of a network for bicycles in Seville, Spain.  You can find the video at their post here.

Great video of how Seville Spain, a city with summers as hot as the Tampa Bay area’s, transformed itself with the rapid development of a network of bike facilities that are easy and safe to use. Use of bicycles for travel beyond exercise/leisure went from being all but non-existent in Seville, to representing about 10% of all local trips. That’s making commuting better for those who still drive too.

This also leaves Seville in excellent position to benefit and prosper from the global explosion in personal transport happening right now, like e-bikes, scooters, e-mopeds and so on.

It is truly amazing that they installed 80 km of protected lanes in about a year and a half.  It is also impressive that they get people riding in the heat.  We agree with URBN Tampa Bay on that.  And we definitely think that this area should accelerate building real bike lanes, not just painting stripes on arterial roads and daring people to ride right next to cars.

However, as we always say, everything is connected.  Seville is a much older city built for walking, without huge numbers of curb-cuts.  It also has developed mass transit.  To be truly successful, we would need to change how we are building our area.  Everything goes together.  And, actually the inclusion of provisions for developing different means of transportation (including bike infrastructure) is one of the better aspects of the proposed referendum.


— Not So Fast

As some readers may have noticed, we are a bit skeptical about autonomous vehicles.  It is not that we don’t think they will arrive in some form.  They will.  We just think the issue is a lot more complex than many predict.  In any event, we saw another article from theverge.com regarding AI and autonomous vehicles.  Here is the basic point, though there is more and there is nuance:

On its face, full autonomy seems closer than ever. Waymo is already testing cars on limited-but-public roads in Arizona. Tesla and a host of other imitators already sell a limited form of Autopilot, counting on drivers to intervene if anything unexpected happens. There have been a few crashes, some deadly, but as long as the systems keep improving, the logic goes, we can’t be that far from not having to intervene at all.

But the dream of a fully autonomous car may be further than we realize. There’s growing concern among AI experts that it may be years, if not decades, before self-driving systems can reliably avoid accidents. As self-trained systems grapple with the chaos of the real world, experts like NYU’s Gary Marcus are bracing for a painful recalibration in expectations, a correction sometimes called “AI winter.” That delay could have disastrous consequences for companies banking on self-driving technology, putting full autonomy out of reach for an entire generation.

You can read the article here.

And, for a little more, here is an article on Uber’s test operations in Pittsburgh.


List of the Week

This week’s list is Travel & Leisure’s top 10 domestic airports.  This is the methodology:

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Since 2013, we’ve asked readers to cast their votes for their favorite hubs across the world, rating airports on access, check-in/security, restaurants/bars, shopping, and design.

Coming in first is Portland (OR), followed by Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Tampa International, Pittsburgh, Austin, Savannah, John Wayne Orange County (CA), Palm Beach, and Dallas Love Field.

To be honest, aside from people in Portland’s airport being surprisingly friendly, we see no rhyme or reason to this list.  We are glad that Tampa is high on it, though we see no reason it is not first.

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Roundup 7-6-2018

July 5, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Busy

— Referendum News

— Website

— Money 

— Eyes Open

— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

— Ranking Transit

Downtown/Channel District – On the Street

Built Environment – Um, No

Rays – Something

Port – Relative

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

______________________________________


Transportation – Busy


— Referendum News

— Website

The All for Transportation Group has a website up now.  You can find it here.  You can find their petition here.  You can also donate if you are so inclined.

While we are still not opposed to the referendum idea on a macro level, we still have concerns that stop us from being enthusiastic. We still believe that there should be some list of some of the initial projects.  A petition advocate told us it was decided to not make a list of projects because having such a list and being locked in to projects might drive up costs for things like right of way acquisition, say something like buying the CSX tracks.  That may be so but can be avoided by not specifically including projects that are contingent on such things. There could have been a “including but not limited to” list concept.  For instance, there could be a list of all the BRT lines in existing rights of way on arterial roads that will be built in phase one.  (Other cities, like Phoenix in the original Transit 2000 referendum had an initial plan.  They managed to move forward.)

Supporting the referendum is fine, but, given its structure, it is not clear what we will actually buy with the money.  To us, that is a concern.  It is problematic that this referendum has no defined plans and leaves implementation to board picked by the same officials who have completely failed in creating a proper transit system while enriching consultants. (We are not against paying consultants for value but we are not for just paying them over and over again.)   We have been in this area long enough to have less than full trust officials desire/ability to deliver.

— Money 

In other news:

All for Transportation, the group pushing a sales tax referendum for transportation projects in Hillsborough County, bills itself as a grassroots group.

But it also has the support of some pretty big players in Tampa.

The group has raised just over $300,000, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Supervisor of Elections office Friday.  Almost all of that comes from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and prominent philanthropist Frank Morsani, each of whom contributed $150,000. 

That is fine.  It makes the petition neither better nor worse.  We still wonder about who else is working in the background.

— Eyes Open

And one more thing.  URBN Tampa Bay had a post this week:

Check out what was left of Downtown Tampa in 1970, after the state had bulldozed half of it to make way for their beloved highway and ‘urban renewal’. Bulldozing the city for a wider highway isn’t a solution. As you can see, it is specifically what nearly destroyed Tampa’s urban core, making it an unlivable hellscape that the community has never fully recovered from.

This is why we strongly oppose any further highway expansion through Tampa, and support All for Transportation’s petition to put transportation improvements on the ballot in Hillsborough County this November.

For more on the petition, and how you can sign it, check out the website here: http://www.allfortransportation.com/

With this picture:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As longtime readers will know, we also neither support TBX nor want to increase the footprint of the interstate.  However, it should be noted that the petition does not address highway expansion, including not limiting it.  In fact, many, like the Mayor, saying good things about the referendum have also supported TBX. (Not to mention that, given how the “BRT” plan is described by proponents, it arguably could be funded by the referendum “dedicated lane” money.  It definitely could be funded by the other transit money.)

If you support the referendum because you want transit, we totally get it and there is a good argument for doing so, but do it with eyes wide open. Understand that you may not get the projects you think you will/want and that, while over time the fruits of the referendum may help create an environment where people reject highway widening, the referendum itself will likely not change anything regarding the highway.  


— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Speaking of the “BRT” plan, we hadn’t heard from the “BRT” plan advocates in a little while.  This week, the Business Journal had a feature:

. . . Early iterations of the plan showed a route with scaled-back BRT features, earning it nicknames such as “BRT Lite.”  Critics lamented it was not “gold standard” and amounted to little more than express buses.

People, including us, said it was an express bus plan because it was (and is) an express bus plan.  And the “gold standard” idea was raised by those promoting the plan trying, not critics.  For instance, from an opinion piece by members of the Tampa Bay Partnership transportation working group:

A Gold Standard BRT system would also deliver nearly all the benefits of light rail at a significantly lower cost. And unlike light rail, even the most conservative BRT ridership projections meet the criteria for federal funding.

Just Google “Gold Standard BRT” and we think you’ll be amazed by what you see and read: elevated and enclosed stations with sliding glass doors; dedicated BRT lanes, either painted or physically separated from general traffic; vehicles that look more like sleek light rail lines than a neighborhood bus; pre-paid fare collection to allow passengers to board quickly and keep the buses moving; and frequent headways, arriving at least every 15 minutes, and more frequently during peak hours.

Or, from the Lightning owner:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner and developer Jeff Vinik, who previously supported light rail and has called for local politicians to do more for transit, said in a statement that he’s encouraged by this new direction.

“Gold standard BRT may well be an excellent addition to our transportation options in Tampa Bay,” Vinik said.

Again, the “gold standard” is the standard raised by advocates of the plan, not critics.  (Not to mention that if you say it is going to be function like rail, you are talking gold standard.) We agree with the advocates in that we would be ok with a “gold standard” BRT.  Unfortunately, nothing yet proposed in this plan is gold standard.  In fact,

The Florida Department of Transportation, which is footing the $1.5 million bill for the 41-mile BRT corridor study and plan currently underway, acknowledges it isn’t necessarily going after “gold standard” BRT.

“BRT is not one-size fits all,” said Ming Gao, FDOT’s intermodal systems development manager. “It’s up to the Federal Transit Administration and local agencies to determine what it means to be BRT.  Don’t get too fixated on the definition.”

FDOT may not be looking for “gold standard,” but, as noted, the promoters of this plan said it should “gold standard.” And, if we are going to build it, it should be.  Moreover, we are not fixated on definitions, we are fixated on features and design. And the features and design of the “BRT” plan that we have seen proposed, including not running on arterial roads, are not good BRT planning.  It is an express bus (which has a place in a transit system but should not be the core).

Looking at the details,

The initial plans included a combination of dedicated lanes, general use lanes and semi-dedicated lanes in existing shoulders.  Now, planners say most of the route would be in bus-only lanes.  Shoulders would still be used for parts of the route in Pinellas County, but those shoulders would be hardened, widened and painted to create a dedicated thoroughfare for buses.

Checking the Regional Transit Study (here) and Tampa Bay Next (here) websites, we see documents that say the buses would run in dedicated lanes in the same places as before and including running in the shoulders as dedicated lanes.  We do not see a clear plan for a truly dedicated lane north of downtown Tampa. (Though we could have missed something)

As we have explained before, most existing guidance for bus on shoulder operation is that buses should use shoulders only when normal traffic is too slow and that buses should not run very fast on the shoulder. (See here, here, here).  In other words, following the recommendations takes the R out of BRT.  (Moreover, simply saying only buses will run on the shoulders does not mean emergency vehicles and broken down cars will not use those lanes)

Then there is the interstate issue.

So far, planners have seemed responsive to concerns that Tampa Bay BRT could get watered down.  Original ideas to have stations at highway level to keep the route moving quickly have given way to arguments that highway stops wouldn’t create transit-oriented development and wouldn’t attract riders because they would be inaccessible.

As the plan stands now, a bus would exit the highway and stop in the neighborhoods, which has been revealed over the past several weeks during a series of public outreach events showcasing preliminary plans.

“If the ingress and egress are designed correctly, it really shouldn’t take too much time to pull off, unload  and pull back onto the highway if you have uninterrupted access,” [Tampa Bay Partnership CEO] Homans said. “I think that’s where we have to draw the line as a community and insist that we do that the right way.”

We actually think the whole project, not just the stops, should be done the right way.  We also think that the engineers either do not understand the issue with the interstate or just are so wedded (or told to be wedded) to the interstate that they will just tinker and call it fixed. (And don’t forget that to have “uninterrupted” ingress and egress means dedicated bus ramps and lanes when you get on and off the interstate – that means more money.  Remember, cheapness, not effectiveness or utility, is the real selling point of this idea.)

The problem with the interstate is not that the stops are at the level of the interstate.  The problem is the interstate itself.  Running down the interstate is inherently restrictive, especially for transit oriented development.  Even if you put a stop on the side of the interstate, the buses have to get on and off the interstate (which takes time and money).  The buses then either have to go to both sides of the interstate to have a convenient stops on both sides or make people walk under the interstate at limited crossing points, making the transit that much less convenient. (see also here)  And, even if buses do that, roads facing the interstate are not conducive to pedestrian traffic and transit-oriented development.

When you run rail or BRT down an arterial road, there is an opportunity to stimulate development of both side of the street and side streets.  There is pedestrian traffic created on those streets in, hopefully, a virtuous circle that creates more transit oriented development, transit demand, and usage.  Moreover, a properly located stop on an arterial road can draw passengers from both sides of the street and side streets, activating the whole area.  The interstate route (especially with our at grade or raised interstates) does not do any of that. (Not to mention that transit oriented development is contingent on good planning, not drive through Burger Kings or self-storage buildings.)

It all makes us wonder about that RFP at the end of the summer.


— Ranking Transit

The Business Journal had an article on a study by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies. The article was entitled: “Study finds Tampa Bay transit among the worst in the nation, but best in the state.”  As URBN Tampa Bay rightly noted, the first part of that is true, the second not so much.

Tampa Bay is one of the worst metropolitan areas for commuting on transit, according to a study released last week by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Using data from 2017 the study found Tampa Bay ranks 38th out of 49 of the country’s 50 most populated metros. Memphis was excluded from the study due to lack of data.

* * *

While Tampa’s place in the ranking is low, it’s the highest in the state. Orlando landed at No. 41 while Jacksonville was at No. 48, next to last.

Miami was actually 16th. (see pg 13 of the pdf, page 6 of the report) Also interesting, even if Orlando is behind us in pure score, Orlando was 6th in one year change, while we were 41st. (pg 14 of the pdf)

Of course, none of the rankings are useful without knowing what the study was actually measuring:

The study used local data from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Manatee County Area Transit and the Hernando Express to calculate the region’s access to jobs using transit.

Travel times were calculated between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. to account for job-related commutes and include the “last mile” access after a transit user exits the vehicle and walks to their final destination.

“This report focuses on accessibility to jobs by transit,” the report noted. “Jobs are the most significant non-home destination and no accessibility is an important consideration in the attractiveness and usefulness of a place or area.”

That is definitely a major factor for transit, though not the only one.  And, by that measure, we are bad and not getting much better.

Interestingly,

The study recommends attention in two areas to improve transit accessibility: increasing speed along transportation networks and utilizing land use strategies that encourage density.

The Tampa section starts on pg 151 of the pdf.  As best as we can tell there are no Tampa-specific recommendations, but let’s consider how the “BRT” plan addresses those recommendations.  The “BRT” plan does not help create density because 1) it is by the highway and 2) it is so flexible that it will not really draw investment in real density (the whole flexibility argument implies the route will eventually go away, which does not provide developers with needed certainty for investment).  Moreover, properly run, the best use for the “BRT” is long-range commuters anyway (Wesley Chapel to Westshore for instance), which is not really the focus of the study.


Downtown/Channel District – On the Street

The folks at Water Street do a good job of keeping themselves in the news, which, given they are trying to make money, they should do and which keeps things interesting.  The latest bit has been to promote their streetscape.

The developer of Water Street Tampa has unveiled its vision for the streetscapes, parks and public realms within the district — and it is a stark contrast to present-day downtown Tampa.

Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street, on Thursday released renderings and a vision that reveal for the first time what the mixed-use district will look and feel like at street level. It will have large, shaded sidewalks — anywhere from 16 to 45 feet wide — with space for outdoor dining, events and retail kiosks.

* * *

“We are re-prioritizing what used to drive the design of streets,” Gary Hilderbrand, principal with Reed Hilderbrand, said in a video SPP released Thursday. “We’re channeling the cars, giving them less room, having them stay less time and creating a whole other kind of public realm, and now we’re talking about pedestrians as the most important members of the street community.”

In total, Water Street spans more than 50 acres. At full buildout, it will be more than 9 million square feet of residential, office, retail, educational, hospitality and cultural space.

“We have given a tremendous amount of thought to how these spaces will be experienced — how we will make it easy and inviting to walk throughout the broader neighborhood, how we will make it comfortable to dine outdoors year-round and how to create spaces for our neighbors to engage with one another in the community,” James Nozar, CEO of SPP, said in a statement. 

We are happy about that.  That is the proper approach.  And we are happy about this:

“We are looking to significantly increase the amount of green space,” Nozar said in a previous interview, and Water Street itself is intended “to be very, very wooded from the start” with “as large and mature-growth trees as we can possibly get.” To do that, SPP reserved individual trees more than a year ago to give them time to grow before Water Street’s promenade is finished in the fall of 2020.

“The kind of oak canopy that they’re bringing through downtown is pretty amazing,” said Robert M. MacLeod, a professor in and the director of the University of South Florida’s School of Architecture & Community Design. “I like the scale of it. I like the magnitude of the canopy. I think it’s quite important that they bring in more mature trees.”

So far, Water Street has done most things right.  In this case, thankfully, they have chosen to use shade trees rather than palm trees, which are pretty but do nothing for pedestrians.  Water Street also has another well-produced video of their design team talking about what their approach (here), though it is not necessarily informative.  More importantly, they released some renderings of streetscapes:

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

Setting aside the happy people who populate almost all renderings, we like what we see.  It appears to be a healthy approach with the intent to have a lot of activity and shade trees, and wide sidewalks which are presently rare downtown. The only downside we see is that, while shade trees are great and necessary, we still think the project should have more substantial and continuous awnings. They have some awnings, but the awnings appear more decorative and are broken up with some decent sized gaps.  If, as they say in the video, the designers spent time in Tampa to get a feel for the place, they surely have been drenched in a summer storm when shade trees don’t provide pedestrian protection. As we have said before, the people who lived here in the past, when cities were built for walking built, extensive awnings.  We should emulate them in that (and have the shade trees).

And there is also another issue we have raised before, though it is not really part of the streetscape.  Now that the grid is being changed and the planning is for pedestrians, we are not sure of the plan to get people in and out of the district, especially with the lack of proper transit (especially if the plan relies on autonomous cars and buses on the narrower, less flowing roads).  That is a bigger issue, but it is critical for the long-term success of the whole project.


Built Environment – Um, No

A few weeks ago, we discussed the proposal to fill in a lagoon on Rocky Point to build a few townhouses.  We opposed it because there really is no reason for it, and it sets a bad precedent.  The Planning Commission approved the request, sending it to City Council.

The Tampa City Council has buried a plan to fill in part of Tampa Bay to create land for expensive homes.

Now they’re taking action to fill in gaps in the city’s comprehensive plan so no one can revive a form of development that went out of style with bell bottoms and smoking in airplanes: dredge and fill.

The unanimous vote on a project that had riled the Rocky Point neighborhood near the Courtney Campbell Causeway came after nearly three hours of discussion late Thursday. Dozens of residents pleaded with council members not to allow a developer to fill in open water off North Rocky Point Drive, where they often see manatees and dolphins, to build town homes. A few hundred residents showed up, overflowing council chambers and crowding into the hallway.

“When I think about this filling, this outdated policy that was essentially outlawed in the 1970s, why are we going backwards? This is 2018,” said council member Guido Maniscalco, who represents the area.

Immediately after the vote, council member Charlie Miranda made a motion to ask the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission to bring back an amendment that would explicitly ban dredge and fill projects for residential development. The city’s comprehensive plan currently lacks that language.

Good for them.  There is no reason to go back to the dredge and fill practice.  The reality is that development patterns, such as on Rocky Point, could easily be much denser and be developed in a more urban and rational way, giving more people access to the waterfront.


Rays – Something

You may remember this about the new Federal economic opportunity zone designation and the potential Rays ballpark site in Ybor:

Tract 39, as it is called, wasn’t on the original list of 427 sites around Florida submitted by the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity to the federal government in April. The state received more than 1,200 requests from municipalities and counties around Florida.

The tract covers about 409 acres northeast of Channelside Drive and Adamo Drive and includes the ballpark site.

Well,

A potential piece of the funding puzzle for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium is back on the table after Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration — with help from Gov. Rick Scott — persuaded federal officials to put an Ybor City census tract on the list for a new federal tax break.

While that does not solve anything about the Rays stadium, it does give another possible avenue to get help the deal by enticing developers.  The downside is:

To get the Ybor parcel back in the state mix, Buckhorn proposed swapping it with another census tract around Armenia and Hillsborough avenues.

City officials argued that the Ybor tract had the potential to generate hundreds more jobs. Hillsborough County officials agreed.

Whether the employment numbers are true or not, the Armenia tract made the first list.  More importantly, that area of town which too often seems like an afterthought for the City.  As someone once said, “As Jackson Heights goes, so goes Palma Ceia. As College Hill goes, so goes Culbreath Isles. As East Tampa and West Tampa go, so goes New Tampa.”  Same for Wellswood and the area around it.

Back to the Rays, there is this:

The Rays are planning a media event for Tuesday in Ybor City in which they are expected to present design renderings of the proposed new stadium and some information regarding costs.

That will be a significant step as most of the discussion to this point has been theoretical and prelimary, including total costs and what share the team may pay.

That will be interesting.


Port – Relative

We are all for the Port marketing itself and increasing service. As we always say, there are two measures of progress: are you better compared to your previous performance and are you getting better faster than your contemporaries/competitors. In order to measure those things you must have a realistic means of comparison.

As part of business building, the Port has a new(-ish) refrigerated building for fruit.  We ran across an article about it in a trade website which told us:

In the aggregate, port Miami and nearby port Everglades may be the busiest ports in Florida. A significant volume of produce arriving by ocean vessel to the southeastern United States from Central and South America is offloaded at those ports.

However, a new state-of-the-art refrigerated terminal that opened earlier this year in port Tampa Bay, half way up Florida’s Gulf Coast, may offer some strategic advantages for produce shipments destined for markets or distribution centers in the Southeast, and particularly those along the thriving, populous I-4 corridor of central Florida.

That was interesting because the Port’s website tells us this:

Florida’s Largest Port: Port Tampa Bay is by far Florida’s largest port, handling over 37 million tons of cargo per year. For the first half of this fiscal year, we are experiencing a 10% increase in our total cargo tonnage. We are also Florida’s largest port in terms of physical size (and one of the largest in the country) encompassing over 5,000 acres.

Of course, “large” and “in the aggregate” are potentially slippery descriptions.  The fact is that, while it may be improving compared to previous years (though it seems maybe not – compare here and here ), in value of cargo, the Port is behind other ports in the state (and, not coincidentally, the container business lags far behind).

As we said, we are all for developing business at the Port and we really want to increase the value of goods going through the port.  However, to assess its performance, the facts need to be kept in mind.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

With Brightline now discussing Tampa and no official location for a potential station, we found an article in the Sun-Sentinel interesting.

Brightline’s train stations are luring new development and other amenities into South Florida’s downtowns.

New offices and hundreds of apartments will open this year near the stations in Miami and West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale officials expect a similar project across 7 acres in their city, too.

The higher-speed train service, which debuted in January, now runs 11 northbound and southbound trips each day between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Beyond that, Brightline says it also plans to spur redevelopment in the communities it’s in.

They then detail some of the developments and ideas around the stations.  You can read it here.

Roundup 6-29-2018

June 29, 2018

Contents

Welcome (Velkommen)

Transportation

— Finally, with a Caveat or Two

— How Does It All Fit?

— And One More Thing

About All That Technology

— Public Input?

Downtown – Rushing to Settle

Downtown – Already Settled

Channel District – Better Than Others, But

Seminole Heights – They Want Theirs

Tampa Heights – Suit

St. Pete – Saving the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World/Future

_______________________________________


Welcome (Velkommen)

From logos-download.com – click on picture for website

There was news we have been waiting for this week.

Norwegian Air will launch two-times weekly nonstop flights to London’s Gatwick Airport from Tampa International Airport beginning in October. This brings a new carrier to Tampa and adds another option for reaching Europe from the Tampa Bay region.

TIA currently offers daily service to London Gatwick Airport on British Airways, and the addition of the Norwegian flights will for the first time offer Tampa passengers a choice of two airlines flying nonstop to the same European city. The Norwegian flights will depart from Tampa on Wednesdays at 10:50 p.m. to arrive in London at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, and on Saturdays the flights will depart at 10 p.m. to arrive in London at 9:55 a.m. Sunday. From London, the flights will depart Wednesdays at 2:55 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 8:35 p.m. and on Saturdays at 2:05 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 7:45 p.m.

“The arrival of Norwegian Air is yet another example of the strength of our region. As our community continues to grow, the airport is growing with it,” TIA CEO Joe Lopano said in a statement.

Norwegian’s service between Tampa and London will be on a 787-9 Dreamliner with 309 Economy seats and 35 Premium Economy seats. This is the first Dreamliner with regularly scheduled service at Tampa International.

Introductory fares will start at $214.90 one-way for economy seats and $604.90 one-way in premium economy.

You can see how inexpensive getting to Europe can be.  It is also interesting to us that we will finally have two airlines to the same European destination.  If they can both be sustained, that is good progress. It is a good catch by the airport, especially because of this:

Tampa has 13 percent of Florida’s London traffic but only 6 percent of its seats, said Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research and air service development. “That market has grown 33 percent since 2013” and it has outgrown the existing service, he said.

Meaning there is room for even more service growth to London. Even better, Norwegian also has a habit of expanding service.

We would be remiss if we did not feature the cool airport graphic:

From the Tampa International Twitter page – click on graphic for tweet

On the domestic front, Sun Country is adding two flights a week to Madison, Dallas, and St. Louis.


Transportation


– Finally, with a Caveat or Two

For a while now, we have been asking what this area has been doing to prepare for and to get Brightline, the train service being built from Miami to Orlando, to extend their service here.  As far as we can tell, nothing has been prepared for, but, from the Brightline Facebook page:

We’re excited to bring you big news, South Florida! Governor Rick Scott has announced that the Florida Department of Transportation has begun the process to allow for private investment in a connection from Orlando to Tampa.

“As one of the nation’s fastest growing regions, Tampa Bay is a natural extension for Brightline. Our state’s residents, visitors and economy will benefit tremendously from a fully connected passenger rail system that includes our current operations in South Florida and our future line to Orlando. We are currently engaged in the RFP process, which is the first step needed to extend the system to the Tampa Bay region.” – Patrick Goddard, President and COO of GoBrightline.

We look forward to bringing you more details soon. #gobrightline

From the Governor:

Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has begun the process to allow for private investment in a high-speed rail connection from Orlando to Tampa. FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) received an unsolicited proposal to lease property owned by the state and CFX to build a high-speed train along Interstate 4. Based on the unsolicited proposal, FDOT, on behalf of the State and CFX, is initiating an open, transparent procurement process so any interested private entities may apply. The request is for those interested in leasing FDOT and CFX owned rights-of-way to establish privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa.

Why the bid process?

[FDOT], along with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, received an unsolicited proposal to lease state-owned property along Interstate 4. The train would run in the I-4 corridor that had been designated for federally funded high-speed rail but that Scott rejected in 2010.

This opens a transparent procurement process for any interested private entities to seek opportunities to establish private passenger rail service between the two cities.

When did this all happen?

Brightline, the company behind the rail proposal, formally pitched it to the Florida Department of Transportation three months ago.

Why wait so long for an announcement? According to an FDOT spokesman, evaluating the bid and drafting a request for competing proposals was “very complicated” and required months of work.

URBN Tampa Bay has some information on the RFP here. (You can get your own copy here) Needless to say, it is complicated.  This is the timeline:

– June 22, 2018 – Advertise
– August 23, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Cut-off date for technical questions
– November 7, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Proposals are due
– November 7, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Proposals to be opened
– Week of November 12 – November 16, 2018 (tentative) – Question & Answer (Q&A) sessions, if scheduled. If held, the Q&A sessions will be noticed 72 hours in advance.
– November 20, 2018, 3:00 p.m. (tentative) – Q&A clarification answers from proposers are due (contingent on Q&A sessions being held).
– November 28, 2018, 3:00 p.m. – Final selection meeting, to be held via teleconference. Dial in number: 1-888-670-3525. Conference code: 1383090556# A maximum of 120 ports will be available.
– November 28, 2018, 4:00 p.m. – Posting of award.

Given how complicated it is and the constricted timeline, we would not be surprised if Brightline submits the only proposal. (Though you could get a Hyperloop proposal or a surprise).

In all honesty, we have a mixed reaction to all this.

First, we are happy we are likely getting connected to the transportation network.  We simply cannot afford to be excluded from major transportation infrastructure in Florida.  That’s at the macro level.

But there are some issues at a more micro level.  As most people know, there was a previous high-speed rail plan that was killed by the Governor.  Setting aside the politics and the funding issues, there were two problems with that plan. First, it went from downtown Tampa to Orlando’s airport.  Therefore it neither connected cities nor formed a comprehensive transportation network.  (See here) Basically, it was a feeder line for Orlando’s airport.  Moreover, plan did not connect to any effective mass transit to get you from the high-speed rail station to your eventual destination, reducing the utility at both ends. Both those issues really stemmed from the failure of our local officials to plan better. (They seemed just happy to be allowed into the game.)

The Brightline station in Orlando is also at Orlando’s airport.  There are still no solid, rapid transit connections to downtown Orlando from the airport. That is still a concern for Orlando service. (Obviously there are issues on the Tampa end.) On the other hand, Brightline will go beyond Orlando, which makes it more useful.

We do not have many details so it is hard to really assess the specific project. We also do not know about any intermediate stops.  Disney is unlikely in our eyes. They have historically not liked the idea.  Lakeland is possible.  And we do not know where any station in Tampa would go.  All of that will affect our level on enthusiasm.

And, of course, there is opposition.

A group is asking candidates for several local, state and federal seats to take a survey about the proposed Brightline high-speed rail project that, if completed, would connect Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida is sending the survey to 76 candidates.

The Brightline route is celebrated by most in the Tampa Bay region as a revival of high-speed rail aspirations along the Interstate 4 corridor. The route provides a huge economic opportunity for the region by making Orlando readily accessible to the business community and by possibly combining tourism economies.

The plan has drawn opposition along the Treasure Coast from people who worry the train will create safety issues resulting from rail crossings and bridges and impact other local travel by disrupting traffic on roads.

Setting aside the Orlando accessibility comment, the opposition is mostly in some areas near the route in the Treasure Coast.  It has nothing to do with the potential expansion to this area. We’ll see what happens locally.

In sum, we are happy for the possible connection because we can’t afford to be left behind, but we have our eyes open to its potential weaknesses. And we are not going to oversell what the announcement means before we know what the details of the plan actually are.


— How Does It All Fit?

In the Brightline reactions was this quote:

But the impact of the potential high-speed rail corridor goes beyond just linking two cities, Buckhorn said.

The project has the ability to motivate local transit projects that politicians and advocates have been trying for years to get up and running in Tampa Bay, such as an expanded street car in downtown Tampa, bus rapid transit between downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches and a three-county bus rapid transit line that would connect St. Petersburg, Tampa, University of South Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

The I-4 rail line “will drive a greater sense of urgency in this discussion about local mobility options,” Buckhorn said. “It will be a great shot in the arm for the effort to try to get something on the ballot this fall,” he added, referring to a citizen lead initiative to add a one-cent sales tax for transportation referendum in Hillsborough.

Setting aside the inter-city rail bids aren’t even due until the day after the general election, yes, having a rail (or Hyperloop?) link to Orlando and beyond emphasizes the need for effective transit at either end so people can get where they are going from the respective stations.  Any transit we build needs to fit into a coordinated transportation system with some sort of vision for moving people around and connecting them to transportation into and out of the region.  It needs to maximize our assets, public and private.

That emphasizes the need for any potential transportation referendum to have much more information as possible about what transit would be included, especially early on.

As we said last week, we would like to get behind the referendum, but we have reservations.  We have seen too many instances locally, and not just transportation (not even mostly in transportation) where some concept is proposed with a positive title and a nice media campaign, many promises are made, and people are told to trust it.  Then the concept manifestly fails to live up to the promises.  We are not saying that the referendum is such a situation, but we want to avoid it becoming one.

We are in the process of getting more information on it, and, hopefully, we will be able to say more soon.


— And One More Thing

There was one other thing about the referendum plan we thought about while reading about Manchester’s plan to build a real bike infrastructure.  As long as our roads are dominated by curb cuts, real bike infrastructure will not happen.  You cannot have efficient protected lanes with large numbers of curb cuts.  We need to build differently. It is an open question whether a City, let alone a County, that settles so much will really make the changes necessary and stick to them.


— About All That Technology

Anyone who uses Sunpass knows that FDOT has been trying to perform an update on the system.  It has not gone well.

With Florida’s tolling systems still not online and more than 50 million toll transactions believed to be sitting in a computer backlog, one influential lawmaker is getting the state to take action following a series of 10Investigates reports.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says he has been talking to Florida Department of Transportation officials this week about their delays in getting toll system upgrades completed, as well as the lack of communication with account-holders.

Late Thursday, FDOT announced it would waive all late fees and penalties incurred by drivers as the Florida Turnpike Enterprise tries to get its system back up and running. It could take weeks for the tens of millions of unprocessed toll transactions to hit drivers’ accounts.

Someone is getting paid for this mess.  We think the old website worked fine, even if it looked a bit dated.  It sure worked better than the new system has so far.

But beyond that, it is just a reminder of concerns about what happens when there is an update for autonomous vehicle operating systems or inter-vehicle communications and traffic control systems?  What are the procedures and safeguards?


— Public Input?

We haven’t heard much of substance about the Regional Transit Study “BRT” plan recently. Well, it came up last week in this slightly odd context:.

TBARTA Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte announced the transition in a letter to staff Wednesday after news that he would be resigning in 30 days.

Ok, that’s not exactly odd, but then:

TBARTA is the regional entity tasked with overseeing multicounty transit plans including the proposed 41-mile bus rapid transit route tentatively planned to connect St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275. Improving regional transportation and enhancing transit options are top priorities for local business leaders when trying to attract and retain talent.

Under Chiaramonte’s transition plan, which he worked out with TBARTA Board Chairman Jim Holton and PSTA CEO Brad Miller, PSTA and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will help manage the request for proposal process for the BRT plan expected to begin later this summer.

PSTA has identified a total of $3.6 million in federal grant dollars for which TBARTA qualifies and is targeting those funds this summer. Another $600,000-$800,000 is available annually from federal grants. PSTA will be applying for state and federal grants on behalf of TBARTA.

We think it is a bit odd to leave just as this “BRT” plan is putting out an RFP and hunting money to get off the ground, especially without a full-time successor.  Maybe the TBARTA board already has someone in mind.  If so, they should say. . .

But wait.  What RFP for the “BRT” plan is supposed to begin by the end of the summer?  We were being told that the plan was not done and subject to change.  What is RFP going to be? Have we already done all the public outreach and plan revision?  If that is the case, it looks a lot like a standard Tampa Bay fait accompli.

Hopefully, that is not how it goes.  But if that is how the Transit Study plan goes, you have to wonder how things will work if a referendum with little guidance, a lot of latitude, and a good amount of money is handed to a political committee? (And, no, by harping on the referendum, we are not trying to kill it.  We are trying to help it.  There is no time for messing around.)


Downtown – Rushing to Settle

Speaking of fait accompli, there was more news about the quite bad HRI hotel proposal for the lot across Florida from City Hall.

Plans to transform a surface parking lot in downtown Tampa into a hotel with street level retail are moving forward, a city official said.

* * *

HRI’s closing date on the sale has been extended several times after the developer’s due diligence revealed petroleum contamination – the property was previously home to gas stations, and at least six underground tanks were discovered during inspection.

Setting aside that the developer also did a bait and switch on its plans making them even worse, it’s a good thing the City had no idea about the issues with their own lot.

Environmental cleanup should begin “shortly,” Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official.  The city received a grant to assist with cleanup, McDonaugh said, and “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s with the grant and environmental contract took a little longer than anticipated.”

* * *

McDonaugh said HRI is now expected to close on the land by “end of summer, early fall.”

Needless to say, we don’t think the City should sell the land.  The fact that this project seems to roll along even after the bait and switch, after the clear failure to get an “signature project,” and after the poor design put forward by the developer, shows that, at least in its government, Tampa is still home of settling. (Though maybe overspending on a park when there is a large debt payment looming has something to do with it.)


Downtown – Already Settled

Novel Riverwalk opened recently downtown.  You may remember this is the short wood frame project next to (due to design, in some cases below, though not directly under) the Ashley/Tampa exit ramp.

Novel Riverwalk, developed by Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, has 394 apartments that range from 528 to 1,510 square feet. It is at 109. W Fortune St., on the northern end of downtown Tampa, near the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk and just north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts.

For the 528-square-foot studio, rents start at $1,446, according to Novel’s website. The apartment building is offering one month of free rent to entice potential tenants. One-bedroom rents start at $1,559; $2,102 for a two-bedroom; and $3,329 for a three-bedroom.

The community includes two infinity pools as well as common areas that include private events space and a Zen garden.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Note the parking sticks out the top.  (Bonus points to people who can find two infinity pools.)

Crescent was the second developer to pursue this site, which is directly on the Tampa Riverwalk and within walking distance to Armature Works and Ulele. Lincoln Property Group first proposed a similar development on the site in 2015; Lincoln pulled out of the deal and Crescent proposed its project in 2016.

And that is why this is so disappointing.  It is not on the fringe of downtown anymore, but adds nothing to the street and is not very dense.  And, as URBN Tampa Bay explains:

Don’t worry, those prices sound high to us too. Do you know why they are that high? Two main reasons:

  1. Included in your rent is all the parking the project had to and/or chose to build.
  2. For such a large piece of Downtown land, they built a squat project with little-to-no density, so each unit has to absorb higher land costs.

This is why that:

  1. Parking should not be mandated in Downtown Tampa, and we should look at parking caps. (Many cities have them, including Orlando.)
  2. Low density should not be approved in Downtown.

While this is a private project and if the developer wants to build overpriced apartments that is their right, it is still not good for the City. (Though, we have to say, it is not as bad as the Aurora, which will be the little stick palace in Water Street.) Changes need to be made.

Tampa needs to revise it plans and attitudes to reflect the reality of downtown and the areas around it rather than act like it’s the 1908’s when some present local officials first entered government here.


Channel District – Better Than Others, But

It seems that the push for self-storage is in full gear.

One of the last remaining industrial blocks in downtown Tampa’s Channel district is being targeted for a new mid-rise building that will include apartments, street-level retail and self-storage space.

A joint venture of developers — Tampa’s Framework Group and MTC Corp. of Atlanta — have proposed an eight-story, 314,370-square-foot building at 111 N Meridian Ave., according to plans filed with the city on Friday.

The partnership is under contract to buy that block of North Meridian Avenue, from East Whiting Street to East Washington Street, as well as the property along East Whiting Street between Meridian Avenue and North 11th Street, said Rob Gidel, an attorney with Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort.

Gidel represents the partnership. The group wants to rezone the property to accommodate the proposed building, which requires city council approval and a public hearing, which is currently slated for November.

The exact breakdown of the building has yet to be determined, Gidel said. A maximum of 40 percent of the building can be devoted to self-storage according to city development guidelines for the Channel district, Gidel said. 

We are not sure what the obsessions with self-storage is but it is funny that the property being described as industrial. While that may be the use now (sort of – most of it looks empty), no one is putting an industrial use on that land.  But we’ll set that rhetorical flourish aside and just get on to the proposal.  This is the location:

First, we cannot tell how much street retail there is so we cannot speak to that.  Beyond that, this appears to be essentially two buildings stuck together.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity.com

There is the storage portion on the north end that looks like a storage building.  On the south end, it looks like apartments.  As we said, we have no idea what the street interaction will be along Meridian or 11th.  It is pretty bad along Washington (north side) and Whiting (south side).  And the south elevation seems to indicate that the parking structure will stick out on Meridian, which would be following Related’s precedent one block to the south.

While we definitely think this mix of uses is better than a stand-alone self-storage building (which belong in industrial areas – not formerly industrial areas that are now urban mixed use areas), we are not really impressed with what we see.  We admit we do not have full information and the developer admits they haven’t even worked out their plans fully.  However, even as an apartment building without the additional self-storage, which is never going to be an enhancement to us, the building is pretty bland filler.  Throw in the storage and the blatant self-storage façade on the north end (and possibly exposed garage) and the proposal is not very good filler.

We just don’t understand why self-storage should go there at all.  And if does go there, hide it.


Seminole Heights – They Want Theirs

This speaks for itself.

Several city of Tampa pools have reopened in recent years, and now Seminole Heights residents want to make a splash in the trend.

The city has restored the historic Cuscaden Pool (2016), the Roy Jenkins pool on Davis Islands (2014), the Williams Park Pool in East Tampa and the Interbay Pool in Culbreath Heights, (both in July 2013). Now, the Angus R. Goss Memorial pool committee wants its turn to reopen.

The historic pool bears the name of a U.S. Marines Sgt. Angus Robert Goss, a former Seminole Heights resident and Hillsborough High graduate, who died in 1943 during World War II.

The pool was a way to locally commemorate and continue his legacy, but now it sits vacant and filled with dirt.

The pool committee launched a petition with help from Hillsborough High to gain supporters. They plan to soon submit a formal proposal to the city of Tampa.

“This pool is historic, yet it’s something that they’re willing to erase out of history when there’s such an overwhelming support the community has for this pool,” said Chrissy Taylor, the committee’s public relations manager.

* * *

The pool committee sent a survey to all the neighborhood associations, and it showed that 91 percent of the respondents had no private pool in their backyard and a majority of the respondents prefer a pool over a community garden, dog park, or pocket park.

* * *

The pool will benefit the Hillsborough High swim team, allowing them to walk to practice instead of carpooling and traveling far for their swim meets. Memorial Middle School, which previously used the pool to have physical education classes, also would gain from is use for summer and after school programs and community service opportunities.  

Perfectly reasonable request.  If those other places can get a refurbished pool, Seminole Heights can, too.  So, of course, it will happen.

The City of Tampa does not have a plan to demolish it, but plans to develop the northeast side of the property into a small dog park.

“I cannot speak for the future, but as of right now, we do not have any dollars in our budget for any capital projects such as this,” said Paul Dial, Tampa’s parks and recreation director.

“We look at capital projects year by year and there are many needs across the community. We clearly at this time have higher priorities that we are looking to fund, but we will make improvements to the dog park.” 

Well, how much will it cost?

The pool committee understands it won’t be an easy or quick process. After receiving an estimate of $600,000 to redo the pool and $120,000 in operational costs to maintain it yearly, they are prepared to wait for the next budget cycle, start fundraisers, pursue grants and continue to rally enough support.

As we have said many times, it would have been good if the City government had considered citywide needs when approving spending on capital projects.  At least, the Seminole Heights residents have a healthy attitude.


Tampa Heights – Suit

We are not really surprised something like this came up.

The developers of Armature Works and the mixed-use Heights project have sued the city of Tampa and Ulele, alleging that the city leased an adjacent property to Ulele without properly advertising the opportunity and putting it out for competitive bidding.

Ulele is a native Floridian restaurant inside the historic Water Works Building in Tampa Heights, which Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart leased from the city in 2013. The lease agreement came after the city’s 2011 request for proposal for the long-term lease and redevelopment of the building as a cafe or restaurant.

As part of that lease agreement, if Ulele proposed a use for the adjacent property known as the “cable office building,” the city would modify the lease to include the office structure without any additional money.

In 2017, the lease was amended to include the cable office building — a deal that developers Chas Bruck and Adam Harden, under the entity Riverside Heights Development LLC, are alleging was invalid from its outset.

That is as far as we are going to go with this (other than to note a Times article here) We don’t speculate about lawsuits.  We’ll just have to wait and see.


St. Pete – Saving the State

There was good news for the State Theatre.

After months of renovations and capacity problems due to a series of fire code violations, the popular concert venue at 687 Central Ave. was sold Tuesday to a family trust run by St. Petersburg real estate broker Kevin Chadwick.

* * *

Chadwick said he will spend the rest of the summer getting the building fully up to code and restructuring its backstage dressing areas. By the end of the year, the building will get a renovated facade and new marquee. Next spring should see interior renovations, including three new bars.

“When you walk through the front door of the theater, you’re captivated to want to be part of it,” Chadwick said. “I think it’s a perfect legacy property for my family. It’s in dire need of somebody who cares and wants to restore it, and we have plans to truly do some great things for it.”

As for concerts,

“We’re still going to have fun concerts, but it’s going to be a venue that’s going to have multiple purposes,” he said. “It’s also going to be a theater, it’s going to be an event hall where you might have private parties. You’re going to feel really comfortable if you want to throw a real fun bash.”

That’s fine.  As long they still have concerts.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The Kansas City streetcar got voter approval to expand.  It appears to be a very low turnout of a very specific area and plan.  You can read the details here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World/Future

There was an interesting article from Wired on autonomous vehicles and the problems they would create for cities’ budgets.

The problem, as speaker Nico Larco, director of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, explained, is that many cities balance their budgets using money brought in by cars: gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, traffic tickets, and billions of dollars in parking revenue. But driverless cars don’t need these things: Many will be electric, will never get a ticket, and can circle the block endlessly rather than park. Because these sources account for somewhere between 15 and 50 percent of city transportation revenue in America, as autonomous vehicles become more common, huge deficits are ahead.

Cities know this: They’re beginning to look at fees that could be charged for accessing pickup and dropoff zones, taxes for empty seats, fees for parking fleets of cars, and other creative assessments that might make up the difference.

But many states, urged on by auto manufacturers, won’t let cities take these steps. Several have already acted to block local policies regulating self-driving cars. Michigan, for example, does not allow Detroit, a short drive away from that Ann Arbor ballroom, to make any rules about driverless cars.

We won’t get into the whole discussion that not charging autonomous vehicles for use of the roads which they are using and on which they are making money is subsidizing those automobiles, distorting the market.  The article is interesting both as a discussion and in a proposal it brings up (which you can read about in the article), which we neither endorse nor reject. (We haven’t considered it enough.)  And, once again it points out that there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

Roundup 6-22-2018

June 22, 2018

Contents

Transportation – A Petition for a Referendum

— One More Thing

Downtown – Still, No

Downtown/Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Transportation – Ferry Stories

— The Possible Transportation

— The Fun Cruise

Downtown – Riverwalk Plaza Sales

Airport – More

Westshore-ish – Tear it Down

Economy – Housing

Rays – Knowing

USF – A New Name

Economic Development – Pasco

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Not a Surprise

— Detroit

_________________________________________________________


Transportation – A Petition for a Referendum

Not long after the failure (for many reasons, some good, some not so good) of TED/TLC/Go Hillsborough mess of a process, some local activists started calling for a publicly submitted referendum.  And there is something to be said for that, especially if it is really a grassroots process.  Local officials and the consultants they have hired and relied upon have made a mess of a number of transportation processes.  Maybe a grassroots proposal would cover more people’s concerns and win more support.  While it is a bit late in the game for this year, there was news of a referendum proposal:

Now, a citizens group has put county commissioners on notice that a new effort is under way to get a sales tax hike on the November ballot — and this time, their approval won’t be necessary.

The group has its own heavy hitters. Commissioners learned of the plan from supporter Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the driving force behind a $3 billion entertainment district around Amalie Arena.

All for Transportation, as the group is called, must collect 49,000 signatures in the next six weeks to get an initiative on the ballot. The measure would ask voters to approve a one penny county sales tax hike, from seven cents on the dollar to eight cents, for a 30-year period beginning in 2019.

For now we will set aside the fact that the 8% sales tax will be the highest in the area.  As we often say, if you want stuff you have to pay for it.  The bigger question is what is the stuff?  From the coverage, that is not entirely clear.  From the initial article from the Times:

Forty-five percent of the money raised would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to improve bus service and pay for other mass transit. The remainder would go to Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for road and bridge improvements, pothole repair, sidewalks, bike lanes and projects to ease congestion.

If approved by voters, the tax would raise about $280 million per year.

But what exactly is the plan?  If you have to by-pass local officials to raise the money, you don’t really want to then hand them a big chunk of change to do with as they like.  You need a real plan with a real vision.  The Business Journal had pretty much the same.

Maybe a Times editorial will tell us:

Under the plan, the county sales tax would increase to eight cents on the dollar, beginning in 2019, for 30 years. Forty-five percent of the money would go to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to improve bus service and pay for other mass transit options. The remainder would be split between Hillsborough and its three cities for roads, bridges, sidewalks, intersections and other uses such as routine maintenance. The tax would generate about $280 million per year, and of that, about $126 million would go to HART, or more than three times what the agency currently receives in property tax, its single-biggest revenue source.

This is a substantial amount of money that could modernize the region’s transportation system. It could provide a funding base for rapid bus, light rail and other new services, while making roads safer and intersections more efficient. The set-asides for mass transit and roads would still give local governments the flexibility to set their own priorities — spending more for transit or pedestrian safety projects, for example —and the language is forward-looking enough even to accommodate autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies. More importantly, it seeks to bring a closer link between land use and transportation planning, a big gap in Hillsborough that has fueled the far-flung exurbs. The proposal would include an oversight committee to ensure the money was properly spent.

It could modernize the region’s transportation system (which is the upside) or, intentionally or not, it could serve as a cash grab for various interests and consultants.  Latitude to set priorities is a double-edged sword.

After the initial roll out, another Times article provided some detail:

The group, which has the backing of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, cleared a first hurdle Friday with the approval of its petition. It includes more details on how the tax, expected to raise about $280 million in its first year, might be spent.

Just over half of the money would go to Hillsborough’s four local governments — Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Hillsborough County — to spend on road projects.

Here’s a breakdown of how that share of the money would spent: at least 26 percent on projects to relieve rush-hour bottlenecks on existing county and city roads, 27 percent for projects to make roads safer, such as intersection improvements; 20 for repairs and maintenance of roads and bridges to fix problems such as potholes; and 12 percent for sidewalks, bike lanes and other measures to make roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority would get 45 percent of the tax proceeds. Most of HART’s share would go toward expanding bus service while 35 percent would be spent on transit systems that “utilize exclusive transit right of way.” That could be a bus rapid transit, light rail or traditional rail using existing CSX tracks.

The priorities are based on a long range transportation plan that was developed four years ago by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, based in part on responses to a survey of more than 6,000 people.

The plan includes more frequent resurfacing and repair of potholes, increased use of intelligent transportation systems like traffic signals that can change cycles to reduce congestion, and an expanded bus network. A transit system that connects downtown Tampa with West Shore and the University of South Florida is also listed but not what form it would take.

No money has been allocated to the MPO’s long-range transportation plan but that would change if All for Transportation succeeds in its campaign.

(You can find the 2014 Long Range Plan here. And, just so you know, the long range transportation plan includes/assumes what basically became TBX managed express lanes. How will that figure into the whole plan and what exactly is the language?)

The use of the money on “exclusive transit right of way” projects is good idea, but still potentially open to manipulation.  And since we do not have the petition language (we assume there will be a website soon, but why did they wait?), we wonder about the “expanding bus service” portion and if that can or cannot include the exclusive right of way projects.  And another problem with relying on past plans is that they have 1) not rally been that popular and 2) have some poor ideas. Unfortunately, while there seem to be general priorities, there is no clear list of projects or vision that has been publicized yet. Without detail, you may not get the projects you actually vote yes for. (We do not expect a binding list for 30 years, but you need a first phase list and basic plans for potential later phases.)

As for the governance:

The charter amendment would levy the one-penny surtax for 30 years with funds deposited into an audited trust fund with independent oversight by the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court’s office.

Voters would answer yes or no, and the tax would take effect Jan. 1 if enacted.

The agency overseeing transportation surtax revenue would have to approve by Sept. 30 of each year a project plan outlying uses for funds during the following calendar year. Those uses would require approval during a public hearing. Failing to approve a funding plan would not cancel the tax, but it would pause spending any of the revenue.

That agency would be comprised of Hillsborough County residents appointed by various elected boards. The Hillsborough County Commission would appoint four, two of which would have to be experts in either transportation, planning, sustainability, engineering or construction. Mayors of each of the three cities within Hillsborough County would appoint one member and another each from those municipal boards. HART would appoint two members while the clerk would appoint one attorney.

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser would appoint one land use or real estate expert and an accountant by the Hillsborough County Tax Collector.

If you think the PTC was messy, just imagine what is could happen with this board.  There is also the question of selection overlap.  For instance the HART board is composed of local government officials and their appointee, plus a few others.  Some of those officials would then have the opportunity to help choose oversight board members in more than one capacity.  That seems a bit odd.  Not to mention, with the latitude given it, the board will likely be dominated by crazy politics (seen and unseen) for the whole period. But we’ll set that aside for now.

We don’t mind the idea of a referendum or the general concept behind the priorities.  We have two big concerns.  First, as stated, we are concerned that there is not enough detail. We don’t mind paying for something but we want to know what it is for.  And we want less latitude when the money comes in.

The second issue has to do with where this came from.  This effort involves a petition drive in six, then a campaign for a contentious issue.  Getting it on the ballot and then selling it in an area that does not normally buy in to transit referendums will take a big effort.  Aside from the Lightning owner, where is this really coming from, who is really running it?

All for Transportation has not yet raised funds to aid in its petition drive, but the group will seek contributions to complement its grassroots campaign utilizing volunteers to collect signatures, according to Tyler Hudson, a local attorney and prominent Democratic operative heading the campaign. Hudson filed papers establishing All for Transportation on Thursday to raise money for the initiative. Conservative donor and strategist Nancy Watkins is the group’s treasurer.

Ok.  The Lightning owner and two politically connected people are involved.  Given how this area works, that leads us to believe there is more to the effort than is being presented.  In a way, it does not matter.  If someone can bring good transit, fine. (That is where the first concern – details and latitude – comes into play.)

On the other hand, even before you get to spending the money, any effort requires complete transparency (good for the Lightning owner for being up front) because, given the politics of transportation in this area, any hint of actual machinations, shenanigans or hidden hands (and hidden interests) could easily doom any referendum. (Hence the second concern)

While the Times editorial says this:

It’s early still, and there will be time to examine the details. But it says something about the state of Hillsborough’s transportation system and its elected leaders that private citizens would step up to fill the leadership void and lead an effort to address and the shortcoming that threatens to drag down the entire region. They certainly deserve public support at this formative stage.

There actually isn’t much time at all to examine (and fix) the details, which is also a problem.

We hope there is much more clarity in the near future.  We would like to be enthusiastically supportive of a solid effort to move forward on transportation.  We would like this to be it, but right now, while we like the general idea, we think there still is too much that is unknown/needs clarification.  Hopefully, starting with the meeting Thursday, that will be fixed.


— One More Thing

Of course, there are other things that might throw the referendum, if it happens, one way or another.  Like this:

Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.

The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum resolution to the state, a first step toward trying to place such a question on the Nov. 6 ballot — though other factors may render that a futile step.

Under a new state law, the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (or OPPAGA), must now commission a performance audit.

The audit, which will not cost the district anything, will likely take about six months. The results must to be posted for two months after that, making it unlikely that such a referendum could appear on the November ballot.

“This is specific to a sales tax,” Superintendent Jeff Eakins told the board.

Under state law, such a tax can be used only to fund capital expenses such as buildings and heavy equipment such as air conditioners. It cannot be used for salaries or other ongoing expenses.

And

Eakins also told the board he is researching options for another possible referendum — this one to raise property taxes, as is done in certain school districts such as Pinellas County.

Pitting transportation against schools could create quite a mess. It will be interesting.


Downtown – Still, No

As you may remember, the City asked for proposals for a “signature” project for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall. After the initial proposals, the City chose an average at best proposal from HRI.  Then, after HRI was chosen, HRI changed the plan for something even worse. That caused some complaints, so they revised it a little – very little.  That was not enough. (Throughout the whole period we have had the position that none of the proposals was worthy of the lot and that there is no hurry to develop the lot, especially with Water Street and other projects underway. See, for instance, here, here, and here)

Last week, new renderings of a revised (sort of) HRI proposal for the lot across Florida from City Hall surfaced.

Kennedy:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Jackson:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Florida:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for thread

The renderings are shiny (and feature the standard distortions), but if you look closely (and look at the site plan) you see that Marion and Kennedy are essentially dead streetscapes (though there now is a very tiny corner store on Kennedy) and Florida is a mess.  That is not to mention the complete lack of anything interesting architecturally about this project.  It is a bland box (rendered twilight shadows notwithstanding).

For us, nothing has changed regarding this project.  The building is bland to ugly.  There are still vast stretches of dead streets.  There is nothing signature or remarkable about the proposal.  If it were on a private lot we would be disappointed and critical, but at least it would be private land. (There are a number of private surface parking lots where this proposal could go.)  There is nothing to justify building this proposal on valuable public land in the middle of a downtown.

Interestingly, while thinking about this issue, we ran across an article on Curbed.com about a private hotel proposal in Atlanta.  This is the original proposal:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

Clearly that developer should have gotten a better artist to draw a twilight drawing.  In any event,

Atlanta’s urbanists cringed when they first saw renderings for hotel slated to develop at a bustling intersection in Midtown.

Granted, the building, a 14-story Marriott installation being developed by Noble Investment Group, is expected to replace a parking lot at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue. But early designs didn’t look much more exciting than the slab of parking spaces.

But now, thanks to a collaboration among the city’s planning department, the Midtown Alliance, and Noble, the bummer of a building mockup—urbanist blog ThreadATL called it “bland” and “run-of-the-mill”—underwent some upgrades . . .

This is what they came up with:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

We don’t know all the details of each proposal, meaning we may think there are problems with the new version, but it is definitely far better than the first version (which is much more like the HRI proposal, once again rendered twilight notwithstanding).  The real point is the attitude:

“It is critically important that Atlanta expect more from its designers and more of its buildings,” said Tim Keane, commissioner of the planning department, according to a press release. “City Planning is focused on design at every scale, so we can make a more vibrant public realm in Atlanta. Buildings are essential to this.”

Likewise, it is critically important in Tampa do the same. And to stop selling valuable public land for substandard and/or unnecessary projects that can go on other land (or just go away). And it is time for the City to actually have and demonstrate real pride (not just talk about it) and stop settling.  It is not anti-Tampa to think we deserve and can do better.  On the contrary, it is those who settle that sell Tampa short.

The HRI proposal should be rejected and the land kept by the City.


Downtown/Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Given the horrible plan amendment regarding storage buildings inexplicably proposed by the City Council (See “Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?”), it was only a matter of time (and/or coordination) before we got a new storage proposal with “private recreation facility” for downtown.  This week, we got it, for 1307 North Jefferson Street, near Encore and even closer to Perry Harvey Park (in fact it would help frame the park, along with the snazzy new Burger King drive through).

Here:

 

Here are the elevations:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Nothing like 11 story stall blank walls with basically no street interaction. (And, no, neither a rooftop feature nor a storage business office on the street mitigate the awfulness of having this downtown.)  It is bad enough to have old phone switching buildings in an urban area, but at least they were needed.  This is not.  There is no reason for this proposal other than poor planning and a City that has historically not cared (particularly in areas with certain demographics).

To allow this proposal downtown would be an embarrassment to Tampa.  This belongs in a warehouse/industrial district, of which there is one conveniently not too far from downtown.  (But, then again, the City Council voted for the downtown, drive-through Burger King so . . .)  Tampa definitely deserves better than this.

So tell City Council.  Here is the info from URBN Tampa Bay:

We encourage everyone opposed to this bad idea to write emails to the city opposing the project. Here is the information to write an email:

You must include the Project Number in the title: DDR-18-0000018

Who you should write to:
Tracie Norton – Tracie.Norton@tampagov.net
Planning Permit Technician I

Please also be sure to include the Tampa city council in your email as well: tampacitycouncil@tampagov.net

Please be courteous and respectful, particularly in your email to the planning staff! Somebody else submits the project to them, this isn’t their design.

Indeed, be nice.  Hopefully, they will all do the right thing.


Transportation – Ferry Stories


— The Possible Transportation

There has finally been a sighting of the South County/MacDill Ferry concept.

The Hillsborough County Commission approved Wednesday the next step in creating ferry service between south county and MacDill Air Force Base. The move launches the next phase of the ferry that will create a timeline for completion, a budget schedule and identify at least two possible sites for a ferry terminal somewhere in south county.

What exactly is happening?

. . . the measure [] extend[s] the county’s contract with AECOM and HMS Ferries through Sept. 30, allowing for continued pre-construction and design services.

The public-private partnership allows “ongoing due diligence activities” associated with creating ferry service, including proposing pricing and a schedule for completion. The three-month contract extension would also give HMS Ferries, the proposed ferry operator for eventual service, to undertake a connectivity analysis along the water corridor as well as transit coordination with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and MacDill Air Force Base.

The contract would also include ridership surveys and projections, preliminary planning and conceptual design, regulatory consultation, environmental evaluation, an analysis of off-site impacts and a proposed business plan. HMS would also be required to examine two alternative sites for the eastern terminus of the project that could be anywhere around Apollo Beach and Riverview, among other possibilities in south Hillsborough.

The cost of the contract extension to the county is $170,000 from the existing budget.

This is one of many steps anticipated under the county’s plans to implement a ferry route for workers in south county and at MacDill Air Force Base, where commuters face staggering congestion. It could save workers up to a half-hour from morning and afternoon commutes, according to a previous analysis by HMS Ferries.

One would think much of that would already have been done, or at least be paid for by the private company.

There are still several questions that need to be answered before service can launch. Approval for an on-base dock would require federal approval from the Pentagon. MacDill leadership has tentatively offered its support, but official clearance hasn’t been requested.

The site for an off-base dock in south county also has to be identified and must be both financially and environmentally viable. Two sites so far have been floated including the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve just north of Apollo Beach and the Williams Park boat ramp near Gibsonton. Both sites present environmental challenges including possibly damaging sea grass or injuring manatees, which are prevalent in the area.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacey White said he would not support the Schultz site due to environmental concerns and urged planners to either find a financial path toward securing the Williams Park site or find an alternative.

One would think that would have been done, too.  That this process has gone on for four years but still does not have an actual route set is a says much about the effectiveness of the County’s transportation planning. (It would also be good to find out if the Pentagon will allow it.)

It’s the seventh modification to the original proposal approved in early 2014. HMS Ferries initially approached the county with an unsolicited proposal in May 2013. Since then, the contract has been extended several times to allow additional analysis on the project.

AECOM, who is contracted as the county’s agent in the partnership, expects an eighth modification sometime in late September that will further launch the county into planning by providing a schedule for complete pricing.

Well, at least someone is making money from the long, drawn-out process.


— The Fun Cruise

There was also news about the Cross Bay Ferry:

Hillsborough County is all in for its share of the Cross Bay Ferry 2.0. The board voted unanimously Wednesday to support a $150,000 expenditure for a second round of ferry service beginning this November.

* * *

“This is about really offering something to our citizens that’s not just in a car or an Uber,” Murman said. “It’s making use of our water. We don’t use our waterways.”

Setting aside that Uber generally involves cars, Pinellas and Tampa would still have to pony up to get the service back.  Our view on the Cross Bay Ferry has not changed.


Downtown – Riverwalk Plaza Sales

Riverwalk Plaza will begin sales soon.

Riverwalk Place, the mixed-use tower proposed on the downtown Tampa waterfront, has released pricing and floor plans for its condominiums.

* * *

Here’s a breakdown of the pricing:

The units priced from $600,000 are “live-work residences,” with one to two bedrooms ranging in size from 822 to 1,774 square feet. They are on levels four through eight, which would indicate they are on the same level as the parking deck. The luxury units began at the 22nd story; office space is planned between the parking deck and luxury condos.

The prices are on the top end of the market. We’ll see how it goes.


Airport – More

New airport passenger numbers are out, and May 2018 was up 9.14% over May 2017.  And, not surprisingly, freight is way up.

And, continuing a theme from last week, the airport is getting more Carolinas service, this time from Frontier.

The Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport will soon be stretching its footprint westward.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines announced plans Tuesday to begin direct service to Denver and Las Vegas beginning in September, giving the Greer airport direct access to those cities for the first time.

The discount-fare airline will also begin service from GSP to Orlando and Tampa. Introductory fares are available for $34 one way, and flights can be booked now, according to the Frontier website.

There was also news that Westjet’s planned ultra-low cost carrier Swoop has applied to fly to Tampa from its planned Hamilton hub.  The details are not clear and the effect on Westjet service is not clear.

In the meantime, Norwegian is expanding in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale.  Hopefully, we will get more Latin American and/or European service soon.


Westshore-ish – Tear it Down

The Midtown developer seems to want to get going.

Bromley Cos., based in New York, is planning to demolish the building at 3725 W Grace St. at 10 a.m. on June 24. The building will be brought down in 30 seconds, the company said, by two Komatsu-brand excavators with 200-foot cables.

The 12,000 tons of concrete left behind by the building will be crushed and repurposed within Midtown. Barr and Barr is the general contractor on Midtown; Cross Environmental Services is handling interior and exterior demolition.

Well, at least they are prepping the site.  We will be more interested when they start.


Economy – Housing

Let’s check in with housing.

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply.

In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. Prices, though, shot up 10 percent, to a median of $253,000.

In Hillsborough, the number of sales crept up less than 1 percent as prices rose 4.7 percent.

The bay area figures reflect a nationwide trend as sales remain surprisingly weak given the solid economy and job market.

“Closings were down in a majority of the country last month and declined on an annual basis in each major region,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. “Incredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales, but there’s no question the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates are pinching the budgets of prospective buyers, and ultimately keeping some from reaching the market.”

There was a similar story in Orlando.

It is often said that our housing prices are low, and they are in comparison to other large metro areas.  However, with our low wages and housing price inflation, our prices are not necessarily that affordable to local residents. From abcactionnews.com:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing to be affordable when a renter or homeowner does not have to devote more than 30% of their income to rent or a mortgage.

The new “Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds a renter in the Tampa Bay area would need to earn $41,800 a year to afford the rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment. The average renter locally only makes $35,380.

The two-bedroom apartment in the Tampa Bay area costs $1,118 per month.

You can get more information at the website here. Even if the prices are low, if incomes cannot cover the costs of living, there is an issue.

As this map from a different article regarding a Harvard housing study about housing cost issue shows, we are not really in one of the most affordable housing markets based on incomes.

From huffpost – click on map for article

It is definitely a complicated situation.


Rays – Knowing

There was an interesting comment from the Rays this week:

The Tampa Bay Rays have kept mum about what happens next if a financial deal isn’t sealed for a new Ybor City ballpark by the end of the year.

That’s the expiration date on their agreement with host St. Petersburg to look in Tampa for a new home.

But this week, Melanie Lenz, the team’s chief development officer, told Ybor City residents and development officials that the Rays would know within six to nine months if a new ballpark will work there.

That means the alarm may sound on the Rays’ Ybor dream as early as March.

Lenz made her comments at an informal brainstorming session with about 15 people Wednesday in Ybor City, said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Community Renewal Area.

While nothing is done until it is done, the comment does not surprise us either as a negotiating tactic or as a statement of fact.


USF – A New Name

The Sun Dome is getting a new name.

Six years after undergoing a massive renovation, the most prominent structure on USF’s campus is set for another radical change.

Effective July 1, the USF Sun Dome will be re-named the Yuengling Center.

The school and Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties, the Jeff Vinik-controlled group that manages and operates the facility, announced Tuesday they have reached a 10-year agreement with D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., for naming rights to the 10,500-seat arena.

* * *

Terms of the agreement weren’t immediately available, though USF is expected to receive an annual amount in the high six figures. TBEP receives 35 percent of USF’s annual naming rights licensing net profit, according to the contract it signed with the school in May 2017.

We are fine with naming rights idea.  We are not so cool with not having the terms of a naming rights deal involving a publicly owned building be public.

As for the beer aspect, we are sure the folks at Yuengling are fine people and we know college kids need no encouragement to get beer, but it still seems a bit odd for a college.


Economic Development – Pasco

There was manufacturing news.

TouchPoint Medical, an engineering and manufacturer of high-tech hospital equipment, plans to put its global headquarters into a 125,000-square-foot industrial and corporate office building in Pasco County.

Tuesday morning, county commissioners approved an incentive package of nearly $1.7 million to lure the privately-held company to a location at the northwest corner of State Road 54 and the Suncoast Parkway in Odessa. The deal includes $980,000 in property tax rebates, $464,000 for creating 116 new full-time jobs over eight years, $150,000 in permitting costs and $100,000 for worker training.

TouchPoint Medical plans to consolidate operations currently in Oldsmar, Atlanta and Connecticut into a new $23 million building. Its average annual wage for the news jobs is listed at $57,546, or nearly 60 percent higher than the countywide average, according Florida Enterprise data. The company expects to employ 228 people initially but acquired enough space for a future 100,000-square-foot expansion, said Brian McNeill, president and CEO of TouchPoint Inc., the parent company of TouchPoint Medical.

The company’s products include high-tech medication dispensing equipment, work stations and mobile monitor carts.

It is not that many jobs and some will not be relocating from very far, but we are all for HQ’s and manufacturing, so good.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

More news on Brightline:

After winning approval Tuesday from Orange County commissioners, the company planning a high-speed passenger train linking Orlando with Miami expects to start laying rail in Central Florida later this year, a project executive said.

The 235-mile rail service includes a 22-mile stretch through Orange County that runs parallel to State Road 528 beginning at the St. Johns River and running to Orlando International Airport, mostly through protected wetlands.

The plan to ease the direct impact on 106 acres of wetlands required a permit approved by commissioners.

Michael Cegelis, executive vice president of rail infrastructure at Brightline Trains, said the proposed rail route from the airport terminal isn’t the shortest or most direct through the county to the east coast but it is “the path of least disruption.”

Still no news on when they plan to connect Tampa to the system.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— Not a Surprise

While many people interested in transportation issues already knew most of the information contained in a New York Times article on transit opposition groups, some did not.  Here’s a bit of the article:

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

“Stopping higher taxes is their rallying cry,” said Ashley Robbins, a researcher at Virginia Tech who follows transportation funding. “But at the end of the day, fuel consumption helps them.”

David Dziok, a Koch Industries spokesman, said the company did not control the activities of Americans for Prosperity in specific states and denied that the group’s anti-transit effort was linked to the company’s interests. That notion “runs counter to everything we stand for as a company,” he said.

If you have not seen the article, you can find it here.


— Detroit

At the nexus of cars and trains is Detroit Central Station, which is a classic for those interested in ruin porn.  However, not necessarily much longer:

For the past year, Ford Motor has been working on a plan to reinvigorate its operations and jump-start profit growth. Now, as that strategy is just being put into place, the automaker is taking on another big renovation project: the city of Detroit and the hulking remains of its dilapidated train station.

Ford has purchased the Michigan Central Station, the abandoned and graffiti-covered 18-story office tower and train station that looms over the Corktown neighborhood. With its smashed and darkened windows, the station had long stood as the most recognizable symbol of Detroit’s decades of decline.

Ford sees the move as part of the race for supremacy in the next automotive era.

“To me this is about inventing the future,” William C. Ford Jr., the company’s chairman and a great-grandson of the automaker’s founder, said in an interview.

You can see what the station looked like back in the day here.  Good for Detroit.

Roundup 6-15-2018

June 15, 2018

Contents

Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Transportation

— Streets, Walking, et al

— About That County Thing

— Free Streetcar

— Mayors, The Editorial

— Suncoast 2 Suit

Economic Development

— Housing, Factoring the True Cost

— Tourism

— Talent

— About That Cluster

Airports – Growing

Westshore – Publix

Rays – The Trop Land

Downtown – Reality Check

— One More Thing

Interesting Read/View

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

_______________________________________________________________________


Built Environment – This is What Tampa Really Wants? Cont.

Last week, we discussed this (See “Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?” ):

On June 11th the Hillsborough Planning Commission will consider an amendment to the zoning code that would allow standalone storage facilities to be built in Downtown Tampa as well as Seminole Heights! The applicant is also requesting that parking requirements be reduced for storage facilities citywide. The planning commission’s staff has recommended the board reject the proposal in its entirety.

We included the staff opinion and explained why we opposed the proposal, and did not really understand why the City Council would propose such a thing.

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the consideration of the amendment has been pushed to August.

Originally, at 2PM today (June 11th), the Hillsborough County Planning Commission was set to consider a proposal to allow single-use storage unit projects in Downtown, Seminole Heights and other urban neighborhoods. That hearing has now been pushed back to August.

Whether in June or August, it is still a bad idea and should be rejected.  We are still wondering why the City Council proposed the change.  It should be dropped.


Transportation


— Streets, Walking, et al

Basically everyone knows about the tragic (in every aspect) incident on Bayshore a few weeks ago.  We have purposefully avoided discussing it until now because we do not think policy decisions should be made in the heat of the moment and discussions are better done after some consideration.  Even after consideration, views may not be changed, but at least there is the benefit of more time to deliberate.

In any event, after that incident, the City accelerated already planned changes to Bayshore:

Under the expedited plans, speed limit pavement markings that remind motorists of the limit will be installed by this August. The city will also install by August enhanced conspicuity plaques, signs that inform motorists of road rules like speed limits with added visibility, according to a release.

The city already reduced the speed limit along Bayshore from 45 mph to 35 mph and replaced signage.

Calming measures along Bayshore will also be installed by the end of October including road striping to reduce the lane width to 10 feet, add a buffered bike lane and additional lighted crosswalks at Rome Avenue.

The city is also fixing sidewalk gaps on the west side of Bayshore and adding bike lanes south to Gandy Boulevard, adding those to its phase 3 project construction. 

One may or may not support all of those changes, but we doubt that any of the planned changes would change the unfortunate decision of someone to drive over 100 mph while racing down the road.  If someone is going to go 55 mph over the limit, there is a good chance they would go 65 over too.

Nevertheless, changes are coming. We are not sure what the buffer on the bike lanes is but without a real, solid barrier it won’t really matter.  If that is not in place, the lanes will still feel/be unsafe.

And we are still not convinced by the flashing crosswalks (anywhere, really).  They are not intuitive for drivers – by which we mean, unlike traffic lights, drivers are not normally looking for them and their timing is nonexistent/arbitrary.  We would prefer the installation of a few of streetlights, creating predictability and where drivers get used to stopping and people get used to crossing. (We understand that might upset some South Tampa residents who love to speed on Bayshore, but we think it is better than crosswalks. You could have the streetcar on Bayshore, like there used to be.)

Others suggested making Bayshore one lane in each direction using the western/northern segment and expand the park area.  In theory that is fine, but there are many people who use that road who would be quite upset (even those who do not speed).  And all the Gasparilla events would likely have to be moved, among other things. (While it was elsewhere years ago, that might also not go down well).

However, Bayshore is a bit of an outlier.  It is iconic and has a well-connected group of advocates. And it is a focus for investment.  The walkability problem is much larger than Bayshore (like here and here).  Really, while unfortunate events do happen on Bayshore, other streets are more dangerous (though maybe less scenic and having fewer advocates).  Bayshore does not have a lot of curb cuts, the sidewalks tend to be away from traffic, drivers tend to be looking for/at pedestrians, it is not really sprawling, and only one side is built up.

Other streets in this area are much worse (and we are not just talking Bay to Bay).  They often have poor sidewalks (often right next to traffic), if they have them at all.  The buildings are designed to make walking harder not easier.  Drivers (including the County truck that ignored a walk signal and made a right turn almost running over one reader crossing a street this week) ignore bikes and pedestrians alike.  (And, it must be said, given the development pattern, pedestrians and bikes often ignore rules on using and crossing streets.  Often they have no alternative because there is no logical connection to where they are going.) While Bayshore provides a rallying point and a lot of political muscle, the problem is much larger and worse elsewhere.

It needs to be addressed in a much more comprehensive way.  And nothing will really change until we change not just how we build the streets but also how we build on those streets, which is what really determined the car-centric nature of our area.


— About That County Thing

Anyway, getting back to Bayshore:

Duncan said her department is gathering data and analyzing proposed locations for additional crossings between Rome Avenue and Gandy Boulevard. The effort will take six more weeks, she said, then a design must be produced.

“We will also be scrubbing our budget to see how these upgrades will be funded, as this work is not specifically budgeted now,” she said. “We will be reaching out to the county to see if they can offer some assistance.”

Why just Rome to Gandy?  Why not north of Rome?  The problems do not disappear there.

As for the County funding, maybe she should take note of this:

Rejected by the city of Tampa, road safety advocates this week turned to Hillsborough County commissioners in their campaign for more traffic calming measures and bike lanes on Bay to Bay Boulevard.

But while the county owns the road, it has virtually no say over it — nor over another 60 miles of county-owned roads that lie within the city.

That has commissioners suggesting it may be time to transfer them to the city.

“The bigger problem is we’re going to get caught in the middle on every county road project in the city that needs major changes to it like pedestrian crosswalks and safe streets,” said Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman. “Unfortunately, our hands are tied on this and legally tied on what we can do.”

But the idea may be dead on arrival: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city has no interest in taking ownership of county roads.

“They’ve been trying to sell us that broken-down car for a year,” Buckhorn said. “They can look at it all they want. Why would the city take over roads that are in disrepair?”

Classic Tampa/Hillsborough County.

The county came to own roads within the city when they were transferred from state ownership decades ago. They include major thoroughfares like West Shore Boulevard, Columbus Drive and a section of Waters Avenue.

Under the current deal, the county pays for major maintenance like resurfacing, which for future projects is projected to cost $125,000 per lane mile.

The city’s responsibility is to mow grass, fix sidewalks and potholes, and operate and enforce traffic signals. But the city also chips in when it wants additional safety features like pedestrian crosswalks added to maintenance projects.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill acknowledged that the county would have to bring its roads up to a certain standard before they could be transferred to the city.

But Buckhorn said even then it would be unlikely the city would want to take on a long-term commitment to pay for their upkeep. The county has budgeted about $25 million this year for major road maintenance projects.

While all this may be interesting to local officials, the bottom line is that the roads are not the way they should be and it is a comprehensive failure. There is enough blame to go around.


— Free Streetcar

In a move that should have happened long ago,

Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to take steps in boosting ridership and efficiency for the system, according to a news release.

* * *

This grant will help the streetcar increase frequency of service to every 15 minutes and extend service hours. Boarding time also will be expedited since fare will be eliminated, according to the release.

The streetcar day pass (or two rides) cost $5, which is as much as a Portland transit day pass (see their rail system map here) and more than a Phoenix day pass. That is not really competitive for the service it provides right now. Having it free, with extended hours and more frequency, will help make it more useful.  However, we should be realistic.  Given that the streetcar is still slow, does not yet run through all of downtown, and that Water Street is not yet developed, we do not expect a massive increase in ridership just from dropping the fares. (There may be one, but we do not expect it.)  Nevertheless, this is a very good, if short-term, first step to making the streetcar a far more useful part of our transportation infrastructure.  To be truly useful, it needs to be made a permanent feature.

And we’ll say it: while it is a small amount of money, good for FDOT. (FDOT press release here) We have to note though, that it is a short-term commitment of not much money and is curiously timed around the time of the MPO votes on projects, including the big highway expansions.  This changes nothing regarding the interstate plan, except to maybe point to a surprisingly low operating cost on the streetcar.


— Mayors, The Editorial

There was an interesting editorial in the Times last week about Mayors and transit.   It is worth reading the whole thing but we will just highlight three paragraphs.

The mayors of Tampa Bay’s three biggest cities have once again declared that the lack of a robust transit system is the region’s most serious deficiency as it competes for new jobs and businesses. Terrific. That’s like the star players sitting in the stands and complaining their team is being outplayed. A regional transit system that fuels a more diverse economy and a more attractive quality of life is never going to become a reality unless the mayors are more actively involved in making it happen.

Speaking at a Tampa luncheon last week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the inability to advance the ball on transportation is “the biggest regret of my eight years, when I leave office in May.” So much for anything happening over the next year. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the region is at “a competitive disadvantage.’’ But he did not make transit a key issue last year in his re-election campaign. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who worked for years in Washington, raved about the businesses along the Metro route in the nation’s capital. Yet the Tampa Bay area “can’t get two counties together to decide what to do and how to do it to benefit all of us,” he said. “That’s an embarrassment.”

Yes it is.

But none of the mayors have made regional transit their top priority. Hills-borough’s transit plan in 2016 was too skewed toward road projects. It envisioned only a rail connection between downtown and Tampa International Airport, for which it had no route, no technology and virtually no funding. There was no plan for expanding rail across Tampa Bay. The Legislature has shown no interest in allowing cities to hold transit referendums. And Buckhorn and Kriseman were too quick to settle in January after local planners abruptly switched gears and endorsed a system of rapid buses instead of rail as the next step for regional transit service.

All that is true, if a little late.


— Suncoast 2 Suit

We don’t really want to get into detail about the extension of the Suncoast Parkway, but:

As construction workers begin clearing the forest at the end of the original Suncoast Parkway to build a second toll road, historic preservation and environmental activists filed suit this week to stop it in its tracks.

The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, pits a group called the Friends of Etna Camp against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The suit challenges the permit the federal government granted for the construction of the controversial eight-lane highway known as Suncoast 2, which runs through Hernando and Citrus counties. Crews will bulldoze through the Etna Turpentine Camp — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — as well as wipe out habitat for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, both imperiled species.

We recently noted that beyond the extension, there is a proposal to turn northeast with the “Coastal Connector.” That has opposition from Marion County and at least one major candidate for Governor.

But more to the point:

Highways that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build shouldn’t feel empty. How empty? Turnpike officials expected to collect nearly $15 million in tolls the first year. Instead the Suncoast Parkway brought in $6.7 million. By 2014, the projection was $150 million a year. The reality: $22 million. And too little of the forecasted economic development ever materialized either.

Apparently mass transit isn’t the only transportation that is very expensive and can fail to meet expectations.  In any event, there is now a temporary restraining order on more work.

And, as regular readers know, we are not against all highways. We are not even against the present Suncoast (note: it’s a great place to introduce new drivers to highway driving), though it should be connected to an east west highway somewhere around Pasco County.  (We are not even opposed to an extension in theory, though not necessarily the exact alignment, if, at some point, unlike now, there is demand and it makes financial and planning sense.)

In any event, we shall see what happens to all of this.  In truth, we are much more focused on getting our local transportation issues worked out. (In fact, for the $250 million cost of the unneeded extension , much, if not all, of the proposed Pinellas BRT and express lines  – remember BRT is a legislative priority  – plus the Tampa streetcar extension, could be built.  You would even have money left over to run the streetcar for a while.)


Economic Development


– Housing, Factoring the True Cost

Recently there have been a number of articles on the relative cost of living of the Tampa Bay area.  Since most of those measures are subjective in the sense that they are based off the choices of what to include in the cost, we are not going to get into them right now.  One thing of interest is housing cost.  In pure numbers, our housing costs are still lower than many areas.  However, the true cost of housing also includes much that has long been subsidized by local taxpayers through the failure of local governments to properly enforce impact fees for the actual cost of the impact of new housing.  Recently, there have been some changes to the fees (mostly caused by the failure of local governments to be able to maintain and improve the infrastructure needed to sustain the population, especially with the sprawling models promoted by said governments.)  That has led to a seemingly constant refrain from home builders, which continued this week, this time in a Times article about the construction industry:

Sean Strickler, west Florida division president for PulteGroup, one of the nation’s largest home builders, said local subcontractors are all competing for the same group of workers, which has “definitely strained the labor pool.”

That’s not the only challenge, Strickler said. Land costs are rising, as are impact fees to help pay for schools and roads. And lumber prices soared to historic highs in the past year.

“While business is still really good, one of our biggest issues is the ability to hit a price point that appeals to first-time home buyers,” he said. “The lack of labor, along with those other components, makes it harder.”

Vitner said the workforce issues should not be underestimated.

“I think if contractors could get the workers they needed, we might add twice as many construction jobs as we added over the last year,” he said. “We wouldn’t get the same bump year after year after year. But we have a huge backlog of projects around the state.”

The point about impact fees echoes something we discussed a few weeks ago.  The reality is that home owners should not have to subsidize first time home buyers or the developers wanting to sell to them.  The money for the infrastructure for the new housing is either going to come from taxpayers or the people building and buying the houses that cause more burden to the infrastructure (and not just the infrastructure at the entrance to a development but along the way to shopping and work destinations as well. That is especially true for a place like South County where the land is cheaper for the developer but the impacts felt all the way to Tampa).

We often hear talk of letting the market decide.  Well, the real cost of the housing includes the cost of upgrading the infrastructure (including that cost in the price of a house is letting the market decide) and if the taxpayer is forced to subsidize it the market is being distorted.

We get that developers, like all businesses, want to lower their costs and maximize their profits as much as possible, but doing so is not the obligation of local taxpayers. Developers could always do more infill, build more densely, build smaller houses, and design more walkability.  That would lower infrastructure costs and, in a properly designed impact fee system, lower fees and costs.  (Though, given our incomes, the first time home buyer might still have issues with pricing in any decent economy.)

The bottom line is that if you want stuff, you have to pay for it.  The choice is who will pay.


– Tourism

Another area of economic development is tourism.  Given that the general trend is up, to wit:

Gov. Rick Scott announced . . . that Florida, once again, made history last year with the highest number of visitors the state has ever recorded.

Scott said during a press conference in Naples that 116.5 million people visited Florida in 2017. That’s a 3.6 percent increase from the year before.

“This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry,” Scott said in his prepared remarks. “We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

It is not surprising that

Hillsborough County generated more than $3 million in bed tax collections for May – a new benchmark for that month while hotel revenues hit over $66.5 million, according to Visit Tampa Bay.

The May report, which was based on hotel room nights in April, came in 10.3 percent higher than the same period in 2017.

* * *

Since the current budget year began on Oct. 1, seven of the last eight months have posted new records for the tourist development tax, commonly known as the bed tax, which is a five percent levy on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals countywide. So far this year, visitors have generated nearly $24 million in bed tax revenue.

It is time for Hillsborough County to add the last percentage point to the bed tax.


– Talent

There was some interesting news about the Tampa Bay Partnership.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is investing $300,000 in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s nonprofit arm, the company announced Tuesday. The money will be used to look at whether Tampa Bay is producing enough skilled workers to fuel its growth and figure out how to bridge any gaps.

Those are good questions but, at least the question of whether/if has been answered.

The initiative was spurred by a 2018 benchmark report produced by the Tampa Bay Partnership, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast. Tampa Bay, the report found, trailed other comparable metro areas in education levels of employees, and had a high percentage of people age 16 to 24 who were not participating in the workforce.

All that should have been well-known before the benchmarking (Like see “List of the Week I” from February 28, 2014 here). Nevertheless, trying to figure out how to fix the issue is worthwhile.

The effort, led by the partnership’s Regional Talent Working Group, will have three phases. First, the group will work to understand the programs that produce workers — such as education institutions and internship programs — and identify five of the most-affected industries. Then, one industry will be chosen and the group will work with employers to determine their needs. Finally, it will devise a strategy and performance metrics to build a more effective pipeline to the chosen industry and businesses.

It is worth a try. Though, as noted in another Times article about Florida and talent, it would also help to create an environment that provides the amenities desired by people who can live anywhere.

Wilson estimated that Florida will need to fill about 3.7 million jobs by 2030, 2 million to replace retirees and 1.7 million to keep up with the state’s growing population. He added that older generations often thought about their careers in terms of which companies they aspired to join. Millennials emphasize location, in particular vibrant cities that offer work-life balance such as Austin, Boston and Denver.

Florida needs some cities on that list, both to attract outside talent and to keep our native high-achievers. Too often we cultivate talent in our universities, colleges and trade schools only to see it flee to other states.

* * *

Florida has found it hard to shake some old perceptions. The state’s K-12 schools are no longer at the bottom of the rankings and the economy is more than just agriculture, tourism and an endless stream of retirees.

But sometimes perception is reality. Florida’s cities don’t pay as well for many of the coveted jobs in Boston, Atlanta or Seattle. Sometimes not even as well as Nashville or Charlotte. St. Petersburg doesn’t have the public transit of Portland and Tampa isn’t as walkable as Minneapolis, two priorities for young talent. And the state isn’t the bargain that it once was. Housing costs, especially including insurance and property taxes, have crept up.

As we have said many times, all these things are connected.


— About That Cluster

And, in a not completely unrelated point, from the Times regarding economic performance:

Tampa Bay is doing well, Orlando even better.

The city of Disney and amusement parks ranks below Tampa Bay in economic output, but has grained ground and is projected to close the gap further in coming years. In 2016, Orlando’s output totaled $127 billion. In 2019, the report estimated it will grow to almost $150 billion.

Orlando’s output is projected to grow at 3.3 percent in 2019/2020, compared to 3.1 percent for the Tampa Bay area.

The trend is the same for job growth …

Orlando: 2.5 percent.

Tampa: 2.1 percent.

Significantly more people in Orlando remain in the labor pool, too …

Orlando: 64.8 percent participation.

Tampa: 59.5 percent participation.

Orlando has been outpacing the Tampa area’s growth in employment, population and economic output for at least a couple decades, Kuykendall said.

“Orlando stands out because of its booming leisure and hospitality sector and its booming medical sectors,” he said. “Tampa has been growing fast. Orlando has just been growing faster.”

Just for perspective, the Tampa Bay area’s economic output was $148.6 billion last year.  And, like the article said, the Tampa Bay area’s economy is doing pretty well.

One interesting distinguishing factor noted above is that booming medical sector in Orlando.  Biomed has long been a targeted industry for the Tampa Bay area going back to at least 2000, see this Business Journal article from then. (For reference, UCF did not even have a medical school until 2006, and the facilities around it for the most part did not exist before then either.  Of course, we have CAMLS.) From that article:

Tampa is one of a few cities in the Southeast that boasts a major research university and cancer institute combined with a nucleus of active companies already in the area. But without more research and development outfits, it will be difficult to draw more companies here, said Daniel Lim, a professor in USF’s microbiology department.

“We have to remember that we’re not the only people with a university, hospitals and good weather,” Lim said. 

It is wise to remember the professor’s insight (and include low taxes). Competition is perpetual.


Airports – Growing

Given the tourist numbers, it is not surprising that:

Passenger traffic was 4.3 percent in April, Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, said at the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday.

“All the airlines were a little bit more full,” he said, citing an average load factor of 86.4 percent.

The key is to take advantage of the situation, which the airport is doing:

Minner also noted that Delta’s passenger traffic rose 10.8 percent in April based on its service to Los Angeles and Raleigh-Durham. The Los Angeles region is TIA’s 13th largest market with more than 870 passengers flying between Tampa and Los Angeles-area airports per day. Delta was the only airline offering nonstop service between Tampa and the Los Angeles market until recently when Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE) began nonstop flights to LAX in April. Another factor in Delta’s passenger surge was its flights to Salt Lake City, a new destination for TIA that began last December.

But, TIA’s largest carrier, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) saw its flights to Havana, Cuba jump by 15.1 percent in April, Minner noted. That growth comes on the heels of an 18 percent increase in March.

And, in addition to new Spirit flights to Greensboro/Winston-Salem, and Asheville, there is reason to think there will be more news soon (though that could be a misreading).

Additionally,

As it moves into the second phase of its master plan, Tampa International Airport approved a $25.2 million contract for the design of the expansion of its curbsides as well as other projects.

In its monthly meeting Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs TIA, approved the contract to design the four-lane curb expansion to Hensel Phelps Construction. 

The project design, which is expected to be completed by December 2022, includes planning, design and permitting for:

The bulk of the cost — $24.7 million — will be for curbside expansion, the new energy plant and related work. Another $504,000 will go toward replacing the curbside ceilings.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While not as interesting as phase 1, it is more progress.

Across the Bay, St. Pete-Clearwater is also growing:

With another new destination poised to begin next week, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw its May passenger traffic jump 11 percent year over year.

So far in 2018, the Pinellas County-based airport has seen an 11 percent increase in passenger traffic. In May, PIE saw more than 185,000 passengers pass through its gates. 

As we have noted before, the big problem at St. Pete-Clearwater is the reliance on one airline for the vast majority of their traffic. (see here)


Westshore – Publix

As we expected, the City Council has approved the Publix on the old Sports Authority site.

The Publix set for the old Sports Authority lot at 4900 Kennedy Blvd. in Westshore received final approval today from the Tampa City Council. We expect demolition of the old Sports Authority store to begin in the not-so-distant future. The vote in favor was 7-0.

While it is not a great design, it is better than the first proposal. At least the City held out for Publix to be accessible from Kennedy, though we doubt that many people will actually walk to it (except maybe some people from the neighborhood to the south).  Development around the site has just not really been developed with walkability in mind.


Rays – The Trop Land

St. Pete has already considered the Trop site with a new stadium.  Now, it is going to think about it without a stadium.

St. Petersburg is beginning to imagine the 85-acre Tropicana Field property without a ballpark.

The city on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement with HKS Architects Inc. to begin a conceptual master plan for the Trop site that doesn’t include a ballpark. The Tampa Bay Rays, whose lease on the existing stadium expires in 2027, are focused on a new ballpark in downtown Tampa, between Ybor City and the Channel district.

The master planning services are not to exceed $178,035. It is the second phase of the city’s contract with HKS; the firm was previously hired to create a master plan for the Trop site that included a ballpark. Removing the ballpark frees up 20 acres within the site, and the master planning process will determine the best uses for the property.

It is a complicated process, as the Times lays out in a pretty speculative article (speculative, namely because nothing has been decided).

It is a blank slate within a rising city in the densest county in Florida. It could transform a downtown of leisure into a center of business. It could cement the city’s reputation as an entertainment destination. It could finally spark the long-awaited urban retail boom that BayWalk (now Sundial St. Pete) failed to ignite 18 years ago.

It could add much-needed affordable housing, or fulfill decades-old promises to the African-American community, or even jump start downtown the way the Trop was supposed to three decades ago.

It could even keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Kriseman hopes to convince the team to stay in a new stadium built there. But whether the Rays stay or go to Tampa, St. Pete is eager to transform the area.

The Trop site “presents incredible opportunities for the city, county and region,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp. “When you have a parcel that size that is controlled by the city and is primed for development, it almost seems like the opportunities are endless.”

Because it is still so speculative, we are not going to get deeper into the article.  You can read it here.  Frankly, the general outlines of the plan will likely be similar to the plan with the stadium, just without the stadium.  What happens after that will be the interesting part.


Downtown – Reality Check

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Bank of America building.  We are not going to get into the entire argument, but there is an interesting point.

At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.

But good luck getting out of it.

Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson Street, traffic jams are forcing people who work in the Bank of America building to idle for up to an hour just to exit the tower’s garage building on Ashley Drive.

Then there’s the traffic jam on Ashley — up to five light changes before motorists can move toward a path out of downtown, Tampa City Council members heard at their June 7 meeting.

“It’s gridlock,” said Marilyn Healy, an attorney representing the building’s owners. “It’s a mess.”

Attorneys from Hill Ward Henderson and Trenam law firms told the council that congestion at the end of the work day is so bad it’s costing their companies billable hours. What’s more, they said, workers miss child care pick ups and family obligations, hurting morale and making it more difficult to recruit.

So, some of that is caused by dumping the cars out on Ashley into the Jackson/Kennedy light mess that has always existed at the end of the workday (and, really, much of the rest of the day).  Per the article, part of it is due to some road construction.  But this is what caught our eye:

Blame the problem on a lack of any improvements to the downtown grid and its busy intersections since the 1950s, said Jean Duncan, city transportation and stormwater services director.

“We are extremely limited in the options we can come up with,” Duncan said.

Moving from vehicle-based culture to one that makes room for streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians isn’t easy, she said.

“Those growing pains are very difficult.” 

We are all for walking and biking infrastructure, but that response does not really address the issue. First, the people in the garage are driving.  Many, if not most, of the people in the building do not – and will not – live downtown or within reasonable walking distance.  And while we are all for biking and walking, many are not going to bike or walk to work.  The streetcar does not serve most of these people either.  Even if they wanted an option to driving, there is no viable option from a large number – and there has been no real option (as opposed to vague rhetoric) even proposed by the City in a very long time. (Not to mention a number of City officials have been in and around City government for around half the period since the end of the 50’s, so they had time to address it.)

And congestion is only going to get worse when Water Street gets built. The City needs a plan for getting people in and out of the area efficiently (beyond dumping people from Wesley Chapel off buses under the interstate).


— One More Thing

Speaking of transitioning from a can oriented to walking, biking, streetcar, the Business Journal has another of their aerial photo compilations.  You can see it here. Included in that was the Related Manor project on the river.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Having the bland, blank garage be the largest feature and most prominent part of the building from the street is hardly focusing on walking, biking, and transit.


Interesting Read/View

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting, mostly graphic piece on Copenhagen and transportation.  Because it is graphic heavy so we are not going to go into it, but you can find it here. We will say that not everything in the piece is applicable to our circumstances.  However, it is worth learning about other places to see what solutions can be applied to our circumstances.  It makes no sense to constantly try to reinvent the wheel when the whole world is working on the same issues.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

SunTrust Bank, which has a large presence in downtown Orlando is moving to a new building.

A 28-story building under construction by Lincoln Property Co. at Garland Avenue and South Street will be called SunTrust Plaza at Church Street Station and become the new home of 90,000 square feet for SunTrust operations, the bank said in a news release Monday. For decades, its headquarters here have been spread across two office buildings on Orange Avenue, including the easily recognized 35-story SunTrust Center.

* * *

Located south of the Church Street Ballroom and alongside Interstate 4, the new tower had been called Church Street Plaza among other proposed names. The LEED Gold certified building will have 200,000 square feet of office space, an AC Hotel by Marriott, a SunRail station, meeting space and retail.

A large corporate presence in a mixed use building with transportation options.  Interesting. (And here are some aerials of downtown Orlando is you are interested. )

Roundup 6-8-2018

June 8, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Comme Ça

— Ferry Stories

— Priorities

— Money

— How to Kill Innovation

— Speak

Channel District – This is What Tampa Really Wants?

Downtown – Straz

Channel District – Elevé61

Westshore-ish – More Midtown

Downtown – Not Yet

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project

Hard Rock – Growing

Economy – Move

Temple Terrace – La Fin

Geographically Challenging

____________________________________________


Transportation – Comme Ça


— Ferry Stories

There was news about the Cross Bay Ferry.

The city of St. Petersburg selected HMS Ferries after a competitive bid process in which one other company submitted a proposal. . . .

* * *

HMS Ferries would charge $747,000 for another six-month service with routes seven days a week.  Of that, St. Pete would pay $150,000.  The proposal assumes an equal contribution from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as well as the City of Tampa.  Those boards would each have to approve funding.

Which, in due course, was approved.

The St. Petersburg City Council took the first step Thursday when it voted 6-1 to fund the Cross Bay Ferry for another six months, from November 2018 to April 2019.

It is all well and good for St. Pete to go through the process and choose for itself, but there is a slight problem:

. . . Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during the ferry pilot project that he would not support using public funding for the service to come back.  The four-government ask is less than it was in 2016 by $200,000, but Buckhorn is not currently on board.  Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, said due to budget constraints he will make a decision at the end of the budget planning process.

More specifically,

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is asking most of the city’s departments to take a 3 percent cut in order to bridge a $13.5 million deficit in what could be a nearly $1 billion 2019 fiscal year budget, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Buckhorn and Tampa Chief Financial Officer Sonya Little are still working on the budget, currently at $974 million, but a worksheet shared with all city departments lists targeted budget reductions totaling $7.6 million.

The largest proposed cut is to the Parks and Recreation Department, which is being asked to slash $1.2 million from its $41 million budget.

We are not sure exactly how the budget ended up like that. While there is a debt payment coming up, it did not sneak up on anyone. But, settling that aside, the City’s position almost does not matter because:

Hillsborough County confirmed it has not placed an item on the commission’s agenda to consider funding.  Pinellas County did not respond to a request for comment.

In other words, right now St. Pete is acting alone.

As we have said many times, the Ferry is a nice tourist/leisure service.  However, it is not a real transit service.  It could be a transit service, but there is no apparent interest in that.  So be it.  There are other, more important things to do.  Speaking of which, while the Cross Bay Ferry ran for a whole season with almost no run-up period, what is going on with the South County-MacDill Ferry?


— Priorities

There was an interesting article about transit in the Business Journal entitled “BRT is the priority in Tallahassee, lawmakers say

There’s a lot of debate over whether the Florida Department of Transportation and regional transit planners are heading in the right direction with planned improvements that center on bus rapid transit.  When faced with questions, those on planning boards and in position of authority point to the existing plan’s low cost, timely constructability and ability to attract local, state and federal funding.

In other words it is cheap and runs on FDOT’s favored expanded interstate plan.

Based on Tampa Bay Business Journal conversations with four local state legislators, there’s no mandate on favoring bus rapid transit over other modes like light rail, but there does seem to be a general consensus that it’s the most likely project.

As for a mandate, FDOT gets its mandates from its funders, namely the legislators and Governor (but, of course, the Legislature has to fund anything).  If they favor the “BRT” plan then that’s what we will get.   The article then discussed the views of local legislators.  One State Senator who would like something better than the “BRT” plan, others had different ideas.  For instance:

Others in the legislature back bus rapid transit because they genuinely think it’s a better idea.  “Rail is an outdated technology,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) “We need something that can be flexible and adapt to newer technologies.”

Actually rail is not outdated regardless of whether you want more “flexibility,” though that is a standard soundbite. (And note that real BRT is not so flexible.  It has dedicated lanes and real stations.  It is not even always less expensive than rail.)  More interestingly, her website tells us:

As a professional engineer and transportation advocate I look forward to working as hard as I can to provide my community with what it needs to finally fixing our transportation problems. We have to make strategic investments in our transportation network to make it easier to get goods to market and people to and from their workplace and home. It is time for Tallahassee to get serious about this issue and provide the necessary resources to our local governments.

Which is fine.  But we are having trouble figuring out how spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a bus system (seemingly with the idea that the system will probably be dismantled at some point) that does not serve the area’s biggest needs or promote good urban development and infill so people do not have to travel as far to get to where they want to be fits with proper planning and urban engineering or truly strategic investment.  And we don’t see how huge highway expansion and a weak bus system that can be dismantled is going to aid her interest in developing walking and biking in this area.  We hope to get an explanation of how that would work.

The thing that always comes up in debates on accommodating emerging tech gadgets is autonomous vehicle technology.  State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has been one of the state’s biggest champions for autonomous vehicle technology by pushing legislation loosening regulations to use equipped cars on public roads and by supporting funding for research efforts.

“These things will be here faster than you think and that’s what we need to be focused on,” Brandes previously told the TBBJ about driverless cars.

To some degree we agree. We are sure at some point autonomous vehicles will show up at some point (and will need to be properly regulated, especially regarding liability) but, as Elon Musk and others have noted (for instance see here and here), autonomous cars will probably mean more congestion not less, especially in already dense areas.  Roads will still be very expensive and land will still be in short supply. Therefore, we will still need ways to get cars off the roads and to move a lot of people quickly and efficiently in denser areas.

While “gold standard” BRT may do that in some places, the “BRT” plan will not do that.  (Nor will express lanes.)  And, in any event, the comments above do not really support transit at all.

The main point is that if there is a mandate against rail, it is not “Tallahassee’s” priority. Any mandate comes from this area’s own state and local officials.  And they are not even promoting real, “gold standard” BRT.  The “BRT” plan being promoted locally is not even real, “gold standard” BRT (and there is no provision for making local buses robust).  It is a shallow shell of BRT (just express buses) that does not serve the area’s needs.


— Money

Speaking of BRT and buses, last Roundup we discussed PSTA’s ambitious plans for BRT in Pinellas with connections to Tampa. We noted that they would cost less to implement than the “BRT” plan being pushed right now. Well,

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is expecting a big hit to its 2019 budget amid rising fuel costs and increased ridership on one of the agency’s services.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller told the board of directors Wednesday he’s preparing for a major hit. Budget discussions are preliminary, but Miller expects a significant increase in the agency’s 2019 fuel costs and paratransit service. This year the agency plans to pay $4.3 million for fuel and $7 million for the Demand Response Transportation (DART) program for disabled riders.

“We are seeing our highest rate ever on our DART paratransit service,” Miller said. “Every time someone rides it’s door to door service at $30 a trip.”

Miller said the DART budget is his No. 1 concern as he moves into the budget writing process.

The agency is also expecting a surge in diesel fuel spending. The average gas price in Pinellas County as of this week is nearly $3 a gallon, according to Gas Buddy. This time last year prices were at about $2.20 per gallon. Gas prices are expected to rise because of President Donald Trump’s reenacted sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Setting aside for now that the bus fleet should be running on more efficient and stably priced technology and that some of the biggest opponents of rail are sponsored by large players in the fossil fuel industry, it will be interesting to see if the local legislative delegation that supposedly favors BRT will help funnel money to PSTA to help with its services and to build out the BRT plans.


— How to Kill Innovation

As we have explained many times before, the Downtowner service presently provided by the Downtown Partnership (with some public money) has a predecessor – a free shuttle provided by a private company that was killed by the Public Transportation Commission (read: elected officials) at the behest of taxi companies.  Whether pretense or not, one of the taxi company complaints was that shuttle did not stick to strictly downtown.

Fast forward to now and the Downtowner, which by all accounts is very successful.  Indeed, it is apparently so successful that:

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is in talks with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to take over running the Downtowner free shuttle service.

The partnership started the service in 2016, putting a fleet of 12 electric cars known as GEMs on downtown streets. The smartphone-app service averages about 500 riders per day and notched just under 280,000 rides in its first 18 months.

But running a transit system, however small, is a strange fit for a nonprofit group whose other initiatives include throwing events, sweeping streets, providing tourist guides dressed in yellow shirts and helping businesses with marketing.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of HART running the Downtowner, it is worth noting two things.  First, the In-Towner is likely going away:

Talks are at an early stage, but HART could take over around the middle of 2019. The agency is already planning to scrap its In-Towner, a rubber-wheel trolley service that operates on many of the same streets as the Downtowner but has “extremely low ridership,” HART spokeswoman Vanessa Brooks said.

HART’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on scrapping the service at a meeting Monday.

Second, the Downtowner fleet is likely growing due to the demise of the much touted Tesla shuttles around USF:

At the least, the talks between HART and the partnership seem likely to result in an expansion of the Downtowner’s fleet this summer.

HART has offered to provide the nonprofit with four sleek Tesla cars to use for the service. The cars were leased for a pilot program known as Hyperlink, designed to give people rides to and from bus stops in the University area.

Hyperlink was lauded by HART as the first partnership between Tesla and a transit agency. Passengers, who hailed a ride using a smartphone app, were charged $3 a trip.

The decision to end the program was made after HART sought bids for a new vendor to run it.

“We found through the process that this business model is not sustainable,” Brooks said.

If that is confusing, URBN Tampa Bay has a nice summary:

Over the past couple of years, there have been three circulator type transit services started up in Tampa…

– The Downtowner, a fleet of oversized golf carts which circulate around Downtown Tampa. They’re hailed by smartphone app and are operated by the Tampa Downtown Partnership. It is free to ride.

– The In-Towner, small buses dressed up to look like trolleys, which operated on 2 set routes in Downtown Tampa. It is free to ride and operated by HART.

– and Hyperlink, an experiment that HART tried in the USF area which used rideshare in Tesla’s to try and get folks to and from distant bus stops. It was $3 on top of the bus fare.

Two of these have largely failed, and one did much better than expected. The good news is that the two that failed, Hyperlink and In-Towner, have been/are being cut by HART, with the vehicles from the failed Hyperlink experiment expected to be added to the Downtowner’s fleet to increase service. 

We’ll set aside the cause of the failures of the two services right now and focus on the Downtowner/HART issue.

The Downtowner covers an area from Harbour Island north to Interstate 275, and from the University of Tampa area east to the Channel District. The partnership also has received initial approval from the City Council to extend the area north to take in part of the Tampa Heights area.

The service costs about $1 million per year. Initial funding sources included a $560,000 award from downtown and Channel District community development funds, and $450,000 over three years from the state. Downtown commercial office towers and hotels also pitch in with contributions.

In other words, the Downtowner is outgrowing its limited scope, and extending beyond “downtown,” like the previous service.

It’s unclear whether the Downtowner would continue to be free under HART or what would happen to its drivers, who are employed by the Downtowner company.

“We want to take a thoughtful, methodical and holistic approach,” Brooks said in an email, “in developing a robust mobility solution for downtown Tampa that includes elements of the Downtowner, HART fixed-route bus service, the TECO streetcar and HART’s upcoming Autonomous Vehicle project all working together for a system for those that work, live and play in downtown.”

Having a coordinated system is good.  Of course, HART is already underfunded with no signs that the County Commission is going to fix that.  The service should stay free, but given HART’s issues, that will probably not happen.

This all could have been avoided if local officials just let the private company carry out its business model and keep the service free and not requiring taxpayer money.


— Speak

All the above brings us to the MPO. From Sunshine Citizens:

Don’t forget the annual Hillsborough MPO public TIP hearing is June 12th. This is a critical meeting where the MPO board will be voting on transportation projects for the upcoming year. Whatever your concerns are, safer streets, better transit systems, smarter transportation spending, this is the place where changes can be made. Help get the word out!

The meeting info:

Hillsborough MPO – TIP Public Hearing

JUN12 Tue 6:00 PM EDT · 601 E John F Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602

Let your voice be heard.


Channel District – This is What Tampa Wants?

A while back, there was a short-lived proposal for public storage in the Channel District.  Thankfully, it disappeared.  That was likely because it was plainly not appropriate for the area.  Last week, a number of Facebook pages/Organizations posted about new storage moves.  We’ll just quote URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: On June 11th the Hillsborough Planning Commission will consider an amendment to the zoning code that would allow standalone storage facilities to be built in Downtown Tampa as well as Seminole Heights! The applicant is also requesting that parking requirements be reduced for storage facilities citywide. The planning commission’s staff has recommended the board reject the proposal in its entirety.

We believe the proposal is being lobbied for by the same entity which previously proposed to build a storage unit at 111 North Meridian Ave in the Channel District, before withdrawing that application. They have since resubmitted it. We have also heard that they are seeking to build a similar facility in Seminole Heights at an unknown location.

In both parts of the city, such standalone storage facilities are currently illegal, but if this code amendment is passed, it would become legal to build them throughout Downtown and Seminole Heights, regardless of the adverse impact it could have on neighbors and the community’s ongoing efforts to restore walkability in both parts of the city.

We of course oppose this amendment.

More interesting is this:

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

The “proposed City Council initiated” text amendment?  If you read the discussion, there is something about reducing parking requirements, which is fine.  However, as the discussion rightly notes, storage is not going to bring vitality to the streets.  Why is the City Council promoting dead streets and single uses?

Note that the discussion is by the same Planning Commission (the one that approved the Rocky Point fill project) and that the staff finds the amendment inconsistent for a variety of reasons.  And, in fact, it IS inconsistent with having a vibrant downtown/urban area (sure, we’ll build out Water Street and toss in a couple of Public Storage buildings for good measure).  There is a need for storage, but not in the middle of an urban area.  There are more industrial areas where this belongs.

We really have no idea why the City Council would be promoting this (though it inexplicably allowed a stand-alone Burger King downtown), but we definitely think that support for this type of thing is not what we’d like to see in a Mayor or Council member.

To speak out against this, please attend the Planning Commission’s upcoming hearing at 2pm on June 11th at the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd.

You can make your voice heard.


Downtown – Straz

We have already written about the Straz’s parking/Riverwalk plan.  Unfortunately, the more we learn, the less we like it. Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The city’s natural resource department has provided comments regarding the Staz’s proposal to replace a bunch of greenspace and trees with a parking garage along the riverwalk. As you might be able to imagine, it isn’t pretty:

Clearly, cutting trees along the Riverwalk to put up a parking garage and loading dock is quite questionable.

Once again, we get the Straz has a parking issue, but the plan presented is just not acceptable.  They really need to go back to the drawing board.


Channel District – Elevé61

Speaking of questionable ideas, per URBN Tampa Bay, Elevé61 has been approved by the City. While we are good with the height of the project, that is about the only good thing. As we have said before, the building is bland, the street interaction is bad, and here is little retail.   Or as URBN Tampa Bay said:

The tower itself appears to be blank stucco/concrete slab on three sides, with a row of balconies on the 4th side, facing downtown. We’re also not a big fan of streetscape, which leaves too much of Channelside Drive as an exposed parking garage. We would’ve liked significantly more ground floor commercial for such a prominent location on the streetcar line and across from the Port’s future developments.

Just more settling from the City which is completely inconsistent in its plans and the enforcement thereof. We can do much better.


Westshore-ish – More Midtown

There was more news about Midtown.

The developer of Midtown Tampa has paid $10.5 million for a property key to the massive, mixed-use project.

New York-based Bromley Cos. on Tuesday closed on the Circle K store property — just under 1 acre — at North Dale Mabry Highway and West Cypress Street, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Wednesday.

The Circle K property is the front door to Midtown, which is 22 acres near the Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway interchange. Midtown’s boundaries stretch from I-275 to the north; Himes Avenue to the east; Cypress Street to the south and Dale Mabry to the west.

It is an odd front door. Most if not all of the acre will be used for surface parking in front of Whole Foods.   It is not our money, but, given that use and the fact that Whole Foods is under a parking garage so the surface parking is completely superfluous, we think they might as well leave the gas station.


Downtown – Not Yet

The Tampa Housing Authority is still having trouble getting a grocery store at Encore.

TAMPA — Publix and Walmart have already passed on building a new store at the Encore public housing project.

Now, a third effort to bring a grocery store to the downtown Tampa urban renewal project has stalled.

St. Petersburg firm J Square Developers recently backed out of a $2.2 million contract with the Tampa Housing Authority to build a midsize grocery store on a two-acre lot at the northwest corner of Nebraska Avenue and E Harrison Street.

The deal was expected to bring a retailer that caters to lower-income shoppers, such as Lidl or Aldi. But J Square exercised a provision that allowed it to back out without penalty after a 120-day inspection period.

“The tenant we hoped to attract to the site simply didn’t believe there were enough households in the immediate vicinity yet to support their business model,” said Jay Miller, J Square president, who did not name the retailer because of confidentiality commitments.

It is unfortunate but not surprising.   The project is isolated from the rest of downtown and the development there.  The lot designated for the grocery store is at the eastern end of the project, not central to the Encore housing and away from the other apartments in the northern end of downtown.   And, while we don’t know exactly how the negotiations are going, the Housing Authority has had a number of issues in the last few years.

“It’s disappointing they didn’t proceed,” said Leroy Moore, the housing authority’s chief operating officer. “But we still have the land. The land is not getting cheaper.”

When complete, the community on the eastern edge of downtown near Ybor City will accommodate 2,030 residential units, 50,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 59,000 square feet of office space and a hotel.

Moore said there is still a lot of interest in the grocery store lot.

“We have never been in a hurry; we don’t have any debt so we’re patient,” he said.

Still, finding another retailer may be a challenge.

To keep Encore walkable, the Housing Authority doesn’t want a store that requires surface parking like a typical strip mall supermarket. That likely means the project will need to include a parking garage.

Parking led Walmart to back out in 2014 after Housing Authority officials balked at the retail giant’s request to fill a neighboring lot with parking spaces.

Publix also looked at buying two Encore lots in 2013 but decided against it.  

Publix is going in the Channel District.

The bottom line is we actually don’t care if Encore itself has a grocery store.  Eventually, if people keep moving in to downtown area housing, the north of downtown will get a grocery store.  More concerning is that Encore is not connected to downtown and is having trouble filling its retail.  While it is not that far from the downtown core, the design of the project left lots empty land for private development (like a hotel or office building) between Encore and downtown.  We understand why they did that, but it has created dead space and isolated the project (unless you want some Burger King).

And any problems with Encore make us concerned for the West River development process.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

There was an article on Water Street on Curbed.com (see here).  Because it is basically a rehash of all the other promo articles and their talking points, we are not going to get into detail about it.  Feel free to read it.  The article did have this new rendering:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

We like that very much, especially because it includes what appear to be awnings.  Though, one concern, of course, is how all those people are going to get into and out of the district.

And in related news, with absolutely no suspense,

The tallest building yet at the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development on Thursday won a key approval from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Authority board members unanimously voted to approve a 314-foot height for the buildings two towers — a 26-story tower with 196 condominiums and a 21-story tower with 222 apartments. Both will rise from a base building that includes a grocery store and parking on the 800 block of Old Water Street.

Like they would say “no.”


West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project

First, let us say we are all for developing the area now-marketed-as-North Hyde Park area (though it is really West Tampa as you can see here). In fact, a while back we suggested to the City that, given all the problems on South Howard, they plan ahead for all the coming development and take into account the fact that people will want entertainment.  That, of course, did not happen.  What has happened is that a lot of apartments have been built, most with limited to no retail and generic designs.

One of the big issues, as always, is parking.  Previously the City approved surface parking because of “market conditions.”  The argument was inaccurate and the approval was a mistake.  Conditions now are more oriented to parking garages but dealing with parking still an issue.  Another issue is street retail. They both can be seen in this proposal by the folks who gave you apartments with surface parking and no retail in the area (before flipping the project for a nice profit):

An Atlanta developer with a track record of building and cashing out on apartment properties in Tampa’s North Hyde Park is proposing another project in the nascent urban neighborhood.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group LLC is asking the city to rezone an assemblage of 2.8 acres at 514 N. Rome Ave. — the block bound by Rome Avenue to the east, North Fremont Avenue to the west, West Gray Street to the south and West Carmen Street to the North — to make way for 246 apartments.

NoHo Square, as the community is named in public filings, has a proposed unit mix of 127 one-bedroom units; 99 two-bedroom units; and 20 three-bedroom units.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While we are far happier with parking garages than surface parking, as with many Tampa projects, the parking garage in this rendering is the tallest, most prominent feature of the building.  It is not that developers do not know how to hide the garages.  There are a number of projects where that is done reasonably successfully.

Making matters worse is the lack of retail.  While according to URBN Tampa Bay, this proposal has a 696 square foot corner store on the SE corner, the main features are the parking garage and a very long, bland stretch of apartments. While we don’t like it, we can at least understand an argument that the longer facades in this project face side streets that are not good for retail (though they are getting lined with apartments).  However, there is frontage on Rome (near the developer’s previous, surface parking filled project) that is a very good location for retail in the growing neighborhood.

The City really needs to get on the ball in that emerging prime urban corridor.  The opportunity to guide development is still there (sort of) but will soon be lost.


Hard Rock – Growing

As has been obvious for a while from the cranes on the site, the Hard Rock is growing.  There will be more restaurants, gaming, pools, and

The centerpiece of the expansion is a new 15-story hotel tower with an additional 564 hotel rooms and suites. In total, the expanded Seminole Hard Rock Hotel will offer approximately 800 guest rooms, including 79 new hotel suites for a new total of 88 suites. The top floor of the new hotel tower will feature a private gaming parlor for VIP guests, with an exclusive check-in and private elevators to rock star suites.

That is all fine.  The only thing is the location.  Then again, most of the activity at the casino focuses on the casino, so it is not clear that even a more central location would do much other than make traffic that much worse.  At least the Hard Rock is something mildly attractive at what is essentially the eastern gateway to Tampa.


Economy – Move

There was interesting news from the financial sector, which has a lot of back office operations around here.

T. Rowe Price Group Inc. plans to close its Tampa operations center in June 2019, in a move that reflects consumer shifts away from using the telephone to going online for customer service.

About 400 employees currently work in the Tampa office, a leased location at 4211 W. Boy Scout Blvd. at Tampa’s International Plaza.

The company said about 30 of them with assigned client relationships will remain in the area and work remotely. Another 220 positions will be transferred to other T. Rowe Price sites in Maryland and Colorado, and Tampa workers are being encouraged to consider relocation, the company said.

About 150 jobs will not be replaced, a press release said.

The move is a blow for economic development efforts to build a strong financial services sector statewide and in Tampa.

First, any loss is bad, though there is good job growth in this area right now so hopefully absorption of the workers should not be that hard.  On the other hand, we wonder if this is a sign about the long-term future of customer service jobs which are plentiful here.

And, interestingly, T. Rowe Price has played around with having a Pasco County facility for years (though never built one), but the jobs are going to Maryland or Colorado.  And what are the advantages in Maryland and Colorado locations?  We wonder if the relocating employees will get a pay bump and relocation costs.


Temple Terrace – La Fin

The quest to build a downtown in Temple Terrace appears to be complete.

A round of applause from the audience followed the recent vote by the Temple Terrace City Council to negotiate a contract with a company that plans to build and manage luxury apartments in the long-idle downtown redevelopment area.

The residents, many of them council meeting regulars who have followed the ups and downs of this saga for 15 years, were celebrating what appears to be new hope in the effort to fill the empty acreage in the swath of land on the east side of 56th Street that stretches from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River.

“We made some monumental progress tonight,’’ said City Manager Charles Stephenson. “I will sleep good tonight.’’

If the deal goes through as expected, Richman Group will pay the city $3 million for 4.86 acres of land off Bullard, at the northeast corner of the development, and build about 200 high-end apartments. In July, the city will close on the sale of 2.56 acres on the northwest corner for $3.58 million. The Paragon Property Group plans to build a bank and retail stores there.

You can see some documentation from last year here.  While we do not know all the details and hope we are wrong, we doubt that the nature of the project will vary from the suburban apartment complex model.  (apparently the buildings will be four stories not three.)  The real issue is this:

Together, the two sales should reap more than $6.1 million for the city, which can use it to pay down a $10 million loan the city closed on this week with Republic Bank.

Without a pay-down, the loan would come with a whopping balloon payment of more than $10 million in 2023. It’s one of two loans totaling about $23.5 million, money the city originally borrowed last decade to buy and improve 29 acres in the downtown redevelopment area.

The city recently refinanced the loan through two banks. It took out a $14 million loan with the second bank, CenterState, to be paid off over 20 years. After the Republic loan is paid off, the city will have to pay about $1,041,000 a year in principal and interest, according to Finance Director Lyn Boswell, who noted that there is no penalty for paying it off early.

The bottom line is that this entire process has been a mess.


Geographically Challenging

We saw something in the Business Journal this week that really made us wonder.

A North Tampa Heights shopping centers has been sold for $6.075 million.

Northpointe Crossing, at the intersection of North Florida and East Fletcher avenues, sold to Florida-based AST Investors LLC, Tampa-based Plaza Advisors said Tuesday.

We get that sometimes in real estate geographic boundaries get a little bent for promotional purposes (like saying an office building in Town and Country is in Westshore), but saying Fletcher is “North Tampa Heights” (is there even a thing?) is really a bit too much. First, it is around six miles from MLK to Fletcher.  Second, to get from Tampa Heights to Fletcher, you have to go through a number of acknowledged neighborhoods, like Seminole Heights and, to some degree, Forest Hills.  It really is inexplicable.

Correction: While we still find the name inexplicable, apparently the area around Florida and Fletcher is called “North Tampa Heights” in some record somewhere because it showed up on a map we just looked at.  We have never heard that area referred to that way and it makes little sense, but that’s the way it is.  We stand corrected.

Roundup 5-25-2018

May 25, 2018

Please note there will be no Roundup next Friday.

Contents

Transportation – Stuff

— PSTA Plans

— Divergence

— Pasco Regionalism

Downtown – A Parking Lot By the River?

Downtown – Settled

Ybor City – Hotel

Economic Development – Another

Economic Development – International Trade

Economy/Planning – Jobs and Houses

— Jobs

— Houses

Sports – Moving the Bowl

Downtown – A Little History

____________________________________


Transportation – Stuff


— PSTA Plans

There was an interesting article in the Business Journal about PSTA’s future plans:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is taking early steps to launch several new bus routes that would better connect the county to the region.

This comes at a time when residents and businesses are demanding action on transit solutions and builds on a proposed “transit spine” that would connect St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

As far as we can tell, there is no groundswell of demands for the Interstate “BRT” plan.  Nevertheless, it is good that PSTA is at least thinking of the future.

In a presentation this week, the agency laid out how to pay for the proposed routes through revenue and gas taxes.  Among the proposals are routes along 49th Street and East Bay Boulevard, 34th Street, U.S. Highway 19, 4th Street and routes connecting the county’s beaches to Tampa International Airport, downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa and enhanced service from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs. . .

The proposals are spilt into local transit enhancements that would require gas tax funding and tourism transit project that could use tourist development taxes.

What are these projects?

There are four proposed projects that would require cities to forfeit their entire gas tax revenue in favor of increased transit mobility.

For the time being, we’ll set aside the issue of cities foregoing their gas tax money for bus service.  (We are not judging whether or not it is a good idea. We do not have enough details to decide.  We are just saying we think it highly unlikely.)  The gas tax based lines  are:

4th Street BRT

34th Street BRT

49th Street BRT

U.S. 19 “Rapid”

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

 

We have no idea how real the BRT mentioned actually is.  We also don’t really know what a U.S. 19 “Rapid” is.  Though, if they do real BRT it would be interesting.

PSTA is proposing another four routes that would benefit tourism. The Florida Legislature this year approved using bed tax dollars collected on hotel stays for transit as long as it provided a benefit for tourism.

Those lines are:

Clearwater Beach to TIA

Indian Rocks Beach to TIA

Jolley Trolley Enhancement

727x to Downtown Express (St. Pete to Tampa)

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Amusingly:

PSTA officials don’t expect to launch all of the programs in the near future.  PSTA CEO Brad Miller said the agency would likely have to proioritize one of the airport routes.  Right now he said the Clearwater Beach business community is pushing back against the route that would connect their area to the beaches.

That seems a bit odd.

“Some hotels only want the bus to go to their hotel and not the other hotels,” Miller said. “The Ulmerton Road [route] is sort of an alternative if Clearwater Beach just doesn’t want it.” 

Feel that sense of community.  Why would government invest in a bus to one hotel?  If private owners want that, let them start their own line.

The bottom line is that PSTA is being very aspirational.  Do not count on any of it soon.  On the other hand, we added up (admittedly done quickly while watching hockey playoffs, so we may have missed something) the total cost of build out of all the lines: $115.2 in capital costs.  In other words, for a quarter of the regional “BRT” plan, Pinellas could build three “BRT” lines, a “Rapid” line, multiple lines from Pinellas to the airport and downtown Tampa.  And if you put the money directly in (like the idea for the “BRT” plan), rather than dragging it out over years, you could likely build it out as fast or faster than the “BRT” line.

We also feel the need to point out that, even though they are mostly in Pinellas, these plans are of regional impact (some of them crossing county lines and others being useful for the region).  We do not understand why most of these proposals and any like them in Hillsborough should not be part of a regional plan.  Regional need not be limited to crossing all county lines (even while, as the “BRT” plan, not serving the primary needs of the region).  To do so would be counterproductive and absurd.

It all makes one wonder why a questionable “BRT” plan using express lanes that FDOT is determined to build anyway (and thus are not part of any bus system’s cost) and highway shoulders (how exactly is still open to question) is worth it.  Why not make the PSTA plan part of regional network (crossing the bay using the same express lanes that will be built with or without bus service) coordinated with Hillsborough? (Assuming HART and Hillsborough government cares to do so, which is a big if).  We do not have to settle for a feeble spine when we could get a network.


— Divergence

The diverging diamond interchange is coming to Hillsborough and Pasco.

Driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t just for the British any more under an innovative plan for moving traffic through three local Interstate 75 interchanges.

Sadly, really driving on the wrong side of the road seems all too common in this area, but that’s not really the point they were getting at.

Construction will soon begin on a $37 million, three-year project to turn I-75 and State Road 56 near Wesley Chapel into a “diverging diamond” interchange. The crisscross road design briefly diverts traffic in both directions onto the opposite side of the road as it passes under or over a freeway.

The Florida Department of Transportation has the same plan for I-75 and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa, a $78.6 million project. The new interchange design, originally dreamed up by French traffic engineers, will be added at other major Florida interchanges in the next five to 10 years.

The double-crossover design helps traffic flow and reduces accidents and congestion, road planners say. By switching traffic to the other side of the road, motorists turning left onto the freeway don’t have to cross oncoming traffic. The switch-over happens after the entrance ramp for drivers making right turns.

If that sounds too complicated, think of it this way:

Instead of as many as six different cycles of green lights, the intersection will need only two.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

Note that at SR56 it will be another reconstruction of the interchange that most likely will never be fixed (it has always been a mess and, amusingly, it was supposed to help fix the SR54 mess).  And also note the cost of the SR56 rebuild, which has doubled.

Theoretically, we are fine with a new interchange design if it works. (It’s not like the two interchanges discussed are not going not be sprawling messes.)  On the other hand, we are not sure this design will work much better for cars and probably will not work as well (which is already horrible) for people and bikes.  And the cost.

And, given the poor driving locally, we have some concerns.

But the complex design can mean construction takes longer and is more expensive, said Pei-Sung Lin, a program director at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

The project will also have to include a public education effort to explain the new road configuration so drivers know what to expect when it opens, he said.

“There is a learning time for drivers,” he said. “Education is very important.”

For University Parkway, FDOT’s driver education included videos posted on Youtube.

FDOT does not typically measure traffic flow after a project is completed provided the new road is performing as planned. That is the case at University Parkway, Carson said.

“Operationally, traffic is running smoothly through the DDI even through the peak periods of the day,” she said. “Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”

We hope so.

We also just wonder how it is that FDOT can find all these millions for changing interchanges here and there (over and over) but seems so hard-pressed to find money to complete transit initiatives like the St. Pete BRT (always waiting on the Federal government).


— Pasco Regionalism

Speaking of Pasco, there was more news on the K-Bar Ranch/Mansfield Blvd issue (you know, paving ten feet to connect two roads).

More than 400 people living along Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County signed a petition opposing plans to connect New Tampa and Wesley Chapel. 

Stephen Smith recently signed the petition because he’s worried about increased traffic along the area’s school zone. His son will have to walk to Wiregrass Elementary along Mansfield next year. 

“You’re going to have increased accidents, it’s just going to be,” said Smith.

Here is what we are talking about

 

The schools are at the top.  As you can see, there are no houses on the road.  In fact, as is the common practice in the most sprawling areas, the houses are behind walls.  The road has basically nothing on it, except a few schools, to which we suspect (though admittedly we have not done a study) most kids arrive at in cars.

So you can really see the absurdity of what we are talking about, this is a picture from the petition:

From change.org – click on picture for petition

You can read the entire petition here.

Let’s just say the substance of the petition is very local.  (Note that some of these residents are people who would be a “choice” target for the “BRT” plan.)

It will be interesting to see what Pasco County will do.


Downtown – A Parking Lot By the River?

The last few weeks, we have discussed a Straz proposal to build a garage by the river.  However, there is another Straz parking proposal from a while back.

The crunch looks likely to continue.

A Straz plan to expand parking at its arrival plaza off W Tyler Street was rejected Monday by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

Commissioners sided with staff planners who determined that any expansion of parking along the city’s waterfront — currently prohibited — would violate existing zoning regulations.

Tampa officials said riverfront surface parking would conflict with the city’s work in recent years to showcase the Hillsborough River. While acknowledging that the Straz’s parking options, including remote lots and the nearby Poe garage, are often inadequate, city planners stood firm.

* * *

Surface parking along the river was phased out in 2000 as part of a zoning reclassification called the “waterfront overlay,” said Cathy Coyle, the city’s manager of planning and urban design.

“They call it an arrival plaza. Valet is perfectly fine for events,” Coyle said. “It’s the storage of vehicles that is truly the issue here. … We do not believe it’s appropriate to add surface parking back into the waterfront overlay.”

First, that position is entirely reasonable.  Second, they should stand firm.

Straz officials said they just wanted the city’s zoning to reflect reality — “to clean up, we believe, some code language to match up with what we’re currently doing,” said Doug Dieck, a Straz board member.

The Straz has parked about 50 cars in the arrival plaza for years, chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard said Thursday.

The performing arts center wanted the commission to formally authorize that practice. The zoning change would also allow the center to continue its effort to expand the plaza, allowing it to park more cars. The exact number hasn’t been determined, Shepard said.

Sold-out shows stress parking. And the construction of a 30-story, 300-unit residential tower across the street from the entrance will only make things worse. For that reason, Straz officials wanted to get started by this summer on their proposed $375,000 project.

In February, Straz Center executives said their expansion plans would help them better manage valet services, which account for about 10 percent of parking needs. 

What the Straz is doing should match the code not the other way around.  Moreover, the request the Straz is making is not just to match the code to what the Straz is doing now, it is to expand what the Straz is doing.  Though frankly, a lot of this issue stems from this:

“We’re hoping to refine the language so it doesn’t open Pandora’s Box,” said Morris Massey, an attorney representing the Straz. “The center is, frankly, one of the most important cultural centers in the city of Tampa and the region. It’s important for us to maintain access and some level of vehicular use in that area.”

Coyle said the city couldn’t show “favoritism” by accommodating the Straz’s request at the exclusion of other waterfront property owners.

Really, the City shouldn’t show favoritism.

But Shepard said Thursday the Tampa Convention Center, operated by the city, “seems to be exempt from this.”

Of course, the Convention Center predates 2000.  Moreover, we are unaware of any recent expansion of parking on the waterfront at the Convention Center (though the loading docks are unfortunately located (but not as unfortunately as the Straz’s expansion proposals).  But we are not going to get into that.  If the City wanted to expand parking along the water at the Convention Center, we would oppose it.

So we are left with Straz parking issues.

Sold-out shows stress parking. And the construction of a 30-story, 300-unit residential tower across the street from the entrance will only make things worse. For that reason, Straz officials wanted to get started by this summer on their proposed $375,000 project.

The word is that the Straz chose not to make a deal with the developers of that project for dedicated spaces in its garage.  Whether that is the case or not, at this point it is irrelevant.  The spaces do not exist, and, as it stands, if/when they exist, the Straz will not be getting them.

We have an idea, which is not optimal, but could provide a solution: the land between the main library building and the proposed AER apartment building.    The City thought about development proposals for it or maybe a park.  Since it will be overshadowed by a parking garage in the apartment building and the land is not optimal for much else, put a garage there with some retail on the bottom and move on.  No need for parking on the river.  No need to move the loading dock to the Riverwalk.  Put valet parking in the garage. Put some green space on top. Let the Straz pay for it.  Let the Straz own it.

Sure, the library backers may complain.  It is not the most beautiful thing to see from Ashley (though the apartment garage won’t be either). Like we said, it is not necessarily the perfect solution, and we are open to other ideas (transit would be best, but we know the Straz will not accept that as an answer), but at least it is not parking on the riverfront.


Downtown – Settled

For a while momentum for Riverwalk Place has been building.  One possible holdup was a lawsuit filed by a former development partner.

A lawsuit over one of the most anticipated developments in downtown Tampa has been resolved.

Intown Group has withdrawn the lawsuit it filed against Feldman Equities LLC and Tower Realty over the 53-story Riverwalk Place, a mixed-use tower proposed at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street. The tower’s development costs are pegged at $350 million.

We do not know the details.  We just hope the settlement helps get the building get built faster.


Ybor City – Hotel

A long-awaited hotel project on Seventh Avenue broke ground this week.

A ceremony marking the start of construction on a four-story, $32 million boutique hotel at 1402 E Seventh Avenue has been set for Thursday.

The site is now a parking lot, but plans on file with the city of Tampa outline a hotel project with 176 rooms and a height of 78 feet.

The project team includes Ybor City investor Darryl Shaw, the CEO of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, as well as the Capitano, Garcia and Ellison families, Alex Walter, Alfonso Architects, Batson-Cook Construction and EWI Construction.

The hotel company is the Aparium Hotel Group, a Chicago-based company with a portfolio of independent hotels designed and built to reflect the character of the often-older neighborhoods where they are located. One of the company’s goals is to bring what it describes as a C-suite level of hotel service to under-served, albeit “distinct and important” cities.

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

(It is highly unlikely that the building is 78 feet tall.  It may be 78 feet above mean sea level but it is more likely about 50 feet tall above the street)

We are all for the proper rejuvenation of Ybor.  And note that this building has protection for pedestrians.  Yes, that is the historical norm that you basically have to copy in the Ybor district, but there is a reason that was the norm.  Designers of other walkable areas should learn from the past.


Economic Development – Another

Last week, we discussed that Mosaic was moving its HQ to Hillsborough County.  It appears another company is also moving to the area.

Custom battery-maker Resistacap Energy Products will move its headquarters from Huntsville, Ala., to its existing facility near Westchase, the company and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said Thursday.

The company plans to grow as well as move, Resistacap president Gary Bolohan said. If his name sounds familiar, it may be because Bolohan was the longtime president of Tampa-based Reptron Electronics.

Resistacap has 35 employees in Huntsville and last August opened a manufacturing operation with 10 people at the Tri-County Business Park, just east of the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line.

It plans to hire 100 workers for jobs in assembly, soldering, welding and accounting and to spend about $500,000 expanding its Hillsborough operations at 12180 Race Track Road from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet.

And, as with Mosaic:

Neither the state of Florida nor local officials agreed to any incentives, which typically come in the form of tax refunds after new jobs are created, to induce the company to move here. Bolohan said the company contacted the EDC in January and thanked the nonprofit organization for “connecting us to resources to help fulfill our workforce needs.”

Admittedly, it is not the biggest move, but we like any HQ move to the area. Even better, they were here already and liked it enough to move without incentives.  Hopefully, this becomes a trend.


Economic Development – International Trade

There was news-ish in the Times regarding efforts to grow international trade.

A decade ago, the Great Recession put Hillsborough and Pinellas counties’ efforts to grow their foreign exports on hold.

So what exactly were all the trade missions in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and more about? Not to mention that when times are bad is when you really need to be out drumming up business so we have no idea why the recession would have put anything on hold. Regardless, it makes for a good intro to this:

But since then those efforts have returned, gained support and momentum, expanded the range of their ambition and are now being organized under an initiative known as Global Tampa Bay.

Previously known as the Tampa Bay Export Alliance, Global Tampa Bay now consists of the economic development organizations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. It still aims to increase local companies’ overseas sales. But also has a second goal: To attract more direct foreign investment to the bay area.

* * *

Pinellas and Hillsborough launched the Tampa Bay Export Alliance in 2014, and soon thereafter the bay area joined Enterprise Florida on a trip to Panama. Later that year, the bay area organized its first joint trade mission and went to Chile. Trips to Canada and Costa Rica took place in 2015. In 2016, Pasco’s Economic Development Council got involved on an informal basis.

Global Tampa Bay last month returned from a trade mission to Mexico, and plans to return to Chile in September.

Setting aside why Polk, Manatee or other counties are not included, we are all for promoting the region as a region internationally (though we are not really sure this new thing is much better than previous new things.  Either you are cooperating or you aren’t).  Frankly, it should have been done much more long ago.

So five years ago, JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution launched a global cities initiative to help metro leaders become more internationally aware and savvy. The Tampa Bay area was one of 28 U.S. communities selected for the effort.

“One of the findings of that study that really caught our attention is if Tampa Bay could just become average in the percentage of our regional product that is devoted to exports, we could add $8 billion to our economy and 40,000 new jobs,” Pinellas County Economic Development director Mike Meidel told a crowd of about 200 at the University Club.

Note, that means we are below average.  But you don’t get better by not addressing deficiencies. (Like not having a Brazil flight to help the wheels of commerce.  See also here) What would really be odd is if it really took JP Morgan and Brookings to get people focused.  Globalization was a pretty well-known phenomenon in 2013.

Still, the region should be working as a region to develop international trade, and most everything else.


Economy/Planning – Jobs and Houses


— Jobs

It is time once again to check in with the employment and housing figures.  First employment:

The private sector has added 33,000 jobs over the past year in the Tampa metropolitan area, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Friday. That’s the second highest job growth in the state; Orlando has topped that statistic for 37 straight months.

The unemployment rate in the Tampa area is below the national average at 3.2 percent, which is down 0.6 percent from one year ago. 

And that is very good.  The distribution of jobs is interesting:

In Tampa Bay, the industries with the highest job growth over the past 12 months were leisure and hospitality with 9,300 new jobs; education and health services with 6,300 jobs; and finance with 6,200 new jobs.

Quite the service economy.


— Houses

In any event, that leads to housing where the Times had an article entitled “Surge of home starts in Hillsborough, Pasco still can’t meet demand” which is not exactly what the article said (it was a bit more nuanced than that).

Every weekend, scores of prospective buyers stream through the dazzling model homes at Waterset, admiring the high-end lighting, the glass-tile backsplashes, the plank-tile floors

For prices ranging from the $200s to the $800s, lookers can be owners in this huge master planned community, one of many in the Tampa Bay area in the throes of a construction boom.

Over the past 12 months, the number of new home starts jumped 16 percent compared to the previous 12-month span. In Waterset alone, 340 houses began construction as bulldozers and backhoes continued to transform one-time farm fields into what ultimately could be a community of 10,000.

The key to the article title is this:

Yet for all of the building in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, which together account for nearly 90 percent of home starts in Tampa Bay, the demand still remains greater than the supply — especially for moderately priced homes.

“We are still under-built because we can’t afford to build in the $180,000 to $200,000 price bank,” says Tony Polito, regional director of Metrostudy, which tracks housing starts. “I could easily make a case for a couple thousand more units (to satisfy) pent-up demand.”

Housing experts warn that this will be a tough year for buyers, particularly first-time and lower-income buyers. A shortage of existing homes has driven up bay area prices to a median of $230,000 although they can go much higher in popular neighborhoods close to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

In other words, there is an income/housing price issue, at least for some.  So why don’t the developers in the exurbs build lower priced housing?  According to the article, because of all the pesky attempts at planning:

That has prompted more buyers to look at new homes in semi-rural, planned communities where they traditionally could get much more house for the money. But several factors are putting even those beyond the reach of many in a metro area where the median household income is still only $51,100.

“The rule of thumb is three times income, so most people would prefer to buy a $180,000 home,” Polito says. “You just can’t produce that because of impact fees and land costs and construction costs.”

The average price of a new home with lot is now about $315,000, he says.

And

“It’s become increasingly difficult to produce a well-located single family home under $300,000,” Nunn says. Like Polito, he cites rising impact fees as a significant factor.

Counties charge the fees to cover the costs of adding roads, schools and utilities to accommodate the thousands of new residents. Fees in Hillsborough and Pasco add about $20,000 to the cost of each WestBay house, Nunn estimates.

The need for road improvements is particularly obvious in the Apollo Beach area, where residents of Waterset and nearby communities say it can take 30 minutes at rush hour to reach 1-75 just a half mile away. But from a builder’s standpoint, all of those new houses going up are assets, not liabilities.

“What frequently gets overlooked is that the typical $300,000 house is going to provide $4,500 in a perpetual real estate tax stream,” Nunn says. “That a perpetual amount that’s turned over to the county from day one. Growth does pay for itself, I believe.”

First, $20,000 in fees does not get you from $180,000 to $315,000. (Not to mention if you add $20,000 to $180,000 you are in the $200,000 range.) More likely, the developers want to make more money and not build smaller houses.  (We get that the developers want free reign to do whatever they want.  Deep down, most people probably do.)

Second, yes, there is a tax stream from built houses, but that does not pay for the impact, which can be seen every day all over the area (and in County Commission discussions/budgets going back many years). Though maybe he is suggesting raising taxes on all the residents in the county to pay for the impact.

And there is another point, the real cost of a “well-located” house is not the fees (under a mobility fee system – or any reasonable impact fee system – the fees would be lower at a better, closer in location with a well-developed infrastructure than distant, exurban south county, where the residents have to travel farther to get to everything).  Much of the cost of well-located is the land and simply because people can charge more for desirable locations.  Impact/mobility fees are so that everyone else does not have to pay for the impact of the distant house – otherwise known as a subsidizing sprawl.

But that’s not all:

According to Metrostudy, Hillsborough’s share of the new-home market in Tampa Bay has soared to almost 60 percent. So much of the construction is in south Hillsborough that 600 more homes were built in just that area than in all of Pasco County over the past year.

But while south Hillsborough seems to have vast swaths of land still available for development — too much development, critics say — appearances are somewhat deceiving. Much of the land is outside the urban services boundary while only about 20,000 lots are within the area served by county water and sewer. At a time when 3,500 new homes a year are going up south of the Alafia River, all those lots could be built out by 2025.

Maybe they could.

However, a lot of the problem goes back to bad planning by the County and by the developers. First, if developers would stop wasting land on sprawling developments and build in a more efficient way, they could fit more housing (and more profits).  If they and the County stopped pretending (especially when giving approvals) that there were unlimited funds for infrastructure and unlimited land for sprawl, some of the problems would be mitigated.  And if there were better transportation options, people might have more to spend on housing.  (Of course, that would take the Commission working on priorities.)

Not to mention the lingering the fact that incomes lag in this area relative to expenses and other areas.


Sports – Moving the Bowl

The Gasparilla Bowl is moving from St. Pete to Tampa.

The Gasparilla Bowl is moving to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa beginning this year, leaving its former site at Tropicana Field.

“We are excited about the continued growth of this bowl game,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, which operates the Gasparilla Bowl. “I want to thank those we have worked with in St. Petersburg and at Tropicana Field in helping us build this game into a quality, postseason experience.”

We’re not sure what, if anything, this means.


Downtown – A Little History

Having noted the Julian Lane history a few weeks ago, we wanted to note a few historical sites/markers that were news this week.  First, the bridge:

Born in 1825 in South Carolina, Taylor was owned by the Howell family, who later moved to Hernando County, bringing her and an enslaved man, Benjamin.

After their emancipation, Benjamin and Fortune married in 1866, one of the first legal ceremonies for an African-American couple in Hillsborough County. Eventually, Fortune Taylor secured the title to 33 acres of land in downtown Tampa along the east bank of the Hillsborough River, including land now occupied by the Barrymore.

In 1892, Taylor and lawyer Hugh McFarlane agreed to build a bridge spanning the river, connecting West Tampa to the rest of the area. The original bridge was replaced by the current one in 1927. It was known until the 1960s as the Fortune Street Bridge.

In 1967, construction to accommodate Tampa’s portion of Interstate 275 meant realigning a number of streets that included Fortune Street, and the bridge ended up along Laurel Street, for which it was renamed.

“Someone stole that from her,” Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said during an October meeting when the council voted to restore Fortune’s name to the bridge. The road will still be called Laurel Street, but a historic marker now stands on the bridge’s east side, reading “Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge.”

And, then there is Woolworth’s:

When 80-year-old Clarence Fort passes the corner of Franklin and Polk streets, he remembers the segregated F.W. Woolworth store where “you could spend $100 in the store but not sit at the lunch counter and order a Coke.”

So as a 21-year-old NAACP youth leader, he organized and participated in the Woolworth sit-in demonstration to desegregate lunch counters in Tampa.

While the store on 800 N Franklin St. is long closed, the building remains, and on Saturday the city memorialized the sit-in by unveiling a historic marker that names those 40 students who took part in the first protest on Feb. 29, 1960.

“These people helped transformed Tampa into the city it is today,” Fort said.

We hope the building will be put to good use soon and preserved.  As we have often said, we are all for explanatory markers (and these are long overdue) but preserving the actual locations is even better (like Jackson house).  And, really, neither gives the full context or story, but they are a start.