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Roundup 8-26-2016

August 26, 2016

Contents

Transportation – What He Said

Economic Development/Transportation – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont

Economic Development – Google Fiber

— One More Thing

TIA – Same Old

Transportation – Talking Transit

Building Booms – Where We Are

Tampa Heights-ish – Back to the Future

Built Environment – Choices

Rays – Update

— Trop Land

— Forever Baseball

— Across the Bay

Parks – Vertical

_______________________________

Transportation – What He Said

Fresh after last week’s state of transit discussion (it’s bad), the Lightning owner had more to say at a Chamber of Commerce event:

A congested road system is the biggest obstacle Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his real estate team must overcome as they try to lure potential companies to downtown Tampa.

“Transportation is top of the list,” Vinik said, who said his company, Strategic Property Partners, which is a joint real estate venture with Cascade Investment, is in talks with several companies about relocating to Tampa.

More than a decade ago, the biggest hindrance to corporate recruiting was likely the state’s school system, Vinik said.

* * *

“Hillsborough County has … population over the next ten years that will grow” 25 percent, Vinik said to the sold out crowd at the University Club of Tampa in the Tampa City Center. “Orlando is growing at a similar rate. With to five to six million people in the Central Florida region, we’re growing faster than places like Austin or Denver or Silicon Valley.”

Vinik said that Tampa Bay’s state-leading number of STEM related, high paying jobs puts it in a good position for more growth in the economy and injecting more money into the community.

“We’re on our way to being a superpower in the U.S. and maybe the world,” Vinik said. But “what’s absent is a proper plan for transportation.”

And if the transportation deficiency stops companies from coming here, it will stop us from reaching our potential (whether it is a superpower or just a truly major city – rather than just a city with a large population and underperforming economic output).

One thing: the Lightning owner is on the record for supporting TBX.  We do not know if he supports it because he is a real believer in the express lanes concept or because he thinks, in addition to the need for transit, the roads need to be better and there is nothing else on offer.  Yes, most people will still commute by cars. Parts of the interstate certainly need fixing and, given that they are already congested, capacity needs some increase, though the express lane concept and the 24-lane wide interstate plan through downtown are a bad idea. Add to that the fact that the surface streets are already congested, the City is engaged in a road diet program, and there is not enough land or money to widen the surface streets.  Even if TBX gets cars from one far-flung exit to another, getting around after that will become increasing difficult and time-consuming.  And even if we were to build TBX and massively widen streets, that would just create an urban environment that would be increasingly unattractive to companies and talent (see GE relocation). The fact is that we are not going to pave our way out of the transportation problem. We need real alternatives to driving.

Other than the TBX issue, we are behind the Lightning owner’s push.  Even if it has elements of self-interest, it is still correct.  And instead of lining up behind bad ideas (like Go Hillsborough) from local officials because it is the best they will do, local business should acknowledge that local officials are not doing their jobs and push them hard.

People can speak of economic development and tinker around (see next item), but until they really address that we have a 1980’s transportation system and are competing with cities in the 21st century, they are not serious.

Economic Development/Transportation – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont

Meanwhile, the County Commission moved ahead with the sports field complex last week.

For more than a decade, plans to build a massive sports complex in east Hillsborough County capable of luring large youth athletic tournaments and the millions of tourism dollars that come with them have slowly inched along.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners gave the project a big push forward, selecting the companies that will be tasked with building and designing the fields and facilities.

In their winning bid, Nelson Construction Co. and Stantec pitched a $12.9 million complex with 16 soccer fields — four synthetic and 12 natural grass — equipped with lighting, the capacity to park 1,200 cars, space for vendors and food trucks, concessions and locker rooms.

The proposed facility would be flexible enough so fields could be reconfigured to host rugby, football, cricket and even quidditch, the sport of wizards in the Harry Potter series that muggles now play too (without the flying).

* * *

The approved site for the complex is 65 acres of county-owned land between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road, just south of Broadway Avenue. It was chosen for its proximity to major thoroughfares and existing development.

Here is the area, nestled among warehouses and a jail to provide maximum development opportunities and appeal to families.

As we have said before, we have nothing against playing field complexes but is this really a County priority? Is this the best use of County money when the Commission cannot even find money to pave roads?

Other communities have built large facilities hoping to spur development, but it doesn’t always pan out. The planned location for the Hillsborough complex is already near hotels and other amenities, and is between Tampa and Brandon. That should give it an advantage, Higgins said.

A feasibility study from Sports Facilities Advisory estimated that the Hillsborough youth sports complex would generate an economic impact of $7.3 million in year one and $25 million and 43,800 hotel nights in its fifth year.

What are the consultants going to say?  And if its attraction is that it is near local kids, that is not going to create a lot of hotel nights.

Moreover, while we think that some recreation facilities should be provided by government, as should transportation infrastructure, not every idea should be paid for by the government.  Why didn’t the County just put up the land and seek bids from private companies for the cost?  Since so many areas are trying to get into the big youth tournament game, will this project really thrive (we are sure people will use it but will it really make the money projected? And why couldn’t a private developer/operator create the same spin-off business)  Even if the tax money comes from a specific bucket (like tourist tax money – the article is not clear what bucket it is coming from though the quote below makes it appear to not be tourist tax money) does not mean you should spend it as soon as you get it rather than save it for project you are really interested in.

Potential economic benefits aside, the county’s commitment to such an expensive project comes at a time when it is rethinking how to pay for transportation needs. Several commissioners have promised to scrutinize the list of planned capital projects for opportunities to shift more money to roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersection improvements.

One of those commissioners, Sandy Murman, said she considered reprioritizing the money earmarked for the youth sports complex for transportation. But she ultimately sided against doing so.

“The train kind of left the station on that item,” she said, and removing it at this point “would be an uphill battle.”

To that point, Hillsborough County Deputy Administrator Greg Horwedel said considerable staff time and resources have already been spent on planning for this project.

“From my perspective, this is something that is very far along and I think we should finish the project,” he said, though he added that it’s ultimately the board’s decision.

Setting aside that risky reference to “trains,” the amount of time spent on the project by staff is irrelevant.  If that were the measure of whether a project should be built, we’d have a world class rail transit system by now.  The real issue is likely not staff time, but time spent by other Commissioners.

Nevertheless,

Commissioners will have at least one more opportunity to review the project when they approve the final design.

They should kill it and get private developer to foot the bill and the risk with a nice lease and operating agreement so we get the fields if it goes south, but we are quite sure they won’t.  It is all a matter of priorities which are demonstrated by actions.

Economic Development – Google Fiber

There was news last week that Google’s consideration of putting it super high speed fiber service in Tampa is on hold.

Now, Google’s high-speed internet business is on hold.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Google is reconsidering how to provide the service after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time-consuming than anticipated.

“We’re continuing to work with city leaders to explore the possibility of bringing Google Fiber to Tampa,” Google said in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times. “This means deploying the latest technologies in alignment with our product road map, while understanding local considerations, which takes time.”

Tampa is among a handful of U.S. cities being considered for the high-speed service.

The Wall Street Journal article can be found here. It should be noted that Google is actually reevaluating its entire program to see if there are better ways to install the service, not just Tampa (though, as far as we can tell, there is no final decision about putting it in Tampa).

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago.

Alphabet’s internet provider, Google Fiber, has spent hundreds of millions dollars digging up streets and laying fiber-optic cables in a handful of cities to offer web connections roughly 30 times faster than the U.S. average.

Now the company is hoping to use wireless technology to connect homes, rather than cables, in about a dozen new metro areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. As a result Alphabet has suspended projects in San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to cut costs and accelerate its expansion elsewhere by leasing existing fiber or asking cities or power companies to build the networks instead of building its own.

It is also worth noting that other companies have also installed high speed fiber networks in other cities. (See “Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy”)  And Chattanooga did it on its own (because you don’t have to wait for someone to come do it for you).

Overall, this news is slightly disappointing, but not really anything about Tampa.

— One More Thing

Speaking of Chattanooga, the New York Times has profile of Chattanooga’s tech scene in its commercial real estate coverage – because as we’ve said a number of times, real estate is driven by business (which is why relying on real estate to drive your economy is always a bit questionable). It discusses their ecosystem for startup and young entrepreneurs, something this area is also working on, though it seems that Chattanooga’s attempt is more unified. You can find the Chattanooga profile here.

The New York Times also has a discussion of Phoenix.  You can read it for yourself, but we will highlight this:

As start-ups across San Francisco and the Silicon Valley try to contend with high salaries and housing costs, many are expanding to lower-cost cities in the West and employing more people like Ms. Rogers. For Phoenix, which is about a 90-minute flight from San Francisco, the Bay Area’s loss is its gain.

The Phoenix metro area was hit hard by the housing bust, but it is experiencing a strong recovery. The unemployment rate has recently fallen below 5 percent, the lowest in eight years, and several Silicon Valley companies, including Yelp and Uber, have opened new offices in the region. A reviving downtown Phoenix now has a cluster of companies that make business software.

* * *

Wages, taxes and energy cost about 25 percent less in Phoenix than they do in San Francisco, according to an index of business costs compiled by Moody’s Analytics.

Housing is much cheaper. The median home price in the Phoenix metropolitan area is $221,000, according to Zillow. In San Francisco, it is $812,000.

Those advantages seem a lot like Tampa’s advantages.  The obvious difference is location, which may be the main point, though, frankly, the article is not clear about it.  (And we are a lot closer to places like Boston and New York than Phoenix.)  There is also the question of transit (Phoenix, a conservative area, has it, and we don’t), but that is obvious.  In any event, it is worth examining their success. (And, just as an aside, if you look at Google maps here you can see a med school, science center/museum, arena, stadium, convention center, cinema complex, and nearby rail line in a small area of downtown Phoenix.  Maybe the Lightning owner’s development is modelling downtown Phoenix.)

TIA – Same Old

Usually when we say “same old” it is not a good thing.  Of course, the airport isn’t like most of the rest of the area.  Trip Advisor is out with its best airport list.   In the large airport category, Tampa International was second, behind the mysteriously high ranking Portland (OR).

Nevertheless, good job.

Transportation – Talking Transit

Something we saw on a regular reader’s Facebook page is the kind of thing that gives one pause when thinking of who is in charge transit in this area:

Transit stations should always be visible and accessible, not tuck[ed] away.

Transit stations should not be invisible, behind parking garages, parking lots or complexes (I realize this is old school operations and mindset).

HART needs to go back to the map and rediscover pride in some of its infrastructure.

From C. Vela – Click on picture for Facebook page

From C. Vela – click on picture for Facebook page

From C. Vela – click on picture for Facebook page

Indeed, it should.  We get this is an old stop and that it provides covering to the mall, but there has to be a better place for it.  Remember, this is in the middle of the main business (and shopping area) in the whole metro area.  There are a number of places that could be accessed from a properly located transit center (these pictures are about as far from anything as you can get on the lot).  We get why it was this way, but surely it can be far better – especially if you want to attract choice riders.  And surely if local officials (and the Westshore Alliance) are serious about having a walkable, transit friendly Westshore (which, at least governmentally, is still and open question), this needs to change.

In a (mostly) unconnected development, after seeing years of increases in ridership during the recession, HART ridership decreased in the last year.  We are not surprised, according to the Wall Street Journal, this is happening in a lot of cities:

Transit ridership declined for the first time in five years during 2015, likely due to low gasoline prices, but subways and commuter trains were as crowded as ever.

How can this be? There are more free seats on the bus.

Americans took about 150 million fewer bus rides last year, but boarded trains in slightly higher numbers than in 2014.

Ridership of all modes of public transportation declined 1.3% last year from 2014, when transit use reached the highest level since 1958, according to new data from the American Public Transportation Association. The average price of a gallon of gasoline fell 27% in 2015 from a year earlier.

Though note the exception.

A breakdown of the 10.6 billion transit trips taken last year shows bus ridership fell 2.8%, and train usage, including rides on subways, light-rail systems and commuter trains, rose a slight 0.2% last year from 2014. The rail increase was the smallest gain since ridership declined in 2009. The figures do not include Amtrak ridership or intercity buses.

Not a large gain (at all), but not a decline either.  Why is that?

Bus systems extend further into the suburbs and are common in smaller cities, where transit is often used for travel to work, but not for weekend errands and evenings out in the same way a New Yorker might hop on the subway at midnight.

The latest data suggests transit use is steady for those living in the core of large cities, many of whom have built their lives around close access to a metro stop.

Elsewhere in the country, where people are more likely have access to a car, gasoline prices play a bigger role in the decision to drive or ride.

Rail systems are also supported by other types of riders that typically don’t use buses, including tourists and those using transit to get to sporting events, airports and other large draws, Dr. Schwieterman said.

Another detriment to transit overall was federal tax rules that for much of last year provided a bigger break for parking expenses than using mass transit.

There is also the question of whether people will build their lives around a bus system.  Buses serve an important purpose in transit systems.  There is no question.  But the question is whether buses have the ability to convince people who have a choice whether to use them or drive.  Rail does have that ability. (Think when you travel: are you more likely to rent a car if the alternative is using the bus or taking rail?  Why shouldn’t you have that choice every day?)

Of course, right now, that difference is irrelevant here. We don’t have that choice.

Building Booms – Where We Are

As we noted last week, and we have noted before, there is a lot of building going on around here, but other areas also have building booms and theirs started earlier.  Serendipitously, we ran across an interesting website report about apartment construction.

The US apartment market is booming in more ways than one. Rental rates are breaking record after record, with the national average at an all-time high of $1,213 in June and occupancy for stabilized and completed properties across the nation reaching 96.1% as of the end of the first quarter of 2016.

As more and more people turn to renting – either by necessity, deterred from buying by increasing homeownership costs, or by choice as renting is more often associated with a flexible lifestyle – developers are determined to capitalize on this growing demand and fill skylines across the nation with construction cranes.

To see where new development is concentrated and identify the country’s multifamily boom towns in 2016 (i.e. metros that will see their rental inventories grow the most in terms of completions volume), we’ve turned to data from our sister company, Yardi Matrix, and examined construction pipelines in the 50 largest US metros. Among the top 20 hottest metros for new apartment construction, the job-centric, millennial-magnet Texas hubs – Houston and Dallas – will see the largest number of new units added to their hungry rental markets in 2016.

From Rent Cafe – click on chart for website

As you can see, there are a lot of usual suspects on that graphic.  While we are a top 20 metro, we are not there.  That is not to say there is not a lot of construction here – there is.  And much of it will come on-line in 2017 (and 2018).  Moreover, there are projects that have not even started yet (like the Heights and the Lightning owner’s project)  The point is simply that others are already ahead on this measure (and probably office, since that is not really cranking up yet) and are well into their booms.  And all this will probably come to halt with the next recession, which will inevitable come.

So, yes, we are getting better, but you have to keep everything in perspective relative to the competition.

Tampa Heights-ish – Back to the Future

There was news of a new restaurant in Tampa Heights:

In the increasingly restaurant-rich Tampa Heights neighborhood, Lector Social Club and Wine Bar will debut this fall.

Located in a formerly vacant building at 2307 N Florida Ave., Lector will be a gathering place and venue for intimate live music and literary readings. Lector will unofficially open its doors Oct. 1, with a fundraising event for a pair of organizations that aid military combat veterans.

You can read more about the restaurant in the article.  We are all for new restaurants, but what really encourages us is that the they are fixing up this building and reenergizing what is left of Tampa’s old, urban fabric.  This is the second announcement in recent weeks of the renovation of an old, urban building in this general vicinity, which is great.

For far too long economics, taxes, and other factors have basically encouraged owners to tear down old buildings. And code and planning decisions encouraged new buildings to be car centered (including in the heart of downtown).  We hope this renovation and reuse trend continues.  Tampa once was a walkable, transit friendly place.  Even though most of that was torn down, there is no reason if couldn’t be once again.

Built Environment – Choices

Speaking of which, URBN Tampa Bay has a great find with a blog post (from 2013) that discussed Walter Crossing and a Target project in Orlando, showing how easy it is to build well.

A co-worker made the observation that many of the sites that host the low density retail product that we were charged with retrofitting along this corridor often shared the same context, plot size, and density. In our research of the design alternatives for traditional big box sites locally we stumbled across two Targets, one in Tampa and one in Orlando, that illustrate the importance of design principles in development along future transit-oriented corridors.

The Target located on Dale Mabry Highway and I-275 in Tampa was welcomed by many when it was built in 2005. By building stores adjacent to a multi-story parking deck, the design included three times the amount of parking and stores located on the same site. A higher density of development was certainly achieved. It was a different alternative to the typical suburban development that had been seen for the past 4 decades. In this case, I believe “different” might have been substituted with “good,” and for lack of a better example, even considered “urban.”

* * *

The Target located on Orange Avenue in Orlando however, achieved the same program and density (even more actually) while addressing its urban context and properly employing the four design principles. The difference in the quality of place and access to the urban corridor is absolutely staggering.

* * *

These two development examples illustrate how important required design standards are in achieving a land use and pattern required of transit-oriented design. While many design principles could be put in place along designated transit-oriented corridors, requiring connectivity, a well-designed public realm, active ground floor uses, and site orientation will achieve a high-quality level of development. The below picture shows from a site planning perspective how easily the higher quality development in Orlando could be achieved on the same site in Tampa.

Tampa on the left.  Orlando on the right:

From Held of the Public Realm – click on picture for webpage

And then they show and overlay of the two that indicates how the Orlando project easily fits into the Tampa project lot:

From Helm of the Public Realm – click on picture for website

Not only does the Orlando project not take more land, it has more available space from which to generate revenue.  It is a more efficient and nicer use of the land.

So why the difference? Walter Crossing has a number of access problems, and it is hardly in a walkable area, but that is all matter of choices made.  The fact is that Orlando is a show business town with an eye to aesthetics and entertaining people.  Tampa has long been much more just about doing things that are “practical.”  The difference is in the choices made and those choices reveal about priorities.  For too long Tampa has had a priority of just building something, anything, and settled.  At least in some parts of the area, that seems to be changing, but far too often, even on Kennedy, it is clear that settling is still in fashion.  The code – and the attitudes that sustain it – still need to change.

Rays – Update

There has been a bit of news regarding the Rays recently.

— Trop Land

First, there was a release of preliminary ideas for redevelopment of the Trop property.

The architecture firm tasked by the city of St. Petersburg to create a redevelopment master plan for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site has a tangible vision of what it could look like, without the iconic dome that’s graced the skyline along Interstate 275 for more than two decades.

A small-scale model shows a would-be site with what looks like an open-air baseball stadium in the northeast corner of the site near where a U-Haul building is currently located. Despite how the model may look, neither the city nor the firm has any say into what a baseball stadium would actually look like – that would be up to the Rays.

In our mind, an open air stadium is a non-starter, but, as noted, the design could change.  At least they got the best location on the property for a stadium right, unlike where the Trop is now.

The rest of the site blends retail, office, housing and park space into a concept that shuts down artificial borders now created by a giant stadium and a sea of asphalt.

At the center of HKS Architecture’s preliminary plan is expanded transportation and transit access in what project manager Randy Morton describes as “maybe the most important” component of the redevelopment plan.

“The first idea is about knitting the city back together,” Morton said.

He emphasized using key transportation corridors for expanded public transit, including the future Bus Rapid Transit lined planned for First Avenues North and South connecting to the downtown ferry service set to launch this November (that project is only guaranteed for six months as a pilot project, and its future depends on that initial success.)

The HKS vision utilizes the existing highway structure for ease of access, but ultimately would eliminate Interstate 175 along the south side of the site and turn it into a boulevard ripe for high-end possibilities like condos and shops. That vision, he admits, is easy to draw on a diagram, but much more difficult to incorporate.

Overall, we are fine with that (though, as noted on URBN Tampa Bay, covering 175 with park land and connections – a la other cities – would be better). The BRT is fine, but whether there will be a useful ferry is a question.

We have nothing against the basic ideas in this plan (save the stadium).  It is a big piece of land and lot could be done with it.  St. Pete should plan to develop it into a really nice, urban, mixed use area.

— Forever Baseball

That brings us back to whether a stadium should be included in that redevelopment.  This might tell you something:

The Baseball Forever group comprised of community leaders backing a long-term future for the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg is taking its message to the field Friday night.

The Rays will host a Baseball Forever night in the 7:10 p.m. matchup against the Texas Rangers. About 2,000 tickets have been sold, according to Baseball Forever head and former St. Pete city staffer Rick Mussett. As of an email late Friday morning, tickets were still available.

By the way, attendance for that game was 15,109, which is way lower than the Lightning average attendance.  That is not dispositive of anything, but it is indicative of the consistent problem with the present location.

— Across the Bay

There were a couple of development across the Bay in Hillsborough.  First,

Tampa Bay Rays executives met with Tampa and Hillsborough officials Monday to go over a half-dozen or more potential sites for a new ballpark, but this time the Florida State Fairgrounds was not in the mix.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said after the 90-minute meeting he felt confident that going forward neither side is likely to discuss the fairgrounds as a possible stadium site for a couple of reasons. It’s not urban enough for the Rays, and it’s just too far away from St. Petersburg.

But Rays president Brian Auld, County Administrator Mike Merrill and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said it’s still too early to count out any site.

That’s because each potential Hillsborough site has challenges, and all four men said it’s possible that their first choice might not be feasible, so they could end up going to a backup.

We understand the need for backups, but the Fairgrounds is by far the worst Hillsborough site discussed.

Other potential locations reportedly include the Tampa Park Apartments site near downtown, the Jefferson High School site in West Shore, the Tampa Greyhound Track and docks near Ybor City now used by International Ship Repair. Another site, the ConAgra flour mill near downtown, is generally seen as too small and too expensive, since the mill would have to be moved somewhere else.

Those are all better, though the International Ship Repair should be low on the list unless the Port has a really good site to pay to move it.  The Port needs port business.  Which leaves the Tampa Park Apartments and Jefferson (which would also have to be rebuilt).  And there is always the question of money.

But the two sides have not discussed what role public financing would play in a ballpark accessible to the community.

“We can assume that conversation is coming, but we haven’t had that conversation,” Buckhorn said. Before the next meeting, local officials said they intend to continue to study possible financing options and infrastructure requirements needed at each site.

Depending on its design, features and type of roof, a new ballpark could cost an estimated $400 million to $700 million. Depending on the location, the public financing package for the project could include as many as 10 different sources of funding. On top of money from the team, those could include property taxes earmarked for community redevelopment in areas like downtown Tampa, rental car surcharges, some hotel bed taxes, money authorized by the Legislature, ticket user fees and foreign investment available through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program.

Which brings us to some other news:

Whoever wins the hotly contested race for Hillsborough County’s open District 6 commission seat is likely to face this hot-button question early in the term:

Should the county try to lure the Tampa Bay Rays across the bay with the promise of taxpayer money for a new stadium?

For five of the six candidates, the answer is, “Possibly, if it comes from tourists.”

The Rays are evaluating sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas for a new ballpark — one, the team hopes, that will spur development, corporate sponsors and new fans as a year-round community asset.

Whether they choose a site in or around Tampa could come down to how much local officials are willing to commit. Among criteria the team released in February for choosing a new location is this: “The ability to structure a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays’ next-generation ballpark is critical.”

* * *

Republican Jim Norman, who chaired the County Commission that sent voters the Community Investment Tax to keep the Bucs and started the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to attract sporting events here, was the lone candidate to balk at financial support of a Rays move to Tampa.

Of all the public financing options, the tourist tax, especially if Hillsborough qualifies for the extra 1%, is the best one because it is statutorily designated to either promote tourism or pay for publicly owned and operated stadiums.  If you use that money, you are not taking money away from something else.

This is the second best:

In addition to the bed tax, Kemp and Dicks want to create a special taxing district around any new baseball stadium to capture growth in property taxes from the new development it spurs. This money could be used toward the ballpark, too. Kemp also suggested giving the Rays a portion of parking revenues as an incentive.

We are ok with discussing this, but the County needs to be addressing transportation in a real, productive way.  That failure is will resonate with everything, including the Rays and whether any investment in a new stadium is worth it.

Parks – Vertical

There was an, in our eyes, ironic article on the Times website this week talking about things to do in some local parks:

Want to stand in one spot and check out the skyline view of downtown St. Petersburg, Tropicana Field and downtown Tampa? Climb the observation tower at Weedon Island Preserve. It is one of 13 observation towers at parks in the Tampa Bay area.

At Weedon Island, after a short hike along a boardwalk, climb up three flights of stairs to reach the observation platform. At the top, check out a different view of the 3,190-acre preserve and beyond. Watch people fish on the pier down below or paddle kayaks or paddle-boards, or watch motor boats cruise through the area between Riviera Bay and Old Tampa Bay.

Take a further look and you will see the white dome of Tropicana Field and to the left the skyline of downtown St. Petersburg. Turn around and find the skyline of downtown Tampa. Watch airplanes come and go from the nearby Tampa International Airport and the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

Back in the preserve, watch other objects of flight, the various birds who make Weedon Island Preserve their home. 

Who would want to go vertical?  Certainly not anyone near downtown Tampa where those awful space mounds have to be flattened.

Roundup 8-19-2016

August 19, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont

— Editorial

— Talk

— Attitudes

— Conclusion

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing II, Cont

Economic Development – What Is It?

Economic Development/History Lesson – Blown Lead

Port – Cuba Calling?

Downtown/Channel District – First Steps

— One More Thing

Built Environment – It’s All Relative

TIA – Keeping Up With Technology

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Old Tampa

____________________________________________________

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont

What would a Roundup be without another transportation discussion (other than more fun to write)?  This week, there are a number of items worth discussing.

— Editorial

First up is an editorial from the Times regarding the County Commissions shenanigans on the TIF idea (and idea worth considering in concert with an overall examination of needs and financing possibilities).  It is good, so we quote it at length:

Commissioners voted 6-1 to advance the proposal, which would establish, as board policy, the county’s intent to set aside one-third of future growth in property and sales tax revenues to transportation. In the wake of two failed transit tax initiatives in recent years, commissioners said it was time to do something, and supporters hailed the move as both progressive and fiscally conservative.

In fact, it is neither. The county is not creating a new revenue stream for transportation; it’s merely raiding money already there. While declaring this as a board policy is better than the original idea from the sponsor, Commissioner Sandy Murman, to enshrine the move as a county ordinance, following the policy is voluntary. The commission can violate it any time — for debt, for an emergency, for police and fire expenses. Commissioners opted for the weasel language after the county’s financial advisers warned it would be irresponsible to restrict future budgets for any specific purpose. There is always a risk the economy could sour, and taking money off the table could leave the county exposed. Remember the recession? And raiding funds could weaken the county’s credit rating, raising the costs for borrowing.

Exactly.  Like we said last week, the Commission is really not doing anything except expressing an opinion that maybe they will spend some money – or maybe they won’t.  So what is the point other than to seem to be doing something when you are actually doing nothing?

The measure is expected to generate about $823 million over 10 years. But sweeping that money from the budget creates holes in other places. Over that same time, the county will need to find $245 million to cover the costs of inflation and expanded services for the 25,000 residents expected to move in every year. And that budget hole doesn’t include the costs of building 25 new fire stations and a host of other facilities the county will need to accommodate growth.

While $800 million may sound like a lot, it won’t make much of a dent in the county’s $12 billion backlog in transportation needs. Two-thirds of that money could be spent now on maintenance and four marginal road projects in the suburbs. With this policy, the county would dole out the money on an annual basis, which means it would not go for major capital investments in rail or buses, but rather be frittered away on pet road projects in commissioners’ individual districts.

Murman said the move will “test our fiscal priorities” going forward. In reality, nothing has changed. The commission has had the authority all along to dedicate more money every year to transportation. How having a gentlemen’s agreement changes the equation is anybody’s guess.

The only thing that’s changed is the board’s undue sense of accomplishment. Members on Wednesday all but dusted off their hands in praising this empty step forward. After years of examining how to improve connectivity throughout Tampa Bay, this plan does nothing to link job centers or the region, to bring in state or federal transit dollars or to make the area more competitive nationally.

Again, exactly. There is no real plan other than some road work.  It is not a transportation plan, it is a road plan, that, just like the old impact fee scheme, may go nowhere anyway, especially when other needs pop up and the inevitable slow down comes to the economy.  There is yet a glimmer of hope that the Commission with drop the games and get down to the dirt work of really governing and trying to solve problems.

The board will hold a hearing on the plan Sept. 8. There is still time for his colleagues to join Commissioner Les Miller, the lone no vote Wednesday, to hold out for a transportation initiative that might actually work.

Well, only a glimmer.

— Talk

Also in the editorial quoted above was a major point:

With this policy, the county would dole out the money on an annual basis, which means it would not go for major capital investments in rail or buses, but rather be frittered away on pet road projects in commissioners’ individual districts.

In other words, even if the money commitment-ish held, there is no path to a coordinated, comprehensive, transportation system.  There is no real solution to anything.  Which brings us to some comments by the Mayor of Tampa last week.

The Hillsborough County Commission this week took the first meaningful step in setting aside a third of all future growth revenue for transportation improvements, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is skeptical about the commission’s prioritization of mass transit funding.

“I don’t want to be in a position every year having to go beg to the County Commission, particularly if it involves mass transit,” Buckhorn said.

The Commission’s step was not meaningful and there is no need to be skeptical Mayor – transit is not a priority for the Commission at all.

“I’ve been to the altar with them so many times and I’m tired of being jilted,” Buckhorn said Thursday. “I need a dedicated revenue stream and I need one that’s bondable that is in perpetuity because the bond markets are not going to finance a major rail system without certainty that that revenue stream is committed for at least 30 years.”

Setting aside that “we” (not “I”) need a dedicated revenue stream because the city belongs to the people, it is true that a dedicated revenue stream is needed – for what exactly, though, is a question we’ve had for a while.  Presenting a much more fleshed out and inclusive vision with some actual potential corridors and some idea of technology would make him a more attractive bride or to at least encourage the public to force a shot-gun wedding.  But anyway:

The Go Hillsborough half-penny sales tax would have provided that sort of long-term funding and wouldn’t have been threatened by potential declines in county revenue.

Except it was a bad plan overall, but that is irrelevant now.  Pining away for it will accomplish nothing, though learning from it would be useful.  The County Commission seems to be passing on that.  How about the Mayor?

Instead Buckhorn said he’d get behind a petition effort to force a transit referendum to the 2018 ballot. Because voter-enacted ballot measures are both expensive and time consuming, such an effort wouldn’t be able to get done in time for this year’s election.

Nevertheless, Buckhorn touted such an effort as the only way to give voters a choice, arguing that the County Commission has proven their lack of interest in funding mass transit.

We have no problem with that idea, provided that the referendum is for something better than Go Hillsborough; something that covers at least the close in county and connects it with real transit to activity centers within the city limits; something that provides a vision and a plan going forward, not just one and done paid for over 30 years with no idea of what would come next.  We are all for citizen action, if it actually does something useful. That is something on which people can focus. But then we get back to a muddle:

Buckhorn will be pushing for what’s known as the local option to give Tampa residents a bit more of a say in transit funding. Right now state law mandates that only county’s can put ballot initiatives to voters. The legislature could change that and allow cities to put forth their own funding proposals.

In both 2010 and 2014 when sales tax initiatives failed, the measures fared far better in Tampa and St. Petersburg, where urban residents tend to be more transit-oriented.

“I would think that if [St. Pete] Mayor [Rick] Kriseman and I had the ability to do that within the municipalities that we could pass it and we could fund the beginnings of a transportation system, particularly rail, that would link downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa and the airport,” Buckhorn said.

First, the City tax (misleadingly called local option – as though the county-wide is not local) thing will likely not fly.  Second, realistically, were it to pass, this Mayor would not see any of the money because it would pass in November 2018 and he would be out by March 2019.  Third, what is the cost of putting rail on the Howard Frankland – which is the large elephant in the room?  Can the cities really raise enough money to build two real rail systems that meet and cross the bridge?  Is that an even mildly realistic idea?  And if you can do something like that, it should be like BART as opposed to the local MUNI in San Francisco – regional and planned and built regionally.  The City tax idea goes in the very opposite direction.  And it distracts from a petition supported referendum, which is counterproductive.

We are all for real transit.  We are for crossing the bridge with rail some day.  We are for citizen action.  But we need real vision and real solutions – which get real people from their homes to real destinations.  For years the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough people met and talked.  The Mayor was there.  For all that time, we did not see a real vision of how a transit system would work within the City, save for a vague idea of a starter line between downtown and Westshore (an idea we are fine with, by the way), or how that would really grow to become a real system.

That does not excuse the County Commission from their mess, but the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process was bigger than the Commission. Realistically, the Mayor is not going to get the money (and we still have to wait for the transit studies), but he could provide a vision while dropping the city tax.  That would help sell the whole idea – and any petition for a referendum.

— Attitudes

Which brings us to a HART confab this week about the “Future of Transit.” We are not sure that HART really is the group to really address that as it undermined the 2010 referendum, fought creating a truly regional organization (something the Mayor of Tampa apparently also opposed.) and hasn’t had a real vision since, including when it was at the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough table.  But, anyway, what happened?

First, there was a guy who wants to spend his own money to really develop Tampa, has been trying to get tenants for his development, and has been talking to major corporations around the country:

The event’s speakers were HART chairman Mike Suarez; CEO Katharine Eagan; Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg; and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

But Vinik was the only one who dared enter into the minefield that light rail has become.

“Obviously, there have been some failed referendums over the last several years in this area,” Vinik said, acknowledging transportation measures that attempted to bring light rail to Hillsborough and Pinellas in 2010 and 2014.

“I’m an all-of-the-above person. … We’ve got to think about light rail. We’ve got to think about bus rapid transportation. We’ve got to think about using the water and ferries.”

The important thing, Vinik said, is continuing to move the conversation forward. He said he was “extremely encouraged” that HART and the Florida Department of Transportation are collaborating on a premium transit study that will look at all transportation options regionally. The study is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

“I think we’ve got to explore light rail, and we have to explore using the CSX lines,” Vinik said after the morning event, held at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. “That doesn’t mean it’s the only answer, but it does mean it’s something we need to strongly consider.”

Nearly 100 miles of CSX freight lines may be available for commuter rail connecting four counties and the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Vinik specifically pointed to proposals for expanding the street car so it runs through more of Tampa and developing a rail option that connects downtown to Tampa International Airport.

Then there were the local officials:

The other three speakers — Suarez, Eagan and Brandes — seemed to distance themselves from the topic of rail, focusing instead on Uber and Lyft, a ferry pilot project connecting downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, and amping up Hillsborough’s MetroRapid service — a diminutive version of bus rapid transit without its dedicated travel lanes.

“I’m concerned about some of the areas we dive in to,” Brandes said. “A lot of people, I feel like, feel that if we’re not talking about trains, we’re not talking about transit.”

If leaders continue to evaluate options about what the future holds, Brandes said, he thinks bus rapid transit is going to arise “as the main way we can get around this community.”

Suarez, too, talked about bus rapid transit, though he indicated that HART’s existing MetroRapid route along Nebraska and Fletcher avenues is not true bus rapid transit because the buses are still driving in the same lanes as other vehicles.

“It’s not perfect,” Suarez said. “And it never will be until we get dedicated lanes so those buses can act more like trains and less like buses stuck in traffic.”

Quite the contrast in approaches. What is funniest about this is that it is so predictable.  Setting aside that building and operating true BRT is not necessarily cheaper than rail (See “Transportation – More Muddle” and “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths”) and that buses should for part of a transit system, what is the massive aversion to even discussing rail, other than HART is a bus agency? Because.

— Conclusion

Basically, if you want to know why transportation can never get solved, the above described complete muddle gives you a pretty good idea.  And it is this mess that leaves us with FDOT dictating TBX.

And it is here that we will note this:

A South Florida mayor is taking on the Florida Department of Transportation.

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober said the new express lanes that go through his city have turned Interstate 95 into a nightmare for residents and commuters.

“It has definitely made living in the city of Hollywood a miserable experience,” Bober said. “You have to sit in traffic every day where you didn’t have to do that before.”

Which is what you want to hear when FDOT is going to spend $6-9 billion.  (You can read more here and the Mayor of Hollywood’s letter here.)

But all that is still better for local officials because it is a lot easier for most to just support FDOT’s plan and not make the hard choices to really get something done.

Which brings us back to this: You have to remember that every city competing with us also has an urban building boom and many started before (and are much further along than) ours.  Also remember that most have some sort of real transit and many are expanding it.

Now, ask yourself the key question, one that the Lightning owner likely will encounter every time he talks to a potential tenant: if you were a company coming with a lot of money to invest and you saw the local officials trying as hard as they can to do things on the cheap (even though over the course of its lifetime, true BRT is not even necessarily cheaper than rail), what would you think?  Would you choose the Tampa Bay area or places where they are already investing in their future?  And the same holds true for people with skill and talent.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing II, Cont

Now for more transportation fun. The PTC is moving toward new regulations on rideshare companies, whether it can or not.

. . .the rules and policy committee voted 2-1, with Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco dissenting, to push forward with expedited rules. Under the board’s anticipated guidelines, they would vote again at the rules and policy committee meeting on Sept. 1 and then again at the full PTC meeting Sept. 14, with a final rule approved in October.

Rules preliminarily supported by a PTC committee would require transportation network companies, or TNCs, to implement fingerprint-based background checks and annual vehicle inspections conducted by a certified mechanic before a driver can begin operating as a for-hire driver.

Both provisions have been highly opposed by both major TNC players in Hillsborough County, Uber and Lyft.

If the rules are enacted and the PTC is awarded an injunction against Uber for continuing to operate against the rules, Uber said it will leave Hillsborough County.

Which, of course, is what they want, because the PTC serves the legacy cab and limo companies that do not want the competition.  But, you say to yourself that those are just safety regulations. For the sake of argument, fine.  But how about this:

Also at issue within those rules is a provision that would establish mandatory minimums on TNC fares and wait times. The proposed rules would set those at $7 and seven minutes, respectively.

How does a pick-up delay serve anyone other than cabs or limos?  How does a minimum fare serve anyone but cabs or limos?

“You’re giving the limo industry some breaks, but you’re not doing a doggone thing for the riding public,” said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson.

Pretty much, but don’t forget the cab companies. And the PTC agrees:

Cockream said he didn’t worry too much about whether or not minimum wait times were implemented because that was an issue for the companies to sort out. However, he defended the minimum fares.

“This industry would go away to the detriment of the riding public,” Cockream said, referring to the taxi industry.

That is an admission that the PTC is trying to engage in protectionism and hurt competition.

If a company can show up faster, so be it.  Why is that a concern of the government?  Who said there would be no way for people to get rides?  If people choose the competition, maybe the PTC should look to make it easier/cheaper for cabs to function (and maybe the cab companies should raise their game) – where they clearly have authority. . . for now.  At least one member of the Board seems (though we remain to be convinced) to be trying to actually come up with a proper agreement.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and Public Transportation Commission board member Victor Crist is reaching out to State Sen. Jeff Brandes for help in dealing with the ongoing debate over how to regulate transportation network companies.

* * *

Ahead of this week’s meeting, Crist sent a letter to his PTC colleagues in the rules and policy committee asking them to put the brakes on deciding on rules. He argued the rules would have “a significant impact on the traveling public as well as transportation providers throughout Hillsborough County.” He also warned approving rules hastily could lead to legal ramifications if the process for doing so did not meet certain reporting criteria.

Crist accused the rulemaking process of creating a “potential unintended consequence of benefitting one regulated industry over another.”

Setting aside that the consequences of pushing ridesharing out of the area is clearly intended by those supporting the new rules, that is fine, but it is also an admission that the PTC should be eliminated.

Economic Development – What Is It?

There was a column in the Times about the new EDC CEO that sounded really familiar.  First, it said a number of nice things about the new guy, which is fine.  Then:

Still, even he acknowledges this three-city metro area, separated by a bay, is a more complex topography than the typical single “hub and spoke” urban core typical of most major metro areas. That’s one reason that, while he is a walking encyclopedia of “best practices” gleaned from earlier experience, he is wary of simply trying to push economic development strategies here just because they may have had success in a different market at a different time.

“We are shaped differently, so development patterns occur differently,” Richard said in a recent interview. “I need to understand those dynamics.” But one theme is clear and repeated by Richard: Regionalism is rising across most U.S. metros, and Tampa Bay must embrace it, too.

We agree, and note that this is from an outsider coming in without an interest in hyping a legacy.  The fact he is talking about the need for regionalism makes us wonder why all the previous talk about regionalism has apparently not done much.

So far, his easy smile and thoughtful demeanor also come with a competitive streak that’s setting the stage nicely for some of the issues already bubbling to the surface of Richard’s growing to-do list.

At the top: Figure out how best to market all of Tampa Bay as a distinctive place to do smart business and enjoy a coastal Florida lifestyle.

“The one thing that everyone says, in my conversations with leaders, is that the community as a whole flies under the radar,” Richard noted. “There is a sense we need to heighten the awareness of the advantages of doing business in Tampa and Hillsborough County, in particular. There is strong consensus to double down on our marketing efforts.”

If that quest sounds familiar, it should. Many business leaders here — from tourism executives and economic developers who in 2014 embraced “Bollywood Oscars” to the politicos who hosted the Republican National Convention here in 2012 — have concocted grand promotional pitches aimed at raising a better-defined image of Tampa and Tampa Bay to the larger world.

Apparently, for all the hype, those things haven’t really done the trick.

What captures the essence of Tampa Bay? I’ve sat in law firm boardrooms, tourism agency headquarters and university classrooms where some version of that question has been asked time and again. We are, it seems, a very mixed bag of Midwestern niceness with a diverse economy of modest headquarters, some very pleasant beaches for tourists, a fine airport and a funky Latin quarter called Ybor. Packaging that into a compelling marketing message has proved most challenging.

So that’s why we’re glad to see Richard arriving here and so quickly endorsing the idea of branding and marketing Tampa and Tampa Bay anew — before we get forever defined from afar by others as simply bland or an urban hodgepodge. The issue is all the more timely now that the Tampa Bay Partnership is morphing from a regional marketing organization to one more focused on political advocacy.

We are all for good branding and we are all for being competitive and ambitious.  The thing is that this branding discussion has been going on basically for living memory (though maybe using different lingo).  Yet, as we said in 2014 (and before that), “the problem with branding this area is that, as an area, we do not know what we are or what we really want to be.

Which gets to something we said in 2015:

. . . When decades have been spent settling for a real estate and back-office based economy enhanced with diminished expectations and a culture of excessive hype that may sell here but does not really fly in other places, it is not a surprise it is hard to tell our story.

But nothing need be permanent.  We have assets, and we have the ability to have solid accomplishments.  Yet, as long as minor achievements are trumpeted as huge successes (and huge successes are not extant) without a critical eye to our deficiencies and the political will to change them, we are only holding ourselves back.  Our real branding will come from real achievement.  And hype just gets in the way.

Marketing is fine, but when you are trying to get people to spend big money and actually move to your city, your real brand (rather than what you try to sell) will be a reflection of what you really are relative to other places.  And that is the real issue: we may be better than we were (we are), but how do we compare to everyone else?  In other words, if you want a successful brand, you have to answer the same old question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

If you want to come up with a successful brand, answer that question.

Economic Development/History Lesson – Blown Lead

And there is another aspect to economic development. Researching something else, we found this article from the Orlando Sentinel back in 1988 about Orlando expanding their international service.  It has such nuggets as this:

Delta Air Lines Inc. will become the second domestic carrier to offer non-stop service between Orlando and Europe this year when it begins flying to Frankfurt, West Germany, on June 3.

Pan American World Airways Inc. will start flying non-stop between Orlando and Frankfurt on April 3, and several other airlines are considering or planning to increase non-stop international service in Orlando.

And this:

Mexicana Airlines, which started scheduled flights linking Tampa with Mexico City and Cancun last month, also is considering Orlando service.

Mexicana is gone, but Orlando still has AeroMexico and Volaris (flying to Mexico City – with JetBlue flying there, too – and Guadalajara), plus other airlines flying to Cancun.  We have no flights to Mexico City or Guadalajara.

Then the 1988 article tells us this, which is really interesting given the growth in Orlando (and Fort Lauderdale), compared to Tampa International until the new staff took over:

Orlando International handled about 3.7 percent of Florida’s international traffic in 1986. Miami International had a 91.8 percent share and Tampa International, 1.5 percent. In 1985, Orlando had 1.2 percent of the state’s international market.

It is amazing to think that in 1988, Tampa had more international air traffic than Orlando.  It is so common around here to hear about the power of the Mouse, etc., like this from this week’s column on the EDC CEO:

Tampa Bay has suffered a bad case of “metro envy” for decades, thanks to its close proximity to Orlando (home of the Mouse and, now, also Harry Potter theme parks) and Miami’s international flair as the gateway to Latin America. Both of those cities already enjoy global reputations. 

But the article from 1988 shows us that nothing is inevitable.  Even in the late 80’s, with the Mouse well entrenched, Tampa had more international air traffic than Orlando.  But at this point Orlando was at the beginning of a concerted push to grow its profile.  Meanwhile, this area tapped into its almost adolescent combination of insecurity and self-satisfaction and, over the course of a number of years, made a series decisions (or failed to make a series of decisions) that allowed us to fall behind the competition.  We had a lead, but our lead was not pushed – hard.  And it went away . . . far away.  Now we have to compete with and try to catch up (or at least get close) with Orlando and Fort Lauderdale (at least the present airport administration is working hard and experiencing some success) which have become far more entrenched.

To large degree this story is a microcosm of our overall economic development (and other development) history – complacently letting ourselves fall behind while ignoring the big picture.  And it is not just theoretical, air connections are a major factor in recruiting businesses, especially HQs. Just like proper transit and proper planning. And all that goes to helping projects like the Lightning owner’s project succeed.

There is no resting on your laurels in economic development.  Other cities (worldwide these days) are always trying to take what you have – businesses, jobs, flights, port traffic, state and federal investments.  You have to press every advantage and make up as much as possible for every deficiency. And you can’t believe your own hype.

Right now, relative to where we were, we are improved.  However, as we keep saying, we still are behind (see air connections, container business, transit, per capita GDP, and lack of regionalism) and playing catch-up – not necessarily with the same places (though it is arguable that to some degree it includes the same places), but still playing catch-up.  And we still have far too many local officials trapped in the attitudes and actions of the past, where we fell behind.

Port – Cuba Calling?

And that all brings us to attitude, aggressively pursuing opportunities (and being seen to do so), and Cuba.

We have noted how the Port won’t go to Cuba (though it is not clear why).  Maybe Cuba will come to the Port.

As their two nations build new relations, the people who run the ports in Cuba are making plans to visit the operators of U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico during the next few months.

Tampa, which traded in tobacco and cattle with Cuba before the United States imposed an embargo five decades ago, is home to one of the ports recently contacted by Cuba’s port authority.

“Port Tampa Bay is Cuba ready, and would welcome meeting with the representatives of the Cuban National Port Authority should they come to the U.S. to tour Gulf ports,” Edward Miyagishima, the Tampa port’s vice president of communications, said via email.

The trip is being arranged with the help of Engage Cuba, a Washington, D.C., coalition of private businesses working to lift the embargo on Cuba.

Well, that is something.  Though it still does not explain the lack of initiative by the Port, especially when you note this:

At least two other sites along the gulf, the Port of New Orleans and Alabama State Port Authority, said they also have been contacted by Cuba about a visit.

Both these ports already ship limited supplies of agricultural products to Cuba.

In other words, the other ports already are doing business (that is not coming here) and building connections (which are not being built here).  We still cannot understand the Port’s complacency and why it is playing hard to get.  Even if business is not that big now, is business so good at the Port that they can sit back, let others build the business connections, and hope others come to them?

At least others in this area are not so complacent.

Meantime, a delegation of maritime industry leaders in Tampa will visit Cuba in October through Tucker Hall, an international public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

The trip is a private initiative separate from Port Tampa Bay but some port tenants will join the delegation, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker Hall.

They are scheduled to meet with the Cuban Foreign Ministry and with leaders in the fields of environmental protection and deep water oil drilling and to learn about the future of the cruise line industry in Havana.

They might also visit the Port of Mariel, an industrial center encompassing some 180 square miles west of Havana that features factories, storage for trade, and a marine terminal with an initial annual capacity of about 1 million containers.

Some see the Port of Mariel as ideally positioned to capitalize on recent expansions to the Panama Canal that will accommodate ships with greater capacity. They see the Cuba port as a trans-shipment hub for gulf ports in the United States.

“Cuba is the most important economic development opportunity Tampa Bay will experience in our lifetimes,” Carlson said. “There will be billions of dollars in foreign investment in Cuba. That trade should be going through Port Tampa Bay.”

Still, few see any immediate economic payoff in establishing a relationship with Cuba’s port leaders. The Port of Mariel needs time and U.S. laws need to change before the two nations become major trading partners.

That last point may be true now, but:

Regardless, Carlson said, if local leaders want to see container ships, cruises and ferries sailing to and from Cuba in the future, the time to forge a relationship with the island’s people and government is now.

“We have to move quickly,” he said, “and be aggressive to compete with other cities and states.”

Indeed. On Cuba, the Port is using the old Tampa airport strategy – when the old director used to tell us that there was just no demand for international service.  We hope in the future it doesn’t leave us too far behind.

Regardless, we can do much better.

Downtown/Channel District – First Steps

The infrastructure work on the Lightning owner’s project is set to begin.

Road and infrastructure work will start Aug. 29 on Morgan Street and will affect Channelside Drive and Jefferson Street in downtown Tampa. They represent the first steps by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm of Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and Cascade Investment toward rebuilding 40 acres of Tampa’s urban core.

The $35 million road work project involves adding infrastructure underground, including pipes for a chilled water distribution plant. It also will change traffic patterns and add roads.

The first phase of road construction is expected to continue until next summer. The roads affected will remain open during construction, though traffic may be limited.

The goal is create a traffic grid in downtown Tampa that is easier to navigate but slows motorists to allow for more bikes and pedestrians.

You can read the article for descriptions, but this is a map of the changes:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

It is good that this work is starting, though it will cause a lot of disruption – and without real transit we are not sure if the changes will have the intended effect rather than just create gridlock. (Hence the Lightning owner’s comments above)  That remains to be seen.  At least, keeping with their pattern of doing things well, the Lightning owner’s team is setting up a website (here http://downtowntampagrid.com) to inform the public of the work and disruptions.

— One More Thing

There was also news about Channelside the complex.

Strategic Property Partners and Franklin Street — which SPP tapped to lease and manage the property — have launched the “Channelside Bay Plaza VIP card,” which is good for special promotions and offers at the plaza.

Which is nice.  You can read the details in the article.  More interesting to us is this:

“Thanks to our partners at Port Tampa Bay, we were able to open the wharf to the public earlier this summer, and now, in partnership with the plaza tenants, we’re launching this program as another way to connect with our neighbors in the Channel District,” Glisson wrote in an email Monday.

Since the Port owns all the land, it makes one wonder why the Port did not open up the wharf before, when the plaza was floundering, to try to make it more successful.

Nevertheless, hopefully, it will get revitalized.

Built Environment – It’s All Relative

There was a recent report from Redfin  regarding walkability that has gotten some local press coverage.  First, the Business Journal had an article understatedly entitled “Newly built homes in St. Petersburg are among the most ‘walkable’ in the U.S.”   that told us:

New residential construction in St. Petersburg is among the most walkable in the U.S., according to a new ranking out this week.

Redfin, a real estate brokerage, analyzed the Walk Score of new construction compared to the city’s overall Walk Score. Walk Scores are based on how many public spaces and parks are in a neighborhood, along with pedestrian-friendly design and enough population density for businesses to thrive.

In St. Pete, according to Redfin, 88 percent of new construction gets a better Walk Score than the city’s score of 42. (New York has the top Walk Score in the U.S. at 88.9.)

That ranks St. Pete at No. 4 for walkable new construction. Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland, Ohio, were the top three, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 were Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Denver, San Francisco and Dallas. 

Then the Times had an article somnolently entitled “Development is making St. Pete and Tampa downtowns more pedestrian friendly, report says” that told us:

All those apartments, condos and houses going up in and around downtown St. Petersburg are giving the city a boast-worthy distinction — it’s among the nation’s top 10 urban areas for “walkable new construction.”

And Tampa isn’t far behind, according to the national real estate brokerage Redfin.

While many parts of the Tampa Bay area remain inconducive to a pleasant stroll — think St. Petersburg’s Tyrone area and Tampa’s West Shore district — downtown resurgences are making both cities more pedestrian friendly.

Redfin ranks St. Petersburg third among cities in which more than 80 percent of new residences have a “walk score” higher than the citywide score. Its 88 percent rating is due to the construction of hundreds of new multifamily units downtown along with scores of new homes and townhomes nearby — all within walking distance of restaurants, shops and other urban amenities.

* * *

Tampa just missed the top 10. It ranks 12th, with 54 percent of new construction boasting walk scores higher than the citywide 49 percent.

First, yes, both Tampa and St. Pete are getting more walkable, especially downtown.  However, even though they say what the report said, both articles are written in a way to confuse the results in a hype-tastic way.

What Redfin report actually said (and which URBN Tampa Bay got right here) is that new construction is more walkable than the existing built environment.  So, by way of example, if your built environment is totally unwalkable (say walk score of 1) and what is now getting built is mildly (though nor really) walkable (say a still very bad walk score of 10), you would rank very high in this report because new construction would be more walkable than the existing built environment.  If your existing built environment is very walkable and what you build is basically the same (see Boston, San Francisco or New York) you would not rank as high.

As reflected in the Times headline (but muddled in the article), the report is saying is that this area is getting more walkable, particularly in downtowns. (Things like the recently revealed Halcyon in St. Pete  and Channel Club in Tampa – though it does not really do much on the street, that should be starting soon. )  It does not say we are one of the most walkable areas. (Just look at a picture of DC, Boston or Seattle and you can see that the claim is not true)  It does not even say that most new construction is excessively walkable – it is just more walkable than what was there before.  That is good (and true to some degree), but it is not consistent with the hype.

We are getting better, but we are not really where we should be.

TIA – Keeping Up With Technology

One again, the airport is working to keep ahead (or at least up with) the needs of passengers.

Tampa International Airport will have more charging outlets than almost any airport in the nation — more than 7,000 in all — when its $1 billion renovation is completed next year.

* * *

The additional challenge will be ensuring the airport is ready for technology that may not be standard today, but is around the corner and that travelers will demand within several years.

To that end, some of those technological advances at TIA will include:

Just another way the airport refuses to be complacent, which other organizations in the area should note and copy.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We often say that much of the opposition to rail is ideological, not practical (because it is).  Many argue that opposition to rail it is some sort of conservative idea, which the examples of places like Salt lake City, Phoenix, Norfolk, Charlotte, and a host of others shows is not the case.  There is another big example – Dallas – which is definitely not some socialist bastion.  Dallas has an extensive rail network, and it wants more – so much more that there is a debate about two new rail lines – not about building them but because people are fighting over which to come first.

Four Dallas Area Rapid Transit board members Tuesday criticized and questioned the agency’s planned approaches to building two new controversial rail lines — one through downtown Dallas and the other through northern suburbs. 

“I have some concerns about being able to do both at the same time,” said board member Paul Wageman, who represents Plano. 

* * *

DART has long planned to add a second light-rail route through Dallas’ central business district. The agency and the Dallas City Council chose a route that is mostly at street-level last year. But the agency in recent weeks has said that a different route  is likely to work better. That revelation came after downtown residents, business leaders and landowners started pushing for the agency to spend more money to put the line mostly underground.

As that controversy continued brewing this summer, the agency and Plano officials revealed a plan to also spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fast-track the Cotton Belt line project that connects the airport to northern suburbs. That plan angered people who were pushing DART to find a way to put the second downtown line underground.

The northern suburbs of Dallas are definitely not socialist territory. The fact is that our lack of proper transit is not about right or left.  It is about moving forward and building a proper city or just neglecting our infrastructure and leaving us less competitive.

And that is not to say we are for wasting money – we aren’t.  There needs to be a good plan with proper checks.  But we understand our development pattern is ultimately wasteful and that cities require proper transportation infrastructure which throughout the world, including in the United States has rail as a part.

Old Tampa

URBN Tampa Bay had a really nice find.   The blog modern cities went back into the archives for some old picture of Tampa.  While we have seen pretty much all of them elsewhere, they are still great.  Though we have to say when you see what was torn down (much of which is now surface parking, it is pretty sad) We like these that show you what Tampa was really like, even into the early 1970s.

 

1930’s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website

1950’s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website

1970s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website

 

Roundup 8-12-2016

August 12, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part I

— Keeping Up Appearances

— Making You Pay

Ferry –Trial Run

Tampa Heights – Double the Fun

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part II

Transportation – TIA Keeps Accomplishing Something

— Well, You Knew It Would Happen

— One More Thing

Economic Development – Interesting

Planning/Built Environment – Oh, Those Suburbs

Planning/(Un)Built Environment – Tear It Down

________________________________

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part I

— Keeping Up Appearances

The County Commission continued their panicked behavior, sort of, regarding transportation:

County commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to advance a proposal that would for the next decade set aside one-third of future growth in property and sales tax collections for transportation.

Commissioner Les Miller was the holdout.

“We need to commit. Commit,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has spearheaded this plan. “It’s very important — No. 1: transportation.”

Yes, commit to a proper process to get a proper solution, not a rash (sort of, but we’ll get to that) measure that is a shot in the dark and is immediately going to be waster (see below that).

In all, it is estimated the measure would raise about $820 million for roads, bridges and sidewalk improvements, and without raising taxes.

If it sounds too good to be true, the county staff warned it might be.

Setting aside that the money is for roads – basically just roads – not transit or anything forward thinking – just the sale old mess, yes it probably is too good to be true, but not just because of the fears of the County Staff.

Still, staffers and financial and bond advisers successfully moved Murman and White away from a proposal to establish an ordinance that mandated 33 percent of future growth must go into transportation. That could have jeopardized the county’s ability to pay off debt obligations or keep up payments to reserves, they said, causing bond rating agencies to downgrade the county from its coveted triple-A status.

Instead, commissioners asked the county attorney to draft a board policy. That way, when the county administrator releases the annual recommended budget, it must include those extra dollars for transportation.

The difference may seem marginal. It would still set a baseline year, and a third of tax revenue brought in above the baseline would go to transportation. It would potentially bring in the same amount to fix roads and intersections, and other county services could face the same cuts.

However, unlike an ordinance, which a future board would have to vote to overturn, commissioners could vote to make tweaks to the budget before it passes to ensure debts are paid or take action if there’s another recession.

That flexibility to maneuver appeased the finance gurus, and won over Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist, who said they were concerned the ordinance could hurt the county’s fiscal standing.

In other words, the County Commission basically did not do anything other than express an opinion.  They said they would like to spend the money if conditions allow . . . but if conditions do not allow, they won’t. There is no commitment.  And frankly, in a way we are ok with that because they should not have committed to such a plan before vetting everything anyway.

On the other hand, we are sure they will use this fudge to say they have fixed transportation – though there is no plan, no coordinated system, no clear transit future – nothing.  And there is no fix to the horrible planning they have done for decades – and apparently plan to keep doing. Every problem that existed yesterday exists today.  And this expression of possible intent does nothing to change that.  In reality, it is political theater.

— Making You Pay

In the article about the discussion regarding tax money, one of the Commissioners had a decent point:

But Commissioner Stacy White, who led the effort to kill a sales tax surcharge for transportation, was troubled by that assertion.

“If growth is really a good thing, and growth really pays for itself, why is a guy like me that’s lived here my whole life being told that a tax hike is the only way to accommodate growth that I didn’t ask for?” White said. “What we’re telling the overwhelming majority of our citizens is that they get to pay more in taxes for the privilege of living in a growing community, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Growth will probably never completely pay for itself.  It definitely will not even come close unless the County makes it pay for itself (impact/mobility fees), which the commission has not done – and, even with their mobility fee idea, still are hesitant to really make it pay for itself.  Moreover, when you have growth, your other needs increase, increasing your costs.  One way is to help hold down growth cost is to not allow sprawling messes that waste public resources and to really promote infill where there is existing infrastructure.

In any event, before the vote on the road money above, the Commissioner answered his own question:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White has an unusual request for next year’s budget: He wants the county to pay for improvements to a state road that runs through his district.

White has proposed spending $877,875 on six intersections along Sun City Center Boulevard, also known as State Road 674, to help relieve congestion in southeast Hillsborough. With an Amazon distribution center in Ruskin, other nearby developments and the winter residents who flock to Sun City Center, White said, traffic is a permanent problem there.

Most of the road work amounts to extending turn lanes to prevent backups along SR 674.

“I don’t want to see us make the same mistakes with respect to growth management that we’ve made in other parts of the county,” said White, a Republican who campaigned for office as a fiscal conservative. “I want to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve here.”

But routes such as SR 674 are typically maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation. Some of White’s fellow commissioners are questioning why the county would pick up the tab.

“If the DOT thinks it’s worthy, then they can fund it,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, also a Republican.

The state already has plans to repave SR 674 in 2018 so Sun City Center residents asked to have the intersections improved, too, while work is already under way.

After study, the FDOT determined that four of the 10 intersections between Cypress Village Boulevard and U.S. 301 met criteria for federal safety funds because of the high volume of accidents there.

But the other six intersections had so few rear-end collisions and sideswipes that it couldn’t qualify for federal assistance and the FDOT won’t pay to fix them with state money.

FDOT officials did tell White and the county that the state would include the remaining six intersections in the work plan for SR 674 if the county pays for them.

White called that a win-win.

Remember, before there was any potential of extra money, he wanted to commit local tax money to pay for a state responsibility (that is apparently not even really needed, just wanted).

We don’t really see the win-win aspect.  Why should we pay for road fixes that are not necessary when so much of the county actually needs road work – including repaving?  If the County was flush with cash and they wanted to get ahead of a problem, maybe it would make sense (not really).  But the County is not flush with cash and there are other needs; not getting unnecessary repairs is a consequence of not having enough money.  It is also a consequence of the sprawl-centric pattern of development favored by the County. Unfortunately, the County Commission is reverting to 1995 (or 2015, like there is a difference) behavior.

The reality is that, even with the TIF plan, this idea takes money from other needs (or wants) to pay for something that, if needed, others should pay for.  To paraphrase the Commissioner proposing the spending, why should anyone not in south County pay for turn lanes that they will never use, especially when the state should pay for it? Every cent spent on one thing is a cent that cannot be spent on another.

Finally, given that it is spending $3-9 billion on TBX, surely FDOT can find a little pocket change for some turn lanes on its own road – and a spare billion to fix all the other roads (or build some real transit) in one of the most important, if not the most important, Counties in the country during the election.  Of course, with our local officials, FDOT can always use the excuse that there is no local plan because . . . well, there isn’t.

Ferry – Trial Run

Pinellas County gave the final local approval necessary to have the trial ferry between downtown Tampa and St Pete (really between St Pete and Tampa since it was an idea pushed more by St Pete).

Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the ferry, which is expected to start running Nov. 1. The ferry plans two runs a day — three on Friday — for fares that are expected to be $10 for the one-way trip.

Though there still is this:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still needs to approve the service by Sept. 15. St. Petersburg has an “out” in its contract with the Seattle-based HMS Ferries if the deadline is not met.

Not to mention:

The ferries are only available on loan from northern cities during the winter months, limiting the length of the test program. The agreement between St. Petersburg and HMS said they will measure demand for both commuter and non-commuter services and impact on vehicle use.

The agreement is structured so HMS Ferries would get the first $125,000 of the ferry’s revenues. Anything above that would be split among the four governments.

The ferry has 149 seats, and projections show that with 25 percent ridership, each participant in the agreement would get about $50,000 back, St. Petersburg development administrator Alan DeLisle said last week. At 75 percent of capacity, each could expect to receive $200,000. 

Regardless, at the price and the (lack of) frequency, it is still a novelty (it is much cheaper for four people to drive than spend $80 going to a game or event) and even if someone wanted to use it to commute, there is the question of how to get to the ferry (you know, all those great transit links).  Nevertheless, we are all for seeing how it goes, as long as you keep this in mind:

“We hope that it’s successful,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who spearheaded the project, said after Pinellas County commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the project.

“It’s not the cure to our transportation challenges. It’s just a tool.”

Exactly. Ferries may someday form a piece of the transportation puzzle but there are much bigger issues (that pretty much all of the local officials, at least in Hillsborough, who voted for this project have failed to address in any meaningful way).  Not to mention that there is no money (or probably any idea what to do) after the trial period is over.

Nonetheless, we are still for the trial – though we wonder what happened to the South County to MacDill ferry idea that actually seemed to have more demand and utility as a transportation alternative, at least in the short and medium term.  It seems that is languishing because it has no real champion (and the Port inexplicably opposes it), as opposed to the trial run which was basically willed to happen by the Mayor of St Pete (his leadership on this and some other issues should be commended.)

And, while we are for the trial, we also wonder whether the expense, infrequent service, and short term trial will really tell us anything about the potential for real, useful, coordinated, connected ferry service in this area.  We will have to see.

Tampa Heights – Double the Fun

As has been reported previously, the Armature Works building in the Heights project is going to have a market and what seems to amount to a nice food court for fancy food (and we say that descriptively and with no derogatory intent).  This week, it was announced that an old, cool building on north Franklin Street in Tampa Heights is also going in a slightly different collective dining direction:

A historic storefront in Tampa Heights could be filled with a collection of some of the biggest names in the city’s food scene.

Tampa entrepreneur Jamal Wilson has signed a lease for 8,000 square feet at 1701 N. Franklin St. where he hopes to open The Hall on Franklin by the end of the year.

The Hall on Franklin will be a restaurant collective, featuring new concepts from names like Ty Beddingfield, former master barista at Buddy Brew Coffee, and an Asian fusion spot by Kevin and Singh Hurt of Anise Global Bistro.

The restaurants will share a waitstaff, with full-service, sit-down dining available. The coffee shop will open at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday; Monday through Wednesday, the restaurants are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and hours are extended until 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Sundays feature all-day brunch, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with live entertainment.

* * *

These are the tenants that have committed to the space:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We’ve liked this building for years. (Streetview here) It should look great. (TBX will mess up a big chunk of North Franklin and cut it off more from downtown – part of our great city planning – but at least this building will be out of the way.)

The developer sees this project as complementary to Armature Works.  So do we.  And it can help bring the whole of North Franklin, which already has some businesses, back to life.  It is easily within walking distance of all those residences and businesses that are going to be in the Heights. And there is no reason the North Franklin area can’t get more (re)developed.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Part II

The PTC just won’t stop being useless.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is set to vote on raising fines against drivers and companies operating for-hire vehicle service outside of the agency’s regulatory scope.

While the fines would apply to anyone operating against the rules, it would most predominantly affect transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

The companies also face potential rule changes that could implement mandatory background checks, vehicle inspections and other regulations Uber argues would be detrimental to rider experience and customer service.

So the rule changes are still possible, even though it is unknown whether the PTC even has authority (it certainly lacks the competence). You can read all about it in the article linked in the quote.  We’ll just point out these juicy tidbits from a Business Journal article:

That board includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist who has been largely supportive of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and PTC board member Al Higginbotham told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he would not be supporting the measure.

“My preference is that we focus on finding a solution with the TNCs,” Higginbotham said.

Setting aside that no one on the PTC has been supportive of ridesharing companies, there are models all around the country where TNCs operate.  If it wanted a deal, the PTC could have had one long ago.  The PTC does not want a deal; they want TNCs to accept the PTC/cab company terms. There is a difference.

As if to prove that point, the PTC dropped the fee idea until they bring it up again, and moved forward with the previously dropped idea of new rules.

The PTC presented the companies with two possible regulatory standards. One requires fingerprint-based background checks, a provision the two TNC players have long fought against. Both companies rejected that version without additional comment.

The companies responded to a second set of rules that would instead require what the PTC calls a level 1++ background check that doesn’t require fingerprints, but did so with a series of amendments to the proposal. Those checks would be conducted on a “semi-annual” basis. Uber wants its drivers to only be subject to such checks once a year.

“None of the 70+ jurisdictions in the country that have enacted TNC-specific regulations – including the five jurisdictions in Florida that have acted on this issue – require TNCs to conduct background checks more frequently than once a year,” Uber’s response read.

The other sticking point for Uber and Lyft has been the PTC’s vehicle inspection requirements. In the proposal, the PTC would have required drivers to obtain an inspection before operating as a for-hire driver. Uber asked for a 42-day wait period, citing drivers’ often busy schedules with primary jobs as a barrier. They also noted Uber drivers utilize personal vehicles of which there is no vehicle inspection requirement to operate.

Other provisions Uber objected to include requiring vehicles to be no more than 10 years old and levying fines of up to $5,000 against the company for any breach of the agreement. Uber wants vehicles to be up to 12 years old and a maximum $2,500 fine.

Lyft shared similar concerns.

“Of the 33 states that have enacted legislation … zero of those states require fingerprinting,” said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson.

Like we said, if the PTC really wanted to have a deal there would have been a deal a long time ago. Instead they pretend to care but then just work to pass something that is aimed to support who they really care about (and it is not consumers or safety).

Over objections from the two rideshare giants, PTC board members voted Wednesday to move ahead with regulations that mandate fingerprint background checks for all rideshare drivers. The same requirement led Uber and Lyft to abandon the lucrative Austin, Texas, market in May.

That is classic Hillsborough County (see road money above) – after wasting a lot of time, do something unproductive just to be able to say you did something, then try to move on.

Hopefully, the legislature will finally get around to statewide rules so the PTC members can back to their days jobs of planning poorly and not providing a proper transportation system.

Transportation – TIA Keeps Accomplishing Something

There was an interesting, if not really groundbreaking, article in the Times regarding the airport director.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority thinks Joe Lopano has been doing a great job running Tampa International Airport, and it wants to keep him around for years to come.

To that end, board members decided Thursday to draft a new contract for the airport’s CEO. Board chairman Robert Watkins will spearhead the effort.

* * *

The move to negotiate a contract extension for Lopano came as board members provided him with his annual performance review. He scored top marks in nearly every category from every board member, giving him a final score of 4.96 out of 5.

“It’s not just what you see, but it’s what you don’t see,” said Brig. Gen. Chip Diehl, treasurer of the board. “The airport runs as efficiently as ever even with this project going on, and that’s a tribute to his leadership and the culture he’s built behind this team.”

Since 2011, Lopano and his team have brought more than a dozen new flights, including a handful of high-profile international routes to Frankfurt, Panama City and most recently to Havana, Cuba, to the airport. Lopano is also leading the airport’s single largest renovation since the terminal was built in 1971.

Lopano’s current contract expires in April 2018. He accepted a $500,000 bonus in 2013 contingent on him staying with the airport until that time. Lopano makes $347,287 a year. He last received a raise of 5 percent last August. 

It is a big chunk of change, but he airport has continued to be  a very good performer and the master plan is moving along nicely.

The airport’s revenue is projected to grow by $4.1 million next year. That number will jump to $14 million in 2018 with the completion of Phase 1 of the master plan. Operating expenses for 2017 is expected to increase by 7.1 percent as compared with this year to $122.3  million. 

If revenue actually grows by $14 million a year, that is quite good. As is the debt rating upgrade this week.

Good leadership comes with a cost. Especially when you are playing catch-up because of previously poor leadership and lack of vision.  (It is good he did not leave when there was a previous issue about his pay and his “lack of performance.” Though there was no similar whining about the port. We leave it to you to figure out why.)

That is not to say there is no limit to compensation.  It is just to say that the airport is a local model at this point and that is due to the staff.  If that changes, so does the dynamic for compensation. Up until this point, though, well done.

— Well, You Knew It Would Happen

Now that commercial flights are coming, the Cuba charter business is starting to shrink.

Cuba Travel Services will cease operations from Tampa and the future of the two other local charter companies — Island Travel & Tours and ABC Charters — remains unclear.

“We don’t believe charter companies will be able to compete with the major carriers,” said Michael Zuccato, general manager at Cuba Travel Services. “We will stop operating charters from Tampa on a scheduled basis in early September. We’re still working on an exact date.”

Bill Hauf, president of Island Travel & Tours, could not be reached for comment. Tessie Aral, president of ABC Charters, said she has no plans to leave the Tampa market but acknowledges that her company’s future is up in the air after Oct. 31.

There likely will still be room for some charters, but that will all have to be sorted out.  Thankfully, we will have a commercial flight.

— One More Thing

It is also worth noting that the nearest major airport, the one in Orlando, is beginning a large expansion  and adding international flights and rail connections. (For more detail, see here)  Just more reason that we need inspired leadership.

Economic Development – Interesting

Most people probably did not know there was a company in Riverview that got a big cash injection.

BlueGrace Logistics is on the fast track to become a major Tampa Bay employer, feeding off a $255 million investment from New York-based private equity giant Warburg Pincus.

Riverview-based BlueGrace, a 6-year-old transportation logistics company, is using the money to hire 500 to 700 employees in the next few years and will be on the hunt for a new, larger headquarters, possibly in downtown Tampa.

From currently $200 million in revenue, “by 2020 we’d hope to be at $1 billion … with a mix of organic growth and some (acquisitions),” BlueGrace CEO and founder Bobby Harris said in an interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times.

* * *

The company has already far exceeded a tax incentive-tied commitment made with the state a year ago to add 100 jobs. It now has 350 employees, most of them in Riverview. The next jobs spurt isn’t tied to tax incentives, but business demand and a confident equity partner.

“Over the next two years, we’ll go well over 500 employees, and in the next three to five years have about 1,000 employees just here in Tampa,” Harris said.

It adds up to a major jobs explosion for a company that started out, as Harris notes, “in the jaws” of the Great Recession in 2009 with 20 employees. Today, it works with more than 10,000 companies nationwide that make everything from auto parts and beauty products to pharmaceuticals and sporting goods.

You can read about their business model in the article and the speculation that they might move to the Lightning owner’s project (they might, they might not).  In any event, it is interesting to have a local company growing that quickly and that quietly.

Planning/Built Environment – Oh, Those Suburbs

The Business Journal had an interesting article on a ranking of local suburbs.

Westchase is the Tampa Bay area’s best suburb, according to a Niche report.

Niche compares and ranks schools and neighborhoods. The report, which compiled statistics on crime, public education, job opportunities, diversity and other characteristics, gave the suburbs grades on how they did. Westchase received an overall grade of A+, and when the grades were broken down, the suburb’s only C coming from the cost of living.

* * *

Other top Tampa Bay suburbs include Carrollwood, Lake Magdalene, Pebble Creek and Town ‘n’ Country, which all finished in the top five. 

You can see the report here.  We are not completely convinced by specific rankings (and we would have ranked them a bit differently), but there is a trend, even a bit lower down: the closer in suburbs get better rankings.  While Westchase is not as close in as some others on the list, it is relatively close to West Shore and has the urbanish West Park Village, which adds a lot (and is actually quite transit ready).

And the fact is that a lot of close in suburbs are not really much less dense (if at all) than much of the City of Tampa and many are closer in to the core (and equally as or more walkable) than much of the City of Tampa.  That is why a real transit system needs to include real connectivity, not just token connections.  Something Go Hillsborough did not really do at all.  And the County Commission shows no actual interest in. And something which will not happen with the city rail/city tax idea.

Planning/(Un)Built Environment – Tear It Down

URBN Tampa Bay found a gem this week in an blog post about how in the 1950’s Louisville’s paper called for basically destroying its downtown to rebuilt it.

The editorial was titled “A Bomb at Fourth and Walnut That Would Bless Louisville.” (Today, Walnut Street is Muhammad Ali Boulevard.) It grimly concluded that “The old shell of downtown Louisville will have to be cracked open if real progress is to be made. We don’t want it done by the violence of enemy bombs, heaven knows. But another kind of bomb falling on Fourth Street would be a blessing—a bomb of imagination and civic ambition.”

* * *

In the end, Louisville did bomb itself into a parking lot oblivion, but unlike those European examples cited in the newspaper, we put too much faith in the private automobile and didn’t rebuild after the bombings. Our pedestrian mall was was a failure because it relied on a suburban notion of shopping and driving rather than living in the core city. Much of urban renewal had ulterior motives that better served keeping the city segregated than any true attempt to craft a better Louisville.

The interesting thing is that the old editorial did not seem to actually call for a car-centric plan.  But that is what Louisville got.

And they are not alone.  That is basically what Tampa got as well – and with which we are still dealing. Interestingly, most of the newish buildings downtown – say after 1980 – were not built on surface parking lots, they were built after older buildings were torn down because why remove parking?  As pointed out by URBN Tampa Bay, there is no lack of space dedicated to parking (in red) in downtown, even if you take out the land that will hold actual buildings in the Lightning owner’s project:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

And that is just downtown.  There are other areas of Tampa that were built up that have also given way to the pavement model (not to mention basically every area developed since the 50’s).

Moreover, even with the new awareness of urbanness and walkability, much of our codes and default planning and design decisions revert to the car-centric model from the 50’s and 60’s.  Urbanness and walkability is still something you have to work to accomplish rather something that comes naturally, especially in an area with basically no transit.  One reason the Lightning owner’s plan and the Heights draw attention is because they are actually looking at making them walkable.  That is the exception, when it should be the rule, literally.  Sadly, Tampa/Hillsborough County still mostly embraces 60 year old postwar thinking.

Just a little window into how we got where we are today.

Roundup 8-5-2016

August 5, 2016

Contents

Transportation

— Money

– A Study This Way Comes

– Fare Warning

– Come, Sail Away

Cuba – Of Consulates

Transportation – Ugh, More PTC

Rays – Pinellas Push

Gasparilla – Come Together

Downtown/Channel District – Wondering What You Call It, Cont.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Are We Missing?

— Startup Power

— How to Plan

— Suburbs Can Work With Cities

______________________________________

Transportation

As usual, there was transportation news this week.

— Money

First, in the wake of the Go Hillsborough debacle, the County Commission is looking at potential funding sources for transportation improvements.  Well, actually, they are not – at least not all of them – looking.  Some have already settled on an idea.

After spending a year and seven figures on a transportation plan they ultimately scrapped, Hillsborough County commissioners are now sprinting toward a new solution that is so far sketchy on details.

The alternative proposal is completely different from the half-cent sales tax hike that commissioners rejected in June. Instead, taxes would stay at current rates and the county would dedicate one-third of all future growth in tax revenues toward roads, bridges, sidewalks and transit.

This plan is quickly gaining steam at the urging of Sandy Murman and Stacy White, two commissioners who fought against the sales tax surcharge. Commissioners voted Thursday to hold an Aug. 10 public hearing to consider the new proposal.

“I do believe it’s going to work for our citizens,” Murman said. “I believe we have enough revenue growth.”

We have discussed this countywide TIF before.  It is an interesting idea, at least partially.  It could fund some transportation though you have to be careful because you do not know what contingencies will be coming.  And you cannot count on revenue growth all the time (having lived through the great recession, that is clear).  Nevertheless, it is worth looking at.  The real question is why the rush to push this plan before looking at everything systematically?

There’s a sense of urgency to get this done before the county budget is approved on Sept. 15. If that happens, commissioners will have spent just three months weighing a momentous shift in county policy. The proposal calls for creating a countywide tax increment finance, or TIF, district, which is relatively untested.

Compare that to deliberations over the half-cent sales tax surcharge, which underwent dozens of meetings and a year of scrutiny from the commission, other local governments, the media and the public. And those debates were grounded in detailed breakdowns of how much the tax would raise and how it would be spent.

So far, none of those particulars have emerged for the new plan.

And that is where we have an issue.  Not that the sales tax was well vetted, but that there should be more examination (does not have to take so much wasted time as Go Hillsborough).

Proponents project that it would bring in about $1 billion over the next decade, with about half of that coming in the later years. That’s based on growth estimates taken from county Administrator Mike Merrill’s recommended budget through 2020 and an estimated 5 percent increase in revenue after that.

The county staff has so far not confirmed those figures. They estimated the half-cent sales tax would have raised an average of $117.5 million a year.

It may or may not raise that much money – it kind of depends on just what you take for transportation and what growth you have overall.  We just do not think it should be rushed into.  We are also not huge fans of a sales tax, if it can be avoided. Kind of like this:

Merrill, who strongly recommended the sales tax option, has said the new plan would likely eat into funding for other services as costs go up and the county grows.

White doubted that.

“I don’t think we’re going to have consequences,” White said. “You may see some legacy projects and wants fall by the wayside, but you certainly won’t see any needs.”

Once again, we are not so excited about a sales tax. However, usually, even when we disagree with this Commissioner, we think he speaks thoughtfully, but that comment is just silly-talk.  Of course a county-wide TIF will have consequences.  It may have consequences you are ok with, but they are still consequences.  And when you take money out of a pot and do not replace it, you have less money to spend everything else, things like EMS trucks.  That is why there needs to be a full review of what potential money there is – so that decisions can be made with open eyes and full knowledge.  There really is no reason to rush this year – especially since there is no comprehensive, coordinated, systematic plan.  And we are still waiting for the transit studies.

By all means look at this idea, but study all possibilities before deciding.

– A Study This Way Comes

Speaking of studies, the transportation study process is moving, slowly:

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority leaders are moving forward with plans to implement a regional transit feasibility study they say would poise the agency for federal dollars aimed at increasing multimodal mobility options.

The agency heard pitches from three firms last week to oversee the study.

In order to receive federal funding for transit projects, agencies have to follow a set of guidelines laid out by the Federal Transit Administration. That includes showing at least one viable regional transit corridor. Pinellas County has done that as part of its failed campaign to increase sales tax by one penny to fund sweeping transit improvements, but Hillsborough has not.

The feasibility study would remedy that and put Hillsborough in the running for the long and arduous process of obtaining federal dollars.

The study will evaluate whether or not purchasing CSX tracks to be converted into commuter rail is the best bet. However, that won’t be the only solution the study evaluates.

Which is fine.

The study will also include the “do nothing” approach that evaluates current traffic conditions and ways to deal with them without additional transit solutions.

Once the feasibility study is complete, HART would basically develop a measurable solution to present, showing a targeted regional corridor and a form of transit identified as the best solution.

HART plans to award a contract for the feasibility study sometime in early to mid-September with a notice to proceed issued at the beginning of October.

We are not particularly happy with HART controlling this process, but we are not sure what the alternative is.

The article tells us that this is part of TBX, and it is, sort of, but only because FDOT did this:

TBX came under fire by critics who argued it was a close-minded, roads-only approach to solving congestion. They also complained the project’s 91 miles of tolled express lanes will do little to solve congestion, while instead demolishing homes and businesses in neighborhoods where residents will reap the least benefit.

To answer those concerns, FDOT included funding for a feasibility study in order to take steps toward improving transit. The plan also includes a “footprint” for future premium transit options by building a foundation for light rail across the Howard Frankland Bridge and securing right-of-way in other areas.

In other words, FDOT (and probably local officials) is trying to buy off opposition to TBX by having a preliminary study of transit.  The study was not really part of the original TBX plan.  And the only reason it is part of TBX is because FDOT says it is.  The study could have happened without TBX. (In fact, it should have happened before the highway plan was made – to have a coordinated, rational system rather than spend billions on roads and not address other needs.)  Moreover, it is entirely possible that the study will just be a waste of time:

Once the feasibility study is complete, the next step requires a Preliminary Design and Engineering study that could cost anywhere from $2 million to $7 million. HART would ask the state legislature to help fund that portion of the process. That study would take about two to two and a half years to complete.

In other words, the two stages will take 5 years to get anywhere useful, and there isn’t even a guarantee there will ever be a step two.  Local officials should make sure they get step two funding before saying a highway plan is ok at all (of course, parts of TBX need to go).  We need a comprehensive, coordinated transportation plan, which is not TBX.  Though we are not going to hold our breath.

– Fare Warning

Speaking of HART, the regional transit fare box idea suffered a slight setback:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority was not on the list of agencies awarded a prestigious federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant this year. The miss means the agency will have to identify alternative funding for a regional fare box system being spearheaded by HART.

The regional fare box system is aimed at making it easier to pay for rides on public transportation by creating a uniformed payment mechanism across the region in five counties. The system would allow users to pay with a smartphone or a digital fare card.

The TIGER grant wasn’t the only source of funding identified to pay for the system. HART will use a $1.9 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation and another $250,000 buy-in from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. Another $3.6 million will be split by HART and its counterpart across the Bay, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Despite losing the grant, HART will continue to move forward with the plan and identify other ways of footing the rest of the cost.

Which is odd, especially with this:

The news comes after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Eagan spoke with U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx earlier this month lobbying for the grant in a conversation Kriseman’s office described as “positive.”

Kriseman had a stake in the grant. While the regional fare system would be most often used on buses and trollies because they are the most prevalent modes of public transportation, it could also apply to the ferry service set to begin in November that will transport passengers between downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa. It’s a measure Kriseman has heavily backed.

This is the list of TIGER grants.  While they mostly seem to be about creating new kinds of connectivity through complete street ideas, it is a bit surprising that our area, working together, cannot get a little federal money for a regional transit project in an election year.  Makes you wonder.

– Come, Sail Away

Speaking of the ferry, there was some new regarding the St. Pete-Tampa ferry (as opposed to the South Hillsborough-MacDill ferry that the Port, among others, for whatever reason, has held up).

The Hillsborough County Commission gave its unanimous backing Wednesday to a project years in the making — a cross-bay ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

* * *

The $1.4 million pilot project still needs approval from the Tampa and St. Petersburg City Councils today and the Pinellas County Commission next week. But those votes increasingly look like a formality.

The ferry could start carrying passengers as early as Nov. 1.

“This is another thing we can use to showcase our community,” Murman said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman approached the County Commission about the cross-bay ferry in January. In a rare display of regional cooperation, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas gave Kriseman the green light to negotiate a deal to make it happen.

The Tampa City Council also approved.  As did St. Pete, leaving on Pinellas County.  Remember, this is the trial run of a ferry with some interesting service (see handy system map):

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

The agreement reached requires HMS Ferries to operate a minimum of two trips a day between the two cities and three trips on Friday. A one-way trip will cost $10 per passenger, though it may fluctuate depending on “market conditions,” the agreement said.

We are not sure exactly what the schedule will be, but $10 one way is not really that practical for a real transportation tool (if you put 4 people in a car and share gas and parking costs, the ferry becomes much more expensive, even if it is more fun).  We understand it is a trial of the service, but if people want it to become a functioning service that many people use, you have to make it reasonable to use.

We hope the trial is successful, but all the planning should be for moving residents – the tourists will use it anyway.  We don’t need another streetcar situation.

Cuba – Of Consulates

There was more Cuba news this week.  First, there was a group of Cuban officials touring St. Pete:

Tampa has the historic and cultural link to Cuba, but it might be St. Petersburg that lands the first Cuban Consulate in the United States in more than five decades.

Alejandro Padrón, Cuba’s consular general from its embassy in Washington, D.C., and his second in command, Armando Bencomo, were in St. Petersburg on Saturday and took a tour of its real estate assets that was led by Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.

Such a tour did not take place in Tampa.

“They have some interest in our city and they want to get to know more about it,” said Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, which along with the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability sponsored the delegation’s trip.

“We are happy to help them learn what a great place it would be to have a consulate.”

Of course, they were not in Tampa.  Why “of course”?  The business community of both cities have been pushing for consulates.  So what is the difference?

Perhaps most importantly, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has established a personal relationship with the Cuban government through two trips to the island nation.

It is well known that the Mayor of St. Pete sees an opportunity to promote his city, which is important to convincing Cuba to put a consulate there, and the Mayor of Tampa, well . . .

Buckhorn is on vacation this week, but his views on the consulate and Tampa’s opportunities — and responsibilities — amid an opening to Cuba are well-documented. In essence, Buckhorn is not inclined to embrace more economic engagement with Cuba until the Castro government in Havana institutes democratic reforms and guarantees that its citizens have broader rights to speak their minds and dissent. He doesn’t oppose other people doing it, but he’s not taking part himself.

This puts Buckhorn, a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, out of step with much of the bay area’s business and political establishment, which is organizing itself to chase opportunities in Cuba.

It is, however, consistent with Bob Buckhorn being Bob Buckhorn. One of the mayor’s core political principles is that he does not turn his back on his friends. And over three decades in Tampa politics, Buckhorn has worked hard to build friendships with Cuban families in West Tampa who suffered when Fidel Castro came to power.

If you say so.  What does he say?

Buckhorn — To say that I’m not engaged isn’t an accurate statement. I’m not for it and I’m not against it. I’m not advocating in Washington D.C. against us getting it, nor am I advocating for us getting it.

I think that many of those are advocating for it have no appreciation for the experience of our Cuban citizens — zero — and look at it purely from economic terms as opposed to personal terms and the history of the Cuban people here in Tampa. And I’m just not going to be disrespectful of that. I am respectful of other people’s opinions. And as you have seen I have not gotten in the way of anybody else doing what they choose to. But just for me, personally, it’s just not an issue I’m going to weigh in on.

We are not sure he meant to say that in that way, especially the part about wanting a consulate shows no appreciation for the local Cuban-American community?  That is quite a broad statement and would necessitate him being against having a consulate, which is not exactly what he said. (And what does that say about the Mayor of St. Pete, the Congresswoman from Tampa, and much of the business community?)

We understand the concern over human rights and democracy.  We share those concerns, though past policy has not been exactly a resounding success in that area.  Moreover, it seems to us that his position is the worst of both worlds:  it neither promotes his city, area trade, and an opening of Cuba to American influence nor hurt the regime at all.  It just hurts Tampa.

Q — By not embracing more comprehensively the coming change.

Buckhorn — But I think you are seeing the port, the airport, obviously the aquarium’s down there doing some scientific (work). I think you are seeing some of the economic entities that would be on the front lines preparing for this. I don’t think having a consulate here makes one bit of difference in terms of our preparation for what eventually will happen. I mean, literally, we have consulates here anyway. Certainly it’s nice. But it mainly processes visas and travel requests. It’s not an economic engine unto itself. … It’s more symbolic than substantive.

Actually, a consulate makes a big difference for a place like Tampa that is trying to emerge from the shadows of other cities.  It creates a substantial connection to a Latin American country and makes us a main gateway to Cuba, which, right now, we are not from our Port (where basically nothing is happening regarding Cuba).  Nor does it not help the airport, which got the flight but has to fight through all the hubs.

Q — Like you say, the port, the airport, Florida Aquarium, the Chamber of Commerce — basically everybody in town’s working on this except for you.

Buckhorn — My input one way or the other is not going to have any difference on whether or not they relocate the consulate. I do think change is coming.

We never thought we would see the day that the Mayor tells us he is Mr. Irrelevant, but there you have it.

Still, one longtime activist said recently, Buckhorn’s focus on the past does not work in his city’s favor.

“You’re not going to undo what’s already been done,” Tampa attorney Dario Diaz said. “There’s going to be more trade. There’s going to be more freedom to travel. If we don’t participate in that, we will be harmed by the people that are willing to participate. For Tampa’s sake it’s better to reach out to make friends, make alliances because if not somebody else will.”

Exactly. And the efforts and comments of the Congresswoman from Tampa notwithstanding, the Mayor’s position does not help.

Transportation – Ugh, More PTC

As if this can never end, the PTC is still a ridesharing mess:

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission will discuss whether to enact a set of “emergency rules” regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft during its Rules and Policy Committee meeting set for Tuesday morning. The recommended temporary rules were suggested by an incoming TNC, DriveSociety.

Uber sent an email to PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream and the group’s attorney Cynthia Oster opposing the measure. The letter alleges DriveSociety proposed the regulations “apparently with input from the taxicab industry and PTC staff.”

Setting aside that the Executive Director still has not made good on his promise to leave, it would not be the first time the PTC worked up regulations with input from the cab companies. (see electric shuttles downtown) In any event, the PTC decided not to adopt the rules.

But there is a bigger issue, as the Times contradictorily tells us:

The PTC, which regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxicabs and limousines in Hillsborough County, has ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers for not carrying commercial insurance and operating as a taxicab without a permit.

An appeals court is expected to rule in a case brought by Uber on whether the agency has the authority to regulate rideshare firms. 

In other words, the PTC says it regulates ridesharing companies, but it is not clear if it actually does (though, since the PTC should not exist anyway, it shouldn’t).  And, in any event, the PTC still raised the fines for ridesharing, to show their goodwill in negotiations with ridesharing companies and to show their goodwill towards consumers who really like ridesharing:

The new fines would raise the penalty for drivers from $700 to $900. The rideshare firm would also be fined $400 for allowing the operation of a vehicle without a permit, a $200 increase.

The fact is that the PTC has shown itself to be an unreformable dinosaur that is unable to deal with innovation and does not care about the consumers.  Every week brings just another reason to abolish it.

Rays – Pinellas Push

It appears there is a push underway regarding Pinellas locations for the new rays Stadium, at least at the Times.

With a list of 17 possible locations for a new baseball stadium, Pinellas County leaders can now deliver a pitch to keep the Tampa Bay Rays from fleeing to Hillsborough County.

Except many of those possible locations have poor access (one even has a different development proposal already). But 17 is a bit much:

On Monday, Pinellas County commissioners received information on seven St. Petersburg sites that were added to the list of 10 county sites released two weeks ago.

The seven St. Petersburg locations released Monday include Albert Whitted Airport, Al Lang Stadium, Bridgeway Acres Landfill and Carillon Town Center. The others are a former sod farm owned by Jabil Circuit, the Toytown property near Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard and Snug Harbor, 39 acres off Gandy Boulevard.

Downtown St. Pete really does not solve any of the Trop issues. Carillon Town Center has been considered.  Toytown is interesting but the same basically as Carillon.

Then there is Snug Harbor,  which the Times featured:

The Snug Harbor site on Gandy Boulevard could be just the latest fresh face in a parade of locations discussed and dismissed since 2008, but it has some advantages:

At 39 acres, it’s large enough for a stadium and all the extras the Rays envision. It’s owned by a local couple who wants to sell, which could simplify negotiations. The nearby roads are already slated for substantial improvements, easing access to the somewhat isolated property. It’s a natural stop for the proposed Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry, if that initiative ever materializes. It’s also in a county that has already reserved bed tax money for a new ballpark.

And, perhaps most importantly, the Rays are interested.

From the Times – click on picture for article

All that sounds interesting.  But there are a few issues.  First and foremost, there is only one real access road – Gandy.  That is not very conducive to big crowds or for people coming from much of the area.  Second, there is almost no likelihood of a real walkable, urban environment/business district around it (as opposed to some odd contrivance) – which was something the Rays wanted.

It is fine to do due diligence, but keep looking.

Gasparilla – Come Together

We have said for a while that the Gasparilla season is a bit long and uncoordinated and that is would be better if the time period for the events were condensed to give it greater effect.  Now there is a move to make at least parts of it more of one big event.

Starting in 2017, the Gasparilla International Film Festival and Gasparilla Music Festival will run consecutively, creating a 10-day-long arts event.

* * *

Gasparilla’s film festival is most affected by the collaboration, moving up its starting date nearly a month to March 2, while expanding from five days to eight, at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City. It’s followed by the music festival on March 11 and 12, on four stages at Curtis Hixon Park.

Officials for both festivals made clear this is a partnership between them, not a merger.

Which is really a step in the right direction.  There are a lot of parts to the Gasparilla season and they are best coordinated to maximize the brand and make it a real destination. They can stay technically different events but ideally they should be able to be packaged as one large, annual happening.

Hagan said at the commission meeting that Gasparilla is a strong brand, but “we’re not taking advantage of it from a marketing and tourism perspective.”

Combining the film and music festivals further positions Tampa as a cultural destination, where tourists can build vacations around events. Gasparilla International Film Festival president Rachel Feinman thinks Tampa is less crowded and more accessible to visitors than Austin and the like.

“For any people who have tried to travel to SXSW or any other international festivals, it can be very challenging,” Feinman said at the commission meeting. “There’s really an untapped opportunity for us to be seen as a cultural and arts destination.”

There is no question that making Gasparilla a week or two of events is better than having a few months of events.  We applaud the effort.

Downtown/Channel District – Wondering What You Call It, Cont.

Last week, we discussed the Times’ concern about what to call the Lightning owner’s project. (West Brandon is really growing on us).  This week, the Times’ resident curmudgeon had a column on the same topic and, actually came up with a name we really like:

In a nod to its nearby sometimes randy nightlife neighbor, Vinik might consider V-bor City.

While we doubt that will be the final name, it is definitely better than LoDo.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Are We Missing?

A few months back there was some discussion about attempting to get GE to move their HQ to Tampa.  In the event, they moved to Boston, but it serves as a learning experience.  Well, GE recently released plans for their new facility in Boston.  Here is something about their new HQ in Boston which should really teach everyone interested in economic development in this area:

From Architects Newspaper – click on picture for article

According to the release, the headquarters will include 1.5 acres of public space including an expanded harborwalk along Fort Point Channel; a coffee shop and a restaurant; a “maker space” for startups and students; lab space that will house six to 12 early-stage life-science companies; and an “Innovation and exploration center highlighting the past, present, and future of GE.”

A GE spokeswoman said the sloped canopy over the new building will serve to generate solar power. The headquarters will only have 30 parking spaces as a means of encouraging employees to walk, bike, or take public transportation to the site, according to the news release.

Yes, 30 spaces for an 800 employee campus.  Of course, that is an extreme example but, as noted on URBN Tampa Bay, companies moving HQ’s to urban locations (or at least transit connected/oriented locations) is now a normal thing.  (See here and also here)   Local officials (and others) can continue to push things like TBX (how useful is that with 30 parking spaces?) and hide from the comprehensive lack of real transit in this area, but without it (and much better walkable areas and truly connective bike trails) we are always going to be hamstrung in economic development efforts.

— Startup Power

CNBC had an interesting item of the startup scene in Portland (OR).

Le also cites quality of life and cost of living for her start-up as reasons to stay. “I firmly believe we have been able to accomplish a lot more as a result of having a lower cost of living and lower cost of square feet.”

Those factors are drawing other new companies to settle down in Portland as well. In 2015, venture capital funding hit $283.4 million, the highest level seen in five years, according to Dow Jones Venture Source, proving investors won’t shy away from an idea outside of major start-up hubs on both coasts.

But it’s not just start-ups calling the Rose City home. Established businesses beyond Nike and Adidas have laid down roots in and around Portland, including Intel and Airbnb. Data from the Kauffman Foundation’s metro area rankings for 2015 placed Portland and its surrounding metro area at No. 5 for established small businesses, with 1,113 small companies for every 100,000 residents in the city.

Google has said it may bring Google Fiber services to Portland in the future. The superfast internet has spearheaded entrepreneurship in other locations around the country, with innovators flocking to make use of the connection. Beyond tech and athletics, Portland has also become a hotbed for food and retail establishments, helping to bring new residents into town. 

Anyone who has watched Portlandia knows that Portland has a reputation for being a bit … unique.  However, it also has a reputation for being pretty, walkable, and easy to get around with great transit.  Add in lower cost of living than big tech hubs and being not that far (at least by air) from San Francisco and Seattle, and that make sense.

We can’t move our geographical location (though flights to Seattle and San Francisco are good), but we can do other things.  Our cost of living is low, but we are not walkable or easy to get around.  Our natural environment is pretty, but much of our built environment is not.  You cannot reach your true potential if you always settle for cheap and quick.  Quality matters, whether you like it or not.

— How to Plan

The next item was brought to our attention by URBN Tampa Bay. Denver already has a robust transit system, but it is focused on a downtown hub.  There is a move to plan how to get around the rest of the area (they are so far ahead of us . . .).  They are setting up a transit task force:

Denver’s first transit plan got off the ground Tuesday with the first meeting of the “Denveright” transit task force, a group of about 30 residents, advocates, public officials, and policy experts who will play a key role in shaping the future of transit in the Mile High City.

First, notice how they have a committee made up of more than just government officials (see TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough). They are establishing actual goals, identifying key transit corridors, looking at funding, and, most importantly, “creat[ing] a plan that gets people excited.”  Obviously, you don’t get buy in if people are not excited (see go Hillsborough).

And it should be noted, it is not supposed to be a plan to bulldoze neighborhoods, it is to fit in the footprint of the city.  Amazing what can be done if people don’t give up before even starting.

— Suburbs Can Work With Cities

Frankly we never thought we would point to Detroit as an example of what we should be doing, but then there is this (again, thanks to URBN Tampa Bay):

There was a time when Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson could appeal to white racial anxiety and do lasting damage to the Detroit region. It almost happened again last week when Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel nearly scuttled a vote on a regional transit tax that would fund a significant expansion bus and rail service.

Over the course of 40 years, 23 attempts to create a unified regional transit system had failed. Why would this time be any different?

Well, it’s looking more and more like the politics of the Detroit region have changed. Reversing course, Patterson and Hackel have reportedly reached an agreement to put the transit expansion measure before voters in November.

(You can read more here)

Regional action?  How novel.  Now we are not sure about how good their plan is and we are not sure it will pass.  That is not the point.  The point is that they managed to work together for a regional plan, where we have a hard time getting a plan in one county.

Roundup 7-29-2016

July 29, 2016

Contents

TIA – Now About That Flight to San Francisco

—  A Couple More

Economic Development – Window on the Tech Scene

Downtown – More on the Riverwalk Tower

Downtown – City Hall Parking Lot

Downtown/Channel District – Wondering What You Call It

Channel District/Ybor City – Gas Worx Lot is Sold

Transportation – Gandy Connector

Built Environment/Planning – A Look At the Suburbs

— What Will Temple Terrace Do?

Coming Out Watch – GOP Convention Edition

Economic Development – Another Burger Joint

Port – New Service

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Welcome to Denver

— Welcome to Austin

— The MARTA Effect

List of the Week

_________________________________________

TIA – Now About That Flight to San Francisco

As regular readers will know, we love the airport and the airport team.  We sing their praises quite often but kept saying we need a nonstop to San Francisco.  Well, no longer.

Hey, Tampa Bay! It’s here! Nonstop daily service to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) aboard United starting Feb. 16, 2017. Let’s go #TPA2SF! 

And, of course, the airport made a nice graphic:

From the Airport Facebook Page – click on picture for page

That is great. We are really happy that this gaping hole in our service will now be eliminated. (That is one more flight that the former Chairman of the Aviation Authority really pushed for that the airport got.)  There are a few more domestic destinations that we should get connected to, but this was the biggest.  May it be successful and expand to more than one flight.  Well done, airport staff.

Now, about that flight to Heathrow.

—  A Couple More

There is also more service to announce.  First, kind of out of left field,

WestJet announced its winter 2017 flight schedule Monday, and there are a few additions of interest for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Starting in April 2017, WestJet will offer a weekly direct flight from St. John’s to Tampa, Florida.

See also here. And Spirit is going to add an Akron/Canton flight.

Economic Development – Window on the Tech Scene

Speaking of the Tampa-San Francisco flight, the Times had a column about how the growing tech community here helped make the flight happen.  And that is true, though there are other factors.  Nevertheless, the column had some interesting points:

A decade ago, it was a widely cited woe here that busy Silicon Valley venture capitalists (VC) looking for fresh companies to invest in would never visit any U.S. city not reachable by a nonstop flight. That left one-stop Tampa Bay on the outs for years and made that “one-flight” VC lamentation part of this area’s entrepreneurial culture.

Today, VC funding of Tampa Bay companies is improved, if still lean. Nor does a nonstop flight to San Francisco mean VC funding is about to flood this market. While Orlando has enjoyed nonstop flights to San Francisco on United and Frontier for some time, its startup community is not flush with VC money.

A flight does not hurt the ability to get VC money or some talent, but it is no guarantee of getting it either.  The most realistic assessment in the article was given by a relatively regular commenter to Tampasphere:

Serial entrepreneur and area startup adviser Joy Randels praises the nonstop connection, saying it “eliminates the all-day travel excuse” for venture capitalists out west and “puts us on par with Boston and NYC as well as Miami for travel time.” Local tech companies also gain easier access to the West Coast for customer acquisition and partnership opportunities — key factors, she says, to help companies here grow and then stay here.

“We have an incomplete cycle here,” says Randels. “To build a great startup ecosystem requires companies at all stages, combined with great engineering and design talent as well as capital. You have to be able to start a company and have it move through growth to acquisition.”

The nonstop San Francisco flight is no cure-all. But Randels’ vision is more likely to materialize as Tampa Bay and Silicon Valley/San Francisco start to enjoy easier access with one another. A TBTF survey released last week found that the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area is home to one out of every 94 U.S. tech workers.

That is the bottom line (though we would prefer to see local companies grow, then acquire rather than be acquired).  The flight is not a panacea, but being connected to prime areas of influence and capital is necessary to truly grow our economy.  And being connected to the West Coast is not just about the West Coast, it is about making it easier to get to Asia, too.

On the other hand, there still is much work to be done in the tech sector locally – including, but not limited to, all those things needed to create an environment where the talent wants to live, stay, and invest.  Enjoy the flight. Celebrate for a short period.  Then get back to work.

Downtown – More on the Riverwalk Tower

While those who care about such things are quite eagerly awaiting some preliminary renderings of the proposed Riverwalk Tower on the old Trump Tower site, there was an interview in the Business Observer with the developer that had some interesting items.

What’s the status of Riverwalk Tower?
We closed and obtained title to the property in November 2015, after a long and extended contract that we’d negotiated in 2014, so we’re moving ahead and pleased that we were able to lock in our costs of land at a good price. Since that time, we’ve committed to a full-blown architectural and engineering process, right down to hiring a parking consultant and conducting a wind tunnel analysis.

We’re now in design development, which means we’re holding weekly meetings involving some 50 people at this point. The architectural designs are stunning, and they’ll live up to the expectation we promised, which is to change the skyline of Tampa. If all goes well, we expect to break ground on or before April 1, 2017 and deliver in the first half of 2019.

That would be great – and quite accelerated.  Moreover, regarding not waiting around, he said this:

Sure, only a fool would take two years to assemble land for a building, spend another year designing it and then another two years constructing into an uncertain economy. But we won’t be sitting and trying to get the last rent dollar.

We’re not waiting on any pre-leasing. We think the best way to lease the building will be to open it. Parking is also a big obstacle for many, but we’ve arranged for off-site parking to offset the overall parking scarcity downtown. 

Finally,

What’s the most encouraging thing you see that could boost the project?
The more density to come to downtown I think the better off we are. If you use Manhattan as a model and a comparison, there’s no denser place in America, yet they have the highest rental rate on a per square foot basis. Every building built there seems to help the next building. Critical mass seems to be counterintuitive to success, but it helps. We want to see Jeff Vinik succeed, we want to see the city succeed. We want to see more development, because it’s good for everybody.

Indeed, critical mass is important.  For real success in an urban environment, there has to be a full walkable/transit environment that makes people really want to be there and be able to envision living there.  At some point, when you get enough density, it creates its own demand.  (We are not really there yet, but you don’t get there by not building.)  On the other hand, if you do not have proper transportation, density starts to repel demand because people do not want to waste time dealing with all the congestion.  That is the challenge (and, once again, TBX does not really do anything about that.  Even if it gets people downtown, it just dumps them onto an ever constricting grid.)

In any event, we are very interested in this project and look forward to seeing how this project turns out.

Downtown – City Hall Parking Lot

And while the observation regarding critical mass is true, we wonder about this:

The city of Tampa is calling on firms to submit development proposals for one of the most prime real estate lots in downtown.

The city released requests for proposals Friday on the property just north of Jackson Street known as the City Hall Parking Lot.

Proposals are due to the city Sept. 9.

The RFP doesn’t specifically list criteria for development, however it does stipulate that plans must include at least two floors of parking with about 200 spaces that would be owned by the city of Tampa for use as pubic parking. The RFP states “additional public parking as part of the development is strongly encouraged.”

You can see the actual RFP here.

Once again, we wonder why the City is getting rid of this land now.  Sure, it is a nice location.  As noted, there are all sorts of private projects planned for downtown that will fill a lot of surface parking lots. And there are a lot of land owners banking their surface parking lots and not developing them. (See URBN Tampa Bay’s excellent write up on the real state of parking in downtown.) Why not hold onto the City land until all that gets built?  It will only be a nicer location and more valuable. Moreover, there is does not appear to be a need to stimulate development downtown with all the big projects that have already been announced.  And the land may be needed for some City facility in the future.  Why get rid of it now? (It makes one wonder whether there already is a plan for the land.)

Downtown/Channel District – Wondering What You Call It

Speaking of private projects downtown, this week, the Times became very concerned about the name of the Lightning owner’s project (See here and here).

As the Times‘ Justine Griffin reports, Vinik’s big real estate venture has yet to be named. (Though one would assume a snappy moniker would be valuable for getting people who live here behind it.) The generic “Vinik project” seems to chafe some involved who think any reference should represent both Vinik and Cascade Investment, which formed the developer Strategic Property Partners, or SPP.

The Vinik Cascade SPP Project?

Yawn.

To his credit, Vinik was not enamored of the unsolicited early nickname Vinikville. But over those University Club power lunches with that million-dollar high-rise view of what he will one day have wrought, people have to call it something. It’s like your neighbors brought home a new baby but hadn’t gotten around to that whole naming thing. Awkward.

Our opinion is that they are not building anything right now so it doesn’t matter if they don’t have a name.  And even when they do build something, we would rather a name form organically than be stuck with something lame or imported to try to make it sound like something it isn’t.  (Honestly, the Lightning owner’s team deserves props for not rushing out a name if they have not come up with a really good one.)  A Times columnist suggested a few (trial balloons, maybe?) names:

Worth actual consideration: Waterside, the Waterfront, Downeast and SoDo, as in south downtown, complementing the nearby Soho fun mecca on South Howard Avenue.

Not really, especially the last two. (If SoDo is ok, how about East Hyde Park or West Brandon? And why not reference Garrison somewhere since it was Ft. Brooke and the channel is the Garrison channel?)  And just using “water” does not make it inviting or good (though the “water” names are way better than the last two – and bland is better than silly).

We would be just as happy if they did not give it an overall name.  If they build a good project, people will still come, and they will call it something – namely downtown.  The quality of the project is most important (and the SPP team seem to really be focused on that, which is great).  The name is the least of our concerns.

In that vein, there were a few more tidbits about the actual project from the CEO of the development company:

At the event, Nozar talked in detail about the first phase of the project. He used Powerpoint slides to show the layout of the project. One map called for six separate residential towers, which Nozar said will range from studio apartments for millennials to “basically senior living.” All six towers on the map were clustered around what is currently Channelside Bay Plaza, a retail and entertainment center that Vinik already owns.

* * *

Nearly $35 million in roadway and infrastructure improvements is set to begin on Aug. 29, which is the first major step in preparing the 40-acre southeast corner of downtown for vertical construction. Building permits have not yet been filed and that date is subject to change. But SPP officials have already met with local subcontractors this summer.

The road work, which will widen sidewalks, change traffic patterns and add more on-street parking to the region, will likely be a 12 to 18 month process, Nozar said. The construction will be done in phases as to not affect day-to-day traffic in the area.

“We want to build as fast as possible,” Nozar said. He anticipates the project to be completely done by mid to late 2020.

That is a little vague to what exactly “the project” refers but it seems to mean all the buildings (assuming there is no recession) so we’ll just go with that for now, though 4 years for such a big project would be surprising.

SPP is expected to announce major tenants later this year, which could include a flagship for a second 400-room hotel the real estate company wants to open across the street from the existing Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. In addition, SPP is hoping to lure at least one major office tenant.

* * *

“We are designing the new hotel now and expect construction to start next year,” he said. Around that time Nozar said SPP will announce new branding for the project, which will include a name and updated images.

Now the Times can stop worrying about a name. As for the USF Med School:

The recently approved University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine is expected to host its first class of students in the spring semester of 2018 once the new facility is built downtown, Nozar said.

That is a year earlier than every other announcement (unless he meant spring of the 2018-19 academic year, which would be the previously reported 2019), so we’ll see about that.

Channel District/Ybor City – Gas Worx Lot is Sold

The property on which the proposed Gas Worx project was to be built has been sold.

Ybor City investor Darryl Shaw has paid $10 million for an industrial site that another Tampa developer once targeted for two high-rise towers.

Shaw bought the Gas Worx property — yes, it’s really spelled with an “x” — from Tampa Electric Co. late last month, according to Hillsborough County property records.

The 7.6-acre site lies between Ybor City and the Channel District, and is on the other side of the Nick Nuccio Parkway from the Tampa Park Apartments, a much discussed possible site for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.

* * *

Tampa economic development official Bob McDonaugh told the City Council that Shaw has indicated he doesn’t have a plan for the property now.

Still, the Gas Worx site is the latest addition to a growing real estate portfolio for Shaw, the CEO of BluePearl Veterinary, a Tampa-based company with emergency animal hospitals and specialty veterinary clinics nationwide.

Last October, Shaw’s business partner, home builder Ariel Quintela, said the two men were looking to invest up to $34 million at five different locations in Ybor City — and that didn’t include the Gas Worx.

Just another reason that the City should not be selling off its land (and note it sold already agreed to sell Ybor land to this developer).  There is private land with active private developers that still has to be built on.

Setting that aside:

Ybor City business leaders are encouraged that the Gas Worx property drew a buyer with an appreciation for the architectural essence of the historic district.

“If we can start off on that corner and get a developer that wants to do something that’s reflective of the character here, other people will, too,” said attorney Walter Aye, the immediate past chairman of the nonprofit Ybor City Development Corp. “I think Darryl Shaw is somebody who’s showing himself to be a pretty good citizen and a pretty visionary type of developer.” 

The reality is that this property is very important in connecting the urban core.  But it is not in Ybor, it is near/next to Ybor.  There is no reason it should be constricted by Ybor design standards. It can draw on some of the vernacular, but we hope it is a more intense multi-use project than the standard Ybor project.

It will be interesting to see what is proposed.

Transportation – Gandy Connector

There is more support for the Gandy Connector:

The Brandon Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the 1.6-mile elevated toll road. The planned expressway would run above the existing Gandy Boulevard and could serve as a key timesaving route for people looking to skip the stop and go local traffic along Gandy Boulevard between the bridge and Dale Mabry.

Which is not surprising at all.  Why shouldn’t they support it? Then the Business Journal reprises this attempt to tie it into the TBX issue:

The Selmon Extension will be a tolled route. Toll roads have become a hot button topic throughout the region as the Florida Department of Transportation moves forward with its controversial Tampa Bay Express project, or TBX. That plan includes a massive system of tolled express lanes critics say only benefit the very well off.

However Selmon Extension supporters say the project provides a key emergency route. The lanes can be used during mandatory evacuations. All of the express lanes could be shifted to Eastbound lanes to get people in Pinellas County inland without clogging Gandy Boulevard.

Regardless of controversy, the Selmon Extension has not received the same high-profile critique as TBX. That could be because of cost. The Selmon project will be bonded at $191 million while the entire TBX project is expected to cost as much as $6 billion.

Or it could be because 1) it does not involve express lanes that push traffic out of the toll lanes onto free lanes and surface streets (in fact, the Gandy Connector is to take traffic off surface streets), 2) it does not go through residential areas or really require condemnation of property, and 3) it is a necessary connection that fixes a gap in the highway system that never should have existed. They are completely different projects.

Built Environment/Planning – A Look At the Suburbs

There is lot of talk about Millennials wanting to live in urban areas.  That is usually considered in the “urban core” of a city.  But that is not necessarily so. URBN Tampa Bay found an interesting article from realtor.com about suburbs that attract Millennials:

It’s what passes for conventional wisdom these days (along with “lying is the new truth-telling” and “kale is cool”): Millennials are drawn to the excitement and possibilities of big-city living the way luna moths are drawn to floodlights. The fusion food trucks! The underground EDM shows! The hipster pingpong bars! It’s no wonder they overwhelmingly prefer the glitz of metros to the nation’s sleepier, strip-mall-laden small towns and suburbs.

Or do they?

Like much conventional wisdom (e.g., “kale is cool”), it’s not entirely true. It turns out that more and more younger folks don’t really mind moving out of those super-duper-expensive city centers to the less expensive burbs—provided those smaller towns look and feel much like the cities they’re leaving behind, especially where it matters most. Increasingly, suburbs are catering to younger constituents with top-notch shops, lively drinking scenes, cool and innovative dining options (far beyond a McDonald’s drive-through window)—and, perhaps most importantly, lots of sidewalks and bike lanes and trails.

In fact, the more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly a small town is, the more desirable it will be for potential buyers and renters, experts say. And the more likely real estate prices are to rise, particularly when those brand-new subdivisions and fancy new condos come online.

For example, homes near walkable, and often bikeable, trails enjoy premiums of between 5% to 10%, according to an analysis by Headwaters Economics, a research group focused on community development and land management issues. Other surveys have put that percentage even higher.

“What’s happening is, a little bit of the city is following people into the suburbs,” says Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, DC–based land and real estate research and education group. “Almost all the successful suburbs are building walkable, mixed-use [i.e., a housing and shopping combo] centers.”

Frankly, it is pretty obvious that small towns can have urban amenities – that is the whole idea of “Main Street.”  Many older metro areas had major cities surrounded by smaller towns that eventually were connected.  Many of those towns were (and still are) very walkable (or bikeable) – especially some connected by rail to major business centers

The problem is that the Tampa Bay area has almost none of that (even in the near in suburbs).  Some developments try to fake that Main Street thing – like Wiregrass – or partially approximate it – like West Park Village with its land set aside for a train station and walkable neighborhood in a mostly unwalkable development. (And there are a few places like Dunedin where they are trying to revive the actual main street-like area.) But other than that, almost all of our suburbs are strip mall on arterial roads (which is what Wiregrass really is), sidewalks to nowhere, and (more Hillsborough than Pinellas, which has the Pinellas Trail) trails that are almost exclusively for exercise, not for connecting things.  Even most of the new developments that promise a small town feel actually have shopping centers with seas of parking near the entrance by arterial roads.

It can change, but there has to be a will to do so. This is just another example of the flawed planning in this area.

— What Will Temple Terrace Do?

You can see the issue clearly in the latest proposals for “downtown” Temple Terrace, which is actually on the edge of the town, but so be it.  Temple Terrace on 56th street actually has the potential to be quite walkable (it has the bones but not the flesh of a walkable area).  However, it is definitely not built that way now. Even so, Temple Terrace has tried for many years to get a “downtown” developed south of Busch/Bullard.  It is still trying.

City Council members must decide between two vastly different proposals — and offers — for the near 1.5-acre lot on the southeast corner of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street, the anchor for the Downtown Temple Terrace project.

Engineering and software development firm Eriksson Technologies, whose plan for a six-story office building with retail shops on the first floor corresponds more with the council’s vision of its future downtown, has offered $250,000. That’s less than half the property’s value in the lower of two appraisals.

Florida Hospital is offering more than $2.3 million for 3 acres, including the corner lot and the lot south of it facing 56th Street.

Its plan for the downtown’s anchor is a free-standing emergency department and a medical office building next to it, which would have parking on the ground floor and offices on the second.

The emergency department would be a single-story building 18 feet high, with a glass-fronted lobby 30 feet high. An illuminated sign bearing the hospital’s business symbol will glow above the entrance.

To sweeten the deal, the hospital has offered to contribute $100,000 for an elaborate gateway to Temple Terrace on Fowler Avenue, like the one at the south entrance to the city on 56th Street.

To us it seems clear: the Florida Hospital idea could go anywhere and can be accessed by anyone with a car (as will be the plan, anyway).  There is no reason to put it in this land.  But it is up to Temple Terrace.

The interesting thing is whether Temple Terrace will go for the quick money and poor design or less money with a better design to really push its favored concept.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that with the local cities barely walkable, it is not surprising that the suburbs are even worse.

Coming Out Watch – GOP Convention Edition

When the GOP convention was in Tampa, there was much talk about how it would be our coming out party and all the business benefits that would flow therefrom.  Whether that can be quantified or not, we are not sure.  Last week, the GOP conventions was held in Cleveland.  The Washington Post had an article on how Cleveland got the convention.

When selecting a site for the convention, Republican officials wanted somewhere with sufficient transit to avoid a repeat of the Tampa fiasco from 2012. There, the hordes of delegates and media descending on the city resulted in mammoth traffic jams and mass confusion. One night, delegates leaving the convention site at 11 p.m. — unable to find a bus — didn’t get back to their hotels until 3 a.m., according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Whether you agree with that assessment or not, that is an impression that those business targets apparently got.  Just another example of how our poor transportation system affects our image and ability to develop.  TBX express lanes (which will help create gridlock, especially when you pair it with road diets) and some bus service will not really fix that.

Economic Development – Another Burger Joint

There was news that Shake Shack is looking at the Tampa Bay area.

The biggest name in the burger business is rumored to be scouting the Tampa Bay region for potential restaurant sites.

Shake Shack (NYSE: SHAK) is targeting the area for at least one restaurant, according to real estate sources who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the deal.

It would be the first of the New York burger joint’s restaurants here. Shake Shack has two locations in Orlando and three in South Florida — in Boca Raton, Coral Gables and Miami Beach.

That last point tells you all you need to know – we are fifth or sixth on their Florida list, depending on how you count.  Anyway, where could they go?

There are a number of locations that could fit Shake Shack’s model in Tampa Bay, from downtown St. Petersburg to Ybor City to International Plaza’s Bay Street corridor. Hyde Park Village in South Tampa would be a natural fit, but that center already has a fast-casual burger concept — Richard Gonzmart’s Goody Goody, slated to open in mid- to late August.

Our money (if we put money on such things) would be on International Plaza (since they seem to like fancy-ish malls – you can see their location list here), but whatever.  It is a burger joint, and, while we like burgers, we just can’t get too excited about it. (Just like we are not really excited about Sprouts – note it went to Palm Harbor before south Tampa – though the actual redevelopment of the lot in south Tampa makes us happy).

Port – New Service

Good news from the Port this week:

Linea Peninsular, a Panama City-based shipping company, has inked a deal to begin a container shipping service between Mexico and Tampa, according to a news release.

The weekly, fixed-day service calls Port Tampa Bay every Tuesday to and from the ports of Altamira and Progreso in Mexico. The two-and-a-half day trip from northern Mexico and 2-day trip to the Yucatan peninsula offers a new option for delivering products from Tampa Bay.

The service will deliver container goods, including refrigerated goods, and can also accommodate breakbulk cargo.

Even if they use them, we doubt the real draw has much to do with the new cranes at the port, but we are happy for new service anyway.  We will not turn away new business. (Especially since another container line coming to Tampa seems to be having some issues) We just hope it is more container and less breakbulk cargo.

It is a start. We shall have to see what comes of it.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Welcome to Denver

For those trying to understand our competition, the New York Times had an interesting article on Denver (they had one on Nashville a few months ago) and how it draws Millennials.  You can check it out here.

According to a Brookings Institution analysis of population movement from 2009-14, the city had a net annual migration gain of 12,682 people ages 25 to 34, the highest of any metropolitan area in the United States. That means an average of 12,682 more millennials per year moved here than left, for each of the five years measured.

Similarly, an analysis of census data by Zillow, the real estate website, found that 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for 35 percent of the city’s population growth from 2010 to 2014, up from 26 percent in the first 10 years of the century.

While definitions of a millennial vary (a widely used one is someone born from 1981 to 1997), it’s clear that many of this generation are attracted to this city. One obvious reason is the economy: the city’s is healthy — and hiring. Development Research Partners, a local research firm, found that of the 1.6 million jobs in metropolitan Denver, about 33.2 percent were held by 19- to 34-year-olds.

* * *

The city scores highly in qualitative surveys as well. U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 Best Places to Live study ranked the city No. 1. Its proximity to outdoor recreation, a progressive mind-set and its walkability were all cited as factors.

Don’t forget, walkability requires real transit and proper planning. And don’t forget this:

One new idea, of course, was Colorado’s legalization of marijuana sales in 2014.

In any event, you can read the whole article. And then you can go read a New York Times article on hot cities, including Denver, from March, that tells us things like this:

“Opportunity is being driven by the digital economy,” said Zoë Baird, president of the Markle foundation, which recently began a pilot program called Skillful in Colorado to match employers and workers based on skills, rather than simply degrees. “That is where the job growth and economic growth is coming from.”

According to the latest figures available, the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood region had an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent, the lowest of any metropolitan area with a population above one million. (The national average was 4.9 percent in February.)

Which sounds exactly like what economic development officials keep seeking here.  So how did they get it?

Several measures helped things along. A new rail line that will connect the airport to the downtown and serve outlying industrial parks and a push to support cultural institutions “required people to vote to raise their taxes,” Mr. Clark of Metro Denver said. “This wasn’t something done by the elites.”

What Denver and its surrounding cities share with other boomtowns is an appealing environment for a skilled work force, which has increasingly meant the difference between prosperity and stagnation.

Such places have become business incubators and magnets for educated millennials. The lifestyles that 20- and 30-somethings often seek depend on a medley of urban living, public transit and lots of entertainment options (which in Colorado includes marijuana, legalized for recreational use since 2014).

But this is no secret.  It just gets done comprehensively in other places but only gets partially done (or not done) here.  There are many reasons for that, but key to it is our political DNA, which often worries more about posturing and who gets credit than doing the right thing.

— Welcome to Austin

We often note that Tampa too often settles, allowing suburban-ish development in the urban area (see Pier House and surface parking lots in NoHo Flats). Well,

Developers are proposing a two-tower mixed-use project in Austin’s Rainey Street area that includes a 60-story tower that, if built, would become Austin’s tallest building.

The Sutton Co. of Austin and Dallas-based Koa Partners are partnering on the project, which envisions a 60-story skyscraper that would have 440 luxury apartments plus office space. A second smaller tower would have 200 condominiums and 200 hotel rooms, developers say.

Austin’s tallest building is the 56-story Austonian on Congress Avenue. The Independent, a 58-story condo building dubbed “the Jenga tower,” broke ground in January.

An artist’s rendering shows a proposed mixed-use project in downtown Austin’s Rainey Street area that would have two towers, including one of up to 60 stories with 440 apartments plus office space.

The project is proposed on a 2-acre site that is currently home to the Villas on Town Lake, a 58-unit condominium project overlooking Lady Bird Lake.

This is what is there now:

From Curbed.com – click on picture for article

This is the plan:

From the Austin American-Statesman – click on picture for article

Will it get built?  We don’t know (nor do we know about most of the projects announced in Tampa), but that is the right trendline.

— The MARTA Effect

There is much talk about transportation oriented development and the value added on transit.  There is a recent study of MARTA’s effect in Atlanta that seems to support those argument:

Office space within a quarter-of-a-mile of rail stations in downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and Perimeter Center encompass a staggering 50 million square feet of space. The study found that rents for those offices trend higher than offices not proximate to rail stations.

The same holds true for apartments near transit, which boast rents 20-percent higher than those not within walking distance of a train station.

Indeed, it does.  And that goes to both economic development and the tax base.

List of the Week

We have gotten away from the List of the Week, namely for two reasons: 1) there aren’t that many interesting lists and 2) other local media has reported more on the lists, even if they do a lot of hyping.  Nevertheless, the Business Journal highlighted an interesting list this week: wallethub’s best and worst run cities.  You can get the methodology here.

As the Business Journal tells us:

St. Petersburg ranked highest out of all Florida cities surveyed at No. 48, with fairly similar ranks in Overall City Services (No. 51) and Total Budget per Capita (No. 54).

Tampa was the next ranked Floridian city at No. 100, with Overall City Services at No. 55 and Total Budget per Capita at No. 111.

Other Florida cities included:

That can be broken down further regarding city services:

St. Petersburg: Financial Stability: 35; Education: 116; Health: 97; Safety: 134; Economy: 21; and Infrastructure & Pollution: 26

Tampa: Financial Stability: 59; Education: 77; Health: 119; Safety: 75; Economy: 89; and Infrastructure & Pollution: 31

Do with that what you will.

Roundup 7-22-2016

July 22, 2016

Contents

Transportation – New Old Ideas

— And One More Thing

USF Med School – A Case Study

Regionalism – The Editorials

– A Little Something in Transportation

— And Then There’s Cuba

Transportation – Meanwhile, at the Airport

– More UK Flights?

— One More Thing

Transportation – The PTC is Back

Channel District/Bayshore – Updates

Rays – Pinellas Sites

Economic Development – Yeah, and . . .

Downtown/West Tampa – The Park

_____________________________

Transportation – New Old Ideas

When Go Hillsborough flamed out (twice) we noted that it was time for Hillsborough County to really get down to business and laid out some basic ideas: 1) see what money there is, 2) see exactly what needs to be done, 3) make a comprehensive, synchronized system in concert with the transportation studies that are to happen soon.  Since then, there has basically been crickets, until this week when we got an opinion piece from one commissioner – one who kept coming up with last-minute ideas that stood no chance of passing right before Go Hillsborough died.

Now is the time to overcome Hillsborough’s transportation challenge. It’s time for leadership at all levels to answer the call. 

Basically right expect leadership is a function of things that are done, not position.  Setting that aside, the piece then has some boilerplate about bold ideas, before we get this:

To this end, I have put forward a proposal for a dedicated funding source I call “Transportation New Revenue Growth Funds.” These funds would commit one-third of new growth in property and sales tax funds each year to fund transportation.

The new funds would grow incrementally into the base funds available for transportation each year. This could generate approximately $1 billion over the next 10 years that would be a serious down payment for transportation funding. And this approach would still allow us to fund growth and essential government services like sheriff and fire operations. With the increase in property values as reported by the Tampa Bay Times recently, it makes sense to use these new revenues for our roads.

No exactly a detailed proposal in the opinion piece.  We think she means the idea of basically doing a countywide TIF.  That is likely to go nowhere fast.  Targeted TIFs make sense, but a countywide dedication to transportation seems to hamstring the county for too long in many ways, including this:

A proposal to pay for Hillsborough County’s vast transportation needs through tax revenue growth could hurt the county’s stellar bond rating.

That’s one of several red flags County Administrator Mike Merrill raised Wednesday as he introduced his recommended budget for 2017.

The $4.9 billion budget projects a $49 million jump in tax revenues without raising the millage, thanks to increasing property values and growth in the tax base.

In the past, the board has directed a chunk of that money toward the county’s reserves, which must remain at 20 percent of the general fund expenses to satisfy the bond rating agencies and earn AAA status, Merrill said.

But county commissioners have indicated they plan to allocate new revenues toward transportation. That decision was made in lieu of a half-cent sales tax hike, which commissioners twice rejected earlier this year.

Depending on how that is accomplished, it could funnel money away from reserves. By next year, without any new money for reserves, that would put Hillsborough below the 20 percent threshold.

And this is just one of the issues in the proposal. (Unmet needs of more development are another.  And there are more.)  The real point is that, while the County needs to figure out what money there is for transportation, that does not mean that the County needs to rush into unvetted proposals.  There needs to be a sober assessment of all potential sources of funding.  That may include some manner of TIF or it may not.  We know that some are wedded to sales tax.  Some are absolutely opposed to a sales tax.  At this point, neither position is correct.  We need a full accounting so proper decisions can be made. If that takes some time, that is ok.  It is better than three years of dithering to come up with nothing (and the required transportation studies will not be done for a few years anyway.)

In any event, then the opinion piece gives us this:

The comprehensive Go Hillsborough process used community input to set a priority list of transportation projects that were approved by the County Commission. Although its proposed funding source of new taxes was rejected, and rightfully so, the proposed new revenue growth provides a dedicated revenue stream for transportation growth. Now we need leadership and teamwork to get the job done.

At the same time, the Florida Department of Transportation has funded a premium transit study/plan and a Tampa streetcar plan that will be completed within the next 24 months. They also have had conversations with CSX as they consider alternative forms of transportation.

As these long-term plans are completed, they should be integrated with the Go Hillsborough project priority list to create a comprehensive, multimodal plan that connects Hillsborough and its cities to the region. When FDOT’s comprehensive transportation plan is done in the next 24 months, we will have the opportunity to go back to the community to seek support for options to fund the plan.

Um . . . no. Aside from the sales tax, Go Hillsborough had numerous problems.  Let’s make a real plan rather than just fund a half of a half plan appended with some half idea which all ignores the TBX elephant in the room (amazing how the County Commission just ignores TBX) and all the transit studies. (And we need to know how much CSX may cost.)

It is definitely time to take stock of what we need and we have to pay for it – so kudos for that.  However, it is not time for gimmicks and the same old, same old.  And it is not time to rush into something that may be even more damaging.  Finally, all this would be much better done at a workshop than in the newspaper looking very much like a campaign ploy.

— And One More Thing

If you are like us, you have probably noted where the closest fire station is to your house . . . just in case.  And you probably thought, ok, that is close enough to get to me in case I need it.  Well, recently the Times had an article about EMS trucks in the County that got us thinking.

According to Jones, the vehicles cost about $300,000 but they require more than $1 million a year to staff and equip. Due to the expense, only 15 of the county’s 43 fire stations have advanced life-support trucks.

Fire Station 2 at 6726 Lithia-Pinecrest Road is among them. It received its truck in 2014 after 15 years of lobbying by the community. Residents argued that the vehicle is critical to saving lives in this rural, farflung section of the county stretching east to the Polk County line and south to the Manatee County line.

All fire stations in the county have fire engine companies manned by paramedics and equipped with emergency medical equipment, but they can’t transport patients to the hospital. Instead, they must wait for an advanced life-support truck.

So you will get help, but you might not get that trip to the hospital as quickly as you thought you would.

Chief Dennis Jones, appointed Hillsborough County’s top fire-rescue official a year ago, said he’s trying to maintain life-saving rescue services without busting his $145 million annual budget.

“It’s been very difficult to keep up with the growth,” Jones said, adding that county fire-rescue has seen a 24 percent increase in calls since last year. “We need a lot more units than we have now.”

Just one more thing the County has not properly provided (how does this not fall into the impact of development?).  And where will they get money for that, too? (Not to mention that services such as this are also easier to provide in non-sprawling neighborhoods, where stations can cover more people) It is time for a real, adult discussion of what the County is spending money on and where that money needs to go. All the more reason not to jump into TIFs right now.

USF Med School – A Case Study

The Times ran an interesting pair of items, one article and one editorial, on the USF Med School.  First, there was a fluffy article that we will not cover too much:

School leaders are designing a new downtown Tampa campus, a 11-story tower that will feature state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories.

Applications are up from about 3,900 to about 6,270, as are accepted students’ scores on the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT.

And the school recently jumped to 63rd from 79th in the annual U.S. News and World Report ranking of best medical schools for research.

But Lockwood isn’t satisfied. He’s moving ahead with an ambitious agenda that he hopes will transform the school into a world-class institution.

“When we hit the top 20, I’ll accept congratulations,” he told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week. 

Fair enough.  The only thing of real note in the piece is this:

The $152 million project is expected to be completed by September 2019.

Remember, they are still designing it.

Now on to the editorial that speaks to a new mission for CAMLS – teaching students.  We are fine with that, but more interesting to us is this:

CAMLS opened in 2012 with the medical school dean at the time promising it would “reinvent the nation’s health care.” That never happened; its finances faltered as other centers opened elsewhere to provide professional training in lifelike settings. USF now says the entrepreneurial business model was doomed to fail because the medical market changed before CAMLS even opened its doors. Now the center, which already provided access to USF students, will expand areas for students to train in a clinical setting, even as CAMLS pursues other paying business to make fuller use of its extra capacity.

The fact is that anyone who looked at CAMLS, really even before it opened (we waited to say something but did at the end of 2012, see “CAMLS”), could surmise it probably would not meet the hype if for no other reason than there would be competition from similar facilities planned around the country. But, as we have noted before, that is the Tampa way: hype something before it happens, have it not meet expectations, leave other to run around trying to fix it.  We have nothing against CAMLS, but we have something against the recurrent practice of over-hyping almost everything in this area. (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun” ) That is our political DNA.

We hope that the USF Med School is successful, as well as the Lightning owner’s project. But we also hope that the hype fest stops, though we doubt it will.

So if we are not as enthusiastic about big pronouncements, it’s because we have seen this movie before. Once again, there are many interesting proposals (though transportation is still a mess), but, as has been shown over and over, we should only celebrate in actual accomplishments, not proposals or projections.

Regionalism – The Editorials

The Times editorial page had a couple of interesting columns this week about regionalism.

– A Little Something in Transportation

It seems that the unified fare system for local transit is getting closer to reality.

The $12.1 million project is already in the works despite some uncertainty about funding. Bus riders will begin to see the rollout later this summer of pilot technology allowing payment via phone app. The state has contributed nearly $2 million to the effort. HART and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority together put in $3.6 million, and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority has kicked in $267,000. The remainder could be covered by a federal transportation grant. Eagan, along with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and HART chair Mike Suarez, spoke by phone this week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to make the case for Tampa Bay transit. The federal grant would certainly be welcome, and it’s a positive sign regardless that so many agencies and local governments are united around an effort that will benefit the entire region.

Unity has not always been the way on big-picture issues, and none is more pressing in Tampa Bay than transportation. The regional fare system is a small but important step toward making the entire area better connected, and the cooperation to make it happen is a hopeful sign that there will be more to come.

Yes, it is good, and it is small.  Hopefully, they will coordinate their schedules, too – and someday we will have one system or at least a truly overarching system that connect them all (like the other Bay area).  The reality is that this area is still far to balkanized when it comes to the big issues.  Maybe the unified fare idea is the beginning of something, though on past history, it probably is the something.  We shall see.

— And Then There’s Cuba

Then there was an editorial regarding recently approved commercial Cuba flights:

It is heartening to see the Tampa Bay region come together for a cause and win, as happened this month with the announcement that Tampa International Airport will likely host daily commercial flights to Havana as early as this fall. The list of those who should take a bow is long. It includes more than 30 local people and institutions who wrote letters this spring to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the estimated 6,000 people who signed a petition.

But the campaign to win the flights was built upon broader local efforts that were years, even decades in the making, aimed at improving relations with a nation isolated from the United States but whose people never lost sight of their connections to Tampa.

Behind these efforts were people like Al Fox and his Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation; U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat who has the ear of the White House on Cuba relations; and Steve Burton, the late chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, who pushed for expanding international flights.

Indeed, and some others not mentioned.  And there is more:

But the campaign to win the Havana flights confirms that people on both sides of Tampa Bay see opportunity in Cuba. Many of the letters to the Transportation Department were submitted through Tampa International Airport and contain identical language as their argument. It starts with this: “Tampa Bay’s ties to Cuba date back to 1528 when the Narvaez expedition traveled from the island to what is now St. Petersburg, Florida.”

Pinellas County interests are well represented in the letter campaign, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Eckerd College. They share the boilerplate language with Hillsborough interests such as Port Tampa Bay and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Kriseman has also taken a lead role in the campaign to leverage the region’s Cuba connections by visiting the island nation, meeting with its officials, and wooing Southwest Airlines. There is no corresponding letter of support from Tampa’s No. 1 booster, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has embraced distant Switzerland, Panama and Germany as Tampa International launched new nonstop flights but somehow can’t get over the dictatorial rule in Cuba and “our friends and neighbors in Tampa who lost everything to Castro.”

Maybe Buckhorn should come around, as many of those friends and neighbors have, to Obama’s argument that opening rather than closing ourselves to this island just 90 miles off Florida’s shore promises better results in the drive to bring freedom and a better life to its people.

Yup.  We get that there are people who have been very harmed by the present government of Cuba.  But the reality is that trade is opening regardless of what anyone here does or doesn’t do, and we should not cut our noses to spite our faces.  Someone is going to get the flights, the trade, the port business, the consulate.  Why not us?  Why should it go elsewhere?

At least, most of the region gets it.

Transportation – Meanwhile, at the Airport

Speaking of Cuba flights, let’s take a look in at the airport, a facility in which almost everyone around the area (rightly) takes pride.  The Times had an article updating the construction of the rental car facility, Sky Connect people mover (aka train), and expansion of the main terminal.  You can read the whole article here. We just want to highlight one thing, which goes to a point about the airport that we have made before:

More than 20 new restaurants and retailers will open in the airport by the end of the year, including local favorites like Goody Goody, Kahwa Coffee and the Cafe at Mise en Place. More will open next year and in early 2018. By then, the new people mover and rental car facility will be open, freeing up new parking space in the airport’s longterm parking garage and offering a wider array of rental companies for travelers to choose from. By moving the rental car companies out of the longterm garage, airport officials estimate it will take 2.7 million car trips off airport roads and eliminate congestion at the main terminal. 

The relevant thing here is to note how many trips short, limited proper transit (with a decent level of service and frequency and proper design of the built environment to make use of it) can take off the road – and, everyone who has been to the airport knows, how willing people are to use the train (and how much more they like it than the bus to the economy garages). Yes, to some degree it is a captive market, but it still proves the concept.  It still works and no one complains. – in fact, the area celebrates it.

And this:

The airport is expected the stay under budget by the time the work is completed at the end of next year. Airport officials have budgeted up to $971.9 million for the project, and current estimates run around $956.4 million. That’s up from the $953 million estimate reported a few months ago. 

In other words, it is a (partially) transit project coming in under budget. This area can learn many lessons from the airport about how to run a public facility, how to plan ahead, how to market, and also about how transit can work (and has worked for decades).

– More UK Flights?

There was a Business Journal report had some interesting news:

Leaders of Tampa Bay’s tourism industry are in London this week to bolster the region’s attractiveness to British tourists and possibly increase flights between the United Kingdom and Tampa International Airport.

Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Executive Director David Downing and Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, along with the airport’s director of marketing Chris Minner, met with representatives of British Airways to discuss opportunities to build further on the Tampa Bay region’s strongest international market. They also met with Virgin Atlantic to discuss the potential for new nonstop flights to Tampa Bay.

We know that the airport folks are always looking for more flights including from the UK and elsewhere.

In Pinellas County, British tourists represent an economic impact of $1.6 billion and 10 percent of all overnight visitors. For the last calendar year, the county hosted 660,000 overnight visitors from the U.K. St. Pete has been a favorite destination of British tourists for three decades.

In January, Visit Tampa Bay initiated its first major promotion in London.

“The United Kingdom has long been one of Tampa Bay’s most important source of international visitation,” Corrada said in an interview earlier this year. Approximately 17 percent of Hillsborough County’s 500,000 foreign visitors were British in 2014. That works out to 85,000 and they spend nearly $400 a day per visit.

London, Manchester, we don’t really care (though we would like Heathrow flights so connections to other locales would make more sense, like Lufthansa in Frankfurt).  However, do not necessarily expect anything to happen too soon with news like this:

Delta Air Lines has acknowledged it will cut a painful six per cent of its flights between the United States and Britain later this year because of Brexit and the slide in the value of the pound.

The giant carrier, which is based in Atlanta, made the announcement as it unveiled its latest earnings, which showed a 2 per cent drop in revenue across its network in the second quarter. Profits, however, were slightly ahead of expectations, in part thanks to low fuel prices.

“With the additional foreign currency pressure from the steep drop in the British pound and the economic uncertainty from Brexit, Delta has decided to reduce 6 points of US-UK capacity from its winter schedule,” the company, which holds a 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement.

But you never know.  We wish them luck.

— One More Thing

Daily service to BWI on Spirit begins in November.  The more the merrier.

Transportation – The PTC is Back

Fresh off not producing a promised deal with ridesharing companies (and one Commissioner not following through on recommending that the PTC be disbanded), the PTC is now moving to fine rideshare drivers more, even though whether it even has authority to fine them in the first place is before an appellate court.   Apparently, the PTC functions under the “better to say you’re sorry (especially when its other people’s money) than ask for permission” theory.  Not really the model of good governance.

In the meantime, back in the 21st century, PTSA is partnering with Uber:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority on Wednesday officially announced the name, launch date and details of a partnership with ridesharing giant Uber as well as the expansion of another.

The new partnership, named TD Late Shift, will offer late night and early morning rides to low-income residents in Pinellas County who have no access to personal transportation.

TD Late Shift offers free Uber rides for people who make $17,655 or less annually as a single person or $36,375 for a family of four between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Riders can use the service up to 23 times a month and have access to one subsidized daytime ride for qualifying circumstances for just $3. Situations that would warrant a reduced cost daytime ride would include things like a doctor’s appointment or picking a sick child up from school.

PSTA will also use United Taxi in the program as well as locally-based CareRide for disabled people.

And:

This isn’t PSTA’s first partnership with Uber. Earlier this year the authority partnered with Uber, United Taxi and CareRide to offer rides to and from the bus stop in Pinellas Park where first mile/last mile issues are particularly prevalent. Main bus lines there are often far from people’s homes. That program is called Direct Connect.

That program is expanding to 20 bus stops across Pinellas County. It offers half-price rides where PSTA will cover up to $3 of the total fare.

That seems a lot more productive than anything in Hillsborough County (and, notably includes Uber and a cab company). But, then again, though PTSA may be working on the first mile/last mile issue and letting lower income people get rides, Pinellas consumers do not have the benefit of the PTC.

Channel District/Bayshore – Updates

A couple of quick updates about projects in the area.  First, the Channel Club/Publix in the Channel District:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for facebook page

The developer of the project, Mercury Advisors, has started pre-construction work on the site, a vacant lot along Meridian Avenue, between Twiggs and Madison streets in the Channel district.

The pre-construction work includes tests and measuring to make way for a deep shaft foundation, said Ken Stoltenberg, principal of Mercury Advisors.

Stoltenberg said this phase can take four to six weeks, as the process is weather dependent. He said it was too soon to commit to a specific groundbreaking date

This has been threatening to start for years.  Maybe now is the time.  Many people are really interested because of the Publix (it can’t be for the pedestrian friendly design with awnings, especially on the west side), but we shall see. (And, while we are not big on rumors, there is a rumor out there that Encore still may be close to getting a grocery store.)

Then there is this about Bayshore:

The historic Colonnade restaurant on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa was nothing more than a pile of dirt and rubble Tuesday.

Demolition crews began breaking down the shell of the former restaurant, which was a Tampa staple for more than 80 years, over the weekend.

We’ll see how quickly that progresses, but there is much work to be done on that.

Rays – Pinellas Sites

Pinellas County, after talking to the Rays, has put together a list of potential sites in that county for a stadium.   We are not going to get too much into the list (which you can see here).   The few around the airport which are the most interesting in terms of being close to the middle of the market are also the most questionable because of height limits for a domed stadium (of course it will have a dome).  Additionally, basically all of the sites have a distinct lack of transportation connections – and we mean access from more than one major road/highway (though Gateway Express may change that for some).  Not to mention at least one having another project planned on it.

Anyway, due diligence is a good thing.

Economic Development – Yeah, and . . .

There are more businesses coming to the location where Bass Pro Shops is.

National arcade restaurant Dave & Buster’s this week filed a construction plan with Hillsborough County.

It will be located on a vacant six-acre plot next door to Bass Pro Shops in Brandon — another piece of the 150-acre development just west of Interstate 275 called The Estuary.

In addition, Carvana, a company that operates as an online used car dealership, will be building a facility within the Estuary project.

With the popular Topgolf facility and construction well underway for indoor skydiving center iFly, officials have painted the area as an entertainment destination for the Tampa Bay region.

And that is all nice, but taxpayers do not need to subsidize it.  As we have said all along, these companies would come here anyway.

“We don’t have anything like this in Hillsborough County,” said county commissioner Ken Hagan. “It fills a much-needed void in our community.”

Actually, there is an adult arcade in Ybor City https://www.gametimeplayers.com/ )though you can walk to and from it and it does not feature all the surface parking) and, while the car tower in the article is interesting, if not kind of tacky (though it would be a fitting symbol of the County Commission’s transportation policy):

From the Times – click on picture for article

Referred to as the “Amazon of car buying,” Carvana was found in 2013 and launched in Tampa earlier this year. A distribution center in Georgia stocks and delivers cars in its Florida markets, which also include Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville.

So, yea, we already have all this because this market is big enough to attract retail businesses without the government bribing them to come here.  And if they don’t want our business, so be it.  It’s a fine place, but how can a top 20 metro get too excited by Dave & Busters?

Downtown/West Tampa – The Park

Work began on the $35 million change to Julian Lane Riverfront Park.

“This place is historic ground, but this place is also hallowed ground,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a mid-morning ceremony to kick of 18 months of construction at the park, which is just across the Hillsborough River from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

It’s the biggest city project in West Tampa in decades, one that’s aimed at creating an urban park as active and popular as Waterworks and Curtis Hixon Waterfront parks.

Officials also hope a re-energized Riverfront Park will draw new residents and investment to 120 nearby acres they are calling West River.

We are not sure what that first line means, but the park could use some cleaning up (though not necessarily that much money and note how the price tag was originally around $20 million.). And, of course, TBX will just cut the north side of the park off from any development to the north even more than the interstate already does.  But anyway.

More interesting was the coverage.  As regular readers will know, one thing about the changes to the park we really don’t like is the removal of vertical element from the park, which make it a unique place.  Of course, now that construction is about to start, the Times finally gives us this (apologize but we quote at length):

‘Earth sculptures’

But to make room for the new amenities, the city will scrape the park bare of the defining features of the last big experiment there — the large earthen mounds, berms and swales designed by renowned New York architect Richard Dattner.

So instead of using ceremonial golden shovels to break ground on the project, Buckhorn got behind the controls of a trackhoe, its large bucket painted gold, to launch the project by digging into one of the mounds.

We are not sure why the Mayor has such animosity towards the mounds, but anyway, the architect is much more interesting:

“I have heard about the replacement project, and am sad to see my park leveled,” Dattner, known for creating unorthodox, rough-hewn spaces for adventurous play, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times before Monday’s event.

In the mid-1970s, the city brought in Dattner to do something creative at what was then a flat, featureless park. The project was being done as part of the Model Cities program created by former President Lyndon Johnson, but money was limited. Dattner said Tampa officials wanted the resulting park to draw together mostly black neighbors and mostly white downtown office workers on their lunch hour. At the same time, officials were concerned about visibility and safety within the park.

Instead of putting up new buildings, Dattner designed the park with a series of “earth sculptures” — exterior rooms, he said, that were “carved out of earth berms to preserve the entire park as a green, landscaped surface.” Enclosed within man-made hills of various heights were an amphitheater and adventure playground with a ropes course, tennis courts, outdoor pool, central courtyard and fountain, tennis courts, and storage space and maintenance offices under a circular landscaped berm.

To get people walking across the park, making it safer in the process, Dattner laid out two tree-lined diagonal promenades that cross at the center of the park.

Dattner said the most original idea at work was to treat the entire site as a large earth sculpture, not only creating a green park at a reasonable cost, but providing high spots in the park to give visitors good views of the river.

“On a flat site, despite opinions to the contrary, only people at the water’s edge can actually see the river,” he said. “The built park was beautiful. Kids loved the water fountain in the activity circle as well as the slide safely descending from the top of the highest mound — in kids’ imaginations a ‘mountain’ in overwhelmingly flat Tampa. On my few visits after its completion I found a diverse group of all ages enjoying the variety of activities purposely provided.”

In the years that followed, however, one of the mounds was bulldozed, and more conventional playground equipment replaced the forts. The shuffleboard courts and pool were taken out. It became a little-used space. Former Mayor Pam Iorio commissioned a study that recommended improvements such as new softball fields, but Buckhorn discarded that in favor of a complete do-over.

It’s too bad, Dattner said.

“It could have been treasured, maintained, and gently upgraded to meet current requirements,” he said, “rather than demolished — a landmark landscape gone.”

Setting aside the years of neglect, it could have been but that would not have fit the City’s current formulaic approach to park building (great lawn, history walk, splash pad, optional band shell) which, while providing some nice and popular features (we are all for the splash pads that kids love), is quite cookie cutter (yes, we know they are making a better boathouse, and we are fine with that but that does not require the vertical element to go.)

And, as we noted a few months ago, New York embraced vertical elements in a park on Governors Island (here and here) and San Francisco recognized the benefit of vertical elements. We had that idea decades ago on a smaller scale, but . . . nevermind.

In any event, we are all for fixing up the long neglected park.  Too bad it is not going to be done more creatively and with respect to uniqueness history as a park.  And too bad that, for no good reason, kids (and adults) will no longer have a unique view of downtown and the river.

Roundup 7-15-2016

July 15, 2016

Contents

Transportation – FDOT MO

— And One More Thing

Port – Walking It Back

Downtown/West Tampa/Tampa Heights/Channel District – Talking Projects

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

— One More Thing

Bayshore – Some More Details

West Tampa – Generic

Ybor City – New and Old

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

— Bigger Win

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

– Don’t Go Planning for That Autonomous Experience Quite Yet

– What Transit Needs

____________________________

Transportation – FDOT MO

We weren’t going to write anything about TBX for a bit (it is almost as tedious a subject as Go Hillsborough or the PTC), but there was a great find by URBN Tampa Bay regarding the Pensacola Bay Bridge and the threats made by FDOT because people there actually wanted to find out about a project in their area.  (Note, the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement, which costs about as much as the Howard Frankland replacement, will not have any tolls – unless  . . .). The URBN Tampa Bay write up is quite good, so we are not going to go into the specific article they reference.  However, the Pensacola News-Journal had another column regarding the same issue that said something we thought that applied equally to TBX, but before we get to that, how is this for local planning:

Several proposed designs for the new Pensacola Bay Bridge are in, but the public won’t have a chance to see them until one is selected, a spokesman from the Florida Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

The five firms in contention to design and build the $500 million, six-lane bridge submitted their proposals earlier this month and the department is reviewing them, FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter said.

The proposals were due by May 5, but remain sealed as they contain proprietary information that could be stolen by a competitor were they opened to the public, Satter said.

Because why should an area have a say in how it’s largest infrastructure is designed or looks? Though FDOT relented a bit and actually released some renderings a week after (tentatively, but actually) choosing the winner.

Anyway, to the main point, from the opinion piece:

What’s more big-government than a wildly-expensive state agency pushing its authority down onto local governments with threats to withhold their own tax money from them, lest they blindly accept it with all strings attached? You hate it when Obamacare does it. But you say nothing now that FDOT’s doing it in your own backyard.

Instead, our local leaders act like they’re scared of FDOT. Where’s the spine? FDOT isn’t supposed to wield power and authority. We pay their salaries. They work for us. And true Northwest Florida conservatives should be demanding they do so as pleasantly and efficiently as the staff at any given Chick-fil-A. “My pleasures” and all. (Mmm… waffle fries…)

Regardless of whether you think Obamacare is good or bad, the point is valid as applied to FDOT.  FDOT is supposed to work for us, not the other way around.  And our legislators are supposed to represent us and find out what we want, not force FDOT’s plan on us by allowing FDOT to threaten us.

The fact is that the entire process is upside down right now.  Plans are approved so there “can be a conversation.” But there is no conversation, and what motivation does government have to really have one? When TBX is approved by the MPO, FDOT gets what it wanted.  And local officials, relieved of having to deal with it and able to blame FDOT, tout redevelopment and insist we need proper transit at the same time they embrace a project that includes some good things (that could be done separately), but, as a whole, basically is a spine for sprawl and destructive to the very urban areas people keep talking about (see below), especially since there is no local plan for transit.

But setting aside the poor planning for a moment (on the evidence, even if local officials could plan, there is no guarantee it would be better), the thing that really gets us is the “take it or leave it” approach FDOT has taken, and the fact that our local officials and legislative delegation is silent on it (even if they like TBX, they should be, shall we say, correcting FDOT for making threats).

Remember, this is the largest swing area in the largest swing state in the nation and it is an election year.  Is it really the case that that fact can’t be leveraged to any better treatment?

— And One More Thing

And as our local officials’ actions keep us a car dependent area for the foreseeable future, the Times reported this:

A new analysis from Bankrate.com found that a median-income household could not afford the average price of a new vehicle in any of the 50 largest cities in the country, though cars are more affordable in some cities than others.

“The new reality is that cars are becoming more expensive,” said Steve Pounds, a personal finance analyst for Bankrate. “People are having to make tough decisions about financing.”

The average price of a new car or light truck in 2016 is about $34,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s in part because new cars are loaded with helpful but expensive safety features like collision-avoidance systems.

Bankrate calculated an “affordable” purchase price for major cities, using median incomes from U.S. census data, and factoring in costs for sales taxes and insurance. In San Jose, Calif. — the heart of Silicon Valley — the median income is about $84,000, and an “affordable” new car purchase price is about $33,000, which is close to, but still below, the average new car price.

You can see the full list here.

The affordable car price in Tampa was $14,469.48, which is 31st out of 50 (mainly because of our low wages).  Given that, 1) don’t we really need to focus on alternatives to roads and 2) who are those express lanes really going to serve?

Port – Walking It Back

For a while now the Port has been talking about how it is preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal and getting ready to exploit the changes.  We are all for building the container business, but there seemed to be a few obvious problems with the Port’s strategy – namely the Skyway is too short and the channel too shallow for Neopanamax ships (the big ships that can now use the canal) and the Port focused on being a spoke in a hub and spoke system meaning the expansion is not really relevant.  Nevertheless, the news coverage mostly just repeated the reassurances from the Port about how it was going to compete (and, make no mistake, we want them to compete).

A quick aside: this week, the first Neopanamax ship, the really big ships that can now get through the canal, went to Miami.

Now that the canal expansion has opened, the Times ran an article “Port Tampa Bay still finding its way as expanded Panama Canal opens.”    You can read the whole thing, but the basic thrust of the article is this:

After years of buildup, the widened Panama Canal opened last week but Port Tampa Bay still finds itself struggling to see where it fits in. 

How does that fit with this from the Port Director in 2014:

Tampa’s 43-foot-deep port, the deepest in Florida, can handle the ships likely to transit the expanded canal, Anderson said.

The next step will be installing two cranes in 2015 that can load and unload so-called Panamax container ships. Doing so will open Tampa to direct shipments through the canal, Anderson said.

At the moment, cargo on Panamax ships is broken down and reloaded onto small vessels in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic before arriving in Tampa.

The 2007 U.S.-Panama free trade agreement will help Tampa take advantage of the economic boom sweeping across Latin America, Anderson said.

“The growth potential is great,” Anderson said.

Setting aside that Miami is deeper now and everyone knew that Tampa would not be able to handle the biggest ships crossing the new canal, what happened? Or this from January 2016?

As the closest port to the newly expanded Panama Canal, its location in the middle of Florida and the Tampa region’s density of distribution centers along the Interstate 4 corridor, it makes “the most logical and logistical sense” for Port Tampa Bay to become a major destination for cargo ships coming out of the canal, Anderson said. With Manual Benitez, deputy administrator for the Panama Canal Authority in attendance, Anderson said there will be growth for retail and refrigerated cargo. 

About which we wrote the obvious, which you can read at “Port – Doing Ok, But . . .

In any event, this is what the Times told us this week:

To stand out, Port Tampa Bay spent $21.5 million for two post-Panamax gantry cranes to help grow its cargo container business. The port plans to start construction on a 130,000-square-foot cold storage food products facility that should be operational by next year. And officials are still trying to lure new car business from manufacturing plants in Mexico.

But the port has some stiff competition. It’s up against ports that handle more than double the tonnage in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville that have established container businesses. Port Manatee just south of the Sunshine Skyway bridge has a strong refrigerated storage business and Port Canaveral just signed a tenant to run its own new car import business from Mexico.

“We recognize that this isn’t a moment where a light switch turns on and everything changes,” said Paul Anderson, president and CEO of the Tampa Port Authority. Anderson was among the many who flocked to Panama last week to celebrate the opening of the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. “There are contracts in place for some routes already, and we hope that with our new cranes we can handle larger vessels in the coming years as those contracts come to term.”

* * *

This new fleet of enormous cargo container ships coming from Asia won’t come to Tampa Bay, analysts say. Most of them won’t even come into the Gulf of Mexico initially. They will continue to go to the bigger established ports along the East Coast, like Miami, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and New York. These ports and others have been preparing for the opening of the expanded canal by dredging deeper waterways and making room for more business. 

That is a correction, and it has the virtue of being, for the most part, true.  And we do not fault the Port for not growing container business at an exponential rate (geometric would be nice).  There are issues.  We get all that.

The problem is that there was a lot of time to plan and market, and we were told we were preparing (apparently others prepared better) and it would all be fine (even though it was obvious it wouldn’t).  But nothing has really changed (even with the bigger cranes at the Port), except the big ships can just go to Miami or other ports that can take them, which also seems to decrease the utility of transshipments (though maybe not).  We are glad the Port is being more realistic about the canal expansion, but that should have been the way it was all along.

Moreover, given all that, we are not sure why the Port is spending so much time doing vision plans for real estate development downtown when there are already big real estate plans in the private sector with which the Port would compete (see below) – and when they are asking for $200 million in public money for infrastructure.   Shouldn’t they be focusing on the port part of the port business?  On the shipbuilding?  On finding more manufacturers to locate at the port?  On really growing the container business, where the money is?  Port Tampa (Bay) may be the largest port in Florida by land (we are not sure) or maybe tonnage, but not by trade value and probably not revenue. (And why are we not actively working on Cuba trade?) We can do much better.

And we are not sure why, if New York and New Jersey can handle ports, airports, development, and some roads together, Hillsborough and Manatee can’t get together and manage the ports on the bay in a way that maximizes the potential of the whole area and grows the regional pie rather than having this area compete with itself for a smaller slice of pie. (Once again, a real job of the new Tampa Bay Partnership.)

We are all for growing the Port.  We are all for growing this area.  But, as with many issues, this issue has been subject to a lot of hype that ignores or downplays obvious issues.  As we have noted many times, this hype leads to inflated expectations that plainly will not be met while simultaneously making people think we are farther along than we really are.

That does not mean there aren’t good things.  There are.  They just tend not to be quite as superlative as they are portrayed or they stand in isolation.  While perfect should not be the enemy of very good (and we are fine with very good being the enemy of the ok), we can do way better, and that starts with honest discussions of where we are and where we need to get.

Tampa, and the Tampa Bay area, deserves it.

Downtown/West Tampa/Tampa Heights/Channel District – Talking Projects

Maybe it is a slow news cycle (though it doesn’t seem like one) or maybe there is a concerted push somewhere to advertise downtown Tampa, but for whatever reason both the Times and the Business Journal ran articles on the big proposals in and around downtown (though they defined them differently).  The Times ran an article, really more of a list of what was in each, involving the Heights and the Lightning owner’s project.

The Business Journal did basically the same but included the theoretical Port project and the “West River” project that still, as far as we can tell, has not shown final plans of what will actually be built.   Nevertheless, the Business Journal article involved some numbers by a local realtor, which are helpfully included in this chart:

From the Business Journal – click on chart for article

What you can see right away is how not dense the West River project is for the amount of land it uses.  We understand it may not be “downtown” density, but, based on this list, it is really not very dense for an urban area, which has been an issue from the start.

The chart also conveniently tells us that the Port’s concept is actually the biggest proposal, making us wonder again why anyone would support using public land that now has a maritime use and involving a lot of public money just to compete with as of yet unbuilt privately projects nearby – especially when you can just bank that public land until the rest of the area is built out and the public, waterfront land becomes that much more valuable.

As you think about that, you can also contemplate this:

His findings show a city center that will become increasingly dense in the next decade, if all four developments come to fruition as proposed — 12,000 residential units within 1.4 miles, from the West River redevelopment to Port Tampa Bay’s waterfront real estate. It’s highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to see that kind of urban density in the Southeastern U.S., Earhardt said. 

Yes, assuming all the projects get built, downtown will be much more built up (though, as noted, some parts much denser than others).  Even if only a couple get built, it would be more built up and better.  Whether that is unprecedented in the southeast is another question altogether.  Atlanta has that density.  Miami does.  Other cities are getting there.  It may become quite normal – and without transit it will be quite messy to get around.  Already the least attractive feature of all the developments is the massive area used for parking garages (or surface parking).  Which leads to this observation from the Lightning owner’s city planner in an 83 degrees media piece:

“If you can’t connect the walkable neighborhoods to each other, then those people who want the walkable lifestyle, and who also want access to all their city has to offer, will buy cars,” says Speck. “Then the city reshapes itself more around driving, so transit plays a very important role.”

* * *

“Frankly, transit never functions particularly well in the absence of walkable neighborhoods because if you can’t exit the train or bus into a walking area, then you need to have a car once you get there,” says Speck. “The work we’re doing at the district to create a neighborhood in which you exit the vehicle and be totally effective on foot is the first step to creating a more robust transit system.”

Which goes to both planning and investment priorities – and the need to get transit sorted out around downtown now to avoid the mess such development will create without it, especially if it draws people who do not live downtown  (They should have asked him about the effect on walkability of 18 lane freeways through urban areas.)

Regardless, none of it is built now (though the Armature Works is being renovated). The real question is how much of this will actually get done.  Hopefully most of it (we still think the Port should focus on being a port), with some useful tweaks and real transit.  Time will tell.  Done properly, it could be very cool.

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s project:

Tampa’s city council will discuss at its regular meeting Thursday whether to approve an agreement with Strategic Property Partners to lay pipes under downtown roads and begin constructing a chilled water distribution plant. The central cooling plant will be used to air condition dozens of buildings that will come online as part of a $2 billion major overhaul of 40 acres in Tampa’s urban core.

SPP, the real estate firm owned by Vinik and capital investment firm Cascade Investments LLC, will begin $35 million worth of roadwork construction next month which tentatively includes the chilled water plant, a key part of Vinik’s vision for a walkable, sustainable urban district designed to make those who live and work there more healthy.

* * *

This central cooling plant will house 20 to 25 water chillers at a distribution center that will be built at the northwest corner of the intersection of East Cumberland and South Nebraska avenues. Cold water will run to buildings like the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a new hotel and the Amalie Arena, through a series of underground pipes and will be used to control temperatures inside.

“Our goal is use this distribution center to cool the entire project, including USF and Amalie, which we do not own,” said Courtland Corbino, vice president of development for SPP. “The underground piping will allow us to connect to existing downtown buildings and new ones we develop at any time once we lay this framework.”

This system frees up the rooftops, which are usually obstructed by traditional air conditioning units. That means rooftop spaces could become parking garages with solar panels on top, or parks, or even restaurants, Corbino said.

Of course, they gave first approval to it, which is fine with us (like there is even a question on second reading).   Though the first thing we thought is what if the project gets broken up after it is built?

SPP will construct, maintain and operate the chilled water plant. The city is considering a 30-year agreement that would require SPP to pay a fee based on how much pipe they lay. If SPP decides to sell chilled water services to other developments, the city will get a cut of the revenues.

The new cooling system will be installed by Tampa Bay Trane, a local air conditioning company that has installed other plants in the area. The cooling plant design is in line with Vinik’s vision for a health and wellness centric district for Tampa. The central cooling plant will use 30 to 40 percent less energy and water than more typical units used to cool buildings. Because it’s more efficient, it will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

We are not clear on all the financial issue, but the concept sounds good.  Once again, it seems that the Lightning owner is looking at a larger picture.  There is also this:

Construction of the central cooling facility will begin this summer along with roadway and infrastructure work.

Which is cool, and makes sense given that the USF building needs it.  It also is a good sign.  There has been a lot of talk about this project and we know planning such a large project takes time, but it will be good to see something actually get built, even if it is just utilities to start.

— One More Thing

One thing that is a bit odd is this:

Several tenants in Channelside Bay Plaza will close in the coming weeks after the plaza’s new ownership issued eviction notices.

We get clearing out space.  And we get removing tenants that do not keep up on their rent.  But a store in that article seems to be a relatively long time tenant that stayed while the plaza struggled.

Qachbal’s Chocolatier, located near the tunnel on the first floor of the plaza, opened in December 2005, shortly before the recession. In recent years, the store has struggled while waiting for redevelopment plans to materialize. Qachbal said members of the SPP real estate team initially encouraged her to stay on and told her that her chocolate shop was valuable to the plaza.

“For four years we hung on when we could have been looking for something else,” she said.

In the article SPP, the Lightning owner’s company, does not tell us why those stores are being removed or what is going to replace them.  We understand that changes are coming and we understand that it might involve some evictions.  We just hope it is done right and with the history in mind.

And we look forward to this:

“SPP plans to share refined, long-term opportunities for Channelside Bay Plaza with Port Tampa Bay this summer. In the interim, we are pursuing every activation opportunity — including opening the wharf to the public, special events and pop ups,” she said.

We’ll see what they come up with.

Bayshore – Some More Details

While there was no big news regarding the proposed condo where the Colonnade was, there were some new drawings:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

To be honest, they do not add much other than showing the proposed height is 285 feet (and you can see the very small door facing Bayshore in the bottom left of the first drawing).  Then again, it is nice to post drawings every now and then. (Also the 2907 Bay-to-Bay condo project was approved – no surprise) Hopefully, the condo market will stay strong enough to get it built.

West Tampa – Generic

Sometimes, it is not as nice to post drawings, like the Richman project near the armory.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Well, at least there seems to be a recognizable door (though it says “Clubhouse” so we are not sure if that is the front).  Other than that, no retail, pretty generic.  Mind you, we are not looking for artistry.  We get that many projects will just be relatively cookie cutter (and hope the mold is a good one), but this is right next to the renovated armory and right next to one of the most interesting old cigar factories (that hopefully will get renovated).  They could have done something a little more.

Ybor City – New and Old

There was an interesting article on Ybor City involving one of the old mutual aid societies.

The Marti-Maceo Club has been a fixture in Ybor City since the early 1900s as a gathering spot for Tampa’s Afro-Cuban population.

In more recent years, its focus has shifted to preserving the culture and way of life of Tampa’s Cuban population, hosting happy hours and salsa evenings with Latin bands.

Now, club leaders say its future is under threat from a neighboring development project they say will make the Seventh Avenue location inaccessible for up to a year during construction. They fear it will starve the club of revenue from events like weddings and fundraisers that have kept it afloat even as membership has dwindled to about 80.

The project fueling those fears is The Marti, a four-story development of 100 apartments and 8,000 square feet of street level retail planned for a parking lot that the club leases from the city.

The lease agreement for that lot expires next year. In October, the Tampa City Council agreed to its sale to Ybor City developer Ariel Quintela and BluePearl Veterinary chain CEO Darryl Shaw for $792,000.

In addition to the loss of parking spaces, club president Sharon Gomez said the development will take away an alley on the north side of the club used by members to access it from Nuccio Parkway.

We are all for developing Ybor City, though we have wondered many times why the City is in such a rush to divest itself of all the public land it can, especially when there are ample private projects on privately held land:

The Marti is one of five apartment and mixed-use projects that Quintela and Shaw are developing in Ybor City. Other projects include the conversion of the old Oliva Cigar Factory, the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn and the former Blues Ship Café.

Plus a number of other projects by other developers, so what was the City’s rush?  And why did the City not ensure in the agreement with the developer to protect the historic mutual aid society?

Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic opportunity administrator, said the project has been a challenge for the developers since it must fit within three quarters of a street block. The developers have been working with the club to minimize the impact, including setting the building back from the club, he said.

“Setting the building back made sure the mural was still visible,” McDonaugh said.

Which doesn’t do much if the club can’t pay its bills.  We get that it is a more humble building than the other mutual aid societies, but that does not detract from its history.  As we have said before, monuments and history walks are nice – actual history is nicer.  If the City had to develop this property now (which it clearly did not – the property would only have become more valuable over time – and there is the potential for a baseball stadium right across the street), the least it should make sure to have arrangements to help the Marti-Maceo club survive to development process.

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Admittedly, we do not cover St. Pete that much.  Every now and then something piques our interest.  As those who follow such things know, the cheese grater building in downtown St. Pete, which actually was a rather nice old building that was covered up with metal crap to make it more “modern” – like many buildings in local downtowns.  In any event, the ownership of that building was a bit complex, there was a deal to sell it, there was a historic preservation issue, then the deal finally got worked out.  So the new owner gave everyone a peek at his development idea:

New York’s Red Apple Group is returning to the Florida market in a big way — its plans for a prime block in downtown St. Petersburg include what could be one of the tallest buildings on Florida’s west coast.

“St. Pete needs a skyline,” John Catsimatidis, the company’s billionaire owner, said in a phone interview Thursday.

Red Apple, which is under contract to buy the block of 400 Central Avenue, released a rendering of a sleek tower that Catsimatidis said would be about the height of ONE St. Petersburg, the 41-story building under construction a few blocks farther east on Central.

Although his project is still in the preliminary stages, Catsimatidis said it will be a mixed-used development that could include residences as well as the hotel and office space that Mayor Rick Kriseman is pushing for. 

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is early days on this project, but we like where he is heading.  We shall see what happens.

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

This week there as news of a small win for downtown:

BeniComp Insurance Co., a supplemental group health insurance company, has relocated its headquarters from Fort Wayne, Ind., to downtown Tampa.

Initially, nine members of the firm’s executive team will move to the new headquarters at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. The company plans to add at least three more full-time employees over the next year.

BeniComp will also maintain its Fort Wayne offices, where it currently employs 40.

Ok, fewer than 15 people, but that’s ok.  Every job is welcome.

— Bigger Win

A more interesting win was this:

A combined $700,000 in state and local financial incentives helped persuade Bertram Yacht to locate its international headquarters in south Tampa.

Bertram, one of the most well-known names in the boating industry, plans to create 140 new jobs with a $35 million capital investment at its new corporate office and manufacturing facility at 5300 W. Tyson Ave., a statement from Gov. Rick Scott said.

It is nice to get a headquarters and some manufacturing. That makes us happy. (It will be interesting to see how this fits in the neighborhood if it gets as developed as all the proposals for it.)

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

There was a little new item about the airport business that may be interesting in the long term.

PEMCO World Air Services has been selected to provide maintenance and repair work on a new generation of Mitsubishi aircraft, the companies announced Tuesday.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has signed a letter of intent with Tampa-based PEMCO, one of three companies chosen to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

PEMCO will provide airframe-related MRO services to North American clients of Mitsubishi who use its Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) aircraft. Those services will include heavy checks, structural repairs, modifications and warranty work.

Which is cool, though how big a deal is this?

The two companies did not reveal the financial figures of the proposed agreement. MRJ is comprised of aircraft that seats 70 to 90 passengers. There have been more than 400 aircraft orders, and Nagoya, Japan-based Mitsubishi Aircraft plans to deliver the first of these planes aircraft in mid-2018 to All Nippon Airways.

So we don’t really know, but it is better than not having it, especially given the company came back from bankruptcy.

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

– Don’t Go Planning for That Autonomous Experience Quite Yet

There was a very interesting editorial in the New York Times regarding self-driving cars.

It wouldn’t be fair to tar all of the growing self-driving industry with Mr. Musk’s braggadocio. Nonetheless, his technological over-promising fits into a common narrative in Silicon Valley: The major engineering problems with self-driving cars have essentially been solved, and their widespread adoption is inevitable. Ask “when?” and you’ll usually be told, “Much sooner than you think.”

Some lawmakers are even talking about scaling back investments in mass transit, which they claim will be unnecessary in a world full of robot chauffeurs.

Aware of the conventional wisdom that robotic cars are about to cause an epochal “disruption,” automakers are eager to demonstrate that they are fully engaged. A result has been a drumbeat of announcements auguring the imminent arrival of robotic cars, almost as though they were the next generation of iPhones. The breathless statements are especially beguiling for members of the public without the engineering background required to understand the challenges that remain. In other words, most people.

Sound pretty familiar.  But . . .

Motorways and freeways are the low-hanging fruit of autonomous driving; everyone is moving in one direction at the same relative speed, and there are no pesky pedestrians to get in the way. Much of what is passed off today as “autonomous driving” is some variation of this sort of advanced cruise control.

But there is an elephant in the cab with even this rudimentary form of autonomy. Many companies are planning cars that, in the event of an emergency, hand back control to the human driver. (Google, a notable exception, plans a car with no steering wheel or brake pedal.) The potentially fatal weakness of this strategy is that it assumes “drivers” will be paying attention at the split second they are most needed, instead of being busy, say, taking a nap.

The much harder, and still mainly unsolved, autonomous driving problem involves not highways but cities, with all their chaos and complexity. Self-driving cars still struggle with simple potholes; no one has come even close to demonstrating a completely driverless car that could do the work of a Manhattan taxi driver on a rainy day.

The sad reality of autonomous car technology is that the easy parts of have yet to be proven safe, and the hard parts have yet to be proven possible. We’re nowhere close to Silicon Valley’s automotive “Tomorrowland.”

The most realistic industry projection about the arrival of autonomous driving comes from the company that’s done the most to make it possible. Google, while never explicitly saying so, has long intimated that self-driving cars would be available by the end of the decade.

In February, though, a Google car caused its first accident; a bus collision with no injuries. A few weeks later, Google made a significant, if little-noted, schedule adjustment. Chris Urmson, the project director, said in a presentation that the fully featured, truly go-anywhere self-driving car that Google has promised might not be available for 30 years, though other much less capable models might arrive sooner.

And here is news of the Google announcement.  Including this tidbit:

Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first.

Guess what.  Our roads are crowded, and it rains very hard for a big chunk of the year.  While the idea of autonomous cars should be taken into account in planning, there is no way to know if, when, or how much the technology will change things.  It cannot be relied upon as a panacea to a transportation issues.

– What Transit Needs

This seemed like a good place to put a link to this article from Citylab.com about what transit riders want.    It is based on a survey, with caveats at the end of the article.  But the real keys are frequency, speed, and walkability.  By that measure there is no reason to think that the present transit in this area, such as it is, would be a success.

We need to do much better.

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