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Roundup 12-15-2017

December 15, 2017


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

Transportation – Jumble

— The Legislation


— Tolls on Tolls

Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

Impact Fees – The Real Point

Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

Keeping the buzz going, SPP has now told us what brand the major hotel across the street from the Marriott Waterside will be:

Strategic Property Partners, LLC (“SPP”) today announced that it will bring Marriott International’s JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts luxury brand for the first time to Tampa, within the Water Street Tampa neighborhood. The 519-room, 26-story hotel will rise steps from the Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena, where the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning play, and feature the highest rooftop bar in Tampa Bay. Construction on the hotel will start in early 2018.

SPP, which is developing downtown’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood, announced it is also investing over $40 million to fully renovate the adjacent 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The combined hotels will create the largest collection of hotel rooms and meeting space in Tampa Bay, with 1,246 rooms and 175,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

That is a good brand and will be a step up in downtown, and we like the idea of operating the two hotels in concert. (We also like the rooftop bar).  And note construction is supposed to start soon (unlike some other projects, since they have funding already, we are less dubious about that start date).

We also like this about the Marriott Waterside:

New retail space encompassing 3,111 square feet will be added to the northwest corner of the property along Water Street, allowing the hotel to embrace the streetscape envisioned for Water Street.

Right now, that area is a loading dock, which is a bit odd given that it is right on the street and next to a park. (see here) Retail is a much better use for the frontage. They are still going to need a loading dock but hopefully the streetscape will be improved.

One thing to note about the JW:  This is the first released rendering:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

And this is the newest rendering that came out with the announcement of the brand:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As you can see, it looks a bit stumpier in the new rendering.  As we always say, renderings are notoriously inaccurate, though we tend to believe the ones that do not play up the soaring characteristics of the project.  Regardless, it will definitely be a nice addition to the area. (If only they would address the awnings/protection for pedestrians.)  And will add some more cranes, which is always nice.

Transportation – Jumble

— The Legislation

Given the Tampa Bay Partnership’s new focus on transit, last year’s TBARTA law, and all the studies regarding transit in the area, we were surprised by something we read in the Business Journal involving the Tampa Bay legislative delegation:

Florida Sen. Dana Young (R-Tampa) filed a bill Friday that would fund the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority with $25 million, to be used exclusively for dollar-for-dollar matches from either a private entity or the local government, and prioritized for autonomous vehicle and transportation network company projects.

The funds wouldn’t be available until 2021.

Reps. Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) and Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) are co-sponsoring a similar bill in the House.

Senate Bill 1200 and HB 535 would provide state funding for design and construction of “alternative transportation systems.” The bills block federal funding from replacing the local match requirement.

We have nothing against looking at alternative transportation technology, including new technology, and it seems like support for TBARTA.  Those goals seem good enough.  But:

A previous version of the House bill listed an existing statute that would have limited funding to high-speed rail projects. That version was stricken and replaced with the new proposal during a committee vote this week.

The bills could be seen as anti-rail. They would create the Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority to replace the Florida Rail Enterprise.

While the rail enterprises first project was supposed to be high-speed rail, it was supposed to be for more than that, but more on that later.

So what do the bills really do? You can find the Senate bill here   and the house bill here.

First, as said, the bills create an alternative transportation authority, in addition to the rail enterprise and some other stuff in FDOT. Both bills define alternative transportation:

(2)  For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s. 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.

See pg 8 of the pdf.

Setting aside the inherent ambiguity in that language and the question of why the state would “design and construct[]” ridesharing companies (transportation network companies), that does not seem to include normal or express buses (or, most likely BRT).  Once again, we do not have a problem with looking at new technology, but we are not clear on the overall goals of the bills, especially when this area is still working out what it wants.  And getting back to the rail enterprise, the proposed Senate bill includes this:

Section 3.

Subsection (5) of section 341.303, Florida Statutes, is repealed.

See pg 7-8 of the pdf. (The House bill shows the actual stricken language). So, what is Subsection 5 of section 341.303?

(5) FUND PARTICIPATION; FLORIDA RAIL ENTERPRISE.—The department, through the Florida Rail Enterprise, is authorized to use funds provided pursuant to s. 201.15(4)(a)4. to fund:

(a) Up to 50 percent of the nonfederal share of the costs of any eligible passenger rail capital improvement project.

(b) Up to 100 percent of planning and development costs related to the provision of a passenger rail system, including, but not limited to, preliminary engineering, revenue studies, environmental impact studies, financial advisory services, engineering design, and other appropriate professional services.

(c) The high-speed rail system.

(d) Projects necessary to identify or address anticipated impacts of increased freight rail traffic resulting from the implementation of passenger rail systems as provided in s. 341.302(3)(b).

As you can see, that is not just high-speed rail (and why even foreclose high-speed rail?), though it leaves section 3, which says:


(a) The department may fund up to 50 percent of the nonfederal and nonprivate share of the costs of any eligible railroad capital improvement project that is local in scope.

(b) The department is authorized to fund up to 100 percent of the cost of any eligible railroad capital improvement project that is statewide in scope or involves more than one county if no other governmental unit of appropriate jurisdiction exists.

(c) The department is authorized to fund up to 100 percent of the costs of any railroad capital improvement project involving the acquisition of rights-of-way for future transportation purposes. Departmental fund participation in such project shall be credited as part of the appropriate share of the participation by the department in total project cost for any future project involving such rights-of-way.

Which seems to mean that the state can fund rail transit but there will no longer be a set mechanism, and note the remaining section is not for “passenger” rail, just rail in general.

Generally, every word in a statute is supposed to mean something specific.  So, while one could argue that “alternative transportation” under the definition given could include rail, by including both a rail enterprise and the new authority, the bills are either unfortunately drafted or intend to that passenger rail does not fall under “alternative transportation.”  And designating funds for the alternative transportation authority but not the rail enterprise obviously defunds the rail enterprise.  So, while the rail enterprise would still seem to exist, it is unclear what it is for or what it can really do (though money for South Florida rail comes from somewhere else and seems untouched). And while there still can be funding for passenger rail, the bills would remove the organization setup specifically for that purpose but provide funding for something else, plainly making implementing passenger rail more complex. (And, as noted, there appears to be no set authority for things like BRT or express buses).

Another question we have is why Federal funds cannot be counted as matching funds.  We do not see the logic in that.  If the Legislature wants to limit the amount of money it pays, that is fine.  But why do they care if the money is from local taxes, private investment or the Federal government?  As long as extra state money is not being spent, it should make no logical difference to them.

And we also do not get why these bills appear to exclude bus service, including express buses that FDOT keeps talking about for the express lanes.

We have not heard what the actual intention behind the bills is, but from what is drafted (which is not necessarily the actual intent . . . it happens) the bills just make getting regular transit done and paid for harder.

In sum, we are not opposed to the idea of having some funding mechanism for alternative transportation systems (but not ridesharing, which has enough private money going to it).  But we do not see why the local legislative delegation should take steps that make it harder to solve this region’s transportation issues or take steps that seem (whether they are intended to or not) to work to prejudge the local discussion.  It is nice to fund trendy things, but if our local decision is for rail or BRT or express buses or something else, why would our delegation make it harder? Regardless of the actual intent, the language of the bills as it now stands does not seem to be in line with the new stance of the Tampa Bay Partnership (at least as stated), the TBARTA law or any of the studies no ongoing.  Hopefully, they will fix it.


The head of TBARTA is leaving.

Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte will not renew his contract with the agency, he announced Friday. It’s a position he’s held since early 2015.

Chiaramonte expects to come up with a process to search for his replacement in the spring, which will be about a nine-month process, he said. His contract expires in February 2019.

Chiaramonte decided not to pursue a contract extension after the Florida Legislature approved changing the agency from a transportation entity to a transit provider.

“For this change, they need someone ready to move in a different direction who is going to commit to three to five years,” Chiaramonte said. “I’m just not ready to make that commitment.”

We have no strong feeling one way or the other.  But it is interesting in light of the bills above.  It is also interesting in light of this:

During a recent meeting, TBARTA board members established four priorities as part of that plan, aimed at building on the agency’s strengths and mitigating its weaknesses.

First, the board will adopt and begin implementing a regional transit feasibility plan. Jacobs Engineering is conducting a study, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, that will create the framework for that, establishing a priority route and transit mode to best attract federal funding.

Final recommendations are expected after the new year, but preliminary results list five possibilities with a route along Interstate 275 connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties with light rail as the top-ranked plan. That could change when the study concludes.

The transit plan will pave the way for federal funding. Under legislation passed in Florida earlier this year, TBARTA will facilitate the federal funding process.

The agency will also pursue legislative funding requests and identify long-term dedicated capital and operating funds. Legislation changing the second “T” in the agency’s acronym from “transportation” to “transit” restructured the agency to be more focused on regional needs, but it did not establish a funding mechanism to build or operate a transit system. The legislation also failed to grant TBARTA taxing authority.

TBARTA will also create a regional transit development process to implement goals.

This is all fine, if a little vague.  We cannot really judge the steps until something actually happens.  Regardless, they might want to consult with the business community and legislative delegation.

— Tolls on Tolls

The Veterans Expressway express lanes opened last week.

Drivers on the Veterans Expressway will gain an extra lane from Gunn Highway to Hillsborough Avenue starting Saturday.

Actually they don’t.  Unless you are going all the way to Gunn Highway, there are only three lanes.  And even if you are going to Gunn or beyond, even when there is no traffic, you still can’t get over into the express lanes from the regular toll lanes (in other words, they are not adding a fourth lane, they are adding a separate lane), as explained here:

But there’s a catch: Once drivers enter the lane, they won’t be able to leave it — not until a designated exit about six miles later.

There will be no merging, no changing of the mind. If commuters miss the entrance, they won’t be able to jump in later. Plastic poles separate the lane from the rest of traffic. 

Right.  Hopefully no one breaks down in the express lane (we doubt you’ll get a refund for poor service).  And, of course, you get to pay another toll on top of the toll to get on the road in the first place:

Once the other three-mile stretch of the extra lane from Gunn to Dale Mabry Highway opens in the spring, drivers will have to pay an extra toll — on top of the one they already pay to use the Veterans — if they want to bypass traffic using this new 9-mile express lane. The price of that toll will rise and fall based on demand. The more traffic, the higher the cost to avoid it.

As we have explained many times, to maintain speed in the express lane, FDOT has to price people out of using the lanes.  In other words, they don’t want people actually using the lane, at least not too many. (In plain terms, the express lanes capacity is by design supposed to be lower than the normal lanes, so it is not even a new full lane).

So you can pay a toll to use the road or you can pay the first toll (presumably to pay for maintenance of the exit ramp), then pay another toll to get a road that might actually have decent speed, because apparently just paying one toll is not enough to get decent service from your government.

Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

There was news about another hotel project in the Channel District.

A dual-flag hotel will begin construction on a prime corner of downtown Tampa’s Channel district in early 2018.

The nine-story hotel, which will carry the Hampton Inn by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton flags, will have 213 guest rooms and include a ground-floor Starbucks. It will be built on a currently vacant parcel at 1155 E. Kennedy Blvd., which is just under an acre.

You may remember this project, which we originally said was quite dead on the street.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Over time, they have tweaked it to include a Starbucks and pedestrian-friendly coverings, which are good. However, the parking garage is still not very good, especially from the angle where it is really visible, nor is the little parking lot for check-in.  And, while we can’t tell what the materials will be, we have a feeling it will very much resemble a generic hotel at a highway exit (except it will have a garage). And the street will still be quite dead.

While we are all for adding a hotel (or two), we think it could be better, but this is what we will get.

Impact Fees – The Real Point

While looking up the transportation bills, we came across another proposed bill by the same State Senator, this one regarding impact fees (here).  It says this, which we think is fine:

(e) Collection of the impact fees may not occur earlier than the issuance of the building permit for the property that is subject to the fee.

(f) The impact fee must be reasonably connected to, or have a rational nexus with, the need for additional capital facilities and the increased impact generated by the new residential or commercial construction.

Collecting the fees with the permit has a certain logic, and the fees should be connected to the impact.  Though, it should be noted, that whether the impact is connected can be an issue. For instance, it can be fairly argued that the impact of a house in Riverview can be quite high, especially if the resident works downtown, the impact will be on roads being all the way to downtown.  Yet, others would argue that the impact would just be in Riverview right around the house.  But, we’ll set that aside for a minute because the bills also have this:

(g) The impact fee must be reasonably connected to, or have a rational nexus with, the expenditures of the funds collected and the benefits accruing to the new residential or commercial construction.

(h) The local government must specifically earmark funds collected by the impact fees for use in acquiring capital facilities to benefit the new residents.

(i) The collection or expenditure of the impact fee revenues may not be used, in whole or part, to pay existing debt or be used for prior approved projects unless the expenditure is reasonably connected to, or has a rational nexus with, the increased impact generated by the new residential or commercial construction.

While section (i) makes some sense in that impact fees should not be levied to make up for past deficiencies, there is a problem with the three overall.  Impact fees are not levied for the benefit of the new residents, tenants or developments.  They are levied to mitigate the impact of new residents, tenants or developments on what is already there.  As such, they are for the benefit of the people already there.  For instance, if a road has a level of service before a new development, the impact fee it to pay for improvements to maintain the level of service after the new development.  That is a benefit to the people who are already there and using the road – so they do not have to pay the cost of the impact of the new development on their roads.   In other words, it is not just about building new intersections at the entrance just to make the new development more attractive.  It is about fixing a road so people who are already there can still get around, not necessarily right around a new development. (The same with schools – it is so the new residents do not overburden the existing schools.)

In fact, part of the problem with how impact fees have been levied (aside from waiving them so often) has been that they have ignored impacts caused by development that have been farther away for those development.  Those burdens have been borne by other residents and businesses whose tax money has essentially subsidized new development and profits for developers.   And, of course, it is not just for roads, it can be other infrastructure (especially with mobility fees).

As such, any properly levied and used impact fee arguably will not comply with the language this proposal.

We are not going to speculate about the motives or intent to the bill.  We will assume that it has been proposed to prevent possible abuses (such as the county Commission trying to get new development to pay for the rank failure to properly plan in the past).  However, the language should be tweaked to properly represent the purpose of impact fees – to protect the tax payer from having to subsidize new development – which is benefit to the present taxpayer, not the developers and not the new residents.

Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point

URBN Tampa Bay pointed out an interesting article on density. You can find their post here and the article here.

It is not long so you can read it yourself, but the main point is this:

Putting aside the loaded language of that last quote, what each of these share is the belief that there’s a “right” way to build cities. In their view there’s a balanced amount of development—somewhere between two-story dingbats and 80-story skyscrapers—that will make everyone happy. This mindset is no less destructive than Goldilocks herself, but on a scale far beyond that of a single household’s personal property.

Most people probably don’t want to live in a city full of skyscrapers, but some surely do. Manhattan is a real place, after all. Not everyone wants to live in a sprawling, suburban neighborhood either. Some people enjoy the anonymity of the big city, others hate it. To state the very obvious, different people are different. They like different foods and different cars, or they don’t like cars at all; they have different political ideologies and appreciate different art; and they enjoy different urban environments to different degrees.

Imposing my values to ensure that only a specific type of urban environment exists robs others of the opportunity to find their own Happy City. Unlike Goldilocks, who breaks some dishware and a chair or two, successful NIMBYs are taking away entire homes from people who would like to live in their city—they remove those potential homes from the market, and they drive up the cost of living for everyone else in the process. . .

The interesting thing about that is that right now, the rules are biased against the market.  In the vast majority of cases, they limit density and urban development and favor sprawl (even before local government subsidize it).  They favor cars.

We think people should have choices.  Not everyone wants to live in suburbia, and not everyone wants to live in an urban environment.  The problem is that the system (particularly the building code, but also in other ways) is skewed to one model: suburban, even in urban areas.  If you want to live in suburban sprawl and drive everywhere, that’s fine, but others should not have to subsidize it (hence the impact fees).  And if funding is going to go for that, it should also go for people who want to live in an urban environment.  (And the same goes for an urban environment, though funding of suburbs hasn’t been an issue for a while.) That does not mean no regulations or infrastructure spending.  We understand that it means balancing regulations, planning, and spending to allow for choices, including some in which we have no interest.  But right now, in this area, there is little to no balance at all.


Roundup 12-8-2017

December 8, 2017


Downtown/Channel District – Lots of Water Street

– The Big Picture

— The Museums, et al

— Filling Space

— The First Anchor

— The Hotel

— One More Thing

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown – Kress

Airport – The Audit

Biking – About Sharing

Seminole Heights – Right Hand Meet Left Hand

Governance/Planning/Built Environment – Money Talk

Rays – Talking Money

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The Last Word


Downtown/Channel District – Lots of Water Street

There was quite a bit of Water Street news this week.

– The Big Picture

First, this week SPP released a big new rendering of the project.  It is not really of the whole project, but it is of most of it.

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see a bigger version on SkyscaperCity here (thanks to Florida Future).

So what are we looking at?

What that rendering shows is a fully baked, strikingly vertical urban neighborhood, topped with green:

Construction on some of these buildings has been projected to start as soon as early next year. Other pieces of the project are likely still years away from breaking ground. Strategic Property Partners, a Vinik-Cascade development company, says it is working to release more details about its plans before the holidays.

It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that it looks better than what is there now.  Overall, it is pretty impressive.  There are some obvious things, such as all the green roofs, including on Amalie Arena.  We also like that the arena will be surrounded with useful buildings (MOSI to the east – see below), as opposed to empty space now.  That will certainly enhance the area.

While renderings are notoriously inaccurate, it is interesting that most of the buildings, including the USF Med School are shorter in the rendering than the taller of the two 815 Water Street buildings, which is 312 feet.  Of course, perspective may have something to do with it, but it is interesting.  From the picture, which, as we said, is not necessarily accurate, most of the building will be in the 250-275 range.  You also cannot really get an idea of the architecture.  Most of the buildings look quite similar – which may or may not be the case (though 815 Water Street looks a bit blander here than in the more detailed building-specific renderings) and is in contrast to this previous rendering:

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

Another interesting thing is the seeming lack of connection of Water Street to what is the main part of downtown now.  We do not put that on the SPP folks, and it may not turn out that way (it could just be a function of highlighting the project in the rendering), but there are still surface lots and relatively dead areas between the two.  We assume that would fill in over time.

But, really, how can you not hope that this project gets built?  It is basically doubling downtown and with what seems to be, overall, more quality.  It would just be nice if there was some real transit to go with it.  There are a lot of people who will be trying there with limited ingress and egress.

— The Museums, et al

Last week, we learned that MOSI actually made money last year:

The north Tampa museum, known as MOSI, made $90,384 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to financial statements provided to the Tampa Bay Times. The museum lost $1.4 million in 2016 and ran a $438,000 deficit in 2015.

Which is good. And as anyone who has been following it knows,

Next year, the museum will also unveil a new business model focused on taking science learning and experiences to elementary school classrooms with the goal of sustaining the museum while it plots a move to downtown Tampa.

What will come of the present location “if” there is a move is still not clear (it is up to the County, so caution is advised).  However, we now know where a new downtown MOSI would be located:

The Museum of Science and Industry’s new home in downtown Tampa could be between Amalie Arena and the Tampa Bay History Center.

The latest rendering of Water Street Tampa, released Monday evening, shows new development on either side of Amalie Arena. The building shown to the east of the arena is the potential new location for MOSI, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said Tuesday.

While that may sound a bit vague, this doesn’t:

“We’re very excited about it,” Julian Mackenzie, the museum’s president and CEO, said Tuesday. “I think there’s a synergy with all the venues that are down there.”

That does not sound like someone who does not know what the plan is.

Looking back at the rendering above, the MOSI location is the building immediately to the right of the arena. (Though note the cars apparently parked in the middle of what is supposed to be MOSI.  We are not sure what that feature is.)  We are fine with that location with one caveat: the whole street frontage should not be taken up by just the museum part of MOSI (not including any restaurant or store).  If it is, there will be an extended area of Water Street which will remain relatively dead – basically from the west side of the arena to Channelside.  Yes, people will walk into the park, History Center or MOSI, but there will be little to do there.  While there will be some retail in 815 Water Street facing MOSI, we hope the plans include more.  It would be a shame to have the namesake street not be fully activated.

There was also this very vague news:

A new “art institution” is planned for the northern end of the district, for a cultural anchor there, Vinik said.

We will just have to wait for more on that.

— Filling Space

As anyone who follows local business knows, the Lightning owner has been very active in investing in local businesses and pushing startups.  Part of that is pushing the area (which it needs) and part of it is good business.  Given all that, this was no surprise:

Jeff Vinik says the Tampa Bay area needs a bigger, stronger ecosystem for startup companies, and on Tuesday he announced three major initiatives to nurture them.

First, Vinik said he will, with other investors, create a venture capital fund with as much as $50 million or more to support startup entrepreneurs, some with direct grants. That, he believes, would make it the largest fund of its kind in Florida.

“We’re going to have a grant program similar to what’s going on in St. Louis, called the Arch Grants there, where we give away $25,000 to $50,000 to those startups … who we think are really, really good,” Vinik told a summit on urban technology and development at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. “We want to be a magnet for attracting them … from throughout the Southeast and the rest of the country.”

Which is great because, despite the disparate organizations working with startups, we need a better, more coordinated plan and better access to capital.

And given that Water Street is partnering with this group, it was no surprise to hear this:

Vinik said he’s taking a major equity stake in the startup accelerator DreamIt, which works with startups focused on health care and urban technology to help them raise capital quickly and grow their businesses. Vinik did not disclose how much he’s investing, but said he expects to end up with an ownership stake in the company equal to that of its founders.

“DreamIt and I are getting married,” he said in a telephone interview after his speech to the “Building Cities of the Future” summit. He expects DreamIt to be at the new innovation hub. “I think we can make it into one of the best accelerator companies in the country.”

And least surprising of all was this:

Vinik outlined plans to build an “innovation hub” on the second floor of Channelside Bay Plaza. He expects it to occupy 40,000 to 75,000 square feet of space — or 20 to 40 percent of the building — and take 12 to 18 months to create.

“That’s almost two acres,” he said. “That’s big, and that’s because we’re bold, and we’ve got to move the needle here.”

Plans for the hub are still coming together, but Vinik said he wants it to have room for hundreds of people, maybe even up to 500 people.

“We need a central location” bringing together startup companies, would-be startups, venture capitalists, potential mentors, academic resources, lawyers and financial advisors, all in one spot, with plenty of opportunities for support and cross-pollination.

First, it was no surprise because it is logical.  But even less of surprise was the location of the “central location.”  Aside from already having Tampa Bay Wave there, it makes sense for the Lightning owner to fill up the less expensive space in and around his Water Street project to bring activity and exposure to the area.  If you want your project to be known for innovation, it definitely makes sense to bring facilities in which you have an interest that involve innovation.  And it makes sense to have as many people as you can around, especially if you are just using lower cost space for them.

We are all for it.  The ideas are sound.  And even if they serve the Lightning owner’s interests, we have nothing against self-interest if it does not harm the public interest, and plainly this doesn’t.

And we are all for someone pushing this area to do better.  While we do not agree with everything he does, it is just one more example of the Lightning owner showing he gets it.

— The First Anchor

While USF Med School is often held out as the anchor to the Water Street project, the reality is that the first, and in many ways biggest, anchor is the arena.  And the biggest tenant of the arena is, of course, the Lightning.  So we were not surprised by this:

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Hillsborough County are narrowing in on a deal that would keep the hockey team here until at least 2037.

The two sides hope to have an agreement in place by January, according to county officials.

Under discussion is a proposal for the Lightning to exercise two five-year options to extend the current lease, scheduled to expire in 2027.

In exchange, Hillsborough County will commit $61 million over the next two decades to maintenance and upgrades of Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm and one of the area’s top entertainment and concert venues. The money will come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night’s stay at a hotel or motel.

* * *

The county owns Amalie Arena, but under the existing contract Hillsborough is not under any obligation to pay for maintenance or upgrades. That onus falls on the team, which runs the day-to-day operations.

If approved by county commissioners, it would be the second time in three years that Hills­borough will pump money into the arena. In 2015, Hillsborough commissioners voted unanimously to split a $25 million upgrade with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, also using hotel taxes.  

It should be noted that Tourist Development Tax has limited uses, by law.

State law restricts usage of the tax to three categories: beach replenishment, tourism marketing and tourism facilities such as museums, convention centers and stadiums.

(See here and here) So money would not be taken from general funds or transportation.

And, especially given the limited uses of the money, this makes a certain amount of sense:

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the team’s previous owners “didn’t know what they were doing” and “didn’t maintain the building.” When Vinik bought the team in 2010, he used the fortune he amassed as a Wall Street hedge fund manager to pay for a $60 million upgrade that salvaged the facility.

That investment bought a lot of goodwill, Merrill said, and the continued upkeep by the team to modernize the arena has ensured the long-term viability of the 21-year-old facility. The arena first opened as the Ice Palace in 1996.

“We don’t want to have to build a new venue, and it’s about the time that owners start saying they want a new stadium,” Merrill said. “Vinik is committing to stay in that building for 20 years. That’s huge. It’s a very worthwhile investment to avoid that cost.

It also makes sense for all involved, since the Lightning moving from the arena would not help the Water Street project.  We do not know all the details of the proposed deal, but, from what we know now, we do not have any problem with it.

— The Hotel

There were also some new renderings of the hotel planned for the lot across from the Marriott.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see larger versions here.

For the most part it is what we knew before and looks nice.  We are not really that high on the skywalk, but it has been a feature from the beginning.  We are also not completely clear if there is a way to walk under real covering across the whole streetscape.  We see there are awnings of a sort – though they appear to be the quasi-awnings made up of slats with gaps which may look nice but protect you from neither the sun nor the rain, and are therefore not particularly useful in Florida. (They could have some transparent material but that would be unusual.)  We still think that if you want to make a truly walkable area, you need to learn from the past architecture when people did walk and give them some real protection from the sun and rain.

Otherwise (aside from the skywalk), it looks good.

— One More Thing

With all this talk of Water Street, one thing should be noted.  If you look just north of the Selmon right in the middle of the picture, there is a squat little building.  That is the stick construction apartment complex, Aurora.  We said when it was built that it was out-of-place in the middle of downtown.  Now, we can see just how out-of-place it really will be.  It is a perfect illustration of why we should not settle.

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was an article in the Business Journal regarding Riverwalk Place (formerly Riverwalk Tower).

As has been previously noted, there is a lawsuit between the developer and a former partner regarding the project.  In that suit, marketing materials were filed, though they have since been removed from the court website.  However, before that was done, the Business Journal got a look at them.

First, the materials apparently included a yet to be publicly released rendering.  However, the Business Journal did not put it on the website.

The Business Journal also reported that the condo prices averaged over $1 million at all levels and over the per square foot price level for downtown condos now.  However, the developer said that the marketing materials were outdated.  A sales center is supposed to open in the second quarter of 2018, which would be good because construction has previously been reported to be scheduled to start in the summer.

We would love a new tallest building in Tampa and have heard that the design (at least tentative design) is quite nice.  However, there is a decided lack of information about the project.  We shall just have to see.

Downtown – Kress

There was news regarding the Kress building, from Fox13:

Tampa’s historic 1929 Kress Department Store building will get a facelift starting after the holidays.

FOX 13 News got an exclusive tour of the building and spoke with Wilson Company president Carolyn “C.W.’ Wilson, who says their $9 million dollar purchase of the building and surrounding properties wasn’t triggered by Lightning owner Jeff Vinick’s [sic] Water Street project.

* * *

She says the ground floor will likely be used as an event space. She’s not sure yet about the three upper floors.

Parts of the building are in severe disrepair, but she says its solid with old style craftsmanship.
Wilson says there’s no timetable on when the historic building’s restoration will be complete.

While we would prefer a more active use than an event space on the ground floor, we are glad it is going to be stabilized and look forward to hearing what the upper floors will be (and hopefully that there will be better use on the ground).

Airport – The Audit

A while back, a State Senator said he wanted an audit of the airport because of some (rather unclear) potential corruption allegations.  We were fine with an audit (and an audit of all other airports in the state, and port, and FDOT in order to protect the taxpayer).  Recently, some of the results have been revealed:

A much-anticipated audit of Tampa International Airport unearthed misuse of a state grant and raised questions about the awarding and oversight of contracts related to the airport’s $2.3 billion expansion, the largest public works project in Tampa history.

The report from the state auditor general, which is not finalized but was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, also found questionable justification for a $3.5 million public arts fund and for raises given to the airport’s top executives, which in some cases were as high as 10 percent.

However, the audit did not conclude there was “public corruption” at the airport — words used earlier this year by state Sen. Tom Lee when he demanded a review of the airport’s finances. Nor did it find that the airport had a problem paying off its debt obligations, which the Thonotosassa Republican also suggested.

Most of the audit findings called for tweaks to airport policies to improve transparency or incorporate best practices.

Airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said administrators have acted on some findings and are reviewing others. They have until Dec. 29 to respond. 

Regarding the more substantive issues of the construction project:

The audit included 12 findings, several related to the expansion:

We do not have enough facts to deal with the first item, though we know that it sometimes happens for a variety of reasons. (And it goes to the Board.) The second one, the furniture, was fixed.  And the third does not seem to be an issue as there was a requirement to check licenses.

Regarding the raises:

For example, the report questioned how airport leaders rationalized five-figure raises that six executive team members received in 2014. The raises put the annual salaries of five vice presidents above $200,000.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano said in a 2014 memo that a study of executive salary ranges at TIA were “below the midpoint of the market.”

But auditors said the study, which was not disclosed to the board, only included salary data from one peer airport. The rest of the information came from businesses in other industries.

In a draft response to the audit provided to the Times, airport management pushed back, noting that “market data is a key part of benchmarking” salaries.

Relative to the area, the salaries are high, but the key issue is whether they are high relative to the market for airport executives, especially to attract the talent needed to fix years of complacency. We need to attract and retain talent in public as well as the private sphere.

We do not have the numbers in front of us, but the airport is correct in its benchmarking argument.  Whether they applied that properly or not is something we do not have information to decide.  However, we do not know why the audit only used numbers from one other airport, but, if it really only used one other comparable situation for comparison we question the methodology.

Regarding the art:

The state report also highlighted $3.5 million set aside for the airport’s Public Art Program, a fund to commission artwork displayed in terminals and at gates. Since 2012, the airport has paid artists $572,320 for an LED tiles and metal display, $300,000 for a 14-foot hanging structure and $297,000 for a 30-foot-by-20-foot tapestry.

According to the audit, “authority records did not always demonstrate the legal authority, or reasonableness of, artwork expenditures.”

Frankly, this seems like nitpicking.  We know art is subjective, and we are not that fond of some of the art in the airport (nor did we expect to be.  As we said, it is subjective).  And the “reasonableness” of the expenditure for art seems quite vague and subjective as well.  It seems the audit questioning the art, or having art, more than the procedures. Public buildings have public art.  It costs some money. There would have to be much more to it to make us worry.

And the airport responded properly:

“The findings, I believe, would be characterized as mostly administrative in nature, but every finding is one we take seriously,” airport CEO Joe Lopano said. “Of the 12 findings, we have already addressed eight of them.”

* * *

“The audit did find some things that were really good suggestions, and we implemented those,” Lopano said. “To the extent that we can improve, we’re all about that.”

It was good that the audit was done, and it does not leave us overly concerned.  There is nothing a few tweaks can’t fix.  We look forward to the findings of all the other audits statewide.

Biking – About Sharing

There was an article in the Business Journal about local bike sharing:

Locals and visitors have clocked more than 500,000 miles on Coast bikes since its inception in late 2014, which reduces traffic congestion and frees parking in the two urban cores. Those miles translate to more than 20 million calories burned and nearly a half million pounds of carbon not pumped into the atmosphere.

Which is all well and good, but does not really tell us much.  More interesting is this:

The systems in St. Petersburg, downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida Tampa have a combined 700 bikes including more than 30 each in downtown Tampa and St. Pete.

* * *

Coast Bike Share plans to increase its fleet with 200 additional bikes in Tampa in the coming months, the company announced this week. 

That tells us something – either, if it is making money and expanding, Gulf Coast is relatively successful or it is overreaching and poorly managed.  Because we have no evidence they are mismanaged, we will assume they are doing well.  And that is a good thing.

Seminole Heights – Right Hand Meet Left Hand

There was what is admittedly a small story about a street mural in Seminole Heights that just leaves us scratching our head about how government works.

The city’s first official street mural, painted along a Seminole Heights intersection, was covered with black asphalt on Thursday by city workers who mistook it for graffiti.

The brightly-colored, 28-foot wide “mandala” mural, a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, was created in July through the combined efforts of the city, the county and neighborhood. That is explained by a plaque near the mural at N River Boulevard and W Louisiana Avenue.

Let’s say that again, there is a plaque explaining what it is. (Not to mention news stories, like here and here)

In a statement, the City of Tampa called it an “unfortunate mistake” by the code enforcement team looking to clean up the city’s graffiti.

“They were unaware this was an authorized installation,” Tampa spokeswoman Christina Barker said in a statement. “The City will be back out to try and correct the damage over the next few days. If we are unable to do so, we plan to commission an artist to restore the design.”

In its Facebook post, the South Seminole Heights Civic Association said it received an apology from Tampa’s director of neighborhood empowerment, whose workers covered up the mural.

“The city was quick to respond and very apologetic for it all,” the Civic Association wrote on its Facebook page.

We get it was a mistake, and we are not blaming the people who were told to cover it up.   But we assume someone had to authorize it and find money for it and why they did not know or ask whether it should be there.  It makes one wonder who is or is not talking to whom at a higher level and authorizing City activities.  And it makes one wonder about other issues where people are not communicating that are more important but not so publicly obvious.  We don’t think anyone should get in trouble for the mistake, but it is a good time to check procedures overall.

Governance/Planning/Built Environment – Money Talk

For decades, our local governments have followed a build it quick and cash out method of planning and measuring achievement.  There has not been much thought (at least not apparent thought) put into larger questions – especially long-term issues (can you say planning).  And that has been easier to do because we are growing in population and just throwing up buildings and developments in a haphazard way has brought in tax money (and donations from developers and large land owners). In other words, the short-term money has been good.  Which is why this is interesting:

Coastal communities from Maine to California have been put on notice from one of the top credit rating agencies: Start preparing for climate change or risk losing access to cheap credit.

In a report to its clients Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. explained how it incorporates climate change into its credit ratings for state and local bonds. If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s, said in a phone interview. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

So what are they looking at?

In its report, Moody’s lists six indicators it uses “to assess the exposure and overall susceptibility of U.S. states to the physical effects of climate change.” They include the share of economic activity that comes from coastal areas, hurricane and extreme-weather damage as a share of the economy, and the share of homes in a flood plain.

Based on those overall risks, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are among the states most at risk from climate change. Moody’s didn’t identify which cities or municipalities were most exposed.

Bond rating agencies such as Moody’s are important both for bond issuers and buyers, as they assign ratings that are used to judge the risk of default. The greater the risk, the higher the interest rate municipalities pay.

Which brings us to this interesting piece from Zillow:

While the damage caused by recent hurricanes is a devastating reminder of how quickly the weather can undo people’s lives and destroy their homes, the potential for damage from a slower-moving phenomenon could be even more destructive: Rising sea levels.

Building on our 2016 analysis of the impact a rising tide could have on U.S. homes, we looked again at how many homes might be underwater by the end of the century — and whether those homes are in the top, middle or bottom tier in their areas. We also calculated the share in urban, suburban and rural areas.

So let’s get to the charts:

From Zillow – click on chart for website

You can get more detail by metro area in a handy tool on the Zillow website here. Let’s just say it is not good.

This area is constantly listed as one of, if not the, most at risk areas to rising sea levels and hurricanes.  Even if you don’t care about climate change per se, the fact others do is going to make it more expensive to do a large and wide variety of things.  Local government better take notice.

Rays – Talking Money

Last week, we highlighted a column in the Times that said that the Rays would have to come up with more than $150 million to get a stadium built in this area. We agreed.  Apparently, the Hillsborough County Administrator does, too.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Thursday that it will take more than $150 million from the Tampa Bay Rays to build a ballpark in Ybor City.

* * *

It will have to, Merrill said, who added that the county was treating the figure as an “opening number” in negotiations that will play out over the next year.

The county is operating under the assumption that a stadium will cost upward of $600 million, Merrill said, and recent history suggests its likely to be closer to $800 million.

“To that extent, $150 million doesn’t really— it’s part of it, but it’s not what they’ll need,” Merrill said.

“Until we can sit across the table and agree on a price and talk about the other pieces, folks shouldn’t really be grabbing onto anything as the final number.”

While we are not grabbing onto any number, it is clear $150 million is nowhere near enough to get anything done.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Let’s check in on variable rate toll lanes.  This week, we’ll focus on I-66 in northern Virginia.

Tolls on Interstate 66 hit $40 during the Tuesday morning rush, the second day of operation for the new express lanes from the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia to downtown Washington.

At about 8 a.m., a driver entering the interstate at the Beltway would have paid $36.50. Minutes later, the toll reached $40. That tops the peak toll of Monday’s debut commute, which reached $34.50.

But despite complaints from some drivers that the rates are excessive, Virginia transportation officials said the lanes are working exactly as they are supposed to.  Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne declared Monday’s opening a success and said the lanes will help the state accomplish its goal of  “moving more people, not more vehicles” in the corridor.

We should point out that the lanes in question are HOT lanes.  That means that high occupancy vehicles do not pay, which incentives carpooling.  In contrast, Florida does not have HOT lanes.  Everyone pays no matter how many people are in the car because in Florida FDOT . . . well, we are not completely sure what they want.  In any event,

“As long as people are willing to pay, that is what will drive the tolling,” Layne said. Those complaining that the tolls are unfair have options, he said.

“No one has to pay a toll. You simply could have put another person in your car and avoid a toll,” Layne said. “This is fair to everyone because everyone has a choice. And that is why we did this. We wanted to change behavior, we don’t have the resources to continue to lay asphalt and have congested roadways.”

Of course, if, like in this area, you give no alternatives refuse to provide adequate lanes for the existing traffic in the first place and do not incentivize carpooling, then people do not have a choice.  Either they sit in traffic or they pay ridiculous prices. That is how things work in an unregulated monopoly.

To be sure, there are other roads that can be used as an alternative to taking the new toll lanes. Motorcycles and vehicles carrying two or more people have free use of the lanes.

Then again, as we pointed out last week, major surface roads in this area are just as busy as highways, if not more so.  And our local governments have been busy putting driving impediments on local roads, not to mention narrowing and slowing many surface roads without providing alternatives.

While we want real transit alternatives, we have long said that if FDOT is serious about changing behavior they would at least make variable rate express lanes HOT lanes (though just having HOT lanes will not really fix anything).  But they don’t even do that.  And local officials have been going along. While the I-66 tolls are high, even for variable rate lanes (of course, without our low incomes you don’t need to get that high to really hurt), our area keeps growing and, without real alternatives, the future is a choice between sitting in ever worse congestion and unaffordably high tolls.

The Last Word

The longtime business columnist for the Times is leaving and he had one last column, here.  You can read the whole thing for yourself, but the basic theme is very sound.

It’s okay for Tampa or St. Pete or Clearwater — or Wesley Chapel, Brandon, Seminole, New Port Richey or Tarpon Springs — to fight for better jobs or corporate relocations.

But on the big stuff like our transportation, our startup community, our environment, our political muscle — our regional economic future — a better connected Tampa Bay wins if everybody gets a little taste of prosperity.

Readers used to send in letters (and then emails) howling that “Tampa Bay” was just a body of water and not a real “place” to write about here. Maybe that was true decades ago. Not any more, folks.

Get over it. Embrace it. Fight for it. Give Tampa Bay some love.

Setting aside that we really don’t like our pilots saying, “We will be landing in Tampa Bay in a few minutes,” he is right.

Roundup 12-1-2017

December 1, 2017


Transportation – Leading . . .

– The Quote

— Express Lanes, Toujours Express Lanes

— Dangerous Streets

— Real Cost

Economic Development – Income Growth

Downtown/Channel District – More on 815 Water Street

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Channel District – Del Villar Speaks

Ybor City – A Project

Airport – Expanding Service

— The Other Airport

(Not) Westshore – You Just Have to Wonder

Temple Terrace – As Expected

Tampa Heights – A Heights Picture

Rowdies – Not This Year

Rays – A Good Point


Transportation – Leading . . .

– The Quote

There was a Times article on state government spending, which was interesting, but a bit beyond the scope of our usual Roundup, except this:

The Florida Department of Transportation spent nearly $70,000 on travel during the three months ending on Sept. 30, including paying for department executives to attend conferences in Norfolk, Va.; Providence, R.I.; Dallas and Boca Raton.

“Florida is a national leader in transportation, which often requires our employees to travel to other states,” said DOT spokesman Dick Kane.

We are not going to get into the conferences, but, as anyone who tries to get around this area knows, FDOT does not seem to be a national leader in transportation, even in express lanes.  (How else to explain the trip to St. Louis to learn how to communicate with the community while planning?)

— Express Lanes, Toujours Express Lanes

Even more to the point, there was a Times article about FDOT considering ideas to improve Fowler.

A new study eventually could lead to better traffic flow on Fowler Avenue while offering a variety of transportation options.

The $500,000 study, to take up to 18 months, focuses on the University Area and the University of South Florida. It is one part of a plan to look at “how people move” in Hillsborough County, said Ed McKinney, district planning and environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation.

“We came to the realization we had to look at everything, transit, local streets, local connectors,” said McKinney, describing the plan that became known as Tampa Bay Next — an effort to modernize transportation infrastructure and prepare for the future.

* * *

For the north Tampa area, the center of focus now is Fowler Avenue, said Ming Gao, modal development administrator with FDOT in Tampa.

Currently, 53,000 cars carrying residents, tourists, employees and students travel on Fowler Avenue each day past the University of South Florida. By 2040, FDOT projects the number will rise to about 80,000 a day, McKinney said.

Fowler is definitely a major road that needs improvements.  Right now it is a sprawling mess.  So what are the ideas?

“We are looking at planning for a transit spine — where you can connect regional service to local service,” he said. “Fowler Avenue is a major corridor.”

* * *

The university area already has a number of transportation options including Bull Runner buses for USF students and shuttles for hospital employees who park off-site.

“We want to make things more efficient as transportation is not coordinated now,” Ming said.

The dense population in the area also is conducive to transit use, Gao said.

But currently, most bus riders there have no other transportation options. “What we have to do is have choice riders,” McKinney said.

So that sounds promising.  But what are the ideas?

Those connections could come in many forms, but one idea being explored is creating elevated express lanes on Fowler Avenue to Interstate 75.

Of course.  Nothing makes people get around a local area better than express lanes to the interstate. (not that the focus on express lanes is confined to this area. see here  and here)  And nothing is more conducive to transit connections than express lanes (not to mention that presumably, because it is now the law, any transit on the express lanes would be buses – driven or automated – which would FDOT would not be funding ).  And what could lead to more transit friendly development and walkability/biking than express lanes, especially elevated ones?

Tampa Bay Next (ed. which means simply FDOT – Tampa Bay Next not an organization) also is working with the nonprofit !P: Potential Unleashed, headed by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. The organization seeks to create a North Tampa innovation district where people work, play, study and stay.

Sharpe said he supports plans to enhance Fowler Avenue and the transit options.

“We are partnering with the state and other agencies to explore the complete transformation of Fowler Avenue from what it is today, to what we intend it to become — a livable, walkable, bike friendly, transit oriented, business friendly corridor,” Sharpe said.

We completely support his described idea of what Fowler should be.  Unfortunately, it does not seem to be where FDOT (and probably local officials) is going.  We suggest he nix the express lanes and get FDOT to actually plan for real transit and walkability/biking, not to mention getting the City, County, and Temple Terrace to redo the planning.  Express lanes are basically more of the same and, if one does the same thing over and over, one should expect the same results. If the intention is to fix Fowler, do it right.

— Dangerous Streets

ABC Action News also had an interesting item.

Hillsborough County streets are some of the deadliest in the country, according to Vision Zero, a multi-national road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic. 

That is something we knew.  What is interesting is that the article had a list of the most dangerous stretches of road. Here are the top 5:

Top Severe Crash Corridors:

  1. Brandon Blvd from Falkenburg Rd to Dover Rd (7.18 miles)
  • 180 crashes (25 crashes per mile)
  • Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT): 463,965
  1. Gibsonton Dr/Boyette Rd from I-75 to Balm Riverview Rd (2.33 miles)
  • 49 crashes (21 crashes per mile)
  • Daily VMT: 79,720
  1. Hillsborough Ave from Longboat Blvd to Florida Ave (8.87 miles)
  • 176 crashes (19.8 crashes per mile)
  • Daily VMT: 528,719
  1. Fletcher Ave from Armenia Ave to 50th St (5.09 miles)
  • 100 crashes (19.6 crashes per mile)*
  • Daily VMT: 196,990
  1. Dale Mabry from Hillsborough Ave to Bearss Ave (6.17 miles)
  • 116 crashes (18.8 crashes per mile)
  • Daily VMT: 430,798

See article here.

Interestingly, number 14 is:

  1. I-4 from I-275 to 22nd St (1.08 miles)
  • 17 crashes (15.7 crashes per mile)
  • Daily VMT: 189,000

See article here.

The really interesting this is the Daily VMT – vehicle miles traveled.  While there are a lot on the I-4 stretch, the major local roads are far higher.  And while I-275 from downtown to Westshore is probably higher than I-4, the numbers make one wonder how simply putting express lanes on the interstate with the express intention of incentivizing people to not take the interstate and take surface roads instead, which is how variable rate express lanes theory works, will fix congestion or road safety. Perhaps FDOT should be working on an alternative to driving instead.

— Real Cost

Opponents of transit often complain about the cost, and often the costs seem quite high at first blush.  However, the real question is how much transit costs relative to other transportation (and you should include the associate costs of vehicle ownership and road maintenance with that, plus pollution and underused – and hence undervalued – land), which brings us to news from the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority anticipates selling more than $200 million in tax-free bonds to pay for two projects related to its properties. The bonds would fund the South Selmon Expressway Improvement and the Meridian Ultimate Improvement projects.

The agency would not comment in detail on the two projects because they aren’t finalized. The bond notice of sale “reserves the right to change or modify its plans.”

Setting aside that the projects are not finalized and that bonding basically means it will cost more over time, surely they must be getting a lot for that amount of money, which is more than twice as much as either the HART budget (here) or the PSTA budget (here) and more than twice the cost to expand the streetcar.

The Meridian project would eliminate backups entering and exiting the agency’s reversible express lanes at Meridian Avenue. Those express lanes shift traffic flow between Brandon and downtown Tampa based on traffic patterns. That portion of the project also includes plans to update Meridian Avenue to work in tandem with the Strategic Property Partners’ Water Street Tampa plan.

The South Selmon Expressway Safety Improvement plan would reduce the potential for drivers crossing the median into oncoming traffic by installing things like better drainage and concrete barrier walls. Those portions would run south of downtown to the expressway’s terminus at Gandy Boulevard.

While we have nothing against fixing a poorly designed intersection or installing safety barriers, that seems pretty expensive for what they are getting.  But roads are quite expensive, too. And that is the whole point.

Economic Development – Income Growth

For the last few Roundups we have focused on how this area is doing economically, including the Tampa Bay Partnership’s recent report.  All indications point to us improving compared to our previous performance but still lagging our competitors.  This week is no different.

Personal income rose in 2016 in most counties making up the greater Tampa Bay area, with Pinellas boasting both the highest average income of $49,186 and the fastest rate of growth in the metro area at 1.5 percent, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The bad news is the national average growth of personal income in counties located in metropolitan areas was 2.5 percent. That’s a full percentage point higher than Pinellas’ income growth and the latest signal that Florida incomes, even in metros with stronger economies, in general are failing to keep up with cities across the country.

Based on all U.S. counties, metropolitan and rural alike, the nation’s average personal income rose 1.6 percent to $49,246. Statewide, Florida’s average personal income rose 1.1 percent in 2016 to $45,953.

Pinellas was the only county within the Tampa Bay metro area whose income figure topped the overall state average. Hillsborough’s average personal income of $43,803 was $5,383 less than that in Pinellas and grew at a slower pace.

In other words, we are growing but not growing as fast as our competition and still our income levels are less than average.  It should be noted, among major Florida metros we are not awful:

The per capita personal income in the Tampa metro in 2016 was $43,807, putting the Tampa metro in No. 151 among 382 metro areas nationwide. The Sarasota metro ranks No. 49, with $51,931 in 2016 per capital personal income, and the Lakeland area is No. 366, with per capita personal income of $34,199.

* * *

Among the major metros in Florida, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach ranked No. 48 nationally, with $52,210 in 2016 per capita personal income; Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford ranked No. 241, with $40,169; and Jacksonville was No. 121 with $45,468.

But that says more about Florida overall than it says about how we compare to competitors nationwide.

Now add this to the mix (which we already knew to a large degree):

Tampa Bay renters are spending a bigger chunk of their incomes on rent.

In the pre-bubble years between 1985 and 2000, those earning what was then the median income spent 27.6 percent of their earnings on rent, Zillow found. Today, bay area renters spend 32.1 percent of their income on rent.

So the less than average income and income growth is getting eaten up in housing costs (not to mention transportation costs).  This is not where we want – or need – to be.

Downtown/Channel District – More on 815 Water Street

More information was released on 815 Water Street, the Condo/Apartment buildings across from the USF Med School.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The project features condos, apartments, retail and a grocery store. The towers are 26 and 21 stories and will top out at 303 feet and 237 feet, respectively. Total retail space is 40,000 square feet and the total number of residential units is 402.

Attached are new site plans, elevations and a rendering. Notice in the elevations the FAA height limit line is drawn out, showing this project is as tall as can possibly be without a FAA variance.

Here are some new renderings and a site plan (thanks to Florida Future at SkyscraperCity):

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

Elevation from Channelside:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

Elevation from the east:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

Site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

The size and massing of the project are fine with us.  We like that they are squeezing in what they can in terms of height (blame Peter O. Knight for the FAA height limitation).  The façade is not really our favorite but, assuming that this is the only building with that style, we think it will be fine.  As we said before, we like the living wall on the garage.  We like all the retail.  We can even appreciate that the loading docks and garage entrance face the back of the history museum rather than a major street.

We are still disappointed that there does not seem to be a covered area to protect pedestrians from the sun and rain – not the whole sidewalk but some of it.  Even though they seem to have shade trees, which we support, we think the lack of cover is a mistake in this environment.  And, while we think the three columns underneath the condo portion look cool, we are not sure what the purpose of the design is.  They do not open up much more space or really create a plaza because of the large planter.

Overall, it is fine, but the two buildings we have seen already (the hotel and this) still make us think that the design team still might not quite get the Florida environment. To really be successful, they need to make it attractively walkable all year – including when it is brutally hot and/or raining. It is a concern.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

There was news about Riverwalk Tower.

Calling it a “significant hurdle” in the planned development of a 52-story, mixed-use tower that would become Tampa’s tallest building, Feldman Equities and Tower Realty Partners are planning to demolish a downtown office building early in 2018.

Razing the CapTrust Financial Advisors building at 102 W. Whiting St. will allow Feldman and Tower Realty to proceed with plans for Riverwalk Tower on a vacant, adjacent lot.

Feldman CEO Larry Feldman says CapTrust has agreed to a long-term lease within the joint landlords’ 36-story Park Tower property, which the pair acquired with City Office REIT Inc. in November 2016 for $79.75 million.

Once the developer submitted a plan to use the CapTrust land in their project, this was inevitable, though it is encouraging that it is happening.  What’s more:

The six-story, 48,740-square-foot Whiting Street building being razed beginning in February was completed in 1974. The 1.73-acre site will be incorporated into Riverwalk Tower, a groundbreaking for which is expected next summer.

The summer start date would be nice.  However, as there has been no public unveiling of the design – or even a rendering (though apparently they have been circulating behind the scenes), we are not sure we fully buy it.  It would be very nice if this building were to go up at the same time work really got going on Water Street, but time will tell.

Channel District – Del Villar Speaks

A few weeks ago we noted that the City had rejected the developer’s changes to Del Villar (namely adding 700 sq ft of retail to a basically dead façade along Channelside) as being inadequate and not following the Channel District guidelines.  The architect/developer responded this week.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Instead of fixing it, the architect responded saying the project is in compliance and they don’t have to change anything for those two issues. The project’s office aspect is just 112 square feet and appears to be a leasing/property management office. This never counts as office space under the code. If it did every apartment project with a leasing office would technically be “mixed-use.”

The project provides roughly 700 square feet of retail on the corner of Channelside and Whiting. The issue is 700 square feet is such a small amount compared to the size of the lot. We, and the city staff as well apparently, felt this was just token retail to get around the code. The last proposed design of this project from a year ago had no retail in it.

The architect/developer also says the dead streetscape of the garage will be addressed later. You can see the response here and an elevation here (thanks to Florida Future at SkyscraperCity).

The bottom line is that the project does not comply with the guidelines.  We would love to see another big apartment/condo project in the Channel District, but it just does not comply.  They need to fix it, and the City needs to make sure they do.  We cannot afford to have a poor precedent set on what very well may become a main drag through the urban core surrounded by major developments.  Especially with all the other large projects moving forward, this is no time to settle.

Ybor City – A Project

The Business Journal had news of another project for Ybor City:

A new mixed-use building is on track to replace the Ybor Resort and Spa that burned down in early 2017.

A-Investments, a partnership of Darryl Shaw and Ariel Quintela, owns the property at 1512 8th Ave. A-Investments has proposed a four-story mixed-use building on the site, which received unanimous approval from the city’s Barrio Latino Commission on Wednesday.

* * *

The building, which represents an estimated $8 million to $10 million investment, will be comprised of 16 to 24 luxury apartments and ground-floor retail, said Jonathan Moore of InVision Advisors, which is representing A-Investments in the project.

This is the location.  And here are some renderings – please note that the Business Journal actually has two different versions of the building but URBN Tampa Bay pulled pictures from the City website (presumably Accela) with this version:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

With this (faux-)awning:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And a closer look posted by URBN Tampa Bay:


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The proposal is definitely better than what was there before and has some nice elements (we like the integration of balconies on the top floor in the façade, for instance).  However, we are not big fans of the segmented awnings, especially when they are so small to essentially be useless.  Yes, the previous building did not have awnings, but new construction should.  It follows the historical Ybor patterns and is practical for an urban area in Florida.

Airport – Expanding Service

In contrast to the previous airport administration, the present administration has pushed international service.

TIA has been on a mission to increase its international traffic and since 2010 it has seen a more than 125 percent increase in global passengers. That jump is attributed to service to Switzerland on Edelweiss; Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa; Panama on Copa Airlines and last year to Havana, Cuba on Dallas-based Southwest Airlines..

Most recently, Tampa’s new flight to Iceland took off a couple of days before Hurricane Irma hit Florida. All 183 seats of Icelandair’s scheduled departure to the international airport in Keflavik, near Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik, were sold on its inaugural flight.

TIA executives previously said they were looking at new nonstop service to international destinations such as Manchester, England; Amsterdam; Dublin, Ireland; Bogota, Colombia; Mexico City and Lima, Peru.

Recently Copa has been performing particularly well, so this was not a surprise:

Four years after becoming the first airline to offer nonstop service between Tampa Bay and Panama City, Copa Airlines, member of the global Star Alliance network, announced today it will increase service to daily flights beginning this upcoming summer. 

The expanded service, which is set to begin on July 17, 2018, provides a better and more frequent connection to Central and South America, and continues to build on a route that has already served thousands of passengers since launching in December 2013.

* * *

The new Copa flight, CM 394, departs TPA daily at 2:05 p.m., arriving at Copa’s Hub of the Americas in Tocumen International Airport in Panama at 5:34 p.m.  Passengers can make convenient connections to destinations such as Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador, Bogota and Medellin in Colombia, San Jose, Costa Rica, Lima, Peru, among many other major cities in Latin America.  The return flight, CM393, departs PTY at 9:20 a.m., arriving in TPA at 12:42 p.m.

But it is welcome.  As is this additional domestic service:

Miramar-based Spirit (NASDAQ: SAVE) announced Wednesday that the airline will begin the new daily, year-round routes on April 12 between TIA and Los Angeles International Airport as well as to McCarran International Airport, which serves Las Vegas.

The Los Angeles region is TIA’s 13th largest market and its No. 1 largest underserved market in high demand among Tampa Bay area travelers, Tampa airport officials announced in a press release. Currently, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), TIA’s second largest carrier, is the only airline offering nonstop service between Tampa and the Los Angeles market. More than 870 passengers fly between Tampa and Los Angeles-area airports per day.

There is definitely room for more flights to Los Angeles.  We are happy to see it.

Hopefully, there will be more announcements soon (we won’t get into the rumors now).  It just goes to show what this area can do if we set aside complacency (and factionalism) and methodically (and without rose-tinted glasses) pursue our goals.  We do not have to settle.

— The Other Airport

There was also news about the other airport, which has been doing quite well due to Allegiant.

Passenger counts are higher than ever. Last year, the airport saw more than 1.8 million passengers. This year, airport officials are confident they’ll see 2 million.

But one airline, Allegiant, carries the vast majority of those passengers. Allegiant has a larger presence at only two airports: Orlando-Sanford and Las Vegas, where it is based. St. Pete-Clearwater also has two smaller airlines: Sunwing, with flights to Halifax and Toronto, and Sun Country, which flies casino lovers to and from the Gulfport/Biloxi airport. In all, the three serve 62 destinations.

The growth is good, but it relies basically on one airline, which is problematic.  Setting that aside, they are beginning a new master planning process:

Now, however, the airport is in its fifth year of double-digit growth. It has vacant land it could develop. A major highway project will require moving the airport’s main entrance and re-arranging parking. And its main airline is thinking about expanding its footprint. So this seems like a good time to update the airport’s master plan.

That effort kicks off Nov. 30 with an open invitation to the public, and it is expected to unfold over the next 18 months with regular opportunities for interested residents and the Pinellas County Commission to influence what will be a 20-year plan for improvements.

You can read the article for more detail.  And if you want to keep up with the process, this is the master plan website.

(Not) Westshore – You Just Have to Wonder

Sometimes good news reveals something questionable.  That happened recently when reading a Business Observer article.

New Jersey-based Vision Properties has unveiled renderings for a pair of new office buildings the company intends to develop within its 71-acre Renaissance Center, in Tampa’s Westshore district.

First, this complex is between Waters and Linebaugh near the Veterans – not what we consider Westshore.  But anyway:

Vision’s $120 million development plan, which also includes the addition of hundreds of new parking spaces and a doubling of an existing food court, comes in the wake of an April lease with Auto Club Group for the entire 150,000-square-foot Renaissance Center VI, which it began late last year on a speculative basis. Renaissance VI is slated for delivery early in 2018.

The new buildings by Vision, which paid $108 million for the five-building park in February 2016, will add a total of 400,000 square feet. Approval of a major modification to its master plan last summer also will allow for the development of a 200-room hotel.

That they feel they can lease all that space is a good thing.  But it leads to something else – transportation, namely access to the complex.  The only way in and out of the complex is by virtue of Henderson Road (see here) which is one lane in each direction and (very purposefully) without outlets between Waters and Linebaugh.  Moreover, Henderson most likely cannot even be expanded north without changes to the Veterans Expressway because of a narrow overpass, see here, though at least there is a bike lane. (Of course the CSX tracks pass just north of the Veterans overpass but even if you put a stop there on some rail system, the office complex makes no provision for getting there by anything other than cars, with its most prominent features from the road being the parking garages. See here and here)

Why the overpass is so narrow, we don’t know.  Why there were no provisions made for making the road wider, we don’t know.  That adding two or three more large buildings to a complex with limited access is questionable, we do know.  But that is Hillsborough County planning at work.

Temple Terrace – As Expected

Temple Terrace’s long running effort to build a downtown is coming to the expected denouement:

City Council members have put off building apartments on its downtown redevelopment property for the time being and have unanimously chosen a bank and retail stores on the corner of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street.

And at a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 21), the council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, plans to hear more from developers who want to build a five-story apartment building for seniors on limited incomes on the property south of Riverhills Drive.

For the north sector of the city’s property, the council picked Paragon Property Development, which is offering $3.58 million for the corner 2.85 acres. The company plans to build a bank along Bullard Parkway and three other buildings along 56th Street — one that another financial institution may occupy, another with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and a third that may house a medical facility and coffee shop.

In other words, not a downtown or even anything urban-ish.

Tampa Heights – A Heights Picture

We often check in with the Heights Facebook page for updates.  Last week they had this picture:


From the Heights – click on picture for facebook page

It shows some nice progress on the Pearl (and shows nicely how it transitions from the houses to the north into denser development to the south).  It does not really show anything about Armature Works.

One other thing we did notice that, admittedly we did not really focus on before, is the grid.  As you can see from the picture, they are redoing the roads.  We mostly like the Heights project, but, setting aside the riverfront road, we are a little confused why they have laid out the north south roads in a staggered pattern.  They do not rationally connect at intersections which is going to make for some interesting conditions.  We assume the reason is that the developers wanted to shape the lots to a certain size, but it is still not the best urban practice to not make grid connect properly.

Rowdies – Not This Year

The Rowdies will not be awarded an MLS position this year:

The Tampa Bay Rowdies will not get a Major League Soccer expansion team at this time.

Four cities — Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento — are finalists for the next two expansion teams, the league announced Wednesday.

* * *

“On behalf of the Rowdies organization, I am very proud of what we have accomplished on and off the pitch. We set modern day records in nineteen categories this past season,” Edwards said. “I personally had a medical setback that put us behind – but undaunted. I continue to invest in refining our stadium plan and other elements of our bid to make it as strong and competitive as possible, and remain in communication with Commissioner Garber and MLS. I firmly believe that this MLS expansion will come to pass.”

As this year progressed, it became quite clear that it would not happen this year, though more for the push by other cities.  Maybe next year.

Rays – A Good Point

Which brings us to an interesting column in the Times.  We are not going to get into the whole column, but this is the salient part:

Rays owner Stu Sternberg said that if he digs real deep into the couch cushions, he might be able to chip in $150 million toward a ballpark in Ybor City that could cost $800 million.

My advice: Keep digging.

By the way, how did the price jump to $800 million? The Oakland Athletics, the Rays’ roommate at the bottom of baseball’s attendance list, recently announced plans for a $500 million stadium that, get this, THEY WILL PAY FOR!

That’s right. A team struggling nearly as much at the ticket counter as the Rays said its new home will be privately financed. That’s how it should be.

Here are last year’s bottom two teams in terms of attendance:

29        Oakland          Total: 1,475,721          Per Game: 18,446

30        Tampa Bay     Total: 1,253,619          Per Game: 15,670

First, note that the Rays average attendance per game is far below the Lightning (though, admittedly, the Lightning have half the home games) and Oakland is a bit higher.  Nevertheless, the A’s will pay.  No, we do not have the corporations that the other Bay area has, and our stadium needs a roof (preferably retractable) while the A’s will not, so we can take that into account in funding, but it seems to us that the Rays have to do more than $150 million to get any buy in here.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 23, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.  Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Roundup 11-17-2017

November 17, 2017


Economic Development – The Latest Report

– Talking About Talent

— Some Other Findings

— Conclusion

Transportation – All Sorts

— Less Help

— Less Ferry

— More on the Autonomous Buses

— More on the ex-HART Director

— More Ideas

— More of the Same

Rays – The Rundown

Downtown – Kress Moves

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


Economic Development – The Latest Report

 For years, local officials and economic development agencies have been putting out reports and holding meetings discussing this area’s economy and how to improve it.  And yet, year in, year out, it seems the same issues keep popping up, like low wages, lack of economic heft, talent issues, etc.  This year, there is a new report, which may (or may not, depending on what is done with it) make a difference.

If a broad spectrum of Tampa Bay leaders can agree on a common set of regional data that objectively measures over time how this metropolitan area is doing in comparison to other key U.S. metros, then our weaknesses can be better identified and improved, our strengths bolstered and celebrated, and this region can emerge a more competitive and prosperous place.

Sounds simple enough. Believe me, it isn’t. Yet the first steps have been taken to make it happen in Tampa Bay.

In what may be an unprecedented example here of regional collaboration and buy-in, the greater Tampa Bay community will soon unveil an in-depth, objective set of data tracking this metro area’s performance across six sweeping categories.

It’s called the “Regional Competitiveness Report” and will monitor Tampa Bay’s progress — or lack thereof — across more than 50 measurements in categories ranging from job vitality, innovation and infrastructure to talent, civic quality and outcomes (including poverty, unemployment and migration to this area).

And that is a good thing.  For a long time the Partnership had a much more limited survey (see for instance here).  This one sounds better.

And — this part is important — the report will compare on an ongoing basis how well Tampa Bay is competing in each of these measures against 19 other metros across Florida and the country. Some of those metros are “peer” places like Orlando or Charlotte, meaning they are of similar size and clout as Tampa Bay. Others among the 19 metros are “aspirational” — places like Austin, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort-Worth or even Seattle that a growing Tampa Bay might want to resemble in some positive fashion in the future.

Armed with such insights, relevant Tampa Bay leaders from business, government, education and non-profit sectors can then decide what most needs fixing, and who among those nearly 90 participating groups has the drive and resources to make it happen.

* * *

“All of this starts with the premise to manage by fact, not conjecture,” says Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, a respected veteran of economic development efforts who was asked to chair the Tampa Bay Partnership’s 29-member regional indicators task force. “Otherwise, we are relegated to who has the loudest voice in the room or who has the biggest pull in the community.”

You can see it on their website here and download it directly, at least for now, here. Setting aside that, especially if you include the areas covered by the partnership, Charlotte is not the same size, though has the same or more influence, that last comment is exactly on point.  It is well past time to deal in facts, and we have often said that, while we are improving compared to where we were, the key is whether we are improving relative to our competition. Treated properly, this effort could help clarify the situation and help point us in the right direction.  We’ll start with one aspect that is essentially at the nexus of all the others: people, and more specifically, talent.

 – Talking About Talent

In discussing economic development, both why companies do move and why they should move, one thing that often comes up is this area’s talent pool.  It is usually portrayed as deep and wide. (For instance see here,  here, here, and here)  Of course, it is unlikely that, in making a sales pitch, the person making the pitch will say anything else.  And it is unlikely that someone having made the decision to move and playing up that decision would say anything else, either.  We get that.

On the other hand, if one is trying to determine where one actually stands and what one needs to do to actually improve, the insistence on maintaining the sales pitch (which has too often been the case) is problematic.  One needs to be clear-eyed about deficiencies or they will never be fixed. So, what does the new report tell us?

Every tracked metro has strengths and weaknesses. Seattle, Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth rock in economic vitality, and Tampa Bay’s not far behind. Raleigh-Durham and Austin come up as talent powerhouses while Tampa Bay — along with South Florida, Jacksonville and Orlando — falls near the bottom. In most of the measures, Tampa Bay ends up in the middle, neither leading nor lagging.

Setting aside that, looking at the report, it sure seems like we are lagging in quite a few categories and that some are stronger than others, one could put the talent issue another way:

Talent, for example, is identified in the regional report as lagging behind many competing metro areas.

And drilling a bit deeper:

. . . The new Regional Competitiveness Report . . compares Tampa Bay and 19 other metro areas by more than 52 indicators. Its initial findings show Tampa Bay’s primary weakness — when compared to the other metros — is it is thin on talent. Among 20 metros, for example, Tampa Bay ranks 18th in high school graduation rates, 19th in its share of people 16 to 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor employed, and dead last in people 25 years or older who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree.

“I was not totally surprised by the talent indicators,” Taylor says. “We did our research when we came here, just as other companies will be doing their own research on talent. Look at the Amazon HQ2 (Amazon’s hunting for a place to open a second headquarters) search. Talent availability, Taylor says, is at the top of Amazon’s wish list.

Nor should anyone who is interested be surprised.  It’s not that there are not talented people here – there are.  And it’s not that we do not have certain areas where we are relatively strong – we do, but they often are in lower paying fields. (There is also the question of the use of talent, but that is for another time.) The most telling – especially in terms of higher paying jobs, significant clusters, and the knowledge-based economy – is the item on holders of a bachelor’s degree (and graduate/postgraduate degrees), though that has been known for a while. So what do we do about it?

“We have to be very cognizant of that. We have to address that weakness in this region,” he says. “There is no silver bullet here. This will take multiple years to address.”

Among issues Taylor’s group may address: Raising graduation rates; adding more certification programs to give workers more focused skills; and attracting more workers as they approach the peak of their careers.

Those ideas are all good.  And we like the last one, but it should also include attracting workers who are skilled and talented but at the beginning of their careers and retaining the ones who are already here.  Looking at the bachelor (and higher) degree issue (and our addendum) brings us back to the same old question:

if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Because to address talent is to address a broad array of things – certainly education and training, but also opportunities (including to advance and availability of investment money to build companies), diversity of economic opportunities, diversity of lifestyles and the ability to choose among a variety of them (and, yes, that includes transportation alternatives and urban, suburban, and rural development), diversity of amenities (including beyond the “pop” realm to the cutting edge), taxes, connectivity (physical and otherwise), etc.

— Some Other Findings

There are other interesting things in the report, though they often circle back to attractiveness to talent. For instance,

USF business school dean, Moez Limayem, praised the depth of the Regional Competitiveness Report, but added that the indicators raised as many questions as answers. He and two data analytic experts from the school showed how Tampa Bay has struggled over the past decade or so to keep up with the nation’s gains in household income, higher graduation rates and gross regional product per capita — how much we produce in value per person. Even Tampa Bay’s seemingly low-and-getting-lower unemployment rate actually ranks this metro area 15th among the 20 metros tracked in the report.

First, we are happy they are paying attention to per capita gross regional product, a measure we have been discussing for years, and where we lag badly. Second, looking closer at income,

Tampa Bay residents have a mixed bag when it comes to disposable income. According to a recent income study by Trove Technologies, a California-based storage company, Florida residents have the highest amount of discretionary income in the southeast. But within Florida, Tampa Bay residents have the second-lowest amount, ranking No. 22 out of the 24 metro areas in the state.

“Non-housing expenses in Tampa are the highest in the state, while salaries are lowest in the state among large cities,” Michael Pao, cofounder of Trove, said in a recent release.

Non-housing expenses in the area are about 10 percent higher than the rest of the state, the study said. Despite the low ranking within Florida, Tampa Bay ranked No. 29 for disposable income out of the largest 63 metro areas in the country.

Low housing costs are nice, but not if the savings are 1) not covered by higher wages and 2) eaten up by other costs.  And one of the largest costs is transportation, where this area is far behind other areas.  So it is noteworthy that:

Tampa Bay was second-to-the-last among the 20 metros average wages, and at the bottom of the pack in the supply of transit.

Tellingly, on pg 49 of the report, we are ranked third from last in affordability, which is:

The Center for Neighborhood Technology calculates housing and transportation costs as a percentage of income, taking into account regional demographic and socio-economic data.

And third and second from bottom in housing and transportation affordability, respectively. (About the utility of those variable rate toll lanes . . .) That is not good for attracting and retaining talent.

That is all problematic and may have something to do with this:

While Tampa is third among the 20 metros for attracting new residents, it ranked No. 14 for attracting millennials.

And that goes back to the whole talent issue, now and in the future.  As does this from page 17 of the report regarding “advanced industry employment”, which is defined as:

The percentage of non-farm jobs that are in “advanced industries,” characterized by high levels of technology research and development (R&D) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers. According to the Brookings Institution, “the sector encompasses 50 industries ranging from manufacturing industries such as auto-making and aerospace to energy industries such as oil and gas extraction to high-tech services such as computer software and computer system design, including for health applications.”

We are sixth from the bottom.

And some more nuggets from the report: On pg 19, we learn that the regional GRP growth rate in that sector is quite high. However, we are starting from a low level and adding people, so that is not surprising (and note it is not per capita).  On pg 20, we learn that our exports of regionally produced good to other countries is actually shrinking.  On page 25, we see that we are near the bottom of patents per capita. On pg 28, we see we are second only to Jacksonville in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities per capita (Florida cities make up the four worst). On page 30, we see we are in the middle regarding commuters with a 1 hour plus commute time but dead last in transit vehicle revenue miles per capita.  Though on pg 31, we rank third best in driving time in traffic congestion.

We could go on, but you can read it for yourself.  The report is actually well laid out and accessible.  The point is that we have a lot of work to do.

— Conclusion

We are all for this effort.  Quantification of our relative position is well overdue.  But the real question is what will be done with it.  If efforts are narrowly focused on certain metrics without looking at the whole ecosystem that drives decision-making and what people want, it will not reach its full potential, and neither will we.  It has to be understood that most of these categories are interconnected and require a holistic approach to improve.

And one of the biggest enemies of getting to where we should be has been (and to a large degree) is complacency (including institutional and political) caused by the fact that merely by attracting new residents, there is some growth to hang hats on.  This is summarized nicely by one of the drivers of the effort:

Chuck Sykes, who chaired the Regional Competitiveness Report task force and runs call center Sykes Enterprises from downtown Tampa, spoke of how easy it would be for an area like Tampa Bay to just let itself grow naturally — thanks to a steady population of new people moving to the area. “That is not what we want,” he told Tuesday’s audience, citing a need for “smart and sustainable growth.” Sykes, who relocated to this area from St. Louis — a major metro he said was “hard to believe it is shrinking” — and reminded Tampa Bay how fortunate it is to have a growing population.

He is right on both counts: we are fortunate that people want to move here, but that is not enough to get us where we want to, and should, be.

“Because we are growing, that gives us opportunities to solve problems that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t growing,” Law said.

That is definitely true.  However, we have grown for decades with reports and studies without taking the opportunity to fix those problems.  Maybe finally that is changing.  But, it has to be said again, this area has seen many studies, reports, announcements, and columns before, without much changing.  We hope this time is different, but, as always, the real proof will be not what happens at the beginning but what actually comes of it.

And, in the end, we need to be able to answer our constant question of why, if they can go anywhere, someone should choose here if we are ever going to get this area to where most of us want to be.

Transportation – All Sorts

 — Less Help

There was an odd report in the Business Journal:

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are left out of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s transportation improvement budget as part of his 2018-19 proposed budget.

Of the $10.8 billion in recommended expenditures, none goes to either of the Tampa Bay region’s two most populated counties even as the region struggles with increasing congestion and a lack of mobility options. Local officials have acknowledged woeful transportation could be a detractor in the bid to attract Amazon’s HQ2.

Setting aside the very small portion of the budget set aside for transit and that we have needs beyond anything related to Amazon, we get that money has been allocated for some projects already.  And we get that there are a number of studies going on.  However, even with that, there are enough needs in this area, and enough people, that the lack of money seems kind of odd.  We’ll see what the legislative delegation does about it.

— Less Ferry

There will be no Cross Bay ferry this year.

Still waiting for the Cross Bay Ferry to return? It’s going to be a while — say, 2018 at the earliest.

The ferry’s supporters, most notably St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, had hoped to bring the boat back for another season after the first six-month trial run ended in April.

But lack of regional cooperation and funding, the same things that routinely bedevil Tampa Bay’s transportation system, stymied those efforts. In the end, there wasn’t enough support from local governments — and by support, that means money — to run it again this year.

“We ultimately kind of ran out time for when we had to pull the trigger in order to get the boat reserved, to get it here and start service on time,” Kriseman said. “We decided to take a step back from this season, look at next season and really start planning for next year.”

In all honesty, we really won’t notice.  The ferry was an interesting experiment, but the price and lack of frequency made it more a novelty than real transit. It’s not that we are opposed to ferries, we just did not find the Cross Bay ferry as it was operated to be effective transit (yes, it may have been fun and even a nice attraction, but, for the most part, it was not transit).

So what held up the ferry this year?  In short, a mix of practicality and politics.  We are pretty sure that without the politics (which we will not get into here), it would have found the money needed to run again.  Whether it should have run again as it did last year is another question.  In any event,

But ferry supporters such as Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough county commissioner and lawyer who advises ferry owner and operator HMS Ferries, are hopeful the ferry will be back in 2018. For real this time.

To help with the cost — and the potential loss of Tampa as a partner — St. Petersburg applied for a Florida Department of Transportation grant. The state awarded St. Petersburg $438,131 to help pay the operating cost of the ferry in 2018-19. That could substantially reduce the funds needed from the cities and counties, and perhaps convince doubters like Buckhorn to sign-up for another year.

It’s a one-time award, though, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said, meaning St. Petersburg would either have to re-apply each year — the state program usually has less than $1 million to give out annually — or look elsewhere for the money.

What could help, Turanchik said, is the cost of a second season would likely be lower than the $1.4 million pilot program. For one thing, some of the initial overhead costs and necessary infrastructure were taken care of during the pilot program.

He also believes that if the ferry returns it will have “higher revenues” once poorly attended weekday trips are eliminated and the service focuses on beefing up night and weekend service.

That sounds like even more limited service than last year.  We are for developing a transit system – including potentially the largely disappeared from view idea of a ferry from South County to MacDill and, if properly organized a Cross Bay ferry type of service.  But we do not favor what sound like essentially party cruises.  That is for private business.  This area needs to focus on a real comprehensive, coordinated transit system and does not need distractions.  If there is a proposal to make the Cross Bay ferry a workable part of a real transit system, we are all ears.  If it is to make it even less than it was before, not so much.

The real question is what happened to the South County – MacDill ferry?

— More on the Autonomous Buses

There was some more news on the autonomous buses downtown.

The P-1 electric shuttle, an autonomous vehicle without a human driver, will be on display at the Fifth Annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. The shuttle begins serving the public for free on a trial basis in January.

The P-1 has seats for 14 people plus standing room for six and will run 0.6 miles along Marion Street in eastern downtown from the Marion Transit Center south to Whiting Street and back.

Which we sort of knew, but it may fill in some gaps.

Manufacturer Coast Autonomous, based in Pasadena, Calif., loaded up the P-1 with information about its environment by recording a three-dimensional map of all possible Marion Street pathways. Sensors will enable the P-1 to get smarter over time, detecting and reacting to pedestrians and other vehicles in a 360-degree range.

The vehicle has never been put into public use before.

It won’t cover much ground at first, but Coast managing director Adrian Sussman said it will fill a gap in transit for people working in a section of downtown.

“Every transit agency in the country has the same issue of trying to convince commuters to leave their cars at home and take public transportation,” Sussman said. “But the biggest hurdle to this is the first mile from your house to the bus stop and the last mile from your office to the bus.”

Well, yes, many transit agencies have a first mile/last mile issue, but we submit that even fixing that would not get commuters in this area to leave their cars at home and take public transportation.  It may help them park a little farther away but not at home, namely because the biggest problems in our area are the first one to five miles and last one to five miles and all the space in between including the fact that service is slow, not convenient, and chronically underfunded.  Transit here, where it even exists, is not set up for commuters and other choice riders but for people who have no choice.

Plus the autonomous buses will only travel 25 mph.  Also, it is not clear if they will stop at every light, but the Marion Street tranistway has stops on basically every block making it even slower. That lack of speed and potentially excessive number of stops is not a plus.

Nevertheless, we are all for trying this system out and figuring out where it may fit.  It may form a piece of the puzzle, but, it needs to be remembered, just a piece.

— More on the ex-HART Director

As we discussed last week, the HART director is leaving.  So why did she decide to leave?  Because Pittsburgh has a different attitude:

But the Port Authority of Allegheny County enjoys a lot more support than HART and the agency has more money to work with.

“Rich Fitzgerald [Allegheny County’s top elected official] says good transit is coming even if there’s not federal funding,” Eagan said. “They’re very, very focused on making sure transit is funded.”

Fitzgerald’s commitment, Eagan said, is echoed by other elected leaders in the county in a place that has prioritized transit.

That’s not the case in Hillsborough County, where efforts to fund transit failed in 2010 and 2016. 

“I come to them and say, for example, we could run a downtown shuttle, and the response is, we like the idea, we just don’t want to pay for it,” Eagan said. 

And, as described in a Times editorial:

Eagan will leave in January to become chief executive of the Port Authority of Allegheny, Pa., which provides public transit in the Pittsburgh area. That system includes nearly 800 buses and more than 80 light rail vehicles on a 26-mile line serving about 200,000 riders a day. Compared to Hillsborough, the Pittsburgh authority serves five times the number of riders and fields four times as many buses as HART. It spends twice as much as the bay area does on bus service alone, even though the two regions have similar populations, and its overall transit spending is four times that of Hillsborough and Pinellas combined.

Pittsburgh also has dedicated bus routes in their own right of way.  (And, notably, the organization is the port Authority of Allegheny County, with a population of around 1.25 million, which is smaller than Hillsborough County, let alone Hillsborough and Pinellas or the Tampa-St Pete metro area.)  And as noted by the Times:

Mass transit in other metro areas is a preferred option for those across the financial spectrum. It is the lifeline between downtowns and the suburbs, airports and major employment centers. Reducing the need for a car also can free up 25 percent or more in household incomes, putting money into the pockets of lower-wage earners, giving middle-class residents the chance to buy first homes and making older neighborhoods ripe for revitalization. A 2012 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that earnings of transit riders in Pittsburgh were about 80 percent of the median of all area commuters. None of the four Florida cities included in the survey (Tampa Bay was not represented) had ridership with anywhere near that mix of incomes.

Nothing to argue with there.  And just remember that when discussing talent searches and economic development.

— More Ideas

There was some interesting stuff in a Business Journal article about St. Pete’s mayor and his second term.

As Rick Kriseman begins his second term as St. Petersburg mayor, he’s turning to creative solutions — think gondolas as aerial transit — to problems plaguing his city and the Tampa Bay region.

What is the advantage?

“I’m fascinated by aerial elevated transit,” Kriseman said. “It allows riders to travel at a faster speed. It’s about a fifth of the cost of light rail. It doesn’t have the same impact as your existing roadways because it’s above the right of way.”

Those things are true, especially given funding issues for transit.  However, in addition to other issues, if a system has to shut down at rush hour through much of the summer due to storms, that could be a problem.  Anyway, by all means think about it.  And there was this:

. . . Kriseman is looking at more than the one lofty ambition.

The city is continuing work with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority on a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Pete to the Gulf Beaches along First Avenues North and South in a dedicated bus lane. Kriseman is also working to bring back the Cross Bay Ferry next fall. Efforts to do so this year failed due to lack of funding.

Setting aside that we have already discussed the issues with the ferry, gondolas, and problems with the bus (it’s mostly not BRT), there is a bigger issue.  If all this is brainstorming about how to build a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system, that is fine.  However, it very well may just be a number of ad hoc, cobbled together ideas that are not really coordinated or systematic at all.  And that would be a problem.  We, as an area, do not need to spend time and money on a number of unconnected pieces.  We need to get something that really connects us in a coordinated and systematic way.

In other words, brainstorm all you want, but keep your eye on the prize.

— More of the Same

Sometimes, there are news items that are not particularly surprising.  We got one this week:

I-4 has been named the most dangerous highway in America by GPS tracking company, Teletrac Navman. Using federal data, they found I-4 is death road with 1.25 fatalities per mile.

You can read more here and see a graphic from the company here. Whether it is just really bad or actually the worst depends on your criteria.  Regardless, it is bad and has been for a long time. And, it should be said, it is bad in Orlando as well as here – and in between.

And the most dangerous section of the most dangerous highway in America happens to run right through the happiest place on Earth from Lakeland to Orlando.

Then again, by government choice, there are no real alternatives to using it.

Rays – The Rundown

There was a nice little summary article in the Times regarding different sites that have been considered for the Rays stadium in Hillsborough.   We are not going to get into the whole thing, but it shows clearly why some of the ideas floated were not very good.  It also has some (somewhat funny) graphics that Photoshop present day stadiums onto aerial shots of the proposed sites.  While they do not follow MLB rules and mostly show open air stadiums, the one for the proposed site in Ybor is interesting:


From the Times – click on picture for article

What it shows is how close both the Channel District and the heart of Ybor (and parking garage) actually are to the site.   We are neither endorsing nor rejecting the site, but it does have some advantages.  One question that we still have is whether a retractable roof stadium can actually fit on that site.  And, of course, there is financing.

Which brings us to this from the Rays owner:

In speaking specifically for the first time about the site pitched last month by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times:

We are glad he sees the need for a roof but a fixed roof will be a huge mistake.  Regarding the $150 million, it may be an opening bid or it may be more solid, but, given that the stadium will cost anywhere from $600 million to $800 million and maybe more, it seems a bit low.  How did they get the number?

He said several times the amount of their contribution to the public-private partnership would be based on detailed projections on increased sales of season tickets and sponsorships that were still in the works, and could be influenced by “a drive” or other public effort — such as “businesses knocking on the door” to take part — illustrating additional support, and thus proving that moving from St. Petersburg would be the catalyst.

But he also said they had enough preliminary information to use the $150 million — the same amount they were talking about committing to a failed 2008 proposal on the St. Petersburg waterfront — as a working number.

“We’ve tried to make some guestimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range,” Sternberg said. “We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more.”

So it could change.  We hope it does.  We have a lot of things to pay for in this area.

Downtown – Kress Moves

After a couple of decades of basically nothing happening, the Kress block has been sold.

The historic city block containing the old S.H. Kress & Co. department store and a former F.W. Woolworth’s where 1960s sit-ins led to the peaceful desegregation of the city’s lunch counters was sold this week for $9 million.

The buyer is The Wilson Company, a real estate firm headed by president Carolyn Wilson, who is no stranger to ambitious projects to reclaim old buildings in downtown Tampa.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That leads inexorably to the issue of what are they going to do with it.

Wilson said she fell in love with the Kress, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, when she went to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s state of the city speech there in 2013.

“We’re just in love with the whole block,” she said Thursday evening. “We’re going to restore it. We’re not going to tear down anything.”


Wilson said there is no immediate development plan and no tenants lined up for the building. An event space is a possibility for the Kress. She’s thinking she would like to restore the historic lunch counter at the Woolworth’s.

“We think it’s jewel in the rough,” she said. “We have fuzzy plans, but we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, except we’re going to restore it.”

That is fine.  We’ve been waiting a long time for the block to be restored. And we are thankful that it managed to escape being ruined by some of the past proposals. We can wait a little longer if it is done well.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Tampa and St. Pete are not the only cities in Florida looking to develop/grow institutions of higher learning in their downtown areas.  Orlando is also working on it.

More than $100 million of financing has been approved for construction of a student high-rise at the University of Central Florida’s proposed downtown Orlando campus, lenders say.

Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP, a commercial real estate and capital markets group, helped assemble three loans to underwrite the 15-story building planned to house 600 students and provide 600 parking spaces. The project will also include 102,500 square feet of educational space to be leased by UCF and Valencia College. Valencia’s education space will be the home of hospitality and culinary arts programs.

Completion is slated for August 2019 with an expected 8,000 students, faculty and staff members. The project is at the northwest corner of Livingston Street and Terry Avenue in downtown Orlando. Future phases would include 600 to 900 additional beds on the land to the west of the site.

And they are selling their downtown campus the same way we are. It is just another example of competition being constant.  (We wish the University of Tampa would take a similar approach to integrate its growing campus more into the surrounding area.)

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Given that a major investor in Water Street is an investment company for Bill Gates, we found this interesting:

One of Bill Gates’ investment firms has spent $80 million to kickstart the development of a brand-new community in the far West Valley.

The large plot of land is about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix off I-10 near Tonopah.

The proposed community, made up of close to 25,000 acres of land, is called Belmont. According to Belmont Partners, a real estate investment group based in Arizona, the goal is to turn the land into its own “smart city.” 

“Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs,” Belmont Partners said in a news release.

* * *

According to Belmont Partners, 3,800 acres will go towards office, commercial and retail space. Then, 470 acres will be used for public schools. Plus, there’s room for 80,000 residential units.

“Comparable in square miles and projected population to Tempe, Arizona, Belmont will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model,” said Belmont Properties.

He is a busy man.  We just hope that there is no cannibalization of potential tenants.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

There has been talk for a while of using the CSX tracks for transit.  Previously, it had been in proposed that DMUs, which are more like light rail cars running on diesel, be used.  More recently, ideas have involved commuter rail, like SunRail in Orlando (which we do not favor here) that also uses diesel.  It seems there soon will be another option:

Commuters in northern Germany will be able to travel on the world’s first hydrogen-powered trains in four years’ time.

French engineering giant Alstom says it has signed an agreement to deliver 14 fuel-cell trains to LNVG, a rail company in Germany’s Lower Saxony state.

* * *

Hydrogen engines emit only water vapor and are considered one of the cleanest forms of transportation. The trains will replace diesel vehicles on non-electrified tracks.

There are plans to produce the hydrogen using electricity from Lower Saxony’s many wind turbines.

And hydrogen can be obtained from water, of which we have a lot.

Roundup 11-10-2017

November 10, 2017


Rays – More Hillsborough 

– Of Maps and Money

— A Little Something

Downtown/Channel District – Of More Maps and Money

Downtown/Channel District – One Hit, One Miss

— The Hit

— The Miss

Transportation – A Little HART

– Autonomous Buses

— Leaving

Walkability/Bikability – Give Us Shelter

Westshore – Good for Groceries, But . . .

Temple Terrace – We Give Up

Port – Cruise Terminal 6

Airport – Some More Competition

Travel News – Cuba

Pasco – Those Who Ignore History

Pinellas – They Said Yes


Rays – More Hillsborough 

– Of Maps and Money

Among all the Rays news regarding Ybor City, there was one point that deserves consideration:

While the site may check several boxes on the Rays’ list of priorities in a new stadium — things like access to transportation, fans and a place in the urban core — it lacks the ability to tap what could be an important funding source.

Downtown Tampa is part of a massive Community Redevelopment Area that generates more than $11 million a year in revenue collected through property taxes as property values rise. That money can be used for economic development projects and has funded things like museums, large theaters and convention centers.

But while the proposed site, located on the southern tip of Ybor City at the gateway to the Channel district, is also in a CRA, its amount doesn’t come close to that of the downtown CRA. The Ybor CRA generates $250,000 a year.

It is an interesting point.

But, first, let’s look a little closer at the CRAs. Checking the City’s website on CRAs, it is a little more complicated. The Ybor CRA is actually two different CRAs.   The first is the what most would consider the main part of Ybor, named Ybor CRA 1 (see here) Then there is a second Ybor CRA, creatively named Ybor CRA 2 that is more the outskirts of the area (See map here) Likewise (though with possible technical differences), there is the downtown CRA made up of two parts, which has the “core,” which is not the core, and “non-core,” which is actually the core, though, to be even more confusing, the City website also refers to “old core” and “new core.” (see “non-core” here and “core” here) and the Channel District CRA which comes up to but does not include the land at issue (see map here) Ok, now that you’ve got that, it can be simplified a bit by looking at the 2016 annual CRA report from the City:

From the City 2016 CRA Report – click on picture for report pdf

Incidentally, pages 6-7 of the report pdf give you some financials (where we also learn that the “non-core,” which is the core, of downtown generates more than 4 times as much revenue as the “core,” which is not the core and that Ybor, overall generates about 1.5 million a year, but the limited the CRA segment  where the land in question is generates a small portion of that.)

Basically, the Ybor, Channel District, Downtown CRA’s intersect somewhere around the property in question. Looking at this map of the downtown “core” and this diagram:

From the Times – click on picture for article

It seems that, if it includes anything west of Channelside at all, the land involved may actually partially be in the downtown CRA ( though reports seem to keep the included land to the east of Channelside) while some (but not all) is in the Ybor CRA and touches the Channel District CRA.  What that really means is an open question.

And there is this:

Another option to help the county fund a new stadium is hotel bed tax revenue. However, the tax plan President Donald Trump’s administration released Thursday would block local governments from purchasing tax-free bonds to fund professional sports venues, which is how bed tax dollars are used to pay for expensive projects. If that provision sticks, it’s bad news for both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Hillsborough County currently charges a 5 percent tourist development tax on hotel stays, which is referred to as bed tax. Pinellas County used a portion of its bed tax dollars to help pay back bonds on Tropicana Field, where the Rays currently play.

This is where the extra cent of bed tax when you hit the magic tourism tax revenue number Visit Tampa Bay has been waiting for comes in, if you can bond it. (For more on the bond issue, see this Bloomberg article. ) Hillsborough will likely get to the point of the extra tourist tax level this year or next – and that money has statutorily limited uses, including stadiums.

And this:

The Florida Legislature will consider a bill during its 2018 Legislative Session that would block local governments from leasing publicly owned land to professional sports teams. A similar bill died in this year’s session.

Which could be another wrench, though, it has not passed yet.

What do we learn from all that?  First, we learn that the CRA process is very complicated.  But we could have guessed that. (As an aside, we do not favor the legislative moves to get rid of CRA’s because they can be useful, but in all honesty, one can see how some could think there is room for shenanigans here.)

We also learn that, not even including the team’s portion, the funding for a new stadium will be very complex and fraught with issues. And that this particular lot probably should include land from the west side of Channelside and south of Adamo.

— A Little Something

And if you are at all curious about the private sector guys who helped make even the possibility of the stadium at this site happen, the Times had a good story here. We are not going to get into the details but will say that so far they have been helpful.  Hopefully, they continue to be so.

Downtown/Channel District – Of More Maps and Money

Speaking of CRA’s and the like:

The Hillsborough County legislative delegation has voted to support the idea of creating a commercial improvement district for the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project.

The proposed Water Street Tampa Improvement District would collect assessments from commercial property owners to help pay for or maintain everything from parks to transportation facilities to landscaping to district-wide Wi-Fi.

The district would be meant “to provide a long-term solution for sustainability — without relying on Tampa’s taxpayers for financial support,” according to Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for Strategic Property Partners, the development company created by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment capital fund.

The district would “solely assess the commercial owners only, meaning those assessments will be borne by commercial property owners — not Tampa’s existing residents nor future residents of the neighborhood,” Glisson said.

A 93-page local bill to create the independent special district has been drafted, and on Friday the legislative delegation supported it by a 9-0 vote.

You can see the draft bill here. We like keeping the burden off residents. Though, as a practical matter, this seems to be an all SPP plan for the benefit of SPP’s project.

The district’s borders would be Florida Avenue on the west, Whiting Street on the north, Meridian Avenue on the east and the Garrison Channel on the south. It would include only properties owned by Strategic Property Partners, plus publicly owned sites like Amalie Arena, the Tampa Bay History Center and Cotanchobee Park.

That puts the proposed district inside the downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and the special services district administered by the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership. The partnership-run district staffs downtown with guides for visitors and a “clean team” that picks up litter and focuses on marketing, business development and issues like transportation.

Developers say the new Water Street improvement district would not affect the CRA, which diverts the property taxes generated by new development in a redevelopment area to pay for roads and other public improvements that will foster more growth in the area. Already, Tampa and Hillsborough County have agreed to reimburse Water Street Tampa’s developers up to $100 million in CRA fundsfor the cost of putting in new roads, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure at the project.

We’ll be honest, we did not map the long description of the boundaries on pages 22-27 of the proposed bill. to make sure. In any event, how will it work?

The improvement district would create a five-member board to oversee decisions and would cap property tax increases at three mills, which is $3 per $1,000 of assessed value. Residential units, particularly condos, would not be subject to the additional tax.

SPP doesn’t anticipate collecting ad valorem taxes because that would require a voter referendum, but it does plan to use the special district to levy special assessments on commercial properties. Now, those are owned by SPP and the company doesn’t plan to sell any of its real estate any time soon, said SPP Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jim Shimberg.

That means SPP is asking to tax itself. Doing so allows it to use tax-free bonds to fund enhancements to the district.

* * *

The board would function similarly to a city council or county commission. Any proposed taxes or special assessments would be subject to public noticing requirements and public hearings where owners could express their opinions on proposals. The board would be subject to the same public records laws as democratically-elected boards.

The board would have bonding authority and the ability to take on debt, but would not be allowed to create comprehensive plans or handle zoning and permitting within the area.


The city of Tampa is asking for some additions to the bill as it’s currently written, including requiring an inter-local agreement ensuring the city maintains some local control over decision-making in the district.

The City thought it was a little too much. That’s interesting. What will it do exactly?

Strategic Property Partners said Monday the district:

Once again, SPP will essentially be taxing itself and figuring what to do with the money. Generally, we are fine with that theoretical idea (we like the City’s request) as long as it is over and above normal property taxes, which on pg 65-66 seems to be the case. If it takes normal tax revenues away, then you are still burdening the local taxpayer indirectly.  (And, in truth, there is no guarantee that the taxpayers would never be asked for more money at some point.)

And in all those pages are a lot of powers that seem very much like a self-governing sub-city (including the ability to have ad valorem taxes, see pg 65) – right now kind of a company town – that probably should have a discussion and be subject to some analysis, economic and legal. On the other hand, given the scope of the SPP development and how local politics works, we doubt any official would have really opposed it.

Right now, with SPP owning it all, there is a unity of ownership, interest, and governance (in that SPP will pick the whole board), so it seems ok (as long as the Lightning owner maintains his civic-mindedness). The real issues will arise if/when SPP sells off buildings (and/or changes its attitude), risking the whole thing becoming a muddle of competing interests that will require the legislature to fix.

Downtown/Channel District – One Hit, One Miss

There was news about two proposed developments in the Downtown/Channel District area this week.

— The Hit

The first news was about the latest revision to the Del Villar proposal.  When last we left it, the developer had added 700 sq.ft. of retail to a long, basically dead streetscape.  As it turns out, the City staff was not buying it. As first noted by URBN Tampa Bay, the decision (which can be found on the handy Accela database, address: 858 Channelside Dr, -870, T 33602) tells us:

Given that construction has not commenced on the project as approved and the property remains vacant, the current application is subject to compliance with Section 27-204(b). Pursuant to staff’s review of the application, the following items contained in this section must be corrected:

  1. The east building elevation, including the garage, as seen along Channelside Dr. shall meet the intent of the Channel District code whereby Sec. 27-204(b)(1)&(2) states that (1) All developments shall provide residential, office, neighborhood serving commercial uses, including general retail, restaurant, and/or personal services, and said uses shall be located on the ground floor and may extend to the second floor and above for a specific user
  2. Developments shall provide shade and weather protection for pedestrians along public rights-of-way. This may be accomplished through the use and incorporation of awnings, canopies, arcades, etc.”

Therefore, the substantial change application must show compliance with Section 27-204.

And it also said this:

In general, staff finds that the current building design deviates substantially from the previous approved 2007 project with regard to façade embellishments and the exterior treatment of the garage (min. 80% opacity).  While the proposed 2017 revision lacks the required Channelside ground floor activation as demonstrated in the 2007 plan the proposed building façade does not have any similar exterior façade treatment and articulation.  Also note the building immediately to the north (The Place) and its adherence to the ground floor requirements.

Staff finds that the current proposal has little of the character and refinement that the previous building as demonstrated with texture, fenestration, multiple balconies and an interesting roof top element.

In other words, the proposal is not sufficiently well designed for an urban environment and fails to comply with the design standards.  The City staff is not settling, and they are right.  Without much extra work, the developers can do better (and, according to staff, did better before).

— The Miss

In contrast to Del Villar, there was the proposal for adaptive reuse of a building, which has no clear parking, into micro-apartments without parking (listed in the Times as 220 Madison but in Accela as 210 Madison).

Urban Core Holdings has scrapped its plans for 120 teeny apartments at 220 Madison Street in favor of 48 more conventional ones geared toward students.

Although the micro apartments drew an enthusiastic response when they were announced in April, the construction costs and parking requirements ultimately doomed them, Urban Core manager Omar Garcia said Tuesday.

“We went back to the drawing board and said, ‘How can we continue to use this property as residential because we think it’s the highest and best use,’” he said of the 12-story former office building. “So we came up with the student housing concept because it’s a great location for University of Tampa students and also we’ll have 800 (University of South Florida) medical students who will be living in the downtown area in 2019” when a new medical school building is finished.

Instead of micro units for about $850 a month, the two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments will range from $769 to about $990 including all utilities, cable and 300 Mbps internet per person. That will make them “absolutely the cheapest” apartments downtown, Garcia said.

* * *

The city requires developers to provide one parking space per apartment or pay a $26,500 fee per space instead. Scaling back from 120 to 48 apartments cut the parking requirement to just 48 spaces “and we can mitigate some of that requirement with bike racks,” Garcia said. Urban Holdings will also save money by not having to put in nearly as many kitchens.

It should be noted that construction cost were apparently an issue.

However, another major issue was parking,  The micro-apartment project would require 120 parking spaces or payment to the City in lieu of providing the parking (there was a possibility of some offset for bikes, but it was limited).  We get that staff was applying the rules and that the City wants money if not parking spaces. We get the idea that parking is an issue especially in an area that has no real transit. But for a supposed live, work, and play environment (with innovation and ridesharing and all that), the idea that every unit or even most units require a parking space rather than leaving it up to renters to figure it out, seems completely out of date. (We could understand if it was some old legacy rule from the 80s or 90s.  However, according to Municode, the specific ordinance, 27-184, that is cited over and over in the decision was revised in August of 2017, though that seems to related to medical marijuana dispensaries. The main part of the ordinance was apparently adopted in 2016. Helpfully, that 2016 ordinance also includes standards for drive-through bank facilities and drive-in restaurants in the central business district.)

So we have one win for urban planning and one loss. And what is at the bottom of all that?  The Code.  Good for the requirements to make Channelside more walkable, but if we are going to have a real downtown, our code should comprehensively reflect it.  And, as we said last week, there is no better time than the present to stop settling.

Transportation – A Little HART

There was interesting news from HART.

– Autonomous Buses

First, there was news about service.

A shuttle without a human driver is going to be riding around the streets of downtown Tampa fairly soon.

It will be the first of its kind in the entire country to be driving daily among regular traffic.

* * *

HART is starting small and carefully. The new shuttle’s route will only be about 1 mile in length, connecting the popular N. Marion Street Bus Center to the other side of downtown Tampa. By staying on Marion Street, and limiting hours to daytime, the autonomous shuttle will have only limited interactions with other drivers, since Marion Street is limited to other HART busses during daytime hours.

But one day these shuttles will expand their routes.

Setting aside that Las Vegas already has autonomous buses (even though one got in an accident maybe they are not “driving daily among regular traffic” ) We are all for trying it out and the Marion Street Transitway is the place to do it (precisely because it is not in traffic, but whatever).  Buses are an integral part of a proper transit system, and we have no reason to not try these.  Interestingly,

Florida’s Department of Transportation is paying for the shuttle which is designed by the Canadien company Stantec which has an office in Tampa. The shuttle is a pilot program that is currently funded for 1 year, but Eagen hopes to see it funded for several years to come.

Look at FDOT.

Anyway, here is a video of similar looking autonomous buses in Finland.


We hope our buses run a little faster with less dramatic music.

— Leaving

Given that apparent step into the future, there was other interesting news:

Katharine Eagan, the leader of Hillsborough’s transit agency, is leaving just a month after implementing a widespread overhaul of the county’s threadbare bus network.

Eagan joined the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority as chief operating officer in 2009, and took over as chief executive officer in 2014.

She led the agency in innovative solutions to make the most of a shoestring HART budget — one of the lowest per capita in the country.

Turns out she is going to Pittsburgh.

“Who wouldn’t want to be in the Pittsburgh area right now?” she said, noting the region’s rebirth and technology innovations such as testing self-driving vehicles. She called the position “a public servant’s dream come true.”

Not to mention they have rail and other major transit investments.

“The biggest takeaway is, what does the community want?” she said. “The agency runs the system, but the community owns it.”

We wonder where she learned that.

Walkability/Bikability – Give Us Shelter

For those who enjoy the Courtney Campbell Causeway trail, there was some good news,

They are small clusters of cube-shaped concrete benches sheltered by metal roofs — ten “comfort stations” for pedestrians and bicyclists traveling the Hillsborough section of the Courtney Campbell Trail.

“It’s always been a good place to fish, but now there’s also a place to get out of the sun,” Ospina said. “It’s also a lot prettier and makes it more welcoming.”

The $878,720 project was a collaboration among Tampa, Hills-borough County and the Florida Department of Transportation, said Brad Suder, superintendent of design and planning for the city of Tampa. The stations run west from a point beyond Ben T. Davis Beach and its larger concrete shelters.

One shelter has an air pump for filling bicycle tires and a faucet to replenish water bottles. The project also included bike racks, new landscaping and signs marking trail points.

The benches are made of solid concrete and some have no backs, so they’re designed more for a brief respite than an afternoon picnic, Suder said.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Ok, so they are not the most comfortable looking facilities, but they are welcome.  While we generally prefer just getting up and going, there are occasions when it would be nice to stop and adding facilities to a nice trail is always a good thing.

Clearwater and Pinellas County are working on designs for rest stations on their side of the trail.

Current plans call for two stations as well as a pedestrian overpass connecting the trail from its western end with Bayshore Boulevard to the north, said Gina Harvey, Pinellas County Transportation traffic engineering coordinator. Travelers have to cross at a traffic light there now.

Plans are expected to be finalized in the next few months, Harvey said, but the project may take a couple of years to build.

That time frame seems a bit long, but we’re happy they are doing it.

Westshore – Good for Groceries, But . . .

The Business Journal reported that Publix might move into the old Sports Authority store in Westshore.

Publix Super Markets Inc. is targeting a former Sports Authority store in Tampa’s Westshore business district.

The city has been asked to verify the zoning of that store, which is 37,500 square feet and sits on more than 3 acres. The letter, filed Wednesday by a Miami-based title and research firm, asks the city to address its findings to Publix’s corporate headquarters in Lakeland.

Which is fine, but not that exciting.

Publix has long been rumored to be looking for a location in Westshore, and the Sports Authority box emerged as the most likely location after Sports Authority shuttered that location in 2016.

The Whole Foods Market Inc. store on North Dale Mabry Highway is technically within Westshore’s official boundaries. But it is far removed from the district’s office base, and Westshore has seen an influx of both office tenants and new residential development in recent years.

That’s great, but is it really a big deal?  There are also a Winn Dixie and a Walmart supercenter on Dale Mabry and both, plus the Whole Foods, are closer and more accessible to all the new housing near Columbus/Boy Scout and Lois (where most of the new housing is) than the Sports Authority location and you can’t reasonably walk or bike to any of them (You could to the Whole Foods but the complex is laid out quite poorly for it).

The truth is that the Publix will serve the houses south of Westshore much more (though the old grocery location at Westshore and Kennedy where Panera and Starbucks now are is significantly better), though thankfully the City cut off the road into that neighborhood years ago so look for a lot of people cutting across the parking lot of the building next door to avoid Kennedy.

We are sure the Publix will do fine, but it is not really an achievement.

Temple Terrace – We Give Up

There was more news about Temple Terrace’s messy attempt to develop an urban area.

In an ongoing effort to bring new life to an aging and largely unoccupied shopping plaza southeast of the N 56th Street/Bullard Parkway intersection, four firms presented plans at a Nov. 1 meeting of the Temple Terrace Redevelopment Agency at the Omar K. Lightfoot Recreation Center.

The city, forced to take out a $23.5 million loan after yet another failed effort, must either pay off or refinance the debt by April 2018. Many on the council are eager to move forward, but Council member Frank Chillura said the proposals clearly indicated Temple Terrace will fall short of its original vision.

“I think the problem the city faces is that we want the pie in the sky,” he said. “I think we all want the same end result, but we have to look at what is the best fit for Temple Terrace and we’ve got to get this on the road — we’ve got to make this happen.”

Actually, at this point it is not clear that everyone wants the same thing.  And urban development is not pie in the sky, but what has gone before has made a mess of this whole process.

You can read the details of the proposal in the Times article here.  Essentially there are two apartment/maybe mixed proposals and two sprawl-y retail proposals (both with requisite bank and coffee shop).

So what was the reaction?

Several residents expressed doubts about the feasibility of apartments on the site and leaned toward the retail-heavy Paragon proposal.

“If you build all those apartments are you sure you are going to get people in those buildings?” resident Gary Martin asked. “I think the commercial proposal is what most people are looking for.”

You could definitely get people to live in the apartments, especially if they were designed properly.  But as we said, this process has become so muddled that what we expect is really nothing. (And they may want to rethink the coffee shop thing.)

Port – Cruise Terminal 6

There was news from the Port:

Passengers taking Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas out of Port Tampa Bay started their trip in the port’s newly improved cruise terminal 6, which has opened after months of renovation.

The terminal is being used by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE: RCL) as a homeport for its cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas as well. Improvements to the terminal included a 7,277-square-foot expansion of the ticketing area, 32 new ticket counters, 28 new baggage tables and an increase of parking west of the facility. 

* * *

Previously, Terminal 6 could only handle cruise ships with 1,800 passengers. Now, it can handle ships with 2,500 passengers, Elliott said. “This gives us a lot more flexibility,” he said. “You have to be adept and responsive to the market. Our cruise ship customers wanted to bring in more ships on an expedited time frame.”

Terminal 6 is the warehouse looking terminal at the northern end of the cruise area. It is good to update facilities, and it is good to be able to be more flexible.  The real question is more about the future of cruising and how hard it will be in the mid and long term to maintain the business in Tampa.  That discussion seems to have gone away.

Airport – Some More Competition

Spirit airlines announced some new service this week:

Spirit Airlines is launching four new nonstop flights to Tampa. Beginning Thursday, travelers will be able to travel directly from Tampa International Airport to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., Pittsburgh International Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The airline will also launch a daily seasonal flight between Tampa and Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 15, 2018. The route will operate until April 11 2018, and resume service Nov. 8, 2018. 

None of those are new destinations, but competition is good and more service is good.

Travel News – Cuba

There is Cuba news:

The Trump administration rolled out new restrictions on trade with Cuba on Wednesday in an effort to “channel economic activities away” from the nation’s military, intelligence and security services while pushing Americans to support its private small businesses.

The moves will make some travel to Cuba more cumbersome and expensive but ultimately will have little effect on those in the Tampa Bay area intent on visiting Cuba.

Commercial travel by airline and cruise ship from Tampa to Havana will continue.

The biggest change affecting U.S. travelers: They will have to pay a U.S. government-certified travel company to lead them through Cuba rather than sightseeing on their own.

You can debate the new rules, but, for us, the key is that it will not interfere with air and cruise service.

Pasco – Those Who Ignore History

There was news about the SR54/US41 cluster in Pasco County:

Twenty-one months ago, the Florida Department of Transportation said it was hitting the brakes on planning improvements at a traffic-clogged intersection in central Pasco.

Instead, the DOT said it would await recommendations from Pasco County and a citizens task force before advancing a proposed fix for the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54. The DOT pause, at the county’s request, came after public objections to a planned flyover elevating SR 54 above north-south traffic on U.S. 41.

Now, the state is putting its foot back on the gas, even though the citizens task force has yet to finalize a recommendation. DOT’s tentative five-year work program, dated Oct. 17, includes nearly $32 million to buy right of way for a new interchange at SR 54/U.S. 41 beginning in 2022.

* * *

DOT regional spokeswoman Kris Carson said the specific dollar amount, listed at $31,937,100 in the tentative work plan, is “a conservative amount programmed in the last year of the work program, so this gives the county plenty of time to conduct outreach and get the community’s vision for this area.’’

The dollar amount can go up or down or be shifted for a different purpose if the county recommends the no-build option, Carson said.

So where are we on the community process?

The citizens task force, assembled by the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization of county commissioners and elected city officeholders, has been considering a dozen options for the intersection, including doing nothing. Five of the proposals include elevating SR 54 for vehicles and/or mass transit above U.S. 41. Other ideas call for at-grade improvements to the intersection and adding frontage roads.

Preliminary estimates for right-of-way costs range from as little as $1.7 million (building four elevated lanes in the existing right of way) up to $110 million for what is known as a parallel flow intersection in which left-turning cars bypass the intersection via frontage roads.

The MPO put together the task force after severe community push-back against a 2014 proposal from a private company to build and operate an elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor between U.S. 19 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The DOT pulled the plug on that idea when the company said it needed public subsidies in order for the $2 billion project to work.

Who knows?  The amazing thing is that apparently Pasco did not learn anything from the mess that Hillsborough (and so many other counties) made and continues to make all the same mistakes (impact fees aside).  What is a really needed is an east-west highway, but that has been killed a number of times and is unlikely to be approved anytime soon.

What we have now is the result of decades of horrible planning and a clash of the interests that said bad planning created. We doubt they will really fix anything anytime soon.

Pinellas – They Said Yes

The Penny for Pinellas tax passed overwhelmingly.  Apparently, people are willing to tax themselves.  Transit advocates should examine the process.

Roundup 11-3-2017

November 3, 2017

This week, the Times decided to redo its website (you can decide what you think), including apparently changing most of its links without forwarding the old ones (at least not yet).  Hopefully, that will change, but you may find that a number of Times links no longer work.  Additionally, there were a few items we could not get to because of the old links.


Downtown/Channelside – The Rollout Continues

— 815 Water Street

— Channelside Redux

— Hotel

Rays – The Hillsborough Site


– About Those Express Buses

— Selmon Choice

— Just a Little Thing

Economic Development – Startup Ratings

— On The Other Hand

Airport – Almost

Built Environment – !p Starts Here

South Tampa – Pictures

Built Environment – Adventures in Planning

— Continuing on That Theme


List of the Week


Downtown/Channelside – The Rollout Continues

— 815 Water Street

As anyone who is following development knows, the roll out of Water Street buildings continued last week, this time 815 Water Street.  Here is the location:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

It is across the street from the USF Med School.

The first residential building at Water Street Tampa will have one tower with rental apartments and a second with condominiums, both rising from a base featuring a full-service grocery store, developers said Thursday.

* * *

Plans call for the 21-story rental tower to be perpendicular to Channelside Drive. The 26-story condominium tower — one of Tampa’s first new for-purchase residential towers in nearly a decade — would be angled towards the water, affording residents views of the waterfront and downtown.

* * *

The towers at 815 Water Street will share a green roof designed by Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles Inc., with amenities for residents of both, and each tower will have a roof-top pool. The rooftop amenities are possible because Water Street Tampa will have a central air-conditioning plant for all of its buildings.

* * *

At ground level, the residential towers will be at the southern end of Water Street, which is designed to include shady rows of trees — “as large and mature growth trees as we can possibly get,” Nozar says — on each side of the street.

And this is the full rendering released:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

First, the good stuff: We like the size.  We like the grocery store.  We like the living wall concept and the roof gardens.

Now the mixed (at least until we know more): We like the idea of angling the buildings, though we are not sure this particular angling actually open up views of the water. By angling the building to follow the lot northeast to southwest, the condo building actually has fewer units openly facing the traditional water view (though they do get downtown views and port views).  We also like apparent attention to making the sidewalk more pleasant.  We like the feature on the left (under the condo building) where it creates a plaza of sorts.  However, the rendering seems to have a large planter in the middle of the space.  We get the landscaping idea, but this area appears to be basically across from the plaza next to the USF med school.  It would be nice if the formed complementary, framed spaces that were really open.  The planter takes up a lot of that space.  We are not sure how that will work out.

The unknown: the rendering seems to indicate that there is an awning of sorts over the sidewalk, but it is not completely clear.  As we have said before, in our minds it is necessary for any truly walkable area in Florida.

The undecided: while we like the living wall and the general massing, we are not sure about the façade of either the towers or the garage.  The rendering looks a bit brutal to us.  The building may not be, but we cannot be sure. We appreciate the desire to create a mix of styles, but we are not sure about this particular style.  It may turn out very nicely, but it may not be.

Regardless, we are happy to see designs be rolled out.  We just hope they tweak it a little more and make sure there is that awning.

As for this:

There’s also the issue of demand. News of the condo tower comes as a leader in the industry, the Related Group’s Jorge M. Perez, sees Tampa’s market as stronger for rental than for high-end urban condos, and on the same day that a competing condo project, the 24-story Virage on Bayshore Boulevard, broke ground.

We actually don’t think there will be that much problem, at least in the first few buildings, selling condos in Water Street.  It has the buzz.  Of course, time will tell.

— Channelside Redux

There also was more information about new use of the part of the Channelside complex that is being demolished. From URBN Tampa Bay:

New renderings and site plans for the portion of Channelside Bay Plaza presently being demolished have been released. The documents show SPP’s plans for an outdoor food court and park replacing the 2 story structure that once housed various restaurants.



From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The food service seems to use repurposed shipping containers (somewhat reminiscent of this in Montreal).  If so, it would be a good use now that will be easy to remove when the time for something more permanent arrives.

Regardless, we think this plan is completely reasonable.

— Hotel

There is also a new rendering of the Hotel across the street from the Marriott, per URBN Tampa Bay

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As with previous renderings of the hotel, the rendering is generally fine but it confirms that the awning/covering for pedestrians will be broken up by columns, which is unfortunate. Once again. if they want people to walk around the development (and not just in the Habitrails) they need to design for the fact that it rains and is very hot for much of the year (like people did when people used to walk around downtown).

Rays – The Hillsborough Site

As anyone who follows it knows, there was big, maybe, Rays news:

At last, Hillsborough County leaders have decided where they want to put a Tampa ballpark, entering them officially in the sweepstakes to be the next home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The county will offer the Rays a location in the Channel District-Ybor City area bordered by 15th Street and Channelside Drive to the east and west and Fourth Avenue and Adamo Drive to the north and south. The Tampa Bay Times reported in August that county officials were narrowing in on this site.

More importantly, County Commissioner Ken Hagan said Tuesday that the community has reached an agreement with land owners to gain site control of about 14 acres there.

* * *

The agreement gives the county nine months to negotiate with the Rays, with the option for a six-month extension.


From the Times – click on picture for article

Apparently, the announcement was a surprise to some:

Though surprised by Hagan’s announcement, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn nevertheless said he thinks the location “makes sense in terms of connecting the dots between downtown and Ybor City.”

But, he added: “I look forward to hearing how the county plans to pay for this.”


“If this deal gets done, it’s going to take all parties holding hands and moving together,” Buckhorn told me Wednesday. “That means no surprises, no double crosses, no showboating.”

Yes, no showboating.

And the Rays:

In a statement, the Rays were noticeably noncommittal, though Major League Baseball teams are reticent to make news during the World Series. There’s also a hotly contested St. Petersburg mayoral race, and a bold announcement now could sway it.

“This is another important step in the site selection process, and we are grateful for the time and attention that went into making it a possibility,” Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld said in the statement. “We look forward to getting to work evaluating this option, along with those in Pinellas County including the Tropicana Field site, as a potential future home for Rays Baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come.”


The Rays will probably wait a couple of weeks until the World Series and the mayoral election are over and then confirm that, yes, the Ybor site is at the top of their wish list.

But they will not, and realistically should not, fully commit to the site until a finan­cing plan is put together. If they embrace Ybor with both arms, and then discover there is no political will to help fund the stadium, they’d have to slink back to St. Pete with hats in hand.

How about the rest of the County Commission?

Commissioner Victor Crist was livid Wednesday that he learned about the plan through the media. Crist said it was a violation of protocol for Hagan to unveil a location as a county plan and present it to the Rays without first getting the approval of the entire commission.

Crist’s fear is that this has been branded publicly as Hillsborough County’s plan, when the county commission hasn’t even seen it, let alone vote on it.

“This has had no vetting of the county commission. This has had no vetting of public input,” Crist said. “This whole thing has been done in a vacuum behind the scenes, out of the sunshine and that is not how the Board of County Commissioners operates.”

Probably because:

Crist said he met with Christaldi the day before, along with Rays President Brian Auld. The Ybor site never came up. Instead, during the conversation, which included about 12 other people, Crist talked about the merits of the Tampa Greyhound Track for a ballpark.

Let’s just say those merits are limited at best.  Anyway,

“You can find this whole thing breaks down quickly just because it was handled inappropriately,” said Crist, who opined that his colleagues were just as upset.

But if they are, they declined to lash out, as Crist did.

Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Les Miller and Sandy Murman said they weren’t expecting an announcement Tuesday but nevetheless had no problem with Hagan making public the preferred site.

In a vote last year, the board formally designated Hagan the commission’s point person to lead the site search with other community and business leaders, and to negotiate with the Rays and landowners.

History has shown that leaving anything to the whole Commission to plan and/or arrange is a good way to not make any progress.

Setting officials’ reactions aside, let’s actually look at the site.  This is URBN Tampa Bay’s analysis of the site (not the funding or other issues):

– The stadium would be directly on the Streetcar route, which runs up Channelside Drive. This would potentially be a boon to the street car, especially if the street car is expanded farther into Downtown and Tampa Heights soon. The streetcar allows fans to park farther away and trolley over or have easy access to a variety of bars and restaurants before and after the games. Residents in Downtown would have easy access to the stadium as well.

– Depending on how the stadium is buit out, it could lead to large property value increases in Ybor, or it may not. If the stadium is well integrated into the neighborhood with minimal impact it could be boon to businesses and in turn residential and other development. If the stadium is poorly integrated into the neighborhood, it could do what current stadium’s sea of parking does to its corner of St. Pete: depress the immediate area.

– The stadium would chop up Ybor’s street grid. 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue would no longer connect to Channelside Drive, pushing more daily, routine traffic onto Adamo and 4th Avenue. This doesn’t even consider the lost road capacity for the games themselves. Not only does this disturb efficient street grid but it eliminates future development opportunities that are more in line with Ybor City’s character.

We agree for the most part with those points. However, if it is done right, a stadium could create more development opportunities in line with Ybor’s character.  It just depends on if you mean the 7th Avenue character or the shotgun house character.  Breaking up the grid is an issue, but not insurmountable.

And we have a few concerns on doing it right.  If you look at the little picture above, the main stands are in the south, next to Adamo and the Selmon.  That would normally be the main entrance, but could limit the impact on the immediate vicinity.  You may wonder why they show it that way instead of the main stands to the north.  The answer is that under MLB rules batters are supposed to be facing somewhere to the north or east when batting.  That is an issue.

Another issue is that a stadium really should have a retractable roof.  This is Florida, baseball is a summer sport, and they don’t play in heavy rain.  Whether it can fit on that lot is an open question.

And, of course, there is financing.  First, regarding the options,

Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises and Ron Christaldi, CEO of Shumaker Advisors Florida, are heading the SC Hillsborough Corp. to oversee option agreements with landowners that guarantee the county the ability to purchase the property.

SC Hillsborough Corp. doesn’t run operations on the preferred ballpark properties between Channelside Drive and 15th Street and Adamo Drive and East 4th Avenue. Property owners still have access to the site as usual, but the lease options mean those owners are contractually barred from selling the property to someone else.

That comes at a cost, one Christaldi said SC Hillsborough Corp. is saving the county — though he didn’t say how much. Christaldi and Sykes are footing the bill to cover the option fees to keep the parcels. The corporation will also handle any liability risk to the properties if, for example, there’s a damaging fire on a parcel.

Christaldi said he and Sykes are funding those costs out of pocket.

But the alleged cost savings come at a price when it comes to transparency. As a private entity, SC Hillsborough Corp. isn’t bound by the same public records laws as the county commission. It means the public may never see the actual agreements until they wind up in county record.

That leaves stadium critics wondering if a Rays stadium deal, one that is likely to use substantial taxpayer dollars, could be brokered behind closed doors.

Not the case, said Christaldi.

“I understand the perception,” Christaldi said. “But not only is there not an intention of hiding things, it’s going to be a community effort. It has to be a community effort.”

Christaldi said SC Hillsborough Corp. won’t be designing anything or making any decisions. 

Our concern level is low. First, if the options are paid for with private money, that should be a good thing for people worried about public funding.  It is a small thing, but at least the taxpayers are not on the hook right now.  Moreover, if the whole thing were private money, that would be fine with us.  And even with the statement about a community decision, part of the price of having less or no public money is having less involvement in decision-making.

However, none of that addresses the financing of the stadium.  In other words, as interesting as this news is, there is a long way to go before we know whether it is a good idea or not – or even feasible.


– About Those Express Buses

For as long as FDOT has pushed express lanes (until recently to be tolled, though now they are equivocating, at least in some places), they have pointed to having express buses running on them as a selling point.  There is only one problem.  We do not even fund our anemic normal bus systems.  Who is going to pay for express buses?

The Florida Department of Transportation’s preliminary highway improvement plan includes tolled express lanes that could also be used for buses. Florida law prohibits transit in express lanes shared with other vehicles, known as managed lanes, from being included in the Florida Department of Transportation’s Strategic Intermodal System. FDOT uses 75 percent of its funding on SIS projects.

In order to be eligible for SIS funding under existing law, buses would have to operate in an exclusive lane.

In other words, those express buses are all on local communities to fund (to be fair, FDOT has said that on occasion).  Anyway, some are trying to change that:

“Current thinking is that bus-only lanes aren’t the most efficient use of road space since even a very frequent bus service would leave the lane empty for nine minutes out of every 10,” Hillsborough MPO President Beth Alden wrote in an email to Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) earlier this month. 

She’s asking Rouson to sponsor legislation that would add four words to the list of applicable transit modes that qualify for SIS funding under existing law — “transit in managed lanes.”

“This policy would not mean Tampa Bay gets more SIS funding than it typically does,” Alden wrote. “It would just make rapid bus an eligible expenditure.”

Rouson has not filed a bill yet, but he’s working on ways to incorporate the change into legislation this year, according to his office.

Alden is also hoping managed lanes, proposed for the Howard Frankland Bridge and portions of Interstate 275 through downtown and north as well as Interstate 4, can eventually be used for autonomous vehicle transit. 

In other words, this is just to make state funding possible, not a reality.  And note that it is limited to “managed lanes.” According to the federal DOT managed lanes can be free or tolled express lanes.  Of course, we have no idea what FDOT is planning.

We keep saying that FDOT still needs to be more transparent. The TB(n)X process is nice, but being completely up front (including all local officials) about all these issues from the beginning is much better.

— Selmon Choice

The Selmon/Gandy Connector Decorations have been chosen.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is moving forward with a design meant to represent nature for its Selmon Extension project, the agency announced Monday.

Residents voted on two designs, Estuary and Vivid, online or by phone, and the Estuary design received nearly 75 percent of the vote.

The results are consistent with a Tampa Bay Business Journal survey indicating 61 percent of respondents preferred the Estuary design.

That is definitely the better of the two choices given.

— Just a Little Thing

A few weeks ago we noted that one of the alignments proposed for the streetcar would destroy one of the nicer public spaces downtown (even if most people do not know about it). Interestingly, the City of Tampa’s Twitter page had a post this week in support of trying to bring Amazon’s HQ2 here in just that spot:

From the City of Tampa – click on picture for Twitter post

You can see the full post here.

It would be a shame to see it go. Just something to consider when thinking about the streetcar expansion.

Economic Development – Startup Ratings

In our last Roundup, we discussed a Business Journal ranking of part of the tech ecosystem in this area.  While we are not going to get into all of it, the Business Journal had a number of more articles on such ratings.  These are the articles: Overall and Brand; Startups and Funding; and Entrepreneurial support and Funding.

Tampa Bay is just slightly above averge when it comes to the technology industry.

While that goes against the hype, it is probably accurate.  Hopefully, it will change.

— On The Other Hand

Nevertheless, it is possible to have success.

Goldman Sachs Growth Equity led a $30 million capital financing for KnowBe4, a fast-growing cybersecurity training company in Clearwater.

KnowBe4 will use the new funding for international growth, including hiring 20 people in a newly opened office in the United Kingdom, and for product development, said Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO.

KnowBe4 helps businesses and organizations train their workers on safe internet practices. Most companies are aware of the risks posed by a potential data breach, but not all of those businesses understand the need to train employees to act as “human firewalls” to head off ransomware, CEO fraud and other social engineering tactics, Sjouwerman said. Cybersecurity awareness training is a $5 billion market, he said, and the investment is a show of confidence in the potential of the industry.

That is good.  Whether it leads to bigger and better things generally is an open question.

Airport – Almost

The airport passenger numbers for the fiscal year are out:

TAMPA — Hurricane Irma kept Tampa International Airport from breaking a 10-year-old record for total passengers, but the count for the 12 months ending in September was still up 1.6 percent.

The airport saw more than 19.2 million passengers during the 12 months ending on Sept. 30.

“Unfortunately, for the month, Hurricane Irma blew us off course,” executive vice president for marketing and communications Christopher Minner told the Aviation Authority’s board on Thursday. “We wound up just 15,000 passengers short of our all-time fiscal year record set back in 2007.”

Irma closed the airport for a little less than three full days and put a dent in its numbers for about two weeks, resulting in a passenger loss of about 211,000, an 11.7 percent monthly drop compared to September 2016.


International traffic was up 11.6 percent despite a hurricane-caused dip in September. Icelandair, which began flying to Reykjavík in September, accounted for about 3 percent of the total. Growth in Copa’s traffic to Panama outpaced international passenger growth at the airport as whole.

The airport also took a $1.25 million hit to its bottom line from Irma, nearly $786,000 of it coming from lost or refunded parking revenues. For the year, operating revenues were about $215 million, about what was expected, while expenses were $117.2 million, or 4 percent less than budgeted.

A good performance overall.  Hopefully, next year they can get the record.

Built Environment – !p Starts Here

Last week, the Tampa Innovation Alliance, which is now apparently Tampa’s !p had a celebration of its work.  That’s fine.  In the Times article on it (here) there was this quote:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn praised “!p” for its foundation and that it would be the “next driving force in Tampa.”

“We are not settling for a nasty Fowler Avenue or a nasty Busch Boulevard,” Buckhorn said.

Setting aside that Tampa has settled for those things for years, we are all for fixing them.  FDOT also says it is interested in making them more bike and pedestrian friendly.

We just happened to be driving down Busch this week and found the first place to start. They could move signs and poles from the middle of sidewalks. (see here, here, here , here, here, and, while maybe not in the exact zone, here)

And maybe come up with some decent design standards so buildings do not present a doorless, essentially blank façade right around Busch Gardens, like the Hampton Inn on Busch – here under construction.  Then again, it was completed last year.

There is no better time to stop settling than the present.

South Tampa – Pictures

Marina Point, which is going where New Port Tampa Bay was going to be, released a new rendering on its Facebook page.

From Marina Point – click on picture for Facebook page

With this blurb:

Imagine living next to a state-of-the-art marina steps away from your front door. Great access to St. Pete and Downtown Tampa, incredible shopping, the best restaurants and an impressive array of services and amenities. All of this will be possible at Marina Pointe, our luxury condominium featuring 112 residences. Contact us here for more details:

Which is all fine (the specific aesthetics being not completely to our taste, but that is subjective).  However, it would be nice to know plans for dealing with all the traffic that development is going to generate.

Built Environment – Adventures in Planning

As part of the regular effort defend directly or indirectly the Bass Pro Shops subsidy (and similar actions), this week there was another article about how great the Estuary development is.  This time it was in the Business Journal. We are not going to get into the whole thing but this is the basic idea:

In the midst of the retail apocalypse, Estuary is a prime example of how shopping center development has evolved in the last decade and a half.

And we are told:

It’s only now, with those entertainment concepts in place — representing around $140 million in new development — that the traditional retailers that Verardo once thought would be the backbone of his project are interested. He’s marketing a 25,000-square-foot box and another 25,000-square-foot multi-tenant strip center in The Estuary, plus two large restaurant outparcels. He may not have enough space to meet the demand.

The article had this aerial taken in September:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The fact that a moderately sized strip center and one big box store are said to not to be able to fit into that land (just look at all the parking there already) tells you pretty much all you have to know about Hillsborough County’s planning priorities mistakes.  (And that’s not even getting into the limited ingress and egress.)  Just remember that a less than 10 miles away is the Water Street land (and Ybor).  It’s all about choices.

— Continuing on That Theme

If you missed URBN Tampa Bay’s post on this, you really need to read a piece from Politico: “The Boomtown That Shouldn’t Exist” about Cape Coral.  You can find it here. A lot of it should sound very familiar.


The Business Journal had a nice little piece of aerials of construction in the area.  Here is one of Channel Club:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for more

You can see the rest here.

And you can see construction of the USF Med School (now with tower crane) here.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ Coolest American Cities. The methodology can be found here and includes some odd things like small business employment, which is not really a measure of coolness in our book.  And the list seems oddly weighted towards tourist destinations (probably because it counts bars and restaurants), but, anyway.

The coolest city is San Francisco, followed by Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans, Portland (OR), San Jose, LA, New York, Boston, Denver, Charleston (SC), Honolulu, Austin, Miami, Madison, Houston, Washington (DC), Las Vegas, Orlando, and Tampa.

Yes, we made it.  Apparently we have strong net migration (another odd coolness measure) and recreation.  We are not so good, no surprisingly, on youth and mass transit (arguably connected).  Even acknowledging that, we’d rather be on the list than not.