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Roundup 10-21-2016

October 21, 2016


Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Co

— The Congestion Creation Program

— South County-Palooza

— There Is Another Way

— Conclusion

Transportation – Thanks, PTC

Transportation – A (Very) Brief History of Tampa Air Service

— And One More Thing

Economic Development – Let’s Wait for Results

Economic Development/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Developments

Bayshore – Moving Forward


Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing, Cont

Once again, transportation took center stage this week.

— The Congestion Creation Program

This week the County Commission moved on its latest “transportation plan.”

Hillsborough County commissioners are expected to decide next week how to spend the $600 million they set aside for transportation projects over the next 10 years.

“It’s time to get started,” Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

But not everyone is happy.

The two candidates running for the open District 6 commission seat think their potential colleagues should wait until after the election before finalizing a blueprint.

“I’m stunned that they would try to move forward with such a plan with a lame-duck County Commission,” said Democrat Pat Kemp.

Republican Tim Schock, her opponent, agreed.

“One of the biggest issues in the race is transportation,” he said, “so I would absolutely want to have some input into what that’s going to look like.”

Both also thought the public should have more time to view the plan before a vote is taken. County staff unveiled the list of recommended projects Friday.

“That’s been a big deal with these proposals in the first place,” Schock said. “It was a trust issue.”

Setting aside that the county commission’s “plan” is not really a plan and that it is all roads and nothing else, there is bi-partisan candidate agreement that the County Commission should not act right now. So why act?

“The sooner we get them started, the sooner we get them finished,” he said. “It was under this board’s watch that all this work was done, and a new commissioner that is seated will have opportunities to propose changes, if they want.”

Wait?  It can be changed?  So what is the point exactly?  As far as we can tell, the point is to be seen to do something rather than have to really do something.  And, even if they stick to the plan, since the County has neglected to plan appropriately and is constantly creating more problems on the roads, you get a work list like this:

The spending list, which totals $763 million after adding in new mobility fees, is heavily focused on road work. It includes:

Of course, they are focusing on roads.  (And, of course, the County cut a deal to reduce the transportation improvement that booming Waterset development had to do – like widening Big Bend Road and an I-75 overpass, and will now stick taxpayers with the cost. ) That is what the Commission does while they plan poorly then plead poverty.  (And  make a mockery of the idea of promoting infill development that mobility fees supposedly represented.)

Not only that, but from this screen shot you can see the “congestion relief” portion of the road plan:

From Hillsborough County courtesy of Sunshine Citizens - click on chart for Facebook page

From Hillsborough County courtesy of Sunshine Citizens – click on chart for Facebook page

Yes, there are a few road projects on the outskirts of other populated areas but nothing for the core built up area, and most of the money is for South County and little of East County. If you want congestion relief elsewhere – like where you live and pay taxes (say Dale Mabry or Memorial or Hillsborough or SR 60) – you are out of luck.  The fact is that, when you look at the list, it is congestion creating not congestion relief. It just helps get cars to the congested areas and then abandons them on the already overburdened roads.

And as uninspired as that list is (and it should have been funded by impact fees the county Commission did not enforce anyway), there as this:

County administrator Mike Merrill said Tampa residents will benefit from many of the major road projects planned for unincorporated Hillsborough. The county isn’t going to spend money on city roads it doesn’t own or for transit projects Tampa should pay for on its own, he said.

First, most of the road improvements won’t even benefit most residents of the County.  And, while we understand the County not fixing City owned roads, we completely reject the idea that the County and City are separate when it comes to transit.  The fact that the Administrator would say that just emphasize how broken the system is, though, since he works for the Commission, we assume he is just reflecting their (collectively) views.

Nevertheless, the Commission passed their “plan.” (The lone “no” vote coming from a Commissioner who is leaving office.)

Because it is a 10-year plan, commissioners said it wouldn’t be enough to fund transit, which typically requires long-term local commitments to get the federal government to pitch in.

County Administrator Mike Merrill called it an interim plan until further action — including potential funding for transit — can be taken.

“Transit is a much bigger issue,” Merrill said. “The 10-year time period really makes it difficult to draw down any serious federal money.”

Setting aside the apparent contradiction of saying that transit is up to the City to pay for and then saying will the County address it – someday, the County Commission has manifestly failed to deal with that in a serious way, so that is no excuse.  And why should anyone think that the Commission will magically start dealing with transit in a serious, methodical, and logical way?

Commissioner Ken Hagan, along with others, said there is nothing to stop commissioners from considering additional transit funding in the future.

“This is a starting point,” Hagan said. “We can, and likely will, amend the list going forward.”

Wait.  So is it a firm plan or just something tossed out there to look like the Commission is doing something that will be changed later?  What is the point of passing something they are already talking about changing?  More likely, the Commission will stick to their congestion subsidy.  That is the one thing the County is consistent about regarding transportation.

“Today’s plan was essentially taken from what the board approved six months ago,” Hagan said. “It’s essentially the same list we’ve had for three or four years.”

Exactly. It was bad then.  It is bad now, and does not even have the (not adequate) transit element of Go Hillsborough. Do not expect anything better.

As we said when Go Hillsborough died, the Commission had a chance to go back and create a really good plan, to show us what they can do.  Instead they have done nothing other than prove their critics right – which is sad for all of us.

— South County-Palooza

Coincidentally (or not), the Times ran a series of articles on South County. They are worth a look because they tell us a lot about the County’s priorities, and how its policies helped create the transportation problem in the first place.

As the first houses started going up in the Kings Lake community 15 years ago, there wasn’t much else in Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River.

No Amazon distribution center. No St. Joseph’s Hospital. No Publix within 10 miles.

Now there’s all that and more, including a huge master-planned community, Waterset, directly across Big Bend Road from Kings Lake.

Southern Hillsborough — or SouthShore, as it has been rebranded — has seen an explosion in new home construction since the real estate crash sent one of every five houses in Kings Lake into foreclosure. In the 12 months ended in June, work began on nearly 3,000 SouthShore homes — more than a third of all housing starts in the entire Tampa Bay area.

And the building boom comes as Kings Lake and other communities developed before the crash have yet to fully recover.

“We’re not back to our peak value yet, I can tell you that,” says broker Craig Beggins, whose Century 21 Beggins has handled hundreds of SouthShore transactions. “We’re probably 20 percent off the peak.”

One reason: People trying to sell older homes face increasing competition from new ones in attractive, sprawling communities like Waterset. It is so large that the entrance on Big Bend Road is three miles from the “walking tour” of lavishly furnished model homes by major builders including CalAtlantic, West Bay and Lennar, which built many of the houses in Kings Lake.

Unlike Kings Lake, though, Waterset can boast of two pools, a splash park, a dog park, a fitness trail, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts and a community center with a café. Prices including lot run from the high $100,000s — competitive with Kings Lake prices — to more than $500,000. Most builders also offer generous incentives to help with down payment and closing costs.

Today, with 87 homes sold in a single three-month period this year, Waterset is the fastest-growing new-home community in Tampa Bay. When finished it could potentially have as many as 5,000 single-family homes. That’s in addition to the hundreds of houses going up in other parts of south Hillsborough.

Setting aside that older (though not old) houses have not recovered their value (See also here), note that use of land: miles of underused land for a sprawling entry.  And that not good but we would not completely object if the residents and developer are paying for the full cost of the building and upkeep of all the roads and utilities in the development and their impact.

But the key, for our purposes, is this:

With scores of new restaurants, stores and other amenities, south Hillsborough is in many ways a much more desirable place to live than it was when Kings Lake was developed more than a decade ago. But whether in new homes or older ones, residents share a common gripe: traffic problems that will only get worse as the area grows.

“The traffic on Big Bend is crazy,” says Gail Sisouphone, who rents a house in Kings Lake. “It takes 20 minutes to get to here from the interstate.”

That’s a distance of less than a mile. 

And this keeps coming up:

Back in 2003, the community thought it would need to accommodate a 50 percent population boost through 2023. But by 2010, it had already grown by nearly 500 percent, from 12,035 people in 2000 to 71,050 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

Riverview is now a traffic-ridden hub overwhelmed even with its seven-lane highway, U.S. 301, running through the middle. School overcrowding has become a major concern and the community has added two new movie theaters, a hospital and two Publix grocery stores. The community is in the heart of SouthShore, which has attracted half of new all construction in the entire Tampa Bay region.

The reality is that if the area is so popular, the County should not need to subsidize development.  And, while we don’t have any problem with major development (we are for it), the planning is awful.  Yes, there is a lot of building, but all it is doing is clogging up roads for which everyone else will have to pay.  There is nothing in the South County development pattern that indicates that the County has learned anything from all the mistakes it has made in the past that caused the huge backlog in road work and created the congestion. As the Commission has told us for years, Hillsborough County has billions of dollars in road work to do (not to mention the need for transit) that they can’t fund.  Why are they approving development patterns that make it that much worse?  All the County Commission is doing is digging a deeper hole then coming to the taxpayers in the rest of the County to fund fixing it without giving them much of anything.

— There Is Another Way

What really makes this sad is that it does not have to be this way, even in the suburbs, per the Urban Land Institute:

While urban areas are becoming more and more expensive, the urban lifestyle is becoming more and more popular, so suburban towns and developers are increasingly catering those looking for a more walkable, dense community. A new supply of smaller homes with little or no yards in high-population areas will meet the demand to commute less and live closer to restaurants and entertainment. The report calls this “Surban” development; suburban development that brings the best of city living to more affordable areas.

There’s a wide continuum of suburban development, says Stockton Williams, Executive Director of the ULI’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, and many vibrant examples of denser design, aligning with these predictions, are popping up.

“Plano, Texas, is an example of a suburban area that’s developing a town center while maintaining suburban residential patterns and affordability,” says Williams. “That’s one of the reasons why the city just convinced Toyota to move its North American headquarters to Plano.”

Robert Bowman, President of the Residential Neighborhood Development Council and a ULI member, believes in a model for walkable urbanism he’s calling “The Great American Neighborhood.” These aren’t new ideas, he says, but seeing contemporary suburban developers executing on them in an industry filled with typical developments suggests their seen as a great opportunity. Laying down the old formula won’t work anymore.

What they are basically saying is that suburbs can be built like ring towns rather than blobby messes and still keep housing costs down. (And much of Hillsborough County is actually closer in to Tampa – and indistinguishable from it – than parts of Tampa, though the Commission does not interested in that part.) And there is the added benefit of not having expensive, sprawling roads to maintain (saving old and new residents’ money).  They also would be much more transit ready. As shown by this graphic highlighted by URBN Tampa Bay, urban style development is far more efficient than what the County gives us:

From Public Square - click on chart for website

From Public Square – click on chart for website

But even if you don’t want to live in a fully urban area (and some don’t), as indicated by the ULI, urban ideas can work in the suburbs and be much more efficient in their use of land and resources. So why don’t we get them?  By government choice:

Imagine we have two systems for building communities that exist side-by-side and can be studied empirically—call them System A and System B.

System A works better for the economy, environment, health, and social welfare.

Our policies give advantages to System B.

That sounds like Bizarro world. It is America in most places.

System A is the walkable, mixed-use neighborhood. It has smaller streets, simpler intersections, and small blocks. It includes many kinds of places, from downtowns to main streets to mixed residential neighborhoods and even leafy suburban blocks of single-family homes.

System B is conventional suburban development (CSD), or, simply, “sprawl.” It has very large blocks, intersections, and main roads. These arterial roads are lined with single-use shopping centers, office parks, and subdivisions with looping streets and cul-de-sacs.

Mixed-use communities are more marketable today than they were 20 years ago and planners and many developers have come to favor walkable design, but that hasn’t changed the underlying rules and infrastructure that make CSD the only reasonable option in large areas.

Street construction policies and zoning regulations adopted during the last seven decades make walkable neighborhoods very difficult to build.  If you want System A, you must fight the system and make painful compromises—or use the streets built 100 years ago by our ancestors. The latter option is the route developers are taking to meet market demand—but those old street grids are in finite supply.

Simply put, smaller lot fronts mean a smaller amount of pavement to build and maintain.  Closer retail means people can walk and bike and, once again, less pavement to maintain. It also allows for transit.  (And that last mile that HART keeps talking about gets shorter.)

But that is our problem. The County government is trapped in the 1980’s and 1990’s. (Though, in truth, some areas were already working on new urbanism and transit in the 1990’s.)  It’s planning is flawed.  It has no real transit (and little hope of getting any).  And it costs every taxpayer more money in upfront subsidization and then in road construction and maintenance.  That is a choice made by local officials and paid for by you.

— Conclusion

The bottom line is that the transportation issue is the result of a number of interconnected choices: choices in planning, choices to not build real transit, choices to not make anything walkable (sidewalks to nowhere do not make something walkable), choices for not just road-centric but sprawling road-centric development, and choices to stay trapped in the past and not learn best practices.

We understand why the County passed its road plan – that is the logical continuation of the Commission’s decades’ old economic development and planning policy.  However, it is that very policy that has brought us a low wage, boom and bust economy with the large deficit in transportation funding that Go Hillsborough identified. It is a problem of their own making and the plan passed this week will do nothing to make it better (in most of the County it will do nothing at all), nor will it insulate this area from the next bust.

There is a better way to do planning, development, transportation, economic development – all of it.  It is just a matter of choosing to do it.  Other areas have (you know, the areas we are chasing).  It is well past time that we do, as well.  For all the talk of a booming area, while there is a little movement, we are not on a tear up the metro area population (and we are at risk of being passed by some of the usual suspects on this) or per capita GDP (everyone is already ahead of us on this) charts because other areas are also moving forward.  We could do so much better, if only we would choose to.

Transportation – Thanks, PTC

We have been saying for quite a while that the PTC was a protectionist, anticompetitive, cartel supporting organization that was just protecting the legacy cab and limo companies.  That was clear from its history.  That was clear from its activities.  That was clear when the Executive Director went to Palm Beach County with a cab company owner to speak at a Palm Beach County Commission hearing (he said he would resign soon thereafter, but didn’t . . . surprise).  Well, now you don’t have to believe us.  The PTC has been good enough to write it down for you:

Sting operations conducted by the PTC in May to fine rideshare drivers were coordinated with local taxicab and limousine firms that were invited to attend, records show.

The collaboration didn’t end there.

The taxi and limo firms — which the PTC is supposed to regulate — were active participants in the stings. They provided the pretend “passengers” who used smartphone apps to lure Uber and Lyft drivers to locations where PTC enforcement officers were waiting to dole out $700 fines.

Their involvement took place with the full knowledge of PTC executive director Kyle Cockream, the emails show. Cockream, who is paid about $143,000 a year, also used his work email to apply for other jobs.

* * *

PTC chief inspector Brett Saunders emailed the times and dates of the sting to other inspectors and also to Dave Morris, the owner of the Kings limo firm.

“Shoppers will be provided by Dave Morris and Louis Minardi,” he wrote on April 29, using the term for the pretend passenger.

On May 5, Saunders sent an email to Minardi, who is the owner of Yellow Cab, ahead of another sting.

“Louie, good afternoon. Is everything a go for tomorrow’s operation? We are planning on meeting on Channelside Drive in the parking lot next to the Hooter’s Restaurant at 1:30 p.m. If you can have three assistants, that would be great.” 

Sure, they’ll claim it is evenhanded and fine.  It isn’t.

PTC board chairman Victor Crist called the documents “alarming and concerning.” He said he wants an investigation into the agency’s relationship with the firms that took part in the stings and also Cockream’s role.

“There should be a review or investigation into the appropriateness of his behavior,” said Crist, who is also a Hillsborough County commissioner. “There seems to be a much closer relationship between the staff and the companies we regulate than what would be considered best practices.”

Not quite best practices?  That depends. It is a best practice if you are a protectionist enterprise.  If you are a government, not so much.  But it is not a surprise either – and the Board chairman either knew or should have known.

Cockream said the taxicab and limo staff who participated in the stings were not paid by the PTC. He said using the volunteers saved the agency money. In previous stings, the agency hired Orlando audit firm A & L Associates, which cost up to $4,000 per sting operation.

But Cockream acknowledged it has created a perception problem for the agency.

“In hindsight, I probably would not have done this,” he said. “I can see how it can be perceived in a negative light.”

Yea, usually when one is busted publicly doing something questionable, one would not do it again – at least not publicly.  The problem is that they did it in the first place.  And that is not all:

An analysis of more than 11,000 emails over a seven-month period raises new questions about whether the executive director of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has a blatant bias in support of the taxi industry he is supposed to regulate.

Emails dated between Sept. 4, 2015 and April 2016 show PTC executive director Kyle Cockream repeatedly partnering or siding with local taxi and limo companies.

The emails range from asking staff to play an anti-Uber ad in the PTC lobby to telling taxi and limo heads he’s lobbying local reporters to write about an alternative to transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

The type of collaboration evidenced in Cockream’s relationships with industry leaders shows what critics have long argued – that the PTC is a puppet for the taxi and limo industries.


Cab company owners were privy to emails between PTC executive director Kyle Cockream and his agency’s attorney and lobbying firm. They were reassured that the PTC would fight a bill that would legalize ridesharing.

* * *

Cockream was also involved in a taxicab firm’s lobbying efforts with state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City.

He attended an October 2015 meeting where Yellow Cab Co. of Tampa owner Louis Minardi and his attorney, Seth Mills, pressed Raulerson to make changes to a draft version of his bill to legalize ridesharing in Hillsborough.

But apparently these activities do not bother at least one PTC board member/County Commissioner:

Other PTC board members agreed with Crist that using taxicab staff was ill-advised but said it should not affect Cockream’s leadership.

“Kyle still has my full support and confidence,” said County Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

Cockream was scheduled to step down from the PTC in July but agreed to stay on through the end of the year, in part to help usher the agency through its dispute with Uber and Lyft.

He said almost all of his job-hunting efforts were done outside the office and estimates it took up only about 20 minutes of total work time.

“I think it’s important to keep that in perspective,” he said.

Yes, keep it in perspective:

“This is crony capitalism at its worst,” said State Rep. Dana Young. “Now we have proof.”


State Rep. Dana Young is calling on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to formally launch an investigation into collaboration between the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission and taxi companies uncovered, in a series of emails released last week.

In a letter to the state law enforcement agency, Young asks that PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream, the agency he oversees and members of the local taxicab industry be formally investigated. (Read the entire letter below.)

That’s great, but why not just abolish the PTC?  We all know what it really is, so why wait?

When people speak of “corruption” in government, they usually mean some sort of bribes or criminal activity.  However, something can be legal but degrade the process (especially if the people making the rules are part of it) when it causes decisions or activities that are unfair and by not acting for the benefit for those it is supposed to serve.  Some examples are when decision makers favor their friends over others or write the rules to favor their supporters, even if there is no good basis to do so. (Say when a government allows a whole area to be polluted to support one company.)

We do not know if what is going on at the PTC is corruption in the illegal sense.  That is for investigators, if there are any, to figure out.  But, if the purpose is to protect the consumers, the PTC process, which plainly does not do that, sure seems to be broken.

But we have known that for years. It has been broken from the beginning. Just another in a long list of reasons to get rid of the PTC.

Transportation – A (Very) Brief History of Tampa Air Service

It is time for one of our occasional history lessons. A few years ago (man, time flies), we wrote about how, long ago, Tampa had the opportunity to be the base for the international service of a predecessor of Pan Am, but, despite popular support, local officials chose to blow it off. (See “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”)  Admittedly, the airline wanted to have an airport off Bayshore, which may have not been the best idea, though something could have been worked out.  In an event, the airline went to Miami. and the rest is history. (See Miami International Airport)

Of course, eventually, the present airport was built, which, ironically was extremely innovative, introducing the people mover concept (real mass transit) to airports. It also introduced color coding for parking and pick-ups and drop-offs. (As anyone who has flown much knows, both ideas are now standard. We can do it when we want to)

Skip forward to 2009, when the airport was under the previous airport director, the Times had an interesting article:

Portland yens for flights to Tokyo. New Orleans had the hots for Mexico City. Tallahassee just wanted a few more planes from Florida cities to bring down fares.

The common denominator: a willingness by local officials to give airlines financial incentives to start or expand service.

* * *

So, are subsidies a good investment?

* * *

Tampa International takes a more conservative approach. The airport waives its $3-per-passenger inspection service fee for new or expanded international service. Officials also kicked in $20,000 for billboards promoting JetBlue’s daily Cancun flights that began in December.

The 100-seat jet service was catching on in the spring when the swine flu pandemic swept through Mexico, said airport director Louis Miller. Passenger loads plummeted. JetBlue stopped flying the route Sept. 9.

Incentives can help bolster a new route, but “you have to have demand for the market first,” Miller says. Tampa International is often handicapped by its proximity to Orlando, a world-class tourist destination with connecting flights to cities across the United States, he says.

That was his line (especially that demand thing), which was supported by much of the local political and business community (though you probably would be hard pressed to find anyone to admit it now), but not all:

A critic of the airport’s efforts to recruit international carriers says more needs to be done.

“The role of incentives is to prove the routes,” says Jason Busto, owner of a Tampa plumbing company who sits on the airport’s committee on developing international air service. “They’re critical to economic development.” 

Thankfully, there was a small group of people who kept pushing, eventually managed to get a new airport director, and, this week, the Times had a very different article:

So far under Lopano’s leadership, the airport has achieved a number of firsts. The Edelweiss Air service to Zurich, Switzerland began in 2012. Copa Airlines’ service to Panama City, which began in 2013, was Tampa Bay’s first nonstop flight to a major Latin American hub. A flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in 2015 connected Tampa Bay to one of the largest international airports in the world. Tampa will become one of the first cities in the U.S. to offer direct commercial service to Cuba on Southwest Airlines beginning in December. Icelandair will begin service next September from Tampa.

As with most economic development, you either choose to compete or surrender the field.  For a years, we had surrendered on international flights (and we are still surrendering on other things), but now we are competing and having success (because there is demand):

The incentive program is one way for Tampa International Airport to generate more revenue in the long run. The airport is publicly owned. The aviation authority runs on revenue generated by airline fees, rent from concession tenants and parking fees in the airport garages. It doesn’t collect taxes to pay for operations but does receive grants funded by federal and state taxes.

“Incentives are one tool we use to support solid business cases that win air service,” said Chris Minner, vice president of marketing at the Tampa airport. “With the support of our partners, our incentive package is often the tiebreaker between new service to TPA and other similarly profitable routes.”

Tampa is unique to other airports, too, in that it has several community partnerships that offer cash to new airlines. The bay area’s two tourism bureaus contribute cash for marketing campaigns for new flights. Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s tourism arm, gives $50,000 each year for up to two years, on average, for new international flights. Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the Pinellas County tourism agency, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to airlines each year, the amount depending solely on the flight.

And they get monetary support from a number of other local agencies – one of the few real signs of regionalism in this area (of course, led by the airport).

The incentive program is one way for Tampa International Airport to generate more revenue in the long run. The airport is publicly owned. The aviation authority runs on revenue generated by airline fees, rent from concession tenants and parking fees in the airport garages. It doesn’t collect taxes to pay for operations but does receive grants funded by federal and state taxes.

“Incentives are one tool we use to support solid business cases that win air service,” said Chris Minner, vice president of marketing at the Tampa airport. “With the support of our partners, our incentive package is often the tiebreaker between new service to TPA and other similarly profitable routes.”

And there is room for more success:

As airline companies have consolidated over the years, there are fewer flights to go around. That has changed the competitive landscape for airports, especially in tourism-driven Florida.

Tampa has benefited in recent years from the saturation of international flights at airports like Orlando and Miami, said Ken Qualls, CEO of Flight Management Solutions in Boca Raton. It has helped put Tampa on par with its competitors. “The demographics are fairly similar across the state, and it’s a much better option to start a new route there than to force travelers to connect in Atlanta,” Qualls said. 

For an area with where complacency is the rule on so many issues, it is really refreshing to have an example where an aggressive, methodical approach to truly compete shows that we can be successful – not just full of hype.  We have actual achievements.

As we keep saying, if only more local officials would learn from the airport.  Yes, there is still room for improvement, but they show all the signs of being dedicated to improvement.  You do not hear the airport staff saying things are good enough or filling up quotes will hype.  They acknowledge successes (as they should) and get to work trying to get the next one.  Like most things, there will be ups and downs, but, from what we can tell, they are mostly moving forward in a methodical, business-like, and decidedly not hype-filled way (like the Lightning owner).

If only we could say that about planning, transportation, and, yes, even, economic development.

— And One More Thing

Just in case you think this competition ever ends (or shrinks),

United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier Emirates Airline is to expand its network in the US state of Florida, but it has again chosen to avoid its largest international gateway of Miami International Airport. After successfully launching flights between Dubai and Orlando in September 2015, Emirates will before the year’s end add a link between its Gulf hub and Fort Lauderdale, with JetBlue Airways’ activities at Hollywood International Airport believed to have been key in the route selection process.

The new daily link between Dubai International Airport and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport will commence from December 15, 2016 and will primarily serve the South Florida area, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach. It will be the airline’s eleventh direct route into the US and will be flown using a Boeing 777-200LR configured with 8 First Class suites, 42 Business Class lie-flat beds and 216 Economy Class seats and a bellyhold cargo capacity of 15 tonnes.

It doesn’t.

Economic Development – Let’s Wait for Results

There was news from the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The “new” Tampa Bay Partnership regional economic development group was unveiled Monday with veteran business leader Rhea Law, Florida head of the Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney law firm, serving as the partnership’s first chairman.

* * *

As planned, the partnership began its new fiscal year on Oct. 1 as a privately-funded advocacy organization, governed by a what it calls “regionally-minded” chief executive officers.

“The great thing about these CEOs around the table is they expect results and they expect big returns,” Tampa Bay Partnerhip CEO Rick Homans said Monday. “They are challenging this organization and this community to move to a different level.”

We hope by “a different level” the Times columnist does not mean this regarding taking away a free lane on the Howard Frankland:

Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

Setting aside that the bottleneck fix keeps a bottleneck (See “Transportation – TBX Is Not Set In Stone” ), this area doesn’t need that kind of tone-deaf comment (especially with the seventh worse income inequality in the country).

On a more positive note, there is this:

A transportation working group will examine the current and future state of transportation in Tampa Bay. Vology CEO Barry Shevlin and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik of Strategic Property Partners will serve as co-chairs of the group. A second group chaired by Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes will develop a set of regional economic indicators to help Tampa Bay better measure its progress — or lack of it — on a range of economic development measurements.

The names listed there have given this area some quality ideas and give some hope that the results will be better than the TBX quote above.

Maybe the changes at the Tampa Bay Partnership will create something good.  We shall see.

Economic Development/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Developments

There were a couple of developments on Cuba last week.  First,

Foreign ships that dock in Cuba for trade purposes can now travel directly to the United States to load or unload freight. Previously, such vessels had to wait 180 days, a trade killer.

The change is seen as a major step toward connecting Port Tampa Bay and Cuba’s Port of Mariel, enabling the local port to use the Cuban operation as a stop for cargo moving to and from major global shipping centers.

“The new regulatory changes announced today represent the continued progress for families and businesses,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said in an email. “I am particularly pleased to see the changes address the so-called ‘180-day rule,’ an onerous restriction on shipping between our two countries. Port Tampa Bay is ‘Cuba-ready.’ “

The Panama Canal, a major global shipping route, was widened to fit new, larger vessels that carry more cargo.

Port Tampa Bay cannot accommodate these ships, but the Port of Mariel can. Cargo from larger ships that stop in Mariel could be loaded onto smaller vessels and brought to Tampa for distribution in a process called transshipment.

There’s the Port’s transshipment model.  It is a big development, though more needs to be done:

Transshipment might still be blocked by a separate U.S. regulation that forbids any items offloaded in Cuba from entering the United States.

But T.C. Mariel considers the 180-day rule the biggest obstacle to trade with Tampa.

Meantime, eliminating the 180-day rule can connect Port Tampa Bay and the Port of Mariel in other ways.

Cargo lines may now be more interested in using Port Tampa Bay for direct trade with Cuba. An embargo that only Congress can change remains in place, but U.S. companies can still sell goods such as agricultural products and building supplies to the island nation and Port Tampa Bay claims to be the closest U.S. port to Havana.

In addition, as long as nothing new is loaded onto a vessel in Mariel, a ship carrying freight such as automobiles, furniture, toys or clothing can now unload some cargo in Cuba then continue on to deliver some of it to a U.S. port, said Doug Jacobson, a sanctions lawyer with Jacobson Burton Kelley in Washington, D.C.

As we noted previously, the Port of Mariel has indicated a large amount of interest in shipping to Tampa:

In September, a spokesman for TC Mariel, the company the runs the Cuban port’s container shipment operation, said his firm has its eye on Port Tampa Bay as a transshipment center because of its proximity to Orlando, home to regional distribution hubs serving all Florida — the nation’s third most-populous state.

Meanwhile our port has waited to be courted (or just to lose the potential business).  We still have no explanation why. (Are those new big cranes breaking down from overuse?)

In another development,

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been cool to local efforts to bring a Cuban Consulate to Tampa. But on Friday, all six candidates running in City Council District 7 said they like the idea — and not just because they think it would be good for Tampa business.

As the entire City government should.

Bayshore – Moving Forward

There was news about the proposal for a condo on the old Colonnade site:

A condominium tower on the site of the former Colonnade Restaurant took a key step forward Thursday evening — and with that approval, the developers have revealed more details on the project.

Tampa City Council voted unanimously to approve plans for a 24-story tower with 71 units at 3401 Bayshore Blvd., Ascentia Development Group and Batson-Cook Development Co. announced Friday.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That’s fine.  This project does not really inspire strong feeling one way or the other, aside from our wish it actually addressed Bayshore as a street.

Roundup 10-14-2015

October 14, 2016


Transportation – TBX is What We thought It Was

Transportation – What’s Old is New, Again

Transportation – Clarity, Please

Bayshore – Phase Three

Transportation – Just Get Rid of It

— And One More Thing

International Trade/Latin America/Transportation – Cuba Flights

Economic Development – Can We Get Some A/C?


Due to time constraints, this week’s Roundup is a bit abbreviated.

Transportation – TBX is What We thought It Was

We have been saying for a while that TBX was going to at least double the width of the interstate right through the heart of the “InVision Tampa” area that the City says it wants to revitalize, and that it made no sense for the City to support it.

This week, FDOT gave a presentation to the City Council where (per Sunshine Citizens) they gave us this slide:

From Sunshine Citizens - click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

It is a little hard to see, but the TBX interstate is everything in the horizontal dotted lines (the vertical dotted lines tell you basically how wide it will be).  That covers a lot of that apparent grass (or whatever it is that is supposed to be green) and that parking and runs right against Julian Lane Park .

Nothing says connecting “west river” to the park like a huge interstate (and remember that wide interstate bisects all of the “InVision Tampa” area). And nothing says really expensive, redone park like a hulking highway getting bigger (not to mention the possible exit on Boulevard and all the traffic/congestion that will put right in front of, and, to some degree, through the park).  We still are waiting for the Mayor to explain how he can support doubling the width of the interstate through an area that the City is spending so much time trying to make walkable and urban (though we admit it certainly is a unique idea these days).

As we always say, yes, some elements of TBX are good (though the more we learn the less good they seem – like the bottleneck fix we discussed recently).  However, when you really look at it, TBX, as a whole, there is so much that is bad.  Even with the Howard Frankland fiasco, we doubt there is real political will to take the good and chuck the stupid.  But you never know.

From the City Council meeting today, after asking for economic impact numbers (which FDOT did not have but we assume that, when they produce the numbers, they will be stellar):

With no economic information to discuss, council members shifted their attention to other questions about the project. Suarez asked the state to study whether the toll lanes could be elevated, as with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Council member Harry Cohen pressed for more details about what the reconstructed Howard Frankland Bridge would look like. Council member Charlie Miranda encouraged the state to do a better job educating politicians and the public about the plan.

“The message we’re sending is so convoluted,” Miranda said. “I don’t think anybody has any idea what’s going on.”

We wouldn’t say anybody, but it is still not clear that most local officials actually know what is in the rest of the plan.

Transportation – What’s Old is New, Again

Somethings never change.  Among those is that we need to think far more regionally about transportation (and a whole mess of other issues).  That has been proposed many times, but nothing has happened.  So, the ideas keep coming.

As the Tampa Bay region struggles to improve its transportation system, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long on Tuesday unveiled what she called a “big, bold, visionary” plan to alleviate the area’s woes.

Long proposed consolidating the bay area’s alphabet soup of transportation agencies: the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties; the area’s bus agencies, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Regional Transit Authority; and the regional planning groups, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

“The crisis is here,” Long said, adding she does not support creating a new organization with taxing authority. “The synergy is perfectly lined up between Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco … if we combine them, we’ll have a win-win.”

The crisis has been here for years, and we are not sure there are any synergies (there is even a question whether there are synergies within counties.)  Nevertheless, we are all for a more regional approach.

For two years, Long has worked on the plan with St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy and Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas. The trio have solicited input from state and local officials and business leaders. But more outreach is needed in Pasco County, Blanton said. Long plans to schedule meetings to brief other local leaders in the coming weeks.

Other Pinellas commissioners offered support but said the conversation should include elected leaders across the region. Commissioner Karen Seel called on a joint meeting of the three county commissions.

That sounds quite preliminary but you have to start somewhere (though, for all the regionalism rhetoric, we never seem to get past the starting stage)  Other areas work regionally, we should as well.  And there is extra incentive.

The move comes on the heels of the federal government’s insistence on one regional set of transportation priorities similar to those serving metro areas such as Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The government wants one regional plan that would cover 20 years of expected growth in overlapping metro areas. Local leaders would have two years to devise a plan once the federal rules are finalized.

FDOT says it.  The Feds say it.  Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t happen.

Meanwhile, Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough MPO, said the leaders of the region’s planning organizations have discussed a similar concept for years.

“There’s a lot of history behind this conversation,” Alden said. “We have one regional plan. We have one regional planing [sic] list.”

First, we don’t have a real list.  We have a partial list of road plans.  Second, as shown by the Howard Frankland fiasco, it is not clear most local officials, including those who vote on it and even planners, even know what is that partial plan.

Last month, Hillsborough County Commission chairman Les Miller sent a two-page letter to the federal Department of Transportation saying the county supports and promotes regional approaches to decision making.

But any such move to consolidate would need support from state and federal lawmakers and dozens of commissioners, mayors and council members across the region.

Elected leaders often talk about the spirit of regional cooperation for transportation, but those efforts have been rebuffed in recent years.

Who exactly rebuffed those efforts? It’s not like transportation gnomes got in the way. The fault is squarely on those same local officials, most of whom keep talking about the. To some degree, we get it.  If things are done regionally, local officials might have to make hard choices and their voice (and power bases) will get diluted.  Some people will get upset.  Still, the area needs a regional approach and a real regional organization is the best way to do it.

HART CEO Katharine Eagan said she has talked with Long since 2015 about transportation issues. Eagan, who has worked at transit agencies in Maryland and Texas, said local leaders must work together to move the region forward. Long’s plan merits more discussions, he added.

“A council of governments can be a very big step forward,” Eagan said. “We clearly have an opportunity to do better.”

Yea, we can do better.  But we could have done better for decades and never did, while other areas moved forward.  We could have worked to merging HART and PSTA, but local officials got in the way (especially HART).

The talk is good, but we are not going to hold our breath.  Though we would welcome being surprised by a new seriousness on the topic.

And, really, even if there is a regional group, it will be meaningless if it just rubber stamps questionable plans (that it has not read) like the MPO and TBX.  The key is to have more seriousness and less rhetoric.

Transportation – Clarity, Please

As we have said before, one of the major problems with discussions of transit in this area is that terms and concepts get all mixed together so it is very hard to keep track of what any proposal really means or what it will do, especially for those who don’t focus on such things.  There was a great example in the Times column about the streetcar:

I am here to check out an ambitious plan to see if Tampa’s historic streetcars — what critics would call our most charming boondoggle — can morph from underused, expensive, inefficient tourist kitsch to legitimate commuter option. For six months, the electric trolley cars will begin service at 7 a.m. — instead of just getting started at lunch — in hopes of ferrying residents and workers through downtown, the Channel District and Ybor City.

Actual Mayor Bob Buckhorn has gamely agreed to join me for an early-morning ride. It is not a great PR moment when the machine that dispenses trolley passes — $2.50 for a single ride, $5 all day, and a deeply discounted 20-ride pass for those who live or work close by — stubbornly refuses his dollar bills.

As we sip our Starbucks from a nearby hotel and wait near Greco — trolleys come every half hour — the mayor talks about troubles over the past 14 years: inadequately managed and funded, a service that started before downtown’s current boom and should have been designed as a commuter option from the get-go. “Now everyone who opposed mass transit uses the trolley as an example,” he says.

* * *

“From a transit perspective, the streetcar’s a gem,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Katharine Eagan says when I call. All around the country, mayors want them — “not because it’s cute, but because it’s an instant sense of place,” she says. “You have a track, you have a station. You have a somewhere.” Some boosters see it one day reaching into Tampa Heights, the reviving neighborhood north of downtown, which seems appropriate, given the streetcar’s place in Tampa history going back more than a century.

“I think this effort to encourage commuters is the right thing to do,” the mayor says.

The Mayor actually properly identifies the problem.  Opponents to mass transit point to problems with the streetcar, which, as it exists, is not mass transit – it is a tourist attraction. Before we go further, let us make clear, we are all for making the streetcar a useful transportation, rather than a tourist focused, option.  Eventually, it should be part of a coordinated system.

But it isn’t and a slight change in schedule, welcome as it is, should not be held out as really changing that.  Even with the changes, the streetcar as it exists has nothing to do with “commuters.”  It may have to do with a small group of people going to and from work, but they are not what are normally thought of as commuters. Doing a quick Google search, we did not find a legal definition for commuter, but we did find one for “commuter bus service”:

Commuter bus service means fixed route bus service, characterized by service predominantly in one direction during peak periods, limited stops, use of multi-ride tickets, and routes of extended length, usually between the central business district and outlying suburbs. Commuter bus service may also include other service, characterized by a limited route structure, limited stops, and a coordinated relationship to another mode of transportation.

And one for “commuter rail service:”

Commuter rail transportation means short-haul rail passenger service operating in metropolitan and suburban areas, whether within or across the geographical boundaries of a state, usually characterized by reduced fare, multiple ride, and commutation tickets and by morning and evening peak period operations. This term does not include light or rapid rail transportation.

Read together, it is clear that commuters, for the purpose of transit (and normal conversation), are people going to work to a business district from home in a suburban area.  Ybor and the Channel District are not suburban areas. Really, if you can walk the distance in about ½ an hour, it is not a commute.  You are just going to work near where you live.

So why does this matter?  Because of what the Mayor said. When there is talk about various ideas – high speed rail, light rail, DMU, commuter rail, streetcars, and, yes, even BRT – people need to understand the discussion.  When language is not precise, it creates confusion in both expectations and solution.

The last thing we need in our transportation discussion is more confusion.  Not only does it make it harder for people to evaluate ideas, it makes it easier for opponents to attack an idea, no matter how good.

Regarding the streetcar, there are not going to be thousands of people riding the streetcar in the morning on the way to work downtown from the Channel District or Ybor– at least not any time soon.  But when there is talk about commuters, people think I-275 traffic, so there are not thousands of riders, it is easy to criticize the streetcar’s new hours.   Such talk is just confusing and counterproductive. (The Mayor is knowledgeable enough to know the difference in technologies and clearly knows the problem with expectations and clarity so we are not sure why he is not being precise).

If we are ever to get anywhere on transportation, we need clarity so ideas can be evaluated on their merits rather than hype and emotion.

Bayshore – Phase Three

There is a new proposal for phase three of the Crescent Bayshore/Two Bayshore project, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Dinerstein Cos. is proposing a 12-story tower at 319 Bayshore Blvd., adjacent to 2Bayshore, the complex that sold for a record-setting $303,814 per apartment in 2014.

Dinerstein’s plans call for 130 units and 225 parking spaces. The unit mix would include 22 efficiency units; 93 one- and two-bedroom units; and 15 three-bedroom units.

The tower will be 122 feet or 12 stories, which is an increase over the 98 feet originally approved for that site. Dinerstein is asking the city to approve a non-substantial change request for a taller building.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is what URBN Tampa Bay had to say:

We oppose the project on the grounds of no retail, but due to the fact that the project is merely seeking a non-substantial change request and not a rezoning request, the project will have no hearing and is likely to move forward.

Like URBN Tampa Bay, we would really like to see some retail (maybe a nice restaurant with nice views) on the part of Bayshore near downtown. (It even looks like retail should be in the building) The area is fairly dense and scenic.  It seems quite a good location for something nice.  But, as noted above, there is no need for a hearing and no requirements for retail or anything else related to good design either (it is Tampa).

Which makes us wonder about this:

The property is one of the most valuable urban infill sites in Tampa, if not the entire state. Besides its position on Bayshore Boulevard and proximity to Tampa General Hospital and downtown Tampa, there’s an immediate precedent of success in that location. The adjacent apartment development, 2Bayshore, opened in 2014 with rental rates that were a new high watermark for Tampa at the time, $2.32 per square foot.

If the location is so valuable, why is something so underwhelming (basically generic filler) proposed and acceptable for it?

This project may be ok somewhere else (though retail would still be nice), but this is supposedly such a valuable lot.  We understand that the developers are a business and will likely just quickly build, sell, and cash in.  Who can blame them?  If Tampa does not care enough about Tampa, especially its “signature blocks,” to require better, why should a developer do any more?

Transportation – Just Get Rid of It

There was to be a vote about the great PTC ridesharing compromise. Then:

On Thursday, Crist told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he was looking into whether or not he should cancel the meeting because too many commissioners may miss it. The meeting conflicted with a Tampa City Council meeting. Two of the seven board members are council members, Guido Maniscalco and Frank Reddick.

However, Crist also said there were concerns that Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham and Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogorilich wouldn’t be there.

Actually, they were going to be there, but whatever.  What are another few weeks in the ongoing saga?  And if you think passing the compromise would end the saga, when the present Chairman resigns,

The appointed PTC chair controls any negotiations with companies and schedules agenda items.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus of who will take that role. Crist said he hasn’t decided if he’ll nominate someone when it comes up, which will be at the Nov. 9 board meeting. He did say his preference would be Kilton, and that he’d also support Maniscalco.

You are sadly mistaken.  Once again, all other counties function without a PTC and somehow work it out.  It is not like it has brought clarity to our rules. It makes no sense for us to be saddled with it.

— And One More Thing

There was some related news from the Lightning.  First, a little background:

The Tampa Bay Lightning open the 2016-17 season on Thursday with a home game against the Detroit Red Wings — and the team is already winning off the ice.

There are 14,600 season ticket holders this year, between suites and full-season equivalent packages (full-season equivalents measure full and partial season ticket packages). The capacity of Amalie Arena for hockey games is 19,092.

In 2015, there were 13,500 season ticket holders — an increase of 35 percent over 2014, a jump driven largely by a playoff run that went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

An arena packed to the gills with loyal fans is a very different scenario from when owner Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010. The team was hemorrhaging money and had fewer than 4,000 season ticket holders that year.

And that does not even include sponsor revenue.  So what does that have to do with the PTC and ridesharing?

So on the eve of its new season, the team on Wednesday announced a new partnership with rideshare giant Uber. Two lanes on Channelside Drive outside the arena will be designated for Uber drivers to pick up fans after home games.

Just one problem: Ridesharing in Hillsborough County is still regarded as illegal by the Public Transportation Commission, which has fought a two-year battle in and out of court with Uber and its main competitor, Lyft.

The two firms have refused to comply with regulations that govern for-hire vehicles like taxicabs. PTC officers frequently hand out $700 fines to their drivers for operating without insurance and permits.

That raises the question of whether the Lightning is undermining the PTC by encouraging Uber drivers to flout the law. The team’s deal with Uber also pre-empts a critical PTC vote on Nov. 9 that could affect the future of ridesharing in Hillsborough.

The deal does not preempt anything.  The PTC can still go against the consumers and the business community.  It can ignore the Lightning owner as the biggest investor in downtown. (Just like the County Commission ignores him on transit.)  And it can continue to show that it has no good justification for its existence.

International Trade/Latin America/Transportation – Cuba Flights

There was news about Cuba flights.

Starting today, Southwest Airlines will begin selling $59 one-way tickets for daily flights from Tampa International Airport to Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

The initial flight takes off Monday, Dec. 12. It will be the first commercial flight in more than five decades between the two cities.

“It is exciting to connect people to the things in their lives that are important to them, and this is important to Tampa,” said Adam Decaire, managing director of network planning for Southwest Airlines.

Initially, one 75-minute direct flight will depart from Tampa each day at 6:15 a.m. Flights back to Tampa will depart at either 6:05 p.m. or 11:15 p.m. 

Good deal.

Economic Development – Can We Get Some A/C?

We rarely venture into the issues at the school board (and we are not going to get into details now).  Those issues tend to go off on all sorts of tangents that do not concern us.  But, recently, we have seen a number of articles that have given us pause in a broader context.

What does a public school air-conditioning crisis sound like?

Like someone is finally listening to Chris Farkas, the district’s chief operating officer, who has been warning about this for years — the futility of borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to build 80 schools, then failing to perform the basic maintenance that the rest of us try to do in our homes. Now the technicians are so busy rebooting failed systems that there is no time for that preventative maintenance. So many new systems are needed that, even if money were unlimited, there would not be enough vendors.

The problem is widespread across the county, impacting old schools and new, suburban and urban alike. In the first six weeks of the school year, the district got 5,600 requests for air-conditioning repair, more than double the requests it got over this same period five years ago.

District leaders, eager to tout ongoing repairs, post a glowing article onto their website, subtitled “Cold Hard Facts.”

That is quite a surprise.  This is Florida.  How can you have schools without adequate a/c?

The Hillsborough County School District is neglecting its buildings, wasting money by failing to use modern technology for payroll and purchasing, and making inefficient use of its school buses, according to a new report on the district’s finances.

The report says things are so bad in the facilities department that most school buildings are in poor shape and the district will need to spend more than $100 million a year just to keep them from getting worse.

The 229-page document that School Board members will review at a workshop Tuesday morning lists dozens of recommendations, from changing out light bulbs to save $1.5 million in energy costs to re-adjusting start times so every bus can serve three schools.

The report cost about $900,000 (of course).  If the school board can follow its recommendation and save millions a year while improving results, great.  But will all the cutbacks and lack of investment lead to improving results? We don’t know.

The bigger question is how could this come to pass? What has been going on all these years, including during the superintendent crisis (and all the support the previous superintendent got from certain quarters, see here and here), that allowed this mess?  Why was it not addressed earlier? Where was real oversight?

As we said in the beginning, we try to avoid school issues, and we are not going to get into all the details.  So why are we bringing this up now?  Because how do you convince a company to move its HQ to Tampa when you can’t even provide a/c in your schools?  Isn’t education a HUGE factor in relocations (along with transportation)?  This is absolutely basic.

We have no transportation plan.  The schools have limited a/c and lack money. We are supposedly a booming area poised for greatness. What kind of economic development program, not to mention governance, is that?

Roundup 10-7-2016

October 7, 2016


Transportation – Velkominn

Transportation – TBX Is Not Set In Stone

— The Bottleneck

— Huh?

— The Editorial

— Conclusion

— One More Thing

Transportation – Of Threats and Deals

Economic Development – Where They Say We Are

West Tampa – Looking for the Money

— Meanwhile, At Encore

Rays – No Surprise

Why We Should Ask for More


We don’t usually get into such things but, before we get into the roundup, we just want to say that, as we are finalizing this, our eyes are on the east coast weather radar and our thoughts are with the people under the threat of Matthew.  Here’s hoping it works out ok. And, if it were to be our turn some day and you are told to evacuate, please listen and, as the Governor said, get out.

Transportation – Velkominn

Permit our indulgence. While there was news about TBX (which we get to next) and other things this week, there was surprise news from the airport this week.  We put it first because . . . well, this is just happy news and, while the TBX news was good, the underlying story it tells still highlights ongoing issues as a region.

From Icelandair - click on picture for website

From Icelandair – click on picture for website

Tampa International Airport is adding a fourth European flight to its growing line up: Reykjavík, Iceland.

IcelandAir will offer nonstop flights to Keflavík International Airport near Reykjavík, Iceland’s largest city and capital, twice a week to and from Tampa International Airport beginning Sept. 7, 2017. This is the Tampa airport’s fourth international flight to Europe since 2011, when current CEO Joe Lopano was hired. The IcelandAir announcement comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of Lufthansa’s nonstop flight to and from Frankfurt at Tampa International Airport, which began last September.

IcelandAir offers flights to 39 cities in 16 countries, including 18 destinations in the United States. The new flight to Tampa will be the carrier’s second to Florida. IcelandAir also offers service to Orlando International Airport. IcelandAir is known for its stopover program, which encourages travelers from Europe or North America to “stop over” in Iceland on transatlantic flights for up to seven nights at no additional cost. The carrier’s main hub is at Keflavík International Airport, where it offers connections to dozens of destinations around the world.

Very cool, and well done airport staff. (The Times article put round-trip prices at $1200. We checked the Icelandair website for a Sept 2017 flight to Reykjavik, and the price was about half that.  We admit, it was a quick check so maybe we missed something.).

And, once again, a really nice graphic:

From Tampa International - click on picture for Twitter page

From Tampa International – click on picture for Twitter page

For those who wonder “who cares about Iceland?” this is key:

“The truth is, this is not about Iceland,” said David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County’s tourism agency. “This is about the connectivity Iceland has to Europe and on to Florida. IcelandAir flies into major international hubs in Europe where our largest group of international visitation comes from. This dovetails very nicely with the other air service that has come to Tampa recently.”

From Icelandair - click on map for website

From Icelandair – click on map for website

Though Iceland is a very popular tourist destination these days.

It is just another sign that there truly is opportunity if this area pursues it properly and aggressively (as opposed to the complacency of the previous administration and the complacency with which our area has approached other transportation and so many other issues).  Once again, local officials can learn many lessons from the airport.

Transportation – TBX Is Not Set In Stone

NOw, to TBX. We have long said that regardless of FDOT telling us that TBX was a take it or leave it proposition, it wasn’t, especially if local officials got together on a unified position and the legislative delegation stressed the point to FDOT.  Obviously, the legislature funds FDOT (and pays their salaries).  It has a say.

Last week, we discussed local officials’ reaction to learning (or already knowing) that the TBX plan for the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement involved turning one free lane in each direction into a tolled lane.  Not surprisingly, this news (whether already known or just learned) when made really public was met with (mostly) disbelief and annoyance (especially from legislators).  In the face of opposition, FDOT changed its mind.

The Florida Department of Transportation reversed course Monday and abandoned a controversial plan to add a toll to an existing lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge when part of it is rebuilt in 2019.

The department also canceled two public hearings on the bridge replacement scheduled for this week.

In a letter from DOT Secretary Jim Boxold to State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the state announced it would keep all four of the bridge’s lanes free for drivers.

A previous plan called for putting a toll on one of the lanes. Officials said it is considered an “auxiliary” lane that exists only to connect the on ramp in Pinellas County to the off ramp in Hillsborough, not to carry traffic across the bridge. By that reasoning, state officials said, the public was not actually losing a free lane on the main bridge connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Monday, Boxold backed down from that position.

“From the perspective of the people we serve in the Tampa region,” Boxold wrote, “the auxiliary lanes on this facility are currently travel lanes.”

That does not surprise us at all.  We have said for a while that TBX has some good things and some bad things, and, that if local officials and, especially, the legislative delegation pushed FDOT, there could be changes.  Low and behold, that seems to have happened with the bridge component (which was always absurd).

“I would like to thank the Department of Transportation for listening to the sentiment of the people of Tampa Bay who opposed having a toll lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge,” said Florida Senator Jack Latvala who recently penned a letter to the agency asking them to ax the toll lanes. “Now we must move forward and focus on solutions to make Tampa Bay transportation easier for our residents.”

Yes, we must – but who knows if local officials will actually really focus.  At least that State Senator has a record of trying to craft some regional solutions, which I more than can be said for most local officials.  However, there is still the matter of what will be on the new bridge.

“At a minimum, we will be replacing the bridge,” said Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the FDOT’s district office in Tampa. “We will still be looking at express lanes. They have not gone away.”

DOT officials said they do not know when the rescheduled public hearings will take place, but the goal is still to begin construction by 2019.

Of course FDOT will still be looking at express lanes; they are beholden to them ideologically, and probably in other ways.  As the FDOT Secretary said:

“We will continue to explore options to add express lanes to this facilty, including the use of the design build procurement as a potential solution.” Boxold wrote. “In the end, our decision will be based on whether the addition of express lanes and the congestion management they achieve is feasible and cost effective.”

Note, it is not congestion relief.  It is “management” because express lanes are not about real relief – they are to provide a select few some relief while everyone else is pushed into congested highway lanes and surface streets.  That is why express lanes are not a real transportation solution for our area.  And a 24 lane interstate through downtown is ridiculous.

And with all the muddle that has gone before, we agree with this:

Some critics of the project remain skeptical that the state will keep its word not to reduce free lanes on the bridge.

“We would like to see a copy of the official documentation that guarantees this will become policy in the Howard Frankland bridge replacement project – not just a press release,” said Michelle Cookson, a member of the anti-TBX group Sunshine Citizens.

Indeed.  Official documentation would be good. Clarity is key. Frankly, FDOT should be very interested now in being very obvious about what they want to do.

— The Bottleneck

While we are discussing fixing problems (like getting rid of the express lane concept), local officials might want to consider this, from a Times column:

The folks at DOT say I’m misguided because the problem is not the traffic on the bridge, but rather the bottleneck as you head into Hillsborough County, where two of the lanes turn into exits.

As part of the overall project, they will be adding a third general-use lane as you exit the bridge, and this should reduce the congestion that leads to back-ups.

“Yes, there could be more cars traveling in the general-use lanes,” said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson, “but it will be a minimal number and it will hardly be noticeable once the interchange is fixed.”

In other words, the fix for the bottleneck where the interstate goes from four free lanes on the bridge to two  (and then eventually back to four) is to spend millions to create a bottleneck where the interstate goes from four free lanes to three (we assume they will toss in an express lane for good measure but that does not fix the bottleneck).  Is that really a fix?  Are that many people really getting off at Kennedy?

Here’s an idea – go from four lanes on the bridge to four lanes on land without having any bottleneck.  In other words, get rid of the bottleneck by getting rid of the bottleneck. (which FDOT managed to do on the west side of the bridge. Here and here)   Of course, local officials are mum on this.  Presumably, since no one was looking at the bridge, no one has looked at the bottleneck.

Frankly, the more one looks at the plan (even beyond the express lanes), the less it makes sense for even fixing the roads (probably because FDOT is so concerned with the express lanes).

— Huh?

And then there was the weird nugget:

Most of the project needed approval from the Hillsborough MPO to include TBX in its Transportation Improvement Plan. That green light came in June amid hours and hours of public testimony mostly in opposition to the plan.

But Pinellas County controls the Howard Frankland portion of the project with nearly $500 million in funding secured to replace the aging bridge. The board approved its part of the plan into the Pinellas Transportation Improvement Plan earlier this year.

Why is that?  Is TBX a regional plan and regional connection or not? Why wouldn’t Hillsborough have a say? Just another part of the weirdness of the whole TBX process.

— The Editorial

Not surprisingly, The Times has an editorial on all this:

The Florida Department of Transportation made the right decision Monday in killing plans to transform a free lane into a toll lane on a new span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. The plan made no sense practically, financially and politically, and the state has removed a thorn from the intense public debate over the larger TBX interstate expansion plan. Local leaders on both sides of the bay deserve credit for speaking out, and they should continue working to ensure that TBX is driven by sound transportation policy and not sheer economics.

Local officials (at least the ones who commented) deserve credit for speaking out, but not much for not knowing what was in the plan.

DOT made the right call, even if it was responding to political pressure. The toll plan has been part of the public discussion for more than a year, yet officials dropped it virtually overnight after confusion surfaced and a local senator with the power over their budget chimed in. That arbitrariness highlights the mixed messages and poor communication that is all too characteristic of TBX. It is inexcusable that after years of planning and public meetings, locally elected leaders and state officials are not on the same page with this massive investment in infrastructure. While the about-face is welcome, it also calls into question whether the larger TBX plan, which includes tolling on the interstates, is being driven by sound planning or by sheer politics and economics.

It took political muscle this time to kill a bad idea. Local leaders should use this episode as a learning experience on the value of keeping up with TBX, and the DOT should recognize the value in listening to local concerns.

Indeed.  But, frankly, most local officials fell in line with the TBX plan pretty easily.  Only when they were called on specifics did most of them say anything (though, to their credit, some did oppose the plan before that).  What we needed before, and definitely need now, is to have a real, regional approach that is not imposed from above and that really makes sense for our area.  And is pushed by our legislative delegation.

— Conclusion

In our mind, there are two takeaways from this incident.  First, it is not at all clear that local officials who approve plans know what they are approving. Some do. Clearly, some do not.

Second, if this area would ever just get its act together, it could dictate what it wants.  It does not have to accept plans from the outside, regardless of what local officials tell you.  (It is just easier to go along with FDOT than work to get a good plan.) There is no reason that we can’t have the good parts of TBX without the bad (and even fix the “good” parts like the half-fix of the bottleneck referenced above). It is a matter of political will – and actually knowing what is planned before approving it.

Once again, the fact this bridge plan (and really the whole thing) even came up is the fault of local officials who have not gotten together and created a proper, workable, regional, transportation plan.

— One More Thing

There was one odd point in a Times article on FDOT volte-face.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the lost free lane in a story last month. More than a dozen elected officials told the Times they did not know that DOT’s plan included reducing the number of free lanes.

And, in a column:

The detail, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times‘ Caitlin Johnston and Anthony Cormier: Turns out the DOT planned to take an existing lane in each direction on the bridge and transform them into toll “express lanes.” This would mean drivers could pay as much as $6 for the privilege of using a lane that was once free and accessible to all.

And, in the editorial:

The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that elected leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay said they were confused or misled about DOT’s toll plan for the bridge. DOT is replacing the northbound span of the Howard Frankland as part of the $6 billion TBX project, a broad remake of the area’s interstate system. DOT planned to convert one lane in each direction into a toll lane. Drivers who don’t pay would have had access to three free lanes instead of the current four, which sounded counterproductive to smoothly moving traffic.

Which is all technically true but makes it sound like it was a new revelation. As we noted last week, the Times first reported in 2014.  We know because we quoted their article.  It is good they asked people now, but if proper focus was given to TBX/the bridge replacement (and local officials’ treatment of it) back in 2014 the whole plan could have been fixed earlier.

Transportation – Of Threats and Deals

Speaking of the legislature and the need for action, let’s check in the with the PTC.  We’ll go back a couple of weeks.

First, there was this:

Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist says he and Uber are close to reaching  a temporary operating agreement to keep the rideshare firm in Hillsborough County. But it still remains doubtful if that deal will pass muster from the full PTC governing board.

Then there was a report about the legislative delegation regarding the PTC.

If it comes down to Uber or the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, it’s looking like Uber wins.

Tampa area State Rep. Jamie Grant said he’s willing to file legislation to abolish the controversial agency.

If you are willing to do it and you think it is the right thing to do, why not just do it?

Unless a court rules the PTC lacks authority to regulate Uber or Lyft, the State Legislature is the next recourse for transportation network companies. Lawmakers can do two things to take the PTC out of the Uber debate. They could pass their own set of rules that would supersede the PTC through what’s known as preemption; or they could approve legislation to get rid of the agency altogether.

Which of those paths Grant takes depends on how much support he gets from his colleagues in the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation.

Does anyone other legislator support abolishing the PTC?

“At this point it seems that it’s more important to protect entrenched special interests,” she said referring to the taxi industry whose leaders are pushing for tough rules.

Young can’t commit to filing or supporting bills, though. She’s running a competitive campaign for a newly created Senate district. However that has not stopped Young from being a vocal Uber supporter and PTC critic. She led an effort with another dozen local lawmakers urging the PTC to hold off on rules until after the 2017 legislative session where statewide rules are expected to be approved.

That wasn’t that much, but was it enough to push the PTC? (As an aside, if getting rid of the PTC is good government, isn’t it common sense that it should be done regardless of whether the PTC makes a deal or not?)

Well, then we got this:

Rideshare company Uber has tentatively agreed to tougher background checks while operating in Hills­borough County, though it remains unclear whether the deal will pass muster with a regulatory agency.

Of course, the PTC board still has to pass it. Evidently, once the delegation gets serious, things can get done. Not to mention this deal could have been done in the beginning. We’ll see if the deal passes.

Then we got this:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist will chair his final Public Transportation Commission meeting Oct. 13. Crist’s term as head of the controversial board expires after that meeting.

Crist will also step down entirely from the PTC in November.

Maybe he can take the executive director, who was going to quit, but then never did, with him.

While a deal would be good, we still think the PTC should be abolished.  If every other county can make it work without a PTC, so can we.

Economic Development – Where They Say We Are

A few weeks ago, we did our annual review of regional GDP’s. (see “Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition”)  As with most years, we are underperforming – based on our size and otherwise.

This week, the Times had a report of a Brookings study of cities around the world. (You can see the Brooking study here.)

A new Brookings analysis identifies Tampa Bay as one of 16 “American Middleweight” metros that make up a global mix of 123 large cities. The Washington, D.C. think tank sorted all 123 into seven categories based on such competitive factors as their tradable economic clusters, innovation, talent, and infrastructure connectivity.

The “Redefining Global Cities” analysis aims to assess the opportunities and challenges the metro areas may confront to power “the next wave of global economic growth.”

Tampa Bay’s “middleweight” tag feels pretty accurate. Other metros given the same label include Orlando, Miami and Charlotte, among others. These metros are basically the AAA teams trying to make it to the Big League.

That is a bit vague.

In this country, the Brookings study cites two higher categories reserved for metros with more economic muscle and greater innovative firepower. At the top by sheer size are New York and Los Angeles, which Brookings labels “Global Giants.” Only five such cities exist worldwide.

Then there is the sweet spot: the metro level Brookings calls the “knowledge capital.”

This is what every aspiring middleweight metro like Tampa Bay wants to become. Brookings says knowledge capital cities are highly productive innovation centers with talented workforces and elite research universities.

So what exactly is a “middleweight?”

American Middleweights: 16 mid-sized U.S. metro areas striving for a post-recession niche in the global economy.

So, yea, that is about right.  We are definitely not a Global Giant.  But what about these “knowledge capital” cities – where are they?

Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Hartford, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Stockholm, Washington DC, and Zurich

(pg 18 of the pdf) Well, that looks like a list of the usual suspects.  And, notably, a number have fewer people than we do. (Hartford?)

And who are the “middleweights?”

Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Riverside, Sacramento, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Tampa

(pg 18 of the pdf) Aside from Miami and Detroit, they are all smaller than we are, but we cannot say that we do not fit in this category.

From the column:

To attain the knowledge capital tier, Tampa Bay has to vastly raise its intellectual and innovation bar at the University of South Florida, as well as at the other private higher education schools in the area. Tampa Bay also must act smarter and engage more forcefully as a single region, especially on key topics like transportation, workforce quality and the creation of better jobs.

All of this is happening. But it takes time, resources and commitment.

The question is whether Tampa Bay’s progress is taking place coherently, with enough leadership and vision to boost Tampa Bay to “knowledge capital” status before global competition makes even that designation obsolete.

That is definitely a question.  Frankly, it is questionable whether things are being dealt with in a smarter way (really, local officials did not even know what was in the $6 billion TBX plan, and we have no county mass transit plans, let alone regional plans) or whether we are just getting much more of the same old behavior.  Yes, we are getting better but so is everyone else and most of our problems are decades old and still lingering with no clear solution or plan.  Do we really want to be in the same category as Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Riverside or do we truly aspire to be better.  If so, we have to do much more. (A lot more airport-like action, a lot less PTC like action)

In truth, we can’t fault the Brookings report.  But the column did ask one question that seemed a bit odd:

When will Tampa Bay start punching above its weight?

Looking at the regional GDP number we outlined two weeks ago, maybe we should focus on not punching below our weight first.

West Tampa – Looking for the Money

There was news about the “West River” plan.

Tampa has been knocked out of the running for a $30 million federal grant that local officials had hoped to use on the West River redevelopment project.

* * *

Not making the cut came as a “total surprise,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, suggesting that HUD’s evaluators didn’t read the city’s application carefully and could have cleared up any questions with a single telephone call.

We are not surprised Tampa did not get the money.  It has gotten money in the recent past.  But the technicality thing is interesting.  What is that about?

“We are not only profoundly disappointed,” he wrote in a letter to HUD deputy assistant secretary Dominique Blom, “we are troubled by the rationale provided in your letter.”

In its notice to City Hall and the Tampa Housing Authority, HUD said Tampa’s application lacked detail about which members of the local team would be responsible for different parts of the program. As a result, Tampa’s application was disqualified without being considered on its merits.

In his response, Buckhorn offered a point by point rebuttal of how the application outlined the roles of the city, housing authority and Hillsborough County school district and how those players would work together.

Buckhorn said he wasn’t sure whether Tampa could appeal HUD’s decision, but “I’m not going to let this die without asking the question.”

“I thought we had we had put together one of the most competitive proposals that they were going to see this cycle,” Buckhorn said. “To get knocked out on a technicality that could have fairly easily resolved is a disappointment. … It had nothing to do with the substance of the proposal.”

We are all for asking the question, though it seems to us the “rationale” is part of the substance – not the merits of the project, but definitely the substance of the proposal.  That does not mean it couldn’t be fixed or papered over, but still.

So what next?

Getting the grant this year would have been expected to give the Tampa Housing Authority and City Hall more ability to raise money for the West River plan. For example, officials leveraged the $30 million grant at Encore Tampa to bring in another $78 million in funding for a total impact of $108 million.

But not getting the grant does not doom the West River plan, officials say.

“We’re full steam ahead,” Buckhorn said. “We knew there were always going to be multiple entities in this project. This just means the federal government will not be a part of it. …We’re just going to have to go back to the table and sit down with our private sector partners and figure out how the rest of it’s going to work.”

Fine.  We are all for redeveloping North Boulevard Homes and the surrounding area.  We have said before we actually thought the City’s plan was not dense enough.  And remember that the City chose a development team, then dropped it and chose Related, which has the ability (though it is not entirely clear that it has the will) to do a really good project.  But the entire process has not been that smooth.

And Tampa is likely to apply again, assuming the Choice Neighborhood program continues. Buckhorn noted that it took two tries to win the grant for Encore Tampa. 

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Though it would be nice to know exactly what they are planning to do. (Seems like we have a dearth of clear plans these days). And how much it will cost – especially how much public money it is supposed to cost.  And while we have this time, maybe they should tweak the plan to make it denser (and stop TBX from carving a bigger gash through the middle of the area). Just a thought.

— Meanwhile, At Encore

In a slightly related matter, at the Encore project:

Just one year after it officially opened, a consultant has found that water is leaking into at least 25 apartments in one of the city’s signature affordable housing projects.

The preliminary report on conditions at The Reed at Encore , a seven-story senior living center on the edge of downtown Tampa, found evidence of water damage to baseboards, door jambs and drywall, and possible window seal leaks. At least one apartment may have mold as a result of the damp conditions, the report by IBA Consultants found.

The center was built by the Siltek Group, a Plantation general contractor that the Tampa Housing Authority and its development partner this summer fired while in the midst of completing the neighboring Tempo at Encore apartment tower.

A more detailed report is being compiled to determine where water is intruding. Contractors will use high pressure water sprays and infrared sensors to track how water is spreading behind walls. Housing authority emails show that complaints from residents about leaks and sodden carpet began soon after they moved into the building.

Not good, but such things do happen.  At least the Housing Authority fired the company, and there is a good chance they will sue them.

Rays – No Surprise

Now that the season is over, there was a column in the Times regarding the Rays:

The last pitch has been thrown, and another Rays season has come to an end.

All that remains are the statistics and debates. The final accounting of a season gone sour.

So, tell me, who had the more disappointing effort:

The Tampa Bay Rays?

Or their fans?

Honestly, it’s a tough call. The Rays finished last in the America League East, and won their fewest games in nearly a decade.

On the other hand, Rays fans finished last in Major League Baseball in attendance per game. In case you’ve lost count, that makes five years in a row.


The team averaged fewer than 16,000 fans per game during its 2016 season. That’s nearly half the attendance average of the team’s away games. The numbers don’t look good for St. Petersburg, as city officials continue to take steps to convince the Rays to stay in St. Pete as the team considers future stadium options in the region. 

Blaming the fans is always the best strategy to increase attendance, right?  How about blaming this:

Earlier this year Pinellas County, listed 10 possible sites on that side of Tampa Bay including the Trop site.

Access to businesses, employees and residents within a 30-minute drive of Tropicana Field has consistently been attributed to getting fans in the stands.

Fewer businesses, employees, households and residents are located within a 30-minute commute of Tropicana Field than any of the other proposed sites. To put that in perspective, there are 816,000 people who reside within a half-hour commute of Tropicana Field. Every other site has access to more than 1 million people within that same travel distance.

Needless to say, possible Hillsborough locations are over a million and closer to a lot more. This isn’t that complicated (though the funding is).

Can we finally say that the Rays will not be a success attendance-wise at the Trop location?  Maybe they will have trouble somewhere else, but they will not be a success where they are now.  Let St. Pete move ahead with their interesting plans to redevelop the Trop area and find the Rays a good location in Hillsborough.

Why We Should Ask for More

We often say that we are the biggest swing area in the biggest swing state in the country and that gives us certain power.  We also say that this area does not use its power to get things we want.  This week we got an illustration of that power.

Three of the top 10 ad markets for the presidential race are in Florida.

From NBC News’ latest breakdown:

Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL: $20,935,864

Tampa-St Petersburg-Sarasota, FL: $17,243,115

That’s right.  The i-4 corridor is the location of the #1 and #2 presidential ad markets.  That can be annoying if you are trying to enjoy something on TV, but it is an indication of our regional power.  We need to use that – though, that would require local officials to actually work together regionally and formulate regional plans.

Roundup 9-30-2016

September 30, 2016


Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

— Excuses

— The Delegation

— Conclusion

— Meeting Reminders

— One More Thing

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

Downtown – Block Letter Project

Channel District – Finally

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

Built Environment – Parking Diet

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

There was a really odd article in the Times regarding the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes, instead of the current four.

State officials say this has been public knowledge for years, part of a controversial expansion plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX.

That was not the odd part.  This was:

But transportation activists and even top officials who voted on the proposal thought TBX would add new lanes to the bridge for tolls — not replace ones that already exist. After three years of presentations and meetings, even veteran urban planners who were involved in the process were stunned to learn that the state’s plan will shrink the number of lanes for drivers.

“I certainly didn’t think they were going to reduce the number of lanes,” said Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who sits on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization and voted to allow the project to proceed in June.

That is absurd.  Even more absurd is the number of officials who claim they did not know (to be exact, the article says they “thought DOT was adding an additional lane“), from a follow-up article:

State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, was surprised to hear DOT’s plan.

“I always understood it as there was additional capacity added.” He didn’t agree with the state’s characterization of how the outside lane is used. “It’s definitely not an auxiliary lane.”

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, felt mislead.

“I never thought they would be reducing the capacity of traffic. … It’s already bad enough. They don’t call it the Howard Frankenstein for nothing.”

Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, never expected to lose a free lane.

“I don’t have a high confidence level in the plan if they’re going to cut down a lane.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO Member Sandy Murman, Republican, said this version was news to her.

She does not approve of tolls on the Howard Frankland. “I think that would kill our economic development efforts and our regional efforts.”

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, Republican, called the plan a “joke.”

“When they take these lanes and call them fancy names like managed lanes, they’re clearly trying to disguise something.”

State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, wants DOT to pull the plug on the plan.

“It’s outrageous. It’s wrong. It’s not what will help this region.”

Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, Democrat, said no one on the Hillsborough MPO realized this.

“It is interesting that there are 16 of us and none of us caught that particular nuance.” 

How absurd is it that they do not know the FDOT plan?  We cited this Times article in our July 18, 2014 Roundup (See “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away” ):

The other huge project is the construction of a new northbound Howard Frankland Bridge. The state has rated the current bridge, which reopened in January 1993 after rehabilitation, as “structurally deficient,” said Ming Gao, state DOT planning manager. By giving the bridge that rating, the DOT is saying that it needs to be continually repaired or replaced by 2025. Gao estimated that the DOT is already paying about $2 million a year to maintain it.

* * *

When complete, it would have four lanes. It would also have a substructure strong enough to be widened and to support light rail or other such fixed guideway transit, should that ever be built.

One of the four lanes would be a toll express lane. The other three would be traditional lanes. 

Not to mention URBN Tampa Bay’s posting a page from a 2016 MPO meeting transcript clearly indicating the plan.  (See more here)

If we knew it and the Times knew it (not to mention the anti-TBX folks), how did local elected officials, including those who ended up on the MPO voting on TBX, and many other people who support TBX not know it?  Isn’t it the job of local officials who make decisions to know such things?

Setting that problem aside for now, how does FDOT justify taking away a free lane from the bridge?

FDOT administrators contend they have said all along that the new bridge will have one fewer free lane. They argue it doesn’t technically remove any capacity from the bridge because they consider only three of the Howard Frankland Bridge’s four lanes to be for “general use.”

The state calls the fourth lane, the one nearest the water, an “auxiliary lane.” Its purpose is to connect the on- and off-ramps in Pinellas and Hillsborough, officials say, not to carry through traffic.

But try telling that to the thousands of people who drive it every day.

It’s not a “breakdown lane” or a shoulder and is, in fact, the same length and width as the lane next to it.

And while official documents often refer to it as an auxiliary lane, they’re not consistent. Other records say the bridge has four “travel lanes.

“Nobody’s been duped,” said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for FDOT’s Tampa district. “I’m not sure why anybody thinks it’s different. I’m truly baffled.”

With all due respect, no, not duped – screwed.  (We give FDOT points for the bureaucratic newspeak which was probably used to avoid federal rules on tolling free interstate lanes, but everyone knows that there are four free lanes in each direction.) That is made abundantly clear when you consider that FDOT is building Pensacola a new $500 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement without any tolls at all. (See “Transportation – FDOT MO”) But there is more:

Transportation activists say FDOT misled the public by promoting a more expansive version of TBX with four free lanes, two tolls and room for mass transit like a light rail connecting the two counties.

* * *

“The department has said that about all the other segments, that they’re not taking away a general purpose lane, that this is a new lane,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough MPO. “I think it would be really easy to have gotten a different impression about what this bridge is going to be.”

Setting aside that even the planners do not seem to know what is in the plan, you would have gotten that impression from FDOT only if you were not paying attention. The extra lanes were always portrayed in possible later phases – not the original project.  And this is made clear by this:

Not all were confused. Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said FDOT made it clear to his group the plan was to convert the auxiliary lane to a toll lane. He said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Um, no.  The bottleneck definitely needs to be fixed, but the bridge has issues going the other way, too.  The fact is that it is already too small. And the only way one would not be concerned with losing a free lane is if one is planning on using the express lanes and don’t care about all the people who can’t afford $10+ each way twice a day on their exceptionally low incomes.

Others also said they knew:

St. Petersburg City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Jim Kennedy, Democrat, said he was “surprised at people being surprised.”

“They were very clear that what they’re referring to as an auxiliary lane … which I think everybody looks at as a through traffic lane on the bridge, was going to become a tolled lane.” He opposes the plan.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Democrat, said the plan isn’t perfect but something needs to be done.

“I hate to see this be another project where we had an opportunity to do something and we turned the money down trying to wait for perfection.” He supports the plan.

Constricting traffic on the main link in the area is hardly “doing something.” First, instead of just accepting the plan, the Mayor of St. Pete could have rallied the legislative delegation and local politicians to get changes made to the plan.  Second, the fact is that St. Pete will be hurt more by the constricted access than Tampa – which has the airport, the Port and more people.

Clearwater City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Doreen Caudell, Republican, said DOT isn’t taking away a lane

“It does not slow down traffic or reduce lanes. … An express lane is still a lane.” She supports the plan.

Apparently she does not understand how express lanes work. Taking away a free lane is taking away a free lane and shoving traffic off of the express lane, which is the specific purpose of express lanes, will slow traffic. And, yes, it is taking away a lane.

The Mayor of Tampa, somewhat out of character, apparently has not said anything about the bridge, but is on record as supporting TBX.

— Excuses

Setting the last two quotes aside, of course there is an excuse for the confusion:

But even the master plan for the project, posted on FDOT’s website, shows a more expansive version of the Howard Frankland: four general use lanes and two toll lanes in each direction.

Again and again in the 172-page document, state officials refer to the wider bridge with no reduction in lanes. This is called the “ultimate” option.

It also refers to the smaller version of the bridge as a starter project, but much less prominently.

Hunt, of FDOT, said the ultimate goal is still this bigger version, but that will happen only after both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties agree on a mass transit system to cross the bay — an agreement that has eluded the region for two decades.

If that ever happens, the state will start construction on a third bridge — this time, with the extra lanes. The segment they’re proposing now would be used for mass transit.

Until then, drivers will have a choice: Sit in even worse congestion. Or pay up.

Nice try. First, as we said, the news has been out for years.  Second, for a while now, opponents of TBX have been saying that FDOT is not being forthright and that you have to read their fine print.  TBX supporters ignored them. Now we know that some people promoting and voting on the plan didn’t even know what was in it. Other politicians didn’t either. There is no excuse for such ignorance.  (We wonder if these local politicos knew, and, regardless, whether they support taking a free lane from the bridge )

But the even more interesting question is for the local officials and legislators who knew full well about FDOT’s plans and still supported the TBX plan: why are you ok with constricting the main artery of the entire area?  How does that fix congestion? (If the two answers above are any indication, the answers will be, shall we say, interesting.)

As for the “ultimate option,” if you think Hillsborough and Pinellas are going to come up with a unified mass transit plan any time soon, you probably haven’t been paying attention to transportation issues much.

— The Delegation

The fact remains that, while it has some good elements, TBX as a whole is bad for this area. And, regardless of whether people like express lanes or not, this area (and its legislative delegation) should be slamming FDOT for trying to constrict the main transportation artery of this entire area, among other things. No other area in the state is getting treated like we are (though a lot of that rests with local officials).

So what do members of the delegation say?

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Republican, said he knew DOT planned to convert a lane, but called it “controversial.”

“I’ve also been under the impression that before the DOT pulls the trigger on any action there will be additional opportunities for dialogue.” He thinks the bridge is “probably not going to end up with toll facilities.”

* * *

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the plan is still changing.

“FDOT will build what we tell them to build. If the public wants additional lanes and additional capacity, then they will put on as much capacity as we fund them to put on.” He supports Tampa Bay Express, but his discussions with DOT about the proposed plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge always included adding capacity.

State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said officials and community members need to voice their concerns.

“To the extent we can put pressure on DOT to oppose, we will.”

State Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, urged residents to attend next week’s public hearings.

“I feel pretty confident there will be an outcry over this.”

Yea, there is an outcry, but what are you going to do about it?  And it is all well and good to say that FDOT will build what you tell them to build, but then you have to tell them to build something good.  So far there basically have been crickets, followed by a couple of statements to a newspaper (and whole-hearted support for TBX from one State Senator quoted above) Why didn’t you already do something?  For the delegation in this case, silence is has to be construed as assent.

There is one notable exception to the crickets, though still after the original Times article came out:

Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, wrote a letter to DOT District Secretary Paul Steinman conveying his “great concern” about the agency’s plan to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes instead of the current four.

“This would be an immediate impediment to creating a business environment uniting the entire Tampa Bay region,” Latvala’s letter said.

* * *

Latvala said he was told the bridge would also be an expansion and urged the agency to reconsider its proposal to put a toll on a free lane.

“In discussions with previous Secretaries from the Department of Transportation, they assure me that if express lanes with tolls were to be implemented, they would be new lanes, not taking already existing lanes and designating them as express lanes,” Latvala said.

They may or may not have said that, but they were pretty clear on taking a lane away, at least in the interim (of unknown duration).  Regardless, he is right about the plan being an impediment to the area.  Now, the delegation should hold their feet to the fire to change that.

— Conclusion

The reality is that we are not surprised that FDOT plans to take away a lane.  We are not surprised that local officials lined up to support the plan.  And we are not surprised that local officials now claim to have not known what was in the plan – either because they really didn’t or just for CYA purposes.  The real question is what they are going to do now.

Then again, as we said back in 2014, when we first discussed FDOT’s plan to remove a lane:

That’s ok, though, because, if you want to avoid crossing on new but shrunken Howard Frankland, you can just take the very effective regional mass transit system . . .

Welcome to Tampa Bay.

— Meeting Reminders

Once again, if you don’t like what FDOT is proposing, you can go to a meeting and tell them:

DOT is planning two public hearings on Oct. 4 and 6 to discuss proposed changes to the bridge. The first will be at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park; the second at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Both are scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.

Tell them what you think.  And feel free to contact your legislator.

— One More Thing

Interestingly, this week, we also learned this:

The Florida Department of Transportation is partnering with Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland to create a new transportation testing facility.

SunTrax is expected to establish Florida as a transportation technology leader and serve as a high-tech hub for things like tolling, intelligent transportation systems and autonomous vehicles.

* * *

The facility includes a 2.25-mile track adjacent to the Polk Parkway outside the city of Auburndale.

And what is the first thing they will be working on?

The first phase of construction will include a toll testing facility on the track. It will include multiple lanes and will simulate parallel tolled express lanes.

Of course, tolling.  How about later?  Anything but roads and cars?

Future phases of the testing facility include less controversial components including space for automated and connected vehicle testing. Florida Polytechnic University students will be able to participate in research at the facility.

No.  Would you expect anything else?

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

There was a development in the Gandy Connector push:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of a $192 million project to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge via elevated lanes.

“As a community, we must begin to view ourselves as a region and shift our focus to regional transportation solutions,” chamber president Bob Rohrlack said in a statement about the chamber board of directors decision.  “This project is an initial step towards a robust regional transportation system.”

That’s something, but, given the absolute failure of local officials to do anything about transportation, the Chamber has been seemed ready to support any improvement, including TBX with its removing a free lane from the Howard Frankland.

The South Tampa and Brandon chambers already have voted to support the project, expected to start construction in December 2017. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to extend the Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge. The elevated toll lanes will be at least 30 feet above street level and will be built atop pilings anchored in Gandy’s median.

The South Tampa chamber endorsing it is more important because it combats some of the long-standing opposition by a couple of neighborhood groups (whether they are representative of the residents or not is unclear) and some businesses on Gandy.  Still, there is a way to go on this and the proposal is not optimal (for instance, should be a full 4 lane road, though that is unlikely) – but at least the concept opens up a connection across the bay, unlike TBX.

Downtown – Block Letter Project

In July, the City put out an RFP for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall.  Three developers submitted proposal.  The City now has selected a proposal, but, before we get to that, let’s recall what we were told about this lot and the vision for the RFP:

Buckhorn has called the block, now home to a parking lot across N Florida Avenue from City Hall, “the most prominent undeveloped parcel” in downtown and said it could be “the new crown jewel of our skyline.”

Could be. So what did the City choose?

HRI submitted a bid to pay $7.5 million for 1-acre lot surface parking lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. and build a mixed-use tower on the site — 21 stories that will include 225 residential units, a 223-room Hyatt Centric Hotel, 7,000 square feet of commercial space and retail space and a 408-car garage, the city announced Thursday.

HRI’s proposal estimates a total project cost of $120 million. The hotel would occupy floors six through 11 and will include 9,600 square feet of meeting space, a 22,000-square-foot rooftop pool, cabana, fitness center and poolside bar.

The residential units — built with condominium-level finishes and private balconies — will be built on floors 12 through 21.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Aside from paying a decent amount for the land, what is there to recommend this project? Well, the mix of uses are ok (though the amount of retail, which is key for the street, seems small).  And while the building looks ok, though it is quite squat, it is hardly a crown jewel of the skyline.  Frankly, from many angles, it will be hard to see (the rendering seems to demolish every building around it).  Moreover,

The ground level commercial space will be on North Marion Street and East Jackson Street and “will serve to further activate the North Marion Street pedestrian promenade and provide an additional destination stop along the Marion Street Transit Parkway,” HRI wrote.

Assuming the building in the rendering faces Kennedy, it will put essentially a blank wall and dead street directly across from historic City Hall (even if the building faces City Hall, most of what faces City Hall will be a parking garage, to go along with the one across Kennedy) which is quite poor. (Is that really what you want on that corner for the next 50 years?)

Second, while the proposal has the aforementioned mix of uses, it does not add anything that is not already being added or going to be added by the various project under construction or proposed. A few blocks away, the Lightning owner’s $2 billion project is moving forward.  Other projects are also moving forward.  And there are a number of other proposals. This project would not really change the nature of the area in which it is proposed. There is no need to stimulate development by getting rid of public land.

It is not clear why the City is determined to sell this land.  All that is going to happen if downtown develops is that this land will become more valuable – with more likelihood of a real signature project.  There is no reason to sell it for a project that can be built on any block downtown – including on the (mostly) parking lot across Kennedy from this lot or any number of other privately owned surface lots. (See this map)  The land is a public asset that will be more valuable held in trust for the future use.  It can always be developed later if a truly signature proposal comes along. (Frankly, the other two proposals are pretty bad too – especially how they push the tower portion right up to Florida and block views of City Hall. )

The bottom line is that this project were private, we’d probably say, except the awful the treatment of City Hall, it was tolerable filler  but nothing special unless they fixed the obvious deficiencies.  But it is proposed for public land (which makes one wonder why it is not just being proposed for nearby private land such as across the street and if there is a problem with land banking of private land downtown). There is no good reason to support it.

Channel District – Finally

After about 10 years of discussion and news reports, Channel Club (the latest name for the project), finally broke ground.

Construction work on the Channel Club, a 21-story apartment tower and Publix Super Markets Inc. store, began Friday morning on a vacant lot between East Twiggs and East Madison streets.

* * *

Ken Stoltenberg, a principal with Mercury Advisors in Tampa, declined comment Friday. Mercury Advisors has been working on this development for years.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

A developer declining comment is a bit odd, but whatever. While we think it could be more pedestrian friendly, it is good to get this project, and its Publix, finally going.  We look forward to watching it go up.

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

There was news that another apartment complex downtown is moving forward.

A Charlotte, North Carolina developer has closed on a site near downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk where it plans to build nearly 400 apartments.

Crescent Communities paid $8.1 million for a 5-acre site at 109 W. Fortune St. in a deal that closed Friday, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Tuesday.

It is not clear when the project may start.

We are all for more residential.  Unfortunately, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay, this project does not appear to have retail and does not seem to have any street interaction.    According to some comments on URBN Tampa Bay, this lot for some reason was exempted by the City regarding such things. If that is true, that makes no sense.  Regardless, we can do much better.

If Tampa is serious about having a solid downtown, it needs to insist on such things.  Remember, if one project can be exempted, so can any of the others (which would not be a unique occurrence in this area).

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

There was another project proposed for Seminole Heights (from URBN Tampa Bay):

A 5-story mixed use project has been proposed for 6000 N. Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. The project features 84 residential units and approximately 7,000 square feet of retail space. The developer is Milhaus Development from Indianapolis.

The first rezoning hearing is set for January 19th.

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

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We admit that, from the rendering, you can’t tell that much.  However, the basic outline is it is an L shaped building that is on the west side of Florida with part facing Idlewild.

Based on past experience, there will be some opposition to this project.  Some will say it is too big.  Some will say that it is different architecturally from the area (though it is not in the historical district).  Some will object to the 56 foot height (though it will not cast long shadows into yards in the afternoon).

From what we have to look at, we tentatively support the project. (Another option, which we would actually prefer, for the lot is to have a wider 5 story building closer to the street without the part of the L stretching back closer to the houses.  That way the project still can have a decent number of units but less effect on the houses behind it.  However, that was tried with a previous proposal on another lot and was killed by opposition.)

First, the architecture does not bother us.  There is much worse on Florida.  We are not bothered by the height either.  It is not that we think Seminole Heights should be filled with huge buildings, but it is just not huge.  It is like a Main Street building, which is what Florida is for Seminole Heights.  There is retail on the bottom and residential on the top.  The most of the bulk of the building is away from the residential in behind it.  And it fits with what every envisioning of what Florida in Seminole Heights was supposed to be.  It will definitely not destroy the nature of the neighborhood or the plans that have been made for it.  It will not take the quirkiness and small business aspect away (unlike the Dollar General, and it ilk, which had no problem opening a store with the one story + parking model or the Wa-Wa on the hill).

Finally, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

Resident Concern #2: This project will gentrify and destroy Seminole Heights’ “charm.” There is absolutely no proof to back this claim up. The people that would be interested in moving into this project would be interested because they like Seminole Height’s charm an want to escape the land of cookie cutter chain restaurant suburbia. Many of America’s most eclectic neighborhoods have projects that absolutely dwarf this project. There is no correlation with project density and charm. If anything, denser neighborhoods tend to not be designed for cars and therefore be more eclectic in nature, not less. This project compares favorably to the SH Starbucks for example, in maintaining the charm of the area.

If Seminole Heights is ever to become a truly urban residential area (and we focus on residential area), it needs some density of Florida to support transit and street activity (this street could use more) and help support the amenities that the people who live there now want.  We do not see this as detracting from Florida at all.

We know that may bother some people, but that is how we see it.

But this all gets back to the simple question:

What really matters is that the neighborhood (and the City) needs to decide what they want.  Do they want to have a real, urban neighborhood in the middle of a city where the major commercial roads are activated and thriving or do they want to promote the status quo on Florida and Nebraska (which have improved but have a long way to go) and hope for a small town main street on a major thoroughfare (which is not the adopted plan)?  We have an opinion, but the decision is theirs.

Just know that if Seminole Heights rejects enough projects that bring an urban approach and try to activate Florida (which, as we said, is their prerogative), eventually, even if there are some small developments like the pharmacy/café under construction now, a good amount of the investment money, and the people, businesses, and energy they have, will go elsewhere.

That may be the choice Seminole Heights want, but make it with eyes open.

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

There was an interesting article in the Times about three outdoor marketplaces built in the late 1990s/early 2000s: Bay Walk, Channelside, and Centro Ybor.

Nearly two decades ago, real estate developers wanted to build open-air shopping centers in Florida.

Between October 2000 and February 2001, three of them opened in the Tampa Bay area.

With movie theaters, shops and restaurants tucked inside, shopping centers like Centro Ybor, BayWalk and Channelside Bay Plaza were meant to be bustling community centers, a draw to residents and tourists.

But in the 16 years or so since they opened, each has suffered more than they’ve flourished. Centro Ybor was nearly bankrupt by 2004 and is mostly office space today. St. Petersburg’s BayWalk was bought by hometown entrepreneur Bill Edwards, who spent millions to renovate the center and put it back on the market.

And Channelside Bay Plaza could be bulldozed if Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors approves a plan from Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. The plan would raze the 230,532-square-foot nearly empty structure to make room for new waterfront development, which would include residential towers, restaurants, shops and a park.

They all came online with great fanfare and hype (though it should be noted that some questioned whether both Centro Ybor and Channelside could thrive with the other nearby).  In fact, for a period, all did ok, but then started to struggle.  Why?

“They were way ahead of their time,” said Paul Rutledge, first vice president with real estate company CBRE, Inc. in Tampa, of open-air shopping centers. “By the time they had enough people, it wasn’t the right design anymore.”

The retail industry is always evolving. And thanks to e-commerce giants Amazon and others, brick and mortar retailers have had to reinvent the role of the traditional store’s experience to keep customers coming back. It doesn’t help that BayWalk, Bay Plaza and Centro Ybor were built just before the Sept. 11 attacks and before the onset of the Great Recession, which squashed consumer confidence and dried up discretionary spending. 

Timing is one issue, though other areas have had such development do well.  And, yes, to some degree, they were ahead of their time.  The areas around them were not nearly as developed as now in terms of residents and businesses.  What else?

Analysts say these once ambitious retail developments failed because they were unable to adapt as shopper preferences changed and the market took a turn for the worst. Developers also overestimated the power of tourist spending — especially in a recession, said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. Consolo worked as a consultant at Sundial for a short time.

We would suggest that the last factor was the biggest, at least for the Tampa complexes. Both were built with tourists as a main contemplated market.  To be truly successful, such development must draw strongly from the local market.  Tourists come and go, and often never return (just because they are not around).  Repeat and consistent business must come from locals. At first, there were not enough locals in the immediate area.  (And then there was Channelside’s poor layout and bad management.)

We are not saying that a tourist focus was the only problem.  It wasn’t. (There was bad press, arguments about what Ybor should be, and other competition.)  And there is also the question about whether retail complexes are really what people want in an urban environment – as opposed to lively streets with retail on them that form a part of a larger urban area.  But, unless you are Disney, if you are planning a major complex based on tourists, you are probably going to have some very big issues (like the streetcar).

If you build something good that locals will enjoy, tourists will come with them.

Built Environment – Parking Diet

This week, we look at an article in the Guardian about parking.

The US has long been the world leader in building parking spaces. During the mid 20th century, city zoning codes began to include requirements and quotas for most developments to include parking spaces. The supply skyrocketed. A 2011 study by the University of California, estimated there are upwards of 800m parking spaces in the US, covering about 25,000 square miles of land.

“As parking regulations were put into zoning codes, most of the downtowns in many cities were just completely decimated,” says Michael Kodransky, global research manager for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. “What the cities got, in effect, was great parking. But nobody goes to a city because it has great parking.”

Increasingly, cities are rethinking this approach. As cities across the world begin to prioritise walkable urban development and the type of city living that does not require a car for every trip, city officials are beginning to move away from blanket policies of providing abundant parking. Many are adjusting zoning rules that require certain minimum amounts of parking for specific types of development. Others are tweaking prices to discourage driving as a default when other options are available. Some are even actively preventing new parking spaces from being built.

We are not going to get into the whole article.  You can read it here.

Of course, to make it work you would have to have a complete change in the mentality of development and transportation in this area. There are few signs of that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

URBN Tampa Bay and Sunshine Citizens had an interesting post on their Facebook pages about the potential to use a tunnel for 275 through downtown rather than the massive and destructive TBX plan. While tunneling in Florida sounds kind of crazy, in the last few years, Miami opened a tunnel from downtown to the port – so it can be done.  And Miami is also looking, though it is still not clear how seriously, at a tunnel under the Miami River.  FDOT has even looked at putting tunnel through downtown instead of this “signature bridge.”

From Sunshine Citizens - click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not saying it wouldn’t be expensive.  We are not even saying it is the best idea (though TBX definitely isn’t the best idea).  But if FDOT is going to spend $6-9 billion and still take away free travel lanes from most important artery in the area, FDOT can look at building a tunnel with a connective park above it – which would do a lot for downtown. (They could always focus on transit, but we know that isn’t going to happen).

Roundup 9-23-2016

September 23, 2016


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

— Per Capita GDP

— Incomes

— Conclusion

Transportation – TBX Meeting

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

— Phase I

— Channelside

— Conclusion

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

Transportation – Trial Ferry

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

It is that time of year again.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its GDP for metropolitan area stats, and the news reports are in. “Tampa Bay area among the largest economies in the U.S.” says the Business Journal.  Well, it better be.  From the Times:

Tampa Bay’s economic output rose from $127.3 billion in 2014 to $133.8 billion last year, a 2.7 percent rise that outperformed most other metros, according to government figures released Tuesday.

The bay area’s economy currently ranks as 26th largest in the country among all metros, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Indianapolis. Miami has the 11th largest economy and Orlando came in at 31st.

Which sounds good, until you go back to the fact that we are 18th biggest metro area and Indianapolis has about a million fewer people than we do and is the 34th largest metro area.  That is why we have been much more interested in per capita GDP – it tells a more accurate story of how we are really doing compared to our competition. (You can see last year’s analysis at “Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really?”)

— Per Capita GDP

As with last year, we have gone to the BEA website and pulled up numbers for a relevant comparison on usual suspects around our size, regional cities, and areas in the state.  There is one caveat.  Some of the numbers from this year’s data set are a little different than last year.  We are not sure what the BEA is doing in all their calculations, but they are probably making corrections.  That is why we use this year’s data.  Even if the set is a little inconsistent with last year, it should be internally consistent, given a decent picture of what is going on.  Here is this year’s chart:

From the BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From the BEA – click on chart for bigger version

If you compare it to last year, you see a little shuffling of the cities at the top (and all over).  One thing you do not see is the Tampa Bay area rising any higher on the list (though that may be coming in a year of two).  We are still behind the major Florida cities (Miami and Orlando by a decent amount), regional cities, and usual suspects list.  We are still behind Jackson and Birmingham.  We are even still behind Buffalo.  We are nowhere near Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin.  Never mind Denver.

What are even more interesting are the growth rates.  While we hear a lot about employment growth – and it is there – the per capita GDP growth rates, while not negative, like some areas, is really lagging. Even Buffalo is growing faster.  And, remember, the areas growing faster already have higher per capita GDP.

And, as last year, we have done a chart of the Top 30 metro areas.  And, as last year, we are second from the bottom:

From BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From BEA – click on chart for bigger version

Not good.

— Incomes

Which brings us to a column in the Times last week:

We are poor. Thin of wallet and purse. Paycheck laggards. At least when it comes to the rest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

* * *

The Tampa Bay metro area comes in last among its 25 peers with the only median household income below $50,000. Household incomes in some wealthy metro areas, like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston, are so far ahead of Tampa Bay — as well as Orlando and Miami, which also rank poorly in the top 25 — that the comparison feels more like a First World versus a Third World country.

Even Detroit, the city that went bankrupt, is part of a metro area that enjoys higher household income than any of Florida’s three major metros.

Tampa Bay, Orlando and Miami rank 25th, 24th and 23rd in income among the top 25 U.S. metro areas.

How bad is it?

The Census Bureau pegs Tampa Bay’s median household income at $48,911. That’s $44,383 less than what the median household of $93,294 in Washington, D.C., the richest large metro area by this household income measure in the country. That’s an extraordinary gap.

Median household income means half the households in each metro area have income above this amount, and half have income below the amount.


Atlanta, for example, enjoyed a median household income of $60,219. That’s more than $11,000 higher than a Tampa Bay household.

Does that matter? Consider that prices of homes for sale in Atlanta and Tampa are currently very similar — the median home price in both markets is about $265,000. The sharp disparity in household income means Atlanta residents are in far better financial shape to afford a house than their Tampa Bay peers.

Worse, the Census Bureau numbers show median household income in Tampa Bay grew an estimated 4.3 percent in 2015 from 2014. Yet Atlanta’s income grew 7 percent.

So what do we do about it?

There is no easy “fix” for mediocre pay. Longer term, creating better-paying jobs is the key. Just remember: Better jobs demand a workforce with higher skills and more education. 

That is certainly true.  It is also true that we need to create the environment to attract and retain talent that brings better jobs and incomes.  We need real transportation solutions (not TBX).  We need to create amenities and provide lifestyles that attract that talent, which requires better planning and investment in more than just downtown (though investing in downtown is good).  We need to create an overall environment that is conducive to creating, attracting, and retaining the talent and jobs we need.  That very much includes elevating our governance and decision making as well as the political culture. And we need to do more than sell this area as a cheap place because if all you do is sell a low cost workforce, all you will get is low income employment.

The reality is that the bellwether of whether local leaders are serious about really improving the economy is whether they are really serious (that means more than just rhetoric) about having a true, coordinated, comprehensive transportation system and proper planning.  If they are not willing to invest in this area’s future and to make this area truly competitive, they are just not serious.  And, so far, for the most part, they have not been serious.  Given that the approach to economic development and infrastructure investment has not really changed, there is no reason to expect the economic results to change much.

— Conclusion

In short, it is not much different than last year, when we said:

The point is that we are growing and there are definitely people doing well in this area, but we are still far behind places like Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, Charlotte, etc. So, when you see the hype and puffery, remember the reality.  Is that acceptable or a cause for celebration?

Yes, we are growing, there is much to recommend this area, we have many assets, and a lot of interesting proposals, but there is also a whole lot of work to do to actually get the point of actually being a global city.

Good things are happening – see below – but there is a message to local officials (and all those who are not satisfied with occupying the basement any longer).  What they have done in the past and are doing now is not enough.  Get to work on things like proper transportation, infrastructure, planning, and proper investment.  All of these things, plus education, are connected to economic development.  Local officials need to act like it.

The reality is that status quo is not acceptable. We can and should do much better than this.

Transportation – TBX Meeting

The foregoing leads to the question of how it makes sense to rely (at least at this point) solely on variable rate (“express”) lanes that charge our low income residents to try to get out of congestion (though it is questionable if that will happen) ever increasing rates – or, if they don’t pay, provides no relief at all.  And that would be the only transportation plan around right now: TBX. (Though the lack of logic extends statewide).

And it gets even worse – as we have noted before – the (at least interim) plans for the Howard Frankland actual take away a free lane and make it an express (toll) lane.

If you don’t like that idea – and we don’t – there is a meeting about it, from Sunshine Citizens:

Please attend FDOT’s public hearing for Segment 3 of the Tampa Bay Express project! This segment will rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, while converting existing lanes into variable rate toll lanes.
This project was previously funded as a life cycle replacement of the span, but the state government has turned it into a project to convert the bridge into a toll facility that FDOT will pocket the money from. We think it’s wrong for the state to impose this on the region with little meaningful input from the general public, who is scarcely aware of this, let alone understand the long-term ramifications to their commute and quality of life. This is why it’s vital we spread the word and get people informed!
The hearing is in an open house format. Doors open at 5:30pm, with a formal presentation at 6:30pm, with public comment after that. The event is scheduled to end around 7:30pm.
There will be an opportunity to speak and/or provide written comments. We encourage everyone who is able to attend.
There is also a corresponding hearing in Pinellas on Oct 4th. For more info, click here 

Maybe FDOT will say that the project has changed again.  Maybe it won’t.  You can find out at the meeting:

Thursday, October 6 at 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM in EDT

Tampa Marriott Westshore, 1001 N Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607

Go and see.  And tell them what you think.

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

Of course, the big news this week was the unveiling of a couple of aspects of the Lightning owner’s plans.

— Phase I

First, there was a press preview of Phase 1 of the overall project.

While plans to redevelop downtown Tampa are still years in the making, the local real estate firm in charge of the $2 billion project is moving quickly to map out what goes where. That includes some new updates, like a 30,000-square-foot grocery store and a 150-room boutique hotel tower with 30 condominium units.

Strategic Property Partners is still drafting the blueprints for the 50-acre urban core owned by the company’s backers, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. But the plans are coming together, said SPP CEO James Nozar.

What do they have to tell us now?

Here are the specifics of Phase 1 of vertical construction that Nozar shared on Monday:

Here is a map of the ground floor developments:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

And here an overall of phase one:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Overall, it looks good.  We like the green space running through the project and what appears to be a lot of street activity, including what appears to be development right around the arena. One downside is that there are a few blocks (especially around Jefferson) that seem to be fronted completely by parking garages, which is bad for connecting the area to the rest of downtown.  With all the good they have done, surely they can make sure that dead space is avoided.  Still, it is a work in progress, so we shall see.

— Channelside

The second major announcement was their proposal for redoing the Channelside complex.

. . . developers want to tear the 230,532-square-foot plaza down and start all over.

James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, wants to raze Channelside Bay Plaza to make room for new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park.

Nozar presented a proposal for redevelopment of the outdoor retail and entertainment complex to the Port Tampa Bay board of directors Tuesday morning. The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve Nozar’s proposal.

We have no problem with just scrapping what is there.  The question is what do they want to do?

The redevelopment will be done in four phases, Nozar said. View the renderings and site plans in the photo gallery for a visual tour of the redevelopment plans.

Here’s a breakdown of each phase:

Here is a site plan:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And some renderings:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The new buildings would be pushed back 50 feet or so from the waterfront so the public could walk along a new seawall and docks there. Some of this access would be blocked when cruise ships were in port.

Nozar said the company chose to propose new development because Bay Plaza is outdated and hardly functional. 

The setback is a good idea for activating the waterfront, and there is no question the original design had issues from the very beginning (like blocking the area off from both the street and the water (some may remember that the access from Channelside was not in the original design).  Given that, we are for the rebuild. Once again, it looks good, if it is fully built out and built as presented.

Alfonso Architects and David Conner & Associates, both based in Tampa, have worked on the initial designs for SPP.

Which is a good sign the approach will continue into further design.  Those architects have done some very good work in this area.  And the Lightning owner’s team has proceeded in a very deliberate and well thought out way.

Of course, all this is just a proposal.

The port would have to negotiate a new lease agreement with SPP to oversee development, leasing and management of the new mixed-use project.

Members of the port’s board of directors had little to say after Nozar’s extensive presentation Tuesday.

As a general idea, it is not a hard issue, provided there are safeguards in the lease (which were not in previous leases). Of course, the devil is in the details.  On the other hand, it is another reason for the Port to focus on being a port on the rest of its land while this project and the Lightning owner’s bigger project get built.  It is not logical at all for the government to compete with private developers when there is ample desire by private developers to build.  Right now, there is no need for more.

— Conclusion

As has been the case for most of this project, we generally like what we see. If things proceed under the plan, ground could be broken on phase 1 of the Channelside rebuild at the beginning of 2018. On the overall project:

Vertical construction is expected to begin next year and the first phase of the project should be completed by 2020. 

We shall see, but it all appears very positive. Hopefully, the finish product will look as good as the renderings.

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

There was a very interesting article in the Times about Cuba.

Before the embargo against the island-nation, Tampa and Cuba were major trading partners. Tampa primarily sent cattle and got tobacco.

Local leaders who favor normalizing relations are now pushing for a renewed trade relationship with Cuba. And they believe Port Tampa Bay has an edge over competing U.S. ports because of a century-old connection between Tampa and Cuba that includes the use of Ybor City by freedom fighter José Martí as a staging ground during his War of Independence against Spain in the 1890s.

Port Tampa Bay is indeed a preferred partner for Cuba’s Port of Mariel, according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times by TC Mariel, the company that runs the container shipment operation there.

But access to Orlando is the reason, not any shared history, according to the statement, forwarded to the Times by TC Mariel’s managing director Charles Baker.

Orlando is coveted because it is a destination for tourists and home to many regional distribution hubs for inbound cargo that would prefer their containers land in nearby Tampa rather than Miami.

Setting aside that we are not sure why we are not coveted, that is an interesting idea.  And, while it should not be the case, being a port that the Cubans apparently want to use may lead to some complacency here, until you realize that Port Canaveral (on the other side of Orland) also wants to grow its container business, so even if they avoid Miami, there is competition. (Not to mention Port Everglades or Jacksonville).  Nevertheless, there are some issues:

Even as the embargo endures, according to the TC Mariel statement, the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay still can prosper from a relationship if Congress or the president repeals a separate federal rule — one prohibiting ships from any country that dock in Cuba from docking in the United States within 180 days.

Direct trade with Cuba would still be forbidden in the United States because of the embargo, but a repeal of the 180-day rule might allow other nations to send cargo to Tampa through Cuba.

That echoes what Baker recently told the U.S.-based global trade publication, the Journal of Commerce.

“If you allow transshipment to take place from Mariel to U.S. ports, you could open up service to Tampa, which is the closest port to Orlando,” Baker is quoted as saying.

The Port’s entire container strategy is based on being at the end of spoke of the transshipment business and to serve all of Central Florida, so this would seem to be exactly what they wanted. Whether Congress would cooperate is an open question, but it is still an idea that should be pursued.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the 2017 financial appropriations bill to repeal the 180-day docking rule.

If the amendment fails, the 180-day rule can still be worked around, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

By order of the president, the Treasury Department can issue a general license allowing cargo ships to sail between the United States and Cuba as frequently as needed.

Let’s say that happens, what has the Port done to really push this business?

This falls in line with efforts by Port Tampa Bay to market its facility as a gateway to Central Florida, made possible through the recent purchase of two giant gantry cranes to help grow cargo container business and by the state’s construction of the Interstate 4 Crosstown Connector that moves traffic quickly from the port to Interstate 4 and on to Orlando.

“Port Tampa Bay is Cuba-ready and we are open to any legal opportunities,” said Edward Miyagishima, the port’s vice president of communications.

A delegation of Cuba’s port leaders is expected to visit Port Tampa Bay within the next few months.

Not much.  Being “Cuba-ready” just means that they have the ability to handle ships.  They still have not done much to get the business other than wait for the Cubans to come here.  Why?  Who knows?  The Port should be actively pursuing the opportunity to get a jump on all the other ports in the state.

Tampa-based international public relations firm Tucker/Hall will lead a separate delegation of local maritime officials to Cuba in October to speak with maritime counterparts there.

“If Mariel picks Tampa Bay as its priority entry point to the United States, it will be transformative for our region,” said Bill Carlson, the president of Tucker/Hall. “We will have access to the world’s markets.”

Right.  And the Port should be actively working with them and going to grow their business.  It’s not like the container docks are so overflowing that they could not use more business.  The last thing this area needs is complacency and inaction.

Transportation – Trial Ferry

The information on the ferry trial between downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa is now out at its own website, here.

You can check out the whole site on your own, but we will note the times:

Monday – Thursday

St Pete Departure            7:00 am

               Tampa Departure              9:30 am

St Pete Departure             3:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              5:15 pm


St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            11:00 pm


St Pete Departure             1:00 pm

Tampa Departure              2:00 pm

St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure               11:00 pm


St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            10:00 pm

See here

Remember that it is $10 each way.

While we are all for the trial, the times and the cost do not make it a real test of the potential ridership or viability of ferry service as a form of transit.  It also does not connect to a proper transit system on either end.  So, the trial is fine, but we are not sure what exactly it will show.  We also still wonder why the more practical ferry from South County to MacDill seems to have faded from view and why the Port opposes it.

So go ahead and ride the trial ferry, but it should not distract from the real questions about why transportation is still not being systematically addressed.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

With all the talk of the Lightning owner’s project this week, it is interesting that the New York Times featured Orlando – and not just Orlando but “wellness” development – in an article entitled “Orlando’s Latest Theme Park Is a City for Wellness.”  The wellness aspect of the Lightning owner’s project has been well documented, though we haven’t discussed it much because we think it is low on the list of actual selling points for a well-designed project (which the Lightning owner’s project shows all the signs of being, so far).

An important part of Orlando’s emerging presence as a mature and innovative city is the 14-square-mile Lake Nona project, which is being built on land that only a decade ago was mostly pasture.

Once finished, the development, being built by Tavistock Development Company, will resemble a city in everything but name, with hospitals, hotels, office buildings, schools and colleges, recreational and sports training facilities, retail centers, entertainment spots and, ultimately, about 11,000 homes and more than 25,000 residents. More than 10 million square feet of construction has been completed at a cost of more than $3 billion.

“We didn’t want to pave over this project with a bunch of production housing — we wanted to do something greater,” James Zboril, president of the company, said over the summer in the project’s Laureate Park Village Center. Nearby, children splashed in a large pool and adults worked out in a state-of-the-art gym, facilities built for the residents.

Beyond the normal, profit-driven imperatives of brick-and-mortar projects, Lake Nona has an additional purpose — wellness — a notion that is intended to permeate virtually every aspect of the community, Mr. Zboril said.

Lake Nona is not a downtown area, so what are they getting at?

About 13 percent of Lake Nona’s home buyers work at a Medical City institution, and 11 percent work elsewhere in the area. An additional 13 percent are employed at Orlando International Airport, which is northwest of the project and within sight of much of it, and 27 percent work from home. At-home workers benefit from a high-bandwidth infrastructure that delivers internet service at one gigabyte per second.

Mr. Zboril said that, in an effort to build a place that inspires and helps create good health, Tavistock invited Lake Nona residents — about 11,000 people so far — to consider themselves a “living laboratory” and participate in formal health studies run by on-site institutions over many years. In the shorter term, residents are offered free activities like bike races, tai chi and yoga. Trails in the area will eventually total 44 miles.

To encourage what they describe as “environmentally conscious” lifestyles, the developer is limiting the community’s use of nonrenewable resources like gasoline by installing electric vehicle chargers. The developer is also minimizing the project’s impact on the environment by applying “green” construction practices, reducing energy and water use and reducing waste.

“There’s not anything like this in all of North America,” said Mayor John Dyer of Orlando, who said the city had spent more than $80 million to build roads and other infrastructure in and around the development. “Lake Nona is a great expression of what Orlando is all about,” said Mr. Dyer, who is known as Buddy. “It wasn’t just a place where someone was going to build tract housing. It was a place that was going to be an economic engine for the area.”

You can read the whole article for the glowing discussion.  Lake Nona may not have a wellness certification, but it has already gotten the media coverage.  That is not saying anything about the Lightning owner’s efforts, but it is a reminder that competition never ends.

Roundup 9-16-2016

September 15, 2016

This week’s Roundup is being posted a little early.


Transportation – Another Editorial

Downtown – The Proposals Are In

Transportation – Small Steps

Westshore – Closer, But Not Clear It Is There Yet

Downtown/Channel District – Updates Here and Coming

Transportation – Vestigial Government

Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum

Economic Development/Transportation – What Is the Market

— One More Thing

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Related Art

— You Can Make It Walkable

List of the Week – Hooray, Beer


Transportation – Another Editorial

With more transportation moves comes another good editorial from the Times.

The new transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners have approved is fine as far as it goes. There is nothing wrong with setting aside more money over the next decade to repair roads and redo dangerous intersections. But make no mistake: This is a road plan, not a transit plan, and the biggest transportation challenges remain unaddressed.

* * *

But this has to be only a modest start to address a much larger transportation issue. The county’s backlog of unfunded transportation needs is already $10 billion to $12 billion, up to 20 times what this move would raise, and that price tag will only increase over the coming decade. This is not even found money. The commissioners simply agreed to set aside this money from existing streams of revenue and to pool a variety of sources — from sales and fuel taxes to grants — to meet the targeted amount.

* * *

This approach only reinforces Hillsborough’s reliance on roads. And it carves the cities and HART, the county’s mass transit agency, out of the decisionmaking process, which inflames the urban-rural divide over transportation policy. This is exactly the wrong lesson from two failed efforts in the past six years to modernize the county’s transportation system.

Pretty much.  As we said last week, they are just doing what they should have already done as part of routine maintenance.  They have not addressed the actual transportation problem.  The editorial then lists some other ideas floating out there – the City tax (which we oppose) and a petition drive (which, depending on the plan, we support) – to try to address transportation for real if the Commission does not get to work.  They conclude with this:

Commissioners may have made a modest down payment on road maintenance, but they have not begun to address the larger state of the transportation network. This is a conversation that needs to happen before the cities, the business community and the next generation start to look at cutting the commission from this debate altogether. 

Exactly.  The County Commission collectively has manifestly failed to do its job (and it is not alone).  We need a comprehensive, coordinated, systematic transportation plan.  We do not necessarily expect someone to have one in their back pocket (though by now they should have a pretty good idea), but we expect them to actively work to create one, even if they have to wait for the transit studies to finalize it. Instead, the Commission has given us a road maintenance plan that they can change at any time without any consensus that there should be something more (though, as we noted last week, at least one Commissioner noted there needs to be more).  We would rather they do their job and that there be a county-wide plan, but if it is not careful, the Commission’s inaction may lead to it being irrelevant.

Downtown – The Proposals Are In

As we noted a few months ago, the City issued an RFP for the parking lot next to City Hall on Florida between Kennedy and Jackson.  Now the proposals are in.

Four proposals were received for the surface lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. — a 1-acre city block that is north of Jackson Street, east of Florida Avenue, south of Kennedy Boulevard and west of Marion Street.

One of them, however, was deemed ineligible because it was submitted too late. The deadline was 4 p.m. on Sept. 9.

Here are the developers who submitted the proposals under consideration:

Unfortunately, despite this:

Buckhorn has called the block, now home to a parking lot across N Florida Avenue from City Hall, “the most prominent undeveloped parcel” in downtown and said it could be “the new crown jewel of our skyline.”

the public will probably not have any idea what the proposal are because of this:

The proposals themselves are exempt from public record for 30 days or until the city makes a decision, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development director.

McDonaugh said the city is aiming to make a decision before Mayor Bob Buckhorn leaves for a trip to China on Sept. 16, pending clarification on questions the city has on the proposals.

Which is not really much time to consider the proposals. And then the City Council would have to approve – though the public would have no idea if it is the best deal, project, group or anything else, really.

So what do we know about the companies?  We can look at websites.

-Mill Creek (website here) does not seem to build too many “signature skyline” projects.  They seem to be mostly decent but not particularly interesting, urbanish, midrise apartment buildings (though they appear to be building one decent sized building in midtown Atlanta).

-HRI (website here) seem to be rehab specialists, which is fine but this is not a rehab.

-Framework Group is the company that won (as the sole proposal) the RFP for the building next to the Straz that then partnered with another developer and were supposed to break ground in the summer.  (Though earlier reports put the start date much earlier.) They also won (again as the sole proposal) an RFP for city land in Ybor. (In both cases, Framework had looked into developing the property before the RFPs.) They are building 500 on Harbour Island right now.

Because we will likely not see all the proposals, we can’t really comment on them, except to say we think the public should see all the proposals-especially if it is such a crucial property.  None of the developers have history of building truly iconic, new buildings (and the “mixed use” in the RFP is a pretty vague phrase.  Just having a little retail on the street, while positive, is not really mixed use).  You can judge for yourself, on the slim information available, who you think will win.

The bigger question is whether, will all the other projects proposed for downtown and the surrounding area by private developers on private land, it really is the time for the City to sell this land.  If all the other projects get built, the property just becomes more valuable. And there is no need to stimulate development downtown. If the demand is not there for all the other projects, this project will just compete with the others.  And if the land is held by the City, it can used for other needs in the future (or sold).  Certainly, if the proposals are not “a crown jewel in our skyline,” the city should just hold off.

Regardless, we assume the process will go forward, so we will just wait for the choice. (As of this posting the results were not released)

Transportation – Small Steps

The first step in making the Streetcar a normal transportation element (rather than a tourist ride), there will be a test of early morning service.

Beginning September 26th, the TECO Line Streetcar will begin operating at 7 a.m. for commuters in Downtown Tampa, the Channel District, and historic Ybor City!

The TECO Line Streetcar System operating hours will look like this:

Monday – Thursday:

 Friday and Saturday:


The morning service is a 6-month pilot to gauge demand for morning service hours along the streetcar line. Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc. and HART will review the ridership, costs, etc. following the end of the pilot on March 24, 2017.

From HART - click on picture for blog

From HART – click on picture for blog

This is definitely needed, though the actual streetcars need to be speeded up.  And it is just a trial run with no promise it will continue. Nevertheless, it is a welcome start.

Westshore – Closer, But Not Clear It Is There Yet

There was a new proposal filed for 4606 Boy Scout in Westshore (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay posting the site plans) for a 13 story building with apartments, a hotel, and retail.  This is one of the site plans (URBN Tampa Bay outlined the tower portion)

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, the good: it is mixed use, it has some height, and there is retail on the ground level that appears to be on the street (and retail on the second floor).

Now, the question: Setting aside the big parking lot (which, at least, is not on the street and includes a garage), does the retail open to the street or to the parking lot?  If you look closely at the diagram, it appears that the retail opens to the parking lot, which is ok provided it also opens to the street.  However, such an opening is not clear, and that would be too bad.  This proposal is at the corner of Boy Scout and Trask.  Just to its east are a large number of relatively new apartments without any retail.  In other words, there is a ready-made market for any retail within easy walking distance.  By opening to the street, the retail would immediately bring an (admitted small, but it is a start) urban, walkable character to the area, which is something Westshore really needs and would be a first.  However, if the retail only faces the parking lot (even with a cut-through under the tower, which appears to be there), it just wouldn’t.  Yes, people could walk, but it just would not be as good.

Like we said, it is not clear from the diagram if the retail would face the street.  We hope it does (and, if not, we are not sure why the City does not require it). If Westshore is ever to reach its potential as an urban area, there are going to have to be some projects that actually encourage walking for more than exercise.

Downtown/Channel District – Updates Here and Coming

Next week should be interesting:

The CEO of Strategic Property Partners will provide an update on redevelopment plans for Channelside Bay Plaza next week.

A presentation by James Nozar, CEO of SPP, is scheduled during Port Tampa Bay’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday. Nozar said previously the presentation would include an update on the beleaguered waterfront mall.

Almost all the initial steps by the Lightning owner’s project have been encouraging, but the actual plans are what really count. We will be curious to see what they have come up with for Channelside.

In other news,

Publix has officially signed a lease for a downtown Tampa location at the corner of E. Twiggs Street and N. Meridian Avenue, as part of a new residential development with Mercury Advisors. The grocery will likely break ground on the store on Oct. 7, said Brian West, spokesman for Publix. Mercury Advisors announced in December that a 37,600-square-foot Publix would be part of the 21-story apartment tower known as the Channel Club development, but West said Publix did not officially sign a lease with the developer until recently.

Publix will fill a void for a much needed and much urban grocery store in the Channel District when it opens next year. 

Great. Hopefully dirt will be moving soon.

Transportation – Vestigial Government

We have written much about the PTC and how it is a protectionist anachronism that should be disbanded.  This week, it was supposed to vote on new ideas for rules for ridesharing companies that included fingerprinting, car checks, limited number of drivers, mandatory wait times, and mandatory prices. Then, it seemed as though they would cancel that vote and just talk because they failed to notice the meeting properly.  Then, that was “clarified”:

UPDATE: Early Wednesday, Victor Crist offered additional clarification to what to expect at Wednesday’s Public Transportation Commission meeting. The board may vote on furthering a version or multiple versions of rules but it won’t be a binding decision.

Eventually is was decided the meeting was properly noticed and they could vote.  Which tells you how firm a grip they have on proceedings. So what did they eventually do?

Despite appeals and petitions from hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers and riders, PTC board members voted 5-2 to move ahead with new regulations that mandate fingerprinting for drivers — a requirement that led the two rideshare market leaders in May to stop operating in Austin, Texas.

Other new rules include annual vehicle inspections, a ban on price surging during states of emergency and a 10-year limit on the age of vehicles.

Board members did offer some concessions to ridesharing fans, dropping two controversial rules that would have set a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute minimum wait.

Dropping the two most ridiculous provisions is a start.  The ban on surge pricing is probably covered under Florida law anyway.  And we are not sure why the car has to be less than 10 years old if it has to have yearly inspections, unless the inspections aren’t actually very useful.  But, anyway, it is not over:

The vote, however does little to actually further the PTC’s quest to implement a regulatory framework for the industry. That’s because the PTC is still going to have to hold a public hearing on the issue at its Oct. 13 meeting to satisfy state law requirements that allow the affected companies to request one. Uber and Lyft both intend to ask for that public hearing.

During the public hearing the rules could again be modified, so the framework approved Wednesday is still fluid.

Of course, the PTC’s coming under increasing pressure (and it is even bi-partisan):

A coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are the latest to come out against proposed strict rideshare regulations ahead of a critical vote by the Public Transportation Commission Wednesday.

In a letter to PTC board members, House Majority Leader Dana Young urges PTC board members to reject the proposed regulations that include fingerprint background check, vehicle inspections and a 7 minute minimum wait time.

She also pledged that the state will pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing in the 2017 legislative session and that the PTC should suspend any action on regulations until then.

Uber, the nation’s biggest rideshare firms has warned that the rules the PTC is considering may force it to abandon the Hillsborough County market.

“The current proposal currently under consideration by the Public Transportation Commission is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County,” Young wrote. “If this occurs, our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

The letter is signed by state House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, state Sens. Jeff Brandes, Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, and by state Reps. Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, James Grant, Shawn Harrison, Jake Raburn, Dan Raulerson, Darryl Rouson and Ross Spano.

The mayor and some business leaders also came out against the PTC’s rules.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the PTC a dinosaur and its proposed new rules draconian. He was joined by local business leaders who said losing ridesharing would affect Tampa’s ability to attract new businesses.

That is true, but it has been true all along and has had no effect.  And, given the vagaries of local politics, it is not clear that the Mayor’s involvement is helpful.

Nevertheless, the real key is the legislature because they have real power over the PTC because they can abolish it or preempt any rules the PTC comes up with.  And to show that the PTC is afraid of the legislature, the board approved getting an attorney if there is a legislative move to abolish the PTC.  Why?  Given that the legislature made the PTC and can abolish the PTC, to lobby to protect a the board’s powerbase – which is legacy cab and limo companies.

The fact remains that, even if you like the ridesharing rules, the PTC has no reason to exist other than to protect legacy companies.  It is the only commission of its kind in the state.  The legislators should just abolish it so we can start being like a normal county.  There still may be rules, but, hopefully, there wouldn’t be this circus.

Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum

Usually, we get on FDOT for being car centric (because they are).  However, this week, there was an interesting article about Jackson Street.

Think bike lanes. Does the Florida Department of Transportation come to mind?

Maybe not. But when the FDOT began looking at Jackson Street in downtown Tampa ahead of an upcoming $2.5 million resurfacing and rehabilitation job, it seemed clear the existing bike lane wasn’t enough.

Jackson has a single eastbound bike lane. There’s nothing on Kennedy Boulevard, the westbound road that, together with Jackson, forms a parallel two-way pair through downtown.

So after some discussions with the city of Tampa, FDOT began looking at creating a two-way, protected-from-traffic bike lane on Jackson Street — something similar to what City Hall has put in on Cass Street.

But there’s a problem. Putting in that kind of bike lane could mean taking out a lot of on-street parking along Jackson Street.

Not surprisingly, businesses objected.

True, no surprise.  The west part of Jackson is a slightly odd road to put a two-way bike lane because the link to the Kennedy Bridge is already, shall we say, awkward.  It seems to us that it might be not the best place to add a lot of bikes. But, in the spirit of supporting good bike infrastructure, which we do, and acknowledging that the east part of Jackson is a good place to connect to the Channel District, we’ll just set that aside for now.

“They didn’t want to lose all their parking spaces,” Tampa development official Bob McDonaugh told the City Council. One version of the plan “would remove virtually all the parking spaces along Jackson Street, in some cases on both sides.”

There also was a concern that adding the protected bike lane could reduce Jackson’s capacity. Jackson currently carries about 10,000 cars and trucks a day, about half of the number using the westbound one-way part of Kennedy.

While FDOT has a reputation as a road agency, its standards increasingly have emphasized and required more than lanes of pavement to but accommodations for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders, too — an approach called “complete streets.”

“We don’t often find ourselves in this situation where we’re arguing to put in more bike lanes and take capacity off,” said Stephen Benson, government liaison administrator for the FDOT district office that includes Tampa.

But, after working with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to identify businesses and building managers with a stake in the project, FDOT has held a series of meetings to try to revise its plan.

Setting aside that such input is much more than they have done for the neighborhoods involved in TBX, what did they come up with?

FDOT’s earliest version of the plan called for keeping the existing spaces, but converting the parallel parking on the street into a through-lane during peak traffic hours. Orlando has some off-peak parking and has not had any problems with it, said project manager Tana Johnston-Schultz.

But FDOT officials said the city, which manages the on-street parking, said thanks but no thanks to a change that would mean preventing people from parking in certain spaces at certain times or making them move their cars ahead of busy hours during the morning and afternoon.

We agree with the City on that.  It sounds like it would be a mess.  Anything else?

At one point, FDOT was looking at eliminating up to 40 spaces along Jackson. Under a plan being discussed now, half of them would remain, Johnston-Schultz said.

We don’t know the details of this plan, but it sounds awkward to us, but we could be convinced.

Work on the project is not expected to start before fall 2017, so nothing is imminent, except for more discussion. A public information meeting is scheduled in October. Depending on the feedback, state officials said they could go with a hybrid plan.

So why not just not take a lane away, save the parking and add the bike lanes?  Why is it fine to take a lane away from Platt, Cleveland, and Ashley but not Jackson (as though no one speeds down Jackson)? If it is ok to squeeze traffic coming into and out of downtown (where you really want efficient flow), why not actually in downtown (especially since there is only one garage that faces Jackson)? If it is good enough for the Lightning owner’s project, why not Jackson? If road diets are so good, why not put Jackson on a diet?  We realize that FDOT would have to buy in, but it does not even seem to be an idea.  What makes Jackson so special?

The fact is that land is limited.  There have to be trade-offs.  Either there is parking or there are traffic lanes or there are bikes (or the streetcar – don’t forget – we don’t know where the streetcar is going if it is expanded, unless the City has already chosen a route).  We are not sure that taking a lane away makes sense on Jackson (or that this is actually the optimal time for determining the final design), but it makes as much (actually more) sense as Ashley. And, going back to last week, the conditions are clearer than Palm Avenue.  Why not consider it?

Economic Development/Transportation – What Is the Market

There was an interesting column in the Times about Enterprise Florida this week.

Be careful what you wish for. Enterprise Florida’s had it nose bloodied on a number of fronts in recent years. Most recent CEO Bill Johnson fled in a hurry this past June after a series of poor political decisions involving no-bid contracts. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, citing Enterprise Florida’s failures, wants to strip the agency’s taxpayer funding.

The blowback follows an unsuccessful bid by Gov. Rick Scott to secure $250 million in additional state funds he wanted the agency to use to bolster incentives to lure more and bigger companies here.

It gets worse. Enterprise Florida is now the target of a free-market-or-bust advocacy group known as Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire businessman and conservative/libertarian activist David Koch.

“Not only is Enterprise Florida a cesspool of corporate welfare, but it’s also long on promises and short on results,” Chris Hudson, Florida state director of Americans for Prosperity, wrote in an opinion column last month in the Tampa Bay Times.

Hudson’s right on many points. Enterprise Florida has been a sloppy, self-indulgent organization that needs better accountability. Departed CEO Johnson’s tenure only fueled the ire against the organization. As a “public-private” partnership, Enterprise Florida’s funding base is supposed to be shared between private and public sources. That mix is skewed, relying heavily on taxpayer money — a big reason that Scott’s $250 million ask got nowhere with legislators.

Indeed.  Enterprise Florida has done questionable things.  But there is another point:

Ending incentives and going “free market” — Legislature leader Corcoran’s mantra — may sound righteous. But Floridians may not like it when the state starts losing job recruiting contests — especially the big ones — to states still sweetening relocation deals with taxpayer money.

That’s the trick. If Enterprise Florida goes cold turkey and ends taxpayer incentives, why will corporations looking to expand bother to seriously consider this state? Yes, there’s no state income tax here. Yes, our winters are nice.

Hate to break the free marketeer’s bubble. Those virtues won’t win many corporate job expansions here if North Carolina or Texas or any number of other states continue to wave incentive money. Just ask the site selection advisers whose job is to tell corporate clients which deal is best.

As long as incentives are fundamental to job recruiting in most other states, Florida’s purist obsession to end them here will simply make the Sunshine State look silly.

To put it another way: the market for relocations is different from what is normally thought of as “the market.”  When people usually speak of “market principles” (though on certain people tend to usually speak of “market principles”) they are talking about business without government intervention or activity (which pretty much never happens, but that is a different issue).  In relocations, corporations are the consumers.  States, cities, etc., are to a large degree the sellers.  Corporations are looking for certain features and amenities. As long as some sellers (states, cities, etc.) are giving incentives, part of “the market” for relocations will be incentives.  You may not like it, but that is how the market works.  If other factors outweigh incentives, so be it.  And if a location does not want the relocation enough to give incentives, so be it. But they should know that without the incentives, they are at a disadvantage. If a consumer wants A and you only offer B, they are going to buy from someone else. If those looking to move want something and you do not provide it, they will go elsewhere.

The same principle of supplying what the consumer, in this case companies or talent, wants goes for transportation (just ask the Lightning owner. See here and here), and, while this has been known for a really long time, this area better finally take productive notice (especially since other areas provide the low costs and taxes that we keep trying to sell). The County Commission can fiddle about with this and that idea, but until they get beyond simply funding repaving work (which they should have funded anyway) and actually develop a real plan for a coordinated, comprehensive transportation system that provides the options others do, they will inhibit our competitiveness in the market for relocations and retention.  They are just not providing enough quality in what they are selling. (And it’s not like they are devoted to the market anyway.  The mess with it by, among other things, subsidizing sprawl, subsidizing retail developments, and, of course, the PTC).

As with all markets, the relocation market has supply and demand. If you are not selling what people want, they won’t buy it (unless, like many people already living here, that is what they are stuck buying.)  Moreover, a proper transportation system, a opposed to the County subsidizing sprawl, is not an incentive, it is an investment that helps meet the needs for the people who live here and people who will live here. (Paying for roads for specific developers or projects or defraying the cost of fees that should be paid because of such projects is an incentive.  Building general infrastructure is not.) A proper transportation system maximizes efforts to grow and retain jobs, to increase the tax base, to develop the area and amenities for people who are already here.  Spending on infrastructure enhances life and helps grow the economy and attract and retain jobs and talent to lift the economy.  And a proper transportation system is necessary for the proper functioning of the all sectors of the economy that is here and that we want to see.  The return on investment is not just monetary but in quality of life.

We’ll ask it again: If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here? Hint: the answer isn’t “because we found money to maintain our existing roads.”

What those who provide half-ideas, half-measures, and gimmicks and nothing more are simply saying, in deeds that contradict their words, they do not really care about economic development.

— One More Thing

Finally, before someone tries to take what we just said as justification for all incentives, it isn’t.  First, as we said, a proper transportation system is not an incentive. Second, we do not even support business incentives unless they are limited, really targeted at higher paying jobs and/or truly desirable industries, and have safeguards to protect the public from non-performance.  (We support flight incentives provided they are also properly targeted.)  But if, while others keep putting out an updated product, you do nothing to improve your product to meet the consumers’ desires and think everything will be fine, you do not understand how a market works.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Related Art

This week, we go to New York City, where the Related Group is building a very large project called Hudson Yards over, as you may guess, a large rail yard.   As part of this mega-project (which is pretty much waterfront, something to remember when you hear any hyperbole about waterfront projects), is a large interactive work or art (sort of) called the Vessel.

From the New York Times - click on picture for article

From the New York Times – click on picture for article

Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, “Vessel,” stands 15 stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, 46, an acclaimed and controversial British designer, and will rise in the mammoth Far West Side development Hudson Yards, anchoring a five-acre plaza and garden that will not open until 2018. Some may see a jungle gym, others a honeycomb.

But Stephen M. Ross, the billionaire founder and chairman of Related Companies, which is developing Hudson Yards with Oxford Properties Group, has his own nickname for “Vessel”: “the social climber.” And the steep price tag Mr. Ross’s privately held company is paying for Mr. Heatherwick’s installation? More than $150 million.

Yes, you read that right $150 million for the thingy, which is a cool thingy, but a thingy nonetheless.  To put that into perspective, as far as we can tell, there has only been one building sold in downtown Tampa for more than that, ever (Though another may have been close).  It is also more than any of the three projects Related has built in Tampa cost to build.

Still, that is public art.

— You Can Make It Walkable

For those who know Atlanta, you know Dunwoody is not exactly in the urban core (more akin to the I-75 corridor), though it does have a MARTA station.  Well,

A developer for the High Street mixed-use development in Dunwoody said the project hopes to break ground in early 2017 and finished in three years.

Boston-based GID Development Group’s Vice President of Development Jeff Lowenberg gave a presentation of the plans for the project at the Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s Sept. 11 meeting.

The development on some 36 acres in Dunwoody at the intersection of Hammond Drive and Perimeter Parkway is designed to be an “urban area” with easy access to the Dunwoody MARTA station, Lowenberg said.

* * *

Phase one of the project includes construction of one 30-story residential tower, a 12-story office building, two seven-story residential buildings, two eight-story residential buildings, a 12-story residential building and several three-story townhouses. All residential buildings will have ground-floor retail.

* * *

A 3/4-acre park is part of the first phase. The park will include a central lawn area with four corners to be used for a dog park, a children’s park, an open-air reading room and an adult game area for ping-pong and bocce ball.

Total residential units in phase one will include 500 apartments at more than 552,000 square feet and 75 condominiums at more than 237,000 square feet. Retail space totals 130,000 square feet and office space totals 250,000 square feet.

This is a rendering of phase one:

From Reporter Newspapers - click on picture for website

From Reporter Newspapers – click on picture for website

We don’t know if it will actually get built, but it shows what other areas are thinking.  And the MARTA station was not put there for this project, but it certainly is helping bring development like this to Atlanta.  Kind of like this State Farm project which is right next to a MARTA station. (see also here)  Even the skeptics around Atlanta now seem to want to have some transit.

It is all a matter of choices made.

List of the Week – Hooray, Beer

Our list this week is wallethub’s best Octoberfest celebration.  The methodology is here.

Coming in first was Cincinnati, followed by Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Minneapolis, Orlando, Denver, Tampa, Miami, Madison, Boise, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Columbus, St. Paul, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.

For those who did not know that Oktoberfest was really a thing in Florida, apparently it is – or at least as much as it is anywhere.  The methodology is kind of suspect, and the list quite irrelevant, but we did well, so have a stein-full.


Roundup 9-9-2016

September 9, 2016


Transportation – Of Roads, Bigger and Smaller

— TBX Crossing

— Road Diet

— Conclusion

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

Transportation – Just a Thought

Economy – Low Unemployment, Low Wages

Governance/Politics – Act Before Knowing

— Water, Water

— More Half Measures

Transportation – Red Light Cameras

TIA – One More

— ULCC’s

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


Transportation – Of Roads, Bigger and Smaller

As usual, there was news of roads this week.

— TBX Crossing

There was a report in the Business Journal about FDOT’s talking tour on TBX.

The Florida Department of Transportation did not address a major point of contention in its quarterly update on the controversial Tampa Bay Express project to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A presentation Tuesday listed “mitigation” as a key concern among residents, but failed to highlight strategies for limiting the number of homes and businesses demolished to make way for highway expansions.

We don’t really want to get into the whole article.  You can read it here. Our interest is mainly in this:

During a recent community presentation at Robert Saunders Library in Ybor City FDOT staff described the meetings as an opportunity to update residents on the plan’s progress and to show how the department has responded to community concerns over aesthetics and noise. Participants were given a short form to offer any additional comment.

FDOT’s update Tuesday also exposed some new concerns. Its expansive plans to activate space beneath the interstate could be a burden to the City of Tampa.

“The city does take a double hit here,” said Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione.

On one hand, the city is losing property tax revenue from properties FDOT acquires to pave the way for TBX. On the other, it is being asked to foot the bill for ongoing maintenance costs associated with additional public space.

Montelione also pointed out that even though FDOT slides depicted underpasses cast in literal light with glowing images of skate parks and public art, the walls surrounding the interstate make for a “dirty, dingy and unwelcoming” space.

The revised TBX plan includes at least two key connections reconnecting neighborhoods near Robles Park. One underpass would connect the neighborhoods on the east and west of I-275 for vehicular traffic. Another would connect it for bicycle and pedestrians. It solves a problem long criticized by the creation of highways – that splitting neighborhoods leads to the impoverization of some areas.

First, we don’t know what road they are going to reconnect near Robles Park, but we can look at the connections there now.  This is what Floribraska looks like today.  Note that TBX will make the highway wider.

Maybe they will make the whole road elevated so it is not a claustrophobic (though that would be really expensive and very disruptive).  A fully elevated road would be similar to the area near Franklin, which looks like this.  That is a bit better but hardly inviting.  Also note that this part of the interstate will be twice as wide under TBX.

Theoretically, they could raise the whole thing by about 20 feet to make it a little more inviting, but that is unlikely and will be incredible disruptive (not to mention getting into view corridors).  More likely, the cut-through will be like Central Avenue, which looks like this.  (And if you want to see what the beautified underpasses look like, this is Armenia under construction – though note that the median where the sunlight comes in will be covered by TBX. )

Note that all those connections are already there today – and none of them are inviting or really bustling right around the interstate because that is not what interstates do.  Second, as we said, the interstate is slated to be about twice as wide, so less inviting in all those places.

As we have said many times, the interstate in the Tampa Bay area needs upgrading.  (We also think FDOT should be looking at an east-west road in Pasco and focusing on making the whole Selmon-Gandy-275 connection a real highway).  A fully elevated road is better than simply walling off the city with a highway, like this in Tampa Heights. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a few extra overpasses will not mitigate the damage from increasing the width (sometimes doubling) of the interstate, especially as it does not even double capacity (far from it will express lanes designed to limit capacity).  How that enhances the urban areas of Tampa and fits the InVision Tampa plan is beyond us, unless the InVision Tampa plan is fatally flawed.

And, of course, there is no transit in the TBX plan.  Yes, there is a study:

Montelione also raised concerns over one of the only transit-oriented solutions in TBX. Critics complained the plan is too roads-focused. FDOT officials pointed to a premium transit study it was funding for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority as well as a fortified portion of the Howard Frankland Bridge that could be used for future transit options like light rail.

But the build roads first/plan later idea is not the same thing as a coordinated, integrated transportation system.  Yet, once again, the real fault lies with local officials who, through inaction, have allowed this situation to come to pass.

— Road Diet

Which brings us to Palm Avenue.

In a city that often grapples with gridlock during rush hour, construction crews are busily narrowing four-lane Palm Avenue, a main thoroughfare connecting Ybor City to the neighborhoods along the Hillsborough River.

Workers are creating grassy medians and adding left turn lanes, bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crosswalks along Palm from Nebraska Avenue to Tampa Street.

In a separate project expected to begin this month, workers will add on-street parking, crosswalks and bike lanes on Palm between Tampa Street and North Boulevard and install roundabouts at the intersections of Highland and North Boulevard.

The redesign of Palm is an attempt to even the playing field in the tug-of-war between motorists and their slower fellow travelers: pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s one of a number of streets around downtown Tampa undergoing a makeover to slow traffic and make the roads safer for walking and bicycling, a process called “road diets.”


“We’re not trying to congest or slow down the traffic to where it’s bumper to bumper,” said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services Department. Rather, she said, the road designers’ aim is to keep cars from exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

Which is hard to square with this:

As to the “road diet,” research has shown that when motorists see pedestrians, bicyclists and even grassy median strips, they tend to slow down. Drivers see they are now in a residential environment, Duncan said, and become “more cognizant of how they’re driving.”

And driving slower.  Slowing traffic is a major part of the whole road diet idea. If they want people to drive slower, then say it.  If they don’t, don’t choke the roads.

Setting aside the rhetorical mess, we are not against road diets, provided there are the proper conditions and there is a comprehensive plan with real transit (buses will just clog up a road with one lane in each direction).  However, that is not what is going on.  There is a push to bring ever more people into the area (including the Heights).  There is TBX to dump more cars into the area, at least in theory, as well as push people to surface roads, which are already congested.  And there is no good access road for all the people who will live and work in the Heights (provided it gets built), and no one knows what the real requirements will be if and when that gets built.  In other words, the proper conditions for a road diet are not there now (they may never be met), so why do it now?

Brad Matthews, who lives in Longwood but grew up in the neighborhood, said he doesn’t understand why the city is narrowing the road. Once the river area is fully developed and those residents want to go back and forth to Ybor City, “it’s basically going to be a traffic nightmare,” he said.

“When it comes to that point, they’re going to have to change it and turn it back into a four-lane.”

Stephanie Gallego, who works at busy Palm Avenue Sandwich Shop, said it takes a lot longer to make the eastbound trek along Palm from Florida Avenue when coming to work in the morning.

“Everybody’s going everywhere, and they’re all stuck,” she said.

Told that the purpose was to get cars down to 30 mph, she said, “right now we’re under 20 (mph).”

Exactly.  There are almost no transportation options for the Heights or others in the area traveling east and west (or even to get to north-south roads).  There is no real transit, not even a firm plan for it.  (And even if the City would like to put the streetcar near Palm, it is not going there anytime soon, so why spend the money just to change it later?)  There are not the conditions for and really no point in a road diet right now. (But there is this streetscape under the interstate.)

What makes sense is developing a proper transportation plan then creating the conditions to implement the plan. Then changing Palm may make sense.  Now it doesn’t.

— Conclusion

Building the whole of TBX without considering that has happened in the last 20 years makes no sense (and the full TBX makes no sense period).  Doing a road diet without considering the conditions necessary to make a road diet work (and coincidentally express lane theory and road diet theory both really require proper transit to really work) makes no sense.

We will say it again: what we need is a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system.  We are nowhere near that.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

Speaking of not having a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system (or even a plan for one), there was more from the County Commission this week:

A Hillsborough County commissioner whose vote has helped sway the fate of several major transportation proposals this year is now offering a last-minute alternative of his own to pay for much-needed road work.

Once again – just road work. So what is his idea?

Commissioner Al Higginbotham wants the board to commit $600 million of the county budget over the next 10 years to transportation, starting with $35 million in 2017 and increasing the amount by $5 million each year after. Safety projects and back maintenance would get top priority.

* * *

While it would mean less money over the next decade if approved, Higginbotham’s proposal would put more toward transportation initially — $120 million during the first three years. Murman’s proposal would bring in about $820 million, but more than half would come in the final three years of the 10-year plan, according to county projections, and about $90 million in the first three years.

Under both scenarios, future boards could vote to override these transportation allocations. Higginbotham, though, requires a supermajority of commissioners, five of seven, to deviate from his plan.

In other words, this is just another gesture without substance (though it takes 5 of 7 Commissioners to not spend the money, but if that gives you comfort you have not lived here long).  If the County wanted to spend money, they could have just spent the money.  Nothing was stopping them but them – which is the giant flaw in this “plan.” to spend money on road safety, just spend money on road safety.

In the event, of course, the Commission passed the “plan.”

Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to dedicate $600 million to transportation spending over the next decade. 

Of course, this dedication is not exactly firm because they can always not spend the money next year or any year after that.

And it certainly wasn’t this:

The vote is the culmination of three years of debate on how to pay for billions of dollars in transportation needs here. Earlier this year the county rejected a half-cent surcharge in the sales tax that would’ve raised an average of $117 million a year, or $3.5 billion over the next 30 years.

Right, years of debate and all we get is a hollow gesture.  Even if they allocate all the money contemplated, it does not really cover much more than the costs of maintenance and resurfacing of what we already have. To quote the Go Hillsborough executive summary (that they all worked on) @ pg 5:

With the existing ½ percent CIT now nearly fully committed and only two cents of every County property tax dollar committed to transportation, there is $750 million in unmet road maintenance and safety needs.

That is telling.

Really, we have no problem with resurfacing and maintaining the roads.  The County should have been doing that for a long time. It is basic maintenance that the Commission has neglected for years.  (The real question is what have they been doing with that money all this time?) The problem is that Commissioners will try to hold this out as actually fixing transportation, when it is doing nothing of the sort. All the problems are still there. There is nothing about the continuing deficient planning, lack of transit, and overall lack of vision. (Not to mention the amounts under discussion is only a down payment on the problems the Commission has created.)

“This is a short-term solution,” Murman said. “We all know where we’re heading when you get the premium transit plan back. We have to go to the voters at some point with this robust, multimodul transit plant that’s going to come in front of us.”

Actually, they probably have no idea where they are going.

Then again, there are no excuses (at least not good ones) to not dedicate any other transportation funding to transit.

Transportation – Just a Thought

Way back in the 1980’s, when the Harbour Island people mover (which was actually more a horizontal elevator) was built, there was an idea floating around to build a monorail in Tampa as a transit system. To some degree, the idea made sense.  You cannot not build a subway (at least not without breaking every bank) because of the water table and soil, and it is always better to get out of traffic – which makes transit faster and safer.  And there was the example of Disney to always look at.  In fact, the County even held some public meetings, though we cannot find any record of them online.  Eventually, the idea went away – at least publicly.

This week, there was a column in the Times that brought it up again.

I also recently had a chat with Tom Hall about all that. He is the co-founder of the giant Tucker/Hall public relations firm, and despite the critics — or maybe because of them — he isn’t afraid to think big. We need more of that.

He talked about a monorail system that would link downtown Tampa to St. Petersburg, Brandon, USF, south and east Hillsborough, and so on.

“We will never solve our problems if we don’t get people out of their cars,” he said.

We interrupt this column to deliver paper bags to some of the more excitable readers, who I am certain now are getting ready to hyperventilate. You know the ones I mean.

I get Hall’s point, though. Since the demise of “Go Hillsborough” — the ambitious but flawed proposal for a transportation sales tax referendum — nothing should be off the table.

It is time to consider everything — one rail, two rails, a whole bunch of buses and, yes, extra roadways.

That includes the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6 billion TBX plan, which I don’t particularly like because of the proposed express toll lanes that most folks won’t be able to afford. Parts of the plan might work, though.

It’s worth noting that Hall isn’t alone in his interest in monorails. Feasibility studies are under way in three suburban cities around Atlanta to see if they would work. Monorails are common throughout China and other nations.

Could it work in Tampa? It is worth at least investigating — maybe with a private developer.

I think that’s what voters were saying, too. They were saying we need people in charge willing to tune out the noise from those who take joy in thinking small and shouting what can’t be done.

Among elevated rail systems, the one built in Miami (elevating heavy rail) is about the most expensive and we do not favor that.  Monorails should be cheaper and have a smaller footprint on the street, which means they can go more places.

Setting aside the political issues (like local officials do not seem particularly interested in really solving our transportation issues), there is a question of cost.  It is actually quite hard to find out how much it costs per mile to build a monorail.  Part of that is because there have not been that many built in the United States. (You can see some monorail news here).  Also, monorail is a relatively vague term that can include a number of technologies (and many people use it for systems that are not monorail).  You can go here for a list of various costs per mile/kilometer for a number of systems over a number of years. The range is from maybe $20 million/km to $88 million/mile, but because of the time, geographic, and other factors, it really is not dispositive.  (Honolulu is building an elevated train – it does not look like a monorail – that is very expensive. )

If, and it is a big if, the cost of monorail were around $100 million/mile, that would be in line with the $480 million downtown to Westshore (because it is probably only going to the Westshore multimodal center rather than the airport) concept the City raised with Go Hillsborough.  It would be faster, out of traffic, not stuck in the median of the interstate, and more readily expandable (and it can always be built at grade where practicable).

We are all for thinking big.  However, we are also cognizant that there are cost issues.  Obviously, if there is a way to build a system that is within the normal range of cost but gives you the benefits of being out of traffic and surface restrictions, that would be great.  We are not sure if you can do it, but it should be investigated.  But whether the present officials, who seem less than serious about studying anything involving transportation, will do anything is another question.

Economy – Low Unemployment, Low Wages

There was an interesting report in the Times that just made clearer something we already knew.

Often the key benchmark used to assess the strength of the labor market is the unemployment rate.

But in a Labor Day-timed snapshot on how Florida workers are faring, researchers at Florida International University zeroed in on two other numbers: $39,099 and $28,236.

The first is the average annual salary in Florida; the second figure is the median annual salary in the state, meaning half of Floridians make more than that amount and half make less.

In a report being released today, the researchers say the huge difference between the average and median salaries shows that there are some high-wage earners skewing the results. It may mask just how many people are in the low-wage category statewide.

Turns out about 65 percent of workers earn less than the average salary of $39,099, with many of them facing “limited opportunities for economic mobility in their existing professions,” the report concludes.

As we have noted over and over, having low unemployment is good. And we are creating more higher paying jobs, but higher is relative.  When your base wages are so low, you don’t need that much to have higher wages.  As with so many things, we are doing better, but we are way behind.

Governance/Politics – Act Before Knowing

In the last few weeks, the City Council has done some interesting things.

— Water, Water

First, the Council finally began to address the stormwater drainage issue that has plagued, and basically been ignored by, Tampa for decades.

Hurricane Hermine didn’t keep the public away from the public hearing, so the City Council late Thursday night approved a new yearly fee to pay for better drainage citywide.

* * *

With the approval, the new assessment will show up for the first time on property tax bills scheduled to be mailed by Nov. 1.

The new fee starts at $45 per year for the owner of a medium-sized home, ramping up over six years to $89.55 annually. Owners with smaller homes and less pavement will pay less. Those with bigger houses, larger pools and more expansive decks will pay more. Businesses pay the fee, too.

The fee will stay in place for 30 years, financing a $251 million drainage improvement program.

Doing something about the awful drainage is definitely necessary, especially in South Tampa, though the focus on South Tampa is, to some, problematic.  While it may be necessary, the drainage issue appears to many like taxing the less wealthy to pay for the benefit of the wealthier.  You can argue about that from many angles – and we are not going to get into it, but that certainly is one issue, which may account for part of the reason this issue has festered. (Perhaps much more CIT money should have been used to fix it a while ago.)

Nevertheless, there is now a plan. And there were some odd things in it:

Exempt from the fee will be areas like New Tampa, Harbour Island and MacDill Air Force Base, which already have drainage systems that do not discharge water to the city’s storm sewers.

Which is at once both reasonable and not in keeping with the tax everyone for the benefit of the city as a whole idea.

And there is this:

As part of the new fee, the city is creating a hardship program to pay the fee for older homeowners who are disabled or are disabled veterans, who live in homes assessed at less than $100,000 and whose incomes do not exceed set limits.

The city also has tried to make it easier for property owners to apply for a mitigation credit to lower either fee because their property was designed to keep water from flowing into the street.

Still, the mitigation policy is flawed, said Gina Grimes, an attorney for four car dealerships that will pay $1 million over the assessment’s 30-year term. Property in New Tampa and Harbour Island pays nothing, she said, but property owners elsewhere in the city can’t get a credit of more than 10 percent, no matter how good their on-site stormwater systems are.

“Is that fair and reasonable?” she asked.

City officials said that work to refine the mitigation policy is already under way, with an engineering study and recommendations due to the council in March.

A hardship program makes sense, though there are other ways to do it.  And it also seems odd to pass a tax (fee, whatever) before you know what you are going to do or what is fair.

Charlie Miranda and Frank Reddick voted no. Reddick said the fee would hit the poor and elderly too hard. Miranda said no one could say how much relief it would provide.

“The good people who live in this city deserve a better plan than this to solve this problem,” he said.

That seems to be true.  This problem has been around for decades and still the fix and its effectiveness is unclear?

The most interesting thing about all this is how it has taken so long to fix something has for decades been an obvious problem.  The weakness of local politics can be seen in that.  The delays have not made it any cheaper to fix, and it is not clear it will really get fixed now (though it might get better).  Sounds a lot like transportation – and this was just the City government.

— More Half Measures

And it is not the only time recently that the City Council has passed an odd law that they admit will need to be changed.  Just a few weeks ago, they passed a noise ordinance that included a very strange provision for South Howard.

The noise of people talking across desks and bustling around an air-conditioned office registers a “comfortable” 55 decibels, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

That also just happens to be the upper noise limit that late-night SoHo bars and restaurants must not exceed if they want to remain on the right side of Tampa noise regulations.

Which is pretty silly, and brought this:

Council members voted 6-1 to adopt the new law but acknowledged they have some work to do to accommodate the concerns of SoHo residents with the area’s vibrant dining and bar scene.

They plan to hold a workshop at the end of September to figure out if they need to make changes to noise limits. 

In other words, act first, ask questions later, which is just as odd as doing nothing (if not odder).  It does not solve the problem of balancing South Howard and the residential areas around it.  It answers nothing going forward. It is just a planning mess.

And it makes one wonder what will happen in other areas of the city that are just now developing – like “North Hyde Park.”  Does anyone actually have a real vision or are we just going to revisit all these same messes perpetually?

Transportation – Red Light Cameras

While the red light camera issue has been out there for a while, we have refrained from commenting for a variety of reasons.  This week, there was news that Tampa’s contract is due to be renewed.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is expected to face an uphill task in getting Tampa City Council members to extend the city’s red-light camera program.

To help sweeten the pot, city attorneys have negotiated a new deal with camera provider American Traffic Solutions that should give the city a bigger share of fines paid by motorists who run red lights.

The city uses its share of the $158 fines to cover the cost of the cameras and the cost of ticketing motorists, and keeps any revenue that is left over. The new contract would guarantee the city an extra $75,000 per year regardless of how many citations are issued, officials said.

Just how much money does the City get?

Ending the program could also cut off a significant revenue source. After a decline in 2014, red-light violations are back on the rise in Tampa, with the city on track to issue 65,000 citations in the 2016 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The city’s share of that could add up to about $2 million.

Maybe, the recent numbers are thus:

But the following year just 41,600 citations were issued. With the state taking an $83 cut of every ticket, that left just $680,000 for the city after it paid the camera company about $2.3 million.

Still, the flat rate contract means the city does better when more motorists are caught.

The increase in violations this year has already seen the city take in $1.2 million after paying $1.5 million in costs to the camera company.

So this is the crux of the debate – is it a revenue source (for the local government and the companies pushing it) or a safety measure?  If it is a safety measure, it seems to be failure.  First, tickets are up, so the cameras may not be changing behavior, except in this way:

The credibility of the cameras also took a knock from a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study released in January that found that intersection crashes at monitored intersections rose by almost 15 percent after cameras were installed.

The study included eight Tampa intersections, where the number of rear-end crashes rose from 17 to 26 after cameras were installed — a 52 percent increase.

That does not seem to be making life safer.  And, if the cameras are a revenue source, there is a potential conflict of interest if the City is relying on safety violations to raise money?

Our view is this: the entire program risks looking like a way for a company to make money by selling their product as a safety measure and making it attractive by getting municipalities to get addicted to the revenue.  From the point of view of citizens (rather than officials), without being able to conclusively show that safety has increased, we are not sure what the point of the program is.

TIA – One More

Not a huge deal, but nice nonetheless:

Frontier began flying its new non-stop flights between Tampa International Airport and Las Vegas Tuesday.

The flights will be taking off daily from Las Vegas in the evening at 9:50 p.m. and arriving at TIA at 5:15 a.m. The flight then departs from TIA at 6:50 a.m. and arrives in Las Vegas at 8:50 a.m. local time.

The more the merrier.  Good for the airport.

— ULCC’s

Those who follow such things know that there are a new batch of ultra low-cost airlines in the trans-atlantic market.  Some, like Norwegian, are already serving in Florida markets, like Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.  This week there was news from South Florida:

WOW air, Iceland’s low-cost transatlantic airline, announced Thursday it will begin the first-ever nonstop service between Miami International Airport and Reykjavik, Iceland — plus connecting flights to Europe — in April 2017.

Service to Reykjavik’s Keflavík International Airport will be available three times a week from MIA for as low as $99 one-way — about a tenth of the cost of current flights to the Nordic country. The airline will offer connecting flights via Iceland to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Dublin, and Copenhagen from $149 one-way, including taxes.

European routes will also be added at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport beginning next year, in August 2017.

Budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announced Wednesday it will offer twice weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain’s Barcelona-El Prat Airport from $189 one-way, including taxes. That’s a discount of more than 25 percent over current fares.

We could use some of that kind of thing, even if you have to pay extra for food and all that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As part of our continuing survey of the rest of the country, we feature to another city, Oklahoma City, which can hardly be considered a bastion of liberal thinking (see here) to see that rail transit is not a left/right issue.  Not only is it conservative, it is in the heart of oil/natural gas country.  But it is still building a streetcar.

Construction of the 4.6 mile streetcar line is to begin later this year and when finished in late 2018 will connect downtown’s central core with Bricktown and Midtown.

* * *

A presentation from engineers at Wednesday’s meeting stated construction of the streetcar maintenance facility was scheduled to begin next month and rail would begin to be laid in the street as early as November.

Portions of the route in Bricktown, along Broadway and in Midtown would have overhead wires. But the streetcar will run on battery power through the downtown core where the route will be wireless.

From Oklahoma City - click for website

From Oklahoma City – click for website

And not only that, but there is an idea to cover the interstate through downtown OKC to connect a revitalized neighborhood (they call it an “innovation district”) with downtown.  The idea is in its embryonic stages, but it points to this:

“We look at I-235 as a barrier,” Miles said. “It’s a very well developed north-to-south corridor, a major interstate that moves through the city. The problem is, it’s a divide. Pedestrian traffic now wants to cross it, and it wasn’t made for that. It was made for vehicular crossing.”

Which definitely is not accomplished by doubling (or more) the width of the interstate, a la TBX.

As we have noted over and over, good planning and good transit is not a left/right issue.  It is an issue of good governance.  Other areas seem to easily get it.  You have to wonder why this area finds it so difficult.