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Roundup 2-5-2016

February 5, 2016


Transportation – Developments

– Streetcar Study

– TBX Getting Attention

Transportation – Clearwater Sky Ride

Economic Development-ish – Real Estate

— Trends-ish

— And The Other Thing

Economic Development – An Interesting Comment

Economic Development/International Trade – A Note on Cuba

Will The Hard Rock Expand?

Transportation – PTC and the Legislature

Coming Out Watch Revisited

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— What Does A billion Get You These Days?

— The Railroad to the Sky

List of the Week


Transportation – Developments

– Streetcar Study

The contract for a study for extending the streetcar has been awarded:

HDR Engineering was awarded the $1.2 million contract to conduct a feasibility study examining the extension and modernization of Tampa’s historic TECO Line Streetcar from the Channel District to Ybor City, a Tampa city spokesperson confirmed Friday.

The subcontractors working on the study with HDR include Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. and Boothe Transit Consulting LLC.

The study on the 2.7-mile streetcar line is funded primarily with a $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. HDR, Kimley-Horn and Boothe Transit bring considerable experience on urban streetcar development, in particular, to the study. 

The article is not entirely clear what will be studied.  Previously the discussion has been how to get the streetcar to the Marion Street Transit plaza.  Other discussions have speculated about going to The Heights project.  There has even been vague speculation about the streetcar going to Westshore.  If the study is just for an extension to Marion Street, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

Maybe it’s just us, but $1.2 million to do a study of a streetcar extension to the Marion Transit Center that isn’t even a mile long, seems like a lot of money, relatively speaking. Especially considering they also have a whopping 18 months to get the study done.

Hopefully, the study will be for more than that and will go faster than that.  We have wasted far too much time.

– TBX Getting Attention

Which brings us to TBX.

A transportation expert on Thursday told a group of real estate professionals in Tampa that plans to add express lanes to Interstate 275 are nationally regarded as a “boondoggle.”

Gabe Klein, former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation and director of District DOT in Washington, D.C., told Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay that the proposal is the “worst project” he’s seen in his years of traveling the country.

“It’s staggering, actually,” said Klein, author of “Start Up City: Inspiring Private and Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun.”

* * *

“Places like Tampa can be successful, but you’ve gotta spend your money on something other than a freeway,” Klein said.

Klein said the expanded interstate will do nothing to relieve congestion or increase the density that business and political leaders have been working to build in Tampa’s urban core.

“If you build lanes, you will fill it. And if you build light rail, you’ll fill light rail. And if you build bike lanes, you’ll fill them,” he said. “It takes time, particularly in a car culture, but if you never make the change, you’ll be stuck holding the bag, and people aren’t going to want to live here.”

If you focus on cars, you will just have more of what you already have.  TBX will not really change anything, and it will not fix anything.  For the money there are better things to be done – and all proposed ideas should be studied together.

Nevertheless, some like, or at least feel they need, TBX:

One of the most vocal advocates of TBX said Friday that in his view, the express lanes are just one piece of the region’s transit puzzle, but a crucial one. Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, said the express lanes would be key to getting people from Tampa International Airport to the University of South Florida.

“To be able to move people in and out of the [USF] area to the businesses there to Westshore and directly into the airport is a high priority,” Sharpe said, “and those lanes can be used for buses.”

Other transit options that would move the same number of people between the airport and the university would require projects as large or larger than the express lanes, Sharpe said.

More than 3 billion?  With no ability to scale it up further?  With no spin-off development?  With destruction of up and coming neighborhoods?  With the complete lack of attraction to Millennials?  And built with the express purpose of limiting capacity and utility and charging prices that most people cannot afford routinely? We understand that the USF area wants a connection to the airport, but TBX is not the way to do it – and it completely lacks innovation.  Yes, we need some more roads, but we also need real alternatives to roads.

One thing we do agree with is this:

That type of initiative would “generate its own level of opposition,” he added. “We’ve reached a point now where no matter what we do, someone’s not going to be happy.”

Yes you will, so you may as well do the right thing and spend a good amount of the money on something that will bring development and investment, is easy to increase capacity, and will actually help attract more talent.

Transportation – Clearwater Sky Ride

This week there were some articles about an idea to deal with traffic to Clearwater Beach.

Imagine soaring over the Intracoastal between downtown and Clearwater Beach in an elevated cable car, all those suckers gridlocked in peak Spring Break traffic on the Causeway bridge beneath your feet. Think Aspen ski slopes style. 

The car you’re flying in even has an endearing name – a gondola.

It’s an idea that’s been tossed around before, not just for Clearwater’s dreaded beach traffic but to connect the Tampa Bay region as a whole.

Just two years ago, St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair was shopping his idea for a gondola system around Tampa Bay, peaking the interest of Clearwater officials desperate for traffic solutions, according to Mayor George Cretekos. Nothing ever came of it. 

Now the potential for gondolas may be floating around again. On Monday the Clearwater City Council will discuss traffic solutions at its regular work session (1 p.m. at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave, for anyone interested).

Cretekos said the time is now to figure out once and for all how to alleviate gridlock on the beach during peak season – and those solutions could take many forms.

Indeed, the idea was raised before.   As noted by the Times in a more general discussion of gondolas:

Michael McDaniel, a designer who proposed an urban gondola for Austin, Texas, said interest is rising because the technology is cheaper than light rail and subway systems and more efficient than buses for growing communities. But buy-in might be the barrier so far.

“It comes down to politics and familiarity,” McDaniel said. “No one ever wants to be perceived as having a boondoggle on their hands, gambling with taxpayer money. That’s the worst position to be in. … it’s a high-risk situation, but the first city to be brave enough to do it, more will follow.”

That may all be true, and we are fine with people brainstorming for innovative solutions to transportation.  But there is a problem with this idea that is only touched on tangentially:

Gondolas, which are popular in South America and Europe, can run in winds up to 50 mph but typically shut down during lightning or high intensity gusts, said Mike Deiparine, senior project manager for SCJ Alliance, which worked on the Cleveland gondola proposal.

Given that there are months of every year where there is lightning and the possibility of high winds where the system will likely have to be shut down just when people are trying to get off the beach, it seems that maybe this idea is not the best one for the Tampa Bay area.

Economic Development-ish – Real Estate

— Trends-ish

There was a column in the Times that looked at trends driving local real estate.  There were four, so we will take them one at a time.

*Less Parking:

Anthony Everett, partner in Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, predicts new housing developments will require fewer and fewer parking spaces. And Feldman Equities CEO Larry Feldman criticized downtown parking garages for “strangling development.”

Parking spaces will shrink, they say, because of the uptick in ride-sharing, the rise of “autonomous driving” and growing interest in biking and walking to work.

Says PwC’s 2016 outlook on real estate: “Tenants who once required a set number of parking spaces per employee, are reducing their demand as workers expand their use of alternative commuting methods.” (Of course, that works only if the metro area actually has viable alternatives.)

And that last parenthetical says it all.  Parking is just the end stage of one form of transportation.  You need to change transportation and how the cities are built to change parking. Without real alternatives to driving (which also includes making places walkable) – and that does not include TBX – you still need lots and lots of parking for development. (Though we acknowledge that some of the argument is that a decrease in parking induces demand for walkability and other transportation.  We think they need to go together.) In fact, the thing we like least about the Lightning owner’s project is the very large parking garages.  Of course, you cannot eliminate parking.  Even if people use alternatives, they likely will have a car parked at home.  And most people will still drive.  However, in other parts of the country, the trend is away from vast parking (and in the County there is a surplus of parking at most strip malls).  Bottom line: we are dubious this will work here with the present policies, but that is part of our need for comprehensive change in transportation and planning.  We’ll see what happens.

*Building for the Tech Generation:

Feldman (ed. Who is proposing the 52 story building on the former Trump Tower lot) is outfitting his new mixed-use Riverwalk Tower with millennial tastes clearly in mind with exposed ceilings and pre-designed ductwork. The goal, says Feldman, is to make it “architecturally cool,” tech savvy and next-generation enough to be able to charge premium rental rates.

We are all for innovative design.  Hopefully, it gets built and gets filled.  The question is the size of the market for such amenities.


The past year was the strongest on record for the U.S. hotel industry. A new record in 2016 looks likely. And who’s No. 1 of the top 25 markets? Tampa Bay. The market’s hotels reported the largest increases in occupancy (up 5.6 percent to 71.8 percent) and revenue per available room — that’s average room rate multiplied by occupancy rate (up 13.8 percent to $82.28).

Hotel profits, says Kent Schwarz of Colliers International Hotels, “will be the best they have ever been for the next few years.”

Tourism is booming nationwide.  As for being no. 1, this area did lead in growth of occupancy and revenue which could be the result of a lot of things, including poor previous poor performance.  Nevertheless, it is good.  So there will be some new hotels.  The real question is what kind and what design.  If we have more hotels with big parking lots, that is not very exciting.  (And, just note, while you can lead in growth, you can’t really be the No. 1 hotel market if you don’t have a five star hotel, even if you have hotels selling for large amounts.)

And, finally,

*Filling the Apartments:

It feels like upscale apartment buildings are rising on every urban street corner. But who will fill all those rooms? Everett, who builds moderate-priced apartment buildings, says housing affordability is a big issue. “People are paying 50 percent of their income. That’s not sustainable,” he says, because there are not enough jobs that pay enough to justify all those pricey apartments.

Moderately priced apartments will face heavy demand, he predicts.

In Tampa Bay, the median rent in January was $760, up 7.7 percent from one year ago.

I don’t see wages rising nearly as fast (if at all).

There will probably be a market for the really high end (say the Trump Tower site), but is there enough of a market for all the proposed apartments in the area.  And if there is, how much will that drag on other parts of the economy as people pump a high percentage of their income into housing.

One thing that does concern us is that there appears to be a slow movement back to the bad habit of focusing on real estate to measure the health of the economy.  We still are lagging behind most other areas in purchasing power and income.  Without fixing that, we will stay on the boom/bust cycle (see Two Mack/County Center).  That should be the real focus on real estate trends.

— And The Other Thing

And there was one more real estate trend that was not discussed in the column, but was discussed by the Times elsewhere:

For $399,000, you can buy a house more than 40 years old with less than 1,800 square feet in two of Tampa Bay’s most popular neighborhoods, St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle and Tampa’s Davis Islands.

For $50,000 less, you can get a brand-new home with more than twice the square footage in south Hillsborough County.

Developers and builders are betting it’s an easy choice for thousands of prospective buyers. No other part of the Tampa Bay area is seeing such an explosion of single-family home construction as the vast area of former groves and farm fields south of the Alafia River in Hillsborough. 

That’s right.  Land is cheap and impact fees (if they ever were paid) are now gone.  And the County is more than willing to help subsidize development.  The reality is that, while the County Commission is messing around with the transportation mess they have already created, they are still making it worse.  (So is Pasco). That is probably the biggest real estate trend.

Economic Development – An Interesting Comment

Last week, we discussed venture capital and the EDC’s effort to survey startups to see how to keep them here.  In response, a reader left a comment on our Facebook page last week:

Ken Evans It is perplexing to see the effort to engage millennial’s and foster start-ups lumped into one category. The traditional business community still has this notion that all start-up founders are in their 20’s, fresh out of school and working on the very first job. If they would just take a step back to research the market and look at data from Kauffman and GEM, they would see that a good portion of new start-ups (especially those building real, scalable products) are started by people with significant industry experience. This effort by the EDC strikes me as more window-dressing and not a commitment to truly understand the market or grow the ecosystem.

Serendipitously, there was this report in the Business Journal:

A tech firm in Clearwater focused on security awareness has raised $8 million in a funding round led by a newly launched venture capital firm.

KnowBe4 will use the new capital to fuel expansion, said Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO.

And this, from the company’s press release:

A data security expert with more than 30 years in the IT industry, KnowBe4’s Founder and CEO, Stu Sjouwerman, was the co-founder of Sunbelt Software, a multiple award-winning anti-malware software company that was acquired 2010.

It seems the comment was very timely.  And it should be kept in mind.

And, not detracting from that point at all, we still think it is worthwhile asking those people who left, especially the ones who have been successful building careers elsewhere, why they left.

Economic Development/International Trade – A Note on Cuba

It has been well reported and discussed that the Tampa Bay area, with the exception of a few notable elected officials, is working to get a Cuban consulate and lay the groundwork for Cuba trade.  We have pointed out that a lack of unified voice will just allow Miami, which has a leg up anyway, (not to mention other areas) to just go ahead and take advantage of any opening to Cuba at our expense.  To that point, it was interesting to see this quote from the head of the Related Group, the major developers, about Cuba:

Jorge Pérez, a Cuban-American condo tycoon based in Miami, paid a visit to Havana for its art biennale last year. “I wish they would let me be the developer for all of this,” he told Miami newspaper el Nuevo Herald on his return. “I think I could change Havana in 10 or 20 years. If they opened things up and I could build a luxury condominium in Vedado, I would sell them in two hours here in Miami.”

If anyone thinks that there is not a lot of money and talent in Miami waiting to pounce on any opening in Cuba, that quote should disabuse you of the notion. (As should the idea that the Port of Miami has penciled in March as a start date for daily ferry service to Cuba, even if there are some hold-ups from the Cuban side, and cruises from Miami planned are for May.)  Failure to be truly unified in a proactive approach, including at the port, will just lead to a missed opportunity and being left behind.  The business will go somewhere, and, despite our Cuban connections, it does not have to be here.

Will The Hard Rock Expand?

There was news about the Seminole Tribe, the State, and the Hard Rock in Tampa.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida sought Monday to increase pressure on state lawmakers to approve a gambling deal with a proposed $1.8 billion expansion they said would create thousands of jobs at its Tampa and Hollywood casinos.

* * *

At Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, a second 500-room hotel tower would be built, as well as a new Japanese restaurant, coffee and lobby bars, and five new retail stores.

The existing Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa would be remodeled with a new banquet and meeting facility built to accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 guests. And a helipad would be added for helicopter landings.

Altogether the expansion at its Tampa and Hollywood locations would create more than 4,800 permanent full-time jobs and more than 14,500 construction jobs, the tribe said.

But Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen said the tribe needs the certainty of the proposed compact to move forward, and noted that the tribe had kept its promises under the previous compact, including paying Florida more than $1 billion.

We totally get that they want protection for their business before they expand, especially when there are other groups that want to bring large casinos to South Florida (though we think if you can build big casinos in Miami, you should be able to build them in Tampa, too.  Any geographic limitation is silly.)  The expansion plans have been around a while.  This is a rendering of the Tampa plans:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Which is not that exciting, but preferable in our eyes to the plan for Hollywood:

From the Sun Sentinel – click on picture for article


which is unique but not necessarily attractive. (It is also bigger than the hotel expansion planned for Tampa which is odd given that Tampa is no. 1.)

It just all makes one wonder what could have been if the land swap muted by a previous mayor to bring the Hard Rock downtown had gone through. (Really, we wonder if it would have been better or worse.)

Transportation – PTC and the Legislature

There are bills moving around Tallahassee regarding ridesharing.  You can read about them in various news outlets, like this.  We are not going to really get more into it at this point beyond reiterating that there should be a statewide rule because transportation goes beyond the artificial lines of political entities. And, of course, statewide rules would further make the point that the PTC is a superfluous entity.

Coming Out Watch Revisited

It has been a number of years (about 4, actually) since Tampa supposedly had its “Coming Out” party.  So how is that going?

There was an article in the Times about funding movies in the area, which is an issue that just does not get us that exercised, even if it is silly for Savanah in imitate Florida so much.  But hidden in the article was something very interesting that goes to a lot of talk about the perception of the Tampa Bay area.  The article was talking about a Pinellas official trying to sell Pinellas as a movie location.

“When people think of Florida, they think of three things — Disney, Miami and retirees in trailer parks,” Armer said. “A lot of people don’t even know where Tampa or St. Pete is, so a big part of what I do is having to pitch what a great place this is, and share the big movies that have filmed here.”

That is a vastly different tune than most local officials are singing.

It also reminds us of a column in the Times regarding Charlotte:

Though advancing in age, Hugh McColl still stands out among the South’s great business revivalists and as a key builder behind Charlotte’s rise from sleepy North Carolina city to one of the economic leaders of the Southeastern states.

* * *

So it’s notable to read in Tuesday’s Charlotte Observer how McColl, who played a fundamental role in helping bring the Carolina Panthers NFL franchise to his city, views the regional impact of a still young football team. The Panthers, with the best record in the league, are now heading to the Super Bowl.

What does it mean for Charlotte? “We can now drop ‘North Carolina’ off of our address,” McColl told the Observer. “People know where we are, who we are. I think it’s been a tremendous recognition for our city.”

Using the litmus test of the New York Times, the North Carolina still has not been dropped (see here and here), but Charlotte does have wide recognition.  So what does that mean for us?

Can Tampa drop “Florida” off its address? Can St. Petersburg or Clearwater? And what about “Tampa Bay” as the great metrowide brand? Has that earned the absence of “Florida” behind it?

My sense in covering the economy here for 25 years is we are getting close. We’re getting there because this area is getting much more national and international attention than it did few years ago. The Republican National Convention, held in Tampa in 2012, helped a lot. The Bollywood glitz of the Indian Film Academy’s “Oscars,” held for the first time in this country in 2014, was another big plus. Multiple Super Bowls have played major roles. The buzz behind the rebound of downtown St. Petersburg and the promise of the same in Tampa is a factor. Record tourism, too.

So is the year-round barrage of sports news driven by the Bucs, Lightning and Rays — all employing “Tampa Bay” in their names — as well as other sports teams in the area, including Major League Baseball spring training.

People elsewhere watch these sporting events on TV or read about them in sports pages and online as they follow their teams. But they see “Tampa Bay” constantly when their teams play our teams.

Maybe, though Charlotte, while having a smaller population, has more economic power (see here) and bigger brand names (see here and here), and is an airline hub.  (Then again, we don’t really know if Charlotte has more national recognition than Tampa. On the other hand, is that the measure?)

The thing is, we think people know Tampa, but the question is whether it has enough heft.  Just something to keep in mind when talking about where we are in perception management.

In this market, we’re still pursuing that goal and making progress. We’re not quite there.

And, even more importantly, is the gap between those who are there and us growing or shrinking?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— What Does A billion Get You These Days?

As regular readers know, we like to check in with what a billion dollars buys these days.   This week, we feature a Related Group project in south Florida:

Giorgio Armani: Fashion legend, global style icon … ultra-luxury condo designer?

Yes, Armani has brought his sleek sophistication to a 60-story condo tower on the oceanfront in Sunny Isles Beach. Units are selling for an average of $3.5 million.

* * *

Total cost? Nearly $1 billion, the most expensive project Related has built, Pérez said.

“We’re not just using the Armani name to sell units,” Pérez said. “The level of detail that these guys get into will drive anyone nuts. They pick every bit of the wallpaper, every fixture … When I went to Italy to meet with Giorgio Armani, he knows everything. He is involved in every drawing and design and finish.”

The sales center itself cost more than $10 million to build. Its centerpiece is a roughly 2,500-square-foot reproduction of a penthouse unit’s kitchen, living room, master bedroom and master bath.

We could go on about how one Related project in Tampa uses dark screens to cover a parking garage on Meridian while a planned project’s main feature to pedestrians is parking garage, but the real point is the difference in the markets.

— The Railroad to the Sky

As most know, there is a private project to connect Orlando to Miami by rail.  As part of that, they are building stations in major cities on the route and more.

Three towers – including a supertall – were approved last week by the FAA to rise above All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral project.

One MiamiCentral is now approved for a height of 991 feet above ground, or 1,000 feet above sea level. Construction hasn’t started yet, but it is expected to include 600,000 square feet of office space, along with 250 hotel rooms and 280 residential units.

Two residential towers already under construction were given the green light to be built up to a height of 630 feet above sea level, or about 620 feet above ground. They will include 800 rental units.

Just note that all three are taller than anything in the Tampa Bay area now.   Will this all play out as planned? We have no idea, but it would be nice to be connected to the network.

List of the Week

Our list this week is City Momentum Index (CMI) of innovative cities by Jones Lang LaSalle. It is described this way:

The CMI tracks the speed of change in a city’s economic base and its commercial real estate market. It aims to provide information to help developers choose which cities will see growth and success in the future.

So it is essentially for real estate but takes into account other business factors.

The Top 20:

London, Silicon Valley, Dublin, Bangalore, Boston, Shanghai, NYC, Sydney, Beijing, San Francisco, Nairobi, Shenzhen, Seattle, Tokyo, Nanjing, Austin, Hyderabad, Melbourne, Seoul, and Auckland.

Given the list, it is not surprising that we are not on it, but it is notable that Austin is.

And if you are wondering, yes, they did look at Tampa.  This is the list of North American cities they analyzed:

Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, St Louis, Detroit, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Denver, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego.

Roundup 1-29-2016

January 29, 2016


Downtown/Channel District – More Money and More, Maybe

— And One More Thing

Economic Development/Lists of the Week I – It Depends on Who You Ask

— The Cost of Living

— Employment Present and Future

Economic Development/Lists of the Week II – More on VC and EDC

– Shifting Focus a Bit

Planning/Fees – More Lessons in How the County Works

— And One More Lesson

— And Yet Another Lesson

Transportation – A Cluster

Port – Of Containers

Harbour Island – On and On or Not

Bike Lanes – How to Do Them

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


Downtown/Channel District – More Money and More, Maybe

There was interesting news this week regarding the Lightning owner’s project.

Hillsborough County has committed up to $50 million toward construction and design costs connected to the downtown redevelopment project planned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

County commissioners on Wednesday, with no discussion, approved a redevelopment agreement with the city of Tampa outlining how much the county will pay toward the $2 billion project. The agreement calls for the two local governments to contribute matching amounts toward design, permitting and development of public infrastructure, such as streets, drainage and utilities.

The money will come from the increase in property values in the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area. That increase, or increment, is expected to grow as Vinik’s development progresses.

Vinik, through his company Strategic Property Partners, plans to convert about 40 acres of mostly empty parcels and parking lots around Amalie Arena into an entertainment district with hotels, residential towers, stores and restaurants.

The county will pay toward the development 20 percent of the increase in property taxes collected each year in the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area. The contribution will be capped at $50 million.

There are a few things that of interest here.  First, that makes up to $80 million in infrastructure work for this project, which is quite a bit.  Of course, if the project is fully built out, the investment will be worth it, but it is still quite a bit.  And it is notable for the lack of public discussion about the exact details of the infrastructure rebuild.  As we have said many times, we like the Lightning owner.  We like his approach, his temperament, and his vision.  We are not opposed to spending the money if the project actually gets built out.  We just hope the reality matches the hype (mostly from third parties) because that is a good amount of money that could be used for many things.  And it would be nice if something were coming out of the ground.

Unrelated to the Lightning owner, article also had this.

But in October 2014, the county and city signed a new deal that will end the county’s contributions to the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area after the Vinik project is finished. It also limited the county’s contribution to 20 percent of the incremental increase.

Which is nonsensical.  The County is not contributing to the downtown CRA, the money is coming from the CRA and should go back to it (or just be honest and get rid of the CRA).  And if investing in downtown is good now, why would it not be good later?  Frankly, given the Commission’s historical profligacy, we are much more comfortable with having how they can spend the money limited.

— And One More Thing

Late this week that the project may be about to get a big tenant, though it is not at all clear.

Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) is in advanced stages of negotiations with multiple developers for an office campus that will be around 1 million square feet, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation. A deal could close in the coming weeks, sources say.

* * *

In early 2015, Hillsborough County approved a $3.4 million incentive package for Citigroup, which at that time was planning to add nearly 1,200 jobs on its current campus. A source said the new office development would likely accommodate job growth beyond what was proposed in the incentive package.

One of the sites in the running, sources said, is Strategic Property Partners’ district in downtown Tampa. SPP, which is controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, is on the hunt for a major office tenant to anchor its district.

A spokeswoman for SPP declined comment Thursday.

Well, it is not an HQ, but filling a million sq. ft. downtown would be pretty significant. especially if it gets the overall project going.  We’ll just have to see.

Economic Development/Lists of the Week I – It Depends on Who You Ask

— The Cost of Living

The Hillsborough EDC released their annual survey of the cost of living, as noted in the Times.

Tampa Bay is the cheapest place to live in Florida, and the region’s cost of living is well below the rest of the country’s, according to new figures released Monday.

The cost of living in the Tampa metro area last year was more than 8 percent lower than the national average, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation said, citing data collected by the Council for Community and Economic Research.

The region’s Cost of Living Index stood at 91.6 in 2015, compared with a national baseline of 100.

The cost of living measure compares cities on how much it costs to pay for necessities like housing and health care and make everyday purchases like clothing and gasoline. Some luxuries, like the cost of a T-bone steak or a round of bowling, are also included.

Well, that is good on its face.

And there are other things to consider, like this from the Business Journal:

However, exclusive data developed by American City Business Journals in 2015 showed that Tampa Bay — and other Florida cities — are in the bottom 25 percent of metropolitan areas nationwide for purchasing power.

One of the reasons for that was that it costs more to live here.

“When considering income levels in a local area, it is important to consider more than just the raw numbers, but to take into account the cost of living. For instance, in order to have the same purchasing power as a person earning $50,000 in the Tampa Bay area, a resident of Honolulu would need to make $61,820, whereas someone in Akron, Ohio would only need to earn $44,470.”

Read more on the “What it Costs” data and reporting from TBBJ here.

In other words, the gross cost of living may be low but. because of our woeful incomes, it is still not that affordable for residents. (Not to mention that the Business Journal analysis says we are more expensive than Atlanta, Austin, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Orlando and not much cheaper, certainly not enough to offset the difference in wages, than Denver, Dallas or Houston.)  The fact is that other areas are more affordable because of that income difference, and they have more amenities.  (On the other hand, those low wages are surely a draw to companies that want to move some place where they do not have to pay their employees that much.)

As shown by the recent GE relocation choice (and so many others), simply focusing on being cheap will not get us the economy we should have.

— Employment Present and Future

Which brings us to the latest employment numbers.

The Tampa Bay area continues to lead the state in job creation, adding 41,400 jobs last year and boasting an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.

That beat the national unemployment rate of 5.0 percent, which was matched by the state, where the rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point in December.

* * *

The rate for the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area was down from 4.6 percent in November and 5.3 percent in December 2015.

The industries with the largest gains in jobs over the year locally were education and health services, with 11,300 new jobs; leisure and hospitality with 11,100 new jobs; and professional and business services with 10,400 new jobs.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity said the Tampa Bay area was first among the state metro areas in job demand in December with 44,797 openings. It was also first in the state in demand for high-wage, high-skill STEM jobs — those in science, technology, engineering and math, with 13,582 openings.

And that is very good (though Orlando’s unemployment rate is 4.3) as long as you don’t discuss income.

It is also why it is interesting that Wallethub listed the Tampa Bay area so low on its latest list of best metros for STEM professionals. You can see the methodology here.  It is heavily dependent on engineering jobs, schools, and STEM salaries, which may explain the problem.  As we have seen before, the Tampa Bay area’s STEM jobs are heavily weighted to lower paying customer service jobs. (See “Economic Development – Searching for STEM” )  In any event, this is the Wallethub Top 25 ranking:

San Jose; Austin; Seattle; Denver; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Boston; Madison; Houston; Pittsburgh; Columbus; Colorado Springs; Des Moines; Salt Lake City; Raleigh; San Francisco-Oakland; Dallas-Fort Worth; Cincinnati; Atlanta; St. Louis; San Diego; Albuquerque; Charlotte; Omaha; Phoenix; and Nashville.

In other words, the usual suspects.  Florida cities on the list: Orlando (tied for 59th); Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater (65th); Jacksonville (74th); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL (88th); Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL (93rd); Ft Myers (94th); Miami (98th); Daytona (99th); and Sarasota-Bradenton (100th).

Like we said, the lack of universities, the emphasis on the lower level STEM jobs, and poor salaries probably had a lot to do with Florida’s poor showing.  And, looking at the cost of living above, while low salaries may draw employers, will it draw the talent, especially when increased incomes in other area often more than offsets a lower cost of living?

In other words, yes, unemployment is low, but has anything structurally changed in the nature of our economy?  Yes, we have progressed, but it still seems that others have progressed more.  Are we really better off relative to our competitors?

Economic Development/Lists of the Week II – More on VC and EDC

Last week we discussed the woeful amount of venture capital funding this area (and this state) receive.  On Friday, the Times had a column that pointed out a number of positives in the area VC scene, which is fine.  You can read it here.  Not noted there, however, was a recent report highlighted by regarding VC worldwide. (you can read the article here and report here) The report goes into the major cities for VC worldwide which is led, not surprisingly, by San Francisco Bay area cities.  The top 20:

San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, London, Washington, Beijing, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, Austin, Shanghai, Mumbai, Paris, Bangalore, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Moscow.

(Interesting to see Austin, San Diego, and Phoenix on this list.)  For our purposes, though, this was more interesting:

Larger metros like New York, London, and Beijing have an advantage based on their sheer size. To control for this, it’s useful to look at the amount of venture capital invested on a per capita basis.

So what was that Top 20 in per capita?

San Jose, San Francisco, Boston, Durham, NC; San Diego; Austin; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Jacksonville; Los Angeles; New York; Toronto; Salt Lake City; Madison, Wisconsin; Greensboro, NC; New Haven; Denver; Oxnard, CA; Providence, RI; and Phoenix.

First, it is notable that a few of those cities are the locations for major universities.  Most of the others are the usual suspects.  Then there is one really surprising one – Jacksonville.  It is even more surprising given the poor numbers for Florida overall.  What it tells us is that 1) we are really lagging and 2) there is room for hope.  If Jacksonville can get there, so can we.

Also interestingly, the second list it is not that different from a Nerdwallet list of best cities for young entrepreneurs.  Here is their list:

Austin; San Francisco; Salt Lake City; Denver; Minneapolis-St.Paul; Seattle; Madison; Midland; Boston; and Fargo

Once again, mostly the usual suspects. (And, once again, while no list is Bible truth, when the same places are almost always at the top of almost all the lists – and we are not – that says something)

The question is whether our culture can change enough to really transform the economy.  Can we really develop a business (and political) culture that really does what it takes to push local companies’ development (rather than focusing on real estate, no matter how it is packaged) and attract and retain the best talent? That remains to be seen.

– Shifting Focus a Bit

A small start can be seen in another column from the Times on more from the EDC:

In what might seem a counter-intuitive move, the leaders of the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. are about to reach out to young entrepreneurial companies operating in this area and ask:

What can we do to help you grow and — more to the point — stay in this market?

The goal, say EDC leaders, is to identify and open a dialogue with the best and brightest Millennial minds in the market.

“All roads lead to talent which is so important for economic development,” says Colleen Chappell, the CEO of the Ybor City-based ChappellRoberts marketing firm and this year’s chairman of the EDC. While the EDC will still avidly pursue big corporate relocations, she says reaching out to Millennial talent and area entrepreneurs is an important step in shaping the next economic development era for the Tampa/Hillsborough market.

* * *

The EDC will commission a study of what young adult Millennials and entrepreneurs are looking for in their community, what they like and what seems to be missing. The results will be shared with local government and community leaders with the hope some steps can be taken to make this market more attractive to talented young people to stay and prosper.

As a starter, the EDC plans to meet next week with a group of 10 area entrepreneurs of young companies that were started here but have grown enough to have revenues, employees and customers. Among those meeting with the EDC are Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman, founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk; Saxon Baum and Taylor Wallace of WeVue, and co-founder Roberto Torres of Black & Denim.

The EDC leaders believe the organization can help such companies, perhaps by introducing entrepreneurs to willing executives of major area corporations. That kind of access could mean opportunities for mentoring, networking or even testing (and getting feedback on) new products and services.

“We are serious about making this an EDC initiative, not just a project,” Chappell says. “We are taking the long view because this will take time. We want to be a connector.”

That is all good stuff – and long overdue.  But we have a suggestion.  Don’t just talk to the people who are here.  Seek out and survey those people who left – and not just CEOs.  Find out why they left, what we are lacking, what we really need to do.  If you want to reverse the pattern of talent leaving you have to find out why they left. You have to find out what the failure was.  And not only that – those people have no reason to sugarcoat their analysis.  They are not living on local government contracts.  They do not need to curry favor for zoning.  They are more likely give you the unvarnished truth.

It is not hard to find people who left.  Find out what they say.  You may not like it, but you need to know.  Only by fixing our deficiencies relative to other areas will we really attract and retain the best talent.  And only by knowing why people left can we stop others from doing so.

Planning/Fees – More Lessons in How the County Works

We ran across an article from the Observer News website about mobility fees, which shows some of the issues with planning in this area.

With Hillsborough County’s new population projections growing from 330,000 new residents by the year 2020 to 600,000 new residents arriving by the year 2040, it’s clear to county staff and citizens alike that transportation needs are the most important thing to address.

When the Florida Legislature dropped regulations on developers in May 2011, saying they no longer had to pay fees for building schools, parks and roads, legislators claimed it was to move a slow economy.

What happened instead is that counties were left to find ways to build (and improve) parks, schools, roads, bridges and other transportation means without the help of the state.

This dropping of fees, which is referred to by county and state employees as “concurrency,” was the topic of a five-part series in The Observer News that began in August 2015 and ended two weeks ago.

Then, they get into some mobility fees:

From the Observer News – click on map for article

Above, a map for the proposed new Mobility Fee Zones. Under the plan, what used to be 10 impact fee zones will consolidate into five new zones and will address how the county will pay for transportation as 600,000 new residents flock to Hillsborough County in the coming decades.

* * *

Garsys is the chief administrator for development and infrastructure services for Hillsborough County.

She said that a mobility fee would be an ordinance that would compel developers to pay for impacts on traffic, roads, bridges, sidewalks, transportation systems and anything that “moves” the people who come into the area to live in the homes and work in the retail or industrial spaces that are developed.

As explained in a telephone interview with Mike Williams, director of transportation planning and development for the county, impact fees were assessed on each new home built from 1985 until the regulations were dropped (by the state) in 2011. These fees addressed all sorts of impacts resulting from new people, not just transportation. But now the transportation situation has become desperate and a measure has to be taken to alleviate it.

Garsys explained that Pasco County had long ago implemented a few cents in gas tax, property tax and other fees, so that it now has what she described as a “huge cauldron of money” to be able to give developers a break on building retail and industrial complexes that encourages jobs in their county.

“We don’t have a pot of money like they do,” she stated. 

Right, Hillsborough does not have money like Pasco because it did not tax and:

George Niemann, representing the Dover Woods Homeowners Association, told the group gathered at the citizen meeting that after 12 years of following county growth and advocating for citizens’ rights, he has been told by county staff that developers have paid only an average of 16 percent of the transportation impact fees that have resulted from all the subdivisions and shopping malls that have recently been built.

“These figures came from County Administrator Mike Merrill himself,” Niemann said. “Low fees mean that we end up burdened with the other 84 percent of the costs. Commissioners have done nothing to change this situation for decades. When they finally came up with the idea of a sales tax increase, the public started asking questions about how this deficit was allowed to happen in the first place.”

In other words, developers got a high discounted (if not free) ride.  Of course, the reality is that the impact fee system was never really updated so it undercharged anyway.  And then there is the fact that impact fees did not take into account that is actually costs more to provide roads and utilities to projects farther away from a built up area.  In fact, it gave discounts the farther away from the built up area a development was. Regardless, there is no money,

So what did the developers say?

The developers asked why they should have to pay the burden of bad planning by Hillsborough County.

“I’m afraid we will be hit with this at the permitting stage,” said Mike Peterson, a long-time South County attorney and planning committee member. Peterson’s question was asked in different ways by several developers, who said they feared Hillsborough could not compete with other counties if the developers are charged fees they had not expected to pay when they started their projects. Any fees charged on projects underway would have to be passed on to buyers and that would discourage business, and therefore jobs.

“We did not budget this in,” was the main objection from several developers.

A percentage phasing in of fees is expected, Garsys said. But nothing is written yet.

One problem is that developers already have “credits” — fees they have paid to build planned projects that may not have been started, or worse yet, started and not finished.

But the county plans to somehow implement the mobility fee so that the impact zone fees already paid by developers may be sold or transferred. Several ways to do this were discussed; the pros and cons of each will make a whole story in itself in the near future.

And we get this complaint.  If a developer worked up and began a project based on the old system, is it fair to make them pay under a new system?  Should they be held responsible for the fact that the County Commission was completely remiss for decades?

On the other hand, should the taxpayers have to pay when the developer is the one profiting?  It is a complex issue that never should have come up had the County done its job over the decades.

“In the first place, I’m amazed the counties didn’t go after the state legislators when they dropped the developer’s regulations,” Barnes said in an interview after the citizen meeting. “This is ludicrous. How can the county expect to generate enough revenue now to tackle the things we must navigate every day like two lanes on 19th Avenue (Ruskin) and the tie-ups on the main state roads like 674 and Big Bend?”

It is worth remembering that the cost of housing in south County was lower in part because the impact fees were lower leading to development – which led to those traffic issues.  (The fact is that sprawl may improve developer margins, but it costs everyone else more money.)  Now, the County expects to pass a referendum or just not have the money (though some Commissioners seem fine with just not having the money).

And going back to a County Commissioner’s opposition to funding a ferry, saying he could not justify it to someone in Ft. Lonesome, how exactly can one justify forcing people who live in the western part of the County to pay for widening roads in South County they will never use – except to say that if no one pays for it, it will not get done.  Either there is a funding source that helps pay for needs around the county – all of the County not just East or South County – including real transit or nothing will happen.  (Or the south County could secede, but that will not give them any more money.)

It is time to face reality.  For decades, the County Commission cynically mortgaged the future for the present by subsidizing sprawling development.  Now, the bill is coming due.  Money has to be found, and it will not all come from developers (though we are all for mobility fees to cover impacts going forward).  Either we recognize that this is a group endeavor (and improve planning and governance) or it will just get worse.

— And One More Lesson

And there was another article in the Times about planning decisions. You can read the whole thing and draw your own conclusions, but note this:

The Planning Commission is generally pro-business and pro-growth. Its 10 members include a developer, a banker, a utility executive and at least two architects. This group reviews about 20 projects a year and has ruled in favor of 87 percent of developments since 2013.

But when it came to the Ramappas’ apartments, officials balked.

In a staff report, Pedro Parra, a planner with 30 years of experience, questioned the jump in density — from four units per acre to 12 — and called it an “intrusion” that would “create compatibility concerns.”

On March 9, the Planning Commission made its ruling.

The board unanimously voted that the project was inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. One of the planning commissioners called it a “no-no.” But this decision was only a recommendation.

Hillsborough County commissioners are responsible for the final verdict.

Needless to say, it was approved.

— And Yet Another Lesson

And there is one more thing.  The Tribune ran an editorial about the new lobbying rules for the County.  You can read the whole thing here.  We are really interested in one specific point:

It’s been an open secret for years that the few rules governing contact by lobbyists were pretty much ignored at the County Center in downtown Tampa where the commissioners have their offices. Nobody was checking to make sure the lobbyists were recording their visits on a sign-in sheet. And there was no policing of electronic correspondence.

Then why didn’t the media report on it sooner?  Clearly, a little media exposure produced some action.  And what other open secrets are not being reported? How do those unreported “open secrets” affect decision-making and the cost to the taxpayer?

Transportation – A Cluster

Speaking of Pasco County, it may have some money, but planning is another issue.  One example is SR54, particularly where it meets US41.

Although they typically can’t wait for the state to begin road improvement projects, Pasco County commissioners are wondering if Florida’s Department of Transportation might be jumping the gun with its plan to build an elevated road at the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54.

Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she was among residents who attended a hearing on Dec. 10 at which state transportation officials discussed plans to build an elevated section of State Road 54 over the north-south federal highway.

What is the issue with this entirely predictable result of the all the sprawl that Pasco has approved over the years?

An estimated 99,000 vehicles travel through the intersection daily. Traffic projections indicate that number will increase to 208,000 daily by the year 2040.

In addition to local traffic, the intersection is part of a regional roadway network, serves as a truck route from Tampa International Airport and Port Tampa Bay, and is a designated emergency evacuation route.

State engineers said the intersection not only is inadequate for the traffic that passes through it but has a crash level that is higher than the state average. A challenge to fixing the situation: a lack of right of way and the placement of railroad tracks along the west side of U.S. 41 hinder the prospect of adding more lanes.

“It is a very compressed area with not much room for widening the road so you’re going to have to do some kind of flyover (elevated road over U.S. 41),” said Gehring. “If you do nothing, in the future cars will be sitting at the intersection for 13 to 37 minutes.”

Awesome. So what does FDOT want to do?

The DOT is considering two alternatives for alleviating traffic at the intersection. Both involve building a 1-mile elevated toll road over U.S. 41. One alternative could displace 22 businesses; the other, six businesses.

Even better, a one mile elevated toll road. (Maybe Pasco should have built the east-west road everyone knew it was going to need decades ago.)  So what are the concerns?

Hoping to come up with some “out-of-the-box” solutions to growing traffic congestion along the State Road 56/54 corridor from U.S 19 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the county formed east and west Pasco task forces made up of residents, business owners and landowners.

The groups have been meeting since September to develop six proposals to present to Pasco County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county’s long-range transportation planning agency, this spring. Possible solutions include express buses, frontage roads, dedicated transit lanes, light rail and elevated lanes.

While we are all for rail, the way SR54 is developed makes light rail there an absurd idea. (Like this is walkable, though it has been called their “urban corridor” )  Likewise, buses make no sense.  To get from the actual road to any actual destination makes either entirely impractical. (Yes, the whole area could be rebuilt, but given that it is relatively new, that is highly unlikely and there is no urban infill opportunity.  Rail in Pasco only makes sense as a way to get to Tampa). That does not even deal with crossing the street- especially where there are 3 left run lanes in each direction (like here and here – at least they have sidewalks, though we are not sure why.  Really, who is going to walk that?).  Elevated lanes (a logical idea) were shot down by the County in 2014.  What exactly would frontage roads do at major intersections?  How does that alleviate traffic?

The fact is that, especially in the SR54/SR56 corridor, Pasco has reveled in its sprawl for a while.  The mess that is SR54/56 is the logical result.  Pasco needs an east-west road that takes through traffic off of SR54.  Until that happens, one mile toll roads or half hour traffic light waits are what it is going to get.

Pasco should have learned from the counties around it.  Maybe the counties around it can now learn from Pasco.  Then again, what are the chances of that happening?

Port – Of Containers

Last week, we discussed the State of the Port and especially noted that proximity to the expanded Panama Canal would largely be irrelevant if the plan for containers was to be a spoke on a hub and spoke system.  Nevertheless, there is definitely room for improvement in our container handling.  On Friday, the Times ran an article discussing the port’s strategy on containers, which pointed out that the Port will not be able to handle the biggest ships coming through the expanded canal, will work more as a spoke, and has room for improvement.  We are not going to get into the whole article, you can read it.  But we will point out the part on strategy:

Port Tampa Bay, long a destination for bulk cargo like fuel and phosphates, has been trying to get a foothold in the growing market for shipping containers. And as shippers start to shift the way they move goods across the world, the port thinks it has a shot at bringing more boxes to its berths.

Two changes in particular could benefit Tampa.

If shipping lines start offering more routes that connect Asia with the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, the port hopes it can talk them into making an intermediate stop here — becoming something like a local stop on a global bus line.

And years from now, trade analysts say, a hub-and-spoke shipping system could gain steam, where mega-ships stacked with thousands of shipping containers stop at Caribbean ports and send containers on to smaller ports aboard smaller ships. That’s why when the U.S. Maritime Administration analyzed the effects of the canal in 2013, it identified Tampa as a potential beneficiary.

In theory, sending cargo to a port near its final destination would be cheaper than the current standard of sending it from the West Coast aboard trains and trucks.

But that’s an open question, said Jim Kruse, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Ports and Waterways: The canal could charge too much for ships to pass through, or railroads could cut their rates to stay competitive. 

First, the hub and spoke system is already in place (as evidence by previous comments by the Port) though not necessarily for the biggest ships.  Second, there is definitely room for improvement, so we wish the Port luck in expanding the container business, we just wish they could do even more.

The Port’s physical limitations, especially the Skyway, is also an object lesson in how a lack of vision, planning, and investment (and a healthy dose of complacency) at one point can hold you back long into the future (see transportation in the Tampa Bay area).  It would have been much cheaper to build the bridge a little bit higher in the first place than have to deal with the limitations in puts on the Port and, therefore, economy now.

Harbour Island – On and On or Not

A few months ago, a suit against the City regarding the Related Group project on Harbour Island, the Manor, was dismissed.  The ostensible reason for the suit was a parking issue.  Since then, the project has been moving forward.  But:

The concrete for the foundation of a new apartment tower is almost in the ground but Harbour Island residents are still not ready to end their long and so-far unsuccessful fight against the project.

A group of roughly 60 island residents are again suing the city in a new bid to block construction of The Manor at Harbour Island, a 21-story, 340-unit tower planned next to Plaza Harbour Island.

The lawsuit filed last week says the city broke state law by issuing a permit in December, saying the buildout date for development on the island as allowed under a state approved permit expired more than a year ago.

It also claims the city failed to address that the project will create a shortage of parking spaces.

It asks the judge to rule the permit null and void.

We admit that we have not reviewed the lawsuit (especially the permit issue), but this is what happened before:

The lawsuit represents a new tack for residents who previously argued the project was not in keeping with city development regulations because it will not have its own parking garage but will, instead, connect via a “sky bridge” to a parking garage across the street.

They hired attorneys and used consultants from Tampa public relations firm Tucker/Hall to help organize opposition. After the city council approved an easement for the sky bridge in June 2014, residents appealed the decision to a hearing officer, then again to circuit court and finally to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, losing at each level.

Which makes the rerun of the parking issue a bit odd.  (We are not going to get into the permit issue because it is likely easily remedied even if there were a problem.)  The really odd thing about this whole affair is that it really seems that there is something else going on that is inspiring the continuing opposition and expense that entails.  Nevertheless, it will have to work its way through the courts.  On the other hand, it may be irrelevant:

City Attorney Julia Mandell said she cannot comment on pending litigation but said there is nothing in the lawsuit that would stop construction from going forward.

“We are analyzing this new complaint to determine what, if any, remedies remain given the previous litigation in this matter,” Mandell said in an email.

* * *

The Related Group is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Vice President Arturo Péna said he expects the project to go ahead.

“We are speaking to the city of Tampa on it but we have no comment,” Péna said. “We already have our foundation permit in hand and we’re about ready to start construction.” 

Of course, that will have to wind its way through the process, too.  Though, per URBN Tampa Bay, it does not seem that Related is waiting.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

For us the irony is that this is by far the best proposal by the Related Group in Tampa and is in line with the original Harbor Island concept (and the previous planning for the lot).

Bike Lanes – How to Do Them

URBN Tampa Bay posted an ABC Action News video on the first protected bike lane in Tampa, on Cass Street.  We have linked it below:

That is how you do bike lanes – to make people who want to bike feel safe.  Frankly, the only thing we don’t get is why the first protected bike lane in Tampa is being done on a small stretch of road where people can easily walk.  It would have made much more sense to do it on Platt and Cleveland where it can be maximized rather than do the odd restriping that was done on those roads.

At least now we know the City actually knows how to do it.  Hopefully, it will start doing bike lanes properly elsewhere.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a new report regarding walkable spaces and Boston (where GE chose to go in spite of higher taxes and cost of living).  You can check out the whole report here, but we will note these summary highlights:

In the Boston metropolitan area, walkable urbanism adds value. On average, all of the product types studied, including office, retail, hotel, rental apartments, and for-sale housing, have higher values per square foot in walkable urban places than in low-density drivable locations. These price premiums of 20 to 134 percent per square foot are strong indicators of pent-up demand for walkable urbanism.

Walkable urban places are now gaining market share over drivable locations for the first time in at least half a century in hotel, office and rental apartment development. This is good news for people moving to those locations, since households in walkable urban places spent less on housing and transportation (43 percent of total 5household budget) than households in drivable locations (48 percent), primarily due to lower transportation costs. In addition, property tax revenues generated in walkable urban places are substantially higher than in drivable locations on a per acre basis.

All reasonable and true.  And then there is this:

Public transit, especially rail transit, activates walkable urbanism’s potential for adding real estate value, and as this report demonstrates, that potential is ample. Therefore, policymakers must weigh the costs of funding transit against its power to increase tax revenues. With the right value capture tools in place, the increased value that transit supports could be used to fund at least a portion of the system’s maintenance and future expansion.

Note the special emphasis on rail (though we should not need a report to state the obvious).  Of course, that means that you have to invest in it.  (It does not say variable rate express lanes.)  And the report is not blind to the issue of displacing lower income residents.  In sum, read the report.  It is just more evidence that our development pattern is behind the times and competitors (for more evidence, look at Denver).


Enjoy Gasparilla.

Roundup 1-22-2016

January 22, 2016


Transportation/Planning/Built Environment – More on Pedestrians

— And One More Thing: Does the Right Hand Know What the Left One is Doing?

Transportation/Planning – How Things Work Here

— By “Rural” They Mean Sprawl

— Strange Priorities

— More TBX

— Bottom Line

Economic Development – Checking in With VC

Economic Development – The Strange Story of Draper

Economic Development/List of the Week I

Port – Doing Ok, But . . .

Rays – Now for the Speculation

Channel District – Channel Club Rendering

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

List of the Week II


Transportation/Planning/Built Environment – More on Pedestrians

Last week, we discussed the horrible stats for pedestrian safety in Hillsborough County and noted that, while the actual road design is a problem, a major factor in the problem is the built environment – that it is built so that walking (and biking, really) is an aberration.  This week, there was more coverage about the issue.

The Tampa metropolitan area, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, was ranked second in the country behind Orlando as the “most dangerous places to walk” by Smart Growth America, a neighborhoods advocacy group.

The area has taken measures to improve pedestrian safety, such as installing more crosswalks in high traffic areas and educating children about how to safely walk along and cross streets.

A similar effort to reach homeless people also is underway, she said.

“We have been doing so much and the numbers do not significantly drop,” Torres said. “We may have a year where we see a dip, but overall we lead the nation most of the time or we are in the top three for pedestrian and cyclists dying.”

Maybe because nothing has been done to address this:

Hillsborough County also expanded in a way that could contribute to dangerous roads, said Torres, with the MPO.

“Our city and county really began to develop in such a suburban sprawl,” she said. “Highways come through and we sprawl out farther and farther.”

High-speed arterials are built to reach the neighborhoods with strip malls lining them, Torres said.

“Now we’ve got high-speed roads, maybe six lanes, and residences fill in behind them and they want to go shopping. Maybe walk there,” she said. “Now you’ve got driveways and high-speed cars and people walking. That’s just not a good mix.”

Well, everything except that last part.  People are not walking in large numbers from their houses to the strip malls because 1) it is completely uninviting, 2) it is dangerous, and 3) those areas are often not connected in any rational way.

Once again, very little in this area is built with walking in mind.  Cars are forced on to arterial roads, make traffic ever worse and providing few alternatives.  There are strip malls, which are about the worst possible design for pedestrians, and the accompanying curb cuts and large parking lots, and sidewalks are inadequate and usually poorly planned and designed.  The entire design of the area, especially the buildings, is to make walking harder and more dangerous.  Unless that changes, do not be surprised if there are bad pedestrian safety stats.

The Tribune ran an editorial entitled “You should be able to cross the street without fearing for your life.”  And you should, but the editorial focused entirely on slowing down traffic.  That will help a bit (especially for people not using a crosswalk), but will also agitate more drivers who are forced to drive everywhere and, therefore, are in a big hurry to get where they are going.  Without alternatives and creating a built environment where walking is a rational choice, problems will remain.

Maybe the first step should be to make all elected officials walk for a few days around their districts to see just what a mess they have made.

— And One More Thing: Does the Right Hand Know What the Left One is Doing?

It is also worth noting that among all this hand-wringing, the Tribune told us this:

Town ‘N Country residents who attend a pre-construction meeting Tuesday evening can learn about an upcoming project that will improve traffic flow around the Hillsborough Avenue-Webb Road intersection.

The county’s Public Works Department is planning to lengthen the existing eastbound and westbound, left turn lanes on Hillsborough Avenue and Webb Road, convert two median openings near the intersection to directional openings, and lengthen the existing westbound left turn lane to the Incarnation Catholic Church.

On Webb Road, plans include widening the road north and south of the intersection, adding turn lanes and constructing drainage.

That will surely make this very inviting area (what is more pedestrian friendly than a fenced retention pond right on the street and innumerable curb cuts and parking lots facing the street?) even more inviting to pedestrians.

Transportation/Planning – How Things Work Here

— By “Rural” They Mean Sprawl

Many years ago, when the Veterans Expressway was proposed, it was supposed to turn east and connect with 275, creating a much needed east-west road and a by-pass around Tampa that would relieve a lot of I-275 traffic through the city.  That segment was removed from the plan by the County Commission to preserve Lutz’s “rural” character, thus leaving Hillsborough County, and the whole bay area, with a gaping transportation hole that has yet to be filled.  (The Veterans was even built so it could continue over Dale Mabry if anyone ever wanted to.)

In December, the Times gave us an update on that area:

Today, the cows are gone and the land is nearly bare, save for several large yellow earthmovers pushing around mounds of freshly excavated dirt. The project doesn’t involve the popular church, but it will bring an assisted-living facility, a new school and hundreds of new homes to the property.


* * *

Mark Stuermann, vice president of Arlington Properties, said his company is building 177 apartment homes, ranging from 750 to 1,300 square feet, and expects them to be ready for move-in by late spring.

In addition, CalAtlantic Homes plans to build 200 single-family homes in a new, gated community. The homes, expected to range from 1,800 to nearly 5,900 square feet, also will be available in late spring.

The rural character of the Lutz location attracted the developers, and Lutz Citizens Coalition president Michael White said residents fought to keep that character intact.

Yup, that sure is rural.  Even more annoyingly,

Another major thoroughfare in the development also is being aligned with the Veterans Expressway access point along Dale Mabry to improve traffic flow and accommodate motorists entering and exiting the development.

In other words, this “rural” project (read “sprawl”) is being built precisely to foreclose the possibility that the Veterans will ever do what it was originally planned to do.  Even better, the County, which stopped a proper road from being built to maintain a “rural” character, had changed its plan to allow even more development.

Plans call for substantially less development than would have been allowed otherwise under the county’s long-range plan. One rezoning incorporates the Landings at Lake Pearl, a previously approved rezoning that includes 650 multifamily units and 70,000 square feet of office.

Besides those existing entitlements, the rezoning allows 240 single-family houses and 177 multifamily dwellings.

Standard Pacific Homes plans to build a gated, high-end residential community on the property.

The approved zoning allows about 25 percent of the residential development than would have been possible under the county’s long-range land-use plan. The retail uses, under the rezoning, represent about one-third of the potential allowed under the long-range plan designation.

The county first stopped a road that was needed and would have diverted traffic.  Then the County ignored said “rural” character and planned for massive sprawl.  Now, we are told we need variable rate lanes to reduce congestion (which they will not do) that was helped along by the County.

Just a small window into the mess that is planning in Hillsborough County.  The history of this area is replete with examples of this kind.  So when you are stuck in your car and cannot get around Hillsborough County easily (or, in the future, have to pay excessive prices in the future for the privilege of have a slightly less, if at all, congested lane on the interstate), just remember how things got this way.

— Strange Priorities

Which bring us to the Suncoast Parkway.

Plans for the controversial eight-lane road, originally conceived back in the 1990s, stalled in 2008 because of the recession. So little traffic uses the original Suncoast Parkway that a SuperTarget built next to the road in Odessa is closing. The store is surrounded by land that was expected to be developed once the road was built, but it never was.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott revived the Suncoast extension with an infusion of $150 million in taxpayer dollars. Now the $256.7 million project is slated to start construction this year and be completed by 2019. Officials with Scott’s office and the DOT were unable to explain why he chose to resuscitate this particular toll road, except to say it had been requested by Citrus and Hernando county officials to help boost development.

First, one could make an argument for why the Suncoast should be extended.  However, one would be very hard pressed to make an argument for why it should be done now.  Second, one would be even more hard pressed to make an argument for why it should be done instead of finding a way to connect the Suncoast to I-75 to get cars going to western Hillsborough, western Pasco, and Pinellas around Tampa without clogging up I-275 – except to justify variable rate lanes. (Of course, one cannot forget to blame Pasco County which had such a road, which went all the way to US 19, in its planning for decades but nixed it and now seem hellbent on repeating every mistake made by every other county in this area including clogging up every east west surface road it has.)

The inability of FDOT and local counties to build a proper highway system rather than funneling everything through Malfunction Junction (which will likely never be adequate no matter what FDOT does) is a massive failure – the kind of thing the Tampa Bay Partnership should actually get involved in.

— More TBX

Which brings us to TBX. As anyone who reads the news knows, the TBX project was named as one of the 12 big boondoggles by a recent report:

A new report with a national scope calls the controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion one of the 12 worst highway projects in the United States for expanding roads to little benefit.

The report, “Highway Boondoggles 2,” was produced by the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund and a public affairs research firm, the Frontier Group.

(see the report here) A key fact was that the TBX lanes will not solve congestion issues.  From an article sited by the report:

Hillsborough County won’t solve its gridlock by adding more lanes to its interstates. And it won’t break up roadway congestion by building a better mass transit system.

“It’s not a matter of either-or,” said Paul Steinman, secretary of the state Department of Transportation’s District 7 and the top Florida transportation official for the region.

The county needs both new lanes and transit to ease travel here, Steinman said.

“No one can look at us and say we don’t have traffic issues,” he told the Tampa Tribune editorial board Monday. “We’ve got to solve these problems if Tampa wants to continue to grow. It’s more than just commuter traffic to worry about. We have all modes to think about and how they tie in to the economy.”

There are two points here: 1) even FDOT is saying that those that support TBX to the exclusion of transit (see “Transportation – The Dance Goes On”) are wrong, and 2) yes, we need new roads but, as pointed out above, it is not clear that TBX (especially the variable rate lane concept) is the best way to do that.

This was FDOT’s response to the report:

One criticism the report makes is that FDOT has acknowledged that adding the express lanes won’t solve congestion problems. What agency has said repeatedly is that the area needs, as one transportation official said last year, “all of it” — the interstate expansion, plus transit.

That’s why, they say, they included space in the interstate median for future transit projects.

“We’re building exactly what we said we were going to build,” said Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the FDOT’s district office in Tampa. That includes general purpose lanes on the interstate, express lanes and space for transit. “That has never changed since we did the original study” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Setting aside that express lanes were not even an idea in the late 80s and early 90s so TBX, as opposed to just expanding the road, could not have been the plan then (see “Transportation – More on TBX”) and that things have changed since then, there is another key issue – the “all of it” meaning transit, too, or, as an FDOT statement quoted in Saintpetersblog tell us:

FDOT has always stated this region needs a viable transit system and jointly with HART we are doing a study to determine what premium transit looks like in the Tampa Bay area. The discussion has to include the local governments about how the operating and maintenance of the system will be funded. Premium transit could be: Bus Rapid Transit in transit dedicated lanes; light rail like Pinellas County has determined to be the choice mode; commuter rail like SUNRail in Orlando; or any of the options included in the attached document. FDOT believes transit is important to this region and just last month purchased a second site for an intermodal terminal. FDOT now owns a site in Downtown Tampa and a site in the Westshore Business District. The pieces of the transportation infrastructure puzzle are falling into place.”

Whether FDOT has always stated that or not (and it is not really clear that it did), it acted otherwise.  Moreover, FDOT has adopted a “build roads first and think of transit later” approach – which it still has, as shown by the fact that it announced it was going forward with TBX before it even studies transit options.

— Bottom Line

As we have said numerous times, the entire transportation issue should be planned as one, integrated transportation system.  By moving on TBX (with the questionable variable rate lanes and the question of the scale of it) without looking regionally (like in Pasco) and thinking about how it all works together is a recipe for a continuing mess.  And this needs to be said – TBX is at least $3 billion dollars.  According to FDOT, you need to spend that amount and THEN spend more on transit.  Why not look at it all and see if funds can be distributed in a more rational and effective way, especially since FDOT knows we need transit? (And, if transit is really part of FDOT’s solution, since FDOT is paying for all of TBX, why not pay for all of the transit?)

We also would be remiss if we did not also say this again: the real problem here is that local officials have failed to plan properly. Yes, FDOT is doing some things wrong and coming late to actually doing something about transit, but the real mess was created locally – starting with overall planning, going to things like the Gandy Connector and Veterans Expressway, and continuing to the mess that is TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough.  It is a comprehensive failure of vision and political will.

Economic Development – Checking in With VC

There was news about venture capital investment (from the Miami Herald):

Venture capital investment heated up nationwide last year with a surge in megadeals, while the Sunshine State struggled to attract the green.

Dragged down by an anemic fourth quarter, venture capitalists injected $460.8 million into 58 deals in Florida in 2015, according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, which was released on Friday. In the fourth quarter, $31.62 million flowed into the state.

Florida’s total was about half of its 2014 total, but that’s because of Magic Leap’s 2014 megadeal of $542 million. The Plantation-based technology company is reportedly raising another $827 million, so 2016 may be another record year for Florida. Still, Florida’s 2015 total was in line with results for 2013. With the exception of 2014, it was the best showing since 2007.

Don’t break out the champagne, though: Florida’s take was a tiny slice of the total venture capital pie in 2015 — less than eight-tenths of 1 percent for the country’s third most populous state, according to MoneyTree numbers. Florida ranked 14th among states in venture funding in 2015.

That is pretty bad.  And it gets worse.

The 2015 top deals from South Florida were a triple-play by health-tech companies: $50 million for Fort Lauderdale telehealth company MDLIVE; $38 million for electronic medical records software company Modernizing Medicine of Boca Raton; and $22.9 million for Dania Beach-based Orthosensor, maker of smart orthopedic devices. 

Basically a quarter of the anemic amount of VC to Florida went to three deals, none of which was in the Tampa Bay area.  On the other hand, nationally VC was doing pretty well.

Nationally, the venture capital ecosystem deployed $58.8 billion in 2015, up from $48 billion in 2014 and the second highest full year total in the last 20 years, according to the MoneyTree Report, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. There were 74 megadeals (investments of $100 million or more), compared with 50 in 2014, yet seed-stage investments were active, too. “While a handful of unicorns and late-stage funding rounds by nontraditional investors continue to grab the headlines, more than half of all deals in 2015 went to seed and early stage companies, with more than 1,400 companies raising venture capital for the first time,” said Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of NVCA.

The lack of VC in the Tampa Bay area is a problem that shows either a lack of really compelling start-ups in the area or how hard it is to get money in the area. Or both. (Though given the number of firms and people who relocate to more fertile pastures, probably more of the latter.)  Either way, it is not good and shows us lagging (and it does not help if it is a statewide problem).  All the local talk and activity about start-ups is interesting (and it is good, though possibly not properly done), but we need results.  The rhetoric is good, but every quarter, the facts seem to contradict it.

Maybe things like this will help.

Two Tampa startups — Venuetize and WeVue — will be in the spotlight next month, when they are among 50 companies featured at a global conference in Silicon Valley.

They are among those nominated by local entrepreneur Joy Randels to take part in “Startup Mill,” a new program at the annual gathering of Startup Grind, a community that connects 215,000 founders in more than 200 cities worldwide.

But it also shows the lack of a truly supportive (including money) ecosystem here, and highlights the risk that growing companies will just move, like so many have before.

Economic Development – The Strange Story of Draper

After announcing it was leaving the area, Draper has now announced it is coming back.

Nine months after announcing plans to exit most of its operations in Florida, the MIT spin­off on Thursday unveiled new plans to open a St. Petersburg tech facility next month serving Special Operations Command, or SOCom, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The 20,000-square-foot facility, based on Blue Heron Boulevard near Roosevelt Boulevard, will start with 20 employees, with 50 likely by late 2017. Its mission will be to help expedite military advanced technology from blueprint to the battlefield, a process Draper calls “rapid prototyping.”

Draper’s specialty is to commercialize advanced technology, then license its work off to others to handle manufacturing.

Draper, formerly called Draper Lab, last spring said it was phasing out its research center at the University of South Florida in Tampa and putting its “clean room” high-tech manufacturing facility in St. Petersburg up for sale.

Those pullbacks surprised USF and area business leaders who had touted Draper’s original expansion to Tampa Bay as a major signal that this area was attracting higher-end technology expertise.

Without disclosing terms, Draper said Thursday that it has sold its St. Petersburg “Multichip Module” or MCM, facility on 16th Street N to Aurora Semiconductor of St. Petersburg. With ongoing input from Draper, Aurora will continue to make MCMs, which are packages of high-density, multiple chips created for specific purposes. They can be used in defense, intelligence and biomedical applications.

What can you say?  It is clearly better to have them here than to have them leave.  Hopefully, this time it pans out better.

Economic Development/List of the Week I

Continuing with the economic development theme, once again, it is time to look at Milken Institute’s list of best performing large cities.  The list is described thus on pg 6 of the pdf:

What drives the economic momentum of the most dynamic metros in the United States? Each year, the Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities report identifies the latest trends and most relevant factors powering regional growth. Our index uses a comprehensive, fact-based set of criteria to rank the nation’s metropolitan areas. Among them are job creation, wage gains, and technology trends that shape current and potential patterns of growth. For metros looking to craft cohesive economic strategies, the report provides valuable data and insight.

The report states pretty clearly that tech is a key driver of performance (pg 6-7 of the pdf):

In the United States overall, business and consumer spending on technology products and services is a powerful force in economic growth. Metros involved in designing and creating these products and services are growing most rapidly. Specifically, the composition of growth has shifted toward software and social media, and away from information and communication technology (ICT) equipment. In fact, businesses now spend more on software than on ICT equipment. This softer, creative side of high tech is spurring a renewal of many urban cores. Look to San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and even New York City to see the extent of this phenomenon. Witness, too, the contributions of science-based industries such as biotechnology, medical devices, and diagnostic and semiconductor equipment manufacturing.

So let’s go to the list.  Here are the top 30 large metros:

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; San Francisco; Provo; Austin; Dallas; Raleigh; Seattle; Portland; Greeley, CO; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA; Salt Lake City; San Antonio-New Braunfels; Charlotte; Fort Collins; Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL; Denver; Charleston, SC; Nashville; San Diego; Madison, WI; Grand Rapids; Boulder, CO; San Rafael, CA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO; Santa Rosa, CA; Houston; Atlanta; Orlando; Vallejo, CA; and Savannah.

It includes a large number of the usual suspects (including a number of “metros” from the San Francisco Bay area and the Denver area).  There are also a few odd entries, like Fayetteville, AR, and Grand Rapids.  One thing missing from the Top 30 is the Tampa Bay area.  Other than Naples and Orlando in the top 30, other Florida cities are: Cape Coral (40); Ft. Lauderdale (41); Sarasota (44); WPB (50); Tampa Bay area (58); Miami (65); Port St. Lucie (80); Jacksonville (82); Gainesville (91); Lakeland-Winter Haven (101); Ocala (114); Pensacola (125); Daytona (137); Melbourne (145); and Tallahassee (158).

Notably, Florida cities made decent jumps on the list.  For instance, the Tampa Bay area jumped 28 places, which is good, though being 58th isn’t.  While the Tampa Bay area was not on the list of biggest gainers, the report provides an explanation of the gains (pgs 8-9 of the pdf):

For the second year in a row, Florida and California have the highest nember [sic] of metros that jumped the most in rankings. The single-largest factor for the improvement continues to be the recovery from the Great Recession’s housing collapse, especially because the 2015 index’s five-year performance measure now begins in 2009, dropping the 2008-2009 housing crisis period. Eight of the 25 biggest gainers this year are Florida metros, with Port St. Lucie climbing 98 spots from last year, the most of any metro.

These metros all had experienced high home foreclosure rates, severe declines in home values, and a halt to new construction. Plus, as the economy began to recover, many retirees who had deferred moving to Florida have chosen to do so over the past couple of years. An expansion in travel and tourism spending also boosted the Florida metros.

Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise and Reno, NV, both also among the 25 biggest gainers, fit this pattern as well. Seven of the 25 biggest gainers are in California, with four in the Central Valley. Among them is Modesto, which had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation and was the epicenter of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

So that is something for the future, assuming the economy holds.  On the other hand, it really sounds much like the old strategy for growth that keeps leaving us further behind overall – real estate, tourism, and retirees.

The reality is this: we are underperforming, especially in tech, and remain behind most of our competitors.

Port – Doing Ok, But . . .

The annual State of the Port report came out this week.

Port Tampa Bay’s President and CEO Paul Anderson declared Wednesday that “the state of the port is good” in announcing record operating revenue of $51 million and a 3.2 percent increase in total cargo to more than 37 million tons.

Which is good (though the type of cargo is not clear).  But

Revenues at the port so far this fiscal year are down 4.5 percent.

Which is a concern, though worldwide economic issues certainly have an effect.  Nevertheless,

In his “State of the Port” address entitled “New Frontiers,” Anderson told a crowd of officials at Cruise Terminal 2 that he expects Port Tampa Bay “to become a major player, not just on the hemispheric stage, but on a global one.”

And that is an admirable goal.  What is the plan?

Anderson emphasized the opportunities for the port with the imminent expansion of the Panama Canal, the thawing of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the anticipated arrival this spring of two new state-of-the-art cranes that will enable the port to handle much bigger vessels. The cranes will increase the port’s capacity in containerized cargo enabling it to handle ships twice the current size (9,000 TEUs compared to the current 4,500 TEU vessels).

* * *

As the closest port to the newly expanded Panama Canal, its location in the middle of Florida and the Tampa region’s density of distribution centers along the Interstate 4 corridor, it makes “the most logical and logistical sense” for Port Tampa Bay to become a major destination for cargo ships coming out of the canal, Anderson said. With Manual Benitez, deputy administrator for the Panama Canal Authority in attendance, Anderson said there will be growth for retail and refrigerated cargo.

While it is true that Tampa is the closest port to the newly expanded canal, it will be hard to take advantage of that and not just because the port can’t handle the biggest ships because of the Skyway and the channel.  The previously stated plan for containers at the port is essentially to be a spoke (maybe along with a few other Gulf ports) on a hub and spoke system in the Caribbean/Gulf. (See “Port – Economic Impact, Growing but is it Fast Enough?” )  If that is still the plan, being closest to the canal is largely irrelevant because the traffic from the canal will go to the hub.  Nevertheless, there certainly is room for growth in the container business and hopefully the new cranes will get bigger ships, even if they are carrying transshipments.

And there is this aspiration:

“Port Tampa will be the platform for our customers to serve Cuba,” Anderson said. Last July, Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C. following the normalization of diplomatic relations between it and the U.S.

There is good logic to this point.  However, not pushing for that business and a lack of interest and effort regarding that business by some high level local officials hardly seems to the way to win that work.  Cultivation of this market should have started years ago.

Then there is this about a good, aggressive part of the Port’s strategy.

When Port Tampa Bay announced plans in 2014 to create a cluster of steel manufacturers at Port Redwing, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman envisioned good-paying jobs flowing to her fast-growing South Shore district.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may have dealt the port and the county a setback to those plans by declining to sign off on funding for a $50- to $60-million dredging project to deepen a channel allowing larger ships to access the port. The larger ships are needed to haul freight such as scrap metal, salt, sulfur, coal or cement.

Before approving the project for funding, the Corps wants a study to prove it’s a cost effective strategy.

Port officials say they had hoped to get the funding in the Corps’ 2015 budget. Still, they said, they can continue to expand Port Redwing without the dredging project and have already allocated millions in improvements to draw more companies. But they concede there are a lot of companies they can’t attract in the future without deepening Big Bend Channel.

* * *

Murman and other board members learned Tuesday that the Corps never committed to the funding. Ram Kancharla, the port’s vice president of planning and development, told the board the Corps gave no explanation.

But Corps Project Manager Milan Mora said through his public information officer Wednesday that is not the case. He said the Corps told the port it needed to conduct another cost-benefit study to prove the project worthy.

The Corps looked at the project in 2014 and determined “the cost to benefit ratio did not materialize (in big part due to a reduction in phosphate and coal being shipped),” Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson said in an email to the Tribune. “We recommended a new study based on potential new benefits.”

It would seem that a new study is necessary, though the comment by the Corps about loss of revenue is interesting.  In any event,

At this point, Thorington said, the port staff is considering its options. “But already, we are beginning to grow and see a lot more potential” for even more growth in that Port Redwing vicinity, he said.

Tampa Tank and Florida Structural Steel, along with Gulf Coast Bulk Equipment, have already established manufacturing facilities at Port Redwing and the port is in discussions with several other companies that might want to locate there.

The port already has construction underway on $30 million in improvements at Port Redwing: the addition of a 3-mile long rail spur with a double track running from the existing CSX line to Port Redwing; construction of a security complex, a new 1,000-foot dock; an access road to U.S. 41 and utility and site improvements.

The Big Bend Channel can currently accommodate ships of 15,000- to 30,000 dead weight tons, Kancharla said. By deepening the channel from 34 feet to 43 feet and widening it from 200 feet to 250 feet, it could accommodate vessels of 50,000- to 60,000 dead weight tons. “To maximize use of the land we would hope to go to a deeper draft to bring in larger ships,” he said.

We are curious how this proposed expansion plays into the odd stance on the South County ferry proposal and safety.  Nevertheless, we are all for expanding manufacturing at the Port.

In any event, we like the port’s general approach to expanding business, and we hope it works.  We just wish that, like so much else in this area, they were a bit clearer and that all local officials fully supported the rhetoric with action.

Rays – Now for the Speculation

Now that St. Pete and the Rays have come to an agreement where the Rays can look in Hillsborough, the speculation will begin.  In fact, it has been going on for a long time.  We are not going to get into every detail – simply because it is too tedious.  In sum, this is a possible location with much upside and a bit of a downside that can be handled with a little thought and commitment:

The Tampa Bay Rays won’t announce their preference for a stadium site for months, maybe longer, but the day after the team got a green light to look in Hillsborough County, Mayor Bob Buckhorn couldn’t deny he had a favorite site.

It’s the Tampa Park Apartments, a nearly 50-year-old apartment complex for 372 low-income families between downtown and Ybor City.

“I don’t hide my optimism for that particular site,” he said after a City Hall news conference Friday.

Yes, Buckhorn said, the Rays will look elsewhere, including probably Jefferson High School in West Shore, vacant land near Raymond James Stadium and the Florida State Fairgrounds. But the Tampa Park Apartments have a good location and are close to parking garages in both downtown Tampa and Ybor City.

The complex also presents a challenge: It’s full of poor, mostly black families, some who have lived there for generations.

So wouldn’t evicting them for a new stadium just repeat what happened in St. Petersburg’s Gas Plant neighborhood before Tropicana Field was built?

“That would be the biggest issue,” Buckhorn conceded.

The apartment site has long been a frontrunner in this discussion, so it is understandable that the Mayor also thinks so.  It also is probably cheaper than many other sites.  For instance, the Jefferson site will require a school to be built.  And the other major downtown site, the ConAgra site has some issues, like building a new mill and that some of the Lightning owner’s land would be necessary.  While it is more central in downtown than the Tampa Park Apartments, those issues make the ConAgra site unlikely.

Back to the Tampa Park Apartments:

Miller agreed the African-American community has been more impacted by previous development projects, and said he will be watching this one closely because Tampa Park Plaza is in his district.

“If that’s the number one place they’re looking at and they’re willing to put the money in there, where do we put those displaced people?” Miller asked.  “What kind of neighborhoods can we put them in where they can feel safe, they can feel like it’s their home, we in this county can feel like we’re doing the right thing for them?”

Aside from funding the stadium, that is the key question.  Just like with much of the redevelopment around downtown, it is fine to fix the area up, but there are people who will be displaced.  They need to be really taken care of.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Channel District – Channel Club Rendering

URBN Tampa Bay had some more renderings of Channel Club, which includes the Channel District Publix.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It looks ok (though not very exciting), but there are some questions, mainly about the Publix.  We noted this before, but if you want people to walk to the Publix, why is the sidewalk along Meridian uncovered?  Most of the people in the area are south of the building and will walk that way yet there is no shelter from sun or rain. (And do we really need to see all the parking?)  At some point Tampa has to come to grips with the fact that the weather here is different than most other areas of the country.  If you really want a walkable, urban area, designs need to reflect that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Ft. Lauderdale is getting a streetcar, though it hasn’t started construction. Yet, it is already planning ahead:

The proposed Wave extension project would extend the downtown electric streetcar system east to Port Everglades and the Broward County Convention Center along Southeast 17th Street, and south to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport along Andrews Avenue and Federal Highway.

The first streetcars aren’t expected to be in operation until 2018. The current 2.7-mile downtown phase will cost close to $150 million, creating a line that stretches on or near Andrews Avenue from Sistrunk Boulevard south to Southeast 17th Street. The proposed extension would add about 5 miles of rail, officials said. 

(See here) And FDOT is overseeing the project.  How they can be working out how to connect so many major points in a second phase with a project that has not even broken ground on the first while we find it so hard to plan or fund anything is quite the mystery. (And don’t forget they have Tri-Rail, which will likely expand, and will be part of the Miami to Orlando rail plan.)

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is Travel & Leisure’s list of the World’s Best Beach Resorts.  It is based on a readers’ survey, so that says something.

Here we go: Sunset Key Guest Cottages, Key West; Inn Above Tide, Sausalito; Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, British Columbia; Ocean House, Watch Hill; Cap Juluca, Anguilla; Belmond Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro; Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater; Cape Grace, Capetown; Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica; Hôtel Negresco, Nice; The Pier House Resort & Spa, Key West; Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen; Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello, Italy; Tickle Pink Inn, Carmel; Le Sirenuse, Positano; Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora; Seven Stars Resort, Turks and Caicos; Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur; Il San Pietro di Positano, Positano; and Pan Pacific Vancouver

Well, what do you know? Here’s what they said about Sandpearl:

This Gulf Coast hotel ranked at No. 2 among family resorts in the U.S. for being a crowd-pleaser: it has a private white-sand beach, a heated lagoon-style pool and quaint touches like a bell that heralds sundown (guests even get to ring it). The hotel also made the American top 20 for rooms—including a lot of family-friendly suites, which come with full kitchens, washer/dryers, and furnished balconies. Daily activities include rides in the hotel’s three-masted schooner, and the hotel has a 75-slip marina where, if you park your boat, bellhops will happily come out and unload your bags. 

So there are no private beaches.  So what?  We’ll take it, even if it is just a silly list of no import (unless you own the Sandpearl).  It is better than not being represented.

Roundup 1-15-2016

January 15, 2016


Transportation – Intermodal Center Land

Economic Development – Getting Political

Economic Development – The Race to the Bottom Is Not the Real Race

Transportation/Planning/Built Environment – Another Sad Stat

Built Environment – Of Urban Scale and Bad Choices

— One More Thing

Transportation – Another Ferry Story

Rays – Finally, Something

MacDill – Looking to the Future

MOSI – Enter the Consultants

Port – Cruise Questions

Tampa – The Website

List of the Week


Transportation – Intermodal Center Land

FDOT has closed on land in the Westshore area for a multimodal facility.

The Florida Department of Transportation has closed on the future site of intermodal center in Westshore: The Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport and Charley’s Steakhouse property.

“An intermodal center will be the lynchpin for a seamless transit network in, around and through the Westshore Business District,” Paul Steinman, FDOT district 7 secretary, said in a statement. “The future intermodal center will be the central hub for public and private local and regional transit services. The goal is to enhance connections and increase the effectiveness of transit services within the region.”

Which is nice, as long as it is not this thing:

From the Tribune – click on the picture for article

Which really just seems like a parking garage with bus connections and has no pedestrian interaction (hardly what Westshore says it wants).  The best thing about this project right now is that is makes it more likely that the airport will have a connection to Westshore.  Beyond that:

The timeline of the project remains uncertain. FDOT said in its statement that construction would be “based on future connectivity needs of transit systems in the Tampa Bay region and the Westshore Business District, future population and employment growth and travel demand.”

That could mean anything.  While it is good to bank this land for a future facility, there are major questions about what would go on there, if anything, for the foreseeable future.  If it is a parking garage with some bus service (some running in and clogging up the variable rate TBX lanes), we are not very interested.  If it has connections to real transit that gets people moving around the area and a people mover or other rail connection to the airport (where the effectiveness of using rail to move people is proven – and expected – every day), great.

So we are not with the editorial boards of the Tribune and Times  in celebrating this move.  It is fine, but it may be meaningless.  The real issue is whether local officials and FDOT can actually get a decent plan to bring us into the 21st century or whether we will remain in the 1970’s transportation-wise.

Economic Development – Getting Political

It has been previously reported that the Tampa Bay Partnership wants to get into the advocacy business, which is fine.  Now, we have a first look at some of the things for which they want to advocate.

Calling himself “an unapologetic believer” in regional economic development for the Tampa Bay area, Rick Homans is wasting no time in taking the Tampa Bay Partnership from the deep freeze to the front burner

The former Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. chief, named CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership late last year, sat down with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to detail an initial strategy to re-energize a regional economic development group that has lost its mojo.

Let’s boil down a long conversation. Under Homans, the partnership will focus its time and energy on prime regional assets — stuff like the University of South Florida system, Tampa International Airport, area pro sports teams, MacDill Air Force Base and its CentCom/SOCom headquarters, major ports (Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee) and mass transportation — that most business leaders want to help grow or know they need in the future.

“As these assets rise, the Tampa Bay economy rises,” Homans says. “As these assets fall, so does our economy.”

That logic seems sound enough (though there is far more to it than that).  Who doesn’t believe in regional economic development (aside from local elected officials and the board of HART)?

The partnership also will become more aggressive in Tallahassee, “making the Big Ask” for money to help fund those regional assets. It will also cultivate state and federal legislators representing the eight counties of the greater Tampa Bay area.

* * *

“We should not be Hillsborough competing with Pinellas competing with Pasco,” Homans says. “We should be Tampa Bay competing for big projects with South Florida and Central Florida for funds in Tallahassee — in a friendly way,” he adds.

That seems logical, too. It makes sense for the partnership to advocate for projects of regional significance while letting the individual counties push for specific projects that benefit them.  So what is on the list?

Central to the legislative agenda are efforts to advance regional economic drivers, improve transportation infrastructure and create a more attractive business climate for high-wage jobs and capital investment, including the support of:

Frankly, most of that list seems more like a grab bag of local projects that, while nice, lack regional significance. The USF projects are arguably regional.  Some of the highway and transit improvement are clearly regional (though it is questionable why the Partnership would support TBX specifically rather than just fixing the highway.  We and others have pointed out the flaws in TBX, especially that it is not coordinated with anything else, such as a transit study or any other transportation planning efforts in the area, and does not seem very well designed).  As for the taxes, they are not really regional issues, but we are not surprised a business organization would be for business tax cuts.

We are for regional advocacy, but it would probably be more effective if it was focused on exclusively regional issues, rather than a long list of local wants.  We get that they have to include some of those things to get various players on board, but that dilutes the strength of the effort.  What would really be nice would be a sharp focus on a couple of things – say funding USF projects regionally and REALLY doing something comprehensive about transportation.  Of course, the problem with transportation is that no one can get local officials (and voters) on the same page. Until that changes, don’t expect much improvement on that front.

Economic Development – The Race to the Bottom Is Not the Real Race

When it was announced that GE was looking for a new home, there was much discussion about whether it might move here.  While no one really thought the chances of that were high, it was a good discussion to have (and why not try to attract them?) and good to go through the exercise.  In the event, GE is moving to Boston.

After eight months of anticipation GE, one of the world’s biggest companies, said Wednesday it will move its headquarters to Boston — in a state associated so long for high taxes that it’s still known as Taxachusetts.

GE looked at Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta and, nearby New York, considering 40 possible locations in all. It even got a direct pitch from Florida’s own governor. Everybody wanted to be home to the new headquarters that would replace GE’s 42-year-old campus-like HQ in suburban Connecticut.

In picking Boston, GE signals it wants to be best known, not as some aging conglomerate, but as a tech-savvy, smart company charging full-speed into the 21st century.

Or, as the Boston Globe put it:

“GE aspires to be the most competitive company in the world,” said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt. “Today, GE is a $130 billion high-tech global industrial company, one that is leading the digital transformation of industry. We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations. Greater Boston is home to 55 colleges and universities. Massachusetts spends more on research development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world. We are excited to bring our headquarters to this dynamic and creative city.”

GE has been considering the composition and location of its headquarters for more than three years. The Company began its formal review in June 2015, with a list of 40 potential locations. Boston was selected after a careful evaluation of the business ecosystem, talent, long-term costs, quality of life for employees, connections with the world and proximity to other important company assets.

As noted by the Times:

There’s a big lesson here for Florida: He who has the least taxes does not always win.

The Sunshine State’s current strategy to race to the bottom by cutting business taxes and touting no state income tax is neither a strategy to lure world class corporations, nor the top talent they seek to hire to remain global competitors.

Massachusetts is trying to bury its Taxachusetts image. Florida might do the same with its own pejorative: Flori-Duh.

* * *

The Boston Globe reported GE’s choice of Boston “further solidifies the region’s reputation as a magnet for innovation.”

There’s that magic word again. Innovation.

Boston has it by the boatload, fueled by years of high-tech start-ups in the metro region and the academic firepower (and an abundance of high-end spin-offs) of 55 area colleges and universities with names like MIT and Harvard. It’s no coincidence that Massachusetts this month was ranked No. 1 in Bloomberg’s latest analysis of the country’s 50 most innovative states.

Florida ranks in the bottom third at No. 35.

Let’s not get carried away with Florida failing to nab the new headquarters of GE. We knew it was a long shot.

The company’s sits at No. 8 on the Fortune 500 list of biggest U.S. companies. It’s 27th in size on the Global 500, No. 9 on the world’s most admired list. It employs more than 300,000 people and enjoys a current market value of $266 billion. No company in all of Florida comes close to that size and worldwide stature.

Of course, there’s the rub.  Florida is the third largest state by population.  Why is it so lacking in companies of major stature?  Clearly its (and Tampa Bay’s) sales pitch of focusing on sunshine, beaches, low taxes, and low wages as its draw is not enough.  At the highest level, you need more.

Smart corporations considering Florida will listen to the state’s low-tax pitches. But then the companies will ask the harder questions. Are your schools top notch? Is there a depth of culture here? Is there a world class workforce emerging here? Are the universities here big or bit players? Do you have a quality mass transit system or just ad nauseum road construction? Can you fly direct to most major U.S. cities and key overseas destinations? Is it innovative?

Not to mention is there a decent built environment that our employees/potential employees can enjoy and feel a sense of place – where the best and the brightest will feel like they are really engaged in the world? Do you have more than a few blocks of real city to attract a sophisticated, international work force?  As we have asked many times, given the choice of living anywhere in the world, why would they live somewhere where they must wait and hope that modern lifestyle and amenities will (maybe) someday appear when they can go get them now?

Then, the Times echoes what we keep saying.

In a nutshell: Does the Tampa Bay metro area have its own regional act together?

We’re making strides. They could be bigger. Until then, congratulations, Boston.

We may be improving, but we are not there yet – and, by that list above, we are quite far away (and others are trying to get there and moving much faster).  The best and the brightest don’t care about swagger.  They want substance.

Transportation/Planning/Built Environment – Another Sad Stat

It is the new year, but some things seem to never change.  One of those things is the pathetic state on pedestrian (and bike) safety in this area.

2015 was the deadliest year on record for those walking the streets of Hillsborough County.

The state’s latest count shows that 51 pedestrians lost their lives. That’s the most deaths in the county since Florida started tracking pedestrian fatalities 17 years ago. It’s also a 50 percent jump from the 34 who died in 2014.

There was no pattern to the carnage. Pedestrians died day and night. Deaths took place throughout the county — from Westchase to Plant City, from Lutz to Sun City Center.

Some victims were killed while using the crosswalk. Others neglected to use that striped strip of road and died just a few yards away. People died crossing busy highways, six-lane arteries and rural roads. Some died walking on the road instead of using a nearby sidewalk. Others died on roads in parts of the county where sidewalks stop suddenly, leaving no option for the pedestrian.

No surprise there.

While this year was the deadliest, it is no anomaly. In seven of the past 18 years, at least 40 pedestrians were killed in Hillsborough County. But 2015 saw a substantial jump from the number of deaths in the previous four years, which hovered in the low 30s.

Tampa Bay as a whole is the second most dangerous area to walk in the United States, according to the most recent data from Smart Growth America. Florida claims the top four most dangerous metropolitan areas in the U.S. — Orlando rings in first, and Jacksonville and Miami follow.

But within Tampa Bay, Hillsborough is by far the deadliest county. Pedestrian deaths in the other counties remained steady last year. Pinellas and Pasco have never seen more than 41 pedestrian deaths in one year. Hernando’s worst year for pedestrians was in 2004, when eight people were killed by vehicles.

Nor there.

“We’ve designed our communities to be auto focused, so we’ve prioritized being able to move around quickly in our cars, and it has its downsides,” Alden said. “You constantly feel like the pedestrian’s safety is an after thought.”

You should feel that way, because it is. An example from the article:

Drive around the county and these concerns become more apparent.

Take the busy intersection of Nebraska and E Hillsborough avenues, where a 58-year-old was struck and killed by a Coca-Cola truck at 2:50 p.m. on May 2. There are crosswalks, but they’re old, narrow and not striped. At certain points, they don’t connect with the sidewalk, but instead jut into the intersection.

“They’re worn out,” said Gena Torres, a project manager for the Hillsborough MPO. “You can’t even tell as a motorist where you’re supposed to stop.”

Once a person does safely cross the intersection, they have to contend with sidewalks that slant down toward the roadway. There’s also no barrier between the individual and the fast-paced traffic. That slant can be particularly dangerous for the elderly or disabled.

There are so many examples it is not even worth the effort to list some.  Deficiency is the rule, not the exception. Then the article gives us this:

Hillsborough County has long been a dangerous place for pedestrians. Despite public awareness campaigns and promises from politicians, the death toll has yet to drop.

“The numbers are scary,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said. “I think the numbers shout loudly that it’s time to take a closer look.”

Officials are at a loss to explain why the county’s roads remain so dangerous. The county and City of Tampa have spent years investing millions investing in pedestrian safety projects to add crosswalks, expand sidewalks and slow traffic.

Officials are at a loss?  That says more about officials than the roads and sidewalks.

But Vision Zero, an international initiative dedicated to designing safer roads, says that how governments build streets is just as much to blame for pedestrians’ deaths — if not more culpable than the pedestrians themselves.

Some ideas:

One way to make roads safer is to enhance crosswalks — make them wider and more clearly marked — and eliminate any gaps in those sidewalks.

But the most significant, and cheapest change, could be lowering vehicle speed.

Maybe that might help, but there is a bigger problem.  Some blame speed (and yes, there is a point where speed becomes are real problem – but with a proper built environment, most speed is not really an issue), wide streets (maybe, especially if they are poorly designed), one way streets (though it seems that no one other than officials are scared of Tampa Street downtown), etc.  Yet, you can visit various cities – real cities – where there are six lane roads (see here and here, or five like here), one way roads (like here, here, and here), busy roads, lots of cars – and people still walk and cross the street.  Why?  Because the built environment is such that people naturally walk. There are limited curb cuts and no massive parking lots on the street.  The buildings are built for pedestrians. There is transit.  In other words, contrary to this area (and much of Florida) there is the expectation that people will be walking.  There is a culture of walking.  Everyone, including drivers, understands how it will work.

In this area pedestrians are truly an afterthought in not just the streets but in overall planning and the buildings themselves.  There is almost nowhere in Hillsborough County/Tampa that is truly pedestrian friendly (exceptions are a few streets in Ybor City, one side of Bayshore, and some of downtown, including the Riverwalk – though even in downtown many building are really more focused on cars with no real activity on the sidewalk).  Even in south Tampa, there are a large number of streets with no curbs and no sidewalks; those streets with some pedestrian friendly portions (say Howard) are still lacking overall. (Hopefully the Lightning owner’s project will set some local standards, but there are far more projects like the Related Tribune site project that features a parking garage as its major interaction with the street or buildings that touch the sidewalk but have no front door there.)

You can build all manners of sidewalks (though they are usually built improperly).  You can put multitudes of crosswalks (though here they are often no built properly, do not connect properly to each other or crosswalks, and go from nowhere to nowhere).  You can restripe roads for bike lanes (though please do it properly and not like Platt).  But, welcome and needed as those things are, they are only small steps.  As long as the main design of development is focused on parking lots, buildings that do not truly meet the sidewalk (or if they do, do not have front doors to the sidewalk), almost constant curb-cuts for cars, and lack real transit that makes walking a reasonable option, you will have problems.

If you want to truly improve pedestrian safety, you have to create an environment where being a pedestrian is not some bizarre aberration.

Officials have spent decades sending the message through planning and spending choices that pedestrians are not a priority and walking, like transit, is for those people who have no other choice or are just odd.  They should not be surprised if people got their message.

Built Environment – Of Urban Scale and Bad Choices

There was news of more development near the Citrus Park Mall.  While that would not normally draw our attention, the article had something of note.  First, the subject of the article:

Christopher Daye’s determination has finally paid off.

For just under $1 million he closed Dec. 16 on a 3.485 acre-parcel that will see a 128-room Marriott Courtyard built on part of the newly purchased land.

Meanwhile, Marriott has 90 percent of the construction plans for its Marriott Courtyard hotel completed at an estimated cost of $18 million on 2.055 acres. It will be the second building in the development which is entitled to 400,000 square feet, according to Daye.

So far, so standard, suburban stuff.  And there are even some nice touches:

Indeed, that same year, the investor group announced its anchor tenant, INVEST Financial Corp., and parent company, Jackson National Life; noting that the firm would occupy about 40,000 square feet through a 10-year lease. Now, there are shower and changing facilities on the ground floor for those employees who might bike or exercise along the nearby public trail, Daye said.

Acknowledging the nearby trail is nice.  What caught our eye was this:

Daye began working on Citrus Park Crossings in 2008, persisting through years of public hearings, obtaining zoning variances, getting financial backing and even weathering the worldwide financial downturn that battered the real estate sector. By 2013, Daye, principal of Citrus Park Investors LLC announced that he was teaming up with Ryan Companies US Inc., to build the first post-recession speculative office building in the Citrus Park area. And, through it all, Daye stuck to his vision for the development – one of urban scale in suburbia.

First, we are not going to say anything bad about this project.  It is a vast improvement to the standard, Hillsborough County, sprawlfest, one story office complex built to look like 1990’s single family homes (like on both sides of the street here).  And working to create some connection to the trail is good.  But it is just not urban – and, because of how the area is planned, it almost can’t be (though one nearby developer made a valiant attempt, aside from the big traffic signal box blocking the entrance to the store  – but no one walks there either – because there is nothing to walk from). This is the area:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Hillsborough County has almost guaranteed that noting even mildly urban will go there.  Even if this project was built in an urban way, other than on the trail, there is no way to really walk anywhere other than the McDonalds/gas station at the corner – at least not safely.  That is not on the developer, who seems to be doing the best he can with what he has.  That is all on the government that pushed and subsidized sprawl and now tells us they are surprised by the mess created by it.

— One More Thing

Over the holidays we were talking to an urban planner from a major world city who was visiting Tampa.  We asked him what he thought.  His response was that, aside from Ybor City, he had not experienced a more soulless urban landscape.  It was not that there was not potential.  There were small – very small pockets of urban-style building.  The real problem was that there was no connection of any of these pockets.  The space in between was a barren car-scape.  He called it planning malpractice.  And it is, but it is not really the planners’ fault.  It is their bosses’ fault – the elected officials.

Transportation – Another Ferry Story

Over the holidays, there was movement on a possible ferry from downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa.

The pilot program, if approved, would begin in October but officials need to get the first ferry boat by the end of May or early June. The service would be run out of Vinoy Basin on the St. Petersburg side, Kriseman said. Buckhorn said on the Tampa end, the ferry would most likely dock near the convention area. The cost of the first boat would be as much as $1.4 million with a second ferry costing just under $900,000.

The money would be split $350,000 each from St. Pete, Tampa, Hillsborough County, and Pinellas County. St. Pete, Pinellas County, and Hillsborough County already approved the money.

Hillsborough County on Wednesday became the second local government to embrace experimenting with a high-speed ferry service between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

County commissioners voted 5-1 to earmark $350,000 toward a six-day-a-week ferry between the Vinoy Basin in St. Petersburg and the Tampa Convention Center area. The money would pay for a six-month pilot project beginning in October.

St. Petersburg’s City Council has already approved spending $350,000 for the project, agreeing to use money from its settlement for economic damages in the BP oil spill.

Republican Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White voted against the measure, saying Tampa and St. Petersburg should put in more money than the Hillsborough and Pinellas county governments. White said he’d have a hard time justifying the county’s expenditure to residents in far-eastern county areas such as Fort Lonesome.

Of course, it is hard to justify spending anything in Ft. Lonesome to the vast majority of people living in Hillsborough County, so that is not really a valid point, but so be it.

Setting aside a question about bidding, we are not completely sure what to think of this idea.  It is not very expensive, and a ferry between the downtowns is an interesting idea.  We are not sure what the demand is or whether the ferry speed would be too slow to be practical.  It is worth a try, but no one should really view it as a transportation solution.  It may, some day, form a part of a coordinated transportation system.  Right now it is a novelty and should be viewed as such.

Rays – Finally, Something

St. Pete finally came to its senses this week.

The St. Petersburg City Council voted in favor of a memorandum of understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays that allows the team to look for stadium locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

We are not going to get into the actual agreement. We are just glad this whole process can now move to another step.

MacDill – Looking to the Future

There was news about MacDill, sort of.

MacDill Air Force Base could be the home of 36 new KC-46 air-refueling tankers within four years.

The Tampa base is on a short list to be considered for the next round of base selection for the aircraft, and a decision could come by the end of the year, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said in a news release.

MacDill was rejected in 2013 for the first wave of KC-46s despite nearly a year of lobbying by a group of MacDill, civic and local government leaders, including Castor, whose District 14 includes the base.

Making the cut for the next-generation tankers in 2020 shows how hard that community has worked to demonstrate that the base has room to grow as the Air Force “modernizes its mission structure,” Castor said.

MacDill did not get the tankers last time, but hopefully it will in the future.  There is a lot going on there now, but it can always have a little more.  Time will tell.

Now, about that fighter wing . . .

MOSI – Enter the Consultants

The MOSI board heard from consultants recently.

A fresh start at a new location can be a boon for a science museum.

At a new home, aging institutions can rebrand to appeal to new audiences. They can right-size from spacious structures to smaller, more manageable footprints.

That’s true.  It is also true that all that can happen at the present site.

Museum Management Consultants Inc., and ConsultEcon Inc., presented those findings at a MOSI board meeting last week and also discussed other industry trends, such as changing demographics and technological advancements.

Hillsborough County, which owns MOSI’s land and building, paid MMC $90,000 to study relocating the museum. ConsultEcon is a subcontractor.

The presentation, however, was not a recommendation. The consultants were in town to gather opinions from museum officials, board members, donors and other community players as it works toward completing a feasibility study looking at the economics of a move closer to downtown. That study should be done by April.

Nevertheless, the presentation, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, laid the framework for how a museum like MOSI could successfully relocate and why it might make sense for an institution with declining attendance revenues and other financial troubles.

To say that this is all self-evident is an understatement.  And why it is coming up at the beginning of the process is a bit of a mystery.  But, then again, before the big announcement, you need the set-up.

The consultant’s presentation highlighted three successful moves: the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul and the Center of Science and industry in Columbus, Ohio.

The Perot Museum, for example, combined several aging facilities outside downtown into one 180,000-square-foot, six-story site in the middle of the urban core, close to the city’s professional basketball and hockey arena and other museums. Annual attendance doubled at the new location, which leaders attribute to its proximity to a bustling downtown and a reimagining of the museum beyond a destination for families and school field trips.

The modern, sleek building is often rented for parties and other events, creating new revenue streams, Perot Museum CEO Colleen Walker said.

At its previous location, Walker said, the museum was “beloved, but it was not a must-see attraction and it did not have the capacity for growth.”

“In a very short period of time, the (museum) has become a public treasure and must-see attraction,” she said, “And we absolutely know our extremely successful relocation spurred the growth.”

The consultants, however, warned that a move is not a panacea.

“In moving, if you are not upping the bar on what you are delivering, you are headed for failure,” the presentation said. “A move can be the catalyst for positive change, but the organization must be ready.”

It takes a strong team of leaders and architects and engineers, community buy-in, and a significant fundraising commitment to avoid opening the new museum with debt, consultants said.

In other words, the consultants said nothing of substance, which is fitting, because they are still studying the issue.

Whether MOSI fixes its problems has less to do with moving and more to do with leadership answering these questions: What is it going to be? What is the mission? Why should people go there?  There should probably be answers to that before anyone decides where it should be.  But the fact is that if there is a move, it will be because people want to move MOSI, probably downtown, and try to do something with the land it on which it now sits.  A move may or may not be good, but we doubt the study will really have anything to do with it.

Port – Cruise Questions

There was an interesting article in the Tribune regarding future issues in the cruise industry in Tampa.  Much of it discussed megaships in other ports.  The more interesting part was this:

Megaships that can carry more passengers than the populations of many small towns might be all the rage for some Florida ports, but Port Tampa Bay is wagering that it can keep its cruise business robust without the floating cities.

Those giant ships can’t reach the Tampa port due to the height of the Sunshine Skyway bridge; besides, port officials say, not everyone wants to vacation with 5,000 people in close quarters.

“Everything that is new and big and exciting isn’t for everyone,” said Raul Alfonso, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for the port. “I think there are tastes for every type of attraction.”

And if the Cuba market opens up, he said, Port Tampa Bay could increase its cruise business with the moderate-sized ships already using local berths.

The cruise ships that can slip under the Sunshine Skyway are enough to keep the cruise industry in Tampa thriving for the next 15 to 20 years, he said, because more cruise lines are updating and refurbishing ships rather than retiring them. Also, plans for a bustling Channel District filled with trendy restaurants, shops, a park and a marina will add to Tampa’s allure and keep the ships coming, Alfonso said.

Still, this may not be a forever situation, he said. Port Tampa Bay has not completely ruled out developing a plan that would allow for the megaships in the future. It’s just not ready to move forward on a major feasibility study.

“We know that for the longer term, we’ll have to make a decision. We’re not there yet. This is something that has to be taken into consideration as we move forward with our Channelside plan.”

Ok.  We’ll accept that.  But the Channelside vision plan is already out and, according to the article, the more detailed plan will be out in about a year.  So how does that future decision (which seems to be a now decision) fit in?

Port consultant Luis Ajamil said in September that the master plan for the Channel District would take about a year to complete. In its earliest form, the district would include four districts on 45 acres — the marina district, the park district, the central waterfront and the cruise district. It would take an estimated $1.5 billion in private investment and require about $200 million in infrastructure improvements that the port and the city of Tampa’s Community Reinvestment Act funds would cover.

The Channel District could be a big draw for those cruising from or into Port Tampa Bay, Alfonso said.

It could be a big draw or it could be like the Channelside complex, which was supposed to be a great gathering place, or the Harbour Island Festival Marketplace, which was to revitalize downtown. This all seems like speculation. There is no guarantee of local infrastructure money.  There is definitely no guarantee on private investment or that any private investment would match the port plan (or follow it).  And we need to get the Lightning owner’s project well under way (apparently the infrastructure work will start relatively soon.) and occupied before knowing anything about whether the Port’s master plan is relevant.

We are not prejudging what the decision should be, but it should be based on more than a complete guess.  Tampa has seen enough of that of the decades.  This all seems far too much like the same old Tampa DNA where officials speculate on how great everything is going to be and say “trust us.”

Tampa – The Website

URBN Tampa Bay pointed us to the City of Tampa’s new website.  We have not gone to every nook and cranny of the site but our initial impression is this: visually, it seems fine.  Much of website design is a matter of taste (we are not much for the fat lines and super big fonts in fashion today, but that’s ok).  Without having really checked its functionality, one question is this: what is with the menu font?  It is a City’s website, not an Evite for an 8 year-old’s birthday party.  We understand they are trying to make the site festive and happy, but that is a bit much.

And this seems a bit odd:

Richard Byrd, CEO of thirteen05 creative, a Tampa website design firm, said about 80 percent of new websites are following that design style, emphasizing aesthetics over functionality.

Aesthetics are fine, but functionality is more important.  And why can’t you have both?

Oh, and why wasn’t a local company used for design?  Are we that lacking in tech talent?  (St. Pete’s was much cheaper and locally done.)

List of the Week

This week we feature Wallethub’s list of best cities for an active lifestyle.   You can see the rather odd methodology here.  (Cost of bowling and playing squash is a factor?  And number of swimming pools per 100,000 is an interesting touch that would inflate Florida numbers)  Because we don’t think much of this list, we’ll give the top 10:

Scottsdale, Orlando, Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Tucson, Boise, Henderson (NV), and Madison (WI).

Our big question is how can cities with some of the worst pedestrian safety be among the best for active lifestyles?  Just asking.

Roundup 12-25-2015

December 24, 2015

It is the holiday season and kind of slow, so we decided that we will take the next few weeks off (returning Jan 15).  Before we do that, though, there are a few items to touch on.  We were going to go all creative offer some resolutions for the area, but no one keeps resolutions anyway; so we decided to skip it and go straight to the news.


Transportation – The Alternative Tax Plan

Seminole Heights – Constructive Discussion

Cuba – Tampa, Cuba, ex-Soldiers, Spies

— In other News on Cuba

Economy – Looking at the Year

Politics – Out of the Sunshine

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Tourist Everywhere

— Meaningless Milestone

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


Transportation – The Alternative Tax Plan

There was an article in the Tribune regarding the provenance of one Commissioner’s alternative transportation tax plan.

In a late-afternoon e-mail blast on Nov. 4, Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman stunned county leaders by announcing she was submitting an alternative to the Go Hillsborough transportation plan they had developed during months of meetings.

What she didn’t announce was where her plan came from — or how closely it reflects ideas and even language put forth by tea party members and a prominent anti-tax activist from Pinellas County.

* * *

But anti-tax activists, who had been imploring county commissioners to shut down Go Hillsborough and forget the sales tax, cheered Murman’s bold move.

“Sandy, I can’t tell you how proud of I am of your stepping out to lead on the transportation issue. It is fantastic,” Ken Roberts, a tea party member, said in an e-mail to Murman the next day, one in a series of Murman’s emails obtained by the Tribune under Florida’s public records law. “Thank you for your courage and your dedication to finding the best way for the county.”

Roberts had every reason to be proud. Murman’s plan borrowed heavily from one he had been shopping to commissioners for months before her e-mail blast.

Of the five funding sources Murman proposed using to finance road and mass transit improvements, three were right out of Roberts’ playbook: mobility fees, which would impose higher payments from builders for new development; a transportation trust fund financed with a portion of the county’s annual revenue growth; and a 5 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

To that list, Murman added two one-time funding options: a $22.8 million settlement for damages from the BP oil spill and $30 million from county reserve funds.

Interesting.  Of course, the people who came up with a lot of these ideas do not want rail or any real transit.  Their ideas also seem to indicate that they do not want good planning and they do not care about any urban living or attracting talent to improve the economy.  But that is their choice.  That does not change the fact that we are open to all sorts of ideas of where to find funding to get us where we need to be. Just because some people may not want to put the money to good use does not mean it cannot be put to good use.

Our view is along the lines of this:

Turanchik, the former commissioner, also liked Murman’s plan, but for different reasons.

“What I like about her approach is it does those things the county commission can do and, in my view, should do,” Turanchik said. “But it doesn’t mean you close the door on a referendum because we clearly have big needs we need to address.”

We do not think the proposed money will cover what needs to be covered (by design) or do what needs to be done (also by design).  On the other hand, we are all for creative thinking and not relying solely on sales tax (or at all, if it can be avoided).  We have no problem with examining other ideas.  In fact, Orlando used an interesting mix of funding to get SunRail after a sales tax referendum failed.  That is fine with us.

That being said, if this alternative was intended to really fund real transportation improvements and move us into the 21st century, it would not have been made at the last minute and would have provided more funding.  It would have been proposed earlier so it could be studied.

Even without this week’s article, this Commissioner’s proposal gave the distinct impression that it was a sop to a certain constituency and had no chance of really solving our transportation issues. It appeared designed to sacrifice really fixing transportation for political expediency.  If that is not the case, the plan was not really good enough to be seriously considered (though it is still an open question whether the whole TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is good enough to really accomplish what needs to be done).  In either case, this area deserves better.

Seminole Heights – Constructive Discussion

In contrast to discussions among our elected leaders regarding transportation (and a host of other things), based on URBN Tampa Bay’s report, there was a constructive, if inconclusive, discussion regarding the proposed apartment building on Florida in Seminole Heights.  As you can read in the URBN Tampa Bay write up, there is not necessarily a consensus, but it was civil, and we think eventually there will be general, if not total, agreement (you can’t please everyone).

Attached, you will find a massing model presented at the meeting, of a proposed tweak to soften the building’s corners some and make the structure slightly less imposing. This is just one of several options the developer, Wesley Burdette, is looking at. Other possibilities the architect, Sean Verdecia, discussed involve a setback on the front facade at the 2nd floor, to create an arcade along Fl Ave, with a 2nd floor balcony… They’re also looking at setting back the 4th floor a bit, again to potentially create enough space for built in balconies, and to soften the height effect. Or also a combination of setbacks and sheer vertical elements (see attached example), to soften the mass, but with more variation.

From our sense, there was no real consensus on massing among the crowd, with several people voicing support for the project exactly as-is, including OSHNA approving a resolution stating that. Some wanted the building a floor or two shorter, but they certainly seemed to be in the minority. It seems like most conclude that nobody wants density infiltrating the residential side streets, so it has to come along the commercial corridors like Fl Ave. 

Here are some of the concepts put forward to try to address the issues brought up in the ARC meeting.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It appears that the developer is working hard on this.  The last rendering seems to cover a lot of concerns – unless you just want a one story building with a stucco/red tile façade and fake little bell cupola.  In any event,

– – For anyone who would like to offer further input, you can email the architect directly at; … What is especially useful are picture examples of what you’re referring to, with an explanation the architect can understand. – –

How is that for actual outreach?

Cuba – Tampa, Cuba, ex-Soldiers, Spies

There was a bizarre article in the Tribune this past week about a possible Cuban consulate in Tampa.

As civic leaders from both sides of Tampa Bay jockey to host a Cuban consulate, a small group of naysayers sees a darker side to the prospect — one rooted in continuing Cold War tensions and the island nation’s reputation for superior espionage operations.

A consulate “will be Cuba’s headquarters for intelligence operations in Tampa and Florida,” says Evelio Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who served at both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. “It will be a spy hotbed.”

The focus for Cuban spies would be Centcom and Socom, says Jim Waurishuk, a retired Air Force colonel who served as deputy director of intelligence for Centcom.

Otero and Waurishuk belong to a small group called “No to Cuban Consulate in Tampa,” which, as its name indicates, is opposed to having an outpost of the Castro government in the Tampa area.

Now, we can understand someone whose family had to leave Cuba and lost a lot having some reservations about relations with Cuba.  On the other hand, at this point, relations are coming whether people have reservations or not. Moreover, this stated concern is a little odd – not because it is unrealistic but because it is so obvious as to be irrelevant.  We kind of view it like this:

“I am not buying into that argument,” says St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who recently visited Cuba to lobby for a consulate. “It is not a concern.”

Kriseman says it is “my job to promote my community and the federal government’s job to figure out how to maintain security on their sites. If I follow their logic, we wouldn’t have a consulate anywhere in the state of Florida.”

Indeed. We think the officials at MacDill know that there are people trying to spy on them.  Not to mention that anything happening in and around a Cuban consulate or its personnel would be about the most obvious espionage you could have.  If US counterintelligence can’t watch a consulate everyone knows might have some untoward activity . . . well, we don’t even know what to say.  As this County Commissioner noted:

“Sometimes those things happen, but our government is fully aware of that potential and generally keep a really close eye on these kinds of offices,” Crist says. “If they are going to spy, they are going to do it whether they have a consulate or not. I don’t think that should be a reason to avoid a consulate. If the government thinks it is time to open one, then I would like to see it in Tampa.”


— In other News on Cuba

There was a little more news about scheduled flights to Cuba.

Miami-based Havana Air says it will be become the first airline to offer real-time online booking for flights to Cuba when it launches its new booking engine January 1.

The move is the latest effort to claim market share in the burgeoning battle over air travel between the U.S. and Cuba, following an announcement last week that the two countries planned to resume regularly scheduled commercial flights.

Last week, American Airlines — which has long operated charters to Cuba – announced it had reached an agreement with the island government [sic] to establish regular service, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Silver Airways, JetBlue and United have also expressed interest in offering scheduled flights. 

We still curious to see if Tampa will keep (and expand) its nonstop flights or we will be funneled through hubs.  Clearly, there is enough demand for nonstop flights in Tampa, but you never know.

Economy – Looking at the Year

There was another column in the Times regarding jobs.  It was what you would expect.

The good news in Friday’s employment report is Tampa Bay’s jobless rate of 4.6 percent is so low it’s now entering a range economists call “full employment.”

As long as you do not count the people not looking for work or the underemployed.  But anyway, it is a good number.

The not-so-good news is wage gains in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties still lag behind the pace of the nation’s average increase in pay. Of special concern is Pinellas, whose average wage increase looks especially weak.

These wage findings come courtesy of a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of employment data on 342 of the country’s largest counties spanning from June 2014 to June 2015. Among Tampa Bay’s three major counties, the BLS found jobs in Hillsborough County paid the highest average weekly wage of $922, followed by Pinellas County averaging $850 and Pasco at $718.

None of the area counties’ average wages approached the national weekly average of $968.

Worse, none of the three bay area counties matched the nation’s 3 percent growth rate in average pay.

In other words, we are behind, and we are not catching up.

Compared to all 339 other counties analyzed by the BLS, where did Tampa Bay’s counties land?

It is a sobering reminder that, while buildings may be going up in downtowns and Westshore and some people are doing really well, this area on average really is not booming.  In fact, it is lagging.

Politics – Out of the Sunshine

There was another article this week about Tampa city audits.

Two internal audits have City Council members simmering about Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s approach to acknowledging when City Hall has problems that need fixing.

Both audits — one of a city housing program and one of staffing at city swimming pools — found operational weaknesses that have since been addressed.

Each was released within the last five weeks. But the parks department responded to auditors’ findings by making changes in July. In the housing program, some changes were made as far back as 2014.

Meanwhile, Buckhorn held onto the reports as nonpublic “drafts” until the follow-up work was done.

That’s too long, a majority of council members said last week.

“There’s definitely some hang time that concerns me,” Lisa Montelione said.

Under Florida law, municipal audits are exempt from disclosure as public records until they are final. At Tampa City Hall, they are not considered final until Buckhorn signs them, which can take the better part of a year.

Council member Harry Cohen said he understands that draft audits are not public records.

“The problem is that if it takes nine months or a year for an audit to get from a draft form to signed, by the time it gets here, it’s either stale or the issues have been addressed in such a way that there’s no purpose to us taking it up,” he said.

Council member Mike Suarez is concerned that the council could approve contracts without knowing whether auditors were raising red flags about the departments in question.

“That’s the biggest issue,” he said. “We need to know because we don’t want to have to unravel a contract later on because someone’s not performing their job.”

We just view the withholding of useful information from the public as normal politics in our Imperial Mayor system. Why should the people (or the City Council) know what happens in their City government? If the administration needs to hold on to a copy for some reason, just 2 copies.  This should not even be a discussion.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Tourist Everywhere

There is a lot of reporting about how well tourism is doing locally – and it is doing well.  On the other hand, we should also keep everything in perspective.  For instance:

“Our community’s tremendous business and tourism climate along with exception regional leadership have led to extraordinary international growth,” said Frank Kruppenbacher, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, in a news release. “This is why we are in the midst of a record breaking year at the Orlando International Airport.”

The airport reported Thursday a nearly 24 percent increase in international traffic in October, accounting for an additional 436,839 international travelers coming through the airport.

The announcement comes after months of increased traffic figures. International carriers such as Brazil’s Azul Airlines, which began service at OIA this year, and TAM Airlines, which expanded here, as well as Southwest, Air Canada and Aero Mexico accounted for more than half of the international traffic increase for the year.

Total international traffic was up 17.2 percent for that 12-month period, according to airport leaders.

“And numbers like these illustrate why we’re investing over $3 billion into our community’s transportation infrastructure and future.”


Miami International Airport could set a new record of 44 million passengers by the end of 2015, airport officials said recently.

As of last Thursday the Miami airport had already welcomed 40.9 million passengers this year — 3.2 million more than it did over the same period in 2014. It set its previous record in 2014, when 40.9 million passengers moved through the airport’s facilities.

Recent passenger traffic growth is fueling optimism the Miami airport will exceed the 2014 record in the final weeks of December, generally its busiest month.

Clearly, there is a broader trend in tourism (and flying).  Some yes, we are growing tourism, but it is not like we are out front of the rest of Florida or the country. (This would imply that we are not.) We are all riding the same wave.

One thing of interest is that Tampa International has grown its international (and other) flights even while Orlando has grown theirs.  It is clear that there are different markets for each – as predicted by the early international flight advocates – even if they do overlap a bit.  Thankfully, the airport staff are aggressive in grabbing a share of that.

— Meaningless Milestone

Florida passed the 20 million mark in population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s population has now topped 20 million people.

Prognosticators have been predicting this would happen for years, the way they’ve been predicting the number of Florida tourists would someday top 100 million.

At last, on Tuesday, the census made it official: Florida’s population in 2015 reached 20,271,272. Only California (39,144,818) and Texas (27,469,114) had more people, according to the bureau.

Not that it really means anything.  We would happily switch some of that growth in population for growth in average income – though we don’t see why we can’t have both.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Speaking of wages and tech jobs:

Oracle Corp., the world’s second-largest software company, plans to build a new corporate campus on 27 acres overlooking Lady Bird Lake, just east of downtown Austin, the company confirmed to the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

With the new campus, Oracle plans to grow its Austin workforce by 50 percent over the next few years, the company said.

The move expands the presence of another rapidly growing California-based technology giant in Central Texas, as companies including Apple Inc., Google and Facebook are aggressively ramping up their workforces here.

Oracle said its 560,000-square-foot corporate campus is planned for a site between South Lakeshore Boulevard and Elmont Drive. Oracle is buying the 27 acres of undeveloped land for an undisclosed price from Austin-based Cypress Real Estate Advisors. The purchase closed Tuesday, the company said.

The deal also includes a adjacent 295-unit luxury apartment complex that will be a housing option for Oracle employees.

(It appears that it is on the south side of the river. You can see a map here and here) Now that is “in-town” development (though, to be honest, we would not be surprised if it was quite auto-centric, as most “campus” developments tend to be).

“Austin was a natural choice for Oracle to invest and grow,” said Scott Armour, senior vice president of Oracle Direct, the firm’s cloud sales organization. “We already have a high-performing employee base in the region, and the surrounding technology community is teeming with creative and innovative thinkers. Our state-of-the-art campus will be designed to inspire, support and attract top talent – with a special focus on the needs of millennials.”

That last paragraph pretty much tells the story, especially when you compare it to our area (note Oracle alone has between 1000-2000 employees around Austin.

Yes, we have improved, but we are still behind and not really gaining.

Roundup 12-18-2015

December 18, 2015


Transportation – More Delay

Transportation – TBX

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives, Cont

Tampa Heights – A Conundrum

Transportation – Hurry and Delay

Downtown/Channel District/Ybor City – Of Scale and Money

Downtown – The Grant Block

Looking at St. Pete

TIA – Regular Cuba Service Gets Closer

MacDill – Good Tidings

Bucs/Politics – A New Deal In Tampa Bay

List of the Week


Transportation – More Delay

In what can surprise no one, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is being delayed some more, if just for a short time.

Once slated for December, a Hillsborough County Commission vote on a sales tax increase for transportation projects is now likely to come no earlier than February, County Administrator Mike Merrill said.

The vote has been postponed because of problems scheduling a commission workshop on mobility fees, a vital component of the overall transportation plan called Go Hillsborough. Mobility fees, once adopted, will make developers pay more toward transportation improvements connected to their new subdivisions or commercial projects, county leaders say.

The workshop is now scheduled for Feb. 4. Barring some unforeseen developments, Merrill said he thinks the county commission could vote at its Feb. 17 meeting to set a referendum for next November on a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase. 

Well, it is the holiday season. And don’t be surprised if it gets punted after that.  In any way, what are they doing with this time?

“We’re going to spend January talking about projects and the plan, and then talk about revenues in February,” Merrill said. “I think it will still be my plan to bring the ordinance to the board for both the mobility fees and the sales tax at the second meeting in February.”

Wasn’t that supposed to be happening in the last few years?

In any event, there is always the Life of Brian approach:

In some ways, delaying the commission vote on the tax could be a good thing for proponents. Go Hillsborough is still under the cloud of a sheriff’s office investigation Merrill requested in September. Investigators are looking into suspicions about back-room dealings in the hiring of the Go Hillsborough consultant, engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Merrill said the investigation will be completed by Christmas, removing an obstacle that has stymied public deliberations on the transportation plan and tax. If no criminal activity is found, the public discussion can get back to what’s in the transportation plan.

Though, to be fair, the administrator is not the decision maker.  He can only do what the Commission will let him do.   The Commission could have just not fallen for the silliness and kept their eye on the real issue at hand: transportation.  The investigation will take or itself.  Then again, there is this:

At least two commissioners seemed to have been swayed by the scandal.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham, saying Go Hillsborough had “lost its way,” reneged on a campaign promise to support whatever plan came out of the city-county transportation Policy Leadership Group. The group voted 8-3 on Nov. 5 to recommend that the half-cent tax go on the ballot.

On the eve of that Policy Leadership Group vote, Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out an alternative plan for transportation, financed by a variety of taxes and a mobility fee. Murman thus became a no vote, after months of equivocation.

As we have explained previously, those positions are contrary to their previous actions.  (See “Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans” and “Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County”) If the Commissioners are going to use their fear regarding their own votes as an excuse to subvert their own process and decisions, then this will get nowhere.  And then there was this excellent point made by a Commissioner during a discussion over what to do with a mere $8 million that was found:

“If you care about your constituents and you care about your districts and you want to get things done in your districts, you better find a more feasible way to find more money to pay for these projects,” Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. “It’s not going to happen by squabbling over $8 million.

“Long term,” he added, “better be thinking forward to February.”

After several delays, February is now likely the earliest that commissioners will vote on whether to place a half-cent sales tax for transportation referendum on the ballot in 2016. Six of the commissioners have staked out positions on the half-penny tax hike, with three for and three against. Commissioner Victor Crist has not decided.

Exactly.  At least someone gets it.  If anything is going to happen, there has to be real money involved.

The fact is that there is no excuse for delay that would surprise us at this point.  Clearly, there are at least some Commissioners who would much rather obfuscate than actually do anything useful.  Then again, that is nothing new, which is why the issue has never been dealt with in the past.  It is this  lack of vision and abdication of leadership that holds us back.

Transportation – TBX

There was another article in the Tribune that tried to paint TBX in a good light, this time in terms of historic preservation.  That aspect was really not interesting, except this:

But even inclusion on the National Register is no guarantee a property will survive. Brick construction or dilapidated homes that would not survive a move can legally be “preserved” in other ways, such as photographic and pictorial recording.

See Bro Bowl.

There was this, which was interesting:

Still, the project has the support of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said Tampa needs better roadways as well as other forms of transportation.

At least now his position is clear.  Of course, the question isn’t that we need better roads.  We do.  The question is whether TBX is the kind of road project we need and how much to destroy to get those roads (and where to have the destruction).  And, on alternative transportation – what, where, when, how? A slightly expanded streetcar is nice, but not nearly enough.

The other thing to remember, of course, is that by 2019 there will be another governor – the one who would actually have to implement the TBX plan.

— And One More Thing

There was some more interesting coverage of I-405 in Seattle and its new variable rate toll lanes:

For the first time, tolls in the new Interstate 405 express lanes hit their legal limit of $10 per trip Thursday morning.

Even at that milestone, drivers who paid to escape gridlock ended up wading through stretches of stop-and-go traffic.

This week’s relentless congestion raises questions about whether the new corridor from Lynn­wood to Bellevue is properly designed, as well as whether the public demand for a quicker commute far exceeds what the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had planned.

The $10 rate showed up around 7 a.m., meaning that the toll lane filled up beyond the state’s capacity to offer a 45 mph ride. Prices rise as speeds in the toll lanes decline, to deter too many drivers from clogging the toll lanes.

First, paying $10 to sit in traffic (and don’t assume the tolls will top out at $10 each way), even if you save a few minutes, seems pretty silly.  Second, yes, there may be demand for a faster drive causing the lanes to fill up (and there will be because our planning is so bad), but that fact shows an inherent problem with the lanes themselves.  If a lot of people want to use the lanes, tolls just keep climbing until people have to get out of those lanes and be stuck in traffic (and that does not even include buses).  In other words, by their own design, the lanes have limited utility regarding congestion.  Either they get too congested to really accomplish much or even people who want to use them get priced out of using them – by design – causing more congestion.

And, URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to this item which shows how expansion of the Katy Freeway in Houston – including managed (toll) lanes – temporarily relieved congestion, but only very temporarily. And, while Houston is building transportation alternatives (because Texas is apparently dominated by the UN), they are still woefully underdeveloped for a city of its size.

The bottom line is that the basic premise of TBX is questionable.  Moreover, even if you buy the premise, the entire theory of variable rate lanes relies on alternatives.  Without real alternatives from the places from which highway drivers are coming (not Tampa Heights), express lanes are a flawed idea – and we will not have real alternatives for years, if ever.

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives, Cont

There was another article about the Gandy Connector coming back to life.

The idea of building a set of elevated lanes over Gandy Boulevard in Tampa is getting a fresh look.

A $192 million project being studied would use the lanes to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from its current end at S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge.

The lanes, one in each direction, would be at least 30 feet off the ground and would be built on pilings in Gandy’s median. You would pay a toll and could use them to skip the traffic lights on Gandy for a trip between the bridge and Dale Mabry.

The goal is to get just-passing-through traffic — including thousands of Pinellas residents evacuating in advance of a hurricane — up off of Gandy, moving it along more smoothly and reducing delays for purely local traffic.

* * *

Meanwhile, work crews have started drilling on the median along Gandy to determine how far apart the piers for the elevated lanes could be spaced.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is revisiting a past project development and environmental study for the proposed extension. It has started public outreach with business and community groups, and plans to do some town hall-style events, probably in April, and other public engagement through September 2016.

It is interesting that it is physically being examined.  Why now?

The expressway authority is looking to start construction in 2017, so the lanes could be open sometime in 2020.

That’s when the Florida Department of Transportation aims to start work rebuilding Interstate 275’s interchange at State Road 60 in West Shore. Having the Gandy elevated lanes open by then would give commuters an alternative to using the Howard Frankland Bridge during construction, authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.

Because traffic is just going to get messier.  And while we think there should be a Gandy Connector (and should have been long ago), it would be good if there was a plan to have some real transit before the interstates get even more messed up.  In any event, there is the usual complaining.

In 2013, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization mailed a survey to 9,300 property owners within a mile of the Gandy corridor. About 900 responded, with 54 percent saying “yes” when asked whether a rendering of the elevated lanes looked like a good idea.

But Gandy/Sun Bay South Civic Association president Al Steenson cautions that there are two things worth remembering about that survey. First, the 54 percent came from the one in 10 recipients who responded. Also, the question was, does this look like a good idea, he said, not would you support it.

Steenson doesn’t dispute that Gandy is congested, or that there may be significant numbers of people who want to see something done. But when his association’s board discussed the idea last month, the mood of the room was still against the project.

“My feeling is that there are many, many people who are still opposed to it,” he said. “If this is a done deal, we obviously want to be very, very involved in terms of the design.”

So be it.  This is a missing link that should have been done decades ago.  We shall see if anything actually happens. (And why if it is part of the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough plan – even if it is paid for with different sources.  Everything needs to be coordinated.)

Tampa Heights – A Conundrum

There was an article in the Times about one of the major issues regarding Tampa Heights.

Walk down N Franklin Street most mornings and there they are: three or four figures stooped over brooms and bags of trash. They pick toothbrushes, milk cartons and the occasional syringe out of the gutters. They hose urine off brick walls.

For business owners along this growing downtown strip, their morning ritual is about more than rehabilitating this end of Tampa Heights.

It’s also about cleaning up after good Samaritans who they say are helping at the expense of the neighborhood.

On any given day, three or four vans roll in to drop off food, clothes and toiletries for the local homeless population. Unfortunately, local businesses say there’s nowhere to dispose of the waste that results — including human waste.

Those groups may be trying to help the area’s homeless population, but Franklin Street tenants say they’re also making the strip a magnet for loiterers and trash.

“These people come here and they think they’re doing good,” said Joshua Garman, co-owner of Hidden Springs Brewery at 1631 N Franklin St. “But the trash, it’s so ungodly. Everyone who works on this block spends the first half hour of their day cleaning up after them.”

The article focuses more on freelance aid to the homeless, but the entire homeless issue is a major concern regarding Tampa Heights.  Frankly, we are not sure what to do about it.  There are a number of very good organizations in Tampa Heights that help a lot of people – and you can’t object to that.  On the other hand, large numbers of homeless people congregating in a specific area tend to hold back that area.  It is a complex issue.  No matter where the organizations are, there will be an issue.  This just happens to be Tampa Heights.  You have to help the needy, but you do not want to inhibit redevelopment that will help other.

Like we said, we do not have a solution.  The best think we can think of is to get people together and try to get them to minimize the associated problems, like messy streets and waste.  It is just sad that there are so many homeless people that it is an issue in the first place.

Transportation – Hurry and Delay

There was news about the possible use of CSX tracks for transit.

Transit advocates across Tampa Bay have spent the past few months buzzing about converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system, a prospect they hope could help ease the area’s traffic problems.

But even if CSX is a solution, don’t expect relief any time soon.

It will likely be two years before the Florida Department of Transportation completes the necessary feasibility study to qualify the project for federal funding. And on top of that it could take several months more to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant.

It’s also unlikely the cost study will get the green light before the feasibility study is finished.

“I think we’re in a holding pattern unless someone moves forward with a brilliant idea about how to acquire the right of way,” said Whit Blanton, executive director of the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization.

So, basically 2019. In the meantime, there is TBX, TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough, the Gandy Connector and a host of other things that actually should be coordinated but are basically ad hoc.  We like the idea of using CSX – we have made no secret of that.  What we do not like is the apparent inability of this area to look at the transportation issue in a comprehensive way.  We get that there are a lot of agendas, but the main agenda should be fixing transportation in a comprehensive, coordinated, and systematic way and promoting the proper development of the area so we stop lagging behind our competitors.

And, regarding cost, technology, etc., there was this:

Each technology has different costs – light rail is most expensive. @RayChiaramonte suggests DMUs as cheaper option.

Exactly – and that has been known for years (if not decades). If you are going to study this, at least use what we already know.  Maybe that can speed things up a bit.  We have already had far too many delays.

Downtown/Channel District/Ybor City – Of Scale and Money

A while back, the Gas Worx apartment proposal came out with two 29 story buildings.  That plan did not fly because the City did not want it (without rational explanation) and some said it was too big and did not transition well to the Ybor City historic district (though it was not in the historic district and, really, that is not an issue being near/in downtown).  In any event, the project was then scaled back to two 11 story buildings.


A tug of war is shaping up between downtown and Ybor City.

The prize: A cut of the new property taxes that would be generated by the development of the Gas Worx — a multistory project proposed just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, next to Channelside Drive.

As it stands, a portion of the property taxes from that 8 acres is earmarked for projects to improve downtown Tampa.

That’s because the site is inside Tampa’s 870-acre downtown community redevelopment area. Inside a CRA, taxes generated by new growth in property values are dedicated to public works projects that support further development.

But Ybor City residents and business owners want the lines redrawn so that the Gas Worx land would be inside a CRA that covers part of the historic district. That way, some of the property taxes generated by the Gas Worx would go not to downtown, but to Ybor City improvement projects. City officials don’t have an estimate of how much money could be in play.

Except, 1) it is not in Ybor and 2) it would have been more valuable if its opponents had no objected to its not unreasonable scale (maybe the layout could have been better, but there was nothing wrong with the scale).  Frankly, nothing would have helped Ybor more than having some dense residential very nearby.

We are not going to get into the weeds on this.  You can read the article.  The point is that it is not in Ybor.  It is not in the Ybor CRA. Unless the land owner wants to become part of Ybor, we see no reason that it should be moved.  We get that Ybor wants money to do some things – maybe the City should help them come up with the money.  On the other hand, as we said, this is not Ybor.  Moreover, given the hypersensitivity regarding the density of anything in or even tangentially referencing Ybor, we would rather the CRA should not expand lest the mere mention of Ybor hold developments back.   The Ybor City historical district should be preserved, but that does not mean it should spread.  What it really needs is an influx of residents nearby (preferably in walking distance) who will patronize Ybor business on a routine basis.  That would help it far more than any CRA.

Downtown – The Grant Block

Demolition has started on the Grant Block in preparation for the building of an apartment building.

The demolition of a strip of abandoned storefronts in downtown Tampa is underway, preparing the site for a 23-story apartment tower.

DPR Construction, the general contractor on the project, has fenced off the 900 block of North Franklin Street and began demolition today. A construction official said it would take about two months to completely level the site.

Atlanta-based Carter, the tower’s developer, has closed on all of its financing for the project, chief development officer Conor McNally said Monday.

“The buildings will soon be down and we will be digging our foundations,” he said. “We expect to hold a formal groundbreaking ceremony early in the new year.”

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Obviously, we are all for having new residents downtown.  Unfortunately, this design could easily have been improved (especially by not leaving Florida Avenue essentially a dead street across from the Floridan). Nevertheless, as the project has started, we hope it turns out well.

Looking at St. Pete

This week a new project was announced for downtown St. Pete.

David Mack pauses, then corrects himself: The 35-story tower he’s planning to develop in downtown St. Petersburg won’t have “nice views.”

“Well, not nice, but amazing views over the bay,” he said.

Mack, principal of David A. Mack Properties LLC, has proposed a tower with 306 residential units, 8,834 square feet of commercial space and 505 parking spaces on the former Grand Bohemian Hotel site — the northwest corner of First Avenue North and Second Street, across the street from Jannus Landing.

This project is to go on the lot left empty when the Grand Bohemian Hotel was not built.  It is an important lot and an appropriately sized project for it.  Moreover, it will have ground floor retail.  All that is very good. Are there any renderings?

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

That’s ok, if not exciting.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

But that is, how shall we say, bland.  Why the lack anything of interest (and, really, adequate windows) on the major façade?  This is a really good location with a lot of visibility.  Hopefully, these are just preliminary scribbles that will be fleshed out and improved.  It does not have to be super exciting, but please, do not build a generic 1970’s style box.

TIA – Regular Cuba Service Gets Closer

It seems that US-Cuba flights are closer to getting normalized:

The US and Cuba have reached an understanding on restoring regularly scheduled commercial flights, Cuban and American officials said on Wednesday on the eve of the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.

The advance opens the way for US airlines to begin flying to Cuba within months in what would be the biggest business deal struck as the two countries try to normalize relations.

Officials on both sides described it as an understanding on aviation but not yet a formal agreement and they hoped to reach a formal deal within hours or days. The understanding was reached on Wednesday in Washington.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and if Tampa gets more flights or Tampa passengers start having to fly through hubs.  Only time will tell.

MacDill – Good Tidings

There was news about MacDill

MacDill Air Force Base is slated to get $94 million for planned construction projects under Congress’ Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

The funding for MacDill was announced by Rep. David Jolly (R – FL), who represents district 13, Pinellas County. Just over one-third of the money will be used to construct a 36,600-square-foot special operations support facility, according to a statement from his office. Another $55 million will be used for runway improvements needed for 23 new Army Reserve Black Hawk helicopters.

Anything that improves MacDill improves the area.  Hopefully, it will pass.

Bucs/Politics – A New Deal In Tampa Bay

There was news about the stadium.

Hillsborough County commissioners today approved a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will mean at least $87 million in upgrades to Raymond James Stadium while giving taxpayers a better share of non-Bucs events.

The agreement, which includes $29 million in taxpayer money, will pay for new 9,600-square-foot video boards in the end zones, a new sound system, more concession stands and other improvements.

The Bucs commitment is at least $58 million and will be spent over two years.

The first phase, which includes the end zone video boards as well as four smaller 2,200-square-feet video boards in the stadium corners, will be completed by the start of the 2016 football season.

One of the motivators for finishing the bulk of the improvements is that the stadium will host the College Football Playoff championship game in January 2017.

Was it the best deal ever?  Not sure, but it was not a bad deal – especially given the previous deals. In any event, the County Commission passed it:

The vote was 6-1, with only Commissioner Stacy White, a Republican representing east Hillsborough, voting no.

* * *

While White did not explain his “no” vote, the six other commissioners heaped praise on the deal. They said the pact vastly improved on the existing lease agreement with the Buccaneers and will help attract future marquee sporting events and concerts. Tampa is a finalist to host the Super Bowl in 2019 and 2020.

As did the Tampa City Council.  Nevertheless,

Several commissioners noted they had received calls and emails opposing the expenditures, saying the tax money should be used for roads, lighting or, in one case, on Social Security, a federal program.

But Commissioner Ken Hagan, who sits on the Tampa Sports Authority, said the county was obligated by the 1996 stadium lease agreement to pay half the costs of necessary upgrades to keep the stadium up to date. The county’s share was estimated to be $26 million. But the sports authority agreed to increase its commitment by $3 million.

In return, the Bucs agreed to increase the size of the end zone video boards from 7,600 square feet to 9,600 square feet. The current boards are 2,200 square feet.

Hagan also pointed out the money the county is spending comes from the fourth cent of a 5-cent tourism tax. That money can only be spent on tourism promotion of renovating sports facilities.

“The dollars being invested are not general revenue dollars and cannot be invested in transportation, schools or Social Security,” Hagan said. 

There were also mailers from  the group Americans for Prosperity, which is basically the Tea Party, opposing the use of “tax dollars.” They did not say how the “tax dollars” should be spent, especially the tourist tax issue.

And posted this to their website:

Hillsborough County Commission Favors Stadiums Over Citizens

County sides with Bucs over taxpayers

TALLAHASSEE – Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL), the leading grassroots advocate against wasteful spending, is disappointed with the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners who voted today to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars in one lump-sum, towards stadium renovations, in lieu of siding with the greater needs of their citizens and disbursing those funds over a longer period of time.

“Whoever said that government has a role in propping up professional sports teams needs a lesson in free market principles,” said state director, Chris Hudson. “Citizens have been calling and emailing their commissioners, who should have listened to their concerns about the exorbitant waste that transpired today. The fact is that the Hillsborough BOCC had the ability to disburse these funds over a longer period of time and focus on more important and immediate needs in the community. Taxpayers will hold accountable those commissioners who chose to prioritize the commercial expenses of a professional sports team. We commend Commissioner Stacy White who was the only member to stand up for taxpayers.”

Which conveniently ignores saying what should be done with the tourist tax money or that it has to be spent on tourism or sports facilities. It would be a lot more convincing if it was not so general and actually gave examples of what it meant (and dealt with the tax issues).

Then again, that rhetoric rich and idea poor strategy is the same approach as those who do not want to actually fix any of our transportation problems.  At least, the Commission ignored them here.  We can only hope it is the start of a trend.

List of the Week

This week, we feature J.D. Power 2015 North American Airport Study.  As noted in the Times, Tampa International came in second.

Here is the top 31 large airports (because the article listed 31): Portland International (OR), Tampa International, Las Vegas McCarran International, Orlando International, Salt Lake City International, Denver International, San Diego International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Charlotte Douglas International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Chicago Midway International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, San Francisco International, Miami International, Toronto Pearson International, Washington Dulles International, Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Baltimore/Washington International, Honolulu International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, John F. Kennedy International, Boston Logan International,  Philadelphia International, Chicago O’Hare International, Los Angeles International, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International.

It is good that Tampa is number 2, though we are not sure what it is about Portland that keeps getting it accolades.  We are definitely biased, but we think Tampa International is still the best.

Roundup 12-11-2015

December 11, 2015


Seminole Heights – The Apartment Building and the Choice

Transportation – Yes and No

Downtown/Channel District – Confab and Comments

— Of Pom Poms and Perspectives

— Of Fun and Housing

Rays/Economic Development – The Lightning Owner Keeps Speaking the Truth

Harbour Island – A Step Forward

Westshore – Transitions

Transportation – Still No Reason to Keep the PTC

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Fine Tuning Hype

List of the Week


Seminole Heights – The Apartment Building and the Choice

The proposed apartment building on Florida in Seminole Heights went before the Architectural Review Commission this week.

A city commission has sent a mixed-use development proposed in Seminole Heights back to the drawing board.

Tampa developer Wesley Burdette had proposed a mixed-use building at the corner of North Florida and East Wilder avenues, to include about 50 loft-style apartments, 2,800 square feet of retail space, a rooftop lounge and on-site dog park.

But after several Seminole Heights residents spoke out in opposition to the project, the city’s Architectural Review Commission voted to continue the public hearing until Jan. 11, giving the developer time to modify the “mass and scale” of the project. 

Before we go any further, we note that URBN Tampa Bay is saying that the ARC continued the hearing not for massing but basically for style. (See here and look at the comments) We were not at the meeting so we are not sure.  In any event, what was the reported objection of the community?

Opponents to the development said that at five stories and 55 feet, the building would be out of context with the Seminole Heights historic district.

You can read the comments at URBN Tampa Bay to see some other objections which can be summarized as basically the building is too big for the area and the building does not have a look consistent with the historical district’s style.

The reality is that we can understand some of the objections.  Yes, the building is larger than much of the area, though it should not be judged by the standards of the single family homes.  It is a mixed use building on a major road.  Hillsborough High school is as tall and bigger.  There are also churches in the historic district (map here), like this, which are quite large.  Moreover while there may be an architectural type for the houses in the area, most of Florida Avenue is a mess of warehouses, car lots, and other less than attractive buildings.  There is no prevalent historical style.

But there is another point.  The Seminole Heights district plan calls for development like this:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And the building will look basically like this:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Also, the height of the building, 55 ft, is within rules and guidelines for Florida in this area.  In other words, it is not too high (which may be why there is confusion about massing).  In fact, it seems to fit with the concepts in the plans.

We think it is a good project that will enhance Florida and the neighborhood.  It will add residents and walkable retail to the street – helping to transform it from the mess it now is to an urban street.  We would not be for a project like this on a side street.  It is only appropriate for a major street – like Florida.  (And real urban planning has higher density on major roads that decreases as it goes into the residential areas.  That is quite standard.)  This is exactly the kind of urban infill project that can help move an area along.   (Maybe they should have just proposed it on the west side of Florida, outside the historic district like the dollar store.)

We also do not think the architecture is an issue.  As we said, for the most part, Florida does not have an architectural style other than cement box and steel warehouse. (Including the warehouse repurposing project by this developer in Seminole Heights that had, as far as we can tell, no objections.)  Yes, there are a few older buildings, but, as the link above shows, Florida is hardly a cute or quaint street.  It has little overall charm – though a few buildings on Florida do and the neighborhood around it does.  Also, we do not believe that every building must be med revival or covered in brick. We also do not think that an urban area needs to have strict façade rules like a gated, planned community.  But that is what we think.

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.

Transportation – Yes and No

There was an interesting article in the Tribune regarding transit in Hillsborough.

As the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority prepares to conduct a feasibility study of all “premium transit” options for the region, its board chairman is not convinced that converting CSX lines to commuter rail will prove the best option.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez said Monday he’s willing to consider it, but isn’t sure that purchasing CSX railroad lines and converting them for passenger traffic will benefit enough people to offset the cost. A strong proponent for bus rapid transit, Suarez said he believes there may be a better path to address roadway congestion and give commuters more options.

“It is a viable option, but it’s a different type of option that may be as expensive, if not more expensive than us building an extensive light rail or bus rapid transit routes which would give more versatility,” he said. 

First, we are not surprised that chairman of HART would be a big bus proponent – HART is about buses.  Second, there is no BRT in Hillsborough County, and it is not the transit solution – it is part of a solution, but is not THE solution.

That being said, we agree that “commuter rail” – like SunRail – on the CSX tracks is likely not the best option.  In fact, a much better option is using DMU rolling stock, which functions much like light rail rather than commuter rail, on the CSX tracks (assuming you can connect to downtown and on to Westshore – which you can with a little political will and, maybe, some highway median).  It allows for much more frequency of service and a proper transit system. (Commuter rail from Pasco may be better).  We also have nothing against light rail, either, but the CSX tracks might (we mean might) be more practical and cost-effective.

As for the study:

The study and an adopted transit plan would allow Hillsborough and surrounding counties to apply in the future for funds from the Federal Transportation Administration, said Debbie Hunt, director of Transportation Development for FDOT, which is paying for the study. “The study is a premium transit study, not specifically to look at the CSX tracks. We are not looking at a predetermined outcome. If we did, the FTA would not participate. We’re looking at all possibilities.”

“Our role is to have a completely unbiased view on what is cost effective and the most useful” in meeting the needs of commuters, HART CEO Katharine Eagan said.

HART is already working with FDOT to determine the scope of the study, which will begin in fiscal 2017.

We are not sure HART could do an unbiased study.  It is, after all, an agency with a political board and a pre-existing plan for MetroRapid.  Also notable is that the study won’t even start until fiscal year 2017 while the whole TBX issue is going on now.

Over the next 18-24 months, HART’s staff or a consultant will look at the placement of the CSX rail lines between Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties to determine how people would get to the train to commute and how to connect those commuters with their eventual destinations once they get off the train.

It will also look at whether commuters would be better served with the creation of a new light rail system that might take commuters closer to the places they actually want to go, like downtown offices. Bus rapid transit routes are the other option. They would provide either exclusive lanes in which buses could travel to get to their destinations faster or the means for buses to control traffic signals so they could keep moving even during periods of congestion.

“No one thing will solve all the problems,” Suarez said. It’s not about skepticism, it’s about light rail versus heavier rail. People say ‘if we just got the CSX tracks, we would solve these problems.’ It won’t solve all these problems,” which is another good reason to study all the options, he said.

The premium transit study is not so much about the price tag as it is about the logistics and whether it would be a wise use of funds, Eagan said. “We’ll be focusing on where people will be trying to get to, looking at the convenience,” Eagan said. The study will include a lot of details, like where park and ride lots could be located, necessary right-of-way acquisition and where stations might have to be built, among other topics, she said.

“This is all the homework you have to do before you can go to the FTA and get in line” for funding, Eagan said.

Once a transit plan is approved, Hunt said, local officials will have to step up. The feds won’t fund anything and neither will the state until local authorities agree to pay for maintenance and operation of whatever the final transit options are, she said.

And there is the rub.  Local officials are all about studies.  They are far less interested in actually doing anything.  Moreover, shouldn’t this have been done as part of the whole TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process – which is supposedly coming to a head – and where HART was represented?  How do all these things fit together? Why is everything regarding transportation such an uncoordinated mess?

Maybe because it works like this:

FDOT agreed to fund the study after hundreds of people from neighborhoods along the Interstate 275 corridor came out against a plan to add express toll lanes to the interstate. At the same time, they called for more transit.

This study is the result of FDOT’s desire to build TBX, which the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process completely ignored. (And don’t discount the whole state-CSX connection).  It only came about because people – not elected officials – complained.

In any event, now that seems to be happening, we’ll be interested to see what it produces.

Downtown/Channel District – Confab and Comments

— Of Pom Poms and Perspectives

Last week, we noted that USF was a little behind on its private donations for the new Med School building. (See “Downtown/Channel District – Checking in With USF” ) This week, something happened regarding the USF Med School, though it is not clear exactly what.

USF on Tuesday held a site dedication ceremony for the Morsani College of Medicine, to be built at the corner of Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive in downtown Tampa’s Channel district. It will be accompanied by the USF Heart Health Institute.

It is not exactly clear what a “dedication” is, especially because:

The land is at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue. Strategic Property Partners expects to deed it to USF around the first of the year. Design for the medical school building, which is expected to be about 12 stories tall, with 330,000 square feet, probably will take about a year to complete before construction can begin.

So, it wasn’t a ground-breaking.  It sounds more like a pep-rally, which is fine.  But then there was this:

With its new building, USF will achieve a certain status among the top 100 medical schools in the U.S. that receive money from the National Institutes: The Morsani College will be the only one in that group to be located within 25 minutes of its primary teaching hospital — in this case, five minutes from Tampa General Hospital, said Charles Lockwood, dean of the college and senior vice president of USF Health.

Well, that is great – maybe.  Except there are all sorts of major med schools (maybe they do not get money from the National Institutes, but what does that mean) physically connected  or immediately adjacent to their hospitals – including some schools that the Mayor used as examples of why USF should move downtown in the first place like, say, Johns Hopkins or Penn that is right next to one hospital and a few blocks from another – zoom in. Even the University of Arizona – phoenix facility is pretty close to a number of its teaching hospitals (see here , here , and here )  And a few more examples of adjacent or so hospitals:  Yale – see here and here, Duke, UF and Shands or UM – and maybe Vandy.  We could go on, but we won’t belabor the point.

But anyway, at least there is this:

For Vinik, providing the land for USF’s medical school and heart institute seeds a $2 billion project that he and Cascade are preparing to launch at the southern end of downtown Tampa.

* * *

It’s Tampa’s largest and most ambitious project in decades, so it was no surprise that Vinik got a standing ovation as he took the stage in a tent put up on the site Tuesday.

Still, he asked for a little perspective.

“For the record, as of this moment, Strategic Property Partners has built one tent,” Vinik said. “So while I appreciate the accolades — come on!

His overall project is great, but even better is Lightning owner’s attitude. Contrasted with elected officials, it is truly refreshing.

— Of Fun and Housing

And speaking of the Lightning owner’s project, there was other news.

The rooftops in Strategic Property Partners’ district in downtown Tampa could be just as key as the streetscape.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who controls SPP with Cascade Investment LLC, said Wednesday that the group is looking at ways to activate the rooftops in the district, which is slated to be nearly 3 million square feet at completion.

* * *

One of those gathering spots could be 25 stories high.

The rooftop of the new convention hotel, Vinik said, could be home to the “best bar and restaurant in all of Hillsborough County.”

Because the district will feature a centralized cooling facility, Vinik said, the rooftops are wide open, and his group is “actively dimensioning” potential uses.

“Whether it’s the hotel or office buildings or residential towers, there could be a variety of things up top,” he said. “Swimming pools, dog parks, restaurants or bars.”

That is all cool.  We are all for that.  What was more interesting was this:

In an effort to offer affordable housing, Vinik said Wednesday that he and his partners at billionaire Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment fund are thinking about including some smaller-sized apartments among the 1,000 residential units planned in the first phase of their project.

“Price points are critical,” Vinik told about 150 people at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club lunch at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Offering some smaller units may appeal to younger renters who, he said, spend relatively less time at home, anyway.

In cities like New York and San Francisco, developers are offering micro apartments as small as 300 square feet.

“I would not say never,” Vinik said, but units that size don’t “feel right to me. It feels too small for reality and this market.”

Still, he said, “If you’ve seen some of the smaller units — I’ve toured them — they’re amazingly efficiently laid out. It’s surprising what you can do in 500 or 600 square feet, and it does make it affordable.”

Which is interesting because:

Affordability is a potential challenge Vinik said his project could face as its first phase unfolds over the next five years or so. (Coincidentally, a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report Tuesday said more than a quarter of Tampa Bay area renters pay at least half their income for housing, with little money left for necessities like health care.)

You can find a full article on that lack of affordable housing here.

We are not sure if the more affordable housing idea arose because of perceived weakness in the demand with all the proposed luxury units in the downtown area.  And we doubt that even the less expensive units will really be either at the price point or of the size that make them practical for the ¼ of families with the lowest incomes in the area.  However, we applaud the idea of creating a mix of units that will lead to a more diverse community and give access to many who are being priced out of any urban living.  Regardless of its genesis, it is a good idea.

Rays/Economic Development – The Lightning Owner Keeps Speaking the Truth

We said we were not going to really discuss the Rays until St Pete did something.  Then the Lightning owner decided to speak the truth, and it deserves note.

How, someone asked, does Vinik really feel about the prospect of a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium near the $2 billion downtown development he plans around the home arena for his Tampa Bay Lightning?

And, as he has before, Vinik said less about the idea of having a competing venue nearby and more about what he sees as the economic development value and corporate recruiting necessity of keeping the Rays in the bay area.

“This is one of those questions where the stock, for-the-press response is the same as the actual response,” Vinik said. “This region needs baseball. You can’t have a big league area without big-league baseball. If we lose the Rays, when I fly up to New York or Connecticut to talk to a company (about moving here), I’ve got two strikes behind me: ‘You guys can’t even keep baseball in your community?’ That’s literally going to be the response.”

Whether the Rays end up in Pinellas or Hillsborough does make a difference, Vinik acknowledged, but that’s secondary. “To me, the most important thing is just making sure we retain this great community asset.”

Amen.  And we agree that the actual location of the stadium in the area is secondary for the purposes of general economic development, though important in terms of whether people go to the games making them viable and economic development around the stadium.  The reality is that the behavior of St Pete in this issue has been detrimental to this area – St Pete included.  It needs to change so we can move on.

Harbour Island – A Step Forward

We have been critical of two Related projects in Tampa (PierHouse and the Tribune property project).  There is another one – the Manor on Harbour Island.

From the public records – click on picture for a larger version

That project has been held up for a while because residents of a next door condo building have objected, ostensibly because of parking.  In any event,

A lawsuit that challenged the city’s approval of a 21-story apartment tower on Harbour Island has been rejected by an appeal court and it appears the developer may proceed with construction.

In November, the 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed a Hillsborough County circuit court ruling that the city acted properly in approving the project. A group of Harbour Island residents challenged the decision of city officials and the city council that plans for the site did not amount to a “substantial change” from previously approved plans, and would not require a rezoning hearing.

The appeal court ruling, which affirmed the lower court without opinion, effectively ends the residents’ legal campaign, said John Grandoff III, their lawyer.

This was the basis of the challenge:

The Related Group of Miami is developing the 21-story tower at 402 Knights Run Ave. It would have 340 units. But only 35 parking spaces are planned for the site; the remaining required parking spots are to be leased from a neighboring garage with a “sky bridge” over Harbour Place Drive connecting the garage and apartments.

The neighbors said that strategy would amount to a parking nightmare and that it is not covered under city land regulations. The plaintiffs, many of whom live in The Plaza, a neighboring tower, said that amounted to a “substantial change” that required a public hearing.

The parking garage is also used by nearby office buildings and Jackson’s Bistro restaurant.

In fact, we actually like this project most of the three Related projects.  Hopefully, the way will now be open to build it.

Westshore – Transitions

There was an article in the Tribune regarding changes at the Westshore Alliance.

When Ron Rotella took the reins of the newly formed Westshore Development Association in 1983, community leaders were focused on transforming a 10-square-mile swath of small suburban homes and scattered orange groves into a thriving business district.

As he prepares to retire after 33 years as executive director of the organization, now known as the Westshore Alliance, Rotella recalled last week how he and a core group of community leaders set out to create what would become the largest commercial office district in the state of Florida. And the district continues to grow, exceeding expectations.

The West Shore District, bounded by Kennedy Boulevard, Himes Avenue, Hillsborough Avenue and Old Tampa Bay, including Rocky Point, now boasts just under 13 million square feet of commercial office space. There’s another 6 million square feet of retail space, more than 200 restaurants and more than 7,000 hotel rooms.

For all that the alliance has accomplished in three decades, though, there is still much to be done.

Ann Kulig, with the alliance since 2002 and deputy director since 2014, will take over the executive director’s chair on Jan. 2. Her greatest challenge, she says, is finding a way to break up the vehicle congestion that has a chokehold on the bustling district.

Over the decades, Westshore has really grown.  There can be no argument about that.  The problem is that the whole layout of Westshore is still a 1980’s layout, even with the new residential.

“The most exciting thing that has happened is the missing piece of the puzzle,” Kulig said. “That’s development of a neighborhood that people want to live in. With all the apartments and town homes coming in, it’s really going to change the dynamic of West Shore. It will be everything you’d want in the neighborhood.”

Everything, that is, if they can figure out what to do about the traffic, she concedes. “The next set of challenges is how do we make it easier to get around. The morphing of the district has to be walkability. We are the beneficiaries of location” near the airport and the interstates, which was the impetus for designing the business district, Kulig said. But the street grid in the West Shore District hasn’t changed in 50 years, and that’s a problem as the area grows.

“Pedestrian amenities didn’t mean a lot back in 1968 when this was the suburbs,” said Jay Botsch, vice president of the alliance and general manager of WestShore Plaza. That has changed, he said.

“It’s connectivity — sidewalks and transportation. We want to take cars off the roads,” Kelly said.

It is encouraging that people seem to see the issue (though it is far more than traffic).  The problem is that basically nothing in terms of the design of the area and its building has really changed.  Everything being built still is focused on cars – especially the office and retail projects that completely fail to face any street.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s plan for what it calls a multimodal center alongside Interstate 275 is a great starting point, Rotella said. It will connect local buses with regional buses, with a people mover train to Tampa International Airport and possibly to light rail running between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa.

There are also future plans to extend three streets in the district under I-275 for better access, Kulig said.

We are not going to get into the multimodal center and buses, but connecting some streets under 275 is good – as would be connecting the residential on Spruce to Westshore.  Real bike lanes (rather than simply restriping Boy Scout or “share the road” signs) would also be good.  There are a lot of things that would be good. But there is one issue:

The key to success for both Rotella and Kulig, they say, is the ability to bring all parties to the table and come up with a workable plan on which everyone can agree.

The fact is that you are never going to get everyone to agree.  At some point you are going to have to create some requirements that some will just not want do.  A general consensus is good.  Making everyone happy is impossible.  If everyone was on board with making the area walkable, you would not have new-ish restaurants and stores with their backs to the street, buildings that demand pedestrians walk through the grass to get to the front door, hotels that tell pedestrians to weave through the cars to get in,  and this inviting walking experience.  If you try to make everyone happy, you will settle your way into a mess – which is not something that just happened a decade ago.  It is still the normal course of business.

Design rules are not made to make everyone happy.  They are made to get the people who do not want to provide what the community thinks should be provided to actually do it. And to make sure that people who want to do the easy and cheap to actually maintain the standards that the community wants. That is how they make the area better.  And, in turn, the community should invest to support the rules with proper amenities that help accomplish the goals.

The fact is that the real responsibility for not doing even the simple (and not very expensive) things, like building to the street and having streets actually connect, is squarely on City Hall.  Until the City stops settling – neglecting, really – in the Westshore area, it will never be a real urban area and reach its full potential.  Westshore has grown and it is better, but it is not near being a walkable, urban area – though, once again, with a little political will, proper investment, and no more settling it could make great strides in the getting there.

Transportation – Still No Reason to Keep the PTC

There was an article in the Tribune entitled “Bill would require different levels of insurance for Uber, Lyft in Hillsborough”  that discussed proposed bills in the Legislature regarding ridesharing but was not completely clear that it would apply just to Hillsborough.

A three-year battle for paying passengers in Hillsborough County’s ride-for-hire market entered a new phase Tuesday when the county’s legislative delegation voted overwhelmingly for a bill guiding local regulation of Uber and Lyft — the services summoned at the touch of an app.

The decision headed off elimination of Hillsborough’s unique Public Transportation Commission, the agency fighting in court with Uber over standards of operation. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, shelved his bill to abolish the agency, and Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, tabled his bill to remove the commission’s authority over ride-hailing companies.

The bill approved is just the beginning of a process that may be dead on arrival.

Why would they do that?  Why not clean up this mess once and for all?

Local delegation members moved the bill forward to provide guidance for the Public Transportation Commission, the only special district of its kind in Florida, created by the Legislature to oversee taxicab, limousine and other ride-for-hire companies.

The county has been at the eye of the ride-hailing storm for years as the commission has tried to bring Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies under its regulation.

This placed the providers and the regulators in a legal limbo, with the commission issuing criminal citations, the providers suing the commission, and the commission suing the providers. The commission agreed to stop issuing citations and suspend its lawsuit to work out a compromise.

“The PTC is trying to follow the law as we know it, but it’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole,” Harrison said.

The local bill gives the commission a framework to make ride-hailing companies legal in Hillsborough County, he said, “and get us out of this no man’s land.”

Right, so get rid of the PTC and create statewide rules.  If every other county can follow statewide rules, so can Hillsborough – without an extra level of bureaucracy.

It is a departure from a measure that Rep. Daniel Raulerson, R-Plant City, had worked on with the input of the transportation commission over the last two years. Recognizing that the commission was created before ride-hailing apps existed, the bill would have created a distinct category for ride-hailing providers and required background checks and liability coverage as well as maintenance inspections.

“This is a great test of determining what role governments play in lives,” Raulerson said.

But before his bill could be discussed, Rep. Dana Young introduced the amendment ultimately approved, to provide “the right balance to … public safety and the need for public regulation without hampering the transformational innovation and technology behind a sharing economy the public has enthusiastically embraced.”

So what does it require?

The key points of her amendment require background checks similar to those adopted by several states and municipalities, and insurance rates lower than the Raulerson bill would have required.

Young’s amendment calls for drivers to have higher levels of insurance for each stage of the driver’s interaction with the ride-hailing services. When offline, drivers would carry standard insurance. Once they log into the app, the company would provide $50,000 death and bodily injury per person, reduced from $125,000; $100,000 death and bodily injury coverage per incident, down from $250,000; and $25,000 for property damage.

Once the driver accepts a passenger, coverage goes up to $1 million for death, bodily injury and property damage.

Young’s measure also requires a permit fee of $5,000 per driver.

As we have said for a while, we are fine with statewide regulation as long as it is logical and reasonable (and the $5000 fee is per company, not driver).  We are not for saddling Hillsborough County with a bureaucracy beholden to a small group of businesses and completely unresponsive to the consumer.  If no other county needs, we do not either.  Why not just abolish the PTC and get statewide rules?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Regular readers may remember a while ago we noted a project in Osceola County.

Osceola County and the University of Central Florida broke ground Thursday on a new high-tech manufacturing facility near Kissimmee. Originally aimed at producing smart sensors, the facility may also include a broader focus on photonics.

The Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, originally announced in June, is expected create a new hub for manufacturing, attracting thousands of jobs and eventually growing into a $200 million project. The sensors would be used in appliances, cars, surgical devices, mobile phones and other technology – known as smart sensors.

On Thursday morning, UCF President John Hitt said the effort is also moving quickly to expand the focus of the facility beyond sensors, to include photonics research.

Hitt said the university is pursuing a $200 million in federal and private funds to house a national Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute.

The partners in the project are of some interest.

The center is a partnership among Osceola County government, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Enterprise Florida, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida also are partners.

How is it that the Orlando area seems to get these type of projects and also gets things like a med school and all manners of medical research.  Where is the division of labor?  In any event,

The International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing was chosen as one of three partners with Argonne National Laboratory, a science and engineering research center located in Lamont, Ill., just outside Chicago. The partnership was announced Dec. 1 on Argonne’s website and is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s new Technologist in Residence pilot program to help increase collaboration between the national laboratories and private-sector companies, according to a news release.

The Department of Energy will invest $400,000 in each partnership. That amount is expected to be matched by the participating companies. Argonne also will partner with California-based Capstone Turbine Corp., which manufactures microturbine power generation systems, and Indiana-based Cummins, which designs, manufactures and distributes engines.

Sponsored byArgonne’s partnership with ICAMR will focus on using clean energy in the manufacturing process of smart sensors. Argonne and ICAMR will use this opportunity to concentrate on the development of innovative manufacturable processes, materials and equipment for advanced sensors and other future high-tech products, including emitters, modulators, and communications devices and systems, the release said.

* * *

The Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center is expected to create thousands of jobs within 10 years, as the smart sensors market is forecast to grow to $154 billion globally. Prior to getting Argonne as a partner, ICAMR also partnered with Harris Corp.

Not a big grant but a promising research area.  Too bad it is not here.

Fine Tuning Hype

We do not often delve into straight up politics, and we aren’t going to do it now.  However, we do often comment on the excessive use of hype (any use is excessive, really).  Nevertheless, if you are going to do it, you may as well do it well, which is why a recent article on entitled “Why people fall for bullshit, according to a scientist” was so interesting (see here).

Here are some of the highlights:

Brian Resnick: What is bullshit?

Gord Pennycook: Bullshit is different from nonsense. It’s not just random words put together. The words we use have a syntactic structure, which implies they should mean something.

The difference between bullshit and lying is that bullshit is constructed without any concern for the truth. It’s designed to impress rather than inform. And then lying, of course, is very concerned with the truth — but subverting it.

This is an excellent point. But how do you put it into practice?

BR: Let’s say I’m interested in becoming a better bullshitter. What are some principles I should follow?

GP: A good way to do it is insert a lot of buzzwords and be vague.

If you say something direct, the people who agree with you will like it and the people who don’t won’t like it. But if you say something vague, people will bring what they think it means to it. And then everyone will like it — if you hit the perfect spot.

And there you have it.  Sound like you are saying something profound that most people want without actually saying anything substantive at all.  Remember, use some big words and appeal vaguely to noncontroversial desires – say “reducing congestion” or “economic development” (or calling buses on the interstate “fixed guideway”) – without really saying how, when, how much it will cost or if there is a hope in hell of actually doing it. Even better is throwing in some vaguely defined stats that are not easily checked by the casual reader or listener.

And remember, practice makes perfect.

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