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Roundup 1-19-2018

January 19, 2018


Economic Development – Amazon

Transportation – Waiting for the Bus

Built Environment – Is This the Measure of Walkable, Cont.

Westshore – Doing Their Job

South Tampa – It Begins

Downtown – Not So Quiet on the Railroad Front

Built Environment – Bury That

Economy – Wages

St Pete – Sometimes You Just Wonder

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


Economic Development – Amazon

On Thursday, Amazon released its list of the 20 finalists out of 238 applications for its second headquarters.  Because, aside from a minimum population, there really was no limit to who could apply, making the finalist cut as close as you can get to being invited to the game. Here they are:

From Amazon – click on map for website

Some are completely expected like all the cities in the Northeast, Toronto, Atlanta, LA, Chicago, and Dallas.  We also expected Austin, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Denver because they were obvious usual suspects/known tech cities.  Miami made the cut which is not that surprising.  Some, however, were a bit surprising, like Nashville, Indianapolis, and Columbus.

We did not expect to get Amazon’s HQ2, but not making the finalist cut while some of these other cities did is quite disappointing.  As benchmarking exercise, it also shows the work we have to do relative to our competition.

Transportation – Waitingfor the Bus

Last week, we noted that the Regional Transit Study is going to apparently propose some fashion of bus system along the I-275 corridor as the main regional transit solution.  That was not surprising to us.  Equally unsurprising was the continued slow roll out of the idea in the local media to prepare the ground for the idea (which is the usual method of presenting plans in this area).  While the actual findings will not be out until after this is posted, let’s look at some more of the discussion that was featured to see what we can divine.  First, from the Times:

. . . BRT supporters have a bold vision. They’re not talking about plopping county buses into everyday traffic and using the same, worn-down stops. No, they’re dreaming bigger. So big, in fact, they say they want to build something no one has seen before.

“We have to do it in a way that has a ‘wow factor’ and dispels everyone’s stereotype of a bus,” Homans said. “From what I can see, there is not a model in the U.S. that provides us an example of what we would want to emulate.”

Instead, Homans pointed to something Tampa Bay residents are familiar with: the automated people movers at Tampa International Airport.

“That is essentially a bus, but it feels like a form of light rail,” Homans said. “To me, that has to be our aspiration here.”

* * *

The ideal regional BRT system would feature covered stations with platforms, Homans said, where sliding glass doors open and people step from the platform onto the vehicles. The buses are expected to have a dedicated lane for a majority of the route, allowing them to bypass regular traffic. What constitutes a dedicated lane might change based on what portion of the 40-mile route people are using.

For example, BRT could use the managed express toll lanes planned for the new Howard Frankland Bridge while crossing the bay. Once it hits the West Shore area, it might travel in its own lane along the expansive median of I-275 — which has been set aside as a transit corridor — until it reaches downtown Tampa. On other parts of the interstate, it could use the shoulder or breakdown lane, a concept that transit agencies have used in cities like Chicago.

The vehicles might not even look like traditional buses. Instead, they could be smaller, more agile vehicles.

“I think the idea is to get vehicles that don’t look like your standard bus, that have more of a rail feel to them, but the technology is still rubber tire,” Kriseman said. “So you’re kind of combining the feel of rail with the cost and flexibility of BRT.”

That system would ideally be able to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology in the future.  

Once again, we are hampered by a lack of detail (though one has to assume the people speaking have some of the information, though it is possible they are speculating), but we’ll deal with what was said.

First, the people mover at the airport does have rubber tires, but it is also on fixed guideway.  It is not “mostly” in a dedicated lane.  It is completely in a dedicated right of way, not in express lanes or traffic.  And, yes, as far as large transit systems, there is nothing like the people mover in the US (for a number of reasons we won’t count the Jacksonville Skyway, Miami Metromover, Morgantown Personal Tranist thingy or Las Colinas), as far as we know. But there is something rubber tired but like a regular train in Canada – the Montreal metro. But, as the name implies, that is a metro system.

Second, a dedicated lane is a dedicated lane. In other words, a dedicated lane is a lane only used by the transit system.  It is not a lane shared with other traffic (which includes express lanes), and it is not a shoulder that is used at rush hour but not at other times (by definition, if it is truly dedicated, it is no longer a shoulder).  It is not an express bus.  And it is not in the street and traffic when it gets to an urban area.

Third, yes, there are doors one has to go through to get on vehicles, whether there are a set at the station as well is immaterial.

We would be perfectly fine with the Montreal metro, or even a big automated system like the airport people mover.  However, because neither one is BRT and both have fully dedicated rights of way and fixed guideways, we seriously doubt that is what the proposal will be (and, given the guideways, we doubt either would be considered is “agile”).

Which brings us to a Business Journal article.  It tells us much of the same as the Times, except it gets closer to simply describing express buses.

. . . the plan won’t answer bigger questions like what the system will look like and, more importantly, how to pay for it.

“What we’ll probably do is look at it county by county,” said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller. “We can see how we might be able to maximize our existing resources.”

* * *

Plans to replace the Howard Frankland Bridge in 2020 also make regional BRT a feasible option.  That plan includes two express lanes in each direction that could be used for BRT.

Miller said that would be a big part of making regional BRT work, but details about where to let buses on and off the lanes would still have to be worked out.  That, he said, would likely be near key business centers like the Gateway area in Pinellas County and Westshore and downtown Tampa on the Hillsborough side.

Setting aside the lack of details, like where it will go, and the complexities of doing it county-by-county, that sounds like express buses for commuters (hopefully it will actually connect to where people live so they can use it to get to said business centers).

And, aside from having tires, it is not is like the people mover at the airport.  But more importantly, from all the description so far, it does not seem like a real transit system.

And here is the kicker:

It’s too soon to tell how much a regional BRT line would cost.  That would depend on how much build out was necessary and the design configured stops along the route.  But it is believed to be much cheaper than light rail, which would require all new infrastructure.

Two things.  First, if what the report provides really does lack information on costs, routes, stops, etc., it will not be a plan, it will be much more of a vague idea.  Second, if they do not know how much it will cost, they do not know how much cheaper it is than rail.  Third, if it is real BRT in really dedicated lanes, it would require all new infrastructure (which, if the report holds to the quote, makes it clear that, whatever it is, it isn’t even that).

So while we actually agree with this:

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

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

Unfortunately, nothing said so far leads us to think it will be “gold standard” BRT.  (If it is the “gold standard,” fully using truly dedicated lanes, there are questions of long-term operating and capital cost. See “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” and, regarding a report that probably will sound very similar to this one, “Transportation – More Muddle.” And, in any event, however much it costs, it will have to be paid for, but that will be another discussion.)

And then there is the more general issue of sales pitches.  We remember the not-so-long ago sales pitches for MetroRapid, which was held out as BRT (see here, here, and pages 11 and 13 here) with comments like this:

“MetroRapid will have special stations, off-bus fare collections at the largest stations to speed boarding, special branding and marketing and ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) features, including technology to shorten red traffic signals and extend green lights,” Hale said.


County Commissioner Sandy Murman is a member of HART’s board of directors.

“We’ll really send a message that riding the bus is a cool thing to do,” Murman says. “And I think it just sends a message to our community that we are really solving our transportation issues.”

(See more here) MetroRapid is fine for what it is, which is what a normal bus service should be with decent bus stops rather than ratty benches without a connecting sidewalk (like many, though certainly not all,  HART stops), but it is not “premium” transit.

So we will have to see what is actually be proposed (maybe we will learn the details, though the Business Journal article makes it seem like we won’t get much), but all indications are that it will be some sort of nice buses running mostly on express lanes, including probably north of downtown on I-275, and some fancy stops, including some elaborate ones to get people out of the middle of the interstate.

Of course, we do not exclude the idea that we can be surprised, but, as we said last week, we are cautiously pessimistic.

Built Environment – Is This the Measure of Walkable, Cont.

The Tampa Bay area has been a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists for a while.  That has led to a number of programs and policies to make it safer.  So how is that going?

Another year gone, another year that Tampa Bay was one of the most dangerous places in the country for those walking or riding their bikes.

More than 100 people were killed walking in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in 2017, according to state data.

In addition, 22 bicyclists died last year.

Those unofficial numbers are fairly consistent with Tampa Bay’s history of being several times more deadly for pedestrians than its peer metro areas.

* * *

Back in 2016, the seven most dangerous metro communities for pedestrians were all in the Sunshine State, according to the annual Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America.

That included the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, which was ranked seventh with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014.

The numbers didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017. Pinellas County saw a small drop, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. State numbers said 44 people were killed while walking in Pinellas in 2016, with that number dipping to 34 in 2017. Bicyclist deaths rose from 2 to 4 in the same time period.

However, Hillsborough County — the most deadly county in the region — saw identical numbers in 2016 and 2017, according to the state. In both years, a total of 50 pedestrians and 12 bicyclists were killed.

One could argue that there are more people, arguably more people walking and biking, so maybe the numbers are a slight improvement.  One could also argue that there was no improvement at all.  Regardless, it is not substantial improvement.

While Tampa Bay routinely hovers in the top 10 most dangerous cities for walking and biking. Peter Hsu, a safety engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation local office, did notice a new trend this year: about a third of pedestrian and bicyclists killed statewide in 2016, the most recent year of data, were intoxicated.

“That number really shocked me,” Hsu said. “We try to do these improvements. We do a lot of education, a lot of enforcement. But it’s a social issue, a human behavior issue. And that’s harder.”

Obviously, being intoxicated is not helpful for safety, but there are other problems.

There are a whole host of factors contributing to pedestrian deaths, including high speeds on area roads and limited cross walks. Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden, who oversees that county’s transportation planning, specifically noted that poor lighting is a major factor in pedestrian deaths.

In Hillsborough, she said the county, cities, state and Tampa Electric have partnered on initiatives to improve lighting along roadways and crosswalks.

* * *

Alden was not disheartened by the fact that Hillsborough’s numbers did not drop at all, despite concerted efforts to bolster pedestrian safety. That’s because the county has more drivers than ever before, the result of an improving economy and more people moving to the area.

“We’re facing kind of an uphill battle,” she said. “It’s great that the economy is coming along, but more people on the roads means more crashes, just statistically.”

One unmistakable rising contributor to serious crashes is distracted driving, Blanton said. In the age of technology, it seems everyone is glued to their phone. And that includes when they driving, walking or biking.

“It’s a hard thing to report, because there’s not always evidence of it,” Blanton said. “But we’re seeing a much greater incidence of distracted driving being a primary or secondary cause of a crash.”

And all that is true.  But the one factor that does not seem to be on the radar is how our area is built, namely, the actual buildings and areas in front of them are car focused.  And people have to drive everywhere.  That creates a situation where people are focused on getting where they are going (and getting a parking space when they get there, are frustrated by all the driving and all the other frustrated drivers, and are not paying attention to people walking and biking (and people walking or biking do unpredictable things because to walk or bike anywhere is not natural).  All you have to do is bike or walk around the area to witness people just not paying attention to pedestrians and cyclists or really thinking they might be there. (Note: driving around you see how useless the unprotected bike lanes are.  People drive into them all the time.)  As we said last year (see “Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?“):

It is far safer to walk in downtown than on SR60 in Brandon or Dale Mabry pretty much anywhere (or Henderson or most of Kennedy) – namely because it is planned and built in a more walkable way. While putting some paint on a road or a crosswalk in the middle of a vast, unbroken sprawl may be better than nothing, it will not change the overwhelmingly anti-walking and anti-biking design of the area overall (like the many neighborhoods without sidewalks, even within the cities and the countless subdivisions that have sidewalks that are only useful for a little exercise). There must be a much more comprehensive change to how things are planned and built.

The bottom line is that this area – as an area – still has not really chosen to make itself truly walkable or bikeable. There have been some moves, but they are limited geographically and in utility. It is a matter of choices, and, aside from pockets, the real choices still have not been made. (And it should not take people dying to get something done.)

Until our built environment is actually focused on people, as well as cars, and there are alternatives ways to get around, the problem will likely persist.

Westshore – Doing Their Job

We have previously discussed the proposed Publix for the Westshore lot where Sports authority used to be.  The plan was not very good, and certainly not in line with creating a walkable/bikable area.  City planning staff have now had their say, and it is interesting (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting the report):

Urban Design staff has reviewed the site plan, and associated documents, submitted and finds it INCONSISTENT with Westshore Overlay District Standards. The Overlay District sets forth standards to improve the mobility and aesthetic appearance of all roadways, by enhancing the public realm with specialty hardscapes, landscape and buffering. Enhanced pedestrian connections and increased public awareness of the Westshore District will assist in characterizing the district as a significant economic activity area with a development pattern dominated by a concentration of retail, business, high density residential and mixed-uses.

This site is located on West Kennedy Boulevard, which is a Regional Corridor. This site has pedestrian activity and activation along the south of the building. Ground floor activation should occur along the north of the building along Kennedy Boulevard, as encouraged in the Westshore Overlay District.

• Code section 27-238(4)(b) – At least fifty (50) percent of the ground level of all principal building façades(s) fronting and visible from a public right-of-way shall be constructed of transparent material. The western façade has no embellishment. Although this side is not on Kennedy Boulevard, it is highly visible.
• Code section 27-238(4)(c) – At least seventy (70) percent of continuous front façade that is oriented to and visible at ground level from public rights-of-way shall be embellished with doors, windows and other architectural features as methods to break large wall planes into smaller components.
• 27-238(g)(4)(o) All buildings shall have pedestrian access oriented toward the public sidewalk adjacent to the street. Entrance proposed on the North side of the building, on Kennedy Boulevard? Please note staff will not support a waiver to this requirement.

• Waiver #2 – Please explain the reason for this waiver, there appears to be an existing 6’ masonry wall along the south. Is the intention to demolish the wall and replace with a fence?
• Waiver #3 – Amend note to read reduce required sidewalk from 10’ to 5’ along the north (Kennedy Boulevard).
• Waiver #4 – Amend note to read reduce required sidewalk from 6’ to 0’ along South Gardenia Avenue. Please note, staff will not support this waiver request.

Comment: One waiver justification is to promote pedestrian access to the front or south side of the store which faces the local neighborhood, but there is a waiver to not provide a continuous sidewalk along Gardenia, which leads to the residential neighborhood. Staff will not support this request.

In summary, staff did their job and said this proposal does not comply with the Westshore plan.  It doesn’t address the main street, Kennedy, enough.  It does not even address the side street.  Basically, they are saying that it is just not good enough.  And it isn’t.

It is heartening to see staff stand up for what should be.  The real question, now that staff has done their job, is whether elected officials will stand with the staff or will settle.

South Tampa – It Begins

The large Westshore Marina District has broken ground, at least on parts of it.

Construction crews are breaking ground on the second largest new development in Tampa.

Dubbed the Westshore Marina District, the series of high rise condo towers, apartment buildings, townhomes will include retail shops and waterfront restaurants.

* * *

Already visible to drivers on Gandy is the wood framework for the new Town Westshore Marina Apartments.  It’s one of the two apartment complexes which will eventually surround a massive parking garage hiding it from view.

There will also be two separate townhouse projects, with plans for a grand total of as many as 1,500 new housing units throughout the entire development.

As for the centerpiece:

At the center of it all will be Marina Pointe, a series of three 16-story condominium towers overlooking Tampa Bay.

“You can see St. Pete and you can see downtown Tampa,” said Daniel of the view overlooking Tampa Bay.

Crews will break ground on the first tower this fall, with the sales gallery set to open next month.  

We assume that condo building start date is contingent on sales, but we like the ambition.  If you forgot what this is all about, here is a rendering:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

While we are not so pleased with the connection to Gandy (and the surface parking lots there), the main part of the project looks promising and should change the area for the better.  However, there is still the open question of people getting in and out of the project to access the nice amenities inside.

Downtown – Not So Quiet on the Railroad Front

A while back, the City sought to create a railroad quiet zone downtown so that the growing number of residents would not be subject to train horns at all hours, which is reasonable (though one wonders a bit about the soundproofing of the windows in new buildings).  Well,

Early last year, Tampa officials thought they had an agreement to pay CSX $3.2 million to install gates and flashing lights on nine streets with railroad crossings: Florida Avenue, Doyle Carlton and Ashley drives, and Tampa, Franklin, Marion, Morgan, Pierce and Jefferson streets.

By stopping traffic, the gates would allow CSX engineers to go through downtown without the warning blasts that federal regulations otherwise require as they approach ungated crossings. Without the gates, engineers have to sound their horns 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a public crossing, day or night, as they do now.

The $3.2 million agreement was based on preliminary design work that CSX had done. But in late summer, more detailed estimates came out showing it would cost $3.6 million just to reconfigure electrical conduits and do related work at the crossings.

By late October, McDonaugh said CSX told city officials that the project cost would top $7 million and could be more if other unforeseen circumstances arose.

Why the increase?

But CSX said in a statement released through media relations manager Laura Phelps that “the preliminary cost projections for the city of Tampa’s quiet zone project were based on similar quiet zone projects CSX has completed in other areas of its network.

“These were estimated costs,” the company’s statement said, and that was spelled out in the construction agreement the City Council approved last year. “Each quiet zone project across our network is unique and can differ according to variables such as geography/environment, power source availability and changes in scope or design.”

The company added: “After conducting preliminary engineering, the expected costs to construct a quiet zone in downtown Tampa increased significantly, and the city informed CSX of its decision to terminate the project.”

The Times article does not say what exactly led to the cost increase, just that CSX has the control and the City will not pay.  Consequently, we can’t really judge whether there is a legitimate reason for the increase (and who, if anyone, might be at fault) or it is just a case of CSX being CSX (see the streetcar).  In any event, it is unfortunate but not that surprising.

Built Environment – Bury That

Which leads to another interesting episode in corporate citizenship.  For years, when TECO was a local company, it maintained the overhead electric grid.  Not only did it maintain it, it expanded it without warning onto big poles in the front yards of houses on side streets.  It would have been really nice if they had spent that time and money burying power lines for aesthetic, safety, and emergency management reasons.  But they didn’t.  Now, TECO is owned by a Canadian company, with no long historical connection to this area.  Last week, the CEO of a new subsidiary of that company had some interesting things to say, from

. . . what Bennett said next was even more noteworthy: TECO must find a way to begin to install power lines underground.

Acknowledging that underground power lines will be expensive, Bennett told the crowd the technologies to put such systems below ground are better today than they were two decades ago, and will become better over the next two decades.

“My mission is to figure that out and find the cheapest way to put it underground,” he said.

After Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida in September, millions of Floridians lost power for days — some for more than a week — prompting calls from citizens (and some government officials) throughout the state, urging utilities to consider moving power lines underground.

Bennett pointed out his recent job change, becoming CEO of a Tampa startup called Emera Technologies, tasked with developing technologies to enhance the ability to put the power system underground and making them more resilient.

“Just because there’s a storm, even a hurricane, there’s no reason for the power to go out,” Bennett said.

That is great to hear (including the attitude).  Not only would it be better in a hurricane, it would look much better.  Hopefully, there will be follow-through. We know burying the power line is a long-term effort, but you have to start somewhere.

And add to that:

In total, TECO projects it will install 600 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic solar energy to its fleet, creating enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes. When complete, nearly 7 percent of TECO’s energy generation will come from the sun — a higher percentage of solar than any other Florida utility.

That is an equally laudable goal.  We just have to wonder why this is happening after TECO stopped being a locally owned company.

Economy – Wages

Last week, we discussed job growth and high wages jobs.  Coincidentally, the Times had an article on wages:

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had the highest year-over-year wage growth of Florida’s metropolitan hubs from 2007 to 2016. According to data released Thursday, Pinellas, which had the highest increase of any major county, jumped about 25 percent from $37,302 in 2007 to $46,496 in 2016. Hillsborough County rose just over 23 percent from $41,216 in 2007 to $50,768 in 2016.

* * *

Wages in Florida bumped up from $38,963 in 2007 to $46,346 in 2016.

Oddly, the information was not sourced, but, for the sake of discussion, we will go with it.  The growth numbers are good.  But how good? Let’s look at the Social Security Administration numbers for national averages:

2007       40,405.48
2008       41,334.97
2009       40,711.61
2010       41,673.83
2011       42,979.61
2012       44,321.67
2013       44,888.16
2014       46,481.52
2015       48,098.63
2016       48,642.15

We do not know if the collection of the stats are entirely comparable or about the numbers for 2017, but, just looking quickly, it appears that, over that time, Hillsborough has maintained wages a few percentage points over the national average (maybe increased it a bit), while Pinellas has stayed a few percentage points below, but probably narrowed the gap. (National growth between 2007 and 2016 was a little over 20%, but, as we said, we don’t know about 2017)

St Pete – Sometimes You Just Wonder

There was a really interesting article in the Times regarding sewage.  You may remember that St. Pete has had some issues with wastewater, storm runoff, and sewage.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city wants the state to change its environmental rules to make legal an illegal maneuver it has relied on a lot lately: flushing wastewater down into the aquifer.

The idea was proposed by a consulting firm the city is paying $4 million to create a master plan to guide revamping the sewage system and other water utilities.

Jacobs Engineering project manager Leisha Pica told the City Council on Jan. 4 that this could help improve St. Petersburg’s image after its mishandling of 1 billion gallons of sewage spilled during the 2015-16 sewage crisis.

Legalizing that tactic, she said, would give the city “operational flexibility.”

“It seems to be a better perception of the city’s management when you’re doing something that’s not a violation,” Pica said at the council meeting, using air quotes when she said “violation.”

“So that’s what we’re going for … It’s a perception of an approach.”

What does the State say?

The Tampa Bay Times asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection whether it would consider such a request.

The answer was an emphatic no.

Why is it illegal right now?

Injecting partly-treated sewage or “reject water” deep underground had been part of St. Petersburg’s approach for nearly half a century until the Environmental Protection Agency banned the practice in 2005, fearing that sewage pumped into the aquifer could seep into the drinking water supply.

During emergencies in recent years, the city opted to flush sewage underground rather than have it spill into local waterways or streets. The proposal seeks to make that policy legal.

City officials said that they would still alert the state whenever it flushed dirty wastewater into the aquifer. The change, they said, would be aimed at protecting plant operators from potentially losing their licenses.

And flushing sewage hundreds of feet underground into an oxygen-free environment poses far less risks than the alternatives, said Public Works spokesman Bill Logan.

“It would clean itself,” he said.

We are inclined to agree with this:

City Council vice chairman Steve Kornell questioned the city’s plan, saying it doesn’t make sense why the city would want legalize what is illegal.

“I don’t see why environmental regulations should change because you’re violating them,” Kornell said.

We get that St. Pete has some issues with wastewater that are politically messy and that fixing them will be expensive.  However, the real solution is to bite the bullet and fix them, not move the goalposts.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

In Charlotte:

The $1.1 billion light-rail extension will open for passengers on Friday, March 16 – on the same day the Spectrum Center hosts the NCAA basketball tournament, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced Monday night.

The Blue Line Extension will add 9.3 miles and 11 stations, from uptown to UNC Charlotte. The entire Blue Line will allow passengers to take a roughly 45-minute ride from Interstate 485 in south Charlotte to the university.

* * *

CATS hoped to open the extension in August. But the project was delayed, and CATS announced the new opening date of March in early 2018. The end of March is the transit system’s deadline with the federal government, which paid for half of the project’s construction costs.

Lewis said the project is still under budget.

Do with it what you will.


Roundup 1-12-2018

January 12, 2018


Transportation – On and On

— As Expected

— Gateway Express

— Pledge? What Pledge?


Airports – Records

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Special

Downtown – It’s Still Bad

Ybor City – Revving Up

Westshore – Tri-Pointe Thingy

Tampa Heights – Opening

West Tampa – Why You Don’t Need to Settle

Economic Development – Checking in with VC

Economy – On Jobs

Port – More Cuba

Built Environment – Bayshore Not So Beautiful


Transportation – On and On

Well, it is a new year, but our issues are pretty much the same, including, of course, transportation.

— As Expected

Back in October, we discussed the Premium Transit study, which is a study of studies. (See “Transportation – All Those Ideas: — About Studying Transit”)  At the time, the study had ranked the options for regional transit, ranking light rail along the I-275 corridor first and some sort of bus service along the same corridor second.  It also noted that Hillsborough and Pinellas favored light rail, with Pasco favoring buses.  Pinellas had the buses third.  Hillsborough had no buses in the top three.

At that point, they were only ranking preferences.  Everything was still open to change. We wrote, with a quote from a Times article:

Frankly, we did not expect the results to be anything other than the highest ranked alignments, though we would not have been surprised if buses came first (nor would be surprised if buses end up being the top ranked idea when all is said and done for political reasons).

For now, the second highest-rated project was a “rubber tire” option — such as bus or self-driving vehicles — with its own dedicated lane along that same I-275 route. Instead of sitting in traffic and facing the same slow downs as those in their cars, these vehicles would run in exclusive lanes meant for transit.

This option could be incorporated into the state’s Tampa Bay Next plan to add express toll lanes to the region, meaning drivers who opted to pay a fluctuating toll could also use that lane.

Buses, autonomous or normal, have always been a justification for express lanes. That is not going to change.

And it hasn’t changed. This week we learned from a Times article:

Transit leaders appear ready to scrap their dream of building a light rail line connecting Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in favor of a bus rapid transit system that would run alongside Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel to Tampa to St. Petersburg.

Also known as BRT, the plan to bring that form of transit to the bay area is being drawn up by Jacobs Engineering, which was hired to conduct a regional study of premium transit options that can one day become a reality.

The plan will be unveiled to the public at the Jan. 19 meeting of the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group (TMA), a group of political and transportation leaders from the three counties. But the planners said they could not discuss the details before next week’s public meeting.

However, they’ve already started explaining the plan to public officials. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said they were recently briefed on the 40-mile bus route that has emerged as the lead option from that ongoing regional transit study. 

Because there are no details, we will refrain from getting into the plan (or quotes) much further, except this:

The buses are expected to have a dedicated lane for at least a majority of the route, allowing them to bypass regular traffic. And they might not even look like traditional busses, Cohen said, instead favoring smaller or more agile vehicles.

“I think the idea is to get vehicles that don’t look like your standard bus, that have more of a rail feel to them, but the technology is still rubber tire,” Kriseman said. “So you’re kind of combining the feel of rail with the cost and flexibility of BRT.”

That system would ideally be able to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology in the future. However, those details and many others, including the cost to build and maintain such a system, are still being worked out.

First, smaller than traditional buses is not anything like rail.  Second, we have been on some of the signature BRT routes in the US, and, regardless of whether you favor BRT or not, it does not have the “rail feel”; it is like riding a nice bus (not to mention all the potential issues if, and it is still if, it is in the middle of the interstate).  Third, while it is not clear, if they run in express lanes, they will not be dedicated lanes, they will be in lanes with other traffic.  Fourth, “at least a majority of the route” in dedicated lanes does not sound promising if it is to be real BRT.

We have not seen the plan, but the bus selection was predictable. Whether it is something promising or just the old express bus plan repackaged and with a new sales pitch (as we have noted before, express buses have a place in a system but are inadequate as its core), we shall have to see next Friday. We are cautiously pessimistic.

— Gateway Express

Gateway Express is getting under way.  From ABC Action News:

A major construction and reconstruction project is starting this year in the Gateway area of Pinellas County that will not only change the landscape but impact people’s daily drive to and from Hillsborough County.

Right now crews are installing orange construction signs alerting drivers they are entering a construction zone as well as doing temporary barrier wall work ahead of the groundbreaking.

The Gateway Expressway, in a nutshell, will allow drivers to travel, with no traffic signals, between US 19 and I-275 and between the Bayside Bridge and I-275. It will allow drivers to bypass congested surface streets by taking tolled express lanes. . .

* * *

The project includes two new 4-lane elevated tolled roadways connecting US 19 and I-275 and between the Bayside Bridge and I-275. Also, I-275 will be widened to add one toll lane in each direction in the median next to the existing freeway lanes from south of Gandy Boulevard to the Howard Frankland Bridge. Another component of the Gateway Expressway is to reconstruct existing Roosevelt Boulevard from the Bayside Bridge to Ulmerton Road and reconstruct sections of US 19 and 118th Avenue North, including new ramps and flyover structures.

* * *

The Florida Department of Transportation says the tolled lanes will be “static”, meaning the cost will remain the same at all hours. However, that is only true for the Gateway Expressway portion of the project.

First, we need to make something clear: unless FODT made changes without putting them on various websites, not all the tolled lanes mentioned will be static. As FDOT tells us in a website for which a link was provided in the news report:

All tolls will be collected electronically using the SunPass pre-paid toll program.

SR 690 and SR 686A Tolls
Tolling will be “static.” This means the cost will remain the same at all hours of every day.

I-275 Express Lanes
Tolling will be “dynamic.” Express lanes are dynamically priced to maintain steady traffic flow in the lanes.  Prices change based on the amount of traffic in the express lanes. With dynamic pricing, prices increase as the express lanes become more congested and decrease as congestion goes down. Dynamic pricing is designed to provide more predictable travel times, particularly during peak travel periods.

(Note that normal toll roads the boring “static” while roads while variable rate lanes where the cost can be excessive and which are built with the intent to not have most people drive in them are the positive “dynamic.”)

In other words, Gateway Express, meaning the part not on I-275, will be “static” tolls.  The lanes on I-275, which are really part of TBX, will be variable rate toll lanes.

We actually have no problem with the “static” toll roads, either as a concept or these specific roads.  Decent connections in central Pinellas are actually long overdue and a fixed toll road is a rational solution.  As for the variable rate lanes on the interstate, we oppose them for all the reasons we have laid out over the years.

— Pledge? What Pledge?

The Times came out with two editorials on transportation. The first editorial involves the County Commission.

The 2018 to-do list spelled out by members of the Hillsborough County Commission is a heartening one.

Transit, economic development, jobs, stormwater drainage, affordable housing, reviving the Museum of Science and Industry.

The informal priority list came in response to an end-of-the-year question to each of the seven commissioners from Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times. Only Ken Hagan failed to respond; he’s had little to say to reporters since October when he announced a preferred Hillsborough County location for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium in case the team decides to move from St. Petersburg.

Aside from MOSI (and maybe affordable housing, though, with our incomes, probably not), in the last decade (or decades) when would that list be different? Anyway,

Three commissioners listed transit as a priority — the two Democrats, Les Miller and Pat Kemp, and Republican Chairwoman Sandy Murman. That all seven didn’t jump at the chance to shout, “Transit in 2018,” is cause for some concern. When they voted early last year to spend more than $800 million for roads over 10 years, it came with a somber pledge that they would follow up with money for mass transit.

Republican Commissioners Victor Crist, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham apparently need reminding of this.

Indeed.  All that is true, though based on the fact the list of priorities is quite static, not surprising.  The editorial then goes on a bit about some Commissioners who did not support the ill-fated and ill-conceived Go Hillsborough (we are not going to lament Go Hillsborough, but we do lament the complete lack of action after it and the lack of vision overall), but then moves to this:

Murman, another “No” vote on Go Hillsborough, has signalled that she at least understands the desperate need to find a mass transit plan worth supporting. She told Contorno she aims to unveil a proposal to fund the woefully inadequate bus system for three to five years and “get them really transformed.” Miller said commissioners might need to raise taxes. Kemp wants to spend county dollars on transit.

It’s all talk so far. And Go Hillsborough was three years of talk that produced nothing but frustration and serious doubts about whether this commission has the capacity to tackle the most pressing need facing the community.

Let’s be clear.  The Commission has the capacity to tackle the needs of the community.  The question is whether they have the will (simple answer: not so far), which becomes even more of a question given this:

Also coloring the county’s progress in 2018 will be an election that decides which commissioners remain in office. Term limits have made for a curious game of musical chairs: Four commissioners are up for re-election — Crist, Hagan, Murman and White — and all but White are attempting to move from their current district to another seat on the commission. Higginbotham will retire at the end of the year.

Setting aside that the musical chairs situation is completely contrary to the foundational idea of term limits, there is little to no evidence that the Commission does have the will (or incentive) to change. But hope springs eternal, we suppose:

Will the commissioner-candidates pander to the new electorate they need to engage? Will they take on projects that boost their profiles rather than serving their constituents? Will they spend more time campaigning than earning their near-six figure salaries?

Taking steps to improve mass transit in Hillsborough is really just a humble first step toward the comprehensive transportation plan that the Tampa Bay area needs. But as a 2018 priority for a county commission facing election, it holds promise as an action both vital and popular.

On past evidence, we’d be more inclined to answer the questions in first paragraph in the affirmative than think the Commission will do anything in the second paragraph.  Then again, as they say, past performance is not a guarantee of future returns or, in this case, past non-performance is no a guarantee of future failures.  It may not be a guarantee, but it is a cautionary tale.

In other words, could they move to start fixing transportation and planning?  Yes.  Will they? Let’s just say we have our doubts.


Last year the CEO of HART left for a job in Pittsburgh, where the local government cares about transit.  At the same time, one of the much hyped initiatives was the planned roll out of autonomous little buses downtown this month.

A highly touted autonomous shuttle project along the Marion Street Transitway won’t be ready by the NHL All-Star weekend at the end of the month, as previously planned.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the county’s bus agency, oversees the project. Problems arose with the contractor, Stantec, which didn’t meet certain requirements, HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said.

“They were not performing under the terms of the contract,” Morrison said. “The proposed cure was insufficient and they received a notice of termination.”

HART officials are working with Stantec to find a resolution. Morrison said the agency can’t comment further because of potential legal disputes.

Because we are not told what the problem really is and whether it is an issue with the contractor or the equipment, it is difficult to comment specifically, but it unfortunate.  In any event, it appears that even alternative technology using roads is subject to delays and other issues.

In more HART news,

As expected, the HART board also approved a list of $2.3 million worth of bus projects to supplement the roll out of Mission Max, a complete overhaul of the agency’s bus network.

The changes includes connections to the airport to Tampa International Airport and Tampa General Hospital, along with more frequent trips for some routes.

* * *

The changes depend on the approval of the Hillsborough County Commission, which is expected to discuss the plan Thursday. If the commission approves the list, those route additions can go into effect Feb. 25.

The intent of the additions is to add service where it is useful but was trimmed by the reorganization. Of course, if the system were properly funded, this would not be an issue.  And even if the Commission does approve the money, they should not be allowed to use that (or buses on the highway, see above) as a band-aid for the much broader failure of transportation (and planning). Even if we get buses on the highway, we will need a much more robust local bus system to get people to and from the connecting stops.

Airports – Records

This week the new Southwest nonstop between Tampa and San Diego began.  That comes as we learned this:

With the tune “Happy” playing, Tampa International Airport officials announced record passenger numbers of 19,624,284 for 2017 surpassing the old record that occurred a decade ago.

The new figure beats the previous record of 19,154,957 in 2007. “I got here in 2011 and we were in the bottom of a really deep recession. We lost 3 million passengers at that time,” said Joe Lopano, CEO of the airport. “We put together a strategy that was endorsed by this board to market aggressively and market smart to try to dig out of the hole.”

Part of that is an improved economy, but, while many will claim credit, the airport administration and the people with the original vision to drop the complacency of the past and get a new director who would market aggressively and take advantage of the situation deserve the credit. Hopefully, the good trends will continue.  Even at the airport, there is still much to be done (but at least the administration will be the first to say it).

And across the bay,

For the first time, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport surpassed 2 million passengers in a calendar year.

The new figure of 2,055,269 breaks the previous all-time passenger record for the third consecutive year, and represents the fifth year in a row that PIE has experienced double-digit growth. The year-end increase was 12 percent. PIE got a year-end boost when it saw its largest December ever with a monthly passenger increase of 17 percent over 2016. 

More people flying in and out of the area is good.  The one issue with St. Pete- Clearwater remains the fact that they are dependent on one airline.

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Special

The Water Street special district came up for a vote before the City Council this week. As you may remember:

Tampa City Council is expected to give its approval this week for a special district that would fund features of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development.

Strategic Property Partners, the group overseeing the development, filed a local bill with State Rep. Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) that would create the Water Street Tampa Improvement District.

In order for that bill to move forward in the Florida Legislature, Tampa City Council must approve a resolution supporting it. A measure doing that is on the board’s consent agenda Thursday. Items on consent are most often approved en masse without debate or discussion.

* * *

The special improvement district allows an appointed board to levy special assessments on commercial properties. The five-member board could also levy a millage rate up to one mil, which is $1 per $1,000 acres of assessed value. However, SPP Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jim Shimberg told the Tampa Bay Business Journal in November they would not be likely to use that authority because doing so would require a voter referendum.

SPP would have an outsized say in who controlled the special district because the group owns most of the property within the district and votes for board members would be given one per acre of land owned. As the dominant commercial space owner, SPP would pay most of the taxes collected through the special improvement district.

Money in the special improvement district would pay for things like transit, roads, parks and other public facilities.

At the time or writing, we did not have information whether it passed.  However, since it is unlikely the City Council would reject it (or almost anything SPP asked for), we’ll assume it passed unless told otherwise.

Downtown – It’s Still Bad

URBN Tampa Bay had a post this week of what appeared to be a new filing from HRI regarding their proposal for the City parking lot across from City Hall.  It is unclear if there were actually new renderings and/or proposals or whether the renderings were the old ones refiled as part of the process City Council set up for HRI to bring revisions.  In reality, we don’t care.  As we have said numerous times, none of the proposals has been good enough to justify selling this public land and, frankly, we are not even sure the last one with all the dead streetscapes is good enough for a private lot downtown.

Along that line, something URBN Tampa Bay wrote in another post regarding this Times article was right on point, so we’ll just put the whole thing:

While this is mostly a fluff piece, since it includes no actual proposed tower, we did want to point out one thing:

“Miami’s Related Group, one of Florida’s top developers, would like to build an “iconic’’ condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg, the company’s chairman and CEO says…

…”St. Petersburg has grown beautifully,’’ Related founder Jorge Pérez said Wednesday at the ground-breaking of a downtown apartment project. “It has the best of both worlds, an urban livability with museums and shops and all kinds of different restaurants, and it offers a mix of water views that is difficult to find.

“It’s got the perfect location and we want to do the most iconic building, world-class.’’”


The reason why it’s important for urban neighborhoods to have high development standards and be properly planned out is because it attracts more top-tier developments. This has a multiplying effect which makes the neighborhood even greater.

It’s why Tampa, for example, must have stricter development standards for projects such as HRI’s Hyatt project and Del Villar in the Channel District. Developers willing to build time-of-the-line developments are only willing to make that investment in well-designed neighborhoods. You must plan like you mean it.

When you compare Related’s output in Tampa vs. St. Pete it becomes clear. One planned like they wanted Related’s best developments, the other one approved Pierhouse and Crescent Riverwalk.

City Council take note.

Ybor City – Revving Up

While Ybor has been doing ok, it seems that it really may get going soon.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Demolition has started to make way for The Marti, and the developer has applied for a building permit. The Marti is a mixed use apartment project with 100 units and approximately 30,000 square feet of office, restaurant and retail space, including a rooftop bar area.

The project sits at 1205 East 8th Avenue in Ybor City.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see from the rendering, it will take up a full block and also face 7th Avenue.  Though the Marti could use more extensive awnings, we like that the project is breaks up the block with some variety.

And a couple of block away,

Las Novedades Hotel, first proposed back in 2014, has finally applied for a building permit. The project will sit at 1402 East 7th Avenue in Ybor City. The hotel will be 4 stories and feature 176 hotel rooms and a restaurant.


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

For the most part, we like both these projects, especially since they will bring more life to the heart of Ybor on 7th Avenue.  Apartments on the periphery of Ybor are fine.  We have nothing against them, but filling in the heart with positive development is really what we want to see.

Westshore – Tri-Pointe Thingy

In contrast to the Ybor projects, a different kind of project is moving forward in Westshore. From URBN Tampa Bay:

Phase 4 of Tripointe Plaza in Westshore has applied for a building permit. The building, to be located at the corner of Boy Scout and North Hesperides Street, is mixed-use with office and a restaurant on the 2nd story above parking and a retention pond. The developer actually added a floor of office recently. The original proposal was only 4 stories as opposed to being 5 stories now.



From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The earlier stages (here) included an office building, a parking garage, and, where a hotel was originally supposed to go, a one story restaurant (which, no matter how popular, is an underuse of the land).  Essentially, none of it is walkable.  The new phase sticks to that theme with parking and a retention pond underneath the building.  A retention pond? That is quite strange for an urban development.  One would think that a supposedly urban area would have urban drainage.  But anyway, that is only part of the problem.  The rendering does not even seem to have a front door facing the major road.

Westshore keeps building, which is good, but the form that the building takes continues to be a disappointment and contrary to the stated goal of making it a real urban neighborhood.

Tampa Heights – Opening

The first apartment building in the Heights development is opening next week:

The first residents will move into The Pearl, a new apartment building in Tampa Heights, early next week.

Residents will begin moving into the 314-unit Pearl, which includes 28,500 square feet of street-level retail space, this month, said Amanda Macko, the community manager.

* * *

SoHo Capital, the developer of the Heights, said in a news release that retail tenants in the Pearl will include “an Irish pub and boutique gym.”

We are happy that, after decades of talk about it, people will finally be living in a development on this land.  We look forward to future development, including Armature Works, whenever it finally opens.

West Tampa – Why You Don’t Need to Settle

There was interesting news from “north Hyde Park” this week.

Havana Square, a newly built apartment community in Tampa’s North Hyde Park, has been sold for more than $58 million.

Nashville-based Nicol Investment Co., which acquired Crescent Westshore in early 2017, was the buyer.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, based in Atlanta, built the 274-unit Havana Square. The purchase price breaks down to $212,000 per apartment. The units average 804 square feet, according to HFF LP, which announced the deal on Monday.

Pollack Shores broke ground on Havana Square in 2015, pegging total development costs around $45 million. Havana Square was the second phase of a large multifamily project; Pollack Shores sold off the first phase, NoHo Flats, for $57.25 million or $184,084 per apartment in 2014.

We don’t really care about the flipping of the project.  That is part of business.  What we do care about is that Havana Square is the “second phase” of NoHo Flats.  Notably, NoHo Flats (the first phase) was also flipped for a tidy sum.  However, Havana Flats is built is a much more urban way, with hidden parking garages, as opposed to NoHo Flats. (see here) You may remember that NoHo Flats was supposed to have garages, but the developer claimed the market did not support parking garages and requested surface parking. As we quoted from a 2012 Tribune article the link for which is now dead:

“It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking,” he said.

(See “Tampa – the Same DNA”) It was wrong then (and it’s wrong now), but the City Council bought it.  Looking around that area, the developer’s claim was obviously not true – especially since a year after finishing the first (and three years after saying the above) the same developer, Pollack, built the second phase with garages. But the City settled, and it likely will be a while before those surface lots go away.

Economic Development – Checking in with VC

It’s time to check in with venture capital. Per the Business Journal, in 2017, the Tampa Bay area received a five-year high of $188.42 million out of a national total of $84 billion. It is a good thing that VC in this area increased, though it has to be noted that one company received $75 million of that.  It’s still good.  On the other hand, our portion was about .22 % of VC for about .9% of the national population.

Economy – On Jobs

We all know our population is growing and unemployment is low.  Those are good things.  In fact, the most recent Milken Institute report found this, from the Business Journal:

New jobs from Amazon and a talent pipeline from the University of South Florida helped push the Tampa metropolitan area to the No. 15 spot on the Milken Institute’s 2018 index of best-performing cities in the United States.

* * *

Florida metros claimed six of the top 15 spots this year, as their economies hit their stride a little later than other regions of the country, Milken said. The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro was the highest-ranked Florida metro, at No. 6, followed by Orlando at No. 7.

The ranking rise is good news.  However, it seems from the more detailed information, that job growth was basically the reason this area was ranked that high (and that probably applies to all of Florida). Looking at the report (here ), we see our ranking in the various categories:

JOB GROWTH (2011-16) 33RD

JOB GROWTH (2015-16) 20TH

WAGE GROWTH (2010-15) 56TH

WAGE GROWTH (2014-15) 39TH

SHORT-TERM JOB GROWTH (8/2016-8/2017) 17TH





Specifically, it seems that short-term job growth was the real boost (it certainly wasn’t high tech jobs).  That makes what kind of jobs those are very important. So it was helpful that the Times had an article this week that told us this:

Florida may have an enviable unemployment rate these days. But when it comes to high-paying jobs, the Sunshine State’s economy inspires less jealousy.

In the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for “Best Jobs of 2018” released Wednesday, Florida’s metropolitan areas failed to crack the top 50 hubs for jobs that offer good salaries, future opportunities and work-life balance.

The report ranked 206 regions — and the Tampa Bay area clocked in at No. 117.

The metro areas were ordered based on their concentration of “best” jobs. Naples was the highest-ranking Florida region at No. 55, a far cry from the California-dominated top five. San Francisco claimed the No. 1 spot.

Even more interesting here is how we compare in Florida:

Best-paying Florida regions

55. Naples
77. West Palm Beach
85. Cape Coral
97. Jacksonville
101. Miami
116. Tallahassee
117. Tampa
178. Orlando

That does not mean that, as an individual, one might not make a very nice living here.  Many do.  And the job growth is good.  But simply saying we have more jobs will not get us where we need to be.  While we have progressed relative to ourselves, we still have some way to go.

Port – More Cuba

Apparently, the Cruises to Cuba are doing well.

The cruise line is upgrading its service from Port Tampa Bay with a larger vessel that will accommodate more than 500 additional passengers during the 2018 summer season. In the summer of 2017, Royal Caribbean sailed Empress of the Seas from Tampa to Cuba, which carries 1,602 guests.

This coming summer, Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, which carries 2,350 guests, will call from Port Tampa Bay. This is the second summer in a row Royal Caribbean will offer cruises to Cuba out of Tampa.

* * *

The ship, Majesty of the Seas, will offer four-and-five-night itinerariesto [sic] Havana that include day and overnight stays, departing from Port Tampa Bay from April to October 2018. All sailings to Cuba will offer shore excursions for passengers that comply with the people-to-people educational exchange activities requirement set in federal regulations. 

More business is good.  It does not solve long-term cruise issues (which are illustrated by some of the new ships going to other Florida ports this year – see here), but it is definitely welcome.

Built Environment – Bayshore Not So Beautiful

We often say that the built environment could be made much better without much work.  Driving down Bay-to-Bay a while ago, we noticed something that kind of illustrates the point.  Needless to say that Bayshore is the signature road in Tampa.  As such, there should be some solid oversight into designs, especially big projects that will be with us of a while.  One recent addition was the Aquatica condo building.  One could say the building is a bit squat, but we’ll set that aside.  We noticed something much simpler to fix.  Take a look at this Google Street View of the building from Bay to Bay. It is not quite as clear and prominent as it appears in real life, but the lump on the roof on the left side appears to be HVAC equipment, sitting high, proud, lumpy and not centered on the roof – fully exposed to view.

Now, we get that such equipment must go somewhere and that often it is on the roof, but it does not have to be raised high on a platform for all to see (and not even centered).  There are various ways to mask it effectively.  It would take basically no effort to do so.  The only reason it is like it is now is because it can be.  It just does not have to be this way.  We can do much better with basically no effort other than caring.

Roundup 1-5-2018

January 5, 2018


Downtown – Make It a Truly New Year

— One More Thing

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown – Maybe This Year

Downtown – Of Courthouses and Considerations

Westshore – Building Jobs

West Tampa-ish – St. Joes

Outback Bowl – Odd

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


Downtown – Make It a Truly New Year

As we start the new year, we return to an issue from the end of the last one.  A few weeks ago, we posted our comments on the latest proposal for the sale of the City parking lot next to City Hall to HRI of New Orleans.  We opposed it.  So what happened? From URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The Tampa City Council just voted 4-2 to proceed with HRI’s Hyatt proposal on several conditions. This is how it will work:

HRI Properties plans to submit their proposal package tomorrow. The proposal package of course is the awful proposal that they had already proposed. Over the next month and a half HRI will work with city staff to improve the plans and then present the plans to the Tampa City Council on February 15. At that meeting the Tampa City Council will determine if they wish to proceed to closing on the land transaction or not, which would happen shortly after the February 15th meeting.

This is a big win for us that the project has to go before the city council again with a more concrete proposal. HRI was in essence trying to have its cake and eat it too: they wanted to get the land before having to set any development proposal in stone, and the city council rightfully told them no.

Council members Mike Suarez and Guido Maniscalco voted against the motion, in effect attempting to kill the whole project. Councilwoman Capin was absent.

That is a good thing.  At least for now the project is stopped.  However, it leaves the door open to the problematic sale still going forward, especially since the City Council has historically deferred to the administration far too much.  While many of the complaints about the sale in the most recent City Council hearing involved specifics of the latest proposal, to us there is a bigger question.

But first, let’s look at the Times report on the Council meeting about the most recent proposal:

The city owns the block, currently a parking lot, and agreed a year ago to sell it to New Orleans-based development firm HRI Properties. It offered the highest price in recent memory for a downtown block, $7.5 million, but now wants to change the project from its initial proposal.

Instead of 223 apartments and a 225-room Hyatt Centric hotel, the building will include no apartments and two adjoining hotels — an extended stay Hyatt House and a Hyatt Place, both slightly lower on the chain’s quality scale.

The amount of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor of the building has been decreased, but only slightly, HRI and city officials said. 

Except HRI and the Administration counted space inside the building, not necessarily facing the street.  But anyway,

HRI officials and the city staff, which recommended approving the changes, said they resulted from the recent influx of apartment projects downtown, which have saturated the market.

They said the architectural renderings that drew criticism from the council and members of the public aren’t an accurate depiction of what the final design may be.

Unsaid is that, if it approved the sale, the Council would never see the project again.  Approval of the “final” version would be left to the administration which supported the quite bad second proposal in the first place.

City economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh said the critics “were looking at something that hasn’t been refined or improved” and didn’t include architectural details.

If it wasn’t ready, it should not have been brought before the Council.  But setting that aside, there were some interesting moments at the Council meeting, the most interesting of which was when the HRI spokesperson explained that the market now did not support apartments.

HRI officials and the city staff, which recommended approving the changes, said they resulted from the recent influx of apartment projects downtown, which have saturated the market.

One Councilman was very baffled by that explanation since the new and proposed apartments have been known about for quite some time.  It is not like apartment construction in downtown snuck up on anyone.  (And the proposed building was not just downsized, it was made even uglier and less pedestrian friendly than the first proposal.)

Another speaker, from the hotel association, said that Tampa really needed hotels in this price point.  And it may, but that is an argument for building a hotel downtown somewhere, but not specifically this on this centrally located, publicly owned lot.  Someone else tried to say this proposal was transit friendly because it had a charging station on Marion Street.  And HRI said that a small sidewalk area near the very large (almost a block long) drive/drop-off was called a plaza.

But enough of that.  The problems go beyond having a dead streetscape on Kennedy.  Let’s get to the real point. No one could answer the most important question – why sell this property to a private developer now, for this?

We oppose the sale because this is quite clear: If, at this time with these market conditions, the best use of such a prime lot is a moderately sized, moderately priced hotel in a bland, not very tall and not architecturally interesting (neither was the first one, which was trashed by a proponent of the new design) building, that is a pretty good sign that this is not the time to sell the lot.

HRI commented:

“Judging it by the low-resolution conceptual renderings as if they were final plans does the project a disservice,” Collen responded.

Once again, then the developer did themselves a disservice because they produced the renderings.  But setting that aside, we are not judging the proposal just by the most recent rendering.  We are judging it by the question above.  Why sell at all? There are projects on private land and abundant other lots to develop into hotels. In fact, a hotel project in a similar service level just got underway in the Channel District, and the Aloft repurposing was a private project. Why the rush to get rid of public land?

In this new year, downtown is (potentially) on the cusp of real change.  That real change should be reflected fully in the City government’s attitude.  Don’t settle.  Neither of the two proposals put forward by HRI should be on this land.  They should be on private land.  Hold the public land in trust for the future.

— One More Thing

For those who need a Whopper, the Burger King right at the Jefferson exit downtown and right across from Perry Harvey Park which many thought was a joke has actually opened.  It just goes to show how much work Tampa still has to do. (Though at least we are not completely alone in our silliness though ours is very recent and downtown.)

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

URBN Tampa Bay reported recently,

Feldman Equities, LLC has applied for a foundation building permit for their mixed use 52 story project! The project’s stats have been updated. The residential unit count is now 220 units, up from the previous plans of 214 units. The retail space has been significantly bumped up to 33,070 square feet, from 16,500. The office space has been reduced from 178k square feet to 155k.

It is certainly an interesting development.  We are happy about the retail increase.  We are fine with the residential increase.  The office space does not bother us, though, with other things, it makes us wonder about the strength of that market generally, and why it is not stronger.

And their analysis got it right:

This is significant because this is an application for a foundation building permit. These permits have 6 month lifes from the time of application so unless they end up just wasting their time, money and effort to get through the permitting process here, they must begin work on their foundation before June 19th, 2018. This basically means they are on track to break ground in the first half of 2018.

While there is no guarantee they will actually start on time, at least it shows promise.  We have still not seen an official rendering, which is a bit odd, but, presumably, one will be coming soon if they actually plan to start the project in 2018. Interestingly, on SkycraperCity, there was some discussion of a drawing:

From drob44 at SkycraperCity – click on link for post

This may or may not be a rendering (old or recent) of the project.  It has not been authenticated.  Interestingly, it does fit the foot print but lacks some things, like a bridge (though, as we always note, renderings are often not accurate).  We’ll just say that if, hypothetically, someone were to be planning a building, we would like to see the garage better integrated with the building than shown in this rendering.  Other than that, we’ll just wait for official renderings to come out and hope they break ground this year.

Downtown – Maybe This Year

There was vague news of sorts about the long discussed AER Residences in Tampa.

Robertson said the company has received approvals from the city and plans to start construction late this year on both the St. Petersburg tower and AER Tampa, a 34-story, 272-unit apartment building on Cass Street near the David S. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Both project sites for AER — which stands for Arts and Entertainment Residences — have had their issues. The Tampa project was first announced in 2013, but concerns about its effect on traffic flow and the center’s performance schedule have delayed groundbreaking.

You may remember this project looked like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside the aesthetics, this project has been out there for quite a while with a couple of developers.  If it gets done, great, but we are not going to hold our breath and there are other projects downtown to focus on for now.

Downtown – Of Courthouses and Considerations

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

If you’ve ever had business in criminal court in Hillsborough County, you’ve probably been to the Courthouse Annex.

* * *

The annex is where criminal justice happens in Tampa. It has structural, technological and security deficiencies. And it needs to be replaced.

That’s the conclusion of a little-noticed report that detailed problems with the annex and offered a blueprint for what a new courthouse would look like and two possible locations for it.

One problem: the price tag.

Cost estimates range between $200 million and $300 million.

That’s on top of what is still owed on the George Edgecomb Courthouse, the more modern facility that houses family and civil court directly north of the annex. That debt isn’t scheduled to be paid off until 2026.

The situation frustrates those who oversee the local court system. For them, the annex is barely adequate. Forget about ideal.

Actually, the annex is not just inadequate; it is embarrassing and another example of Hillsborough County not planning for the future.  Before the Edgecomb Building was built, the courthouse complex was already a mess.  Instead of building a solution had built in expansion possibilities, there was a half solution (aside from the statue in the front which seems to miss the symbolism of Lady Justice, Edgecomb is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough at all).

Hillsborough Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta has seen newer facilities in places like Orlando and Jacksonville. He envisions a courthouse with a modern design, technology and security.

But he knows it’s a long way off.

Let’s look at some dates: Edgecomb building – 2000, Orange County – 1997  (Note, unlike Hilsborough County, Orange County reused rather than destroyed its historic courthouse.  Of course,  Hillsborough put its old Courthouse on the County logo before replacing it with something that really does not have any meaning at all), and New Duval County courthouse – 2012.  Again, setting dates aside, the courthouse problem is not news (nor was it when the Edgecomb building was being planned):

There has been talk of new court facilities for decades. In 1993, a study concluded the annex didn’t have “the best circulation system to separate the public, staff, and criminal defendants; however, it was acceptable.”

In the years that followed, the county’s population grew and case dockets swelled. The county spent millions on renovations — new carpets, new paint, new courtrooms in places that were once offices. In 2000, they also built the Edgecomb Courthouse.

In 2015, the Administrative Office of the Courts compiled a Facilities Improvement Study. Its purpose, Ficarrotta said, was to put the idea for a new courthouse on the public radar.

The 58-page report summarized the findings of several working groups that included judges, law enforcement, county architects and others.

“Today after more than 50 years from the initial construction of the South Annex building and the expansions that followed, the Courthouse Annex has surpassed its maximum capacity,” the report states, “and it can no longer function to meet today’s functional requirement or future growth needs.”

Among the deficiencies identified:

So we know there is a problem. Assuming money was ever found, where would a courthouse go?

The 2015 study identified two possibilities for a new court location. One was downtown, likely on land immediately east of the annex.

That option would still require jail inmates to be transported several miles each day. Another issue: The area sits in a hurricane evacuation zone.

The other option was 10 miles east, on a tract adjacent to the Falkenburg Road Jail. A move there would require that the offices of the Clerk of Court, State Attorney and Public Defender move east, as well, adding to the expense. The location also is inconvenient for people who rely on public transportation.

We favor a normal location, which is downtown – and with a plan for future expansion.  But, of course, you need money.

We are all for cutting taxes or keeping them low.  But sometimes, you need to actually pay for things (police, fire departments, courts, transportation), and that requires tax money.  There is no merit in a government cutting taxes if it fails to provide for the needs of the people and proper, good government.

Westshore – Building Jobs

There was news this week that PWC will be expanding in the Westshore area.

PricewaterhouseCoopers will be the anchor tenant and bring 350 new jobs to a 250,000-square-foot building to be erected next to the company’s existing offices in the MetWest complex on Boy Scout Boulevard in the West Shore business district.

One of the Big Four auditors, PwC already has approximately 3,000 employees locally. . .

First, that’s a lot of employees already here and it is good to get more jobs.  Second, the MetWest complex is getting quite built up.  We will not say built out because there is a lot of wasted space in its office park design that points out the major problem with Westshore.  We are all for the development and Westshore is clearly an attractive location geographically in the region and in terms of proximity to the airport.  However, while there is a lot of talk about making it more pedestrian friendly and city-like, really almost nothing is done to really do so, which is Tampa’s loss.

West Tampa-ish – St. Joes

There was an article in the Times regarding St. Joseph’s Hospital(s).

Three of BayCare Health System’s Hills­borough hospitals are getting upgrades. The Clearwater-based health care company announced Thursday that it will invest $308 million over the next three years to expand St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz and St. Joseph’s Hospital-South in Riverview.

* * *

The costliest undertaking will be at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. BayCare plans to build a six-story tower that will house a two-story lobby, waiting rooms and on-call rooms, as well as three patient-care floors and a mechanical support floor. There will also be 30 private patient rooms on each patient-care floor. A new bridge will connect St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital to the main hospital across Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Currently, patients and visitors must use a roadside crosswalk to walk from one hospital to another.

This portion is expected to cost $126 million and wrap up by the end of 2019.

This is the rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is hard to make out from the rendering exactly how it will fit on the lot and just what it will look like (the rendering makes it look a bit disjointed), but the skywalk has been needed for a long time.

Outback Bowl – Odd

We like the Outback Bowl as much as the next person, but this really caught our eye:

Look around the Tampa Bay area, and it is hard to find an economic development executive, public official or nonprofit leader paid more than Outback Bowl president Jim McVay.

In 2015, McVay’s compensation totalled $993,458, according to the bowl’s IRS tax return for that year.

That’s more than the salaries for top executives at the University of South Florida, Port Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport.

It is more than Tampa taxpayers pay the mayor, the seven members of City Council, the police chief and the fire chief — combined.

As the bowl’s CEO for 30 years, McVay, 63, is the longest-tenured bowl director in the country, and bowl organizers say he delivers value for the money:

If it were just private enterprise, we would still think the salary is high.  However, there is this:

This year’s Outback Bowl pits Michigan against South Carolina at noon today at Raymond James Stadium.

Most public support for the bowl comes from the tourist development tax on hotel room rentals.

Pinellas County contributes $150,000 in bed tax revenues. Hillsborough County contributes $120,000 through Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

That’s appropriate, McVay said, since the bed tax is collected to support activities that bring visitors and help fill hotel rooms.

Tampa also donates nearly $50,000 worth of police, public works, solid waste and other services for the bowl’s “Ybor Bowl Blast” on New Year’s Eve. Clearwater contributes $5,600 in services for the bowl’s annual beach day on Saturday.

The tax money may be appropriate because of tourist taxes, but even tourist tax money could also be spent elsewhere if the Bowl has enough money to pay those kind of salaries.  Even if you take all the public money away from that one salary, it is a nice chunk of change.

In sum, the salary is what it is, but, if that’s what it is, the bowl does not need taxpayer funding.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Brightline is beginning its first service, between WPB and Ft. Lauderdale.

Brightline said Thursday it will begin introductory service of its higher-speed passenger trains the week of January 8 — but the company did not release train schedules or ticket prices.

The initial service will run between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The MiamiCentral train station is scheduled to be ready within three months.

We are still waiting for this area to be officially included in the Brightline plans.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Intercity rail in Texas is moving forward.

The long-awaited Texas “bullet train” cleared an important hurdle Friday when the Federal Railroad Administration released a draft environmental impact statement identifying a preferred route between Dallas and Houston as well as potential passenger station locations.

The FRA analysis, which took roughly four years to complete, will kick off a consultation and land acquisition process that could eventually link the state’s two largest urban and economic centers with a travel time less than 90 minutes at more than 200 mph, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley near College Station.

“This is the biggest milestone to date that we’ve crossed so far,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, the company developing the project. “This is actually the beginning of a document that will allow us to build the bullet train.” 

Yes, it is private, but the transit systems at either end are not, and they are expanding.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

We keep pointing out the lack of real awnings in local developments that are supposed to be walkable.  As we note, it is both hot and rainy in this area.  If you want people to walk, you need to give them some shelter.  If they don’t want it, that’s fine, but give them the option.  And what works in other environments like California, which seems to be where a lot of these ideas come from, will not work here.

If you want to get ideas for planning in our hot, rainy place, you need to look to other hot and rainy places. A regular reader who happened to be walking around Brisbane, Australia, had just that thought.  We are not going to put a ton of pictures from Brisbane, but you can do a virtual tour on Google (here)  The most striking thing is that, in addition to many of the older buildings, almost all the large, newer buildings have sidewalk covering. (here is their climate)  Then again, they also have transit, so . . .

Roundup 12-29-2017

December 28, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week because of the Holidays.  Happy New Year!

Roundup 12-22-2017

December 20, 2017

We are posting a few days early this week because of the Holidays, but also because we wanted to be timely on the first item.


Downtown – This is What Settling Looks Like

Transportation – Legislation, Cont.

Westshore – Publix

South Tampa – Bayshore Bland

East County – Study for Nothing

Port – Audit


Downtown – This is What Settling Looks Like

When the City first put out an RFP for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall, this was how it was marketed:

“This is particularly exciting because this is essentially the most prominent undeveloped parcel of land in the downtown area,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “The opportunities are endless and with the right vision and the ongoing transformation of Tampa’s downtown, this could be the new crown jewel of our skyline. Bring your best ideas and your most creative design and be a part of one of the most exciting real estate markets in the country.”

It definitely is a good parcel, especially since you can build higher there than in most of the Water Street area and it is in the middle of downtown.  It is good for density, height, and a variety of uses.  In any event, our position on the RFP and prospect of selling the land was (and is) simple:

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

(See “Downtown – The Proposals Are In” ) Nevertheless, the process went forward and the City picked what we think is a quite nondescript project with bad street interaction.   This:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That boxy design with blank walls was bad enough that we thought the City should hold off, but it was approved.  But now, per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration and developer HRI Properties have struck a deal to modify the hotel project proposed for the city-owned city parking lot bound by Kennedy, Meridian, Jackson and Florida in Downtown Tampa. While the project formerly featured over 200 apartments, 7,000 square feet of retail space and a Hyatt Centric hotel in a 21 story building, the new project is now just 17 stories, features no apartments, has just 2,500 square feet of retail space and the hotel flag will be dual-branded between two lesser Hyatt flags: Hyatt Place and Hyatt House.

The proposal goes before the Tampa City Council this Thursday (!!!), December 21st:

* * *

As you can see, the building is VERY ugly and dated in both style and urban design. Only one side of it has anything close to what we would consider sufficient street interaction. Two sides of the building, on Kennedy and Meridian, are now just blank walls. Most of the street frontage across from historic city hall is curb cuts for parking access. The retail space has been completely shifted to the Jackson side of the building, presumably to take advantage of the protected bike lane currently under construction on Jackson Street. The total amount of retail space is just 2,500 square feet (compare that to Skypoint and Element which each have 10,000 on the same amount of land).

Keep in mind this is city-owned land that had multiple developers asking to put much nicer projects on it when the city first asked for proposals for the site. Why are we selling public land for this bad project? What kind of example does this set for other developments when the city is entering into land development agreements for a project of such low quality? Why didn’t we change to one of the other proposals that were made for the lot, or re-open the bidding process, when HRI downgraded the property to this? Why does it feel like this is being snuck through approval, with the approval being a couple days before Christmas and no information being released on it until the city council agenda comes out a few days before the meeting?

We oppose this project.

Setting aside that we did not think any of the proposed projects was very good, what does the new, smaller project look like?

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

They took not very good and made it even worse, even excluding to that completely (and unacceptably) dead streetscape.  This is not only not a “new crown jewel of our skyline,” it would be a completely lost opportunity for a truly nice building some day – or a park or something that is just not a complete waste of time.

A few days after URBN Tampa Bay posed the news, the Business Journal, when discussing the proposed new agreement/project, made some reference to having to clean up some petroleum at the site. But that should not be a new issue given past uses of the land nor should it be an excuse for the poorness of the new proposal. 

The last proposal was sold by the Mayor as:

HRI offered not only a vision that would add to Tampa’s burgeoning downtown but also offered an attractive purchase price, density and innovative design.

In fact, that proposal really did not have that (except maybe offering more money, but not that much), and the new proposal has even less.

Supporting this proposal would be a clear sign that the supporter does not really believe in Tampa’s future.  With Water Street getting under way (or really anytime), it makes no sense to waste City property on such a bad project.  Especially given the allowed height on this lot, all that will happen if Water Street is successful is that the property in question will become more valuable.  Approving this mess of an idea with diminished density, no street activity, and a complete lack of design, would just send the message that Tampa is desperate for anything and has little to no standards.

Obviously, like URBN Tampa Bay, we oppose this project.

And we don’t do this often, but if you would like to comment, you can email the City Council here:
Item #46
File #B2017-44

Transportation – Legislation, Cont.

Last week, we discussed a pair of proposed bills regarding setting up an alternative transportation authority and defunding the Florida Rail Enterprise.  We said this (see here):

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

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

Luckily, we did not have to wait long to find out at least some of the actual intent:

State Sen. Dana Young and Rep. Jamie Grant want the state to spend transportation dollars on driverless cars and rapid buses, not rail.

* * *

Thursday’s announcement from Young and Grant falls in the anti-rail camp, with Grant calling rail “expensive, rigid and inflexible.”

The plan is to take $60 million from Sunrail, Orlando’s highly criticized rail project, and divert it to “innovative, alternative” transportation options. As long as there is a local match for those dollars, Tampa Bay could get as much as $25 million each year, with another $25 million going to Miami Dade and the rest to other projects across the state.

Young said this legislation doesn’t prevent other projects from moving forward, but instead provides an additional fund dedicated to high-tech solutions.

“What I can tell you we don’t want to be is Sunrail,” Grant said. “What I can tell you we don’t want to be as a local community is having a train that costs us more money to print a ticket than it would to give the ride away for free.

“So while regions of the state have said they’re going to spend a boat load of money to lay fixed rail, what we’re saying is we want to deliver sustainable, efficient and meaningful transportation in a way that doesn’t burn the taxpayer.”

While it is technically true that, as the State Senator said, other projects, like rail, could go forward, it is also true that we have just been told that the intent is to stop rail from moving forward.

Regarding the other comments, we’ll set aside that the road system, including where buses, autonomous vehicles and/or ridesharing will go, is subsidized and mostly given away for free at the cost of the taxpayer. (and those maintenance costs . . .)  While we also don’t want to have a system with SunRail’s ticketing issue (the cited one has to do with the ticketing system not the rail, though there are other aspects of SunRail we would not copy), most rail systems do not have that problem.

The real point is that we don’t think that the legislature should be prejudging all the studies and local discussions regarding this area’s transit future.  If they have an idea for a “sustainable, efficient and meaningful transportation” system we would be happy to check it out  and have it considered like other ideas. (Though we oppose subsidizing ridesharing companies.)

So what about the new TBARTA and the business community working for transportation solutions and bringing this area together?

Jim Holton, chairman of the recently repurposed Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, said this move isn’t in conflict with an ongoing regional premium transit plan that looks to select regional projects that can get federal funding. A recent update of that study identified light rail along Interstate 275 as the highest-ranking transit option. But Holton said the study “does not rule in or out rail one way or the other.”

“I think as we get into this, we’re going to look at the economic efficiencies of a lot of this stuff, too,” Holton said. “We cannot be locked into 20th century ideas in the 21st century. Fixed guideway systems, especially rail, are very costly. A lot of upfront cost.

“And I think the governor and the legislature are looking at more productive ways to move people efficiently, economically and fairly throughout the Tampa Bay region.””I think we have to look at a whole constellation of different ideas in Tampa Bay and not just be locked into the whole idea that rail is the only way. Because rail is not the only way.”

While that 20th century comment is pithy and commonly used by rail opponents, it does not tell the whole story.  Toll roads have existed since ancient Babylon. While propulsion and driving have changed (just like such things change for rail), vehicles/cars for hire have existed for centuries. (here and here)  Ferries . . . do we have to get into how ancient ferries are?  Buses, regardless of propulsion, have also been around for a while.   And regarding fixed guideways, it is worth remembering that even autonomous buses would have to have their own right of way (in other words, road) to become efficient, useful, and to create an environment when moving a large number of people makes sense.  Otherwise, at least in Florida, they will likely be stuck in traffic with everyone else (even in their autonomous, shared cars – so says Elon Musk. See “Transportation – Those Autonomous, Shared Cars.)

And, no, rail is not the only way – actually we need a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system that has various technologies, like pretty much all good transportation systems.  And the studies do not specifically rule out or in rail, at this point anyway.

In any event, we have been given the stated intent of a sponsoring legislator and the TBARTA board chairman basically saying that fixed guideway system should not happen.  Apparently, that is the revamped political environment on transportation in this area.  You can decide for yourselves what you think.

Westshore – Publix

Information regarding the Westshore Publix has been released.

The Lakeland grocer has filed a rezoning request with the city to allow for a grocery store at 4900 W. Kennedy Blvd., a box that was previously home to Sports Authority. The store has been vacant since mid-2016, when Sports Authority shuttered more than 600 stores across the U.S.

While we were not particularly excited about this project when announced, let’s have a look.  This is the site plan (courtesy of Florida Future at SkyscraperCity):


From Florida Future @ SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

as you can see it backs up to Kennedy and faces south.  Here are elevations (north elevation is the view from Kennedy):

From Florida Future @ SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

Publix’s plans for the site would reorient the store, with the entrance facing south toward West Cleveland Street, according to the plans filed with the city. (The entrance to Sports Authority was on the western side of the box, facing South Gardenia Avenue.) Publix has requested a waiver from the city to allow no public pedestrian access from sidewalk on Kennedy Boulevard.

“The proposed orientation provides the most neighborhood sensitive design,” the grocer wrote in its application.

The design reminds us a bit of the Publix on 13th Street in Gainesville. (see here) except that it does not appear to have a Starbucks and, obviously from the article, will have no door on Kennedy. In other words, it is basically like any other drive-to grocery store.  (It also reminds us of this article highlighted by URBN Tampa Bay. ) And we have no idea how the design is sensitive to the neighborhood, but whatever.

Given the City’s history of settling all over the Westshore area and, despite rhetoric, not caring at all about walkability, we doubt anything will be changed.

South Tampa – Bayshore Bland

In another example of something that would be settling, there was a new proposal for Bayshore, per URBN Tampa Bay:

A new luxury residential tower has been proposed for 2619 Bayshore Blvd. The project is called The Sanctuary at Alexandra Place and features 15 units. The tower is 17 stories, topping out at 216 feet.

The first rezoning hearing is set for April 12th.

The location (here) is fine for a condo/apartment building.  The design, if this is the design, though:

From Florida Future @ SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

From Florida Future @ SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

That should not go on Bayshore (or anywhere, really).  Surely the developers can do better, and the City should make them. We are fine with a building this size on that lot, but, if it is built as shown, this would definitely be a step backwards for Tampa.

East County – Study for Nothing

For the umpteenth time the County government has paid ULI to come, talk, and report on what they have found.

At the county’s request, the Urban Land Institute, an organization focused on responsible growth, sent a team of advisers to Hillsborough this past week to offer solutions to the region’s persistent growth issues. As part of their research, they interviewed 95 people, from elected officials to business and environmental leaders, and reviewed the county’s land policies.

The advisers focused on a stretch along the Interstate 4 corridor between east Tampa and Plant City as a prime location to implement smarter growth policies.

The findings are entirely predictable.

Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.

No need to wait until 2040. Most of the County already is.  So what did ULI suggest?

The group of advisers suggested the county plan to develop three communities along the interstate. They would be dense (condominiums and apartments, no single-family houses) and walkable (no bigger than a mile radius). They would have space for commercial storefronts and offices, but no industrial facilities. They would have their own individual characteristics that give residents and workers a sense of place.

* * *

These three small communities would support more than 55,000 jobs and 33,000 people.

The advisers offered suggestions on how to make it happen:

And the real key:

“You will be under enormous pressure over the next 25 years to expand the (urban service) boundary. Don’t do it,” Razak said. “You have a precious resource here that you don’t want to squander because if you lose it, you’re gone.”

Of course, none of that required paying someone to say.  It is all completely obvious.  But it seems the Commission needs to be reminded every now and then of what it is not doing and will not be doing in the future.

The Commissioners gave their usual positive comments.  But the reality is that we have seen this over and over and, even if not overtly ignored, the ideas die by a million cuts.  Until the Commission really makes it clear that they have really changed and can both come up with and stick to a proper plan, this exercise is a completely irrelevant.

Port – Audit

There was news from the Port:

Six months after television news reports raised pointed questions about port officials’ restaurant and entertainment spending, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson said Tuesday he is commissioning an outside audit of the port’s business development and promotional spending for the past three years.

* * *

The Tampa accounting firm of Rivero, Gordimer & Company will conduct the audit, which is expected to cost less than $100,000 and will look at business development and promotional expenditures since Jan. 1, 2014. Port officials said promotional spending, which includes the cost of hosting, participating in or traveling to about 70 business development events a year, averages about 2 percent of operating revenues.

We are not going to complain about making sure the Port uses best practices.

“We have nothing to hide, and we are proud of what we are doing here to grow this port,” Anderson said after the meeting. “It’s a good way to assure any stakeholders that we’ve been doing exactly what our policies directed us to do and operate under and now we’re looking forward.”

The audit Anderson is ordering will be in addition to an auditing procedure launched in August to have the same firm review all employee expenses as well as more general comprehensive agency audits done annually by third-party auditors.

We’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Brightline keeps moving forward.

Finally, Brightline can begin construction on the leg to Orlando after gaining federal approval last week.

Its is the last approval needed before work can begin, following years of study. Construction will get underway in early 2018.

Tickets and corporate packages for the first phase to Miami have already been presold, with service to launch in early 2018. Simulated service was expected to begin last week.

We still are not clearly in any plans.

Roundup 12-15-2017

December 15, 2017


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

Transportation – Jumble

— The Legislation


— Tolls on Tolls

Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

Impact Fees – The Real Point

Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Hotel Named

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

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

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

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

We also like this about the Marriott Waterside:

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

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

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

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

Transportation – Jumble

— The Legislation

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

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

The funds wouldn’t be available until 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See pg 8 of the pdf.

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

Section 3.

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

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

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

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

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

(c) The high-speed rail system.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The head of TBARTA is leaving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tolls on Tolls

The Veterans Expressway express lanes opened last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel District – The Other Hotel(s)

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

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

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

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

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

Impact Fees – The Real Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Built Environment – Interesting Read/Good Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup 12-8-2017

December 8, 2017


Downtown/Channel District – Lots of Water Street

– The Big Picture

— The Museums, et al

— Filling Space

— The First Anchor

— The Hotel

— One More Thing

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown – Kress

Airport – The Audit

Biking – About Sharing

Seminole Heights – Right Hand Meet Left Hand

Governance/Planning/Built Environment – Money Talk

Rays – Talking Money

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The Last Word


Downtown/Channel District – Lots of Water Street

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

– The Big Picture

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

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for Facebook page

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

So what are we looking at?

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

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

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

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

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

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

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

— The Museums, et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also this very vague news:

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

We will just have to wait for more on that.

— Filling Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And least surprising of all was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The First Anchor

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The Hotel

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

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see larger versions here.

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

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

— One More Thing

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

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – Kress

There was news regarding the Kress building, from Fox13:

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Airport – The Audit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the more substantive issues of the construction project:

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

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

Regarding the raises:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the art:

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

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

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

And the airport responded properly:

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

* * *

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

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

Biking – About Sharing

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Seminole Heights – Right Hand Meet Left Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governance/Planning/Built Environment – Money Talk

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

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

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

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

So what are they looking at?

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

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

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

Which brings us to this interesting piece from Zillow:

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

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

So let’s get to the charts:

From Zillow – click on chart for website

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

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

Rays – Talking Money

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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