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Roundup 7-22-2016

July 22, 2016

Contents

Transportation – New Old Ideas

— And One More Thing

USF Med School – A Case Study

Regionalism – The Editorials

– A Little Something in Transportation

— And Then There’s Cuba

Transportation – Meanwhile, at the Airport

– More UK Flights?

— One More Thing

Transportation – The PTC is Back

Channel District/Bayshore – Updates

Rays – Pinellas Sites

Economic Development – Yeah, and . . .

Downtown/West Tampa – The Park

_____________________________

Transportation – New Old Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— And One More Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USF Med School – A Case Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, they are still designing it.

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

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

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

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

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

Regionalism – The Editorials

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

– A Little Something in Transportation

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

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

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

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

— And Then There’s Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, most of the region gets it.

Transportation – Meanwhile, at the Airport

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

– More UK Flights?

There was a Business Journal report had some interesting news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you never know.  We wish them luck.

— One More Thing

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

Transportation – The PTC is Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

Channel District/Bayshore – Updates

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

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for facebook page

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

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

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

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

Then there is this about Bayshore:

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

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

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

Rays – Pinellas Sites

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

Anyway, due diligence is a good thing.

Economic Development – Yeah, and . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

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

Downtown/West Tampa – The Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Earth sculptures’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s too bad, Dattner said.

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

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

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

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

Roundup 7-15-2016

July 15, 2016

Contents

Transportation – FDOT MO

— And One More Thing

Port – Walking It Back

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

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

— One More Thing

Bayshore – Some More Details

West Tampa – Generic

Ybor City – New and Old

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

— Bigger Win

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

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

– What Transit Needs

____________________________

Transportation – FDOT MO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— And One More Thing

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

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

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

The average price of a new car or light truck in 2016 is about $34,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s in part because new cars are loaded with helpful but expensive safety features like collision-avoidance systems.

Bankrate calculated an “affordable” purchase price for major cities, using median incomes from U.S. census data, and factoring in costs for sales taxes and insurance. In San Jose, Calif. — the heart of Silicon Valley — the median income is about $84,000, and an “affordable” new car purchase price is about $33,000, which is close to, but still below, the average new car price.

You can see the full list here.

The affordable car price in Tampa was $14,469.48, which is 31st out of 50 (mainly because of our low wages).  Given that, 1) don’t we really need to focus on alternatives to roads and 2) who are those express lanes really going to serve?

Port – Walking It Back

For a while now the Port has been talking about how it is preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal and getting ready to exploit the changes.  We are all for building the container business, but there seemed to be a few obvious problems with the Port’s strategy – namely the Skyway is too short and the channel too shallow for Neopanamax ships (the big ships that can now use the canal) and the Port focused on being a spoke in a hub and spoke system meaning the expansion is not really relevant.  Nevertheless, the news coverage mostly just repeated the reassurances from the Port about how it was going to compete (and, make no mistake, we want them to compete).

A quick aside: this week, the first Neopanamax ship, the really big ships that can now get through the canal, went to Miami.

Now that the canal expansion has opened, the Times ran an article “Port Tampa Bay still finding its way as expanded Panama Canal opens.”    You can read the whole thing, but the basic thrust of the article is this:

After years of buildup, the widened Panama Canal opened last week but Port Tampa Bay still finds itself struggling to see where it fits in. 

How does that fit with this from the Port Director in 2014:

Tampa’s 43-foot-deep port, the deepest in Florida, can handle the ships likely to transit the expanded canal, Anderson said.

The next step will be installing two cranes in 2015 that can load and unload so-called Panamax container ships. Doing so will open Tampa to direct shipments through the canal, Anderson said.

At the moment, cargo on Panamax ships is broken down and reloaded onto small vessels in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic before arriving in Tampa.

The 2007 U.S.-Panama free trade agreement will help Tampa take advantage of the economic boom sweeping across Latin America, Anderson said.

“The growth potential is great,” Anderson said.

Setting aside that Miami is deeper now and everyone knew that Tampa would not be able to handle the biggest ships crossing the new canal, what happened? Or this from January 2016?

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

About which we wrote the obvious, which you can read at “Port – Doing Ok, But . . .

In any event, this is what the Times told us this week:

To stand out, Port Tampa Bay spent $21.5 million for two post-Panamax gantry cranes to help grow its cargo container business. The port plans to start construction on a 130,000-square-foot cold storage food products facility that should be operational by next year. And officials are still trying to lure new car business from manufacturing plants in Mexico.

But the port has some stiff competition. It’s up against ports that handle more than double the tonnage in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville that have established container businesses. Port Manatee just south of the Sunshine Skyway bridge has a strong refrigerated storage business and Port Canaveral just signed a tenant to run its own new car import business from Mexico.

“We recognize that this isn’t a moment where a light switch turns on and everything changes,” said Paul Anderson, president and CEO of the Tampa Port Authority. Anderson was among the many who flocked to Panama last week to celebrate the opening of the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. “There are contracts in place for some routes already, and we hope that with our new cranes we can handle larger vessels in the coming years as those contracts come to term.”

* * *

This new fleet of enormous cargo container ships coming from Asia won’t come to Tampa Bay, analysts say. Most of them won’t even come into the Gulf of Mexico initially. They will continue to go to the bigger established ports along the East Coast, like Miami, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and New York. These ports and others have been preparing for the opening of the expanded canal by dredging deeper waterways and making room for more business. 

That is a correction, and it has the virtue of being, for the most part, true.  And we do not fault the Port for not growing container business at an exponential rate (geometric would be nice).  There are issues.  We get all that.

The problem is that there was a lot of time to plan and market, and we were told we were preparing (apparently others prepared better) and it would all be fine (even though it was obvious it wouldn’t).  But nothing has really changed (even with the bigger cranes at the Port), except the big ships can just go to Miami or other ports that can take them, which also seems to decrease the utility of transshipments (though maybe not).  We are glad the Port is being more realistic about the canal expansion, but that should have been the way it was all along.

Moreover, given all that, we are not sure why the Port is spending so much time doing vision plans for real estate development downtown when there are already big real estate plans in the private sector with which the Port would compete (see below) – and when they are asking for $200 million in public money for infrastructure.   Shouldn’t they be focusing on the port part of the port business?  On the shipbuilding?  On finding more manufacturers to locate at the port?  On really growing the container business, where the money is?  Port Tampa (Bay) may be the largest port in Florida by land (we are not sure) or maybe tonnage, but not by trade value and probably not revenue. (And why are we not actively working on Cuba trade?) We can do much better.

And we are not sure why, if New York and New Jersey can handle ports, airports, development, and some roads together, Hillsborough and Manatee can’t get together and manage the ports on the bay in a way that maximizes the potential of the whole area and grows the regional pie rather than having this area compete with itself for a smaller slice of pie. (Once again, a real job of the new Tampa Bay Partnership.)

We are all for growing the Port.  We are all for growing this area.  But, as with many issues, this issue has been subject to a lot of hype that ignores or downplays obvious issues.  As we have noted many times, this hype leads to inflated expectations that plainly will not be met while simultaneously making people think we are farther along than we really are.

That does not mean there aren’t good things.  There are.  They just tend not to be quite as superlative as they are portrayed or they stand in isolation.  While perfect should not be the enemy of very good (and we are fine with very good being the enemy of the ok), we can do way better, and that starts with honest discussions of where we are and where we need to get.

Tampa, and the Tampa Bay area, deserves it.

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

Maybe it is a slow news cycle (though it doesn’t seem like one) or maybe there is a concerted push somewhere to advertise downtown Tampa, but for whatever reason both the Times and the Business Journal ran articles on the big proposals in and around downtown (though they defined them differently).  The Times ran an article, really more of a list of what was in each, involving the Heights and the Lightning owner’s project.

The Business Journal did basically the same but included the theoretical Port project and the “West River” project that still, as far as we can tell, has not shown final plans of what will actually be built.   Nevertheless, the Business Journal article involved some numbers by a local realtor, which are helpfully included in this chart:

From the Business Journal – click on chart for article

What you can see right away is how not dense the West River project is for the amount of land it uses.  We understand it may not be “downtown” density, but, based on this list, it is really not very dense for an urban area, which has been an issue from the start.

The chart also conveniently tells us that the Port’s concept is actually the biggest proposal, making us wonder again why anyone would support using public land that now has a maritime use and involving a lot of public money just to compete with as of yet unbuilt privately projects nearby – especially when you can just bank that public land until the rest of the area is built out and the public, waterfront land becomes that much more valuable.

As you think about that, you can also contemplate this:

His findings show a city center that will become increasingly dense in the next decade, if all four developments come to fruition as proposed — 12,000 residential units within 1.4 miles, from the West River redevelopment to Port Tampa Bay’s waterfront real estate. It’s highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to see that kind of urban density in the Southeastern U.S., Earhardt said. 

Yes, assuming all the projects get built, downtown will be much more built up (though, as noted, some parts much denser than others).  Even if only a couple get built, it would be more built up and better.  Whether that is unprecedented in the southeast is another question altogether.  Atlanta has that density.  Miami does.  Other cities are getting there.  It may become quite normal – and without transit it will be quite messy to get around.  Already the least attractive feature of all the developments is the massive area used for parking garages (or surface parking).  Which leads to this observation from the Lightning owner’s city planner in an 83 degrees media piece:

“If you can’t connect the walkable neighborhoods to each other, then those people who want the walkable lifestyle, and who also want access to all their city has to offer, will buy cars,” says Speck. “Then the city reshapes itself more around driving, so transit plays a very important role.”

* * *

“Frankly, transit never functions particularly well in the absence of walkable neighborhoods because if you can’t exit the train or bus into a walking area, then you need to have a car once you get there,” says Speck. “The work we’re doing at the district to create a neighborhood in which you exit the vehicle and be totally effective on foot is the first step to creating a more robust transit system.”

Which goes to both planning and investment priorities – and the need to get transit sorted out around downtown now to avoid the mess such development will create without it, especially if it draws people who do not live downtown  (They should have asked him about the effect on walkability of 18 lane freeways through urban areas.)

Regardless, none of it is built now (though the Armature Works is being renovated). The real question is how much of this will actually get done.  Hopefully most of it (we still think the Port should focus on being a port), with some useful tweaks and real transit.  Time will tell.  Done properly, it could be very cool.

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s project:

Tampa’s city council will discuss at its regular meeting Thursday whether to approve an agreement with Strategic Property Partners to lay pipes under downtown roads and begin constructing a chilled water distribution plant. The central cooling plant will be used to air condition dozens of buildings that will come online as part of a $2 billion major overhaul of 40 acres in Tampa’s urban core.

SPP, the real estate firm owned by Vinik and capital investment firm Cascade Investments LLC, will begin $35 million worth of roadwork construction next month which tentatively includes the chilled water plant, a key part of Vinik’s vision for a walkable, sustainable urban district designed to make those who live and work there more healthy.

* * *

This central cooling plant will house 20 to 25 water chillers at a distribution center that will be built at the northwest corner of the intersection of East Cumberland and South Nebraska avenues. Cold water will run to buildings like the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a new hotel and the Amalie Arena, through a series of underground pipes and will be used to control temperatures inside.

“Our goal is use this distribution center to cool the entire project, including USF and Amalie, which we do not own,” said Courtland Corbino, vice president of development for SPP. “The underground piping will allow us to connect to existing downtown buildings and new ones we develop at any time once we lay this framework.”

This system frees up the rooftops, which are usually obstructed by traditional air conditioning units. That means rooftop spaces could become parking garages with solar panels on top, or parks, or even restaurants, Corbino said.

Of course, they gave first approval to it, which is fine with us (like there is even a question on second reading).   Though the first thing we thought is what if the project gets broken up after it is built?

SPP will construct, maintain and operate the chilled water plant. The city is considering a 30-year agreement that would require SPP to pay a fee based on how much pipe they lay. If SPP decides to sell chilled water services to other developments, the city will get a cut of the revenues.

The new cooling system will be installed by Tampa Bay Trane, a local air conditioning company that has installed other plants in the area. The cooling plant design is in line with Vinik’s vision for a health and wellness centric district for Tampa. The central cooling plant will use 30 to 40 percent less energy and water than more typical units used to cool buildings. Because it’s more efficient, it will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

We are not clear on all the financial issue, but the concept sounds good.  Once again, it seems that the Lightning owner is looking at a larger picture.  There is also this:

Construction of the central cooling facility will begin this summer along with roadway and infrastructure work.

Which is cool, and makes sense given that the USF building needs it.  It also is a good sign.  There has been a lot of talk about this project and we know planning such a large project takes time, but it will be good to see something actually get built, even if it is just utilities to start.

— One More Thing

One thing that is a bit odd is this:

Several tenants in Channelside Bay Plaza will close in the coming weeks after the plaza’s new ownership issued eviction notices.

We get clearing out space.  And we get removing tenants that do not keep up on their rent.  But a store in that article seems to be a relatively long time tenant that stayed while the plaza struggled.

Qachbal’s Chocolatier, located near the tunnel on the first floor of the plaza, opened in December 2005, shortly before the recession. In recent years, the store has struggled while waiting for redevelopment plans to materialize. Qachbal said members of the SPP real estate team initially encouraged her to stay on and told her that her chocolate shop was valuable to the plaza.

“For four years we hung on when we could have been looking for something else,” she said.

In the article SPP, the Lightning owner’s company, does not tell us why those stores are being removed or what is going to replace them.  We understand that changes are coming and we understand that it might involve some evictions.  We just hope it is done right and with the history in mind.

And we look forward to this:

“SPP plans to share refined, long-term opportunities for Channelside Bay Plaza with Port Tampa Bay this summer. In the interim, we are pursuing every activation opportunity — including opening the wharf to the public, special events and pop ups,” she said.

We’ll see what they come up with.

Bayshore – Some More Details

While there was no big news regarding the proposed condo where the Colonnade was, there were some new drawings:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

To be honest, they do not add much other than showing the proposed height is 285 feet (and you can see the very small door facing Bayshore in the bottom left of the first drawing).  Then again, it is nice to post drawings every now and then. (Also the 2907 Bay-to-Bay condo project was approved – no surprise) Hopefully, the condo market will stay strong enough to get it built.

West Tampa – Generic

Sometimes, it is not as nice to post drawings, like the Richman project near the armory.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Well, at least there seems to be a recognizable door (though it says “Clubhouse” so we are not sure if that is the front).  Other than that, no retail, pretty generic.  Mind you, we are not looking for artistry.  We get that many projects will just be relatively cookie cutter (and hope the mold is a good one), but this is right next to the renovated armory and right next to one of the most interesting old cigar factories (that hopefully will get renovated).  They could have done something a little more.

Ybor City – New and Old

There was an interesting article on Ybor City involving one of the old mutual aid societies.

The Marti-Maceo Club has been a fixture in Ybor City since the early 1900s as a gathering spot for Tampa’s Afro-Cuban population.

In more recent years, its focus has shifted to preserving the culture and way of life of Tampa’s Cuban population, hosting happy hours and salsa evenings with Latin bands.

Now, club leaders say its future is under threat from a neighboring development project they say will make the Seventh Avenue location inaccessible for up to a year during construction. They fear it will starve the club of revenue from events like weddings and fundraisers that have kept it afloat even as membership has dwindled to about 80.

The project fueling those fears is The Marti, a four-story development of 100 apartments and 8,000 square feet of street level retail planned for a parking lot that the club leases from the city.

The lease agreement for that lot expires next year. In October, the Tampa City Council agreed to its sale to Ybor City developer Ariel Quintela and BluePearl Veterinary chain CEO Darryl Shaw for $792,000.

In addition to the loss of parking spaces, club president Sharon Gomez said the development will take away an alley on the north side of the club used by members to access it from Nuccio Parkway.

We are all for developing Ybor City, though we have wondered many times why the City is in such a rush to divest itself of all the public land it can, especially when there are ample private projects on privately held land:

The Marti is one of five apartment and mixed-use projects that Quintela and Shaw are developing in Ybor City. Other projects include the conversion of the old Oliva Cigar Factory, the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn and the former Blues Ship Café.

Plus a number of other projects by other developers, so what was the City’s rush?  And why did the City not ensure in the agreement with the developer to protect the historic mutual aid society?

Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic opportunity administrator, said the project has been a challenge for the developers since it must fit within three quarters of a street block. The developers have been working with the club to minimize the impact, including setting the building back from the club, he said.

“Setting the building back made sure the mural was still visible,” McDonaugh said.

Which doesn’t do much if the club can’t pay its bills.  We get that it is a more humble building than the other mutual aid societies, but that does not detract from its history.  As we have said before, monuments and history walks are nice – actual history is nicer.  If the City had to develop this property now (which it clearly did not – the property would only have become more valuable over time – and there is the potential for a baseball stadium right across the street), the least it should make sure to have arrangements to help the Marti-Maceo club survive to development process.

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Admittedly, we do not cover St. Pete that much.  Every now and then something piques our interest.  As those who follow such things know, the cheese grater building in downtown St. Pete, which actually was a rather nice old building that was covered up with metal crap to make it more “modern” – like many buildings in local downtowns.  In any event, the ownership of that building was a bit complex, there was a deal to sell it, there was a historic preservation issue, then the deal finally got worked out.  So the new owner gave everyone a peek at his development idea:

New York’s Red Apple Group is returning to the Florida market in a big way — its plans for a prime block in downtown St. Petersburg include what could be one of the tallest buildings on Florida’s west coast.

“St. Pete needs a skyline,” John Catsimatidis, the company’s billionaire owner, said in a phone interview Thursday.

Red Apple, which is under contract to buy the block of 400 Central Avenue, released a rendering of a sleek tower that Catsimatidis said would be about the height of ONE St. Petersburg, the 41-story building under construction a few blocks farther east on Central.

Although his project is still in the preliminary stages, Catsimatidis said it will be a mixed-used development that could include residences as well as the hotel and office space that Mayor Rick Kriseman is pushing for. 

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is early days on this project, but we like where he is heading.  We shall see what happens.

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

This week there as news of a small win for downtown:

BeniComp Insurance Co., a supplemental group health insurance company, has relocated its headquarters from Fort Wayne, Ind., to downtown Tampa.

Initially, nine members of the firm’s executive team will move to the new headquarters at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. The company plans to add at least three more full-time employees over the next year.

BeniComp will also maintain its Fort Wayne offices, where it currently employs 40.

Ok, fewer than 15 people, but that’s ok.  Every job is welcome.

— Bigger Win

A more interesting win was this:

A combined $700,000 in state and local financial incentives helped persuade Bertram Yacht to locate its international headquarters in south Tampa.

Bertram, one of the most well-known names in the boating industry, plans to create 140 new jobs with a $35 million capital investment at its new corporate office and manufacturing facility at 5300 W. Tyson Ave., a statement from Gov. Rick Scott said.

It is nice to get a headquarters and some manufacturing. That makes us happy. (It will be interesting to see how this fits in the neighborhood if it gets as developed as all the proposals for it.)

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

There was a little new item about the airport business that may be interesting in the long term.

PEMCO World Air Services has been selected to provide maintenance and repair work on a new generation of Mitsubishi aircraft, the companies announced Tuesday.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has signed a letter of intent with Tampa-based PEMCO, one of three companies chosen to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

PEMCO will provide airframe-related MRO services to North American clients of Mitsubishi who use its Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) aircraft. Those services will include heavy checks, structural repairs, modifications and warranty work.

Which is cool, though how big a deal is this?

The two companies did not reveal the financial figures of the proposed agreement. MRJ is comprised of aircraft that seats 70 to 90 passengers. There have been more than 400 aircraft orders, and Nagoya, Japan-based Mitsubishi Aircraft plans to deliver the first of these planes aircraft in mid-2018 to All Nippon Airways.

So we don’t really know, but it is better than not having it, especially given the company came back from bankruptcy.

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

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

There was a very interesting editorial in the New York Times regarding self-driving cars.

It wouldn’t be fair to tar all of the growing self-driving industry with Mr. Musk’s braggadocio. Nonetheless, his technological over-promising fits into a common narrative in Silicon Valley: The major engineering problems with self-driving cars have essentially been solved, and their widespread adoption is inevitable. Ask “when?” and you’ll usually be told, “Much sooner than you think.”

Some lawmakers are even talking about scaling back investments in mass transit, which they claim will be unnecessary in a world full of robot chauffeurs.

Aware of the conventional wisdom that robotic cars are about to cause an epochal “disruption,” automakers are eager to demonstrate that they are fully engaged. A result has been a drumbeat of announcements auguring the imminent arrival of robotic cars, almost as though they were the next generation of iPhones. The breathless statements are especially beguiling for members of the public without the engineering background required to understand the challenges that remain. In other words, most people.

Sound pretty familiar.  But . . .

Motorways and freeways are the low-hanging fruit of autonomous driving; everyone is moving in one direction at the same relative speed, and there are no pesky pedestrians to get in the way. Much of what is passed off today as “autonomous driving” is some variation of this sort of advanced cruise control.

But there is an elephant in the cab with even this rudimentary form of autonomy. Many companies are planning cars that, in the event of an emergency, hand back control to the human driver. (Google, a notable exception, plans a car with no steering wheel or brake pedal.) The potentially fatal weakness of this strategy is that it assumes “drivers” will be paying attention at the split second they are most needed, instead of being busy, say, taking a nap.

The much harder, and still mainly unsolved, autonomous driving problem involves not highways but cities, with all their chaos and complexity. Self-driving cars still struggle with simple potholes; no one has come even close to demonstrating a completely driverless car that could do the work of a Manhattan taxi driver on a rainy day.

The sad reality of autonomous car technology is that the easy parts of have yet to be proven safe, and the hard parts have yet to be proven possible. We’re nowhere close to Silicon Valley’s automotive “Tomorrowland.”

The most realistic industry projection about the arrival of autonomous driving comes from the company that’s done the most to make it possible. Google, while never explicitly saying so, has long intimated that self-driving cars would be available by the end of the decade.

In February, though, a Google car caused its first accident; a bus collision with no injuries. A few weeks later, Google made a significant, if little-noted, schedule adjustment. Chris Urmson, the project director, said in a presentation that the fully featured, truly go-anywhere self-driving car that Google has promised might not be available for 30 years, though other much less capable models might arrive sooner.

And here is news of the Google announcement.  Including this tidbit:

Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first.

Guess what.  Our roads are crowded, and it rains very hard for a big chunk of the year.  While the idea of autonomous cars should be taken into account in planning, there is no way to know if, when, or how much the technology will change things.  It cannot be relied upon as a panacea to a transportation issues.

– What Transit Needs

This seemed like a good place to put a link to this article from Citylab.com about what transit riders want.    It is based on a survey, with caveats at the end of the article.  But the real keys are frequency, speed, and walkability.  By that measure there is no reason to think that the present transit in this area, such as it is, would be a success.

We need to do much better.

Roundup 7-8-2016

July 8, 2016

Latin America – Luv TIA Flights to Havana

We were going to take this week off, given that it was a holiday week, but we decided that something deserved special note.

As readers will know, Tampa has trailed only South Florida as a charter flight market to Cuba (admittedly by a lot, but still).  This year, the US and Cuba agreed to have regular commercial service between them. Together that should be promising, except that airlines like to push their passenger through their hubs, which threatened Tampa’s service.  Previously, the Department of Transportation awarded (tentatively) flights to other Cuban cities than Havana, to which no airline applied to fly from Tampa (which was disappointing).  Even for the Havana flights, the airlines’ proposals favored their hubs.  We know that made the airport folks a bit nervous.

Well, Thursday, the Department of Transportation released its (tentative) Havana flight list. (The document is here)  For ease, here is the list:

From USDOT document – click for document

First, Tampa gets one flight a day to Havana on Southwest, which makes sense for the airline choice.  While we are not a hub, Southwest is the largest airline at TIA (yea, we know the airport want us to call it TPA, but whatever), and its flights can draw on the most connecting traffic.  Second, you may note that every other airport on the list is a hub, though Miami is not really a Frontier hub.  Aside from that, we are the only non-hub on the list.

And that is great, for two reasons: 1) because we get the flights (we have the demand and you can’t be a gateway to Latin America if you do not even connect nonstop to the place with which you have the longest, biggest connection) and 2) because maybe we can convince Southwest (or other airlines) to have more flight to Latin America/Caribbean (and elsewhere) through Tampa using it as a minor hub or focus city.  And here is another reason they should consider that: because our airport is awesome, as shown once again by coming in third on Travel & Leisure’s list of best domestic airports.

An efficient design that makes the travel process seamless from check-in until boarding is one of the qualities shared by all of our World’s Best airports. Tampa International Airport (TPA), which has been one of the top three domestic airports since 2013, was applauded by readers for its maneuverability. “TPA is easy in, easy out,” said one pleased respondent. “I will pay more for flights here because it is simply easy to navigate.”

Another agreed, saying it should be “the model for all U.S. airports.”

Tampa International is consistently (and we mean over decades) one of the best airports in the country/world.  There is no reason Southwest (or another airline) should not share the luv (and, yes, that is international).

So, once again, well done airport (and those, like the Mayor of St. Pete, who are working hard to build our connection with Cuba and work to build Cuba trade rather than let it go to all the other cities of Florida – and thanks to those who have quietly worked so hard for decades to expand local air service). If only the rest of the area could work so well (and the Port could stop being so complacent on Cuba while other Florida cities/ports move to develop the business.)

Now, if we could just get that San Francisco flight.

Roundup 7-1-2016

July 1, 2016

Contents

TBX – Of Tolls and Talks

Economic Development/Planning – The Other Economy

West Tampa – The Housing Authority Picks Another Developer

Downtown/Hyde Park – Related

Westshore – Something Else

Bayshore – Colonnade Replacement

Economy – Beyond the Threshold?

Economic Development – Into the Unknown

International Trade – The Other Port

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Creative Village

— Ships a-Sailing

___________________________________

TBX – Of Tolls and Talks

The Orlando Sentinel had an interesting article about toll roads that deserves being looked at (if you can get by the bizarre layout):

When it comes to rankings, Florida doesn’t lead America in much.

Education? Don’t be silly.

Wages? We’re way down.

But there’s one area where Florida excels (well, in addition to wrongful convictions): toll roads.

We have more miles of pay-to-drive pavement than any state in America.

The average state has about 100 miles of toll roads. Some have none.

Florida, however, has 719 miles — which is like driving the full length of the Beachline, from the convention center to Cape Canaveral … 13 times.

Indeed.  Even so, we are not opposed to the idea of normal toll roads.  While we do not love toll roads, we understand the user fee concept.  On the other hand, FDOT’s present strategy of adding “express lanes” (more properly called variable rate toll lanes) is nonsensical:

  1. Tolls are regressive. They tax those who can least afford it. People who live in the ‘burbs because they can’t afford homes near their jobs use them more. So you add extra daily costs to those who can least afford it. “This is about social inequities,” Dallari said. “You’re on a fixed income, trying to get from A to B and we’re trying to hit you twice?”

They are regressive, which is why they should be reasonable and equitable.  People with lower income should not be denied decent service by the government just because their income is lower – which is what express lanes do.  And, even more to the point:

  1. For toll lanes to work, the free lanes have to remain clogged. This is the piece of the puzzle many people don’t get. Toll roads are only profitable when the free lanes remain undesirable to drive. Otherwise, they can’t pay for themselves (or pay off the for-profit companies that sometimes run them). Express lanes aren’t designed to make free lanes congestion-free. To the contrary, they financially depend upon the free lanes remaining clogged.

This is the part of the equation that flies in the face of toll advocates who argue that free-lane drivers in their two-tone beaters reap big benefits when the Mercedes drivers opt for the toll lanes.

Sure, new toll lanes removes some cars. But, by design, the free lanes have to remain clogged — or else the Mercedes wouldn’t have any reason to pay.

Basically, toll lanes provide alternatives for some rather than better roads for all.

That second issue is something we have been saying for a long time.  The entire purpose of spending $3-6 billion dollars to build lanes whose express purpose (no pun intended) is to keep most traffic out is not really a recipe for fixing congestion (expect, maybe, for a select few) – especially when there is no money or room for anything else.

And, yes, for express lanes to pay for themselves, you need bad traffic in the free lanes (or normal toll lanes) so FDOT can charge higher tolls in the express lanes and recoup its cost.  In other words, the entire express lane concept is created to serve the few people in the express lanes while forcing everyone else onto ever more congested roads.  (And those are the only alternatives FDOT offers.) And we are not even getting into the question revenue assumptions from FDOT.

Yet, in the local “conversation,” that is not made particularly clear. For instance, from a letter to the editor by the President of the Chamber of Commerce:

TBX will allow for additional capacity in the interstate corridors through the use of tolled express lanes, which are paid by the user. 

While, yes, express lanes may, by virtue of just being a new lane (if they are a new lane – see Howard Frankland confusion), literally add capacity, unstated, but also very true, is that the lanes are of limited (not normal) capacity (by design), limited utility (by design), high price (by design), do not really ease congestion (by design), and do not move the number of cars as free or regular toll lanes (by design) though they cost as much or more to build.  And they are not this (from the Sentinel article):

Ideally, state and regional planners would focus more on a well-rounded transportation system with more transit options, walkable communities, better development planning and better return on federal dollars to provide improved roads for all. 

That is how transportation planning and government is supposed to work.  While there are parts of TBX that are useful, they are only part of TBX because FDOT threw every highway project into something it called TBX and then said take it or leave it. The fact is that express lanes, which are endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay Partnership (so don’t expect any discussion about that), are using our gas taxes to build lanes that most people will not be able to use regularly by design.  How is that either fair or good governance?  It is not like the average person who cannot afford $30 trips across the Howard Frankland is going to get any relief from his gas taxes.  And he is not going to get an alternative means of getting around.

As we said last week, it is fine to say we need conversations, but FDOT is not engaging in a conversation and local officials (for the most part) are just rolling over to endorse FDOT’s plan, often saying we need to endorse it or lose the money.

Interestingly, in the Sentinel article, we learn:

Some local officials have had enough. Seminole County officials successfully beat back a state a tolls-within-tolls proposal in their county. And Commissioner Bob Dallari says he’s ready to protest them region wide at an upcoming meeting of Central Florida’s regional transportation-planning group, Metroplan.

“This is asinine,” he said, adding that these roads were supposedly built with capacity for years to come, meaning, “They’re either spending it wrong, they budgeted it wrong or we’re not getting the full picture.”

“They talk in Tallahassee about reducing taxes,” he said, “but they’re just pushing the bills down here.”

He’s right.

State officials say drivers like the extra-toll options. And they know this because, as the Sentinel reported, the FDOT ran its plan to double-toll roads by focus groups “of about 10 people.”

Setting aside FDOT’s continuing fine outreach programs, it seems that you can say “no” to FDOT.  And, while it is not entirely clear, it seems that the toll lanes in question were not express lanes, just lanes with an additional toll.   And it seems that every other construction plan in Orlando from FDOT did not immediately go away. (Yea, we know I-4 is getting “express lanes” but that does not change the fact that you can tell FDOT “no.”)

In other words, nothing is inevitable.  It is all the result of choices, by FDOT, by the MPO, by local officials, by the business community, by voters.  We need better roads – but that does not mean we need the mess that is TBX.  And, yes, we need conversations.

Going back to the letter from the Chamber of Commerce President:

The chamber expects the FDOT to listen to the concerns of the community and show the leadership necessary to build a project that improves transportation options for businesses and families across the region. As the leading voice for business in Hillsborough County, we offered the MPO to serve as a convener to bring all parties together to work diligently toward a solution. We stand by that offer and are committed to see this project through completion. 

And that is the really the problem.  Yes, FDOT should listen to the community, but local officials keep endorsing what FDOT says, so what conversation does FDOT need to have? By approving the plan year in and year out, you remove any motivation for FDOT to do anything but move forward and ignore local interests.

Aside from having expectations from FDOT, the Chamber of Commerce (and other local organizations) should expect (and push) local officials to really plan and come up with a plan for a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system, and have local officials push FDOT to build what needs to be built and not destroy things that should not be destroyed – and to reject what needs to be rejected.

Rick Homans is the CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. His organization headed the TBXyes coalition in support of the transportation plan. The group rallied more than two-dozen businesses and member organizations behind the plan and another 60 high-profile CEOs of some of Tampa Bay’s largest companies.

Where most TBX supporters never said they were against multimodal transportation options and premium transit, TBX critics aligned with Cookson’s group never said they were against roads. Both groups are looking toward the future, anticipating identifying how to create a more robust regional transit system and how to fund it.

“Let’s sit down and talk about all that,” Cookson said. “FDOT needs to come to the table and have an honest conversation instead of pushing TBX only and first.”

“We need a multimodal regional transportation system and it’s got to have all kinds of different elements to it – pedestrian, bikes, bus rapid transit, express buses, the possibility of rail, autonomous vehicles, rideshare – we should be putting everything on the table,” Homans said in a conversation with the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “And then, how do we fund it? That’s work that has to start very quickly.”

Setting aside that nothing from the Partnership CEO (or the Chamber of Commerce, really) says anything about limiting the size of the disruptions and destruction that TBX will cause (or its lack of utility) so it is not clear if that is part of the full discussion, that work in question should have already happened – when their could have been a full discussion – where there would have been consensus on the Howard Frankland, SR60/I-275, most of Malfunction Junction and some widening while doing much more to protect neighborhoods– and this whole commotion could have been avoided.

The fact that it still hasn’t happened is most telling about local politics.  The reality is that fixing transportation is about the last thing most local officials really want to discuss.  It is a big, complicated, expensive, controversial topic.  And it has to be properly addressed – though it never really is.

Once again, for all FDOT’s faults, the big failure is local.

Economic Development/Planning – The Other Economy

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

Farming may not rank high on the list of job interests among millennials, but Melissa Grimes thinks it should.

Grimes, a 29-year-old Plant City strawberry and blueberry farmer, works to get more young people into the industry through her position as chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

“Our population is growing and everyone has to eat, so I definitely want agriculture in this area to continue to thrive,” Grimes said.

Judging by the economic outlook for agriculture — and new advancements that would intrigue the most tech-savvy millennials — now looks like a good time for Grimes to spread the word.

Why is that?

Some grove owners opted to sell their land to developers, but many others switched to strawberries.

Today, the juicy, red fruit ranks No. 1 in the county among all agricultural commodities, followed by vegetable production and ornamental plants.

Taken together, agriculture ranks as the county’s second largest industry behind tourism, said Judi Whitson, director of the Hillsborough County Florida Farm Bureau.

“Agricultural flips back and forth with construction in that ranking, but it’s an $8.1 million industry,” Whitson said, adding that Hillsborough ranks fourth in the state and 59th nationally in the value of its farm products.

Businesses such as banking, real estate and transportation also benefit as a result of the area’s robust agricultural industry, according to a 2012 report by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services.

Hillsborough County’s agricultural industry employs 168,654 full- and part-time workers, which amounts to 20.7 percent of the area’s workforce, according to another study from the institute earlier this year.

Since 1997, the value per-acre of agricultural production in Hillsborough County has increased 42 percent even as the amount of farmland fell 7 percent.

(As an aside – we are all for preserving agriculture, but the article also leads to this question: how has the economy really changed if tourism, construction and agriculture are the top three industries?)

The article really looks at technology and the workforce, but there is another point.  Look at how much money agriculture generates.  Look at the jobs, the spin-off development.  All of it.

Now, consider that the County’s poor, sprawl-centric planning puts all of that at risk.  By subsidizing the destruction of farms for expensive and uneconomical (at least for the taxpayers) sprawl rather than having proper planning that limits sprawl and allows agriculture to thrive while also promoting development (especially infill in already built areas), the County attacks its own economy.  We can have both building/development and agriculture, but not if it continues on its present course that pits one against the other.  Sprawl does not just waste money in infrastructure and the cost of commuting.  It wastes useful land and harms productivity.

Just another reason we need proper planning . . and to keep real mobility fees.

West Tampa – The Housing Authority Picks Another Developer

As you may remember, the Housing Authority is looking to redevelop the North Boulevard Homes area.  As we touched on briefly last week, the Authority had previously (for unknown reasons) picked a planner/developer of questionable qualifications but then dropped them.  (See “Downtown – Encore Issues”)  This week the Housing Authority picked a new developer for the “West River” redevelopment.  The choice was unsurprising.

The Tampa Housing Authority on Wednesday announced that it has selected Related Urban Group to redevelop the city’s oldest public housing site, North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune.

Related Urban is a joint venture between The Related Group and The Urban Development Group, with Related’s Jorge Perez and Urban’s Alberto Milo Jr. as principals.

The joint venture will serve as the master developer partner with the housing authority for the nearly 200 acres known as the West River area of Tampa’s Center City — north of Interstate 275, south of Columbus Drive and west from Hillsborough River to Rome Avenue.

A mixed-use development that will include 1,636 mixed-income residential units and more than 177,000 square feet of commercial space are planned for the property.

“Under the partnership agreement, at least 820 rental units and 30 percent of the for-sale units will be affordable to families earning less than 80 percent and 120 percent of area median income, respectively,” the housing authority said in a statement.

It is hard to know what to think of this.  Clearly, Related is capable of building really nice, urban developments.  They build first class, large developments all over the place.

“This is a company that doesn’t partner with anybody,” said Leroy Moore, chief operating officer of the Housing Authority. “For them to go into a new opportunity area like West River says a lot as to how they perceive this city as being ready for this type of quality development.” 

On the other hand, they have been reticent to build really nice, walkable development in Tampa (See next item. And while we like the Manor on Harbour Island, it is just one building being dropped into an area that is already walkable and does not particularly enliven the streets), and the City has not cared. Moreover, we are not really sure what they are planning.

Since the City will probably let them do what they want (as it already has), the real question is whether Related will put their A team on this or, like at least 2 out of 3 of their other developments in Tampa, their B or C teams,.  It remains to be seen.  As does what this is actually about:

Board members on Wednesday also awarded the contract for construction of two other West River apartment buildings worth an estimated $40 million each to Bank of America Community Development Corp. 

It is interesting to note that, per the meeting agenda (see here), Bank of America was actually the top ranked developer and Related Urban was second.  Yet, Bank of America’s buildings will be parcels T1 (on Rome) and T3 (on Oregon).  Related Urban will have pretty much the rest of the southern 2/3 of the area in question (including one waterfront property) – and deal with the master development plan.  And, unfortunately, we have seen no renderings or plans for any of the buildings (though maybe the Housing authority has them).

For such a large redevelopment project, there sure is a lot of ambiguity and vagueness on what exactly is going on, what are we actually talking about, and on what basis were any of these decisions made?

Which leads to the other thing: what is the oversight to this process?  It is not that the developer does not have qualifications – it does.  It is it is unclear what is actually going on other than the public being given the typical Tampa/Hillsborough government “trust us.”  That does not mean that all developments are necessarily bad, but it does mean that all the vagueness is a concern.

Given the lack of real information, all we can say is that we hope Related steps up and builds something really good, not blocks and blocks (or even one block) of Pierhouse-like development.  We also hope the City exercises real oversight.  And we shall see.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Related

Speaking of Related and a lack of oversight, the Tribune building (no, not the old one downtown – a star to whoever can tell us what that building is now – hint there was more than one but as far as we can tell only one survives) on the west side of the river should be coming down soon.

Related Group, which is planning a 400-unit, eight-story residential development on the Tribune site, began removing furniture from the building this week, said Arturo Pena, vice president of development.

Miami-based Related closed on the 4.4-acre waterfront property at 202 S. Parker St. in July 2015, paying $17.75 million. The development will also include a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor.

Pena said some environmental abatement will be done next week, and that “optimistically,” demolition could begin July 1. “Realistically,” he said, it will likely be mid-July before the building comes down.

After its usual hype, the Business Journal provides a rendering (that we just recently noticed included a mutant 100 foot tall tree eating the 4 story portion of the development in the southwest corner – hopefully related leaves that particular species out of its West Tampa plans).

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We still think this project is really disappointing – especially at the street and for the neighborhood, where it replicates the late 1970s and does nothing.  Within a decade or so, that dead street where there should be a connection between the river and the rest of the area will be really regretted.  But, as with transportation, the burden is on local government to push harder for quality.  Related is a solid developer that can do much better (as can their architects). And Tampa deserves better.

Westshore – Something Else

There was news of another proposal in Westshore:

Zons Development, based in Tampa, has proposed two new buildings at 3415 E. Frontage Road, just south of West Laurel Street near Tampa International Airport. The proposed development includes 200,000 square feet of office space and 150 hotel rooms.

* * *

The project will be built in phases, according to rezoning application. The first phase is a 12-story building — a four-story parking deck topped by four stories of office space with a four-story hotel on top. The second phase is an office building.

Zons anticipates completion of the first phase — 100,000 square feet of office space and the 150 hotel rooms — by July 2018; the second phase, the remaining 100,000 square feet of office space, will follow by January 2020.

The mixed use building with a parking underneath the building is an interesting idea.  This is the massing diagram:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can’t really tell much from the massing diagram.  The site plan is a bit odd, especially for a project with mixed use buildings.  It is an office park site plan with only one apparent entrance (in the most inconvenient location) to the complex and lots of surface parking rather than denser plan the building concept would seem to contemplate.  On the other hand, this is at an extreme end of Westshore, near the jumble that is Avion Park, so we don’t expect too much in terms of good site planning (though we would like some).

One other thing is that we wonder if the taller building might be too tall, though that is not our issue.  We would have to see more to really comment further.

Bayshore – Colonnade Replacement

We got the first look at what developers plan for the Colonnade property:

Developers will submit plans for a rezoning application for the property and have released renderings that show a 24-story, up-to-70-unit tower with views of Hillsborough Bay and the downtown Tampa skyline.

The condo tower will feature floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies. The 70 condominium homes will average about 3,000 square feet. Amenities include private elevator lobbies, 10-foot ceilings, high-end kitchens and outdoor summer kitchens, and hardwood floors.

Residents will also have 24-hour concierge service, a private dining room and private parking. A shared club room, fitness center, infinity pool, sun deck and gardens are included in the plans. 

It is all very fancy, which is fine.  Here is a rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is relatively nondescript, though a bit different from most of the condos on Bayshore, so that is fine.  Frankly, the most noticeable thing about it is the lack of a front door on Bayshore.  Though, if you look carefully, you’ll see that many, if not most, of the large condo buildings on Bayshore don’t actually face Bayshore.  And most, like this rendering, have some small, hidden sidewalk to Bayshore, if any at all. (Or maybe you just have to walk out a driveway with no walkway, because who would walk?)  It is a shame they don’t real add to the street – but that is a choice by the City.

Other than that, we don’t really have much to say.

Economy – Beyond the Threshold?

There is a new projection for the growth of the state economy:

Florida’s economy will continue to outpace the rest of the country for the next four years, pushing the state toward a $1 trillion economy by 2018, according to the latest economic forecast from the University of Central Florida.

In his second-quarter forecast, UCF economist Sean Snaith said the Sunshine State is enjoying both rising job growth and home construction. The mix of aging Baby Boomers and a healthier jobs market in Florida “bodes well for continued population growth via the in-migration of workers and retirees,” he said.

His analysis projects Florida’s economy will expand at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent from 2016 to 2019, outpacing the national average. That means Florida’s gross state product, or economic output, would cross the $1 trillion threshold in 2018 and climb to $1.074 trillion in 2019. Based on current World Bank rankings, Snaith said, that would make Florida’s economy the 16th largest in the world.

Already, Florida has enjoyed a healthy housing recovery. Median home prices have jumped from a low of $122,200 during the housing crisis to $213,000. A shrinking inventory of homes on the market is encouraging builders.

But Snaith discounted fears that another housing crisis may be brewing. “While this looks like another housing bubble, it’s really just an old-fashioned shortage in the single-family market,” he said, predicting any housing shortage will correct itself as housing starts pick up in the next few years.

That may be.  We are sure that, at some point, Florida’s economy will reach $1 trillion, which is a nice number but nothing really magical.  Whether there is a recession before that point or after is just a matter of timing.

On the other hand, the article inadvertently reveals the real problem, and the transitional problem, with the Florida economy – reliance on the housing market and people moving here rather – which is very susceptible to downturns.

Moreover, if you do the math, even assuming:

– another 2 million people move to Florida in the next 4 years

– the population of the US does not grow from 324 million (as of 6/29/16), and

– the GDP of the US does not grow (we’ll pick the lowest GDP figure from this list) while Florida’s does so make Florida’s percentage even bigger,

Florida would still be underperforming: Under that scenario Florida would have 6.8% of the US population but only 6.2% of the GDP.  And that is being very generous and assuming no recessions.

It is good to grow, but let’s not get too excited.  Even when we get to $1 trillion, we will be punching under our weight (and that does not even get into whether this area punches under its weight in Florida).

Economic Development – Into the Unknown

There was news this week that the Tampa Bay Partnership is moving to change how it is governed.

The Tampa Bay Partnership’s existing Board of Directors will vote this week on a major structural change that would eliminate any public investments and redefine the group’s leadership structure.

During its meeting Friday, the board will decide whether to approve a new Council of Governors consisting of only CEOs of major companies in the Tampa Bay area. If they vote in the affirmative, the Tampa Bay Partnership will sunset its current board on Sept. 30. The new board with a minimum $50,000 buy-in would convene the next day on Oct. 1.

A Leadership Council would also be created with a minimum $25,000 investment in the Partnership. Both groups are by invitation only.

The restructure eliminates elected officials and business and groups like Chambers of Commerce from governance roles. Those groups and individuals would still be part of “stakeholder relationships” and would still be invited to participate in certain situations.

We do not know if this structure would work better.  There is something to be said for removing public officials from the board, though it remains to be seen if that would really create independence or just the illusion of independence.

“The big issues have to be addressed at a regional level or you are simply not going to make much progress,” Rick Homans, the Partnership’s CEO since January, said in an extensive interview. “If you do this city by city or county by county, you will only get so far.” 

That is true, but isn’t that what the old partnership was supposed to do in the first place?  It’s not like it was a robot adopting the previous, less effective approach.  Will they really change their approach?  They might. We hope they do.

The other issue is the board/council by invitation only.

Does a new Tampa Bay Partnership, to be run by 40 or so CEOs paying $50,000 annually to participate, run the risk of looking like some rich guy (with perhaps a few rich gals) club?

Homans argues that, done right, the new Partnership can earn community respect by what it does. He calls the $50,000 annual fee to serve on the board more of a “filter” that would help insure every CEO take the responsibility seriously.

Says Homans, who is never one to just sit still: “We will give it the old college try and see what this does.”

The short answer to whether it looks like a rich person’s club is “yes.”  On the other hand, if they actually advocate for good things with broad benefits rather than appearing to just advocate on their own behalf, that will be fine.

It just remains to be seen.

International Trade – The Other Port

There was an interesting bit in the Times (which came from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune) about how the other port in Tampa Bay is planning to deal with the expanded Panama Canal.

In an agreement signed in late 2015 with Racetrac Petroleum Inc., Port Manatee serves as the fuel hub for a nine-county region encompassing more than 30 of the company’s stores, from Hillsborough County south to Collier and west to Okeechobee counties.

While Port Manatee is responsible for the flow of nearly 100 million gallons of gasoline each year, its top import is fruit.

The deepwater port has more refrigerated square-footage on its docks — five refrigerated warehouses — than any other port in Florida, its managers say.

Fresh Del Monte, an international fresh fruit and vegetable distributor in Coral Gables, is one of the port’s leading distributors, bringing in a ship each week and sometimes two, depending on the season, from Central American plantations. By the end of 2015, Port Manatee, which Fresh Del Monte chose as its southwest distribution center 20 years ago, had more than 1 billion bananas and 44 million pineapples come across its docks.

The port also has gotten into some higher technology pursuits.

In 2012, with incentives provided by the state and Manatee County, Air Products and Chemicals Inc. committed to 32 acres of property adjacent to Port Manatee to build a 300,000-square-foot plant. The manufacturer, a unit of the Fortune 500 company of the same name, makes heat exchangers — huge devices that cool natural gas into a concentrated, liquid form for transport.

And that’s all fine, but about the canal . . .

While Port Manatee will not receive direct shipments from the new, gigantic ships that will be able to use the expanded Panama Canal, port managers expect to benefit as those cargoes are broken into smaller portions. Port Manatee has been gearing up for years to deal with the arrival of the New Panamax cargo by adding and renovating berths.

Berth 12 was extended in 2013, resulting in the creation of Berth 14. Combined, the two are more than 1,500 feet long, capable of handling Panamax-sized ships. The creation of Berth 14, port managers said, was the latest large-scale infrastructure project at the port. It was completed in October 2013.

The port has since renovated the six original berths surrounding its inner harbor — berths six through 11. They are more than 40 years old, and their rehabilitation is expected to be completed one at a time. Berth 9 was chosen as the first rehabilitation, which began in February and is expected to be completed next summer, because of its condition and future need. Each rebuild will take roughly a year and cost $11 million to $12 million.

* * *

To get its piece of the pie from the expanded Panama Canal, officials at Port Manatee expect to tap so-called transshipment ports, which can accommodate the New Panamax ships. Those centers include Freeport, Bahamas, and Kingston, Jamaica, where the New Panamax cargoes will be divided and shipped out on smaller ships to destinations such as Port Manatee.

And that’s all fine, too, but we are confused about the utility of building to a handle a Panamax ship when they do not expect them to come?  We have nothing against upgrades (as long as they make sense and have the ability to expand if you need more capacity), but there must be something else.

The renovation isn’t the only project the port is undertaking to possibly advance its position with the expanded canal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently began studying the possibility of deepening the port’s harbor channel from 40 to 43 feet. The channel runs about 3 miles from the main ship channel in Tampa Bay into Port Manatee’s inner harbor.

“When you add the tidal range — ships will sail in on a high tide — they have that additional water to come in,” Sanford explained. “That’s 45 feet of water … and 45 feet of water will accommodate most any vessel that we would think to bring in.”

That is more interesting – we are all for deepening the channel.  Still not deep enough for new Panamax, really, but better.  And that does not change the reliance on cargo coming on smaller ships after transshipment.  Then again, with our bridge, our channel, and our present market, there is not much they can do about that, just like Port Tampa (Bay), aside from speaking realistically and not overselling the actual growth potential.

We are pulling for them.  Port Manatee’s success is our success.  Unfortunately, the article really sounds like any article that covers Port Tampa (Bay). The real sad part is that there are two ports operating on Tampa Bay really not very far from each other that appear to compete far more than they complement each other.  It is part of our fragmented and silly local governance.  It would be much better to pool our resources, but we doubt that will happen.

Maybe rationalizing our assets is what the new Tampa Bay Partnership should focus on first.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Creative Village

USF med school’s downtown building is scheduled to open in 2019. Other cities are also working on downtown campuses, including Orlando:

The University of Central Florida has chosen a team to design and build its new downtown Orlando campus.

SchenkelShultz Architecture, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Skanska USA Building Inc. — a team referred to as SSA/RAMSA/Skanska — were chosen among eight design/build teams that submitted bids for the project in April, according to a news release from UCF.

SSA/RAMSA/Skanska is responsible for the creation of the campus’ first building: a 165,000-square-foot, $60 million academic facility on 15 acres at the intersection of Parramore Avenue and Livingston Street, where 7,700 UCF and Valencia College students are expected to enroll in classes by opening day in August 2018. The team also will be responsible for a $5 million renovation at UCF’s existing Center for Emerging Media that’s on the campus’ property. 

(Some well-known architects – or at least a firm with a famous name) And, just like us, they are looking for spin-off development as well (and the UCF and Valencia programs, being broader than just a med school, arguably will bring more people to the complex):

The opening of the campus also is expected to be a catalyst for Creative Village, a 68-acre, $1 billion, mixed-use development plan of Orlando developer Craig Ustler, who envisions Creative Village being a tech mecca for businesses, colleges and residents. 

We shall see if either (or both) meets its target date – or targeted spin-off development.

— Ships a-Sailing

While Port Tampa (Bay) considers the future of its cruise business as ships get bigger and bigger and ports without poorly considered bridges that were built shorter than the tallest bridge across the Panama Canal (why? Do you have to ask?) are consigned to handling smaller ships and a smaller percentage of the business (which makes up ¼ or so of Port Tampa (Bay)’s revenue, mind you), others are planning ahead:

For nearly a decade, the cruise capital of the world has been unable to host the largest cruise ships in the world. But all that is about to change.

Royal Caribbean Cruises and Miami-Dade County announced Tuesday night that they have reached a deal to build one of the biggest cruise terminals in the country at PortMiami, a move that will — finally — bring Royal Caribbean International’s massive Oasis-class ships home.

The Miami-Dade County Commission must vote on the deal before it becomes final. The county will pay $15 million for surface and road work to connect the new terminal to the other cruise terminals, a small percentage of the $247 million project that will be otherwise financed by Miami-based Royal Caribbean. The deal will also bring the county $7.5 million in annual rent.

We are not going to say that the Tampa and Miami cruise markets are in any way comparable.  Miami is much bigger.  And we know that a number of the big cruise lines are based in Miami so they will obviously invest more there.  And where have the big ships been hiding?

For PortMiami, the agreement signals the achievement of a longtime hope that the port would one day accommodate the 6,000-plus passenger ships, said port director Juan Kuryla. The two current Oasis-class ships sail from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, which opened a new facility to host the ships in 2009. 

South Florida.

The real point is not even that locally we have neither dealt with the cruise issue – and the Port income issue – nor with the bridge issue. (though we haven’t)  And we are not arguing here that we have to raise the bridge or build a new one. (that is far too complex to get into here.)

No, the real point is that the least we can do is take a lesson from the poor planning that gave us a low, though very attractive bridge, in the first place. For not much more than it cost to build in the first place, the Skyway could have been about 30 feet higher.  Would that have allowed every ship into the bay? No. (and not the tallest cruise ships unless they had some retractable parts, which some do)  But it would have allowed a lot more.

Though that would have taken some vision, some local planning, a little aggressiveness, a little planning, and a little discussion with FDOT – just like having a proper transportation system now.

Roundup 6-24-2016

June 24, 2016

Contents

Transportation – What Did You Expect?

Transportation – That Other Toll Road

Economic Development – Seeking the Youth Fountain

Downtown – Encore Issues

Transportation – What Does Not Need to Be Subsidized

Hillsborough County – Logos by Crockett

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

___________________________________

Transportation – What Did You Expect?

On Wednesday night, Thursday morning really, the MPO did what the MPO does (here is the board):

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization voted 12 to 4 shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday morning to keep the divisive $6 billion road project known as TBX on track and part of its long-term funding plans.

But an incremental step for TBX amounted to a big setback for the critics, who oppose the plan to add 90 miles of tolled express lanes to the interstate system linking five counties and viewed the meeting as their chance to stop the project.

Despite mounting opposition from Central Tampa neighborhoods and groups like 1,000 Friends of Florida, the vote to approve the project came as no surprise. Only two of 16 members — Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco and Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO Chairman Les Miller — had publicly stated their intent to vote against the project before Wednesday’s public hearing.

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione were the other two dissenting votes.

We could get into all the problems with TBX – especially the scale and the variable rate toll lanes – but we have done that ad nauseam.  The reality is that we never expected the MPO to say “no.”  That is not how Tampa rolls.  We are not even going to get into the fact that those against TBX at the hearing far outnumbered those for.  As we have said, there are parts of the TBX group of projects (because that is what it really is) that are needed – the Howard Frankland, the SR60/I-275 interchange, Malfunction Junction.  But that overall the project is just a very expensive mess and runs completely counter to the idea of revitalizing Tampa (though the City administration supports it – though if you are going to do road diets without real transit, you need more capacity for closer in drivers not express lanes that are useless, but nevermind) or, even, the basic theory behind of variable rate toll lanes that are the main feature. (We have already gone over that).

We are more interested in two points.  First, many of the Chamber of Commerce speakers (and other supporters of TBX) had this point:

Bob Rohrlack, head of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, echoed similar praise for the plan.

“A no-vote is telling the Tampa International Airport [a major economic driver] we’re not going to make it easy for people to get to you,” Rohrlack said. “By voting yes, the conversation continues.”

As with Go Hillsborough, the Chamber has basically taken a “do anything, please” approach to transportation.  It would be good to have a conversation continue, but, with all due respect, what conversation?  FDOT has taken a take it or leave it position. (And we doubt there are hordes of Millennials sitting around waiting for Tampa to build variable rate toll lanes before they move here.)  That is not really a conversation – that is dictation.

And, really, any conversation about TBX should have taken place before the MPO approved it. (Maybe discuss things like HOT lanes instead of what is planned so you actual incentivize people to use the lanes rather than incentivizing people to not use the lanes  and pushing them to already overburdened surface roads, which is what variable rate lanes are designed to do, especially when there is no real alternative to roads. You know, stuff like that.) The time to work out a plan and take account of the interests of the area are before you are told what you have to do by someone else.

And, frankly, no one is saying don’t fix the SR60/I-275 interchange (which is what TIA is interested in); they are saying do that but drop some of the other overblown elements and dump the variable rate lanes.  It is FDOT that is not engaging in a conversation (and local officials, too).  And it is local officials who fail to plan in any rational way that enable it.  That is the real issue – the local failure.

Then there is the odd second point that showed up in a Business Journal article:

The MPO is set to vote whether or not to add the plan to its annual list of transportation priorities during a meeting next week. If that plan is not included in the agency’s Transportation Improvement Plan, the state funds available for a large portion of TBX would likely go to other parts of the state.

However, that doesn’t mean the region would be left with nothing. Interstate 275 at State Road 60 and the downtown “malfunction junction” interchange would still get improvements and portions of the Howard Frankland Bridge will have to be replaced no matter what. Funding sources would still have to be identified though.

That is quite vague but seems to imply that, at the end of the day, FDOT’s threats may be hollow.  (Clearly FDOT’s threat scares the MPO board and other politicians that need FDOT money.)  Because TBX is funded by gas tax, there is no reason that list of projects couldn’t be funded by the same gas taxes.  (Why shouldn’t we get our share regardless of whether we approve 4 segments or 8 segments of a plan?)  It just appears that local officials did not bother to question FDOT.  And there is no reason that money should go somewhere else except that the region has not put sufficient pressure on FDOT (like anyone can be governor – or even president – without support from this area).

If no one was going to bother to check the options before supporting a project that overall is questionable at best and will clearly damage much of the progress the area has made if fixing its urban neighborhoods, why should anyone think they will check after giving it a green light?  The short answer is that they shouldn’t.

As one speaker said, this is a 20th century plan for a place that aspires to be a 21st century city.  You could fix the interstate chokepoints and set up transit (once again, the medians in the highway are already there, TBX has nothing to do with them).  You could do all that and still have money left over from the $6 billion TBX price tag to build some real transit.  But that would take some vision and political will.

The bottom line is that when you put TBX and the total mess that was Go Hillsborough together, you get a perfect illustration of why, despite all the highly touted booms we have had over the decades, we are still behind.

It is just sad, and unnecessary.

Transportation – That Other Toll Road

Speaking of toll roads, the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce voted on the Gandy Connector this week.

The South Tampa Chamber of Commerce is putting its weight behind the Selmon Extension project that would add 1.6 miles of elevated toll roads connecting the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge.

The chamber group spent nine months discussing the project with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority before taking a vote.

“We appreciate THEA’s commitment to ongoing communications with the businesses along Gandy Boulevard, as well as their plan to promote business activity during the construction phase of the project,” said Kelly Flannery, CEO of the chamber. “THEA has been communicative with us throughout the research and planning stages and it has resonated with our Board, and our members.” 

Frankly, we think that is the most reasonable position (and, in contrast to TBX, this road has been discussed, dropped, modified, discussed, dropped some more, discussed again, modified again, and now is where it is).  Getting the people who have no desire to stop on Gandy off of Gandy is good for business there.  The biggest problem with the connector is that it is only one lane in each direction.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is reasonable.

Then, the article in the Business Journal, for no apparent reason, decided to complete confuse issues:

Toll lanes are a hot topic in the Tampa Bay area right now as the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization is set to consider this week whether or not to include the Tampa Bay Express project in its list of annual priorities. The TBX plan, as it’s more commonly called, includes 91 miles of tolled express lanes.

Critics argue such lanes only benefit people who can afford to use them while supporters say it lessens road congestion by taking some cars off the non-toll roads.

So, our question is: what do variable rate toll lanes have to do with the Gandy Connector?

Maybe that is just space-filler, maybe it is supposed to provide some context.  But it completely confuses two unrelated issues.  The idea of a toll road, with normal fixed tolls, is not controversial.  The Veterans is tolled.  The Selmon is tolled (and you do not have to pay extra for the reversible, express lanes).  No one is complaining.  What people do not like is variable rate toll lanes. (The government should not intentionally price some people out of getting proper service.) That has nothing to do with the Gandy Connector.

Sadly, as we have documented (including in talking points about both TBX and Go Hillsborough and regarding rail) this complete lack of clarity is a hallmark of discussions about transportation in this area.  One thing this area does not need, especially if we are ever going to actually have a decent conversation about transportation, is more confusion and obfuscation about transportation issues. 

Economic Development – Seeking the Youth Fountain

Coincidentally with the whole TBX thing, the Hillsborough County EDC released a report on attracting Millennials this week:

Chappell, who runs her own marketing firm in Ybor City, is this year’s chair of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. On Tuesday afternoon, she hosted the unveiling of new survey findings that show Tampa Bay compared favorably in millennial appeal against the four peer metro areas.

“Tampa’s business climate, cost of living, affordability and desirability as a place to live were given the highest favorability ratings of all markets,” said the recently commissioned survey that is part of the EDC’s “Millennial Matter Project.”

Yes, this is a cheap area to live in, especially if you do not count costs of (multiple) car ownership and driving everywhere, like paying $30 to cross the Howard Frankland.

The report, which combined two surveys to compare the Tampa Bay region to four other metropolitan areas, looked at factors such as work-life balance, pro-business local and state leadership, and the local labor force and infrastructure, which the millennials surveyed said were important to them.

The other cities – Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas and Nashville – were chosen, said ChappellRoberts President and CEO Colleen Chappell, because they frequently compete against Tampa for business relocation and expansion projects.

“We’re making a very focused effort to not just talk to [millennial CEOs], but with them,” Chappell said.

She is also the 2016 chairman of the EDC.

Chappell presented the findings of the report Tuesday in front of a crowd of approximately 100 at the Beck Group in Tampa. One survey was directed at millennial CEOs, and the other was aimed toward a broader range of millennials.

We are not sure why they limited the survey to those locations and did not look at other locations, such as Austin, Denver, the other Bay area, Boston, NYC, etc. (and why not include Orlando).  Maybe we do not compete with some of those other areas because we are not competitive, but, if so, we need to learn why.  (And, while it is good they talked to regular Millennials, they should also consider asking older people who chose to leave and make their careers elsewhere – many of them were seeking what everyone says Millennials are seeking now.   The failures of economic development and talent retention in this area are not just a recent thing.)

In any event,

One survey surprise: High crime rates ranked high among millennial concerns in cities like Atlanta and Dallas. Tampa boasts the lowest crime rate of the five cities surveyed, a factor that could play well in recruiting.

So does Tampa Bay’s foodie and craft beer scene, a big factor with millennials, the survey found.

We have not seen who was surveyed and we have not seen the questions, but these two points make us wonder a little about the nature of all the questions.  Craft beer is good, but is our craft beer scene so good that masses of Millennials are going to choose the Tampa Bay area over other areas with higher salaries and just as much food culture? And we know people like the beach, but low costs and the beach have not been enough in the past to develop high wage industries – namely because low costs are often offset by low wages and people with a lot of talent can move to other places to get both amenities and higher wages.  Nevertheless, it is a start – at least potentially. (And this area has a history of producing reports touting our low cost and life style, yet we are still asking, “Why we don’t do better?”)

The survey also pointed to some area weaknesses. Of greatest concern was public transportation (or lack of it). It proved a sore point for discussion coming so soon after the recent failure by the Hillsborough County Commission to place the Go Hillsborough initiative on this fall’s ballot. The good news is Tampa Bay’s traffic, while criticized by those who must commute longer distances, would be considered mild in clogged metro areas like Atlanta.

Another concern voiced by millennials in the survey was a perception that they could not easily live and work in the same area. Chappell and Buckhorn said downtown Tampa had momentum on its side with new housing units being built by the thousands. And Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners’ plan to develop a live-work-play urban neighborhood near Channelside will appeal to many millennials – once it progresses.

Yes, transportation and planning are weak (and most of the old reports pointed to the same problems because they have not changed) – and there are few alternatives to driving.  There is no real way to hide that (nor will TBX change that).  The coverage makes it sound like this survey mirrors a 2014 survey from Transportation for America:

More than half (54%) of millennials surveyed say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around, and 66 percent say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria in considering deciding where to live next.

Even in a city like Nashville – a rapidly growing region with limited travel options – a strong majority of current millennial residents agree they “would prefer to live in a place where most people have transportation options so they do not need to rely only on cars” versus “a place where most people rely on cars to get around” – 54 percent “strongly” and 19 percent “somewhat” in agreement.  The trick for Nashville  and its peers will be hanging onto to those residents while attracting other talented young people. While 64 percent in Nashville say they expect to live in walkable places where they don’t necessarily need a car, only 6 percent say they currently live in such a place.

Of course, the Tampa Bay area (with – for the most part – or without Go Hillsborough) would not really provide that option, though it has gotten a bit better.

And there is another point we think needs to be made: yes, there is development downtown, but this area cannot put all its hope into the Lightning owner’s project or even on downtown.  A decade or two of growth involves tens or hundreds of thousands of people including families with kids, as well as young singles – who will eventually have families with kids.  They are not going all live downtown (or close in) in small apartments with relatively high rents, though they might want to live near where they work or be able to get around and do most things without driving.  What measures are being taken to account for them?  Where can they live and grow older but still have an urban (or at least walkable) lifestyle?  You have to transform whole neighborhoods (like Hyde Park once was transformed or Seminole Heights is being transformed – though in housing it is pretty much transformed), and you have to connect the various neighborhoods and business centers with real transit and proper streets and proper trails – that is what people want and other areas either already provide or are well on the way to providing.

The EDC survey findings are extensive. They will take time to be absorbed, debated and converted into strategies that might benefit Tampa and Hillsborough County, as well as the overall metro area. 

Good.  But the real issues are still pretty obvious – planning and transportation are bad. (Not to mention low incomes that, to a large degree, negate the low cost of living, which is great for CEOs but not so good for almost everyone else.)

We have nothing against surveys – in fact, we are all for them, provided they are done honestly and without hype.  We hope this survey was done that way and actually contains useful information.  (And we wonder if there was a great clamoring for TBX-like express lanes on the highways.)

We just go back to same question, which should be the question the EDC (and anyone thinking about economic development) always asks itself:

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

(Quick answer, not variable rate toll lanes even if they have express buses from far-flung suburbs) That is really the key.

Downtown – Encore Issues

This week, the Housing authority fired the general contractor at Encore.

Construction is on hold after the Tampa Housing Authority on Friday fired the Siltek Group, a general contractor based in Plantation that was managing construction of the $25.6 million building that is about 75 percent complete.

Scheduled to open in the fall, Tempo was one of the city’s signature urban renewal projects. Its completion will now be pushed back to at least early 2017. Roughly 122 units were earmarked as urgently needed housing for low-income residents with the other 81 to be rented at the market rate.

In a letter to Siltek sent June 8, the Housing Authority said the firm failed to use enough construction workers and comply with inspectors, among other issues. The project was also behind schedule and Siltek created an adversarial relationship with its subcontractors, said Housing Authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore.

“We’re getting more and more subcontractors claiming they’re not getting paid,” Moore said.

Siltek also submitted what Moore described as “ridiculous” change orders, including one for $300,000 to cover the cost of solar panels that were part of the contract Siltek signed.

There was also concern that Rene Sierra, a former vice president of Siltek, was still working on the project. According to a plea agreement filed in federal court in Miami last August, Sierra pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. government. The case involves several developers who were indicted for submitting inflated construction contracts for low-income housing projects in southeast Florida to obtain additional tax credits and grants.

Sierra is due to be sentenced in September. Siltek told the Tampa Housing Authority that Sierra would not be involved in the Tempo project, Moore said. But the COO said Sierra was seen three times on the Tempo site.

The Housing Authority is also planing legal action against the firm.

We are not going to comment on the facts alleged.  Frankly, we don’t know.  We do know that it is unfortunate that there are problems with building the project.  It is not our favorite design (it’s ok), but it does add a lot to that part of downtown and it should get done.  Just having unfinished buildings sitting around is not good for anyone.

The Housing Authority plans to ask DPR Construction, a general contractor that has worked on the Encore project, to conduct an on-site assessment of the project, which is estimated to take 45 to 60 days.

If the Housing Authority is satisfied with the report, DPR is likely to win the contract to complete the building, Moore said.

At least there is a contingency plan.

This does bring us back, though, to another odd decision by the Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority has parted company with a development firm before. Last year, it quietly terminated a contract with St. Louis firm McCormack Baron Salazar, the lead consultant for its signature West River development. The firm was hired in 2012 on a $350,000 contract.

Housing Authority officials decided the firm’s ideas for the 120-acre site were too suburban and not suited for the urban boom in Tampa’s downtown.

Instead, the authority agreed to pay an additional $280,000 for Miami firm Lambert Advisory to redo much of the master plan.

We don’t know how obvious the issues with the Encore contractor was, but the issues with West River consultant were obvious from the beginning. (See “West Tampa – A Cause for Concern”  from 2012)  We still have no idea why they were hired and the money wasted, in the first place.

The Housing Authority does some good things, and has over the years, but they need to make sure this kind of stuff does not become a pattern.

Transportation – What Does Not Need to Be Subsidized

There was news this week that there will be another business going in near Top Golf, which was part of the subsidized complex that included Bass Pro Shops.

The IFLY chain will open next to the Top Golf attraction on Palm River Road near the intersection of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and Interstate 75. The venture will be another big get for the Brandon area, which has enjoyed a number of big openings in the past few years, including Top Golf and a Bass Pro Shop. 

While the simulated skydiving looks interesting enough, it is hardly a “big get” or a “destination” attraction.

Prices start at $59.95 at IFLY’s Orlando facility for two flights of several minutes each. That’s the freefall equivalent of three skydives from 12,000 feet, according to the IFLY website.

That’s right, just like Bass Pro Shops, there is one of these down the road.  We are not saying we want to drive an hour away to do everything or that we in any way oppose the IFLY concept (we don’t), but it hardly is justification for spending millions that could be put to fixing the roads that really need it.  And, frankly, we think they would have built their facility in the Tampa Bay are anyway (just like Top Golf and Bass Pro).

It is just another reminder that we need a comprehensive look at how the County (and City) plans and allocates it present resources to figure out what we can reallocate and we really need (we are sure we need a decent amount, but what amount) to develop a real, coordinated transportation system and to plan properly.

Hillsborough County – Logos by Crockett

Speaking of the County allocating resources, we were driving around last week and saw a Hillsborough County hearing notice sign.  Something on it looked a bit strange.  Then we realized that it did not have the county seal/logo, which is a picture of the old County Courthouse that the County tore down and replaced with a completely bland courthouse in the name of progress.  The logo with the old courthouse, where the police station now is, looks like this:

 

From Wikimedia – click on picture for website

However, the sign had a new, stylized logo:

We get that aesthetics are subjective, but what appeal is there in this logo, aside from the font.  The graphic isn’t even the outline of the old courthouse – it looks more like the Sulfur Springs gazebo.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Moreover, the colors are more Miami Vice than anything having to do with Tampa or Hillsborough County.  And we have no idea why it was even done (and didn’t the County have more important things to do?).

Someone obviously likes it.  We think it is pretty weak (and totally unnecessary).

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While there was (very briefly) talk of some regional approach to transportation planning recently and Orlando has actually had a regional approach, this week:

Together we stand, divided we fail.

That seemed to be the consensus among a gathering of South Florida mayors discussing transportation needs and other issues at the Greater Miami Chamber’s Goals Conference.

In order to compete with other heavyweight regions across the country for federal transportation funds, municipalities ought to work together, said several of the participants.

Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer promised to host a tri-county meeting to do just that, inviting officials from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to meet and begin identifying the barriers to transportation solutions on a regional basis.

“It’s about all of us collectively,” Mr. Stermer said.

The past practice of parochialism should be abandoned, he said. “If we don’t, we’re going to stifle ourselves.”

Look at that.  We are, once again, the area bringing up the rear.

And, remember, when you don’t plan anything, you are stuck getting what someone else plans for you.

Roundup 6-17-2016

June 17, 2016

The amazingly horrible week that our neighbors down I-4 had this week definitely took some of our attention, so the Roundup is a bit shorter than usual.

Contents

Transportation/Planning – Retrograde

— One Small Step Forward

Transportation – TBX, Yours to Discover

— Missing the Point

— Conclusion

Parks – An Aspect of Economic Development

Tampa Heights – Are the Heights Finally Coming?

TIA – Cargo

Transportation – An Interesting Read

________________________________________

Transportation/Planning – Retrograde

In what is both entirely predictable and completely shocking in its ridiculousness,

New and higher fees on developers were just approved in April, but Hillsborough County commissioners are already considering lowering them.

In other words, Commissioners, having failed to provide proper growth management for years until finally moving toward some growth management, are now running away from that again.  Let’s review:

The new mobility fees, approved unanimously April 26, will charge builders more for new construction and make developers “pay their fair share,” as several commissioners put it. The fees are even higher in rural parts of Hillsborough, where growth costs the county more to service with roads, schools, utilities and the like.

They replaced impact fees, which generated very little money for the county and actually incentivized people to build outside the urban core.

It was expected the money would one day become a steady stream of revenue to help fund transportation. Even if commissioners and voters didn’t approve a sales tax increase, at least they walked away from the debate with something in hand.

But here’s why its fate is so closely tied to Thursday’s vote: Developers have to pay significantly higher mobility fees if the county fails to pass a sales tax increase.

In one estimate, the county would collect about $250 million more from developers over the next three decades, or $8.3 million a year, if the sales tax didn’t go up versus a 20-year surcharge.

That’s because the county didn’t want to tax developers double by coupling higher fees with a higher sales tax. But without the tax, the fees will be much higher. Building a single-family home in urban Hillsborough will cost $6,368 in fees without the sales tax. Had it passed, it would have cost $4,581. A bank with a drive-in will cost $7,000 more to build now and new retail space will come with a fee of $3,400 more per 125,000 square feet.

If that was the cost of new development’s impact, then that is the cost.  Why should taxpayers pay for it?

Commissioner Sandy Murman, who helped lead both charges to kill the sales tax, first suggested days after the April vote that mobility fees may need to be changed or delayed.

On Friday, Murman said mobility fees will be reviewed alongside her proposal to allocate future growth in property and sales taxes toward transportation.

“If for some reason it’s not palatable to the development community, then we’ll go back and review these rates just to make sure they’re reasonable as they move forward,” Murman said. “Everything will be reviewed before the actual implementation dates.”

Remember: the mobility fees were unanimously approved about a month before Go Hillsborough twice killed by the exact same people.  Why exactly do they need review?  What do they know now that they did not know then?

“The mobility fee itself is not intended to be the sole source of transportation funding,” Tampa Bay Builders Association president Mark Spada told commissioners during Thursday’s public hearing while backing a sales tax surcharge. “And as such, our support of the fee remains conditioned upon additional funding sources.”

In other words, the Commissioners now know that developers are mad.

No, mobility fees are not supposed to be the only source of transportation funding (though the developers have been getting subsidized roads for years – including when a prominent local politician was the government affairs specialist for the local building association – so they have only themselves to blame if they don’t like the roads).  But mobility fees are intended to cover the impact of new development – and there is nothing wrong with that.  Just because there is not money to add much to the infrastructure or fix problems made in the past does not mean there is not impact of new development or that new development should pay for itself and not continue to be subsidized.

If this area is so desirable (see here) the fees should not be a problem.   People will still come here and pay for the privilege of doing so (as they do in other areas).  There is no reason the people living here now should have to subsidize people moving here or developers building here. (Of course, part of the big sales pitch for the area is the “low cost,” which, in this context, is a ways of saying that new development does not pay the cost of its impact and that impact is not dealt with).

As we said long ago, if the Commission wants anyone to believe that they are interested in fixing our transportation issue, the first thing they have to do it provide a means by which they do not make the problem worse in the future – and that was instituting mobility fees.  We also said that, now that Go Hillsborough is dead, the Commission has an opportunity to show it is a serious body devoted to the best interests of the area.  We are perfectly fine with identifying other funding sources than a sales tax and trying to creatively fund a real transit plan.

But we are not ok with going back to business as usual.  Not only was TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough years of mess, not only was there a waste of money, not only did the final plan look like a plan from 1990, now the County Commission wants to drag us back to 1990.

It could change, but right now, they look like . . . well, we’ll just leave the exact terms to your discretion.

— One Small Step Forward

At least there was one little bit of transportation progress this week.

Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc. Board voted today to authorize morning commuter streetcar service pilot. Beginning in September, weekday streetcar service will start at 7 a.m. 

While it may seem obvious that the streetcar, to be useful, would serve people living around downtown, but it hasn’t.  Now they are going to try.  Good for the streetcar – and hopefully they will set it up (ticket plans and the like) and promote it for maximum ridership.  It is well past time for the streetcar to be treated and used as a means of transit rather than a tourist attraction.

Transportation – TBX, Yours to Discover

While the TBX idea has been floating around for a while, with a number of votes, a number of demonstrations, and the political class coming out (mostly) for it, there as actually been a surprisingly (well, not really) small amount of detailed coverage about the plan.   The Times did better last week, now that a crucial vote of the MPO is right around the corner.

First, they provided this handy map:

From the Times – click on map for article

The article is really worth reading in full (you can see it here  and another here though it will burden more than minorities), but we’ll highlight a few things.

First, what will “express lanes” (more properly called “variable rate toll lanes”) cost to use?

FDOT wouldn’t give the Times an estimate but the master plan says it could range from 15 cents to $2 per mile. Different road segments could cost different amounts, but at peak times it could cost $30 to cross the Howard Frankland and get to downtown Tampa.

(And the Business Journal also now started to point out the $30 “cross the Howard Frankland to downtown Tampa” run.)

That is an absurd amount, period – especially when there are no decent transportation alternatives provided. Remember, they want to keep cars out of express lanes so the traffic in the lanes moves.  The whole point is to make it too expensive for normal people to use.

Who’s paying for it?

Money for a majority of the construction comes out of the state’s Strategic Intermodal System — a fund consisting of state and federal gas tax dollars that pay for a network of high-priority projects. The remaining 14 percent is covered by FDOT’s district dollars and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

So, TBX is funded by gas tax money (FDOT can’t think of any better way to use that money?).  Why not pare it back a bit and drop the express lane requirement? Especially because of this (which we have pointed out):

Where can I get on and off these lanes?

There are 33 exits along the 50-mile stretch of I-275 and I-4 where the first phase of TBX will go.

The express lanes will have only 10 access points in this same span.

Express lanes limit the number of entrances and exits to keep traffic flowing smoothly. When vehicles merge on the interstate, traffic naturally slows down.

The express lanes pretty much ignore the entire area of Tampa north of downtown (other than harming the neighborhood by widening the road even more) and south of Fletcher (will give them a little bit around Bearss).  They are literally useless for most of those people.  Same if you live near Howard or Armenia.  TBX is not meant to help you get around because 1) you can’t use the lanes from your local exit and 2) based on the experience in other areas, congestion does not go away (look at examples around the country – even the express lanes move, the other lanes do not), especially if there is no alternative means of getting around, like real transit.

State planners acknowledge picking access points based on important hubs, like Tampa International Airport, the Gateway area of Pinellas, the Westshore business district and the University of South Florida. TBX funnels traffic to these destinations.

In other words, FDOT knows that most people closer in to the city can’t use the lanes and will be stuck in congested lanes but still wants to spend billions on this project. (Oh yea, most people coming south from USF do not backtrack north to Bearss, so we have no idea what FDOT was thinking there.) As for transit,

What about more buses or rail?

The plan preserves space for express bus or rail along I-275 from Westshore to downtown Tampa to Plant City and beyond. But that transit corridor only runs east-west. It does not continue north along I-275 up to the University of South Florida. As of now, Hunt said, the plan only indicates two stops: one at a transit hub at Westshore and another in downtown Tampa.

The space to be preserved, for the most part, is already there.  TBX contributes nothing there. Not to mention, for maximum effectiveness, rail in a city should not run in the middle of the highway anyway.

The bottom line is that FDOT wants to spend $6 billion for a limited number of people who afford the lanes to go to an even more limited number of places from another limited number of places. . . . and providing no alternatives to roads.  And apparently our legislative delegation and local elected officials, for the most part, are perfectly fine with that.

We are not against widening the highways (though we think the network should actually be expanding in the north part of the area and we are opposed to just bulldozing large swathes of redeveloping neighborhoods), but TBX is so expensive, so poorly considered, and so not helpful to the average person, that there is no way we could get behind it.

— Missing the Point

This week, some business leaders also spoke, not surprisingly, in favor of TBX:

Members of the business community issued a new statement Tuesday urging local officials to vote in favor of Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion overhaul of the area’s interstates.

The group issued its first letter of support more than a month ago when 20 prominent businesses had signed on in support. That number swelled Tuesday when an additional 60 individuals signed on, including Barney Barnett of Publix Super Markets, Bryan Glazer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tom James of Raymond James Financial, Liz Smith of Bloomin’ Brands and Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The letter urges members of Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group comprised of local politicians and prominent leaders in the community, to vote in favor of TBX at a June 22 meeting.

“Those of us who have signed this letter are highly concerned when we hear that some of you are prepared to prematurely reject TBX,” said the letter, sent to all 16 MPO members along with the state and district secretaries for the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Are you really prepared to turn away $3.3 billion in state and federal funds, and send them instead to Orlando, Jacksonville or South Florida? Are you prepared to send a message far and wide that Tampa Bay isn’t interested in fixing its dysfunctional interchanges, adding capacity or easing congestion on its highways?”

Frankly, the main points in the letter sound very much like previous “just do something to show you are doing something”  attitude, which we understand.  However, TBX will not really fix anything, though it will spend a lot of money that could be better spent.

The point is that there is nothing premature in our rejecting the TBX plan.  The express lane plan is bad.  We do not reject the money of fixing interchanges and adding capacity.  We just want to really fix the interchanges and add real capacity that is useful for most people in the area without really damaging neighborhoods that are starting to thrive.  TBX does not do that, and, as we have noted many times, there is no reason for FDOT to play the all or nothing game.

— Conclusion

The reality is that TBX is a failure on the part of the local leadership. Local officials have manifestly failed to plan properly and get together to develop a proper regional transportation plan, leaving it to FDOT.

As far as losing funds, pressure from the business community  – in unison with local officials and the media – on the legislative delegation and FDOT would go a long way to removing the threat of a loss of funds and could get FDOT to do proper, coordinated, systemic transportation planning (assuming local officials could ever get there). In fact, the business community could spearhead a real, regional transportation vision for the area and push local officials to actually develop a regional plan. (No one is pushing them now.)

It is just unfortunate that we will likely be saddled with a decade of expensive and disruptive construction that will just leave us with a very expensive, questionable plan of limited utility and which is too expensive and of no use to most people in the area (and that young talent) – and not much in the way of real transit.  It does not have to be that way.

Parks – An Aspect of Economic Development

Hillsborough County is doing a survey about what people want in parks. You can find the survey here.

You can say what you want, obviously, but we thought we’d throw in our two cents.

In our opinion, we can’t think of a single really nice Hillsborough County park.  While it has some good playing fields and basketball courts in neighborhoods and what trails there are nice, the parks are either made to look rural even in built up areas (like this) or are just very utilitarian (like this). And the trails (actual trails, not bike lanes), while ok for limited neighborhoods, do not connect much of any use and are very incomplete.  They ignore large built up areas and do not conveniently connect to any other jurisdictions trails.  We think they could do much better.

Anyway, do the survey.  Tell them what you think. (once again, it can be found here)

Tampa Heights – Are the Heights Finally Coming?

There was a big press release this week regarding the Heights project.

Four years after Soho Capital purchased the 43-acre Armature Works property, developers are ready to unveil what’s next. And it’s not the site of the next Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

Soho Capital will transform the 68,000-square-foot building into an in-house market, co-work space, two restaurants and event hall space. In addition, the Heights will begin construction this summer on the Pearl, a four-building, 314-unit apartment community with 28,500 square feet of retail space.

They have been working on Armature Works for a while now.  The bigger news was about the apartment building.  The amount of street fronting retail is impressive, see here, (though some early reports seem to indicate a lot of restaurants, which is not necessarily bad, if it can be sustained – but a new neighborhood needs more, which they will hopefully get).  Here is a rendering (you can see more if you click on the rendering):

From Loopnet – click on picture for website

And here is a wider view:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The actual design of the building is a bit hard to make out in the renderings, though it seems ok, if not super inspiring.

Long-term plans call for luxury riverfront condominiums and a 260,000-square-foot office park with at least one hotel. The project is valued at more than $820 million.

To us, more important that the specifics of one apartment building is the complete layout of whole development. Per URBN Tampa Bay, this is the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page

Having not had a long time to digest this plan we have some first impressions:

  • First, for the area, it has a good density.  Most of the tallest buildings are closest to the river, which, on the one hand, will block the views for everyone else, though, on the other hand, we understand they can charge more for waterfront.
  • There are a few parking garages, such as Parcels 1 and 7, that might actually be taller than the buildings around them, which is not a good look.  However, depending on what is getting built, they may not.
  • Parcel 4, which is in the middle of the site plan has a hotel and surface parking right next to the Armature Works building, which is odd and out of character for the whole area/development.
  • There are also surface parking lots in Parcels 11 & 12 at the left, but at least that is on the edge of the development (beautifying Boulevard as it transitions over the river to the “West River” redevelopment area).
  • There is one more point: the road along the river.  Yes, we get they will have a riverfront sidewalk/walkway/trail, but it seems Tampa is looking to buffer the river from roads.  It is also hard to see what activity there is in the street along the river (like shops and restaurants) In theory, it could be ok (a mini Bayshore, maybe) in the sense it opens a little access, but that is not at all clear and such a road cuts against the entire idea of a real Riverwalk with riverfront amenities.  We would have to see more to really be convinced it will work.

The bottom line is that there is a lot to recommend this plan, with some issues.  Overall, if they build a proper urban neighborhood, and it will naturally be a destination; if they focus on trying to make it a destination, it will not be a proper neighborhood.  From the quotes so far, the developers seem to be looking to build a proper neighborhood, but we shall see.

After decades of talk of redeveloping this area, it is cool to think it might actually happen soon.  We just hope it is worth the wait and is actually developed as the real, mixed-use neighborhood the site plan seems to indicate.

TIA – Cargo

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding how amazon has boosted the cargo business at the airport.

Online retail giant Amazon has opened two enormous distribution centers in the greater Tampa Bay area in the past two years. The company made same-day delivery available to much of the region and, in some cases, within one hour. From here, Amazon also coordinates deliveries to large swaths of the Southeast.

That means millions of packages are gushing out of those warehouses — one in Ruskin, the other in Lakeland — every week.

So where does all the merchandise to stock those facilities come from?

Amazon goods are flowing into Tampa International Airport daily aboard a Boeing 767 cargo freighter plane. Then it’s all shuttled away to the nearby warehouses on Amazon trucks, where the merchandise is sorted, packed and shipped to customers’ doors.

All that Amazon activity has increased the Tampa airport’s cargo activity by 20 percent so far this year compared with last year. The deal has generated more than $275,500 in revenue for the airport over the past seven months in fees and building rental payments, a number which should double by the end of the year, according to airport records. 

So, one daily 767 boosted Tampa’s air cargo by 20%.  That is a good boost, but also says a lot about how little cargo the airport handles.  We know the airport would love to have more cargo and that there are reasons other airports get more (and UPS uses St. Pete-Clearwater instead).  However, looked at in connection with the container business at the Port (and shouldn’t amazon and Walmart distribution hubs bump that up a little, too), it makes one wonder how to really boost cargo transportation from this area and what we can do to get more manufacturing, and thus more shipping, in this area.

It is good to get Millennials and tech companies (really, we are all for it), but it is also good to have actual manufacturing and transportation.  A diverse economy is a strong economy.

Transportation – An Interesting Read

A few months back, there was local news of a Federal Government contest (the Smart City Challenge) for cities to receive grants in transportation.  St. Pete proposed essentially a skyride, while Tampa when for sounding techy. http://www.tampabay.com/news/in-bid-for-40-million-federal-grant-st-pete-looks-to-gondolas-tampa-to/2265256  Well, the Washington Post has started highlighting some of the other cities’ ideas.  We are not even going get into those proposals, but the Post’s article highlights San Francisco, Austin, Kansas City, Columbus, Portland, Pittsburgh, and Denver (surprise), but also lists the other cities and their proposals.

You can read the Post’s coverage here.

Roundup 6-10-2016

June 10, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Hopefully, You Can Stop Flogging Now

— Just Do Something, Cont.

— It’s Is Not About Transportation Options or Competitiveness

— Something Still Isn’t Better Than Nothing

— And Also the Poll

— Conclusion

— One More Thing: A Crack In TBX Wall

Built Environment – A Little History

— St. Pete Fees

Built Environment/West Tampa –To Be or Not to Be a City

Transportation – The PTC Stays True to Form

Port – Talk of Big Things

USF – Med School Applications

Rays – Stadium Ideas

Coming Out Watch

_________________________________________

Transportation – Hopefully, You Can Stop Flogging Now

This week, the County Commission held a hearing about putting a 15 (which morphed into 20) year transportation sales tax referendum on the ballot.  We sat through the whole thing, noting that most people did not actually the issues (more on that later).  In the event, the Commission declined to have a referendum for a shorter period. Now, it really is Time to Move On.

However, we thought Go Hillsborough died the first time it was rejected, but it came back.  Now, it has been shot down again.  Even though some of this item has been overtaken by events in the immediate time frame, we decided to post it anyway because we suspect it will apply equally to future plans, discussions, and arguments.  If it is a little stilted in parts, it is because we were rewriting it as the public hearing went along, and we apologize.

— Just Do Something, Cont.

Last week we pointed out that it is not better to just do something rather than take some time and do the right thing.  We noted that it seemed that the Chamber of Commerce (and, probably not surprisingly, many elected officials) seemed to think we just needed to do something, anything.  This week, the Chamber of Commerce spoke asking their members to lobby for a 20 year plan.  They included some talking points for their members, who delivered them at the public hearing:

Talking points included:

Read those points carefully. To summarize: we have a lot of people; we will have more people; our transportation is bad now; we need to do something – preferably multimodal.  In other words, what they really want is something other than the limited Go Hillsborough, especially the abridged version. (To us buses plus cars is not really multi-modal – though buses can move more people, they just fill up the roads and leave you stuck in traffic. As noted last week, the streetcar does not need the tax.  A few speakers said that 20 years was the shortest time one could bond and get the downtown to Westshore rail line, which, if true, makes us wonder why the Mayor insisted on 30 years, which may have been better but was not necessary, at the first vote hearing.)

— It’s Is Not About Transportation Options or Competitiveness

We know (most of) the people at the Chamber approached this issue with good intentions, but we are not sure how they got sold on this position.  As we said last week, the Chamber seems to have a “do something, anything” approach that does not even fit the criteria laid out by their own talking points.  That “do something, anything” approach exactly the attitude that has led to the kind of half-measures (like in impact fees, planning, transit) that historically have been used in the Tampa Bay area and which led us to the situation we are in today in the first place.  Such an approach will not fix our problems and will in no way get us close to our competitors.

Just imagine the up and coming young professionals/tech people considering San Diego, Austin or Denver and Tampa.  How does Go Hillsborough do anything to make them want to come here?  It does nothing – no real transit, no urban development, no TOD because there is no transit that will create demand.  Nothing. (And are major corporations going to be drawn to Tampa because some MetroRapid lines – not even full BRT – and some roads get paved?)

To its credit, the Chamber does not (though some Chamber-button wearing speakers at the public hearing did) really go into detail about attracting jobs and talent because it knows the abrdiged Go Hillsborough plan does nothing about real transportation options (Most Chamber speakers said they hoped that Go Hillsborough’s buses could someday lead to rail. And to that Millennial woman speaker who wants transit from Northdale to South Tampa – sorry, not in Go Hillsborough.)

To be honest, most speakers at the hearing were talking around the issues – pushing transit alternatives (not really in the plan) versus stopping the train (not really in the plan) and other things like that.  Sadly, that is how most of this discussion has gone over the years.  We need to move on from that, too.

— Something Still Isn’t Better Than Nothing

One speaker argued, again, that something is better than nothing.  We will repeat what we said last week – no it isn’t – especially if it involved a sales tax referendum rather than identifying money to make some fixes while we wait for the studies to be completed.  We have built a large mess on half measures, poor plans, dribs and drabs of ideas, bad execution of decent ideas, etc.  We do not need more of the same eating up time and resources.

We need to address transportation in light of all the studies that should be done in two years and come back with a full, coordinated, systematic plan with creative funding that can include but not be solely reliant on a sales tax.  Other options should be considered.

— And Also the Poll

Which brings us to an interesting new poll about the sales tax:

The StPetePolls’ poll was a “robopoll” targeting people who voted in at least one of the last two general elections. Its conclusions:

Edwards, however, said the poll showed that pro-tax voters are too divided to agree on one plan. Those who support a larger, more expensive plan such as a full-cent tax, Edwards said, would not support a smaller plan, suggesting no single tax plan can carry a majority.

The poll had 1,055 respondents and a 3-point error margin.

We think with the mess of TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough, the lack of a vision, lack of details on Tampa’s ideas, lack of commitment from the County Commission, and all around lack of leadership from elected officials, it is unlikely a tax would pass this year.  But that is not the whole story.

Someone showed us the poll results. The Times article does not say this but, even with all the mess created by local officials, most people polled were “not familiar” with Go Hillsborough. (So much for outreach.)

And, more interestingly, the poll also had a question about whether inclusion of rail would make someone more or less likely to vote for a tax.  The majority said it would make them more likely – and by more than 10 points over those who said it would make them less likely. (This seems to comport with most of the comments from Millennials, and others, with Chamber of Commerce buttons)

We don’t necessarily want a full cent.  We are ok with a ½ cent with a real plan for real transit, even if it is (clearly) phased. We are ok with other funding sources.  We are not for 15 or 20 years, and we really aren’t for Go Hillsborough, though we remained ambivalent based on the idea that our local government couldn’t do any better.  But it can – if it wants.  Or we can change it.  Either way, what is on offer now – 15 or 20 years of paving priorities just to say we are doing something – is not acceptable.

While polls can be inaccurate, this is the second poll (the other was the Chamber’s poll) that says we should go big, not push a pothole tax.  It does not say water down an already watered down proposal, which makes the Chamber’s position even more odd.

We need to stop dithering with poor plans. We can do better. We must do better.

— Conclusion

We are not against the idea of referendum, especially on taxes.  We are not against raising taxes to have proper infrastructure investment.  We are not opposed to transit.  We are also not opposed to fixing roads (though routine maintenance should be a normal budget item and we should look to more alternatives than road widening).  We are not against highways – though we think TBX is wasteful and oppose variable rate toll lanes.  The fact is, we are not against fixing our problems.  We are in favor of comprehensive solutions.  We oppose half of a half solution.

So, this is what we say about Go Hillsborough: Let it go once and for all.

Contrary to some Commissioners positions, our objection to half a Go Hillsborough is not just about funding sources – it is also about the plan.  We need real transit alternatives, not the chimera of alternatives in Go Hillsborough.  Yes, our government spent three years on Go Hillsborough, but it has wasted decades when we could have had a built out transit system.  We now can look at alternative funding sources and form an integrated, systematic and comprehensive plan.

We can go big. We can do better than simply seeking the least common denominator, which was Go Hillsborough was.  Frankly, we must do better than the least common denominator if we ever want to really assume our place among major metro areas. We do not have to, and if we want to really thrive can’t afford to, settle.

— One More Thing: A Crack In TBX Wall

Speaking of doing better, this week was a bit interesting regarding TBX in that the mostly (yes, the Tampa City Council voted against it) solid wall of local officials and politicos supporting it cracked:

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express now have a powerful ally who also wants to squash the $6 billion plan: Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller.

Miller said Monday that he will vote against the project known as TBX — a plan to add express toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates — and there’s nothing that the Florida Department of Transportation can say at this point to change his mind.

“I agree with the people that don’t want this and they don’t think they should have this in the neighborhood without a complete study done,” Miller said. “People just feel like it’s going to destroy their neighborhood. Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights. Even though they’re older they’re transforming into vibrant communities.”

Miller is an influential voice: He is chairman of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, the body that will decide June 22 whether to keep TBX on its five-year list of funding priorities. He also represents many of the Tampa communities that will be heavily affected by new lanes and other construction.

And we agree with him.  There should be a full highway study involving alternative road alignments, HOV, HOT, etc., and it should be coordinated with the transit study.  That should be done.  Will it? Doubtful. And surely FDOT will punish dissent, as they threaten, unless the legislative delegation threatens to punish FDOT, which is not very likely given past behavior.

So, we commend him.  He is right.  We’ll see if it matters at all.

Built Environment – A Little History

There was a nice article in the Creative Loafing about redevelopment efforts around Franklin Street in Tampa Heights (just north of 275).  And we are all for that.  However, at the beginning of the article there was a little bit of a confusing history that we think needs to be set straight.

A metamorphosis is taking place along Franklin Street. Just north of downtown Tampa, empty warehouses and abandoned commercial spaces are awakening to a fresh new life.

Once downtown’s main retail artery, Franklin Street ran north-south until it was severed in the ’60s at the interstate. It was reconnected four decades later when pioneers like CPA Lou Prida, architect Stephanie Ferrell and Fly Bar & Restaurant discovered new uses for aging structures.

After the road was reconnected, the action moved north on Franklin Street as Cafe Hey kicked off its reign as a counter-culture gathering spot, and Carl Johnson and Kate Swann opened Franklin Street Fine Woodworking.

While the interstate did create a psychological barrier (especially for pedestrian traffic) between downtown proper and Tampa Heights, especially in the area around Franklin Street, the interstate was raised and, just as now, you could drive underneath it.  What really cut off Franklin Street even from cars was a very bizarre and poorly designed state office building and surface parking lot, which, apparently, had to be physically connected to the office building without a pesky road to cross.   Said building was supported by the city at the time to help bring pump up northern downtown.  As you can see from the map linked above, it is an awful design that breaks the grid (for no ascertainable reason) and really contributes nothing. That mistake was fixed after the beginning of this century by the previous Mayor, though TBX would make the psychological barrier (and impediment to pedestrians) twice as bad or more.

What is amusing is how hard everyone has tried over the decades to use gimmicks to fix Franklin Street, which used to be the business hub of Tampa (making it a pedestrian mall, opening it up, cutting it off, opening it up, etc).  But, you know what, it is not the business hub of Tampa – not even for weekday lunch.  Tamp Street is – because it has the offices, the businesses, the traffic – the action (even though it is one way, which is wholly irrelevant).

We are all for having Franklin be active.  But the point is that the City helped kill Franklin (it cut if off, it allowed demolition of the really nice old buildings that used to front it, it turned it into a pedestrian mall that no one went to) and the City’s well-intentioned but poorly executed or conceived gimmicks – like putting a poorly designed, unconnected office building surrounded by surface parking half a mile from anything while cutting off the road would really pump up the area) – actually held it back for decades.

What will make/is starting to make Franklin thrive is being surrounded by offices and residences – a/k/a people – (both north and south of I-275) so there is a local market that can be supplemented by people coming into downtown.   Opening the connection under the interstate helps, not that there will be a lot of pedestrian traffic (especially if TBX is built) but every connection makes an area feel a bit more open and accessible.

That should be remembered when you hear about all sorts of planning fads.  Yes, they can work if used in a rational way and in consideration of the axioms of proper city planning, but, just as often, if not more often, planning fads that ignore well known facts (like road diets that ignore the need to get traffic in and out of an area, especially one without any transit) just cause more harm.

— St. Pete Fees

Which brings us to an interesting article in the Times about St. Pete’s fee system.

The issue? Development fees and the lower rate paid by downtown developers.

For City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents downtown, the lower fees are emblematic of skewed city priorities.

“It’s just inherently unfair,” Nurse said at a council committee meeting Thursday. “Essentially what we’re doing is subsidizing downtown redevelopment from the rest of the city.”

Nurse was referring to the city’s transportation impact fees, which are calculated using a formula based on car trips, road capacity and construction costs. Essentially, the fees try to recoup the costs developments have on roads.

But in a memo to Nurse and other council members, transportation director Evan Mory said raising the fees to match those in the rest of the city would risk downtown’s economic hot streak by discouraging further development.

It’s not just downtown that has the lower rates. The poorer neighborhoods in Midtown are included. Other urban centers in Pinellas County also have the low rates.

And?

How low are urban rates? They vary by type of construction. A sit-down restaurant in downtown is assessed $2,181 per 1,000 square feet, compared with $8,205 in most of the city.

That’s because data gathered in 1990 showed that more people drove from their homes to a restaurant in more suburban areas of the city rather than downtown.

An apartment unit costs $972 downtown versus $1,420 in the rest of the city. Condos pay $924 in the downtown and Midtown districts; $1,248 elsewhere.

Dave Goodwin, the city’s planning and economic development director, said the lower fees are designed to contain sprawl, which costs more to support with services than denser development. He also said that new data might show that even more recent development produces fewer car trips and road costs for downtown, which could lower the fees further.

The reason urban areas should have lower transportation impact fees is because they already have the infrastructure, generate fewer trips, and their trips are usually of a shorter distance – thus a lower transportation impact.  (When some of your patrons can walk to your restaurant, you generate fewer trips on the roads – requiring less maintenance of the roads.  When your patrons park and walk around doing a number of tasks, your portion of each trip is less than if they have to drive to your restaurant then drive to the next destination.)  It is not subsidizing the urban area.  The lower fees reflect the lower cost of the infrastructure.

Council member Charlie Gerdes, who represents suburban west St. Petersburg, said the rate should take into account more than car trips and road costs. He argued that downtown’s bike paths, pedestrian improvements and parking came with their own costs that should be reflected in the rates.

Right – so if you pave 100 feet of sidewalk in front of two single family homes it serves how many people?  Maybe 8 to 10 who probably are not walking anywhere anyway.  If you pave 100 feet of sidewalk in front of a 10 story apartment building, you serve far more people.  The cost per person of the sidewalk in the urban area is much lower – and you are taking people off the roads which are far more expensive.

But, hey, if St. Pete wants to change their policy, that is their choice.  It would not be the first local government that was short-sighted and failed to understand proper planning policy.

Built Environment/West Tampa –To Be or Not to Be a City

There was news about a new project for north of Kennedy/West Tampa.

Richman Group, based in Connecticut, has proposed a 218-unit apartment complex at 808 N. Howard Ave., in the North Hyde Park area. The rezoning request details a five-story building built around a five-story parking garage on the 2.8-acre site bound by Howard Avenue to the east, Armenia Avenue to the west, West Lemon Street to the south and West State Street to the north.

Here are renderings they filed (thanks URBN Tampa Bay):

Public record – via URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

and here is a site plan

Public record – via URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, we have to say that some denser development in this corridor is welcome.  It is really crying out for revitalization as a major corridor (with more than some lawyers in renovated houses) all the way to Main Street, and we have nothing against the basic idea of this project.

However, there are a few issues with what we have seen of this project so far.  What you will notice is that not only is there no retail on Howard or Armenia.  There is not even a clear entrance – except a really small door on Howard.  We get that the architecture is generic stick apartments with a parking garage in the middle.  We are not going to get into that – not everything is going to be innovative.  But the building’s treatment of the major streets around it is quite weak.   Buildings should have real entrances. And, in this case, on the major corridors, there should be some retail.  Frankly, the building looks urban but really seems built for cars.

As the Business Journal notes:

As land becomes more scarce — and more expensive — in South Tampa and downtown Tampa, developers are increasingly turning to North Hyde Park as a viable urban infill market.

Indeed.  To a large degree, this area is a blank slate.  But the City has shown very little interest in anything other than ribbon cuttings (“build and consequences be left to someone who comes after I leave office.” And don’t forget this area is already home to many Tampa classics like the fake from door on Howard and one on Willow)  The area north of Kennedy could be quite special – a real urban neighborhood – even area with a mix of uses and apartments and houses.  Or it could just be a jumble – which is where it is going at the moment.  It needs far more attention than it is getting right now.

We can see what happens when you wait south of Kennedy.  The problems on South Howard and areas south of Kennedy do not have to be repeated, but they will be unless the City actually starts caring about more than just filing in lots.  The coming issues are entirely predictable – and easy to address before everything gets built.  They will be much harder later.

Let’s try to not mess it up this time.

Transportation – The PTC Stays True to Form

In another tedious installment of the PTC:

After months of talks with Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission on Wednesday again declined to approve a provisional agreement that would allow rideshare firms to operate in Hillsborough County.

The deal was negotiated by PTC Board Chairman Victor Crist, who implored the board to approve it.

Instead, the PTC’s governing board voted 4-1 to suspend negotiations and wait for a ruling from the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland on whether the county agency has the authority to issue citations to rideshare drivers.

Board members said they could not approve an agreement that did not include a Level II background check for drivers, a measure Uber and Lyft have long opposed. There was also concern about the rideshare firms’ insistence that new drivers get a 42-day grace period to comply with background checks and vehicle inspection rules. The PTC regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough like taxis and limos who have to adhere to those rules.

“We cannot get into the business of people who want to operate in this county dictating to us what they want to do,” said board member Frank Reddick, who is a member of the Tampa City Council.

Sure.  Anyway, there was also news that there are two other ridesharing companies in the market:

San Francisco firm Wingz is launching a major expansion of its airport drop-off and pickup service and has Tampa International Airport on its radar.

There’s also a Tampa rideshare company called DriveSociety set to launch in the next few weeks. The firm will request to take part in drawing up new rideshare regulations at the PTC’s board meeting on Wednesday.

The PTC regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxis and limos in Hillsborough. Both Wingz and DriveSociety say they are amenable to existing PTC rules such as background checks for drivers and vehicle inspections — rules that Uber and Lyft have argued don’t apply to them. To operate in Austin, Wingz agreed to fingerprint-based background checks of its drivers, a requirement that led Uber and Lyft to cease operations in that city.

“If one transportation network company can come into Tampa Bay or Florida and operate legally, then why can’t the others?” asked PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream.

If those companies do not mind the PTC’s ideas, that is their choice.  Maybe their business model will win out.  That does not make the PTC’s behavior any better or more rational.

Regarding the soon-to-be-gone PTC Director’s comments , one could also ask “If other counties can behave maturely and make deals with Uber and Lyft, why can’t the PTC?” While you’re at it, why did the PTC kill private electric shuttle downtown and keep us without that service for years?

And, of course, if all other counties in the state can survive without a PTC, why are we saddled with one?

We doubt anyone will even try to answer that one.

Port – Talk of Big Things

There was more talk of the Port master plan – but this time it included the port part of it, not the vague vision plan of real estate development.

On Friday, the port invited customers, tenants and people in the shipping and transportation industries to provide their input into the plan. It was one of dozens of discussions held since the master planning process began in 2014.

Sal Kass, general manager of Ports America, which operates container and general cargo terminals at the port, said he liked what he saw. “Being a land-rich port is a big ace card in this industry, and there’s a lot of potential opportunities,” Kass said. “There’s some things in there where I operate where they’re doing some developing, and there’s things in other areas that will support my operations.”

Jim Brennan, a partner with Capstan Consulting, presented about 80 port stakeholders with an overview of the port’s performance and assets, and a series of easels around Cruise Terminal 6 displayed some of the master plan’s major concepts.

That included up to $1.5 billion in capital improvements, including $324 million to $502 million worth of projects in 2017-2021; $367 million to $578 million from 2022 to 2026; and $472 million to $504 million beyond 2027. That money would come from port and state revenues.

That money would pay for everything from $270 million for an East Port landfill and cargo yard expansion to $50 million for gantry cranes and $50 million to widen and deepen the Big Bend channel.

And that is all fine, if it can be used.  We have no objection to investment to increase business.  But there are some issues:

Port Tampa Bay notes that it is facing several challenges including competition for the Interstate 4 market from other ports around the state; increasing ship size that will require continuous infrastructure investment; and the uncertainty of funding sources.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, in particular, is a constraint as cruise ships get larger, and is expected to be an obstacle for the port’s future cruise business. In the last fiscal year, the number of cruise ship passengers decreased slightly to 867,114 from 888,343 in the prior fiscal year, a 2 percent drop.

Over the long term, Port Tampa Bay could find new cruise and ferry opportunities if the Cuba market opens up.

“One ferry service a week to Cuba would offset that decline,” said port consultant Jim Brennan, a partner with Capstan Consulting LLC. Yet, he noted “quite frankly, there are so many uncertainties” about Cuba.

Yes, there are.  Nothing can be taken for granted, so assume declining cruise revenue over the medium term. (Hopefully, that won’t happen, but prudence would dictate such an assumption)

Among Port Tampa Bay’s other advantages are its location as the closest port to the newly expanded Panama Canal, its proximity to the middle of Florida and the Tampa region’s density of distribution centers along the I-4 corridor.

Of course, being close to the expanded Panama Canal is not an advantage if the larger ships that will use the canal cannot fit in the Port and have to go to a hub port and transfer the cargo to smaller ships before it comes here.  The proximity to population is good, but we are not without competitors (like Port Canaveral). Nevertheless, at least they are working on a plan.

As for the real estate development part:

The Channelside project is projected to require about $228 million in public investment, with the rest of the development costs — an estimated $1.5 billion — covered by private investors. The public money would come from port revenues and tax revenues generated within the Channel District. 

We think they should let the rest of the proposed development in the area get built and then see. There is no hurry.

We are all for increasing business at the port, and we realize there are issues that need to be dealt with.  One thing really does not need to be pursued right now is real estate development.  Frankly, if the Lightning owner’s project gets fully built out and thrives, the land held by the port will just get more valuable.  We know it is hard, especially for local political actors, to not play developer, but the port’s focus should be firmly on maritime business.

USF – Med School Applications

Once again, the quality of applicants at USF Med School seems to be improving.

The University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine is attracting a larger and higher performing pool of applicants, in part because of the new facilities it plans in downtown, officials said Thursday.

The number of applicants has increased 40 percent over the past two years, with 6,200 students vying for 170 positions this year. And those admitted last year had higher scores on the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, than any other first-year medical school class in the state.

Charles Lockwood, dean of the college and senior vice president of USF Health, delivered those rosy numbers to the USF Board of Trustees, saying they had significantly improved the school’s rankings on several national reports.

He said the MCAT score, which was an average of 34 out of 45 points, puts USF among the top 20 medical schools in the nation as measured by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which administers the test.

Which is great.

At least this year they said the increase was only “in part” because of a facility that has not even broken ground, as opposed to all of it.  We think a far larger part would be that med schools generally are increasingly competitive, especially for low-priced state school slots in a growing Florida.  And, maybe, the school has gained a good reputation.

We are not sure why the dean keeps talking down his school, relying on things that have not happened yet to justify its increased draw. (And why does he feel the need to keep selling the positives of the downtown project?)  Maybe, the school is just better than he thinks.

Rays – Stadium Ideas

There have been a number of articles about the Rays recently, from possible Hillsborough locations (note: the fairgrounds is a horrible location) to St Pete’s advantages (note: the only one is they have a funding source)  to the Tea Party organizing against funding a stadium.  We could get into that, but we are not that excited by them.  It is quite clear that the dog track or fairgrounds would be bad places for a stadium (and Jefferson is very unlikely) just as it is clear that the Trop is a bad location for a stadium if you want people to actually go there.  The one article that interested us the most had to do with the Rays ruminations about what they want in a stadium.

The Rays are tweaking a pitch to corporate and civic groups, asking them for ideas for a next-generation ballpark that will lure casual fans and satisfy hard-core aficionados.

Rays executives want a stadium without the shrine mystique of many baseball parks. Instead, they’re exploring ways to draw casual or nonbaseball fans to the park and make money off them all year long — not just 81 days a year. 

We get that the Rays want a stadium that draws people year round.  However, we are not sure why they would not want the “shrine mystique” that makes people want to come see a stadium year round. No one is avoiding the Cubs, Red Sox, Orioles or Giants because their stadiums are too traditional. (In fact, people go to their stadiums, weather permitting, year round just to see them.) Anyway, what are they considering?

Some ideas? Cooking classes in the concession kitchens. Opening up parts of the clubhouse and training areas to the public, perhaps a workout area with players and weekend warriors separated by glass.

Um, ok, but the cooking area of most concession areas isn’t really where you would have a cooking class and working out with athletes in a glass box is a bit odd.  But, hey, we suppose it is a matter of taste.  What else?

Part sales pitch and brainstorming session, a presentation Friday to the Tampa Bay Times, led by team executives Melanie Lenz and Bill Walsh, reveals some familiar ideas — a stadium that might have removable walls, maybe an aquarium or water slide, more local food and a high-tech roof.

But some surprises emerged.

“Seating that works for the traditional baseball consumer might not work for the family of four or the millennial,” Lenz said. “So how do we design seating spaces, gathering spaces and social spaces that work for all of those different fans in a way that is cohesive and makes sense?”

“It’s got to cover the fan on a budget to the fan where this is their premium experience,” she said. “We cannot price out the next generation of fans. We can’t.”

Some of the slides accompanying the presentation pictured European soccer stadiums. Team officials also readily admit they seek to tap into Major League Soccer’s success in cultivating younger fans.

The team will debut a website for fans to offer their own ideas in the coming weeks.

We would prefer grass, but, for now, whatever.  The ticket idea is interesting, but, if we have good seats, we are not moving.  And, as for upper decks, unless the stadium is going seat only 20,000 people (Which is ridiculous) it probably needs a second tier to have decent views (like all the bigger MLS stadiums.)

We applaud the Rays for thinking outside the box, but, while doing that, they need to stay focused on their primary product – which is baseball.  They do not want to tinker so much that they ruin the experience for the hardcore fans who will always form the core of their fan base.

Coming Out Watch

It seems the tourist promotion folks have been busy.  There have been a flurry of articles/reports about things to do in Tampa (and sometimes Tampa Bay).  First, there was one from CNN.  Another was from San Diego.  Yet another was from the Toronto Star.   The last article gives us a hint of why there may be this flurry – and why they seem to be so similar in what they cover (Unless, there just isn’t that much to say):

Jennifer Bain’s trip was sponsored by Visit Tampa Bay, which didn’t review or approve this story.

The other articles aren’t so direct, but we suspect there is something similar going on with them.  And don’t get us wrong.  We think it is fine for the local tourist promotion agencies to promote tourism (and work with the Pinellas agency to do it, too).  We have no problem with that (though they reports are all a bit lame and seem to promote certain local champions, which is a little questionable), even if the resulting articles are quite short and superficial.

However, you get a funny feedback loop when local media picks up on out-of-town media (like this – and, by the way, the San Diego article was not very good) sponsored by local government to say how hyped Tampa is getting in other places. Then again, that is SOP for the Tampa Bay area.

At least they identified the city properly, unlike a recent Monocle article about Holmes Beach.

On Anna Maria Island in southwest Florida, ice-cream parlour Two Scoops is so named because even when you order just one scoop, you’re given two. It’s a place where the police consider it a part of their job to make crying children happy; offering them on their modified golf carts is a popular trick. Along its sparkling beaches people go out of their way to say hello. It’s the kind of All-American vision that many might have thought extinct, yet it sits just a stone’s throw from the bustling port city of Tampa Bay.

Then again, when it is Visit Tampa Bay and Port Tampa Bay (even if they aren’t regional organizations), you can’t really complain when they call the city of Tampa Bay – but someone might want to tell them for next time.

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