Skip to content

Roundup 4-26-2019

April 25, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Hither and Yon

— Virgin Trains

— St. Pete BRT

— PSTA

— Streetcar

— Roads to Nowhere

Westshore – More to Develop

Rocky Point – Re-Try Cont.

South Tampa/Hyde Park – Bern’s

Airport – A Cut

Ports – More

Built Environment – And Again the Trees

Economy/Economic Development

— Hmmmm

— VC

— Housing

St. Pete – Dali

St. Pete – Storefronts

Jackson House – The Time is Now

Built Environment/Downtown/Hyde Park – Blank

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

__________________________________________


Transportation – Hither and Yon


— Virgin Trains

There was more news about Virgin Trains:

Virgin announced Friday it is finally set to build its West Palm Beach-to-Orlando link, thanks to the successful sale of $1.75 billion in bonds.

The bond sale ends months of uncertainty over the project’s financing, which was contingent on approval of a plan to use a special bond designation.

Formerly known as Brightline, Virgin’s higher-speed U.S. train service hopes to complete construction of the extension in 2022. The company plans to build 170 miles of new track that will lead into a new inter-modal facility at Orlando International Airport.

Construction will begin right away, the company said in a statement.

“Today is affirmation that our vision for passenger rail holds great promise and highlights a tremendous appetite in the private markets for large-scale transportation and infrastructure projects,” Wes Edens, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Fortress Investment Group and chairman of Virgin Trains USA, said in a statement.

“Connecting Miami and Orlando makes tremendous business sense, but even more, it provides a public benefit to the State of Florida including thousands of jobs that will keep the state economically competitive for decades,” he said.

Interestingly,

Joseph Krist, a municipal bond analyst for Court Street Group, a Brooklyn-based research and consulting firm, said the sale was four-times oversubscribed, and shows Virgin’s decision to forgo an initial public offering was the correct one.

“The deal reflects favorable investor demand, and certainly in the high-yield market,” he said. “Despite all the hurdles, it turned out to be a really good time to come to this market.”

As always, we just have to wait and see if the enthusiasm is warranted, but, barring something unforeseen, the project is moving forward.  Based on the timing of the Orlando leg, Tampa service is probably still at least five years off (though you never know).


— St. Pete BRT

There were some interesting developments regarding the St. Pete BRT plan. As you may remember, St Pete Beach has objected to various parts of the plan and objected to being listed as a funding source, which it is not.  From TBNWeekly.com:

After being in office just a few weeks, St. Pete Beach’s new City Manager Alex Rey’s first big assignment will be to come up with an interlocal agreement with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials over the Rapid Transit issue.

During their regular meeting April 9, city commissioners decided not to act on a resolution that took exception with PSTA’s plans to extend its Rapid Transit program into the beach community, especially the transit authority’s suggestion that the city would help fund a portion of its cost.

County Commissioner Janet Long, who also serves as the PSTA chairwoman, told commissioners PSTA will not name St. Pete Beach as a potential funding source.

Both those thing are good.  And, setting aside some of the comments about respect, this is also generally good:

Long also addressed another issue raised by city commissioners, who noted 60-foot wide buses planned as part of the Rapid Transit Program will not fit on Gulf Boulevard and especially in Pass-A-Grille.

“PSTA is working with its contractors to see if alternative smaller vehicles are available and looking forward to providing more vintage trolleys that fit in with the character of St. Pete Beach,” she told commissioners.

* * *

Mayor Al Johnson told Long “our concern wasn’t the concept; it was the size of the buses. The biggest problem is 60-feet long articulated buses don’t fit on this island.”

* * *

[PSTA Executive Director Brian] Miller told commissioners St. Pete Beach’s concern over use of 60-foot articulated buses caused PSTA to change its plans and use 4-foot wide vehicles on the entire route from St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach.

While the plan does not really go into the Pass-A-Grille area, using normal length buses instead of articulated buses is fine with us, though anything smaller would probably detract from the line.  As for this:

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said she does not want PSTA to take up prime space at the Don CeSar and questioned how buses will turn around in that narrow area.

“I’m opposed to giving more real estate to a mini bus stop at the end of the route … I do not want that to happen,” she said.

Mayor Johnson said he understands that Pletcher doesn’t want a bus stop in the middle of gateway to Pass-A-Grille; “we have to have positive relations and we have to work together.”

There is already a Route 90 bus stop next to the Don CeSar Parking lot.  And, in fact, if you look at the project documents (p. 1 of this pdf), you see the buses doing a loop around the Don Cesar parking lot and stopping in what are now parking spaces on a side road, which should no really be a big deal.  We are sure there is a way to accommodate buses turning.  (And, if the end of the line has to be a little north of that spot, that’s fine, though not optimal and probably more disruptive.)

At least there is some progress.


— PSTA

PSTA has held off cuts for now.

Board members of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are hoping to find an additional $5 million in annual money that would allow them to continue service on a handful of bus routes throughout the county. The routes in St. Petersburg, Seminole, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Safety Harbor have been slated for elimination, along with door-to-door paratransit service in certain areas for people who unable to ride the bus.

The agency has until July to come up with the additional money. If not, those routes will be eliminated starting in October, leaving the riders who depend on them stranded with fewer options or longer trips. The cuts would affect hundreds of riders and save about $810,000 annually, according to agency estimates.

* * *

The board’s vote protects those routes for now. In order to keep them running long-term, officials will have to secure the $5 million in addition to their existing $80 million budget.

Transit leaders have long bemoaned the bus agency’s limited resources. Pinellas is one of the most underfunded transit agencies in the country for an area of its size. Hillsborough County struggled with the same issues until voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation in November, more than doubling the transit authority’s budget.

Setting aside that the Hillsborough money is still up to the courts (though at least there is now demonstrated public support), Pinellas is very underfunded.  Hopefully, they can work it out (but it is another illustration of the stark differences in approaches being taken in the two counties and why settling for the lowest common denominator as the “core” of a regional system would be a bad choice.)


— Streetcar

In our discussion on parking minimums a few weeks back, we said that we did not think that 20 minutes peak frequency was enough on a bus route to really support widespread parking-less (and thus carless) living supported by transit (especially when you consider off-peak will be less).   We also said downtown, with the walkability and transit alternatives already available, was best situated for removal of parking minimums.   Well, it recently got even better situated with the streetcar going to 15 minute frequency.


— Roads to Nowhere

We have written a decent amount on the roads to nowhere. This week the plan was passed by the Senate in a curiously bi-partisan fashion.  Two interesting articles regarding the proposal are here and here. (We do not necessarily endorse everything in the articles, but they are interesting.)

It still has to go through the House and be approved by the Governor.  Meanwhile, there is not much news regarding congestion and alternatives where people actually live.


Westshore – More to Develop

We have previously discussed the proposal to develop a large part of the parking lot at Westshore Plaza. (See “Westshore – Surprise”) The original proposal was generally very positive. It seems that the plan may be getting even bigger.

The ownership of WestShore Plaza has acquired a prime property adjacent to the mall’s surface parking lot just ahead of a city council hearing on its plans to redevelop Sears’ real estate.

Washington Prime Group (NYSE: WPG) paid $4.3 million for the almost two acres in the northwest quadrant of Westshore and Kennedy boulevards — property currently occupied by a Bank of America branch — in a deal that closed in early April, according to Hillsborough County property records.

Given the nature of the previous plans, we are happy if they add more land to the project (provided it is redeveloped along the same lines).

The most recent site plan for the property, dated March 11 in city filings, does not include plans for the bank property.

The rezoning hearing is now slated for May 9. A spokeswoman for Washington Prime was not immediately available Monday.

Washington Prime wrote in previous city filings that “the project may be built in phases, however, there is no definitive time for commencement or completion of any phase.”

As we said previously, if done right, this redevelopment could really change the Westshore area for the better. We shall see what happens.


Rocky Point – Re-Try Cont.

Last week we discussed another proposal for Rocky Point.  There was more news, from URBN Tampa Bay:

The 11 story, 180 unit apartment project proposed for 3050 N. Rocky Point Drive has received approval.

They also posted the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Unfortunately, it is basically parking.  As such, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay that the density is fine but that it is another missed opportunity to create an urban village on the island.


South Tampa/Hyde Park – Bern’s

URBN Tampa Bay had news about the Bern’s hotel project on Howard:

Bern’s is moving forward with their hotel proposal at 1234 South Howard Avenue. The 4 story building will include 43 hotel rooms. Also, the two apartment buildings in front of the hotel building will remain, but will be converted into 8 additional hotel suites.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We do not have a problem with the concept, but there is a lot of car/truck activity surrounding the main entrance. The execution could be better.


Airport – A Cut

There was disappointing news about the upcoming Tampa to Amsterdam service.

Tampa International Airport’s flight schedule for its new direct, nonstop service to Amsterdam will now just be seasonal.

The service provided through Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) was slated to be year-round service starting in May from Tampa into the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is one of Delta’s largest European hubs.

The new schedule will be May 23-Oct. 26. The service will start up again in April 2020.

We are not sure what factors led to the change even before it starts, but this is what was said:

“The feedback I’ve received is that this isn’t a reflection of Delta’s confidence in our service, but is rather in response to sizable transatlantic competition in general,” Tampa International director of research and air service development Kenneth Strickland said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

We are not sure what exactly that means, and we are not going to speculate.  in any event, it is too bad, especially for SkyTeam Alliance flyers.

Although the flights are changing to seasonal, the airport is hoping it will become year-round service as it was expected to be, an airport spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

We agree.

In other news, the airport Marriott was listed as one of the best airport hotels in the US and Canada by ThePointsGuy.com.


Ports – More

There was news from the area ports.  First, Port Manatee:

Port Manatee said it broke cargo records for the six-month period that ended March 31, according to a press release.

The accomplishments compared with the first six months of fiscal 2018 include:

The port’s main products for cargo are petroleum, phosphate, granite, and fruits and vegetables.

However, the port contributed its containerized cargo growth to a more-than-doubling of juice volumes coming into the port in specially fitted container units, imported via Mexico services of Port Manatee-based World Direct Shipping.

Meanwhile, at Port Tampa Bay:

Port Tampa Bay welcomed more than 1 million cruise ship passengers in 2018, its biggest passenger count to date, and is projecting to break the previous record. So far this year, the port has seen 1,074,226 passengers. 

Its month of March also outperformed the same period last year. In March 2018 there were 501,199 passengers, whereas in 2019 there were 750,891. 

Tampa is one of the largest cruise ports in the United States with roughly 25 percent of the port’s total operating revenue related to the cruise industry.

As we have noted before, the cruise business is a disproportionate share of port revenue.  Any increase there is good, but there is always the question of long-range development as the cruise business changes and whether the lack of the ability to host larger ships will affect revenues negatively, especially relative to competitors and the ability to invest.

Meanwhile, the port has also seen more movement on the cargo side. Year-to-date, the port has seen 46,425 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit), which is used to measure a ship’s cargo carrying capacity.

The container developments are definitely favorable, though we still have a long way to go to get to where we should be.

Overall, the port news is about growth and that is good.  Nevertheless, we still think it our local ports should coordinate better to maximize investment and competitiveness.  The local divisions may make sense for some, but it is questionable whether they are good for the area as a whole.


Built Environment – And Again the Trees

The tree canopy of the Tampa is one of its best assets and deserves protection.  For a while now, the City has been trying to rewrite the tree code.  This week, something finally passed.

After more than an hour of discussion, the council approved the measure by a 5-1 vote.

But not before a final stand was made by some opponents to remove a provision requiring private property owners to get a $120 permit to trim tree limbs thicker than 4 inches.

Council members agreed to delay when the new regulations would take effect until June 1 to give city officials time to educate the public. And council members also voted to scrutinize the ordinance in October to see if any tweaks needed to be made.

First, we understand permits for cutting down certain trees, but that permit fee seems a bit much.   Second, the public will not be properly educated in a month, but at least the Council acknowledges the need for education.  Third, we are fine with a review in October.

So what does the ordinance say?

Broadly speaking, the ordinance gives builders and property owners more flexibility in locating a house on a lot that has a grand tree, mostly by reducing some setbacks. It also streamlines the appeal and inspection process. In addition, the ordinance recasts a tree fund to more transparently allocate the money deposited into the fund by developers who cut down trees and can’t replant new ones into restoring the city’s canopy.

The details are legion and often confusing, which city officials cited as a reason to delay its implementation. And why all sides agreed an October review would be prudent.

We understand that this is a complex issue, but the “details are legion and confusing” is not a good way to start with a new ordinance.   Maybe they should have waited until someone could have drafted something a little less confusing.  We are ok with tweaks in October but that sounds like they anticipate they will have to do more than tweaking.

In any event, we are sure we will hear more about it in the coming months.


Economy/Economic Development


— Hmmmm

The Council of 100, a business organization (see website here) released a new report recently.  From Florida Politics:

The Florida Council of 100 released a report Tuesday laying out an economic road map for the Sunshine State.

The key takeaway of the Project Sunrise report is that Florida needs to focus on improving in “tradable sectors” that can be easily exported to other states.

“Given Florida’s maturity as a worldwide economic powerhouse in recent years, we have a unique opportunity to lead and chart a path to help Florida become that ‘It’ State — the place where dynamic and exciting innovations lead the way,” said Chris Corr, FC 100’s chair.

“With this framework, Florida can apply the proper mix of talents, efforts, and resources to drive the state’s economy to thrive, en route to an improved quality of life for our citizens.”

That’s pretty generic economic development stuff, but the report, which you can find in the publications page here , is a bit longer than that.  It has some other nuggets, which you can read in the Florida Politics article here, including this:

In South Florida, business marketing on par with the area’s current tourism marketing plan can help parlay the region into a global commerce market; in Orlando, doubling down on the R&D and tech industries can help move it away from volatile non-tradables such as tourism; in Tampa Bay, FC100 recommends leveraging area universities to ramp up talent output and providing those graduates with incentives to stick around; and in Jacksonville, taking advantage of its growing tradable sectors, such as health, can insulate it from possible economic decline.

That’s it?  Everyone else has sectors they can develop and we have to get some talent and make sure it sticks around?  That seemed odd, so we went to the report, which has breakdowns of metro areas.  The Tampa Bay area is on pages 50-51 of the pdf. It says we have a diverse economy and that

Tampa’s economy is projected to grow at more than twice the pace of the US economy, with 1.6% employment growth. While the metro area’s productivity is expected to increase by 2.7%, productivity will still constrain overall economic growth.

(p. 51) The first part of that quote, if true, is great; the second, not so much.  It seems that we are not quite the magnet/retainer of talent that some tout us to be.  That may help explain this from the report:

Despite having higher population growth, Tampa’s and Orlando’s GDPs grew at half the pace of the national GDP due to low and declining productivity

(p. 50)

We really need to do better.


— VC

This area has seemed to do pretty well on funding deal recently.  How is it relative to other areas?

eMerge Americas, which hosts an annual technology conference in Miami, released a 2018 Year End report titled “South Florida Venture Activity and Investment Trends.” The report was created in partnership with the Knight Foundation and Florida International University.

Tampa rounded out the top five cities with the highest deal flow, bringing in $97.41 million with 34 deals. However, Tampa Bay trailed somewhat far behind No. 4 spot holder Raleigh, North Carolina, which brought in $612.20 million for 60 deals. The top three were Durham, North Carolina with $745.50 million for 66 deals, Atlanta with $1.13 billion and 115 deals and Miami snagging the top spot, bringing $1.38 billion with 128 deals last year.

It is decent to be fifth in the South, but that is quite the gap. (Though we should have been fourth – and the gap wider – because Raleigh and Durham should have been counted together.) We do not expect much detail about the Tampa Bay area from a report focused on South Florida, but it would be nice to know how that compares to previous years.


— Housing

It seems that there is more housing news every week.

Sales of single family homes in Pinellas County dropped in March for the fourth consecutive month while sales rose by varying amounts in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando.

Overall, the bay area market is clearly less buoyant than it was a few years ago, according to figures released Monday by Florida Realtors.

Houses are taking longer to sell even though the supply remains tight. Sellers are getting a slightly lower percentage of their asking price than they did at the same time a year ago.

* * *

In Pinellas, sales of single family homes — which make up by far the largest share of the residential market — dropped 7.4 percent in March compared to the same month a year earlier. Prices rose 6 percent to a median of $265,000, a respectable increase but less than half of the gains recorded last fall.

While most counties still reported increases, the slowing down of the market seems to be becoming a trend. It is even more interesting with very low unemployment and good population growth.  Perhaps it is just a disconnect between the expectations of buyers and sellers (and prices and incomes).  It bears watching.


St. Pete – Dali

We have long been fans of the Dali museum.  We were glad when a new, purpose-built facility opened (though there are a few things that could have been done differently in the layout).  And, now, there are plans for more.

The museum filed an application seeking $17.5 million of bed tax money from Pinellas County to support an expansion that includes a new parking garage, event spaces and room for its new digital exhibits, which leaders are calling Digital Dalí. Those exhibits will use artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

According to the documents, the two-year expansion is estimated to cost more than $38 million, $30 million of that in construction. It would add a new wing with 20,000 square feet for community spaces and digital exhibits. It also plans for a 150,000-square-foot parking garage, increasing the number of parking places from 130 to 400.

Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously on April 9 to forward the Dalí’s application to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

Here are some renderings:

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Because the present the lot is a bit constrained by the layout, we understand the integrating of the garage with the expanded facility.  We even understand, and appreciate, the screening of the garage.  What we really don’t get it the giant hole in the middle of the garage where what appears to be a circular ramp is.  We assume that, for aesthetic reasons, they were trying to keep the floors of the garage horizontal rather than diagonal (which we get on one level), but it seems to be a poor use of space.  There is already limited land for any future expansion.

We cannot speak to the specific exhibits and uses, but generally we support the expansion of the museum.  We even get the garage, but we think it could be done better and with an eye to saving a bit more land for the future.


St. Pete – Storefronts

We have previously discussed efforts in St. Pete to protect local businesses and keep chains out of downtown. At first, there were a few questionable proposals, but those quickly were dismissed in favor of the storefront plan.  From St. Pete Catalyst:

The Storefront Conservation Corridor Overlay makes land use and zoning changes on Beach Drive and Central Avenue from the waterfront to 31st Street. It puts limits on large storefronts most often associated with chain businesses.

Approval was a major victory for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has advocated for versions of the plan for about two years. Initially he proposed a ban against chain stores, then revised the proposal to regulate storefront size and design in an effort to discourage chains.

No other city has enacted a similar ordinance, Kriseman said.

“City staff looked at ordinances from all over the country with the hope being that we wouldn’t have to recreate the wheel, or create the wheel for that matter, but St. Pete is unique. Nothing we saw quite fit this city. So St. Pete did what St. Pete is really good at doing. It’s being innovative and leading and being bold. That’s in the DNA of who this city is,” Kriseman said.

Before last night’s council meeting, city staffers tweaked the plan, to allow for slightly fewer small storefronts — those 20 feet or less in width — and more medium sized ones — from 20 feet to 40 feet in width. The revised plan also clarified design standards, amended parking reductions and added clearer criteria to accommodate unique and unanticipated situations, among other changes.

Of course, there are still issues:

But the plan still falls short, according to Larry Feldman, president and CEO of Feldman Equities, which is the largest owner of office buildings in the city, including First Central Tower at 360 Central Ave. City officials and businesses agree there’s a shortfall of office space in the city, and Feldman said the restrictions in the plan would discourage new office construction.

“All of the tenant space I can go after for a new office deal is going to be heavily restricted and it’s going to hamper new development,” Feldman said. “Let me give you an example of the kind of tenant that would be a to-die-for tenant in downtown St. Petersburg. Apple Computer. Under this new ordinance you could not lease to an Apple Computer. Apple Computer is considered the biggest driver of traffic, bar none, to a mall or a retail center by a multiple of five.”

The plan penalizes property owners, said Jonathan Daou, president of Eastman Equities. Eastman Equities has restored at least a dozen buildings in the Edge District. Daou said all his tenants are locally owned business, some of which would not be allowed to expand under the ordinance.

Those are both legitimate concerns. Though

The council also agreed to revisit the issue in June, when it will take up a potential amendment that would give the property owners more flexibility on the use of their buildings

Which means the issue really is not settled.

We think this plan is far better than previous ideas.  However, with an attempt to maintain the status quo there is always a risk of stagnation and/or successful businesses not being able to expand and grow in their favored locations.

We totally understand trying to maintain a dynamic and diverse downtown environment and not get overrun by chains.  But part of that dynamism is also turnover and adjustment to market.  We are not saying any of it is easy, and we are not opposed to the spirit of the ordinance, though we are not sure it can ever really be achieved.  In any event, we think St. Pete should be prepared to act quickly when unintended consequences emerge.  And it should keep looking for a better way to achieve its goal, with the understanding that, for practical and legal reasons, it may have to compromise some.


Jackson House – The Time is Now

As we have discussed a number of times previously, Jackson House is one of the last remnants of the actual, historical Central Avenue neighborhood still standing (barely). While Jackson House has been shored up, it seems the shoring up work has accelerated the need for permanent repairs.

It’s been nearly three years since wooden stabilizers were installed to shore up the historic Jackson House, downtown Tampa’s rooming house for visiting African-American celebrities during an era of segregation.

Without the temporary supports, the aging building might have toppled.

But now, the beams threaten to deform the walls of the two-story wooden building at 851 E Zack St., adding urgency to the need for the permanent solution that the nonprofit Jackson House Foundation has been pursuing for years. The group’s goal is raising enough money to convert the building into a museum of African-American history.

* * *

The foundation is meeting this weekend to discuss launching a campaign to raise the $1.5 million needed for the work. One idea is seeking sponsorships for each of the 24 rooms once available for rent in the rooming house.

You can read the details in the Times article here.  We hope the new City government and local philanthropists show interest in preserving this actual part of Tampa history.


Built Environment/Downtown/Hyde Park – Blank

The Business Journal had another album of aerial construction pictures (here).  You can look through them.  This one of Manor Riverwalk stuck out for us:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is quite a large garage and quite a dead street.  We can do better.

On the other hand, on SkyscraperCity there was a picture by user The Accountant showing the full Water Street site:

From The Accountant at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for larger version and post

Click on it for the larger version on SkyscraperCity.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

In this week’s autonomous vehicle news,

Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to start converting the company’s electric cars into fully self-driving vehicles next year as part of an audacious plan to create a network of robotic taxis to compete against Uber and other ride-hailing services.

Needless to say, many are dubious (read here) Plus here are articles on five reasons experts think autonomous are years away (here) and one of the more complex problems (here).

Advertisements

Roundup 4-19-2019

April 18, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Surf and Turf

— Ferry

— Roads to Nowhere

— Autonomous Test

Channel District – More Sparkman

Rocky Point – Re-try

Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

Downtown – By the Highway

Westshore-ish – Midtown Hotel

Port – Down by Redwing

Economy/Economic Development

— Population

— Tourism

— Living

USF – Branches

Politics/Regionalism – Water

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country/Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

____________________________


Transportation – Surf and Turf


— Ferry

After waiting years for something to happen (and having the County spend quite a bit of money on consultants) on the MacDill-South County ferry idea, there was a lot of buzz this week about a modified proposal.

Ferry operator HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell Development Group submitted a business plan on Tuesday to Hillsborough County as part of a public-private partnership with the county.

* * *

The new permanent service would connect from Williams Park in South Hillsborough County to MacDill and would launch in 2022.

It would also connect commuters between South Hillsborough County, MacDill, downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

That last point does not seem to be exactly true.  First, most of the routes are not useful for commuters (more on that later), and, second, there is no single service that visits all four stops during the same period, to wit:

The new service includes:

* * *

The frequency will be every 10 to 15 minutes leaving Williams Park and going to MacDill on weekdays. The ride would be 14 minutes long.

And, in the partnership, what will the partners do?

The partners behind the MacDill route have offered to pay all operational costs and maintenance repairs of the new service, including the Tampa Bay service. The proposal covers 20 years of operations, which is a $100 million financial commitment, according to a release.

The proposed service would require construction of new ferry docks at Williams Park and MacDill, a ferry ticketing area, parking for 750 cars, a tram service to the Air Force base, and a reconfiguration of the existing intersection of U.S. 41 and Riverview Road, according to the release.

In other words:

Two companies, HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Corp., would pay more than $100 million to operate and maintain the four boats for 20 years, according to a business plan shared at a press event Tuesday. But county commissioners must first to agree to pay the up-front costs to get the project running.

So what will this cost taxpayers?

And perhaps more important, it still requires approval from Hillsborough County Commissioners to pay $36.5 million for ferry docks at Williams Park in Gibsonton, plus four vessels, offices and other capital costs.

Setting aside that the County would pay for “offices”, it is worth noting this about the previous South County-MacDill ferry plan from 2018 when the old County Commission tried to kill the plan:

Commissioners then cited a consultant’s report that stated the costs of docks, boats and parking at a south county terminal may be as much as $30 million, well above the $22 million in BP settlement money the county set aside in 2017.

(Back in 2014, the proposal was for the County to pay $24 million.)

In our view, the analysis should focus on the transit aspect because we do not think the County should be in the business of paying the capital or other costs for fun-cruises.  The only real transit part of the plan is the South County-MacDill part.  It is the only part that will run with frequency on weekdays.  The lack of daytime connections from South County to downtown or St. Pete removes that service from real transit consideration.  So our focus is on the South County-MacDill element.

Like the previous South County-MacDill plan, right now, we are neither for nor against this one.  We see the potential merit of the South County-MacDill route for real transportation (like logical destinations generally, decent sized market, and good frequency) but have not seen the details of this plan.

And we have some questions: What do the taxpayers get for the increased capital contribution?  How much of that cost is not related to the South County-MacDill element? What happens if the private partners do not make money off the deal or decide to walk or go out of business?  If it makes money, is there profit sharing, and, if so, what is it? (And, given how much the County would spend/risk up front, if not, why not?) And is there any South Tampa access other than actually on the base? Have they resolved all the issues that held up the South County-MacDill service for half a decade?  Is Williams Park (map here) even viable for a 750 car parking lot? Who pays to replace or upgrade boats and facilities? That’s enough to start.

As we said, we are not opposed to the plan, but we need to know more to determine if this plan is worth it (or needs some modification), especially when the County would be paying up front and there are many other needs in Hillsborough County.


— Roads to Nowhere

The rural toll road plan in the legislature keeps moving along.

Plans for three new or expanded toll roads across rural areas of the state continued to roll through the Senate on Thursday, despite critics warning about sprawling development.

With the issue a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, the Senate Appropriations Committee backed the proposal (SB 7068), which calls for spending $45 million next year and would lead to establishing task forces to study economic and environmental impacts of each project.

* * *

The proposal would extend the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area north to the Georgia border, extend the Florida Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway and build a new transportation corridor from Polk County to Collier County.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, has said the roads would help rural communities, address the state’s continued rapid growth, provide new hurricane-evacuation options, expand bicycle and pedestrian trails and lay the groundwork for new water and sewer lines and broadband.

None of that is a surprise, though we doubt the above-stated reasons for the highways.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who is carrying the bill for Galvano, said the intent is to anticipate the future needs of the state.

Anticipating future needs is a good thing.   Of course, there are known needs present and future in populated areas that are not being addressed, and, as has been stated by proponents, this plan is intended to push development into other areas, creating, not solving, future needs.

There was also this oddity about the “working groups” that would evaluate each road idea, reported by Florida Politics:

The working groups — which would include a cross-section of agency stakeholders and an “appropriate conservation or community” nonprofit member — would deliver their findings in a report to state leaders.

Sen. TomLee, the bill’s sponsor, said the working groups would help recommend “where interchanges are located” and “how alignments are developed” to help the state avoid routes that could be economically or environmentally harmful.

But the Thonotosassa Republican also suggested the project advisers could scrap one of the roads.

“There is nothing in this legislation that is self-executing,” Lee said. “[DOT] could easily come back with a no-build on one or more of these corridors — that’s entirely possible.” 

Setting aside that we are not sure what an “appropriate conservation or community member” is and acknowledging that the composition of the working groups like will be changed, if they are just studying potential projects, fine, but there is no need to set aside large sums of money.  Remember:

Under the proposal, funding would grow from $45 million next fiscal year to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

That’s quite a bit for roads that have not even been approved yet (and are not needed). And while the plan may not be self-executing:

The possibility that the projects could be abandoned has prompted concern from lawmakers as the legislation has moved through the House and Senate. But it’s something Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has rejected.

“I think the task forces will help us plan, develop and engineer,” Galvano told reporters last week. “But the need is so overwhelming that I don’t think [dropping a project] is a possibility.”

Setting aside that the need is questionable at best (though there is a definite need for an east-west road on the north end of the Tampa Bay metro area and a decent need for a road between Jacksonville and I-75 that are not being addressed), it is unlikely that the working groups will be allowed to find the roads unnecessary or a poor idea.

And there was another interesting tidbit.  You may remember SunPass’s not so smooth software transition last year.  From Florida Politics:

New documents, released in response to an inquiry from state Sen. Tom Lee, raise new ethical and legal questions about how the Florida Department of Transportation paid off a firm vying for the state’s lucrative SunPass contract in order to secure the deal with politically-connected contractor Conduent.

The procurement is getting new attention in 2019 from Lee and other state Senators after a series of investigative reports about Conduent’s massive SunPass technology and customer service failures.

At the center of the SunPass saga in 2014 and 2015, when the state paid the Cubic company $3.6 million to end its formal bid protest, was then-FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, whose close ties to engineering firm HNTB may raise more eyebrows.

HNTB was the firm hired by FDOT to oversee the procurement of the SunPass overhaul, a dysfunctional one from its very beginning in 2013. Prasad worked for HNTB both immediately before and immediately after his nearly five-year tenure as secretary of FDOT.

First, we commend the Senator for investigating what happened with SunPass, because it was quite the mess. (You can get into the details in the article here and a Times article here )  But:

Prasad, whose work at FDOT set him up for a lucrative return to the private sector, again finds himself immersed in Florida’s toll road future in 2019; as President of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, Prasad represents companies that stand to gain from Senate President Bill Galvano‘s push to expand the state’s toll road system by hundreds of miles.

Which is relevant because:

Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the idea for his roads announcement came from discussions with the Florida Transportation Builders Association, which represents state road and bridge builders, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The road builders gave his Innovate Florida PAC $20,000 during his run for the senate presidency, while the chamber gave it $125,000 during that time period.

We would say the whole thing is all very odd, but, unfortunately, it isn’t.

Finally, there is this:

“If there are people that think we need to all live in an urban area and ride around on scooters, I can’t help them. I mean, that’s just not reality,” Lee said.

The truth is we agree with him (though we are not sure how many people think we all need to live in urban areas and ride scooters). People have different needs and desires.  Everyone is not going to live in an urban area.  And everyone is not going to ride scooters.  On the other hand, it is also true, and should be acknowledged, that we do not all need to (or want to) live in far-flung suburbs and drive everywhere.  And there is clearly a solid market for urban and close-in suburban living.

The truth is that most people in this state live in built up areas, including urban and close-in suburban areas, and, as the Governor has noted, want to be able to get around them better.  The bigger problems in this state, not just our area, are not a lack of sprawl or far-flung suburbs.  It is a poor transportation system and lack of choices in already built up areas.  That is where the legislature should be focusing time and money – providing people with useful choices and alternatives where they are, not building roads in rural areas that are basically intended to extend the existing issues to what is now open space.

As we have said, maybe at some point in the future, some of the road ideas in the plan may be needed, but now is not that time. (And as we keep saying, we are not against needed highways, like an east-west route in the north end of our metro area, but they should serve actual needs.) If the legislature wants to spend a couple of million studying theoretical long-range future plans for roads, that’s fine.  But now is the time to address congestion and lack of alternatives in the populated areas of the state, not creating a fund for roads of questionable utility.


— Autonomous Test

We have been clear in saying two things about autonomous vehicles: 1) there will be a place for them in a transportation system in the future though they will not be a panacea and 2) we probably will not be seeing really useful autonomous vehicles in large numbers anytime soon.  This week there was news that Clearwater is trying to have a pilot program on Clearwater Beach:

The City Council agreed during a recent work session to write a letter of support for the demonstration of a 12-passenger, self-driving vehicle along Mandalay. The letter will be included in an application for a federal grant to run the project, Hartman said.

* * *

The proposed one-mile test route would run a loop from the Pier 60 area north on Mandalay to Juanita Way, Hartman told the council. A technologist monitoring the onboard systems can grab the wheel to go around stopped delivery vehicles and avoid other mishaps.

* * *

It runs about 12 mph, and to ensure it runs all day without a recharge, the route it follows can’t be longer than a mile, Hartman told council members. It also can’t as yet negotiate the traffic circle on Clearwater Beach.

* * *

The proposed test — a collaboration between the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, engineering firm Stantec and the city, would run between October and January, before the height of the winter tourist season kicks in.

First, given that description, the buses are not really autonomous.  Because they need drivers to get around delivery vehicles and the like, they are partially autonomous.  Second, they apparently can’t really drive in the roads fully since they can’t go in the traffic circle.  Third, 12 mph is quite slow and certainly not rapid transit.

We have no problem with a pilot program, but those limitations do not give us reason to change our opinion.


Channel District – More Sparkman

The next phase of Sparkman Wharf’s renovation is starting.

. . . construction is underway on the next phase of renovations to the plaza — changes that will transform not only the property itself, but that entire corner of downtown Tampa, with 180,000 square feet of loft-style office space and more than 60,000 square feet of new storefronts.

* * *

In the coming months, SPP will replace the building’s existing facades with a “much more modern, industrial look,” said Sam Stein, senior development analyst for SPP. The new facades will also feature massive windows.

The interior demolition, which began as a lawn and dining garden opened to the public late last year, is almost complete. The offices will be built in space that was previously home to a movie theater, among other entertainment concepts.

“The building is a steel structure, so we’re bringing that out and adding more steel,” Stein said. “So the building will look completely different from the outside.”

The new facades will be white with gray accents and exposed black steel, Stein said. The overhaul also includes second-floor outdoor terraces on both the north and south sides of the property — totaling 10,000 square feet of outdoor terrace space, which will be decked out with trellises and canopies.

Here are some renderings of the water side:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The street side will look like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It looks fine to us with a good amount of cover, at least on the water side.  The street side is a little lacking.

As for tenants,

The office space in the wharf is priced in the mid to upper $40s per square foot for all-inclusive rent. That’s well above the average asking lease rates in downtown Tampa today, but Bevirt said there’s been no resistance to the rental rates.

“The types of tenants are coworking, health and life sciences, design,” Bevirt said. “It’s really called ‘creative Class A’ office. It’s one of the most unique office offerings in the U.S. right now.”

Gimmicky real estate term aside, we are sure the space will be nice.  Hopefully, it will be full.  We look forward to seeing how the whole area comes together in a few years.


Rocky Point – Re-try

There was news about Rocky Point.

Northwood Raven, based in Charlotte, paid $7.8 million for the vacant 3-acre lot next to the Westin Tampa Bay in a deal that closed in late March, according to Hillsborough County property records.

Northwood is planning to build a 180-unit apartment building — 68 one-bedroom units, 96 two-bedroom units and 16 three-bedroom units — that stands nine stories high. It is seeking a substantial change determination from the city, as the proposal differs from plans previously approved for the property.

Northwood’s website anticipates a groundbreaking in 2019, with the first units to deliver in 2021.

This is the lot:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And this is a rendering from the developer’s website:

From NWRLiving.com – click on picture for website

The rendering does not reveal that much other than the building seems to have quite a large mass.  We would have to see a site plan to really get a feel for if the massing and layout works.  However, as a general matter, this type of development, rather than the sprawling apartments with surface lots, is more along the lines of what we believe Rocky Point should be. (We withhold judgment on this specific project until we can learn more.) Maybe, just maybe, at some point Rocky Point will finally become the walkable, urban enclave it should have originally been.


Downtown/Hyde Park – TGH

Tampa General has submitted its plans for its land in the Grand Central area (map here).  The project involves two 9 office story buildings (6 stories of offices and 3 stories of parking).  There is also another ten story garage for a total of around 3000 parking spaces.  There is some retail, which we will discuss in a minute.  First, here are the renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

And the site plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on pictures for post

The renderings are a bit rough so it is hard to say that much about them.  The office buildings appear to be basically boxes with some variation in cladding. The garage is a garage.  As for the ground floor and retail here are the lower floors of the buildings:

From the City of Tampa Accela system – click on picture for larger version

As you can see, the building facing Kennedy has some potential retail space facing Kennedy.  The other office building (Magnolia building) has some very small space that looks more like a lobby facing Kennedy/Grand Central. Both buildings also have parking on the ground floor.  The part of the Magnolia building actually facing Magnolia is mostly parking, even facing the street.  From the renderings, it appears to be hidden parking, but it is parking and not an activated street – even though it is across the street from Altis Grand.

We are for having a busy activity center in the Grand Central area. We do not really have a problem with the massing of the office buildings or facing Kennedy and Magnolia with office buildings, but the street activation ranges from a bit weak to non-existent. We also get the need for parking, but putting parking right along Magnolia is weak, especially with so much parking and a free-standing garage. (It is also unfortunate that Cleveland will again be left dead for another block.)

We do not have enough information on the façade to have an opinion about it.

Hopefully more information will be forth-coming and they will address some of the weaknesses in what we have seen so far.


Downtown – By the Highway

The apartment tower proposal for a lot between the ramps for I-275 was approved.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The residential tower project at 102 East Tyler in Downtown Tampa received approval today. The tower is 23 stories with 172 units and a restaurant slip at the project’s southeast corner. The tower height is 260 feet.

The project is providing 451 parking spaces, while only 172 parking spaces were required.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

As we said when this first came up, this is a complicated lot.  We understand the limited retail, though it could have been done better.  We also understand some of the problems with garage access, though the streetscaping could be better.  The parking seems a bit much, though we have heard a few explanations for it.

Yes, the tower design is generic and the street activity is not very good.  And it will sit in a major gateway to downtown Tampa, which is not the best.  On the other hand, while we are not overly enamored with this project, we recognize the challenging location.  Even within that location, we would like it to be a bit better, but it has been approved (at least someone wants to build a big building on that lot) so hope for the best.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Hotel

New details regarding the Midtown Element/Aloft were released.

The 7-story hotel Midtown Tampa developers will start to build this summer will be a dual-branded Aloft and Element property with 226 rooms and a rooftop terrace, pool and lounge designed to appeal to locals as much as to out-of-towners.

* * *

Aloft and Element are millennial-oriented subsidiaries of Marriott International. Both will operate in the building, with each maintaining a distinct look. The Element, which developers say will be the first of that brand in Tampa, will have 115 rooms with a minimalistic design that makes use of natural materials. In-room kitchens and oversized closets will aim to facilitate longer stays.

Aloft’s 111 rooms will feature bold colors and sleek design, with check-in, check-out and access to the rooms themselves done with a smart phone or smart watch.

The hotel will have a central lobby, a bistro and restaurant featuring small plates. The fitness center will be more than 1,000 square feet, or nearly double the size of a typical hotel fitness center, developers say. The hotel also will have meeting space on the seventh floor and 24,000 square feet of street-level retail.

Maybe the whole Midtown project really will be built at once.  As with Midtown generally, the internal elements are fine, we are more concerned about the project’s connection to the neighborhood.

One note of interest: this hotel will have 24,000 sq feet of street retail (per the Times above and Business Journal here) while the Hyatt Place in the middle of downtown being built on formerly City property will have 3200 sq feet of street retail (see here and here), but at least it will have a hotel bar.  Good thing the City is so exacting in the projects it chooses.


Port – Down by Redwing

The Port Redwing dredging is apparently done.

It’s the project that took nearly 20 years to get started, but only six months to finish.

A $63 million dredging project to expand the Big Bend Channel at Port Tampa Bay has been completed complete a year ahead of schedule, the port announced Monday.

The wider, deeper channel will allow for bigger ships to call at the port’s 270-acre Port Redwing terminals, which are expected to become a new hub of manufacturing, warehousing and ship-to-shore cargo distribution. The Big Bend Channel connects to the main channel in Tampa’s harbor, creating a link for the movement of goods between the Interstate 4 corridor and markets as far away as China.

While we are curious why the schedule said it would take so long, excellent.  On to the next project. . .

And, as it so happens, there is a next project.

Port Tampa Bay has approved a site improvements permit for the construction of a flour mill facility for Ardent Mills.

Ardent Mills LLC submitted the application for the construction of a flour mill and grain and storage terminal on 10 acres of port property with an estimated project cost of roughly $62 million, according to port documents.

Ardent Mills recently received approval of a ground lease agreement with the port to lease 10 acres of land at Port Redwing near Berth 302 in Gibsonton for the project. It will require easements for utilities, conveyors that go to Berth 302 and a railroad spur that comes from Port Redwing rail, according to documents.

Thus ends the long saga of the downtown flour mill and begins a new story for Port Redwing.  Good news all around.


Economy/Economic Development


— Population

As is well-known, population growth helps drive the economy.  THIs week the Census released new estimates of growth for the last year.  Here is the table of top 10 metro areas by actual population growth (not rate):

Table 7.

Top 10 Metropolitan Areas in Numeric Growth: 2017 to 2018

Rank Name April 1, 2010
(Estimates base)
July 1, 2017 July 1, 2018 Numeric Growth
1 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 6,426,222 7,407,944 7,539,711 131,767
2 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4,193,127 4,761,694 4,857,962 96,268
3 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 5,920,487 6,905,695 6,997,384 91,689
4 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 5,286,750 5,874,249 5,949,951 75,702
5 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 2,134,402 2,512,917 2,572,962 60,045
6 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,439,805 3,884,469 3,939,363 54,894
7 Austin-Round Rock, TX 1,716,321 2,115,230 2,168,316 53,086
8 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,224,966 4,570,427 4,622,361 51,934
9 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 2,783,462 3,091,225 3,142,663 51,438
10 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 5,636,363 6,200,001 6,249,950 49,949

Source: US Census Bureau – article here

It speaks for itself.  The question is when the per capita GDP will really take off.


— Tourism

There was news about tourist tax revenue.

Hillsborough County received more than $3.8 million in tourist development funds from overnight stays during February. The previous record, set in 2018, was $3.4 million.

“Tampa Bay continues to build year after year on its growing global reputation as Florida’s most diverse, dynamic and desirable vacation destination,” Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada said in a news release.

Historically, February is the second-highest month for tourism-related revenue after March, according to the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office.

We don’t know about having the global reputation as Florida’s most desirable vacation destination (see Orlando and Miami), but tourism is definitely growing in this area, as well as the rest of Florida.

Hotel occupancy for the month averaged 85.8 percent, up 3.6 percent from the previous year. Revenue per available room was up 5.4 percent. Overall hotel revenues exceeded $80.6 million for the month.

As always, note that while occupancy is growing, revenue was growing faster than occupancy and revenue is what drives the tax numbers. Nevertheless, growth is good.

It also seems that, at last, the County Commission is going to add the 6th percent bonus on the bed tax.


— Living

There was interesting news on rents.

Tampa Bay renters are getting less bang for their buck. According to HotPads Research, a Zillow affiliate, a typical bay area renter would have to give up 300 square feet of space to have the same monthly payment as five years ago. That’s the equivalent of losing two and a half small-ish bedrooms.

In other words, rents are rising at a decent pace.  But how does this compare to other areas?

Nationally, renters are losing 225 square feet of space.

This is the full list can be found in the article here. It also tells us:

Nationally, rent affordability has made some marginal improvements over the past five years – but while incomes have grown fast enough to allow the typical renter to better afford their rent payment, the space available to them at that price has decreased. And as the rental market gains momentum, rent costs per square foot will likely follow suit.

So, apparently, people can more easily afford to pay the same amount for less space.  Can they afford to pay the higher amount for the same space?  It does not seem to say.

While our rents may still be a bit low for large metros, so are our incomes. The questions is whether incomes are (or will be) rising as fast as rents (or home prices).


USF – Branches

The legislator who led the USF consolidation move has filed an amendment the higher education bill.  From Florida Politics:

The amendment to the bill (HB 839) would ensure the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses were designated “branch campuses.” That change blocks USF from instead creating regional campuses some faculty and administration worried would diminish the smaller schools’ autonomy.

The USF consolidation task force recommended protecting campuses as branches. Congressman Charlie Crist also sent a letter supporting that protection.

The amendment would also protect the entire USF system’s funding by blocking the Florida Board of Governors from using consolidated data at the three campuses “for purposes of determining eligibility for funding.

It is a logical move, especially considering this:

. . . by combining data from all three schools, USF’s overall graduation might have fallen below state standards that determine pre-eminence.

Protecting against that potentiality makes sense. However, once again, all this could have been avoided is, as should have happened, the consolidation was properly planned before it was written into law.


Politics/Regionalism – Water

A while back, we discussed Tampa’s proposal to convert wastewater into drinking water.  We discussed how there was vocal opposition from Pinellas and Pasco.  We also said that, assuming there was no scientific problem, we saw nothing wrong with the idea and that adding more water to the regional supply should help everyone.  Recently, the Times ran a column in opposition (here) and an editorial conditionally in favor (here) of the plan.

This week, Tampa Bay Water acted, sort of.

Facing strong public opposition, the region’s water supply authority again postponed voting on a city of Tampa plan to produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water by pumping treated wastewater into the Floridan aquifer.

Tampa Bay Water board members voted unanimously to put off making a decision for more than a year, the latest in a string of delays for the $350 million project dubbed “toilet to tap” by critics.

Water board members had already postponed a scheduled October vote until February. In February they postponed it until Monday. On Monday, they agreed there were still too many unanswered questions to make a final decision and postponed a vote once more, this time until June 2020.

So what was the reason for the postponement?

“There is considerable public concern and alarm about what effects there might be on the aquifer and our drinking water,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith, a water board member, said during the meeting. She said she had asked the Tampa Bay Water staff to ask the city questions about those issues, and most of the answers involved a variation on “we can’t tell you until we do a feasibility study.”

Smith said she had highlighted in blue ink all the places where that answer had occurred. Then she held up several pages of documents entirely covered in blue highlighter.

* * *

Leaders of local chapters of the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters strongly urged the board to reject Tampa’s proposal. They complained about a lack of transparency, a lack of scientific studies of the potential effects and what they perceived as a rush to gain approval before Bob Buckhorn leaves office as Tampa’s mayor.

As we have said before, if there are legitimate questions about the science and possible negative environmental impact of the proposal, we are all for studying them and getting clarification.

But in addition to the environmental questions about the project, critics — including several former Tampa Bay Water officials — have raised concerns that Tampa may be trying to break free from the 20-year-old Tampa Bay Water agency, which was created to end the notorious water wars of the 1990s. Tampa officials have insisted that is not their goal.

We find the above objection unconvincing.  In any event,

The motion to postpone the vote on what Tampa officials call the “Tampa Augmentation Project” came from St. Petersburg council woman Darden Rice, who dangled an incentive for Tampa to agree to another delay: The board would support Tampa’s attempt to get $1.6 million from the Legislature to pay for a feasibility study, and if that fell through, then Tampa Bay Water would provide the money itself. Tampa would provide a matching amount.

That is reasonable enough.

And we definitely still think the idea, on its face though not necessarily in details, has merit (with the caveat that it actually works as advertised). As the Times editorial said:

Tampa is also not using the project as a means for withdrawing from Tampa Bay Water. The city recognizes the value of working cooperatively to manage the region’s water resources; that’s one reason it’s bringing a new, significant water supply to the table. Consultants say that reusing water now being dumped into the bay could help the region meet its growing water needs – all while saving local taxpayers up to $35 million in avoided costs for new water supply projects. And redirecting the water could remove thousands of pounds of pollutants daily from Tampa Bay.

That is all good and within the framework of Tampa Bay Water.  However, if there are, as there seem to be, legitimate unanswered questions that require some study, we are fine with that as well. Better to make sure of the science before-hand rather than have to scramble later, as long as, if the idea pans out, it is accepted.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country/Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Last week, we discussed parking minimums.  We are not going to get into a long discussion this week.  However, we have two items of note.

First, is an article from the American Planning Association (here) that gives a good rundown of the arguments for reducing or eliminating parking requirements, especially in urban areas with good transit.

Second, Strong Towns has a nice crowdsourced map (it is referenced in the first article but their link does not always work) of policies around the country. (map here and website here)  Most we have looked at start with removing minimums downtown and work out along good transit lines, especially rail.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

For those who think 1) that ridesharing will solve our transportation and 2) that transportation should be completely market oriented:

Uber Technologies Inc has 91 million users, but growth is slowing and it may never make a profit, the ride-hailing company said on Thursday in its IPO filing.

* * *

The disclosure also highlighted how far Uber remains from turning a profit, with the company cautioning it expects operating expenses to “increase significantly in the foreseeable future” and it “may not achieve profitability.”

(not to mention that the roads are subsidized) If the grand-daddy of them all is not going to make a profit, one has to wonder about the industry as a whole over the long run.

Roundup 4-12-2019

April 11, 2019

Contents

North Tampa – No

Transportation – In the Nettles

— That Boulevard Thing

— That Did Not Take Long

— Streetcar

— Scooters

— Virgin Trains

West Tampa – Better

Bayshore – Hyde Park House

Airport – Building

Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Politics – Good Question

Complete Streets in the Pete

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

List of the Week

_________________________________


North Tampa – No

We posted this a little early because something came up.  However, that affords us the opportunity to us to say that the project 820 East Busch Blvd. that is going before City Council tonight (Thurs. 4/11) is just not good enough. (See URBN Tampa Bay’s very good take here) We are all for redeveloping this site, but the proposal needs to be improved significantly.


Transportation – In the Nettles


— That Boulevard Thing

Last week, we referenced the I-275 to Boulevard concept. This week, URBN Tampa Bay had a guest posting from the guy who initially proposed the idea and started the whole discussion. (You can read it here)  We are not going to quote the whole thing.  It is worth reading the whole thing.  But this is the crux:

I know what you’re thinking. We can’t remove I-275 tomorrow. We won’t be able to remove it in five years — maybe even ten. Hell, anything is possible. You’re right. The fact is, Tampa is not ready for this project. This city has years of transit projects to catch-up on, a generation of previously unfunded improvements, schools without sidewalks, and streets without bike lanes to tackle first. We need serious zoning and code reform. We need robust commuter rail, ferries, and an expanded streetcar and we need the political will to follow through on it all. We can and will do all these things. With All for Transportation, we will get there. What we should do, is aspire to do more. Aspire towards a future where this isn’t a hard decision. Where we’re focused on getting the water out of the balloon.

We completely agree.  The idea is worth considering and, as we wrote in the long piece we referenced last week (long piece here), there are preconditions that need to be in place to make it really work well.  That does not mean it cannot be done.  It means that it needs to really be considered and approached methodically so, if it is done, it is done really well.

We commend his approach.  And we should definitely aspire to do better than what is proposed now.


— That Did Not Take Long

As people who follow such things know, HART just hired a new CEO.  What is he saying?

Benjamin Limmer just finished his first week as the new CEO of HART, Hillsborough County’s public bus agency. He’s on a listening tour to hear what the public has to say about the area’s mass transit woes. He tells WUSF’s Steve Newborn that years of cutbacks are about to be a memory, courtesy of a recently-passed sales tax referendum will pour money into the system.

Listening tour.  Ambition.  That is good.

Limmer says the time is ripe to build on the foundation of coooperation that has been started between the various transit agencies in the Tampa Bay area. 

Ambition and regionalism.  Fine.

That could mean bus rapid transit – which is being planned to connect Wesley Chapel in Pasco County with downtown Tampa and across the Howard Frankland Bridge to Pinellas County – or maybe light rail sometime in the future.

We were wondering how quickly he would start with the “BRT” plan.  The reality is that HART’s plans should not include the “BRT” plan at all.  It does not serve Hillsborough’s needs.  It does not fulfill the ideas in the referendum. It is an utter lack of ambition – prototypical Tampa Bay settling.  Hillsborough should not be spending money on it.

He should be focusing on fixing the bus system in Hillsborough in preparation for building a proper, real transit – real BRT or rail (or both) – system.  The “BRT” plan should be a nonstarter. (As we have always said, if they want to do a cheap express bus, fine.  Hillsborough should not support the lowest common denominator that is the “BRT” plan).

We understand he is new. We are willing to give him a chance.  But if he goes straight into the “BRT” plan, we will know the talk of ambition and listening is just the standard rhetoric.


— Streetcar

There was more news about streetcar ridership.

The numbers are in and March was our busiest month yet! The TECO Line Streetcar carried 99,675 trips throughout the month. Year-to-date ridership is at 451,289 with six months left! The Streetcar carried roughly 200K trips in FY18.

Yes, you read that correctly. In March, the streetcar carried basically half as many people as all of last year.  Once again, the demand for useful and not stupidly priced transit is there.

And the cost of running it for free and with greater frequency is quite low.  From a June 2018 Business Journal article:

Tampa’s downtown streetcar will be free for three years, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The agency awarded a $2.67 million Transit Service Development Grant to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, eliminating fares for the historic TECO Line Streetcar.

Given the low cost and the results, the funding should become permanent.


— Scooters

We assume scooters are coming to Tampa, but:

Tampa City Council members were expected to approve operating agreements with four e-scooter vendors to start rolling their product, but instead, the city is delaying the process.

City council members approved a motion to move discussion and approval on the operating agreements from the April 4 meeting to April 18. The program was expected to start by April 1.

* * *

“Just acknowledge when you have scooters and walkers on the same sidewalk and street and the state doesn’t allow them on the street, there’s a problem,” councilman Charlie Miranda said.

The legislature is working on that and hopefully will solve that problem before the end of the session, councilman Mike Suarez responded.

The change definitely should be made, and the bill is moving through the legislature (though, as we have said previously, there should be more provision for local regulations in the bill).

Like we said, we are assuming scooters are coming; it is just a matter of when and exactly where.


— Virgin Trains

There was Virgin Trains news.  First,

Virgin Trains USA just received a big boost for its $2.3 billion Orlando-to-Miami route.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. voted unanimously 3-0 to approve $950 million in new bonds during its board meeting April 5 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The move comes as Virgin Trains, formerly known as Brightline, had announced on April 4 that it had the funding to begin construction on its Orlando-to-Miami route and will begin construction in April.

That is on top of this:

The additional bonds come as Virgin Trains USA on Monday announced that investors made orders on more than $1.75 billion in private activity bonds that were previously approved by the FDFC. The bond orders will close on April 18, and proceeds will be used for the Orlando-to-Miami route, among other uses. 

Goddard said during the meeting there is continued private interest in investment in the train line.

Meanwhile, the Orlando-to-Miami service is expected to take 30 to 36 months to complete, launching in 2022 and is expected to stabilize operations within two years.

And

Branson also asserted that his company’s presence has kept the Orlando link on track.

“Under the Virgin Trains banner, the team was able to raise nearly $1.8 billion here in the last three weeks,” Branson said. “That’s the money we need to build to Orlando.”

Branson said Virgin has “98 percent brand recognition in America and nearly 100 percent in Europe, whereas Brightline is really only known in Miami.”

“So I think the Virgin brand has helped in the process,” Branson said. “I think many people will learn about Virgin Trains in Orlando and jump on them.”

Obviously, getting to Orlando is a prerequisite for getting to Tampa.  And about Tampa:

Buoyed by $1.8 billion in funding to extend his newly renamed Virgin Trains from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport, Sir Richard Branson said Thursday he is “100% confident” the former Brightline train line will also be extended to Tampa and Disney World in short order.

“I’m 100% confident, obviously reassured that we just raised $1.8 billion to do the first major leg of that, and I’m absolutely certain that Tampa will be getting a Virgin train in the not too distant future,” the billionaire businessman told reporters as he rode the train to each of its three existing stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Given all that, we a cautiously optimistic.


West Tampa – Better

There was news about an apartment proposal in West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park).  From URBN Tampa Bay:

After working with us and city staff, the developer of 608 Willow in North Hyde Park has come back with more enhancements to their proposal:

First, the project is announcing a showpiece art installation by North Hyde Park’s own Josh Pearson of Pep Rally Inc., who has done art installations for Sparkman Wharf, Nike, the Tampa Bay Lightning and more. The art installation will be 56′ x 26′ at the Northeast corner of the building. The design of the installation will be revealed at a later date.

Second, the amount of retail space has been increased again, in the form of outdoor eating space with a shade overhang. As you can see in the renderings attached, the 895 square feet of patio space is shaded all the way up to the property line. Including this patio eating space, there is over 4,000 square feet in the proposal now.

These additions compliment the enhancements recently made to the proposal, when the developer turned the first floor units into walk-up units, with front doors leading out to the sidewalk.

This project goes before the Tampa City Council on May 9th.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While it is not as much as we would have liked, it is definitely an improvement. (Though it would be nice if it had shade trees rather than palm trees.)  And good for the developer for working with the City and other interested parties to make the project better. What would be even better is if the City had a real plan for this area so this dance were not necessary for every project.


Bayshore – Hyde Park House

The Hyde Park House condo proposal received approval from the ARC.

The Architectural Review Committee approved Hyde Park House on Wednesday. The controversial 21-story condo tower at 2103 Bayshore Blvd. had drawn neighborhood opposition for various design features and not fitting in with the Hyde Park Historic District.

The project has 70 condo units.

We think the project is ok, but, like most Bayshore projects, it is lacking on the street level.  We also still think the top is a bit weak.  Nevertheless, it is moving forward.


Airport – Building

There was news about the office building which is part of the second phase of the airport master plan.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday awarded a contract to VanTrust Real Estate to develop a 9-story office building – the first commercial office building linked to Tampa International Airport by a people mover.

The building will be located in a prime spot in the new SkyCenter development, with an elevated pedestrian walkway connecting the adjacent atrium to the SkyConnect station at the rental car center. Other amenities of the 270,000-square-foot building will include a conference center, fitness center, café and access to multipurpose trails that will eventually join with Tampa Bay’s regional trail network.

* * *

Construction should be completed in 2021. VanTrust, which is based in Kansas City with offices in Jacksonville, will design, build and manage the office building and adjacent parking garage. The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will occupy three floors – a move that allows the airport to relocate its in-terminal offices to make way for expanded curbsides with express lanes for passengers who aren’t checking bags.

* * *

The building will serve as the primary home for the Authority’s employees and the nerve centers for all airport operations. Given the critical nature of the work, the building has been hardened against severe weather and is more robust than similar office buildings in the area. Everything from the windows and walls to the HVAC and life-safety systems have been upgraded. The building will feature back-up utility lines – including power, data – and will also have generator back-up.

 

From Tampa International – click on picture for website

As part of the deal, the aviation authority will lease the third, fourth and fifth floors “and other required spaces” in the SkyCenter office tower. Its rental rate is $43.09 per square foot, according to the agreement.

The authority has also structured its eventual purchase of the tower, at an “anticipated value” of $110 million, into the agreement. It will purchase the building “following certain conditions being met” three, five or seven years after it takes occupancy of its office space there.

The rent is a bit on the high side for this area generally (as for new buildings – slightly more than Midtown’s asking rate but under the rates for Water Street) but the hardening and redundancy of systems would obviously cost more than a normal office building and it is new construction. (We do not know the conditions for a purchase so we cannot speak to that cost.)

It is a unique location, the Aviation Authority needs office space, it moves the project along, and we are all for the airport having first class facilities.


Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Parking minimums have been a ubiquitous part of American city planning for a while.  As we have discussed before, that is starting to change.  Recently, a Café con Tampa session was dedicated to the issue, and URBN Tampa Bay did a write-up:

The audience was shocked to learn that Tampa residents spends 56% of their median household income on housing and transportation. Combined with our lower prevailing wages, locals take a very real hit to their quality of life, in part to pay for required parking that often sits unused. The audience also learned that the rising cost to develop structured parking locally (Which is now up to $50k per space) is making urban housing offered at attainable prices for middle income workers virtually impossible to build. They also explained to the audience how on-site parking requirements encourage sprawl by reducing not just the affordability of urban development, but also the density of it. Of course, pushing residents farther away from work and play destinations only raises their transportation costs, because cars themselves aren’t exactly affordable either. (According to AAA, the average cost of car ownership, all costs included, has risen to nearly $10k per year per car.)

That is all true, and clearly a problem.  The presenters proposed a change:

The pair proposed a 4-step policy solution to get Tampa moving in the right direction, towards reduced parking requirements and greater affordability:

  1. Identify transit corridors with at least 20 minute peak rush hour frequency (see attached map).
  2. Remove parking requirements within a half mile of the identified corridors.
  3. Meter the street parking in these areas with on-demand pricing. Pricing public parking in this way has proven effective in other markets at both managing the supply and raising revenue to fund transportation improvements.
  4. Invest the revenue from these parking meters on enhancing neighborhood infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes, burying obstructing utilities and so on.

We have attached their handout from the meeting.

This is the map referenced above:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The first thing we will say is that elimination of parking minimums in urban areas well served by transit and built in a walkable way is fine with us.  Developers will still likely have some market incentive to build some parking but will not have to build seas of parking required now.  In areas where people can walk and use transit, some will definitely choose to do so and costs will come down.  Right now, in Hillsborough County, downtown, Tampa Heights, and the Channel District are the best examples of where minimums could be removed, namely because people can just walk and there are multiple ways to get around including the Downtowner and streetcar (especially if/when expanded).

However, the issue we have with this area is that generally transit is not there.  20 minute peak frequency is not that high.  And there is the question of off-peak frequency.  Yes, the referendum money (assuming the courts approve) will help with that, but right now it is an issue.  Moreover, some areas on that map – like Hillsborough Ave – are just a mess, especially toward Town and Country.  And, yes, part of that mess is caused by minimum parking rules.  Part of it is also caused by other rules on how things are to be built.  And part of it is lack of proper infrastructure investment for walking and biking.  That is all true, but it is still a mess.

Moreover, if you look at the map rather bizarrely there is no line with 20 minute peak frequency going to Westshore – not from downtown, not from anywhere.  Not only does that mean that Westshore does not meet the requirements but that people who work in Westshore will not have a decent transit connection. Because Westshore is the biggest employment center in the area, that is a problem.

We get using the transit frequency idea as a threshold, but the minimum frequency threshold should probably be higher and some accounting for urban-ness and connectivity of the area.  In other locations, minimums could be lowered – in some places quite significantly.

Finally, this is really a chicken and egg problem. Does urban-ness and transit availability remove the need for parking or does removing parking minimum rules create an urban environment where people walk and use transit?  We would say both, depending on the area.

But the real key is to have true frequency in transit.  Without that, the idea will just not work well.  And in most areas we are still waiting for that.

Nevertheless, reducing/eliminating parking minimums needs to be on the agenda.


Politics – Good Question

A Times column asked a good question:

A mere 20 percent of voters weighed in on the Tampa mayor election with the runoff looming. How do you get people to care about what’s next for their city?

Here’s an easy way to increase turnout: put the municipal elections with the general elections.


Complete Streets in the Pete

There is news that St. Pete is looking to change 34th Street in the south part of town.

Officials are looking to convert two lanes on 34th Street S between 22nd and 54th avenues to lanes reserved for buses, and for cars making right turns. The change would impact the far right lanes along that stretch, leaving two lanes each way for regular traffic.

This is the second set of specialty lanes planned in St. Petersburg, and city officials say they would like to make them a reality by 2022.

* * *

The 34th Street S plan also calls for widening sidewalks up to 10 feet across and adding several enhanced mid-block crosswalks with flashing beacons that people can activate to stop traffic.

Aside from the mid-block flashing beacons, it seems to make sense, particularly because:

That stretch of 34th Street is operating at less than 50 percent of capacity, according to Forward Pinellas, the county’s transportation planning organization. Milvain and others on the county and state level say the wide lanes filled with relatively little traffic encourage people to drive faster than the 45 mph posted speed limit.

In other words, we are not talking a road diet on Dale Mabry.  St. Pete is taking advantage of excess capacity in its roads to remake.  We have no problem with that.  We would hope they change their code to make the buildings along that stretch more conducive to people taking buses and walking.

Of course, there is some opposition to any change, though it is by no means clear that most people object. Moreover, many of the complaints stem from the King project about which, given specific conditions in that area, we had some concerns. In all these projects, the details are important.  And,

The majority of the projects are focused on making streets more accommodating for bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing speeds, adding shared lane markings (known as “sharrows”) and creating neighborhood greenways.

But many times, residents hear about the projects one at a time or only after they are already open.

“I would like to see the whole big picture and not just these individual pieces,” resident Tonya Wright-Gaskins said at a community meeting earlier this month. “They might get more buy-in from the community if they shared the whole vision.”

That is very true and a common problem in this area.

Back to 34th Street, there is one thing that is a bit disappointing:

Unlike other places in the city, transportation officials do not have plans to add bike lanes to 34th Street S. Cyclists would be encouraged to ride along the extra-wide sidewalks or use alternate parallel routes, like the bike lanes on 31st Street or the trail along 37th Street, said Evan Mory, the city’s transportation director.

It is too bad they could not find space for protected bike lanes, though the trail (here) on 37th where it exists is fine.

(Side note: We were previously told that in the mid-Pinellas stretch of US19, riding on sidewalks is more dangerous than in unprotected – unless you count a stripe of paint – bike lane on the street. See “Transportation – In the Bramble — US19”.  However, if you look at the 37th street trail, it is basically a wide sidewalk.  While, yes, there is less traffic on the 37th Street than US19, it is odd to make a trail using the more dangerous option.)


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

For all those who tell you that the autonomous cars takeover is imminent and will solve our transportation issues,

Uber expects it will be a long time before one of its biggest investments, self-driving cars, is ready for wide-scale deployment, a senior scientist said on Monday, as the ride-sharing firm gears up to go public.

Raquel Urtasun, who is chief scientist at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) and heads the group’s unit in Toronto, spoke about the challenges for self-driving development at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.

“Self-driving cars are going to be in our lives. The question of when is not clear yet,” Urtasun said. “To have it at scale is going to take a long time.”

* * *

Urtasun’s comments fall in line with the rest of the self-driving industry, which after much hype and bold promises has tempered expectations and pushed out timelines for deployment. The extreme technical challenges of building cars that can predict human behavior and respond appropriately proved greater than even some of the industry’s brightest minds had anticipated.

And that does not even get into the likelihood that autonomous vehicles travelling perpetually will likely make congestion worse. You can read the article here.


List of the Week

It has been a while since we did a list of the week.  This week, the Times reported on US News and World Report’s Best Places To Live.

Tampa Bay is growing as a destination. According to the U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Places to Live” list, the bay area ranked No. 56 among metros, rocketing up from its No. 75 spot last year.

* * *

Released Tuesday, the list ranks the 125 most-populated metro areas around the country on aspects such as job prospects, affordability and quality of life. Tampa scored 6.6 points out of 10 overall, including 6.6 points out of 10 for its job market, 5.7 for value, 6.9 for quality of life, 6.6 on desirability and 8.3 on attracting new residents. Its affordable housing and job market scores were significant contributors to its rise in rankings, U.S. News said.  

While it may be a decent jump, landing at 56th place is not really a cause for us to celebrate. We did not even crack the top 1/3. So who is ahead of us?

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Denver, Colorado Springs, Fayetteville (AR), Des Moines, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco, Portland (OR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Huntsville, Madison, Grand Rapids, san Jose, Nashville, Ashville, Boise, Sarasota, Washington (DC), Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Greenville (SC), Portland (ME), Salt Lake City, Melbourne (FL), Phoenix, Boston, Albany, Lexington (KY), Houston, Winston-Salem, Omaha, Reno, San Antonio, Ft. Myers, San Diego, Pensacola, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Ft. Wayne, Lansing, Jacksonville, Manchester (NH), Harrisburg, Charleston (SC), Knoxville, Hartford, Lancaster (PA), Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Buffalo, Richmond, Syracuse, and Chattanooga.

In other words, the top locations are mostly usual suspects. (And good for Sarasota.)

You can see the methodology here. Interesting, where we scored weakest was value, which is:

The Value Index, also called Housing Affordability Index, measures how comfortably the average resident of each metro area can afford to live within his or her means. To accomplish this, we compared the median annual household income to the housing cost in that metro area. The Value Index is determined by dividing the blended annual housing cost by the blended median annual household income for each metro area.

No surprise we did poorly there.  As we have often noted, while our housing costs are relatively low, so are our incomes. (And that does not even get to transportation including insurance.)

In any event, the jump is good (and it is just one list), but we have work to do.

Roundup 4-5-2019

April 4, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Bramble On

— Roads to Nowhere

— Veterans

— St Pete’s Choice

— BRT, the Beach, and Beyond

— TB(n)X Upcoming Meetings

— The Boulevard Idea

North Tampa/USF Area – A First Attempt

USF Area – Uptown Tennant

Westshore – Kind Of

Tampa Heights/West Tampa – On the Roof Looking West

Airport – Done Right

Economy – Indeed

— HQ’s

— Co-Working

— We Need This

Downtown/Hyde Park – Exactly

Geography – Whither Brandon?

Because We Can

________________________________________


Transportation – Bramble On


— Roads to Nowhere

Effort to build highways to nowhere continues apace.

Senate President Bill Galvano’s plan to start saving budget dollars for major corridor projects and rural roadways is gaining traction in the House.

The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday that’s identical to the Senate version (SB 7068) — part of what Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has identified as his vision for his first Session as Senate President.

The legislation would require lawmakers to start stashing money for three major highway projects: extending the Tampa-area Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia line, connecting the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and constructing the Southwest-Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties.

Democrats on the House panel were concerned that money for the projects would be stripped from General Revenue (GR) before task forces — written into the legislation to study the viability of the plans — reported back to state leaders by summer 2020.

“We’re already starting immediately next year to start moving money out of GR,” said state Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat. He and South Florida Democratic Reps. Barbara Watson and Bobby DuBose cast the only “no” votes.

The legislation would use $45 million in the next fiscal year’s budget for a series of transportation trust funds. “I don’t think we need that much money to create a commission to do a study,” Willhite added.

Each year, more money would be transferred out of General Revenue for the transportation trusts.

It is interesting to set aside money from general revenue for road ideas that are just going to be studied, especially roads which are not really in demand.

Despite one of the stated reasons for building the roads being hurricane evacuation, we already know that the idea was brought up by road builders because the Senator pushing the idea most told us so. (See “Transportation – Not Really On the Road to Nowhere Cont”) And we get why the road builders are trying to get more business, but that does not mean that the state should spend money on the projects they propose.  (Not to mention that building hundreds of miles of highway just for evacuations seems a bit inefficient – and will in not raise enough toll revenue to pay for the billions the roads would cost anyway.)

Another stated reason for the roads is to promote development in places where there are few people. We know that large landowners originally pushed at least one of the ideas, the Heartland Parkway.  This week we found out even more.

Thomas Peterffy, reportedly a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and a resident of Billionaire’s Row in Palm Beach, bought about 561,000 acres in 2015 – a tract the size of Rhode Island – in the rural Panhandle, including land in Lafayette, Dixie and Taylor counties.  A large swath of the land includes an already-approved massive development corridor in rural Taylor County which envisions intense residential and commercial building.  It’s very rural now, but a new toll road would bring traffic and infrastructure – including connections for water, sewer and telecommunications – to the region.

* * *

The polluting Georgia Pacific wood cellulose mill that sits on Taylor County’s fouled Fenholloway River is owned by Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. Bo Taff, a former state official for Gov. Jeb Bush, was tapped to shepherd Taylor County’s development approvals.

Peterffy bought the land in 2015, through his company Four Rivers Land & Timber. The master development plan came with the property, and it allows over 45,000 mixed-use development acres,  25,600 residential units and more than 10 million square feet of industrial and non-residential land use, according to county economic development records.

* * *

According to Florida Trend magazine, Peterffy also bought a 32,000-acre tract in Highlands County several years ago. That area is a possible route for the new planned toll road connector to link Polk and Collier counties. The land once belonged to the heirs of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, Jr.

(You can read more here.) And, once again, we understand people pushing for their own self-interest, but that does not mean the state should spend tax money for the projects. People have a right to advocate for their interests, and we expect them to do so.  The responsibility for how the money is spent in on the people in government.

Of all the things the Legislature should be addressing on transportation in the state, the proposed roads are about the last thing on the list.  They do not help the Florida residents in their daily lives.  They do not help the population centers with transportation or to reduce congestion (a stated goal of the Governor).

We are all for proper infrastructure investment (we don’t even mind some highways like an east-west connection in the north end of the metro area, Gateway Express – aside from some details and the variable rate lanes part – and Selmon-Gandy Connector), but this idea is not it. If and when there is actually a population in these areas that might justify the projects, then maybe it can be revisited.  Until then, we have ample other needs where the people are.  That is where the focus should be.


— Veterans

WFLA had a report on the small changes FDOT is doing to the bottleneck at the south end of the Veterans at the junction with SR60. It included this:

While the primary focus of the $1.9 million project is to relieve congestion during the morning rush, it also will pave the way for dynamic tolling. That means, rates will vary depending on the time of day, and traffic volume.

There’s no timeline on when dynamic tolling is expected on the Veterans Expressway, however, FDOT previously said that it would not implement the measures until the problems with congestion were taken care of.

Were that the case, dynamic tolling (aka variable rate toll express lanes) would not be implemented at all. (Of course, note that FDOT rebuilt the junction with SR60 not that long ago and failed to anticipate the bottleneck they are now supposedly going to fix.)  Moreover, the variable rate toll lanes are supposed to relieve congestion, so it is a bit odd to say they will not be implemented until that congestion is taken care of.  If it can be taken care of without the tolling, what is its purpose?

In any event, we expect the lanes to be tolled soon enough, and that they will not solve congestion.


— St Pete’s Choice

A while back, we discussed that St. Pete had a choice to make (See “Transportation – In the Bramble — A Choice”):

As they get ready to make room for a new rapid bus lane on 1st Avenue N and S between 20th and 31st Streets, city leaders were forced with a tough decision: Get rid of nearly 100 parking spots or the bike lane.

The decision:

Nearly 100 parking spots are about to disappear in Downtown St. Pete after city leaders opted this week to keep bike lanes, and nix half the parking spots along an 11-block section of 1st Avenue North and South.

Of course, there is some opposition,

Yet, the decision is infuriating for Ed Carlson.

“It’s insane! It’s absolutely nuts,” he exclaimed.

Carlson’s group “Citizens Against Lane and Parking Loss” is taking their fight to the streets by holding to let drivers know about changes like this along St. Pete streets.

“It’s insane to lose lanes and parking when we have a city that’s growing and growing,” Carlson said with a sigh.

Lance Lubin agrees.

“This traffic-snarling idea is being forced on the taxpaying citizens of St. Pete without a vote,” Lubin says.

Since this issue first got in the news, we have been checking traffic on the affected roads and, while Central can have issues from time to time, 1st Aves N&S do not really have many problems. (Let’s just say they are not the 405 in LA).  Moreover, you may remember that a parking study done by St. Pete found that the relevant spaces were not used much.  In other words, the bike lanes and BRT should not really trouble drivers.

The citizens against lane loss say they would rather see bike trails constructed instead of taking away driving lanes.

We will take trails, too.  We would love to see their proposals. And because the state seems to have so much money lying around for transportation, maybe FDOT can fund both the St Pete BRT and trails.


— BRT, the Beach, and Beyond

Speaking of St. Pete BRT, from the Times:

For years, St. Pete Beach officials have told transit officials they don’t support paying for a bus rapid transit system connecting their beaches to downtown St. Petersburg.

The forceful message stretches back until at least October 2016, when residents and commissioners declined to grant the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s request to support its 11-mile bus route proposal.

“We don’t need it, our community does not even use the trolley much less any kind of bus that they might want to bring onto our beaches,” resident Vickey Imes said at an Oct. 25, 2016 meeting.

But in 2017 when the county transit authority began seeking a $20 million federal grant for the $41-million project, the proposed financial plan included St. Pete Beach contributing $1.5 million.

Those dollars, combined with $5 million from the county bus agency and $4 million from St. Petersburg, helped the the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit proposal reach a key threshold: All applicants for federal money must have 25 percent of the project covered by local funds .

The article then goes on to discuss the real issues:

Commissioner complaints go beyond the money. Leaders say the county transit authority long ignored their repeated criticism of the project, which would bring 60-foot buses down Gulf Boulevard, a thoroughfare with heavy pedestrian traffic. Commissioners, who question the estimated ridership numbers, called the project “a safety issue” that can clog streets and endanger tourists.

Though the project has been lauded regionally and within St. Petersburg as the first bus rapid transit system in Tampa Bay, others along the beaches have questioned the usefulness of the route that would connect downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches using a dedicated lane along First Avenues N and S. The buses would move back into regular traffic along Pasadena Avenue and head south along Gulf Boulevard ending at the Don CeSar near the Pinellas Bayway.

On May 1, the city of South Pasadena sent a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation expressing concern over the proposal and other projects “that could negatively affect the flow of traffic within the city.”

On Jan. 30 the Sailboat Key Board of Directors passed a resolution opposing the project on behalf of the 818 units of the Harbourside community.

St. Pete Beach is not a member of the county transit authority, which means residents don’t pay into the agency’s budget through their property taxes. Instead, the city has an a-la-carte style agreement, where the city pays about $570,000 a year for trolley service and paratransit.

Most of those complaints are without much merit.  However, if people do not want this plan, which is a good plan, that is their decision to make. (We think they are mistaken, but that is their right.) And if the question is money, if the plan is good enough, it should be funded other ways.

More broadly, just like we think St. Pete Beach should support the BRT plan, we think Pinellas and Pasco should join Hillsborough’s transportation ambition.  But just as St. Pete Beach keeps complaining about the St. Pete BRT plan, Pinellas and Pasco may not become more ambitious.

It is a reminder of why Hillsborough should not just go along with any plan (read “BRT” plan) or merge MPO’s. While we are all for regional planning, we are not for settling for the lowest common denominator.  Hillsborough has shown a desire for better.  It should stick with it and maybe other will join.


— TB(n)X Upcoming Meetings

There are a number of upcoming FDOT “outreach” events (some on this graphic have already happened):

 

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

The only way to make your voice heard is to actually make comment so go see what they plan and tell them what you think.


— The Boulevard Idea

Speaking of TB(n)X, it does not include the “Boulevard” option for I-275 from downtown north. (The Boulevard concept website is here)  It does include just the build one lane in each direction option and the no build option.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, this year’s Congress of New Urbanism Freeways Without Futures report (here) includes that stretch of I-275 and supports the “Boulevard” idea.  The idea is still interesting.

We did a discussion of the “boulevard” idea in 2017. Instead of rewriting it, you can read it here: “Transportation – On the Boulevard”.  (Apologies for the typos) When you read it, note that one thing that has changed since we wrote it is that (contingent on the courts) there is now funding for transit and the possibility of addressing that precondition for the plan to work.


North Tampa/USF Area – A First Attempt

Fowler and Nebraska is at the far edge of what may loosely be called the “USF area.” (that now is marketed as “the Uptown District”) For a long time, it has been under-developed.  This week brought interesting news:

A property near the interchange of Fowler Avenue and Interstate 275 is being prepared for transit-oriented development [ed. “TOD”].

More on TOD in a minute.

The site, in the southeast quadrant of Nebraka and Fowler avenues, totals 26 acres, said Frank Clewis with Commercial Real Estate Advisory Services in Tampa. Clewis’ wife is a member of the Logan family, which has owned that property for generations.

That land can be seen here. Long ago, there were shops, movie theaters, and even a DMV office.  It is land crying out for useful development.  Interestingly, it also touches the CSX tracks at a point where a spur to USF and the line to Pasco merge.

Clewis said Thursday that the family has had several meetings with the state Department of Transportation, and that DOT sees the property as a potential site for a multimodal center.

The Logan family’s vision for the property was unveiled Thursday evening at State of Uptown, an event to address the status of development and redevelopment in the Uptown corridor — a massive area spanning 25,000 acres bound by Busch Boulevard on the south, Bearss Avenue on the north and interstates 75 and 275 on the east and west.

Those efforts are spearheaded by the Innovation Partnership, which abbreviates its name as !p.

And that all sounds good (aside from the “!p” thing).  Really, it does.  Until you see the rendering.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The image in the Business Journal is oddly small, but not so small that the main problem cannot be seen.

First, we acknowledge that many transit oriented developments have garages where people park their cars before getting on the transit going somewhere and then return, get their cars and go home. (We are not completely sure if there is a garage in this rendering, but it does not look like it.)  However, TOD’s usually include a number of things: retail, offices, and residential. And this is the kicker: they are built in an urban design that focuses on walking.

The real problem with the idea shown in the picture, aside from there not being any real transit at this location right now, is that it appears to be a sprawling development with what seems to be some extra parking and a pond in the middle.

The whole concept of a TOD is that, not surprisingly, the development is oriented to the transit and its users who tend to do some walking, not the parking. TOD focuses on people, and it is urban in nature.  And if you want a TOD with a park and ride surface lot (not optimal, but anyway), the parking should be on one side of the lot and the development should be clustered around the transit stop and roads and provide a walkable experience to people using transit (and people living and working in the development) with a logical pedestrian circulation pattern. The plan in the drawing seems to have parking as the central focus and the development on the edges with no visible walkable experience.

We give the property owners credit for even thinking about TOD.  And we give them credit for consulting with FDOT. (Though, since there is no approved transit plan, we are not sure what FDOT can say.  Then again,  FDOT has been pushing the “BRT” plan and has been for many years, so maybe that is their focus here.)  However, the resulting plan is not really a TOD.

Nevertheless, we hope the land owners keep working at it and come back with a plan that we can all support and enjoy.  And, maybe by then there will be a real transit plan for their area.


USF Area – Uptown Tennant

Sticking in the USF area, the Uptown rearrangement of the University Mall may be getting its first tech-ish client.

The University of South Florida is set to expand beyond its campus to bring a new kind of awareness to engineering.

The Institute of Applied Engineering, which is less of an institute and more of a meeting of the minds, is looking to move to the Uptown Mall, 2200 E Fowler Ave., as part of a complete overhaul of the area.

Part of the second floor will span 30,000 square feet and be deemed “Tech Lofts,” which will house the institute and other technology organizations and companies. The floor will house a 250-seat auditorium lecture hall, the current movie theater which can hold events, full food service, lounge and restaurant.

* * *

The partnership is preliminary, with a lease still being negotiated. The pairing was announced at the Tampa Bay Innovation Partnership event on March 28. The Innovation Partnership, or !p as it is called, is a group with plans to completely overhaul the newly deemed Uptown neighborhood in Temple Terrace.

The institute is looking at about 4000 sq ft. What does the institute do?

Bishop said researchers working with the institute will focus on applied engineering, aiming to help the U.S. Department of Defense and the Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base solve problems in fields such as autonomous machinery, data analysis and cyber security.

That is all fine with us.  We want the mall property to become a useful, thriving area.

However, the possibility of an office/research tenant does not address any of our concerns regarding the rearrangement/redevelopment itself.  As we have often said, the stated vision for the proposal – a live, work, play urban center – has always been good. Stuff like this:

As for the mall, developer Chris Bowen with RD Management said construction should begin later this year on a 150,000 sq. ft. office building that will replace the old JC Penny department store.

“Do an adaptive re-use, turn it into a class A office for research and other technology players,” he said. “We’re going to line that along a new streetscape that’s walkable, experiential.

“We’re going to open up both lakes to the back, create opportunities to walk along those lakes, gather along those lakes. And we’re going to build residences along that street as well. That’s the first side, the west side of that development.”

Bowen said he expects the county will approve a development plan amendment in May or June that will allow for the re-zoning of Uptown as  “Innovation Corridor Mixed Use-35.”

“It’s a new color on the map for zoning,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to build a very vibrant, mixed-use, urban-scale model neighborhood that is a platform that supports all the other innovation, technology, research and development-type overlay.

(For “replace the old JC Penny” read recladding the façade of the JC Penny space, presumably with some interior upgrades). Not to mention a significant portion of this article from 83 Degrees media which includes such encouraging things as this:

“Essentially, this work is the start of a walkable, mixed-use urban neighborhood concept and plan that will eventually flow throughout the approximately 100-acre site and become the foundation for a live-work-play ecosystem necessary to integrate, connect, and support the various aspects of the Uptown development’s anchor, life sciences and tech research and development community,” says Bowen. “The recent demolition work will make way for a new streetscape incorporating best practices in walkable urban development and providing new shopping and dining experiences.”

Unfortunately, while there are things we like (like the residential), the plans for the property that have been revealed so far have been far less truly urban and, frankly, somewhat disappointing with large surface lots, a sprawling restaurant row along the manifestly (in road design and built environment) unwalkable Fowler, and a lack of good connections to the area around the property.

Maybe with some success in leasing, the plans can get more ambitious and finally match the rhetoric.  We sure hope so.  There is much potential in that land, and the area could really use maximizing it. and the rhetoric sure sounds good.


Westshore – Kind Of

A proposal from 2016 (See “Westshore – Something Else”) seems to be moving forward. From the Times:

After two decades with no new office space, the West Shore area is now poised to get hundreds of thousands of additional square feet.

Huh? There are a number of buildings on Boy Scout that have been built within the last 20 years (including all of MetWest).  But setting that aside,

Zons Development of Tampa plans to start construction next year on Skyview Plaza, a 13-story building with Class A offices, retail, a restaurant and the first Cambria hotel in the bay area. The contemporary style building will be at 3415 E Frontage Road next to the Social Security Administration and close to Tampa International Airport.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

This is an odd project.  First, frontage road is a bit on the periphery of the district in a relatively isolated spot.  (On the other hand, being on the west edge next to the highway, the top floors should have some nice water views.)  Second, it also a truly mixed use building, which is quite unusual. The garage is kind of clunky and there is surface parking (at least for now).  And, in all honesty, it is doubtful too many people are walking from this building.  Third, it has a bit of a layer cake feeling, but aesthetics are subjective and renderings are not always so accurate. (Though we do wonder if there are windows in the wall on the left or if it will be a big, blank 13-story wall.)

The developer, Zons Development, plans to break ground in 2020 and wrap up construction by early 2021.

At least it is mixed use, which hopefully becomes more common in the area.


Tampa Heights/West Tampa – On the Roof Looking West

Armature Works finally opened their rooftop bar.

In Tampa Heights, M.Bird just became the latest addition to Armature Works. The popular mixed-use building opened its second-floor rooftop bar and lounge to the public on Tuesday night, following a preview for press and a lively bunch of social media influencers.

You can read about it here. which also has a few pictures of the view.

Looking south:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Looking north:

From the Times – click on picture for article

That’s a pretty nice view and some decent construction in the neighborhood.  It also reminded us of what was going on across the river.

Nearby, the City recently put out an (ill-timed in our opinion) RFP for two “West River” properties.  The proposals have already been submitted:

Four months after the Tampa Bay Rays’ search for a new home hit a dead end in Ybor City, a development partnership is pitching a new ballpark site to Tampa City Hall, where Mayor Bob Buckhorn has pronounced it dead on arrival.

The site is about three miles west of the Ybor location, on 18 acres that City Hall owns near the Hillsborough River. Tampa Riverfront Sports, headed by architect William Henry and developer Geoff Weber, is one of four groups that submitted proposals for the land on March 20.

* * *

Tampa Riverfront’s first phase would include two high-rise towers with more than 1,500 residences. By comparison, the two apartment towers now under construction at Water Street Tampa will include a total of 420 apartments. Their second phase calls for a 30-story, 750-room hotel — bigger than the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The 28,000-seat stadium — home for any sport from baseball to tennis — could come in phase three.

* * *

But Henry’s proposal isn’t the city’s only option. Other groups that submitted proposals:

However, we don’t know the details because:

The proposals are exempt from disclosure under Florida’s public records law for 30 days after bids are opened or until the city issues a notice of an intended decision.

We do know this about the stadium idea:

But Buckhorn on Wednesday called the proposal a “non-starter” because he said the proposed scale, density and intensity of the development would overwhelm what is an existing neighborhood.

“I don’t see that as viable,” Buckhorn said of the Tampa Riverfront Sports proposal. “We’re not going to waste a lot of time thinking about that one.”

And that may be, but, given the Mayor has less than a month lest in his term, it should be decided by the next City government anyway.

Since we do not have the proposals right now, we will speak generally. In our opinion, whatever goes on this land needs to be actually urban and quite dense with full street activation, like much of the Heights project (though even that could use some tweaks, like removing the planned surface parking).

Tampa has limited large lots with as central a location and proximity to water (the river) as the property in the RFPs. We have not seen the proposals yet but this we know: we should not settle, no matter the developer.  This property should be developed with real quality and density.  Density done right does not have to overwhelm the existing neighborhood.

The original West River plan is five years old and the revised version (from Feb 2016) is not, in our opinion, not ambitious enough. (see here and here) The conceptual renderings basically show block after block of what definitely looks like squat, generic, stick construction. (You know, the kind that is most often built to flip.)  Tampa has no lack that kind of development by private developers on private land.  The City land should be reserved for better.

The bottom line is that this public land is not going to become less desirable over time.  We would love to see a truly urban redevelopment in the area that takes into account the uniqueness of the opportunity, but not building now is better than settling.  (There is always the option of doing it in stages to let the area develop more and at least some of the land appreciate, bringing better development, rather than just selling all the land at once.)

At least the Mayor said this:

“The response was not as robust as I had hoped,” said Buckhorn, who leaves office May 1 because of term limits. “As much as I want to get this done while I’m here, I’m not going to take a bad deal just to get it done.”

We are glad to hear it. (Too bad the City did not have the same attitude with the land on Florida downtown.) Though the decision should be left to the people who will have to deal with the choice – the next City administration and Council.


Airport – Done Right

This week, the Times had a piece entitled “We want to hear from you: Why do people love Tampa International Airport so much?”    Even though it is no secret that we really like the airport, we did not respond.  Then we saw URBN Tampa Bay’s take and it was so good, we are just going to put it here:

Here’s our answer: Tampa International Airport is awesome because it’s the one piece of transportation infrastructure we have in the bay area that has put people first since day one. Rather than design an airport for airplanes, and force people to walk long distances to reach the various terminals and gates, Tampa International is designed to serve its passengers. So, instead of being laid out horizontally like a typical airport, Tampa International is arranged vertically. Pickup, ticketing, check-in, arrivals, departures and parking, all stacked on top of each other and easily accessible by elevator. Plus, most places within the airport where people may have to walk a considerable distance, Tampa International offers a people mover or escalator. Its people-first design principle is something we think should be the top priority in all of the Tampa Bay area’s public infrastructure.

We would just add that the airport’s choice of technology for moving people around the facility was innovative but not gimmicky.  It was a new take on a proven technology, the proliferation (and ubiquity) of which around the world shows how good an idea it was.

In other news,

Cargo carrier Atlas Air Inc., a contractor for Amazon.com’s Amazon Air operation, is requesting to take up United Airlines’ (NASDAQ: UAL) former hangar space after a recent deal with Amazon.

Atlas will seek approval during the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority April 4 meeting to lease 7,650 square feet from April 4 through September 2020.

Atlas has been operating at the airport for years under a non-signatory agreement and it is seeking to also be signatory, which would save the operator costs in landing fees, an airport spokeswoman said. 

That is all part of the airport’s growing cargo business, and, barring some unknown complication, we are all for it.  Like international flights, the cargo aspect of aviation is an area that has been neglected under previous administrations and is being pushed now, as it should be.


Economy – Indeed


— HQ’s

Last week, we discussed the purchase of WellCare and how it is a blow to the efforts to make this area more of a HQ kind of place.  The next day a column in the Times echoed our sentiment.

Still, the deal hurts a little. WellCare was healthy and growing. It had 4,500 local workers, making it one of our largest private-sector employers. The potential was there to grow bigger, create more high-paying jobs.

It’s hard not to think of this as our loss and St. Louis’ gain.

* * *

Even so, our clout got dinged. That’s what happens when a mid-sized metro area loses one of its few large home-grown companies. The deal comes on the heels of two other local biggies getting bought. Canada’s Emera took over TECO, parent to Tampa Electric Co., in 2016. The next year, QVC purchased St. Petersburg’s HSN (Home Shopping Network).

The WellCare deal hurts a little more knowing that we’ve struggled to persuade other corporations to move their headquarters to our area.

Pretty much.


— Co-Working

Last week, we discussed WeWork’s moves in Tampa.  Less noticed was a move in St. Pete.

Houston-based coworking space company WorkLodge will open its first location outside of the Lone Star state across from Williams Park this October.

The St. Pete location will be about 28,000 square feet and take up the second and third floors of the office building at 136 Fourth St. N. WorkLodge CEO and founder Mike Thakur said that’s just the beginning for his company’s expansion.

“The park across the street? The main drag a block away?” Thakur said of their future Florida digs. “In Texas we work so hard to find spaces. None of them are like this one in St. Pete.”

And not to forget more co-working space:

Station House, another coworking space, is nearby on First Ave S. That local coworking company is opening its second location in South Tampa’s Hyde Park in April. Other similar spaces in the area include CoWorkTampa, Tampa Bay Wave and CoCreativ.

This kind of space clearly has its uses and it is good to have some, but it remains to be seen just how much demand there is for it in this area.  At least it is good for landlords.


— We Need This

There was another recent development that we think is kind of important.

With architecture as low-slung as a classic Florida ranch house, the new innovation center that Jabil opened Thursday is not much to look at from the outside.

No matter. What counts is what happens inside the labs that Jabil has moved into the 40,000-square-foot center. The research and development building is the first of four phases of construction planned as part of a $67 million expansion of Jabil’s headquarters campus on Roosevelt Boulevard. All work is expected to be done by the end of 2021.

You can read more about the research in the article here.

We think it is important that Jabil chose to stay in the area and is setting up dedicated research facilities here.  They could have put their HQ anywhere and they could have set-up the R&D anywhere, regardless of where their HQ was.  We are all for start-ups and university research, but much research and innovation comes from established companies (or start-ups founded by people who come from and academics who work with established companies), and we are very happy they chose to do it here.  It is something of which we need much more.


Downtown/Hyde Park – Exactly

There is news about the Grand Central area:

Fly Bar, a longtime staple of downtown Tampa, has landed just outside the central business district.

* * *

As Culbreath was looking for Fly’s new home, the real estate investors who bought Mise en Place’s building in the Grand Central area approached her for a property they own in St. Petersburg. Culbreath’s Hotel Bar concept, the principal of Tricera Capital figured, would be a good fit in St. Pete.

* * *

Fly obviously won’t be able to replicate the rooftop deck that was the signature feature of its Franklin Street space, but it is planning to have outdoor seating. Fly will occupy around 2,700 square feet on the ground floor of the building, in the western facing end that comes to a point at Grand Central Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard.

URBN Tampa Bay got it right:

Imagine if the city had settled and let the Altis Grand Central project that’s now under construction, get built without activating the south side of Grand Central Ave as it will soon do. Instead of being just another street defined by its lost potential, the small corridor just west of downtown is now set to become a mini-destination of its own.

Settling now almost never brings better things in the future, it just lowers expectations and reduces potential.  Thankfully, that did not happen in this case, but it still happens too often.


Geography – Whither Brandon?

It is time for another installment in our occasional series on geography.  The Business Journal has an article entitled “Garden-style apartments in Tampa suburbs sold for $63 million” that told us:

A sprawling apartment community in the Tampa suburbs has been sold for $63 million.

The Park at Via Rosa, which has 390 units in 33 buildings across nearly 24 acres, was sold to a joint venture of Chicago-based Providence Real Estate and Aegon Real Assets US (Aegon RA), Cushman & Wakefield Inc. said Monday.

The price breaks down to $161,538 per apartment. The seller was Grand Rivage at Brandon Lakes Ltd., which appears to be the only group that’s ever owned the complex since it was built in 2000, according to Hillsborough County property records.

The complex certainly is sprawling (you can decide yourself about the garden part), which should be no surprise since it is in Brandon, more specifically 2211 Grand Isle Dr, Brandon, FL 33511 (yes, Brandon is in the address) off S. Gronto Lake Rd almost due south of the Brandon Town Center.  It has been a long time, if ever, since Brandon has been referred to locally as “in Tampa suburbs.”

Draw your own conclusions.


Because We Can

There are a few new cranes up around town.

815 Water Street:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page (original Kevin Thurman)

Heights Union:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And there has been one for the St. Joe’s expansion for a bit, but we do not have a picture.

Roundup 3-29-2019

March 28, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Ramblin’

— Streetcar

— TB(n)X

— The Language Changes

— Virgin Trains

— Scooters

— Ferry

USF – Chosen

South Tampa – Enter the Marina

Westshore-ish – A Little Midtown

Downtown – AER/Straz

West Tampa – The Hotel +

Downtown – WeWork

Economy – Sold

Rays

__________________________________________


Transportation – Ramblin’


— Streetcar

Last year, the streetcar became free to use and increased frequency. This week, there was more news about its performance since.

In Tampa, state officials led the charge to make the streetcar free, hoping it would attract more commuters and convince people that transit was a viable option for getting to work downtown. The Florida Department of Transportation gave Hillsborough’s transit authority a three-year grant of about $2.7 million to cover fares and help boost ridership. The agency also decided to extend the hours and run the streetcar more frequently.

Five months in, ridership has about tripled. More than 356,000 people boarded the streetcar between October and February. That number is more than the entire ridership for any year since 2013, Hillsborough transit authority interim chief executive Jeff Seward said.

* * *

The streetcar saw its biggest numbers in December when more than 91,000 people rode the route that connects Ybor City, Channelside and part of downtown Tampa. Just under 32,000 people rode the line in December 2017 when the fare was $2.50 per trip or $5 a day.

“What it does prove to me is that $5 to ride the streetcar was just too much,” Seward said. “People coming off the cruise ships and going to Gasparilla are happy to pay that, but our citizens who want to ride it to work or restaurants, they’re just not going to spend $5 and wait 20 or 30 minutes to do it.”

First, yes, $5/day is way too much when compared to other transit systems around the country – systems where the passes include more extensive trains and bus systems.  Second, that high fare, and the old schedule, reflected that the streetcar was always intended more as a tourist ride than real transportation (see Ferry below).  With more frequency and running for free, it is much more useful.

What also stands out to Seward is that 25,500 riders between October and February boarded the streetcar before 11 a.m. on a week day. Though the agency hasn’t conducted a formal rider survey yet, that time of day indicates people are more likely to be using it for work as opposed to tourism or entertainment. Previously, the streetcar didn’t run at all in that time frame.

It’s amazing what happens when you actually make something useful.  And if/when the streetcar goes to Tampa Heights is will be more useful still.

The increase in ridership for both the streetcar and looper could make it possible for both to get additional federal funding, said Gao, the state official. It also helps support the case for extending the transit routes. Tampa officials are hoping to lengthen the streetcar, taking it deeper into downtown up toward Tampa Heights.

We are fine if the feds want to pay for it, but FDOT should be ready to step up.  Clearly, there is demand.  The cost of running the streetcar for free is relatively small and the usefulness is relatively high, and will get higher as downtown is built up and driving around it gets ever harder.


— TB(n)X

Speaking of driving, there was a public hearing regarding FDOT’s proposal for I-275 north of the interchange.

One by one, concerned Ybor, Tampa and Seminole Heights residents, some whom owned local businesses, spoke in opposition to the state’s proposed $300 million-plus road widening project.

The mass of people who spoke and argued against the project showed up for a public hearing held on March 26 at Seminole Heights United Methodist Church.

The residents were concerned about the widening project of Interstate 275 from Interstate 4 to north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which involves adding one dedicated lane northbound from Floribraska Avenue to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and having one dedicated lane southbound from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the flyover ramp at I-4, and from north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to north of Bearss Avenue.

To what exactly did they object?

The Florida Department of Transportation’s preferred option would be to add a one 12-foot general purpose lane in each direction on 275 from MLK to south of Bearss Avenue.

Concrete barriers would separate the two directions of traffic. The project does not involve acquisition of residential nor any commercial property, an FDOT spokesman said.

FDOT says widening the 7.7-mile stretch of I-275 is needed as it is part of an evacuation route for the Tampa Bay area. The department previously considered alternatives such as adding express lanes and having a mode of transit ride in the median.

This is what it would look like north of King:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

First, yes, this is better than FDOT’s previous plans. The interstate right of way would stay the same, and there are no express lanes.  However, the actual interstate would be widened to have the interior shoulder for the “BRT” plan should it go forward. (Remember, running buses on the interstate has always been the FDOT plan.)

However, another alternative remains — the no-build alternative, one that the public speakers favored.

The no-build alternative assumes that no improvements would be made to I-275 within the project limits except routine maintenance. The option, if selected, would result in an increase of congestion, FDOT said in documents.

Whether no-build creates more congestion or not is an open question.  Induced demand would tend to dictate that any additional capacity (especially one lane in each direction) would get just as congested quite fast.  That is even more so given that the I-275/I-4 interchange will not be fixed before any changes to I-275 north, so that any the new cars on this stretch of road will just be shoved into the bottleneck that, despite interim fixes, has remained a mess.  (Whether that bottleneck can be truly fixed is another question.)  And that does not even discuss the congestion created by the cars when they get off the highway.

Moreover, the question of just how congested the interstate gets is also contingent on what else is built.  That is where TB(n)X truly falls short as a transportation plan. At this point, it provides no alternatives to the interstate.  Even the “BRT” plan is putting vehicles on the interstate (even if they sometimes run little faster in the shoulder, assuming no accidents or emergency vehicles or run in normal lanes. And buses in express lanes will just take up some of the intentionally limited capacity of those lanes have). Everything is interstate based.  (And there is not even consideration of pulling cars away from having to drive on the interstate through central Tampa on their way to Pinellas.)

The reason for the hearing was to receive public input; the next phase will be the design phase.

FDOT is expected to finalize the project development and environment study documents this summer and then that will go for approval.

The $317.4 million project isn’t expected to start until fiscal year 2023.

Or maybe it won’t start at all.  But even if it does, it is a long way off and a lot of money for just one lane in each direction and no bottleneck relief.

We doubt that congestion is going to go away.  Even with transit, the population is growing rapidly.  The roads will be crowded.  The question is how to mitigate congestion as much as possible over the long-term.  If there are no alternatives to vehicles on the roads, the roads will get much more crowded, much faster and everyone will be forced into them.  Instead of spending billions simply adding a few lanes that will inevitably become as congested as what we have now (and more) and leaving no ability to increase capacity further (there is not enough land for enough lanes if everyone is using the roads. see the Veteran Expressway), we should be focusing on getting as many people out of their cars as possible with systems that can be easily scaled up to increase capacity to deal with the coming growth.  That is transit – real transit in truly dedicated rights-of-way that get people where they actually want to go, not just express buses on the interstate.  That’s what Hillsborough residents voted for.  That is where the focus should be.


— The Language Changes

There was an interesting discussion on WMNF with the head of PSTA, who was in DC lobbying for money.

“PSTA — we agree completely that public transit works best when it doesn’t have to sit with other cars in the traffic congestion, which we all know is getting worse and worse in the Tampa Bay area. So we want to make sure we do provide a congestion-free lane or option.

What’s being proposed is to create that in many parts of the highway. To create a lane so that the buses, when the traffic builds up, can pass that traffic and stay in the dedicated lane.

“In other areas we’re going to be using the new express (toll) lanes that the Florida DOT is building (under Tampa Bay Next).  Those are designed not to have congestion. So the transit will be competitive and actually be better for folks than sitting in their own car, twiddling away as the time goes by.”

What he is really discussing (starting at 4:45 of the audio here) is the “BRT” plan, which will not use dedicated lanes. (Note that he says the St. Pete BRT, which FDOT should be funding fully, will be a catalyst for the “BRT” plan.)  It will use shoulders where buses must run relatively slowly and only when there is excessive traffic and nothing else on the shoulder.  It is also interesting that, once again, while the TB(n)X process is supposedly still ongoing and getting public input, there are already apparently decisions made on toll express lanes.

And we ask it again: where is the big support for the “BRT” plan other than in among local officials (where it has a life of its own)? Which brings us to some comments by the new head of HART.

The community voiced a tremendous vote of confidence in the transit authority when it approved a billion dollar-plus investment in the agency’s service, Limmer said. While residents approved spending more money on transit, they didn’t vote on specific projects.

Limmer said the charter amendment does outline some goals: expanding bus service throughout the county, running buses more frequently, extending the hours they operate, and adding what he called “high capacity transit options” — things like rail, bus rapid transit, trolleys and other options beyond a bus.

What neither the vote nor the community at large said was that running buses on shoulders or express lanes (which is not a dedicated lane or right of way) should form the spine of the transportation system in Hillsborough or serve Hillsborough’s needs.

Moreover, once again, Hillsborough should not spend its money on a “BRT” plan that fails to take into account or serve its needs and desires.  If Pinellas wants an express bus to Westshore that runs in the shoulder in St. Pete, that’s fine with us, but Hillsborough has more important things to do than focus on a very flawed (and expensive for what it provides) “BRT” plan. We would prefer Pinellas join Hillsborough in being ambitious, but, if it doesn’t, that is still no reason for Hillsborough to focus or spend money on the poor “BRT” plan.  (Not to mention the constant that if FDOT can spend billions adding a variable rate toll lanes that have intentionally restricted capacity, they can surely spend to add real alternatives that serve real needs and that can be scaled up easily.)

We can and should do much better.


— Virgin Trains

As we have discussed before, Virgin Trains (formerly Brightline) is asking for more bonds.

Virgin Trains USA has issued a new bond sale prospectus preparing for the issuance of $1.5 billion in private activity bonds to finance its planned South Florida to Miami higher-speed passenger train.

The new prospectus, issued Wednesday, provides newly-released or revised details for the company’s plans to run passenger trains in Florida, including suggesting it may seek second stations in Miami, at PortMiami, and Fort Lauderdale, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, to expand the passenger train service already connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.

The company, formerly known as Brightline, and before that as All Aboard Florida, had filed in February to ask the Florida Development Finance Corp. to approve a total issuance of up to $2.7 billion worth of private activity bonds. That corporation, Florida’s private financing agency, was on the verge of voting on whether to do so earlier this month. But the agency ran out of time at its public meeting and tabled the request. Now Virgin Trains is coming back with a new request for $900 million more, on top of the $1.5 billion worth of private activity bonds the FDFC approved last year, which the company now is proposing issuing

And, as we have explained before, there is opposition from Indian River County.  We will let that play out.  What interests us is this from Florida Politics:

— The prospectus acknowledges the possibility of having to borrow to create an extension to Walt Disney World and a station there, as well as for the Tampa station, for the company’s envisioned Orlando to Tampa expansion.

Yet the document also suggests a “theme park extension,” perhaps costing $200 million, might also be a factor, perhaps envisioning tracks from the Orlando airport to Disney World and a Disney station regardless of if or when the Orlando to Tampa railroad is pursued.

Though it was put differently by the South Florida Business Journal:

The prospectus told investors that Virgin Trains might issue additional bonds for other purposes, such as constructing stations at a major Orlando theme park like Disney World, at PortMiami, or at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).

The company is seeking approval for an Orlando-to-Tampa route, so the potential theme park station would be part of that.

That is a bit different.  The bottom line is that we are a long way away from connecting Tampa to the system (even Orlando won’t be connected for a while), so don’t get too excited, yet.


— Scooters

There was news about Scooters, from Florida Politics:

In Tampa, electric scooters might come a little later than first expected.

On Thursday, the Tampa City Council granted a staff request to delay its vote on vendors for its Shared Motorized Scooter Pilot Program.

The city identified three vendors to provide a combined total 1,800 electric scooters in and around downtown, setting the pilot project to begin in early April.

After receiving protests from two additional vendors, the city decided to add a fourth vendor, Lime.

As a result, the decision means city staffers have to amend contracts, operating agreements and other documents before receiving approval from Councilmembers.

The only substantive change — instead of having 1,800 scooters provided by three vendors, four vendors will provide a combined total of 2,400 scooters.

The city expects the new program to now launch as early as mid-April, possibly not until early May.

By that time, things may change again because the legislature is looking at creating state rules for scooters.

The House and Senate bills allowing scooters to share the road will both get committee hearings Tuesday.

It’ll be the first stop for SB 542 and the second for HB 453. Both bills would redefine motorized scooters in state law to treat them in a similar manner as bicycles, meaning they could cruise in bike lanes rather than be relegated to sidewalks.

That provision is the crux of the bill, which has a long list of scooter rental companies in its corner — Lime, Bird, Skip and even Uber, which offers e-bike and scooter rentals under the “JUMP” moniker.

The sidewalk to bike lane change is definitely a good one. (And there needs to be more attention to safety in usage.)   However, there are a few other issues:

But the bills contain other provisions that have drawn the ire of groups such as the Florida League of Cities.

* * *

The filed version of the bill wouldn’t allow local governments to cap the number of rental scooters or vendors operating within in their borders, supplanting programs such as the recently announced pilot in Tampa.

There are ongoing negotiations about how much power cities should have.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, SB 542’s sponsor, told Florida Politics last week that scooter companies and home rule advocates sat down to hammer out a compromise.

Changes coming in a planned amendment would give local governments broad control over how to handle scooter rentals within their borders.

They could collect fees, limit the number of vendors and rental scooters or even keep scooter rentals out. The only nonnegotiable is the redefinition to allow scooters onto the asphalt.

Setting aside that maybe scooter companies are a little too involved in their own regulation, while the Senate seems to get the balance, it is not clear what the House will do with its version. (For more on the changes to the bills, see here.)  The reality is that a one size fits all detailed rule for scooters throughout the state would be a bit odd.  The needs of different cities and unincorporated areas can be vastly different (Miami is not Pensacola).  The legislature should provide a general framework and let the localities work out some details.

That should be relatively easy to work out.


— Ferry

The ferry once again made clear that it is much more a fun cruise than a transportation option.

Attention all ferry riders! After this weekend (March 24-25), the Cross-Bay Ferry will no longer operate on Sundays. Additionally, the last run will be delayed one hour for the Tampa Bay Rays games in St. Pete.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Once again, we are fine with the Cross Bay ferry being a fun cruise, as long as it is treated as a fun cruise and it is understood that all operations until now have not tested its viability as a real transportation/transit system.


USF – Chosen

The USF Board chose the candidate for USF’s next president.

The University of South Florida has chosen Steven C. Currall to become its next president.

The choice was announced on Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting, after Currall and three other candidates spent the last three days fielding questions from the 15-person presidential search committee and the Board of Trustees themselves. Currall will be president-elect until March 28, when the Board of Governors will have the final approval. 

He was confirmed by the Board of Governors. So who is he?

A Kansas City native, he has held his current post at SMU since 2016. The private research university enrolls less than 12,000 students — a fraction of the nearly 50,800 students enrolled at USF for the Fall 2018 semester.

But Currall has worked at larger institutions, including the University of California-Davis, as well as previous employment abroad in leadership positions at University College London — experience that could boost USF’s ambitions to become a global university and attract more international students.

Currall led the University of California Davis Graduate School of Management from 2009 to 2014, when he became a senior advisor to the university’s chancellor. In his elevated position, he spearheaded plans to develop a satellite campus devoted to food and nutrition research and could be located in the vacant rail yard on the northern edge of downtown Sacramento.

But in 2015, long before the project could get underway, Currall announced he was leaving California to take the job at SMU.

Fair enough. What will his deal look like?

At USF, his contract will be for five years. His salary will be based on a study commissioned by USF of competitive salaries for university presidents around the country. The study suggests setting Currall’s base salary at between $550,000 and $600,000.

His compensation package also will include a $100,000 relocation fee, a $12,000 annual car allowance and an $80,000 housing allowance.

We will assume those are market rates (quite an interesting market). Assuming a deal gets done, what does he want to do?

You can read all the positive things he said here and here.

The Business Journal had an article entitled “What USF’s president-elect wants the business community to know”.  While most of the article was actually other people discussing the candidate, there was this:

Currall will take the helm during a time of major change for the institution: impending consolidation and keeping preeminence, which was given to the Tampa campus in June 2018.

Preeminent status creates and opportunity for USF to receive millions of additional funding from the state and is based on meeting at least 11 out of of 12 metrics. In a previous Board of Trustees meeting, evaluations were made on the likelihood of keeping preeminence once they are consolidated based on the current trajectories of all three campuses. Trustees realized only eight of the 12 metrics would be met. Once the campuses are consolidated, the state will review USF as one entity when it comes to granting preeminence — but Currall does not view as losing preeminence as an option.

“This is a very interesting organizational puzzle to solve,” he said, adding his degree in organizational management might be useful. “We have some clear guidelines: one is accretion, the second is preeminence. Those are the guard rails and we’ve got to maintain them.”

Consolidation guidelines are coming up even quicker. In March 2018, the Board of Governors directed USF to combine its three campuses under one umbrella under the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018.

With a July 2020 deadline, Currall will have roughly a year to comply with the new state standards. That task, with that deadline, is what keeps him up at night.

“It’s consolidation, I have to be honest,” he said when Rhea Law, vice chair of the search committee posed the question during an interview. “That’s where the interesting dynamic is going to be. In my experience, a dialogue is really crucial and I would think I would need to be on other campuses as part of a listening tour. I’m confident we can converge, but if I join you it’s going to be a big part of my year. There’s a deadline already set, so it’ll be a top priority for me.”

At least he understands that the consolidation issue is the biggest issue for USF right now.  We are not sure he really understands the local politics involved with it, but we are sure, one way or another, he will soon learn about them.  Hopefully, he can navigate the inter-county and factional politics deftly and while staying above the fray.

The bottom line is this: we do not know how he will do, but if he is to be the president of USF, we wish him well.  And urge him to remember that, while promoting business in the area is great, the focus of the university should be on the students.  (And, hopefully, the whole school has learned to have a plan before mandating major changes rather than scrambling after the decision is made.)


South Tampa – Enter the Marina

Some of the housing at Westshore Marina District is opening.

For the first time in decades, if ever, people are now living on the 52 acres near the Gandy Bridge that make up the new Westshore Marina District.

Residents have moved into apartments built by the Related Group, center on the water, and Bainbridge, northeast of the traffic circle. Several of WCI Communities’ townhomes have been sold and are ready for occupancy.

Here is an aerial of the area:

From the Times – click on picture for article

We will assume the interior of the apartments facing the water a nice.  However, right now, this looks to us like a lost opportunity.

Maybe when the condo towers get built and some retail gets filled in (though much of it will be of the sprawling sort), it will become more of an urban, waterfront neighborhood (though we will see what goes in the retail space). But we have a hard time getting excited over stick construction apartments sprawling along the water, especially from a company with the ability to do trule excellent work like Related, or all the surface parking in the rest of the plan.  With all that waterfront land they could have done something really special.


Westshore-ish – A Little Midtown

Information on some of the smaller buildings in Midtown was released.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans have been released for the next two blocks of Midtown Tampa going up for approval.

Block H is a two-story, 44,000 square foot retail and office building.

Block E is two 1-story cafe/restaurant buildings with a total of 6,170 indoor square feet and 3,010 square feet of patio space between the two buildings.

This is Block H:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Neither building is particularly remarkable (good or bad).  We are still concerned about the connection to the surrounding area (including the surface parking at Whole Foods) and the massive parking garage on the north end. In other renderings, the Himes side of the project is portrayed as connecting to the neighborhood much better than the other sides of the project.  Nevertheless, the City should make sure that any part of the proposed buildings that touches faces out from the project, in this case Block H, connects to the surrounding area and activates the street.


Downtown – AER/Straz

From URBN Tampa Bay:

Some tangible progress is finally being made on AER: requests have finally been filed to release the easements necessary to realign the street grid and construct this project.

AER was first proposed in July of 2012. The project, directly south of the Straz Center, has been delayed and redesigned numerous times. The project is now 26 stories with 275 residential units, and 11,629 square feet of retail space. Construction is supposed to begin later this year, but we are not holding our breath.

Nor are we.  And we are not particularly excited about the revised version:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Aside from the big, off-center hat that just seems dropped on top and the dark alley which a number of units will face, having a garage facing the river is something which was not in the previous design and which we have advocated against at the Straz itself and elsewhere. (We already have too much of it.) If what is in the rendering is actually what goes this lot, it will be another disappointing project built on formerly City land.  Tampa can and should do better.


West Tampa – The Hotel +

There was news about a hotel in West Tampa.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The historic cigar factory at 1202 North Howard is moving forward with its proposal to be converted into a hotel. We now know what the hotel chain will be: Best Western Premier. The hotel will include 70 hotel rooms.

Saving the cigar factories through adaptive reuse is a good thing, provided there is proper historic preservation.  (Given it was a cigar factory, we know there will need to be some changes, but they should preserve as much as they can.)

In other news,

First it was Armature Works, then The Hall on Franklin emerged, then Sparkman Wharf came to Channelside.

And now, NoHo Junction wants its turn.

The food court expects to open towards the end of April in its 4,000 square foot facility, located at 1500 W Cass St.

* * *

The food court will feature eight tenants, serving Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, Asian cuisine, pizza, barbecue, and a delicatessen, as well as shops featuring ice cream, coffee and a walk-up juice bar.

It sounds like a food hall to us, but what they call it is not important. Nestled among new residential, we hope it succeeds and helps anchor a Cass Street retail corridor.  We also hope the City takes note of the goings on and finally creates a real plan for the area.


Downtown – WeWork

We Work is one of those odd companies that has a very high valuation but does not actually make money (yet?). While it does not make anything or generate ideas (though arguably it facilitates others doing so), for some, its actions are a bellwether of status.

Fresh of announcing that it was leasing space in the Heights office project, WeWork has announced that it is leasing space downtown.

WeWork has committed to 60,000 square feet — three floors — in the 20-story tower at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd., which will be renamed WeWork Place. That’s enough space for 1,000 desks, WeWork said.

The location is slated to open later this year. The company said it worked wth Parkway Property Investments, which owns 501 E. Kennedy Blvd., as well as Commercial Florida Realty Partners and Cushman & Wakefield Inc. to execute the lease.

It will be WeWork’s second location in Tampa. The company has also signed a lease for 50,000 square feet in Heights Union, an office building under construction in The Heights where its neighbors will include med-tech firm AxoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: AXGN)

The new location in WeWork Place is roughly 20 percent bigger than Heights Union, which has space for 800 desks. By signing deals in that size range, WeWork is already more than a cool new name. It is a major office tenant: In Tampa Bay, the vast majority of office leases are between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet. Leases for 50,000 square feet or more are considered very large in this market.  

We are not surprised.  If you check their locations list, the company often has more than one location in a city. Nevertheless, good for the buildings’ owners for getting big leases.  As for everyone else, we will just have to see.


Economy – Sold

The Tampa Bay area has been working to become a headquarters location for more major corporations for quite some time.  Of course, it also helps to keep the headquarters of the locally grown companies.  Unfortunately, too often, that does not happen.  This week:

Centene Corp. has acquired Tampa’s WellCare Health Plans, creating a combined company with approximately 22 million members across 50 states.

The cash and stock transaction was at $305.39 per share based on Centene’s (NYSE: CNC) closing stock price on March 26 “for a total enterprise value of $17.3 billion pursuant to the terms of a definitive merger agreement,” a release said.

* * *

The combined company will be headquartered in St. Louis, Centene’s headquarters location, with operations throughout the country, and will continue to support operations in WellCare’s home state of Florida consistent with the size of the business.

And

The combined company’s board will have 11 members, with nine from Centene’s board and two from WellCare’s board. Centene Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff will serve in those roles after the combination.

We cannot say whether it is good for the company as a whole, and we do not know what the effect on local employees and employment will be, but, at least for local prestige and the quest to be seen as a headquarters kind of town, it would be better if it stayed based in Tampa.


Rays

Baseball season is starting.  You can get Rays news here and here. In sum, regarding a stadium, nothing is happening.

 

Roundup 3-22-2019

March 21, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Round and Round

— The Suit(s)

— On Highways, Tolls, and More

— PSTA

— HART

USF – Of Leaders and Logos

Westshore-ish – One Midtown

Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

Built Environment – Exactly

Built Environment/Transportation – Just Do It Right

Bayshore – Sanctuary

Downtown – AER

Port – Investing

Economy – Housing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

________________________________________________


Transportation – Round and Round


— The Suit(s)

There was news about the lawsuit filed by a County Commissioner regarding the AFT referendum.

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas on Thursday dismissed Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the 1 percent sales tax voters approved last November to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements in the county.

Barbas granted the All For Transportation group’s motion to dismiss. The motion claimed White had no legal standing to file the lawsuit in his capacity as a Hillsborough County Commissioner.

Attorney Ben Hill cited the Hillsborough County Charter arguing it does not allow county commissioners to file suit against the county. It also requires any such legal challenges to be voted upon by the board. White did not propose such a vote and one was never taken.

* * *

Barbas’ dismissal of White’s suit does not indicate any news on whether the reasons White filed the suit are valid or not.

It is unclear whether the Commissioner will appeal.  Moreover, while his suit is dismissed, the dismissal does not decide anything substantive in the case, which is important because:

A Temple Terrace resident has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the one cent transportation sales tax that Hillsborough voters approved in November.

The complaint, filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, is similar to a lawsuit filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White in December. Both argue that the charter amendment violates state law by restricting the county commission’s ability to make final decisions on how the tax revenue is spent. The 30-year tax is expected to raise $15.8 billion.

John Cimino filed the complaint as a class-action lawsuit. Cimino is representing any other Hillsborough County resident who has paid the surtax as part of a purchase made in 2019. It’s unclear how many people qualify as class members, but the complaint estimates that “the vast majority of county residents have engaged in at least one taxed transaction since the surtax went into effect.” About 1.4 million people are estimated to live in Hillsborough County.

Cimino is asking a judge to issue an injunction stopping the collection of the tax and to refund taxpayers. Similar to White’s efforts, the lawsuit seeks to overturn the tax and void it in its entirety.

* * *

Unlike White’s lawsuit, which names 10 defendants, this complaint only names one: Hillsborough County. The class-action suit is also filed by a citizen, as opposed to an elected official.

(While mostly not relevant to the legal issues in the suits, there is some interesting information about the politics and provenance of the lawsuits here and here.)

Just as in the past, we are not going to get into the substance of the lawsuits. That will be worked out in the courts.  And we suspect that, until there is a substantive decision by the courts, we will keep seeing suits.  While it may be annoying to supporters of the referendum and puts a crimp in the planning process, there is no real reason to get worked up about it.  Lawsuits are par for the course for such issues (and completely expected), especially in the current political environment.


— On Highways, Tolls, and More

There was more news about the proposal to extend the Suncoast Parkway and build the Heartland Parkway that is speeding through the Senate committees.

A Senate committee led by a veteran lawmaker has been directed by Galvano to study extending two toll roads and reviving the plans for a third, all through mostly rural areas of the state.

The proposals, which involve extending the Suncoast Parkway and the Florida Turnpike and building the long-discussed Heartland Parkway between Polk and Collier counties, would help rural communities, handle the state’s continued rapid growth and provide new hurricane-evacuation options, supporters say.

“Our vision is a multi-purpose corridor, that it’s not just a roadway,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. “It would lay the groundwork for water opportunities, sewer opportunities, as well as broadband.”

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

Having all those features is nice, but if they do not serve where people live (or really even close), we still do not see the purpose of spending taxpayer money on it.  As explained in a good column in the Times (here ):

Finally, the M-CORES program [ed: the name given the proposal] also wouldn’t serve an identified transportation purpose. If you commute to work, you know Florida does have real transportation needs. Average commute times in our state are 27.4 minutes. That’s higher than the national average. It’s bad for Florida’s workers and employers. And it discourages top employers in other states seeking places to relocate or expand from investing and creating jobs in Florida.

Our existing roads also have serious safety problems. In 2017, 3,184 people died in traffic crashes on Florida roads. We are also consistently the most dangerous state in which to walk.

To address documented transportation problems like these, local transportation planning organizations have identified unfunded transportation needs with a price tag of $126 billion. Funding these needs should be a higher priority than M-CORES. Certainly, getting workers to jobs more efficiently is a better economic development plan than building new toll expressways in rural areas.

The M-CORES program would shift infrastructure investment away from metropolitan areas — where we need that investment most to serve people and to sustain jobs — to build expressways through rural and agricultural areas, where the costs will outweigh any benefits. Florida can develop a wiser plan for taxpayer dollars.

And then there is this regarding the plan:

But while much of the early attention has focused on the pros and cons of planting more pavement, questions also have emerged about the use of toll roads.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has put an emphasis on relieving congestion in Central Florida and South Florida, has repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of toll roads on the pocketbooks of working Floridians.

“I’m sensitive to tolling,” DeSantis said while discussing transportation earlier this year in Miami. “That hits our blue-collar folks. It’s a big expense for them.”

On Feb. 13, two weeks after Galvano came out with his proposal, which likely would use tolls to cover bonded construction expenses, DeSantis’ view of toll roads hadn’t changed.

“Some of these folks, who are just working-class people, they’re paying for their car, they’re paying for gas, insurance, then they’re paying all these tolls, and it adds up for people,” DeSantis said while in Titusville. “I’m very sensitive to how that works.”

Not only does that apply to roads to nowhere, it applies to express lanes, which do not relieve congestion. They just allow some people who can afford to pay very high tolls a way to avoid congestion while leaving most people in increasingly bad traffic.  (And, as we have noted before, variable rate express lanes are designed with the express purpose of not being used to capacity.)

DeSantis believes road work could be covered in part by gas-tax money that Floridians send to the federal government.

“I don’t think you can only just do tolls,” DeSantis said in Miami. “Look, we pay gas taxes to the federal government and Florida gets less money in the highway trust-fund spending than what we send in gas tax money. I think that’s an inequity that I’d like to address.”

We completely agree about the tax money. Florida should not be a net loser, especially since it is a growing state with increasing needs (and key to national elections).

DeSantis, who hasn’t formally released a transportation plan, has said alleviating congestion is about increasing productivity, making roads safer and improving quality of life by allowing people to spend less time in their vehicles and more time with their families.

Another good way to move those goals forward is to provide good transit and other real transportation options in highly developed areas.  Those areas are where the need is and where the state should be focusing transportation dollars.


— PSTA

While the legislature is focusing on highways where people do not live, in Pinellas, PSTA is looking at service cuts:

The county bus agency — one of the most underfunded in the nation compared to others its size — has long warned that it would have to cut service if it didn’t get more money.

* * *

The agency staved off significant cuts over the past five years, leading some to wonder whether officials were crying wolf during the referendum campaign, known as Greenlight Pinellas.

But officials say it’s only through a combination of cost-saving changes in maintenance, purchasing and other administrative tasks that the transit authority has been able to skirt by, despite yearly operating budgets that showed deficits.

CEO Brad Miller and others were hoping the same would be true in 2019. But a quarter of the way into the fiscal year, agency leaders said they were not able to find any additional savings. Years of small cuts added up, leaving little left to be pared away, they said.

The bus agency’s board approved a tentative list of service cuts in February that would target three entire routes, portions of three others and the transit authority’s paratransit services in northern Pinellas County and eastern St. Petersburg.

* * *

Some of those routes have been targeted before but managed to escape the axe when riders beseeched the board to keep their lifeline. Route 58, which runs from Seminole Mall to Gateway mall along 118th Avenue and Brian Dairy Road, with service to the Carillon area, narrowly dodged elimination in August 2015. Instead, board members cut Route 30 in St. Petersburg and the East Lake Connector.

Four years later, Route 58 is back on the chopping block, along with Route 22, which connects downtown St. Petersburg with Tyrone Mall via 22nd Avenue N. So is the Safety Harbor Connector, linking Westfield Countryside and Philippe Park. Riders who live within 0.75 miles of the connector can make a reservation in advance and the shuttle will come to them.

Given the funding issues, cuts were inevitable.

Miller, the CEO, recently told the agency’s finance committee that Pinellas’ transportation planning organization and county commission and the state department of transportation could all possibly come through with solutions in the next couple months. He said he expects all the major players to address the topic with different votes and meetings in April and May.

An influx of $5 million in the transit authority’s operating budget would allow the agency to maintain service, avoid the projected cuts and potentially reinvest in some of the core routes, Miller said.

Once again, if buses (including BRT) are a priority for the legislature, it is incumbent to address basic service, and $5 million is a drop in the bucket given the sums being proposed for other projects.


— HART

Meanwhile, the HART Board voted unanimously to direct its new director to explore the possibility of acquiring all possible CSX tracks in Hillsborough County, including an appraisal. (See beginning @ 37:30 of the meeting video here)  Needless to say, we are all for looking into that.  As we have said a number of times before, the CSX tracks in Hillsborough (with a few additions) can form the core of a proper transit system.  Whether the legislative delegation will help do that (like they did in Orlando) is an open question.


USF – Of Leaders and Logos

Last Roundup we discussed USF’s presidential search.  Since then, there has been news.  First, on March 15th, there was news of new applicants. Then on March 17th, there was news of the finalists:

The final four candidates for the University of South Florida come from Rutgers, UC Davis and Ole Miss — and half those stepped down from leadership positions after controversy.

* * *

After roughly an hour of mulling over the candidates, the final four emerged:

* * *

Committee chair Les Muma and Jane Greenwood both said they will be conducting background checks on the candidates, which they believe will alleviate concerns.

And the selection process is going to be fast (it is planned to be done soon after this is posted):

The candidates will all come back to the USF Tampa campus on Wednesday for individual interviews with the search committee. They will be streamed live on campus but not accessible by those off campus. The interviews will be an hour and 15 minutes each, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m.

On Thursday, the candidates will travel to each of the campuses — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee — to have “conversations” with one search committee member who will ask each of the candidates the same questions.

Friday, the Board of Trustees will meet at 8 a.m. to conduct interviews with the candidates then are expected to make their final decision later that day. Their meeting will begin at 3 p.m. Then, the candidate will need to be approved by the Board of Governors, who meet March 27-28.

So fast that:

Officials acknowledged that the four had been selected from a field of 33 applicants mostly by using glowing resumes and other materials provided by the candidates themselves. If members of the school’s search committee wanted more information, they could Google it, a search consultant said in an interview.

A more in-depth look — including comments from references, supervisors and other colleagues from current and previous jobs — is not expected to be ready until Friday, when the USF board of trustees is scheduled to choose a new president. And only after that will the person picked be subject to a state-mandated background check that would search for any legal skeletons.

We are not sure how the in-depth look can be considered properly when it is to be received the same day as the decision. We do not know much about the candidates (you can get some information to from the Business Journal article here ) We agree with a Times editorial on the subject:

The question this week is whether anyone in this shallow pool of candidates vying to succeed Genshaft is worth a similar leap of faith. The stakes are high for the university and for the region, and USF cannot afford to make a mistake that would erode the momentum Genshaft has built over the years. If an obvious ace does not emerge this week, the board of trustees should not feel compelled on Friday to pick from the weak hand they were dealt.

As we said, we do not know the candidates.  Maybe someone will be a clear winner.  However, if one does not emerge, there is to stop looking and settle.  This is a huge decision for a public institution with much local influence and importance. Taking some time is ok (especially with the complexities of consolidation looming). We will see what happens.

Speaking of USF processes,

Horrendous, hideous, horrible, hate — all are words used by students and alumni to describe the final design of the University of South Florida’s new academic logo.

Released this week, it is nearly identical to what USF debuted in September, as is the rejection it has been met with. Though the university never promised changes, some had hope. But after five months and nearly $8,000 more into the $47,000 design process, recent tweaks to the logo are hardly noticeable.

The bull still has a stark resemblance to the logo used by national finance company Merrill Lynch, students and alumni say. The colors used still don’t jibe with USF’s traditional dark-green-and-gold color scheme.

From the Times – click on picture for article

(See for yourself about the Merrill Lynch thing here.) We are not particularly fond of the new logo either.

Similarly to what happened in the fall, complaints about the design are stirring again, both online and in emails with alumni, records show. Still, the university has no plans to change it, chief marketing director Joe Hice told the Tampa Bay Times. His office led the logo development and continuously monitors social media activity related to it.

“There have been lots of comments about the logo, positive as well as negative,” he said, adding that the recent minor changes to the design were “based on feedback” and done to make the logo look better on business cards and other marketing materials.

Designers at Tampa-based Spark Branding House spent 47 hours shrinking the bull’s tail, bringing its back legs a bit closer together and drawing a line to connect the animal’s chest to its right front leg, according to the company’s Jan. 24 invoice to USF. Yet none of it seems satisfy those who never liked the design in the first place.

They probably do not satisfy because the original was not very good and the changes to it are negligible. You can read this Times article (here) for some of the comments.  Regardless of the fact that most of the reaction is negative,

Hice said his office is listening to students and alumni, and will continue to. But they certainly aren’t changing anything.

“We are doing what we think is best,” he said. “We think being disruptive with a logo like this is going to benefit the university in the long term.”

That is not really listening. And changing for the sake of changing is not really the point of “disruption.” The original idea now called “disruption” was not just disruption, it was disruptive innovation or creative/constructive disruption. Not all disruption is good.  And not all change is “disruption.”

(We had originally included a couple of jokes about the logo here but we took them out because it is too easy, which is kind of the point.)

USF had a seal used for academics and a sports logo that worked just fine.  The school’s reputation has been improving for a while with that branding.  We just fail to see the point of this whole exercise.


Westshore-ish – One Midtown

There was news about Midtown’s construction.

Midtown Tampa, the 20-plus acre mixed-use district at Interstate 275 and North Dale Mabry Highway, will begin vertical construction in the second quarter, its developer said.

Nicholas Haines, CEO of Bromley Cos., said Wednesday that the entire project — 1.8 million square feet — will be built in a single phase. Bromley is aiming to have the development wrapped up by early 2021, before Tampa hosts its fifth Super Bowl.

* * *

He said Bromley, which started assembling the land that became Midtown in the late 1990s, sees Midtown as bigger than its own project. Midtown, he said, is about connecting downtown Tampa and the Westshore business district.

“We want Midtown to be not our 20 acres, but an entire community,” he said.

Building it all at once is ambitious.  We will just assume they have enough pre-leased to make it work.

As for being a connection between downtown and Westshore, Midtown can be that, but to be so, it has to connect to the area around it.  The proposal we have seen does not appear to do a good enough job of doing it.  Nevertheless, if the development is going to go up as fast as they say, we will soon see.


Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

We have said that 400 Channelside is our favorite (so far) proposal for the Water Street development.  Here are some more renderings from the website of Gensler, the architects:

From Gensler – click on picture for website

From Gensler – click on picture for website

From Gensler – click on picture for website

Many of the buildings in the backgrounds of most of these renderings are also quite interesting (though we do wonder about the one very large blank wall to the left of the building in the first rendering). The one downside in the renderings we see is the lack of clarity for pedestrian protection from the elements in renderings like this:

From Gensler – click on picture for website

There is an overhang of sorts, but we are not sure how that will play out in real life.

Aside from that one issue, our opinion has not changed.  And driving on the Selmon through downtown is going to get quite interesting, especially if/when Riverwalk Place also goes up.


Built Environment – Exactly

URBN Tampa Bay had an excellent post on why we should not skimp on retail in new developments.

As the Channel District continues to build out, it was inevitable that even its tougher to fill ground floor commercial locations would indeed get filled. Coming soon, a high end fitness studio.

They noted this from the Business Journal:

Union Three — named for the three brothers behind the concept, as well as core principles of yoga, cycling and community — is slated to open in early fall in one of the retail condos in the Towers at Channelside at 1221 E. Cumberland Ave.

And then they noted:

This is the freshest example of why it is crucial that when urban neighborhoods first start to get built out, we do not settle and accept standalone residential development along the neighborhood’s designated commercial/primary corridors. Those early developers will say the market isn’t there to justify the expense. So what? Inevitably, the neighborhood fills in and there will be more than enough demand, and we’ll regret it not being there. Don’t settle.

Exactly.  We have seen this issue over and over. In the end, we do not win by settling. It is time the lesson is learned.


Built Environment/Transportation – Just Do It Right

We have often said (and are now saying it again) that most of the bike infrastructure in this area seems to be form over substance.  Simply painting a stripe and a bike icon or sharrows on a road does not really make a bike lane. They do not really create a good environment for biking. That is especially the case when the lanes abruptly end and/or cars are constantly swerving into the lanes (which is pretty much everywhere in the area).  What we need are protected bike lanes, which have been used elsewhere for decades, as noted in an Atlantic article on the history of bike lanes in the US (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay).

In 2007, a local planner could read the entire MUTCD, as well as the Green Book and every other design standard released by AASHTO—including the bicycle-specific Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities—and not find any guidance to help design the kind of protected bike lanes that had already existed in Denmark and the Netherlands for 30 years. Instead, they only offered guidance for two types of bike facility: Pleasant off-street paths (usually in waterfronts and parks), and painted on-street bike lanes.

In part, this reflects the influence of the American “vehicular cycling” movement, which taught that the safest way to bike is to act like you’re driving a car: Confidently “take the lane” so that drivers stay behind you, use hand signals, and ride fast. In the 1980s, when Northern European countries were building protected bike-lane networks, U.S. cyclists were being taught to bicycle in the roadway. And U.S. engineers were adopting the attitude that cyclists didn’t need infrastructure, just proper training.

We still here comments like that today, though now often referring to completely inadequate “bike planes” painted on major roads.  It is just not true.  While bikes and cars can mix in certain, limited situations, they are not the same and riding a bike, even in a painted bike lane, right next to Dale Mabry or US 19 traffic is not what could rationally be considered appealing.

The rationale for the protected bicycle lane seems obvious in retrospect: Most people don’t want to be “vehicular cyclists” sprinting at 20 miles per hour and mixing it up with cars and trucks.

In 2006, the Portland, Oregon, bicycle coordinator Roger Geller theorized that only a tiny number of people were “strong and fearless” bikers who enjoyed riding in traffic, but that the majority of Portlanders could be described as “interested but concerned.” Interested in biking, but concerned about the stress and danger of car traffic.

The concern is understandable. A study by the University of Westminster’s Rachel Aldred found that, although actual injuries during biking are rare, British cyclists (whose infrastructure is not much better than in the United States) experience a scary “near miss” incident nearly every week. Study participants reported close tailgating, deliberate “problematic passing” by drivers, and road-rage incidents that left them feeling humiliated and powerless. As one participant in Aldred’s study wrote, biking in traffic or unprotected lanes requires “ceaseless vigilance.”

By contrast, riding in a protected lane offers an opportunity to relax, to trundle along at your preferred pace, enjoy city sights, and Zen out. It’s actually fun. The research shows that most people want that experience from biking. In 2015, survey research from Portland State University’s Jennifer Dill and Nathan McNeil found that over half of adults in the 50 largest U.S metropolitan areas have attitudes matching Geller’s “interested but concerned” typology.

This means that to get many more people biking—and therefore improve the environment and public health in American cities—protected bike lanes are a necessity.

This is obvious to anyone who bikes around this area.  Over time, new US standards have emerged.

The result was NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide, the first national design standard for protected bike lanes. Like other standards, it answers the questions of space, time, and information that are at the heart of street design. How wide should a protected bike lane be? At least five feet, but ideally seven. How does one mix bike lanes and bus stops? Send the lane behind the bus stop, with enough space for bus riders to comfortably board and get off the bus. What about when bike lanes and turn lanes meet? Give bikes their own exclusive signals, or create “mixing zones,” shared spaces where people in cars and on bikes take turns entering the space.

* * *

As it turns out, the Urban Bikeway Design Guide was just the beginning. NACTO later released the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, a broader effort to push back against America’s car-first road designs and define streets that support urban life, with narrow lanes that encourage reasonable driving speeds and traffic signals that give people plenty of time to cross the street. More recently, the organization has published guides on designing streets to speed up public transit, and incorporate storm-water infrastructure.

While there have been a few protected bike lanes built in this area (and that is good), the vast majority of bike lanes are really just paint jobs with no separation or protection. We can and should do much better. In fact, there should be actual bike infrastructure.  Additionally, especially in the County, where most trails are haphazard and often do not actually connect to destinations, make trails not just a pleasant means of exercise but part of a comprehensive transportation network.  In other words, put substance first and make the bike infrastructure safe, appealing, and useful.

You can get the whole article here.


Bayshore – Sanctuary

The Sanctuary Condo on Bayshore recently received a height waiver.  Now, it has broken ground.

We are sure the luxury condos will be very nice inside.  However, as we have noted previously, the blandness of the design not facing Bayshore does little for the neighborhood behind it.  We have no problem with the height or luxury, but we do think designs (and the City), like reality, should consider 360 degrees.


Downtown – AER

There was news regarding the AER/Straz apartment project, sort of.

A luxury high-rise apartment tower that’s been in the works in downtown Tampa for six years is finally moving toward a groundbreaking.

The 33-story AER — which stands for Arts and Entertainment Residences — is proposed on a parcel of land to be created by the reconfiguration of Tyler and Cass streets, near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s chief economic development official, told city council on Thursday that the project “is almost at the end of a very long road” and that there will be “a few small items” related to the tower to come before council in the coming weeks.

“The developer has appeased the Straz with the roadway plan, our right of way people are poised to approve the right of way plan, and we will be going to closing some time in the next month,” McDonaugh said. “The Broadway series is closed, so they will be able to do construction.”

* * *

McDonaugh also said the roadway reconfiguration can’t occur during the Straz’s Broadway series, which has also led to the delay.

They still have to redo the roads to create the lot for the project, so we are not sure how groundbreaking on the actual building is near unless they are going to do it all simultaneously.  We shall see.  Luckily, there are other things going on downtown to pass the time.


Port – Investing

With new, regular weekly Asian container service, the Port is looking towards more container business growth.

First, port board members voted to hire Pepper Construction Services of Tampa to transform about 23 grassy acres at Berth 211 into a secure shipping container handling and storage yard. The project includes nearly $8 million [ed: out of a total of $19.6 million] from the Florida Department of Transportation. . .

* * *

Next, the board approved a new agreement with Ports America calling for the company to invest nearly $2.3 million in terminal improvements as soon as the port hits 100,000 containers over a 12-month period, something port officials expect to see in the near future. Last year, the port handled 87,500 containers, a big increase over the year before but still a fraction of what passes through major East Coast ports like Savannah, Charleston, S.C., and, closer to home, Jacksonville, Miami and Port Everglades.

In exchange for the investment, the port agreed to start giving Ports America a credit of $7 per container for the new business coming in via the two new carriers, Cosco Shipping Lines and the CMA CGM Group. That kind of rebate is typical for the industry, Anderson said, and the port has similar marketing and rebate agreements with its cruise lines.

Regular readers will know that we are all for (aggressively) growing the container business at the Port, and that would include this kind of infrastructure for future needs.

In additional Port news, Mosaic, which recently announced that it was moving its headquarters to Tampa, has bought a facility it was using at the Port.

Mosaic, under the name Tampa Port Services LLC, has purchased Port Tampa Bay property for $6.25 million.

Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS), a global producer of fertilizers, is one of the port’s largest tenants. The company purchased the 8.26-acre property at 4873 Port Sutton Road in early March. Mosaic was already leasing the property which has a 50,000-ton ammonia storage tank, Mosaic spokesman Ben Pratt told Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The transaction is a closing of a longtime lease, Port Tampa Bay VP of Real Estate Lane Ramsfield told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. He said the transaction goes back 1981 when the port took over the property and signed an agreement with a buyback option for Mosaic once bonds were paid off. The transaction now transfers the deed, Ramsfield said.

We are not sure what the original 1980’s deal Port was, but we have no problem with recent transaction.


Economy – Housing

Time to look into housing once again.  Recently Zillow listed Tampa as the best metro for first time home buyers.  And that sounds good.  Oddly, as we have previously discussed, among other mixed messages, it has recently been said that new affordable housing was almost impossible to build in the area.  That does not seem to comport with the ranking for first time homebuyers.  So what gives?

This is the methodology of the Zillow report:

Therefore, Zillow’s spring shopping season 2019 list of the best markets for first-time buyers is based on four metrics: Lower median home value that requires a smaller down payment; a strong home value appreciation forecast, helping buyers’ overall wealth grow; a high inventory-to-household ratio, to indicate available supply; and a high share of listings with a price cut.

The first two factors are quite straight-forward. This area has always had relatively low housing prices.  That is a function of many things, including, but not limited to, public policy and our low incomes.  With continued population growth and starting from a relatively low base, over time, home prices should rise.

The last two factors are a bit more complicated. Does this area have a high inventory of houses for sale?  We are often told that inventory is tight.  Moreover, it has recently been reported that many listings are cutting their prices.  While that is good for buyers, it does not indicate either tight supply or strong demand (though maybe initial asking prices are inflated).

To be honest, we are not sure how to reconcile the information, but we will just chalk it up to more mixed messages and wait and see.

Of course, many choose to rent rather than buy.  A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (here ) ranked the Tampa Bay metro as tied for the 8th most severe shortage in terms of affordable housing for extremely low income renters, which is not good.

In other categories, the rent picture is mixed:

Rents in downtown Tampa have dropped 4 percent in the last three months while they have climbed in downtown St. Petersburg and other part of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

* * *

In the submarket that includes Tampa’s downtown, Hyde Park and West River areas, rents average $1,627. But they have steadily declined because of so much new construction — of the 8,526 units in the area, half were built in the last five years.

* * *

Compare those figures to the West Shore/Rocky Point submarket, where the average rent rose nearly 5 percent in the last three months to $1,557. . .

* * *

South Tampa saw an even bigger jump in rents, up 8.3 percent to an average of $1,274. It too has far fewer apartments than downtown Tampa although 351 units have recently been completed and 1,284 are under construction, primarily in the West Shore Marina District at the east end of the Gandy Bridge.

On the Pinellas County side of the bay, the downtown St. Petersburg/Kenwood submarket has seen a steady increase in rents over the last 12 months. They now average $1,229.

It is also worth noting that, while not in the article, according to the report, rents rose West Tampa/Seminole Heights (6.2%) at a faster rate than Westshore or downtown St. Pete (3.4%), albeit from a lower average rent. (You can read the apartmentdata.com report here.)

Overall the rental market seems strong, though there is a concern about overbuilding in central Tampa.  While we think eventually the new central Tampa units will get absorbed and be fine, it may take a little while and a little adjustment of expectations, at least in the short term.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

We have been following Orlando’s SunRail since it was in the planning stages.  While we do not hold out SunRail in Orlando as an example of what we should build (It is commuter rail – using diesel engines pulling some passenger cars – with limited service rather than a full transit system. We think locally we should run a more light-rail like/DMU system on the CSX tracks that is better for getting around a city and having more regular service.), it is of interest.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, overall ridership from 2017 to 2018 is up by 30 percent. Part of that growth is being attributed to the opening of four SunRail stations as part of the Phase II South expansion.

Eleazar Rodriguez uses the train to get back and forth from work every day. He says he’s noticed an increase in foot traffic at that Kissimmee Station.

“I like the train better because it is faster; I get there in about 30 minutes to get downtown and 30 minutes back,” Rodriguez said.

In 2017, SunRail Reported a total of 851,881 riders. In 2018, that number jumped by more than 200,000 riders, with 1,114,859 riders total.

Phase II is an expansion into Osceola county. (Note that is less time spent in vehicles.)

Weekend service is still notably absent from its offering of expanded services, but SunRail has launched other initiatives to get people on the train, including a special southbound, late night train after weekday Orlando Magic home games.

SunRail also launched partnerships with a local trolley to serve downtown Sanford from SunRail’s Sanford station, as well as the Train to Plane LYNX connection between the Sand Lake Road station and Orlando International Airport (OIA).

Working to make a coordinated, transportation system is key.  Also of interest:

SunRail is also boosting nearby property values, according to an FDOT study conducted late last year.

Property values around the first 12 train stations increased $2.4 billion — 63 percent — from 2011-17, and FDOT estimates that $1.19 billion of that is due to SunRail. In 2016, for example, the station area property values grew at twice the rate as surrounding neighborhoods, the study found.

And that is car-centric FDOT saying that.

March 12, 2019

There will be no Roundup this week.