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Roundup 10-20-2017

October 20, 2017

Contents

Transportation – More Studies

— Streetcar

– Selmon/Gandy Connector

Economic Development – Sales Pitches

— The Campaign

— The Movie

— Amazon

Channel District/Downtown – Tear It Down

Rays – Looking Around

Port – Looking at the Books

A Little Odd

Downtown – We Know It’s Historical

Airport – Brown Arrives

Yes, We Get the Super Bowl

South Tampa – Bayshore

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

List of the Week I

List of the Week II

__________________________________


Transportation – More Studies


— Streetcar

This week, the City released the latest of its streetcar study.  When last we left it, the study was considering seven alignments.  Now they are down to two, really 1A and 1B.  You can see the document here.   From FloridaPolitics.com:

Those initial seven routes have now been whittled down to two “alignments.”

Alignment A: Runs north/south on Franklin Street to the downtown core, with a short one-way loop along Palm Avenue, North Highland Street and Henderson Avenue in Tampa Heights. This option would cost $94 million to build (in 2017 dollars) and would cost $3.6 million to maintain.

Alignment B: Runs north/south along Tampa Street and Florida Avenue through the downtown core to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights. That alignment will cost $97 million to build (in 2017 dollars), costing $3.6 million to maintain.

Compared to the other five alignments, both choices rate highly due to lower capital and operating costs. However, Alignment A rates higher in several areas, as it requires a single CSX railroad crossing and has less impact on local roadways and adjacent land uses due to its path along Franklin Street instead of Tampa Street and Florida Avenue.

Alignment B rates higher in other areas as it would not require a crossing of the Esplanade on Franklin Street and has a larger service area due to its alignment along two parallel roadways.

Here is Alignment A:

From the City of Tampa – click on map for pdf

Here is Alignment B:

From the City of Tampa – click on map for pdf

Here is a comparison of demographics:

From the City of Tampa – click on chart for pdf

Setting aside the CSX issue (which should be dealt with comprehensively), it is hard to decide without having some things made clearer. While we do not think it is a huge difference between the two alignments, we like how B goes further north.  It also does not ruin some nice pedestrian elements on Franklin, especially the plaza near the Hilton. On the other hand, it is not clear how the streetcar would be treated on Tampa or Florida and how cooperative FDOT would be on those roads.  Nor is it clear how a streetcar would fit into other plans there are for those roads (narrowing and/or make them two-way has been floated for years).

We like how A enters the area north of the interstate but are not so fond of the little loop and not clear how it would be handled. Either alignment would, theoretically, connect to the theoretical transit stop in the middle of the interstate or a stop at the CSX tracks but details on that would be nice.  It is also unclear what would be done with Franklin if the streetcar ran up it: would it still have car traffic? What other changes would be made to it?

Acknowledging that we would really like that information, given what we know now, we favor a hybrid that is on Florida/Tampa in the heart of downtown and goes north on Franklin with a double track.   But that could change with details.

The report also says this:

4.3 Potential Future Extensions

The provision of enhanced transit service along Alignments A and B, or a combination thereof, will provide a strong foundation for future extensions of the system. Future extensions could provide east-west connectivity with links back to the existing alignment (as shown in Figure 7), or could provide connections to communities to the west or southwest across the Hillsborough River or to the north to Seminole Heights. Depending on the outcome of future feasibility assessments, detailed planning and evaluation of extensions beyond Alignments A and B could be undertaken.

(Pg 14 of the report)

Ease of expansion needs to be built into the plan, especially crossing the river and connecting North Hyde Park/West Tampa and points to the west.

In short, from what is known now, there is little to differentiate the two choices, and we would have to see more detail to really decide.  But what is more important than choosing between the two similar plans is that the rolling stock is updated and frequency and speed of increases.

So what next?  From the Business Journal:

The next phase of the study will evaluate what kind of vehicle technology to use to connect the existing route to the proposed extension. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority could continue using the existing streetcar technology on a fixed guideway, which would require building additional streetcar infrastructure along the new route. The agency could also modernize the combined routes with a new mode of transportation. Those recommendations will come during the next phase of the InVision process, which the city expects to be complete next fall.

In other words, they could make it a bus or “automated bus” or they could use a modern streetcar that could extend beyond. (We think it should be modern streetcar/light rail.) It will be interesting to see what they propose.


– Selmon/Gandy Connector

There was also some news (sort of) regarding the Selmon/Gandy Connector:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority on Tuesday released new renderings of two potential designs for its $230 million Selmon Extension project planned above Gandy Boulevard.

You can see them at the Business Journal article here.

And remember to vote on the decorations here.


Economic Development – Sales Pitches


— The Campaign

This area has seen no lack of economic development campaigns.  This week marked the rolling out of another one:

In an effort to attract more companies and entrepreneurs to Tampa Bay, leaders from the tourism and economic development spheres have launched a new campaign to increase business relocations and attract worker talent.

The “Make It Tampa Bay” campaign relies on Visit Tampa Bay’s award-winning “Florida Most” advertising concepts as well as its out-of-state marketing channels to push Tampa Bay as a coveted community for chief executives, business owners, millennials and other key groups to relocate. With the website www.makeittampabay.com, the campaign’s message has three sections: “Work Here,” “Live Here,” and “Build a Business.”

As always, we are all for trying to attract/retain talent and business to the area.  It has to be done.  What does this effort entail?

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s official tourism marketing arm, has joined with the county’s Board of County Commissioners, and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to build a cross-discipline approach to economic growth that targets business leaders in New York, Philadelphia, Dallas and Chicago.

Or said another way:

The marketing plan is to piggyback a business and millennial recruitment message on top of well established tourism promotions in such cities as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas.

It is not clear if the campaign is limited to those cities or not.  Regardless, what is it?

The “Florida Most” ad operation has proved “hugely successful and the EDC said why don’t we all do one campaign,” said Patrick Harrison, Visit Tampa Bay’s chief marketing officer. The idea is to capitalize on the transition from tourism into relocating businesses into Hillsborough County.

The new campaign website features the stories of 13 local businesspeople and professionals who live, work and play here. Among them are Tim Moore, CEO of video production company Diamond View, and Julie Curry, the owner of Bake’N Babes, a local bakery that has just opened up in The Hall on Franklin. On the website, Curry says she wants to “grow with the city and introduce some new and interesting foods to the Tampa Bay market.”

Perhaps the poster child for relocation is Omar Soliman, co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk, a company that moved to Tampa Bay from Washington, D.C. Saying that Tampa Bay fueled the firm’s growth, Soliman noted on the Make It Tampa Bay website: “There is no way we would be able to do $75 million in revenue with more than 100 franchises nationwide if it weren’t for this great city.”

The website also focuses on several area industries, available jobs, events, and things to do. Additionally, special attention is given to Hillsborough County neighborhoods to give those thinking of relocating an idea of which ones would best suit their needs, personal preferences and budget.

The campaign uses photos showing people enjoying a beer outdoors on a sunny day with the tagline “328 Ways to Make Monday Funday.” The ad also comes with the line “Florida’s Most Work/Play Balance.” Another ad shows a man biking to his job with the tagline “Florida’s Most Sunny Careers.”  

And that’s all fine. Here is the website.

There are a few things of note.  First, there is a strange emphasis on lack of state income tax (a selling point, but clearly not the major point for the best and the brightest – and, stylistically, if you mention it too much it looks like you main selling point), and the neighborhood list is oddly selective (for instance, Lutz but no Carrollwood despite this.)  Nevertheless, we’re sure some people will see the website and be convinced. Whether those people are already predisposed to being moving here is another question.  As is whether it will have any effect on larger companies.  But, fine.  We will even tolerate some of the hype from the officials (as long as they don’t believe their own propaganda) – as we have said before, they are trying to sell something so it is expected.

However, in our experience, the really talented people who are either leaving here or considering where to go are looking for more than making Monday Funday.  They are looking for being stimulated intellectually as well as professionally (and their professions often involve interdisciplinary interests anyway), and they are looking for areas that are net exporters of ideas, art, and innovations.  (Low taxes are fine, but low investment and the consequences that often come from it often isn’t.)


— The Movie

And that brings us to something interesting that happened this week.  As some will know, there is a new movie called the Florida Project.

Central Florida’s latest portrayal on the big screen shows a darker slice of the tourist-centric region — children growing up living at old Kissimmee area hotels in the shadow of theme parks.

“The Florida Project,” named for Walt Disney’s vision to remake much of Central Florida, centers on a 6-year-old girl frolicking unsupervised around the grounds of the 1960s Magic Castle hotel where she and her rebellious mother eke out an existence.

Interestingly a number of people, including people who grew up here, living in metro areas that are the usual suspects, contacted us to tell us they saw the movie and wondered if we had.  We hadn’t.  So we checked Fandango to find out where it was showing locally.  Nothing, even though the movie was set an hour down the road.  It was showing in Austin.  It was going to start in Denver, Atlanta, Nashville and Orlando this weekend.  Nothing in Tampa (at least not on Fandango).  But you can see it in California.

Yes, it is a small thing, but it is indicative of a larger issue.  Leaders (or potential leaders) in their fields are usually looking for more than craft beer – which we like but, it should be said, is available in other cities.  And water is nice, but, as we have said, water is not exclusive to us.

We get that we are not a state capital with a history of investment in amenities and/or older large corporations and/or unique niches that give us a history of having amenities and talent (See usual suspects Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, Raleigh, Austin, Columbus, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Salt Lake City) and we are not the HQ for Bank of America. But the fact remains that they are our competition. (And, while we really like what the Lightning owner – he seems to get it – does in the community and think Water Street and connected efforts holds some promise, Water Street is not built and occupied.  And there still is no real transit connection for it outside of downtown, even though it is at the end of peninsula with limited ingress and egress.)

As we said, there is nothing wrong with trying to sell yourself, as long as you keep everything in perspective (and don’t get too caught up in your own hype). But recycling old talking points in new media will only do so much. And every city is trying to build clusters and talent pools.

In other words, if you answer the question:

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

with “we have no state income tax,” “we have beer” or “we can turn Monday into Funday,” maybe you should go back and reconsider.

What we need is to provide (and focus on creating and fostering) the amenities that people who can make the choice want to choose (which many of our competitors have or are much further along in getting) plus the possibility of significant career advancement.  Then our no income tax and water (and beer, of course) will really have an impact.  We are all for attracting and retaining the best talent and businesses, but you cannot do it on the cheap.


— Amazon

Which brings us to Amazon because, really, it is going to just keep coming up until they make a choice.  While we would love to see Amazon choose the Tampa Bay area, we are realistic. (We could always offer them free land and tons of money, plus the fact that, if they were here, they would probably be able to do anything they wanted because local officials are not likely to oppose them).

In any event, 83 degrees media has a piece about why Amazon should choose the Tampa Bay area.  We are not going to post the whole thing (you can read it here), but it was interesting in that it provided quotes from local officials and business organization heads that were traditional Tampa Bay area, with things like this:

Having Amazon in the Tampa Bay region would be the perfect addition to a region that is rewriting its economic DNA. Having recently been ranked the number one city in America where people are moving according to RealEstate.com, our diverse background, matched with endless entertainment options, cultural venues and unique neighborhoods provide a perfect backdrop to attract the best and brightest talent from across the globe. We look forward to aggressively showcasing and highlighting this great region with our friends from across the bay and look forward to being a part of the selection process. — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn  

And

As a research university president, I care deeply about the economic opportunities and growth of the region. This is an enormous opportunity for Tampa Bay with 50,000 new jobs. This could lead to high-speed rail, which would propel economic development in this region to new heights. Attracting Amazon would be a major national and international coup that would bring recognition and even more vitality to the Tampa Bay region. I could not be more enthusiastic about this opportunity. — Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida

Which is fine, but those are more reasons why we want Amazon rather than they want us.  And, a little more to the point, this:

Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest and fastest-growing tech hub. Tampa Bay is the nation’s 27th largest and 2nd fastest-growing tech hub. Tampa Bay is home to one out of every 89 tech workers, a bigger claim than half the states in the nation. Tampa Bay is home to the most female tech talent in the state, with females representing a greater portion of our tech workforce than San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and numerous other tech hubs. Tampa Bay is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the one million plus students in higher education within a half-day drive radius. Tampa Bay is architecting, building and maintaining tech that powers over half a trillion in annual revenues and over a trillion in market capitalization. Tampa Bay has one of the most awarded and admired airports in the country, which is growing as we speak. Tampa Bay is the right choice for Amazon. — Daniel James Scott, Tampa Bay Technology Forum

Which is all good, but being the 27th biggest tech hub is not really being a tech hub at all.

There are a number of other quotes along the same lines.

The thing is, Amazon is already here.  They already know about our area.  Moreover, a major part of their business is data mining, and not just macro data mining.  They get into individual data mining.  In other words, in a lot of ways, they probably know us better than we know ourselves.  And that is true for every city that will apply.

Their decision most likely will not be based on sales slogans or the usual pitches that this area makes.  It will be based on hard facts, such things as incentives, transit, other transportation, real depth of talent pool (and remember every major city applying has a university, and probably more than one, nearby).  We have no real transit.  Does the airport have the necessary flights (if not, Amazon would probably generate them)? What are our incentives?  As for talent pool, there was this from a Times column on Amazon:

We think that in the southeast Atlanta probably has it (or can handle getting it), too, but the report is still telling, especially when our economic development officials are fond of touting our talent (and we have talent but not necessarily talented in the right way and/or the right amount), which goes to the first item in the section.  A Business Journal article this week told us:

A technology industry report card created by Tampa Bay Business Journal suggests that the local workforce may not be as strong as economic developers believe.

A panel of 15 tech industry leaders — ranging from entrepreneurs and funders to academics and incubator operators — graded the number of tech workers in the area, as well as the salaries paid to those workers, and the composite grades came out just slightly above average.

It rated the Tampa Bay area as B- in both tech talent pool and salaries. Here are some comments from the people involved (we had to re-type them, so if there is a typo, we apologize):

“The lack of tech talent in the Tampa Bay area is not unique to our region. Most urban areas outside Silicon Valley, Austin, and other known tech hubs are struggling to attract high-tech talent.” Tonya Elmore, president and CEO, Tampa Bay Innovation Center/TEC Garage

* * *

“What Tampa perceives as tech workers are really IT workers . . .We have many companies with large IT departments, which operate primarily in service provider companies. Their skills are dramatically different from tech workers who start and build companies.”  – Joy Randels, CEO, Citizinvestor

* * *

“Seems to be a lack of available talent and what is available is overpriced compared to alternatives. Sixty percent of our tech workforce work remotely from other states.” –David Schlaifer, president and CEO, DAS Health and assessURHealth

All things to keep in mind when thinking about our tech community and reports on STEM jobs.

For us, the bottom line on all this is not that we can’t win the Amazon sweepstakes, though it is unlikely.  The real lesson is that decades of complacency and underinvestment in the amenities (including education) and features that really draw/retain major business and talent have consequences. Maybe we will get Amazon, but regardless, we need to get moving. Doing what we have always done (including underinvestment, poor planning, exaggerating our successes and ignoring our deficiencies, being afraid of critical analysis especially in government, and patting ourselves on the back for essentially treading water relative to the competition) will just get the results we have always gotten.

As we constantly say, yes, we are better than we used to be, but so are all our competitors and many are moving faster. The question is not whether we are better as an area than we were 10 (or even 5) years ago, it is whether we are better than our competitors now. Amazon is just helping put it in sharp relief.


Channel District/Downtown – Tear It Down

Demolition started on the smaller, waterfront building of the Channelside complex this week.

Today, 17 years after it opened, one wing of Channelside Bay Plaza is being demolished to re-open that space, with a large chunk of the building expected to come down around mid-morning today.

Once Channelside’s southwest wing is gone, it will make way for part of Water Street Tampa. That’s the massive $3 billion redevelopment project being launched by Strategic Property Partners, a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ private capital fund, Cascade Investment.

In the near term, the space created by the demolition could become a waterfront park of a little less than an acre. Overlooking the Ybor Turning Basin, it’s expected to feature a small stage, an “outdoor lounge” seating area and spaces for pop-up bars and restaurants.

In the long run, Strategic Property Partners is looking at redeveloping the Channelside Bay Plaza site completely.

This is the park that eventually is supposed to be built on the parking lot that is west of the Channelside complex:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is what the land where the building being demolished might become:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are fine with the demolition and with the rebuild. Something has to be done to open and connect the Channelside complex (or its replacement) to the water.  From the beginning, it has been designed improperly. The changes will just enhance that location.


Rays – Looking Around

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Rays stadium search.

It is proving harder than expected to put together the land needed for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark near downtown Tampa, and now local officials are exploring another option in the West Shore area.

* * *

Some landowners in the Channel District-Ybor City region — for months the focal point of the Tampa ballpark site search — are so far unmoved by offers from Hillsborough County to acquire their property. The thorny negotiations put in peril two coveted locations in that area, Hagan said, though he declined to identify the exact location of those sites.

The lack of progress has forced the county to look at another undisclosed site in West Shore, he said, the coastal community on Tampa’s west side.

That area was previously considered and a consultant study once noted its appeal. St. Petersburg fans wouldn’t have to drive as far as they would to a downtown Tampa ballpark, and it is close to the kind of corporate clients and support the Rays desperately crave.

“The demographics in the West Shore area are better than in downtown or Channelside or Ybor,” Hagan said.

But broadening the hunt at this point — 22 months after St. Petersburg allowed the Rays to search for a new home away from Tropicana Field — can only be seen as a step backward for an effort many hoped would have been wrapped up by now.

So what is the problem? Maybe this:

The county wants landowners to approve an option agreement for their parcels that would be executed in the event the Rays decide to leave St. Petersburg.

Or maybe something else.  There are other ways to get the land, but they are more permanent than just having an option.

It is not clear to us whether the search in Westshore is serious or a negotiating maneuver. (We are not really high on a Westshore location.) Regardless, it is just another aspect of a long, messy process.

But even if all the pieces come together, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he is less confident than ever that the county and Rays ownership can come to an agreement on how to pay for a ballpark that would lure the team from St. Petersburg.

“There’s no question this has been an extremely challenging and frustrating process that in my opinion shouldn’t be this difficult of a task,” Hagan, the county commission’s point man on the negotiations, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Maybe it shouldn’t be so hard, but in this area, it is not surprising that it is.


Port – Looking at the Books

A few months ago, there was a kerfuffle at the Port due to some, shall we say, interesting spending by staff.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has formally asked Port Tampa Bay to provide a voluminous amount of information about its expense and travel activity dating back several years.

* * *

Corcoran sent a Sept. 19 letter to Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson asking for a slew of documents and communications “in connection with recent reports concerning the Port Authority’s spending on entertainment, meals and other discretionary spending.”

In response to the House Speaker’s request, Anderson sent an Oct. 10 letter to Corcoran in which he said the port is “working diligently to assemble this information and will provide it to you as soon as we have collected and processed each item requested.” As part of the letter, Anderson also enclosed the port’s new expense policies. 

When the audit of the airport was proposed, we said that was fine as long as other such entities got audited.  And we have no problem with checking on the spending at the Port, which seemed odd.  Of course, we also expect all the other airports and ports in the state to get similar scrutiny.


A Little Odd

There was an interesting article in the Times this week about the Hillsborough and Pinellas School Boards.

Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins did make an appearance at the Pinellas County School Board workshop Tuesday in a first public move to establish an official partnerships between the two districts.

Together, the districts will share ideas and practices on three areas: early childhood, college and career connections and high school graduation rates. They’ll discuss how to deepen professional relations and create support systems among administrators.

* * *

Personnel from both districts will attend meetings, which will be sponsored by the United Way Suncoast and facilitated by Melissa Erickson, the executive director of the Alliance for Public Schools. The directors of high school education, career and technical education and early learning from both districts have already had meetings.

We have no problem with sharing.  Sharing ideas and insights is good.  But here is the odd thing:

“The business community deserves that we work and sit together for the betterment of the region,” said Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego.

We get that having an educated work force is good for business, but shouldn’t the primary concern be that the kids deserve a good education?


Downtown – We Know It’s Historical

There was news about Oaklawn Cemetery:

Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa’s first public graveyard, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Park Service listed Oaklawn and the neighboring St. Louis Cemetery, just north of downtown Tampa, on Sept. 25.

* * *

When Oaklawn was founded in 1850, Tampa had not yet been incorporated as a city. Its population was about 500.

But from the beginning, Oaklawn was designated as a public burial ground for “White and Slave, Rich and Poor.” Its 3 acres at 606 E Harrison St. are home to more than 1,500 graves, including those of 13 mayors, one governor, two Florida Supreme Court justices, as well as slaves, veterans of seven wars, victims of yellow fever epidemics and a couple of Cuban pirates.

* * *

Oaklawn also contains two mass graves — one for 102 soldiers and early settlers at Fort Brooke, which was abandoned before Oaklawn was dedicated, and another for at least 88 victims of five outbreaks of yellow fever between 1853 and 1887.

Historians count Oaklawn among the few U.S. cemeteries where slaves and slave owners can be found in the same plots. One of its best-known markers is for former Tampa city clerk William Ashley, who was white, and Nancy Ashley, an African-American slave.

It should be listed.  It is historical. And what is even better is that if FDOT chooses to do the full rebuild the interchange we discussed last week (see “Transportation – Latest and Greatest”), the north end of the cemetery will be right next to an elevated highway.  Nothing says respect for history more than that.


Airport – Brown Arrives

UPS began its Tampa International operations this week.

UPS recently left its operations at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport for Tampa International because the area inside the TIA cargo building is about six times larger than the space at PIE, allowing UPS to move its package sorting indoors. UPS was using at outdoor mobile distribution center at PIE.

“The number of flights is the same, four in, four out, for a total of eight each weekday, so no change in operations in metro Tampa, just a different airport,” said Jim Mayer, Public Relations Manager for UPS Airlines. He added that the aircraft for the four flights are two narrow-body 757s and two wide-body Airbus A300s. They have a total payload capacity of 430,000 pounds, Mayer said.

From Tampa International Airport – click on picture for Facebook page

Good deal.


Yes, We Get the Super Bowl

The NFL has finally confirmed the next Super Bowl in Tampa:

NFL owners granted final approval today for Tampa Bay to host Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium after determining all the league’s requirements had been met.

The game was awarded to Tampa Bay in May by a vote of the owners pending specifications being submitted and met. The Super Bowl advisory committee reviewed the bid and agreed their demands had been satisfied Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in New York.

Well done by the committee and good for us.


South Tampa – Bayshore

Changes are likely coming to Bayshore:

Tampa City Council is expected to approve $1.7 million in enhancements to Bayshore Boulevard during a meeting Thursday.

Part of the plan with the Florida Department of Transportation includes lowering the speed limit from 40 to 35 miles per hour. Proposed improvements would extend the southbound bike lanes on Bayshore Boulevard between Gandy Boulevard and South Howard Avenue. The money would also fund new sidewalks and improved pedestrian ramps to meet current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The project would also improve drainage at Wallcraft Avenue and reset existing granite curbs to improve safety and the overall flow of traffic. 

Setting aside that reducing the speed limit will not improve the flow of traffic, our bigger concern, like URBN Tampa Bay, is that the bike lanes on Bayshore are not protected lanes, even though in most places there is ample space in the overall Bayshore corridor for protected lanes (though, admittedly, they are not necessarily scenic). Then again,

The city proposed major changes to parts of Bayshore Boulevard in February to increase cyclist and pedestrian safety. Among the other proposals were plans to widen lanes and add reflective, flashing beacons at three crossings south of Howard Avenue to Platt Street. 

Those crosswalks are not scenic either.

Regardless, if you are going to do it, do it right. Get protected bike lanes.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

There was Brightline news this week:

The developer and operator of the $3.5 billion Brightline intercity train is starting work on its Orlando segment, which may mean it will be completed in the next couple of years.

Coral Gables-based All Aboard Florida on Oct. 11 applied for permit that would allow work to begin on Phase 2 of the Miami-to-Orlando passenger train. Construction already is under way on the Miami-to-West Palm Beach portion of the train system.

The nearly $2 billion second phase of the project — which is expected to create 6,600 metro Orlando jobs and offer a boost to our local tourism market — includes an extension of the rail system from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport’s $682 million Intermodal Terminal Facility.

In Phase 2, the train will run along a converted freight rail line — owned by All Aboard’s former sister company Florida East Coast Railroad — from West Palm Beach to Cocoa, where new tracks will be built parallel to the State Road 528 corridor.

Just thought you should know.


List of the Week I

Our first list this week is the Innovation That Matters report.

The report, released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Free Enterprise, C_TEC and 1776, focuses on next-wave startups, which are technology-driven companies that are developing innovative solutions to complex challenges in different industries.

And

The Innovation That Matters study examines the health of the startup communities in 25 American cities and assesses their readiness to capitalize on the shift to an increasingly digital economy, with a unique focus on what we refer to as “next-wave startups.” 

Page 5 of the pdf (2 of the report).

Coming in first was Boston, followed by the San Francisco Bay area, Philadelphia, San Diego, Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, New York, Portland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, LA, Nashville, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Houston, Minneapolis, Washington (DC), Kansas City, and Phoenix.  The two “rising stars” were Tampa and Columbus (OH).

At least they are thinking of us. As the report says:

Additionally, Innovation That Matters  examined  Tampa  and  Columbus,  as  we  have  seen  an  overall  increase in startup activity in those cities. They were not included in the top 25 ranking, however, because they are new to the city list this year.

You can see the Tampa slide on page 67 of the pdf (64 of the report).

Tampa came in 15th place among the 27 cities for talent, but there’s room to improve on other factors measured in the report.

Talent is described on page 41 of the pdf (page 38 of the report) as:

Talent

Is the necessary workforce available?

Domestic and international population inflows

Percentage of educated millennials and percentage year-over-year change in educated millennials

We are unclear which aspect boosted our ranking, but two of the three elements involve relative growth rather than absolute access to talent.

In any event, even being considered shows some progress.


List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is the The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship: Metropolitan Area and City Trends.  As described by the Business Journal:

The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship is a composite measure of entrepreneurial business growth in the United States that seeks to capture growth entrepreneurship in all industries.

The report ranks the 40 largest metro areas in the country, relying on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Here is the full list: Washington (DC), Austin, Columbus, Nashville, Atlanta, San Jose, San Francisco-Oakland, Boston , Minneapolis-St. Paul, Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Diego, Denver, San Antonio, Phoenix, Charlotte, Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Seattle, Portland (OR), Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Tampa Bay area, Chicago, Kansas City, Orlando, Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Detroit, Riverside-San Bernardino, Providence, and Jacksonville.

We are 26th.(dropping two place from last year).  Given the two lists this week, that seems to be our spot.

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Roundup 10-13-2017

October 13, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Latest and Greatest

— TB(n)X

— Pick ‘Em

— Curmudgeonly Truth

Port – Better

Airport – Some Items

Economic Development – What We Like

Economic Development – VC Watch

— One More Thing

Channel District – Tweak

Hyde Park – Altis

Rays – Indeed

Temple Terrace – Oh Well

_____________________________________


Transportation – Latest and Greatest

What would a week be without transportation news?


— TB(n)X

And what would transportation news be without a little TB(n)X?

The state’s revamped proposal to expand interstates in Hillsborough County got one of its first public vettings on Monday.

* * *

Attendees were greeted by a four-minute video explaining the federal study and the area it covers: from the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, east along I-275, then north to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; and I-4 east from downtown Tampa toward 50th Street.

That’s not exactly all the interstates in Hillsborough County, but it is what it is.  (There are other meetings about the rest which, it must be said, gets kind of confusing.)  In any event,

The original plan for Tampa Bay’s express lanes came from a 1996 study. The federal study, as part Tampa Bay Next, aims to update that 20-year-old document so it more closely matches the desires of the community. Tampa residents, especially those in historic neighborhoods downtown, spent the past two years protesting the express toll lanes.

The DOT will hold another public workshop in 2018 before the final public hearing in 2019. That gives community members, business leaders and politicians about a year and a half to weigh in.

Setting aside that it does not seem to be too many meetings or public input and that we thought “business leaders” were community members, the expansion plan of the interstate came from the 90’s (see here) and the express lane idea at that time was two free local lanes and two express lanes, which from all indications were to be free (especially since, in most cases, putting new tolls on free interstates is a no-no, though it is unclear if FDOT was doing some kind of auxiliary lane magic at the time), plus an HOV lane (see starting pg 161). The most recent FDOT plan includes express lanes (no HOV) which were variable rate toll express toll lanes (whether they are still toll lanes has been the subject of some obfuscation, but until it is clear announced they are not, we are going to assume they are variable rate toll lanes, especially given that FDOT labelled them on its Howard Frankland diagram with its variable rate express lane logo) came later.

And an aside here: just because someone in the 90s said ok does not mean it is the best thing for the area now.  There were a lot of bad decisions made in the 1990s around here. And the 90s plan is a bit odd: for instance, on pg 153, where north of King the interstate is two-lanes in each direction, on pg 154 where it appears to say that the exit at I-4 and 21st and 22nd streets should be removed and a new exit at 14th and 15th streets.  Or a two lane I-4 east of 50th.  In fact, in many cases the 1990’s plans have been rendered out of date by facts. Yes, they can be changed (which is what the process is about), but being from the 90’s is irrelevant. (And the utility of variable rate tolls added later is very questionable.)

Another aside: you can see on pg. 136 of this pdf regarding the interstate project from the 1990’s , rail was studied and planned for in the 1980’s but that hasn’t happened yet.  If the logic is based on age, rail should be built before anything is done to the interstate. And note on pg 137, FDOT and the Hillsborough County coordinated studies and still nothing but more studies followed.)

But, anyway, back to the present:

The Florida Department of Transportation wants to eliminate some local highway improvement concepts from consideration, including a “do nothing” approach, a big-city style beltway and a boulevard concept that would bring the highway down to street level.

Engineers and managers from FDOT were on hand at the Tampa Marriott Westshore on Monday night to showcase the Tampa Bay Next project and answer questions about the agency’s progress.

The agency noted in visuals that the boulevard and beltway concepts would not sufficiently reduce traffic congestion, improve travel times or increase freight mobility. Concepts could be reconsidered based on public input, according to Ed McKinney, FDOT’s District 7 planning and environmental administrator.

Still under consideration are concepts that expand portions of the highway through the downtown Tampa interchange, Westshore and Interstate 4. Some include toll lanes and a dedicated transit corridor.

* * *

Another boulevard concept running north to south north of the downtown interchange is still being considered.

It is difficult to know exactly what FDOT means until after the meetings because they still don’t post the information on-line before their meetings.  However, they did post them online afterward (See background presentation here and revised plans/options here) and you can see the dropped options, sort of, in the presentation pdf. We understand the meaning of “do-nothing” approach – we see it all the time on transit. On page 28, it appears that FDOT is killing an east-west road in the north to connect  the Veterans/Suncoast with I-75 as part of killing an extremely large beltway for which basically no one is asking. (The beltway under consideration went east-west on the Pasco-Hernando county line then head south around Plant City on to Ft. Myers.) That should not foreclose the east-west road that we have needed for decades.

Additionally, the pdf does not actually say what boulevard concept they are killing (see pgs 26-27), but, because the boulevard concept north of downtown which we discussed a while back (see “Transportation – On the Boulevard“) seems to still be alive, we assume it is referring to a boulevard replacing I-275 from downtown to Westshore.  (It should be noted that the north of the interchange boulevard concept, as presented by the planner proposing it, relied in part on the, for lack of a better term, traditional east-west road in the north that FDOT seems to be killing, in addition to a number of other things and compromise decisions, to make any sense.)

Before looking at a few specific proposals from the study area, let’s briefly look at some other items in the presentation pdf. Starting on page 34, you’ll see the contemplated options for I-275 north of the interchange. On page 36, you see the plan to put two express lanes in each direction on I-4.  There is no indication if they are tolled or not, but we have heard nothing to make us think they are not.  Page 37 shows express lanes on all of I-75 through Hillsborough and indicates they are tolled.  And on page 43, you see the interim plan to add a third lane but not really fix the bottleneck (see more below).

Now let’s look at the pdf of SEIS options.  It is a large file with large drawings that are best just viewed independently.  However, we did pull out two zoomed shots of things we would like to highlight.

From FDOT – click on picture for pdf

First, there is the proposed “full” fix of the bottleneck, pg 3 of the pdf. The yellow lanes are free lanes.  The green are express lanes.

The first thing to note is that (re)connecting the grid under the interstate is good.

Now to the meat of the issue. As you can see from the diagram, FDOT’s proposal is to have two express lanes in each direction through the bottleneck.  Once again, there is some ambiguity about whether they are tolled and whether they are variable rate, but until we hear clearly they won’t be, we assume they are both.  In addition, there are three free lanes through the bottleneck.  Of course, there are four free lanes on the bridge now and in the newest proposal.

Even more interestingly, the three northbound lanes are a completely new build and the overpass/underpass at Reo appears to be a diverging diamond, which is also a new build. So, with all the new building, why does the plan only have three free lanes through the bottleneck?  Isn’t that still a bottleneck?  Sure, you can pay to go through the express lanes at its highest price because of congestion, but why aren’t there four free lanes through the bottleneck?  FDOT is planning to spend billions of dollars and they can’t fix that? And, even more interesting, why is that ok with local officials? (BTW, except around Roosevelt where it goes down to 3 lanes for one overpass, the Pinellas side has four lanes for quite a while. )  If you are fixing it, do it right.

Our other zoom shot is of the rebuild proposal of the interchange, specifically right around downtown, pg 8 of the pdf.

From FDOT – click on picture for pdf

The first thing you might notice is that the proposal makes the interstate more than two blocks wide.  The rebuild eats up a block south of the present interstate and part of a block north.  Given that, the access to the interstate in the east of downtown is changed.  Moreover, the gap between the Tampa Heights area and downtown is more than doubled, which is an odd urban redevelopment strategy, especially as the Franklin area north of the interstate is just starting to take off.

The next thing you may notice is the “transit platform” in the middle of all that.  We are all for real transit, but we are not particularly fond of station in the middle of interstates, especially such large ones.  That does not encourage people to either use transit or walk to their destination.  Speaking of walking, the transit platform is quite far from the core of downtown and lacks a connection.  The only way it would make any sense is if the streetcar were connected north and south of the platform to circulate people through downtown (with a common ticketing platform).  Of course, that is part of a third study (in addition to the SEIS and the transit study).

Given that the no-build is off the table, we know that the picture is one of two general options: either rebuild the intersection or add express lanes (tolled or not? Who knows?) without rebuilding which would take up more land than now but not as much as a rebuild (but it would not include a transit corridor). The fact is that neither is particularly good, but, from what we have seen so far, if we have to pick from those, we prefer the latter.

As we have long said, we want of fix the bottleneck and improve the interchange, but under these plans, the bottleneck is not fixed, at least if you are just a normal driver, and the interchange is still quite a mess, either way.  And, still, we are wondering how a road plan can be developed while transit is still an open question. The outcome of the transit decision has a direct effect on the road plan.  For instance, without the transit corridor (say transit goes somewhere else), the rebuild not have to be so wide and could be made a more palatable (though not necessarily desired) option.  We need to know one to decide on the other.  And we need to know about the streetcar.

And, of course, still alive is the original TBX concept.

Also noteworthy is some interim stuff,

It will take another several years for any of those projects to be approved, so the DOT is moving forward with a couple interim plans to ease congestion in the meantime.

One of those is a $2.9 million plan to add a fifth southbound lane to the Veterans Expressway from State Road 60 to just south of the airport. That extra lane should help with the messy, and sometimes dangerous, merging and weaving that happens in that stretch, DOT consultant Brad Flom said. Construction will begin next fall, with the lane opening in the first half of 2019.

Another interim project is a $25 million plan to add an extra lane to I-275 in each direction near the West Shore Boulevard interchange. That area is known for nightmarish backlogs where the four lanes in each direction on the Howard Frankland Bridge narrow to two. Construction on that third lane will start in 2019.

You may recall that the highway around the airport was already rebuilt, but now, apparently has to have an interim rebuild before the final rebuild.  The reality is that much of the weaving on that stretch of road is not from a lack of plans, it is from poor design including the entrance and exit ramps.  Regardless, fine.  And regular readers already know our thoughts on the bottleneck – we see no reason to do another half-measure.  Just fix it.

As we have said recently, FDOT seems to be trying, at least to some degree. But we are not sure exactly to what degree. They need much more transparency.  They have a website, so post the ideas on it before meetings and make the website more user friendly.  And the meetings are generally inconvenient for a large portion of the population (the SEIS involves roads that are of interest to the whole area not just two isolated spots).  FDOT also needs to be much more forthcoming about tolls – whether they really could go away or whether they are stuck in FDOT’s plan.  And, they need to be clear about the status of the old plan.

And one stylistic thing (that may also be substantive): FDOT still too often gives the impression it is trying to sell a plan rather than work collaboratively to come up with one.

And all that goes on top of the fact the problems of making decisions on roads when relevant decisions about transit still need to be made.


— Pick ‘Em

The Tampa/Hillsborough Expressway Authority is asking the public to weigh in on the design of the Gandy/Selmon Connector.  In an article entitled “You can have a say on one of Tampa Bay’s mega projects (w/video),” the Times tells us:

Have you ever paid close attention to the support piers of an elevated highway? Probably not, but the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority still wants your opinion on what some new ones should look like.

From now through Friday, Oct. 20, members of the public will be able to choose between two designs for the piers supporting the 1.9-mile extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway from South Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy bridge. The winning design will be announced Oct. 23.

“We were looking for an opportunity for the public to take part, and this is one of the areas where we could control that,” Bob Frey, the authority’s planning director, said Monday.

Setting aside that we don’t really know what a “mega project” is, but we doubt an extended overpass counts as one.  Nevertheless,

The authority unveiled the pier designs Monday. The one dubbed Vivid has “vertical features that represent movement and fluidity” while the Estuary design evokes “a river delta or a canopy of cypress trees,” according to Aecom, the construction company.

Um, ok.  Actually, they are just talking about some limited decoration.  And Estuary does not evoke anything, it has images of trees (and, of course, we don’t really have river deltas around here).

From THEA – click on picture for website

You can vote here.

Here is a video on the project

We will give them credit for going straight to the internet to get input from as many people as possible, unlike FDOT and TB(n)X.  And while it probably does not matter too much, we kind of like Estuary a little bit more.  What we would like even more is if the plan accounted for all the development that is going to happen on Westshore south of Gandy.


— Curmudgeonly Truth

With all this road news, something from the Venerable Times Curmudgeon caught our eye.  First some background, following an item about how Amazon warehouses (like this one this week) or Bass Pro Shops provide validation for economic development efforts, the Business Journal had an article referencing a Forbes article by an FSU professor explaining why the Tampa Bay area should be a leading choice for Amazon HQ2.  That article basically says that Amazon should come to Florida because of the business climate and that the Tampa Bay area is the best location in Florida because it has a higher percentage of relevant workers.  Of course, in his comparisons, the author focuses on Boston and San Francisco, and talks about taxes.  He ignores Georgia, Texas, and other states that are more competitive in the “business friendly” category.

Even with all that, we thought the Times Curmudgeon had a pretty good point when discussing Amazon:

On paper at least, Florida in general and Tampa Bay in particular would seem well positioned to make successful goo-goo eyes in the general direction of Jeff Bezos, who was raised in Miami.

For starters, we have no personal income taxes. We have plenty of sun.

And Tampa Bay also meets Amazon’s basic requirements as a metro area with at least one million people, a stable business-friendly environment and a world class international airport. So far, looking good.

Well, there is that one itty-bitty, tiny, minor problem.

Amazon is requiring cities giving it that come hither look to also be able to provide access to mass transit routes. Oooooops! So close, so very close.

Let’s be painfully honest. Does anyone involved the recruitment of Amazon believe that despite all the region’s many charms, Bezos would be willing to make a $5 billion investment and bring 50,000 jobs to an area without a significant mass transit (read: buses and rail) presence?

You may have noticed — we don’t have that.

Other cities in the mix, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Charlotte, all offer rail as part of their transit grid. And since you can’t build these things overnight, it is more than probable Tampa Bay will get a nice pat on the head and a heartfelt thanks for its interest.

And followed it up with a very pithy summary of decades of local history:

The Amazon exercise is a reminder once again that there is a price to be paid for decades of parochial myopia when it comes to the region’s transportation needs.

A salient point.  Too bad so many local officials apparently continue to not care.


Port – Better

There was news about the Port this week.

Port Tampa Bay posted its biggest operating revenues ever this year — $55.4 million — beating its previous record from two years ago.

The total reflects revenue solely generated by port operations, not property tax revenue or grants, officials said.

Which is good.

The figure represents a 12.6 percent increase over the $49.2 million recorded in FY 2016 and surpasses the previous high of $51.3 million in FY 2015.

The port has benefitted from new cruises to Cuba that began this year by both Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

* * *

Besides the new cruises, the stronger revenue numbers are being attributed to new and expanded leases like the Port Logistics Cold Storage facility, set to open later this month. Additionally, the revenue was bolstered by imports of commodities like petroleum, cement, phosphate and steel.  

Note:

The port teamed up with Tampa real estate developer Richard Corbett to finance the construction of the 130,000-square-foot facility. Port Logistics of Orlando has a 27-year lease to manage the facility, which will receive, label, package and distribute refrigerated foods. Officials hope the new on-dock facility will bring in new business by offering a port three days closer to shippers than Philadelphia, which has the most cold storage food facilities on the East Coast.

We are not going to complain about increased revenue.  But there are some concerns.  Neither the Times nor the Business Journal mentioned container cargo.  Both mentioned the refrigerated food facility.  The revenue from that is from a lease.  We hope the business is successful, but, as you can see in the language in the last block quote, it is not even open.  And there is always the issue of cruises, not just to Cuba, but the tendency in the market to go to bigger ships.  Is that revenue going to plateau, go down or is there really room for more growth?  Is there a cruise plan other than hoping the good times continue?

All that being said, last year was good.


Airport – Some Items

The airport is moving ahead on the process of building an office building near the new rental car facility.

Tampa International Airport will accept bids starting Oct. 18 for a nine-story commercial building that is part of the airport’s $1.5 billion expansion.

The 270,000-square-foot building will include the headquarters of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which will occupy two floors, Chris Minner, the executive vice president of marketing said Thursday at the monthly board meeting. Construction is expected to begin in August and finish by 2020.

They don’t waste any time, which is fine.

In other news, sort of:

Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research and air service development, was recently in Bogota, Colombia meeting with officials from Avianca S.A., that country’s national airline. Avianca’s pilots are currently staging a walkout over salary and benefits that began Sept. 20, according to published reports.

TIA, citing census numbers, said that 37,104 individuals of Colombian ancestry reside in the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile, Tampa International’s Colombian traffic has increased 130 percent since 2012, and 27 percent in the last year.

TIA loses 79.8 percent of its Bogota air traffic to other airports, primarily to Orlando International Airport, Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Of the largest Florida airports, TIA has the largest share (49.2 percent) of Tampa Bay originating passengers to Colombia. The share at Fort Lauderdale was 44.2 percent. Miami International Airport’s share was 37.4 percent while Orlando had a 27.6 percent share.

It is not really news because we knew they were looking at Avianca and that the visit was going to be made, but now it has.  We’ll see what happens.

And one more flight item.  Last week there was news that the new Delta Salt Lake City flight was going to be short-term.  Now:

After saying Delta Airlines would be suspending Tampa International Airport’s new nonstop flight to Salt Lake City, airport officials said the new destination is back on track for full service.

Delta (NYSE: DAL) has indicated that the airline now will suspend service only from Jan. 4, 2018 through Feb. 15 for fleet maintenance and then will resume regular service, said Janet Scherberger, TIA’s assistant vice president of media and government relations.  

We like that more.


Economic Development – What We Like

There was also some interesting news on the economic development front.

Advanced Airfoil Components, a joint venture formed by Siemens and Chromalloy Gas Turbine Corp., will create 350 new jobs when it opens a headquarters site in Tampa Regional Industrial Park, in southeast Hillsborough County.

* * *

Advanced Airfoil will hire workers for a range of skilled positions, including technical engineers, manufacturing technicians and production workers. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of $57,163, the resolution said. That’s at least 115 percent higher than the average wage in Hillsborough County.

Siemens and Chromalloy announced the joint venture in May, saying Advanced Airfoil would make turbine blade and vane cast components for power generation.

The company will lease 210,000 square feet at Tampa Regional Industrial Park, 13124 U.S. Highway 41, near Big Bend Road, in Gibsonton. The plant is scheduled to open in late 2018.

That is a little vague, but it looks like solid manufacturing which is good all around (as long as Siemens’ business is good, because that is who they are going to supply, apparently.) We need manufacturing, and it should help at the port and airport as well.  And the wages are pretty good.  If you are trying to figure out what to provide incentives for, this is one of the kinds of things you want incentives for.


Economic Development – VC Watch

Some new VC numbers are in. From a Times column:

Thanks to a single mammoth injection of venture capital into one of its start-ups, New York City topped the nation’s VC rankings in sheer dollar funding in this year’s third quarter ended Sept. 30.

The nation’s biggest VC commitment is indeed a whopper: $3 billion going to WeWork, a Manhattan-based start-up involved in office rental and co-working space. The money comes from SoftBank Group billionaire Masayoshi Son who has pledged to invest many more billions in U.S. companies in the coming years.

That deal alone translates to 17 cents of every $1 in venture capital funding that occurred nationwide in the quarter.

Doing some quick math, that means there was about $17.5 billion in VC funding nationally last quarter.  What about Florida and this area?

On a much smaller scale, the same quarter was a good one for the Tampa Bay market, thanks at least to one sizeable investment by Hearst Communications in Tampa’s M2Gen. Hearst committed $75 million to the innovative cancer-fighting start-up that’s majority-owned by Moffitt Cancer Center. By local standards, that is a serious piece of money.

The Hearst stake also happened to be this quarter’s biggest venture capital investment in Florida, according to new data released by Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.

Three other Tampa Bay start-ups are listed as receiving funding in the quarter. Combined, those stakes came to $6 million. . .

There are likely some smaller deals to add to the total, but we’ll go with the rough number of $81 million for the Tampa Bay area, which for us is quite good. Using standard rounding, that is about .5% of all VC funding for an area that is roughly .9% of the US population.  It is better than usual, though not where we’d like to be.  Strangely, we are told this:

Nationally, nearly 1,700 U.S. venture-backed companies raised $21.5 billion in funding in the third quarter of 2017. That brings the year-to-date total to 5,811 companies raising $61.4 billion.

Which means the New York deal was actually on about 14 cents on the dollar and our share was also lower, around .4%. But we are not going to quibble, especially as there are probably other small deals that would make our total a little bigger.  Let’s hope this is the start of an upward trend.


— One More Thing

While the exact categorization of this deal doesn’t really matter, it is still a good way to start a new quarter:

Intezyne Technologies Inc. says it is on solid footing after closing an oversubscribed $10 million capital offering.

The Tampa biopharmaceutical company plans to use the funding to advance two potential cancer treatments through clinical trials, said Kevin Sill, CEO. Intezyne’s two drugs in development are IT-139, to treat pancreatic, gastric and some types of melanoma, lung cancer and thyroid cancer, and IT-141, to treat colorectal and breast cancers.

Intezyne was one of the first pioneers in the University of South Florida Research Center and has plans to eventually go public, as the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported in a profile of the company in July.

For reasons other than just economic, we hope their drugs are successful.


Channel District – Tweak

The long-planned, not built, then resurrected Del Villar proposal, which we discussed a few months ago (see “Channel District – Condos” ), has revised their revised plan a little.  Back when it was first revived and revised in April, we said this:

Most of the changes listed above do not bother us.  One thing we do not like is the lack of retail.  As you can see from the rendering of the east elevation (top rendering, left), the streetscape would be left quite dead. We get that the developers have a Publix in their other project (as well as retail in their first project, Grand Central), but this project would be much better, with the added benefit of complying with the Channel District plan that calls for it, with at least a small amount of retail.  The City should stick to the plan (specifically Sec 27 overall, and more specifically Sec 27-204, all of which can be found here).

Another thing we don’t really like is the apparent blandness of the design, at least in the top elevations.  On those sides (the sides facing the street), it is just a big box, with not even a lot of windows to break up the blandness. (The west side – the bottom elevation – is broken up by balconies, which is better)  We really don’t want to see Channelside Drive become a dead street just as the Channel District is taking off (especially if the Port goes forward with its real estate concept).

This week, the developer filed a change, per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: After 5 months, we finally have an update on Del Villar, the 36 story, 61 unit condo tower proposed for the southwest corner of Channelside and Whiting. The most notable change is the addition of 709 square feet of retail space to the northeast corner of the project. Before the project had no retail space.

We were opposed to the project originally due to lack of retail, but this proposal seems to be much more acceptable, given the site. Several URBNist wrote in to the city asking them to ensure retail was in the project. We’d like to think that paid off. 

You can see the retail in the upper right hand corner of this plan:

Courtesy of Florida Future @ Skyscrapercity – click on picture for website

The change is something, though not that much.  The retail is well located on the corner, and we are fine with that.  However, the proposal still has a very long wall of blankness on Channelside where the parking garage is.  It is definitely better, but not quite there yet, in our opinion.


Hyde Park – Altis

It appears that the Altis Grand Central project near Oxford Exchange is beginning construction next week.

Altis Grand Central is slated to begin construction Monday. The development will include 314 residential units and 9,750 square feet of retail space on a 2.5-acre site bound by Grand Central Avenue to the north and Cleveland Street to the south, Cedar Avenue to the east and Magnolia Street to the west.

You may remember this was the project that brought a number of objections.  Most of them were addressed, but the revised renderings still seemed to show the parking garage as the most prominent feature, which would be bad.  Hopefully, it is just a poor rendering.


Rays – Indeed

The ongoing Rays stadium saga, which seems just a little bit less tiresome than the transportation saga, had a little news:

Before sunrise on Monday morning, Tim Leiweke walked around the Channel District-Ybor City area that could someday house a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Leiweke, who has had a hand in building 18 stadiums and arenas around the country, saw the appeal. The area, just north of the Ybor Channel and Selmon Expressway, is close to both downtown and the port.

* * *

And he believes baseball can work in Tampa Bay, despite recent history. Just look at how the Lightning have turned around their franchise, Leiweke told the Times before speaking at a panel put on by the University of South Florida’s Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management Program.

* * *

Leiweke declined to opine on which side of Tampa Bay is best to host a baseball team, but he does have a preference on where officials and the front office should look.

“I put stadiums where they have the greatest economic impact,” he said. “So when you build a stadium away from an urban core, that’s a mistake.”

Nothing to disagree with there.

The location Tampa officials are considering largely meets that criterion. But Tampa’s urban core is relatively sleepy after 6 p.m. And while weekend events and Lightning games have added a buzz to downtown in recent years, it is still mostly vacant outside of work hours.

Leiweke needed to search on his phone Sunday night just to find an open place to eat near his downtown hotel. In most major cities, a short walk would yield several options.

“Your (hockey) arena is the greatest statement about what the Rays face,” he said. “The glass wall is facing the canal and then all of the electricity, the signs, the banners, are all on the plaza. The part that faces your city is a blank wall, cold as hell.”

The planned Water Street Tampa could change that. Vinik and his partner, Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, have proposed a live-work-play community that will add housing, office space, restaurants, parks and hotels.

The Rays should try to tap into that, Leiweke said, and ensure their ballpark flows into that project. As it stands, the area between downtown and the rumored site is disjointed — divided by the expressway, a sea of parking lots, a Riverwalk that ends at Channelside Plaza, a gigantic flour mill and an industrial channel dotted with ship repair businesses.

“If you could just continue to figure out a way to make it walkable, make it livable, make it bikeable and make it green-friendly, you’ll turn out to be one of the wonderful points of destination in all the world,” he said. “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play.”

Setting aside that it sounds like he may have an idea or two about where he thinks the stadium should go, nothing to argue about there either.


Temple Terrace – Oh Well

As many readers may know Temple Terrace has long aspired to redevelop some land at Bullard Pkwy and 56th Street into a downtown area.  It has been a long, sad story of picking and unpicking developers, getting offers from others that haven’t worked out, almost settling for very poor sprawl planes, and it continues.  Which is why this caught our eye:

Mel Jurado easily won the special election for mayor of Temple Terrace on Tuesday, outpacing both her competitors combined by more than 2-1.

* * *    

City leaders have sought to redevelop it into a pedestrian-friendly downtown area of offices, shops, residences and restaurants. But those efforts have hit snags and, meanwhile, the city has until April to refinance or pay back a $23.5 million debt it incurred to buy the property. Jurado said in her campaign that debt means the city must move on the best offers it currently has.

We doubt any deal they get will pay enough to cover the cost.  We also doubt they will actually get a development that will really reach the potential for the land.  Though, until they sell, there is always hope (even if it is diminishing).

Roundup 10-6-2017

October 6, 2017

Contents

Transportation – All Those Ideas

— About Studying Transit

— About That Confounded Bridge

— About Those Express Lanes

South Tampa – Ready to Go

West Tampa – Show Us the Money, Revisited

Parks and Taxation, Cont.

Airport – Bring on the Boxes

Rays – No Surprise

Why Not?

A Welcome Idea

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

____________________________________


Transportation – All Those Ideas

As usual, there is a slew of transportation news this week.


— About Studying Transit

Last week, we noted that while the TB(n)X process is ongoing and coming up with new ideas to mix in with the old (why the old remain is unclear), it is hard to see how decisions can be made when there is still the transit study going on the outcome of which will be relevant to interstate (and other transportation) design (Such as, even though it is not our favored idea, putting transit in the median of the interstate)  Notably, FDOT posted the new options for Malfunction Junction they presented last week on the TB(n)X website (Thanks to a reader for letting us know.  We have to note that we have no idea why FDOT does not post these things before the meetings so more people can look at them.)  You can find them here.

In addition to the old TBX plan (which is not posted but, per reports, was an option at the meeting), there are two options where the interchange is not reconstructed but express lanes are added (though not going north of the interchange).  In those two, there is no room for transit.  There are also two where the interchange is reconstructed (and, regardless of the impression some reports may have given, a decent amount of land is eaten up around the interstate).  In these two, there are appears to be land in the middle of the interstate for some transit going east and west, though not north.  And there is the representation of some sort of conceptual stop around I-275 and Franklin downtown (which is not a particularly useful stop without a useful streetcar, but that is another discussion).

With all that, as if on cue, findings of the preferred transit routes from the transit study came out later in the day last Friday.  Remember, the transit study is rally a review of previous studies, so to a large degree its results were predictable.

Light rail is the top-ranked mode of transit identified to connect Wesley Chapel, the University of South Florida, Tampa, the Gateway business district in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, according to results from the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan presented Friday.

That route would roughly follow Interstate 275.

The Florida Department of Transportation financed the $ 1.5 million study and it was facilitated through the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority and Jacobs Engineering.

You can find the latest PowerPoint presentation regarding the transit study here.

This is the final ranking slide from that presentation (pg 22 of pdf):

From the Transit Study – click on chart for pdf

As you can see from the list, it is really nothing new (though it is also logical).  The highest ranked path is Wesley Chapel, USF, downtown Tampa, St. Pete using light rail running roughly down I-275.  Of course, to get to USF, it is not going to run exclusively down I-275, but it would seem that some of the intent is to use some of the median of I-275, the cross the Howard Frankland (more about that later).  The second choice is “rubber tire” on the same route.  Notably, the FDOT drawings for redoing the interchange do not include any indication of dedicated land for transit going north on I-275 which goes to our point about coordinating studies and planning (both transportation and urban planning).

The third and fourth ranked ideas are basically the old downtown to USF plan using CSX’s alignment (light rail first and then “rubber tire”)

There is a tie for fifth between the Wesley Chapel to St. Pete route using commuter rail and the downtown to USF route using commuter rail.  We are not fond of the commuter rail idea. Commuter rail is fine for some purposes – actually Wesley Chapel to downtown or Westshore make sense for commuter rail, but if you are trying to get people around Tampa and Hillsborough (and Pinellas, really), commuter rail is not going to cut it. Commuter rail, which lacks frequency, has limited stops, and is basically for, you guessed it, commuters, not really just getting around, has limited utility for getting around and urban area rather than limited point to point usage. (We just don’t see why we should repeat the mistakes of SunRail, which is commuter rail rolling stock.)

Furthermore, we understand why Wesley Chapel is included in options, but it is different from the stretch from USF to Westshore and different from Pinellas County.  Three is no reason that there can’t be a different service to Wesley Chapel than the core of the area, especially in the beginning. (We actually think express buses from there would be fine, at least for now)  In fact, looking at the list of public preferences (pg 21 of pdf)

From the Transit Study – click on chart for pdf

You can see that Pasco favors buses, while Pinellas and Hillsborough favor light rail. (And there is no clear sign of a groundswell for rail or any kind of reasonable urban planning in Pasco) Why not give the people what they want and save money?  It’s a win-win.

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

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

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

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

And note:

What’s not being discussed? How to pay for it. Money and funding sources — such as federal grants or a sales tax referendum, similar to those that failed here in 2010 and 2014 — won’t be part of the discussion until the region has agreed on a viable project with broad support.

“Clearly, that’s the elephant in the room,” said HART CEO Katharine Eagan. “All of us are probably thinking about it or having other conversations, it’s just not part of this process yet.”

Instead, the focus remains on finding an option leaders can agree on. Friday’s rankings aren’t final, and will fluctuate as cost, public input and other things are considered. Planners are expected to recommend a preferred project in fall 2018.

In other words, the rankings are something, but nothing substantial yet.  The same forces that have killed real transit in this area for decades are still there.

Some, such as Hillsborough MPO executive director Beth Alden and County Commissioner Sandy Murman, wondered why projects connecting West Shore and Brandon didn’t rank higher. Representatives from Pasco and Pinellas talked about the importance of getting their constituents on board. It remains to be seen whether the three counties will be able to come together to support one project, especially one that might not have stops in each jurisdiction.

“We’re never going to get something that’s going to make everybody happy,” Pinellas MPO member Jim Kennedy said. “Once we get a firm start, it can grow from there.”

Pinellas MPO member Doreen Caudell said it was “extremely important” to get all elected officials in the same room to identify and move forward with a single plan, even if every city and county isn’t served by whatever project is first built.

“It does feel like some of the top priorities are Tampa-centric, but you have to get through Tampa to get to that beautiful beach in Clearwater,” Caudell said. “Once we take that first step, the next step will happen and then the next. They’re all needed, no matter what order.”

Exactly, Tampa is in the middle of the area and you have to start somewhere.  As for Brandon, it is an important area to connect, but not necessarily the most important, productive or transit ready (and we haven’t seen the Commissioner quoted propose a rail connection to Brandon.  That being said, we’re fine if there are express buses from there running on the Selmon for now.)

While we would have liked real study of the present circumstances, this is the study we have.  The results are predictable but not necessarily way off, at least for the most part. Our area’s problems don’t boil down to not enough studies. It boils down to a lack of political will, poor coordination, and poor planning. We’ll just have to see if any of that has really changed.


— About That Confounded Bridge

And if that was not enough transportation for you, FDOT released their latest idea for the Howard Frankland rebuild.

The Florida Department of Transportation has revised its plans to replace the Howard Frankland Bridge to include better transit accommodations, add an express lane in each direction and a bicycle and pedestrian path, the agency announced Monday.

Construction on the revised project is still set to begin in 2020.

Given all the unknowns about transportation, that is a bit ambitious.  Regardless, what is the plan now?

This massive structure will have four lanes of traffic going south, to St. Petersburg. It will also have four express toll lanes, with two lanes traveling in each direction. Only drivers who pay a toll, which will fluctuate based on demand, can use those lanes.

Those toll lanes will also be available to buses and even self-driving vehicles, whenever that technology arrives in the future. And two of those toll lanes could also be converted for use by a light rail system.

Obviously, variable rate toll lanes were not going to go away. Setting that aside:

The new eight-lane, bike and pedestrian-friendly bridge is projected to cost $120 million more than the six-lane version. However, that old Howard Frankland plan required building a third bridge to accommodate light rail, if regional leaders and voters ever decide to build such a system connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. That third bridge would have cost at least $375 million, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

The third bridge won’t be necessary under the updated plan, Carson said. Instead, two of the express lanes on the eight-lane bridge could be used to accommodate light rail.

Well, sort of, but not exactly.

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the graphic, to add rail, two more traffic lanes would be added to the south span and two existing lanes would be used for rail.  Though, that is an improvement in the sense that it should cost less and rail should be able to get up and running faster.  Of course, there is the question of who would pay for the expansion of the south span.  FDOT had previously said getting rail across the bay would be a, at least partially, local cost.   Is that still their position?  It is not clear.

This is how FDOT describes the changes:

This change includes several important benefits:

And here is a video from FDOT of the construction sequence though we are not sure how useful it is.

As we have already noted, it is an improvement in the sense it should be easier and cheaper (though not without constructing additional lanes) to put rail on the bridge.  We are unclear how they will accommodate future demand without adding lanes unless FDOT is relying on the express lanes and think it is fine for the four free lanes to be completely backed up while people pay ridiculous amounts to use the express lanes (or FDOT plans on taking away the shoulders – or the drawing is not showing extra space they are building now). The pedestrian/bike trail is a bit odd given the length of the bridge and what is at the Pinellas end, but that is a relatively small thing.

Overall, the design better, though flaws remain.  We don’t like variable rate toll lanes for the very concept (the concept incentivizes poor service and decision-making for free lanes because free lane congestion does mean higher tolls.   Regardless of some people’s good intents, eventually, money will play a factor in decision-making.) Moreover, all those dividers waste space where lanes can go – adding capacity.

Moreover, and importantly, the bottleneck at the Tampa end will remain.  FDOT has already moved to add a third lane through the bottleneck, but that leaves the question of the fourth lane and how they get the express lanes through.  And if FDOT has the money to squeeze the express lanes through (or over) the bottleneck, surely they have the ability/money to get the fourth free lane through it, but that is not in the plan.  (And if they can’t squeeze the express lanes though the bottleneck, there really is no point in them, but we suspect, as usual, they are prioritized over the free lanes.)

While it still has issues, we will give FDOT credit for the improvements.  The real question is why it was so hard to come up with even this plan (think about how bad the first few plans were)?  And why were local official so seemingly willing to get screwed?  And, of course, are they going to fix the remaining flaws both on the bridge and at the bottleneck?


— About Those Express Lanes

And speaking of express lanes, congestion and safety, URBN Tampa Bay pointed out an article in the Miami Herald on the most hazardous roads in Florida.

According to a recent study, Miami-Dade County is home to the road with the highest fatalities per mile, the road with the highest fatalities, and the road with the most fatal crashes.

So which ones are they?

Coming in at No. 1 in the state is the I-95 Express Toll in Little River, Miami — a small stretch of just 3.85 miles, according to a study conducted by Stein Law Group and marketing firm, 1POINT21. The data showed that the road had a fatality rate of 7.01 per mile. 

I-275 through downtown Tampa was 51st on the list, which, even with its very poor design and congestion, is quite a bit lower on the list. However, 66th Street in Largo, SR60 near Plant City, 34th Street in St. Pete, and Cortez Road in Bradenton were also in the top 10. You can see the whole list here.  Admittedly, correlation is not necessarily causation, but, because FDOT and express lanes supporters point to I-95 in Miami as a model of why express lanes are good, it is also does not help make FDOT’s argument for express lanes.


South Tampa – Ready to Go

Per URBN Tampa Bay,

Virage Bayshore has applied for a building permit. The tower at 3401 Bayshore Blvd. is 24 stories and 71 condo units. At 287 feet, it will be the tallest building on Bayshore.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While it won’t do much on the pedestrian level (unless you like hedges), we have to admit, it should look nice in the skyline.


West Tampa – Show Us the Money, Revisited

A few months ago we discussed a strange circumstance regarding a legal challenge by the developer of suburban style affordable apartment complexes against the Tampa Housing Authority and its project to redevelop the North Boulevard Homes land.  It also involved the County Commission going back on a commitment to vote in favor of funding the Housing Authority project and supporting the suburban developer (surprise).  This week:

Errors in an application have cost the Tampa Housing Authority a 10-year, $21 million tax credit that was earmarked to help build much-needed affordable housing in Tampa’s ambitious West River revitalization project.

The credits were awarded in May to The Boulevard at West River, an apartment block that would include 200 affordable housing units.

But the Florida Housing Finance Corporation last week reversed its decision after an administrative judge ruled that mistakes in the Housing Authority’s application should disqualify it from the award.

Instead, the tax credits will now go to Blue Sky Communities, a private developer that challenged the award in court. Its application to build a 144-unit workforce housing project in unincorporated Hillsborough County earned the same score as the Housing Authority’s but lost out through a lottery.

The setback will mean at least a year’s delay for The Boulevard project, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer.

So what was the problem?

The Housing Authority’s application fell short in two areas, according to the judge who reviewed Blue Sky’s challenge.

It failed to list all of the development officers of its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp. It also overstated the level of affordable housing development experience of the bank’s development officer, Eileen Pope.

Moore said the application was handled by Affordable Housing Consulting, a real estate development company based in Tallahassee. Officials from the company did not return calls seeking comment.

The firm receives performance bonuses based on awards received.

It used the same information that had been used on other successful applications, Moore said. He described Florida Housing’s decision as bad policy, noting that it would produce 144 new housing units instead of 200.

“Those were minor irregularities,” he said. “They have had similar omissions before.”

We are not going to comment on the administrative judge decision except to say that messing up the application is unacceptable. Even if it has happened before, why are there any omissions at all, especially when they are paying consultants regarding the application?  That does not excuse the County Commission for going back on its deal, but why leave it in the hands of an administrative court judge and why does the housing authority have to outsource its application process?  Aside from showing how the tax credit application process is quite muddy, this, plus all the questions that have arisen at the Encore project, really causes concern.

While we think the North Boulevard Homes and environs project could be better, there is no doubt that it is very important for the redevelopment of central Tampa.  Setting aside the County Commission, which often makes bad decisions on development, the Housing Authority really needs to raise its game.


Parks and Taxation, Cont.

The City Council finally decided to raise taxes.

It wasn’t easy, quick or pretty, but the Tampa City Council voted early Friday morning to make another reduction to Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed property tax increase for 2018.

As a result, Tampa’s property tax rate will rise next year from $5.73 to $6.21 in city taxes for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value. That’s 14.7 percent above the state’s “rollback” rate, which is the rate the city would have to set to account for the growth in property values and to take in the same amount of property tax revenue next year as this year.

* * *

To make the new tax rate work, the $969.2 million budget will not carry forward $2.1 million that had been earmarked to help cover debt payments that are expected to shoot up over the next six years. The city also will cut $1.1 million from the increased spending that Buckhorn had proposed for the parks, transportation and facilities maintenance departments.

Buckhorn’s original tax increase equalled 9/10ths of a mill, or 90 cents in taxes for every $1,000 of taxable value — the city’s first increase to the millage rate in 29 years.

The whole process was quite a mess.  Hopefully, it will lead to better communication and transparency in future decision-making.  That is what the people actually paying the taxes deserve.


Airport – Bring on the Boxes

It seems that the airport’s cargo growth is moving along, admittedly with some help from Amazon.  On Thursday, the Airport Board approved items in the consent agenda for leasing agreements with both American Airlines and LGSTX, Inc., for space in the old cargo building north of the main terminal, which is also going to be used by UPS. (See here, pg 12-15)

However, there has been a setback in route expansion:

Tampa International Airport’s highly anticipated nonstop route to Salt Lake City is hitting a speed bump.

The new route on Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL) will begin as originally scheduled on Dec. 21, 2017 and run through Jan. 3, 2018 for the peak holiday period. However, the airline will suspend that service the following day on Jan. 4, 2018 due to lackluster demand.

The airline plans to revisit the route for the winter 2018/2019 season and for its potential beyond that time, airport officials said at the monthly board meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs TIA.

While it is normal to have setbacks, there are still disappointing.  We’ll see what happens if and when the revisit the route.


Rays – No Surprise

As the baseball regular season has come to an end, it is in no way surprising to learn:

The Tampa Bay Rays have ranked last in the league when it comes to home game attendance.

This is the sixth year in a row the team has come in at the bottom of Major League Baseball. Attendance shrunk from 2016 to 2017, down about 30,000 to 1,253,619.

As we have noted many times, the Lightning usually draw more people per game than the Rays.  Downtown St. Pete is a very nice place that is getting nicer.  However, for other reasons, it is not a good spot for a baseball team to play.


Why Not?

In other sports news:

The United Bid Committee announced Wednesday that Tampa is among 32 North American cities — including 25 in the U.S. — that have made the cut to potentially serve as a 2026 FIFA World Cup host.

If the United Bid (consisting of cities from Canada, Mexico and the U.S.) is selected by FIFA as World Cup host, at least 12 cities will be chosen as venues for games.

“We received applications from 41 cities across Canada, Mexico and the United States and narrowed the list down after a comprehensive review of each of the communities and facilities,” John Kristick, executive director of the United Bid Committee, said in a news release.

The full list, which can be found here, also includes Miami and Orlando (Orlando hosted games in 1994).   Local officials are fond of talking about international exposure – hosting World Cup games is among the most exposure you can get.

Yes, the competition will be tough and more well-known tourist areas probably have a leg up on us, but like we said about Amazon, you can’t win if you don’t play the game.  We are all for the effort.


A Welcome Idea

There was news from TECO this week (and, no, it’s not about burying power lines or getting rid of the very tall power poles plopped down in people’s lawn without warning):

Tampa Electric Co. is making a substantial commitment to solar energy: the utility on Thursday pledged to build 600 megawatts of solar energy capability — enough to power 100,000 homes — by 2021.

The move piggybacks on a newfound push for solar by all major Florida utilities. Duke Energy Florida announced in August a plan to build 700 megawatts of solar power over the next four years, while Florida Power & Light is in the process of adding 2,100 megawatts by 2023.

“We have long believed in the promise of renewable energy,” Gordon Gillette, CEO of Tampa Electric, said in a release. “We believe now is the time to add large utility-scale solar generation.”

We are not sure they have long believed in solar energy:

The latest promise for extra capacity means that solar will account for 12 percent of Tampa Electric’s generation capacity. It currently has only 27 megawatts of solar capacity.

But that’s ok.

“We strongly feel that solar power is good for customers by diversifying the energy portfolio and for the environment by providing low-cost, zero-emissions energy for Florida’s families and businesses,” said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of nonprofit Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, in a release.

We agree.  Regardless of your views on climate change, why not have clear, renewable energy?

Of course, there is the issue of paying for it.  From Stpetersblog:

The agreement also includes a “general” base-rate freeze, though the company would be able to recoup the additional costs of solar projects through rates. The company said in a news release that the solar projects would cost typical residential customers about $1 a month and would help save money that otherwise would have to be spent in the future on power-plant fuel.

That sounds reasonable, though if they are saving on fuel, that should offset the cost of the investment in solar, at least to some degree. We will see.

Now, about burying those power lines . . .


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Here is an interesting idea from a Guardian article:

Columbus is the first major US city to give downtown workers free public transport passes regardless of who they work for, and whether they intend to use them. Can the programme change the mindset of this car-centric city?

We are not going to get into all the details.  You can read the article.  Of course there is the money issue and the lack of support from local government, but it is worth contemplating.

Roundup 9-29-2017

September 29, 2017

Contents

Economic Development – Catch 22?

— Income

— Per Capita GDP

— Good Effort

— Conclusion

Transportation – Changes, Maybe

Politics – About those Hurricanes

Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

MacDill – More

Correction

____________________________________________


Economic Development – Catch 22?

This is the time of year that the Bureau of Economic Analysis puts out numbers about metro area economic performance.


— Income

First, the Times had a column about the latest information on incomes.

The good news is Tampa Bay’s median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

This is not a new predicament for Tampa Bay. I wrote about this frankly discouraging bottom-of-the-wealth-barrel last year when Tampa Bay also ranked 25th with median household income in 2015. The increase from 2015 to 2016 comes to about 3.5 percent. That’s commendable growth. But is it keeping up with Tampa Bay’s metro neighbors?

Here’s the challenge.

How does a metro area like Tampa Bay that wants to do Big Things — whether it’s host Super Bowls or strive to make a legitimate pitch to become the home of Amazon “HQ2” (its second headquarters) or simply sustain healthy fan bases for NFL, MLB and NHL (and maybe MLS) pro sports franchises — keep up with all those other competing metro areas that are, in many cases, simply full of richer households?

And how do you attract the best talent when you pay the lowest wages?  Sure, some people will get much higher incomes and relatively lower costs of living, which is an advantage, and some companies will be happy to save money on salaries, but, overall, will it be a real advantage especially for higher wage jobs?

Bottom line: Tampa Bay and Florida remain in an uphill struggle to make household income headway against their metro and state peers. A big X factor for Florida in the coming year is how much of an economic impact Hurricane Irma will have in the state.

Significant income change in Florida —if it occurs — will be measured in decades.

There is hope the projects such as Water Street could create a more attractive environment to attract those workers and jobs and help (though just help) elevate the region economically, but, as of yet, slow going on changing the economic DNA.


— Per Capita GDP

Which brings us to our annual look at Per Capita GDP to see how we are doing as a regional economy.  On the overall GDP numbers (not per capita) the Times told us:

Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay’s gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

And that is good.  Overall growth creates more economic weight and regional importance.  However, GDP growth can simply be the result of population growth, not necessarily making the area more productive or wealthy.

As we have said many time, per capita numbers give a far better picture of actual economic performance. We use the numbers from the BEA and as we have noted in past years, they often adjust the numbers for previous years. Nevertheless, we use their numbers for internal consistency.

First off is the per capita GDP of the top 30 metro areas:

For a larger version, click on chart

Here are the per capita GDP and growth rates for selected cities ranked by per capita GDP:

For a larger version, click on chart

The first thing to note is that some of the cities have changed places.  However, the Tampa Bay area has not.  It is still next to last in the Top 30 metro area list, though it is creeping up on others slowly.  It is also very low on the selected cities list, though, again, it is creeping up, with a decent growth rate this year. (It is important to remember that growth is relative to the base amount meaning that our growth has to be consistently larger than those ahead of us to make progress. Those with a higher base can have lower growth rates but increase as much or more.)  But the bottom line is that whether we are second, third or fourth from the bottom, we are very near the bottom. (And we are more than $10000 behind the nation as a whole).

While we may pass Jacksonville relatively soon, significant progress will be harder to come by, we would have to maintain a significantly better growth rate than other cities for a while to make a real impact. That can be done (and hopefully will be, though notably our growth rates are not very consistent, especially compared to the higher ranked cities on the selected cities list).  We are doing better, but there is a long way to go to even be a little below average.

And our low numbers have an impact in many ways.  Not only do low incomes make talent look for other places where they can have greater success, it shows up in many of the amenities we have – or, rather, don’t have. It limits our ability, or at least willingness, to invest in things we need relative to other areas. (Though it should be noted that good urban planning does not really take excessive funding.) That can be seen in things like schools, transportation, and other infrastructure.  (Look at HART’s shrinking budget and service profile.) Yet, it is investment in those things which will help make us more attractive to both local talent we want to stay and other talent we want to recruit.  And it is worth noting that other areas have overcome not being high on the list; our bigger issue over the years has been political will to do what is necessary to get where we say we want to be (and not settle).

That all goes to the constant economic development question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article on cities trying to attract Amazon:

In fact, as Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, notes in his 2012 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the opposite happened: The wealthiest cities have pulled further ahead while the laggards have fallen further behind. The divergence has grown since the last recession.

Mark Muro and Sifan Liu of the Brookings Institution noted in a March article that between 2010 and 2015, 14 of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas materially increased their share of the nation’s tech jobs. The three biggest share gainers—the San Francisco, San Jose and Austin areas—are already home to clusters of such jobs.

Mr. Moretti attributes this to the “network effects” of knowledge work: “Being around smart people makes us smarter and more innovative. … Once a city attracts some innovative workers and innovative companies, its economy changes in ways that make it even more attractive to other innovators.”

In other words, the rich get richer. It is a conundrum. So what is the solution when you are playing catch-up?  You could develop home-grown talent (which is what most of the usual suspects did), get lucky with a relocation,  buy up companies from elsewhere and move them.  Or you could, as Water Street hopes to do (though Water Street, as ambitious as it is, is not a panacea), create the amenities that will move you up the attractiveness scale rapidly. And, of course, other areas are not sitting idly by as we figure this out.

Which brings us to the Amazon HQ.


— Good Effort

As everyone knows by now Amazon is holding beauty contest for a “second HQ” in North America.  Early news reaction in Tampa was:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 13 for us,” says [Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO] Richard in his enthusiastic style. “We have read Amazon’s RFP (request for proposal) and it sounds like it was written for us.”

Though it does not really sound like that, we have previously said comment was fine because he is a salesman. However, more interesting is this:

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will join forces in an effort to convince Amazon to build a new world headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel told the Pinellas County Commission Tuesday that both counties will partner with the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa in what is admittedly a long-shot effort to lure one of the richest companies in the world.

“This has never happened before,” Meidel said about Amazon’s search. “They are staging a beauty contest, essentially. We will submit a single proposal for the Tampa Bay area. That is huge.”

And, yes, it is a very long shot, but we think completely support the joint effort idea.  While we are not sold on the benefits of being on the short-list that the article goes into elsewhere, even if a joint bid fails this time, it gives our area practice and breaks down barriers.  It gets people working regionally and, hopefully, will help foster a new mentality about how to help move us forward economically and with all the other issues we need to work out.  It is something we really need.

And, of course, you can’t win if you don’t get in the game.


— Conclusion

The bottom line is that our economic performance has improved (and last year seems to have been a good year), but we are still lagging behind our competitors. The real change in economic DNA has not happened yet.  We need a constant, sober focus on changing the model and doing what needs to be done to set the stage for future prosperity.


Transportation – Changes, Maybe

After the hurricane disruption, we are back to transportation news, this week involving TB(n)X – and there is potential change:

Florida Department of Transportation officials told about 50 people at a meeting Monday that the controversial express toll lanes previously planned north of downtown are not a part of most options for the I-275 and Interstate 4 interchange.

* * *

As part of the study, tolls are not guaranteed on express lanes from West Shore through downtown Tampa up north toward Bearss. Instead, those lanes would have limited entrance and exit ramps, meaning they would be intended for regional travel over longer distances.

Here are the four options the DOT presented Monday for the downtown interchange and the span of I-275 that goes north toward Bearss Avenue.

Tolls are under reconsideration with all four options. If the express lanes are not tolled, they would still have limited entrance and exit ramps spread out over longer distances.

With three of the options presented Monday, the express toll lane focus would shift to Interstate 75. Toll lanes were planned for I-75 under the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express plan, but would become the predominant north-south option in the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative.

While this descriptions (and maps below) do not provide dependable details and are subject to change (made more confusing by the language used: like why call free lanes “express lanes” when FDOT has already branded their variable rate toll lanes as “express lanes?”), it is some progress.  As a Times editorial said:

Florida continues to improve its plan for modernizing the interstate system in Tampa Bay. The Florida Department of Transportation has unveiled four new options for rebuilding I-275 near downtown Tampa, and some of them would ditch previous plans for toll lanes downtown while keeping express lanes for faster, pass-through traffic. The DOT also continues to work in good faith to incorporate public feedback into Tampa Bay Next, the larger, controversial project for remaking 90 miles of regional interstate. These developments indicate state transportation officials are listening and better balancing the region’s growth, economy and quality of life.

We’re not sure FDOT is doing all that, but they appear to be trying, and that is something.  On the other hand, 1) all the plans are road plans and 2) the old TBX plan is still in play – it is one of the four options.  Let’s look at the maps.

The (basically) old plan, which is still an option:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the northside:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the south side:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are not sure if they are completely accurate, but in the maps the “express lanes” appear to take up the entire median in all options (though at the western end, the express lanes terminate into the grassy median, which is unlikely).  (The options also do take up more right of way, though the new options do not take up as much right of way.)

Additionally, we understand the potential idea of “express lanes” that are not tolled – basically a flyover.  That is definitely better than variable rate tolled lanes. But, first, that is not guaranteed.  Second, do they continue beyond Boulevard/22nd – the maps seem to indicate they do.  Are they tolled then?  Do they eat up the whole median and, if so, how far?

And even if the “express lanes” are not tolled,

“What we’ve heard consistently is that neighborhood preservation is important,” said DOT consultant Danielle Moran. “These are the options for a smaller footprint.”

Indeed, but the neighborhood is more than just the area north of the interchange.  Bulldozing more of Ybor or Tampa Heights/West Tampa is not really a positive.  Just how much land are they talking about?  How will it negatively affect connections between neighborhoods to the north and south?

And the biggest issue we see is that this all appears to be uncoordinated with any transit issue and other transportation planning.  From the maps, the entire median is used for roads with no room for transit. Why is FDOT still working to use the median just for traffic without even considering real transit (not that we prefer real transit in the highway median, but that is an option that should not yet be foreclosed) And, as part of the new ideas not putting express lanes on 275 north of the interchange, what are the other options to help transportation north of the interchange? Which gets to the real question: How can we choose a road plan if we don’t even know if that plan is the best use of the rights of way and money (most of it probably isn’t), what the other transportation needs are, and how they all fit together? Is the process about roads or about transportation?

So, we will give FDOT credit for making a step in the right direction. We are not sure any of the options are particularly good, we don’t know why the entire process can’t be coordinated to create a real system including transit options, and, frankly, we are wondering why the old plan is not actually dead.  But at least there are some other options and some dialogue.  Whether it amounts to anything remains to be seen. And, remember, the TBX plan is still in play (if they are listening, why is it even an option?)


Politics – About those Hurricanes

Last week, we pointed out that we had been lucky and that this area had been remiss in planning for events such as hurricanes.  This week, we got a window into some of the problem.

Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

In Hillsborough County, that depends on whom you ask.

County Administrator Mike Merrill says he alone can call for an evacuation, and that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was out of line when he announced that some city residents needed to leave their homes two days before Hurricane Irma’s approach. Buckhorn disagrees.

The rift emerged at perhaps the worst possible moment: during the critical final days before Irma’s date with Tampa Bay.

Two weeks after the hurricane passed through Florida, the county and city remain at loggerheads over who can give the command. And experts say that’s a potentially deadly problem should another emergency arise.

Yea, it is potentially deadly, and, if anything bad were to happen in such a circumstance, there is no one to blame but the local officials.  So what happened?

At 1:15 p.m., Buckhorn called for a mandatory evacuation in Tampa of residents of Zone A. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.

The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters. One problem: Hillsborough hadn’t opened their general population shelters yet.

Buckhorn “ordered an evacuation before it was needed and before we were ready,” Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “Then you had confusion. That’s not good for a community.”

Then, on Sept. 10, Buckhorn called for a curfew in Tampa to take effect just as the storm approached. But in a briefing with reporters later that day, Merrill said “there never was” a curfew.

Those calls were not Buckhorn’s to make, Merrill contends. That power was given to Merrill on Sept. 6 by Hillsborough’s emergency policy group, a body that includes officials from the county and its cities, including Buckhorn.

The resolution, which Buckhorn voted for, gave the county administrator authority during the local state of emergency to “determine whether any specific areas or zones of the county are to be evacuated” and to “direct the sequence in which such evacuations shall be carried out, including the time any evacuations are to begin.”

* * *

Tampa city attorney Sal Territo acknowledged the city should have checked to make sure county shelters were ready before issuing an evacuation.

But Territo remained adamant that the city never relinquished its ability to mobilize Tampa residents. Tampa, he said, still has home-rule powers.

Good thing we were lucky in not getting a major hit because apparently petty arguments are more important than a unified, coordinated message to ensure public safety.

We get the County and City argue a lot (like this).  We also get there is a lot of factional bickering among various officials.  We get that such bickering holds us back in planning, transportation, and other issues that lead to being held back in economic development as well.  However, none of that excuses such silliness in times of emergency.

Of course, this all came out after we got lucky, but next time we might not be lucky.  In other words, work it out.


Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

In what should be no surprise to people who regularly fly:

It was a repeat performance for TIA, which was named second in this survey last December. This time around, Tampa ranked second in the large airport category with a score of 795 behind John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, which had a score of 796. Dallas Love Field came in third with a score of 790.

The only surprise is that the Airport came in second (barely).  It is also notable that the “large” airport category was the second largest category:

The Orlando airport got the highest rating among the “mega” airports for overall satisfaction and scored tops for ease of getting to the airport and for facilities within the terminal. It didn’t do quite as well as the second-ranked airport, in Detroit, for checking baggage and security checks.

* * *

More precisely, Orlando International ranks at the top of airports with at least 32 million passengers annually, a category of mega airports that is new this year for the rankings.

Regardless, it is still good (and interestingly Orlando’s airport, at least the part in use now, is based on Tampa’s design anyway).  And then there is this:

According to RewardExpert, Tampa International Airport is the fifth least expensive domestic airport. Two other in-state airports are included in the top five: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) at No. 1 and Orlando International Airport coming in third. The report analyzed 45 of the nation’s busiest airports based on ten key indicators across four dimensions — transportation to and from the airport (21 points), plane tickets prices (50), amenities (15) and food (14).

It is not cheap as some other Florida airports, but at least we are a usual suspect on airport lists.


MacDill – More

MacDill is getting more refueling planes.

The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 16 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.

The 50th Airlift Squadron, with eight jets and some 250 personnel, is headed to MacDill from Little Rock Air Force Base, according to a news release from the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill’s host unit.

Which is on top of other, admittedly local, changes:

Later, another aviation unit will be moving operations to MacDill.

The base is building a new home over the next two years for A and F Companies of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment. Now located at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, the move will bring 23 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and about 150 personnel to MacDill.

Growth at MacDill is welcome.  However, this is still a concern:

A new generation of tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus, are being built to replace them but so far, none of the new planes have been assigned to MacDill.

Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis Air Force Base, California, were named by the Air Force in January as preferred locations.

That marked the second time MacDill failed to make the cut. Community leaders have been pushing hard to bring the new jets to MacDill because of the additional money, personnel and construction jobs they would bring. The jets would have also helped protect MacDill from any base reductions.

* * *

The Air Force declined earlier to say where MacDill fell short.

While the present planes should be around a while, getting the new ones would be much better.  We need to determine what the perceived deficiencies are and rectify them.  And to those how are more concerned with the politics of military bases, did we mention that we are the largest swing area in the largest swing state in the country?


Correction

Last week, in the “Parks and Taxation, Cont” segment () we attributed a Tribune editorial to the Times.  In fact, the editorial was written a few weeks before the Times bought the Tribune. We have corrected the segment.

 

Roundup 9-22-2017

September 22, 2017

Contents

A Thought About Hurricanes and Planning

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Downtown – (Law)Suits

Tampa Heights – Moving Forward

– Some Money

— Food Halls

Parks and Taxation, Cont

Economic Development – What’s With the Schools?

Port – Dig

Rays/Tourism – Tourists, Taxes, and Talking

—  A Little More on Tourism

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Lists of the Week

______________________________________________


A Thought About Hurricanes and Planning

As everyone who lives here knows, we were very lucky with Hurricane Irma. And many people came together admirably to help others in the community (though why, in many areas, it is takes so long to even start collecting yard waste is a mystery.)  We usually are pretty lucky, and that is good for us.  Because we are lucky, the damage is not as bad as some other places.  One thing that bothers us is that, while much is done to fix what gets damaged, little seems to be done to limit the potential for damage in the first place.

As noted in a number of articles, including one in the Washington Post, that was sent to us by numerous people, the Tampa Bay area is incredibly vulnerable to hurricanes and other weather.  We don’t need to tell you that our rivers rise quite often; we have areas that seem to flood every year; in areas, our streets often flood, including in rain; and we seem to have an issue with sewers, as well.

We get that people want to live near the water and that is unlikely to change and we get that we will never hurricane-proof this area, but that does not mean things can’t be done. Here is a little from a recent article on Houston after Harvey:

The size of tropical storm Harvey – some experts estimate it has already dumped 12tn gallons of rain in Houston and south Texas – is unusual. But there is no single reason for the extent of the impact it has had at street level.

“It’s a combination of factors,” said Sam Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s a very low-lying coastal plain, with clay-based soils that do not drain very well. The city is subject to very heavy rainfall, as well as flooding from tidal events.

“You take that flood-risk landscape and you put 6 million people on top, with prolific amount of pavement and roadways and a lack of collective and regional thinking about what that does to the natural drainage of that landscape, and you end up with disasters.”

Brody – who himself has been trapped in his western Houston home for the past three days – said Houston’s rapid expansion is part of the problem. The city has added hundreds of square miles of pavement and vastly increased its housing stock, but the flooding infrastructure has, in some areas, not kept pace.

“Many neighborhoods are still using roadside ditches as drainage. It’s like the Middle Ages almost,” Brody said.

Aside from the clay soil, the same can basically be said for this area, especially the pave and build, sprawl-based policies and lack of regional thinking.  While we may have more natural drainage through our soil, excessive paving reduces that advantage – and it is limited anyway.  Otherwise, we are more vulnerable.

There are steps we can take such as limiting sprawl, building more and better drainage and flood mitigation systems (including buying up some vulnerable areas to get people out of them and leaving the land for drainage), and burying power lines where possible. We do not have a comprehensive list, but it does not seem like anyone is creating a comprehensive list, which is a problem. And we get that it will take time and money but that does not mean we should not start or make things worse. Because, regardless of Indian mounds (just note the last big hurricane here was after the mounds were already there), the reality is basically this:

“I have no doubt that we will get hit,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), who warned as Irma approached that his city was about to get punched in the face. “We’re not protected. We’re no more vulnerable than anyone else in the state of Florida. We’ve just had the good fortune of not having been hit, but there’s nothing we do or don’t do that’s going to stop that.”

And we are not going to get into climate change because we don’t need to.  With or without climate change, the rain and storms are still going to come, and we should be doing things differently to protect our area.  We will never be able to make it entirely secure, but that does not mean we have to make our natural vulnerability worse.

We got lucky again which is great, but no one can guarantee that will always be the case.  Quite the opposite. What are we going to do about it?


Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

While it has been under construction for a little while now (and documented with a previously mentioned webcam), officially:

Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida’s new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

From USF – click on picture for article

We hope it is a nice as it is held out to be. It is good to get something in Water Street project going.  We hope there is a lot mor of this kind of news soon.

Of course, you should note this:

The University of South Florida will ask lawmakers for an additional $21 million to complete funding for its downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute.

The state has already provided $91 million, including $12 million in construction funds in the current budget, for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute.

We assume they will get the money, but with the legislature, you never know.


Downtown – (Law)Suits

In the last few weeks there has been what we consider annoying news about the proposed Riverwalk Tower, which was supposed to reveal renderings by September, though we have seen nothing yet.

According to a lawsuit filed this month in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Riverwalk Tower Investment – Intown LLC was to handle the residential portion of the tower while Larry Feldman’s Feldman Equities was in charge of the office component. Intown said problems began when a potential lender hired broker Darren Hornig to evaluate the project.

“Hornig concluded in early 2017 that Riverwalk Tower needed more residential units and less office space in light of the lack of demand for office space in downtown Tampa,” the suit says. “That recommendation displeased Feldman.”

The suit claims that Feldman then took over the residential part of the project and told others that he would consult with Greg Minder, Intown’s manager, but would make the day-to-day and final decisions himself. As a result of Feldman’s efforts to “push out Minder,” the suit says, the firm chosen to market the tower, Smith & Associates, left or was terminated by Feldman.

Feldman has “no experience in residential development and without such experience, Riverwalk Tower will fail or at the very least be far less successful than if Intown was properly include in the project,” says the suit. It seeks damage and a declaration that Feldman Equities had no right to relieve Intown of day-to-day responsibilities for the residential component.

Feldman said Tuesday that litigation in large projects is not unusual. “This particular suit is not going to deter us from moving forward on the project,” he said. “The plaintiff and principal behind the suit, Greg Minder, owns nothing and invested nothing in the project, so this is a dispute over a letter of intent (to work together).” Minder, who developed Tampa’s Skypoint condo tower, could not be reached for comment.

As is to be expected, this week:

Feldman Equities LLC has moved to dismiss a residential developer’s lawsuit over a 53-story mixed-use tower proposed in downtown Tampa.

As is our practice, we are not going to comment about the merits of lawsuits, especially when we have no information regarding the facts.  However, as people who want to see Tampa grow and develop, we will say the whole thing is annoying.  We would like to get this project moving – or at least see what is actually proposed in some detail.  At least Water Street seems to be moving.


Tampa Heights – Moving Forward


– Some Money

There was news about the Heights, a project which is starting to take shape on the river:

The Tampa-based Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa. Proceeds from the bond issue are expected to used for new roads, sidewalks, the Tampa Riverwalk and parking garages and other infrastructure work associated with the 43-acre development.

Which is fine, though the parking garages in the plan risk being a little too prominent for our taste (though the Pearl’s concealing of its parking garage makes us a bit more optimistic.)

The center of project is the historic Armature Works building, which is being transformed into the Heights Public Market, event hall, and co-working space and is due to open in November.

We look forward to finally seeing it.  Also, it seems the Pearl should also be opening soon.


— Food Halls

Speaking of Tampa Heights,

The Hall on Franklin is open in Tampa Heights, offering everything from liege waffles to poke bowls under one roof.

Here’s their website. And it looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We have been to other food halls in other cities, and, while they tended to be bigger, this one is on the upper end of nice environments. (We’ll have to see about the true size and environment at Armature Works). We hope it is successful and really gets the redevelopment of the Franklin Corridor north of 275 going.  It is a great spot with some very nice older buildings and land for urban infill.  Check it out.


Parks and Taxation, Cont

This week, (which appears to be local tax increase season. see here , here, and here), the City Council rolled back the Mayor’s proposed tax increase a bit.

The City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to scale back Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed property tax increase for 2018.

Buckhorn originally proposed a tax rate that would have added $140 to the city tax bill of a homeowner who lives in a house with the average assessment of $166,579.

But that proved to be too much for most council members, who tend to support the mayor’s proposed spending.

As approved Monday night, the city’s tax rate would rise from the current $5.73 to about $6.33 in tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would add $105 to the tax bill of a homeowner with an average home.

Four Councilmembers voted for the revised tax because the City has to pay its bills.  Three voted against it.

But council members Harry Cohen, Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez voted against the proposal.

Cohen said he thought the city could scale back the proposed tax increase even further. Buckhorn’s original proposal is too much to ask of property owners who have seen the city raise stormwater improvement fees. Officials should consider cuts in spending, he said, starting with a proposed upgrade for the City Council chambers that he said isn’t needed.

Maniscalco said he was struggling because he had supported two separate increases in drainage improvement fees, plus using $15 million from the BP settlement to help pay for a $35 million makeover at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

But, he said, “never was it said, after we do all this, that we have to do a (property tax) increase.”

That is more along the line of the Chamber of Commerce’s stance:

“We recognize the challenges facing the city resulting from previous debts but feel a tax increase to pay for them sets a dangerous precedent,” Rohrlack said.

Thus, after “considerable review,” chamber chairman Mike Griffin said in a statement that “we do not agree that there is sufficient justification for the proposed tax increase on residents and businesses.”

“We hope that City Council and Mayor Buckhorn will use their upcoming deliberations to find a solution to our city’s debt challenges that does not raise taxes on residents and businesses and works to maintain our designation as one of the most affordable cities in not only the state but also the country,” he added.

We get both views and, given what has already happened with budgeting, we are not going to complain too loudly about this year.  However, this was all foreseeable.  First, the outstanding debt and repayment schedule should have been addressed early and in a straight-forward, transparent way.

Second, as we noted before, the park spending, especially Julian Lane Riverfront Park was not done in the best way.  Even the Times editorial board this week said so, sort of, in an editorial on the tax increase:

The city has no choice but to spend money to repay the outstanding debt. While it spent too much on the remake of Riverfront Park, at $35 million, that decision has been made. . .  

Of course, in 2016, while noting that the park project was pretty expensive and maybe the cost should be reduced (maybe), gave pretty solid support for the park project here. The Tribune had a more supportive editorial here which told us [ed.  We have made a correction here.  Originally, we thought the Tribune editorial was after the Tribune/Times merger and was a Times editorial and treated it as such.  We were off by a few weeks.  The editorial was a Tribune editorial and that has been made clear.  Our apologies]:

The mayor plans to use funds from the half-cent Community Investment Tax and $15 million of the $20 million the city received in BP settlement funds for lost business during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Councilman Charlie Miranda, ever cautious with tax dollars, doesn’t like the plan to bond CIT funds. Miranda would prefer to see the project proceed in stages, a reasonable approach.

The mayor says such bonding is customary for major capital projects, and the CIT revenue provides a reliable revenue stream and won’t put any extra burden on city residents.

Well . . .

So where are we?

However, there is only one more public hearing set for next Thursday before the council passes the budget. Under the city charter, the council could vote to reduce the millage increase next week.

At this point, decisions have been made about spending and the City has debts it has to pay so it have to get a way to pay them.   But, once again, the reality is that, with more planning, better communication, and more real oversight from both the City Council and the media, this could all have been avoided, but that is a major weakness of the Imperial Mayor form of government.  And, regardless of the outcome, none of this builds confidence. 


Economic Development – What’s With the Schools?

Which brings us to schools.  While curriculum and other such controversies are not in the scope this blog, economic development is, and, as we have noted before, schools are an integral part of economic development. We have noted that Hillsborough County does not seem to have enough money for routine maintenance of schools, such as air conditioning, which is a problem as schools.  This week, due to a very sad fire, we learned even more:

Lee Elementary School had a world studies magnet program and a century-old brick building topped with a graceful cupola. Inside and out, it was the pride of Tampa Heights.

But it didn’t have fire sprinklers. And it wasn’t alone.

The Hillsborough County Public Schools use fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, emergency lights and flashing strobes to protect children in case of a fire.

Safety inspections happen yearly and “fire drills are held every month school is in session,” Grayson Kamm, the district’s community relations and media officer, said Thursday. “All of our schools are up to fire code.”

In some cases, when an older school is undergoing multiple major renovations, a sprinkler system is added.

But that never happened at Lee. Nor do sprinklers exist at most district schools, according to a list provided by the district, which showed 87 out of more than 200 schools have them.

Interesting.  How do they explain that?

“Sprinklers really protect property and not people,” Kamm said, emphasizing that the other equipment and practices are far more important.

That’s a theory we’d rather not test. Sprinklers can put out or limit a fire in a building full of kids.  Yes, other things are also important, but that does not reduce the importance of sprinklers. (See Grenfell Tower and sprinklers. here and here)

It is all part of a bigger issue – lack of money. From the Times on August 30:

Unlike other large districts, Hillsborough is seeking to pay its bills without the help of a voter-approved sales tax. Eakins and board leaders, while not addressing the issue Tuesday, have said in the past that they want to restore confidence in the schools before they ask voters for more money.

But that’s easier said than done in a district that has been hit with one controversy after another since the era of open warfare between board members and the prior superintendent, MaryEllen Elia. Most recently, parents and teachers have complained about failing school air conditioners. At Tuesday’s meeting, there was also a litany of parent complaints about pedestrian safety, now that the district has cut busing near the schools to save $3.5 million a year.

The nation’s eighth-largest school district, Hillsborough boasts award-winning magnet schools and a growing number of students who distinguish themselves in International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and National Merit Scholar competitions.

But it also far exceeds all other Florida districts in the number of schools on a state list based on low elementary reading scores. And, like a lot of urban districts, it is losing many students to privately run charter schools.

Eakins, in addition to cost-cutting measures that will touch on energy use and employee insurance as the size of the workforce decreases, stressed the need to market the district-run schools.

That leads to this on September 5:

Hillsborough County school officials say they have little choice but to seek voter approval for a sales tax that would help rebuild a system plagued by broken air conditioners, leaking roofs and other problems caused by years of delayed maintenance.

But that won’t happen, they said, without a campaign that highlights the good they do and the importance of a strong school system.

* * *

Chris Farkas, the district’s chief operating officer, said “it’s hard to build confidence when you send your kid to school and there’s no AC in the school. It’s hard to build confidence in your employees when they don’t have AC in the classroom.”

While not committing to a referendum, Eakins said the time has come “to get creative,” and that district leaders need to be “talking to our community on a regular basis” over the next 12 to 18 months.

While there is some blame in the present school governance, we are not going to blame the present administration for all the issues that obviously began long before and were ignored by previous administrations.  And we agree, getting a tax increase may be difficult, especially with the politics presently around schools. (note that this week the School Board passed a budget for this year.)

In all honesty, this circumstance should not be surprising. What we have with schools, is a failure to deal with issues as they arose, deferring the problem until a crisis point which is what we have with transportation, planning, storm water, and a host of other issues. (And the money issue is also a failure of impact fees to truly reflect the cost of development. And there is the issue of state funding, but, if that is such an issue, where is the legislative delegation?  They can’t get money to fix fire hazards?)

It is quite a mess, especially if you are trying to attract a major business – say Amazon – here.


Port – Dig

There was news from the Port regarding the Big Bend Channel expansion project they have been working on.

Port Tampa Bay approved a public-private partnership agreement with four other entities to divvy up who will pay for a $60 million widening and extension of the Big Bend Channel.

The strategic partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Tampa Electric Co. and Mosaic Co., a global fertilizer company which is one of port’s largest tenants along with Tampa Electric. The port’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the participation agreement at a monthly meeting on Tuesday.

We are all for such deals if they bring more business at less public investment.  Hopefully, this will.

Separately, Port Tampa Bay on Tuesday also unanimously approved the use of a portion of $4.2 million in Florida Seaports Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTED) funds to improve two existing berths. The port will pay more than half of the reconstruction costs with the other portion coming from FSTED funds and state grants. The update to Berth 219 will cost $8.6 million and Berth 3 is estimated at $6.3 million.

Which is fine.  Now, we need ships to use the channel.  Regardless, it is good for the Port to be focused on acting as a port rather than a real estate development company.  We need much more of that.


Rays/Tourism – Tourists, Taxes, and Talking

There was some news about the Rays stadium issue.  First, despite the hurricane, Hillsborough is still likely to hit the numbers necessary to qualify for another percentage point on the tourist tax:

Between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9, county hotels actually saw a 10 percent increase in revenue over the same period last year, according to Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism promotion agency for Hillsborough.

And when the numbers are tallied, Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada doesn’t believe Irma’s pass through the bay area will have much of an impact on tourist development taxes collected on each night’s stay at a hotel.

* * *

Hillsborough County is chasing the elusive distinction of a Florida “high tourism impact” county, meaning it generated $600 million of revenue in a calendar year at hotels, motels and other short-term rentals. Counties that pass the threshold can increase the tourist development tax, often called the room or bed tax, from 5 cents on every dollar spent on hotel stays to 6 cents.

Some local officials have eyed the sixth cent as one potential way to pay for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Tampa. Those who want to use the room tax for a stadium are quick to point out it is primarily paid by tourists, unlike property or sales taxes. But the tax is off the table if the county doesn’t first pass the $600 million mark.

Whether the tourist tax gets increased or not, hitting the threshold number would be good anyway. Regarding a stadium, it is only relevant if the stadium is to be built in Hillsborough.  And about that, the former Rays manager, now free to speak his mind, has some thoughts, from the Times:

Though some of Maddon’s former Rays bosses were unhappy with how he left, opting out of the final year of his contract, he did some bidding for them Tuesday, coming out strong for the need for a new stadium, and on the Tampa side.

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important moving it forward,” he said.

“Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that. People would get upset with me because I said that. But it’s true. Those who argue against it, that’s just a bad argument.

“You need a better facility. You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get to where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.”

We saw his comments and he was a bit more emphatic about being in Tampa, to wit:

From the Twitter account of Ryan Bass of WTSP – click on quote for Twitter

Yes, he’s a baseball guy talking about getting something for baseball.  On the other hand, we think that is all pretty obvious, but it is good to have someone who really has to deal with it make the point. We shall see what happens.


—  A Little More on Tourism

Since we are talking tourism, this is a good place for this:

A record-breaking, 22.6 million people who visited Tampa and Hillsborough County in 2016 pumped nearly $6 billion into the economy, according to a study commissioned by Visit Tampa Bay. The visitors supported about 50,000 jobs and contributed $369 million in state and local taxes.

* * *

Almost 500,000 international visitors, the smallest portion of the sector, spend on average of $1,327 per person on their trips for a total of $640.8 million.

We are inherently skeptical of economic impact studies commissioned by organizations with a vested interest in showing big impacts.  Nevertheless, regardless of exact numbers tourism is definitely an important aspect of our economy.

Looking at the purported numbers in the study, one interesting number is that international visitors, accounting for roughly 2% of visitors according to the article, accounted for roughly 10.5% of the money.  (We realize that we are going off rough numbers in the article and that “spending” is not necessarily the same as “pump(ing)” money into the economy, but any reasonable ambiguity in the numbers would tend to mean the international visitors were responsible for a larger percentage.)  Regardless of the complete veracity of the numbers, international visitors’ impact is proportionately greater than other tourists. We know that not all of them come on flights to the airport, but it just shows another reason international flights are important.  More please.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

While our local transportation system is messy and its future unclear and Brightline is moving to connect Orlando and Miami there was other news:

The Hyperloop route proposed for Miami to Orlando — estimated to take just 26 minutes! — is among the 10 worldwide winners in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge.

It’s one of just four winning routes in the United States, joining Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh, Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo, and Dallas-Laredo-Houston.

Spread across three continents and five countries, these 11 connections were identified as the strongest Hyperloop routes in the world. Back in April, the Miami-to-Orlando route was announced as one of 11 finalists in the U.S. Now the route joins the others as experts closely follow each’s commercial viability.

* * *

The Hyperloop One Global Challenge began in May 2016 and, according to Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd, their goal is to implement “three full-scale systems operating by 2021.”

We have no idea if Hyperloop is even a viable technology, however, it is just another case of being on the outside looking in for potential transportation connections and planning in our state.


Lists of the Week

This week, we present tangentially connected lists that tell us a lot about lists.  First, we have Apartment List’s Top Metros for Millennials.

What U.S. metros are the best for millennials?

To answer that question, Apartment List graded 75 top U.S. metros in three categories — jobs, affordability and livability — and ranked them, based on their scores.

Many metros score high in one or two categories, but few metros offer the ideal mix of a strong job market, affordable rent and home prices and high livability scores. 

You can see more details on their methodology on the website. Here is their list: Pittsburgh, Provo, Madison, San Antonio, Columbus, Charleston (SC), Omaha, OKC, Houston, and Minneapolis.

Ok, standard enough.  But then we found Money’s Best Places to Live. This is much more broad-based with national lists, regional lists, and more, and seems to be weighted to small towns near big cities.  The really interesting thing is, even when you get to the regional lists, they only include one Florida city – St. Augustine.

We are not really buying into either list, but it is interesting how little respect Florida gets overall.

Roundup 9-15-2017

September 15, 2017

We hope everyone is fine after last weekend. While we wanted to do a full Roundup this week, Irma caused some serious issues in our utilities and ate up a lot of time.  In any event, we are going to post what we have.  

Contents

Icelandair Arrives

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Stuff

— 10 Water Street

— Wellness

— The Webcam

Economic Development – Can We Get Amazon?

Transportation

— The Regional Study Forums

— Selmon Connector

— Selmon Greenway

— PSTA Clearwater Thoughts

South Tampa – Condos Move West

Downtown – Settling In Action

List of the Week

___________________________________________________


Icelandair Arrives

From Icelandair – click on picture for website

In keeping with tradition, we start by celebrating new international service. Last week, Icelandair began its service to Tampa (yes, they got overshadowed by other news, but whatever). See a video from the Business Journal here.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not much else to say about that other than “Cool.” Keep the international (and other) flights coming.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Stuff


— 10 Water Street

The first real information for a specific building of the Water Street development was revealed this week.  No surprise, it was the hotel across the street from the Marriott Waterside which was first mooted long ago.

The massive convention hotel in Water Street Tampa will feature a rooftop lounge on the 26th story, a ground-floor restaurant and a restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating on the sixth floor.

The 500-room hotel, named 10 Water Street, will be built on Old Water Street, across from the Marriott Tampa Waterside Hotel & Marina. Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street Tampa, revealed design plans for the property on Wednesday.

That is a nice size hotel, though it is far from “massive” (from all indications the hyperbole is media, here the Business Journal, generated, not from the developer, which is odd because a sister publication gave us this list of much larger hotels – not to mention the one across the street – an hour away  and those are not even that high on this list).  In any event,

The new hotel will be connected to the existing Marriott, SPP said, and include 126,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The hotel will feature a 30,000-square-foot-ballroom, which SPP says is the largest in the Tampa Bay region.

And all that is fine.  It will probably be a very nice hotel.  Here is the rendering released:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Moreover, elevations were filed with the city. (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay and Florida Future of Skycrapercity)

 

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

Before we get into the building itself, we will reiterate, we think it will probably be a very nice hotel.  We like the rooftop bar.  The restaurant space is fine.  The atrium seems nice. And, while basically a glass box, the building seems a nice glass box.  It is a bit nondescript but is nice enough.

We do have some potential issues, though.  First, aside from presumably the restaurants, there seems to be almost no street activity or retail, and there is a surface parking lot on the east end of the building (though we presume that will be developed soon enough).    And, while there are some elements that appear to be awnings, they seem to be broken up by vertical design elements so you can’t walk the relatively long distance along the street under cover.  That may not seem like a big deal for one building, but we are concerned that the designers realize that it rains and the sun is very hot here in Florida.  If they want people walking a lot, they need to provide real cover – not the kind of cover where you get soaked anyway.  Good designers design for the environment.

And that brings us to the skywalk. We get skywalks, and we get why the Lightning owner wants to connect his two hotels with skywalks.  We also get that skywalks inhibit street activity and tend towards designs the focus on keeping activity in the building. (See Bank of America building and how the retail is on the third floor where the skywalk connects with the garage.) We will be interested to see how they deal with that conundrum across the whole project.

Basically, while we are a little disappointed that it is not a truly striking design in the first announcement, the building seems fine, and we understand it.  (We hope they are working up to really excellent designs.) The biggest problem is that it contains many of the designs elements that have, when repeated over and over without mitigation, become problems for our urban areas.  (Some of the same problems that are supposed to be solved by Water Street)  However, it is nothing that cannot be addressed, and we hope that the Lightning owner’s team has the awareness to mitigate those issues and avoids those problems.


— Wellness

There was also news about the wellness aspect of the project.

A set of building standards for communities that cater to health and wellness — shaped by Strategic Property Partners’ $3 billion mixed-use district in downtown Tampa — will launch its pilot phase next week.

The International WELL Building Institute will debut the WELL Community Standard on Sept. 5.

You can read more here.

We are not overly interested with the whole wellness thing.  It’s nice, and people who want to indulge are free to do so.


— The Webcam

For those who are interested, USF has set up a construction webcam for the med school project with views like this still:

Click on picture for website

We are not sure if the webcam is fully working after Irma, but even if it isn’t, we assume it will get fixed. You can find the whole webpage here.   We are all for construction webcams and hope the Water Street project has many.


Economic Development – Can We Get Amazon?

As those who follow such things will know, Amazon said it is looking to build a second HQ (In addition to the very big one it is building in downtown Seattle.)

Amazon has announced plans to open a second headquarters in North America that will employ as many as 50,000 workers.

The company announced Thursday that it is searching for a city to host the new “HQ2” facility, which will cost at least $5 billion to construct and operate.

“We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”

Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) said it would prefer to open the headquarters in a suburban or urban area with more than 1 million people. It’s looking for a community that “thinks big” and a location that will attract technical talent.

We are not really clear why Amazon wants to do this, but  whatever.  What are they looking for?  As noted by a Marketwatch article:

First, Amazon asks for metropolitan areas with more than one million people.

* * *

Next up for Amazon is a “stable and business-friendly environment.”

* * *

Onto the next criteria: “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” To meet this Amazon requirement, a metro area had to meet one of two screens — either the largest percentage of professional, management and scientific jobs, or the largest percentage of workers in management, business, science and arts.

* * *

Finally, we have “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.” That’s a harder metric to screen for, but we’re going to read that as, mostly, Amazon looking for tax breaks.

And it produced this list of candidates:

And with that, you get our finalist list for Amazon’s second headquarters: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Bridgeport, Denver, New York, Provo, Raleigh, Tampa and Washington. 

Of course, that is complete speculation.  Other speculation drops Tampa very early, like here or completely ignores it, like here.

Gotta think big to get big. The good news is Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Craig Richard says Tampa Bay meets the key criteria of Amazon’s hunt for a second headquarters. Access to a good airport. A metro area topping a million people. Nearby universities of quality. And tech talent.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 13 for us,” says Richard in his enthusiastic style. “We have read Amazon’s RFP (request for proposal) and it sounds like it was written for us.”

He’s a salesman selling.  That is what he is supposed to do.

But in this extraordinary case, is a “13” effort enough? The desire of metros across this country (Canada, too) to seal this deal is palpable. Conversations similar to mine with Richard are taking place in dozens of major metros. What aspiring U.S. metro would not want to land Amazon HQ2 for one of the fastest growing, innovative companies on the planet that is run by one of the world’s richest billionaires?

Richard acknowledges the competition will be fierce; the odds long. “Many other metros will think this RFP was written for them,” he acknowledged. And that no doubt includes other metro areas in Florida.

Pretty much, though it really isn’t.  But we are all for trying.  We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

At first glance, the most obvious site in Tampa Bay to land Amazon’s second headquarters would be Water Street Tampa. At $3 billion (and counting) in an urban setting, the bold 50-plus acre development seems to radiate an aura of innovation that could appeal to the likes of Amazon. Besides, Strategic Property Partners, the firm behind the development, is a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the personal money arm of billionaire Bill Gates. And Gates, like Bezos, is based in Seattle.

Perhaps Bezos could appreciate what Gates apparently sees in the future of Tampa.

On the other hand, Amazon’s HQ2 wants space — lots of it — and may not find Water Street Tampa roomy enough, no matter how high an Amazon headquarters building could be built.

Plenty of other compelling places in this metro could also appeal to the likes of Amazon. But the formidable disrupter of retailing can afford to be picky, and will be. Metros that are truly serious will be throwing everything at the company, from beautiful land and innovative designs to promises of top tech talent.

Setting aside that there are not plenty of compelling places that would appeal to Amazon, the fact that Amazon can afford to be extremely picky is a the real problem.  It is at times like these that the decades of complacency, laziness, and selfishness in planning and transportation and all the settling become a real issue. (Not to mention the complacency in airline routes for many years, complacency in economic development focusing on back office jobs, and other various complacency) Amazon can go anywhere and probably get paid to do so.  They can go to fully developed urban areas with all the amenities they want and need – all the things we still talk about wanting. While we think their second HQ will probably be in the eastern half of the country, why specifically should they come here compared to all sorts of other places that are years ahead of us in such things?

It’s not that we don’t want this. We would love to have Amazon here, and they could come here. We are all for trying to get them, but the challenges are very large.  So, as usual, it all goes back to the same question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

This is when the perennial failure to address that question head for on really matters.


Transportation


— The Regional Study Forums

As most readers know, there is a regional transit study going on that is mostly just a review and discussion of the results of old studies.  As part of this transit study there is some public input which, so far, has been quite limited.  That input has taken the form of some recent public meetings (internet anyone?).  First the Hillsborough meeting:

More than 70 residents and business owners attending a public forum on rapid transit appeared to agree at least on one thing Thursday: They like light rail and dedicated bus lanes to move people through congested Hillsborough County.

70 is not very many for a county with 1.3 million people. Once again, internet anyone?

The two-hour forum at the Tampa History Center — one of three scheduled in the Tampa Bay region — is the first public step in a $1.5 million study by Jacobs Engineering that eventually will recommend three out of more than a dozen possible projects as the area’s first venture into mass rapid transit.

Many of the current proposals involve the possible purchase of about nine miles of CSX tracks at an estimated cost of $60 million to $100 million.

Then there is the cost of the transit system itself.

The shortest proposed route, connecting South Tampa to the downtown area, ranges from $110 million to $5 billion, depending on the type of transit.

We are not sure what CSX tracks they propose buying, but 9 miles is not much (probably USF to downtown and not much more).  And the divergence in costs is quite substantial and needs much more explanation.

Likewise, $5 billion to connect South Tampa to downtown seems a little out of whack, even for rail, especially if it runs on the CSX tracks.  That does not sound accurate, but we’ll set that aside for a moment.  (The other question is whether a South Tampa to downtown route – as opposed to the airport to downtown – is really where anything should start. We would say it isn’t.)

The study is focused on eight different types of transit, ranging from traditional commuter rail to water taxis.

Five corridors selected as most in need of better transportation options would provide connections among areas including northern Hillsborough County, the University of South Florida area, Brandon, downtown Tampa, Westshore and the airport, Clearwater and St. Petersburg

So far, the consultants see the best rapid transit solution as a “rubber tire” system — buses and automated vehicles traveling along dedicated lanes — connecting commuters from Wesley Chapel and St. Petersburg to points in between.

The next best solution would connect downtown Tampa and the USF area via rubber tire options or light rail.

Third on the possible project list is a steel wheel-based, light-rail system connecting points from northern Hillsborough County to St. Petersburg.

We doubt the “rubber tire” system is the Montréal metro. It sounds pretty much like buses, though it could be something like the airport people mover.  Frankly, the article and the website for the project do not provide any clarity.

Although opinions were scattered, the highest number of votes were for light rail systems throughout Hillsborough County. This contrasted sharply with another forum held earlier in the week in Pasco County, where many of the 25 attendees opted for rubber tire solutions.

25? (At least turnout levels a relatively consistent) You can read a little more on it in this Times article. But not much.

We are not sure exactly what this study is really doing.  Having three meetings for the entire bay area is not really getting public input.  There is also the factor of study/meeting fatigue. How many meetings on the same subject can we have over the course of decades without anything getting done?

Nevertheless, the study is what we have.  We just wish that it showed more interest in really studying what the current situation in the Tampa Bay area is.  And, once again, if you want public input, you may want to use the internet.


— Selmon Connector

There was news on the Selmon/Gandy Connector.

Evidence of the $230 million Selmon Extension that will give commuters a swift ride from the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge will be visible Thursday as crews begin preliminary work on the overpass.

Workers will be along the shoulder and in the median of Gandy Boulevard west of Bridge Street from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. for “geotechnical investigation” and boring to prepare for construction, according to a release.

It is not really construction yet (nor is it just an overpass), but that was quick.


— Selmon Greenway

There was also news about the Selmon Greenway project.  Right now there is a trail of sorts under the Selmon in downtown complete with some signage, but it is not really a very nice place (though it is often shaded). See here and here.  But,

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is moving forward with plans to improve a greenway under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway through downtown. The 1.7-mile stretch is undergoing a $2.5 million facelift aimed at increasing safety and adding “pocket parks” including outdoor art and shade structures.

THEA released conceptual renderings of the pocket park proposal this week. The renderings show several statues and outdoor art, but those concepts are likely to change throughout the planning process and are instead meant to give an idea of what space might look like with such additions.

Mind you, it is only conceptual and subject to change, but here are some of the renderings and plans:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We’ll give them a definitive “not bad,” especially when compared to what is there now.  Unfortunately, as we said, it is all subject to change so we will have to wait to see what really happens.


— PSTA Clearwater Thoughts

There was an article in the Business Journal about PSTA that began like this:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting its sights on regional connectivity heading into the 2018 political cycle. The agency is focusing less on lobbying the Florida Legislature for funding and more on getting in on Florida Department of Transportation funding to create a dedicated transit corridor connecting Clearwater Beach to Tampa International Airport along State Road 60.

And that sounded promising enough, though we wondered how they would deal with a dedicated lane on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.  But then:

As part of the overall effort to connect one of the region’s biggest tourism centers to the airport that funnels travelers into the area, PSTA also has its eye on a dedicated busway over the Clearwater Causeway that connects downtown Clearwater to Clearwater Beach. The existing bridge is often plagued by congestion.

The express lane over the bridge would cost between $12 million and $15 million, according to PSTA CEO Brad Miller who referenced a previous study of the corridor. It wouldn’t require any new bridge construction. The agency would restructure the existing median and repaint lanes rather than expanding the bridge’s overall footprint, which saves money.

And that is fine, too, but it is not a dedicated lane to the airport (or anywhere really near the airport).

Miller said the agency would likely partner with the private sector to run an airport connection.

“The private provider could lease smaller vehicles and then as the ridership grows the vehicles could change,” Miller said.

That’s the kind of flexibility difficult for public agencies that have to often rely on existing fleets.

That’s ok, too, but it is still not a dedicated lane to the airport.

It’s not that we are opposed to the Memorial Causeway concept in the article, and getting to the beach faster is good.  But the proposal is not what the article (and maybe PSTA, though that is not as clear) held it out to be.  Nevertheless, it would be really nice if there were a truly improved connection to the airport.


South Tampa – Condos Move West

As some may know, the defunct New Port Tampa Bay project had a number of condo projects (and even had some cranes up at one point, see here) on the west side of Interbay Peninsula, where density is lacking.  The new Westshore Marina District also has some condo proposals and now we have a better idea what they may be like, per URBN Tampa Bay:

New renderings, site plans and elevations for the tower portion of Westshore Marina District. This phase of the project is three 16 story towers with a total of 350 units and what appears to be some retail space. The towers top out at 201 feet tall.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture Facebook page

While we are not really into the Miami design style, they look fine to us.  And they do appear to attempt to have some street interaction, which is good (though we are not sure it will actually happen like that).  We also like the drawing showing relative elevation of the building, although 10’ is still pretty low.

Overall, we are fine with the idea.  We like getting Tampa to be denser and more city-like. (And there are more apartments going in this project, though we are not sure if they will be decent designs or the typical quick/cheap-build-and-sell projects we get in Tampa )  There are other areas that can be dense and walkable than downtown, and we are glad that development seems to be moving in that direction with this development (assuming no other crash happens).

The one thing is that there still seem to be absolutely no plans to deal with increased traffic from large developments south of Gandy. We cannot understand why there is such an apparent oversight, but it sure looks like there is.  And, sadly, while it does not make sense, it is not surprising.


Downtown – Settling In Action

Last week, we got a good lesson in how Tampa has worked over the years.

Love the money, hate the thatched roof.

That was the message Thursday from the Tampa City Council to Four Green Fields about the pub’s planned new location next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“God-awful,” council member Mike Suarez said of the design, which seeks to top what is now a plain parks department building with a partial thatched roof like the one at Four Green Fields’ original location on W Platt Street.

“It is damned ugly,” council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin said. “Thatched roofs are just not part of Florida.”

This sort of talk is not new. A different lineup of City Council members had similar misgivings in 1992 when the pub came in for its initial rezoning. Then the roof was seen as being out of context architecturally and therefore inappropriate. Since then, it’s become a sales point for the pub, which boasts that it’s “America’s only thatched roof pub.”

Yea, it looks questionable at best, but:

Despite its grousing, the council unanimously approved a 10-year lease with Four Green Fields with the rent paid to the city starting at about $90,000 a year and increasing 2 percent annually. Four Green Fields also will pay the city an additional 6 percent of gross sales of more than $3.4 million a year.

Over 10 years, the base rent is projected to pay the city about $500,000 more than the next-best offer from the other six bidders, said Rob Rosner, Tampa’s urban development manager for downtown.

That was good enough for the council, which heard that the new restaurant could open in about four months.

“Ugliness is in the eye of beholder,” council member Charlie Miranda said. “I love every style in the world that creates money.”

At least he’s honest.  It’s not like they couldn’t have worked with Four Green Fields to make it a little more palatable.  Now, they have no leverage.  (And remember we like Four Green Fields and we don’t mind the look of the building on Platt at all.)

The City is presently making no money from the building so any money they make is a bonus.  Why choose a design they admit they do not like?  Because, it seems, they don’t really care.  That is the very definition of settling.

We know that this is a small project that will not make much difference (and will probably get some bemused comments in travel writing), but when you take that attitude over a number of years and over the whole area, it shows.


List of the Week

We ran across an interesting list this week: SmartAsset’s States with the Worst Drivers – 2017 Edition. This is their methodology, which is a little questionable:

In order to find the states with the worst drivers, SmartAsset looked at factors like the percentage of drivers who have auto insurance, the DUI rate, the number of people killed per 100 million vehicle miles and how often people search the term “parking tickets” on Google. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together.

Setting aside some of the questions, this is their Top Ten, starting with the worst:

Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, California, Alabama, and Georgia.

Even with the odd methodology, we can’t really say we are surprised.

Roundup 9-8-2017

September 7, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.  We fully intended to write one and even started, but we got distracted by Irma.  Just be safe.