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Roundup 2-20-2015

February 20, 2015

Economic Development – Some Promise and Some Thoughts

This week, news came out that Citigroup was considering adding a significant number of new jobs locally:

The New York money center bank Citigroup, already a powerhouse employer in this market, is considering a plan to add up to 1,163 jobs averaging a hefty $75,000 and $90 million in capital investment at its Sabal Park campus near Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County.

It’s not a done deal. Citigroup has other locations where it could place such high-paying jobs, which involve work in accounting, legal, human resources and operational support. The deal here depends on whether state and local authorities can agree on an incentive package of just under $15 million — and whether Citigroup finds a better deal elsewhere.

That is a large number of jobs with what appears to be good salaries (of course, it could be few very high salaries among a large number of lower ones.) So what are the details?

Even if the Citigroup deal lands in Tampa, there is no guarantee all of the jobs will materialize. That’s why the state and local incentives are largely designed to be paid out over time, after the promised jobs arrive, said Hillsborough director of economic development Lindsey Kimball.

Citigroup would be obligated to fill the first 200 jobs by the end of this year, with 618 more by year-end 2016. The final year, 2017, would require 345 more jobs to add up to the proposed 1,163.

The deal also calls for Citigroup to maintain a base of 5,173 existing jobs, and for the new jobs to remain, averaging $75,000, over at least six years.

Wednesday’s meeting will require county commissioners to consider three different incentives. One, part of the QTI or Qualified Target Industry incentive, involves a county commitment of up to just under $1.4 million. The other two incentives, one for up to $1.4 million and the other for $600,000, are tied to job creation and performance standards. Combined, the county commitment could reach $3.4 million, spread over 10 years. With the state’s commitment, if it is approved, the total package would top out at a shade under $15 million.

From the reporting, the deal appears sound. We agree with this Times editorial:

Both the state of Florida and Hillsborough County have a dismal track record in making investment choices in attempts to create new jobs. In one of its most recent negotiating debacles, the county agreed to pay $6.25 million to entice Bass Pro Shops to locate near Westfield Brandon mall. In exchange, Hillsborough will get an influx of low-wage jobs and the negligible cachet of having a destination retailer that already has nine locations in Florida, including a store in Orlando and plans for another in Sarasota.

But the Citigroup deal is different. It is smartly structured to appeal to a company that already has a sizable local workforce. The deal also is designed to release incentive money gradually for higher-paying jobs, and it would build on an established office park near Interstate 75. Commissioners should commit the resources to help make Florida’s offer an attractive and competitive bid. 

Given all the money the County has dished out over the years for far less worthy endeavors, it sounds like a bargain.  (And just to show what a folly the Bass Pro Shops subsidy was, there was an article this week about various big box retailers looking for locations in the area – with no mention of asking the public to subsidize them.) And, in due course, the Commissioners approved the proposed incentive deal unanimously.  (We’ll see what Citigroup does.)

Which leads us to an interesting item in the Business Journal.

Quantity versus quality.

The old question of values has divided Tampa Bay’s economic developers and tech sector representatives on what government’s role is in growing a startup scene.

The argument normally saved for private discussion and online forums gained stage time during the region’s first Startup Week earlier this month. On trial: how valuable is a developer’s “multiplier effect”?

Two panelists, one from Hillsborough County Economic Development and the other from Tampa Bay Technology Forum, differed on how to best count job growth numbers from county efforts.

Apparently, just counting the actual job numbers is not enough.  So what is the debate?

In an interview after the panel discussion, county economic development head Lindsey Kimball explained the multiplier effect drives her strategy when growing the local economy.

Fostering high-paying jobs begets more jobs in services these spenders can now afford, Kimball said. She believes these jobs created by the multiplier effect also need measuring to better show economic development’s success.

“We’re not trying to attract average-wage jobs,” Kimball said. “Our strategy is definitely about attracting higher wage jobs for their positive benefits for all levels of the community.”

As we have said on numerous occasions, yes, high-paying jobs lead to other jobs, which makes them a better target.  On the other hand, we are not sure how you can accurately count the multiplier.  Why not just wait for the spin-off jobs to materialize and then count them?  Anything else seems like a bit of a fudge that serves rhetorical purposes far more than it does anything useful.

Now the other side:

Her fellow panelist, TBTF head Daniel James Scott, had denounced the multiplier as a false impression of how many quality jobs a company creates.

The extra jobs will come to Tampa Bay no matter what, Scott said.

“One great [product] developer making a great wage is a positive way of selling a message,” he said. “One great [product] developer making a great wage and supporting five people not making a livable wage is not what I want my Tampa Bay to be.”

The conversation previously made a public splash with a proposed $8.25 million economic development incentive to lure Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World to Brandon in 2012.

The tech sector decried the project. Bass Pro will open later this year.

When asked to elaborate on his comments during the panel in a later interview, Scott said he believes local startup executives can create the same number of jobs as a relocated company headquarters.

Whereas Kimball believes money still flows into a company’s Tampa Bay office, and local workers inevitably contribute part of their paychecks to the community, Scott sees it differently.

Companies that open an office in Tampa Bay are funneling that wealth to their non-local shareholders, Scott said. The jobs created in the Bay area are easily cut if the company faces dire straits.

A locally grown company provides more wealth for the community, Scott said.

He wants an organization such as Startup Week to measure the number of jobs created by the local startup scene. He wants local promoters of the startup space to better tell past and current successes.

“Bar none, startups have greater economic impact,” Scott said. “We’re not faking it. We just haven’t done a good enough job telling the stories.”

We also agree with much of his point.  Branch offices are easily trimmed and money does go out of the area. (Like this from this week.)   On the other hand, the appeal of a headquarters is that many of those issues should not apply.  (Subsidizing retail seems to play not part in the conversation – and it shouldn’t.) We do not really care if the HQ is a start-up HQ or a company moving here, though obviously it is easier for government officials to tout a big number of jobs of an existing company moving here. (It would be great if startups grew and kept their HQs here.) And that is really the point.  Do not fudge the numbers.  Count the jobs that actually exist (not just what is promised or speculated about – whether from a company moving or a “multiplier.”).  And push on all fronts.  Help the startups to grow the local economy and bring in other companies.  Given our low income levels and the amount of competition from other areas, can there be another strategy?

We are not sure what there is to debate.

Downtown – Endorsement, Speculation & Branding

There was news about the Lightning owner’s project.

First, the Board of Governors of the university system recommended funding for moving the USF med school downtown, which was expected.  (And if you are curious, here is an executive summary of the proposal.  There are more documents here.) Now the legislature must actually fund it, which we figure will happen.

In other news,

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik could begin construction on his corporate headquarters office in downtown Tampa without having signed a tenant.

Vinik’s real estate arm, Strategic Property Partners, is “actively considering” speculative construction, said Bob Abberger, managing partner of SPP.

“If we’re going to be serious about securing a headquarters user, we have to have product ready to go,” Abberger said Thursday. “So we’re in active discussions with our partner about making that decision.”

That “partner” in Vinik’s billion-dollar development plans is Cascade Investment LLC, the investment firm controlled by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates. SPP is working on getting the office component to “permit ready” status, Abberger said.

And some details on the idea for the building:

That building is to rise at the corner of Channelside Drive and N Morgan Street, across from the arena. It’s expected to be 400,000 to 500,000 square feet and taller than the 12-story USF building, which would be built on a much wider base. The new corporate headquarters would also have its own parking garage.

We are not going to comment on the business decision of whether to build a speculative building, and we certainly do not know the status of their discussions with potential clients.  We will just have to see.

Finally, that leads us to a piece in the Times regarding possible names for the development.   You can read the whole article for all the names, but there was this – which has a lot of merit:

Some Times readers peppered their proposed names for the Vinik project with some passionate opinion.

Reader Jean Keenan vented that the Channelside name has grown strong enough to have “overcome the ridicule that Tampa as a beer-swilling smut town has known.” She urged Vinik to build upon it.

“From where I sit as a mid 20s-something member of the ‘creative class’ (read: hipster) from a conservative family background, it feels like both young and old alike are looking for an authentic experience, not overt artifice,” Zac Taylor emailed about the Tampa project.

“This area already has a name. Actually, it has several names: downtown Tampa, the Channel District and, less formally, Channelside. Why can’t we stick to one and reinforce the growing ‘completeness’ of our downtown, rather than look for another gimmick?

“I don’t mean to sound overly cynical,” Taylor said. “Actually, I’m very enthusiastic to see Vinik act as a leader, and see rich opportunities in a project of this scope. Let’s push for the best project we can.”

“Names are tough,” reader Sam Pannill of Largo concedes in his email. “Whatever they come up with is going to sound like a new subdivision in Brandon.”

Indeed. We’re ok with Channelside. (and we’re fine with beer, too.)

Economy – The Housing Market

There was an interesting article in the Tribune about rising rents and whether they will get more people to buy.   We are not going to get into all that.  There was one thing that is an interesting corrective to the real estate numbers that come out.

Of the 906 homes sold in Hills­borough County in November, 45 percent were purchased for either second homes or rental income. In Pinellas County, of 1,697 homes sold, 54 percent were purchased for second homes or investment, according to RealtyTrac, one of the nation’s leading sources for housing data.

A portion of the purchases most certainly is due to the flock of snowbirds that make their way to the Sunshine State each year and purchase second homes, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. But most of it is due to what are known as institutional investors, he said.

So about half of all purchases are not owner occupied.  To us, that means that, even if houses are sold and prices go up, there is a weakness in the local economy – unless you are in real estate and, in particular, investing in properties with rising rents.  While you should always expect some investors and second homes, a strong local economy would have a higher rate of owner occupancy.

Economic Development/Transportation – The Editorial

Last week, we discussed the County looking at expanding the urban services boundary.  The Tribune had an editorial on the subject. We will not quote the whole thing, but it echoed much of our thoughts:

Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission officials say the changes in Lutz and Balm — which are much further along in the review process — would address development that, thanks to past commission decisions, is taking place anyway. They believe it would result in more efficient use of the land.

Perhaps, but we don’t believe poor development decisions of the past should determine the urban service boundary.

And Hillsborough County commissioners should recognize that including the rural Little Manatee River area in the urban area would make a mockery of planning.

County officials say that if the urban service boundary is extended below the Little Manatee River, the county would likely establish a special taxing district, where residents in the area would pay for improvements.

But that would only cover water and sewer costs and local roads, not address the expensive transportation needs that such distant development would generate.

Extending the boundary might benefit a few select landowners and developers but won’t improve the county’s economic prospects or quality of life. Indeed, it would signal to business leaders and residents alike that Hillsborough is still wedded to the short-sighted growth policies that created the transportation mess now smothering the county.

White, who was elected last year on a conservative platform, understands that ignoring the costs and consequences of development decisions is the same as throwing taxpayers’ money away.

As he told us:

“How can we talk about transportation problems out of one side of our mouth and then continue with this almost reckless sprawl?”

Exactly.

Transportation – The Meetings Begin

Speaking of transportation, the first of the 36 outsourced public meetings took place this week:

Like Reyes, the more than 40 people who attended the first “Go Hills­borough” meeting Tuesday night had specific transportation issues they wanted to share with county officials. For Reyes, it was safety.

Quite the turnout.  Even if you more than double the 40 to 100 for all 36 meetings, you have only spoken to 3600 people out of 1.2 million.  In any event:

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of 36 workshops the county will hold as it works to develop a transportation strategy for coming decades. Unlike typical meetings where an audience sits and listens to a discussion leader, attendees at Tuesday’s meeting were free to walk around, look at exhibits and suggest road or transit options.

One board listed different categories of transportation and transit improvements, from smart traffic signals to expanded bus routes. Participants could stick red dots under the categories they thought were important.

Actually, over the years, there have been numerous meetings (not outsourced) where people could examine maps and boards, talk to planners, and draw all over maps. (and those meetings had many of the items in the outreach website.)  They have led to where we are now – doing it again.  Hopefully, this time will have a better result, but given the recycling of ideas, we are not sure.

At least there was this:

In addition to seeking people’s opinions, county officials also want to use the workshops as a means to educate the public about the condition of Hillsborough’s road system. For instance, one display titled “What are the conditions of our roads?” said over 30 percent of county-maintained roads are either in poor condition or getting there.

The display went on to say the county faces more than $750 million in road maintenance needs.

“We’re spending $5 million a year on road maintenance,” said Eric Johnson, director of strategic planning for the county. “We should be spending $20 million.”

The not-so-subtle message: The county does not have enough money to keep up current roads, much less construct large thoroughfare expansions. To have large road, trail, bridge and mass transit improvements will require a tax increase.

And that is the point.  Planning has been so bad (not to mention the failure of the impact fees process) that the County is in a huge hole.  No one wants to pay more taxes, but there is no money to do what is needed, let alone move forward.  At least that is telling the truth, which is good for the process. Though one has to wonder when you see this:

Betty Kinsey, who attends Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church where the meeting was held, placed her dots under intersection improvements, street enhancements and new and expanded bus routes. Kinsey said she’d also like to see more sidewalks in her neighborhood and around the church. “We need to make the streets work better, not only for passengers but for buses,” she said. “We also need sidewalks because a lot of students ride their bicycles. They need more protection.”

On the board where Kinsey was carefully placing her red dots, there was no category column for light rail. Someone grabbed one of the many available markers and drew a line and “Light rail” halfway down one of the columns. The new category soon had a cluster of red dots.

So light rail is not even an option the County is considering?  Given that, the recycled ideas, and the political climate locally, having optimism in the results of this process is difficult.  Of course, time will tell, but there needs to be far more leadership if anything truly useful is to get done.

Transportation – Did This Need To Be Said?

We wrote last week about the travails of the ferry proposal.  As part of that, the County was said to be exploring different options for a station in South County.  Then:

Hillsborough County Commissioners reaffirmed their support for high-speed ferry service between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base but cautioned that recent environmental and operational questions about the project need to be answered.

Commissioners approved 7-0 continuing the county’s agreement with HMS Ferries and Southswell Development until March 1, 2016. The agreement means the county will continue studying proposed sites for the ferry terminal and boat basin.

Commissioner Ken Hagan made the motion to continue supporting the project noting that the initial proposed terminal site at the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve has drawn opposition, most recently by Port Tampa Bay Executive Director Paul Anderson. 

It would have been very odd indeed to start looking for other locations (and spending money) if the County was not still interested in the project, but now support has been confirmed.  Maybe this is why some felt the move was necessary:

Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he wanted to dispel “whispering” that he opposed the project, which, if approved, would call for the county to spend $20 million on construction of the terminal and purchase of ferry boats.

Higginbotham said employees and officials at MacDill Air Force Base support the project but noted that approval is needed from the federal Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Higginbotham and Commissioner Stacy White also said they need assurances that ridership numbers projected by HMS Ferries are real and that the ferry service business won’t fail.

First, making sure ridership projections make some sense is fine.  Second, any business can fail, but one can put items into any agreement that provide some protections.  (For instance – and this is just an off-the-cuff idea and we have no idea if anyone would agree to it –  the company could buy the ferries and the County pay for them over time so that if the service fails within that period, the taxpayers are not on the hook for more.)  Third, speaking generally, many concerns about whether various Commissioners support any transit arise because historically (not just the two mentioned) many (most) Commissioners have so often failed to be actually supportive of real transit.  Being more actively engaged and constructive may help alleviate that concern.

In any event, the service is still worth considering.

Ybor City – If A First You Don’t’ Succeed, Try Again

The Business Journal reports that City has put out an RFP for land in Ybor City.

Tampa is releasing a Request for Proposals aimed at generating new economic opportunities in historic Ybor City.

The city wants to transform vacant, city-owned property along 7th Avenue. Specifically, the RFP is for a vacant, city owned parcel located on the northeastern corner of E. 7th Ave and Nuccio Parkway to be purchased and redeveloped with a variety of uses, meaning a combination of residential, retail, and/or office space, a release from the city said.

Transforming one vacant parcel of land can catalyze the transformation of an entire neighborhood, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn in the release.

That may be true to some degree, but there are already a number of proposed projects in Ybor, so it is not clear the City needs to get rid of any land to begin the transformation.  In any event, the RFP can be found here.

Although not noted in the article, this seems to be the same land for which the City put out an RFP in 2013. As reported in 2014:

In December, City Hall put out a call for development proposals for a third of a block it owns at E Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway. It got two responses.

The best, officials say, came from the Liberty Group, a Tampa-based hotel investment, development and management company with $300 million in assets. It proposed an $11.3 million hotel with 70 guest rooms and suites, interior lap pool, ground-floor lounge and rooftop bar.

Recently, however, Liberty president Punit Shah told the city he was considering taking his project to a bigger site elsewhere in Ybor.

Tampa economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh, who briefed the City Council on Thursday, said he doesn’t know where the second site is. And city officials won’t have any hard feelings if the sale falls through.

“If he’s unable to come to some type of arrangement with the other property owner, perhaps we would re-engage,” McDonaugh said. “But the whole idea … was to induce someone to investigate constructing a hotel in Ybor City. If it’s on the city’s land or somebody else’s land, I’m okay either way. The end result is getting more rooms in Ybor City.”

Since that report, a hotel proposal was announced. (It is not clear what the status of that project is.)

We are not opposed to selling public land for a project, but it needs to be a special project. If the private sector is doing the job on private property, why get rid of a public asset? (Not to mention that as private land is developed, the public property becomes more valuable, so why sell it now?)

If the City does not need to get rid of the taxpayers’ land, it shouldn’t.  You never know what good, public purpose the land can be used for later.  Why limit the options?

Bro Bowl – History

There was an article in the Times this week that indicated that the funding is finally in place for the City to destroy the Bro Bowl and then build the EPCOT replica.  While it has never been explained why the City was so determined to destroy the Bro Bowl, there was little doubt that it would get its way eventually.  Interestingly, though not surprisingly, while the article mentions the move to get historical status for the Bro Bowl, it completely ignores the effort to actually save it.  Though it does give us this:

“Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good news,” Tampa economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh told the City Council last week. A trailer and fencing are to be delivered to the 11-acre site starting Feb. 23. “We will see the mobilization of the contractor, and construction will begin the first week of March.”

Indeed.  Needlessly destroying someone’s history rather than saving it through an easy compromise for a reason, if it exists, that you are not willing to reveal is certainly a reason to celebrate. We cannot say we are surprised.  That is part of the local DNA that has not changed.

All those quirky, skateboarding techies in Silicon Valley will certainly be impressed.

USF – Some More Money

There was another big donation at USF.

Bookkeeping is in Lynn Pippenger’s blood.

The retired Raymond James Financial executive comes from a long line of them, including her great-grandfather, who was a county auditor, clerk and justice of the peace, and her grandmother, who ran the books at a Cleveland department store in 1900.

* * *

With a lengthy family heritage of finance behind her, Pippenger, 76, landed her first gig as a grocery clerk, established a career at Raymond James and, this week, earned a spot on stage at USF’s Muma College of Business, where she announced her $10 million donation to the newly named Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy.

Once again, we thank her for her generosity.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the Airports Council International rankings for 2014.   We all know that TIA is a great airport, so how does it rank in this year’s survey?

In the Best Airport by Region (North America), the top five are Indianapolis , Tampa, Jacksonville, Sacramento, and Ottawa.

In the Best Airport by size (15-25 million passengers), the top five are Seoul Gimpo, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Cancun, and Tampa.

Those are both very good rankings, and we are not surprised.  The airport has long been an example of what this area can do when it really wants to and does not settle.

Roundup 2-13-2015

February 13, 2015

Economic Development/Built Environment/Transportation – Adventures in Planning

Hillsborough County has a history of poor planning and not sticking to its stated plans.  This week, the Tribune had a report regarding the urban service boundary.

The last time developers and large landowners pushed to extend the boundaries of the county’s urban service area was September 2007. At the time, the planning commission recommended against expansion, saying there were 15,500 acres of developable land available inside the existing urban service area — enough to handle population growth through 2025.

But now, with new population projections in hand, the planning commission staff is recommending that the urban boundaries be expanded in three areas totaling over 16,000 acres, about 25 square miles. The recommendation comes on the heels of a recent planning commission study called Imagine 2040, which projects the county will grow by 600,000 people in the next 25 years.

“What we looked at in our Imagine 2040 outreach process was how to accommodate that growth,” said Melissa Zornitta, the planning commission’s executive director.

“We heard from a lot of people who said they want to focus on opportunities for redevelopment and infill. But we did hear from some folks who said they wanted to have choices, opportunities for a suburban lifestyle.”

First, there is no lack of the suburban experience within the urban services boundary already.  That is in no way a justification for expanding it.  Second, who really wants this expansion other than people who want to profit from land outside the boundary?  Apparently, not the County Commission.

White, whose district includes two of the expansion zones — 6,678 acres in the Balm area and 9,374 acres south of the Little Manatee River — said the expansion would involve building miles of sewer and water lines into rural areas where population is sparse. He and other critics say such urban sprawl ultimately is subsidized by taxpayers.

The expanded urban service areas would also put more pressure on an “already strained transportation system,” White said, at a time when the county is trying to find ways to make up a $7 billion deficit in road and bridge needs.

“How can we talk about the transportation problem out of one side of our mouth, and then continue with this almost reckless sprawl,” White said Monday during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board.

Instead, White said, the county should concentrate on redevelopment of blighted areas and filling in developable land already inside the urban service boundary.

“We need a lot of revitalization efforts in our older communities,” he said.

And

A move to expand the urban service boundaries is sure to arouse opposition from environmentalists and other community activists who helped defeat the last attempt in 2007. Besides White, Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed doubts about the proposal’s chance of passing.

“There is no support from the staff to expand it,” Higginbotham said, “nor do I see this board ever voting to support that.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she’s waiting to see what the planning commission recommends before making a decision. She pointed to an economic prosperity committee she chaired several years ago that recommended creating economic development areas along existing or planned thoroughfares or mass transit. None of the economic development areas were outside the urban service areas.

“We thought by urbanizing these areas where we already had pockets of development, that would lessen sprawl to a degree by creating more suburban development that would be inside the urban service area,” Murman said. “We have to be very careful with anything that has to do with extending the urban service area.”

One gets the distinct impression that the Commissioners are not for it. So what prompted the look?

The Hillsborough planning commission staff has already drawn up comprehensive plan amendments for two of the expansion areas — 72 acres in Lutz and the 6,678 acres in the Balm area southeast of Riverview. The amendments will be discussed by the planning commission at an April 27 public hearing.

The area in Lutz, near the apex of U.S. 41 and North Dale Mabry Highway, is surrounded on three sides by the urban service area, Zornitta said. It is currently zoned for four housing units per acre.

“It’s not something that really fits with the rural area based on its land-use category,” she said.

The area under consideration in Balm is designated as rural but long ago was zoned to allow planned villages of two housing units per acre — provided the builder paid to have water and sewer extended to the villages. Some of that development is already happening, Zornitta said.

“From a planning perspective, two units per acre is not using the land and the infrastructure wisely,” she said. “It’s eating up the rural area, but not in an efficient way.”

The largest area under consideration for urban services, 9,374 acres between the Little Manatee River and the Manatee County line, is not ready for hearings or workshops. The planning commission staff and the county’s Development Services Department are working with a group of large landowners who want to develop some of the area while preserving its environmental features.

The largest of the landowners is a development group associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rhea Law, the attorney representing the church, could not be reached for comment.

Setting aside that Lutz was supposed to be rural (that’s why the Veterans Expressway does not connect to I-275) but has clearly been allowed to not be rural (that fine planning again, not to mention the Balm area), so what?  The whole point of the urban services boundary is to provide proper planning and keep the taxpayer from subsidizing development and the maintenance of that development.  If people own the land outside the boundary, ok.  That does not create an obligation to have development there.  This is about planning so how will expanding the boundary help transportation for which the County already cannot pay? Help the built environment?  Lower long term maintenance costs for the taxpayer? If and when the urban service area is full, maybe then it should be expanded – but not now.

The point is this: either there is planning or there is not.  As shown in the Lutz example above, Hillsborough County has none.  It pronounces policies with one hand, then completely ignores them with the other.  It is no wonder that there is no money for fixing transportation – there is no logic to how the County is built.  It has been an ad hoc sprawlfest.

As noted in the Tribune editorial we quoted last week, just because things have been done one way traditionally, does not mean it should continue.  Even the Commissioners, who have loved subsidizing sprawl, are not on board.  Hopefully, they will stick with that position because it is well past time to actually stick to a plan.

Transportation – Enter the Public

It seems that the outsourced transportation workshops are about to start.

“Go Hillsborough,” the county’s effort to learn what types of transportation improvements residents would support, will hold its first community workshops this month.

The county on Thursday released a schedule of 36 public meetings and workshops that will be held around Hillsborough. The first meeting will be Feb. 17 at Mount Olive AME Church in North Hyde Park, followed a meeting Feb. 19 by a meeting at the Town ‘N Country Regional Library. The rest of the meeting schedule can be found at www.hillsboroughcounty .org.

For those who can’t make the meetings, Go Hillsborough will communicate through Facebook, Twitter, an I-Neighborhood smartphone app and a dedicated telephone number.

The outreach effort, which will last through mid-May, is an attempt to reach consensus on transportation and mass transit projects that will cost billions of dollars. The county doesn’t have that kind of money, and the final transportation plan will likely require a tax increase that will go before voters in November 2016.

So now the process will stretch to May, not April.  Nothing like more delay.  Here is the list of meetings.  One thing you may note is that, even with all the meetings, there are areas that do not really have a convenient meeting.

In any event, what is the structure of the meetings?

The interactive public meetings will be split into two phases. The first, called “Voices,” will include 12 workshops, four larger meetings to provide geographic context, and two telephone town hall meetings. The Voices phase will culminate in an “Issues and Opportunities” report.

The second round of 18 meetings, called “Choices,” will delve further into potential transportation options. This phase will try to identify areas of agreement among communities. Once community needs and desires are understood, strategy and funding options will be recommended for the community transportation plan.

As we have said, public input is good, especially if it is actually considered, but this should have been done at the beginning by the County.  Nevertheless, now it is what we have.  Hopefully, it will be useful.

Transportation – The PTC Sues, But Still Cannot Justify

While we really would love to never write about the PTC because it is such a stronghold of stagnant thinking, we feel compelled this week because it has made another move against ridesharing:

Even with threats and fines, Hillsborough County hasn’t been able to get ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft off the streets.

Now it wants a judge to shut them down.

The county on Wednesday joined cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Portland, Ore., in calling for the court system’s support in the ongoing battle between regulators and ride-share companies.

Board members voted during Wednesday’s Public Transportation Commission meeting to pursue injunctive relief against Uber and Lyft after both ride-share companies failed to comply with a cease-and-desist letter issued at the end of December.

So what was the justification?

County Commissioner Ken Hagan said that although he thinks “there is no question this technology is the way of the future,” something has to be done to force Uber and Lyft to cooperate and take part in negotiations.

“I, for one, am not going to tolerate just ignoring our laws and refusing to comply,” Hagan said.

Of course, there were negotiations – just not successful ones.  And people should follow the rules, but the rules should make sense.  Good government requires not having arbitrary rules that are made to favor one party over another and ignores the good of the public at large.  And minimum pricing does not make sense. (And where are all the reforms the PTC was supposed to put in place?  Why not lower fees to help people enter the business and compete?) So is there something else that is the real reason for the PTC’s action?

Leaders of the taxi industry celebrated quietly after the motion passed Wednesday, slapping each other on the back and whispering excited congratulations.

Yes, to protect the status quo and the cab companies from competition, which can be seen in another lawsuit involving minimum pricing for limos:

Then Rob Brazel, the county’s managing attorney, spoke on behalf of the transportation commission and in favor of the minimum fare. He said limos act like cabs when they’re not busy, and without the minimum, they would pick up regular cab customers for basic rides rather than just ritzy transportation —- an unfair competition, he said.

He argued that the commission should continue to regulate limo fares because the Legislature should make those regulatory choices. Those “who are affected by them,” like Black Pearl, should not.

So providing nicer rides at the same price, which the PTC has admitted numerous times is what the consumers want, is “unfair.”. And ridesharing is even more competition (if people did not want ridesharing, it would not be an issue.)  The reason people choose such services is because they are considered better than the cabs.  But, clearly from its actions, the PTC’s focus in not on the consumers.

Transportation – The Bizarreness of the Ferry

There was more news about the bizarre tale of the Ferry.  As you might recall, everyone was very happy with the Ferry idea until the Audubon Society came out against the proposed location for the ferry stop/terminal in South County for environmental reasons.

Audubon’s opposition caused the Hillsborough County commissioners to back off their previous support for the project and order a search for alternative sites. The county had planned to appear on behalf of the project before the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the preserve land. But after Audubon announced its opposition, the county pulled the item from the board’s agenda.

Now, the Port apparently does not like the location either.

Port Tampa Bay is the latest agency to oppose building a high-speed ferry terminal on state-owned conservation lands in south Hillsborough County.

President and chief executive officer A. Paul Anderson said Friday he and other port officials think a proposed ferry terminal site on the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve would endanger maritime traffic.

The preserve is next door to Port Redwing, where the port authority has plans to create a cluster of steel businesses.

“Putting a ferry in channels with active shipping is an issue that everybody should focus on,” Anderson said in an interview. “Potentially it’s an issue of safe operations in the channel for us, for the pilots, for the maritime users of the port. It’s just not the best location from an operations standpoint.”

The port’s opposition could be a serious setback for a daily ferry service between south Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. In August, the environmental group Audubon of Florida criticized plans to put the ferry terminal at a preserve, where state funds totaling $2.7 million were spent restoring the land to native habitat. The Schultz property was formed with spoils from dredging.

We cannot speak to the safety issue, except to note that, as the Tribune does, there are operating ferries around other ports so the issue needs careful, unbiased investigation, and this:

“The whole thing is baffling bordering on the inexplicable,” Turanchik said. “There were no security concerns when we wanted to lease you the property but now there are?”

Others who recommended the Schultz Preserve, according to Turanchik, included Mosaic, the phosphate company that owns significant property on the bay, and Ann Paul, Audubon’s regional coordinator in the Tampa Bay area.

Paul later said she that when she made the recommendation, she didn’t understand that the ferry terminal and park would cover 20 acres and include parking for 1,500 cars.

Port Tampa Bay staff even worked with Hillsborough County to identify possible access roads to the proposed ferry terminal and park, according to a June 16 letter from Anderson to County Administrator Mike Merrill. Anderson told Merrill that though the port opposed the public using Port Redwing Road to access the ferry site, other access roads were possible.

“PTB staff has thoroughly explored possible options for access to Schultz Park to identify any other route which would be a less-direct and potentially detrimental impact on port operations,” Anderson wrote.

Yes, it is bizarre.  One would have thought that the safety issue would have been the first thing anyone would have noted about the location.  There is no indication of why it came up now.

To be clear, we do not really have a preference regarding the exact location of a ferry stop and we are not prejudging the safety issue. However, we do have an interest in having things done properly and efficiently and not dragging on forever. Our concern is the bizarre way this whole issue is going.  Why are people supporting and helping plan the service, then doing a 180?  What is actually going on – is safety really the issue or is there something else?  In any event:

Meantime, the county has completed a search for alternative sites, said County Engineer Mike Williams. The next step is to review all the sites for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Any comments from anyone — but obviously from the port as a landowner in very close proximity — will be considered in the NEPA phase,” Williams said.

A number of sites, including the Schultz Preserve, will undergo the NEPA review. The county will hire a consultant using federal grant money to handle the study.

“We’re hoping we can do it for around $300,000,” Williams said.

The review should begin in the next couple of months, Williams said, and will take six to 12 months to complete.

Ok, so another year or more before a location is approved.  Will there then be more objections?

With this episode and the lagging of the TED process, one cannot help but ask can any transportation be properly and efficiently planned in this area?

TIA – Growth

The airport administration released numbers for the airport:

Tampa International Airport had 5.5 percent more passengers come through in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 than last year, with the number of international passengers up 19.2 percent.

“We had a very, very good first fiscal quarter,” said Airport President and CEO Joe Lopano. Almost 4.4 million passengers came through the airport in the first quarter, beating the 2015 projected number by 160,000 passengers.

“The first three months continued the growth we saw at the end of 2014,” said Damian Brook, airport vice president of finance.

Alaska Airlines, with flights from Tampa to Seattle, filled 93 percent of its seats in October, November and December, Brook said.

Frontier Airline more than doubled its passenger traffic by introducing new destinations, he said. Frontier added flights from Tampa to Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and to Philadelphia, a flight that has been quite popular, said Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher. “Overall, Tampa has been a very good destination for Frontier,” Lehmacher said.

“Every international carrier saw growth in the first quarter,” Brook said. Part of that was because international carriers offered a total of 18 percent more seats in the first quarter. Also, Copa Airlines, with flights to Panama City, Panama, came on board and Edelweiss Air AG added a second weekly flight to Zurich last year.

The airport also set a record for revenue, bringing in $49.8 million in the first quarter, Brook said. That represents a 3.5 percent increase in revenue over the same time period in 2014.

That’s all good – and Lufthansa still has not started. The proof of the director’s strategy is right there. Now, if we could just get a San Francisco nonstop.

Moreover, there is this:

JetBlue Airways has announced more flights to Cuba and Haiti.

The New York-based airline said Thursday that it would add a new charter flight to Cuba this summer.

The Friday flights from Tampa to Havana will begin June 5. Travelers have to make arrangements directly with JetBlue partner ABC Charters.

Which is good.

In other news, St. Pete-Clearwater International is also doing well.

January marked the fourth straight month for record-breaking passenger service at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, with a 24 percent increase year over year.

In January, the airport served 106,942 passengers.

The airport served 1.2 million customers in 2014 and with seven new destinations coming on line over the next few months, it could be lining up for another record-breaker.

The number of international passengers was down for 2014 by about 3,000 passengers but in January, the airport saw a 30 percent increase in international passengers, compared to January 2014.

Excellent.

Economy – Employment Numbers

Last month, it was pretty much the same story in employment according to ADP:

After a strong finish in 2014, Florida added 14,400 private sector jobs in January, according to a report released Wednesday.

The state remains the third-best job creator in the country behind California (up 35,400 jobs) and Texas (up 25,800 jobs), according to the report, which payroll-processing company ADP releases monthly.

* * *

About 97 percent of Florida’s new positions were in the lower-paying service-providing sector, while the remainder were goods-producing. Among select industries, trade and transportation saw 2,500 new positions, business services saw 2,300, manufacturing saw 600 and natural resources and construction saw 800.

There really isn’t anything new to say about that.

Downtown – A New Police Station

It seems that Tampa may be getting a new police station in the not too distant future:

“The existing police station site has outlived its usefulness,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. He intends to start the planning for a new police station as he puts together a budget for 2016.

One Police Center at 411 N Franklin St. is a former SunTrust Bank building that has served since Mayor Dick Greco’s administration bought it in 1996 for $2.95 million.

But the costs of maintaining the structure that Buckhorn calls “Big Blue” are on the rise, and he said “it makes no sense for me to put money into a building that’s obsolete.”

Indeed, the taxpayers’ money should not be wasted.  We have no problem with having a new police station if the present one is inefficient and expensive to maintain.  Where might a new one go?

Buckhorn said he prefers that a new police headquarters be in the urban core of the city, but he doesn’t know that it has to be in the heart of downtown’s central business district. The city could build, lease space or move into a renovated building.

Moving from one renovated building to another seems a bit odd.  Also, leasing a building for a police station also seems a bit odd.  One would think that, if money on a new station is going to be spent, the police should use a purpose built building that they control.  As far as location, we think it should be in the downtown core for a number of reasons – being close to city hall, being close to many events and providing stability downtown, central location, etc.

And what will happen to the present building?

Buckhorn expects that he will have no problem finding developers who are interested in buying the headquarters site, which includes a parking garage, and either tearing down the police building to build something new or renovating the existing structure as a private development.

That’s fine, as long as it is not the reason for the move in the first place.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Downtown – The Riverwalk

The next segment of the Riverwalk is getting ready to open.

After four decades, six mayors and millions of dollars, the end of construction is in sight on a high-profile piece of the Riverwalk.

Tampa officials have scheduled a March 27 grand opening for a long-desired but expensive-to-build section of the downtown trail.

Expected to join Mayor Bob Buckhorn at the 5 p.m. ceremony are former Tampa mayors Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman and Bob Martinez.

And a sixth mayor is sure to be remembered, too. Bill Poe, who started work on the Riverwalk in 1975 when he was mayor, died last May 1.

The section of the Riverwalk now nearing completion goes 1,460 feet from MacDill Park north under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

* * *

Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park. Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park.

That is great.  We are happy the Riverwalk is finally going to be without interruption.  It has been a very long time coming (and too much of downtown is built to ignore the river), but it is welcome.

The only thing is that we hope the next time there is a project that enjoys a broad consensus, it does not take 40 years to get done.

Downtown/Built Environment – One Building Rising

One residential project in downtown has apparently begun construction.

Downtown Tampa’s newest apartment complex is under way.

Richman Group, based in Connecticut, has started construction on the Aurora, a five-story 351-unit apartment project at 124 S. Morgan St., just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The article includes an updated rendering that is cropped.  This is the full rendering:

From the Richman Group – click on picture for website

As we said when it was announced, the project looks ok for somewhere outside of the core of downtown, but this lot will be in the middle of downtown if the Lightning owner’s project gets built.  In fact, it will be on a main pedestrian corridor between the core of downtown and that project.  We are not even so concerned with the height (though it does seem that it will barely clear the Selmon Expressway, which is a bit odd).  The real problem is that there is no street interaction and not much else to it.  It could be anywhere, which is not really appropriate in the middle of downtown.

The article tells us:

The office market has traditionally been the anchor of downtown Tampa, though revitalization advocates — among them Mayor Bob Buckhorn — have turned their attention to bulking up the residential base in recent years. Densely populated urban cores have the potential to become the kind of live-work-play environment that creates a unique sense of place, drawing both visitors and a Millennial workforce.

Setting aside that people have been trying to get residential downtown since One Laurel Place was built back in the early 80’s (not to mention that right before the recession, quite a bit of residential was built and much more proposed) if not before, it is true that you can create a unique sense of place, but not with generic projects that lack street interaction. (Has Tampa learned nothing from the 1980’s and early 90’s and the projects built then?)

While we understand the City wants to fill lots with buildings, this project appears to be the very definition of settling.

Harbour Island – The Argument Continues

There was also news about the proposed Related project on Harbour Island that has been the subject of a dispute with people in a nearby building.

The developer, Miami-based Related Development LLC, plans a 21-story tower called “The Manor at Harbour Island,” with 340 residential units, which the lawsuit claims would normally require on-site parking. Instead, the plan calls for using parking spaces in the Two Harbour Place garage.

The suit does not challenge another tower nearby that’s planned by Intown/Framework Group.

The suit was filed by nearby residents, including several who live in The Plaza tower next door to the proposed tower. The suit asks a state court to intervene in the process and cancel a city council approval of the parking and bridge plan. They claim the planned 560 parking spaces for the new tower would overwhelm the garage, and they dispute the developer’s contention that daytime workers would not need parking in the evening as apartment residents would.

We have a hard time believing that the use of a completely unrelated garage (note that among the people suing, no one is losing their parking space) is the reason to drag this on and on. On the other hand, the case is the case. Nothing to do but wait.

Seminole Heights – Small but Important

A proposed loft projects in Seminole Heights also is getting going.

The conversion of an old warehouse into loft-style apartments in Seminole Heights officially begins today.

The team behind the Warehouse Lofts — developer Wesley Burdette, architect Brian Wolf of Wolf Design Group and Sunshine Bancorp CEO Andrew Samuels — will be joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at 11 a.m. today to celebrate the beginning of construction.

At $5.5 million and 48 units, the Warehouse Lofts is a small deal. But those smaller projects can help create a unique sense of place and build the urban density that most neighborhoods in Tampa lack. Click here to see inside the warehouse.

First, almost every neighborhood in Tampa lacks a sense of place and urban density due to the policies of the City over decades.  In any event, this is an important project because it can provide a proof of concept that such projects can work outside of the area around downtown and help move Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights to where it should be, which is an urbanized street with reasonable costs.

List of the Week

Instead of a list this week, we have an interesting interactive map (here) from the Urban Institute called Mapping America’s Future. You can scroll over various metropolitan areas to see projected population growth.  Click on the metro area and you get a more detailed breakdown of the projections.  For instance, they project that the Tampa Bay area will grow 22.75% by 2030, while Orlando is projected to grow by 48.96%, Austin by 55.34% and Denver by 25.22%.  Of course, none of this is set in stone, just projections.  And it does not really get into economic information. Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Roundup 2-6-2015

February 6, 2015

Transportation – Express Lanes Meet the People

Last week, FDOT held a meeting regarding the variable rate toll lane proposal. (You can see the presentation documents here)  So what was the reaction?

Views on the state’s proposed express toll lanes for area interstates spanned the map Thursday night.

Some called the toll lanes a “class system” that would only benefit the wealthier commuter, a system that would feed urban sprawl. Others see the lanes as a reasonable alternative to the gridlock drivers now face. Many inquired as to whether the highway changes would accommodate future light rail.

About 100 interested residents and business owners showed up at the TPepin Hospitality Center in the first hour of a two-hour open house conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation to ask questions about the project called Tampa Bay Express.

* * *

“I live off of I-4 and several times this week, it was a parking lot,” Hammock said. “Really, to me, the high speed rail made a lot more sense, but that’s dead now.”

Joseph Michalsky, a civil engineering student at the University of South Florida, opposes the idea of a toll. “I realize it has worked in other cities to minimize the average commute,” Michalsky said, “but I oppose it because of the cost. Taxpayers already pay for the highways.”

His friend, Austin Prince, a molecular biology major, had even stronger views. “This is an attempt at economic stratification. It may not be the intent, but it will be the result. And not enough people will use it to justify the cost. I don’t believe this is a solution, allowing the economic elite who are price insensitive, to benefit.”

Phil Compton, a Sierra Club representative who was very active in the failed Greenlight Pinellas initiative to build a more robust mass transit system across the bay, inquired about whether the roadways would be able to accommodate light rail, should it ever get the okay here. He found that they will be.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind,” Compton said. “I am concerned it’s a class system.” He said the state should be using some of its money to make this area’s roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, instead of just for more vehicle lanes.

“FDOT is making a big commitment here and they didn’t ask anyone in the county if we wanted this. I do applaud the potential for including bus rapid transit,” he said, but he is not happy with a lack of public input into the plan.

Rick Fifer, of Seminole Heights, said more highway lanes are not the answer to gridlock here. “Instead of express lanes, they should put in a commuter rail with spurs to downtown and the airport. They can never build enough roads” to fix the traffic problem, he said.

Not really spanning the map, but so be it. And most pointedly:

“I just wonder if there isn’t a better way to spend $6 billion,” said Laura Lawson, a 43-year-old Seminole Heights resident. “What this is going to do is benefit the people who can afford it.”

Pretty much.

Remember, they are talking about $ 6 billion, which is the amount Hillsborough officials say would be raised by the oft discussed one cent sales tax for transportation. For $ 6 billion, FDOT should be able to come up with something better than adding a few lanes that charge excessive amounts with the goal of not having that many cars drive on them in a metro area with very low incomes. What about different choices other than cars?  What about a modern transportation system?  What about making the area catch up with competitive metro areas?

Of course, locally, we haven’t come up with anything better that people can agree upon either, and, until that happens, we shouldn’t expect much from FDOT.  Which brings us to a Tribune editorial:

There is an important lesson in those numbers. TIA CEO Joe Lopano, who came from Dallas to run the airport in 2011, refused to accept the status quo — or commonly accepted beliefs about Tampa.

When he questioned why the airport had mostly fast-food restaurants and T-shirt shops, Lopano recalls, “I was told people don’t spend money in Tampa, and that was all people would support.”

He reviewed passenger statistics and added more diverse offerings, including Cigar City Brewing, the Columbia Restaurant, Shula’s Bar & Grill and high-end shops.

They are enjoying robust business and generating additional revenue for the airport. The airport also began offering valet parking, where passengers could have their car detailed while they were away, and found a ready market.

All this new revenue enables the airport to keep its passenger costs low, which makes it easier to attract additional flights.

Similarly, Lopano refused to accept the belief that TIA would never attract international flights, and vigorously pursued the market with remarkable success, landing flights to Cuba, Switzerland and Panama.

* * *

Lopano has been able to seize new opportunities because he was able to see Tampa with fresh eyes.

Much the same is happening thanks to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who realized the economic potential of the downtown Channelside area.

As he recently told us, “There’s vacant land and water on three sides in a major American city. You don’t find that anymore.”

Indeed, a fresh look.  The airport was originally ahead of its time, but previous leadership – both at the airport and in the community generally – allowed it to stagnate. What is notable is that the while Tampa was not seeking international flights, other cities were trying and succeeding in getting them.  The status quo in Tampa was complacency and falling behind.  Similarly, downtown development, while happening, has been slow – much slower than other areas.  And, as noted by both the Tribune and Times, the idea of mixed use megadevelopments is found all over the country.  (See “Built Environment/Economic Development/Downtown – There is Competition” ) While we very much approve of the airport administration and the Lightning owner’s concepts, the fact is that their ideas are not ground breaking in the greater scheme of things, they are just new here. (There is a reason there is not that much vacant waterfront property in other places.) Of course, you have to catch up before you can move ahead (though $ 6 billion in variable rate lanes is not catching up).

It is also important to respect local history and not blindly seek change for the sake of change. The status quo usually became that way for a good reason. But that doesn’t mean it should never been challenged.

Indeed.  Moreover, the status quo may have a bad reason for existing, such as being politically expedient or the narrow self-interests of certain interested parties – or simply a lack of vision.  It should be challenged constantly because the world is competitive and not static.  If it stands up to the challenge, fine.  If not, there needs to be change.

Yet too often we all can be reluctant to embrace the future. You see it on the transportation issue, with many preferring to cling to the strategy of never-ending road building and gridlock, rather than working to develop a diverse transportation network that offers the choices needed to serve the workplace of tomorrow, which will include many young workers who do not want to drive.

Progress takes time, and not every vision is realized. We should always ask tough questions and seek cost-benefit numbers when charting a new course. But prudence should not prevent us from pursuing bold, new approaches to local issues. Communities, like businesses, must adapt to an ever-changing marketplace. Tampa and Hillsborough County will never thrive if an always-was, always-will-be attitude prevails.

We agree.  The only thing we would add is that our conventional wisdom is usually behind the rest of the country by a decade or so. Fixing transportation – as well as most other issues – here is not so much about embracing the future; rather, it is catching up to everyone else’s present.

Economy – What Kind of Jobs

Speaking of low wage jobs,

Compared to other major metropolitan areas in the United States, the Tampa Bay area is lagging behind when it comes to growing its advanced industries sector.

A new Brookings Institute report out Tuesday finds that in 2013, the Lakeland-Winter Haven area had 6,500 jobs supported by advanced industries, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton had 11,160 jobs and Tampa-St. Petersburg- Clearwater had 76,040 jobs.

In a ranking that Brookings established, all three metro areas failed to make it into the top 50. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater at No. 58, North Port-Bradenton at No. 88 and Lakeland-Winter Haven at No. 95.

Advanced industry jobs include manufacturing jobs, like designing aerospace products and parts, energy jobs like oil and gas extraction and services like engineering, software publishers and telecommunications, to name a few.

Here is a graphic of the advanced industry jobs:

From Brookings – click on picture for website

The report is here. To be exact, the report finds that the Tampa Bay area ranks as 57th in the number of advanced industry jobs as a percentage of all jobs.   In gross number of jobs, we rank 26th (which is lower than its population rank).  We are 37th in percentage growth (2010-2013). And, at $15.3 billion, we are 29th in terms of the output of advanced industries. For comparison with some metro areas with smaller populations, Austin is 21st with $24.1 billion, Charlotte is 25th with $19.5 billion, Denver is 17th with $30 billion, Indianapolis is 20th with $25.2 billion, and Portland is 11th with $58.9 billion.

So, once again, yes, we have made progress, but we are still behind where we should be.

Economic Development – Survey Says

As we noted a while back, as part of the EDC’s effort to attract a corporate headquarters, there was a survey of business leaders outside the Tampa Bay area. (See “Economic Development – The Time Is Now (As It Has Been For a While)” )  There was more news about the results.

A survey of national business leaders rates the Tampa Bay area high in factors that weigh heavily in decisions about where to move factories or corporate headquarters, such as having a pro-business environment with minimal red tape.

The same survey, completed last year, showed the business leaders have negative perceptions about the quality of the Tampa area’s workforce and about its transportation system.

* * *

Homans said the Tampa area scored highest in 10 of those 20 factors.

“The funny thing is the exact areas where we are strong, they point out, are those that are big challenges in their markets: the high cost of doing business, bureaucratic interference, local and state officials not being pro-business,’’Homans said Wednesday in a report to the Hillsborough County Commission.

In addition, Tampa-Hillsborough improved in 17 of the 20 decision-making factors compared to the area’s rating in a 2002 survey.

“That’s a big change in perceptions of the (local) market,” Homans said.

However, the area’s transportation problems loom large in decision-makers’ thinking about the area, rating right behind the perceptions that highly skilled workers are in short supply. Their negative opinions mirror those of local government and business leaders who for years have preached about the nexus between transportation and economic development.

The city and county also received poor marks for lacking “class A” office space and _ in a seeming catch-22 situation _ for not having enough corporate headquarters. Homans said the latter drawback was a factor in Mercedes-Benz’s decision to move its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta instead of Tampa.

To some degree it is a Catch-22.  But the area could still fix its transportation system – which involves more than variable rate toll lanes – and do things to attract talent – which includes fixing the transportation system and changing the way the area is built to provide more choices in how people live. (And stop subsidizing sprawl and retail)

No one said any of this will be easy (though changing the code and not subsidizing sprawl is not that hard).  However, it is much harder if elected officials do not have the political will to really make the needed changes and to find creative ways of doing so.  The actions of the TED group to date does not inspire confidence, but things can always change.

Economic Development – Maybe

And a little more about jobs – or potential jobs:

Tampa Bay’s quest for a corporate headquarters relocation has focused on a new target: an e-commerce retailer that employs more than 500.

The efforts of economic development leaders to woo corporate relocations are usually conducted in secret, out of the public eye. But this particular effort was revealed in emails obtained from Pinellas County. The campaign even has its own cool code name: “Project Monaco.”

The company was not identified in those emails, however. Nor was it identified to local leaders. Even the identities of the company executives set to travel to the bay area next week will not be revealed to the local executives and politicians they meet with during their visit and tour of Tampa Bay.

“Their identities will likely remain confidential during the course of the visit,” according to the email from the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

The unidentified company is considering several locations around the nation, according to the emails, but in Florida it is only considering Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The company’s tour of the bay area was arranged by Tampa Hillsborough’s EDC and its counterpart, Pinellas County’s economic development arm.

We have no idea what the company is, but they would definitely be welcome.  Hopefully, something will come of this.

Port – Looking to Cars

There was news that the Port made a little progress in its search for car import customers.

The Volkswagen Group recently put Port Tampa Bay on its short list of American ports vying to receive a new stream of Mexican-made Volks­wagens and German-made Audis.

Port Tampa Bay made its pitch over the summer. Volkswagen hasn’t picked a winner yet, but port officials said the multinational eliminated Tampa from the competition before Christmas.

What’s important to port officials, however, is that they were in the running in the first place.

“This was the first time that Port Tampa Bay was invited to be a part of a formal bid for a major auto manufacturer,” said Wade Elliott, the Tampa Port Authority’s vice president of marketing and business development. “It was the first time we were even in a position to be considered for that.”

We suppose that is something.  So, are there details?

The port hasn’t landed any auto deals yet. But Tampa Port Authority officials hope their recent participation in the Volks­wagen competition is a sign that they’re attracting the attention of auto manufacturers.

The other ports competing for Volkswagen’s business are Baltimore, Brunswick, Ga., Houston, Jacksonville and Port Manatee. Although Tampa officials think the bay area is well situated to attract ships carrying vehicles from Mexico, its location may have hurt its chances in this deal.

That’s because the Audis made in Germany will be delivered via the Atlantic Ocean. East Coast ports with established auto import hubs are much closer to those shipping routes.

“We understand that Volks­wagen’s desire to deliver Audis made in Germany in an expedited manner gave the East Coast ports a geographical advantage,” Elliott said.

If that is the reason, Port Manatee should be eliminated. (The article was not clear if Port Manatee was still in the running or just was trying for the business.)

We are all for trying to get new business and hope the Port achieves some success in this endeavor.  However, given what the port says, it seems that most European automakers may look elsewhere.  Time will tell.

Rays – Something, But Not Much Yet

The saga of the Rays continued last week.  First, the new Baseball Commissioner made some comments about Montreal being a decent market,  then said he did not mean to say he wants the Rays to move to Montreal.    In the meantime, the Hillsborough County Commission retained an MLB connected law firm to do . . . well, wait for now.  What are they waiting for?  St. Pete, of course.  So what is going on there?

Seven weeks after Mayor Rick Kriseman’s proposed deal to allow the Rays to search for a new stadium site fell apart over city council objections, Kriseman and team president Brian Auld are scheduled to meet this week.

It will be the pair’s first conversation, aside from a brief season’s greetings call from Kriseman to Auld, since Dec. 18 when the city council voted 5-3 to reject a previous memorandum of understanding that would have allowed the Rays to look for a new site, but only in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Auld and Kriseman will likely spend most of their time discussing future development rights for Tropicana Field that are contained in the team’s current contract, which expires in 2027. It was the issue that helped derail the December vote, after council member Karl Nurse asked if the Rays still expected to enjoy a 50-50 revenue split on development rights if the team chose to leave. Auld responded the city should follow the contract.

And after the first meeting:

Mayor Rick Kriseman emerged from a meeting with the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday saying he hoped to have an agreement to let the team look for new stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties by Opening Day.

Well, that is something – though no one really knows what yet.  As for the St. Pete City Council, which would have to approve a deal:

Meanwhile, it remains unclear exactly what the council will accomplish Feb. 19 when it meets in a workshop to explore stadium options in the city. The effort was initiated during the same December meeting in which the council rejected Kriseman’s initial deal with the Rays.

One council member, Jim Kennedy, has released a list of questions that he would like answered, including all stadium sites that might interest the Rays and the standards by which the team would rank those sites — questions only the Rays could seemingly answer.

But council chairman Charlie Gerdes said he didn’t think the team should participate as the workshop is supposed to be about how the city would build a stadium for the Rays.

He thought Kennedy’s requests didn’t fit into that framework.

“I don’t think they’re appropriate for discussion in this workshop. They’re outside the scope of what we said we’re going to do,” Gerdes said.

Indeed, St. Pete collectively (not all individuals involved) has long acted as though the opinion of the target of the effort is not particularly relevant.  Maybe that is because, it is widely believed (probably true) that the Rays want a new stadium in Hillsborough County.

The wait continues.

List of the Week

Our list this week is wallethub.com’s 2015 best and worst metro areas for STEM jobs.  You can find the methodology on the main website.

The Top 30 are as follows: Houston; Austin; Raleigh; Denver; Omaha; Seattle; Oklahoma City; Salt Lake City; Columbus, OH; Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Nashville; Baltimore; Wichita; St. Louis; Dayton; Des Moines; Colorado Springs; Charlotte; Birmingham; Madison, WI; Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY; Dallas-Fort Worth; Ogden-Clearfield, UT; DC; Detroit; Atlanta; Phoenix; Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA; and Winston-Salem.

Florida cities scored poorly: the Tampa Bay area is 60th; Jacksonville is 74th; Palm Bay-Melbourne is 75th; Orlando is 83rd; Lakeland-Winter Haven is 91st; Ft. Myers is 94th; Daytona Beach is 95th; Sarasota-Bradenton is 98th; and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale is 100th. So, in terms of Florida, we are doing ok.  Regarding the rest of the country, not so much.

Roundup 1-30-2015

January 30, 2015

Hillsborough County Schools – A Glimpse Into the Future

The big news last week involved the removal of the superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools.  There was a consistent theme in the coverage:

In political and business circles, the reaction to the board’s 4-3 vote to terminate Elia’s contract has been overwhelmingly negative. The prevailing wisdom is that Elia is a good school leader with the title of state Superintendent of the Year to prove it, that a board majority was being petty, and that the move was rash, costing taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract.

But some parents blamed Elia for the struggles schools have in serving special-needs children. “I am actually happy,” said Amanda Taylor, who was so frustrated about her daughter’s situation that she called Elia “EVILia” in a Facebook campaign.

Civil rights leaders including Pheneger, concerned about disproportionate numbers of black students being disciplined, were looking for a more aggressive response to the problem instead of the sluggish task force effort now under way.

Elia’s firing was also welcomed by some former employees.

And:

Elia, 66, was a key part of Tampa/Hillsborough’s economic dream team, the business and education leadership group that has become so influential in selling this metro area to corporations looking to expand or relocate. Elia also won business kudos for helping shape education to better prepare students as a relevant future workforce.

“A school system committed to high-quality standards and working with the business community to ensure development of a qualified workforce is the most important asset a community can offer,” Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans said. “It’s the foundation of everything we do.”

Elia frequently joined area business leaders when talking to expanding companies. She was there “with enthusiasm and credibility,” Homans said. “She was a strong presence at the table.”

Robust support for Elia from the business community ran wide and deep at Tuesday’s School Board meeting where the superintendent was ultimately fired. Kathleen Shanahan — CEO of Tampa’s Uretek construction company, former chairwoman of the State Board of Education and former chief of staff to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — circulated an online petition, capturing 1,100 signatures to retain a “world-class superintendent.” The Tampa Port Authority took the extra step to approve a resolution supporting Elia. A “stunned” vice president at Tampa’s Caspers, a major operator of McDonald’s, told the board the real firing “will happen at the ballot box.”

And:

Rumors of a vote to dismiss Elia began circulating soon after that.

The response, from leaders in business, political and educational circles, was no less impressive. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Rep. Dana Young and others rose to her defense, saying it would be damaging to the community and economy if the board dismissed one of the top superintendents in the nation. Kathleen Shanahan, CEO of a Tampa-based construction company and former chairwoman of the State Board of Education, circulated an online petition.

“This is not about MaryEllen Elia’s leadership, it’s about your leadership,” she said in one of many rebukes that the board heard during Tuesday’s meeting.

Even the Tampa Port Authority weighed in, voting 4-2 Tuesday morning on a resolution supporting Elia.

In December, before the question of a contract termination landed on the board agenda, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents named Elia its Superintendent of the Year.

And:

Leaders in business and politics told the board how Elia isn’t afraid to make decisions and that her leadership and guidance is sought throughout the Tampa Bay area and the state. She has emerged as a leading voice in calling on education officials to get a handle on the testing that is suffocating our classrooms. She’s invested in programs for the disadvantaged.

We could discuss the merit or lack thereof of the move, but there is no point in that.  Clearly, a strong school system is very important to the area – for economic development, but, even more importantly, for the students.  However, the deed is done, and we are not going to get into it.

There is one really interesting thing that is of a broader significance to the future that did not get covered much.  If you look at all the quotes above, there is one striking consistency – political (of course the school board is political, too, but never mind) and business leaders, groups which have traditionally (though, of course, not exclusively) been centered in South Tampa, supported the superintendent.  Now, look at the election maps for the two Nov. 2014 school board races involving school board members who voted to remove the superintendent:

From the Hillsborough County Election Supervisor website – click on map for website

From the Hillsborough County Election Supervisor website – click on map for website

It would appear there is a disconnect between the political and business leaders in Hillsborough County and the residents of most of the county. The real question is why their message did not seem to have much resonance or influence with most of the county.  To know that requires really knowing the rest of the county.

Frankly, it is not your father’s Hillsborough County. The demographics and population distribution have changed.

The school district affair seems to indicate that the political and business leaders of the County need to develop a better outreach and understanding of the county or face the prospect of not getting much done.  Just as with the Tampa-centric transportation referendum, the center of electoral and political power in the County has moved (and not just to east county – the northwest is also not in synch with South Tampa).  Tampa may be the economic center of the county, but it is not where most people live – or vote.  That needs to be recognized and dealt with or there will be more and more replays of this kind, which does not serve anyone.

City Elections – The Editorial

There as an editorial in the Times regarding the Tampa city elections summed up in the headline “Editorial: Tampa elections too vital to skip.” The basic message of the editorial was thus:

With Mayor Bob Buckhorn facing only nominal opposition from a write-in candidate, Tampa voters might be tempted to skip city elections in March. But there are serious issues facing the field of candidates for City Council, and the outcomes in this election will shape the city and region during a critical time.

In other words, people should vote – and they should.  Of course, what we really wonder is why Tampa elections are in March, six months after a general election. That seems more like a measure to drive turnout down.  If you want turnout (and save some money), why not have the elections during the general election?

Economic Development – The Local Scene

As part of a series of articles on geekwire.com, there was a profile of Tampa’s start-up scene.   It went over the usual high points, like the beach, weather, and plans of the Lightning owner.  However, we think the real point was this:

Home-grown successes such as those will need to stick around — and continue to prosper — if Tampa wants to elevate itself to an upper echelon of tech hubs.

Burke, who co-founded KiteDesk in 2011, wants to hang in his adopted home town. But he, too, feels the pull of money centers such as Boston, New York and Silicon Valley, and he said the company would consider relocating if the right financial backers came along and requested a move. “We would go anywhere to make the company a success,” said Burke, adding that it can be a struggle for entrepreneurs to raise capital and attract talent in Tampa.

Asked what Tampa’s technology community needs most, Burke paused for a second — skipping the most frequently cited issues of venture capital and developers — before noting that there’s no direct flight between Tampa and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“If we are going to get investors from the West Coast, they are not going to spend eight hours in transit,” he said. There are signs of progress on this front as well, with the Tampa International Airport embarking on the biggest expansion in its history last fall, a massive $1 billion overhaul that officials say will help put the city on the world stage. (For what it’s worth, there is a direct flight between Seattle and Tampa).

Of course, that answer is all about the venture capital.  And, in reality, what he is talking about is not a start-up scene, but a port-start-up scene.  In other words, developing a full-fledged tech scene. The beach and weather may make the area attractive and redeveloping downtown may help attract talent (though transit would help –note that San Diego has beaches, weather, downtown and much other urban development, and transit – plus flights to San Francisco), but, in the end, the key to keeping companies here will be money (and talent, which goes to money and lifestyle, to form a cluster that will develop and maintain a full-fledged tech scene.).  Of course, we want the money to come here.  So far, that hasn’t happened as much as needed.

As has always been the case with this area, most of the ingredients for success are here.  The question is whether they can be supplemented with the last few elements to put us over the top, and that comes from dedicated work (like at the airport) and a real change in the political culture that goes beyond just welcoming jobs (everyone welcomes jobs) and becomes really willing to take political chances and leadership (not outsource it) on crucial issues, like transit and the nature of development in the area.

Economic Development – Another Thing We Need

Which brings us to the comments of a major local business leader last week:

To lure a major company headquarters to Tampa Bay requires a strong community brand; a great talent pool, infrastructure and schools; and a vigorous transit system, local real estate professionals heard this week.

Tampa has the talent pool and the great schools, but it needs to work on the infrastructure and must start to build a robust public transit system, said John Sykes, founder of Sykes Enterprises, a company whose headquarters towers over the Hillsborough River in the cylindrical building that bears his name.

A young, well-educated talent pool will insist on public transit that will take them from their doorstep to the office, the doctor and the ball game, Sykes told members of the Real Estate Investment Council, meeting Wednesday at the University Club in downtown Tampa.

Without effective transit, the goal of local leaders to draw a new corporate headquarters here will be nearly impossible to achieve, he said.

* * *

“Infrastructure, movement of people, schools, business climate and even our government has to be efficient and effective,” Chuck Sykes said. “These are the drivers as we think about why companies want to be here. They will fall in one of those buckets.

“We have to think about bringing jobs in, but also have to invest in infrastructure with light rail.”

* * *

He showed the group a chart listing some pluses and minuses of relocating to the Tampa Bay region. Quality of life, low cost of living and talent rank high. Transportation infrastructure ranked low, reflecting the region’s traffic congestion. “When you think about infrastructure and rail, whether you believe it or not really doesn’t matter. The Millennial generation wants no car or one car and they want to be able to jump on transit.”

And he’s right. Moreover, transit also is key to making the Lightning owner’s project – which is held out as key to the start-up scene – a success.  Once again, all the elements of economic development are tied together.

Ignoring the built environment, transit, transportation, schools, availability of investors, or any aspect risks hamstringing the entire effort to raise the local economy. Companies can go anywhere.  Talent can go anywhere.  To get them to invest, you have to show you are also willing to invest and provide what they want. (Of course, Texas, that bastion of socialism, is busy building rail and other transit all over the place.)

In a way, it is a chicken and egg question.  Does the talent arrive and drive the change or does the change need to come first to draw the talent and money, such as to really build a startup scene?

His message is right, but will it get through – not just with voters but with officials.

The Economy – Unemployment

The state’s unemployment rate continues to drop:

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in December 2014, down just 0.2 percentage points from November. The unemployment rate for December 2013 was 5.8 percent.

The Tampa metro area had slightly better news. The unemployment level stood at 5.5 percent for December, according to the report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. That is down from 5.9 percent in November and from 6.0 percent in December 2013.

Breaking it down further, Hillsborough County fared slightly better than the state, experiencing a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 5.2 percent in December 2014, from 5.7 percent in November. The rate was 5.8 percent in December 2013.

In Pinellas County, December’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, down slightly from 5.6 percent in November and 5.8 percent a year ago.

Pasco County’s jobless rate was 6.2 percent in December, down 0.4 percentage points from November and down from where it stood a year ago, at 6.8 percent.

Hernando County continues to see higher jobless rates, with unemployment at 6.9 percent in December 2014. It has dropped, however, from 7.4 percent in November and from 7.6 percent in December 2013.

Polk County saw a 6.1 percent unemployment rate in December, compared to 6.6 percent in November and 6.8 percent in December 2013.

And that is all good (though some counties did better than others).  But there is a consistent issue:

Income disparity is growing faster and there is a higher percentage of low-wage jobs being created in Florida compared with most places in the United States, according to a pair of reports coming out this week.

The studies found:

Another way to look at it: The average income of Florida’s top 1 percent is 43 times higher than the average income of the rest.

* * *

Researchers dissected Florida’s job creation two ways. In both cases, the news wasn’t encouraging.

Sixty-one percent of job openings statewide pay less than $16.98 an hour, the estimated living wage in Florida for a single adult.

Using $15 as a living-wage benchmark — just for comparison purposes — Florida would rank 11th worst among states, with 54 percent of jobs below the cutoff.

For a single adult with two children, the options dwindle further with 90 percent of job openings paying less than the family’s living wage of $30.43 an hour.

That is not good.  (And makes us wonder even more about variable rate toll roads.)

The Economy – Housing Market

There was also news about the housing market.

But how is this metro area’s housing uptick doing when compared to other major cities across the country?

The answer is: pretty darn good. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller index look at 20 major metro areas, announced Tuesday, shows that amid a national slowdown in home price appreciation, Tampa Bay registered a healthy 0.8 percent gain. That’s the strongest monthly increase in November among home prices in 20 top metro areas.

Gains in home prices among some metro areas is not a given, despite the recovering economy. Of the 20 metro areas, eight reported monthly price declines in November, led by a 1.1 percent drop in Chicago.

Measured over 12 months, Tampa Bay still delivered a solid 6.8 percent annual gain in home prices. Only five metro areas, led by high-priced San Francisco’s heady 8.9 percent, topped Tampa Bay’s year-to-year increase, according to Case-Shiller.

And that is good, though, as always, growth numbers must be looked at in light of the starting point, and our was quite low.  In any event, are there reasons for this improvement?

Start with a falling unemployment rate and some of the strongest consumer confidence measures since the recession. Sprinkle in the growing swell of baby boomers heading here from up North. Add in the still relatively cheap home prices in the Tampa Bay area, which add to their appeal among retirees and first-time home buyers.

We are curious, though we do not have numbers, about whether the increase is driven more by expenses house having a higher gain or a more broad increase in lower priced houses.  Nevertheless, we will take it.

Port – Growth is Good

There was news about the Port and growth.

Port Tampa Bay handled 3.5 percent more cargo, gained 4 percent more cruise passengers and increased revenue to an all-time high of $48 million in 2014.

* * *

Some of the strides forward in 2014 included 17 percent more ships coming into the port, 22 percent more container cargo coming in, 45 percent more dry bulk products, including phosphate, going out and 200 percent more steel coming in, “a strong sign that the construction sector is coming back,” Anderson said.

That all sounds good.  More ships and more cargo is good.  Looking a little more closely,

The Port of Jacksonville is the state’s biggest container port, handling more than the equivalent of 1 million 20-foot containers in fiscal 2012-13.

Tampa, in comparison, handled the equivalent of 42,198 20-foot containers in the same time period.

Well, that is not as good, but at least there is progress.

The cruise business had more than 888,000 passengers travel through Tampa in the last fiscal year, and Anderson said he expects those number to remain strong, with six ships docking at his port this year.

That sounds good for now. We are not sure how much of the Port’s revenue is still tied up in cruise business (it used to be about ¼). And it is not clear if anything has really been done regarding the issue of new ships not being able to use the Port in the future and the threat to revenue. That was not mentioned in the reporting.

While we are not where we should be, we are moving in the right direction (subject to the cruise issue).  And we like this:

At the annual state of the port event Tuesday, CEO Paul Anderson said that while both the cargo and cruise businesses grew in 2015, he and his team are focusing on the growth of the container and car business.

Containers are among the profitable lines of business for a port. Terminal operators — and by extension, the port authority — make money by loading and offloading containers from ships as well as through storage fees.

Now is the time to chase the container business, said Raul Alfonso, the port’s chief commercial officer.

We agree.  In fact, it is always time to chase container and other business.  We wish the Port success.

– In Other Port News

Finally, there was one other port related item.

A steel company with local roots and an international reach is expanding, adding 108 jobs and investing $18 million in a new facility on Port Tampa Bay property.

Tampa Tank Inc. and Florida Structural Steel plans to construct a 120,000 square-foot building at Port Redwing and retrofit an existing 40,000 square-foot building there. The company will add 24 jobs at its headquarters in Ybor City and 84 jobs at Port Redwing.

* * *

The company that builds and exports steel petroleum tanks, some the size of a football field, has regional offices in Panama, Guatamala, the Bahamas and Colombia and ships tanks as far away as Africa and the Middle East.

Port Tampa Bay will lease the company two buildings at Port Redwing, located near the Hillsborough-Manatee county line. The buildings will be used to fabricate steel and iron structures for export.

The new jobs will pay nearly 150 percent of the state’s average wage, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Good deal.

Downtown – What to Call a Billion Dollar Development

It seems that the Lightning owner is looking for a name for his development.

Vinik is expected to rename the area with a little crowdsourcing help from the public. He’s taking suggestions for the project via his website, tampawaterfront2020.com.

When the Tampa Bay Lightning owner settles on a name, he’ll actually be naming the area for the first time. That part of downtown — a mosaic of barren lots and broken streets — has never had an identity.

“It has been pretty neglected over the years,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, historian and curator of the Tampa Bay History Center. “It really doesn’t have a name and it didn’t really need a name.

“You don’t name a part of town you don’t go to.”

Well, not exactly.

Once, it was part of Fort Brooke, the 1800s military installation that overlooked what would become modern downtown. Now those barren acres are the final vestiges of downtown’s industrial past, along with a 77-year-old flour mill that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

So, at least much of it was Ft. Brooke, but nevermind.  So were there any suggestions?

The Times found some good suggestions.

Saul-Sena wants to call it the “Water District,” after Old Water Street.

Water Street is a historic road whose name disappeared when the arena was built in 1996. When the Tampa Bay History Center opened nearby in 2009, Kite-Powell said the center requested that Water Street be brought back. It was resurrected as Old Water Street.

Old Water Street is also a key part of the Vinik plan. The road will be extended north past Channelside Drive, and USF’s new medical school will be built near it. Under the Vinik plan, it could become a pedestrian thoroughfare.

“I think it would be a memorable name,” Saul-Sena said. “It has historic roots. It’s simple and straightforward. I also like the idea that adjacent to the Channel District is something that refers to water.”

Stork, the aquarium’s leader, also said water should feature prominently in the new name. He threw out suggestions like the Harbor District or the River District. The city’s new Riverwalk, after all, is being built to reconnect residents to the downtown waterfront.

* * *

Water might be a better foundation to build a new name on than the history of the area. Kite-Powell said there isn’t much history to draw from. The only other name associated with the area besides Fort Brooke — now bestowed upon a parking garage — is “Garrison” (Fort Brooke was a military garrison).

It’s also the name of a downtown body of water, the Garrison Channel, which Vinik’s new development would overlook.

“Historically speaking — and I’m not endorsing or suggesting this in any way — but ‘Garrison’ is the only historic name you can give it that would be in any way accurate,” Kite-Powell said. “It’s not particularly inviting, though. ‘Garrison’ sounds like a jail.”

Well, you could use Ft. Brooke for accuracy.  In any event, anything with “water” in the name sounds a bit generic to us, as noted in this Times column:

To help, Vinik asked his University of Tampa audience for feedback on two potential names:

“Waterside” and “SoDo.”

The more traditional Waterside, of course, plays to the project’s waterfront appeal and Vinik’s goal to use water access — for entertainment and transportation — as a key element of his project.

At the same time, generic words like Waterside already litter the Florida landscape, conjuring up the many thousands of housing developments whose names have grown indistinguishable from one another.

And we have to say the name “Waterside” is really not very inspiring, though it is very Tampa. Not to mention that it is already used in a largely empty “festival marketplace” in Norfolk.  You can bring in the idea of waterfront without actually just saying “waterfront.”

Garrison or Ft. Brooke, despite making up part of garage name, sound more memorable – and relevant – to us.  A little Spanish might be nice, but the only thing we could come up with is based on a nearby historical marker: Cabeza de Vaca.  While memorable, we doubt it is really evokes the image the developers want to evoke.

Then again Meatpacking District, Gaslight District, or Fisherman’s Wharf (even French Quarter, really) are not really very catchy in isolation, and we doubt people branding a new area would choose those names. In all truth, as with most branding, unless it is something amazingly bad, the name will catch on if the product is quality. (Though Garrison doesn’t really sound bad to us.)

Transportation – A Hint

There was this interesting note in a Palm Beach Post blog:

In the December issue of Florida Trend magazine the executive editor’s column about All Aboard Florida makes a statement about its future that the express passenger rail service has yet to make publicly.

In his En Route column, executive editor Mark R. Howard says All Aboard  will move “as quickly as possible to extend the train to Tampa and Jacksonville” once the Orlando train station is under construction.

That would be great.  This area cannot be left out of a major transportation infrastructure system in the state.  Though it seems we may be a bit down the list of next phases.

In June, The Palm Beach Post reported that All Aboard Florida had formed a related company that pointed to the possible extension of its service north to Jacksonville.

The new company, AAF Jacksonville Segment LLC, which was registered May 29 in Delaware, penned a June 11 agreement with All Aboard Florida that gives it the easement rights to shuttle passengers on the lines from Cocoa to Jacksonville. The agreement was filed June 18 in St. Johns County.

A Jacksonville link would take All Aboard Florida on about a 150-mile route through Duval, St. Johns, Volusia and Brevard counties.

Nothing about a company for the Tampa Bay area – or any real discussion locally.  And, while we very much want Tampa connected to the network, really, our local transportation infrastructure is still not well developed enough to take full advantage of an inter-city train.  Nevertheless, hopefully, it will happen in the not too distant future.

Transportation – Some Interesting Reads

– Something about Streetcars

Since there is a renewed push to fix the streetcar, we thought it might be useful to note an article in citylabs.com about Atlanta’s new streetcar.  The basic thrust of the article is that the streetcar in Atlanta is too slow and that many streetcar systems are not useful transit for locals and basically serve tourists or special events, examining why.  We are not going to quote it, but you can read it here.

– BRT Stations

Citylabs.com also had this interesting piece about BRT station design.  It goes through how to make BRT stations more attractive an effective.  Once again, we are not going to quote it, but you can read it here.

The bottom line with both articles is that, if you are going to do it, do it right.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is thrillist.com’s The 10 Sexiest Neighborhoods in America.

As there is no apparent methodology (really, how could there be any?), we will just give you the list.

Coming in first is South Beach, followed by South Bay (Los Angeles), Uptown (Dallas), Brickell (Miami), River North (Chicago), South Tampa, Soho (NYC), Buckhead (Atlanta), 14th Street (DC), and Back Bay (Boston).

So our SoHo beat the New York Soho.  This is what the website said about South Tampa:

Have you ever watched a Florida State game on TV, looked at the sections upon sections of gorgeous girls in the stands, and thought “Damn, I shoulda gone to school there.” Well, you know where a good chunk of those girls move after graduation? South Tampa, a popular post-grad spot for ALL the big schools in the Sunshine State that is essentially Greek life for grown ups. The area encompasses neighborhoods that share an exploding restaurant scene, walkable bars, and new condo construction that’ve drawn the best, brightest, and — most importantly — hottest young people in Florida who just can’t stomach the idea of living in…. ew… Miami.

The irony is that the City Council and neighborhoods near the heart of social activity in South Tampa – Howard Ave – keep trying to remove the very young adult frat party environment that the website trumpets.

List of the Week II

Our second list is redfin.com’s predictions for the hottest neighborhoods in 2015.  This is how they describe the list:

Now that 2015 is off and running, we know what you’re wondering: Which neighborhoods will everyone be lusting after this year? In 2015, it will be all about compromise. There are finally more houses for sale, and affordability is once again buyers’ top concern. They may give up on living in the trendiest ZIP code, but they won’t sacrifice convenience. As a result, the neighborhoods that are going to be the most popular this year aren’t suburban, but they aren’t quite urban either; they’re in a sweet spot where affordability and convenience overlap.

After two years of neighborhood predictions, we’ve got the hang of this. Of the 10 neighborhoods we predicted would be hot last year, eight were. Our 2015 predictions are based on a similar methodology: We looked at which ones had the biggest increase in page views and Favorites on Redfin.com, as well as the prevalence of Redfin Hot Homes in each neighborhood. We then asked our local Redfin agents in every market for their on-the-ground insights, and together we came up with the 10 hottest neighborhoods of 2015, as well as the five hottest neighborhoods in each of 27 metro areas.

Just so you know, they do not even bother to look at the hottest neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area, so don’t expect to be on the top 10 list.

The top 10 list is as follows: El Cerrito (San Diego), Dickinson Narrows (Philadelphia), East Atlanta (Atlanta), Little Neck (Queens, NY), Bohemia (Long Island), Curtis Park (Sacramento), Andersonville (Chicago), Woodridge (Seattle), Crocker (San Francisco), and Woodridge (DC).

Looking at the two lists, it appears that being sexy is not all there is to being hot.

Roundup 1-23-2015

January 23, 2015

USF – Med School

The downtown USF med school proposal went to the Board of Governors of the state university system.

Plans for a University of South Florida medical school in downtown Tampa hit a snag Wednesday when a Florida Board of Governors committee delayed voting on state funding for the new campus.

The facilities committee instead authorized USF to spend $5 million that was previously appropriated for planning expenses and asked USF officials to submit a detailed business plan for the downtown location by the Feb. 19 meeting.

USF President Judy Genshaft told reporters on a conference call after the meeting that university officials had come prepared with a presentation for the board. But the agenda didn’t allow time for presentations, and the board members wanted to see the information in advance.

USF is requesting $57 million in state money for the medical school over the next three years: $17 million this year and $20 million each in the two following years.

The committee did approve $15.7 million for the heart institute — the final allocation of funding for the $50 million project.

A USF spokesman said there was a “miscommunication” between the committee and the university. When the university presented its plans to the board in October, the response was supportive, and the university was told all it would need at this meeting was the location of the school. That was before the USF board of trustees unanimously approved the downtown location at its Dec. 4 meeting.

“Our presentation exists,” Genshaft said. “We could have presented today, but they didn’t allow time on the agenda.”

Given that they approved money for the heart institute and allowed USF to spend previously allocated money to study and plan the med school, we doubt this is a major delay (though you never know). Of course, then it has to go to the legislature, so time will tell.

One thing we will say is that the Board of Governors probably is not as concerned with local development prospects – they are looking at the university system – as the people promoting the plan.  We hope whatever presentation is made and whatever business plan is presented is not based on simply local considerations.

Transportation – Get Ready to Pay

FDOT’s plan for variable rate toll lanes seems to be moving forward:

In a sign of heightened interest, state transportation officials have scheduled two public workshops to explain a proposal that would create express toll lanes on Tampa Bay interstates.

Known as Tampa Bay Express, the plan involves adding separate express lanes along area interstates that drivers can pay to use. Though controversial elsewhere, express lanes are supposed to siphon vehicles away from overcrowded pockets of regular highway and offer a faster commute to drivers, according to the project’s website.

The exact amount a driver would pay would be based on the actual travel conditions in the express lane at any given time.

The lanes would run along Interstate 275 from north St. Petersburg to south of Bearss Avenue in Hillsborough County. They are also being considered for much of the length of Interstate 75 in Hills­borough and for all of the county’s stretch of Interstate 4, ultimately connecting with the Polk County Parkway.

The Florida Department of Transportation has been developing the toll idea as part of a larger plan to improve the flow of transportation around Tampa Bay, one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the nation. But only this week did the department announce its plan to present the idea to the public. 

We are not sure whose interest is heightened, but let us review the idea of variable rate toll lanes.  These are lanes which allow a driver to pay extra to avoid heavy traffic.  The price changes depending on how crowded the normal part of the road is.  Moreover, the stated purpose of the toll is to be high enough to incentivize most people to stay out of the lane so the traffic in the toll lane will flow.  In other words, if the road is completely congested, the price of the toll lane rises so that most people will not use it.  In other words, the toll lane is supposed to reduce congestion by keeping people out of the lane.  If you do not have the money to pay the toll (and who doesn’t have the money with this area’s awesome average incomes?), too bad.

In any event:

Here is where the toll lanes would run in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties:

And, as we have noted before, FDOT plan on taking one of the four  presently free lanes on the Howard Frankland and making it a variable rate lane – because that will help congestion. (see “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away”)

As we have noted often, we understand having tolls.  We are ok with the idea that a toll is a user fee.  But this plan is simply providing a service to limited number of people in the name of serving everyone.  Is that really the best use of public transportation money?

Additionally, if you throw in the idea that buses might run on these lanes, how will that affect the toll price?  Will the added traffic make the prices even higher and help fewer people stuck in traffic.  And what will happen to real transit?

In other words, there are a lot of questions, but we doubt that will get in the way.

Transportation – More Streetcar Talk

Now that we know the streetcar is part of the whole Lightning owner’s idea to help develop his project (which is fine with us), get ready for the big push.  Let’s review what he has said:

Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and downtown properties, included revitalized plans for the streetcar in his December announcement about development plans.

“There were very good intentions with the streetcar when it first went into service,” Vinik said. “But, frankly, it needs to run more frequently. It needs to transport guests from one location to another quicker. It needs to become a means by which people can go from their downtown offices to Channelside, to Ybor, to have lunch and to make it back in time for work.”

* * *

“I’m serious when I call it a priority,” Vinik said. “It’s an important part again of transforming downtown Tampa.”

We have no problem with any of those observations.  So what has his interest led to?

Local leaders who have long bemoaned Tampa’s historic streetcar as an under-used, expensive, poorly managed transit option have recently refocused on making it more successful, starting first with discussions of overhauling the ownership structure.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the first step in breathing new life into the program is to abolish its board, which oversees the streetcar along with the city of Tampa and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“The board has served its purpose,” Buckhorn said. “I think in the streetcar’s next chapter, it will be run by one organization, not a triparty agreement.”

Under the current agreement, HART is in charge of operation and maintenance, but the right-of-way is owned by the city and the streetcar is managed by the Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc. board.

“Clearly, part of the next step is determining some level of ownership for the process,” HART CEO Katherine Eagan said. “The community outreach, the long-range planning, where do all these other things fall? They simply don’t get done because no one’s charged with them.”

Setting aside that this issue has been around a long time and most of the people on the various boards also are involved in other related boards and so should have been more proactive, fine.  At least people are now talking about it.  The question is where will the streetcar go?  Is the City going to run it? HART?  How will it be most integrated into whatever transportation system exists in the County as a whole and the area? What is the proposal?

To reach that point, Eagan said the focus needs to first be on improving the product before expanding its routes or upgrading the cars.

“A streetcar that starts at noon is not a product for a downtown or Ybor worker,” Eagan said. “If it runs every 20 minutes, it’s not a product that’s competitive with any other method of transportation.”

HART has looked into what it would take to increase frequency from 20 to 15 minutes. The more frequent schedule that people are interested in would cost an additional $1 million.

“HART can definitely commit to running a stronger schedule,” Eagan said. “We can make that happen pretty quickly, if the funding is there.”

But the question of funding is a big one for which few seem to have an answer. Federal funding is appropriated toward capital costs, such as expanding routes or upgrading streetcars, Eagan said. Operational funds have to come from elsewhere, and fares and ad valorem taxes for buses can’t be directed to the streetcar.

First, it is not clear that running slow moving cars on a limited path that ignores a main part of downtown will really get the streetcar to the point that it becomes a viable transit option for workers and residents downtown. (If you live in the Element or SkyPoint, does it really make sense to take the streetcar to go anywhere? If you live in Ybor, would you take it to go to the Straz?) It is not clear that incremental improvements will really show the potential or really raise ridership considerably.  If simply improving service is part of a well-defined, overall plan to expand the service and make it a real means of transportation, maybe. What is really needed is to make the streetcar part of a real transportation system – that should be the stated goal, not half measures. (And, of course, there is the question of money to improve the present service.  It would be odd if no one had looked at that, yet.)

In any event, now there is someone who wants to take the lead on the issue:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has vowed to save downtown’s struggling streetcar — once again.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the mayor also vowed to save it back in 2012. But downtown’s underused, underfunded trolley system remains in distress.

But this time, the mayor said, he really means it.

“I’m happy to take ownership of this,” Buckhorn said, “because I do think we need to resolve this.”

Buckhorn’s latest vow was made during Tuesday’s Tampa Port Authority board meeting, in the very same room where he first vowed — two years, four months and three days ago — to save the trolley.

Back then, he convinced his fellow board members to continue a $100,000 subsidy to the streetcar. Their patience has since worn thin. The port hasn’t paid the streetcar anything since 2012. In October 2014, the board balked at giving the trolley any money until its operator, the nonprofit Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., came up with a turnaround plan.

Buckhorn already has a solution in mind: the streetcar’s volunteer board — which runs the trolley along with the city and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority — needs to be disbanded.

The streetcar must be run by one entity, the mayor said, and it needs a seven-figure infusion of cash to get it running more frequently and for free. The first step in that process likely will be funding a study of the streetcar, its ridership, the cost and benefits of increasing service and perhaps even expanding it with federal dollars.

Buckhorn said the city would bring the streetcar board, HART, the county and the neighborhood community redevelopment agencies together to start the discussion.

Fixing the streetcar will be a daunting task, the mayor said, especially securing the extra $1 million a year he said it could cost to get the trolley running more often so that more people will use it.

In fact, we believe him that he really wants to fix it now because:

Why would this vow be different than his last one? Two words: Jeff Vinik. The Tampa Bay Lightning owner plans a $1 billion redevelopment of downtown. A revitalized streetcar could add mass transit to that plan.

“Now is the time to get it done,” Buckhorn said.

The reason he didn’t act in 2012, the mayor said, was because he’s had a lot on his plate: “It just hasn’t been at the top of my list of priorities.”

Not only is there motivation because of the potential development, the City tax transit plan went nowhere.  Not that we really care about the reasons.  The streetcar needs (and has needed) to be fixed.  If the Mayor wants to take the lead, fine with us.  The one caveat is that the streetcar needs to be part of an integrated, coordinated transportation system.  If it is run by the City, that is highly unlikely to happen because the City does not really run any other transportation system.  Nevertheless, someone has to do something.

Of course, if the CSX insurance fee ($400,000) can be taken away (or at least made more reasonable – like in other cities in Florida) that would go a long way towards paying for the extra service.  Something to consider.

At least people now seem motivated.

Economic Development – Latest on VC

There was more news in the Business Journal on venture capitalist funding.

With six funding deals totaling $40.65 million last year, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area ranks No. 58 on the list of investment data by MSA, compiled by the National Venture Capital Association.

The Lakeland-Winter Haven metro ranks No. 95 with two deals and $11.2 million in total investments in 2014.

* * *

San Francisco was the venture capital leader, with 876 companies receiving $15.7 billion in investments in 2014, more than twice the number of companies and total investment received in San Jose, Calif., No. 2 on the list.

The article provided the following list of Florida cities with their rank and the amount of VC funds.

11 Fort Lauderdale $641.91
40 Orlando $100.91
55 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton $45.44
58 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater $40.65
80 Miami $14.93
95 Lakeland-Winter Haven $11.19
108 Gainesville $7.40

As we noted a while back, there was a Ft. Lauderdale company that got a very large injection of money.  In any event, until we are consistently at least around 20th (though, of course, we would like to be higher), we are underperforming.

Cuba – An Interesting Item

There was an interesting report on NPR.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: More than 800,000 Cuban-Americans call Miami-Dade County home. That’s about 1 in every 3 residents. It’s the largest Cuban-American population in the country and therefore might seem like a logical location for a Cuban consulate. But Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado doesn’t think so. He says one thing Miami definitely doesn’t need is a Cuban consulate.

* * *

ALLEN: But Miami isn’t the only city in Miami-Dade County. The county mayor, Carlos Gimenez, is a bit more circumspect, saying only that it’s premature at this point to discuss whether a Cuban consulate should be located in the county. The three Cuban-Americans who represent Miami-Dade County in Congress are critical of the president’s Cuba proposals and have vowed to block normalization. But elsewhere in Florida, some officials see a Cuban consulate as an opportunity.

REPRESENTATIVE KATHY CASTOR: The Tampa area would welcome a consulate.

ALLEN: Congresswoman Kathy Castor represents Tampa, another city with a large Cuban-American population. It’s a city with long historical ties to Cuba that go back to the 19th century when Miami was still an Indian trading post. Castor supports normalization and, along with other political and business leaders in the city, has worked to promote trade ties with Cuba.

CASTOR: In Tampa, we’ve been more open – our port, our airport. We’ve embraced the current reforms and now are looking forward to the real fall in the relationship.

ALLEN: Tampa’s airport hopes to expand the number of direct flights it already offers to Cuba. The city’s port recently set out a press release saying it’s ready to move to, quote, “aggressively market its first-rate facilities to our Cuban neighbors.” Tampa may get a boost in its bid from those most likely to use a new Cuban consulate, those who travel there or have visitors from the island. Among Cuban-Americans in Florida, a recent poll by the Miami Herald found more opposed a Cuban consulate in Miami than supported. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

It does not really matter if you think the policy is good or bad, if relations with Cuba are going to open up – a Federal government choice – why not have a consulate in Tampa?  Aren’t we trying to open up to Latin America?  Don’t we want more flights and more use of the port?  Isn’t that good for the area, especially when other areas are already pushing to open up trade with Cuba?   If the law is going to change, why allow other areas to move into what is a natural market of ours?

So what did the Mayor say?

When asked today if he would support a Cuban consulate in Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn was careful in his response.

“If that’s the choice…we will be respectful of the law, respectful of the consulate officials,” he replied with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

“I’m doing to do what the law requires me to do,” he added. “I don’t think I’m going to cut a ribbon, but I’m not going to be ugly. There’s not going to be violence.”

Well, at least it is not negative.

Cuba – Flights?

Speaking of Cuba, there was an article in the Times regarding Cuba flights.

There’s cautious optimism that the newer, less restrictive rules for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba set to start today will boost Tampa International Airport’s role as a gateway to the island nation.

“Anything that makes it easier to fly to Cuba benefits us,” said airport CEO Joe Lopano. “Now that we have further liberalization of the travel restrictions, we expect to see growth.”

For decades, U.S. trade and travel to Cuba was severely restricted by the embargo of the island nation. Those restrictions have loosened over the years. In 2011, the U.S. government expanded the number of airports allowed to fly to Cuba and added Tampa to that list.

Since then, more than 164,000 passengers have used Tampa to fly to and return from Cuba. Tampa is the second largest U.S. gateway to Cuba behind Miami.

* * *

By making travel to Cuba easier, the new rules could increase the number of U.S. citizens who will visit — and who might use Tampa International to get there.

During peak times, Tampa had up to eight flights a week to Cuba. It currently has five a week. But the relaxed travel rules could change that significantly, Lopano said.

“I would expect to see the number of flights increase in the next six months,” he said.

And that is all reasonable. We would expect good travel links between Tampa and Cuba.  However, there is another factor:

It has been decades since U.S. airlines could make commercial flights from the States to Cuba, but that is about to change.

JetBlue (JBLU), Delta (DAL) and United (UAL) airlines are already expressing interest in adding the route.

Which leads to a concern.  Those three airlines have hubs in other cities which makes one wonder whether much of the Cuba flight traffic will move to the major hubs, leaving Tampa to only serve its local travelers.

We do not doubt that there will be flights to Cuba in the future, but it would just be a shame if Tampa did not become the gateway to Cuba that it should be.  Of course, developing business with Cuba could help, but that takes work and local official support – especially the boards of the airport and port. (And, no, it is not just a rush for contracts, but if the policy changes, it is illogical to act as though it didn’t.)

If the business is there anyway, why should it go somewhere else?

Channel District – Update on the Martin

There was more news on the Martin this week:

Mercury Advisors, the developer of the project, had predicted the building would break ground by the end of 2014. That didn’t happen, but the project is still in the works, principal Ken Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” Stoltenberg said, “but we’re at that stage where we have to wait for other people to make decisions.”

Mercury is still working with Atlanta-based Daniel Corp. on a joint venture agreement and in talks with lenders for a construction loan, Stoltenberg said. He said that the financing could be easier once the SkyHouse, a 23-story apartment tower about to wrap up construction a few blocks from the Meridian site, is complete and starts to lease up. That would show investors and lenders that there’s demand for that type of product in Tampa, which is still regarded as a risky secondary market by many.

We hope they get their financing.  Their earlier project Grand Central is probably the best overall project in first wave of development in the Channel District and the Martin is rumored to have a grocery store as part of the project.  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was an interesting article about SunRail in Orlando:

The figure is still fairly astonishing: 9,002.

That’s the number of passengers who rode SunRail on Friday, Jan. 2. It’s nearly triple the number of passengers SunRail has been getting starting in September and continuing through mid-December.

Then something changed. On Dec. 19, a Friday, ridership rose to more than 3,500 passengers. The following Monday ridership topped 4,200. That also happens to be the first day of SunRail’s late night train service. On Tuesday – the night of an Orlando Magic game against the visiting Boston Celtics – ridership topped 4,700. Wednesday tanked, predictably, because it was Christmas Eve.

Heavy ridership was back the day after Christmas with more than 6,400 passengers (Magic vs. Cavs at the Amway that night). The next week was busy, too. Even New Year’s Eve had about 4,200 riders, way more than SunRail had been getting on a typical workday in previous months.

Than [sic] came the big day, which was a mixed blessing for SunRail as eager pleasure riders arrived at stations to find unwieldy crowds and – no surprise to regular passengers – balky ticketing machines that helped gum up the works. That night, Jan. 2, also happened to be a home game for the Magic, which surely contributed to the record 350 passengers who were on the late night train that day.

So what is going on here?

Combine those numbers with recent passenger survey results demanding expanded service and you’re seeing a strong argument for SunRail as something more than a commuter service.

* * *

SunRail was initially conceived as an alternative form of transportation for commuters. And I expect that when workers start tearing up Interstate 4 later this year for the ultimate makeover a lot more commuters are going to be looking for another way to get to and from work.

But SunRail’s numbers also suggest an unanticipated appetite to use the train for dining, shopping and entertainment. Just look at the Orlando Conductor Crawl. A couple of weeks ago, following an after-work beer with a buddy at Tap & Grind on Central, we ran into a huge crawl crowd on the Church Street platform.

In other words, people want a real transit system – not just tourists, not just commuters.

Not surprisingly, SunRail has decided to extend its late-night service through 2015. However, SunRail is making no commitments about adding weekend service or more mid-day trains.

That seems reasonable, considering expansion will require a financial commitment that neither state nor local governments seem eager to make. Never mind expanded service, local governments are still mostly mum about how they’re going to pick up the slack for operating the system when the state transfers that financial responsibility to them in a few years.

Of course money is an issue.  It always is.  However, all this should be a lesson to the Tampa Bay area that a transit system should provide transit – not just a limited service for a limit category of people – to be successful.

Lists of the Week

This week, we have two related lists: wallethub’s 2015’s Best and Worst Cities to Find a Job and nerdwallet’s Best Cities for Job Seekers 2015.

First, the Top 25 (we are not going to do the worst) from wallethub: Seattle; Des Moines; Gilbert, AZ; Sioux Falls; Fremont, CA; Chandler, AZ; Omaha; Salt Lake City; Scottsdale; Plano, TX; Anchorage; Irving; San Jose; Peoria, AZ; Santa Clarita, CA; Fort Worth; Raleigh; Lincoln; Madison, WI; San Francisco; Denver; Columbus, OH; Virginia Beach; Tampa; and Tulsa.  A very Arizona-friendly list but at least Tampa made the top 25. Good.

Now nerdwallet, which is a much shorter list: Lincoln; Ft. Worth; Columbus, OH; Minneapolis; Denver; Austin; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR; OKC; and St. Paul. Quite the list of usual suspects. (And, per the website, Charlotte was originally in the top 10 but, on review, was moved out of it.)

 

Roundup 1-16-2015

January 16, 2015

Transportation – The County Channels Ray Guy, Cont.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the County (and presumably the Transportation for Economic Development Group, since to large degree it is the same thing) outsourcing their transportation plan.  This week, there was more detail:

After a four-month delay, Hillsborough County is finally ready to start gathering public opinion about the county’s transportation future.

It will be a massive undertaking, consisting of 28 public meetings where residents can talk about what transportation improvements are needed in their communities or along their commutes. Four of the town hall meetings will be over the phone. Residents also will be able to comment via email and social media.

The public outreach effort was supposed to start in September but was delayed because county commissioners decided to hire transportation consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop a list of projects and their estimated costs. County leaders hope the outreach program will garner crucial public buy-in for a transportation package funded by a new or increased tax.

“We’re going to listen to the community; learn what their needs are,” said George Walton, executive vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff. “Then, (ask) what are the tools and techniques to address that problem? That’s where our technical expertise comes in.”

The whole exercise will take eight to 10 weeks in February, March and April and cost about $280,000. When it’s finished, Parsons Brinckerhoff will translate the information from the public into a package of projects totaling billions of dollars. They will likely include sidewalks, roads, trails and buses.

A light rail system has also been discussed although some leaders think a rail proposal might be too costly and mobilize opposition to the package.

So does that mean that the final package is partly predetermined or does it mean that rail can be part of the package?  It is unclear from the article.

In any event, the TED group was not content with 28 meetings and voted to add even more:

Twenty-eight public meetings were proposed to collect the thoughts of Hillsborough County residents on what should be done to fix gridlocked county roads.

That wasn’t enough.

On Wednesday, county commissioners and other members of the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group voted to add eight meetings to a public outreach effort that will stretch from mid-February to mid-April.

The information gathered in the 36 meetings, and via telephone and online surveys, will be used to craft a broad transportation plan with $6 billion in road, trail and transit projects.

* * *

The newest commissioner, Stacy White, was the first to push for more meetings.

White, who represents all of eastern Hillsborough and part of the southern area, said the two meeting sites in his district, one in Brandon and the other near Sun City Center, were not enough.

White said people in the FishHawk Ranch community in Lithia are not likely to drive to Brandon for a meeting at supper time.

“I’m not even sure I can see citizens from Apollo Beach going to Sun City Center for one of those meetings,” he said.

White said that at a minimum, two more sites were needed in his district, and preferably one in FishHawk.

Commissioner Victor Crist, who represents the northern part of the county, said meetings should be held in New Tampa, where he lives, and Thonotosassa. The upper-income families living in New Tampa have commutes to Tampa of an hour to 90 minutes and are interested in transportation options, Crist said.

The transportation policy group’s other members — the mayors of the county’s three cities and the chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus line board — did not speak up about added meetings but voted for White’s motion to add eight. 

A couple of immediate reactions: First, how can it be that there were no meetings scheduled in all of New Tampa?  If that is the case, what does it say about the consultants? Second, if they are interested in transit, why hasn’t anyone proposed anything to serve them? As for Apollo Beach and Sun City Center, we would not be surprised if people did not want to travel between them given the inexplicably inefficient road system connecting and within them.

More broadly, we are all for public input, as long as it is actually considered.  So what will the public outreach consist of?

The meetings will be a two-way street, with consultants and county officials mostly listening but also providing facts and figures when needed, said Beth Leytham, a Tampa public relations executive hired by Parsons Brinckerhoff to handle communications.

* * *

The county will be divided into eight districts with a town hall meeting planned for each, Leytham said. Telephone and digital meetings also are scheduled to draw more comments and feedback.

The eight original districts will be consolidated into four larger geographic regions for workshops based on the findings from the first meetings.

The results will be analyzed by Parsons Brinckerhoff, which will produce an “Issues and Opportunities” report. With that information as groundwork, another set of meetings will be held using the 8-4 district format.

* * *

The county hired Parsons Brinckerhoff for nearly $900,000 to come up with a transportation package that a majority of county residents will support and vote to finance. County leaders say they chose the firm based in part on its past success in designing transportation plans that won approval from voters in other states.

In truth, hiring consultants and outsourcing a plan is the same old operating procedure for local government. (And we have been to multiple transportation meetings/workshops that came to naught.) In fact, the TED group hired a consultant to hold public meetings, then promptly completely ignored the meetings.  Now, not so promptly, the County/TED hired another consultant to hold meetings. (Apparently the County is not strapped for cash for transportation.) Hopefully, this effort will be more fruitful. (It would be hard to be less.)

The real question is, if this was going to be done, why was it not done first?  Why did the TED group take all that time just to end up outsourcing the process and why do all these they feel the need to rely on consultants to interpret what the public wants?

In any event, that is a whole lot of meetings in not a lot of time.  We are curious what they will conclude.

Downtown – Step One

This week, the City Council (of course) approved funding for redoing the roads and utilities around the Lightning owner’s project.  Why did it come up so fast?

The City Council will consider the request when it meets as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The agency decides how to spend new property taxes generated inside downtown’s 870-acre community redevelopment area, or CRA.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s staff has asked to walk the item onto the agenda because Vinik and city officials hope to present a united show of support for the redevelopment plan. Next week, the Florida Board of Governors meets to recommend whether to allocate funds for a key part of Vinik’s vision — a new downtown medical school building for the University of South Florida.

“Hence, the urgency,” Chief Assistant City Attorney Salvatore Territo said in a memo.

Ok. What is the actual request?

As proposed, Vinik’s land development company, Strategic Property Partners, would design and construct the new infrastructure, which has a total cost estimated at more than $29.9 million. The work entails doing nearly $2.7 million in roadway construction, including:

Vinik’s plans also include $4.9 million in major drainage work for the area, $4 million to bury electrical and other utility lines underground and out of sight, nearly $1.3 million for landscaping and other amenities, $980,000 for traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, plus water, sewer and other improvements.

The city would reimburse Strategic Property Partners for part of the costs after the work is done and the new roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, storm sewers and other features are turned over to the public.

But the city has written several limits to its reimbursements into the proposed agreement.

First, the city would put no more than 20 percent of its downtown CRA money into Vinik’s project.

Also, the work would be done in phases. The first would focus on roads and other work needed for the medical school building and USF Heart Health Institute.

For the second phase, no city reimbursement for infrastructure would take place until Vinik’s development team has started pouring concrete on more than $10 million in private construction that would end up generating new property taxes.

* * *

Finally, the city would cover only half the reimbursable costs. Presumably, the county would cover the other half.

First, City, County, whatever.  It is all from really the same pot of money.  We are ok with the investment and the protections (though the $10 million trigger is not really a lot when you look at the scale of the project).  Unlike many other local investments, this is not just for retail, is not for sprawl, and will benefit a truly mixed use project and other people moving through the area and nearby, as well as make the area more attractive. (Our only concern is still that the flow of traffic in and out of downtown is not necessarily aided by some of the changes to the roads. If you are going to do it, just do it right.)

Built Environment/Economic Development/Downtown – There is Competition

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s plans, as we noted, despite the hyperbole of some (notably not the Lightning owner) about those plans, there are a number of projects around the country with some similar characteristics (and even size).  Recently, local media has picked up on that.

Vinik may be the “toast of Tampa”, as the Boston Globe called their city’s expatriate this past week. But he is hardly the only rich fellow with grandiose makeover plans for a city’s downtown. It seems Orlando and Las Vegas are but two of a handful of cities that, like Tampa, have rich sugar daddies with strikingly similar visions of remaking tired and sleepy downtowns into upscale, go-to communities teeming with an enviable mix of progressive business headquarters, university gravitas and entrepreneurship amid inviting housing and entertainment offerings — all in a walkable urban scene.

Isn’t that today’s gold standard for any major downtown city wants? Vibrancy. A sense of place. Amenities that embody a “live and work and play” environment.

Not to diminish the potential of Tampa’s Vinik project (online at tbtim.es/vinik). But knowing that various projects of Vinik’s magnitude already are under way in other U.S. cities offers perspective that the impressive plan for a 40-acre redo of a piece of Tampa, stretching from the convention center east to the Channelside Plaza retail shops, is perhaps not as unusual as this aspiring metro area might wish.

We agree – including the part about not diminishing the potential for the Tampa plan.

The hot phrases now in development are “mixed use” and “live/work/play” and “24-hour neighborhood.” Apartments over restaurants, offices over shops, hotels over nightclubs and everything mixed together. Your living room may be mere yards away from Starbucks. And where the customers want to live, the developers are right there to build. The amazing thing is the vast, vast expanse of Jeff Vinik’s 2.9 million- square-foot Tampa project is just one of several that scale underway.

♦ Avalon in Alpharetta, Georgia, may span 2.4 million square feet, with much of it opening this year.

♦ The Spring District project in Bellevue, Washington, may span 5.3 million square feet.

♦  The $1 billion Brickell City Centre project in Miami may span 5.4 million square feet.

♦  The Seaport Square project in Boston may span 6.3 million square feet on 23 acres, with offices, residential, retail and hotel space.

Similar projects are underway in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and Minneapolis is building an entire section of downtown with new office towers, residential blocks and skyways to Vikings Stadium.

That is in addition to the projects we highlighted previously and highlighted in the first quote above.

One thing to note is that, while “mixed-use” and “live/work/play” may be catch phrases now, the ideas go back decades (just look at the original plan for Harbour Island) and have been implemented in many projects already.  That is not to detract from the idea – it is a good idea.  But, as noted in the articles, it is not a unique idea.  There will be competition for the same businesses from other projects in other areas – many of which are more developed overall.  In fact, the Lightning owner’s plan is needed here less for its innovation and more because such a development will help us try to keep up and compete with other areas that already have live/work/play areas and are building more (and usually more efficient ways of getting around).

And, given all that, we agree with the conclusion of a Times article:

And Vinik? In financial and pro sports circles, he’s a national name given his successful track record running Fidelity’s Magellan mutual fund, running his own hedge fund and more recently owning the Tampa Bay Lightning. The commitment of billionaire Bill Gates’ investing arm to help back Vinik’s project adds immediate credibility.

But Tampa Bay should prepare itself for some downs with the ups of Vinik’s project. At some point, things will seem too slow. Promised relocations or proposed construction may not happen. And Vinik himself should be ready to confront inevitable second-guessing about a project that will take many years to emerge, much less mature.

Risky? Sure. But where would these aging city downtowns be without guys like these?

Indeed.  Hopefully, he can stick to and enhance the plan, then pull it off.  (But we hope everyone else will just keep the hype in check.)

Economy – The Jobs

The ADP report of private sector jobs for December is out:

After a mediocre November, Florida rebounded by adding a robust 21,700 private sector jobs in December, according to a report released Wednesday.

* * *

The monthly report from payroll processing company ADP shows Florida still firmly nestled as the third-best job creator in the country behind Texas (up 31,100 jobs) and California (up 29,000 jobs).

Well, Florida should be third, as the third biggest state.  On the other hand, that is quite a gap in the number of jobs, and Texas, the second biggest state is still overperforming (we’ll see what happens if the oil price keeps dropping)

Keeping with a hallmark of the prolonged recovery from the Great Recession, more than 80 percent of jobs created in Florida were in the lower-paying service-providing sector. Among select industries: professional and business services added 5,000 jobs; natural resources/mining and construction was up by 3,800 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities rose by 3,300 jobs and manufacturing was virtually flat, up 200 jobs.

The overall number is good, but that low wage habit seems hard to kick.  We need to do better.

Economic Development – From Small Things

There was an interesting item in the Business Journal about the Gasparilla season:

A small but determined group of advertising executives is banding together with Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist to organize an interactive technology festival timed with the popularity of Gasparilla season.

Executive Director Vinny Tafuro and Crist explained they’re building the conference around the Gasparilla music and film festivals, also in March, in an attempt to entice more attendance at the new Gasparilla Interactive Festival, a speaker series and technology expo.

The organizing group is small and admits it is in the early stages, but an event like this could help bring attention to Tampa Bay’s emerging tech sector.

Setting aside that the main Gasparilla parade is in late January or early February each year (this year it is January 31) so having “Gasparilla” events all the way in March has always been a bit odd, we like the idea.  Of course it is small – it is just starting.  But you have to start somewhere.

Finally, the article called it a “mini-SXSW,” which is not exactly accurate.  SXSW has many features, sort of like all the Gasparilla events magnified, all held at one time (or at least a greatly condensed amount of time).  Nevertheless, it is fine if the Tampa idea is inspired by SXSW.  Hopefully, it will grow.  But it would be nice if all the Gasparilla events were in a more condensed timeframe.

USF/Economic Development – Moffitt Rising

There was news that the Moffitt Cancer Center is looking at expansion.

Moffitt Cancer Center officials are considering a plan to replace the pressed-for-space hospital with a new building that would be more than twice as tall.

* * *

Hemmed in at its current location, Moffitt won’t be able to get additional land from the University of South Florida, which has no more to give, said Kolosky. So the main option under consideration is tearing down the nearly 30-year-old hospital and replacing it. Chief executive officer Alan List said the new building would have 12 stories — more that double the current five-story facility.

Construction plans would need to be creative to keep the hospital fully functioning while the new facility is being built. Those details have not been worked out, but Kolosky said the hospital would not close to patients during construction, which could take two years.

Kolosky said the new hospital plan depends on whether Moffitt can raise enough money from the state and private sources. But he also said Moffitt has to take some action to deal with its bed shortage.

* * *

Officials expect to decide whether to pursue construction — and funding — later in the year, likely after the new outpatient facility is up and running. Getting money from the state would require help from the state Legislature.

The idea is new enough that Moffitt officials had not discussed it with Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who is the House majority leader and one of the center’s top supporters in the Legislature. She said she wasn’t sure yet what state funding might be available, but she had little doubt Moffitt needs to expand.

* * *

If Moffitt does end up pursuing a new hospital, the Tampa Bay area could have two major health care-related construction projects under way around the same period of time. The University of South Florida wants to build a new medical school in downtown Tampa. The Florida Board of Governors will consider the medical school project later this month.

We are all for expanding Moffitt (though, of course, we wish there were fewer people who needed its services).  We also have no problem with it going up instead of out.  That is a natural development for a growing area.  We hope they get the money.

The one thing we will note is that Moffitt is right next to the quite squat USF Med School. (You can see the site here)  The USF Medical School, if USF gets its way, will move downtown.  One of the justifications is that the move would open up room for other facilities on the USF campus.  If you look at the map, there are a number of surface parking lots around all the facilities.  Assuming the USF med school is moved (and really, even if it isn’t) and given all the surface parking, there should be ample room for expansion.  Not that the expansion should be a squat building – as we said, we are all for going up – but there is room for a number of facilities in that general area if they are built properly.

Historic Preservation – Lacking

There was an interesting article in the Tribune that reveals a bit about how local government worked/works:

The craftsman bungalows, granite curbs and Queen Anne style homes that give Hyde Park its distinctive character are also a fixture of the adjacent Courier City Oscawana neighborhood.

The homes, mostly built when the Hyde Park enclave was being settled between 1886 and 1933, helped put the neighborhood in the Hyde Park Historic District that was added in 1985 to the federal National Register of Historic Places. But Courier City Oscawana was left out when, three years later, city officials drew their own boundaries and created a local Hyde Park historic district that places tougher criteria on whether to approve requests to alter or demolish period homes.

The result has been that some 34 period homes from the neighborhood east of Howard Avenue and south of Kennedy Boulevard have been legally demolished since 1988. The most recent was a 1910 bungalow on South Melville Boulevard that met the wrecking ball late last year.

Less than half of the houses in the neighborhood are now historic, down from 69 percent in 1988, leading some council members and residents to fear that the neighborhood is losing its identity.

“We need to save what we have left,” said Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. “At this rate, I can see in another 10 years we’re not going to have any or we’ll have very few.”

City officials are unsure why there is a difference between the two districts, whose boundaries were drawn based on the concentration of period homes in the area.

What is clear is that it is far easier to demolish homes outside the city’s designated historic district. 

So the City does not know why it does not protect these houses?  Let’s see.  The houses tend to be smaller than Hyde Park.  The Howard corridor is right there (ironically, since the city keeps gnashing its teeth about all the business on Howard).  And:

Exacerbating the problem is that the Courier City Oscawana is zoned to allow the development of multi-family structures like small condo or apartment complexes, typically far more lucrative to developers than rehabilitating a period home or building single family homes. 

In other words, years ago the City made a conscious decision to favor tearing down the houses and replacing them with more taxable development – and that is fine for houses that are not historical and as long as the fabric of the neighborhood is not torn apart.

Fernandez’s office is working to extend the Hyde Park district to add in roughly 300 homes in an area North of De Leon Street and west of South Boulevard. That means a lot of leg work, meeting with neighborhoods and winning consensus for a designation that some owners say diminishes their property rights.

There are no current plans to extend the city district to cover Courier City Oscawana so little stands in the way of further demolition.

The bottom line is this is all part of the Howard conundrum that is the result of poor planning.

We have nothing against redevelopment.  We have nothing against denser development.  We have nothing against developing Howard.  The issue is that there is no consensus on how to do it, and it has been far too ad hoc.  We admit it is a hard to resolve all this.  What it should tell the City is that the City needs to do a much better job of planning and letting people know what will be there.  Then people can choose what they want and problems can be avoided (at least in some part).

List of the Week

Our list this week is the annual Milken Institute rankings of Best Performing Cities.  (For clarity, this year’s listing is named the 2014 Best Performing Cities list)  You can see the whole report here.   We will just focus on the major cities. (That list is here)

The Top 30 performing major metro are: San Francisco; Austin; Provo; San Jose; Raleigh; Salt Lake City; Houston; Fort Worth-Arlington; Dallas; San Antonio; Seattle; Denver; Boulder; Greeley, CO; Nashville; Portland;  Fort Collins; Laredo, TX; Lafayette, LA; Lubbock, TX; Baton Rouge; San Diego; Charlotte; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA; Grand Rapids; Indianapolis; Santa Barbara; Bakersfield-Delano, CA; Holland-Grand Haven, MI; and Madison, WI.

Some of those are bit surprising, though many are usual suspects.  And we are also not sure how well some of those Texas cities will do with a low oil price.  Nevertheless, one thing of note is the lack of Florida cities.  So are they close to the top 30?  Orlando is 56 (up from 98 in 2013); Naples is 60 (up from 83); Jax is 64 (up from 133); West Palm Beach is 70 (up from 163); Sarasota is 80 (up from 162); Miami is 85 (up from 144); the Tampa Bay area is 86 (up from 93); Ft. Myers is 88 (up from 164); Ft. Lauderdale is 92 (up from 129); Pensacola is 165 (up from 191); Daytona is 171 (up from 178); Port St. Lucie is 178 (down from 149); Gainesville is 182 (down from 124); Lakeland is 184 (up from 199); Ocala is 190 (down from 161); Tallahassee is 194 (no change); and Palm Bay is 195 (down from 177).

The only two categories in which the Tampa Bay area ranked higher than 50th is 1-year wage growth (46th) – though, as with all growth, when you start from a low base your growth will look better than those starting from a higher base and our 5 year wage/salary growth is a woeful 156th – and “number of high-technology industries with a location quotient (LQ) above the U.S. average of 1.0 during 2013” (25th).

The one thing we will say is that the Tampa Bay area is relatively consistent in performance and improving slightly.  It is also ranked in the top half.  However, as with pretty much all the Florida cities, it did not do nearly well enough – especially when you consider the number of usual suspects ranked in the top 30.

Roundup 1-9-2015

January 9, 2015

Economic Development – An Announcement

Though the news had been leaked before, it was announced that Big Brothers/Big sisters is moving its HQ to Tampa.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is moving its national headquarters office to Tampa’s Westshore business district with key donations from Parkway Properties, ROF and The Beck Group.

The move is a small win for economic development officials looking to bring a large corporate headquarters to the region, but BBBSA has big name recognition.

BBBSA is moving from Dallas on the heels of former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio being named CEO of the nonprofit organization last year.

That is good. So how many jobs?

It’s not clear how many jobs will be included in the deal, but when Big Brothers Big Sisters moved from Philadelphia to Texas, it immediately created up to 35 jobs.

As noted above, it is a small win.  It is also of note that the HQ is going to Westshore (not downtown).  Of course, that has to do with donated space, build out, etc., so it is understandable.  Anyway, it is a start, we suppose.

Economic Development – Where Do We Stand?

There was a piece in the Business Journal about Mercedes moving its North American HQ to Atlanta that at first seemed a bit odd.

Mercedes is planning to invest $100 million in a new 200,000-square-foot office campus in the metro Atlanta area — a deal that considered Florida, Texas and North Carolina, reports the Atlanta Business Chronicle, a sister news organization.

The move is likely to have a domino effect in northern New Jersey, home to BMW and Volvo U.S. headquarters, which could benefit Tampa.

“The next conversation will be at BMW,” site consultant John Boyd told the Business Chronicle. “The clock is now ticking.”

Tampa is in hot pursuit of a corporate headquarters right now. The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has publicly declared a goal of attracting one, and another major player is also on the hunt: Jeff Vinik.

First, we like the aggressive tone.  Why not try for BMW or Audi?  We have nothing against that.  Indeed, it appears that Mercedes looked at Tampa – which is good (and explains the Business Journal article) – but decided on Atlanta.

To make the discussion a bit more relevant to the Tampa Bay area and to see where we stand in our effort to attract major companies let’s look at what the Atlanta Business Journal said about the reasons behind Mercedes’ decision to move.

Atlanta’s strategic location puts the city in between Mercedes’ largest U.S. production plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and the Port of Brunswick, it’s largest import facility. The relocation “helps us to optimize our footprint in the United States,” Cannon [the Mercedes Benz USA President and CEO] said.

Atlanta landed the Mercedes headquarters from a short list that included Dallas and the Charlotte/Raleigh region, because of the region’s “top-shelf” infrastructure (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) and its quality of life.

“We’re living in an environment where it’s all about talent,” Cannon said. “Offering the best quality of life attracts the best talent.”

And what the head of the EDC said about Tampa’s effort:

“They were kind of blown away by the beauty of the city,” Homans said. “They were surprised by the quality of the neighborhoods, the quality of life.”

But in the end, Mercedes wanted to be near other corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Homans said, because of the quality of the workforce it could draw from there. It also valued the worldwide connections of Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

We can’t do anything about the present location of the factories.  Port Tampa Bay wants to import cars, but we doubt they will overtake an east coast port for cars coming from Europe.  TIA is working hard to develop routes, but obviously Atlanta has a better assortment of flights (another reason, aside from tech, that a nonstop to San Francisco is important).

As for workforce and quality of life (aside from Mercedes’ level of suprise at seeing the area indicating that all those years of messaging have not been effective in getting the word out), there are a lot of good things about the Tampa Bay area, but we still need real transit, much more urban development, urban/suburban trails (walking and bike) to real destinations like the beltline in Atlanta, and more amenities.  We need to offer the best quality of life (which, even with all the natural assets we have, we still have a way to go) to get the best talent and build the workforce (if for no other reason – though there are other reasons – than to balance out some of the other deficiencies listed above.) This is one more example of how the way the area is planned/built and talent/economic development are tied together.

That is not to say we cannot attract these A-list companies.  The fact that Mercedes looked at us is a sign we should keep trying. But we should also know where we stand and what we really need to do to consistently compete and succeed.

Transportation – Streetcar Desires

When the Lightning owner unveiled his plan/vision, there was talk of extending the streetcar into downtown and making it a more useful form of transportation.  While this expansion should have been considered regardless of the Lightning owner’s plan/vision, it does fit into the bigger picture of that plan/vision.

Coincidentally or not, soon thereafter there was news of a study done for HART regarding extending the streetcar. (you can find the study here)

As development plans get cranking in downtown Tampa, the county’s transit authority is armed with a new study that shows what it could cost to extend and upgrade the streetcar system through the heart of the business district.

The Tampa Historic Streetcar Extension Study, commissioned by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit System, has determined it will cost anywhere from $37 million to $60 million to extend the streetcar from the Franklin and Whiting streets station, north along Ashley Drive, to Tampa Street and Florida Avenue and eventually to the Marion Transit Center on Marion Street.

That extension would include improvements required to upgrade the system to accommodate modern streetcars or light rail transit cars. And with a billion-dollar downtown development vision unveiled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik this week, the time is right to have that information, said HART Executive Director Katharine Eagan.

“We had not taken a fresh look at what was going on around the streetcar line and what was going on downtown,” in more than a decade, Eagan said. Others have considered what could be done and what it might cost to upgrade the county’s transit system as the downtown area develops further, but HART had not, she said.

“If we want to make good transit decisions, we needed to update our streetcar information,” Eagan said. “What the study told us is no matter the specific route, it would cost about the same.”

Well, not exactly the same costs. The study looked at four different alignments for extension: on Ashley, on Franklin, on Marion, and on Tampa/Florida (we will get to those in a minute).  First, from page 13, is the chart of the costs of extension based on alignment:

From the HART report – click on chart for pdf

Pdf, pg 13. So, basically, the top end is about $60 million though it can be done (without upgrades) for about $40 million, which in the greater scheme of things for a system that really works is not that much.

Moreover, the study looked at upgrading the tracks and other infrastructure to make the streetcar more modern and useful.  The cost of doing that can be found on page 19, in this chart:

From the HART report – click on chart for pdf

Pdf, pg 19. Once again, the upgrades would be worth it if the system actually functions as a real transportation system rather than a tourist attraction AND is built in such a way that expansion is possible and logical (especially to areas like the Heights and/or across the river if that ever actually gets redeveloped).

Now, to the possible alignments. (It should be noted that the alignments all look to double track the route as much as possible so one train do not have to wait for other trains to pass by.  On the other hand, the potential alignments also put the track in the road so the trains will be slowed down a bit by traffic.  Finally, there is no provision in the study for crossing the CSX tracks, which is always an issue).

The best way to look at the alignments is to actually look at the alignments, so here they are:

Ashley Drive alignment

From the HART report – click on map for pdf

Franklin Street alignment

From the HART report – click on map for pdf

Tampa/Florida alignment

From the HART report – click on map for pdf

Marion Street alignment

From the HART report – click on map for pdf

The first thing we will note is that, while the Marion alignment is in many ways easiest because of the existing transitway, it is farthest from the more interesting and developing parts of downtown.  Anyone who has been around the transitway as it is now knows that putting the rails there will not maximize the investment.  To attract riders, the streetcar should go where people are or want to be, not just where it is easiest to put.

The Ashley alignment goes to places people want to be, and has some appeal.  On the other hand, as the map makes clear, it is on the edge of what is now downtown.  Ideally, there would be a decent number of people and destinations a few blocks from the station on both sides of the stations, which is not really the case with this alignment.  So, yes, there is some appeal to an Ashley alignment, but there is also a downside.

The Tampa/Florida alignment brings the streetcar closer to the most people and destinations.  In that way it is appealing.  On the other hand, it appears the track on each road is single – probably one way.  That makes trips and/or walks longer and not as appealing.

Finally, the Franklin alignment runs between the Tampa/Florida alignment, so its catchment area is about as large.  It is also likely a double track, which is good. And it is the least expensive option.

One of the downsides to the Franklin alignment is that the plaza between One Tampa City Center and the Hilton, which is one of the few and nicer plazas downtown, would disappear.  It is also farther than some other alignments from destinations like the Straz and museums (though only a block or two).  And it is not clear that a train down Franklin would enhance Franklin, which is finally emerging as the type of pedestrian friendly street so many have wanted for so long. On the other hand, there is not much traffic on Franklin, so cars will not get in the way of the streetcar and slow it down.

Given what we know now (and that can always change), if we had to choose, we would go with either the Franklin or Tampa/Florida alignments. (Probably Franklin first)  And if it is rebuilt for modern rolling stock and so that expansion possibilities are built in, expanding the streetcar could form the core of a potential future system.

Nevertheless, it is not clear where the money for any expansion will come from (though the County does not seem to have trouble finding $15 million for playing fields, $6+ million for Bass Pro Shops, and other money for other subsidies) or how fast something might happen.  But something needs to happen because the current streetcar system is lacking.

“People don’t ride it because it’s slow and costs too much,” board member and County Commissioner Sandy Murman said. “For a family of four to go Ybor and back, it’s $20. That’s too expensive.”

The intent of the $35,000 study, which was preliminary and did not include information on ridership or traffic impact, was to provide some data and pave the way for future discussions and studies, said Steven Shukraft of HDR.

* * *

It is unclear from where the money might come. On top of construction and upgrade costs, there is also a $400,000 insurance fee to cross CSX tracks.

Part of the problem with the streetcar, board members said, is that it has no clear leading force at its helm. HART is in charge of operating and maintenance, but the right-of-way is owned by the city and the streetcar is managed by the Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc. Board.

“Frankly, the streetcar is not owned by anyone and we’ve seen the effects of the neglect,” HART CEO Katharine Egan said.

* * *

Other board members agreed that any changes would have to be done in tandem with the Downtown Partnership, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Tampa Port Authority. 

(To paraphrase Dean Wormer: “Rare, slow, and expensive is no way to run a transportation system.”) Most of those observations are true, including about working with partners (though why not have the County involved, too – after all, Tampa is in Hillsborough County – and putting some TIF money in the pot?)

We have no idea why none of the problems were addressed before, including the CSX insurance fee.  At least people are talking about it now. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Transportation – Never Ending Story

There was an article in the Tribune regarding FDOT’s five year plan:

Less than a decade ago, the state spent $81 million to relieve the daily log-jam at the interstate convergence commuters refer to as Malfunction Junction.

For a moment, drivers breathed a sigh of relief. The fixes improved the flow of traffic where Interstates 4 and 275 meet, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. But it was just an interim fix.

Anyone who goes through that interchange hopes it was interim because it is not very effective.

In its five-year plan, updated each year, FDOT is proposing to add $23 million in 2016 to purchase right of way around that convergence so it can eventually rebuild the roadways with more lanes. The five-year plan also includes $20 million for some right-of-way acquisition at the I-275/State Road 60 interchange, which also must eventually be rebuilt so traffic can flow more smoothly.

Just to acquire the necessary rights of way for those two jobs, FDOT will need about $100 million, Hunt said. The big fixes will eventually cost somewhere around $1.5 billion to $2 billion, she said.

There is no construction funding earmarked for either rebuild project at this point. “Right now, we are working on the time frame,” Hunt said. “The good news is when we do rebuild them, they will last for 50 years.”

It is true that most of the fixes to roads in the area are interim fixes namely because they have not fixed the roads.  It is also true (though it is not clear why), that there is no money for right of way acquisition right now to make more needed fixes to the roads (or funding for the fixes).

What we think is not likely to be true is that, when rebuilt, the roads will be good for 50 years.  The fact is that as long as growth continues (especially with no real transit and the sprawling nature of development) the roads are almost always going to be behind the need. (In fact, even with transit the roads will likely be behind, though not as much.)

In any event, what else is in the plan?

“There are a number of projects that have been priorities for a while and we like seeing them get funding, including the advanced traffic management system” ($2 million in 2016) that will synchronize traffic lights inside and outside of downtown Tampa, studying the interstates to accommodate managed lanes for mass transit and bus replacement money for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (FDOT added the standard $4 million in 2020), said Rich Clarendon, senior planning manager for the MPO.

All of Tampa desperately needs some light synchronization. (As for the other thing – there is no real mass transit in managed lanes – just buses, not even real BRT in dedicated lanes.  Just say you want to see if you can run buses in the Lexus lane.)  What else?

There are also a few concerns, Clarendon said. For example, the FDOT plan calls for engineering and design for three corridor projects in the urban area: State Road 580 (Busch Boulevard) from Dale Mabry Highway to Nebraska Avenue; Hillsborough Avenue from Memorial Highway to I-275; and State Road 574 (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) from 40th Street to I-4. Safety and operational improvements would benefit the community, Clarendon said, but widening without consideration for safety is a concern. The MPO is simply seeking more information on FDOT’s intent, he said.

After hearing of the concern, Hunt responded, saying FDOT’s No. 1 priority is safety. “We’re not going to do anything that isn’t safe for the traveling public.” That being said, state roads are for regional movement, she said, so the focus is also on moving goods. Bike lanes and pedestrian crossings are better suited for local roads, she said.

It sounds like being able to cross the major arterial roads that criss-cross the area and cut neighborhoods off from each other is not important and forget about biking anywhere except your immediate neighborhood. We hope that is not what was actually meant.

The five-year plan also lists planning and design work for three corridor projects outside of the urban core area: US 92 from Kingsway Road in Seffner to Thonotosassa Road in Plant City; SR 574 from McIntosh Road in Dover to U.S. 92 in Plant City; and U.S. 41 from SR 674 in Ruskin to the Manatee County Line.

Clarendon said the MPO staff believes there are other highway segments identified as higher priorities, due to congestion predictions, and the MPO staff wants FDOT to explain why less congested areas got priority.

Hunt said studying these corridors is just one way FDOT looks ahead ‘to see what should be teeing up next for funding.” It does not mean these projects will take precedence over more congested areas, she said.

* * *

Among the other highlights of the five-year plan are: funding ($1.7 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019) for a transit regional fare box which would enable HART and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to have interchangeable passes; $3.7 million for the purchase of two gantry cranes at Port Tampa Bay, which will be used to off-load containers from newer, wider ships; $200 million over five years for Tampa International Airport’s new automated people mover; $1.7 million for design work in 2017 for the new interchange design in Pasco County for SR 56 and Interstate 75.

FDOT has deferred construction on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County from 2019 to 2020 to address pedestrian and transit issues before the road is reconstructed, Hunt said. “Reconstruction of U.S. 19 significantly improves movement for freight and passenger vehicles, but has created pedestrian and transit issues. There are less opportunities for crossing” the street, she said. Hunt said FDOT will study how to address those issues, then incorporate that information in to the construction plan. 

So, while the plan could be much better, there are some good things in the plan, especially at the airport and port.  And, the fact is, you can’t really blame FDOT for just going ahead with road plans they like and not funding transit when there is no local plan that has passed for transit and local planning is not very good. The main problem with transportation planning in the Tampa Bay area is the Tampa Bay area, not FDOT.  If the local officials had the will to plan properly and comprehensively and to be creative in moving forward with mass transit, FDOT would probably go along.

Rays – The Development Rights

As we noted a few weeks ago, the proposed deal between St. Pete and the Rays to allow the Rays to look for stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough was rejected, which we found disappointing.  Thankfully, that has not yet been the end of the issue, though it still could be.  The issue that ostensibly caused a rejection was development rights for the Trop land:

Early Friday afternoon, Kriseman issued a statement clarifying his position on development rights.

“Last night, City Council clouded this issue. To be clear, the city retains one-hundred percent of all development rights once the Rays leave Tropicana Field. The team is only entitled to development rights while they play at the Dome. What council was asking for was one-hundred percent of the development rights while the Rays are still there. If an opportunity emerges to redevelop the land before the Rays vacate, we would discuss that situation with the Rays at that time. Five members of Council sought to preclude any development rights for the Rays. By voting no, they did just the opposite, guaranteeing the Rays fifty percent of development rights through 2027.”

That is reasonable.  But the stated issue was this:

Kriseman’s deal gave the Rays three years to find a new stadium site and possible financing. If the team decided to move, they would sign a “termination agreement” to cover Trop operations during the three or four transition years it would take put the new ballpark in place.

Nurse wanted to know how development rights would be divided during that transition window. He asked: If the Rays plan to leave, why should they share in sale or lease of land?

With the western edge of downtown finally catching fire, a hotel on an outlying parcel is not the only option. Theoretically, five or 10 or 20 of the Trop’s 85 acres might come into play for apartments, condos or even office buildings while the team is still playing in St. Petersburg.

Before the recession, a developer bid $65 million for the entire Trop acreage, and several council members bandied around that figure as the benchmark for what they might have to share with the Rays.

On Friday, developer Craig Sher said “it is almost impossible to project” the Trop’s acreage value while the team is still playing but before they leave. Any major buyer would want certainty about the stadium’s fate, and a Rays deal in, say, Tampa could always fall through.

“ABC corporation is not going to build an officer tower in a parking lot and have all that concrete around them.”

Intense development of the Trop during the transition period could also disrupt attendance and reduce parking revenues and the Rays would have veto power over any project.

City Attorney John Wolfe said the Rays and city never discussed development rights during negotiations. It only came up a few days before the council meeting, when Nurse asked the city legal staff to clarify it.

Nurse, who voted to approve the agreement Thursday, said the rights issue does not need to be settled now. He could accept negotiating those rights when the Rays announce they are leaving and all the wind-down issues are addressed.

That is a quandary.  Why it was not addressed in the original proposal is not clear.  Obviously, leaving the Rays development rights if they stayed in the Trop would be an inducement to staying.  Having the St. Pete have all the rights if the Rays are leaving also makes sense.  The question is what happens in between (and whether the development rights issue is actually the key issue or an excuse to vote “no.”)

That is a fair question – and now very relevant since the proposal was rejected. Only time will tell (of course, time is still wasting).

North Franklin – Rumblings

If you have some time on Saturday, you may want to head to the North Franklin area.  From 83 degrees media:

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10, the Franklin Street Better Block party will celebrate North Franklin’s future with music, food, arts and “pop-up” storefronts. It will be a day long demonstration of how two city blocks north of I-275, from Kay Street to Henderson Avenue, can be transformed into a complete, vibrant and walkable street.

The starting point is Cafe Hey at 1540 N. Franklin St., just north of the I-275 overpass.

Community activists with the Tampa Heights Civic Association are sponsoring the block party with support from The Beck Group and Tucker Hall. Other partners are CNU (Congress for New Urbanism) Tampa Bay and Urban Charrette.

* * *

The block party is a concept of The Better Block, a national organization focused on getting local communities involved in the future of their neighborhoods. The party is a “living charrette” with residents, business owners, investors, urban planners and architects sharing ideas and dreams that can spark plans and projects for future development.

“What we’re going for is a complete, active street and demonstrating what a future Franklin Street could be,” says Brian Seel, the civic association’s president and senior project engineer at The Beck Group. “But it’s not just a block party or a street market. It is a planning process as well.”

Sounds like a good idea to us. Located between the Heights and downtown, North Franklin is a relatively small area that is seemingly ripe for redevelopment (and really has been for a while).  It would be nice if the streetcar expansion ideas included connecting to North Franklin and making more a part of downtown.

The one downside to the area that is not often discussed but that should be acknowledged are all the services for the homeless and needy around the area.  While we understand that Tampa needs facilities to help the homeless and needy (and we are all for such facilities, know they do a lot of good, and that the facilities in the area do yoeman’s work maintaining and even enhancing – like Metropolitan Ministries – the area), we are also realistic enough to know that such facilities make some (hopefully not too many) people less likely to invest in an area.  How to manage that is a question with no clear answer.

Bring the Noise

There was an amusing, short article on the Times website about overused words, particularly in business.

These are some of the key business words that made the annual Lake Superior State University list of words it would like to see “banished from the Queen’s English for mis-use, over-use and general uselessness.”

You can check some of the words on the list in the article.  Then, the article looked at overused words in the Tampa Bay business scene:

And what Tampa Bay business words might be headed for its own overused list? “Swagger” may be one, along with phrases like “This is our time” and “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Any regular reader will know that we complete agree with that.  And don’t forget “game-changer.”

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

– All Those Thing We Want

A few months ago, we wrote about a UCF photonics manufacturing facility in Osceola County where USF was partner.

USF is a partner (which we understand since there is no facility like that here, though that brings up the question of why).  So what is UCF collaborating on to build the Tampa Bay economy (aside from UCF building their own med school and large biomed complex, including a VA simulation training center, in Lake Nona to compete with USF)?

(See “Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida”)

This week, we learned that the project is getting more partners.

Five key research universities have signed up to support a project spearheaded by University of Central Florida aimed at getting a $110 million federal photonics contract that would be centered in Osceola County.

The consortium of universities includes Georgia Tech, Clemson, University of Alabama-Huntsville and University of Illinois.

The photonics project is related to the recent awarding of a contract from Osceola County to Skanska USA to build a $70 million facility, the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, near Kissimmee. There are high hopes for the center, with some estimates projecting it could attract up to 80,000 jobs to the area over the coming years.

The article says that they are looking for Federal funding for part of the project (and, strangely, does not list USF as a partner.).  Once again, good for them – tech and manufacturing.  We have to wonder why the Orlando area seems to come up with so many more of these type of ideas than the Tampa Bay area.

– Training Camp

Speaking of tech,

LaunchCode, an organization that matches people with technology jobs, is expanding to South Florida to help address a shortage of tech workers.

The nonprofit group based in St. Louis works to give non-traditional job candidates opportunities in the field through apprenticeships and job placement. It will launch in South Florida with a $1.25 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

LaunchCode’s South Florida director, Mariana Rego, is signing up companies that want to participate. Rego said she has meetings set with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance to jump start the program in Broward County and also plans to recruit companies in Palm Beach County.

“The dynamics are the same as in St. Louis. There are opportunities but not enough people to fill technology jobs in South Florida as well,” she said.

You can check out the organization’s website here.  It is notable that they say about 90% of the people who they place have no prior programming experience.

As far as we know, they are not in the Tampa Bay area (if they are, let us know).  We could use this kind of program to both lift people’s incomes and increase our talent pool to draw more companies. (Yes, they are placing people into existing opportunities, but the larger the tech workforce, the more likely you are to draw tech business – or create your own).

One thing to note is that from the articles it seems that in almost all the tech promotion efforts in South Florida, the Knight Foundation plays a role.  It would be nice to have similar support for this area’s efforts.

List of the Week

There is no list of the week this week. (We thought of using this list of worst winter weather airports , but it is really silly)

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