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Roundup 3-24-2017

March 24, 2017

Contents

Growing

Transportation – Survey City

— Streetcar Survey

— Some Questions

— Some Thoughts

— Bottom Line

— Regional Transportation Survey

— Conclusion

Transportation – More on Rearranging

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

Transportation – Ferry News

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

MacDill – The More the Merrier

Tampa Heights – Progress

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

_______________________

Growing

The Census released their 2016 population estimates on Thursday. For the first time, the Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metropolitan area is listed as having more than 3 million people, 3,032,171 to be exact.  Sarasota-Bradenton has 788,457 and Lakeland-Winter Haven has 666,149.

All the counties in the Tampa Bay area grew (Manatee 3.5%, Pasco 3%, Polk 2.66%, Hillsborough 2.16%, Hernando 2.5%, Sarasota 1.9%, with even Pinellas county growing by a respectable 1.3%).  Even with not the highest growth rate because of its size, Hillsborough County had the tenth largest actual increase in terms of numeric change among counties. (In Florida, only Orange County gained more people)

The Times crunched some other numbers:

South Florida grew by nearly 65,000 residents from births and migration, and its population stood at more than 6 million last year.

The Tampa area grew to 3 million residents last year, adding 61,000 residents through natural increases and migration. Orlando grew overall by nearly 60,000 residents and had a population of 2.4 million residents last year.

* * *

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said the Tampa area had the nation’s fourth-highest gain from people moving there last year. Some 58,000 new residents moved there.

South Florida had the nation’s seventh highest gain from migration, adding about 48,000 residents who moved there.

Orlando added nearly 47,000 residents through migration, placing it at No. 8.

Coincidentally, 3 million people was about the size of the Dallas-Ft. worth area when they began building their light rail system.  And it is far larger than other cities when they started theirs.

Transportation – Survey City

As anyone who follows such things knows, there are a general transit study and a streetcar study underway in our area.  As part of both studies, there are online surveys.  The one for the streetcar is here  and the regional transit study is here.

We are all for gathering public input and are all for participation in these surveys.  People should take them, but with the understanding that there are some issues. The overriding issue is whether they will produce truly useful information.

— Streetcar Survey

Let’s start with the streetcar survey.

— Some Questions

In it, you will be asked:

What is the biggest transportation challenge facing downtown and surrounding neighborhoods? *

Safety for pedestrians and cyclists

Traffic congestion

Walkability / ease of access between destinations

Cost of transit and other shared mobility services

Availability of transit options

Event related parking and traffic

Access to parking

You can only give one answer.  But there are multiple challenges facing downtown and they are interrelated.  Arguably lack of transit is the key to all that so you can put “availability of transit options.”  Fine.  But then you get to the meat of the survey, where coming up with a pat answer gets harder.  You have this:

What PRIMARY TRAVEL MARKETS should we focus for a streetcar mobility solution? *

Downtown residents

Transit-dependent people

Commuters to downtown jobs

Visitors to Ybor City

Patrons of cultural and entertainment venues

Convention attendees

Visitors from Tampa International Airport  

It asks for markets but only lets you choose one.  A rational system should serve more than one market (a well planned system would create opportunities for basically all those markets to use it) so how do you answer that?  And does limiting the answers give a real picture of what the respondents want?

Then, it gets to the real heart of the matter asking what kind of system you think the streetcar should be, giving you these choices:

Downtown Circulator

A downtown circulator service would be designed to connect housing, jobs, and shopping destinations, and provide a convenient alternative to driving for downtown residents and workers. Service within the downtown core and close-in neighborhoods would be frequent and would run from early morning through late evening.

* * *

Venue Connector

A venue connector service would be designed to directly link cultural, entertainment, and tourist destinations in Downtown and close in neighborhoods. The service would focus on serving the needs of visitors with stop locations close to key venues and service hours and frequency designed to service visitors and event patrons.

* * *

Subregional Link

A subregional link service would be designed to allow for future connections to activity centers in the City such as Westshore and Tampa International Airport. To serve a broader area and more distant destinations, such a service would have fewer stops downtown and faster travel speeds.

We get the distinction of a downtown circulator.  It does not help anyone get in and out of downtown, just around it.  Then you have venue connector.  A transportation system, including a downtown circulator, should connect to venues – it is just a matter of how many and which ones.  (Though clearly any system should not just be for visitors.  That is what we basically have now, and it does not work well.)  The circulator and venue ideas are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they complement each other.

And then there is the idea of a “subregional link.”  URBN Tampa Bay has this to say about subregional link option:

They don’t get into the specifics in the poll, but we have seen the proposal’s details elsewhere. This “subregional” concept would route the streetcar from downtown Tampa to the Westshore area, via the median of I-275 as part of the $9 billion TBX boondoggle FDOT is pushing, with no intermediate stops between downtown and Westshore.

In our opinion, this concept is a non-starter, as such an alignment is not designed to serve urban commuters moving within the urban core, but would instead turn the only piece of true urban mobility we have in Tampa, into another amenity designed to serve suburban commuters cutting across town. That’s flat out an unacceptable use of urban taxpayer’s money. Urban tax collections need to start benefiting urban residents. Period.

We do not know if that is the plan for subregional rail or not because the City has been lacking in providing information regarding the concept of the downtown-Westshore rail, including during the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process. (Though this presentation to the City Council does seem to indicate that at least the 275 median is a main consideration.)  Whatever they are considering, the survey should say it – clearly.

Anyway, digging around the streetcar study website, this is the closest we could find was from a page 81 of the pdf of a Presentation at the March 7, 2017 meeting:

From City of Tampa website – click on map for document

It is quite vague (and not included in the online survey) and includes no real route or stop options, though it implies, without clearly saying, that there is consideration for at least a stop at West Tampa. (And the graphic does show that the City priorities remain the same from the failed 2010 plan.)

— Some Thoughts

Because the subregional concept is not entirely clear and the survey does not allow for a detail discussion, this seems like as good a place as any to elaborate what we would consider a reasonable “subregional” concept.

The whole point of a transportation system is to transport people – from home to work, to events, to the airport (which is why the “venue” idea makes no sense – people rarely just travel from one venue to another).  A line as described by URBN Tampa Bay above would not do that. (And, if that is the plan, it would leave the “West River” redevelopment area without transit).

We are all for a line from downtown to Westshore/TIA, but any reasonably designed system that has any hope of improving transportation in central Tampa and eventually being expanded to form the spine of a larger system would have to have stops in between Westshore and downtown (and more than just one at West Tampa) to make it useful for urban residents as well as people coming from farther out. It should function more like light rail than a streetcar – with dedicated right of way, faster speed, and fewer stops (at least more distance between stops; the overall number might be the same or increase depending on length of the route) – but, again, with enough intermediate stops and stops near important locations and venues to make it actually useful for potential riders.

As for using the median of 275, that its own issues of making the stops attractive and easy enough to use to convince people to ride and promote development along the line. It is possible to use the median, but it would have to be done very carefully and not on the cheap.

In sum, we would support a properly designed true starter line (not just a City rail line) between downtown and Westshore/TIA.  It should be expandable into the County – especially the near County – and any rail should be relatively quick (far faster than the streetcar is now).  But it also needs to have useful stops and plan for the future when the central part of Tampa (which is Westshore to Ybor) gets denser.  And any system should be designed to be expanded.

— Bottom Line

All this highlights the problem with the survey as a whole – its vagueness.  It does not allow for full answers, it does not even ask full questions, and does not flesh out its concepts.  That vagueness leaves it unclear just what is being asked – and open to manipulation. And even if you argue that things will get fleshed out later, remember the early survey are used to limit later surveys, so inaccuracy early on jsut gets amplified.  Moreover, all of these things should have been discussed during or even before the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

So take that survey.  It is a way to provide input, and it is what we have. Just understand its flaws and don’t assume the results will adequately reflect the thoughts of the participants.

— Regional Transportation Survey

The Regional survey is a completely different animal.  It basically asks if you think there should be better transit and why in a one page survey.  Frankly, it is just an unscientific poll, the utility of which is questionable simply because it is so minimal.  On the other hand, the website for the study provides some interesting information, like the timeline.

From tbregionaltransit.com – click on chart for website

And a presentation for what the whole study is about.  And a summary of that:

The Regional Transit Feasibility Plan is underway. This effort will evaluate opportunities for premium transit within the urbanized areas of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties.

The purpose is to identify projects for the Tampa Bay region that have the greatest potential to be funded (compete for federal grants)and be implemented, are the most forward thinking and make the best use of today’s technology, and best serve our region today while supporting tomorrow’s growth.

Our region is growing, a trend that will continue in the years to come. We have an amazing system of roads with several projects planned and under consideration to ensure our world-class road system remains effective well into the future. While these projects will help, widening and improving our roads alone will not satisfy long-term needs brought on by our growing region. We need to look for complementary mobility options to connect our region and promote continued economic growth and job opportunities.

We would have rather not had so much hype and a little more focus on the point.  If we had such a great transportation infrastructure (like that “world-class road system” – which, no matter what it actually means, we don’t have), we wouldn’t need to study.

— Conclusion

So, by all means, do the surveys.  But remember that they ask your opinion of a limited number of options that are not really explained.

Transportation – More on Rearranging

A few weeks ago we discussed a legislative proposal to change TBARTA to make it a transit agency and reform its structure. (You can follow along with the legislative fun here)  That is moving forward.

A legislative measure aimed at restructuring the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to foster greater regional connectivity passed its first committee stop in the Florida House of Representatives Tuesday.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee voted 14-0 on the bill. The measure would change the “transportation” in TBARTA to “transit” and eliminate some local representation in favor of state appointees who represent the local business community.

* * *

The measure, which is also sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater,) amended language that would have limited city representation from the existing board.

The transit agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties would maintain a seat at the table. In the original bill the Florida Senate president and Speaker of the House would each appoint two members from the regional business community. The amendment reduces that to one each.

The amendment answers some criticism that ceding local control to appointed members could have reduced input from the urban centers that drive transportation decisions.

Looking at the amendment, it basically makes the Tampa and St. Pete Mayors board members (though not in so many words).   That is fine, even if it ignores that they have half representation as all the counties (2 seats to 4) while not representing the vast majority of even their own county populations.

More importantly, the amendment does not address our major question: why the appointed members should come from the “regional business community” or what that even means (which no one really knows because it is left undefined.)  For the sake of argument, if it means anyone with a job or who buys anything (a consumer is arguably part of the “regional business community”), it is superfluous language.  If it means anything else, as we noted previously, people other than the business community have an interest in transportation. Sure, business people will be on the board, but there has been no explanation or justification for limiting public membership to them (however they are eventually defined) or how other residents and their interests will be represented and protected.

And then there is this:

“This bill gives me pause,” Newton said, referring to the fact that Tampa Bay voters have rejected recent tax referendums on transit. “I don’t see how changing a board is going to do that.”

Which does raise a relevant point. The problem with transit in this area hasn’t really been mayors, other local officials, and the business community not working together. It is that they have not come up with a plan they could sell.  We still wonder how that will be addressed.

Which leads into this: the proposed structure risks adding to the impression, right or wrong, of many that whatever is proposed is a backroom deal between politicians and big business and help rally opposition. Adding some other voices will enhance the process and give it greater legitimacy.

The Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which appears to be the driving force behind the bill had this to say, among other things:

This legislation is a critical first step to creating a seamless regional transit system that successfully addresses these issues. We thank the sponsor, Rep. Dan Raulerson, and the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which includes Bay Area Legislative Delegation members Rep. Amber Mariano, Rep. Ralph Massullo, Rep. Wengay Newton and Rep. Jackie Toledo, for recognizing the importance of this bill and allowing it to move forward through the legislative process. Their actions today encouraged continued discussion and allow for future efforts to improve the bill. 

And that is positive.  We are all for getting TBARTA to be useful and having a regional approach to transit, but this bill needs some tweaking.  And, even with that, a rearranged TBARTA is just a preliminary step. The real issue of coming up with a plan that sells remains.

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Sunshine Citizens noted an interesting pair of bills floating around Tallahassee.

The “High-occupancy Toll Lanes and Express Lanes” bill is known as SB250 in the Florida Senate and HB777 in the State House. You can find your Senator and Representatives here: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find

This bill helps put an end to the addition of express toll lanes on our interstates throughout the state. And it ensures that all new toll roads will pay for themselves, repealing the tolls once the bond debt is paid off. We think this is a smart plan and ensures that we only plan and pay for infrastructure and roads that are truly needed.

You can find the bills here. Among other things, the bills provide:

High-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes may not be created on or after July 1, 2017. Upon elimination of the tolls on existing high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes pursuant to subsection (1), such lanes may continue to exist but not as high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes

The bill would put a crimp in the TBX plan, though we have no idea if it has a chance to pass and be signed.  We’ll see what happens.

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

There was news about more jobs in Tampa:

Biotechnology giant Amgen is opening a facility in Tampa this October with promises to create as many as 450 jobs here by 2018.

The facility will be primarily back-office operations spanning four floors of Corporate Center One in Tampa, which neighbors Tampa International Airport to the east.

Amgen, which is investing $25 million in the Tampa project, specializes in developing medicine for diseases with few treatment options. Their focus areas include: oncology and hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience. Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the company operates in nearly 100 countries with nearly 20,000 employees worldwide.

* * *

Amgen did not receive any tax incentives through the state job-creation agency Enterprise Florida, or any local incentives, economic development officials said. 

First, the jobs are definitely welcome.  We welcome all jobs.  We also find it interesting that there were no incentives.  That is also a positive, not for a political reason, but because it shows an ability to attract the jobs, though given our well-developed back-office history that is not so surprising.

The only thing is that, much as we are happy these jobs are coming, we would really like to have actual life sciences jobs in addition to back-office jobs. Then we will really be forming a biomed cluster.  Maybe the life science back office jobs will serve as a gateway to the heart of the business, but that remains to be seen.

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

There were a number of news items from the airport in the last few weeks.  First, adding to the accolades, the airport came in third in Money Magazine’s The 10 Best U.S. Airports for a Stress-Free Trip

Silver: Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Florida’s Tampa airport ranked highest for the ease of its security process in J.D. Power’s 2016 survey. That’s a particular achievement, considering that J.D. Power reported an 8% increase in the wait time travelers spent in security lines over the past year. Tampa owes its speed to a decentralized design with multiple security checkpoints. That gives travelers more time to explore the 45 shops and 34 restaurants, a dozen of which opened in the second half of 2016 alone. Southwest, a top MONEY airline, is Tampa’s largest carrier, serving about 35% of the airport’s passengers.

That pesky Portland airport came in first.  Salt Lake City came in second.  Speaking of Salt Lake City,

Delta Airlines is launching a new nonstop daily flight from Tampa International Airport to Salt Lake City starting Dec. 21. 

Cue the cool graphic:

Screengrab from a Tampa International Airport video – click on picture for tweet with the video

The nonstop daily year-round flights will begin Dec. 21 on a Boeing 737, departing for Salt Lake City at 7 a.m. and arriving at 9:41 a.m. Service from Salt Lake City to Tampa will depart at 5:15 p.m. and arrive at 11:41 p.m.

That is a good schedule.

TIA has been working on getting this nonstop route for about a year, Strickland said. The airport did a study and found that Salt Lake City, as a destination, suffered from an abnormally high amount of travelers diverting from Tampa and going to Orlando to get a nonstop flight to the Utah capital. 

This flight will help retain some of those lost passengers and develop more traffic.  As usual, we also like the airport’s methodical approach;

“We added Seattle and then San Francisco and now Salt Lake City,” Lopano said in a telephone interview. “It’s very difficult to get that first route, but once you start adding routes, people start noticing. Our strategy is working. Tampa just added three (Western) destinations. Airlines have taken notice of our growing market.”

Indeed, it seems they have:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Starting later this spring and summer, Frontier Airlines will launch seasonal service to five cities from Colorado Springs. . . Later this fall, Frontier will add new seasonal service to both Fort Myers and Tampa, Fla. Frontier is offering special introductory fares as low as $29* on these new routes as of today at Flyfrontier.com. 

Once again, the airport is showing why it gets so much love in this area.

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Recently, the rendering of the USF Med School was released.  For all their glitz, literally, renderings are nice but real details are nicer.  URBN Tampa Bay recently posted a first floor plan for the building.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can find a bigger version here.

The notable detail is the 14,000 sq. feet of retail facing Channelside and the plaza.  It is unclear what will go there (probably a restaurant in at least one space), but having this retail is a positive sign that the building will be integrated into the surrounding area and not be just a dead academic streetscape.

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

It seems that a hotel on Rocky Point is finally going to start construction.

A boutique hotel with a rooftop bar will celebrate its groundbreaking next week on the Rocky Point waterfront.

Current, which will be the Tampa Bay region’s third Autograph Collection by Marriott property, is a 180-room, nine-story hotel on the former Crawdaddy’s Restaurant property, which is currently used as the Rusty Pelican’s overflow parking. A groundbreaking ceremony is slated for March 30.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside the rendering trying to make a nine-story building look towering, the building looks fine and the rooftop bar should have great views.  We just wish that Rocky Point had been developed properly.  It has residential, office, and hotel (not to mention a great location), but they are built in such a way that it is very difficult to get around the island, certainly by walking or biking.  It could have been so much better.

Transportation – Ferry News

There was more news about the ferry ridership:

The Cross-Bay Ferry is now attracting enough riders to send money back to the local governments that helped finance the 6-month pilot project, said Ed Turanchik, a project advisor.

In just the last 40 days, Turanchik said in an email, more than $50,000 in operating revenue has been returned to the City of St. Petersburg, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and Pinellas County.

That’s because HMS Ferries is now covering its management costs, he said, which means money from ticket sales “reverses direction and start(s) going back to the four governments.”

The “switchover” moment happened in late January, and ticket sales are accelerating, Turanchik said. The ferry sold 2,000-plus tickets during the first week of March, with as many weekday tickets sold as weekend tickets.

Which is a good sign (though nowhere near the money that local governments paid for the test), though the increase in ridership is not surprising given it is tourist season and

After a bumpy start, the CrossBay Ferry linking the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa had a good month of February, helped by slashing weekday ticket prices in half.

A record 6,070 tickets were sold last month, a 57 percent increase from January. Ferry operators credit cutting the weekday one-way fare from $10 to $5 and also cutting by half a value package. 

As we have said many times, one of the problems with the test was the high fare, so cutting prices logically brought more ridership.  On the other hand, the whole purpose of a test is to find the sweet spot (if there is one) for the fare, so good for them for adjusting. Sadly, the trial is almost over.  We would really be interested to see how the ferry functions in the summer when it is hot and rainy.

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

The Housing Authority is caught in another muddle (in addition to the Tempo muddle and having to ditch the initial developer for redoing North Boulevard Homes):

The Housing Authority is being sued by a developer who agreed to a $7.4 million contract to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block as part of the Encore project on the northeast edge of downtown.

The Housing Authority in July terminated its contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings after giving it two years to close on the deal, officials said. The Tampa development firm, owned by Frank DeBose, had paid a $50,000 deposit for the land and subsequently paid $250,000 in additional deposits to extend the closing date.

In what may be a first step toward a damages claim, Pinnacle is suing the Housing Authority, saying it failed to fully comply with a public records request. It is seeking records that would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

From the Times – click on map for article

Of course, there is another side to the story:

Housing Authority officials said the contract with Pinnacle was terminated because the firm defaulted on a $10,000 deposit required for the most recent contract extension, which was signed in April. It was the 10th revision to the original contract. There was also doubt that Pinnacle was ever going to come through with the project.

That decision did not go for approval to the Housing Authority’s governing board because it was made by Central Park Development Group, a development entity composed of the Housing Authority and Banc of America Community Development Corp., said Leroy Moore, the agency’s chief operating officer.

“As we got longer and longer into the contract, we kept saying to them, ‘the extensions are going to stop,’ ” he said.

You can read the article here for all the details.   We are not going to judge any of this, because we have no basis to judge any of it.  At this point, it is just two stories being told.  The real question is whether the Housing Authority is going to sell the lots to Related and, even more importantly, why the Housing Authority seems to do everything the hard way.  With Encore now and the North Boulevard Homes on the horizon, we need the Housing Authority to focus on the actual projects not these kind of distractions.

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

We have often asked why the discussion regarding the Brightline (formerly All Aboard Florida) rail has been so muted here.  Frankly, we are still wondering, but there was a tidbit from Brightline itself which is intriguing.

Executives responsible for Florida’s Brightline passenger rail project say they’re open to taking passenger services to other U.S. markets that could “benefit from the type of service” Brightline offers. Tampa, Fla., is a definite.

The news comes as Florida East Coast Industries executives announced that they’ve hired a former Madison Square Garden and New York Mets executive, Dave Howard, as Brightline CEO. His job is to get the FEC subsidiary ready to start Miami-West Palm Beach passenger operations this summer. Current Brightline President Mike Reininger moves to a new position as Executive Director at FECI to concentrate on constructing the line to Orlando International Airport.

In a Trains News Wire interview with both men, Reininger made it clear that the reason for the reorganization now is that the parent company intends to expand and replicate Brightline’s passenger rail blueprint to other markets, starting with the next segment from Orlando’s airport to Tampa, Fla., while “Dave can keep his hand on the wheel of the operating company.”

“Tampa is Florida’s next largest population center. For years we’ve had an expression of interest from leaders in that marketplace who are more than a little interested in a connection into our service,” Reininger says, “So we will be able to research and apply ourselves to that opportunity for sure. And [Florida East Coast Railway] already controls the right-of-way into Jacksonville, so we will start to explore whether that is a feasible and reasonable alternative.”

The first thing to note is that they say Brightline will research the opportunity for connecting to Tampa.  There is no imminent plan, and there may never be one.  Second, it seems someone has been talking behind the scenes, though it is not clear who that was.  Regardless, if there is a statewide transportation network, we need to be connected.

And we’ll just toss this out: right now Brightline is connecting to Orlando’s airport, which is not really the best option for a connection from here to Orlando, though it is fine if you are going to Miami.  Moreover, where would the connection be in Tampa?  Would it be in the land that was to be for a high speed rail station?  Union Station, which is already built and has land around it that could be redeveloped?  Should it go all the way to the airport? What is best for the City and area? (If you look at page 25 of this consultant presentation to HART , at least one consultant thinks that the station will go where the flour mill in the Channel District now is, though we wonder if CSX would let a competitor use its rails or if the competitor would even want to.)  And, of course, none of locations have any connection to local transit – even the streetcar.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

MacDill – The More the Merrier

MacDill may be in line to get more tankers.

The Tampa Bay Times has learned that MacDill is one of two bases competing to host 12 more KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets and the estimated 400 personnel who come with them.

That is in addition to 16 Stratotankers already there and another eight set to begin arriving this year.

The Air Force is moving the planes to make room for newer KC-46A Pegasus tankers — part of a $50 billion program to replace the aging fleet of Stratotankers with 179 new planes by 2028.

The 12 Stratotankers will be coming from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. MacDill is competing with Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash., for the older jets.

The more activity at MacDill the better.  It is already an important base and more activity protects its status that much more.  The one thing we don’t get is this:

Twice, the Air Force has found MacDill unsuitable to house the new tankers.

If MacDill is good enough for the older tankers, we are not clear why it is isn’t good enough for the new ones?  We are happy to get the relocated Stratotankers and possibly some more, but we would be even happier to have the next generation.

Tampa Heights – Progress

And, just because we want to and it is a cool picture, here is the latest photo from The Heights, showing the Pearl under construction to the left.

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

One thing you can really see in this picture is just how much land they have to work with and just how transformative a full build out of the Heights project would be.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

Every now and then we come across something that we want to share but that does not really fit into a specific category.  Recently we ran across an interesting online library from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard called the Operational Excellence in Government.

The project seeks to promote government transformation through an open-access website outlining efficiency and cost savings examples. As a free resource, the Operational Excellence project eliminates common financial and functional barriers to attaining, analyzing, and implementing proven practices. The project positively impacts the ability of individual governments to share ideas and build momentum across jurisdictions to achieve operational goals.

By providing a free resource to inform and support government transformation, Operational Excellence in Government promotes the attainability of effective governance across all jurisdictions, ultimately leading to a more effective, efficient, and accountable government for all.

As the project develops we will populate the website with additional resources, case studies, and tools highlighting efficiency initiatives and successful government implementation projects.  

Basically, it is an online library of reports from various jurisdictions about efficiency and best practices.  The idea is to disseminate good ideas and make it easier to spread those practices without having to create new reports in every jurisdiction.  Our local governments, which are so fond of consultants, seem like they could use it.  It can be found here.

Roundup 3-17-2017

March 16, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 3-10-2017

March 10, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Rearranging

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

— A New TBARTA?

— Bottom Line

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

Port – Containment

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

________________________________

Transportation – Rearranging

As usual, there was much news about transportation, though the actual impact is not clear.

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

First up was this little nugget.

The Showtime Speedway, once thought to be a temporary attraction until a connecting road was built, is here to stay.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and speedway’s owner Bob Yoho recently announced that a compromise was made with the Florida Department of Transportation to reconfigure a planned road connecting Interstate 275 to the Bayside Bridge so that it bypasses the speedway. The change will allow the quarter-mile, figure-8 speedway and dragstrip originally named the Sunshine Speedway to continue operating.

Latvala said it took “just me sitting down with the department and explaining how important this was to people in the community and they just figured out a way to do it.”

“We worked with the property owner and were able to design the Gateway Expressway so the roadway alignment did not impact the operations of the Speedway,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The road will run on the drag strip’s west side and will be more compact, with walls as buffers instead of dirt. Yoho said the speedway will lose some parking. 

So, as shown with the Howard Frankland issues, it is clear that FDOT plans are subject to change.  And like the Howard Frankland, the impetus for the change came from a Pinellas State Senator (the same one, in fact) who bothered to voice concern.  That’s all it took.

Sadly, there does not appear to be anyone in Hillsborough County that cares enough to get some fixes to TBX through Tampa.  As we have said a number of times, the biggest blame for TBX and bad local planning is on local officials.  But legislators could get changes.

— A New TBARTA?

The other big transportation news was a move to change TBARTA.

Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers are looking to put a dent in the region’s long-stagnant access to transit by creating a regional entity to oversee plans throughout the region rather than isolating solutions to individual counties.

* * *

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and Rep. Dan Raulerson (R-Plant City) filed bills to replace the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. The bill represents a lot more than just changing “transportation” to “transit,” and aims to include local business leaders. 

You can find the senate bill here.

The Business Journal told us this about the proposed new TBARTA:

The bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would charge a restructured TBARTA with coordinating regionally significant transportation projects and creating a conflict resolution process to address problems associated with implementing regional plans.

The new board would be immediately tasked with establishing a committee structure and plan for developing a regional transit plan and bringing those findings back to the legislature ahead of the 2018 session.

The legislation would leave intact local transit agencies like the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but would create a regional board whose sole purpose would be to establish regional connectivity plans. Those plans could later be implemented through a series of interlocal agreements.

Interestingly, that is pretty much what TBARTA does.  So what are the changes? The biggest addition is (starting line 313 in the pdf):

(a) Plan, implement, and operate mobility improvements and expansions of multimodal transportation options for passengers and freight throughout the designated seven-county Tampa Bay region.

(b) Produce a regional transit development plan, integrating the transit development plans of participant counties, to include a prioritization of regionally significant transit projects and facilities.

As a general idea, we are fine with that.  However, we are not sure it solves the problem of how they would operate anything and how HART and PSTA would fit in to the mix.  It is also not clear where any money would come from.

Another issue arises from another big change, which was referred to above: the structure of the board. From Stpetersblog:

The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). They would serve two year terms, for no longer than three terms. 

What is not made clear in the articles is that the people appointed by the Governor, Speaker, and President of the Senate who would be the clear majority of the board have to be “members from the regional business community.” While, as a practical matter, people appointed to boards are often successful business people and the business community definitely has an interest and should be involved, it is unclear why there should be a statutory requirement that the citizens involved need to be exclusively businesspeople rather than people interested in serving with knowledge to do a good job.

Even more problematic though is that “members from the regional business community” is not defined.  If you are going to put it in a law, the meaning needs to be clear.  Do you have to own a business or do you just have to have a job somewhere?  Does your business have to be a certain size?  What is the “regional business community” as opposed to just a small business? What if you are retired? What if you are a professor?  What if you hit the lottery and decide to serve but never owned a big company?

And a final concern is that most of the members of the board are appointed from Tallahassee. What of local interests other than the business community?

We do not have a ready-made, air-tight solution, especially given that the Hillsborough County Commissioners put anti-transit people on the HART board. Yes, the composition of a board requires balancing various interests, but the bill as written is not very balanced.

— Bottom Line

We are all for having a real regional transit authority that can actually do something.  We appreciate that the State Senator is out front in efforts to get the region to work together and has been the one to show that TBX is not set in stone.  We think the TBARTA bill is a start, but it needs some tweaking.

We are all for the involvement of the business community.  Like we said, as a practical matter, many appointed members of the board will be business people, but the language used in the bill is ambiguous and will lead to problems.  Additionally, there are others who can also provide useful service, and there are other interests that should have a voice.  The bill would be much better if those things were fixed.

And there is always the question of funding. . .

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

This week, the City held the first of three public meetings regarding the streetcar in downtown.  From Monday’s Times:

The city’s project, being called “Invision: Tampa Streetcar,” will look at a range of corridors and equipment, including autonomous transit vehicles, and will recommend alternatives and possible funding. If an upgrade is seen to be doable — that decision should come by this summer — then local officials will start to consider a preferred alternative.

Tonight’s meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St. Officials say its agenda is to brainstorm on the purpose of and need for the streetcar.

A second meeting to discuss technology and alignment alternatives is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 4, also at the history center.

A third and final meeting to discuss results of the effort will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 2 at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus at 2001 N 14th (Republica de Cuba) St.

Setting aside the small number of meetings, there was something in interesting from the first meeting.  URBN Tampa Bay linked to another Facebook page:

From Kevin Thurman – click on picture for Facebook page

At the streetcar public meeting and when asked the biggest barrier to expanding the streetcar. It wasn’t even close: “Political Will”

Are you listening Tampa/Hillsborough elected officials?

Any regular reader will know, we totally agree with that sentiment about political will. And the best way to develop political will is to call local officials on it.

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

The Business Journal had an item about a recent economic report from Brookings:

Median earnings in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area slipped 3 percent from 2000 to 2015.

A meager 0.1 percent gain in median earnings in the metro area between 2014 and 2015 still left that benchmark short of where it was at the turn of the century.

Those figures are part of a new Brookings Institution report about economic growth in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

In other words, for all the much-talked-about recent boom and job announcements, our incomes are still lacking.  Sure, some people are doing very well, but overall, not so much.  And, while over time, there has been improvement, it is not strong and steady.

We decided to dig a little deeper into the Brookings report (which you can see here), but it only mentioned Tampa once, in the “Inclusion” section, on page 19 of the report (21 of the pdf):

Tampa ranked eighth on reducing the gap in the employment rate between whites and people of color from 2009 to 2014, but its sizable increase in the median wage gap ranked it 85th on that indicator. 

Do with that what you will.

There is a related Brookings database that can be accessed here.  The database measures changes in three categories for three different periods 2005-2015, 2010-2015, and 2014-2015.  The categories are growth, prosperity, and inclusion. You can see the methodology here. To summarize, growth tracks GMP, jobs, and jobs at young firms.  Prosperity tracks standard of living, productivity, and average annual wage.  Inclusion tracks employment rate, median wage, and relative poverty.

Because the report tracks three categories for three different periods, it is difficult to determine an area’s overall rank.  Instead, we have made a chart of major Florida cities and a number of the usual suspects to which we are often compared and/or which are of relatively similar size to us.  We compiled the numbers over the three categories for the three periods.  Finally, because of the difficulty in comparison, we decided to add up the ranks for each area for each period to give a “total” (in red).  The lower the number, the better they have ranked across the three categories.  It is not an exact rank, but just gives a quick reference.  This is a chart of those numbers:

Click on chart for a larger version

A quick glance tells one that Austin and Denver consistently have done pretty well.  The Tampa Bay area did well in the 2010-2015 category which tells us that we have recovered somewhat from the depth of the recession.  On the other hand, the 2005-2015 numbers are not so good, which means we still have not gotten back to where we were before the recession.  The 2014-2015 numbers are not that good either.  There is good growth, but prosperity and inclusion are lacking – which is another indication of our poor wages/incomes, which also can be seen in the relatively poor scores of other Florida areas.  (And note that in this study increased growth can just be more people having low paying jobs, which is better than unemployment, but not really optimal).

As with most of these reports, the most useful part of them is tracking performance over time.  And over time, our Achilles heel has been our low incomes.  The cheap land, cheap labor, real estate based economic model has long been standard in these parts, and, while it has gotten a bit better, it is not clear that it is substantially changing.  Yes, people are working and we are growing (and that is great), but it we still have a long way to go, especially compared to the best performers.  Hopefully, we will get there.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

Last week, the City Council approved Lafayette Place.

A three-tower complex with more square footage than International Plaza has won final City Council approval, setting the stage for a huge transformation of the area south of the University of Tampa.

John Avlon, president of the Hillsborough River Realty Corp., which owns the property, said the company can now move to the next stage of design for the project, which does not have an announced start date.

“City Council’s unanimous approval of Lafayette Place reflects public confidence in the emerging development which brings new urban density to the west bank of the Hillsborough River,” Avlon said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lafayette Place will be anchored by Lafayette Tower, a 40-story building rising south of Kennedy Boulevard at the foot of the bridge leading to downtown. It is planned to include 12 floors of hotel rooms and 24 of offices, plus retail.

Lafayette Tower will be connected by a skybridge over Parker Street to the Lafayette Parkview, a neighboring 26-story tower with high-end residential, retail and a parking garage.

A couple of blocks away at Cleveland Street and Hyde Park Avenue will be Lafayette Central, another 26-story residential tower. 

As regular readers will know, our biggest concern about this project is the parking garages, which are really big.  The developer had said that it will have a light feature screening part of one of the parking garages.  Below is the most recent rendering of the project:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the screen on the parking garage to the rear of the rendering on the left side.  From the rendering it does not appear to be much, but it is better than nothing.  Still, you can see how big the garages really are, especially for the neighborhood.

In any event, we did not think the City Council would really address the issue.  That’s just not how they work.  The biggest question remaining is whether this project will get built, especially given that the same group has owned the land for decades and had previous proposals that never happened.  We shall see.

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

There was more news about the old New Port Tampa Bay project site.

A Fort Lauderdale company, BTI Partners, is moving steadily ahead with plans for what will be a new waterfront community near the intersection of Gandy and Westshore Boulevards. If all comes to pass, there will be apartments, townhomes and condos with sunset views of Tampa Bay. There will be a hotel, shops, a marina and two boat-up restaurants. The public will have access to a waterfront park and up to three miles of trails.

At an estimated cost of more than $600 million, Westshore Marina District will rival other mega-projects that are transforming Tampa’s Channelside district and blighted areas along the Hillsborough River. 

So what is the plan now?

Since 2015, BTI has been successfully marketing the site to builders:

BTI is keeping about eight waterfront acres to develop a pair of condo towers, each about 16 stories with ground-floor shops. A third tower might be added later along with shops, a cafe and hotel.

In all, Westshore Marina District will have about 1,250 residential units — 500 fewer than originally proposed for New Port Tampa Bay. 

We have not said much about this new project, because, while large, it has not been very inspiring. (You can see a site plan here)   The rendering of the Related proposal (here) is quite ordinary.  The other aspects have no renderings.  The one thing that still give us a little hope that this can be more than a generic development is the part about the condo towers with ground-floor shops, but, as New Port Tampa Bay taught us, there is no guarantee.

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

While we’ve come to expect the airport to get awards and high rankings, it is always nice when it happens.  This week:

On Monday, TIA was named Best Airport in North America in the 15-25 million passengers per year category, as part of the Airport Service Quality awards. The program is conducted by Airports Council International, the international trade group representing airports.

You can dig into the awards more here.

Well done. We still think it is the best overall airport, not just for its size.

Port – Containment

It is well-known that the Port is lagging in container service compared to other ports in Florida.  This week, WFTS had an interesting report on what might be going on.

While Anderson brags about the weight of containers coming in, “…for an annual total of over 37 million tons!” he says during his 2017 State of the Port speech.

The Tampa Port is lagging way behind when it comes to the number of containers coming in.

In 2015, Tampa, the largest Florida port land wise, shipped a total of 39 thousand (39,761) cargo containers, according to the most recent data by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But smaller ports like Jacksonville shipped more than 700 thousand (755,452). Miami (765,980). And Port Everglades (716,182) Also topped 700 thousand.

Usually, when you are trying to attract business from competitors, you go for competitive pricing and features.

“Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business” says Omer Ozer.

Omer and his brother Ugur own Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. They have been using Tampa’s port exclusively for 15 years. But now, they are considering leaving and alternative resources.

“We really love to stay in this town, we really enjoy here for family and everything but of course from business point, it doesn’t really make sense to stay in Tampa.  I’d rather be in Jacksonville or Miami” Omer says.

Omer says Tampa’s port only has one major ship line run by Zim, and the other ship line, MSC, piggybacks off Zim’s ships. They say a lack of competition drives up prices.

 “If we were in Jacksonville or Miami we would be making more than a million dollars a year and have less overhead.” Ugur says.

 “Tampa bay customers will end up paying more because the cost of freight to Tampa port is higher” Omer adds.

That would be a unique strategy for building business.

National chain, Rooms To Go, while headquartered in our area, is using Jacksonville’s port way more than Tampa.

According to industry used data company, Import Genius, they’ve shipped more than 11 thousand (11,775) containers in Jacksonville, and only 588 in Tampa all of last year.

Rooms To Go’s CEO Jeffrey Seaman tells us there just aren’t enough ships coming into Tampa.  

Local Kanes Furniture shipped 1,536 to Jacksonville while only shipping 122 to Tampa.

Badcock Furniture shipped 1,507 in Jacksonville and only 89 in Tampa.

“Tampa freight has always been higher than the rest of the ports” says Scott Taylor

Scott knows about freight costs, he’s Vice President of American Chung Nam, he says they’re one of the largest exporters per container in the world.

Scott tells us they have business in Tampa, but use other ports to save money.

“We have been forced to haul a lot of our business up to Jacksonville” Scott says. 

So what does the port have to say about it?  First, apparently nothing:

Reporter: “Mr. Anderson, Jarrod Holbrook ABC Action News good to meet you. Is there a reason why you won’t sit down and interview with us sir?”
Anderson: “No I have no reason not to sit down and interview with you.”
Reporter: “Ok we got an email from your office saying you have no interest in sitting down and talking to us.”

An email to the I-Team from Edward Miyagishima Port Tampa Bay’s VP of Communications and External Affairs states, “…..we believe there is no reason for a face-to-face interview.”

Setting aside that the port is partially funded with taxpayer money and is not a private company so the reticence to speak to the public is a bit odd, he finally said something:

Reporter: “Can you explain why businesses based here in Tampa, are using other ports other than Tampa?”
Anderson: “Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida. That’s something our citizens are so happy for.  It’s like your portfolio of your 401k.”

Diversification is a good thing.  Lack of competitiveness is not.  We all know that the Port underperforms in terms of containers. We get there are some challenges to building business at the Port. But some of the issues raised above have little to do with the usual reasons for not handling many containers.  What would be really helpful would be if there was an honest discussion about them and a clear plan to overcome them. (And less focus on real estate development.) Trying to avoid discussing obvious problems will get us nowhere.

No one wishes the port ill. We all want the Port to do well and help drive the economy. Nevertheless, reports like this and a seeming reluctance to address them head on creates concerns.

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

There was new about the Morrison, mixed use (really mixed use) development on South Howard this week.

A Pilates studio and a new concept from a Tampa entrepreneur have committed to ground-floor retail space in The Morrison, a mixed-use development under construction in South Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood.

The Morrison, at 936 S. Howard Ave., will be home to the region’s second Club Pilates studio as well as the third location of the Blind Tiger Cafe — one that will be open for happy hours and dinner, serving food, wine and cold-pressed juices alongside its coffee menu.

We are actually not that interested in what retail will actually be in the building.  We are more interested in the building itself.  It looks like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

What is remarkable about the project is that it is remarkable at all.  It is a building built to the street with apartments above and retail below.  In other words, it is a standard, urban building.  It may be nicer than some but the concept is not new (just look literally across the street to the building that housed Hugo’s.

It just makes us wonder why it seems so hard to get something so straightforward to be the basic model of development (not necessarily even of that size, 2 stories is fine) in all of our urban corridors.  It does not have to exclusive to “upscale” areas.  Yes, we have gotten better, especially in historical areas (and with renovations), but we still have too many new buildings that either are set back with surface parking out front or that, if built to the street, fail to interact with it (or are built up with parking underneath and barely even have a front door) even in areas that the City says it wants to be walkable (like this in Westshore).

Hopefully, the success of this project will breed copy-cats.  Having a truly supportive code would be even better.

Roundup 3-3-2017

March 3, 2017

Contents

Transportation – More Tales from the Couch

— Hillsborough

— Pinellas

— The Editorial

Transportation – Gandy/Selmon Connector

West Tampa – Old is New Again

Economic Development – A Big Deal

Hyde Park – Whatever

Economy – Housing

Rowdies – The Plan Moves On

Transportation/Latin America – Cuba Flight Update

Transportation/Downtown – PTC is a Decade Late

Transportation – The Water Taxi

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_______________________________________

Transportation – More Tales from the Couch

There was more news on transportation/transit, and it keeps reinforcing our argument that it is not that local officials don’t know what needs to be done, they just have other priorities.

— Hillsborough

Probably, not coincidentally, the Hillsborough County Commission was discussing their $0 to $600 million to $800 million road plan.

In Hillsborough, county commissioners evaluated how to spend $812 million allocated for transportation in the next 10 years.

* * *

Hillsborough commissioners each took turns speaking to the need for a better system:

“We have woefully underfunded transit,” Commissioner Pat Kemp said in a Wednesday meeting.

“I fully support additional transit funding,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said.

“I know, as you know, that need is there,” Commissioner Victor Crist said.

“Bottom line is, folks, we do not fund transit the way we should,” Commissioner Les Miller said.

But when the meeting ended, the use of the $812 million remained the same. About $1 million will go to transit projects — a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops in south county. The rest, just under $811 million, will go to roads, sidewalks and safety projects.

There were no proposals to take some of that money and allocate it toward bus service. Hagan said after the meeting that he thinks the money is “still subject to being revised” and that he’s “open to considering additional transit funding” within the plan.

When asked if he would be willing to make a motion to move funding from some of those road projects to transit projects, he said, “That’s too early to tell.”

Do we need more funding sources for transportation? Yes, especially if FDOT spends $6 billion on TBX rather than creating a holistic plan.  But if transit was a priority for it, the County would not have gone from no money to $600 million to $812 million basically just for roads, without anything substantial for transit.  That does not show real interest in transit.

Though, this does, at least for one Commissioner:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp plans to put up a fight for transit when the board votes Wednesday on its $812 million transportation plan.

* * *

Kemp wants to hold off on spending about half that money, including canceling plans for a $97 million widening of Lithia Pinecrest Road. Instead, she wants to put some of it toward a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority program that provides vans for people who want to carpool, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s pilot program that offers rides to get people to and from bus stops and a proposed ferry between south county and MacDill Air Force Base.

The rest shouldn’t be spent until Hillsborough studies all the options on the table and conducts a master plan with a vision for solving congestion problems and incorporating transit, she said.

We are all for the basic idea, even if we do not necessarily agree with the transit choices (maybe do the next Metro Rapid line or some other combination of projects). But that is a question that can be worked out.  And what road projects do not happen right now is also a question, but that can (should) be discussed.  More to the point is not spending everything on roads.  Of course, while such a proposal is worth trying, we did not think it would lead to much because the political will is lacking.  And it didn’t:

Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a road-centric $812 million, 10-year transportation plan Wednesday despite calls from residents and one of their own for more transit options. 

Which is in no way surprising. Per Stpetersblog:

Commissioner Sandy Murman praised several of Kemp’s ideas, adding in a motion to come back and potentially incorporate several of her ideas in the two-year budget cycle. But she said it was important to follow “the process,” adding that “we can’t just slap money at HART right now without knowing what we’re throwing money at.” 

Which is odd, because that is HART has a plan.  We think it is quite modest, but it is there and it is a start.  And Go Hillsborough had a HART plan just like it had a road list, you know, the one which the Commission seemed to have no problem slapping $800+ million.  What is the difference? Back to the Times:

“We’ve got to find a dedicated funding source to support transit funding,” Murman said. “Not a band aid approach.”

That is true.  Transit requires recurrent funding, but, then again, so does road maintenance (including maintaining roads that would be expanded), and the County is spending a good chunk the $800+ million on that.  How will they pay next time they need to do maintenance? Even if the future road maintenance money comes out of general revenue, which it should, budgeting still requires being able to come up with the money going into the future.  The Commission’s actions do nothing to solve that or transit.  And just sitting back and saying that studies are under way does not solve the problem, either.  You still need funding.

After Go Hillsborough, the Commission had the opportunity to, as we suggested (See “Transportation – Time to Move On”), take a systematic approach to working out the problem.  They chose to find $800 million for roads and do nothing about transit. There is nothing stopping the Commission from investing in transit now in the interim while they figure out long-term funding, just like on roads, except their own lack of doing it.

And one last thing from Stpetersblog:

Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert supported the proposal, but requested that the county list the projects included in the $812 million, and some of the criteria about why they’re in the plan. “I think it would bring some comfort to making sure that we’re doing the right projects today,” she said.

With which we completely agree.  We may not have the same view on what is “right” in all cases as the person making the request and we’re not so sure that it would bring comfort, but we definitely agree the Commission should justify the spending of the $800 million they said they did not have.  Let them definitively define their priorities rather than always saying they will do something while never actually doing it.

— Pinellas

The Times also details how PSTA (and Pinellas) is doing a good amount of talking.  (Of course, PSTA needs local governments to really do the lifting on funding, and they haven’t.)

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he wasn’t surprised at all that the Times found the region to be one of the worst, most underfunded transit systems in the country, but he was “incredibly frustrated.”

“It puts us at such a disadvantage as a city, as a region and as a state economically,” Kriseman said Friday.

Yes, it does.  But it still does not make the argument for this:

That frustration is amplified as a leader of a city in Florida, he said. The state does not allow cities to put referenda for transit funding on election ballots, and instead delegates that right to counties. As a result, cities are left with limited options to fund transit projects.

Because 1) no one has said what they would do with the City tax money other than the most general statements (which isn’t the best way to convince people to support a new tax or way of getting taxes), and, 2) if we need regional solutions, going even more local will not give them.

“We either get real creative where we look at trying to provide funding ourselves, which is what we did with the ferry project, or we hope we can maybe get some federal dollars,” Kriseman said. “Aside from that, there’s just not a whole lot of options for cities.”

While using the Cross Bay Ferry trial, which is overpriced and poorly scheduled, is not the best example, we totally agree with getting creative – as should the Counties (and we have said it many times).  We suggest that if the cities want people to get behind them for any push, they need to come up with more substance.

— The Editorial

Along with their series of articles, the Times also had an editorial that echoed much of what we have been saying, and, logically, with which we would agree.

An exhaustive account by the Tampa Bay Times published last Sunday chronicled the region’s long history of failure on transit and the profound consequences to residents, employers and the economy. For a region that aspires to be great, this is what holds us back.

* * *

Many of the transit initiatives that failed were hobbled at the start, crafted by committees with a lack of vision and sold to voters with public relations campaigns that never succeeded outside the urban core. A 2010 Hillsborough referendum was supported by city of Tampa voters but opposed by county voters. A 2014 Pinellas referendum narrowly lost in St. Petersburg but was soundly defeated everywhere else. Yet the Times report also shows that tired arguments by transit opponents that Tampa Bay’s geography and density are not suited to mass transit are not viable.

* * *

The region’s elected leaders also need to show more creativity and follow-through. Several Republicans who opposed the Go Hillsborough plan last year that never made it to voters said the initiative wasn’t comprehensive enough. These same leaders had years to shape Go Hillsborough for the better. That didn’t happen, and they cannot now distance themselves by feigning disappointment with an outcome that happened on their watch.

That is true.  But it is also true that Go Hillsborough’s city transit component lacked any (publicly released) detail (and in 2010 the only real transit portion was city-only).  And both the County and City component lacked any vision.  And no real vision has been forthcoming since from the City or the County.

Local leaders also need to make a stronger connection between good transit and good jobs. The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa have already drawn attention to the role that mass transit plays in growing and enlivening the downtowns. But transit can maximize a region’s entire workforce, creating a newly mobile marketplace for employers and upwardly mobile opportunities for workers who cannot afford a car or the costly rents of a prime location. The time, money and resources saved by cutting commuting times is returned to the community in the form of reclaimed wages, less congested roadways, cleaner air and other tangible benefits.

And that is true, but they need to expand beyond just addressing the need riders to argue for and work to gain choice riders.  People do not need to be trapped in their cars.  Which gets us to this:

Voters in the region have shown they will vote to tax themselves to pay for investments crucial to the area’s quality of life, from public safety and infrastructure to health care and education. It’s past time to invest in transit. Other metro areas struggled through defeats, only to build and expand their mass transit systems. They are moving ahead of Tampa Bay, and this region cannot afford to remain stuck at the bottom of those transit lists if it wants to compete to be an attractive destination to live, work and play. 

The bottom line is that need riders should deserve better service, and the potential choice riders need to be provided an actual choice because, as we keep saying, the real question for developing the economy to its actual potential is this: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Transportation – Gandy/Selmon Connector

One road project that actually does make sense is the Gandy/Selmon Connector.  WTSP had a report this week:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to start constructing the Selmon Expressway Extension Project in January 2018.

* * *

The Selmon Expressway Extension Project is expected to be complete and up and running by Fall 2020. The project will be paid for with existing money already raised from tolls.

If so, that would be good, though we are still not completely convinced that one lane in each direction is the best idea.  At least it is something and will provide an alternative to the Howard Frankland.  It should have been done long ago.

West Tampa – Old is New Again

A few years ago, the City put out a master plan for redeveloping the area around the North Boulevard Homes which included demolishing the public housing and rebuilding the area in a more urban way.  It was still not that dense, but it was better.  The Housing Authority then hired a developer that was clearly not good for the job (which was clear when they were selected).  Subsequently, that developer was dropped.  Eventually, the Housing Authority/City chose the Related Group as the developer.  While Related is a fine developer, usually of large, dense projects, in Tampa it has mostly been a mid-density developer (see Pier House and the Tribune property) not up to its usual high standards.

As part of the whole Housing Authority project, the Bethune building, which can be easily seen from I-275 was supposed to be demolished.  This week, there was news about that:

The Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments provided low-cost housing for Tampa seniors for 50 years before it was scheduled for a date with a wrecking ball.

Demolition of the apartments and of the sprawling North Boulevard Homes public housing project was to make way for the West River project, the authority’s ambitious plan to revitalize the area west of the Hillsborough River with a walkable community.

Now, the aging eight-story apartment tower block close to Interstate 275 in downtown Tampa may have won a reprieve.

Tampa Housing Authority officials now say they are planning an extensive rehabilitation of the 1966 building to again provide senior housing and they plan to modify the West River plan to accommodate it, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority chief operating officer.

“The structure seems to be salvageable,” Moore said. “Both our developer and we are pursuing that as an option.”

So why the change?

The approach means the housing authority can pursue different county and state funding pots than the more competitive sources earmarked for new public housing construction.

“We could potentially close in the next 12 months and be under construction as opposed to doing work to secure funding,” Moore said.

In other words, it is more likely to get done.  And, really, we are ok with that.  While dated in design (and kind of ugly with outdoor “hallways”), the building probably can be updated.  This one change is not really an issue, except how it will fit into the overall plan.  To understand what we mean, you need to know a few things.  First, this is the Bethune building:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

The aerial view is here.  Looking at the picture and the aerial, facing the streets are almost all surface parking.  Now consider this:

The idea came from similar projects in Miami such as the Jack Orr Plaza, a 1975 12-story tower block that was restored by Related Group, the developer the Housing Authority is partnering with on the West River project.

* * *

A small group of Tampa tenant leaders toured some of Miami’s restored buildings Feb. 16, including Jack Orr Plaza, as part of a Housing Authority plan to get resident feedback on the Bethune proposal.

“We wanted to give them a firsthand view of substantial rehab projects so they understand this is practically new construction without tearing down the structure,” Moore said.

This is Jack Orr Plaza.

From Miami-Dade County - click on picture for website

From Miami-Dade County – click on picture for website

The aerial view is here.  If you look at the aerial, you might also notice it has large surface parking lots facing the street.  Not really a model of the West River plan that is supposed to urbanize (not enough in our opinion) and make walkable the area.

As you may have guessed, our concern is the parking lots. If the Bethune building is renovated but there is not any better interaction with the street and neighborhood, that is a retreat from the whole idea behind the West River Master Plan.  We don’t mind saving the building and making it better, but that needs to at least fit into the plan.  (It’s just kind of sad that, as the article noted, the Bethune building will be unusually tall – probably be the tallest building – in the redeveloped West River.)

Economic Development – A Big Deal

There was interesting news for a Pinellas County economic power:

Tech Data Corp. has closed its $2.6 billion purchase of Avnet Inc.’s Technology Solutions business.

The deal gives Tech Data (NASDAQ: TECD) a presence in the Asia-Pacific region, a new market for the Clearwater-based IT distributor. It’s expected to boost Tech Data’s annual revenue from $26.4 billion to about $35 billion and increase employment to about 14,000 from about 9,000.

* * *

The deal likely propels Tech Data into the prestigious Fortune 100. Tech Data was No. 108 on the 2016 Fortune 500 list. Northwestern Mutual, the No. 100 company on last year’s Fortune 500 list, had $28.1 billion in revenue. Tech Data would be the Tampa Bay area’s second Fortune 100 company; Publix Super Markets Inc. was No. 87 last year.

It is always good to have large companies succeed here.  Not just because it is good for the company and their employees (and the money they have to spend), it also helps show other companies that this area is good for big companies.

Hyde Park – Whatever

There is a new proposal for a nine story assisted living facility on Hyde Park right near the bridge to Davis Islands (509 S Hyde Park Ave). URBN Tampa Bay posted the filed rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We can’t really tell much from that, except there is nothing interesting at the ground level (and they did not spend a lot on renderings).  This is the site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Most of the parking appears to be under the building, which is good.  The biggest issue we have is the lack of street connection.  We get that it is an assisted living facility.  Also, the location can be seen here.

While we usually think street retail is a good idea, this particular stretch of road is pretty much a dead streetscape.  Moreover, it connects to the bridge rather than Bayshore.  Based on that, we are ok (though not thrilled) with the lack of any retail.  On the other hand, there needs to be some better connection to the street for the sake of residents and passersby.

Economy – Housing

Amid a constant stream of reports about the hot housing market focusing mostly on housing prices (see here and here), there was a slightly different report this week.

First-time homebuyers in Florida have among the most obstacles in the nation when it comes to bagging a property, according to a study by Bankrate.com.

The financial information website (NASDAQ: RATE) evaluated home affordability relative to median income, credit availability, unemployment, the tightness of supply in the housing market, and the percentage of young homeowners in every state.

Florida scored very low for credit availability and homeownership among millennials and below average in the job market for young adults. The state also had the eighth-highest percentage of rejected mortgage applications in 2015.

Its housing affordability score was average.

Of course, if income is low and credit is not available, it is likely that most houses will not be affordable.  In any event, we get that this is one survey and is Florida-wide, not Tampa Bay specific, but it does raise some concerns, especially for the future.

Rowdies – The Plan Moves On

The Rowdies MLS attempt is moving forward.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies bid to make the jump to Major League Soccer took a leap forward Thursday when the City Council unanimously approved a citywide vote on the team’s plans to expand their home field to MLS standards.

The May 2 vote means that residents can weigh in on whether the city could negotiate up to a 25-year lease with Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards for Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies plant to expand the stadium to 18,000 seats.

Any agreement would have to approved by the council and is contingent on the team getting one of four MLS expansion slots to be decided within the next few years. The first two slots should be decided this year, said former mayor Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We hope is passes, a deal gets done, and they get awarded the MLS slot.

Transportation/Latin America – Cuba Flight Update

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding Cuba flights:

When word came that commercial flights between the United States and Cuba would resume after more than five decades, major airlines jumped into the competition for routes.

* * *

Now, just six months later, some airlines are scaling back because demand is less than expected — except in Tampa.

Total passengers using Tampa International Airport to fly to and from Cuba is growing to the point that more flights may be added.

“Tampa is a strong market,” said Mark Elias, president of charter operator Havana Air, who hopes to receive landing rights in Santa Clara from the Cuban government within the next month. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”

Southwest Airlines, which began offering daily direct commercial flights connecting Havana and Tampa on Dec. 12, echoed that sentiment.

“Our nonstop service from Tampa Bay to Cuba is performing in-line with our expectation,” spokesman Brad Hawkins said in an email. “There were many days in December when an empty seat was hard to come by.”

How strong?

Passengers traveling to and from Havana through Tampa totalled 7,923 in December, up from 6,693 in December 2015 when only charter flights were available, according to the airport.

In January 2017, the first full month of the commercial service, the number rose again to 8,731 — nearly 32 percent above the same month a year before.

How does that compare to other cities?

The United States and Cuban governments negotiated 110 daily commercials flights connecting the nations — 20 a day to Havana, with nine other cities on the island each receiving 10 a day.

The secondary cities received fewer bids than expected but a dozen U.S. airlines applied for nearly 60 flights a day to Havana from 20 American cities.

Ultimately, eight airlines and 10 airports split the Havana routes. Commercial service to the nine secondary Cuban cities began in August. The first Havana flight took off in November from Miami and Tampa’s launched a month later.

American Airlines has already dropped one of its two daily flights between Miami and the Cuban cities of Varadero, Santa Clara and Holguín.

Silver Airlines, serving all nine of the secondary Cuban cities from Fort Lauderdale, reduced its number of flights to six of these destinations.

JetBlue has switched to smaller planes, with 50 fewer seats, to serve Havana out of Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and New York. It did the same for flights to Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale.

We are happy for the strong performance, especially since we are the only non-hub with Cuba flights.

If Southwest chose to make us a focus city for such flights, they could build on our already developed market as well as their extensive flights into Tampa. (We are sure the airport folks are working on it.) Hopefully, we will get a few more flights that do well.

Transportation/Downtown – PTC is a Decade Late

As we have noted numerous times, years ago there used to be a free electric shuttle downtown that the PTC killed on behalf of the cab companies.  Recently, the Downtown Partnership and local government contracted with an out of down company to provide another one.  What did the PTC say?

. . . now the Downtowner can officially claim the cachet of being a limousine, albeit a low-speed, non-luxury one.

Public Transportation Commission board members approved that designation in a recent decision to regulate the fleet of 12 electric cars that give free rides around downtown. It was done at the request of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which launched the service in October.

The change is about more than status.

Putting the vehicles under the regulation of the PTC means the cars can legally be used as commercial vehicles like taxicabs. There are no plans to start charging for rides but the partnership plans to sell advertising on the cars, said Karen Kress, the partnership’s director of transportation and planning.

It also means drivers will now be able to accept tips, although the partnership may lower their hourly pay accordingly.

We are all for the electric shuttle, though we also were when it was a local company. It was also not using government money, unlike the present:

But [the Downtowner’s] popularity is also hampering the growth of the service. Only six cars are on the road at one time, while the other six cars are recharged.

That can mean long wait times, sometimes up to 40 minutes.

“People are getting frustrated with the wait time,” Kress said. “We need to find ways to get more revenue so we can expand and enhance the service.”

One option the partnership is exploring is to get more funding from state and local agencies. Kress is scheduled to meet next week with officials from the city, Florida Department of Transportation and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

If the Downtowner can meet some of downtown’s transit needs and complement other transit services, then it might make sense for agencies like HART to switch resources elsewhere and assist in funding, Kress said.

The service costs about $1 million per year. Initial funding sources included a $560,000 award from downtown and Channel District community development funds. The state DOT has already pledged to pay $150,000 for three years. Downtown commercial office towers and hotels have also pitched in with contributions, Kress said.

What this story really tells us is how local government functions for some but not others, and not necessarily for the innovative.  It also tells us that, while we are happy for this option, more, real options (especially ones that connect directly to outside of downtown) are necessary.

Transportation – The Water Taxi

There was interesting news about the big, yellow water taxis in downtown.

The Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa is expanding its fleet with a new direct route along to the Hillsborough River to the Lowry Park Zoo.

Passholders got a free sneak peek at the new route this past weekend, and is now open to the public.

The trip takes about 45 minutes each way, going from the Tampa Convention Center to the Zoo dock located at 7252 North Boulevard, in a City of Tampa park directly across the street from the Lowry Park Zoo.

Pirate Water Taxi built an entirely new 29-seat boat for the new route. It leaves daily from the Tampa Convention Center at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. And it leaves from the Zoo Dock at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily.

It may be a little slow for some, but that is a nice development.  And it is good they are doing well enough to expand.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

With all the talk of transit funding, or the lack thereof, in this area, there was interesting news from the Atlanta area.

For decades, the explosive northern reaches of the five-county core metro area have found themselves in the transit doldrums. That is, more than two million residents in North Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties have missed out on high-capacity transit access.

Now, many of those folks who’ve gone without are beginning to question why.

The AJC reports that leaders in Roswell, a city served by MARTA bus service, are hoping to push the state legislature to explore funding for a more comprehensive, high-capacity option to stretch north of Sandy Springs.

A resolution was passed by the Roswell City Council that highlighted the potential of northward MARTA expansion to mitigate congestion in not just Roswell, but “throughout the greater Atlanta metro region.” It even went so far as to say the economy and health and safety of the public were at risk if transit wasn’t explored as an option for the area.

* * *

Meanwhile, Gwinnett County also is making moves to explore high-capacity transit options to connect into the heart of Atlanta. According to the AJC, the county is preparing to embark on a transit plan to look at dedicated right-of-way transit service.

While the study isn’t tied to MARTA, the report will outline what options that county has, including heavy rail and bus rapid transit.

We understand that these are just studies and that a transit study is underway here.  The difference is that the areas noted above had a chance to join an existing real transit system, but have avoided it. (see, for instance, here)  It seems they are starting to see things differently.  We haven’t even started a real, regional transit system here.

Roundup 2-24-2017

February 24, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

— The Buck Stops Over There

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

— Conclusion

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

Downtown – Application Pulled

Downtown – More on the BK

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Tampa Heights – News on Food

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Rays/Tourism – Almost

The Other, Other Ferry

List of the Week

__________________________________________

Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

Last week, the Times had a good article entitled “A long way to go: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.”  It is a long article that is definitely worth a read.  We are just going to discuss some highlights:

Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage.

The other two ways, it ranks dead last.

The region is 17th in population.

Times reporters analyzed data on more than a dozen different transit metrics; interviewed key local officials, national experts and more than 40 bus riders; and studied similar-sized areas across America. Then they traced local elected officials’ decisions about the topic over three decades.

The newspaper found:

In interviews, the leaders of both Tampa Bay bus agencies acknowledged their systems’ deficiencies, pointing to statistics that show they are cost-efficient with the little money they have.

“It’s the difference between good and cheap,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Katharine Eagan said.

In other words, transit in this area is totally underfunded.

Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 buses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.

San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul are roughly the same size as Tampa Bay, but each had at least three times the ridership in 2015.

Spending per capita is half of San Antonio’s, a third of Denver’s and a quarter of Pittsburgh’s. At $57 per person, it’s comparable to Sheboygan, Wisc., and Macon, Ga.

This isn’t just because Tampa Bay is the only system without a rail line. Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes. Austin and Milwaukee each have a million fewer people and spend $10 million to $20 million more a year on bus service.

And it’s not that Hillsborough and Pinellas trail behind only because they’re two counties separated by a huge body of water. Each ranks poorly on its own.

Hillsborough spends $20 million less on buses than the transit agency for Cincinnati, Ohio, and $60 million less than the agency for Detroit, even though both serve similar populations. Pinellas’ agency serves twice as many people as New Orleans’, but both spend about the same amount of money.

Understand that none of this is really news, but the article lays it out more starkly. For some, like the Tea Party member of the HART Board, this situation appears to be a desirable outcome.

Transit critics say leaders are smart not to spend more because Tampa Bay is too big and too spread out for transit to ever be successful.

“We don’t have the density,” said Karen Jaroch, HART’s vice chair. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those sorts of investments here.”

Which is countered by this:

But a University of Utah study found that 11 other metro areas, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., all rank worse than Tampa Bay when combining density, land use and sprawl — and all have transit networks that rank above Tampa Bay’s.

But setting that aside for the moment, back to the Tea Party:

The question for many isn’t whether more money would improve transit service, but whether transit in Tampa Bay is worth investing in at all.

When the Hillsborough County Commission discussed raising the sales tax, it heard from angry constituents who opposed both light rail and higher taxes. HART’s own vice chair, Jaroch, doesn’t believe tax dollars should be spent on major transit projects such as rail and dedicated bus lanes.

Hillsborough County Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert said the county shouldn’t raise taxes to pay for something that many people won’t use.

“We spend a lot of money on transit,” Calvert said. “The overall percentage of the population that uses it is very small, so you have to look at the cost-benefit analysis.”

The fact is that across the country, and here, the Tea Party opposes transit – rail and otherwise.  Their opposition is philosophical (see for instance “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN”), which is their right.  But that does not mean we should follow them.

— The Buck Stops Over There

Which brings us to local officials.

Current and former commissioners in both counties said they need to do more, but also criticized the plans before them — many of which they’d discussed for years and were written under their direction.

As we have noted many times, and the article notes, County Commissioners can shape the discussion (as can other local officials, though the Commissioners control the money).  It is interesting to review history (and note there was talk back in the mid 1980’s, too):

Consider the history in Hillsborough County.

In 1991, former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik proposed a multi-county commuter rail system. The plan died after the county couldn’t find a funding source for it.

In 1995, a county plan to build light rail and expand bus service qualified for federal money. The county commission later killed its own plan.

In 1999, a 99-person committee of residents and transportation experts put together a $1 billion plan to improve roads and expand bus service. The commission rejected it.

In 2005, the federal government got tired of waiting for Hillsborough to approve a plan and took the county out of contention for rail dollars.

In 2010, the commission took its biggest step toward expanding transit, asking voters to increase the sales tax by 1 penny to expand the bus system and build light rail. But voters shot down the referendum.

The most interesting thing on the list is all the lost opportunities, the wasted time and effort, and the failure to really do anything. We know, historically, referenda fail first time around (maybe even more than once), and that is not even getting into the major flaws with the substance of the 2010 referendum:

This isn’t unusual. Across the country, similar ballot initiatives often fail the first time they’re proposed, then pass on subsequent attempts. That’s what happened in Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City — all of which now have robust transit systems.

“Generally, we’ve seen that when transit agencies go to the ballot, they fail initially,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association. “Often times, they’ll go back again and the approval rating tends to be over 70 percent.”

Then there was Go Hillsborough:

But in 2016, Hillsborough County commissioners decided it was too risky to put the question on the ballot again. The initiative would have dedicated almost $1 billion to HART over 30 years, or about $30 million a year.

That vote was “premature,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of four county commissioners who voted no. “We didn’t want to do something that wasn’t going to address the need.”

Which is a salient point, though it is worth noting that the three year TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process included all the County Commissioners, as well as the Mayor of Tampa and others. In other words, why didn’t they come up with a better plan? Regarding, this is especially noteworthy:

Crist, who took part in three years of meetings to shape the plan, said he did not feel comfortable putting a plan before voters that he didn’t support. He said he didn’t know that HART’s budget was so far behind its peer cities until a Times reporter told him.

“It agitates me,” Crist said. “It aggravates me. How the hell did we get here?” 

Really? He was on the Commission that put the Tea Party activist on the HART Board. That member is now on a second term. She still does not want to have a developed transit system.  Nor is the Commission doing much to properly fund it.  Clearly, that Commission was not committed to properly funding HART.

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

And, we saw that in action this week in a separate Times article:

There is a relatively small amount of money, about $1 million, for transit projects in the 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners discussed Wednesday.

Yet transit dominated most of the two-hour conversation.

There are two transit-related items in the spending package: $750,000 for a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and $350,000 for a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops.

As for the rest of the money? About $276 million will go toward road maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as widening and building new roads and improving traffic flow.

For Commissioner Pat Kemp, the newest board member whose top issue during last year’s campaign was expanding transit, that’s too much for roads and not enough on other ways to move people around.

“Our Achilles’ heel is transit. It’s been transit for a long time,” said Kemp, speaking out at length from the dais for the first time. “It’s time for us to start committing our transit dollars. Just like we do for roads, put them on the same level of dignity and competition.”

Kemp noted that the county will spend $97 million during the next 10 years to widen 3.7 miles of Lithia Pinecrest Road. That’s equal to all of the budget for HART, the county’s bus operator. She proposed committing $100 million to HART over the next 10 years.

Setting aside that the Commission seems to keep coming up with more money for roads out of thin air (now up from $600 million to $817 million), what was the response from other Commissioners?

It’s “highly unlikely that’s financially feasible,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, unless the county makes significant cuts to public safety or kills off another transportation project.

The county could pass a tax increase of some kind, Hagan noted, alluding to the half-cent sales tax surcharge commissioners rejected last year. Hagan wanted to put a sales tax hike on the ballot for voters to decide, but a majority of commissioners did not.

That’s how we got here – choices.  Why is it “irresponsible” to fund transit by $10 million/year for ten years, but money for roads, sprawl, and subsidies seemingly multiplies likes the loaves and fishes? Maybe the Commission’s project list, their planning, and their subsidizing pet project is irresponsible.

— Conclusion

The fact is that as long as we can remember transit in this area has been treated the Tea Party treats it – as an agency that exists as a last resort for people who have no other choices.  As such, it is not necessary to make it work well or fund it properly.  The riders have no choice.  And, as such, it will not attract choice riders.  That is not the fault of the HART staff.  It is the fault of the decision-makers with power over money, planning, and other decisions.  Clearly, their priorities are elsewhere.

And in the last few months we have learned that, in addition to not knowing about transit funding, local officials have not known what was in the TBX plan, where the proposed ferry would dock (or how the Port would deal with it), and we have never seen a proposed alignment (even a general alignment or favored choices) for the theoretical City starter rail line.  And this is for the supposedly critical transportation issue.

As we discussed last week regarding regional planning and transit, it is not a matter of learning to walk before we can fly.  It is a matter of this area sitting on the couch while others move forward. As noted in the first article mentioned above, so many of the usual suspects have moved forward with transit.  They have also moved forward in other areas, while we have dithered.

It all goes back to the question we keep asking: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already have so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

There was a very odd article in the Times regarding Jackson House in downtown.  Just to remind you about Jackson House:

The Jackson House has stood for decades as a powerful symbol for Tampa’s black community, a monument to some of the 20th century’s great black performers and a sobering reminder of the Jim Crow South.

It housed the likes of Fitzgerald, singer James Brown and even baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, who were barred from the city’s white-only hotels when in Tampa to play and perform. Unlike nearby stores and restaurants, it survived the destruction of the Central Avenue business and nightclub district in the 1970s and was named to the National Register of Historic Places and Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.

But the house has since fallen into disrepair. It stopped taking guests in 1989 and multiple attempts to restore or develop the property have failed, in part because of its condition.

And don’t forget the City wanted it demolished before some benefactors stepped in to save it.

Anyway, the odd part this week:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist warned recently that local officials need to step in — and fast — to save the historic Jackson Rooming House.

* * *

Crist suggested the county should acquire the century-old Tampa landmark, which once housed black entertainers including Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald when they came to town, to salvage what it can of the aging building before it’s too late.

“This is a time matter,” Crist told commissioners at a meeting last week. “It’s being scheduled to be torn down rather soon.”

* * *

It was Crist’s intention to send in photographers and architects to capture the two-story building at 851 Zack St. in its current state. That way, after demolition, it could be recreated to look identical to its predecessor.

Crist hoped a new Jackson House, built with reclaimed and restored wood and fixtures from the original facility, could anchor his idea for a new venture to preserve and display Hillsborough’s black history. Crist said he’s been working with local black leaders on the idea.

We are all for photographing and memorializing the building, but moving it or building a replica somewhere else? Why change the location?  Who benefits?

Regardless, it gets stranger:

That’s news to the nonprofit that controls the Jackson House.

There are no plans to raze the building, said Carolyn Collins, the chairwoman of the Jackson House Foundation Inc. In fact, builders recently completed a stabilization project and the foundation will soon begin a fundraising campaign aimed at full restoration.

“It would’ve been nice if Victor Crist would’ve contacted us and talked to us rather than bring it up to the commission,” Collins said. “I’m curious why he would want to buy it after we stabilized it and are getting ready to go into restoration phase.”

* * *

Collins, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said Crist’s vision sounds in line with her own idea to turn the Jackson House into a museum celebrating the black entertainers who once graced its halls. But the building isn’t up for sale.

“They don’t have to buy the house,” Collins said. “Why not just put up some of the money for the foundation to restore it?”

Why not? We are just going to chalk this all up to a misunderstanding, which is possible.  The County should give money help save the building:

Even now, after stabilization, its physical ailments are readily visible. The building sags in spots, the siding is falling off, window panes don’t look long for this world and sunshine pokes through holes in the roof.

The Jackson House Foundation wants to raise $1.3 million to renovate and restore the building and keep it in its location.

We are not sure that will ever happen (as the building is not in East or South County), but it should.  Then again, it gets even odder:

Crist was not sure where a rebuilt Jackson House would end up if it did move to a new spot in Hillsborough County, but he said there were other advantages to acquiring the parcel it sits on.

“That piece of real estate is contiguous with other county buildings downtown,” Crist said, referring to the nearby George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. “So it wouldn’t be far-fetched for it to be a valuable piece of turf for us to have in our inventory.”

After last week’s meeting, Commissioner Sandy Murman addressed Crist’s idea with skepticism.

“That is a city property,” Murman told him, “And they need to take care of that property.”

First, that property is both within the City and within the County. In fact, it may surprise that Commissioner mentioning the City to learn that, based on the County website, Jackson House is actually in her district.

Moreover, according to the property appraiser website, the property is owned by the Foundation. Based on a quick search of public records, the Foundation does not appear to be owned by the City of Tampa.  What’s even more interesting is that a large local parking/land banking company owns all the land around it – not the County, not the City.

Given that it is not a City property, that it is owned by the Foundation, and is plainly historic, why can’t the County do something about it? (We mean, it would probably only cost one fast food restaurant subsidization.)

Let’s just hope there is actual good will to preserve actual history while we have it rather than let it fall apart and then honor it with a plaque.  We’ve had far too much of that already.  The County should definitely help support 1) the restoration of the building and 2) the creation of a museum and/or putting it in some affiliation with the History Center.

Downtown – Application Pulled

A proposal in downtown Tampa next to the Times building had its application withdrawn.

A Dallas developer has backed away from plans to build an apartment-and-retail project on the northern fringe of downtown Tampa.

Really, it was an apartment building with one relatively small retail space, but anyway:

Mill Creek Residential Trust has withdrawn a variance request that, if approved, would have paved the way for 275 residential units with ground-level retail space on a 2.2-acre surface parking lot sandwiched between the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay Times building at 1000 N. Ashley Drive.

Todd Bleakley, who oversees the North Florida region for Mill Creek, wouldn’t say why the request was withdrawn.

We can’t say we are overly concerned or disappointed that the proposal was withdrawn.  It was tolerable, but no more than that.  And it could have been much better.  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – More on the BK

As we discussed last week, the City Council inexplicably (unless you have observed Tampa land use for a while) ignored their own staff and approved a stand-alone Burger King near the Encore project.  URBN Tampa Bay posted some more renderings this week:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And, bizarrely, unless you note the surfeit of cars in the previous renderings, a driver’s view.  It does not get much better than that.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So, thanks to the City Council, you could get the Encore to the east, the Lightning owner’s plans in the south, the Heights to the northwest, and a car choked BK seen through the driver’s view in the north.

Anyway, the folks at URBN Tampa Bay decided to file a formal objection, which can be found here.  And they are right.  It is absurd to approve this.

Strangely, one side effect if TBX get built is that this land likely will be bought by the state and this BK will not get built. If TBX is going to take the land, there is no point in granting the special use.  If it isn’t going to use the land, even with the odd shape of the lot, something better and in line with the rules for downtown can be done.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Anyone who has been on the Riverwalk recently knew this was basically underway, but:

An excavator has begun tearing down the Tampa Tribune building, the first step in removing the riverfront property that housed the 123-year-old newspaper, which closed after it was purchased by the Tampa Bay Times in May 2016.

The waterfront property, located on the west side of the Hillsborough River just south of the University of Tampa, was sold to Miami-based Related Group in 2015. The company intends to erect an eight-story, 400-unit apartment complex in its place. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment this morning.

The demo is fine with us.  The property is far too valuable for a blank-walled newspaper building. Though the newspaper building was better than the previous power station that was there way-back when (We can’t resist these pictures):

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

You can see the location at the top of this picture.

The only thing we wish was that the project that is going to be built was better – not even necessarily taller, just better, especially on the street side.  First, the retail, which, according to Related’s own development manager, does not seem actually planned for success:

The property has been approved for a restaurant or sandwich shop, but Peña said it’s unlikely the property will have enough foot traffic or parking spaces to accommodate that kind of business.

“It would need to be a destination and the access might be challenging,” he said.

But even more is the garage, which is that oddness on the left side of this rendering (it’s the squat building at the bottom):

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

When the garage, which is poorly screened (probably like PierHouse) and just dropped in the neighborhood with no regard for street activity, is the most prominent thing in a project from most angles, the project can be done much better.

Tampa Heights – News on Food

It is well known that Armature Works, when it opens, will have a “market hall” concept and some other restaurants.  A while back we discussed how there is another project for a “restaurant collective” (looks like a fancy food court to us, but if they want the branding, that’s cool) project on Franklin street.  There was news about that this week:

Wilson, who sold off his mortgage company Leverage Financial in 2013, is seeking to recreate the kind of food hall experience that’s become ubiquitous in other cities as a place to showcase the local culinary scene. Typical construction delays have kept the Hall on Franklin a bit behind schedule — it was originally slated to open by the end of 2016 — but Wilson and his team have been working to evolve the vision for Hall on Franklin, an 8,000-square-foot space at 1701 N. Franklin St.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You can read the rest of the Business Journal article for details on the offerings.  Potentially exciting times for Tampa Heights (aside from TBX taking out a bunch of it and hurting its connections to downtown).

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Last week we discussed Cuba trade and said we could not understand why it was ok to have flights and cruises to Cuba but bad to have actual cargo come and go through our ports.  This week, the Times told us this:

Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between the two nations.

* * *

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018 are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

We get the argument that the cruise lines are private companies doing their own business.  On the other hand, they use public facilities, and the cruises (directly or indirectly) give money to the Cuban government as well as benefitting public entities in Florida.

In any event, if having the private middle man is the requirement, then the Port should just have agreements with companies to transport cargo to and from Cuba to use their facilities without signing any agreement with the Cuban officials. (See here) Problem solved.

Rays/Tourism – Almost

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

Despite a sixth straight record-breaking year for Florida tourism, Hillsborough County has reason for a bittersweet celebration. The county has missed its bid to snag an extra $6 million in estimated tourism taxes this year, money that could have been used to lure the Tampa Bay Rays away from St. Petersburg.

* * *

Florida drew nearly 113 million visitors in 2016, up from about 107 million in 2015.

* * *

Hillsborough collected $29.9 million in tourism bed taxes during the 2016 calendar year, falling just shy of the $30 million threshold needed in order to be considered a “high tourism impact” county. That designation would have given county commissioners the option of raising the bed tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, resulting in additional tax revenue which county commissioners said was a key component in their attempt to bring the Rays across the bay.

First, that is very good for tourism. Second, unless trends are way off, this year the threshold will be crossed.  And you have to add this money to the pot, though there may be corresponding decreases elsewhere.

In December, the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office reached an agreement with Airbnb to collect bed taxes and sales taxies on rooms booked through the website. That deal went into effect on Feb. 1 and is projected to generate about $250,000 in tax revenues this year.

Pinellas, with the beaches, is already there:

Pinellas County collected $52 million worth of bed taxes in 2016. It qualified as a “high tourism impact” county in 2013, but county commissioners did not vote to raise the tax to 6 percent until 2015.

They raised their tax in 2017.

As we said, unless something major happens, we expect Hillsborough will cross the threshold this year.  It should not really have an effect on the Rays issue.

The Other, Other Ferry

The ferry saga in the immediate Bay area is complicated with the MacDill proposal taking years (see last week) and the Cross Bay Ferry test having a high price and limited hours, so much so that an article in the Times detailing some trips on the ferry two out of three trips end in using Uber to get back.  Nonetheless, there are other ferry proposals nearby – arguably in the Tampa Bay area:

The Sarasota City Commission voted 5-0 on Tuesday to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach.

Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

▪ The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and

▪ Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

* * *

The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50 with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze. 

A few things of note:  First, it is not finalized, but there is a deadline to finalize it.  Second is the prices are more reasonable than the Cross Bay Ferry.  Third, if you go the article here, you can see the proposed schedule, which is quite extensive.

We don’t know what will come of this, but at least it looks like it should not drag on interminably.

List of the Week

One of the main factors in attracting business and talent is the quality of local schools. And from a recent report on AP tests, at the top, Florida seems to be doing well. Yet, as described by the Times, Hillsborough County Schools have some financial issues that were apparently ignored under the previous school administration.

In light of that, it is interesting that the Business Journal had a list of the best 25 elementary schools in the area by Niche.   As to the methodology:

In addition to the usual metrics based on test scores, the ranking takes into account student and parent assessments, student life data, teacher ratings and various ratings of a school’s culture and diversity.  

We are not going to list them all.  You can see the list here.  But there are a few interesting things to note.  First, the top 16 schools are all in Sarasota County.  The highest ranked school in Hillsborough is 17th, and Hillsborough only has four on the list.  Pinellas’s highest is 20th and it has four schools on the list as well. No other counties are on the list.

And, as for High Schools, Sarasota County has the number one school on these (see here and here) two rankings.

Maybe someone needs to take a field trip to Sarasota County to see what is going on.

Roundup 2-17-2017

February 17, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Alphabet Soup

— Re-Enter The Party of No

— What Would It Look Like

— The Other Elephant in the Room

— Conclusion

Transportation – The Other Ferry

Transportation – A Little Too Much Autonomy

Port/Cuba – A Cruise

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place

Downtown – Chillin’ at the BK Lounge

Bayshore – Virage

Transportation – About Routes

Transportation – More Tales of Biking

Rowdies – Moving Forward

Landmarks – UFO Sightings

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

______________________________

Transportation – Alphabet Soup

As we have been discussing recently, there is a move to have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between HART and PSTA to work together.  That comes as the Tampa Bay Partnership is pushing for some sort of unified MPO and transit agency.  As with most transportation issues, that has caused a lot of activity which Stpetersblog has been covering nicely.

— Re-Enter The Party of No

Let’s start with the MOU between PSTA and HART.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate and collobarate with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but only after adding additional language clarifying that it is not a move towards a potential merger or a regional sales tax increase.

That language was needed ostensibly to assuage the MOU’s critics, including HART board member Karen Jaroch. 

Setting aside that the language is not needed at all, what is her complaint?

Of underlying concern to Jaroch and some others is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long’s aspirations for the two Bay area transit agencies to form a regional council of governments. Such a group, Long told HART members last fall, could provide “better, more nimble” solutions to problems that they currently face. Long’s idea would fold PSTA, HART, and other transportation providers such as the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, ferryboat operations and others under the regional council of government. Certain functions, or entire organizations, could be consolidated within the council of governments concept.

But critics fear that it’s an underhanded move to get another transit tax proposal to go before the voters, which they vehemently oppose.

“They intend to use this MOU to go to Tallahassee to request funding for how to pay for Long’s proposal, and how to get the regional sales tax funded,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert during the public comment portion of the meeting. Calvert and Jaroch have frequently cited a comment by PSTA head Brad Miller last month that he would be going to Tallahassee on Tuesday, February 7, to talk to lawmakers, a day after HART was poised to approve the MOU.

It is the same complaint as always.  And, we ask again, if there is a referendum and it passes, what is the problem? In our system, the people are free to tax themselves if they see fit.  A referendum for a tax is the essence of taxation with representation. You can’t get more back to the Founding Fathers than that. And if you want to vote against it, that is your right.

In any event, HART, as usual, is going along:

But HART board members Sandy Murman and Mike Suarez said they knew nothing about any trip to Tallahassee, saying that was perhaps being discussed across the bay, but not in Hillsborough County.

“This is an MOU. It is not a merger,” said Murman. “It is a very specific document. It is not broad. It is not general. It is very, very specific. I think to not do this today makes us more or less a ‘do-nothing’ board.”

Given past history, we don’t doubt that it is not being discussed in Hillsborough County. More to the point:

Suarez said that until the Legislature approves funding for a regional authority, nobody should worry that the agencies were about to merge.

After their last subcommittee meeting, HART attorney David Smith changed language in the MOU so that it now states that it must be approved annually by the HART board. The board went ahead on Monday and put in additional specific language spelling out that it has nothing to do with a potential merger and tax increase, though Shananan expressed frustration for the need to do so. “This is a redundancy over a redundancy.”

Having to approve it annually is silly.  Either they agree to work together or they don’t.  Having it renewed annually just leaves it open to be undermined in perpetuity.  (With all this HART silliness one wonders whether the vote had to be unanimous.  Why bend over so much to appease one member?)

But, most likely that is the point.  It has been clear for some time that the Tea Party does not want a merger, not because it is inefficient but because it may be more efficient. As we have laid out before, from their statements and actions, they don’t want good transit.  They do not provide transportation alternatives. (One possible reason can be found here.) They don’t actually want it to be efficient and provide appealing service to choice riders.  And HART, by going along with them, supports their position.

We are all for talking to everyone and everyone having their say.  But if they do not provide any useful ideas, following their recommendations will not be productive.

— What Would It Look Like

Setting all that aside for now, let’s just assume that a move for a regional approach moves forward, what are the options?

Long said her goal is in sync with the official line emanating from the Tampa Bay Partnership, who are calling for regional transportation governance in the Tampa Bay region. With more than two dozen agencies in the greater Tampa Bay area working on transportation solutions, the concerns being expressed is that there is no “synergy” that ties them together.

Some say the obvious model should be TBARTA, the eight-county transportation agency created by the Legislature a decade ago. But a lack of funding from the onset has hampered any serious attempt for TBARTA to fill that role. Long is outspoken in calling the agency a paper tiger.

“I don’t know if you’ve been to a TBARTA board meeting, but I thought I was going to eat my brains out!” Long says. “It is four hours of — excuse my expression — bullsh*t. All you do is listen to one study after another study after another presentation, and on and on. They don’t do anything!”

And how did that come about?

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority was created by the Florida Legislature a decade ago to develop and implement a regional transportation master plan of the seven-county West Central Florida region. Yet as Manatee County GOP Senator Bill Galvano recounted on Wednesday, it was created without a funding mechanism, after then Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the $8 million in appropriations that were created with it.

Galvano said, “That was  a shock to all of us,” adding that, “I don’t think he (Crist) realized the connection and it felt through the cracks.”

TBARTA is a paper tiger now, but that is by choice.  How much have local officials pushed to get real funding?  Not enough to become really newsworthy.  It could change if there is will to change it. Meanwhile, back in Hillsborough,

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Transportation Organization director Beth Alden says she’s all for regionalization in local transportation but says that the urgency right before the legislative session is a bit concerning.

Actually, lack of urgency would be more concerning, but anyway, what is her concern?

While Long believes that a new transportation authority featuring Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties is what’s needed now, Alden says that’s “short-sighted,” saying that the region is much larger than that. She contends that if the Tampa Bay region wants to compete with other metropolitan regions around the country, it needs to include the entire areas that are in TBARTA, which include Sarasota, Hernando, Polk, Manatee and Citrus counties.

Yes and no.  In any event, there is a counter argument:

Long doesn’t support that theory, criticizing Alden’s attitude as coming from a planner’s point of view, not “the common sense, day to day commuter of people going back and forth to work.”

“When you look at the density data, it becomes clear that the basis for this new model has got to be Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough,” Long says, adding that the other Tampa Bay area counties should be given goals and objectives to meet, and when they do, “they can be part of the authority.”

That Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco are the core of the region’s population and transit need is clear.  On the other hand, we really don’t see the two ideas things as mutually exclusive.  Why can’t you have an agency covering a large area that provides useful transit in the core of the region?  Why can’t you have a core agency that has agreements with smaller agencies (like the HART/PSTA MOU)?  Once again, it is a matter of will.  Logically, the core will have more transit and facilities that the periphery.  Other regions seem capable of doing that.  What makes us the exception?

Which brings us back to the head of the Hillsborough MPO:

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

Which is not particularly effective as it now exists, otherwise we would not be talking about this topic.  Once again, to a large degree that is by choice.  But, setting that aside, the Hillsborough MPO head continues:

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Facebook post (here) is a relatively long discussion of how our needs are underfunded, so we will try to pull out the core of the argument:

Common sense would tell you, and polling confirms, that our citizens want their roads repaved regularly; they want #smart #traffic signals, #safe #walk-&-bikeways, #roads that are lit at night and don’t turn into ponds when it rains; they want #buses that show up more often than once an hour, and that access the #jobs, #schools and #healthcare close by, not on the other side of a long bay #bridge.

These are transportation basics, and this is where most of our local tax dollars go. And the dollars fall short! We’re funding these basics at about half the level most people expect. (See the http://www.planhillsborough.org/2016-state-of-the-system-r…/ for details.) #Florida is a low-tax state, and we get what we pay for. Unfortunately this doesn’t leave a lot of room in the budget for big-ticket rapid transit systems that span county lines. Which of these basics would you like to fund less?

I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly—figuratively and also literally. Tampa Bay was listed in the Top 10 most dangerous places in the U.S. to walk, once again, just last month. If you’re taking your life in your hands every time you try to cross a city street, you won’t be able to get to a rapid bus or rail station– even if money dropped out of the sky for us to build one. 

Setting aside that having an MPO for Pinellas, Pasco & Hillsborough and then expanding it could be seen as walking before flying, that is true, to a degree.  However, repaving should be part of usual expenditures. And the County found $600 million to do it.  Sidewalks are not built properly by choice – just part of the bad planning and prioritization of sprawl.  And there are other low tax states that have no problem with transit (not to mention other parts of Florida).  And transit, both very local and cross-bay, is woefully underfunded by choice (and not just with the Tea Party, but they don’t help).

The fact is that many other areas have worked regionally, planned regionally, and built transit. It is not so much learning to walk before we fly.  It is a matter of someone sitting on the couch knowing how to walk and knowing how to fly but choosing to still sit on the couch (while, it must be said, other areas are already running and flying) Until that choice changes, nothing will change.

— The Other Elephant in the Room

Given all that, a (if not the) major issue is how whatever regional entity is being discussed will be constituted – mainly the representation.  We think representation should be based on population.  Of course, that means that Hillsborough will have more representation than Pinellas, which never goes down well.  On the other hand, Hillsborough has to recognize that it can’t run everything and prioritize itself over everyone else, which also does not go down well.  Basically, that means that everyone has to act in good faith – in the make-up and functioning of whatever entity is being discussed.  (Frankly, if there really was the political will to act regionally, it could happen with our present structures.)  The reality is that without good faith, regardless of structures, we will be stuck on the couch anyway.

— Conclusion

Our problem is not lack of knowledge, it is lack of will.  It is a lack of will to plan well, and it is lack of will to push for what is really needed (just like it was a lack of will to speak truth to FDOT that led to the mess with the Howard Frankland Bridge.  Once there was real will, there were changes).  Just listening to the party of no will not solve anything.  And simply rearranging the chairs may help, but it will not fix what really ails us.

As we have said before, we think the consolidation of transit agencies is more important than consolidation of MPO’s, though we do not oppose the latter (through TBARTA or a smaller group) provided there are protections for neighborhoods to not get run over in the process (though they get run over in the process we have anyway).  In both cases, though, the real question is whether local officials are really more committed to moving forward locally and regionally than they are to narrow political interests.  County by county or regionwide, nothing will happen until this area gets off the couch.  Whether it finally will remains to be seen.

Transportation – The Other Ferry

Speaking of political will, there was news about the South County-MacDill ferry this week.

There would be no hard feelings if Hillsborough County decided to turn down federal money for a ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and go it alone, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said.

Still, Castor told the Tampa Bay Times she is “very frustrated” that county leaders are only now debating the best path forward to make the ferry a reality. Castor announced the $4.8 million Federal Transit Administration grant in 2014 and the project remains in limbo three years later.

“It is frustrating to win a large federal grant and not be gung-ho at home about getting this done,” Castor, D-Tampa, said.

The proposed ferry would service south and east Hillsborough residents commuting to and from MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa. The Department of Defense is very supportive of the project, Castor said, because it will help ease travel times for base personnel.

Yes, it is frustrating.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county is “diligently working” on it but it’s a complicated project between the environmental concerns, including disrupting manatees, and the security questions of launching a boat to a military base.

“There are so many moving pieces to this thing,” Merrill said. “I know that people are frustrated because they look at it from the outside and wonder why is it taking so long. I would probably feel the same.”

Even basics about the ferry line remain up in the air. For example, officials haven’t decided where boats will launch on the east side of Hillsborough Bay.

Castor said that’s unacceptable on the county’s part. Merrill said it’s one of many delays caused by the mandatory federal study. 

Is it?  Remember this:

The port chairman said the ferry service could interfere with maritime traffic in Old Tampa Bay. Last August, Audubon of Florida opposed putting the terminal and 1,500 parking spaces on the Schultz preserve, where the state has spent $2.7 million restoring native habitat.

That was early 2015. There has never been a good explanation about how other cities deal with the interaction of their ferries and their ports and why we couldn’t do it.  Nor have there been clear alternatives to for the terminal.  It is easy to blame it all on federal requirements, but even if the County drops the federal money, they still need to know where the terminal is going to go?  And it will always cut across the channel in the Bay so how is that going to work?

And then there is this:

Like all of Hillsborough’s transportation needs, the ferry was also held up by a basic question: How will the county pay for this?

First, the County Commission assumed it would be covered by Go Hillsborough (a poor assumption).  Apparently there was no plan B until last week.

Commissioners decided last week, though, to make it a priority. They could also dip into the $21 million won in the BP oil spill settlement to help pay for it.

“While it may have merit, we have limited resources and we treat it like any other project,” Merrill said. “Grant or no grant, there’s a local match and its competing with other projects.”

That’s fine.  But aside from playing fields and subsidizing retail and sprawl, what are they prioritizing?  And then there was this:

If bureaucratic red tape in Washington was a problem, Castor could have helped, she said.

“What I heard from the county in 2015 from the county administrator was they didn’t intend to move forward unless the transportation referendum passed,” Castor said. “I did not receive any request for, ‘Congresswoman, will you help us speed up action at federal agencies.’ ”

Not surprising in any way.  Apparently the Commission couches are very comfortable. (At least they found $600 million in spare change while sitting on them.)

Transportation – A Little Too Much Autonomy

The Business Journal had a report about a proposed bill regarding autonomous vehicles.

A House bill filed Thursday to streamline Florida’s autonomous vehicle regulations will have a Senate companion.

The bill, filed by Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), removes a requirement that the person operating a vehicle in autonomous mode possess a valid driver’s license. Instead, the autonomous technology would be deemed the licensed entity.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is working on a companion bill that updates language to reflect industry feedback.

As we have said before, we are not opposed to testing autonomous vehicles in Florida.  We are actually in favor of it.  But there need to be some rules.  Quickly reading the bill, we just have a few questions.  How old must a person be to operate an autonomous vehicle?  What skills and knowledge must they have? Can a kid send an autonomous truck on a trip?  And there are many others.

Once again, we are not opposed to having autonomous vehicle in Florida, but this is not a proven technology.  There needs to be some control (not less control) until it is all worked out and proven.

Port/Cuba – A Cruise

There was news about a cruise to Cuba.

The Carnival Paradise ship will begin offering voyages from Tampa to Cuba beginning June 29, the cruise line announced Tuesday.

The overnight visits to Havana will be featured on 12 different four- and five-day cruises from Tampa.

Four-day cruises will depart June 29, July 13, Aug. 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Oct.5 and 19, as well as May 3, 2018, and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana. Five-day voyages will depart Aug. 14 and 28, Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana as well as a stop in either Cozumel or Key West.

Assuming there are not new regulations on Cuba travel, good deal. But it also touches on another issue from a few weeks ago.

Gov. Rick Scott warned Florida’s ports via Twitter on Wednesday not to do business with Cuba, a day before a delegation of Cuban maritime leaders arrive in the state hoping to strengthen business ties here.

“Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship,” Scott wrote. “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget.”

* * *

Shortly after issuing the warning, Gov. Scott doubled down during a Wednesday news conference in Tampa where he announced proposed tax cuts for the new state budget.

“I don’t believe any port in our state, none of them, should be doing business with a brutal dictator,” Scott told reporters.

He clarified that his warning was aimed at seaports only, not airports. Commercial flights serving Havana recently resumed from Tampa and other U.S. cities after more than five decades.

Scott’s office later told the Tampa Bay Times that the tweets were sent following the news that Port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades would be signing memoranda of understanding this week. Port Tampa Bay was not mentioned by the governor’s office.

Given that the Port relies on state money for many of its projects, the warning is quite relevant, though a bit odd.  First, as noted, there are cruises and flights to Cuba.  It does not seem to make much sense to take the tourism business but give up cargo business that, if the Federal government allows it, will now flow to other states.

Even more interesting, the coverage brought up something else:

Whether Port Tampa Bay was planning on entering into an agreement with Cuba remained unclear.

The Cuban delegation visits Tampa on Feb. 1 and 2 and the Tampa port had planned to sign a memorandum of understanding, proposing they start discussing business opportunities allowed under U.S. law, said Patrick Allman, a member of the Tampa port’s governing board.

What’s more, Allman said, the memorandum had been approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Treasury Department agency that administers and enforces trade sanctions against Cuba.

“I was under the understanding that we were doing this,” Allman said. “With what the governor said, I’m not sure now.”

But another port official, communications vice president Edward Miyagishima, said there were no plans in Tampa to sign a memorandum of understanding, either before or after the governor posted his tweets.

“Not to my knowledge,” Miyagishima said. “We are not going to look at an MOU until we get an okay from OFAC. We are taking a very conservative approach.”

And, from the Business Journal:

After a series of tweets on Wednesday by Florida Gov. Rick Scott saying he would recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba, Port Tampa Bay officials said the port didn’t have any plans to enter into any agreements with the current Cuban government.

“We’re not signing any memorandums of agreement,” said Ed Miyagishima, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president of communications. “We did our due diligence and we are taking a conservative approach. I have always said we are Cuba-ready. We will be happy to work with the Cuban government once it becomes legal to do so.”

Which is interesting because the Feb 3, 2017, edition of La Gaceta (pg 12) has excerpts from the draft MOU.

The thing is that we support the Port pursuing an MOU – not because we like the Cuban government (we don’t) but because, if US-Cuba trade is going to happen, we may as well get a cut (and if it doesn’t the MOU won’t do anything anyway). And there is no reason, if there is Florida trade, Port Everglades and Palm Beach should get business instead of us. The Port should be negotiating and seeking OFAC approval.  We are not sure why the Port would say they were not negotiating if they were.

Nevertheless,

“The governor controls the purse strings for a lot of the investment in our port,” Buckhorn said. “The state has contributed tens of millions of dollars to port-related infrastructure. We’re counting on that money moving forward.”

While we disagree with the Mayor on the Cuba trade issue, the point he makes regarding the money is valid.  But those things also can change.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place

Lafayette Place had its first hearing before the City Council last week. From URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The mixed-use project Lafayette Place received preliminary approval from the Tampa City Council tonight by a vote of 7-0.

The project will have its 2nd and final hearing on March 2nd.

Some added features of the project include a helipad on top of the main tower, a sky bridge connecting the main tower and the neighboring residential tower, and a large LED art light project on Lafayette Central’s garage that at night will look like a waterfall. 

We are not sure what the LED art lights will look like, but at least the developer now recognizes that the parking garages are huge and need some attention.  We wish it was more, but at least it is something.

Downtown – Chillin’ at the BK Lounge

This week, the City Council seems to have outdone itself.  In question was a proposed walled, free-standing Burger King with a drive thru right across the street from Perry Harvey Park at Scott and Jefferson.  As described by URBN Tampa Bay:

This Thursday a proposal for a freestanding Burger King at 801 Scott Street in Downtown Tampa goes before the Tampa City Council. The project needs a Special Use 2 permit. In it’s final staff report, the city’s Development Review & Compliance Staff recommended denial of the project. We also recommend denial.

The site plan is attached. As you can see the main feature of the site plan is a drive thru. The building is brought up to the street on zero sides of the lot. Maybe worst of all, this is right across the street from Perry Harvey Sr. Park, the largest urban park in Tampa. Also, notice the wall that will be built around the whole lot.

Here is a rendering of the varying height wall that surrounds the place:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on the picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on the picture for Facebook page

And here is a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Note how small the actual building is.

We did not see the hearing, but the City website indicates it was adopted on second reading, the City Council ignored their own staff’s recommendation to reject the and approved the permit.  The mere possibility that they might do so is absurd.  Not only is it not urban, it has a drive thru and is walled. Could something downtown be less inviting?

What’s even more interesting is reading the staff report and finding that drive-thru windows, with certain restrictions, are part of the code for the central business district near the interstate and actually promotes building walls. What, is it 1970?

Change the code and stop settling.

Bayshore – Virage

The project on the old Colonnade land released a new rendering and a new name:

The condominium tower under construction at the former site of the Colonnade restaurant on Bayshore Boulevard has a name: Virage Bayshore.

We’re not sure about it being under construction, but, regardless, here are the details:

The 24-story tower will include 71 units, most of which start at $1 million and range from 2,400 to 3,300 square feet. The top two floors will contain a single unit each, at 6,900 square feet, and be priced at just under $5 million. Below the two penthouses are four floors that will contain two 4,500-square-foot residences each.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for website

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

We are sure the units will be very nice, but looking from the outside it is pretty much a standard looking condo.  We still wish it had a real connection to Bayshore, but it is what it is.

Transportation – About Routes

This week the nonstop Tampa-San Francisco flights began. And because we love their graphics:

From Tampa International - click on picture for Facebook page

From Tampa International – click on picture for Facebook page

It is a welcome addition.  Which leads to the question of what’s next. While it is not breaking news, there was an article about airports in Florida that include some comments about route development priorities in Tampa:

What are your key opportunities for route development?

Tampa International Airport has had tremendous success over the previous six years in recruiting international air services, more than doubling the number of international enplaned passengers.

However, Tampa Bay still maintains a comparative capacity to population deficit for international seats relative to other Florida markets. Scheduled service to Havana, which began in December, as well as Icelandair’s new service beginning in September 2017, will work to close that gap.

Additional opportunities for us include Mexico City and its beyond markets, where Tampa Bay maintains strong business ties, as well as additional European services, including to Manchester and Amsterdam.

On the domestic front we’re working to supplement United’s San Francisco service beginning in February with additional western capacity, including connectivity to San Diego, Portland and Salt Lake City and increased capacity into the Los Angeles market.

We have heard all that before, but the list is narrowed.  All those targets are solid. We shall see.

Transportation – More Tales of Biking

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing the effort by planners in Hillsborough to learn about flaws in the infrastructure.  This week the Times had an interesting article about Pinellas.

Time slowed down as Whit Blanton was launched over the handlebars of his bike, flew over the hood of a Honda Fit and crashed onto the surface of the Duke Energy Trail.

* * *

Moments before, Blanton was on his way to work as the executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county’s agency for coordinating transportation and land use plans.

Then he suddenly found himself lying on the ground near Old Coachman Road in front of Spectrum Field, waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The driver, a Philadelphia Phillies intern starting his first day of work, was pulling out of the spring training complex’s parking lot. He was trying to see whether Old Coachman Road was clear of traffic.

From the trail, biking along at 10 mph, Blanton said the car was invisible to him, blocked by hedges and a fence. Blanton later learned he wasn’t visible to the driver, either, as the Honda pulled forward onto the trail and into the bicycle’s path.

Blanton said Clearwater police gave the driver a ticket for failing to yield the right-of-way in that collision on Monday. But the 52-year-old transportation planner later wrote on his blog that “we all recognized that design problems contributed to this crash.”

Which is an unfortuante story (though we are told he was mostly ok), and it never should have happened.

Pinellas’ bike and pedestrian trails are a crowning achievement for the county, but Blanton said there’s still work to be done to make them safer. The trails were shoehorned into a sprawling, built-out county, and some segments have not been designed to mesh well with Pinellas’ busy roads.

“We spend a lot of energy on our trails under the guise that they’re the safe place to ride,” Blanton said, “but this is kind of an object lesson that the trail isn’t always the safe place.”

He said the safest place for a bicyclist may not always be on the trail. The road can be safer, he said, where the cyclist rides with the flow of traffic, is visible to drivers and controls the lane right down the middle.

Actually, protected bike lanes and trails which connect properly with roads are still the safest place.  If the intersection had not been obstructed, the accident could have been avoided – just cut the foliage and don’t put a fence in the way.  To do that requires people to actually look and care.

Rather than a lesson that riding in the road is best, this is a lesson that infrastructure needs to be properly planned and maintained. It is not enough to just build something to appear to be building something.  It needs to be done right.

Rowdies – Moving Forward

The St Pete City Council approved the first reading of moving forward with the Al Lang referendum. As tweeted by a Times :

Unanimous vote in favor of advancing @TampaBayRowdies May 2 referendum on Al Lang expansion. Final vote on March 2. #MLS2StPete

If (when) it gets past second reading, it will be interesting to see how it goes.

Landmarks – UFO Sightings

As most readers know, there is a landmark spaceship on Dale Mabry.  And there is a good chance you thought it was quite unique.  Well, if you did, last week curbed.com disabused you of that notion. Here’s one in Austin:

From Curbed.com - click on picture for website

From Curbed.com – click on picture for website

And, not only that, but:

There are UFO sightings everyday, but they aren’t the kind you imagine.

Instead of alien spaceships flying high in the sky, we’re talking about Futuro Houses: UFO-shaped prefab homes originally built in the late 1960s. These rare homes are located all around the world, from Los Angeles to Antarctica and from New Jersey to Estonia.

According to TheFuturoHouse.com—an extensive website dedicated to documenting the unique structures—at least 80 to 100 Futuros were manufactured, some were destroyed, and a handful are still waiting to be discovered.

But around 64 of the UFO houses are scattered in different countries, still standing and causing locals and visitors alike to do a double take. After all, it’s not often that you see a real-life UFO. 

Never fear, as far as we can tell, ours is the only one that is a strip club (this is Tampa, after all).

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While we are discussing $6 billion for express lanes and some interchange improvements (the latter having been needed for decades), in Miami they are discussing other things:

Miami-Dade officials have just mapped out their overarching Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) plan, eliminating some key unknowns, but are still analyzing where to find money to fund its six corridors. For the first time, now plans include price tags, up to $3.6 billion.
Commission Chair Esteban Bovo Jr.’s Policy Council Committee, which he said was set up to discuss such pressing priorities, including transportation, met for the first time last week. For transportation, it’s important to speak about funding, Mr. Bovo said. “We already have a plan but need to know how to pay for it.”
Transportation chief Alice Bravo provided an overview of corridors and estimated cost, for the first time filling in major blanks of the SMART Plan. A key decision appears to be the mode of transit along each corridor.
As spelled out, corridors and their modes are:
■Miami Beach, a 3.3-mile elevated Metromover from Miami’s Museum Park Station to Fifth Street and Alton Road in Miami Beach.
■East-West, a 10-mile at-grade, partially elevated Metrorail extension mainly along State Road 836 from the Miami Intermodal Center to Florida International University.
■Kendall, a 10-mile, at-grade Metrorail along the Kendall Drive median from the Turnpike to the Dadeland North Metrorail Station.
■North, a 9.5-mile, at-grade Metrorail extension along the Northwest 27th Avenue median from 215th Street to the Martin Luther King Jr. Metrorail Station.
■Northeast, a 14-mile, at-grade commuter rail in the Florida East Coast Railway corridor from downtown Miami to Aventura using existing tracks.
■South, a 20-mile, at-grade Metrorail extension along the existing transitway.

You can look at the article for the details and how they think they might be able to pay for it.  We do not know if this will go anywhere, but it is interesting to compare approaches.

Roundup 2-10-2017

February 10, 2017

Contents

Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

— Pasco

— Conclusion

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Rays – Location . . .

— Speaking of Location

Transportation – Airport News

— Here Come the Cabs

— Bahamasair

Economy – Florida Growth

Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week I

List of the Week II

______________________________________

Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

After last week’s Roundup, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Tampa Bay Partnership is now pushing two legislative goals:

The Tampa Bay Partnership is making transportation its top priority this year as lawmakers prepare to head into legislative session next month. The group’s 2017 policy agenda emphasizes regionalism as a key to connecting citizens and reducing traffic congestion.

* * *

The Partnership is putting it corporate might behind creating a multi-county Metropolitan Planning Organization rather than the existing patchwork of individual county-based MPOs.

“A regional MPO would make Tampa Bay more competitive in pursuing state and federal transportation funding, and facilitate in the process of making regional decisions about long-range transportation plans,” the group’s agenda explains in a recent white paper commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The group also supports creating a regional structure for transit operations. Each county currently has its own public transportation organization. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit are the two largest in the region, but function within the confines of geographic boundaries.

Right now tens of thousands of people commute between counties throughout the region with little access to public transportation options. PSTA and HART offer service across the Howard Frankland Bridge, but those routes are limited to peak travel times on weekdays.

As we noted last week, we think the merger of the transit agencies is more important than the merger of the MPO’s, which needs to be carefully done so as to still allow protection of neighborhoods that will be greatly damaged by things like TBX.  If it is done carefully, we are ok with merging MPO’s.

Speaking of TBX, it was also confirmed that the Partnership is all in:

The Partnership continues to support one of its top priorities from 2016 — a $6 billion transportation improvement plan. Tampa Bay Express, or TBX, is a comprehensive series of road and highway improvements throughout the region aimed at reducing traffic congestion.

Setting aside that some of TBX has useful improvements and the rest has more harm than good, we are not surprised by this because, as we noted previously, the CEO of the Partnership supported the removal of a free lane on the Howard Frankland.  Yet, with TBX somewhat in flux, now is the time to get a better plan that actually fixes the interstate without cutting a bigger gash through the urban neighborhoods and that actually serves the whole area, not just some who can afford very high tolls.  Like the Lightning owner said last week – how about HOV or HOT lanes done rationally and fixing the SR60/275 interchange and really fixing the bottleneck at the end of the Howard Frankland – not 3 lanes, 4 – first?  It is also time to figure out transit and coordinate it with roads.

There is an opportunity to be really constructive, if, unlike the County Commission, it is taken.

— Pasco

One area a unified MPO might prove useful, though contentious, is actually having a highway plan that makes sense.  We got another lesson in how ours does not this week.

State and Pasco County transportation planners are working on an interim fix for traffic congestion at the State Road 54/U.S. 41 intersection that is simpler and much less costly than a proposed $180 million elevated highway.

The flyover plan remains on hold amid community criticism and a county task force studying traffic improvements for the entire State Road 54 corridor. In the meantime, the state Department of Transportation has suggested that extended turn lanes could ease traffic flow at the intersection, which nearly 100,000 vehicles pass through daily. The improvements, if all are completed, carry a rough cost estimate of less than $1.4 million because no right of way is needed for the construction.

That really won’t do much, but it fits with Pasco, which loves its left turn lanes. You can read about the proposed 1000 ft turn lanes in the article (here).  More to the point, the interim solution because there is no real solution  because Pasco killed an east-west highway that would take cars out of Tampa (there’s an idea).

The DOT announced a year ago that it was hitting the brakes on the U.S. 41/SR 54 flyover plan until the county task force completed its work. At the time, the state had unveiled two proposals to carry SR 54 traffic on elevated lanes above the intersection. Cost estimates ranged up to $180 million and, under one scenario, 23 businesses, two homes and a Pasco County fire station near the intersection would be affected.

And that idea came up because the previously planned Pasco east-west road never happened.  And that was needed because:

A flyover at the intersection has been discussed for more than two decades, starting when the state pulled the plug on a planned east-west highway through Lutz to connect the Veterans Expressway and Interstate 75. Later, a new interchange at I-75 and SR 56 and the widening of both SR 54 and 56 to six lanes turned that stretch of highway into the de facto east-west route. Projections call for daily traffic through the intersection to more than double to 208,000 vehicles over the next 25 years.

Because regional thinking did not happen (just like on Gandy, even with some building possibly on both ends).  Would a northern east-west highway take all the cars off 275 in Tampa?  No. Would there still be congestion on 275?  Yes. (but there will be anyway, even with TBX, and it will be worse without a road to take cars around Tampa) Would we need something as damaging as TBX? No, especially if there was a transit component.  (And we don’t need TBX as it was presented anyway.)

— Conclusion

We get the Partnership thinking traffic is bad and $6-9 billion in investment is nice.  But what would be nicer is $6-9 billion in good investment that will help long-term and make the area actually more attractive to people they are trying to attract.  They have the chance to work for that and really make a positive difference.  It would be a shame if they did not take it.

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

The first actual design for the Lightning owner’s project has been posted on the City’s planning website (search “301 S Nebraska Ave”).  It is of the unified chiller plant where Nebraska and Jefferson intersect with Cumberland.  Here are some renderings courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, we like the brick and some of the architectural features.  We like the windows on the ground floor.  The building should not look like one of those 60s and 70s phone switching buildings that are just basically bunkers. (See here  and here) We also like the brick wall on the east side.

However, there are two things we do not like.  First, it really could use windows (even if they are false) or something else where the second floor would be to break up the two stories of brick.  Right now it looks top-heavy, and doorless walls with looming blankness are not really pedestrian friendly. (And note that the cigar factories and other buildings in this area that are obviously referenced by that building tended to have windows).

Second, the brick wall covering the mechanical area in the back only runs up one side. On the west side there is a chain link fence, and there is another fence on the small north side. It would be much more aesthetically pleasing to just have a wall go all the way around.

We understand it is a utility building. We get that both the windows and walls cost a little money, but if you are going to spend $2 billion, it seems to us that you would want to cover the details.  Other than those two things, we find it encouraging.

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

A few months ago, we discussed a proposed protected bike lane on Jackson. (see “Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum”) It appears that FDOT has decided what it will do on Jackson:

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

The cycle track will be ten feet wide and, unlike most conventional bike lanes, will physically separate bikes from motor vehicle traffic with a 4-foot raised island. At locations where driveways and side streets intersect with the bicycle pathway, special bright green pavement markings will alert drivers and cyclists to look out for each other.

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year.

The little bit in front of the Hilton will apparently look like this:

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay - click on picture for website

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay – click on picture for website

What is odd about this rendering is that the big question was how many lanes or parking spaces would disappear with this project.  The rendering seems to have it both ways, with parking right in front of the Hilton on both sides of the road and parking on the south side with a third lane in the north in the next block.  It is unclear if that is actually the plan or just the magic of renderings.

We don’t have anything against protected bike lanes or, in the right places, a cycle track.  In fact, we like them.   The rendering looks nice and the Jackson proposal is a connection of downtown to near the Channel District, though we why it stops at Nebraska and does not go all the way.  There are some other things, too. On the west end, it is not clear how the cycle track will get people over the river. (at least not in a protected bike lane) We can’t imagine it connects smoothly with either the Riverwalk or Kennedy Bridge from Jackson (maybe there should have been a bike lane on Kennedy, instead, or a corresponding one).  And it is not clear that this proposal ties into a bigger plan, especially a north-south route that is not the Riverwalk (which is not connected here).  Also, it is not clear how the streetcar would interact with all this if it were extended.  Not that it couldn’t be done, but it is not clear what the plan is (though maybe that extra lane between Franklin and Florida in the rendering may have something to do with it)

Overall, we like the idea of protected bike lanes and having a network, but we are not sure about the execution here, and we really question if Jackson is the best road for it.  We’d like to see the full plan (and any future network planned).  If they are going to spend the money, we would like to make sure they spend it well.

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Speaking of bicycles, last week, we discussed some Hillsborough planners walking around Town and Country to see what life was like for people trying to walk or bike (as though it isn’t obvious anyway).  This week, 83 Degrees Media also had an item on it.

“The intent of the safety audit was to raise a level of awareness about the lack of pedestrian facilities and the need for those facilities,” says Kalpakis.

“I feel like most people just aren’t thinking about it enough. When you really pay attention, you can recognize all the things that have been done right — and more importantly, where we’ve been missing opportunities to make the pedestrian and bicycle environment safer and more comfortable.”

It doesn’t take long to discover pedestrian woes. In a one block radius along Hillsborough Avenue: an unshaded bench along the highway serves as a meager bus stop with no shelter from the elements; pedestrian crosswalk buttons require an off-road trek into weedy, littered terrain; vegetation obstructs crucial pedestrian and motorist sight lines, crosswalk signals offer dangerously short timeframes for slower-moving pedestrians to cross six lanes of traffic — and the list goes on.

It doesn’t take long to discover it because not much is done correctly.  Some is done adequately.  Some is horrible.

Hillsborough MPO Planner Wade Reynolds notes that the stretch of highway observed by the Vision Zero teams is located within a one-mile radius of densely populated shopping centers and other businesses, as well as foot traffic-heavy attractors for local youth, including Skate World of Tampa, Webb Middle School, Dickenson Elementary, Berkeley Preparatory School and Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

“As you’re headed from Veteran’s Expressway toward the library on Hillsborough Avenue, one of the first signs you see is a ‘Share the Road’ sign with a picture of a bicycle on it,” Reynolds says, “but I’m walking down Hillsborough and thinking to myself: ‘yeah right — as a cyclist, there’s no way I’m going to share this road with motorists. That’s terrifying.”

Reynolds’ observations:

“There are no proper bike facilities. The bus facilities aren’t very nice. There are incomplete sidewalk networks and areas where sidewalk simply disappears. There’s one long curb cut where you can drive off the road into a long driveway, just north of Hillsborough [Avenue] by a tire store. There’s no sidewalk for about 100 feet of that whole stretch — and no curb preventing motorists from pulling off the road.”

All that is not hidden.  Anyone could see it.  And as we have said numerous times, painting a stripe does not a bike lane make.  And not just on major roads. Now multiply the described conditions by pretty much the whole area, and you get the scale of the problem.  What one really has to wonder is how no one noticed before now.  It was all there to see.  Why wasn’t anyone looking?

In any event,

“Across Hillsborough County and in many places throughout this region, we have in the past designed solely for automobiles rather than multiple modes of travel — but I think that’s changing, and that’s part of what the Vision Zero effort is about. There are many things that can be done to improve safety, and roadway design is just part of it. A lot of it will have to do with culture change,” says Kalpakis.

Beyond its efforts to identify the most vital areas to direct resources toward mitigating bicyclist and pedestrian safety hazards, Vision Zero has committees whose primary goal is to work within the community to facilitate the cultural shift to which Kalpakis alludes.

The ‘One Message, Many Voices’ action track is focused on spreading the Vision Zero message and educating pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists, about the best safe practices on Hillsborough’s developing multi-modal roadways.

And that is all fine.  We are all for the planners getting out and seeing the mess that has been built.  As we said last week, the County Commissioners and City Councils and Mayors should all get out of their cars and experience their handiwork.  That will all help.

And, rest assured, all pedestrian deaths are mapped:

Torres is referring to an FDOT digital resource available to the Hillsborough MPO, which identifies all reported traffic accidents in FDOT District 7 (Citrus, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pinellas and Pasco counties) on a Google Maps database. The Fatality and Injury Crash Map includes digital pins indicating the location of every reported crash, all injuries and fatalities, and crash reports from responding law enforcement – which can provide valuable insights into how the accident occurred.

* * *

“The major arterials carry a lot more traffic. There are a lot more conflict points and speeds are typically higher – contributing to those roads having the majority of the crashes from a statistical point of view,” says Frank Kalpakis, AICP, Principal with Renaissance Planning, the lead consultant for Vision Zero.

The map identifies Dale Mabry Highway, Fletcher Ave., Fowler Ave., Hillsborough Ave., and Nebraska Ave. among the deadliest roads in Hillsborough County.

“We had to narrow down the worst locations to see if something can be done. This map can help direct the efforts, time and money of our public works departments and educators,” Torres says.

Setting aside that it is pretty obvious that major roads are among the deadliest, fine. (It still amazes us that government has waited until deaths reached a certain threshold to make obvious improvements.)  We are fine with some fixes, assuming they are real fixes, which, given the history of FDOT and local government, one can never be sure.

Once again, we are all for planners being truly engaged.  We hope local elected officials become truly engaged, because they haven’t been.  And we are all for fixing some of the abominations that are local roads. Still, the bottom line is that, even with some road fixes (welcome as they are), to really address the issue we need to change the way buildings are built.  It is a comprehensive problem that requires a comprehensive solution.

Rays – Location . . .

With football over and baseball coming there have been a number of articles on the Rays recently.  One in the Business Journal caught our eye for a couple of reasons.  First, it was a relatively plain discussion of location:

[Rays President Brain] Auld praised booming development around Tropicana Field in downtown, the Edge District where the Trop sits and the Grand Central District. Downtown is experiencing a housing boom and Edge and Grand Central are becoming trendy hangouts rife with hip restaurants and craft breweries.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to tap into that growth to build an irrefutable pitch for the Rays to stay in downtown. That includes a development master plan for the 81-acre Trop site, which includes housing, office space and entertainment aimed at keeping the space activated almost all the time.

Auld said putting a plan like that into action does help and he’s not ruling out any location for a new stadium, but downtown St. Pete still faces a huge problem.

“If every person who moved into downtown St. Pete came to Rays games, we’d still have an attendance problem,” Auld said.

St. Pete is flanked by Tampa Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west with the two meeting at the south. One of the key indicators of successful game day attendance is access to a large number of fans within a 30-minute drive of the stadium. Because people don’t live in water, St. Pete is geographically at a disadvantage.

Options for stadium locations across the bay have been narrowed down to two including one in the Channelside or Ybor area, according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. Auld said he is aware of the stadium location ideas in Hillsborough, but isn’t picking favorites just yet. The site needs to be development ready and the team will require some sort of public subsidy on stadium costs.

Auld remains committed to staying within the Tampa Bay region, noting that elected officials on both sides of Tampa Bay have remained focused on the region.

As we said last week, downtown St. Pete is quite nice.  That does not make it a good place for a baseball stadium.

But setting that aside, even more interesting was this comment regarding transportation and growth:

The team joined the Tampa Bay Partnership in order to support regional transportation solutions, which Auld says are necessary for access no matter where a new stadium lands.

* * *

“The biggest governor we have on growth right now is transportation,” Auld said. “If we make this a place where growth can happen, we’re not going to be talking about an attendance problem.”

Indeed.  The biggest governor on growth – and the quality of growth – is transportation, and the quality of transportation.  And ours is not good.

— Speaking of Location

We also saw an interesting item in the Business Journal about downtown St. Pete:

The City of St. Petersburg wants to convert four of its one-way streets into two-way streets. Evan Mory, the city’s director of traffic and parking management, filed an appropriation request for $200,000 to begin the process.

The request affects 3rd and 4th Street and 8th and 9th Street through downtown St. Pete.

The request is for $200,000 to pay for a consultant to develop a plan addressing how to adapt infrastructure including changing traffic signals and interstate on-ramps.

Converting single direction thoroughfares in urban areas into two-way roads is part of a complete street strategy taking hold nationally that encourages pedestrian and bicycle use as well as stimulating the local economy by increasing access to businesses.

* * *

Two-way streets along the four roads would include pedestrian and bike paths, which the city argues creates a more active population and reduces vehicle miles driven. The two-way streets also provide a better transition to nearby areas like the Edge District and Grand Central by eliminating the need to pass destinations and circle back which is currently necessary under the grid of mostly one-way roads.

And that all may be true.  We are not going to argue that point.  What we will say is that St. Pete has chosen the 4 roads that many, if not most people, coming from Hillsborough County (and much of northern Pinellas) use to get and from to the Trop to put on a road diet. (see the map here)  That is fine.  But understand, making it harder to get there will not increase its attraction.

Transportation – Airport News

There was news from the airport this week.  First, slightly disappointing numbers:

TIA’s latest data (November 2016 versus November 2015) show an uptick in inbound and outbound passengers to 1,597,554, up just under 2 percent, or more than 29,000 fliers, in that period.

What drove those passenger gains at Tampa International? Discount airline Frontier boosted its passenger count by nearly 14,000 (more than 36 percent), adding new routes to Cincinnati and Las Vegas and seeing strong increases in passenger numbers on flights to Denver and Philadelphia.

Air Canada Rouge, the vacation airline subsidiary of Air Canada, also gained passengers after switching to a widebody 767 on its Toronto flights from a narrow-body Airbus.

Southwest, the No. 1 carrier at TIA, along with American and Delta all posted passenger gains, as well.

A few airlines saw declines. British Airways, in the year of Brexit and sharp drops in the value of the British pound, cut back by five flights, resulting in a 13 percent decline in passengers. Its passenger count at Orlando was also down 12 percent. Cayman Airways and low-cost Canadian carrier WestJet also registered double digit percentage declines at TIA, though neither airline operates a high-volume business here.

Aside from British Airways, we are not sure about the reasons for the others.

As for the next months:

December ridership was down 0.4 percent compared to 2015, with 1,650,321 travelers. International ridership also dipped by 0.2 percent to 72,876 passengers.

January, however, was a record breaker. The day after the College Football Playoff National Championship, 910 planes landed and took off from Tampa International — more than any other day in almost a decade.

Nevertheless, there was still year over year growth. As we have said before, growth is never completely consistent.  What counts is a longer term trend, which, aside from the recession, has so far been good.  Hopefully, we will more growth over time.

As for the major construction project:

At the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority which governs TIA, Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and administration, told the board that the new rental car facility will open to the public in early 2018 instead of fall of this year as originally intended.

* * *

Bad weather delayed the complicated nature of the work.

“The station has to be completely done before Mitsubishi can come in” to install the people mover trains, Lopano said. The 1.4-mile, 12-car automated people mover named SkyConnect is being built by Mitsubishi at a cost of $417 million.

Once again, that is fine.  Small delays in major construction happen. (It could be much worse.)

— Here Come the Cabs

And, in the wake of the ridesharing agreement at the (hopefully soon to be abolished) PTC,

Upset with ridesharing companies getting free access to the airport, Yellow Cab president Louis Minardi wants to rework the company’s contract with Tampa International Airport, which costs roughly $35,000 a month, paid for by an additional airport fee by taxi riders.

“I don’t mind paying as long as everyone pays,” he told the board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting Thursday morning. “To have another service in here picking up for free, I have a problem with that.”

Under Yellow Cab’s current contract with the airport it pays a fee for each passenger who steps off a plane at TIA. Uber and Lyft, who have been operating without a contract, are undercutting their prices because they don’t have to pay that fee and are taking customers from the cab companies, Minardi said

And there is an argument there. (You also have to wonder how much profit there is in the airport cab market if one cab company will pay $35,000 a month):

In a cordial back-and-forth with Hillsborough County Commissioner and former Public Transportation Commission (PTC) chairman Victor Crist, Minardi explained that he wanted a system where his company would rather pay per ride than per plane passenger. He said they would agree to certain audit provisions that are included in the county’s deal with the ridesharing companies.

Which also has some logic. But,

Aviation Authority chief executive Joe Lopano said “we can’t change the payment plan” because of the budget has already been set for the fiscal year, which ends in September. Yellow Cab’s contract was first signed in 2004 and is in place through Feb. 28, 2018.

“I think the relationship between us and the taxis has been fairly transparent,” he said. The deal with Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, “is in the hands of the PTC.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, though something can probably be worked out.

“If we were to move forward expeditiously to create a method that is more fair, that would certainly lower the risk of us possibly having a lawsuit, right?” Crist asked.

“I’m sure of that,” Minardi responded.

“Working with you guys, I’m sure of that too,” Crist said.

We’ll see.

— Bahamasair

A while back we wondered what was up with Bahamasair posting flights to Tampa a few times without any announcements and then pulled them.  We noted that Bahamasair had posted that it would start flights in April this year but that you could not buy tickets.  We have an update:

Bahamasair in recent schedule update further revised planned Nassau – Tampa launch, previously scheduled to begin on 03APR17. This new service, 2 weekly ATR42 operation, is now scheduled to commence on 23JUN17.

It is definitely not a big service, but we are all for more service.  We also are just wondering what the deal is.

Economy – Florida Growth

Checking in with the economy, how is Florida doing? Per the Times:

Florida’s real GDP ranked 29th among U.S. states in the third quarter of 2016, growing 3.6 percent — a hair above the national U.S. growth in real gross domestic product of 3.5 percent.

* * *

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show Florida’s real GDP rose in the third quarter of last year from its 2.3 percent pace in the second quarter of the same year. But real GDP fell sharply in the third quarter, the latest period that such growth figures are available, when compared to the 4.7 percent growth pace in same third quarter of 2015.

In other words, pretty average.

Five states ranked by GDP growth that often compete with Florida: (10) North Carolina, 4.5 percent; (12) Texas, 4.3 percent; (22) Ohio, 3.8 percent; (28) New York, 3.6 percent; (29) Florida, 3.6 percent, and (34) California, 3.3 percent.

Unfortunately, the article does not give us the per capita GDP of those states so we can compare.  But it does give us this:

The lesson: population growth does not equal economic growth when a lot a state’s economy relies heavily on low-paying and service-sector jobs. Real GDP measures the value of economic output adjusted for inflation.

Indeed.

Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Tourism in this area is doing quite well.  On the other hand, the Legislature is apparently very concerned with spending on promoting tourism, so they asked for information from local tourism promotion agencies.

Last month, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, requested from 13 local tourist development councils their fiscal year 2016 revenue and expense reports. In addition to advertising expenses and economic development projects, the demands included a list of employees and their salaries and every expenditure on food and travel down to the penny, according to a copy of the letter sent to localities obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Of the 13 jurisdictions, Hillsborough County was the only one that did not fully comply with the request, Corcoran said.

Why?

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill provided Corcoran some details. The county, however, contracts out its $10.7 million tourism marketing budget to Visit Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that considers much of that information private.

And so far, Visit Tampa Bay has said it doesn’t have to share anything else — putting the agency at odds with Corcoran and in a precarious political position weeks before the start of the 2017 legislative session.

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said the letter wasn’t sent to his organization and he was not responsible for the response. But he said he saw the information Hills­borough County provided and thought it was “very detailed.”

“I’m pretty certain all 13 counties responded and all responses were similar,” Corrada said.

That reasoning may be technically true, but it also may be too clever by half, because later:

After a lawsuit threat from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Visit Tampa Bay released records Wednesday that showed the organization gave out $295,000 in bonuses last year, including $66,000 to its top executive.

The disclosure was the first glimpse into financial information that Visit Tampa Bay has long insisted is private, even though the nonprofit organization’s budget is largely paid for with Hillsborough County taxes.

“Lets just get it out there,” president and CEO Santiago Corrada told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. “There’s nothing to hide. We just want to put it to rest.”

We just don’t really understand the shenanigans or what Visit Tampa Bay thought it was going to accomplish by messing with the Speaker of the House.  As noted in a Times editorial:

Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism agency for Hillsborough County, finally forked over records on Wednesday that House Speaker Richard Corcoran requested last month. It shouldn’t have taken an exchange of words and the threat of a lawsuit by the House for Visit Tampa Bay to act. The speaker is questioning the value of millions in state money spent on tourism marketing, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out his intent in examining a local taxpayer-subsidized marketing tool for the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries. Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit spending public money for a public purpose, and Corcoran and the public are entitled to see how it spends tax money.

* * *

There is no sense playing a game of jurisdictional jujitsu with the speaker. Regardless of where Corcoran’s request was routed, the agency should have recognized it had a proactive role to play in furnishing the House with the records it requested. It shouldn’t have taken a second letter and a threat of a lawsuit from Corcoran for the agency to act. While Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit, it receives about $12 million from the county bed tax, which comprises 88 percent of the agency’s budget.

Exactly.  Outside of the black box of Tampa/Hillsborough politics, the behavior really makes no sense.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A few weeks ago we discussed Apple manufacturing in Arizona.  This week, it’s Intel’s turn:

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, where the company announced it will invest $7 billion in a factory employing up to 3,000 people.

The factory will be in Chandler, Arizona, the company said, and over 10,000 people in the Arizona area will support the factory. Krzanich confirmed to CNBC that the investment over the next three to four years would be to complete a previous plant, Fab 42, that was started and then left vacant.

* * *

It comes as the technology industry has pushed back against the Trump administration, amid mounting pressure to move manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. There will be no incentives from the federal government for the Intel project, the White House said.

Intel was one of more than 100 companies that joined together to file a legal brief opposing Trump’s temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

(Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix).  In a sense it is not a new announcement:

The factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.

But, for our purposes, that does not matter. For a place without much water, a lot of dust and no ports, Arizona gets a surprising amount of tech manufacturing.  It sure would be nice to get a piece of that.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week was first noted in the Business Journal, as is latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.  It is not really a list.  It is an index. As the Business Journal tells us:

Tampa is among the more affordable cities in America and the second-most affordable in Florida, according to the latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Based on data from the first three quarters of 2016, Tampa had a cost-of-living composite score of 91.5, as compared to the national average of 100. Sarasota, on the other hand, ranked above the national average with a score of 104.3.

By comparison NYC was 228.2, Seattle was 145.1, San Diego 144.1, Baltimore 115.6, Miami 111, Denver 110.4, Minneapolis 105.6, Houston 98.8, Atlanta 98.7, Cleveland 98.7, Charlotte 94.8, Orlando 94.2, and Pittsburgh 94.

We have always known that this area sells itself to a large degree by its low cost of living (and, to employers, low wages). But the numbers in this index seem extreme to us, so we checked out their methodology, which is very extensive an interesting (and can be found in their manual here).  For instance, the transportation numbers are generated using two factors 1) price of tire balancing and 2) price of gas. (pg 24 of the pdf)   Not the price of gas times the number of miles you might drive – just the price of gas.  Nothing to do with how much a car might cost or auto insurance versus transit usage.  Just tire balancing and price of gas.  On page 21 of the manual, we are told that home taxes and insurance costs are also not included in housing costs.  Finally, on page 3, we are told:

Household income is in the top quintile (20%) for the area. Because salaries vary geographically as a function of living cost differences (which is a key reason this project exists), we can’t specify a particular salary range that fits all locales. However, in most parts of the country in the 21st century, the specified household will generally have an annual income between $70,000 and $100,000. The appropriate income range will be higher in traditionally high-cost places like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas, and it will often be somewhat lower in small metropolitan or non-metropolitan places. 

In other words, they take into account different incomes a bit, but they are not really looking at the cost of living of most people and the income consideration is limited.  And they tell us so:

The Cost of Living Index is designed to provide the best possible measure of relative differences among urban areas in the cost of consumer goods and services appropriate for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile.

Of course, if you limit and cap the variation on wages, the relative cheapness of an area will be exaggerated.  For high income people, the cost of living in/affordability our area is quite low, especially if you take out real transportation costs and home insurance.  On the other hand, that says nothing about the affordability of the area for the average resident.

As with most lists of this sort, you can do with it what you will.

List of the Week II

Our second list of this week is US News’ 100 Best Places to Live in the US. The methodology, which is pretty standard for these type of lists is here.  Here’s the Top 40:

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Denver, San Jose, DC, Fayetteville (AR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Boise, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Madison, Grand Rapids, Houston, Sarasota, San Diego, San Antonio, Richmond, Omaha, Portland (ME), Charleston (SC), Syracuse, Greenville (SC), Albany, Hartford, Portland (OR), Buffalo, Harrisburg, Tampa, OKC, Winston-Salem, Little Rock, Rochester (NY), and Orlando.

Tampa did well with “net migration” and “desireability.”   It did not do very well with “value” – which is a blend of income and cost of living (see above).  It also did not do that well with “job market” (which takes into account income) and “quality of life” (which includes education and commuting, among other things).

Just like the previous list, do with it what you will.