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Roundup 6-26-2015

June 26, 2015

Transportation – Where Are They Going With This?

— No Plan Yet

After the initial leaks of information regarding the proposal for Hillsborough’s Transportation referendum, there was more detail last week (including this long pdf from the consultant.  If you really want to spend a lot of time reading something that is essentially a regurgitation of 10 years of County plans, feel free to read it. You can read the actual recommendations in pages 12-17 of the pdf).  However, it is difficult to fully assess what is going on because there really is not proposal yet:

County and city officials who are part of the policy leadership group will meet July 16 to decide whether to go forward with the proposal. If so, county commissioners will authorize attorneys to draft ballot language for a 2016 referendum.

Then county staffers will get the go-ahead to organize 12 public meetings. They’ll work with community members to put together a list of projects people most want to see completed within the first decade of the 30-year tax.

Staffers will use that community feedback to present a list of projects to county commissioners in October.

Those projects could include new roads, intersection improvements, Bus Rapid Transit, express bus service and even ferry service, said Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff.

County residents can also expect to see the backlog of road maintenance projects — totaling more than $750 million — to be completed within those first 10 years, Merrill said. The idea is to address maintenance issues immediately, before delving too far into new projects.

* * *

Officials will also need to decide whether Parsons Brinckerhoff will be part of the continued public outreach. The consulting firm was paid $1 million for the public outreach work it has undertaken, but Merrill said additional funding would be needed to start the next series of meetings.

In other words, there is still a lot of ambiguity and a ways to go before anyone knows what, if anything, will be voted on.  Are there trends?

The new proposal is projected to generate $3.5 billion — 61 percent less than the $9 billion that the consultant said was the most conservative estimate of the county’s future needs.

Just over a third of that $3.5 billion will go to transit and the rest will be used to build roads, maintain existing ones, and pay for bike and pedestrian improvements. 


The tax would generate about $117.5 million a year, enough to catch up the county’s backlog of road maintenance in about 10 years, Merrill said. Altogether, about $2.1 billion would go towards road and bridge maintenance, new roads, and intersection improvements.

About $140 million would go for trails, sidewalks and other projects that improved pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Merrill said the county could also start several bus rapid transit routes depending on how much state and federal money could be obtained in grants. Bus rapid transit uses dedicated lanes and stops at stations much like light rail.

* * *

Supporters on both sides of the roads-versus-transit debate are waiting to see detailed projects. Clifford said the county will develop a 10-year project list after taking comments at community meetings this summer.

Some of the possible projects, Clifford said, include express bus service to Brandon, New Tampa or south Hillsborough, and a high-speed ferry service from a south-county port to MacDill Air Force Base.

Possible projects? What roads?  What trails?  Why can’t someone actually come up with a plan?  The County already presented a long list, but that was chucked so the consultants can create a list.  Then what?

Regardless of the rhetoric, it seems it will be a plan to basically set in stone the car-centric policies of the past for the next 30 years.  There is not going to be a regional rail component (though maybe a “starter line,” though the start of what is unknown, see below).  The bus aspect is limited at best.  Trails to nowhere and sidewalks on arterial roads next to sprawling parking lots will not do much for walking, biking or transit.  And, as of yet, there is no sign we will get good planning or proper development.

While there is no plan yet, there is time to fix that, but do not hold your breath.  This is the same Commission that spent a year talking to itself (and a few others) just to punt the community input to a consultant. Yet, despite all that, there is still the possibility (no matter how unlikely) of something good happening.

— The Fudge

Given all that, the most interesting aspect of the discussion is the political fudge that appears to be done so that the proposal can be sold as not really involving rail but then include some rail (and essentially the City tax).

Hillsborough County officials have recommended a transportation plan built around a half-cent sales tax projected to generate $3.5 billion over 30 years. Though consultants suggest nearly two-thirds of that would be spent on building and maintaining roads, they’ve also given the city of Tampa the go-ahead to use its share of the funds as it sees fit.

For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, that means looking at transit options such as light rail and a revived downtown streetcar.

* * *

The city is largely built out, so Tampa isn’t looking to build roads. Instead, the city will likely spend a “high percentage” of its cut on transit, the mayor said, which could mean building a rail line linking downtown to the West Shore business district and Tampa International Airport.

It could also mean expanding and modernizing the underwhelming streetcar system. By adding new, enclosed, air-conditioned cars, extending the network and running on a more frequent schedule, an improved streetcar could fit nicely with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion vision for redeveloping downtown.

We will give credit to the idea being creative politically.

Setting aside the question of why such a small system may have two different kinds of technology, fine conceptually.  But now is the time for detail, not just rhetoric – we need to see plans for actual alignment, stops, technology, where to change – if you have to change – lines.  And most staged plans include future corridors – what are they? And the actual cost.

And, as with the City tax, there are the potential long terms issues arising from this:

“People view that light rail, for now, is not viable in unincorporated Hillsborough County,” said Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff. “They do, though, think there are opportunities and support for it within the city of Tampa. … They believe the city has the things that are necessary for that kind of premium transit.”

And this:

“I agree the right choice is to fix roads, tackle our maintenance problem and improve bus transit ridership while positioning our community for some type of premium or light rail transit in the future,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who supports the plan.

That would have been the right choice 20 years ago when planning could have been done properly and we were closer to all our competitors.  Now, it is a recipe for being at least 20 years further behind everyone else.

But more importantly, this idea raises the question of who will own and run the rail.  If it is just a City endeavor, does that mean rail will never go to the County?  If it goes to the County, how will that work?  Will it require another decades long mess of negotiation and argument?  (How will help Hillsborough County, other than to let the County Commissioners be able to claim they a not supporting rail so they can campaign in a primary?)  We need a more regional outlook, not a less regional one.  And we need details.

While we can appreciate the fudge (and frankly this is the one thing that may make us support a proposal), it is not clear that it really serves the area. (And, at this point, we feel compelled to add that a streetcar to from downtown to Westshore would be a waste.  To be of use, it would have to be light rail with a mostly dedicated right of way.)

— You Will Get What We Give You and Like It

Speaking of things that do not really serve the area, FDOT is saying that variable rate toll lanes are the key to everything:

Not yet funded, the $2 billion Tampa Bay Express plan would add tolled express lanes from the Gateway area of St. Petersburg to Bearss Avenue. The lanes would provide extra capacity for cars whose drivers were willing to pay a variable toll, based on congestion.

The busier the time of day, the higher the toll, said Kirk Bogen, an environmental management engineer with the DOT. Currently state law allows for a toll of up to $10 for drivers in the express lanes. No trucks would be allowed, but transit buses and school buses would be able to use the lanes free.

“What we’re proposing to do is come in and build a project that should help move people and goods better through the region,” said Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the DOT district office in Tampa.

Exactly. Limiting road expansion to lanes that have their capacity artificially limited and then putting school buses on them clearly is the best way to move traffic.  And it is also great to limit traffic in those lanes to people who can afford $20 a day to pass by the people who can’t and force everyone else to sit in the same old congested lanes with no hope of ever getting better roads. (kind of the same philosophy of these people have towards water.)  And when the variable rate lanes have too much demand, the price will go up and the service in the congested lanes will get even worse.  How is that a viable plan?

Paul Steinman, who heads up the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7, said the project includes expansion of the I-275-I-4 interchange commonly called “Malfunction Junction” and will add corridors for future transit projects such as light-rail.

“These projects also provide the transit corridor that everybody wants,” Steinman said. “If you take it out, you can stop it, but you will stop a whole bunch of other things here.”

Steinman added that design of the express lanes has not even begun and said FDOT will hold public meetings to hear residents’ concerns.

“The department is not trying to jam this project down anyone’s throat,” he said.

Um, with the “do what we want or get nothing,” it seems they are. In any event, only express buses are beholden to express lanes.  Rail will not run through express lanes (though it can go in empty medians). That tells you where the thinking is.

We understand that the junction has to be fixed because the last time it was “fixed” it was not really fixed.  It was just years of construction to leave it backing up almost every day.

And we understand that roads have to be fixed – they should have been fixed long ago.  To be honest, we think it is unrealistic of people to think that all traffic from north of downtown can be shoved through the small interstate that exists now.  It is sad that people invested time and money into some local institutions, but they knew the use of the land was temporary.  And everyone knew that the interstate would, at some point, be expanded further.  It is unfortunate, but that is the way it is.

We also understand tolls.  (We even understand variable rate lanes, though we oppose them because they are illogical and unfair – especially when they are taking lanes away, like the Howard Frankland – which, from their silence, apparently all local elected officials think is just fine.  As noted, by their very purpose of pushing traffic on to other lanes, they are a recipe for more congestion, not less.)

What we don’t understand is why all transit is tied to express lanes or why FDOT and local government is wedded to variable rate lanes.

— Promises Promises

Then, there is the growth management element of the proposal for a proposal.

As Hillsborough County leaders get ready to sell residents on a new transportation tax, part of their sales pitch will be a promise that new subdivisions will pay their fair share for roads and transit.

County Administrator Mike Merrill, in a recent presentation to the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group, stressed that the county would not continue the relaxed growth policies of the previous decade. Low impact fees that encouraged development sprawl is one of the reasons for the county’s current transportation deficit, Merrill said.

“We are going to modify the land development code and (comprehensive) plans to encourage and incentivize development that no longer outstrips our collective ability to finance, construct and maintain our transportation assets while preserving our rural areas,” Merrill told the group, which consists of county political leaders.

That is accurate and admirable to say (We really think so).  The problem is that the Administrator does not vote on it – the County Commissioners vote on it, and the Commission has ignored such things (and planning) for decades.  This entire referendum proposal is to make up for various Commissions’ collective failure.

Nevertheless, we are cool with this:

A key component of the new policy will be mobility fees, a method by which developers will pay to fund the extra roadway capacity needed to serve their developments. The mobility fees will replace impact fees, a flat fee that ranges from $770- to $1,950-per house depending on where the homes are located.

The impact fees are higher in denser urban and suburban areas, less in rural areas. The county wants to turn that around, said Lucia Garsys, chief development and infrastructure services administrator.

“Where the old impact fee system supported development away from the urban and suburban core because they were less expensive, the mobility fee changes that dynamic and reverses it so it … incentivizes development where infrastructure already exists,” Garsys said.

County Commissioner Stacy White, a supporter of mobility fees, frames the issue in a simpler way.

“We have to stop putting six-homes-per-acre subdivisions out in the middle of nowhere,” White said.

In addition to the mobility fees, White backs Merrill’s call for changes in county land-use rules that would encourage in-fill development while preserving the county’s rural landscapes. Those changes could include different density zones to fit people’s lifestyles: urban, suburban, semi-rural and rural.

“I want people that come here to have a real choice,” White said.

But this does not require a referendum.  The County Commission could do this right now, but they haven’t. In fact, this is not a new idea.  The commission has just ignored it. So, given their failure to act, it raises the question of whether the Commission will actually pass and enforce such a thing?  Why wouldn’t they just cave to pressure (and make taxpayers cover impact) like they always have before (like with Bass Pro Shops)?

— And Yet

And it is still not clear what the county Commissioners think – and they are really the only people who matter in terms of getting a referendum on a plan.  What did they say?

Some of them had been burned by a failed penny tax referendum in 2010 to fund light rail. Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who aggressively campaigned against that initiative, praised the openness and emphasis on involving the public this time around.

“It’s not a proposal cooked up in back rooms,” he said.

Commissioners White and Victor Crist raised concerns that a sales tax bump might cause people to shop and work outside of Hillsborough County, causing overall economic harm.

We are not sure what that means.  All positive statements should be taken with a grain of salt considering the propensity of the Commissioners to opposed transportation initiatives after they support them.

“We just can’t afford to screw this up,” said County Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman. “Transportation is our No. 1 missing factor when (corporate) headquarters come to this community.

“It’s our vulnerability.”

The problem is that what has been described already is a poor compromise.  Regardless of the aforementioned fudge, it shows a lack of vision and political will to do bring us up to date with other areas and competitors.  It is not a regional transportation plan.  It condemns most of the county to traffic messes (first construction then congestion) for 30 more years, with little hope anything will change. For the most part, it locks in the auto-centric culture.  And, once again, what is the guarantee that future development will actually pay for its impact and that planning will change?

— Bottom Line

The bottom line is that, right now, there is no plan of specifics with a specific timetable – when and how much for rail, when and how much for buses, when and how much for roads with firm guarantees – and an already in place mobility fee program. (Yes, they say so much for “transit” but we mean specific projects and timetables for which people will be accountable.) Even if there is a list that goes along with the referendum, what is the guarantee that the projects will actually happen or that the County and City will stick to mobility fees for 30 years when they have failed for decades? (Not to mention a major flaw in the approach can be seen in this: if the idea is to give something to everyone, why is the northwest of the county essentially ignored? Why should any of the 1/5 to 1/4 of the county living there support this when east/south county gets roads and express buses and Tampa gets rail?)

So this is the big concern: Whatever the plan is (and it is likely to be not nearly enough), it is likely to basically be an act of faith that we can trust all those government entities that have failed to do what is needed for decades to actually stick to the plan (whatever it is) and do the right thing.  That will require some convincing.

Maybe, to show they really mean it, the Commission should pass the mobility fee program before any referendum, preferably this year.

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

The USF Med School moving project received its funds from the state:

One of the anchors of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar, mixed-use district in downtown Tampa cleared a key hurdle Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the state budget, which included $17 million in funding to move the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine to an acre of Vinik’s property at the intersection of Channelside Drive and Meridian avenues.

Fine.  But this is not:

Moving the medical school downtown is viewed as a way to transform the city’s economy, with a focus on a recession-proof industry like health care. 

That is quite hyperbolic.  The med school is a state subsidized way for the Lightning owner to ensure tenants for his project, which is good for him and good business on his part (the City really has no choice but to support it since he owns half of downtown).  We admire his savvy and like his project overall – though it could be more intense.

However, it is hard to see how the med school move will transform the city’s economy (unless by “city” you mean the “downtown peninsula”). First, the med school already exists.  Second, the move will still leave it detached from any hospital, let alone any serious medical cluster (or any serious transit system to really create access to the area).  Moreover, it will be hard to create a serious, contiguous medical cluster downtown because it would be very squeezed for space (see the Texas Medical center).  Thus, the med school move will not transform the city’s economy though it may boost downtown.

The reality is that you transform the economy by transforming the economy – not just moving things around.  As we haven noted before (see “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun”), CAMLS was also supposed to transform the economy that still needs to be transformed.  It didn’t.  To transform a whole economy requires much, much more.

You can be excited by the med school move (we are neutral, but you can be excited). You can like the idea of having more stuff downtown and more activity there (we do).  But does every announcement have accompanied with overblown proclamations like small town celebrating how the new Wal-Mart will make everything so much better.  (and just a little FYI: Toledo has a Fortune 500 company based downtown. Is that also transformative?).

Despite all the hype about so much, changing our economy (and our area) is and will be a long, hard slog.  There is no silver bullet. Get used to it.

Downtown/West Side – Something, But . . .

There was news a while ago that the Related Group (website here, note the “redefining cities and skylines” tag), builders of very large skyscraper developments who, inexplicably gave us the suburban-ish Pier House in the Channel District (though, to be fair, they have a better proposal for Harbour Island, see “Downtown Goings On”   that is caught up in an argument over parking), had plans to build something on the Tampa Tribune property on the west bank of the river (search accela for this address: 200 S Parker St).  It is a prime lot for a really good, intense development with height – the kind of signature development that Related is known for everywhere else.  Now, there is more news:

Related is planning an eight-story, 400-unit residential building on the site, Pena said. It is under contract to buy the site from Revolution Capital, the private equity company that purchased the Tribune in 2012.

The good: the number of units is ok and 8-stories is twice the height of Pier House. Some units at the very tippy-top might actually see over the Selmon Expressway and glimpse the Bay – if they can see over or in between the buildings on the other side of the Selmon.

The bad: an 8-story building with 400 units on that lot will have to be quite hulking.  It will hardly enhance the views on the Riverwalk and the views will not be very good.  We have no idea if there will be any retail but any river walk on the west side of the river will likely be squeezed by the footprint of the building.  And it just seems a poor use of the land.

In any event:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he understands the Related Group is looking to build 8 stories of residential development on the site.

“I’m excited,” he said. “That’s the first major project on the west side of the Hillsborough River, which I hope will stimulate others …

“Related (Group) investing on the west side of the river sends a really strong signal.”

Setting aside that this is actually the second proposal in that area, we do not think it does.  A type of major project at which Related excels would do that.  This is just a building.  As a Related VP said:

“We think waterfront real estate cannot be recreated,” Pena said, “and that Tampa will continue to be a fantastic place to live.”

True, which is why we would rather have a more impressive project – especially something right across the river from the heart of downtown.  Something like what Related proposed for Harbor Island would be far better and make more sense for the lot, if not something more elegant. This proposal is really quite disappointing, but not surprising given the City’s long history of settling. It is certainly nothing to get excited about.

And it is definitely not redefining our skyline.

Downtown – Not So Fast on Kress

There was news about the proposal to renovate the Kress block.

It looks like the rebirth of the historic S.H. Kress & Co. building will take awhile longer.

The dream has been around for at least a decade, and it appeared it was about to come true last fall when a development team filed plans with City Hall to incorporate the grand old department store into a 22-story tower with a hotel, apartments and more.

It’s been around a lot longer than that. In any event,

But Kress owner Jeannette Jason said this week that she no longer has a contract to sell the four-story building on N Franklin Street to Walson Ventures, a partnership between Tampa developers Alex Walter and Casey Ellison. The contract hasn’t been in place since December because of issues on her end of the transaction, she said.

Those have since been resolved, Jason said, and she hopes a deal can still come together, perhaps with Walson Ventures, perhaps with someone else.

Maybe, but only time will tell.  The first proposal many years ago was awful, and it is good it failed.  This latest proposal was much nicer.  Yet, it hasn’t happened.  It is a shame because there are so few of the old, elegant buildings left downtown (namely because the City did not really care).  Hopefully, it can still happen.

Port – Machinations

There was some news, convoluted as it is, about goings on at the port.  First, something about a steel cluster.

Port Tampa Bay is aggressively marketing 25 parcels available for lease and is devising a plan on how to coordinate its tenants to make maximum revenue. It has even set up a new section on its website listing all properties available for lease.

Kloeckner Metals Corp., which leases 4.5 acres on 22nd Street now for its metal distribution business, has outgrown its facility and will expand with a new lease on 12 undeveloped acres in Southbay, located in southern Hillsborough County.

“That’s all brand new revenue,” said Port Real Estate Director Lane Ramsfield. In the next six months or so, he said, the staff will reveal more specifics about its strategic plan for the other available port property.

Already, the port staff has unveiled plans for creating that steel cluster at Port Redwing, which started when it contracted with Tampa Tank Inc. and Florida Structural Steel in January. The company plans to construct a 120,000 square-foot building at Port Redwing and retrofit an existing 40,000 square-foot building there, adding 24 jobs at its headquarters in Ybor City and 84 jobs at Port Redwing.

Kloeckner receives steel straight from the mills, then sells it to fabricators. It has agreed to a 25-year lease with the port for a 144,000 square-foot facility. The port will make about $8 million in rent in the first decade, with rent increasing 1.5 percent per year for the remaining 15 years of the lease.

In return, the port will spend up to $10 million to build a warehouse, add a rail spur and utilities and complete other site work on the property.

Setting aside that, from the report, it seems the Port will lose $2 million dollars in the first decade (we do not know if that is accurate or what happens after that), we are fine with setting up some clusters at the port, though not necessarily exactly what was reported or in that location.  More generally,

Port Tampa Bay, at 2,565 upland acres, has 277 acres up for grabs in various locations across the property. The majority of its land consists of spoil islands and conservation areas and while there are 56 undeveloped acres in Channelside, they are not for lease at this time.

“There is an extensive planning effort” in the works for Channelside, between the port’s own master plan for that area and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for massive development in the downtown area. Ramsfield said specifics for the Channelside District will be revealed within the next year. With so many people having moved to the Channelside area there has been enormous value added to the real estate there, he said. “We are going to maximize that.”

The land available for lease is in areas now used by ship builders, manufacturers, petroleum companies, container operations or bulk distributors.

The property that will bring the highest revenue is in Hooker’s Point, Port Sutton and Eastport, with deep water access, Ramsfield said.

Ok.  We are not sure exactly what is contemplated or how much money it will actually bring in, but the concept for industrial areas is ok.  As for the Channel District, that is the mysterious master plan (maybe the Port’s developing plans conflict with the Gas Worx proposal which may explain the odd City reaction to some degree. Or maybe it was something else.)  We are not even going to try to comment on that substance of the master plan except to say that it is a bit odd to master plan a potentially major urban development without a real discussion – but, given all that has gone before in this area, we expect that.


– Housing

So we thought we would check in with the economy and housing market.  Then, we saw the headlines:

Tribune: “Tampa area housing selling at a quicker pace

Times: “Tampa Bay home sales not as robust in May as in previous months


— The High Cost of Living

Then, we saw this:

Insurance premiums are a huge expense for Floridians, with residents of the Sunshine State spending an average of 17.1 percent of their annual income on insurance, according to a new study from San Francisco-based NerdWallet.

Released Monday, the financial analysis website’s study indicates that except for residents in two other states, Floridians spend the most annually on homeowners, health, life, and car insurance. States were ranked based on the percentage of median annual income spent on insurance premiums.

* * *

Floridian’s median annual income of $38,621 also pales in comparison to the rest of the nation’s $43,880, which contributes to why Florida residents spend such a high percentage of their income on insurance. 

The price of low wages is a higher relative cost of living.

— And How Are We really Doing?

And finally there was this:


Approaching midyear 2015, that’s the number of planned layoffs companies have officially told the state since the start of this year they expect to make in the Tampa Bay area. Those numbers were compiled from WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notices companies must file with state officials when the job numbers are deemed statistically significant. Is 1,446 a lot? At the midpoint of 2013, the number was 1,297. And in 2012 at midyear it was 1,359. Seems surprisingly steady in recent years.


That’s the number of proposed incoming jobs from “completed” business expansion projects reported so far this year by the Tampa Hillsborough EDC. Note the similarity with the “1,446” number above of jobs planned for elimination in this area over a similar period of time. Nobody said economic development is easy.

No, they didn’t, but they did hype every announcement.  This is an interesting corrective.

International Trade – Really?

There was news of a new trade mission for the mayors of Tampa and St. Pete:

The Tampa Bay Export Alliance announced Wednesday plans to lead a trade mission to Toronto, Canada to promote export opportunities for local businesses. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Pinellas County Economic Development will be part of the mission.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman, Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Vice Chairman Charlie Justice, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will also join the delegation.

The Canada trade mission will take place Oct. 19 to 22.

“Canada is one of the most important strategic markets for Tampa Bay,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Hillsborough EDC. “It is the No. 1 export destination for our region’s good and services and our third largest source of foreign direct investment.” Opportunities for local companies to expand into Canada are many, he said.

Right, which makes the idea of a “trade mission” so bizarre.  We’d understand more if they said they wanted to go see the leaves change, see if the ex-Mayor of Toronto really is the reincarnation of John Candy, and see what an actual transit system looks like.  Our relations with Canada, and Toronto specifically, go back so long that business discussions should be routine.  There should be no need for a trade mission.

In other news, we do not know if it is related or not, the County is proposing to lower the amount of money it gives to the EDC.

The Hillsborough County budget unveiled last week for fiscal 2016-17 would cut the county’s contribution to the EDC from $700,000 to $600,000 in fiscal 2016. The funding would be slashed by 36 percent in fiscal 2017, when the proposed county contribution is $450,000.

At least, that will help pay for the consultant that the County is sure to hire at some point to tell it how to do economic development.

University Mall – A Lost Opportunity

There was an article in the Tribune regarding plans to redevelop University Mall.

Redevelopment plans for Tampa’s University Mall call for the addition of three new anchors and two new freestanding restaurants that have yet to be named.

The enclosed mall common area between the former JC Penney building and the remaining mall will be demolished to make way for a new “lifestyle addition,” an outside area filled with lush landscaping, seating areas and water features. A new health club will also be added.

Mall owner RD Management LLC, which acquired the property last year for $29.5 million, released its design plans for the first phase of this major renovation on Monday. Construction could begin as early as the first quarter of 2016.

University Mall is located at 2200 East Fowler Avenue, near the University of South Florida.

The first phase of the renovation will include “significant changes” to the mall’s western wing. Some 246,500 square feet of retail will be renovated with the new anchors and the restaurants will be constructed on out parcels along Fowler Avenue, according to CBRE Group Inc., which announced the plan.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is disappointing.  That is a very large property near USF.  It would seem that there is a better use than just a mall (outdoor or not) – most of which is parking.  While the full details are not given, at least we can keep a little hope:

New York-based RD Management, ranked as the nation’s 30th largest real estate owner, is responsible for more than 200 shopping centers in 26 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. For the renovation of University Mall, it is partnering with New York’s S9, an architectural firm that specializes in planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.

Of course, mixed use can mean a number of different things.  What this area needs is a new concept.  Add some walkable residential, some office, some real density, etc.  That could be transformative.  Otherwise, it will just be a hot mall next to a long string of strip malls.

A good development could help revitalize the area and bring real life to near the USF campus, but just recycling the mall concept which long ago lost its allure seems a waste.  There is more potential there than an outdoor shopping center/mall.  Hopefully, they will really see that.

Bro Bowl – Tampa Does What Tampa Does Best

The Bro Bowl is now being demolished:

Beeps, honks, and the churn of heavy machinery rumbled through the air as the excavator’s claw dug into the graffiti-covered concrete. Large, blue metal containers sat off to the side, filled with pieces of the city’s history.

This is the construction zone at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa. It’s been a place where the city has struggled to preserve not only the cultural history of Tampa’s segregation-era business and entertainment industry, but also the history of the city’s Golden Age of skateboarding.

This is the site where the Bro Bowl is being demolished.

Uh, no.  The City has done nothing to preserve the history regarding skateboarding.  For the last few months anyone who has gone by the location of the park and Bro Bowl could clearly see there is absolutely no reason to demolish the Bro Bowl.  The park easily could have been built with the Bro Bowl left intact.  It was the City that was determined to demolish it.

There still has been no good explanation for why the Bro Bowl is being demolished and why a compromise plan for the park could not be done. Nor do we expect any.  That’s just not how Tampa works.

List of the Week

We could get into the list that ranks Tampa the sweatiest city in the US, but we’ll just not have a list this week.

Roundup 2015-6-19

June 18, 2015

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 6-12-2015

June 12, 2015

Transportation – Definitively Ambivalent

Yesterday, too late for full comment by us, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough outsourced transportation plan was to be unveiled. However, information has started coming out, and, frankly, it is not a cause for much optimism.

When Hillsborough County administration unveils its comprehensive transportation plan at the county commission meeting Thursday, it will recommend asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax in a 2016 referendum.

A thorough third-party poll shows more than 50 percent support overall, with a higher percentage of those in favor of living in the urban core, said County Administrator Mike Merrill.

Fine.  We understand that.  It is easier to get a smaller tax passed, even if there is less money or it takes longer to get things done – as long as what needs to get done does actually get done. So, what is it for?  The first reports we saw said things like this:

Reflective of public desires, the transportation master plan will focus on a few goals: improvement of existing roads, bridges and other infrastructure; road expansions, intersection improvements and advanced traffic management; revising the land use plan to encourage more urban density; and upgraded and expanded sidewalks and trails.

Also in that list is mass transit. First priority: Improve the existing bus system.

“MetroRapid does not have enough routes, it’s not frequent enough, there’s not enough coverage,” Merrill said.

The public also acknowledges the need for premium transit, modes like Bus Rapid Transit, flex service, circulator buses and city streetcars.

Highest priority routes for BRT are Brandon to downtown Tampa, downtown to Tampa International Airport, and south county to downtown. “Dedicated lines or managed lanes, it has to be true express service,” Merrill added.

(which is not good – especially if buses are in managed lanes, as that would just clog up those lanes and lead to higher tolls) And:

Although the full plan won’t roll out until Thursday, it reflects a more pragmatic approach that various commissions and study groups have advocated. There’s no shortage of think tanks saying that a truly contemporary American city — one that draws young, high-skilled workers — needs to have a robust, multifaceted mass transit system.

“We’re still a very car-centric county,” Merrill said. “While people say they would ride transit, it’s more aspirational. It’s important for us to go in that direction, but right now we love our cars.”

Well, yes, it is aspirational because there is no real transit here so even if people wanted to use it they couldn’t.  And those think-tanks say what they say because, for the most part, it is true (and do you really think the Millennials are going to wait decades for Tampa to figure all this out when they could go elsewhere and get it now).  And then there was this:

One of the critics, Sierra Club member and county commission candidate Pat Kemp, said 30 percent of the proceeds from a half-cent sales tax would produce just $30 million a year for transit. That amount falls short of the money needed to double the fleet of buses for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency — a goal county leaders had supported last year in leadership group meetings.

In other words, there is not even a plan to make the bus network do what the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough people said it should do.

Based on these reports, our first reaction was that, if this was the plan, transportation would not be solved for decades. But, we also were aware that we had not seen details yet.

Then, there was this column  by the County administrator in the Times that gave a different take on what the money would go for:

Consistent with community feedback, GO Hillsborough is recommending a dedicated half-cent sales tax to be approved by voters in a November 2016 referendum. This would raise $117.5 million annually and $3.5 billion over 30 years to fix our roads first, relieve congestion and nearly double transit service, including the modernization of the streetcar by the city of Tampa. At the same time the half-cent sales tax is implemented, new growth would pay an increased and equitable share for its transportation impacts.

Improvements to roads and transit go hand-in-hand in relieving traffic flow. We believe that an approach that fixes roads, builds bus transit ridership and positions the community for some type of premium transit is a fair and balanced plan that our entire community can support. Importantly, with half-cent sales tax, GO Hillsborough can accomplish many critical improvements for the entire community:

So, there is some ambiguity here. In any event, this is our reaction so far:

– We are ok with the streetcar idea, generally, but have some questions: what exactly is that streetcar modernization that goes to either the airport or USF? (There is no question in our mind it should be the airport, first)  Is it going to be a slow moving streetcar or a real transit system?  Is it part of a bigger plan or just an isolated piece?  Is there any change that the technology used can eventually get to Pinellas and other areas of Hillsborough?  All of that will be critical.  And we do not like the idea of building something as a “demonstration.” Build it right and it will demonstrate what it needs to, but make sure it is built for its utility.

– And what does it mean to partner with FDOT and the Expressway Authority – other than express buses to clog up express lanes?  That is very vague.  And will this underfunded plan really provide a good bus feeder system to any real transit, no matter how small?

– We are also not completely sold that all roads will be taken care of or that the County can really plan properly.  And the idea that new growth will pay its proper share is, based on history and present behavior by local governments, questionable at best.

– While we get that you have to be able to get a referendum past the voters if you are wedded to a sales tax idea, we are not wedded to such a tax.  And while we in no way want to wait, it is more damaging to pass a bad plan than to wait because, after one tax is already passed, it will be even harder to get the money to do what actually needs to be done.  The details matter.

Also last week there was an article about this:

County economic development gurus are working hard to lure a Fortune 500 headquarters to Tampa, business leaders heard Tuesday. They’re going so far as to research which companies are going through a transformation that may make them ripe for a move to looking at which board members have connections to this region.

One obstacle that continues to hinder their path to success, though, is transportation, said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Homans was guest speaker at the Westshore Alliance monthly luncheon, held in a newly renovated dining room at the Westin Tampa Bay.

We find it hard to believe that even the items listed by the County administrator will really put us over the top compared to other areas that are really investing in their transportation. (To be honest, we don’t think anyone really believes that.)  Once again, the details will matter.  While there are a few good-ish things, the details so far are not really that encouraging.

The bottom line is this – for a fuller opinion, we will have to wait until we can digest the details of the plan. Just remember, it is worse to pass a bad plan with a tax increase than to wait.  And nothing will really work if local planning does not change drastically.

So far, we are decidedly ambivalent. (And definitely not excited.) But, after details come out, we shall see.

Transportation – Building A Road for Fewer People To Use

There has been a minor flurry of news regarding Express Toll Lanes in Tampa and how they are going to mess with Tampa Heights.

Well, in 2006, an agreement was signed by the City of Tampa, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Tampa Heights Civic Association that the land adjacent to the interstate where the garden, bike path and Center are situated was to be “lent” to the neighborhood, with the understanding that when the interstate began its “Ultimate” expansion, the property would have to be relinquished.

Earlier, in 1996, FDOT had adopted a plan outlining the “Ultimate” expansion, a huge spread of lanes which would cut a painful swath through Tampa’s center. I sat on Tampa City Council and the Metropolitan Planning Organization at that time, but never believed that it would be built because it was such a dreadful plan and so expensive. Surely we would embrace transit and quit widening the interstate and destroying neighborhoods.

Apparently, a misreading of the Tampa/Hillsborough County electorate.  In any event,

Paul Steinman, FDOT District 7’s new director, has decided that the interstate widening — which is meant to allow express toll lanes so that people who pay extra can avoid the congestion of the masses — should take place in Tampa Heights in the midst of these improvements, and not 20 years down the road, but immediately. With little notice or fanfare, FDOT, under the direction of Governor Scott, decided that this “Lexus Lane” project is urgent.

On May 12, the MPO convened a roundtable meeting with neighborhood leaders and FDOT staff moderated by Tampa City Councilman Les Miller, the MPO chairman. The news of the accelerated expansion floored the neighborhood representatives. Then, on June 2, the MPO voted to spend $20 million for right-of-way acquistion [sic].

So right of way is going to be acquired.  No surprise there.  In fact, we need better roads, which will, to some degree hurt the neighborhoods around downtown.  We think that should be limited as much as possible, but, realistically, some of it will happen.

On the other hand, there is the question of whether those roads should be variable rate Express Toll Lanes, which are basically a plan to charge as much as possible to make sure most people do not use the lanes, which seems an odd strategy for building a road.  They exist in South Florida.  So how is that going?

Higher tolls aren’t keeping drivers out of the I-95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County.

And that means it’s increasingly slow-going, especially for northbound commuters who thought they were paying a premium for a faster trip out of downtown Miami.

The state last year raised the maximum toll on the express lanes to $10.50, with the idea it would discourage some drivers from entering. Too many cars mean slower speeds. But apparently, $10.50 is not a big enough deterrent – leaving open the possibility it will go up to $14.

(Sure, the average person on the average income in this area can pay $10 to drive each way, every day to their job.)  But wait, we thought roads were meant to be used?

The state’s goal is to keep traffic in the express lanes moving 45 mph or faster 90 percent of the time. It reached that goal only 59 percent of the time in the afternoon rush hour in both November and December, the most recent data available. Sometimes drivers end up going even slower than the regular lanes, especially where the express lanes currently end at the Golden Glades interchange.

* * *

Officials say delays are much more common in the northbound I-95 express lanes because of the configuration of the Golden Glades, the massive interchange that connects I-95 to Florida’s Turnpike and the Palmetto Expressway.

The northbound express lanes narrow from two lanes to one approaching the Golden Glades. The other lane merges back into I-95, where traffic is often backed up to exit to the turnpike and the Palmetto.

So let us summarize: First, the state expanded a road into a bottleneck. (Though it is building more lanes further north) Then, it raises prices on the road when traffic backs up into the bottleneck.  Even with all that, people still want to use the road – probably because transit is not very good in that direction and the area is planned poorly.  So the state wants to raise the prices so fewer people use the road, which will, of course, increase congestion for the average person who cannot afford $28/day to get to work.  And that plan to increase congestion for most people is somehow a plan to fix traffic congestion for the area as a whole.  And that plan is going to be brought to us.

Of course, South Florida at least has a plan for some more transit – not enough, but more.  In this area, we have no idea if there will ever be useful transit for the average person to use.  Thus, people have to drive.  The roads are absolutely inadequate (and the above referenced plan will not fix that), but the solution is being planned with express purpose of not having those people use those roads.  Add to that our poor planning that will still force people to drive.  What do you think will happen?

There are other questions, such as whether these roads actually pay for themselves?  What is the break even point, including with maintenance?  Has traffic gotten better on any other lanes?  Is the state planning any alternative to using these roads other than to condemn people who cannot pay to overburdened roads? (And forget low cost of living – $28x an average 200 day work year is $5600)  And is the state going to build any free lanes to go along with the express lanes to take all the traffic that the express lanes are not intended to service (or is it going to take lanes away, like the plan for the Howard Frankland?)

It is all very odd.

Transportation – The Corridors

There was an interesting article in the Tribune regarding the Florida’s Future Corridor Initiative. (You can see the Initiative website here)

Over the next 50 years, four out of five people moving to the Sunshine State are expected to plant themselves somewhere between Tampa and Jacksonville.

They’ll contribute to a 70 percent population surge in an area state officials believe must include a corridor to accommodate automated cars, truck convoys, express lanes for mass transit, and more rail for cargo and passengers.

Anyone who has made the trip between here and Jacksonville — there is no direct connection now — gets it, said Jim Wood, the Florida Department of Transportation’s transportation development administrator. There is a lot more to do than widen Interstate 75.

* * *

Two of those corridors connect to Tampa — one runs from here to Jacksonville and one from here to the Space Coast.

As the state’s economy bounces back with new businesses in manufacturing, biomedical research, aerospace initiatives, technology and more, it must have a transportation system to accommodate the growth, Wood said.

FDOT is heading up an initiative to address growth, planning transportation corridors that span dozens of counties and tens of thousands of acres. It’s called Florida’s Future Corridor Initiative. 

There is a certain logic to this, depending on what is done.

The Tampa to Northeast Florida corridor is one of the first being addressed, and by fall, it will be making news, Wood said. “We’re about to mobilize this summer in a very big way.” A steering committee will be named and planning will begin at the local level, he said.

The corridor initiative is all about developing this state into a global business hub and supporting those who choose to make Florida their home for either business or retirement, Wood said.

We do not know about that last part – especially for roads in the middle of nowhere, like the Ft. Myers to Polk Parkway idea.  On the other hand, fixing up 301 or building a parallel road so that there is a limited access road from Tampa to Jacksonville and points north is long overdue. (Initiative page on that corridor here )

Already, the initiative is getting major pushback from environmentalists, who say the corridor plan is nothing more than an excuse for sprawl that will chew up the state’s rural areas and wild lands.

They say the focus should not be on filling in open spaces in the rural areas, but in modernizing existing urban centers with smart growth plans.

That is also true for some of the ideas – like the aforementioned freeway from Ft. Myers to Polk County.

We have no problem with some of the corridor ideas – like bringing the Tampa-Jax connection into the 20th century.  It would also be nice if the state would try to enter the 21st century with a high speed rail network.  But some of the other roads are just going to create a sprawling mess.

We cannot say the idea of looking at these things is bad.  It isn’t.  However, the state should spend money building roads and modern connections that need to be built right now.  The other stuff can wait until there is actually someone other than a developer that wants it.  And any tolls should be flat rate for everyone.

Channel District/USF – Destination Unknown

The legislature’s issues regarding the budget may cause an issue for the moving of the USF Med School.

The USF projects have broad bipartisan support in Tallahassee but must compete with scores of other projects all over the state.

At issue is whether to raise more cash for those projects by borrowing money on the bond market. The House of Representatives likes the idea. Top Senate officials and Gov. Rick Scott oppose it.

With bond money, presumably there could be enough to go around for the USF projects. Without it, don’t count on the full amount.

“If we don’t do bonding, I just can’t see them giving that much money to the University of South Florida,” said Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

In Tampa, USF seeks $17 million for the Morsani College of Medicine building and $15.75 million for its USF Health Heart Institute. Plans call for building both on land donated by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik at his billion-dollar downtown development near Amalie Arena.

At USF St. Petersburg, the request is for $12.3 million to complete the construction of a 68,000-square-foot building for the Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

But what either project gets must wait on an answer to a bigger question of fiscal policy.

On Wednesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters he and the House had an agreement that they would not approve any more bonding or financing with borrowed money in the special session.

* * *

Not so, countered House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

Basically, the situation is such a mess that, even with all the lobbying by local elected officials, business, and the legislative delegation, we are just going to wait and see.

Channel District/Ybor City – Please Restrain You Enthusiasm

There was an article in the Tribune about the very large, proposed GasWorx project on the old Peoples Gas lot.

Luring development into vacant or rundown areas has been a go-to strategy for the administration of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, with projects such as the Ulele Restaurant at the Water Works Building and Le Meridien Hotel in the historic Federal Courthouse.

* * *

The proposal has been greeted by Ybor Chamber of Commerce leaders and other local developers as a potential boon for the area, bringing needed foot traffic to Ybor City and possibly signaling the start of urban infill work between Ybor and Channelside. 

Indeed.  It could help transform the area and actually connect the Channel District to Ybor, which has long been a goal of many.  When first announced, this was the reaction:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Friday that he hasn’t been briefed on the project in detail, but welcomed the proposal. “I think potentially it would take an underutilized piece of property and add some value to it, add some density to it,” he said. “It’s a former industrial site, (providing) great linkage between Ybor and downtown.”

Good comment.  But then there was this:

But city officials are more cautious about a proposed development in the rundown area between Channelside and Ybor City. Local firm Phillips Development recently filed plans to build two residential towers and a grocery store there, on the old TECO People’s Gas site at the north end of Channelside Drive.

* * *

But the scale of the project – some 1.7 million square-feet of development – has city economic leaders adopting a wait and see approach.

“It’s untested in geographic location and much larger than anything adjacent to it,” said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa administrator of economic opportunity. “This is a very ambitious project for this location.”

Huh? For a City that hypes even the smallest development, that is quite the odd approach.  Why would the City care if the urban core has extensive development? And why should the area connecting Ybor to downtown and the Channel District be industrial anyway?  Is that what the City really wants right along the streetcar route?  What kind of planning is that? How many riders is that going to generate?  There is other land in the area that can be industrial.  We thought the City wanted residents in the urban core.

The area between Ybor and Channelside has also been touted as a possible venue for a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays with most attention on the 21-acre site of Tampa Park Apartments, a low-income housing project on Nuccio Parkway.

Still, turning the area into an urban walkable community would be an abrupt personality change.

In addition to the Selmon Expressway, there is the TECO Streetcar line and a CSX railroad to navigate. The area east of Channelside Drive and north of Adamo Drive is dotted with industrial land and warehouses, some of which are tied economically to the nearby Port of Tampa. 

So? There is also housing about two blocks away in Ybor and two blocks to the south. (See map here)

The city has no long-term plans to rezone the area for residential, McDonaugh said.

“It’s valuable to have warehouses to support a port,” McDonaugh said. “Not all of it can be done on port authority land.”

Sure, but there is port land that is being master planned for non-industrial use right now in the Channel District.  Moreover, as we said, there are townhouses two blocks from the site.  Just because there are some warehouses does not mean the City should not support the project.  If the developers cannot get it done, so be it.  But why the reaction from the City – especially the director of economic opportunity?  Isn’t such a potential project an economic opportunity?  If the City really wants to be a city, it should welcome such proposal (assuming all the details stack up) and work to help them get done, especially along the streetcar line.

As we said, for a City that hypes almost everything, it is a very strange reaction.  We leave it to you to decide the cause.

West Tampa – North Boulevard Homes

There was an update in the Times regarding the North Boulevard Homes project.

With demolition expected to start in late 2016, the first resident has moved out of North Boulevard Homes, with about 2,000 more to follow over the next 18 months.

But for the moment, City Hall and Tampa Housing Authority officials have decided this isn’t the time to seek a $30 million federal grant to help pay for the sweeping redevelopment of the area around Tampa’s oldest public housing complex.

That is odd.  There was supposedly a great plan (we think it is ok but could be fixed. See “Master Planning – Something in the West River” ).  What is the issue?

“We didn’t feel we were in a position to be competitive yet,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “We needed to be more shovel-ready.”

Applications for this year’s round of federal Choice Neighborhood grants were due in February. One reason local officials decided to take more time was that McCormack Baron Salazar, the St. Louis-based urban planning firm hired to create a master plan for the West River area, had indicated it would need tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies to proceed as the master developer for what’s being called the West River area.

Whoops.  Now, we do not know if it is a bait and switch by the planner/developer or just a less that great choice in the first place.

“Great developer,” housing authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore said of McCormack Baron, but “their sweet spot is cities that have resources that far exceed the resources that we have here in Tampa.”

The housing authority paid McCormack Baron $350,000 to create a plan for the West River, but Buckhorn said there was no guarantee the firm was going to be the master developer.

“We got from them what we paid for, which was a great blueprint,” he said. “Our job is to go execute it.”

Setting aside that we are not sure they are a great developer, there are a number of things here.  First, fine there is now a plan.  However, why pick a planner who might be different from the developer?  What is to stop the next developer from changing everything because of “market forces,” its needs, etc?  Second, why pick a planner/developer that is known for asking for more public money than will be available?  Is that not just a recipe for delay?

In any event, what is done is done.  Now what?

To do that, the housing authority and city plan to look for other partners.

In the next 60 days, the housing authority is expected to look for different partners for different parts of the project, such as residential firms for housing and others with experience in office or commercial development for other parts, Moore said. That’s similar to what happened at Encore Tampa, the big mixed-used project being built where the old Central Park Village public housing apartments used to be. There, the Bank of America Community Development Corp. is a co-developer, and individual building projects have a dozen or more sources of financing.

* * *

The next application cycle for Choice Neighborhoods grants could open in the fall, and Buckhorn said the time until then “will give us the ability to build and to bring in more partners, just not financial partners, but social service providers and academic institutions, because a big part of this is not just rebuilding public housing, it’s the job training, the educational opportunities and the social services that are wrapped around the project.”

And, in the meantime, the public housing will be emptied.

We suppose it has been decades since redeveloping the area was first proposed so waiting a little longer is ok.  On the other hand, it has been decades since it was first proposed, so it really needs to move along.  Otherwise, demolition will be just in time for the next recession, and we will have empty lots for years.  We really hope that does not happen. (And this is just another reason to celebrate accomplishment when the actually happen rather than when they are announced.)

Economy – Housing

There was this nugget that should be kept in mind when considering home sales:

Short sales and foreclosures accounted for 23.5 percent of Tampa Bay homes sales in March, almost double the national percentage. Of the 25 largest metro areas reviewed by the data provider CoreLogic, the Orlando area had the largest share of distressed sales, 24.6 percent, followed by the Miami area at 24. 2 percent.

With many cash and investor purchases of houses plus the high number of foreclosure sales, there is a corrective to the simple numbers of sales.

List of the Week

There is much talk of booms and whatnot.  Our list this week gives a better look of where we are – Pew’s list of which metro areas have gained the most jobs since the Great Recession.   It is presented in a map which you can access on the webpage.  The information is given in both percentage growth and raw numbers of jobs, so we have made a ranking both – growth percentage first followed by raw numbers.

By percentage increase

San Jose 23.66 201,700
Austin 22.64 173,000
Nashville 19.28 144,300
Houston 17.76 448,400
San Francisco 17.62 336,600
Orlando 16.57 163,300
Dallas-Ft. Worth 16.52 447,800
Riverside (CA) 16.47 187,900
Denver 16.37 193,600
Salt Lake City 16.20 94,400
Raleigh 15.80 78,000
San Antonio 15.55 130,700
Seattle 14.49 239,000
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale 14.00 305,600
Atlanta 13.61 307,600
Portland (OR) 13.54 131,400
Las Vegas 13.37 106,700
Detroit 13.09 224,200
Tampa Bay Area 12.79 140,400
San Diego 12.76 156,400
Indianapolis 12.76 115,200
Columbus 12.72 116,000
OKC 12.38 69,300
Phoenix 12.26 206,500
Louisville 11.93 68,200
Los Angeles 11.71 612,600
Minneapolis-St. Paul 11.03 191,300
Jacksonville 10.18 58,600
Boston 10.09 161,100
Baltimore 8.98 112,200
NYC 8.56 728,900
Richmond 8.54 49,500
Cincinnati 8.33 81,500
DC 8.08 236,700
Kansas City 7.86 75,200
Chicago 7.80 329,900
Cleveland 6.09 60,100
Pittsburgh 5.81 64,400


By number of jobs

NYC 8.56 728,900
Los Angeles 11.71 612,600
Houston 17.76 448,400
Dallas-Ft. Worth 16.52 447,800
San Francisco 17.62 336,600
Chicago 7.80 329,900
Atlanta 13.61 307,600
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale 14.00 305,600
Seattle 14.49 239,000
DC 8.08 236,700
Detroit 13.09 224,200
Phoenix 12.26 206,500
San Jose 23.66 201,700
Denver 16.37 193,600
Minneapolis-St. Paul 11.03 191,300
Riverside (CA) 16.47 187,900
Austin 22.64 173,000
Orlando 16.57 163,300
Boston 10.09 161,100
San Diego 12.76 156,400
Nashville 19.28 144,300
Tampa Bay Area 12.79 140,400
Portland (OR) 13.54 131,400
San Antonio 15.55 130,700
Columbus 12.72 116,000
Indianapolis 12.76 115,200
Baltimore 8.98 112,200
Las Vegas 13.37 106,700
Salt Lake City 16.20 94,400
Cincinnati 8.33 81,500
Raleigh 15.80 78,000
Kansas City 7.86 75,200
OKC 12.38 69,300
Louisville 11.93 68,200
Pittsburgh 5.81 64,400
Cleveland 6.09 60,100
Jacksonville 10.18 58,600
Richmond 8.54 49,500

The first thing to notice is that growth has been ok, but not really a boom relative to other areas.  We are in the middle (if not slightly lower half) on both lists.  The second thing to note is that there is no accounting for the quality of the jobs and their incomes.  So we are doing ok, but not great.

Roundup 6-5-2015

June 5, 2015

Economic Development – Something, But Not Exactly As Advertised

We often say that this area is progressing but not as fast as other areas and, thus, falling behind.  This week, the Times had a column that gave a good example.

On any given day, it feels like Tampa Bay’s so called entrepreneurial ecosystem – the complex support system for new idea business startups – is alive, well and making progress. And it is. But perhaps less than we would like to believe.

A nationwide analysis measuring “startup activity” in major metro areas and states was unveiled Thursday. It found that while the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas are reasonably active areas for startups, both are losing ground to other metros – especially Miami, which rose to the No. 2 spot in the nation behind Austin, Texas.

That is not surprising to us.  Progress is relative – what may be much more activity locally may still not be that much compared to other places. (You can half your 100 meter time and still be very slow by collegiate or Olympic standards.)  That’s why it is good to look elsewhere (and get out of the echo chamber) when judging where we are. Let’s look at the details. (You can find the detailed rankings here.)

Tampa Bay fell five spots to No. 20 among metros for startup activity while Orlando plunged 12 spots to No. 33. These are not catastrophic changes. Tampa Bay’s landing at No. 20 among major metros is commendable, and Orlando placing 33rd is hardly a poor showing. But the magnitude of both metro area declines is concerning because they are among the largest drops in 40 major metro markets analyzed. They suggest a loss of momentum.

* * *

The reports are the work of the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based think tank dedicated to entrepreneurship and one of the leading third-party experts on the subject of business startups.

Nationwide, startup activity enjoyed the biggest increase in two decades, the Kauffman reports found, even though overall activity remains lower now than before the recession.

Kauffman researchers measured metro and state startup activity based on the number of new business and entrepreneurs per 100,000 people, differentiating startups created by “necessity” (no job, more common in the recession) or “opportunity” (creating a startup by choice).

The foundation’s look at startup activity across the country is an important and reasonably dispassionate way for places like Tampa Bay to gauge if they remain competitive for entrepreneurial activity. While Tampa Bay keeps adding business incubators, accelerators and university programs for entrepreneurs, the area still suffers as an underdog when it comes to attracting venture capital.

Nothing new there. And the decline is indicative of not keeping up with other areas.

Typical of entrepreneur communities, there’s plenty of debate here whether Tampa Bay spends more time marketing its startup brand than it does nurturing those quality entrepreneurs and more promising startups that have greater chances of building breakthrough businesses.

The short, and obvious, answer is “Yes.”  In this area, hype is almost uniformly ahead of accomplishment. And not only that.  There is more focus on startups than companies that actually make it and then choose to stay here and grow rather than leaving.  The key is not just startups, but what they do after they are started.

Then there was this nugget:

Kauffman research analyst Arnobio Morelix described the components of the best metro areas for startups. They benefit from a high density of entrepreneurs and young firms, a fluidity of population that brings in new skills and new ideas, high connectivity so people know what others are doing, and diversity – “not only in race but in economic diversity of specialized jobs,” he said.

We may have a lot of people trying to start businesses – though that does not say what kind of businesses they are starting.  Moreover, the reality is that successful areas have a variety of ideas and an intellectual curiosity that allows for multidisciplinary interaction and cross-pollination.  The Tampa Bay area is lacking in this – and the things that go along with it, like urban development, proper transit, a thriving music scene, a literary scene, truly notable architecture, etc.  Frankly, it is part of the culture of the area that was nurtured by the sprawl centric, fast buck, low wage, cash-in fast at the lowest cost possible (an associated exaggerated accomplishment/diminished expectation) mentality of the area  and, to a large degree, is also a by-product of that mentality.

The bottom line is that we are still a net consumer of ideas, not a producer. And many of the ideas we produce leave, with their creators, to other areas that provide more intellectual, business, and cultural ferment – and that are more urban.  Until that changes, we are going to lag.  No amount of rhetoric will change that.

— List of the Week

Because this issue involves a list, we figured we would give the top 30.

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Miami, San Jose, Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, NYC, Houston, San Diego, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Columbus (OH), Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, Riverside, Virginia Beach, Tampa, Chicago, Boston, Sacramento, Nashville, Charlotte, Portland (OR), Jacksonville, Kansas City, and DC.

And remember, this is just startups.  It is not about the kind of startups or the already mature companies in the area.

Transportation – N’Synch

Tampa is going to do something about its completely messed up traffic lights:

It may not be glamorous, but when it’s complete, this is one road project that will affect nearly everyone who drives through Tampa.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization has procured funding for an advanced traffic management system that will synchronize some 255 traffic signals on many of the major roadways running through the city, including Kennedy Boulevard and Fowler and Hillsborough avenues.

Design and engineering work on the $37.6 million project is expected to get underway in 2018, with the system operational by 2020.

“This is going to be a game changer as far as improving traffic in the city,” said Jean Duncan, Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services director. “This is excellent news for the city of Tampa that this is getting funded.”

Or maybe it won’t, at least not for a while.

The system will be run from the county’s Traffic Management Center in the Channel District, where specialists monitor local streets using computer screens and software and if necessary, speed up signals for emergency situations and for congestion relief.

“The new system is going to be reacting to situations it reads through the equipment we have out there and will tell us when there is a problem” at a traffic signal, Duncan said. “For instance, if a signal is out, this system will email us with a problem or failure.” Right now, a commuter would have to call and alert the city when a traffic signal is out.

“Also, we’ll have more options for synchronizing the lights, but also individually, where if there is a situation where only two cars are waiting, we can adjust. It allows us to manually change the traffic pattern. It will be much more optimal.”

The city has already been working with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to manipulate traffic signals to move MetroRapid buses more swiftly, and this new system will only enhance that, Duncan said.

In other words, fixing the mess of traffic signals (like at Dale Mabry and 275 – which is beyond cluster status) can already be done.   The new system will be more advanced, but if nothing is being done now, why should anyone think that, even with more tools, things will be done correctly.

The real question is why the lights are such a mess (and not just in Tampa, but also in Hillsborough).  Why wait until 2020 when you can actually do something right now – like from the County Traffic Management Center?

In any event, the promised future traffic light project is also part of this:

Some $1.3 billion in road, bike and pedestrian improvements for Hillsborough County got the green light Tuesday for construction during the next five years.

The transportation improvement plan includes $37.6 million for a signal synchronization system in the City of Tampa and right of way acquisition for major interstate improvement projects and funding for numerous local projects.

Which features such items as:

Also included in the plan are projects through Tampa’s Complete Streets program, adding more walkable and bicycle-friendly corridors in the city. Among those funded are bike lanes and sidewalks on Bougainvillea Avenue from 30th Street to 46th Street. Bougainvillea, the roadway just north of Busch Gardens, is now little more than a strip of asphalt with canals on either side, said MPO Executive Director Beth Alden.

* * *

Another bike path and sidewalk project will go in on the south side of Bayshore Boulevard from Bay to Bay Boulevard to Platt Street at a cost of $2.4 million, to be completed in 2016. Bayshore already has a bike and pedestrian path on the north side of the street, Alden said.

For several years now, the transportation improvement plan has included projects to widen and improve sections of U.S. 301. The new project list includes $44 million to widen U.S. 301 from two lanes to six from State Road 674 (Sun City Center Boulevard) to County Road 672. That work is scheduled for completion in 2016.

Funds are also included in the plan for the state to begin right of way acquisition for major reconstruction on Interstate 275 at State Road 60 in the Westshore area and at the downtown convergence of I-275 and I-4.

The state has budgeted $22 million to acquire right of way at I-275 and State Road 60 in 2016 and another $33 million in 2017, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for transportation department District 7. The state agency has set aside $24 million for right of way acquisition at I-275 and I-4 in 2016 and another $1 million in 2017, she said.

You can read the whole list (and enjoy the cover page graphic that is completely unrelated to anything) here.

This is all fine, sort of – we can’t figure out what the “south” side of Bayshore is unless they mean the bay side (which to us is the “east” side, and which does not seem to need more sidewalks.)

The real question is how does all this relate to the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.  What is the coordination if any (can there be any if the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough still does not know what the residents of the County think)?  Will this actually fix anything or will it just be another in a series of small measures accompanied by great hype that just string the problems along?

Ybor City – Not So Fast, Maybe

Last week, there was big news that Ashley furniture’s e-marketing offices would move to Ybor.  (With accompanying hype). (See “Economic Development/Ybor City – A Win”)  Even we called it a “clear win,” apparently prematurely.  It all may well turn out great, but, this week:

Ashley Furniture Industries, the world’s largest furniture business that last week unveiled plans for its e-commerce headquarters in Ybor City, is on the sales block.

The company on Tuesday confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that the family-owned manufacturer in Arcadia, Wis., is working with investment bankers Goldman Sachs to explore a possible sale for as much as $3 billion. Founder and chairman Ron Wanek now lives in St. Petersburg, and son Todd serves as Ashley CEO.

Analysts say the timing is good for Ashley to sell. After a difficult recession, the rebounding housing market means lots of new households are looking for affordable furniture.

We shall just have to see if the Ybor move goes through and if it sticks – or if a buyer decides to consolidate and/or gut the company.  But it is another reason why professions of how great something is should come after it happens, not when it is announced.  (And, yes, that applies to us, too.)

Riverwalk – The Evils of Bike Gangs

A hubbub has now arisen over people biking too quickly on the Riverwalk.

In a city with a poor record for bicycle safety, Riverwalk’s 1.8 mile stretch of car-free concrete is a big draw for cyclists who want to ride without fear of an accident.

But the trail might be more of a crawl than a ride now.

After complaints from pedestrians, the city is putting the brakes on bicyclists who they say are moving too fast and endangering families and people walking dogs on the Riverwalk. New signs on the trail now instruct bicyclists to slow to an almost pedestrian 5 mph.

That’s a speed some find more suitable for bicyclists with training wheels.

“There’s no point,” said Sebastian Balderrama, who uses a road bike to make sandwich deliveries [sic] from Jimmy Johns to Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. “I might as well be walking.”

Recreational bicyclists average about 10 mph, according to More hard-core bicyclists on road bikes might ride at twice that speed. Pedestrians average about 3 mph.

Our experience is that most of the time there is no issue with bikes.  When the Riverwalk is crowded, bikes can be annoying especially with some of the less considerate riders.  One the other hand, the City has not provided any other bike route – nor would a narrow lane of a surface road likely accomplish anything.

Frankly, we don’t care about a speed limit – especially because bikes tend not to have speedometers, so it is useless.  People who are going to be considerate are going to be considerate, and those who are not are not.  And other people will be hypersensitive. Unless bikes are banned, which we do not recommend, there will always be some issues.  And we totally disagree with this from the Tribune:

Some cyclists think the 5 mph limit is too slow and should be doubled to the 10 mph limit allowed along St. Petersburg’s waterfront, where signs warn bicyclists to yield to pedestrians. But that higher speed doesn’t mix well with the pedestrians who come to wander the Riverwalk and take in the sights and fresh air, or when special events or perfect weather draw big crowds.

* * *

We hope there isn’t much need for that. But if there is, the city should re-evaluate the presence of bicyclists on an attraction called the Riverwalk.

We do not care what it is called. (Westshore Blvd is not actually along the shore, nor does Bay to Bay actually go to both sides of the Interbay Peninsula)  Cyclists are also entitled to fresh air and the sights.  Frankly, any rule for bike speed should just be reasonable and proper.  If no one is in the way, go as fast as you like.  If it is crowded, slow down.

The bottom line is that there is a lesson to be learned for the future.  The biggest problem is that the portion of the Riverwalk over the water is too narrow and has too many sharp turns – otherwise there would be space for both cyclists and pedestrians.  Any Riverwalk/trail on the west side of the river or to the north needs to be wider and have fewer sharp turns.  There is no reason you should not be able to ride a bike along the river.

Downtown – A Little Green

Staying downtown, there was a piece from WTSP highlighting the landscaping and “mini-parks” that will be part of the Selmon Greenway. (The project, under the Selmon Expressway, technically already opened, but it is not really green right now.)

Last month, we told you about the Selmon Greenway, a new walking and biking trail opening under the Selmon Expressway. Now, we’re getting the first look at a dozen parks that will be going in all along that trail.

Right now, most of the spots are essentially empty spaces below or next to the Selmon Expressway — and now they’re set to become a chain of beautiful parks.

* * *

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority owns the Selmon Expressway and is creating the Selmon Greenway beneath it. The agency is envisioning a range of relaxing ideas for some of the dusty corners and forgotten spots under the highway. 

Like this:

From WTSP – click on picture for article

The mini/pocket parks are part of the master plan.

We are all for this idea (aside from eating up some parking).  Of course, it just points out the benefit of shade – and shelter (like continuous awnings and real shade trees) from the rain – in Florida.  If only the City would put in requirements for new developments that definitively provide it.

And hopefully, the Lightning owner’s team of experts will be here in June and July so they can get the message.

Westshore – A Groundbreaking

Last week, a new apartment project in Westshore broke ground (we assume):

A North Carolina developer will celebrate the construction of a luxury apartment community in Tampa’s Westshore business district on Thursday.

Crescent Communities, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for Crescent Westshore at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

The 374-apartment complex will be built at the intersection of West Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue, near International Plaza. In January, Crescent divided the site and sold a portion of the land to Orlando-based Parkway Properties Inc.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Which is fine and urban-ish looking (but not actually urban), but we are not sure to where all those people in the rendering are walking.  There really is not any place to go on foot. (And really, why did the City spend money trying to sandwich a really unappealing bike lane on Boy Scout when they had a ton of space to build a trail-like path that is not in traffic that people might actually want to use?)  Even with multistory apartment buildings going up, the entire development plan and design of Westshore is still very unwalkable.  And with recent decisions by the City,  we see little reason to think that will change.

— Meanwhile, In the Rest of Westshore

The old Austin Center property is getting examined for development potential.

A team of brokers from CBRE Group Inc. in Tampa and Atlanta has been retained to examine possibilities for redeveloping the Austin Center.

Developed by late Tampa civic leader Al Austin in the late 1960s, the Austin Center is an office park in the heart of Tampa’s Westshore Business District. Redstone Investments, which has offices in Tampa and Ohio, acquired the 300,000-square-foot complex on 10 acres in April.

The Austin Center is arguably one of the best urban infill sites in the Southeast: 10 contiguous acres in a highly occupied office district that’s seeing an influx of thousands of residents to new multifamily construction. A successful mixed-use redevelopment of the property could be huge for Tampa, because it has the potential to create a sexy new live-work-play hub and generate significant tax revenue for the city.

Its location in the heart of Westshore makes any number of uses — retail, office, hotel and multifamily — a possibility for the site.  . .

We are not sure it is sexy, but, yes, the location is very good for a number of uses.  The one element that still cannot be confirmed is a transit oriented development – because it is still not clear where the connection to the airport or anywhere else will go.  And it is not clear that the City cares at all about making the area walkable – because everything built in Westshore in the last few years is distinctly not pedestrian friendly.  So, yes, there is great potential.  But there has been for most of Westshore for years.  That is not the issue.  The issue is whether anyone will do anything to realize that potential or will they just settle for the same old pretend urban development.  In other words, are they going to look at actually building something good?


There were a number of articles about the Rays this week, and we were going to write something about them.  But, really, what is there to say.  The team is playing surprisingly well for a transition year, the attendance sucks, the Trop will never be a successful stadium location, and everyone but the St. Pete City Council knows it.  The Lightning attendance is just more proof of all of that.

Hyde Park – Something

This week, ground was broken on a project on a lot on Howard:

The former Xtreme Athletix site in South Tampa is giving way to a mixed-use development that will bring new retail, residential and office space to the neighborhood.

Demolition on the Xtreme Athletix building, at the intersection of South Howard and West Morrison avenues, started last week. Vertical construction will begin soon on a mixed-use development to include 13,890 square feet of retail, 6,950 square feet of office space and 46 residential units, said Andrew Wright, CEO of Franklin Street.

The development will include a parking garage and surface parking with a total of 240 spaces. It’s not yet been decided whether the residential units will be condominiums or apartments, Wright said. All but one are being built as 1,300-square-foot units with two bedrooms and two bathrooms — a size Wright said is more typical of condominiums than apartments.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You may remember that a previous proposal by another developer caused much neighborhood opposition.  Apparently this smaller development is just fine.  Frankly, we think having surface parking lots on Howard is a waste of space.  On the other hand, at least this development is actually mixed use, unlike many of the projects in Hyde Park and north of Kennedy (and Westshore).  If you are going to have a really urban neighborhood, you need street retail.  The City should push for it, especially in essentially blank slates like the area north of Kennedy.

Monuments for All

Clearwater is going to put something on the Causeway to tell you that you are in Clearwater.

As part of its year-long centennial celebration, the city this month plans to erect a towering “Welcome to Clearwater” monument at the west end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

State transportation officials initially approved the 48-foot-tall, obelisk-shaped structure on the north side of State Road 60, and it was slated for unveiling last week. Those plans were canceled when the city ran into a manufacturing delay and zoning hold-up.

Not to worry, says Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos. The taxpayer-funded monument largely has been completed off-site, and city officials simply are waiting for an exact delivery and final assembly date.

This is what it is supposed to look like:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We have no real problem with this “monument” (it really isn’t a monument, just a sign – monuments generally honor something) except that it is basically across from a sewage treatment plant and leads to basically nothing for quite a while. (Please note that no one is going to walk up to it like shown in the rendering.)  Nor do we really have any issue with the one in St. Pete, except that it is miles from anything in St. Pete. Welcoming people is great (Orlando has done up an overpass very nicely) and beautifying the highways is also great.  We just think it could be done better – and, since random columns at the side of a road are a bit odd, how about putting a matching column on the other side of the road to make the whole display make some sense and actually feel like a gateway?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Looking at Rail

While the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough consultants compile opinions about transportation, there are opinions forming in other places in Florida, like Miami:

The population of South Dade is forecast to grow 40% by 2040, Rep. McGhee said, faster than anywhere else in the county, yet plans for rail links to the south seem to be off the table – links that he said were promised in 2002 when county voters passed a half percent surtax on sales to grow transportation infrastructure.

While he told the planning organization – which is responsible for planning any transportation measures that receive federal funding – that he understands the frustration in the north part of the county as well as in the east and west over lack of rail links, more than 250,000 people in South Dade are being left out of rail planning.

* * *

Despite funding problems, Mr. Moss said, “We’ve got to find a way to build the particular projects…. If we’re going to make this work we’ve got to figure out a financial plan that will make this work…. The [bus rapid transit expansion] measures that are on the table are not enough to do all the things we’ve promised.”

* * *

Mr, McGhee called the lack of a funded rail system plan for South Dade a “breach of trust.” He focused on the new museums and cultural institutions in the county that South Dade residents would attend if they had transportation to get there, helping low-income residents move up the ladder.

* * *

South Dade residents, he said, are still paying the county’s transportation surtax, which has brought in $2.5 billion so far, yet they have not received their promised transportation.

* * *

“We need the Metrorail expansion,” Rep. McGhee said. Bus Rapid Transit “cannot solve this issue…. Put this item back on the table. Don’t lock our people down south out of this equation.” 

Miami has rail and it has a BRT in dedicated lanes.  Apparently, people think there is a difference – mainly because there is.  The TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough folks should take note.

And in extremely liberal Jacksonville:

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is studying the viability of a commuter rail system on the Southeast corridor, between Downtown and St. Augustine.

The study, which will be completed this time next year, looks at potential ridership, the cost to build and operate the systems and where the stations would be. The study being conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff costs $525,000

Apparently, transportation consulting is growth industry.  In any event,

The railroad would run on Florida East Coast Railway’s tracks, she said, which already has double tracks laid down. That cuts down the cost of having to place new track, although she cautioned some new track may have to be installed in certain areas.

Build it on existing track.  Sounds like a familiar idea.

We have no idea if Jacksonville will build commuter rail or not, but we would not be surprised if the Tampa Bay area was the laggard in transportation in Florida.  Basically, it already is.

— Gateways to Latin America

There was also a development in the race to be the gateway to Latin America:

US major Delta Air Lines has filed for regulatory approval from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to offer a new non-stop link between Orlando and Sao Paulo, Brazil before the end of this year. This will be only the carrier’s second current long-haul international link from Orlando and adds to its flights to Cancun, Mexico from the popular leisure gateway to Florida (it has also served Mexico City, San Juan and Nassau directly from Orlando during the past ten years).

In its formal application, Delta plans to introduce a four times weekly service on the route, with its strategic alliance with GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes extending the reach of this service to 20 interior Brazil destinations via Guarulhos International Airport. The flight is due to commence from December 19, 2015 and will be operated by a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, with 35 seats in Delta One, 32 seats in Delta Comfort+ and 143 seats in the Main Cabin.

And, note:

The new service, which remains subject to final approval, will see Delta face direct competition from Brazilian carrier TAM Airlines on the Orlando International – Sao Paulo Guarulhos route and indirectly via Azul Airlines between Orlando International – Sao Paulo Viracopos. TAM will also introduce a link between Orlando International and Brasilia from June 2015, while Azul will add the first ever direct link between Orlando and Belo Horizonte from November 2015.

Our issue is not with the airport.  We know they are doing their best in trying to expand service.  Nor is it with the goal of expanding Latin American trade – we should (including Cuba).  Our issue is with hyperbolic pronouncements that inflate accomplishments and create in inaccurate sense of what really needs to be done and where we really are.  While that has been the Tampa way for decades, it does not serve our area.  Success comes for a realistic appraisal of where we are and what we need to do.  We have a lot of work to do, and much competition, if we want to really be A gateway to Latin America.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Ridesharing and the Usual Suspects

We all know the PTC hates ridesharing because it gets in the way of the PTC’s protectionist purpose.  A few weeks ago, we noted that the very liberal Portland, Oregon, is going more free market than the PTC when it comes to ridesharing. (See “Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country” )  This week, Seattle also seems to be tending in that direction. (See here)  If you read the article, you will note that there are still issues to work out.  However, the local officials are not flat-out opposed, unlike the PTC and its elected officials who are members.

Of course, this openness is not universal.  For instance, in San Francisco, there are some calls for more regulation.  Notably, those calls come from local agencies that stand to lose revenue and they are calling for the state – which passed state-wide regulation – to make the rules tougher. (California being more innovation and business friendly than Florida.)

And then there is that innovation economy that the County Commissioners are so found of discussing.  Well (thanks to a reader for the heads up on this),

Uber Technologies Inc. has selected the former Restaurant Depot space in the Strip District as the location for its Uber Advanced Technologies Center, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed Monday.

“The Uber Advanced Technologies Center has leased the space at 100 32nd St. in Pittsburgh, and we expect to move in at the end of the year,” Uber spokeswoman Trina Smith said in an email. “We selected this specific location because of the amenities the neighborhood has to offer as well as its proximity to (Carnegie Mellon University).”

* * *

Uber announced in February it would be opening an advanced technologies center in Pittsburgh to focus primarily on the areas of mapping, vehicle safety and driverless vehicle technology. When the project was announced, Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, said the company sees the facility as a long-term investment with the possibility for expansion in the future.

(See also here) Good thing for the local economy, jobs, and USF that our elected officials prioritize subsidizing sprawl and protecting cab companies.  We wouldn’t want to have high tech companies invest in the area.

And, strangely, there is also this closer to home:

The First Mile/Last Mile pilot will be used in several areas of the county, like Ruskin, where people have a bigger problem getting that last mile once they get off of a bus. The idea is to use cell phone and traditionally dispatched shuttles from the private sector that connect into the broader transit network to provide rides.

HART is expected to issue a request for proposals this summer for companies interested in providing that service, which could cost up to $600,000 depending on its popularity.

HART CEO Katharine Eagan said her agency has met with several private providers, including taxi companies and Uber and Lyft about providing that shuttle service. The Public Transportation Commission is battling those two companies about which rules they must follow to legally operate in the county. Whether or not that will be a factor in either one doing business with HART remains to be seen, Eagan said.

Well, at least HART is open to the idea of ridesharing.

— What Can 6.5 Billion Dollars Buy These Days?

An item forwarded by a reader (many thanks), provides insight into the competition to the much bandied about idea of making Tampa a medtech hub:

The Mayo Clinic is located in the small city of Rochester (pop. 111,000), about a two-hour drive from Minneapolis, Minnesota. And it is, right this minute, competing fiercely for a small-but-extremely-lucrative slice of the global medical tourism industry. The wealthy American, European, east Asian, and Gulf Arab patients who have been the clinic’s bread and butter have been instead choosing to get treatment abroad or at domestic rivals like Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University or the Cleveland Clinic. But that may be changing—and the reason, if not the construction, is simple: the Destination Medical Center.

That’s an audacious 20-year plan by Rochester, the Minnesota state government, the Mayo Clinic, and their private partners to spend more than $6.5 billion on a kind of real-life version of SimCity, designed to turn Rochester into a global biotech hub, and double its population in the process.

* * *

In an interesting, contemporary twist, foreign companies are funding much of the construction. A recent count of foreign real estate investment in Rochester found the sale of a seven-story office building for $4 million to a United Arab Emirates-based firm that is expected to tear it down for replacement by a luxury hotel. Another Emirates-based firm has bought more than $15 million of commercial real estate in Rochester over the past four years. Other investors include Venezuelan, Saudi Arabian, and Indian companies.

Many of these foreign investors have ties to the Mayo Clinic. Royals from the United Arab Emirates routinely arrive at Mayo for treatment (see below), and others want to invest in American biotech. The Hong Kong investment firm behind a new Rochester office building, for instance, is led by an executive who has organized conferences in mainland China to promote regenerative medicine and stem cell research.

In Rochester, these foreign investments are largely greeted with shrugs. The city is used to dealing with global markets thanks to the Mayo Clinic, and the fact that overseas purchasers are interested in local properties is seen more as a sign of a healthy economy than anything else. 

You can read the article here. Here is a nice map of the proposal.

From Fast Company – click on map for article

And, the article does not even mention Houston or a number of other medtech centers.  While we like the idea of being a medtech hub, there is a very long way to go to reaching that goal.

Roundup 5-29-2015

May 29, 2015

Tampa Heights – A Little More On the Heights Project

There was an article in Creative Loafing that gives us a little more insight in to the Heights project.

An ambitious makeover is underway for the 70,000-square-foot red-brick streetcar barn, located in Tampa Heights adjacent to the Waterfront Park. After the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) blessed their plans on May 4, SoHo Capital developers are moving full speed ahead to create an adaptive reuse of the historic Armature Works Building as a mixed-use event, entertainment and market hall.

Working with Mesh Architecture, Adam Harden and Chas Bruck of SoHo Capital are reimagining the space. They purchased this building as well as 45 adjacent acres, declaring that the hall would be the centerpiece of the Heights development, which will also include 2.2 million square feet of residential and office uses (including the recently announced tenant SofWorX, an “idea lab” for U.S. Special Forces).

* * *

The Heights Market Hall plans include a 10,000-square-foot interior courtyard (The Gathering) which can be used for special events. During the public hearing, the developers said that markets in Washington D.C. and Milwaukee inspired their creation of a food hall, with seven established local businesses already lined up as anchor tenants.

Ron Vila, an ARC staff member, complimented the extensive rehab which has already taken place at this local landmark, including repointing the bricks, restoring the windows and repairing the period skylights and roof.

Dramatic water views to the south, facing the bend in the Hillsborough River, will be framed by the massive iron bays which provide a vista of downtown. “Glass windows will be recessed 10 feet, so that the facade will maintain its historic feeling,” architect Tim Clemmons explained. “We’ll also keep the original interior trusses and crane.”

The historic eastern side will have a new staircase and elevator, slightly detached from the structure and modern, in order to identify it clearly as not part of the original building, but deftly scaled to fit into the facade.

Plans include extending 7th Avenue around the building to Palm Avenue, creating a new “Main Street” along the western elevation. Careful restoration of the north, east and south facades will be augmented on the west by a two-story market and the covered courtyard venue.

And that is all interesting.  More interesting to us was a rendering included in the article because it goes beyond the Armature Works to what the actual project might be, which still remains a bit of a mystery:

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

Of course, it is just a rendering and it all might change, but at least it shows that the contemplated project has some decent density.  Whether that will come to pass is an open question.  We also ran across a few other graphics on a forum, including this “illustrative masterplan”

From  – click on picture for website

Looking at the construction plans on the Accela database (search address 1910 N Ola Ave, 33602), this looks about accurate.  From the apparent site plan (and public documents) the project looks promising.  However, we have a couple of questions: why is there going to be a road that runs along the river?  We thought the whole point was to open up the river.  Surely that could be better done.  And even more, looking at this, which appears to comport with the site plan and construction documents:

From – click on picture for website

Why are there such massive parking garages and how are they going to be handled on the street level?  That could make or break the whole project.  If done clumsily, they will destroy any potential walkability.  We like the density generally, but some of those garages are truly immense and could block the connection to the rest of Tampa Heights.  We hope that is not the case, but from these illustrations, which seem to comport with the Accela database, we see reason to be concerned.

Transportation – What Do You Call a Bus in a Costume?

From the same Creative Loafing article, we learn this:

Newsflash! The rubber-wheeled trolleys which have provided 25-cent trips weekdays from 6-8:30 a.m. and 3:30-6 p.m. connecting downtown and the Channel District are being rebranded and relaunched by July 1. Shedding their yellow exteriors for vibrant colorful decals, the trolleys are considering expanding new routes while remaining affordable, running every 15 minutes at lunch downtown. 

This is what they will look like:

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

Who wouldn’t want to ride that?

“Trolleys are the gateway experience for transit users,” explained Katharine Eagan, executive director of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, who rolled out this initiative at the May 18 meeting of HART’s marketing and finance committee. The committee is supporting this innovative program, hoping that trolley users will move on to try other forms of transit.

We doubt these buses will be a gateway to anything except getting people getting into their cars or just walking.  If you want to put people off from using transit, offer them a bus in costume, call it a trolley and pretend that it is transit.  At least the article is pretty straightforward about this bus-trolley:

Clearly a HART vehicle, the trolley is being rebranded to appear more modern, a non-bus bus — a bus that’s dressed up like a streetcar. Since HART is committed to using this vehicle until 2019, they’ve decided to redefine its use and appearance.

Well, if HART is stuck using them it was a poor decision in the first place, but so be it. At least drop the newspeak.  This is the definition of a trolley:

1 dial English :  a cart of any of various kinds

2 a :  a device that carries electric current from an overhead wire to an electrically driven vehicle

b :  a streetcar powered electrically through a trolley —called also trolley car

3 :  a wheeled carriage running on an overhead rail or track

4 chiefly British :  a cart or wheeled stand used for conveying something (as food or books)

The bus falls into none of those categories.  HART’s vehicle is a dressed up bus, period.  Just like MetroRapid is just decent bus service, not BRT.  By misstating what it is actually offering to the public, HART just muddles the discussion about real transit alternatives.  That is something we really do not need.

In the same vein, there was a column in the Tribune regarding Go Hillsborough entitled “Maybe buses really are the transit answer (for now, anyway)” , which pretty much made that point.  The column pointed out that bus ridership is up (as is the streetcar) and noted that there are people who oppose rail.  It noted that there are people who will never ride buses.  Fine.  The reality is that buses are only the transportation answer if the question is how to not really solve our transportation problem – or if the question is what is the feeder system for a real transit system.  As the columnist noted:

I’m not completely sold. Thousands of people are moving into the area and more are on the way. Maybe I’m thinking 10 to 15 years down the tracks, so to speak, but one of these days we’re going to need a rail system.

The reality is that it will take that long to get rail even if we start tomorrow – to think otherwise is just deluding yourself.  The fact is that other areas are building themselves properly.  Either we compete or we don’t.  Waiting only makes things more expensive and puts us further behind.  We cannot afford that.

In any event, we’ll know how serious any Hillsborough transportation proposal might be on June 11, when the consultants hired by the County to find out what they people they are supposed to represent might want.   The Times article gives an idea:

The tension felt within that group is indicative of conflicts within the county. According to research gathered from previous meetings, those in the northeast and northwest agree resources need to be spent on both roads and transit. But things are more polarizing for central and south Hillsborough: those in the center of the county want the focus on transit only, while those in south county clamor for the roads to be fixed first before anything else.

Frankly, we just do not think it is that hard.  Build more roads in the south County and put more into real transit around Tampa and its immediate suburbs.  But, then again, it was not that hard before either.  The big problem is the political culture and the confused discussion and lack of leadership it creates. And that failure to seriously address the transportation issue while other areas move ahead leaves us at a competitive disadvantage now and for the foreseeable future.

Downtown/Channel District – Moving Dirt?

It seems that the first infrastructure improvements for the Lightning owner’s project are scheduled for this summer:

Organizers hope to begin work on roads, utility pipes and other infrastructure for the project in August, said Jim Shimberg, executive vice president and general counsel for the Lightning. Construction of the first buildings could begin in 2016.

That’s fine, though it would be nice to get buildings out of the ground sooner than 2016.

Vinik’s staff is tweaking the plans after consulting with Jeff Speck and David Dixon, the urban-planning stars hired to help make the project welcoming and walkable.

“We want to make sure we do this right,” Shimberg said between meetings on the project last week. “We’re getting close to being able to come back to (City Hall) with some refined plans.”

Vinik’s development team has been meeting with Tampa officials weekly, and Shimberg said everyone understands City Hall is eager to see the launch of the project, which is getting private financing from an investment fund controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

We are sure that the City is anxious to get the project moving, especially considering that it involves about half of downtown and the City does not really have much control over it.

Still to be determined: how much state funding will be available for a key piece of Vinik’s project, the University of South Florida’s planned new 12-story Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute.

Vinik is donating land at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue for the USF project, and the university is seeking nearly $33 million from the Legislature this year for the medical school building ($17 million) and heart institute ($15.75 million). USF hopes to see the Legislature appropriate another $40 million for the medical school building over the next two years.

Meanwhile, the Legislature ended its regular session early without coming up with a budget, and the House and Senate plans include different amounts of money, levels of detail and funding strategies for university construction projects. A three-week special session to complete the budget is scheduled to start next week.

Despite uncertainty over the state budget as a whole — a controversy driven by the debate over whether to expand Medicaid — several Hillsborough legislators say local lawmakers are on the same page about the importance of supporting USF’s request.

“Our No. 1 priority,” House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said of House members from Hillsborough.

“We will hopefully be able to work through the financial aspects of it and get it done,” she told a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce lunch last week.

We are not sure it should be the #1 priority of the legislative delegation, but, then again, what else local is there other than the transportation, which is still a mess?

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our community,” state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at the same event. “Bob Buckhorn’s probably the luckiest mayor in America right now.”

Indeed, to have a large development with good funding (during a recovery) fall into your lap (not to mention people like the Airport Director and a new, aggressive strategy that was put in place before he took office) is very lucky.  In any event, the timing of the USF Med School construction is thus:

A key question, USF assistant vice president for government relations Mark Walsh said, will be what can legislators afford to do, and what funding mechanism will they use. The size of the appropriation could affect the construction schedule.

If the Legislature approves USF’s full request or something close to it, construction on the medical school project could be targeted to start in the fall, he said. But if the appropriation is only a small fraction of the ask, the project might be delayed by a year.

We shall See. (And what about the proposed hotel next to the arena?)

And in news about a potential MOSI move to the project, not surprisingly:

The more than two dozen board members tasked the smaller executive committee with officially exploring the concept of relocating the museum from E Fowler Avenue next to the University of South Florida to somewhere in downtown Tampa.

Which is the proper move.  They should examine the idea to see if it makes sense.  Of course, it should not be prejudged, but looking at it is appropriate.

The bottom line is that we like the Lightning owner’s overall project and his desire to do it right.  The City is lucky to have such a proposal. Whether it happens as stated or quickly really depends on the economy and the willingness of companies to take up space in the projects.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

International Trade/Port – The Cuba Equivocation

There was an article in the Tribune that seemed to be a Port of its approach – or lack thereof – to Cuba trade:

Community leaders, excited over the prospect that Cuba and Tampa will reconnect through business, are concerned that officials running the region’s biggest economic engine are idling instead of jetting to Cuba to lay the groundwork for future trade.

Port Tampa Bay should be actively courting the island nation ahead of its competitors or risk getting left in the dust, they say.

With President Barack Obama working to knock down the wall of sanctions built against Cuba when Communist dictator Fidel Castro took control more than 50 years ago, now is the time to move, they say.

Some claim it’s all about politics, that port President and CEO Paul Anderson isn’t making any direct moves for fear of backlash from political allies who oppose fully opening up trade with Cuba.

Who could that be?

Former Tampa Councilwoman Mary Mulhern recalled a conversation she had with Anderson in 2010, shortly after he came to Port Tampa Bay, when she broached the topic of Cuba with him. “Anderson immediately said something like, ‘I know all about Cuba; I’m good friends with Diaz-Balart.” She was referring to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida congressman who has been working to keep trade restrictions in place between the U.S. and Cuba and stop ferries and cruises from going to the island.

“He said this as a positive, and it was an indication to me that he would not be doing anything about Cuba.”

There may be other reasons. (see here, here, and here)  In any event,

Port officials have been invited on all three trips the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has made to Cuba in recent years, including one that just took place. They have declined each invitation.

Those trips are more about culture and education than about establishing business relations, Miyagishima said.

On the recent chamber trip, delegates met with the director of the Port of Mariel, which is being rebuilt as a high-tech port, a hub for global trade and commerce. The port director showed the Tampa delegation a map with arrows pointing from Cuba to the Florida ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville. Port Tampa Bay was conspicuously absent.

“It raised concerns with our group when we saw that map,” said Tampa chamber President Bob Rohrlack. “We realized we need to step up our efforts on telling them why Tampa is a great location to do business. They are very open to working with our port. They definitely want to engage.”

Rohrlack said the chamber is all for having Port Tampa Bay in the mix when the Port of Mariel becomes part of a network of Gulf ports where enormous post-Panamax ships — ships designed to traverse an expanded Panama Canal — will offload onto smaller ships bound for berths in Florida and elsewhere.

So why is the Port not going? What happened to planting the flag with natural trading partners?

“We are keeping our cards close to our chest,” Anderson said. “We are not out there telling the world our business strategy. I understand that it might have been sexy and appealing to go on a trip to Cuba with the chamber, but we want to make sure when we do go down there we can have a constructive, structured dialog with the right people.”

In fact, he said, he thinks he already has done that by meeting in Tampa on Jan. 30, 2014, with Cuba’s highest-ranking diplomat, Cuban Interests Section Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez. Jesus Perez, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor were also at the meeting, he said. They laid out all that the port has to offer, Anderson said.

Much of the work to establish business between Cuba’s port and here will be up to private shipping companies, not Port Tampa Bay, Miyagishima said. “The port’s responsibility as the largest economic engine in central Florida is to create an environment so the private sector can flourish. We look to the private sector” to lay the groundwork that will make that happen.

A string of emails sent back and forth between port officials and various private businesses, publications and government officials during the past year shows that the port has been seeking business topics related to Cuba and attending seminars across the state. They also show the port’s interest in accommodating a ferry service between Tampa and Cuba.

Setting aside that going to a bunch of seminars and seeking information contradicts keeping your cards close to your chest, the real point is that others are actively marketing and seeking to establish trade (including much of the Miami business community, see here and here), including Port Manatee actively courting business (of course, we don’t really care if business goes there as long as it comes to the area, but the Port director should.) If you really want the business, you have to go get it and can’t equivocate.  There is no entitlement to it.

One Port Board member had this to say:

After returning from a personal humanitarian trip to Cuba in 2009, Lindell was very vocal about the need for the port to get to Cuba and establish a relationship. He since has tweaked his message.

“The port is doing a lot of things behind the scenes,” he said. “We are prepared.”

Which is fine but being prepared for business is not necessarily the same as seeking business. The world is competitive. We need to be out front.  Private companies are going to invest in places that they feel they will not have any issues over places where support is lukewarm or politics may get in the way.

If we want to take our place in the coming trade, there has to be unity of purpose.  Doing things behind the scenes is fine, but it seems that the Port and the business community are not on the same page, which does not create confidence that we will take advantage of this opportunity.

Frankly, this all reminds us of the former airport director who constantly said he was ready for international service but did very little to actively promote it claiming there was not enough demand.    Not surprisingly, the airport lagged in international service as other airports took the business. (The present airport director has proven that the demand is there and actively pursued it with success.)

We cannot make the same mistake.

Economy – Housing

Let’s check in on the housing market.  There have been a number of articles about the housing market with information like this:

In Pinellas County, year-over-year sales of single-family homes rose 21.3 percent while sales of condos and townhomes jumped 17.5 percent.

In Hillsborough, sales of single-family homes increased 20.2 percent while sales of condos and townhomes soared 27.4 percent.

“It’s a fabulous market, absolutely,” said veteran agent Mary Pond of Smith & Associates in Tampa. “It’s been tremendous.”

Especially buoyant are condo sales in downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg as more and more buyers, many with cash in hand, seek that urban vibe.

* * *

In Hillsborough, the average price for a single-family home shot up to $242,246 in April — $26,000 higher than in February — while the average condo price hit almost $153,000, a year-over year increase of 12.7 percent.

In Pinellas, average prices were $250,368 for single-family homes and $196,034 for condos, year-over-year gains of 9.1 percent and 14.3 percent respectively.

Statewide, sales of single-family homes jumped 17.9 percent while condo sales rose 8.1 percent.

Well, much of that is positive.  Notably, the high prices are for places where people do not want to have to drive much anyway.

And notably, the same reporter also had an article on whether there is a real estate bubble. And then one that said that Tampa Bay houses are still a good value.

But more important that whether you can get a lot of house for the money is whether most people can afford one:

A recent ranking from the financial website NerdWallet puts Tampa at No. 84 on a list of “Most Affordable Places.”

To find the most affordable places, NerdWallet looked at price variations to assess where a dollar stretches the furthest in the U.S.

“Not surprisingly, data on median income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey revealed that many of the cheapest places in the U.S. are also where residents earn the least,” the study said. “In our study, we make a distinction between ‘cheap’ and ‘affordable’ by comparing a place’s median income with its cost of living to find truly affordable places.”

In other words, the prices may be lower, but the incomes may be relatively lower still. (When you are 84th, is there really any point listing who is above you? You can look at it here.) If you have a lot of cash, you are fine (just like on variable rate express lanes).  Everyone else is not so fortunate.

Channel District – The Martin, And More

As we noted last month, the Martin, which has long been rumored to include a grocery store (those rumors growing recently), has submitted a revised plan. (See “Channel District – The Martin”) The Accela database had some renderings:

From the public records

From the public records

Note the low building (1-story?), which we assume to be a grocery store. We are not really sure why there does not seem to be more retail and why the grocery store has to be in a squat separate building (with associated blank walls on the street) but at least it has roof-top parking. And that garage is quite prominent.  In any event, we will wait to see if this project actually gets built.

Speaking of grocery stores, there are documents for the proposed project on the old Gas Works property (1400 Channelside for those looking on Accela).  Here is a rendering looking from the southeast:

From the public records

First, you will notice that the proposal is quite large – two buildings at 29 stories with 1432 units, plus a 40,000 sq ft grocery store and some other retail facing Channelside with parking under the Selmon (which does not bother us quite as much as most surface lots, though it would be nice if they fixed the grid).  We are not completely sold on not having the main buildings not on Channelside Drive with a one story building there.  Then again, the towers could potentially really change the traffic circle going into Ybor.  We would really have to see more to get a full opinion.  Right now, we are just surprised they are that big (and wonder if they can be filled with all the other buildings) – but we are not displeased at the size at all.  At least it is ambitious.

We are not sure if we now have a race for who can get built first and get the grocery store.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— What Does a Billion Dollars Get You?

As part of our regular feature about mega-projects, we bring you (once again) Doral, in south Florida.  Not only is Doral, a suburb of Miami, the subject of a large project called Downtown Doral, it also has a midtown.  In other words, basically a walkable city is being built out of a sprawled suburb.  If only Hillsborough County would take note.

But more interesting is another megaproject proposed for the Miami area:

Developers are digging deep into their own pockets to pull off megaprojects in South Florida.

In the latest example, two prominent families, the LeFraks of New York and the Soffers of South Florida, are teaming up on a $4 billion, 183-acre development on a former landfill and Superfund site in North Miami.

Over the next two decades, the builders plan to create 4,390 apartments, more than 1 million square feet of commercial space and two swimmable 10-acre lagoons as part of the project they have named SoLeMia. They started work on infrastructure in April, and are planning to break ground on the first two rental towers and 500,000 square feet of retail space in about 15 months.

You can read all about it and see a rendering in the Wall Street Journal article.

— Transit Oriented Development

We are told that MetroRapid is BRT, and BRT is the cheaper alternative to rail.  So, logically, MetroRapid would have spawned transit oriented developments. (It hasn’t).  You can see such developments all over Miami, but Miami’s rail has been around for decades.  This week, the Orlando Sentinel had an article about SunRail.

In its maiden year, SunRail hasn’t sparked the kind of sprawling development that emerges at highway interchanges, but it has spurred more than 1,000 apartment units with other development on the way.

In addition to the four SunRail-related apartments underway or completed in downtown Orlando, Longwood and Lake Mary, new projects have been approved recently for Maitland and Altamonte Springs. DeBary officials have considered allowing gambling near their station. And investors are eyeing opportunities near the newly proposed Meadow Woods station in south Orange County.

Well, we would hope it would not spark sprawling development.  Anyway, you can read the article here.

— Mexico Flights

We know that the airport staff is working hard and obtaining success in recruiting international flights.  We are also told that Tampa seeks to be THE gateway to Latin America.  In Florida, when discussing Latin America, the second largest Latin American country is often overlooked – Mexico.  If we are to be the/a gateway to Latin America, we need to build our connections.  Well,

Subject to Governmmnt [sic] Approval, JetBlue Airways plans to commence Mexico City service from 01OCT15, on board Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline will operate 1 daily service each from Ft.Lauderdale and Orlando.

South Florida and Orlando already have Mexican flights – and by Mexican flights we mean flights that connect to somewhere other than a resort area.  Now, they have more.  We have none.  We really could use that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— Tech Hubs

We all know that the Tampa Bay area aspires to be a tech hub.  We saw this little blurb this week regarding southern tech hubs.

Atlanta’s reputation as a “tech hub” is muy caliente, in the opinion of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis. According to WABE, Solis visited Atlanta this week on a tour of U.S. cities, seeking to strengthen relationships and build investment opportunities in tech-rich cities. In addition to Atlanta, the trip included Chicago, Austin and Charlotte; gracias Costa Rica, we’ll take the compliment.

Maybe he came here too, but we did not see any reports.

— Can Stadiums Spur Development?

There was a column in the Tribune about whether stadiums spur development or not.

When I think of Major League Baseball ballparks being centers of economic activity, only two come to mind: Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. They are rare gems not only because they happen to be the oldest facilities in the National and American leagues, respectively, and were built with private money and are privately owned. Those stadiums also are smack in the middle of heavily populated urban areas and have spawned the creation of many businesses in the surrounding areas. They also are popular residential spots for young professionals.

The same can’t be said, however, for most new stadiums. Many are surrounded by acres of parking and little else. And when taxpayer money is involved in the construction and operations of these new facilities, you can’t blame elected officials for being skeptical about claims of economic development and jobs.

It is true that a stadium’s utility in spawning business and development depends on its location and whether it is surrounded by parking (like the Trop which is built as far from downtown as possible on its lot and buffered by big parking lots – and even that has helped some development on Main Street).  On the other hand, anyone who has been to the areas around places like Camden Yards, Petco Park or ATT Park knows that those stadiums have spawned a lot of development – especially given proper infrastructure, zoning, and a decent economy.  In that vein, we ran across a list of projects being built near the Washington Nationals stadium.  Because it has a Google map, we will just provide the link here.

The fact is that not all stadiums spur development but a properly done stadium in a proper area will.

In related news, there was an article in the Times this week wondering if the Lighting’s run was hurting Rays attendance.  A USF professor, after explaining that it may have some effect, noted:

“It’s just difficult to get people to go to St. Pete to watch the Rays, and that’s not going to change,” Sutton said.

No, it is not.  Location counts.  Moreover,

In another attempt to end the deadlock over Tropicana Field, city leaders and the Tampa Bay Rays want to partner in a study on how the Trop site could be redeveloped without a baseball stadium.

The study would be conducted by the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use. Councilman Karl Nurse, one of those pushing the proposal, said it would highlight how redevelopment of the 85-acre site could dovetail with downtown’s expansion. Mayor Rick Kriseman and Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, have also been involved in the discussions, Nurse said. Rays officials have indicated the team would pay part of the cost.

“The intent is to show people this really could be a dramatic redevelopment project for the city but either way you’ve got to start the conversation,” Nurse said. “You can put virtually a billion dollars of redevelopment on there.” 

You can, but if the St. Pete City Council does not start looking at the cold reality (the threat of which does not seem great), their terms will all be over before anything can happen. (And the Rays will still be gone)

— Texas Loves Rail

One of the usual suspects, Houston (in that bastion of crazy socialism, Texas) just opened two new rail lines.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the 2015 Park Score.  You can check the methodology here. For reasons that will become obvious, we present the Top 35.

Coming in first this year is Minneapolis tied with St. Paul; followed by DC; San Francisco; New York tied with Portland (OR); Cincinnati; Boston; San Diego tied with Seattle; Oakland; Chicago; a three-way tie of Albuquerque, Aurora (CO), and Sacramento; Denver; Plano; Long Beach; a three-way tie between Henderson (NV), Omaha, and Philadelphia; Honolulu tied with Milwaukee; a five-way tie of Anchorage, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach; Kansas City tied with San Jose; a three-way tie of Austin, Jersey City, and New Orleans; Tampa; and Las Vegas tied with St. Louis.

Last year, Tampa was tied for 28th. (See “List of the Week”) Admittedly, the ranking is not really scientific (can there be a scientific park score?), but we do not like dropping, especially when so many of the usual suspects are still ahead of us.

Roundup 5-22-2015

May 21, 2015

Due to the Memorial Day weekend (Please take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about), the Roundup is a little early this week.

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Calls Home

Some people we know received automated calls from Go Hillsborough about telephone town hall meetings.  These calls provided phone numbers to call and codes to access the town hall.  Unfortunately, the messages did not say that they were going to provide that information it could be written down nor did the messages repeat the information. That meant that someone who picked up the phone after a message started was pretty much screwed.  (Yes, you can find the info on the website but not everyone is going to be able (or willing) to find it and why call people and not give them the information?)

In any event, the town hall questions/comments by citizens were not bad (save a few rambling calls).  However, the officials’ answers, while polite, were generally bureaucratic restatements of existing plans or policies (and, note, no matter how many times you call MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit, it still isn’t), which is not really taking citizen input nor much of a dialogue.  Of course, such answers are not really the fault of those officials answering.  If elected officials – the TED PLC – are not going to take a lead (and, really, they haven’t) and actually come up with real ideas and proposals (rhetoric notwithstanding, those are definitely lacking), there is no reason an employee or anyone else would – nor can employees say anything negative about their bosses – the elected officials on the TED PLC.  Basically, it was just another run of the mill Hillsborough public meeting, like innumerable meetings over the decades.

We are so glad that the County paid consultants for that.  We don’t expect much from the process, though we would be happy to be surprised.

Economic Development/Tampa Heights – Enter SOCOM

There was some very interesting news about SOCOM this week (especially given that it is Memorial Day weekend)

— First, the concept:

SOCom officials, economic development and business leaders will unveil plans today to create a research and development accelerator in Tampa Heights. Its goal: to design and expedite advanced technology and military goods for special operations forces.

Those advances range from the current “Iron Man” project to develop the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, body armor to syringes designed to inject life-saving, cotton antibiotic pellets into larger battlefield wounds.

The concept is pure SOCom, finding a lean, mean and quicker way to conjure up military advances for their special ops forces — outside of the massive bureaucracy of Defense Department contracting — by recruiting entrepreneurs, academics and private sector specialists to help make it happen beyond the physical confines of MacDill.

“SOCom is presenting this community with a big opportunity,” says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which is developing a business plan for the accelerator with SOCOM. “What SOCom is doing is creating a new procurement process.”

That is intriguing.  Obviously, all the installations at MacDill have a huge impact on this area and we are very lucky to have them here, but this is the first instance we can think of where a MacDill command is basically becoming the sponsor of a startup community.  That is all good.

It is all part of a concept right now called Thunderdome.

Imagine a Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa every single day of the year. Imagine U.S. Special Operations Command reaching out to inventors, industry and academia with needs, and a place to bring them all together to figure out how to rapidly turn ideas into prototypes.

* * *

If all goes as hoped, the Thunderdome concept would piggyback on something called SOFWORX, which is set up at the Armature Works building in Tampa Heights. SOFWORX is a Socom effort to get outside the wire, so to speak, of MacDill Air Force Base to interact with industry, academia and others to more rapidly get needed products into the hands of commandos in the field. . .

* * *

The desired end state, says Homans, “is to create the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the brass ring for economic development, from incubation to acceleration to prototype manufacturing to full-scale manufacturing and creating new products and services faster and better than any place in the country.”

That all sounds good.

The trick is making it all work.

Mark Swanson, a West Point graduate, former Army Apache helicopter pilot, computer engineering graduate, internet innovator, technology management guru and serial entrepreneur, has been tabbed to put together the Thunderdome business plan.

As chairman of the Tampa Bay WaVE, whose mission is to “help entrepreneurs turn ideas into growing tech businesses in Tampa Bay,” Swanson “gets” the Thunderdome concept. And he sees its value as an “accelerator” that attracts and maintains high-tech startups.

“We lost three really solid startups in the Tampa Bay to accelerators like Wufoo,” says Swanson. “They left and never came back and what we need is a way to attract great startups from all over the United States.”

And that is one of the key reasons this area struggles with high paying jobs.  Having an established customer to build an industry around is definitely a plus in trying to avoid that issue.  That is what makes the concept so intriguing: it provides a potential anchor for a real hub.

— The Location

So where are they establishing it?

Initially, SOCom’s accelerator will operate under the name SOFWORX from the Armature Works building near the end of Tampa’s Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River. But space in that building is destined for retail and entertainment purposes, so SOFWORX is expected to relocate nearby in the near future.

Well, that is an odd location because, as noted above, that building is supposed to be retail and entertainment space.

It’s an expansive project, and rehabbing the Armature Works factory space alone could easily top $10 million, developers said. But once done, the Armature space will have at least three restaurants, several bars, a cafe/bakery called Ola Cafe, an open-air entertainment stage called “The Gathering” and the 14,000-square-foot “Heights Public Market” in the style of East End in Orlando or Eastern Market in Washington.

All we about that is that we hope the choice of preliminary location does not indicate that there is something amiss in the development plan for the Heights.

Maybe foreshadowing a plan to where the SOCOM facility might move:

A Tampa defense contractor is planning a new office development in Tampa Heights that its CEO envisions as a hub for defense and technology companies.

Celestar Corp. CEO Gregory Celestan said Tuesday that he is planning a 60,000-square-foot office building on the corner of West Seventh and North Highland avenues in Tampa Heights — across West Seventh Avenue from Ulele, the restaurant and microbrewery that Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart opened last year. 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The contractor is Beck.  Notably, the building will only be a go when about 75% of it is preleased.  In any event, it is something and looks better than many of the buildings planned for this area.

So we are happy with all that, too.  Good SOCOM concept and good potential final location – though the building is really not very big – it is a start.  There is promise here – but right now it is just promise.

— That One Thing

But, then, there is this:

Beyond office space, the project’s supporters hope the development can be a catalyst for better connecting the Tampa business community with MacDill Air Force Base. Creating an ecosystem for businesses that support MacDill could create the kind of dynamic seen in Northern Virginia’s Dulles Technology Corridor or Research Triangle in North Carolina.

Those places have become magnets for technology companies and young talent — which can drive the rest of the city’s economy, spurring residential and commercial development.

And that is a solid long-term desire, though the Dulles Technology Corridor and Research Triangle are far bigger and to reach such a goal is very long-term. And Northern Virginia is near ALL the military, not just SOCOM and ALL the lobbying in Congress.  And the Research Triangle has a number of very well regarded institutions and universities.  Maybe we should start with a small company first and save the overinflated comparisons for later.

Sadly, as good as some announcements are, it seems that every announcement gets sold as the catalyst for the City’s economy.  We know that every little bit helps, but, let us be clear, the announced building is just an announcement of a possible development (though it looks nice).  The SOCOM announcement is much more interesting, though that is also in an embryonic stage. Nothing has actually really been done yet.

We are all for the SOCOM idea (and the office building), but portraying these ideas out as one more magic bullet to create a truly urban city with high paying jobs – is just an indicator of our local insecurities and how far we still have to go.  If we had a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub, we’d have a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub – but we do not.   There is no one silver bullet to getting there.  We still need proper planning, changing the code, and getting real transportation fixes.  In other words, setting the stage for those companies and talent to really want to be here and to help them thrive when they are.

Somewhere in the future, the SOCOM idea may form part of an overall economic ecosystem, but right now it is just a concept (a good concept, but just a concept) – one that locals have to take and develop.

So, by all means, support the SOCOM effort (we do) and Tampa Heights development, but remember that, as of now, nothing has actually been accomplished.

Economic Development/Ybor City – A Win

There was one clear win this week:

After a six-state competition, Ybor City will become the e-commerce headquarters of Ashley Furniture.

At a formal unveiling with Tampa political and economic development leaders this morning, the giant Wisconsin-based furniture company – which bills itself as the world’s largest furniture manufacturer and top selling brand of furniture in North America – said its subsidiary, Ashcomm LLC, will operate its U.S. e-commerce operations from 70,000 square feet of space in Centro Ybor. The site, at 1600 E Eighth Ave., is in the heart of Tampa’s historic business and entertainment district.

The business will eventually house more than 100 employees in executive, administrative, marketing, design, and information technology positions for both the e-commerce business as well as other Ashley corporate operations.

Here is a rendering of the new exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article


That is significant not for the number of jobs, which is not that big, but because they do not seem to be back office jobs.  That is good for Ybor and good for the area.  On the other hand, we are not sure what it says about Ybor that the movie theaters are being turned into offices rather than being used for their original purpose.  We are all for business in Ybor, but it would be nice if business and entertainment (and residential) could all thrive at once.

Transportation – Yea, And . . .

There was a completely unsurprising report in the Tribune about HART ridership this week:

Rarely, if ever, do the government leaders pushing for more buses and more routes to encourage more riders on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit ride a bus themselves, pointing up the challenge the county faces as it crafts a transportation plan likely to rely heavily on mass transit.

The Tampa Tribune surveyed 30 current and former leaders by email and found that their reasons for skipping mass transit mirror those of a public reluctant to shed the convenience of the car.

Like everyone, they perform many far-flung duties each day, driving kids to school or picking up laundry. Their busy schedules don’t fit neatly into bus schedules.

First, as pointed out in the article, most elected officials have schedules that do not lend themselves to riding the bus. (Though a few do it on occasion)  Second, as pointed out in the article, riding the bus is inefficient.  The fact is that HART is not a real transit system – it is a low level bus system designed primarily for use by other people, unlike other cities where transit is designed for a broad group of users – and even then some jobs will not lend themselves to transit use.  Third, our area still is built so that transit use is unpleasant.  Until we change our mentality, we will remain behind.

— One Other Thing

The article did have one oddity:

A study by Michael Manville, an urban planner at Cornell University, found that increased spending on transit in the early 2000s had no discernible effect on levels of ridership a decade later.

We are not sure if that is a reference to HART specifically or other transit, but it is odd because transit ridership is generally up and breaking records across the country.

Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide were located in the following cities: Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Canton, OH; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Indianapolis, IN; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Olympia, WA; Orlando, FL; St. Petersburg, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Spokane, WA; Tampa, FL; and Wenatchee, WA.

So we are not sure what that comment is about.  But there is also this interesting note:

2014 Ridership Breakdown
Light rail (modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 3.6 percent in 2014 with 16 out of 28 public transit systems reporting increases. Light rail in Minneapolis, MN showed a significant increases of 57.4 percent due to the opening of the METRO Green Line in Minneapolis. Light rail ridership in Oceanside, CA increased by 36.0 percent due to the system being shut down for several months in 2013. Four light rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Houston, TX (17.9%); San Diego, CA (15.3%); Denver, CO (12.0%); and Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (11.7%). Light rail ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: San Francisco, CA (7.2%); Salt Lake City, UT (6.0%); Hampton, VA (5.4%); New Orleans, LA (5.3%); San Jose, CA (4.4%); Newark, NJ (3.4%); Dallas, TX (3.2%); and Charlotte, NC (3.1%).

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership increased by 3.3 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 public transit systems reported increases. Heavy rail systems with increases in ridership for 2014 were in the following cities: San Francisco, CA (6.1%); Boston, MA (4.9%); Chicago, IL (4.1%); New York, NY-MTA NYC Transit (4.0%); New York, NY-MTA Staten Island Railway (3.5%); Atlanta, GA (2.3%); and Miami, FL (2.1%).

Nationally, commuter rail ridership increased by 2.9 percent in 2014 as 22 out of 28 public transit systems reported increases. Four commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Salt Lake City, UT (16.2%); Stockton, CA (15.7%); Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (10.4%); and San Carlos, CA (10.1%). Ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: Lewisville, TX (9.3%); Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (6.9%); Newark, NJ (5.4%); Anchorage, AK (5.4%); Portland, OR (4.7%); Nashville, TN (4.4%); Boston, MA (3.5%); Oceanside, CA (3.5%); Oakland, CA (2.5%); and Baltimore, MD (2.2%).

Bus ridership decreased nationally by 1.1 percent. However, in small and medium size population groups, bus ridership saw percentage increases of 2.0 and 0.5 respectively. The following cities showed the highest large bus ridership increases in 2014: Baltimore, MD (6.8%); Portland, OR (5.3%); Oakland, CA (4.2%); San Francisco, CA (3.9%); Columbus, OH (3.0%); Atlanta, GA (2.8%); San Diego, CA (2.4%); and Seattle, WA-King County DOT (2.0%).

Do with that what you will.

Built Environment – Should the Focus Be So Much on Downtown?

While we are big proponents of fixing downtown – and always have been, we are always concerned that there is too much focus on downtown at the expense of the rest of the city.  While urban-ish projects are happening downtown and a few isolated areas, there is far too much of the usual, suburban style development, even near downtown on Kennedy and in places like Westshore.  Much of the focus on downtown is sold as being to attract Millennials (and to some degree it does) but to build a real city that really attracts Millennials, in our opinion there has to be more.

Now comes an article in on where Millennials are actually living:

Recently, Millennials have started to move back to cities, reversing the decades-old trend of suburbanization. But within the city, they’re not exactly making a beeline for downtown, according to new research released by the Urban Land Institute.  

According to a ULI press release quoted in the article:

Contrary to popular belief, most Millennials are not living the high life in the downtowns of large cities, but rather are living in less centrally located but more affordable neighborhoods, making ends meet with jobs for which many feel overqualified, and living with parents or roommates to save money.

Here is a graph of where Millennials live:

From CityLab – click on diagram for article

The reason for this trend is that while Millennials greatly value walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, public transportation, and retail and entertainment options, only some of them can afford expensive housing in central business districts. So they settle for neighborhoods outside bustling urban hotspots. Millennials living in Washington, D.C., for example, might choose to live in Shaw or Bloomingdale over the downtown Pennsylvania Avenue area.

It’s well-known that millennials have financial constraints. Roughly 29 percent of ULI respondents with full-time jobs earned less than $35,000 a year, and more than half made less than $50,000 (below, right). These economic realities require certain compromises. Living in a cheaper neighborhood is one; renting instead of buying is another. Half of the respondents rented (below, left), and they payed [sic] a median rent of $925. Two-thirds lived in cheaper, low-rise garden style houses instead of high-rise apartments with more amenities; and 27 percent of these renters had roommates to divvy up the costs.

The reality is that our incomes are even lower. And our neighborhoods are not very walkable or mixed use.

In other words, just building expensive, urban-ish developments downtown, good as that is, is not really going to do the trick. Just having a vision for downtown and a couple of neighborhoods around it is not enough. The fact is that to attract Millennials, Tampa needs to stop settling outside of “InTown” and really change the way the city is actually built and planned. And we need real public transportation options.  It will not happen immediately but every day we delay is a day we fall further behind places that have already learned this lesson. It requires a true change in mentality – a true change in DNA.

And one more thing to note – the Census bureau released its latest population estimates for incorporated cities this week, which tells us about how much cities (where the Millennials want to live) are growing.  The figures show that Tampa’s population grew from 335,709 in 2010 to 358,699 in summer 2014 or 22,990.  St. Petersburg grew by 8,924.  Below is a comparison of growth numbers with some of the usual suspects.

Austin 122,401
Charlotte 78,534
Denver 63,704
Columbus(OH) 48,924
Nashville 42,792
OKC 40,603
New Orleans 40,491
Raleigh 36,004
Portland(OR) 35,584
Minneapolis 24,629
Orlando 24,072
Tampa 22,990
St. Pete 8,924

Admittedly, some of the these cities have larger populations and areas than Tampa or St. Pete, but if you are talking growth of the city, as opposed to the suburbs, those numbers tell you something.

International Trade – Why Are We Behind?

There were a number of articles about a recent Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce trips to Cuba that raised an interesting question:

At the same time, a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce delegation of 35 business and civic leaders visited Cuba’s capital city to learn more about trade opportunities through talks with officials from the island nation’s biggest port.

And the Tampa accounting firm Prida Guida & Co. sent a three-person group on behalf of its clients from the U.S. agricultural industry to meet with the president of Alimport — the Cuban government agency that handles all trade.

The question now, 13 years after Mayor Dick Greco led the first Castro-era delegation to Cuba and as other Florida communities are now getting on the bandwagon, is what Tampa has to show for it.

Greco dined with Fidel Castro during that 2002 visit.

Other trips followed.

Mary Mulhern, who then served on the Tampa City Council, traveled to Cuba in 2009 to discuss trade possibilities with government officials The Tampa chamber has made three trips and a number of other visits have included elected officials and private businesses.

Still, Tampa has no substantial trade with Cuba as some other U.S. cities do.

“When I was there in 2009 they wanted to do business with Tampa,” said former councilwoman Mulhern. “Now six years later, we are no further along. We’re at the bottom of the list of cities that do business with Cuba.”

Tampa does not have much to show from it mainly because of local politics.  When the Mayor is silent and the Port is MIA from meetings on trade while other areas are in a full court press (See “International Trade – Cuba Competition”), it is not much of a surprise.

The bay area group visited three cities, Havana, Cojimar and the resort town of Varadero, met with the head of the U.S. interest section in Cuba, toured a national oncology and radiology institute and talked with officials about the enterprise zone that Cuba is building around the port at Mariel.

They also saw lots of signs that other U.S. cities (New Orleans, Charlotte) and states (New York), are making connections in Cuba and that foreign investors are already on the ground. They saw the Canadian flag at Cuban commercial buildings and arrived the day after a visit by French President François Hollande.

“Florida and the Tampa Bay region cannot afford to stand flat-footed while the rest of the world positions itself to take advantage of this economic opportunity,” Christaldi said. “We, as a country, are a little bit behind. … The foreign investment has already begun.”

Indeed.  While, as noted in the articles, the Cuban economy is not very big, if there is an opening, it stands to grow and there are opportunities anyway – as noted by the sponsor of the Arena:

“We consider a 12 million-population country as a pretty big deal,” said Richard Barkett, chief operating officer of Amalie Oil, which exports to about 100 countries.

Many politicians and the business community are on board.  It is time for real unity of purpose.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Creative Village

With all the talk regarding the Lightning owner’s project, it is worth checking in with some other major projects around the state. This week it is Creative Village in Orlando.

When the shovels dug into the 68 acres of dirt slated to become home to Creative Village Thursday afternoon, the ceremony’s attendees’ attention focused on the buildings that will rise vertically from the earth — college campuses, spaces designed to foster creativity and innovation, apartments and offices.  

But before any building foundation is poured, Balfour Beatty Construction is installing underground veins that will deliver a lifeblood for creativity into the development – simple pipes that will eventually hold high-tech communications cables internally connecting the development’s buildings and externally to the world. Balfour’s portion of the budget is $12 million.

* * *

In addition to the underground work, Balfour Beatty is also putting in roadways, including a lane dedicated to the LYNX bus rapid transit line connecting the project and Parramore to the LYNX Central Station downtown. New signalization for the bus rapid transit lane is also planned along with bus benches themed to the community.

A $10 million federal grant to LYNX is paying for the infrastructure work. As the groundbreaking occurred, The University of Central Florida/Valencia College’s request for state money to build a joint-venture downtown campus building remains in limbo until June when the Florida Legislature meets in a special session to create its budget.

We’ll see when something comes out of the ground.  Just remember that pretty much everybody is working for a downtown tech/residential/innovation center – and everyone hypes them the same way.

— All Aboard Florida

Next, given that this area cannot get anything organized on transportation, we check in on All Aboard Florida.

All Aboard Florida has selected a contractor to upgrade the 66-mile rail corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach, which is planned to eventually connect to Orlando.

In court documents released yesterday, the company said that it will move forward with the project regardless of the outcome of a legal challenge by residents and government officials on the Treasure Coast. Should the lawsuit succeed in blocking AAF from using tax-free bonds, the company will issue taxable bonds instead.

As we have said for a while, it is strange how silent local officials are about this project and our not being connected to it or even clearly in the future plans.

— Mega Development

Finally, without getting into much detail, there is talk of another planned mega development for Miami, the Miami Innovation District which, in theory, would include:

We have no idea how likely this development is, but just add it to your list.

Lists of the Week I

Our first list of the week is’s 25 Best Cities for Jobs which is actually taken from a list of 50 cities.

Coming in first is Raleigh, followed by Kansas City, OKC, Austin, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Louisville, San Antonio, DC, St. Louis, San Francisco, Columbus (OH), Dallas-Ft. Worth, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.  So, some usual suspects and a few surprises (like Memphis). Some surprises are Charlotte (36th), San Diego (38th), Denver (39th), and Portland (OR) (46th)

How did Florida fare? Orlando (27th), the Tampa Bay area (28th), Jacksonville (30th), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (44th).  Well, not very good, but at least we beat some of the usual suspects.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Marketwatch’s Most Business Friendly Cities.  You can read the details of the rankings here.

The Top 20: coming in first is Dallas, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Des Moines, Raleigh, San Jose, Houston, Provo, OKC, Denver, Boston, Austin, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Antonio, Omaha, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, and Charlotte.

Strange how business friendly the high tax, high wage locations can be.  We are always told that Florida/Tampa Bay’s low wage costs and low taxes are our great advantage.

So how did we do – the Times tells us:

Dallas landed at No. 1. And Florida metros – the same our Florida governor travels the country touting as the best for biz? Well, Miami ranked No. 37 with Tampa Bay and Orlando trailing at No. 46 and 47, respectively. Poor Lakeland scraped by near the very bottom at No. 98.

So what makes Dallas so friendly?

MarketWatch analyzed a range of 23 categories related to business environment, company performance and economic outcome. In 22 cases, the best possible score was 100, while in the 23rd it was 150. A perfect score in all metrics would yield 2,350 points. Then MarketWatch crunched the numbers. “Ultimately Dallas-Fort Worth won with a score of 1,687. San Francisco wasn’t far behind, at 1,665, and Seattle took the bronze with 1,651,” MarketWatch reported.

What’s holding Tampa Bay back at No. 46 with 1,222 points? The “business climate” here ranked low at No. 72. The “company performance” — businesses on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq markets — here did better at No. 31. And the “economic outcome” measure put Tampa Bay at No. 57.

So, unless you love being average, bad business climate and bad economic outcome.   As the Times notes:

No single survey captures the economic essence of any metro area. But this analysis is just the latest reminder that being “business friendly” goes far beyond simply boasting about no state income tax and cheap wages. That’s a losing sales strategy.

It is also a reminder that despite all the talk of it being our time and our new boom (and all our natural assets), we are consistently average in most rankings.  As we have said innumerable times, yes, we are getting better but we are playing catch up slowly to others who are moving more quickly.  At least, Bass Pro Shops is hiring.

Roundup 5-15-2015

May 15, 2015

Economic Development/International Trade – A Region?

It seems that regional officials may have finally decided that the area needs to market itself as an area:

Comparing the merits of Tampa to St. Petersburg may be endlessly fascinating to baseball fans, but it makes a lot less sense to foreign corporations sizing up the economy of one of the top 20 metro areas in the nation.

As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it at an International Town Hall held Friday at St. Petersburg’s Hilton Carillon Park hotel, “The days of us marketing our respective cities at the expense of someone else are over – over.”

Buckhorn stood on a stage next to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to kick off a now annual event highlighting the Tampa Bay region’s strides toward becoming a major player in international trade.

An alliance of business leaders, tourism promoters and government officials on both sides of the bay scored a big win two years ago with the announcement of new air service on Panama’s Copa Airlines, Latin America’s leading carrier that has linked the Tampa region to dozens of cities in Central and South America.

The newly-dubbed Tampa Bay Export Alliance then made an unprecedented joint trade mission to Chile in December, which yielded about $9 million new trade deals between foreign businesses and 14 local companies which attended.

On Friday, the group hailed the promise of new trade in Europe this fall with the start of non-stop flights from Tampa International Airport to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airlines, connecting travelers to destinations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

* * *

At an event held earlier this week at the Tampa Club, Hillsborough County development officials didn’t stick to talking points about downtown Tampa, the port or the new Riverwalk when describing the area to a business delegation from Panama.

“It was all about Hillsborough and Pinellas County, about downtown Tampa and St. Pete and Clearwater; it was the whole region as one – seamless – and it makes a huge impression on people,” said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

(Funny how the airport is in many ways driving the initiative.) And that is positive because:

A major impetus for forming the export alliance a year ago was the recognition that Tampa Bay area businesses actually lag way behind similar sized metros in export sales.

A study by the Brookings Institute ranked Tampa 88 out of the 100 top metro areas in the country for exports and local leaders hope the new partnership will bring the local market closer to the average.

“A lot of our companies are small, they’re 20 to 30 employees, and they’re happy. They’re making great sales and all of that. So, this is helping to find those few that say, ‘Okay, I’m doing well, but I want to double it,” Meidel said.

Well, we understand that you have to be average before you can be good, but we are a top 20 metro so we should be a top 20 export region.  To be blunt, 88th is awful.  It is well past time that the region markets itself as one region – but why is it limited to Hillsborough and Pinellas (as is indicated on the Alliance website)?  Why not market the whole region (including Sarasota and Manatee)?

And that regionalism is an accomplishment well into the age of globalization shows just how much work our local political culture really needs.  On the other hand, no matter how late in the game and not comprehensive, it is a start.

Now, if only we could have regional transportation policy.

International Trade – Cuba Competition

Speaking of international trade:

Leaders in business and government across the Tampa Bay area are scrambling to cash in the coming normalization of relations with once-taboo Cuba.

On Tuesday, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sends a 38-member delegation to the island nation for its third meeting there with government officials. In January, a delegation of leaders from Pinellas County’s private sector travelled to Cuba to meet with officials, as well.

The trip comes on the heels of resolutions adopted by the Tampa City Council — one offering the city as the site for a Cuban consulate and the other offering to host the signing of an accord restoring diplomatic relations.

What’s more, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, has emerged as a leading voice in Washington and adviser to President Barack Obama on normalizing relations with Cuba.

Well, leaders in Tampa except the Mayor.

Still, Tampa by no means stands alone. Other Florida cities are working quietly to improve their own relations with Cuba.

As the Tampa delegation heads to Cuba today, the island nation’s top diplomat in the U.S. — Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. — will be in Florida to meet with leaders from neighboring Manatee and Sarasota counties.

* * *

A ferry operator now licensed by the U.S. to operate between here and Cuba says he’d prefer Port Manatee yo [sic] Port Tampa Bay

“Manatee’s port is a gem,” said the operator, Jorge Fernandez, CEO of Havana Ferry Partners. “And it is three hours closer to Cuba than Tampa’s.”

That’s fine with us.  If the Port in Tampa can’t or won’t get the service, we are fine with Port Manatee getting it.  It is the same bay, even if, the previous item notwithstanding, some cannot seem to see that.  But there are others who also want the business:

Pensacola is another city Tampa may want to keep an eye on.

The group from the Panhandle city that visited Cuba this spring “was the best delegation I have been part of and I have been on over 100 in 17 years of working to normalize relations,” said Albert Fox, president of the Tampa-based Alliance For Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Cuba was very impressed with Pensacola.”

* * *

Already, ports in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale have regular cargo lines that travel to Cuba. Tampa does not.


The Tampa chamber delegation heading out today will tour Mariel but doesn’t include a representative from Port Tampa Bay.

No one at the port could be reached from comment Monday about why.

That is bizarre, especially given the Port Director used to be the director in Jacksonville which has service with Cuba (and the inaction does not seem to comport with the Times editorial that says the Port has expressed interest in the ferries to Cuba.)  Why should Jacksonville get the business not Tampa?  At least we have flights.

This summer, Orlando’s airport will begin competing in the Cuban charter flight business when it launches a weekly flight to Havana that may expand with demand.

So get ready for competition (for this and everything else).  We are glad that local business and political officials (with a notable exception) are championing this area and understand that the business will not just come here on its own.

The business is going to be there for someone, why should it go somewhere else?

Economic Development/USF – What to do with the MOSI land?

Now that the seal has been broken on the idea of moving MOSI to the Lightning owner’s project, there is already speculation about what to do with the present MOSI site.  Initial reports had speculation that the site could be used for a corporate HQ or innovation center.  Setting aside that the such uses would compete directly with the Lightning owner’s project, now there are other ideas.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan on Wednesday admonished those salivating at potential uses for the county land that’s home to MOSI. In the middle of his cross hairs was the University of South Florida, which Hagan believes covets the location for a long-desired football stadium.

Hagan said the university shouldn’t begin looking for a stadium until it proves its football team can better fill Raymond James Stadium, its current home.

“I know how special it is to have a stadium on campus, and I fully support looking for ways to have that occur, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, their performance and attendance must drastically improve before we can seriously talk about a stadium.”

That drew scorn from Commissioner Victor Crist, who said Hagan’s ongoing efforts to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Hillsborough County undermined his argument.

“As far as athletics, well, that’s not my venue, but one thing I do know is Mr. Hagan, you’ve been pushing for baseball, and frankly they haven’t filled their seats, either,” said Crist, a USF alumnus. “So the argument that USF football has empty seats I think is an unfounded one.”

Hagan retorted that Crist was right: “Athletics is not your purview.”

There are a couple of things going on here.  First, USF now plays at Raymond James, which gives money to the Sports Authority. Moving would remove that income stream, which may explain some of the opposition from the Commissioner on the Sport Authority board.    However, we think it is optimal to have a campus stadium for USF.

Another thing going on here is that a USF alum is trying to use county land for a USF stadium (while a UF alumnus  questions it).  While, as we said, we think USF should probably have a stadium on campus, we think it actually should be on the present campus. (You can see here that the athletic facilities use of land can be made more efficient like at UCF )  Why use a large plot of land with major frontage on Fletcher for a stadium that will be used a few times a year when there is a land on USF’s campus – yes, it might be a squeeze, but that’s how universities do it.  Make USF’s campus more campus like – which it needs to be.

Third, why should the County give up this large plot of land for something that will not make money for the County?  USF is a valuable asset for this area, but it should not govern this area.  This land has better uses that could provide economic stimulus throughout the year, rather than for just a few days. (Assuming the County does not just settle for some crappy development).  If MOSI moves, the land should be saved for a good use.

Going back to the potential move of MOSI generally, the Times had a good editorial about the concept.

The prospects are exciting, as a move could make Vinik’s development and MOSI more attractive and durable. But there also are implications for residents, taxpayers, schoolchildren, the university and the region’s economic base that need much more vetting.

First, how would moving help MOSI financially and further its mission? Its current 80 acres is twice the size of Vinik’s entire footprint. Visitors are familiar with MOSI’s central location, and its proximity to USF and a nearby industrial park creates all sorts of opportunities for MOSI to play a lead role in attracting new jobs and sponsored research. What about the A-rated, on-site elementary school that serves hundreds of students from the surrounding low-income areas? A move would require MOSI to rethink its mission and priorities. That’s not a bad exercise, but this involves more than packing up and moving.

Second, how would MOSI help downtown, and vice versa? A downtown facility could bring another “wow” factor, jobs and investment to the city center. Having MOSI next to the other downtown museums also would add critical mass as a cultural destination. But would MOSI gain or lose an audience? It drew more visitors last year (525,387) than three downtown venues combined: the Glazer Children’s Museum (200,000), the Tampa Museum of Art (85,000) and the Tampa Bay History Center (81,369).

Finally, if MOSI moved downtown, what use could Hillsborough make of the county-owned property? That has to be a factor in the discussion. Rather than earmark the land for a USF football stadium or other specific use, the county needs to examine the void it would create by relocating MOSI. Taking one step forward by moving the museum downtown should not come at the expense of taking two steps back in north Tampa. The last thing north Tampa needs is more underutilized property.

In other words, like with the USF medical school, if there is a move, there needs to be a real plan (and that, in our opinion, should not include a stadium on that particular lot).

Adventures in Planning

There was an odd article in the Times this week:

For the first time, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission might ask local governments to consider the effects of climate change when strategizing for future growth and development.

The shift in approach would not be seismic. It’s just one proposed line in the massive comprehensive land-use plans for Hillsborough, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City that are up for review this year.

And it wouldn’t reference “climate change,” but rather the less politically charged phrase “climate adaptation.”

Here’s what the Planing [sic] Commission’s draft language for the section on coastal management in local comprehensive plans says: “Develop strategies to identify and address issues related to climate adaptation in cooperation with the (Environmental Protection Commission), the Planning Commission and other agencies.”

And what is the purpose of this proposed change:

The commission on Monday listened to a presentation from Charles Paxton of the National Weather Service on the potential affects [sic] of climate change on the region. While sea levels rise and fall constantly, the peaks are higher and levels are more frequently above where they were even 50 years ago.

As a result, “systems engineered in the ’70s may not accommodate events in the 2000s,” Paxton told commissioners.

Still unknown, however, is how high sea levels might rise. Projections vary, and the proposed language would simply provide an opportunity for local jurisdictions to review the science together and determine a prudent response, said Shawn College, environmental planning leader for the Planning Commission.

“That’s something that can and should be debated because the different level of response is going to have different costs and benefits,” College said. 

Reasonable enough, though, as noted in the article, what the Planning Commission does is not binding (which is pretty obvious in Hillsborough County).  The Mayor of Tampa said that was fine. Were there other reactions?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, one of five Republicans on the county board, said he was not necessarily comfortable with the proposal referencing climate change or adaptation. But he would consider a comprehensive plan that acknowledged the potential affects [sic] of rising sea levels when building critical county infrastructure.

“I believe that we can have a reasonable conversation about sea-level rise in a context such that it’s not highly politicized,” White said. “And there’s no reason that conversation must happen in the framework of talking about global climate change.”

For the purposes of this discussion, we don’t care if people think sea rise is caused by Poseidon waving his trident, as long as they plan properly for sea rise.

And along those lines, note that most of the rest of the world (including Texas, Utah, and Arizona – and even Oklahoma City) also understands that real mass transit (not just glorified bus service) is effective, useful, and desirable.  How you get to that conclusion is not important to us.  Just do the right thing.

Economy – Employment

Let’s look in to the employment market:

Florida’s briefly resurgent job creation has tumbled to the lowest point of the year.

The state added just 13,800 private-sector jobs last month, according to a report released Wednesday by payroll processing firm ADP.

That’s not only the Sunshine State’s weakest month so far this year, but far off 2014, when it enjoyed multiple months churning out 20,000 new jobs or more.

* * *

Seven of the 29 states tracked by ADP grew at a faster percentage pace than Florida in April, but since Florida is the third-largest state in the country, most of their gains are not as noticeable.

Continuing a pattern that has held up throughout the slow economic recovery, more than half of Florida’s new jobs are in the lower-paying service-producing sector.

Hopefully, just a blip (though the income level is still an issue).  At least we passed Texas.

Channel District – The Madison

There was more news on the Madison

Tampa-based Mercury Advisors has filed a substantial change request with the city that would remove two stories from the tower, add seven apartments and about 1,400 square feet of space. It would lower the building from 275 feet to 261 feet.

The current proposal would have 323 units in 21 stories and 38,233 square feet of retail space as well as 613 parking spaces. The retail space has long been speculated as a potential site for Publix Super Markets Inc., though the grocer has never confirmed that.

At more than 38,000 square feet, the retail space would be large for an urban Publix, though the figure could include a grocery anchor and some small-shop space. Most of Publix’s urban stores are around 30,000 to 32,000 square feet.

So maybe they have finally gotten financing and these changes are conditions thereof.  Maybe not.  This project has been around for a while without getting built, so we will just wait and see.

US19 – Clearwater Thinks Bigger

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding new planning rules for US19 in Clearwater.

The 7-mile stretch of U.S. 19 that runs through Clearwater has changed dramatically in recent years as the road has been reshaped into an elevated highway.

It only makes sense that the business districts alongside the road will have to change with the times, too.

To push that process forward, Clearwater is unveiling new zoning rules for its entire U.S. 19 corridor. Among other things, those rules will allow taller buildings alongside much of the highway.

The other big change: Along parts of the roadside that aren’t near major interchanges and are no longer easily accessible, more flexible rules will allow the construction of mid-rise office buildings, multistory apartment and condo complexes, and light industrial sites. The goal is to eventually replace strip malls and standalone businesses that are no longer an ideal fit for their particular location.

Setting aside that little strip malls are never an ideal fit for anything, good for Clearwater to try to think differently about what they want their city to be like. (Though we are not going to get carried away with their vision, it still seems car centric.)  In any event, what are the changes?

The new zoning rules are still being tweaked, and Clearwater’s City Council will vote on the final versions later this year. Developers who follow the city’s blueprint will be allowed more density per acre, leading to taller buildings. The new rules will set up three kinds of zones along the road:

Regional centers: These are major commerce hubs like State Road 580, where Westfield Countryside mall is located, and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, where Clearwater Mall is.

Here the city hopes to foster an urban redevelopment pattern characterized by taller buildings along pedestrian-friendly streets. The maximum height for buildings is to be 150 feet — perhaps 14 floors — unless the building is next to a residential area.

Neighborhood centers: These are second-tier U.S. 19 crossroads such as Curlew, Sunset Point and Belleair roads. The city views these as local shopping and employment destinations. Buildings here will be allowed to be up to 70 feet tall.

Corridor areas: These are places along the road without direct access to interchanges. Here, the city hopes to foster a wide range of job-creating development — including office parks and light industry — instead of some of the small-scale retail sites that currently exist. Buildings here can up to 130 feet tall.

“About the only thing you can’t do in the corridor is heavy, dirty industry,” Delk said. “We’re going to give you lot more latitude with your piece of property out there.”

Frankly, most of that makes sense (though we are not completely sold on height limits.  We doubt many projects will push them and we don’t really see why they are needed).  At least Clearwater is moving away from the flawed idea that Pinellas is “built out.”  While most of Pinellas’s land may have something built on it, very little of it is the best (or even an efficient) use of the land.  There is no reason Pinellas cannot be built more logically and densely (of course, real transit would have helped that).  While there may be some issues with the Clearwater plan, at least it is thinking.

Once again, there is no reason to be wedded to the flawed and silly development patterns of the past.  We can, and should change.  Watching all the sprawl centric development being built on Dale Mabry and so many other locations in Tampa and Hillsborough, we hope they take note.

Transportation – If You Really Want Good Bike Lanes

There has been a lot of news about bike lanes in Tampa recently (Hillsborough has them on some roads, like Dale Mabry, but they are pretty much a joke).  The Tampa lanes are a start – though the way the roads are striped (like Platt) is quixotic.  Additionally, when you are driving, it is difficult to tell the parking spaces from the no parking areas because the stripes are not sufficiently distinguishable (the no parking stripes should either be in a different color or slant towards traffic rather than away to make the difference clear – or Tampa could learn from other cities and paint the curbs to indicate where there is parking and no parking).  However, if you really want to encourage biking:

This fall, San Francisco will become one of the elite few cities in the United States to build a raised bike lane.

The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency will oversee the construction of an elevated pathway on Valencia Street in the southern Mission District. The curb-hugging lane will be raised about 2 inches above the road surface, and will measure 6-feet wide with an additional 5-foot “buffer zone.” The city will follow up with a handful of other raised lanes next year, all planned for areas with high rates of bicycle injuries.

Since the entire Tampa Bay area has high rates of bike injuries, we think this would a great idea and set us apart in really encouraging biking.  Yes, it would cost money, but think of it as an investment – and doing something very well.  Something to consider.

And once protected lanes are built and start intersecting, maybe Tampa can learn from Salt Lake City:

Salt Lake, as I reported last year, has steadily been upgrading its non-automobile transportation system across the board. Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration has introduced a veritable buffet of new options, including a robust light rail network and a growing bike-share system, as well as a low-cost multimodal transit pass for city residents. Now, Salt Lake will be the first city in the United States to implement a protected intersection for bicycles (h/t to Streetsblog USA for highlighting this story). The innovative design will keep cyclists on two intersecting protected bike lanes safe and separated from motor traffic as they move across one of the city’s notoriously wide junctions. It is due to be completed this fall.

I looks something like this:

From – click on picture for article

If biking is actually going to be a priority, we should develop and implement the best practices available.

Rays – Nothing Happening

A while ago, it seemed like something would happen regarding the Rays stadium search.  Then the St. Pete City Council stopped that, with some City Council members waxing about how the Rays should stay in St. Pete, etc.  Then last weekend, the Rays played the Texas Rangers

The attendance this evening was listed as 8,701. That has to be among the worst since the new ownership took over, possibly the worst since the Rays changed jerseys and dropped the devil. That’s very bad, Thursdays against the Rangers be damned.

Then there was this:

The Yankees won 11-5 in front of an announced crowd of 10,619, the smallest to ever see the Yanks play at the Trop.

Do with that what you will because we are pretty sure St. Pete will not do anything useful.

List of the Week

Our list this week is really a study: FDI Intelligence’s American Cities of the Future.  The report looks at various categories and has overall scores.  This is compiled in Top 10 lists.

The Top 10 Overall North American Cities of the future are: San Francisco, Houston, Boston, Sunnyvale (CA), Toronto, Atlanta, Vancouver, Miami, and Seattle.

The report also has categories by city size (Major, Large, etc).  Looking at the document, it appears that the Tampa Bay area would be in the “large” category. The Top 10 Large American Cities of the Future (overall) are: Seattle, San Joes, Austin, Minneapolis, Calgary, Portland, Cincinnati, and Mississauga.

While Miami and Orlando get big kudos. Tampa does show up in one category: Top 10 Large America Cities of the Future – Connectivity.  Well, at least that is something.


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